Autumn light

My feet haven’t touched the ground lately and I’m not sure I’ll be able to string sensible words together to form an interesting blog post but here goes. I’ll keep it brief(-ish) as I just really wanted to say hello. I hope you’re well. Please forgive the random nature of what follows.

The light outside has been wonderful lately. I rushed indoors to grab my camera yesterday afternoon, took one photo and the battery ran out… These photos were taken over the last couple of weeks. As you can see, it’s also been warm enough to lie about on the grass. I wish! Cassie has been making the most of it.

I’ve been picking apples and pears before the insects get them – David made the first apple pie of the season yesterday – and raspberries galore. Any raspberries that aren’t scoffed straightaway or sprinkled onto muesli are turned into precious ruby jam. Most of our lovely giant tomatoes have been partly munched by flipping snails but the cherry toms are ripening well at last.

I haven’t kept up with my ‘end of month views’ of the garden; I missed August…

I’m project editing a food book at the moment. It involves being organised and on top of everything, keeping the work flowing and knowing what’s where and with who, and I love it. There’s been exciting work for Agnes lately, too – I had to interview someone over the telephone which took me right out of my comfort zone but it was great. I find I’m much more willing and likely to test myself these days.

My sunny younger son turned 17 last week. His brother made the usual coffee and walnut birthday cake (because he has much more time on his hands at the moment than I do) and we celebrated in a low-key fashion which was just what he wanted. He’s keen to start driving lessons as soon as possible and had his first go around an empty car park at the weekend. David sat in the passenger seat, I got out of the car and watched from a safe distance… We’ve promised him some proper lessons with a qualified instructor.

My first-born child is heading off to university on Saturday. David and I will be driving him and all his stuff there; his siblings are staying at home. He doesn’t want all of us there, squabbling over who’s carrying what and generally embarrassing him because, let’s face it, we are the most embarrassing family ever. His sister is a little put out by this but she’s not making a fuss. He and I have talked food budgeting and making the most of a pack of mince, I’ve imparted my 101 ways with a tin of tomatoes, we’ve discussed laundry (I am an optimist), hygienic bathrooms and enjoying Freshers’ Week but not so much that you miss when actual lectures start. He’s excited but also a little anxious. To be honest, I think he just wants to get there and get started; all this waiting isn’t good for any of our nerves. We’ve yet to discuss an acceptable level of communication with home (I suspect that a text a day might be too much) but we have agreed that we’ll wait until his birthday in November to go and see him. I know that David, who works about an hour away from the uni town, will find an excuse to drop by before then. He won’t be able to help himself.

My rational brain knows that this is all exactly as it should be – it is the order of life. My emotional brain is a complete mess and it wouldn’t take much for me to weep copious tears. Ridiculous, I know.

On that note, I bid you a good night. I’ll write again soon and let you know how it goes.

Wider than the sky

After yesterday’s heavy rain and winds, the garden definitely feels less summery – apples have dropped off the trees much to the delight of patrolling wasps, there are blackberries ripening in the hedge, fallen beech leaves are scattered all over the back lawn and the air has that smell of damp earth, fruit and slight decay. Autumn. It’s coming.

David has resumed the mammoth task of cutting our hedges, chopping back a large briar rose laden with hips in the process and this inspired my vase today. Joining the rosehips are a few nasturtiums, marigolds and geranium leaves with reddening edges. The photos are taken with my new 50-mm camera lens (it was my birthday yesterday) and the vase is sitting on a beautiful tray sent by my brother and sister-in-law – the perfect Monday vase prop.

I was quite happy it rained all day yesterday as we had no great plans other than to go out for lunch. Afterwards there was nothing for it but to curl up on the sofa and do very little indeed. I managed to persuade my family to play a round of Rummikub (“Ok, Mum, but only one round…”), then I watched a film (It’s Complicated – undemanding and funny in parts), Fake or Fortune about some Henry Moore sketches (much more interesting than the show title suggested) and the new Sunday evening drama, Bodyguard, which had us gripped. It’s the longest I’ve sat and watched TV for ages and it was great.

My eldest returned home from Reading Festival today. He looks as though he’s spent five days in a field (which he has) and his voice sounds as though he’s been shouting and singing for five days (which he has) and he smells… not too bad, considering! He has existed on cereal bars, tap water, alcohol and cheap burgers so this evening we are having roast chicken, roast potatoes and all the veg, followed by a vanilla sponge filled with strawberries and cream made by my daughter. This is tripling up as a birthday, exam results celebration and welcome home cake.

Thank you very much for all the kind and generous comments on my previous post. You are a lovely lot and I am grateful for your understanding and compassion. One of my favourite Emily Dickenson quotes is “The brain is wider than the sky.” There is always something to learn about oneself, about others and about the world and by facing challenges, whatever they may be, we learn what we are made of.

Until next time, my friends. x

PS Thank you, as always, to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for hosting the Monday vases. Do pop over there to see what she and other bloggers have found to share today.

Roller coaster

It’s fair to say that I’ve been struggling since we returned home from our holiday at the end of July. Not that anyone would know it, unless they knew me extremely well and even then perhaps not. The signs were there before we went away but I managed to keep all the important balls in the air and the slight wobble in my voice under control. Recently, though, the big ‘life issues’ that are going on here have overwhelmed me and have tipped me into a form of panic mixed with inertia. Classic rabbit-in-the-headlights. I’ve been waking in the night, my heart racing and my mind working overtime.

I know that if I sort, tidy, put away, throw away, wipe, brush, scrub, and so on, it will help me to feel a little more in control but I am in a slump and finding it hard to shake myself out of it. I’m on top of work, putting meals on the table, walking the dog and doing the laundry but that’s about all I can manage at the mo. Another tell-tale sign that I don’t have my sh*t together is that I haven’t been posting much here, so I’m making time today to write in the hope that it will give me a boot up the bum to get my act together. A happy medium mindset somewhere between Eeyore and Pollyanna would do. I was going to put together a quick Monday vase but I feel the need to write about other things – I hope you don’t mind.

The main issue by far that has been occupying my mind is my dear mum. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease back in 2012 which was a shock for us all at the time. She isn’t the first person in our family to be affected by Parkinson’s. David’s dad lived with it for over 20 years before he very sadly died a few years ago, so we have some experience of it but how the disease affects one person isn’t how it will affect another. It is a disease of the brain and although it does cause physical symptoms it also alters people’s mental state and personality. It’s hugely complex and my poor mum is coping with a complicated set of symptoms that seem to grow by the week and are getting increasingly worse.

It doesn’t help that there isn’t one point of contact – there are different medical departments involved, different doctors all prescribing different medication. And then there are the cancelled or postponed appointments and the phone calls. We haven’t so far been able to get a handle on what exactly is going on which is incredibly difficult. And, of course, all this is understandably affecting my dad. My mum is only 74, he is a few years older; they had so many plans. I have been through a whole range of emotions over the years – anger at the unfairness of it, frustration at her apparent acceptance, sadness for her and my dad and because my mum is no longer able to do ‘mum’ things. She was the first person I would turn to in time of need but I can no longer do that. Now she and my dad need my help. I confess that my heart feels broken – for them and, selfishly, for me.

While all this is going on, we’re in exam results season. Last Thursday was A-level results day – those important exams where the grades take you on to university or not. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll already know that my elder son unfortunately didn’t get the grades he needed for his first choice of uni. An anxious and frankly flipping stressful 6 hours followed where my son, David and I rang every good university in the land to find out whether he was eligible for a place on any course related to history or politics. A lot of coffee and sheer adrenalin fuelled our quest and he ended up with a few decent options, finally opting for a course that seems tailor-made for him at Reading Uni. The word ‘relief’ doesn’t do the feeling justice.

He’s heading there, funnily enough, for the Reading Festival on Wednesday and we have agreed to postpone any talk of lists and plans in general until he gets home next week. I have had a peek at a few ‘Things you absolutely can’t do without at university’ lists on the internet, though, and have earmarked some of our old glasses, plates and other kitchen items that I’ll gladly send him off with so I can buy some nice new ones for us 🙂

Next, we have GCSE results day on Thursday and my younger son is getting a little twitchy. I think his brother’s results were a cold reality check and he now says he has absolutely no idea what to expect. I just want him to feel he’s done himself justice and hope he gets good enough grades to be accepted into the sixth form.

Thankfully, there have been moments of escapism among all this Real Life. My daughter took part in a two-week ballet course which culminated in a run of six performances of Coppelia. Weird story line aside, the show was a triumph and the sight of my girl dancing on stage brought a huge lump to my throat. I was hoping that the intense and exhausting experience, blistered feet and sore knees would put her off a career in dance but she still absolutely loves it. At one point, during the two weeks of rehearsals, she turned to me with a big beaming smile and said ‘I really feel I’m winning at life, Mum!’. I gave her a big hug and wished with all my heart that she could hold on to that feeling, dancing or not.

Two trips to the cinema last week also provided much-needed light relief: Incredibles 2 (fantastic, funny, clever) and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (daft, funny, colourful, musical and pure, unadulterated escapism). I’ve decided to try to go to the cinema much more often. And I haven’t completely forgotten the garden, although to look at it you might think otherwise. I spent a few hours vigorously pulling out weeds, wrestling with brambles and listening to the crickets in the long grass yesterday. I think I need to do more of that.

I know there are plenty of people who are worse off than me and I do have much to be thankful for, but sometimes sometimes the scales tip and everything seems overwhelming. It won’t last – I will give myself a good talking to, go and pick some raspberries, phone my mum and tell her I love her. Thank you for reading and I hope you have a good week.

PS You won’t ever see me on an actual roller coaster, btw – real life provides all the adrenalin I can cope with.

In a Vase on Monday: still hot

Phew, cor blimey and good grief! It’s still hot; hotter than is comfortable when you have to get on and Do Things. These temperatures are absolutely lovely when you can lie about reading, swim in a pool or the sea, then lie about some more but not lovely when you have to sit at a computer (which gives off heat), or scrub toilets or do anything that involves expending energy. Earlier this morning, I spent 30 minutes picking up the small apples that have dropped off the old apple tree in the back garden, deadheading a few plants and picking blooms for a Monday vase and that was enough! Any gardening has to be done early in the morning or late in the evening, so there’s not a lot going on here. Watering and dead-heading is about all we can manage.

Having missed a few weeks of Monday vases, it’s lovely to be able to join Cathy (who hosts this weekly gathering) and her dahlias today. I started off by cutting a few stems of Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ which were lying down (overcome by the heat, no doubt), then picked my way through the wild patch to reach two Buddleia bushes at the bottom of the garden – one is a common-or-garden massive weed but we have left it there for the butterflies and the other (the darker one – Buddleia davidii ‘Black Knight’) is one we planted. It smells lovely. I thought it would all look a bit too same-y, so I added nasturtiums (‘Jewel Cherry Rose’) and red salvia (I think it’s ‘Royal Bumble’) and a few amber Heuchera spires to make it more interesting.

It seems that here in the UK we’re not alone in having a drought. Jane, The Shady Baker, who farms in Australia, has written eloquently about the severe drought they’re facing. Her family’s livelihood depends on the weather and reading her post put my concerns about the garden into perspective.

Keep cool, wherever you are, and have a good week.

End of Month View: dry July

Aeonium and geranium – both loving the hot dry conditions.

 

Going on holiday at this time of year is always a risk when you’re a gardener. Being away during what turned out to be the two hottest weeks for years is even riskier but that’s what we did. I tried not to worry about the garden while we were away!

I had deliberately planted fewer annuals (a scattering of marigolds, cornflowers and sweetpeas) and just six tomato plants outdoors (not in the greenhouse) because I knew we’d be away for just over two weeks and the garden needed to be as low-maintenance as possible this summer. My dad very kindly came every few days to water plants in pots, tomatoes and the new rose and perennials we’d planted this year, so I knew they’d survive, but everything else had to take its chances. If it hadn’t been for the fierce storm a few days before our return, I think the garden would be looking better than it does but there’s been a fair bit of collapse. Not surprising, really. No rain for weeks and weeks, so the plants were already parched and then they were thoroughly roughed up by the wind and heavy rain. Poor things. The grasses, especially the Stipa tenuissima, are looking particularly bedraggled, and the monster tomatoes, giant fennel and some of the larger Verbena bonariensis are listing drunkenly. Nothing that several hours with a pair of secateurs, a ball of twine and some stakes can’t sort out, though 🙂 And although it wasn’t enough to help the poor lawns, the rain we did have was incredibly welcome. It’s back to watering this week, though, as the temperatures have soared again and there is no rain forecast for the foreseeable.

The purple is Verbena rigida, planted a couple of years ago – I’m surprised it’s come back so well this year.
Apples on the old tree are ripening but quite a few have dropped off (and many clusters still need thinning).
The little patch of flowers around three of the tomato plants that were well watered while we were away is looking good, if a little higgledy piggledy.
The raspberries are now taller than me and laden with fruit. I see jam-making in my future…
Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ coping with the drought but some of the other perennials here are looking a bit tired. It does get hot, hot, hot by the wall, though.
Acanthus mollis – a super drought-tolerant plant.
The lavender hedges are definitely past their best and the poor front lawn is suffering in the dry heat.
Grasses, Verbena bonariensis and small olive tree – all hanging in there. The roses here are very sad, though.
Two of the five little agapanthus plants I planted here last year are flowering (white). The lavender on the right seems to be faring better than the hedges on the terrace above.
These poppies are self-sown and have been flowering for about a month! You can see the watered, newly planted, experimental mixed bed behind still looking colourful.
Experimental mixed bed from the side – I love the way it stands out against the wall.
Salvia (can’t remember which one, sorry) – you can never have too many in my opinion!
Discovery apples (on tree planted last spring) ripening. I’m so chuffed that these are doing well (so far).
Oh no! Look at the poor pond! We must run a hosepipe from the well down here at the weekend and top it up. Poor newts…
Dastardly Crocosmia (plain, thuggish orange form) STILL coming up at the bottom of the garden. Its days are numbered.
Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ doing their thing – upright, swaying, gorgeous.
Collapsed Stipa tenuissima. They remind me a bit of my hair on holiday – the sun and sea crazy look.
Rudbeckia – I think this is ‘Berlin’.
Wind-bashed lavender and dried-up lawn.
View from the balcony to the front left – dry, dry, dry. You can really see the effects of the wind on the lavender.
View from the balcony to the front right. More dryness, logs still piled up next to the dry pond, trampoline still there…
Averting our eyes from the garden, here’s the view up the valley towards the lighthouse (because the light was so lovely and I needed cheering up).

 

So, that’s the garden at the end of July. I spent a couple of hours out there this evening dead-heading, staking and tying up, pulling out loads of Linaria purpurea to stop it seeding even further (there is TOO much) and generally saying hello to everything. Going on holiday is wonderful but it’s lovely to be back. Thank you to Helen, The Patient Gardener, who hosts the EOMVs.

Hope all’s good with you. Here’s to August!

 

 

 

A postcard from Pollensa


There is a captivating quality to the light in Mallorca – it’s similar throughout the Mediterranean. The particular blue of the sky and sea, the pale biscuit colour of the mountains, the trees (pine, palm, olive, citrus, poplar, oak), the flowers (bougainvillea, hibiscus, jasmine, oleander), the buildings (white, ochre or terracotta). It switches something in my brain from alert, slightly tense and fractious to calm, laid-back and easy going. Sitting outside a cafe in the main square of Pollensa on the first day we were here, I felt a rising bubble inside and had to suppress a laugh of pure joy in case my family thought I’d lost the plot. I grinned instead. They didn’t ask why I was smiling – they were smiling, too.

It’s seven years since we last visited Mallorca. In the intervening years, we’ve moved house, renovated a house, changed jobs, all three children have become teenagers and one of them is now an adult. I am happy that, although they’re still embarrassed by us and roll their eyes and walk at a discreet distance, they still wanted to come on holiday with us.

Surprising things about holidaying with teenagers:

1. They lift and carry suitcases happily and with ease.

2. They are undemanding on the plane (as long as their devices are fully charged). 

3. They sleep in late which means you get a couple of hours of total peace and quiet in the mornings, listening to the birds, and you have the pool to yourself. 

4. Sleeping in late means staying up late, so we go out and eat later which is more in keeping with the locals.

5. There’s a lot less bickering in the pool and a lot more lying in the sun. Quietly. 

6. I don’t have to spend an hour trying to slather sunscreen onto wriggling bodies.

7. One of them cooked dinner the other evening.

When they were small, a holiday wasn’t a holiday – it was a similar routine but in a different place, albeit with better weather. Now they are teenagers, yes, there are still clothes on the floor (although the possibility of insects discourages this) and wet towels on beds but I don’t care! I am properly on holiday and making the most of it. 

I hope all is well with you. Adios mis amigos.

In a Vase on Monday: cornucopia

The lavender is blooming and the bees are going bonkers. It’s a veritable highway of busy apian foragers out there, all heavily and slightly drunkenly flying from flower to flower, stem to stem, plant to plant. There’s the heady scent of it, too, mingling with that of honeysuckle and privet, especially in the early evenings.

Hasn’t the weather been incredible? It’s so unusual to wake up in the UK and be confident that it’s going to be warm, or even hot. We’ve been pottering about in bare feet and summer clothes for a couple of weeks and the boys can’t believe their luck. No school and sunshine! I do love the blue skies and not having to bother about shoes, but the garden could really do with a good drink. It’s actually a little cooler this evening and it has turned quite grey and gloomy, as though it could crash with thunder and tip it down at any moment, but there’s no sign of any rain yet.

I started my vase pickings today with lavender and jasmine, which is coming into flower (and also packs a punch smell-wise), a multi-headed stem of pink cosmos, a single rudbeckia (the first flower) and added a load of different dried grass stems (dry from lack of rain) and a few poppy seedheads. There are also a few leftovers from a hasty table-centre I put together on Saturday (cornflowers, salvias and love-in-a-mist seedheads).

It is lovely to be joining in again with Cathy and her IAVOM-ers this week – last Monday I was in Cornwall visiting an old schoolfriend. We hadn’t seen each other for far too long and it was wonderful to see her, and our other friend who came too, and to see the beautiful part of the country she lives in. The three of us were military kids and boarders at a state school that had a small boarding wing in the late 70s and early 80s. There was no such thing as pastoral care in those days; benign neglect (putting it kindly) was the order of the day. It was character-building and we stuck together in adversity, making us firm friends for life. We are determined not to leave it so long until the next time.

If seeing them wasn’t fabulous enough, this weekend another old schoolfriend of mine came to visit. She was a day girl who I became great friends with and we have kept in touch over the intervening years. She now lives in Australia but is in the UK for a few weeks and slotted in a couple of days down our way. It was so lovely to spend time with her and to catch up. Honestly, I don’t see old friends for ages and then see three in two weekends! My heart is full and I feel enormously lucky to have such long-lasting and dear friends. It’ll keep me going for a while.

Right, I must go and find something in the fridge for dinner. I spotted half a pepper, an end of parmesan and some tired salad earlier. It’s going to be a scratch meal most probably involving pasta.

Wishing you a lovely week.