In a Vase on Monday: flowers to the rescue

My usual approach to a Monday vase is to pick whatever is in abundance in the garden (or whatever is flowering) and hope it’ll work together. Sometimes it does; sometimes it doesn’t. Today, there are two jugs of flowers because it was the latter, although I think they work well side by side. In the blue jug there are a few dark purple osteospermum, lovely pale burgundy-tinged Calendula officinalis ‘Sunset Buff’ (self-sown from last year), pink Japanese anemones, red salvia and lavender seed heads. In the flowery jug there’s a tangle of Clematis tangutica ‘Bill McKenzie’. I’d been chopping this back because I thought it was the invasive wild form but will stop hacking it now I know that it’s not! I love the little yellow lanterns, fluffy seed heads and twirling tendrils of foliage.

I’m glad to be joining Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for her weekly gathering of Monday vases. She has a lovely sky blue arrangement today, so do click on the link to see it and find links to many others from around the world.

A little flower faff is just what I needed today. Along with hundreds of other parents all over the land (we passed several on the M25), we drove our son to university on Saturday. It was pouring with rain when we arrived, there were families huddled under umbrellas trying to keep piles of bedding dry, scurrying from cars to halls as fast as possible without dropping anything. We helped our boy unpack and find a place for all his stuff in his very small room; he put his pictures up on the wall and logged into the wifi (essentials first). We popped out to buy him the groceries we’d accidentally left at home in the fridge… Then we said our goodbyes and headed out into the gloom. I’m sure you know exactly how that feels if you’ve been there. If you haven’t, I can’t really describe it yet. I’m still a bit dazed. I know he’ll be fine, he’ll work things out and, hopefully, he will enjoy the whole experience and come out with a degree at the end of it. As for us, we will get used to him not being here all the time – there will be lower food bills, less laundry, fewer missing glasses and mugs, it’ll be quieter – but in the meantime, the dog is doing her mournful small whine (she knows something isn’t quite right) and I am trying to not think about it.

Wishing you a good week.

PS If you love ballet (even if you don’t), you might like to click here to read the latest Agnes Q&A with Royal Ballet Principal Francesca Hayward – she’s an inspiration.

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.]


In a Vase on Monday: bud-burst

There was a lot of wet wind outside this morning, strong sideways drizzle; the dog and I were soaked through after our walk. She’s now curled up in a tight ball in her chair (I know) next to the radiator and I’m on my second mug of coffee. It’s the spring equinox today but it certainly doesn’t feel like the first day of spring!

Needless to say, I haven’t been wandering around the garden to find perfect spring blooms for a Monday vase. What I have to show you instead is a jar of prunings from our recently planted native hedge. The bare root plants (sticks) have been planted to fill a long gap in our boundary where the old hedge had died after becoming overrun with brambles and ivy. Rather than just replace it with a single species of hedging plant, we’ve gone for a mixture of native, wildlife-friendly species:

Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna – apparently recognised by the RSPB as the absolute best species for wildlife value
Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa – prickly stems to protect resting and nesting sites and sloes in autumn
Field maple, Acer campestre – good for insects
Alder, Alnus glutinosa – its seeds are a food source for many birds
Guelder rose, Viburnum opulus – berries for birds
Wild privet, Ligustrum vulgare – semi-evergreen provides a great nesting site
Wild cherry, Prunus avium – good for wildlife and seasonal interest
Bird cherry, Prunus padus – flowers for insects, cherries for birds
Spindle, Euonymus europaea – good autumn colour
Juneberry, Amelanchier lamarckii – white flowers in spring

The advice is to prune off two-thirds once planted to encourage bushy, healthy growth but our plants are so short that I reduced them by one-third to a half, and cut back any side shoots quite hard. Rather than compost all the cuttings, I rescued the longest few and brought them inside. Since they’ve been in the warmth indoors, they’ve all started to come into leaf and even flower. I’m fairly sure that the white flowers are Amelanchier and one of the stems is Acer, but I’m not sure about the rest. Whatever they are, I’m delighted they’re doing their thing and I think they look lovely next to the little vitreous enamel panel by artist Janine Partington (a much-loved gift from my brother and sister-in-law).

I also photographed this burst of sunshine in a vase – cheap supermarket daffodils – which are cheering up the lounge on this dull day.

Big thanks to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for hosting the weekly gathering of Monday vases – I do so love joining in. She is celebrating five years(!) of blogging this week with a pretty vase, made by her daughter, full of pink spring blooms.

In other news – my daughter had a lovely birthday last week and smiled at the flowers :-). Thank you for the kind birthday wishes. She had further excitement at the weekend when we visited friends where we used to live but it’s back down to earth and normal life this week…

I hope you won’t mind me sharing a bit of thrilling Agnes news here: Olympic hockey superstar Crista Cullen has kindly answered a load of questions about her teenage years to launch our new blog feature. Do take a look if you have a moment. Thank you.

I hope you have a good week.

Introducing Agnes

img_5980Some people believe in fate; I prefer to think that life is a massive tangle of random threads and we forge our own path by the decisions we make. All those swirling, whirling possibilities.

There were many and varied threads that led to the point where I am, right now, at this particular moment. I could go back to 2003 when we decided to try for another child. My desire to have a daughter surprised me; I adored my two little boys, mothering them was enough, why on earth would I want another baby? But I did. And, luckily, along she came, my beautiful, headstrong, kind, funny, loving girl.

I could go back to 2012 to the decision to move to this village, to this house.

I could go back to the September of that year and the decision to walk my children to their new school along a particular route where I met Helen. And I could go back to a few weeks later and the decision to accept Helen’s invitation to lunch where I met Charlotte.

Charlotte and I struck up a firm friendship straight away. She had an idea for a book for girls and when she discovered that I worked in publishing, she sent me the outline. As a mother of a pre-teen girl it struck a massive chord with me and so I put out a few feelers. No luck, but undaunted we continued talking about the idea over many months’ worth of dog walks and the idea grew and morphed into an idea for a website. Should we do it? Could we build it and write it ourselves? We decided we should and we could. And many, many months later we’ve done it.

We have worked on it as a labour of love, during any spare time we have; we’ve bored our spouses, our children, anyone who’ll listen to us; we’ve dreamed of chatting to Jane Garvey on Woman’s Hour; and we have encouraged and chivvied each other along.

We haven’t done it all on our own, though. We’ve worked with some wonderful people who have donated their time and expertise – a psychologist has written the pages on mental health, expert relatives and friends have checked the copy and advised us, several teenage girls (and mothers) have given us feedback, and we’ve even had material from a couple of blogging friends (thank you Lynda and Gillian).

And now, this morning, Agnes is ready for public viewing. We are smashing an imaginary bottle of champagne onto her hull and sending her out into the wild ocean of the world-wide web.

The whole point of our website is to help girls to navigate their teenage years. It’s full of relevant information, sound advice and inspiration. I wish I’d had something like it when I was growing up.

I won’t go into detail about it; I’ll let it speak for itself. Please click on this link and see what you think. If you have a teenage girl in your life or know someone who has, it would be fabulous if you could help us to spread the word. Thank you.

And now I’m going to lie down in a darkened room for a while and have a little rest. Who am I kidding?! I need to clean the house and catch up on all the stuff I’ve been ignoring. I need to get out into the garden! If you come here for the gardening, there will be more. Soon.

Have a splendid weekend. x