In a Vase on Monday: kitchen flowers

I bumped into a friend this morning while walking the dog. She has three daughters, all in their 20s at various stages of university and work. She asked me how the exams were going and I remarked that she must be glad it’s all behind her. “Don’t think it’s ever over!” she said, and laughed. There was me, thinking we’re coming to the end of an era (which we sort of are) and feeling a little wistful already, when really we’re just moving towards another phase. I should know this by now, that parenting is a series of phases, but this one seems more dramatic because it’s the one where they start to leave home.

In the meantime, though, I am thankful that I work at home, that I can collect the children from the station and listen to their exam debriefs and soothe their frayed nerves, I can make sure they eat well and get enough sleep, I can bake cakes and I can put flowers on the table. Oh, wait… Those flowers are for me. They’re to brighten the kitchen and put a smile on my face.

This week’s IAVOM is a cop-out – they’re supermarket peonies, popped into the trolley during yet another whizz around the aisles to stock up on gallons of milk, bananas, apples, bread, Cheerios… But, look – aren’t they exquisite? Totally worth the few pounds they cost. And they need no accompaniment in the jug; they’re perfect as they are.

As a bonus, I’ve also refreshed last week’s vase which, apart from most of the roses, is still going strong. It’s good to know what lasts longer than a week in a vase. I’ve been reading up on the best way to get as much vase-life as possible – pick flowers that are mostly in bud, cut stems on a slant, pop a little vinegar or Milton in the water to deter bacteria, etc. Have you any other top tips?

Do visit Cathy at Rambling in the Garden to see her Monday flowers and find links to many others. Wishing you a thoroughly good week (with flowers and cake, if that’s what takes your fancy).


In a Vase on Monday: roses

Each week, Cathy at Rambling in the Garden hosts In a Vase on Monday and encourages fellow bloggers to find something in their gardens to photograph and write about. It’s such a lovely thing to do on a Monday morning that I try to take part every week. Some weeks, it’s just not possible due to lack of time but whenever I can squeeze it in, it’s a prompt to get out into the garden and find something, anything, to stick in a vase. December can be tricky but June is not. June is when there is abundance in my garden and when I’m in the happy situation of being spoilt for choice.

I’ve grown increasingly fond of roses in recent years. I used to think they were fussy and over-the-top and too much like hard work to keep happy but I’ve come round to them. I mean, what’s not to love about layers of silken petals in delicate shades of pink, say, that smell delicious?! Our latest addition to the rose tribe in our garden is ‘The Generous Gardener’ and I snipped two blooms off it this morning (the two palest pink ones). They were heading in the wrong direction so can be spared for the vase. The other two roses are unknown varieties – they were overgrown in the garden when we moved here. The brighter pink one, in bud in the centre of the first photo, is from a rose growing at the base of a pillar in the windiest spot in the garden. We cut it right back to its base last year to paint the pillar but it’s come back brilliantly. The two darker pink roses are from an old climber at the base of the back garden wall that was also cut back to renovate it – the flowers smell amazing.

Joining the roses are Geum ‘Blazing Sunset’, a couple of pink scented pelargonium flowers, Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ (from a plant that was moved, trimmed and has come back mostly red, which I prefer), Linaria, one Heuchera flower stem and a couple of leaves, copper beech leaves, a stem of mint, a lovely snapdragon, and really tall Briza (which has seeded everywhere, thank you Cathy!).

You can see from the photos that the light is pretty low today. It’s been overcast and dull all day after a sunny summery day yesterday but that’s perhaps fitting as it’s back to school for everyone here and all the teenagers had exams. History GCSE for the younger son, Psychology A-level for the elder and Science, Spanish and RE end-of-year exams for my daughter. It’ll all be over quickly for her this week, and all over for the other two by 19th June, thank goodness. They’re all home now, tired, hungry and a little shell-shocked so I’m off to make a cake. I know we’re all meant to be reducing our sugar intake these days but sometimes a large slice of cake is just what you need.

Whether you’re taking exams, baking for exam-takers, working hard or holidaying, I hope you have a thoroughly good week.

End of Month View: May (gardening in action)

It’s been half term here this week and David and I have taken time off to catch up with each other and the garden and to be around for the revising teenagers. This has involved much chivvying, chatting, encouraging, shopping for mountains of food, cooking, clearing up after they’ve individually made various lunches (why they can’t cook together and make one lot of mess, I don’t know!), making copious pots of tea, listening to grumbles and exam anxiety and generally supporting from a short distance, i.e., the garden.

May is the month when it all really kicks off out there and it’s impossible to keep on top of the weeds, the planting, the pruning, the clearing. We’ve made a couple of trips to the tip, the car bulging with builders sacks full of perennial weeds and garden material too bulky to compost. We’re waging a war against bindweed and brambles here and, no, we don’t have the time or energy to clear whole beds, dig out every last scrap of root out and start again, so we constantly chip away. In between the ‘trying to get on top of it’, David has also been laying a new path to connect the bottom of some steps to the end of another path where there was a gap, using up bits of old paving. Crazy paving is hot. You read it here first.

Floriferous highlights for May that have been and gone were the apple blossom (delicious) and lilac (lovely but fleeting). My absolute favourite part of the garden for the past couple of weeks has been where the new fruit trees were planted last spring (first photo and below). These are underplanted with a grass and wildflower mix, plus many self-seeders, and to my eye it is perfection. Wild with a little cultivation. I recently described our garden as organised chaos – it’s definitely more chaos than organised at the moment but I love the abundance and tapestry that nature creates on its own. Whenever I’ve needed a break from my desk or fraught teenagers, I’ve wandered down to this spot with a mug of something and stood and gazed at it for a while. Five minutes is all I need to recalibrate.

Anyway, here’s how the back garden is looking:

The raspberries in front of the greenhouse are shooting up and out and along in all directions!
Open shed door, piles of stuff, this is how our garden looks most of the time.
Plants in trays waiting patiently to be planted. I have all the guilt associated with this scene!
Gladioli (I think they’re ‘byzantinus’) – we didn’t plant these, they appeared gradually from a load of topsoil we bought to fill these beds, but I’m very happy they’re there.
Gladioli close-up
I’m not convinced about this colour combo but I love both the Euphorbia oblongata and Nigella individually.
Rose ‘The Generous Gardener’, finally planted by the back wall and now covered with 18 (yes 18!) fat flower buds.

And here’s the front, sea-facing, terraced part of the garden (complete with gardener):

From the balcony looking down, front left.
Looking down, front right. (The trampoline is slowly being dismantled…) You can see the strip of hedge we planted last year on the boundary on the far right starting to bulk out.
Yellow flag iris in the pond (this was taken last week, by yesterday they’d gone over).

The bees, butterflies and other insects are abundant and I can spend a large amount of time watching all the goings on. We’ve more seeds to sow and plants to plant, all wildlife-friendly. This garden may be rather a jumble but it’s full of life. So, that’s our garden at the end of May (beginning of June!). I’m joining Helen at The Patient Gardener where you’ll find her EOMV and those of other garden bloggers.

Right, I’m off to the garden centre (I have a voucher burning a hole in my pocket) – wishing you a lovely weekend. More anon.

Layers, lupins and light: Chelsea 2018


We forgot to take our hats to Chelsea this year, rushing out of the door to catch the train, calling out to our son to remember to walk the dog (as if she’d let him forget). A love of plants and gardening is something David and I share, so we try to visit the Chelsea Flower Show every year if we can. It means a day out together; sunshine (I can only remember one really wet year); inspiring displays of plants and colour; friendly crowds (there are always a few shovers but everybody seems happy, even the exhausted people on the gardens and trade stands); camera crews and celebrity-spotting; gawping at stands selling crazily expensive sculptures and garden furniture and every conceivable garden accessory; ice cream and Pimms; finding a spot in the usually rammed picnic glade to eat lunch; coughing as though you’re a 40-a-day smoker after inhaling some of the London plane tree fibres that fall like confetti over the showground at this time of year; people-watching (from fabulous dresses and smart suits to jeans and t-shirts, and people who are definitely dressing to be caught on camera); 10 Whistlefish greetings cards for £8 (great for stocking up); sponsorship bags bulging with leaflets and plant lists; sampling tiny porcelain bowls of interesting teas at the Wedgewood tea bar (David was rather mortified to be remembered from last year); listening to music of variable quality sitting next to the bandstand while taking a break; meeting old friends and new (we met up with the lovely Jenny of Duver Diary and her husband); going back to see the gardens in different light as the day wears on; trying to see everything – trying to not miss one single bit of it.

There’s been a whole heap of coverage of the show on social media and in the press but I hope you can bear a little more! You won’t find detailed background info or in-depth analysis here (if you want that, I highly recommend Dan’s blog), but I wanted to share some snapshots that caught my eye and a few observations from our visit on Tuesday. There are quite a few photos… (I’d put the kettle on.)

If you go to Chelsea as an ordinary visitor (as in, you’re not lucky enough to be there on Press Day or behind the scenes), you are unlikely to be able to absorb all the detail of the show gardens or to even see much of the incredibly intricate landscaping, fittings and finishes. There is so much that goes unseen by ‘the public’ because we have to stand at the edges of gardens along one of two sides (show gardens are generally on a corner plot) and not walk in them. As a visitor, it can be frustrating but I suppose you couldn’t have hordes of people traipsing through immaculate gardens. Unless there’s an unseemly scrum, you can usually find a spot to squat down and look more closely at the plants and try to get a peek at what’s going on in and behind the magnificent garden structures but much of the detail is for the scrutiny of the RHS judges alone. After all, the main point of Chelsea, for those who sponsor, design and build these gardens, is winning a coveted RHS medal. Gold medals, in particular, equal publicity. Publicity equals higher profile and more business, etc, etc.

Nevertheless, there is still an awful lot of pleasure to be gained from visiting as a punter and soaking up the horticultural atmosphere and seeing the gardens first-hand. The tv coverage might show you parts of the gardens you can’t get to but nothing quite beats seeing them in real life and you might even be able to chat to a designer or two. It’s wonderful to be able to gaze at the planting close up, to find new and interesting plant cultivars and meet the growers and experts in the Grand Pavilion. David and I discussed the garden merits of eucalyptus, whether we could ever get a clematis to grow in our garden and the bizarre world of bonsai with nursery-owners or growers who were hugely generous with their knowledge. We also asked the advice of the lovely chaps at Pennard Plants on the best wild flowers for bees (Phacelia tanacetifolia is a corker, apparently) and bought some of their wonderful heritage seeds.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s what captured my attention:

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Three pics above: I loved the overall effect of the M&G garden designed by Sarah Price – the naturalistic planting with gorgeous contrasts of soft and spiky textures, warm earthy colours, dripping water features and the terracotta structures (made with reclaimed French roof tiles and earth rammed in to shuttering).

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Two pics above and two below: another favourite was The Lemon Tree Trust garden designed by Tom Massey and inspired by his visit to a refugee camp in Iraq. Rills radiate from a central water feature and the planting includes beautiful pomegranate trees and heart-stopping combinations of alliums, euphorbias (including the lovely E.pithyusa below), salvias, poppies, roses, irises and a lemon tree. I loved the planting in a wall of concrete blocks.

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Two pics above: Lupins featured large throughout the show but I think they were used most brilliantly here in the Seedlip Garden, which was full of pea-related plants, designed by Dr Catherine MacDonald. The lushness and colours are swoon-y.

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Three pics above: I’m really into layering with plants – repeat planting, using ‘see-through’ plants, building up layers of colour and texture – and this garden boldly emphasised its layers with the use of sculpture. The message behind The David Harber and Savills garden (mankind’s evolving relationship with the environment) may have mostly been told through the bold sculpture but it was the planting that appealed to me.


Above and below: a new-to-me shrub – Enkiathus – was used to great effect in the Morgan Stanley Garden for the NSPCC, designed by Chris Beardshaw (above), and in the O-mo-te-na-shi no NIWA – The Hospitality Garden, designed by Kazuyuki Ishihara (below), which also featured his trademark moss. I do love a raised canopy that shows the detailed structure of a shrub or tree.

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Below: I loved the blue and copper colour scheme of The Silent Pool Gin Garden designed by David Neale. Again, there’s that bare-multi-stem-raised canopy thing going on.

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Above: The Welcome to Yorkshire garden was creating quite a buzz – it is a beautiful snapshot of the Dales, dry-stone wall, stone bothy with a beck running past, cottage planting and all, but… There’s no denying the skill and attention to detail but I think the countryside picked up and plonked at Chelsea has been done to death now.


Above: this fantastic cornucopia of flowers was outside a recreated Cape Dutch homestead on the Trailfinders South African Wine Estate garden. It’s slightly bonkers but I loved it.

Above: hanging plant pots on the Burgon & Ball stand, garden sculpture and a detail from the pietra dura marble used on the British Council’s artisan garden (India: a billion dreams, designed by Sarah Eberle).

Below: plants in the Grand Pavilion that are now on my wish list – Digitalis x valinii ‘Illumination Cherry Brandy’, Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’ and Lysimachia atropurpurea ‘Beaujolais’.

Below: detail from one of the many amazing floral arrangement displays inside the Pavilion.


Below: gardens at Chelsea aren’t all about big business. This garden, called Laced With Hope, promoted the work of the charity Supershoes. It illustrates the typical journey of a child with a cancer diagnosis and the work the charity does to empower these children. The plan is for the garden to be moved to a children’s cancer hospital after the show so it can be used and enjoyed by patients and their families for years to come.

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Above: more top dry-stone walling on the artisan garden, A Very English Garden, designed by Janine Crimmins. I also loved the effect of the Erigeron around the central planter.

Below: I’ll leave you with another photo of a stand in the Grand Pavilion (I can’t remember which one it was, sorry) because it shows the stars of the show – the plants. Did you go to the show this year? If so, what were your highlights?

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In a Vase on Monday: distraction

I’m taking a little of my own advice to my revising boys: if you’re stuck and nothing is going in, stop and do something else productive for a while. Well, I’m proof-reading a book and needed a break, so out into the garden I went, scissors in hand, to snip some blooms for a quick Monday vase to join in with Cathy and other garden bloggers.

Gosh, it’s lovely and warm out there in the sunshine – the birds are singing, the bees are buzzing and the flowers are, well, flowering. Tempting as it was to sit on the Erigeron steps and soak it all in, I quickly snipped a few sprigs of the Erigeron (which is looking gorgeous), some hardy geraniums (which are just starting to flower – look at the delicate veining on that pink one!), ox-eye daisy (coming in to flower), Cerinthe major (self-sown and seemingly flowers for ever), chives, forget-me-nots (almost all gone to seed but still flowers to be had) and Centranthus ruber in bud (I prefer the tiny flower buds as they’re a darker red than the pinker flowers). They’re all plonked into a lovely new jug from Waitrose which I bought as a present to me last week for this very purpose.

I’m off to the Chelsea Flower Show tomorrow with David – a whole day out in London looking at beautifully designed and planted gardens and loads of other garden-related stuff. Yippee. I’ll take my camera and will share my highlights here later in the week. Have a good one. Bye for now.

In a Vase on Monday: effervescent

The starter for today’s vase was cow parsley – there is so much of this lacy loveliness billowing along the lanes and some has even crept into the garden. Joining it in the larger vase are several stems of dark purple aquilegia, some nigella, a few fronds of fennel and some long stems of Briza media (quaking grass), a lovely grass that is perfect for vases. This is yet another self seeder which has generously spread itself widely.

In the small green vase are some pink scented pelargonium flowers that I snipped off a couple of leggy plants we bought at a plant sale at the weekend, some more briza, a fennel frond and the very last of the ‘Black Parrot’ tulips I found hiding among the foliage.

There’s a lot going on in the garden – we completely cleared the rampant weeds from one half of the terrace where we grew veg and annuals for cutting last year and we moved five of the Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ to here to add height and rhythm. We didn’t realise quite how chunky they’d be when we planted them last year and several were planted too close together or too near other plants. Hopefully they’ll transplant and settle in well.

It was a weekend of plant sales – a large one at the local National Trust visitor centre and a smaller one in a nearby village – and we bought a load of lovely plants to fill gaps and to go into this newly cleared area. Foxgloves, salvias, ajuga, verbascums, Centaurea nigra, cornflowers, cosmos and more. Lots of beauty to come.

In other news… Study leave has started here. My daughter went into school on her own this morning remarking ‘Well, this is a vision of the future!’. Indeed. Exams for my younger son are scattered throughout the next five weeks; the eldest’s start after half term. I’m doing my best to not stick my oar in but instead stick to tea-making, cake-providing and exuding an air of calm…

Thank you for your comments on my blog in recent weeks, sorry I haven’t responded or visited many blogs recently. It’s all been a bit full-on but I’m hoping to catch up soon. I’m starting with Cathy at Rambling in the Garden to see her flowers and what others have found to put in a vase this fine Monday.

Wishing you a very good week. Bye for now.

[By the way, there’s been some good news for Agnes recently (for those of you who’ve been cheering it on; thank you). The website appeared in The Guardian Weekend magazine last weekend in Annalisa Barbieri’s advice column and an education guru tweeted about it a couple of days ago; the stats have since rocketed. Sixteen months after launching, Agnes seems to be gaining traction and hopefully it will become more widely known and inform and inspire more girls.]


Arrivals and departures


  • Frothy, abundant swathes of cow parsley are lining the hedgerows and verges and lending a certain romance to the landscape.
  • Hawthorn blossom is covering the hedges in its white flowers (and wafting its love-it-or-hate-it scent).
  • The swallows have returned and are getting ready to nest again in the goat shed (I wrote about them last year here).
  • As I sat in the car waiting for my daughter to finish her ballet class in town yesterday evening, I watched a flock of swifts wheeling about and scything through the sky and it lifted my heart. There were always loads each summer when we lived in London but we don’t often see them here on the cliffs and I miss them.
  • Our Californian poppies have started flowering – many of these are self-sown but they’re easy to pull out from where I don’t want them. Other flowers that are exceedingly generous with their presence here are borage, Ammi, Nigella, Cerinthe major, Linaria, forget-me-nots, nasturtiums. I mostly let them do what they want because I am very relaxed in my approach to the garden. Controlled chaos is the order of the day. (Much like indoors.)


  • Apart from a few stalwart ‘Queen of Night’, the tulips are over for another year. They’ve been wonderful but it’s time to snap off the fat seed pods developing atop the stems and let the leaves photosynthesise away and pump nutrients back into the bulbs as they fade. I am intending to dig most of them up and store them somewhere dark, dry and cool until November when I’ll replant those that are still plump and healthy. But I say that every year…
  • Today is Leavers’ Day at school and my eldest boy’s last day. He’ll go back in to sit his A-levels but his time in the school system is over. No more lessons. He and his friends spent yesterday afternoon and very early this morning ‘decorating’ the school in readiness for a morning of chaos and fun. I hope we managed to dissuade them from some of the more extreme pranks they’d planned but I am waiting slightly nervously to hear how it went. It’s a last hurrah before the exams. He has mixed feelings about leaving school – he’s definitely outgrown the place but feels sad it’s come to an end. Any end of an era is unsettling. I also have mixed feelings about this so I am keeping as busy as it is possible to be. After 18 plus years of three children at home, they’re about to start fledging…
  • My 16-yr-old son also has his final day at school today and will be on study leave from Monday. Again, he’ll go back in to school to take his GCSEs (which started with a ‘terrible’ French speaking exam this Wednesday) but formal school is over until September when he’ll be in the sixth form (as long as he does well enough in the exams!). It’s all go here.

I have a packed weekend ahead – village duties, gardening, plant fairs (I may indulge) and calming my teenagers. Wishing you a lovely one.