Banishing the Black Dog


I’ve been out in the garden this morning to dutifully take some photographs for tomorrow’s End of Month View.  Whilst it is blowing a gale this hasn’t normally thwarted my enthusiasm in the past so to feel that I had to make myself go out added to my general feeling of melancholy at the moment.  The photographs I started to take really reflect how I find myself increasingly seeing the world.  However, and there is a big however self-realisation is a powerful tool against depression and melancholia. I am well aware of my tendency to let the black dog through the door and I generally recognise the signs of it creeping up on me but this only works when you have had time to think clearly and this luxury has been in short supply lately.


My current struggle is more of a struggle with a complete lack of self-belief and confidence.  I have never been a confident person and find myself time and again deferring to others and then being irritated with myself.  I have been through phases of having to work hard to deal with this and find ways of working through it.  On a normal day to day basis it doesn’t cause me too many problems and I manage it OK but over the last year work in particular has been incredibly challenging and over recent weeks it has got the better of me and my demons have found cracks to sneak through and play havoc.    I hate feeling as I have felt recently.  I have had to battle with not bursting into tears in front of work colleagues, I have felt vulnerable, I have found myself physically grieving for part of my former role as  it was my security blanket.


BUT I am lucky as I work in an environment where others seem to see something in me which I can’t see.  They have given me the opportunity to step up and take on significantly more responsibility and challenges not because they want to test me or catch me out but because they believe I am very capable.  I have been told by the big boss that they want to give me a chance to flourish, I have been told by the nearly big boss that I have been growing over the last few months since the box I was trapped in was opened, and that I underestimate the high regard my colleagues hold me in.  I have had a pep talk from the biggest boss about pushing out of my comfort zone, through my learning zone, and reducing my panic zone. I know it sounds all gobbledygook but the diagram he drew to explain made real sense.  Every one, it seems,  believes in me apart from me.


While I have been busy over the past 6 months dealing with the transitions, covering essentially 3 roles until a few weeks ago, and wondering what on earth the answer is to countless questions I have also been unconsciously putting up my self-protective barriers.  I have always done this at time of stress and unease.  I’m a natural loner, a real introvert, and I retreat even further when I feel threatened or vulnerable and I realise now that this is what is really behind my withdrawal from social media, first Twitter, then Facebook and latterly my blog.  Perversely due to my struggle to find anything in the garden to blog about, mainly I think because of my depression, I tried to find other inspiration which led to the attempt to do the blogging challenge which in blogging terms pushed me over the top!!


Yesterday, I went to the HPS group and was cross with myself, yet again, for not joining in the group discussion about a plant I grow which few do.  Mr Brown told me off, nicely, but he is right.  So it’s up to me now.  I have to pull myself together and start believing in my abilities and stop worrying that I will make a mistake, or look stupid, or upset someone.

Last night I went back on Twitter, very hesitantly as it can be a challenging place for someone of a fragile nature, but I was welcomed back and had a good chat with a fellow plant nut, something I missed. This morning in the garden after seeing the decaying roses and leaves I started to notice the new growth including the bulb above, which might be a Scilla autumnalis, and today I have written this post.  I have written it to tell myself off, to rationalise the emotional maze I am stumbling through at the moment and to try to make myself move forward.  Readers of this blog have always been incredibly supportive and I am not looking for more support or crying out for help – as I have said above I am not short of that both at home and work.  I suppose I am just throwing down a marker to myself that I need to move forward now.


Aversion Therapy – NaBloMoPo

There are two ways to look at most things in life – either you take a positive approach, the old glass half full approach, or a negative approach, the glass half empty approach.  Being a positive kind of soul, often on the verge of turning into a middle-aged (now there’s positive) Pollyanna I like to find an upbeat spin to most things.  So I will not be saying I have failed with the NaBloMoPo challenge – although I have.  Instead I am going to tell you how trying to write a blog post a day has been a bit like some form of aversion therapy for my blogging habit, albeit unexpected.

I was doing Ok until last week.  Last week was a crazy week.  We had our award ceremonies at work so I spent 4 days hosting VIPs during 8 ceremonies: transporting them backwards and forwards between venues which meant something like 16 coach trips; eating seemingly piles of couscous salad and tartlets and other things which I can’t even remember now; attending two dinners; and making more small talk than any one person should be expected to.  This meant that at the end of each day I was collapsing through the door brain-dead and on the couple of evenings when I might have had time to write something there was definitely nothing there to be said.  So the blog was forgotten.

Now a strange thing happened.  It didn’t bother me that I couldn’t write a blog post and even stranger this weekend I couldn’t be bothered to write one even though I had plenty of time and my head had cleared.  This is very strange indeed as for the past 8 years I have blogged religiously 3 or 4 times a week, and sometimes more.  When I have been away I have missed blogging.  I have often said that I have done it so long that it is part of my routine, it’s a habit – but it seems not.

Why this change?  I don’t really know. There is an element of work being very challenging of late leaving me exhausted but I am also spending more and more time on other things apart from gardening.  Dont get me wrong I love my garden and I am still fascinated by plants but I don’t feel a need to write about it all the time any more.  I have been playing around on the blog experimenting with writing about other things and its Ok but if I am honest doing the NaBloMoPo really made me feel that I was writing for the sake of it and any enjoyment I might have got was lost so why do it.  When I started blogging all those years ago it was primarily to connect with other horticulturally minded people and I have done that which is great but I have also in the last few years met lots of people in the ‘real’ world through the various groups I have discovered.  These groups have led over the last year to me being involved more in horticulture such as my role as recorder for the RHS Symphyotrichum trial and I think my need for horticultural input is being met more, these days, in this way than on-line.

I doubt I will stop blogging, and I will definitely finish the End of Month meme this year but I have a strange sense of being liberated from something which is quite wonderful.

The only reason for this post is to reassure regular readers that I haven’t completely fallen off the planet.

Foliage Follow Up – November 2015

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Having managed to do the Garden Bloggers Bloom Day post in a timely fashion this month I thought I would also join Pam over at Digging in the Foliage Follow Up.  I have read Pam’s blog ever since I started blogging some 8 years ago and met her when I went to the Garden Bloggers Fling in San Francisco.  Having a growing preference for foliage it is a logical meme for me to join but I often find myself thinking oh I have shown this or that and so I don’t join in.  This month it dawned on me, I can be a little slow at times, that I should show some of the foliage on my decidious plants so this month I am focussing on the Birch jacquemontii which lives in my front garden.

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My sons bought the tree for me probably about 8 years ago and I love it.  Its one of the few plants that I will be upset to leave if I ever move house and I keep an eye out for seedlings which I might be able to pot up but they are few and far between.  I see this tree every morning from my bedroom window when I look out to see what the weather gods have decided to present us with and it struck me yesterday morning what a wonderful colour the leaves had turned.

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Due to our mild temperatures this Autumn the leaf colour seems to be changing quite slowly and amazingly the birch seem to be hanging on to the leaves despite the strong winds we have had.  The leaves look almost orange in the photographs but this morning in the dull light of an overcast day there was a distinct pale yellow glow to the tree.

So there’s my foliage follow up post this month, not a succulent or evergreen leaf to be seen, makes a change for me.  To see more fabulous foliage pop over to Pam’s Austin garden and check out the comments box for other links.

Garden Blogger Bloom Day – November 2015

Rose Ophelia

Rose Ophelia

Who would have thought that a November Garden Bloggers Bloom Day from the UK Midlands would feature a rose in full glory.  I keep posting ‘last roses’ this year and still they continue.

Fatsia 'Spidersweb'

Fatsia ‘Spidersweb’

At the same time you have the usual seasonal flowers starting to bloom such as this Fatsia ‘Spidersweb’ which is flowering for the first time and I really like the combination of the white flowers with the variegated leaves.  The plant, along with my other two Fatsias are already starting to hum with late pollinators.

Mahonia x media 'Charity'

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

Also popular with the pollinators is the Mahonia.  I am really pleased to discover the flowers on this plant as I ruthlessly chopped it down to the ground probably three years ago to try to encourage more than one stem.  It just sat there for months on end before this time last year there were signs of growth, and now we have the first flowers.

Salvia involucrata 'Boutin'

Salvia involucrata ‘Boutin’

Like the roses the Salvias are revelling in the mild Autumn temperatures.  The Salvia involucrata ‘Boutin’ is like a beacon at the top of the garden with its large bright pink flowers.  I love the exuberance of this plant, it is like a Salvia on steroids and have cuttings growing in the greenhouse just in case I lose the one above if we have a cold winter.

Chinese Foxglove

Chinese Foxglove

Another half-hardy resident is this Chinese Foxglove which I acquired back in the early summer and it has been flowering non-stop ever since.  It has lived in the border but as is slightly tender I have decided to pot it up for the winter and it will probably be stored in the greenhouse or cold frame.  I am just trying to work out how I would propagate it apart from seed.

Gladiolus murielae

Gladiolus murielae

Also waving at me from the top of the garden are the Gladiolus murielae (formerly Acidanthera).  These flowers are particularly satisfying as they are from pots of bulbs that I had discarded on the very top border as there were no signs of growth and then lo and behold in the summer shoots appeared and they have been flowering merrily away.  I am going to leave them in situ, maybe with a protective mulch, to see how they come through the winter.

Saxifrage fortunei 'Conway Snow'

Saxifrage fortunei ‘Conway Snow’

Finally I leave you with a more diminutive treat, Saxifraga fortunei ‘Conway Snow’, one of my alpines saxifragas.  I have a bit of a weakness for these but I am keeping it firmly in check as I really don’t need any more plant obsessions!

To see what is flowering in garden bloggers gardens all around the world pop over to Carol’s at May Dream Gardens and check out the links.

School dinners – a blast from the past


In search of inspiration for this ridiculous blogging daily challenge I have inflicted on myself  I came across some prompts and one of them was to write about your school lunches.  Strange I know but apparently it leads you to tap into your childhood, explore emotions etc and is meant to be a real cure for writer’s block so here goes…..

My school lunches occurred mainly in the 1970s and I can just about remember the free milk before Mrs Thatcher removed it.  I remember being a milk monitor and we had to hand out the little milk bottles and give our classmates blue and white stripy straws to push through the metal caps.  Then we had to collect up the metal caps and wash them and bag them up as I seem to remember that they went off for some form of early recycling.  As I write this I can recall the horrid smell of stale milk that hung around you all day when you were milk monitor.  Even now I am super sensitive to the smell of milk on the turn.

As for the lunches well school lunches are the reason why I don’t, well can’t, eat a number of things including mashed potato, scrambled eggs, baked beans, pilchards, spam fritters and tinned fruit.  We used to have sittings for dinner, for some reason it was called dinner, which always confused me as we also had dinner in the evening.  There were two sittings and one class from each year attended each sitting.  So in junior school there were 4 years (I think) with two pupils from each year on a table for 8.  The two children from the oldest year served the other children.  I remember the food used to be served up in what seemed to be vast metal containers – big bowls and trays.

Spam fritters - yuk!

Spam fritters – yuk!

So why don’t I like those foodstuffs above.  Well the mashed potato was full of bits and a strange shade of grey, the scrambled egg always seemed to be swimming in liquid, and as for the pilchards well…  I distinctly remember when I was in the top year my friend Jane and I were in charge of a table.  One day we had a large tray of pilchards to dish up but that day we had been taught some basic biology looking at fish reproductive systems.  So my friend Jane, who went on to be a doctor, decided we needed to find out whether each fish was male or female before we served it. Our poor table mates had to endure dissected fish that day and to be honest I haven’t eaten pilchards in tomato sauce since.

The puddings were always a little bit more enjoyable and maybe this explains why I still have a preference for pudding.  We had a wonderful pudding called chocolate crunch which didn’t appear very often and would always cause rumours to go around the playground building our anticipation. It was so popular that the school printed copies of the recipe.  Then there was the pink custard always a delight and often distracting from the dry sponge that accompanied it.  Pink blancmange, or shaving foam as we called, it was also popular – no doubt in the 1970s full of early colouring chemicals. But the one that really divided the vote was what we called ‘blood, skin and bones’ – don’t you love children’s humour.  This pudding was essentially a layer of pastry (bone), covered in jam (blood), and topped with a layer of cold custard (skin).  I hate cold custard so I would have to scrap that bit off.

pink custard

I remember we had Christmas dinner which always seemed a real treat as it was a proper turkey dinner and then steamed Christmas pudding.  We had to sing ‘ Bring us some figgy pudding‘ to the cooks (cooks not chefs then) before we were allowed the pudding.  I remember quite clearly staff holding up large sheets of paper with the words.

But there is always one story from your school days that stands out and for me it was when the school hall caught fire just as the first sitting were going in for dinner.  The exterior was being redecorated and the painters had set fire to the roof timbers with paint strippers.  The roof quickly caught and the whole school was evacuated to the playground.  For us, of course, it was hugely exciting but I can imagine now that the staff found it quite challenging.  They had to control a school of generally excitable children and find a way to feed us that day when the hall where we ate was on fire and I am sure the kitchens adjourning it were affected.  Luckily it was a sunny day so we were all taken to the playing field and food appeared which we ate sitting on the ground.  I have no idea what it was and I suspect we weren’t that bothered as the fire engines putting out the fire were far more interesting.  Due to the amount of water used to put out the fire the wood block floor was ruined and so we had what seemed like weeks of having to have our cooked dinners in various classrooms.  Looking back it must have been a nightmare for the staff and I can only admire their resilience but of course at the time we were less than helpful, complaining that our class room was being used for lunches, and generally moaning about anything we could.

Going to senior school dinners did not improve despite it being a private school.  I recall a lot of mince, a horrid curry which stank of curry powder and seemed to have a yellow glow about it (probably why I’m not that keen on curry) and something disgusting called chicken supreme which just looked bad.  The blancmange and tinned fruit continued.  Again we had tables with pupils from each year on and often a teacher, they were larger tables and the worst table to get was the headteacher’s as she made you eat everything or you were in detention – nightmare. I also remember pea catapulting competitions using the plastic flip tops to the water jugs. But I also remember dreading being on clean up duty as we had to scrap the plates into the pig swill buckets and wash the tables down with washing up cloths which stank.  I feel quite ill at the memory.

There were no packed lunches, the whole idea was alien to us.  Some children at junior and primary school went home for their dinners and you would think we envied them but children being children we always thought they must have something wrong with them to warrant special treatment.

Whilst I might have retained some aversions to certain foods it certainly didn’t do me any harm and there was rarely any fried food, well apart from the greasy spam fritters, so I presume it was relatively healthy for the time. There was also no real option to be fussy, you just went hungry.  It is interesting though the impact they had on my food preferences now.  My mother has never come to terms with me hating mashed potato especially as she makes very good, so I am told by everyone, mashed potato but then again she hates brassicas which goes back to her being a war baby and having to eat plates of boiled cabbage which smelt terrible; a memory that is still very keen for her.

And now I have written this I feel an overwhelming need for something large and chocolatey the remove the horrid smell and taste memories that have returned.

JOMO or FOMO – Which are You?

Day 12 of NaBloMoPo finds me delving into my saves on Facebook for inspiration and coming up with this Youtube interview with the wonderful Claudia Winkleman.  I love Claudia, she just makes me smile and I relate to a lot of her attitudes apart from the black eye liner and tippex mouth.

Anyway the thing that really jumped out at me was her reference to JOMO (around 6.4 on the clip). Not an acronym I had encountered before but definitely one I can relate to.  It stands for Joy of Missing Out and is the opposite of the other urban acronym FOMO – Fear of Missing Out.  I am sure we have all been through the latter including myself;  worrying about not being invited to a party or some other event.  I have spent far too many hours on Twitter for fear of missing out on something, I’m not even sure what, but whatever it is I have managed quite well in recent months, since I stopped bothering much with Twitter, without it

But JOMO is really me these days.  Like Claudia I have enjoyed getting older and yes I know I might not be saying that in 10 or 20 years time but as I face my 50th birthday early next year I feel more content with the world than ever.  I am almost comfortable with who I am, my confidence has grown, I don’t care as much as I used to what people think about me or if my appearance is fashionable, or even some days acceptable!  My children are off living their lives, I am well paid, I have my own home, and currently good health – why would I want to go back to teenage angst, or struggling to bring up children on my own in my 20s and 30s.  No, now I am in my 40s I am content and I have got to that point where I really don’t care if I miss out on something, if I can have a quiet evening in, watch some rubbish on the television or read a book that, these days, is a real luxury.

Interestingly if you read the definition I have linked to for JOMO it specifically refers to social media and if I am honest in comparison to how much time I have spent on social media in the past the amount of time I spend now is negligible. I am even bad at reading blogs which is awful as I expect people to read mine, so apologies for that;   I do keep trying to be better.  But I do feel, certainly in my life and the people around me, that the enthusiasm for social media is waning.  My sons hardly go on social media at all and I know that many people I used to follow on Twitter or Facebook are posting less and less so I wonder if our love affair with social media is cooling off.  I was an early adopter of Twitter and used to love the instantaneous conversations you could have but now it is clogged up with advertising, people getting on their band-wagon or people RT-ing things; the conversation has all but disappeared.  Now I find the only conversations I have on social media are through Facebook and those are few and far between, or through the comments on a blog.  For me what I want is somewhere you can interact with people without having to struggle through all the other stuff, just as I would prefer to meet friends somewhere quiet rather than in the middle of a noisy bar or club.  Maybe its me getting older or maybe its just that with such a busy and demand job the times of quiet and peace have become all the more important to me.

So I am, like Claudia, totally JOMO.

Note: I found the original interview on The Pool which is a great website aimed at women who do not have time to browse the internet.  I tends to be my lunchtime reading these days as opposed to twitter or facebook.

Will it flower?


I am quietly thrilled with the plant above. “Why?” I hear you ask, “It is but a small orchid with no flower!” “But look at the small shoot that has appeared between the leaves and is growing rapidly upwards – it could be a new flower shoot”.

I have never ever managed to re-flower a Moth Orchid, it’s just one if those challenges I have failed at and the plants generally end up on the compost bin. I stopped bothering buying them as I was so fed up but back in the spring I was tempted to have another go. Surely it can’t be that hard, my aunt has one that never seems to stop flowering and she says she ignores it most of the time.

Then back in May when I visited OurGarden@19 I was reminded that Irene is a whizz with orchids and has quite a display.  She kindly gave me some tips about feeding them regularly and watering and that I should cut the flower stem when the flowers have finished down by 3 nodes.  I have failed with this last instruction as each of the 4 plants I have seem to have finished flowering and within a short period the stems go dry and brittle. Maybe I am leaving it too long and need to cut it down before there are no flowers left.  But I have been feeding the orchids and there have been new leaves on all of them and now this shoot so fingers crossed.