Coronacoaster

Hello! How are you bearing up? It’s day two hundred gazillion in the weird, unsettling, up-and-down pandemic world and here at acoastalplot we’re coping with the current state of the nation in our own ways with varying degrees of success. I haven’t written a post for over a month because I have had neither words nor energy – I’m not sure I have words now, to be honest, but I felt like dropping in, sharing a few photos and and having a little brain ramble, so please bear with me.

Work has been incredibly busy. I don’t think I have ever worked as intensely or been so challenged. I’m not a front-line worker – I haven’t had to go out to work like nurses, cleaners, teachers, refuse collectors, lorry drivers, cashiers, or any of the other wonderful people who have kept the country going. I am working from home on the phone and at my computer as part of the community hub, helping people who live in this area to access food, medication and all the other forms of support that vulnerable people need, particularly if they are shielding and live alone. People are frightened, lonely, poorly, confused, frustrated, cross, grateful. Some calls take 10 minutes; some take over an hour. I’ve had conversations that have made me laugh with lovely people who are grateful that others care and conversations that have left me tearful and shaking with a fury that we should be doing better. As a country, we should be doing better. I won’t go into a full-on political rant here, but the pandemic has shone a light onto the chronic deprivation and the failure of successive governments to fund social care and other support networks. It has also highlighted the incredible volunteers who do far more than could be reasonably asked of them, who keep many of the caring organisations going. If it wasn’t for these amazing people, we would be even further up shit creek without a paddle and in a leaking boat.

And on top of all this, there was the murder of George Floyd. The graphic and horrifying images of his death were heartbreaking and difficult to watch. Shame on us humans. Shame on a nation where the police – who are meant to uphold law and order and keep people safe – can behave in this way. There has been much social media outrage and people giving their opinions and judging other people for their opinions. Who am I to add my opinions to the fray?! I am a privileged white woman who has not personally experienced racism. But I do know that it is wrong, wrong, wrong and I will do anything I can to counter it. We should rage against it all.

Yes, we should rage but there has to be respite from raging. Otherwise we’d all  suffer from a collective breakdown. My three darling children – young adults – veer between rage, despondency, boredom, hysteria, positive motivation, despair and stupefaction. We are doing our best to help them navigate a way through this but we’re feeling our way too. Some days, when the sun is shining and the fridge is full and funny things happen are good days; some days when you hear about a friend who’s ill, or you make the mistake of watching too much news and the house is a tip, are bad days; some days are just flat, meh days. It’s not easy. I quite often want to get in the car and drive somewhere, anywhere, far away, or stay in bed and pull the duvet over my head, but I can’t. We have to keep on keeping on. Do the laundry, clean the toilets, wash the dishes, cook the food… And while doing all this, we might as well try to do it to the best of our ability and enjoy it.

We have drawn up a weekly rota for cooking the evening meal – David and I each cook twice a week and each kid does an evening – and we’re experimenting and widening our repertoire. Stand-out meals have been a fragrant daal spicy with roasted butternut squash and flatbreads, a spaghetti carbonara made without cream and roasted salmon with turmeric rice; all absolutely delicious. David has been baking bread and croissants and Harriet has been baking brownies, biscuits and cakes… My waistline has expanded. We also drew up a cleaning rota but the less said about that, the better.

And the weather… Thank goodness for the sunniest May on record. It has been flipping fantastic to lie on the grass in the sunshine and gaze at the blue sky, or sit on the steps and watch bees busily going from flower to flower. We’ve been gardening, of course, sowing and growing veg and watching our little orchard maturing. It’s been wonderful to escape outside to pull a few weeds, see the progress in the veg bed, tend the roses, pick the wild strawberries and just sit quietly taking it all in, soaking up that nature. Flowers are helping to soothe my fragile mind.

Since we’ve been allowed to gather with others outdoors, my parents have visited us a few times to sit at the front overlooking the sea and it’s been lovely to chat in person. We haven’t hugged each other, though, or been able to hold hands and that’s been weird. It seems very strange that holding someones hand could make them or you ill and be potentially life-threatening. But there it is. These are strange times, my friends.

Apologies for the rambling post. I hope you are keeping well and I hope you are having more up days than down days. Take good care of yourself.

 

Katharine’s Garden (and more)

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The first time I visited Katharine’s place, it was pitch black (a winter’s evening gathering of our book group) and I couldn’t see the outside of her house or her garden. I knew she was a keen and knowledgable gardener; we had chats about it and she kindly helped me to clear a patch of our overgrown back garden not long after we’d moved in. Like every gardener I’ve ever met, she is enthusiastic and generous with her knowledge and time. When I did get to visit her home in the daylight and walk around the garden I was blown away and a few weeks ago I popped round in the late afternoon to take some photographs to show you.

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When Katharine and her family moved here 15 years ago, the house had been empty since the early 1950s. It was very ramshackle and surrounded by an overgrown jungle of brambles, sycamores and elder. Crucially, there was No Garden. The house took 8 years to renovate to a point where they could live in it but with great foresight they decided to start making a garden straight away, planting hedges, fruit and other trees. Being so close to the coast it’s often extremely windy, so this was a good move; the plants established quickly creating much-needed shelter belts.

She describes her approach to gardening as ‘a little haphazard’. “My mother is a huge influence and keeps me amply supplied with cuttings and plants. I love things when they blend into nature – seeing a rose rambling up a crab apple tree and also allowing an area to run a little wild, like long grass and bluebells. On the other hand, I also love defined areas – neatly trimmed edges happen every now and again and they really help to offset what is growing in the flower beds.”

“My favourite plants are often those given to me by other people, as I think of them when I see the plant.” She also loves plants that have taken a battering but pull through against the odds, such as her patch of monk’s hood (Aconitum). Every year since she planted it, when it was full of promise and about to flower, it would be cut down by footballs landing on it or flying through it (she has four sons…). Over the last couple of years it has increased to such an extent the it manages to flower prolifically and withstand the footballs.

As well as this hardy monk’s hood, she also loves her irises and Alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantle) and grows some beautiful, classic old roses – ‘William Lobb’, Rosa rugosa ‘Rubra’, Rosa rugosa ‘Magnifica’ and Rosa mundi – and climbing roses ‘Alberic Barbier’ and ‘Paul’s Scarlet’. The unpredictability of the garden is one of the things she loves most about it – each year different plants seem to do well – and her favourite spots change throughout the seasons depending on what is out: banks of snowdrops in late winter, the bluebells patch in spring, in and amongst the apple trees when in blossom, and later in the year, when the sun is low, she loves to sit in the gazebo. And it’s not just the plants and favourite spots, her chickens are also important: “I would never not have chickens now. They bring a sense of life to the place and having something to look after every day gives you a good anchor to notice how things are changing around you.”

I asked Katharine whether there are any specific gardening challenges she faces: “This year the rabbits have discovered the vegetable patch and we will have to look at rabbit-proofing it for next year. Slugs, too, have been a real problem, but it has also been an odd year in general for growing things. Plants have taken a long time to get going and planting things straight into the soil has not yielded good results. Wind is an on-going battle and we need to make sure the chickens do not escape for the sake of delicate seedlings. Bindweed (say no more) and footballs.”

And plans for the future? “I feel we have only just begun! I would like to divide the garden into different, defined areas, so each area has more of an identity of its own. We are creating a pond at the moment and I am excited by the possibilities that will bring – different wildlife and learning about bog and water-loving plants.”

I’m looking forward to seeing how it all develops. A big thank you to Katharine for letting me wander around snapping away, for answering my questions and for and sharing her lovely garden.

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In other news… I can hardly bear to turn on the tv or radio at the moment with the shocking news from Nice and now Turkey. My desire to be well-informed is being overtaken by my desire to keep sane. Almost every day there is an atrocity somewhere and it is heartbreaking. It might seem flippant to be posting about gardens and flowers and our everyday lives, but I think it’s especially important at times like this. Good moments, nature, beauty, kindness, love, compassion, dignity – these are the things to cling on to. Sorry if that sounds trite; it’s hard to find the right words. My family will be travelling soon and I am taking deep breaths and giving my irrational, what-if-everything-goes-wrong side a good talking to. Give in to fear and you’re giving in to the haters, and I’m determined not to do that.

All will be mostly quiet chez acoastalplot now until late August. In the meantime, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, I wish you peace, love and contentment.
Sam x

 

 

Granny’s bonnets and other delights

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Granny’s bonnets, columbine, cock’s foot, culverwort and pigeon flower are just a few of the common names for Aquilegia vulgaris. Pink ones, all-shades-of-purple ones, some bi-coloured ones, it has self-seeded all over our garden without so much as a by-your-leave but it is most welcome.

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Chives coming into flower and Nigella buds with frothy foliage. Nigella has also seeded all over the garden and made herself at home. I like that.
The chives I planted last year are coming into flower next to some Nigella damascena buds with their feathery foliage. Also known as love-in-a-mist, chase-the-devil, Jack in the green and St Catherine’s flower, this is another one who’s spread all over the garden and made herself at home. I like that.

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These fiery wallflowers were looking rather sorry for themselves a few weeks back but have perked up with the warmer weather and late spring rain.
These fiery wallflowers were looking rather sorry for themselves a few weeks back but have perked up with the warmer weather and late spring rain.
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Erigeron karvinskianus (fleabane) – our front steps are disappearing under a froth of this delightful daisy. The longer stems are great for cutting and we’re slowly spreading it around the garden by pulling chunks off, potting them up until they root, then transplanting to where we want it. It’s such a hardy, hard-working pretty plant.

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Even before my passion for plants and gardening was kindled, I could appreciate the loveliness of certain types of garden. Not the manicured, parks-planting type of garden but those with a romantic, slightly wild and natural style. Ones with billowing clouds of frothy flowers, dainty blooms growing in cracks in paving, and gardens that felt abundant and generous, and full of soul. When I caught the gardening bug, I dreamed that one day I’d create such a garden. Pottering about outside yesterday in the late afternoon sunshine, I had a little moment as I realised that it’s happening. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say I had a lump in my throat. My dream garden is emerging. All the hard labour and hours spent digging, on our hands and knees, shifting rocks and soil, rebuilding walls, pulling out brambles, cutting back overgrown hedges – it’s all totally worth it and I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.

The King’s Fund published a report earlier in the week on the health benefits of gardens and gardening. It contains a plethora of evidence on how the activity of gardening and being in gardens can help combat depression, anxiety and stress, be of benefit when tackling several physical conditions and help boost confidence and self-esteem. I suspect that every gardener already knows this but there you have it. Gardening is most definitely good for you. It’s official.

Wishing you a super-duper weekend. My middle child is off on his bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award practice expedition first thing in the morning – the forecast is for heavy rain tomorrow night (oh dear) – and my eldest will be revising for his first full week of exams next week (ouch). We’ll be spending as much time as possible in the garden.