End of Month View – December 2016

I have to admit that my lackadaisical approach to the blog and to a lesser degree the garden meant that I had forgotten about this month’s End of Month View post until Steve over at Glebe House Garden reminded me. Looking at his beautiful garden and great post put me to shame so here I am trying to do better!

To be honest I have struggled with the meme for most of the year, missing August and July completely.  I think it is because I started off the year with the intention of focussing on the front garden and I wrote a post about how awful it was.  I had intended to tweak and amend the front garden during the year and use the meme to help me improve things.  However, the January blog post led to me deciding to just bite the bullet and dig up the front lawn.  My son asked me today why I didn’t use the development of the Front Garden during 2016 as the theme for the meme and I had to confess that it was because I have a bad habit of not finishing things at the moment and I didn’t want to set myself up.  Anyway, behind the scenes the front garden has been transformed and I love it so maybe 2017 I will share it with you.


Having decided not to continue with Plan A for the meme I had to quickly find an alternative area to focus on.  I remember feeling that I had covered most of the garden, it’s not very large, over previous years and I should focus on a part I didn’t show much.  The result was selecting Hugh’s Border to showcase – Hugh is the name of the willow owl that presides over the border.  The trouble is that the reason I don’t show this border much is because it continues to not be right and I’m not sure why or even how to address it.  The end of the border in which Hugh resides has been consistently in the shade for years whilst the other end has some degree of sunshine.  The shady end is planted with ferns and shade lovers but there is something lacking; as for the other end well to be frank I have perfected the art of looking over it from the bench to the rest of the garden which shows you how difficult I find it.


However, now that my neighbours have removed the trees and to be frank scrubby hedge my garden is flooded with light.  At first I found the loss of the boundary plants challenging as I felt quite exposed but after a week or so it became more normal and I could see the huge benefits of the garden being opened up to the sun!  I am hoping that in 2017 I can really embrace this, particularly in relation to Hugh’s Border and finally get my head round coming up with a, for wont of a better word, theme for the border.  Something that will pull it together, give all round interest with some seasonal highlights.  The bench end has a pinky/red colour theme waiting to be unleashed building on the Prunus kojo-no-mai, Sorbus vilmorinii and Rose ‘Hot Chocolate’ flowers and fruit and I am thinking of adding a couple more Amnethela lessionia along the grass path side to mirror the other side and give a sense of movement or journey as you look down the path. In the meantime I think Hugh needs to come in for a bit of a tidy up.

Any one is welcome to join in with the End of Month View meme and you can use it how you wish – there are no rules.  Some people focus on one area, others give a tour of their garden – whatever works for you.  All I ask in return is that you link to my EMOV post in your post (provided I have done one of course!) and leave a comment on my post so others can find you.



A look back at 2016 & hopes for 2017

2016 has been one of those weird years full of changes and challenges – both personal and more broadly.  I pondered last night whether I should write this post in the bubble of my blog world or whether I should comment on the sense of unease which seems to be pervading the world at large.  I’ve never felt a need to comment on wider issues when I do my annual review post before and generally I keep my views, political or otherwise, to myself as this isn’t in my opinion the right forum.

However, it just feels wrong this year not to comment on the rise of the populist voice causing huge shift changes in the political picture of the UK and USA in particular with commentators wondering if there will be similar experiences in Europe as various countries vote in elections.  Then there are the issues in the Middle East with unease about Russia and Turkey’s roles.  I have encountered some people in the last week that feel that 2017 will be exciting due to all the changes that are happening; exciting is fine as long as it’s for the right reason.  Personally, I would like 2017 to be a quiet year and I am hoping that the ceasefire and peace negotiations which have just been announced today in Syria are more successful than previous cease fires and all the people affected are given a chance to rebuild their lives

2016, whilst challenging from a work perspective, on reflection has been a good year.  I have seen some amazing places particularly during my trip to Japan in November. However, many of my favourite memories are closer to home and relate to events I have attended with my sons. In April we went to the inaugural Bromsgrove Festival of Speed which was a huge amount of fun and that month we also spent an evening on top of the Malvern Hills witnessing the lighting of the beacon to commemorate the Queen’s 90th Birthday. Gardens, unsurprisingly have featured in my memories of 2016. June was a particularly floriferous month due to a trip to Essex and North Suffolk with the Hardy Plant Society where we visited so many wonderful gardens that it was hard to decide which image to choose to represent them. Horticultural shows have also featured most of them local but also the RHS Chelsea Show where I was lucky enough to attend on the Monday as an RHS Committee member. My photos of 2016 start and end with the Malvern Hills which have taken on a new significance in my life as I have discovered a love of exploring them.

For 2017, as I said in my last post, I am hoping that my job will settle down but in the meantime I have already put a number of activities and events in my diary which reflect my broader range of interests some of them garden related, some embroidery, some family and some travel; many of them will I hope involve meeting up with friends.
I am linking this post to the Discover WordPress Challenge – Retrospective



“But the beauty is in the walking – we are betrayed by destinations” – Welsh poet Gwyn Thomas

Having to some degree drifted through life for the last 10  years or so in the same job, the same house and with little variation in my daily life or past-times 2016 has presented me with a number of new paths to traverse; some more tortuous than others.

The photographs on this post represent what I consider the most beneficial new path I have travelled this year.  As I have posted before my eldest set me a challenge to walk to the top of all the peaks of the Malvern Hills.  I have to admit to not having completed the challenge, there is one peak not ticked off, but the challenge has had unexpected benefits.  It has given me an appreciation of the joys of walking on the hills, well to be honest just walking in the countryside.  I particularly like walking first thing in the morning or early evening when it is quieter and the wildlife is more active. I am so lucky to live where I do that I can walk on the nearby common in the evenings during the summer – a fantastic way to de-stress after work.


Work has been, and continues to be, a more uncertain path.  My job has changed significantly over the last year. There have been new challenges, some I feel I have risen to well and others not so much, my new role continues to be developed and it will probably be some months before it is all sorted and confirmed.  In the meantime I go through periods of extreme anxiety and self-doubt and have had to try to learn to manage these as best as I can.

This anxiety has impacted on other aspects of my life, and if I am honest I think I am still struggling with grief from losing my father just over two years ago.  In terms of my preferred past time of gardening it feels as though the path has been blocked for some time and I have tried various alternative routes around or over the blockage but none of them have been successful. Just as when you try to avoid a traffic jam by going on a long circuitous route only to find yourself behind the same car, I have realised that patience is what is needed.

However, one of my diversions has resulted a lovely new destination.  In need of an escape from my unfulfilling pastime activities I joined my local Embroiders Guild.  I have been welcomed by a lovely group of ladies and my enjoyment for sewing, particularly embroidery, has been truly reignited. Whilst the creativity of sewing is rewarding it is also the rhythm of embroidery, it is a wonderful calming experience.


With 2017 just around the corner I now feel like I am moving forward more positively, more self-aware and with a new determination to do and achieve what I want to.

This post was written in response to the weekly wordpress photo challenge with the theme of ‘path’ – it wasn’t the post I intended but sometimes it is better to go along the unexpected path.



Boxing Day Flower Count 2016

Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’
Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’

Curiously the mild winter we are having hasn’t resulted in lots of flowers in the garden this Boxing Day.  Last year I had a bumper count at 35 and I put this down to last year’s mild winter but presumably it is more subtle than that. I do believe that some plants need a cold snap to help them start flower but that’s just wild guess work on my part.

Mahonia 'Media Charity'
Mahonia ‘Media Charity’

My Mahonia has finally forgiven me for being lopped probably 3 years ago.  I wanted to avoid a shrub with just one stem so I chopped it down to the ground and then spent a year, almost, anxiously watching to see if anything would appear.  Finally new shoots reluctantly put in an appearance and the shrub now has 3 stems and is producing good size flowers.

Grevillea victoriae
Grevillea victoriae

Grevillea victoriae is my favourite shrub at the moment. It is one of two Grevilleas I have – the second being Grevillea Canberra Gem – and I adore them both.  To be fair the Grevillea victoriae flowers haven’t really opened yet but any excuse to include a photo of it.

Jasminum nudi-florum
Jasminum nudi-florum

A bit of colour on the retaining wall courtesy of Jasminum nudi-florum.  Last year I removed the clematis that also grew in this space and the Jasminum seems to have improved.  I suspect the increased flowering is because I can prune it better without the clematis – I must investigate when I should be pruning the plant as I have a habit of pruning when I think of it.

Euphorbia rigida
Euphorbia rigida

In recent years I have developed a bit of a weakness for Euphorbias and Euphorbia rigida is the first to start flowering although I don’t think the other will be far behind.


Even the number of primulas in flower this year are less than last year but I can always rely on this lilac, or is it pink, primula to be flowering at Christmas.


The first snowdrop is about to pop open its flowers.  I can’t for the life of me remember which variety this is and the label seems to have gone missing.  I will have to do some research on the blog to see if it has featured at this time of the year in the past.

Cyclamen cyprium
Cyclamen cyprium

In the greenhouse this little Cyclamen is flowering, I may have to keep a magnifying glass in the greenhouse just so I can see the flowers.


Although the number of plants flowering this Boxing Day is significantly down on last year, at a mere 12 compared to 35 last year and 17 the year before there are buds a plenty.  The hellebore above will be flowering soon and other are hot on its heels; last year some were already in flower which was rather early.

You can access previous Boxing Day flower count posts here

Boxing Day 2015
Boxing Day 2014

Boxing Day 2013
Boxing Day 2012
Boxing Day 2011

Naoshima – a modern art interlude


After the temples, culture and tradition of Kyoto, Naoshima was quite a surprise. Situated in the Seto Inland Sea to the south east of Kyoto, Naoshima is a small island known for its modern art museums. The  island, with a population of only around 4000,  has a Mediterranean feel about it with sandy beaches, a sunny climate and feeling more laid back than the mainland.


You reach the island by ferry, the journey is only about 30 minutes, but you quickly feel that you are arriving somewhere just a little bit different; especially when you spot a large red spotted pumpkin on the quay.


The majority of the art on the island was installed by the Benesse Corporation with the art galleries designed by Japanese architect Ando Tadao and the island’s schools and town hall designed by modern architect Ishii Kazuhiro.


The Chichu Art Museum, Lee Ufan Museum are large low slung concrete buildings; not really to my taste but an interesting counterpoint to the traditional and historic buildings we had seen in Kyoto, and housing a collection of modern art, predominantly sculpture.  Whilst the galleries charge admittance and no photographs are allowed there are also a number of sculptures around the island which any one can walk up to, touch, and photograph and a number of these are included on this post and give an idea of the art we saw in the galleries.


This is a public bike store – you can just see the wooden frame to the acrylic skin.



Me being me, I actually prefer this view to any of the sculptures we saw; apart from the yellow pumpkin which I loved.


Whilst the main galleries and sculptures were not really my thing – too modern, too brutalist, too concrete, I did really enjoy an exhibition which was housed within a selection of old houses in the main town.  On the back of the Benesse art initiative is the Art House Project in the Honmura district of the island.  Through this project vacant houses, some of them up to 400 years old, have been restored and transformed into art works. One of them involves you going into a completely dark space and sitting quietly as a patch of light grows slowly at the far end of the space.  At first you think this is some sort of light installation but actually the effect is created through taking advantage of how your eyes adjust to the light – its very clever and slightly unsettling.


Most of the art installations were inside houses but a few were outside and so we could take photographs.  The Go’o Shrine (above and below) renovates an existing shrine from the Edo period.  The steps are stunning as they look like melting ice, particularly intriguing on a very sunny warm day.


Of course they are made of glass but I thought the sculpting of the glass was just magical.


The other very striking ‘art house’ was Haisha which used to be the home of the local dentist and has been transformed into a work of art. Inside the house each of the rooms is like being in a graphic design, hard to explain, but includes a rather large Statue of Liberty – what everyone needs in their stairwell.


What impressed me most about Naoshima was how the introduction of the art galleries and the ‘Art House’ project had brought tourism to the island leading to cafes, restaurants and guest houses appearing.  We stayed in a lovely guest house with a Japanese/Italian restaurant next door – a strange but wonderful combination.  My favourite place though was a cafe we tracked down tucked up on the side of a hill, the Cafe Salon Naka-Oku which had a wonderful up-cycled retro feel about it – if you ever find yourself on Naoshima I would recommend it.


Do you need a garden style?


Euphorbia rigida
Euphorbia rigida

It’s a strange thing that my thoughts about the garden are at their most clearest in the early hours of the morning when I am supposed to be asleep. I find myself seeing, with what feels like surprising clarity, exactly how a problem should be resolved and there is inevitably, as the birds warm up their vocal chords, a to do list which would strike fear into many a gardener. Some might therefore question why my garden still remains a challenge to me and the answer to this is simple – the clarity of decisions fades as the sun comes up just like Cinderella’s coach.


I struggle with planting and working out what to plant with what, it’s a constant frustration. The problem isn’t so much about colour or even the combination of textures it is more about size. How much space should I allow? Do I plant for the short term and then adjust as the plant gets bigger or do I plant with the plant’s eventual size in mind? But even more frustrating is the combining of different size plants to create a cohesive whole.  I have increasingly added more trees and shrubs to the garden but they seem to be like islands in the border or the planting around them is out of proportion. This morning I was reading an article by Fergus Garrett who said something along the lines of ‘you wouldn’t plant a tiny fern next to a large banana’. Well no you wouldn’t but what would you plant next to a large banana that is of the right scale and contrasts with the leaves? What do I plant around my new Liquidamber in the middle of a border that will provide substance and a middle ground before you arrive at the epimediums, bergenias etc? These are the questions that perplex me when I am gardening.

Melianthus major
Melianthus major

I love plants and have had a very eclectic taste which has led to borders without cohesion or direction – a veritable mishmash. I am struggling to work out how to develop my garden to showcase my favourite plants. I have a penchant for large leaved and curious foliage but I’m not sure I want an exotic or sub-tropical garden because I also like roses, peonies and irises and I adore all bulbs. Whilst I love foliage I do still want the high moments of colour at different times of the year.  I suppose the question is do you need to label your style to enable you to develop the space? I have a number of friends who are very clear about their garden styles and their gardens are wonderful.  They have a sense of cohesion and clarity which I aspire to. However, the examples I am thinking of are either based on a very specific plant palette or in a setting with strong architecture which drives the approach.  Not only do I have a magpie approach to plants but my garden is the ubiquitous UK suburban garden with a standard late 1970s house of no particular architectural merit.

Grevillea victoriae
Grevillea victoriae

What adds to my frustration is my apparent inability to learn from inspiration elsewhere.  It is quite strange I have visited so many gardens which I have enjoyed, taken many photos, and looked closely at how borders have been put together but for some bizarre reason I am unable to translate it back to my own garden – it’s as if there is a missing link in my brain.  It is the same with looking at books and magazines. If I do come home feeling inspired inevitably the enthusiasm slowly fades away as I am unable to relate the inspiration to the reality.

I have started to tell myself I am trying too hard and over thinking things and I am sure this is so. There are small areas of planting which are working well I think and so I think the way forward is to focus on the small combinations rather than feeling overwhelmed by the whole garden.

But right now having written this post I am wondering can you have an exotic or sub-tropical garden which has roses and irises in it?  Would it work to combine these plants? And therein lies the problem as I will no doubt no try this and end up dis-satisfied with the outcome and maybe, just maybe, that’s why successful garden makers have a tendency to go for a specific garden style that is well rehearsed and successful.


A Magical Misty Walk


Sometimes the memories you take away from a trip aren’t the ones you expect to  and this is true of our trip to Mt Daisen. The intention had been that we were to hike for some 3 hours up Mt Daisen to the Daisenji Temple, a Buddhist Temple, and then we were going to spend the afternoon on a bike ride on the lower slopes so we got a feel for the rural landscape.


However, as you can see our plans were thwarted by the weather, one of those persistent drizzly days with a heavy mist, and the bike ride was cancelled.  When I say drizzle I mean that fine rain that doesn’t seem much but you end up very damp, and it was chilly. A smaller than expected group of stalwarts set of into the engulfing mist to who knows where.


Mt Daisen, at 1729m high, is the tallest mountain in the volcanic range of Chugoku Region,  located in the Daisen-Oki National Park in the west Tottori Prefecture of Japan. The Japan Guide says it is one of the top 100 mountains of Japan which gives you some idea of just how mountainous Japan actually is.

As you can see the lower slopes are heavily wooded, primarily with beech but also with some forms of conifers or pine (I know not which) and the odd acer and ginkgo around the religious sites.


As with so many high points worldwide it has accumulated religious and spiritual significance. The Daisenji Temple and the Ogamiyama Shrine, above the Temple, are connected by a series of trails along the lower slopes, although these are high enough on a cool damp misty day, at between 800 – 900m.


Whilst we were quite damp and had to shelter a few times of heavy downpours, we convinced ourselves that actually the mist really added to the atmosphere of the place as I think these photographs show.  Due to the conditions we tended to focus on where we were stepping and our immediate surroundings so it was often surprising when shrines and other structures emerged from the mist.



I was particularly taken with these bright red lanterns which line the route just before the Shrine; they looked quite incongruous in the mist.


As you can see the paths and trails to the Shrine and Temple are all paved although quite slippery in the damp.  However, as we discovered on hikes elsewhere on the trip, the popular routes, such as straight up to the temple, are paved but when you go a little of the trail, as our guide liked to do, you find yourself confronted which more precarious terrain


You can just see the plank that was our bridge over this stream which luckily wasn’t that deep but not something you would want to find yourselves falling into. Our hike ended surreally with a walk down a ski slope in the mist, almost blindly, with ski lift chairs emerging in front of us.

Despite the conditions I really enjoyed this day, it was our first non garden visit of the trip and away from the built sprawl and there were few people, unlike the temple gardens we had visited in Kyoto.  The photos are also among my favourite of the trip, I hope you enjoy seeing them.



West Coast of Japan – A threatened beauty


My trip to Japan wasn’t all about the gardens, it was more about experiencing Japan  and trying to get a little insight into its fascinating culture.  As I have said we travelled in a sort of zig-zag south from Kyoto.  A couple of days were spent on the west coast based in a town call Hagi.  Definitely off the western tourist trail but it gave us the opportunity to visit the south-western coastline which was so influential on early Japanese garden design.img_8201-1

It is easy to see how this coastal landscape with rocky outcrops topped with pines (or maybe they are larches?) inspired Japanese gardens.


Being much further south from Kyoto the natural vegetation is more evergreen and lush.  For someone who had struggled with the obsessive tidiness and control of the gardens we had seen I welcomed the opportunity to be in a more natural environment.

However, sadly, this beautiful landscape is not what it seems.  The west coast of Japan suffers from being landfall for a signficant amount of the plastic waste discarded into the ocean by China and its neighbours – its referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch


This photo does not really show very well the volume of the rubbish (it goes much further up out of shot) but we were shocked when we looked down  from the nature trail path to see inlets full of plastic rubbish, and it smelt.  For a country like Japan which is obsessive about cleanliness and where you never ever see rubbish anywhere this must be a real challenge to cope with. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say I have never been to such a tidy country; it was remarkable, considering the Japanese obsession with package, that there seemed to be no rubbish.  If you have a packed lunch, a bento box, you pack up your rubbish and you take it home and dispose of it.  Once home, or in the hotel, or wherever, the bins are all clearly marked with three categories which seem to be the same country-wide. So how annoying and frustrating it must be to have to sort out your neighbour’s rubbish.

I was so surprised by the amount of rubbish that I did some research when I got home to find out where it came from and as this post and this post explain it is a real problem for Japan.  Both posts refer to an initiative by Ocean Cleanup to try to address the problem but you have to feel for Japan when they deal with their own rubbish and end up having to deal with someone else’s as well.  It certainly has made me even more aware of the need to think about what plastics I use and how I dispose of them.