January treasure inside and out

Inside: two-week-old tulips, supermarket daffs and scented narcissi delivered by the postman from Cornwall (the second delivery of three, a gift from a friend cheering up my winter).

Outside: early snowdrops, violets in the lawn, hellebores, a few early primroses in the sunniest spots, lots of bulb spears poking out of the soil, forget-me-not  and nigella seedlings and all the signs of the spring to come.

The gorgeous blue skies and winter sun this weekend have been a welcome respite from the wind, rain and monotonous grey and it’s been a tonic to wander in the garden and see what’s going on. It’s easy to feel disconnected from outdoors at this time of year, so I savour any time outside in the sunshine, especially when it’s cold and frosty (proper winter!).

I haven’t blogged lately because I hadn’t (until today) taken any photographs – there is no time during the week and weekends have been busy with non-photogenic chores – and my brain is so full of work and empty of blogging inspiration. But I genuinely enjoy writing here and love reading others’ blogs and the connections made, and I suspect that if I leave it too long I will just stop, so please forgive the occasional post about nothing much in particular (like this one) other than humdrum life and a few flowers!

It feels that it’s been much longer than two weeks since the end of the Christmas holidays. Ollie and Harriet have had mock A-level and GCSEs (some ‘good’, some ‘meh’ and some ‘don’t even…’) and Tom has gone back to uni. David and I have been full-steam ahead with our day jobs and we’ve all barely had a spare moment. I think I’m now into the swing of full-time, going out of the house to work again (bearing in mind that the last time I did this was pre-children), although some days are a very tight fit and I am much more tired come Friday evening than I used to be. Plus I miss being the only human in the house – I think I did become quite solitary and happy to be so.

Planning and being organised are vital and some weeks run more smoothly than others. I have been late (thank goodness for flexitime) and we eat fish fingers more often than we used to 🙂  The job I do is challenging at times but always interesting and I learn new things every day. Four months in and I’m still enthusiastic and positive and hope that good things can happen via community work but I now know enough to see that it could be disheartening after a long time. As with all aspects of life, it’s important to have a balance and that’s what I need to make sure I maintain a healthy sense of perspective. Yoga, good food, good books, long walks, seeing friends, having a good laugh, enjoying time with my family have all kept me on an even keel these past few months. What about you? Any top tips?

Right, I can hear the dulcet tones of David wielding the hedge cutter in the garden which is my signal to find the rake and broom and go and lend a hand. Until next time, my friends.

PS Thank you for your recent comments. I’m sorry if I haven’t replied but I read and appreciate each one.

In a Vase on Monday: the returning of the light

After a long and hectic working week, I returned home on Friday evening to find a box containing these gorgeous Cornish narcissi – a Christmas gift from a dear friend. They’ve been scenting and cheering the house all weekend, so I thought I’d share them with you; a glimpse of the springtime flowers to come. It’s a sunny day here today, which is so welcome after All That Rain. The ground is sodden and dog walks mean squelching across fields and bring clods of mud home. Lucky that the dog is brown.

With the winter solstice yesterday, and the sunshine today, everything feels lighter and brighter. I know this feeling may be fleeting but the Earth is tilting and the days are lengthening and it won’t be long before the bulbs are flowering in my garden. I noticed tips of potted tulips poking through yesterday and the hellebores have fat flower buds!

I hope all is well with you and that you’re feeling all peace and calm and not the stress and fluster that usually accompanies two days before Christmas Day. I’m going with the flow here. Yes, there is wrapping, food prep, card delivering, room tidying, bed-making, hoovering and all the other stuff to do but I have today and tomorrow off work, my family is home and it’ll all come together in some form or other.

Here’s wishing you the Christmas you wish for yourself. Take it easy and see you in the New Year. With love xx

PS It’s lovely to be able to join in with Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for her and other bloggers’ Monday vases. Do click on the link to see festive vases from around the world.

November-ing

Red acer Copper beech France in the distance

Watching… His Dark Materials on Sunday evenings on tv. I read Philip Pullman’s trilogy about 15 years ago and was enthralled by his fictional world where humans have daemons, their alter-egos in animal form, and where there are warrior polar bears and witches. This BBC adaptation is fabulous.

Ignoring… for now, the rather large festive season fast approaching. I’ve booked annual leave for a few days, so we can all spend a decent amount of time together as a family, and I’ve pencilled in a couple of Saturdays in December for shopping. I probably should do a little more planning.

Toasting… my toes by the wood-burning stove. We’ve been lighting the stove for a few weeks now, partly to warm up the living room and partly because it gets dark so early now (around 4pm) and a glowing stove cheers everyone up.

Resisting… too many Lidl’s lebkuchen – ridiculously cheap and dangerously addictive 🙂

Listening… to anything that isn’t to do with the General Election or B***it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for being informed and will definitely be voting, but I can only take so much of the propaganda. Local authority employees are encouraged to help out at election time and I attended a training session in the week to learn about our duties. The processes are incredibly well organised and secure (as you’d hope!). I’ll be helping out at the village polling station from 6am to 11pm on 12th December, one of thousands of people country-wide making sure everyone can exercise their precious democratic right to vote.

Missing… my eldest child. He was 20 on Tuesday. 20!!! It amazes me that I have such a fully grown adult child. David and I met him in London and took him for lunch and to see the Anthony Gormley exhibition at the Royal Academy. It was wonderful to see him and we sent him back with his cards from home, gifts and a birthday cake to share with his housemates. It takes some getting used to, this parting of ways. I’m sure it’ll get easier but the next child is already lining up to start on his road to independence and it’s unsettling. Ollie has completed his university application for 2020 and has received offers, so come next September with a fair wind and the results he needs, he will also be off. Then it will be David, me and Harriet and she is not relishing the prospect of being in the full glare of our attention. I am not looking any further into the future…

ReadingTombland by C J Samson. Actually, I finished it this afternoon. I’ve read all seven of this author’s wonderfully rich and evocative historical novels about the fictional character Matthew Shardlake set in the Tudor era and loved each one.

Hoping… that all the allium and tulip bulbs I shoved into the soil a couple of weekends ago will not be discovered by squirrels or badgers and will survive to flower beautifully in spring. I’m not spending nearly enough time in the garden – there is no time in the week and the weather has been rubbish most weekends.

Anticipating… a delicious kedgeree for dinner cooked by David. I know it’s more usually eaten for breakfast or brunch but we often cook it when it’s just the two of us and this evening we’re on our own. Ollie has gone to a party and Harriet is at a friend’s birthday dinner. We are too tired to go out.

Forgetting… anything I don’t write down. Lists are the menopausal woman’s friend.

Wishing… I could be more disciplined with my free time. There are many bloggers who work full time and manage to write regularly. Hopefully, I’ll settle in to a routine at some point.

Trusting… this finds you well and happy.

In a Vase on Monday: a postcard from the Lakes

Autumn vase

Hello! How are you? I do hope you’re well. It’s been several weeks since I last wrote here – I’ve missed writing my blog but I’ve had absolutely no energy or inspiration since I went back to full-time work in mid-September. All my brain power has been focused on the steep learning curve of the new job and new routine. It’s been a case of work, eat, sleep, repeat during the week and family stuff, eat, sleep at the weekends. But, this week, it’s school half term and I am not in work – I’m in Troutbeck, Cumbria, and the mountains are working their magic.

We drove up to the Lake District in record time on Saturday morning (6 hours; amazing) and met Tom, our eldest, and his girlfriend in Ambleside – they’d travelled by train from Reading. Being all together in the Apple Pie (a favourite pit-stop) swapping tales of our journeys, with the gentle teasing that siblings do when they’re secretly pleased to see each other, fairly made my heart swell. It felt wonderful to be all together and to be somewhere we all love. Tom and his girl could only stay until this morning – they had to get back for lectures this afternoon – but we fitted in a good walk yesterday up Loughrigg Fell. It’s not a particularly high fell but you get amazing views from the top to Windermere, the Langdales, Grasmere and all the surrounding magnificence. It’s a lovely time of year to visit, with all the autumn colours of the bracken and trees turning all shades of orange, yellow, brown and red and I can feel my batteries fully recharging.

We’ve hired a gorgeous old farmhouse for the week, all wide wonky floor boards and slate tiles, and there’s a little garden, so I went out to see if there was anything I could use for a Monday vase – I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to join Cathy and other bloggers for the popular weekly floral gathering. As it’s not my garden, I limited myself to a few Japanese anemones and fuchsias, plus some jewel-like acer leaves but they look quite pretty in the sunshine.

We’re off out now to enjoy the autumn sun and soak up some more of that great mountain energy. Wishing you a good week and I hope to be back here again soon. Bye for now.

PS I post on Instagram more often than here, so you can catch up with me there if you like 🙂 Click on the link in the sidebar.

In a Vase on Monday : dahlia goals

A short post today to join in with Cathy’s Monday vases.

It’s my birthday today and, oh, what a scorcher of a day. In years gone by, it has rained and hailed and even snowed (yes, really), but not today. Today it has been the most glorious blue sky, hot sunshine, late summer sort of day.

These flowers were on the breakfast table this morning – dahlias and nasturtiums; a sunny late summer bunch from our few dahlia plants in pots and self-sown nasturtiums (from last year’s plants). David and I visited Goodnestone Park Gardens this afternoon where they have a massive sweet-shop-style patch of dahlias of all sizes and colours. I remember a time when they were considered ‘old-lady’ plants and were out of fashion but I’ve always had a soft spot for the perfect pom-poms that are a wonder of nature. We wandered about from shady patch to shady patch, eating ice cream (honeycomb – yum) and made plans to dig up an area in the garden to plant more dahlias next year.

A quick swim in the sea, then we’re all off out for dinner this evening, so I must get a move on. Hope you’ve had a lovely day and that the weather has been wonderful for you, too.

August-ing

Noticing the swallows and flocks of finches in the recently harvested fields. The swallows zip low over the cut stubble, snatching insects, while the finches flitter about at the field edges looking for spilt seed.

Sheltering from the rain showers this week. So much for summer – it’s feeling distinctly autumnal today.

Planning for my return to full-time work in mid-September. Eeek! It’s a career change and I am chuffed, excited and nervous all at the same time. It’s been many years since I last had a ‘proper’ job and I have got used to the freelance life and working from home, so it’s going to take some time to adjust. I will definitely need to buy a few smarter clothes; tatty jeans and t-shirts won’t cut it.

Celebrating Ollie (my middle child) passing his driving test. Hurrah. Having another driver in the household will certainly help, especially with me going Out To Work (it feels funny, writing that), although the car insurance for new drivers is extortionate, isn’t it?!

Smelling the delicious scent of cloves that waft from the pinks planted in a pot on the wall next to the path and the vaguely digestive-biscuit scent of my dog’s head. The rest of the family can’t smell it.

Neglecting the housework and the garden. I’ve been so focused on applying for jobs and preparing for interviews, and all the associated fretting that goes with it, that I haven’t been able to think about doing much else. Silly really, when I know that an hour in the garden is great therapy. I’m going to have to be much more focused with my time (and maybe find someone to help indoors).

Hoping we will be able to get away for a few days over the bank holiday.

Watching my daughter dance in the corps de ballet in a wonderful production of The Nutcracker. Her dance school puts on a festival ballet every summer and invites professional ballet dancers to take the lead roles. It’s an intensive two weeks of rehearsals followed by five shows and she loves every minute. We all went to watch and were amazed at the incredible dancing and professionalism of the production. I found tears leaking from my eyes throughout most of the show.

Ignoring the political news. I am fed up. With it/them all.

Cursing badgers. It may be one badger or it may be more but many of our raspberry canes have been flattened by the greedy creature. It has also eaten all the gorgeous, big, fat, on-the-verge of perfect ripeness tomatoes. It doesn’t go for the cucumbers or courgettes, so at least that’s something to be grateful for. Red yes; green no. Grrrrrrrrr.

Picking any of the raspberries that haven’t been eaten/trampled by the aforementioned badger.

Guarding our apple trees (see above).

Reading novels to help me relax before sleep. I’ve just finished Stoner by John Edward Williams (beautifully written) and Big Sky by Kate Atkinson (I am a little in love with Jackson Brodie).

Eating too many sugary palmiers from Lidl. They are delicious and they remind me of holidays. It’s a good job I won’t be needing to wear my bikini this year.

Sending my fondest love to my sister-in-law in Cheshire (if she is reading this).

Borrowing the ‘-ing’ idea from Christina at A Colourful Life – if you haven’t read her lovely blog, do take a look. I am full of admiration for her quilting/sewing expertise and her general approach to life.

Wishing you a good week. Bye for now x

 

In a Vase on Monday: too much pink?

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The weather is glorious – sunny but without the blistering heat of last week, thank goodness – and everyone in my little family is fine. My daughter is on a two-week ballet workshop which culminates in a four-day run of The Nutcracker (odd choice for a summer ballet but, hey). My two boys are not working today and the eldest had a dentist appointment so we drove to Deal in our new (second-hand) car. This was a pretty momentous occasion. We’ve been dithering about getting a small car with a manual gearstick for the children to learn in for months (actually, a couple of years) and with my younger son’s second attempt at his driving test fast approaching we finally have one! Yay! I can tell you that sitting in the passenger seat next to your seventeen-year-old child while they drive is pretty awesome. I thought it would be terrifying but all the driving lessons have obviously been worth it and as soon as he’s used to this car I think he’ll be good to go.

Anyway, flowers… The garden has been quietly getting on with itself since the village garden safari. I’ve been watering and feeding the veg and roses, dead-heading and doing the occasional half hour of weeding but other than that it’s had to had to fend for itself. Happily, there is a second flush of roses and buds on ‘The Generous Gardener’ and so I snipped a few for a Monday vase. There’s a large patch of pale pink phlox (unknown variety) that’s coming into bloom, so I cut a few of those, too. Too much pink? No. I added a few spires of pink snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus  ‘Appleblossom’), which are flowering beautifully, and a single marigold (Calendula officinalis ‘Sunset Buff’). Too much pink? Maybe. So I snipped a couple of orange Crocosmia and Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ to add a little contrast. It all smells amazing and I’m pretty bowled over by that rose.

It’s lovely to be joining Cathy at Rambling in the Garden (who has also picked pink this week) and other bloggers with their Monday vases. Do click on the link to see her vase and many more from around the world.

I hope all’s good in your part of the world, with your loved ones and with you. Have a great week.

 

In a Vase on Monday… on Thursday

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I picked, plonked and photographed these flowers on Monday, fully intending to join in with Cathy’s Monday vases, but the week has run away with me and suddenly it’s Thursday. School finishes for the summer tomorrow but my uni-student son is working shifts for P&O throughout the holidays and my other son has a part-time kitchen porter job at the local pub/restaurant on the beach – both are torn between being completely outraged at the loss of seemingly endless summer days of free time and very happy at the thought of the money. Managing one’s time is a life lesson that may well be taken on board by them both in the next couple of months 🙂

We don’t have a summer holiday booked this year, partly because of working children and partly because we’re spending our money on renovating the ‘sunroom’. We may have a few days away over the August bank holiday and there is a family gathering in Suffolk at the very end of the holidays to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 80th(!) birthday, so we will get away at some point. Getting away is important, don’t you think? Even though we live by the sea and people come here on their holidays, a change of scene always perks me up.

Anyway, back to the flowers… I surprised myself by picking a very romantic pastel-coloured handful of blooms. We do have plenty of hot colours going on out in the garden but the purples and pinks are looking particularly lovely at the moment. In the blue spotty jug are:
Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’
Verbena rigida
white scabious (a giant one) and pale purple scabious
a pale pink Achillea
a small pink rose (unknown variety) which has started to bloom away after years of looking sickly following a bit of tlc
a couple of pink pinks (Dianthus)
a pink Penstemon
a spire of Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’
and some blue salvia (which I think is ‘Azure Snow’).

Here it is in the soon-to-be-renovated-if-the-builders-turn-up-and-get-on-with-it sunroom:

I know it’s not quite the end of the week (nearly there) but I am so looking forward to the weekend – we have dinner with friends, my daughter’s end-of-year dance show and some gardening planned, plus my mother-in-law is coming to stay and she is always a tonic. I hope you have a good one, whatever your plans. Bye for now.

Chinks of light

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I’ve been feeling weighed down lately with too much complicated life going on here and world-weary and thoroughly aghast at the behaviour of the people in power. Even David, who, for as long as I’ve known him, has always kept up-to-the-minute with current affairs, switched off the news earlier in the week Before It Had Finished and said, “The world is going mad”. There’s just only so much one can take, isn’t there? More and more, I’ve felt the need to ignore what’s going on outside my little patch of land and instead think only about what needs watering and who needs feeding. (And even the ‘who needs feeding’ can seem like a massive chore sometimes.) I quite fancy switching off all the devices and cutting myself off from the world for a year or so. I might then have a peep to find out if it all really did go Pete Tong (wrong) but I suspect I’d be quite happy not to.

But as that’s not terribly practical, I’ve been focusing on simple tasks like hanging out washing – listening to the birds and feeling the sun on my skin as I peg laundry on the line – and spending as much time as possible looking at plants. Rather than completely sink into a pit of despondency, easy though that would be, I am sitting quietly on the clifftop and looking out for all the slivers of hope and beauty and optimism that I can.

In the spirit of carving out some pleasure, today I took the day off and drove to Sissinghurst Castle with two good friends. We’re all women who juggle work and family life – we have 10 teenagers between us – and we kept commenting on how wonderful it was to be out, to be away from the everyday and to be in such a beautiful place. We had coffee and cake and lunch and coffee and cake. We ooh-ed and ah-ed at the planting and the architecture and the arrangement of the place. On the way home, we stopped and bought Kentish cherries from a roadside stall. We returned happy, recharged and ready to turn our sunned faces to the onwards march again.

Happy weekend, friends.

 

A stroll around the garden

Although I haven’t been keeping an end-of-month record of the garden this year, I’m glad I have the photos from 2018 to see how everything has matured since the end of June last year. One striking difference is how much greener the grass is from all that rain we had earlier in the year.

Anyway, here’s a little tour to show you what the village garden safari visitors saw over the weekend when they visited our garden. It was overcast when I took these pictures, so imagine hot sunshine, a light breeze, the distinct smell of the sea and birds singing, and a weary pair of gardeners raising a mug of coffee to you from their chairs in the shade.

Salvia hot lips
Salvias and Verbena rigida in the raised planters. ‘Hot Lips’ loves it here.
garden wall
I bought a bistro table and two chairs for under the old apple tree in the back garden and several people stopped to sit in the shade for a while.
Nepeta 'Walkers Low'
This bed was a riot of osteospermums and nasturtiums last year but I’ve planted three insect-friendly Nepeta ‘Walkers Low’ along the path edge. I bought it as one plant about six weeks ago, divided it into three, potted them on until roots poked out of the bottom of the pots, then planted them out. They seem very happy. In the background there are the step-over apples underplanted with geraniums and chartreuse Euphorbia oblongata to the right of the pic.
Mixed border
The border by the back wall is a mixture of blue/purple, pink and orange. Iris sibirica has gone over but there are agapanthus coming into flower and asters later in the year. Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ is also coming into bloom. Please avert your eyes from the slightly scrappy path. You see those pine cones? Hundreds of them. I’d cleared them all the day before. Every time the wind blows, more drop from the pines. If you have any tips for what to do with them, other than use as firelighters, I’d be grateful. They don’t compost well.
Hollyhocks and roses
Moving round the side of the house to the sea-facing side, here are remarkable self-sown hollyhocks growing in cracks in the paving and the prolific rose bush that has no scent, sadly (as it’s next to the house). The lavender hedges are just coming into flower.
mini-orchard
Looking down onto the mini orchard and more lavender from the top terrace – the bees, hoverflies and butterflies love it there and you can hear crickets/grasshoppers singing their songs in the sunshine.
steps and rose arch
Looking down the Erigeron Steps to the rose and jasmine arch (both starting to flower) and the wildflower patch beyond, and our black cat hiding in the daisies.
Garden pond
Looking down onto the pond area, which we’ve recently cleared, with the wild area beyond (and bench on the area where we’ve had bonfires!). David relaid the flag stones around the pond (yet to be pointed) and we planted up the beds with heucheras and geraniums (permanent) and cosmos and snapdragons (temporary) and should mature to form lovely mounds of foliage with flowers in spring/summer. All the new beds (and bare soil elsewhere) have been mulched with bark chippings made from the tree work we had done last summer to help keep moisture in and cut down on weeds. Lugging trugs and trugs of that up the steps has improved my fitness levels somewhat!
lavender
Down the steps to have a closer look, you can see David’s ‘work in progress’ in the background. It’s going to be a covered seat with a cedar shingle roof and climbers growing up the sides. The hosepipe wasn’t there for visitors to trip over.
mini orchard
The little apple and pear trees are growing well – there’s a load of apples coming but hardly any pears this year. Maybe next. Again, more bark mulch to keep moisture in. I love the little areas of randomly mixed flowers down here – see next photo…

Dollymixture planting

Crocosmia and grasses
The border around the orchard is a mix of grasses (Stipa tenuissima and Calamagrostis) with perennials like Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ (just coming into bloom), Verbena bonariensis, osteospermums and heucheras. You can just see the mounds of Gypsophila ‘Gypsy Pink’ tucked into the edge of the border, an emergency purchase from a local supermarket to fill the gaps here!
mixed border
Moving along the path a little to see more of the planting. I love the way the lavender hedge above now peeps over the wall and ties in visually with the lavender below. Repeat planting is a very useful design tool.

Hoverfly in flight
We’re trying to plant as many plants that are beneficial for insects as possible – lavender, verbena, salvias, geums, poppies, scabious, wild flowers and many others are insect-magnets. Above you can see a hoverfly coming in to land (more luck than judgement on the part of the photographer!).
Erigeron karvinskianus
The two most commented-on plants during the garden safari were Erigeron karvinskianus (Mexican fleabane) and Stipa tenuissima, both looking rather lovely at this time of year.
Light blue salvia
I can’t remember the name of this blue salvia but it’s perennial and lovely 🙂
Pale pink rose
This rose was a gift about 5 years ago, planted elsewhere in the garden, moved twice and is now in its final home, breathing a sigh of relief and sending out beautiful scented blooms.
Garden planting
I’m really happy with how the different levels are working – lavender on top of the wall, mixed border below, further mixed border, pond area. I’m looking forward to seeing how these all fill out and develop.
Rose 'The Garland'
I think this rose is ‘The Garland’, a highly scented climber from David Austin. I say ‘I think’ because David and I bought a rose for each other at roughly the same time and temporarily planted this one in a trug while we cleared the area and the labels got muddled. I am not very good at keeping track of labels… Anyway, it’s been here for a couple of months and is looking happy. The hope is that it will eventually cover this fence and look fabulous.

So, here we are, nearly at the bottom of the garden. I haven’t shown you the area to the right of the rose in this picture because it’s more of the same (geraniums, grasses, Erigeron, Artemisia and ivy) or the wildflower area in detail but I’m sure you’ve seen enough for now.

Hope your week is going well. I’ll be back soon x