Plans for 2014

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I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. To me it seems that you are just putting yourself under pressure to achieve something which will undoubtedly not be achieved and you will feel like you have failed! But that is just my view. Instead I like to have aspirations and plans which I hope to achieve but with the full expectation that life may throw a curve ball and mean they are put on the back burner. Indeed when I read back through my garden journal from this time last year I was going to create a fern border up the top of the garden but this space was taken over by a wood store for my son and then there was the unexpected decision to give up some of the garden for his workshop which put all the other plans on hold and changed the feel and focus of then garden, albeit for the better.

This year I have a couple of ideas I am hoping to implement. First up is sorting out the corner of the patio. As you can see from the top photo it floods when we have heavy rain. I have had a pond here but the someone somewhere must have cleared some drainage and it dried out. It is now dry most of the year but I can’t risk planting anything here that isn’t a marginal plant. The other problem is that all the dust and detritus from the patio finds it way here and it is a challenge to make it tidy. I also feel that some height is needed here. So the plan is to put in some bricks or concrete blocks in which I can rest a wood plank platform. My eldest and I have worked it out so that any flood water could drain away through a gap below the planks. I then fancy a nice acer in a large pot here.

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Then there is the Big Border to come up with an approach for. I feel an inclination to lush exotic looking foliage coupled with some more traditional perennials but it hasn’t crystallised in my mind yet. The far end of the border is partially shady so I will be planting some of the woodland perennials I love here. This is an area that I think will cause much pondering over the coming months.

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The other major project we will definitely have to do is to finish the landscaping around the workshop. Guttering and a water butt need to be put in and the wood store which is where the fern border was going to be needs to be relocated to its final position. We want to create a small seating area by the workshop (in the area above) – it’s one of the few flattish areas. I will need to rejig some of the plants and bring in a load of gravel. There should be enough room for a bench.

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The original woodland border needs some focus and better planting. This was on the list for last year but was a victim of the Big Border/workshop project. I want to add more shrubs along the fence and rejig the smaller perennials more to the front of the border. Originally when the border was created I intended there would be an informal path through the border but with developments last year I no longer think another path is a good idea. This means the focus of the border has changed but I think what I have in mind will be much better than the original plan.

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Then there is the grass path dilemma. This is what was left of the back lawn. It has a camber which means I find cutting it with the mower exhausting and a strimmer justo doesn’t do the job well enough. Then there is the badger and it’s penchant for digging holes in it looking for grubs. Why I don’t know since there is a vast area of grass next door which is neglected and which the badger has to cross to get to my garden! I am toying with putting in a gravel path instead but there is a small voice saying the grass is a nice pause in the chaos of the garden. I suspect that I will still be pondering this in a year’s time.

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Finally two projects I did plan and complete last year. The small conifer bed in front of the workshop is looking fresh and there are bulbs beginning to push through the soil. The woodland slope is my favourite area at the moment. I have planted it with ferns and epimediums and again there are snowdrops and special narcissus in here. I am hoping it will look wonderful in a month or so.

So lots planned and filling my mind in the early hours of the morning but at least there will be things to report back on here!

My Garden This Weekend – 1st April 2013

The sight that greeted me when I returned home on Saturday

The sight that greeted me when I returned home on Saturday

As I mentioned in my post last weekend I have had the last week off work but the weather has not been at all kind to me.  However, saying that it has been nice to relax and spend time with my youngest son, who is home from University.  The snow that fell a week ago on Saturday has finally gone and if you look carefully there are all sorts of plants putting their heads above the ground including peonies, Solomons seal, meconopsis poppy and geraniums.  I am hoping that we don’t have any more real drops in temperature which will affect these new shoots.   The Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ is just beginning to open its flowers and should look wonderful by the end of this week.

I have rearranged the greenhouse twice in a bid to try to make some more space for seed trays as well as for the trays of seedlings which I will hopefully have in a few weeks.  I just need some warmer weather so I can move things on from the cold frame which will make room for plants to be moved out of the greenhouse. There are a few things beginning to germinate but mainly alpines in the cold frame: Primula wilsonii anisodora and Delphinium requienii as well as some Dahlia x Twynings Eight seeds which Karen gave me last year.

At the end of Sunday after my efforts

At the end of Sunday after my efforts

The only real work that has happened in the garden is down to my sons.  While I was at the monthly meeting of the local Hardy Plant Society on Saturday they started on extending the steps up the garden.  I have been waiting to do this for probably 3 years and am absolutely thrilled with the result.  When I got home the first 3 risers had gone in and the steps levelled.  On Sunday I collected stone from around the garden – we are always digging up lumps of Malvern stone – and edged the steps.  My father is excellent at constructing dry stone walls and makes it look easy; it isn’t and I was only trying to get two layers.  But it will do for now and I know that later in the year my supply of stone will increase due to the next major project. I then put down some path membrane which we had bought back from the allotment when I gave it up last year and topped dressed the steps with left over gravel from when we put in the bike store.  Sadly, and inevitably, we didn’t have enough gravel so another four bags were bought today and the job finished while I was at my local AGS group’s show (more  of that later in the week).  I am amazed at the visual difference the steps make, they tie the garden together better and finally I can stop sliding over backwards on the mud. Oh and the third compost bin was also put up as we had no where for the lifted ‘turf’ to go.

The view when I got home today

The view when I got home today

The big project is that I have agreed to my eldest son having a workshop in the garden for his woodwork.  He currently works in the garage but it is far from ideal – being dark and full of garden tools etc.  We looked at converting the garage into a workshop by removing the front door and bricking it up with a window but building regulations are demanding and we would have to dig foundations, add insulation etc.  Plus cost aside I still need to store the gardening stuff and it would  also restrict access to the garden and back of the house.  I did consult a builder I know and am waiting on a quote but something didn’t sit right in my mind so I suggested to my son he might like a shed instead, with power and insulation.  Surprisingly, he was more thrilled with this idea than the garage conversion – there must be something deep in the psyche of men that they get excited about  sheds!!  We have worked out that the best size will be 8′ x 8′ and he has found some with a high roofs which is important as he is 6′ 5″ but we also have to make sure the roof is low enough not to need planning permission!!

I have agreed that he can have the area to the right of the top of the path as this is one of the few flat areas in the garden and an area I tend to ignore as I can’t decide on an identity for it.  We will need to cut back into the slope so the shed is set right back and not quite so dominant.  The result of this is I have many plants to re-home and that is on top of the moves I have been trying to do over winter and the new border I want to create which I have plants ready for.  I have concluded the only way to cope is to pot the plants up and then to rethink where they are going.  Luckily my son is happy to wait for a bit and is going to help me create the new  border but I now have lots and lots to do so I really need the weather to warm up a little.

The local AGS group's show

The local AGS group’s show

I know I will lose some gardening space but I am digging up the back lawn which will give me more room, plus I will have more space in the garage for overwintering plants which will free up space in the greenhouse and most importantly I really want to support my son who I think has a bit of a talent for  wood-turning. I also think the workshop will help the garden overall since I think in some strange way it will add structure and the paths will make more sense.

I have decided the only way forward is to get a thick dull novel which will help me sleep at night!

My Garden This Weekend – 17th March 2013

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At last the weather has been kind and allowed me a day in the garden.   The weekend had started well with a visit to Victoria at her new home and meeting her incredibly cute puppy Rufus, who is a scream.  I have known Victoria four or five years,  originally through blogging, and have stayed at her old home in London so I was very interested to see what her new home in the Cotswold would be like.  She has been doing a lot of renovating in the house and I think she wouldn’t be cross with me if I said the house was slightly chaotic but the kitchen fitters were about to finish so hopefully by now she is beginning to feel she is getting back on top of things again.  We retreated to a nearly pub for an excellent pub lunch and left them to it.  She has a wonderful new garden with lovely views out across fields to trees beyond.  The garden has been neglected for some years but it is almost a blank canvas for Victoria to work her magic on.  I think it will be very interesting to see what she does.

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This morning the sun was shining and for once I looked out at the garden and smiled.  The woodland/spring border is really beginning to fill out.   The canes mark a path  I want to put through it.  I have struggled for the last two years since I put the border in to make it work.  The trouble is that the woodland plants I love, which the border is for, are generally quite low and small so how do you make a deep border work and still be able to see the small treasures.  Then I was reminded of Olive Mason’s garden at Dial Park  which I visited some years back and how she had a path through her woodland/spring garden.  The plan is that the path will be very informal, just lined with some branches and covered in bark chip.  I am having to wait though for plants to emerge so I can see what is in the way of the path and move them accordingly.  Then I will be able to plant the small plants, including my new small collection of snowdrops, so they can be seen from within the border as well as at the front of it.

2013_03170009The back fence has perplexed me for several years ever since we removed a ridiculously large inherited laurel which swamped the whole back slope.  Two years ago I planted some bamboo in this border to screen our view of the house  behind and there are deciduous climbers on the fence.  But this is not hiding the fence and I don’t want to plant trees or large shrubs against it as my neighbour behind like to chop at anything overhanging the fence and throw it back!  However this week the penny finally dropped, and why it has taken so long I have no idea as it is such an obvious idea.  I am going to plant pyracanthus along the fence which will provide berries for birds, pollen for insects, can be cut back hard and will provide an all year round evergreen covering for the fence.  I said it was obvious!

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I am still perplexed about the back ‘lawn’ which I want to remove as it is sodden and really is just a space we cross to get from one part of the garden to another.  There is a path going in along the top of the green space but I am dithering around about whether I need any other paths.  I think the real problem is that I am a bit scared at the prospect of all that bare earth.  Victoria has suggested I should just go for it as she thinks I will soon fill it with plants (she knows me well) but in the meantime she suggested I use bark chip as a mulch to prevent it looking too bare.  Still thinking!

The other idea I came back with from my trip to the Cotswold was a new location for the fern border I want to create.  The original location was given up to accommodate my son’s wood store which was on the badger’s route.  Victoria suggested that I use the small border adjacent to the patio which is actually an idea location.  It is shady  and never dries out although it drains well.  More food for thought.  It is interesting to get other gardener’s views and ideas for your own garden.

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As well as thinking and planning I  did do some work  in the garden today although I dithered around for a while trying to decide where to start.  I ended up moving a load of Phlomis russeliana from the slope to the front garden, tying in a clematis, cutting back oregano and remove moss from it which can’t be a good thing, sowing more annuals and perennials and potting up some autumn sown annuals.

An excellent weekend all round.

My garden this week – 13/1/2013

Melianthus major

Melianthus major

I find this time of year challenging in the sense that I don’t see my garden Monday to Friday due to it being dark when I leave for and return from work.  I have no idea if the witch hazel is flowering, whether the snowdrops are emerging but also blessedly I have no idea what damage the tulip crazed badger has done.  This means that weekends, regardless of the weather, are very important to me.

I find myself scrutinising all the borders looking for changes, bulbs emerging, buds plumping up.  There is often a little squeak of joy as a special plant is spotted to be showing signs of life but at the moment the groans of disappear seem to outweigh them as I find more holes with the remains of tulip bulbs.  I am really going to have to rethink tulips next year, maybe plant them in plastic pots so I can plant them out in the border when they are substantial and less at risk from tulip junky badgers.

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This morning the sun was shining and despite it being very chilly (3C/37F) I found myself quite distracted examining the bluebells and snowdrops pushing through the mulch I applied over the Christmas break. The snowdrops seem to be further behind than normal with hardly any sign of flowers, last year they were definitely in flower on the 15th January.  The bluebells seem to be ahead with lots of lush strong foliage.

Helleborus Argustifolius ‘Janet Starnes’

Helleborus Argustifolius ‘Janet Starnes’

The various hellebores are budding up well and are really becoming quite substantial clumps.  I have one, Helleborus argustifolius ‘Janet Starnes’ whose silvery foliage has more impact than its flower which is quite  nondescript. However, there seems to be more flowers on it this year so it has improved a little on previous years.  Don’t get me wrong the foliage is lovely, as you can see, but to me hellebores are really all about the flowers.

Hamamelis mollis 'Arnold Promise'

Hamamelis mollis ‘Arnold Promise’

The witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis ‘Arnold Promise’) is  just beginning to open its flowers.  I do hope  that  the flowers stay a while so I get a chance to enjoy it in its finery next weekend.  There are also Primulas in flower which does seem a little early and I can only assume the mild weather we had over Christmas and the start of the new year has contributed to this.  But my favourites are the Eranthis and Cyclamen coum which are really brightening up the spring/patio border at the moment.  I am thrilled that the Eranthis has four flowers on it this year.  Not a huge achievement you might think but it means it is beginning to spread finally.

I have been through a difficult patch in recent month, challenging mentally and emotionally and the garden and writing this blog about it has been a helpful distraction.  I am trying to be a better gardener as I have said before, to really focus on what I am doing and not be distracted by other peripheral things.  This focusing is beginning to really help.  My head is clearer and I am really seeing the garden and the plants in a more thoughtful way, instead of my previous rushing with a 101 other things crashing around in my head.  One of the things I am trying to do is to be more methodical in keeping a garden diary.  I originally started this blog as a garden diary but it soon digressed so now I have a journal which I write in during the evening after gardening.  It helps me sort the ideas that have occurred to me, to organise the ridiculous plant moving that always seems to plausible when first thought of, to make a note of things/plants I would like to try.  More importantly when I read back to earlier in the season I realise how much I have achieved or am reminded of some great idea that has slipped from my vague mind.  I know it seems old-fashioned but I find it more comforting than sitting typing on a laptop or scrolling back through blog posts.

The other thing I am attempting to do, and I suspect if past experience is anything to go on I will fail at, is to keep better record of what I sow and how.  I want to learn more about plants and how they grow and what environments they need etc, so I decided that I had to teach myself and to do that I need to keep records.  Also if I ever pluck up the courage to exhibit something in the distant future at an Alpine Garden Society show I need to be able to say when it was sown and where the seed came from.

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Talking of seed sowing, this weekend it was the turn of the tender annuals to be sown.  I had some really really good news this week which has gone a long way to helping me overcome my demons and so I decided to treat myself to a new propagator.  This one is narrow so will fit on a windowsill.   Today I sowed a variety of tenders including hibiscus and ricinus.  My son was a little perplexed at the increasing amount of compost that I am sterilizing in the oven, it is certainly an interesting smell.  We tested the propagator for 24 hours with a greenhouse thermometer to see how hot it actually got and it has reached 25/28C which is just right. I only sowed half of each packet, keeping the second half for a later sowing if needed.

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Outside I have decided to get another compost bin so I have a bank of three wooden ones and I am determined to rotate the compost properly and in a timely fashion!.  This will mean that I can get rid of the horrid ugly green plastic one which is currently near the back of the house.  This will then mean that I can move the two cold frames to behind the garage and free up the patio for somewhere to actually sit and have nice pots of flowers on – who’d a thought!!

So it might be cold, the ground might be frozen but I end the weekend feeling refreshed and connected with the garden; with things to research for next weekend and items to order – after all retail therapy, especially online, is always good for you!

 

 

 

Plans

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I don’t go in for New Year resolutions as I think they are unhealthy and put you under pressure to achieve something which you will no doubt fail to achieve as you have never achieved it before.  But I have projects, plans and aspirations for 2013 many of them garden related.

In practical terms there are a number of projects that I want to carry out or even complete.  To start with the front garden project, started Spring 2012 needs finishing.  The weather and allotment just conspired against me and what should have been a fairly quick job of reshaping the lawn dragged on all year and still isn’t complete.  I have one more edge to straighten and a stepping stone to lay.  Then I need to finish preparing the borders followed by some plant moving.  This is still a work in progress plant wise as I haven’t quite  got the planting completed in my head.  The front garden will be the focus of this year End of Month View posts so you will see for yourself  how  I get on.

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I also want to extend  the steps up the garden.  I am forever slipping on the ‘grass’ at the top of them even when we haven’t had as much rain as we have had this year.  I am still trying to work out a purpose/identity for the corner border and I think extending the steps up to the gravel path will help define this space better and help my thought process.  The extended steps will no doubt mean that the ‘lawn’ has to be reshaped but this will mean more planting space.  I am also still toying with the idea of digging up the whole back lawn but  am dithering because due to the slope I would need to add in more steps to help with access and it would also be a huge planting space for me. I think I need to focus on finishing off  other  projects first but who  knows it might be a project for 2014.

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The final project is a small one and that is to sort out the patio.  I can’t afford to replace it  but I want to pretty it up.  In particular I need to address the area near the bike shed which has become a dumping ground.  There is a wooden planter here which my son made me years  back which is now falling to pieces and now he is a cabinet-maker he isn’t that proud of it.  This will go and I want to replace it with a rectangular pot which will be the focus point with a climber in it to cover the fence.  I then intend to use the cleared space as a display for pots with plants that need a little shade.  Well that’s the idea.  I also intend to paint the fence a dark brown to show off the plants and I am thinking of doing this to all the fences – though that does sound daunting.

disguising the boundary is an ongoing challenge.  Over the last year I have planted a number of shrubs and climbers but I hadn’t really taken into account winter and as many are deciduous  it all looks a little bare so I  need to look at adding some more evergreens. I also need to address the compost bin situation as it is completely out of hand and a sign that I need to improve the way I do things which leads me on to my real driver this year.

I want to learn to be a better gardener and move towards my aspiration  to become a plantswoman; this is my real focus and challenge.   Now the  allotment has gone I feel more focussed and am finally seeing my garden properly for the first time in years.  My  urge to buy  plants is still there but it is not the most important thing  now; maybe this means I have matured as a gardener.  I  want to learn about plants in detail.  I have looked at various  courses and I know enough about propagation, naming plants and the component parts for now.  There aren’t any courses that fulfil my need so I have decided to roll up my sleeves and teach myself.  I have joined a number of specialist plant groups so I can learn directly from the experts and I am reading – a lot.

I am pleased to say that due to the drier weather I  have started the New Year with two good gardening sessions including starting to empty out the compost bins.  It is lucky I have an appointment at the chiropractor on Monday as I think I will need sorting out by then.

Giving myself a pep talk

Echeveria La Femme

Echeveria La Femme

It has surprised me recently how many people have commented about the disparity between my blog name and my temperament.  My response is always – “Its aspirational!”probably said with more and more exasperation.

I like to think I am a fairly patient person but I don’t suffer fools and moaners gladly and I get frustrated at bureaucracy etc so I need the garden and allotment to help counteract this and make me feel more level-headed.  I can be very patient when it comes to growing plants. I am even growing s tulips from seed  and I have some Bottlebrush shrubs grown from seed which I have nurtured over the last 2 years.

I have no idea what this  succulent is

I have no idea what this succulent is

However, if I was to describe myself at the moment it would be a combination of panicking, exhaustion, frustration and ambition.  I have been in a limbo land for the last two years due to a family bereavement, it’s as though I have been in a sort of trance and going through the motions.  Finally this summer something clicked when I was visiting a garden and my enthusiasm for the garden returned along with lots of ideas and projects; I have always been a person of extreme emotion!  On top of this I have a new allotment plot and am coming to the end of my first year. After a year getting to grips with having a plot I have a whole list of jobs that need doing to improve the plot including a windbreak and raised beds.  None of the ideas or projects in either the garden or plot are simple and many are interlinked and its all becoming a little daunting.

Echeveria elegans

Echeveria elegans

Add to this the fact that summer definitely seems to be behind us and it has turned so chilly and windy that it feels as though we might fly through autumn far too quickly and I am certainly beginning to panic about everything I want to achieve before the ground freezes.  I have realised today that visiting the allotment on the way home from work is becoming less and less of an option as the evenings close in plus work is so full on that by the time I leave all I want to do is have dinner and go to bed.

I have had to give myself a good talking to today and remind myself that gardening, even the allotment, is a hobby and not a job.  I mustn’t get myself in a state about what needs doing or my precarious returning enjoyment will vanish again.  I have drawn up a list of the jobs that need doing over the next few weeks at the allotment just so I can clear my head and quantify the chores.

Aeonium schwarzkopf

Aeonium schwarzkopf

As for the garden I was wondering if I had bitten off more than I can chew.  I  stood there this weekend looking at what had been the pond which is now a large hole full of mud and wondering what on earth possessed me to think that converting it into a bog garden was a good idea.  I had to remind myself sternly that the pond hasn’t worked well for the last few years and how much better a bog garden will be for the Ligularias I love and not to admit defeat at the first hurdle.

So  this evening I didn’t go to the allotment, instead my eldest son and  I came up with an action plan for the weekend for the plot and I had a quiet wander around the garden to clear my head.  I ended up  in the greenhouse which is my favourite place especially  as the nights draw in.  Here my collection of succulents is safely ensconced to protect it from winter cold – one job off the long list but an important one.  I love these succulents they are so easy to look after and so delightful to look at and they remind me of the enjoyment I should be getting from my garden if only I could be patient and not so hard on myself. Then maybe ‘The Patient Gardener’ might not be so aspirational.

 

 

Looking forward to 2011

When I was a child I had a Ladybird book which had a page for each of the 12 months and I was completely fascinated by the idea that January was named after the god Janus, the god of doors and gateways especially as it was illustrated with a picture of the god having two faces – which I found slightly disturbing!!  A lot of people spend time at this point in the year looking back and making resolutions for the coming year.  Not me, I don’t mull over the past and I don’t believe in New Year Resolutions.  Personally, I think making declarations at the beginning of the year that you are going to lose weight, give up smoking etc etc is just setting yourself up to fail and to feel worse as you made such a public declaration.  So there will be no resolutions on this blog for 2011, no lists  of things I am going to do etc.  Instead here are some hopes and thoughts and things I am pondering at the moment which may improve my garden, me or open some new doors for me.

The Allotment – I can’t wait for the weather to improve so I can get down to the new allotment and start preparing it for the growing season.  I haven’t been able to get there for the last month due to the snow and when I could the ground was frozen!  I am in two minds about the allotment (lottie) I think I have bitten off more than I can chew as they say but at the same time I am excited about the prospect of growing edibles for the first time.

Back Garden – I am definitely addressing the back fence in the coming months.  I have some bamboos on order and a planting scheme in mind which is a first for me.  I won’t be able to plant the bamboos until I can transfer the raspberry canes to the allotment.  As for the rest of the garden I have no definite plans but due to the snow I have been reading through a lot of the backlog of gardening magazines and there are quite a few ideas and planting plans drifting around.

Front Garden – the front garden will be the focus of my End of Month View post for the coming year.  I’m not bothering with an EOMV post this month as there is nothing to say! However, due to the comments on last month’s post I am seriously considering a round lawn.  This would give me larger planting areas and I am thinking of going all out on a cottage garden theme which would wrap round the lawn with lots of pastel colours and froth.  I just need to work out where exactly to place the lawn.

Other stuff – I am continuing with studying for the RHS Level 2 Certificate and have my first exams in February – eek!  I am quietly panicking at the moment since I haven’t yet got through all the course material let alone starting to revise. I have done a lot of studying over the Christmas break but I have so much more to do so it might mean that my blogging and definitely my twittering will have to reduce or go.

I have signed up for another term of Botanical Illustration classes and hope to keep going with this although the class is on a Thursday evening by which time I am getting pretty tired.  But I really feel I am improving and they are such a great bunch of people I am determined to carry on.

Blogging – I will be continuing with writing a weekly blog post for Yell.com and from next week this will increase to two blog posts a week with the second focussing on my attempts to grow edibles, so I will have to keep going on the allotment to have something to write. As I get paid to write these I like to give them some time and try to do a good job so they will be taking precedence over this blog time wise.

As for this blog well I did think a couple of weeks back that I would put it to bed as I was struggling to find time but I have changed my mind.  When I started it nearly three years ago it was in the hope of engaging with like-minded gardeners and to get me through the tough time of the winter when I can’t get in the garden.  As other garden bloggers will know once you start it becomes addictive and then you engage with others and it can, if I’m honest, get a bit mad.  Without this blog I wouldn’t have met so many new friends, visited new places and learnt new things.  I wouldn’t feel so much more confident about my ability to write and communicate.  I wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to be paid to write a weekly blog post, been asked to regularly review gardening books for Timberpress or, in the last couple of weeks, been asked if I was interested in a monthly guest slot on the local radio gardening programme (terrifying!!).  So this blog has transformed my life – hard to believe really and I  won’t be abandoning it as you never know what else is round the corner.

On top of all of the above I have to remember that I need to hold down a full-time and demanding job, run a home and certainly at the beginning of this coming year trail round the country visiting Universities with my youngest.  However, the future is looking exciting and I feel that I have more strings to my bow so I’m not so worried about the current economic situation particularly in the higher education sector in which I work since I feel that if need be I am in a good position.

So here I am not looking back but looking firmly forward with a little trepidation but positively and optimistically.  I hope 2011 is kind to you and yours.