Archive for the ‘Garden’ Category

Snow and snow

Heh. Couldn’t resist the pun.

Well, as anyone following the news/weather would be aware, the wet and mud gave way to snow. Severe weather warning type snow. A snowcopalypse. We were on the edge of the zone for the ‘red’ severe snow warning, and it was quite impressive. The school was closed and we were actually snowed in for a couple of days. It was incredibly pretty. The trees over our entrance drive were weighed down with snow and arched over the road.



Then we had a few days where it would thaw slightly by day and freeze by night. Which means… icicles!


And then… it was warm and wet. There was some heavy rain and in the space of a day, all the snow had gone.

But look! There was something even better in their place!


(In the background you can see the river. We’ve had a *lot* of rain!)

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Emma chose ‘Space’ as this week’s word. I love words with a lot of potential interpretations. I’ve been thinking about this word since Emma picked it and there are so many ideas that come to mind. I confess, I am sitting down to write this post with no idea of where I’m going to go – I’m hoping that the pressure of a deadline will work its magic and I’ll have a coherent post by the end. This is fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants blogging, people!

I suppose one of the first ideas that I had was the ‘outer space’ connection. There was the brave chap who jumped from the ‘edge of space’ recently. ‘Outer space’ is a rich source of stories – usually stories about its inhabitants. I wonder if we people the ‘space’ of our imagination with all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures because we genuinely accept the rational view that logically, we can’t be the only living things in an infinite universe, or because the idea of being alone in infinite space is somehow scarier? I find reading about the vastness of space actually hurts my mind. I’ve posted this video before, because it’s amazing – if you haven’t seen it before, do watch it. It’s a marvellous testament to human curiosity as well as being pretty fascinating.

And then of course, at the opposite extreme, there’s the idea of having our ‘own space’, carving out a small part of the world that’s ours. Our ‘room of one’s own with a lock on the door’ that V Woolf argued was essential for creativity. This, as I mentioned in my last post, is a bit of a preoccupation Chez S&S at the moment. We’re trying to create spaces in our home that work for us as a family, and we’re having a bit of a rearrange so the youngest member of the family can have her own space. And my office will be moving to the attic, which is going to be a bit novel – I’m a bit apprehensive about making a creative space up there. It’s exhausting and expensive, but also exciting – it’ll be good to have this place as we need it to be. We live here and work here so it’s very important that our little corner is a happy and comfortable place to be.

And part of that process has involved the creating of spaces – of emptiness – where once there were none. Things have been moved, rearranged, given away and thrown out to create empty spaces in which we can realise our ideas. It’s wonderfully cathartic, and the empty spaces are quite exciting. The overgrown flowerbeds we’ve emptied now seem to overflow with potential. The once crowded storeroom is now empty and is going to be a lovely space for laundry, which means the rest of the house won’t have racks and baskets of washing all over it. This process is making me realise even more strongly that I’d like to simplify. I’d like to have less stuff and more space. More room to breathe, to create. Space can mean emptiness, but a space is a possibility, a potential. In a space, anything can happen. And that’s pretty cool.

Go and see Emma to see what other people have done with their spaces!

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What a brilliant prompt Aimee chose for this week! This blog is all about accentuating the positive, and so this has come at precisely the right time for me, because where I live is currently somewhat chaotic. We’re doing a spot of reorganisation. We’ve cleared out an upstairs storeroom to make a laundry room. This has necessitated the banging and scraping involved in new plumbing and the heaving about of the washing machine. I’ve just been told that because of a ‘vibration mounting’ (oo-er missus!) I can’t do any laundry for two days. I am, as you can imagine, heartbroken. We’ve also discovered that the chimney is leaking smoke and carbon monoxide into our bedroom so we’ve got to get it lined before we can light the woodburner. I’m also rearranging the playroom to make a proper family room, clearing a lot of stuff that was lingering in corners of the hall, and then I need to sort my office so I can move it up to the attic, thereby making space for Littlest S&S to have her own room (eventually). Then we’ll be finishing the new bathroom and putting in a new kitchen – our current one doesn’t suit the way we cook and the amount of stuff we have (my baking stuff alone could fill half the available storage) so that will be all change.

Yes, it’s exciting, but the process of planning changes on this scale means that you, of necessity, focus on what doesn’t work, what drives you mad, what needs changing. So, thank you, Aimee, for a timely reminder to do a spot of Blessing Counting.

For those who are not regular readers, I live in an old farmhouse in the middle of Wales. Nobody really knows how old the house is. We know the kitchen is the newest part and was built in the very early 19th century. (It’s the only room to have a damp-proof course). The oldest bit was probably a Welsh long barn and could be very old indeed. There have been people farming here since at least the twelfth century, and probably longer. The sense of history is one of the things I love – the feeling that other women have lived their lives here, brought up their children, done their laundry and swept their floors and tended their gardens and hens. And probably sat by the fire with their knitting or sewing at the end of the day. They are probably looking at me with my washing machine and dishwasher and muttering that I don’t know I’m born. I love sitting in bed, looking at the beams in the ceiling, beams that have been there for hundreds of years, but still have notches in them from where they were used before. How many people have sat under these beams, slept there, dreamed there? Yes, the house is cold, and old houses take seemingly endless maintenance and special paint and so on, but it’s worth it.

I love the river. It runs by the house – when the river’s full we can hear it from the kitchen – and one of our ways out is over a footbridge. I love the various moods of the river and how it changes over the seasons. When the river’s low, there are pebbly ‘beaches’ where we can sit, and the children paddle in the shallows of the clear, sparkling river and spot fish. When there’s been heavy rain, and the river’s full, it roars along at top speed, sometimes bearing branches – or whole trees – as it goes. The beaches are long gone, as are the river banks, under feet of swirling brown-grey water. Then the water subsides and the banks are covered with flattened grasses. And then in winter, the edges freeze and the banks are stippled with white.

I love the remoteness. I love the peace and quiet. We do have the rumble of the odd lorry on the road in the distance, and we also have the RAF practising low flying from time to time – a Tornado going over at less than 200ft is not restful – but generally it’s very peaceful here. Some visitors from the city complain that they can’t sleep as it’s ‘too quiet’. I love being surrounded by nature and the way it’s brought me an appreciation of the passing of the seasons. And I love the proper dark. There’s no light pollution so on a clear night the stars can be breathtaking.

I love the view from my back door. Winter or summer, rain or shine, I absolutely count the blessing of this view every day of my life.

I love the community of living in a rural area. I love knowing my postmen by name. I love seeing lots of people I know when I go into town. I love knowing that if I need a lift, a half hour’s babysitting or a parcel collecting, there are a dozen people I can ask. Yes, there’s gossip and the occasional generations-old family feud that can trap the unwary newcomer, but generally, I love the ‘everyone knows everyone’ thing.

I love the space. There’s room for the children to run around, for friends to come and camp, for parties and bonfires. We have decent sized rooms and big cupboards and store rooms that can be made into laundries. Yes, this sense of space often manifests itself, day to day, as frustration – a garden so big I’ll never get it under control, and a big house that takes an age to clean and has infinite corners to accumulate clutter and dust and cobwebs. (Argh, the cobwebs in old houses! That’s one thing I do not love.) But we will chip, chip, chip away and get things closer to how we want them, and in the meantime, we have space to run about and space to keep all our stuff in while we sort out which we actually need to hang onto. And the space brings possibilities. There are so many things we can do – obviously, doing them is another matter. But the possibility is a wonderful thing. And I’ve got the rest of my life to explore it.

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Has it really been almost two months? Where has the time gone?

There has been the usual school holidays/ camping holiday business, but mostly the last few months have just been pretty stressful. I won’t go into detail as this is my ‘counting blessings’ blog, but suffice to say, we’ve had a rather difficult time, and juggling a family crisis on top of the usual ‘three-children-under-five’ stuff has been a bit of a struggle.

But things have been happening and somehow, in the fringes, I’ve been managing to find some pockets of creativity and inspiration, so I hope to be back to the blog a bit more.

In the meantime, here are some pictures I took a few weeks ago and meant to share with you. This year has been a wonderful year for foxgloves. The first summer after we arrived here, so four years ago, was wonderful for foxgloves. The next year, there were hardly any. I reasoned that as they are biannuals, they should be back next year, but they weren’t. But this year – they were everywhere. Every hedgerow was filled with clusters of purple spires. Gorgeous.

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Weekword: Scent

After a bit of a blogging hiatus (baby with growth spurt, husband with tonsilitis, me with family stresses) I am back. Emma chose ‘Scent’ as this week’s word and I couldn’t resist so I’ve snuck in unannounced with a wee post.

The garden is looking a bit ragged at the moment as my months of neglect are compounded with wind and rain. But gardens after rain are especially sweet smelling (the scent I wore on my wedding day was called ‘Wet Garden’) so I trotted round with my camera.

Here’s the beautiful Gertrude Jekyll, a rose with a rich, deep scent:

There are wild roses growing up through the trees – they look amazing. The scent is quite subtle, but it’s there.

Then there’s my very leggy lavender. The lavenders really need to come out but I’ve decided that until I have plants ready to take their place, they’re staying put. I know that if I take them out there’ll be dandelions and couch and worse in there before my back’s turned.

The honeysuckle is going mad here at the moment – every hedge seems to be full of it. Here’s some climbing through a willow:

Pop by to see Emma for more scented wonders!

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Well, I haven’t managed to do a Tuesday 10 for a while since I restarted, but here I am again.

My garden is a work in progress – long term readers will remember that we started re-landscaping last year. Since then, we were overtaken by work, pregnancy and needing to replace all the pipes in the house because water was coming through the ceilings. So the garden is, to put it mildly, not what I hoped for. The flower beds are either overgrown or dug over and covered to await replanting. The veg beds are no more – we removed the last lot and didn’t manage to build more. Hey ho. But despite that, there are still some signs of spring.

The primulas are out – including the ones I transplanted from the bed that was dug up. They have survived being transplanted at completely the wrong time of year and look marvellous:

And there are primroses everywhere – they’ve even spread into the lawn, which makes me very happy. I’m not someone who longs for an immaculate lawn (which is probably a good thing, all things considered…)

The daisies are up and out and being ruthlessly picked by Miss S&S the Elder:

There are lots of new leaves:

And lots of new lambs:

And my herb pots by the back door are showing signs of life – my parsley:

And my mint:

I shamefully ignored my strawberry plants last year. They’ve sat outside in all weathers, but I have a few flowers, which is more than I deserve!

The marvellous magnolia stellata is going over now, but here’s a picture I took a week or so ago:

And the cherry blossom is out in force:

Plenty to gladden the heart even without the flowerbeds … but next year will be better!

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Seasonal confusion

So, it may be the beginning of February, but spring has been springing for a good few weeks.

And now, today, after a few days of freezing weather the snow has started and is coming down thick and fast. Apparently this is good for fruit trees, but I’m not sure what it’ll do to the magnolia, which is very heavily budded, or to the poor little primulas. The snowdrops should be fine – or at least, they will be if C.M. Barker is to be believed. Generally I like the Flower Fairies for the pictures more than the poems, but I have a soft spot for the Song of the Snowdrop Fairy:

Deep sleeps the winter, Cold, wet, and grey;
Surely all the world is dead;
Spring is far away.
Wait! The world shall waken;
It is not dead, for lo,
The Fair Maids of February
Stand in the snow!

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On Sunday, Mr S&S was happy because it was the first Sunday in Advent, so he was allowed mince pies. I am a stickler for ‘No Christmas things in the house until Advent’ because I like Christmas to be special and exciting and if you’re surrounded by Christmas things from October, it… isn’t.

But today is the 1st of December and I’m starting to feel, despite all the stuff going on here, enthusiastic about Christmas. I’m feeling festive. And creative. And excited. I also think my blogging mojo has come back, and to encourage it, I’ve decided to use the blog to harness my feelings of Festive Cheer. I’m going to do a post every day about something Christmassy or celebratory or wintery that makes me feel happy and cosy and festive. A sort of advent calendar/journal of Christmas preparations, which, I hope, will get me properly into the blog again, and encourage me to make time to do some of the things in my head.

First up, today’s little indulgence. I love Country Living magazine, but I don’t often manage to justify buying it. But today I was out and about and I thought that I deserved a little treat, and the December edition is just so Christmassy and lovely and inspiring.

Even the cover is scrumptious. The baubles! The ribbon! The candlelight!

I won’t show you all the lovely things as I plan to do some of them, and mine won’t be magazine-quality! But here’s a lovely boiled wool stocking with hand embroidery that I have no plans to make:

This feature, however, has made me want to grab secateurs and go out and denude the local trees and shrubs for winter foliage.

There’s also some glorious recipes and a feature about a man who makes stained glass and the most beautiful pictures of a frost-covered garden that has me thinking about structural plants.

It’s starting to seem as though this was £3.90 well spent!

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I know, I’m dragging this out, but I can’t miss showing you my pictures of the Eden Project, now can I? I’d heard a lot about the Eden Project and had a feeling that it was somewhere I’d enjoy. So, can I just say, if you’re in the St Austell area and you wonder, ‘Is it going to be worth £20-odd quid to see some plants?’ then the answer is yes. Yes it is. (Although you can get discounts if you book in advance, and we got a 25% off voucher at Heligan). Because this is simultaneously all about plants and about so much more. I had high expectations of Eden, and I was blown away.

The scope of the project is astonishing. The creators wanted to make a site which would showcase the amazing influence of plants on our lives – their very centrality to all life. And that’s what they’ve done. It brings home the importance of conservation, but at no point is it preachy. They also wanted to do it in an environmentally sensitive way, both in terms of the ‘green-ness’ and in terms of respect for the local people and local economy. So they found a disused chalk quarry and made a garden. They didn’t import soil, they made it, from local ingredients. And they carried on from there. You can find out more about it here.

You come through the entrance and step out to the lip of the quarry and you see this:

Well, you see more than that, but my camera couldnn’t do the whole panorama. To get the the bottom, you walk down zig-zaggy paths, past some truly gorgeous planting.

In one of several very imaginative touches, they have little cut-throughs for kids, which are not only fun, but mean they don’t have to walk as far, so less whingeing:

In fact, there are lots of touches that are great for kids. A building where you can enter via a door or a slide. Hidey holes and climbing frames and things that have signs saying ‘Yes, you can play in here’. Lovely.

The outside areas at the bottom of the site are filled with gorgeous planting – herbaceous borders, willow hedges, and when we were there, roses, dahlias, sweet peas – I’d love to see what was planted at other times of the year. I took dozens of pictures, but here’s a taster:

Inspiration for ‘hot’ planting…

… and ‘cool’.

Another apple arch – I love these.

A wall built to encourage insects.

Lovely – I love the willow planters.

Dahlias (I always thought I didn’t like dahlias, but I saw some terrific ones in Cornwall – I think I’m being won over.

Dahlia with bee.

So, into the biomes. The first is the rainforest biome and it gets hot. Wear layers, take water – that’s all I’m sayin’. It’s incredible. Obviously, there are plants, wonderful plants – but also some witty, informative touches, and lots of information about what the plants are and how they’ve impacted on us. Again, lots of pictures, but here’s a small sample to give an idea of the scale:

Obviously, me being me, I took lots of pictures of flowers, too.

See that bottom one? That’s the Madagascan periwinkle. It’s endangered in its natural habitat, but is widely cultivated elsewhere. Why? Because it’s saved thousands of lives as a treatment for childhood leukemia. That little plant right there is the most powerful argument I’ve seen for habitat conservation. It’s not altruism, it’s self-interest.

And of course, we saw rice and tea and coffee and cocoa and rubber and spices and, most exciting for the kids:

This is just a fraction of a sample of what’s there.

So, then, after losing the Little Boy and finding him again, we went to the Mediterranean biome. Lots of more temperate plants, and vines and herbs and tomatoes and olive trees and chilis… (and a wonderful Spanish guitarist, which was a bonus).

There was more outside – plants for brewing, plants for dyeing, plants for … pretty much everything.

I loved this veg bed:

and this giant bee:

We had brought our own lunches, because we weren’t sure what the catering was like, but Mr S&S couldn’t resist one of the Biggest Scones In The World.

So, a tiny taster of the wonders of Eden. But to end, in one of the exhibition spaces, we saw this:

And it’s pretty mindblowing. These are the first architect’s sketch of the big biomes, done on pub napkins. It gave me a bit of a shiver to realise that it was the sheer force of human will that turned a pub-napkin pipe dream into huge, real, growing, flowering reality.

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The first place on my Cornwall hit list was the Lost Gardens of Heligan. The gardens were part of the seat of the Tremayne family, and in the late 19th century, they were at the height of their beauty. But not long after (partly because the men who tended them went off to war in 1914) the gardens became overgrown, and were finally ‘lost’. In 1990, a team of gardeners and garden historians and general good eggs set about restoring the gardens – and they are wonderful. When you arrive, you’re given a sepia-coloured map and a wee compass, which does set the tone for some serious exploring!

The gardens have been restored in a manner that is sympathetic to the original, but in no way does it feel like a period piece – it’s very much a contemporary garden. I suppose what they’ve done is created the garden to be as it would have been if it had never been lost, so rather than create an Edwardian garden in aspic, they’ve just skipped the intervening years as though all the 20th century head gardeners had been there, making their changes and following their fashions. It’s very clever. We couldn’t see the ‘Jungle’ and wild bits as we had wheel- and pushchairs in the party – so we’ll just have to go again! In any event, I’d love to see it in spring. And in high summer. And in deep autumn, too…

Would you like to see some pictures? I do hope so, because I took lots.

I love hydrangeas, and the Heligan ones were almost obscenely healthy and vigorous.

Some of the tree and grass planting in the ‘wilderness’ area.

The walled garden – this was magnificent. It was so productive – flowers, herbs, fruit, vegetables – and not at all sanitised. It was a working garden with compost heaps and the odd area that you could see was next to be weeded.

A lovely mixture of fruit and flowers.

A longer shot of the walled garden – you can see how huge it is!

One of the beautiful glasshouses.

These are the niches where the bee skeps were kept – and they’ve retained the skeps over the more modern hives.

I loved the orchard – or ‘poultry orchard’ as they called it – with the hens and ducks and geese as big a feature as the beautiful trees. I dream of one day restoring the derelict orchard here, and having my chickens pecking around underneath. One day – probably in time for the great-great-granddaughters of our current hens…

A traditional herbaceous border – it was just starting to go over, but it’s easy to see how brilliant it must have looked when the red hot pokers were at their hottest and the whites at their crispest.

There are lots of little nooks and niches – this is the Italian garden, complete with sunken pond. The children were most taken with the fish.

Then it was into the main walled produce garden, which was fantastic. Here’s a beautifully espaliered pear tree…

… and a lovely arch of apple trees. I imagine this is stunning at blossom time.

Some beautiful beans.

The long serried rows of beautiful veg – here some salad leaves – with the gardener off in the distance.

I loved this companion planting of flowers with the veg – I must remember this. It apparently cuts down on pests, but also means you can cut the flowers for the house without spoiling your borders, in a veg and cutting garden combined.

Finally, how’s this for planting? I love the mix of colours, tone and texture. Gorgeous.

This is a fraction of the pictures I took, and we saw a fraction of the garden. I can’t wait to go back.

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