Out with the old and in with the new

In the spirit of Janus, the Roman god that January is named after, I am looking back at the last year and forward into 2018.  Janus is the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings and I feel quite acutely that I am at some sort of crossroads in life although I can’t quite define what it is.

I have been thinking of 2017 as not having been a great year for me.  Not because anything awful or significant happened but because I went through some sort of change or personal crisis.  In retrospect I think the lack of a major crisis and because I has a new certainty about my job there was a void in my life, as awful as that may seem.  The void meant that all those things I needed to deal with mentally caught up with me. There is even speculation that I tried to create crisis and uncertainty in my life to fill the void by planning to move and I suspect there is some truth in that.  It is easier to be busy with something important or to blame uncertainty about something than to simply confront and process difficult things.

I have really missed my Dad this year and I have struggled to come to terms with various overwhelming feelings of being responsible for everyone – especially my mother.  She would be so cross if she read this as she is independent and doesn’t need me to look after her but having lost both my sister and my Dad in recent years it has really felt like the buck stopped with me. I became so resentful of a situation that I alone had created. Interestingly, the proposed house move whilst a mistake allowed me to realise what was important to me and to work though some of my grief at loosing my Dad 3 years ago.  He wasn’t there to advise me on whether or not to buy a house which has had subsidence or had cladding – he just wasn’t there and it really hurt.

But I have slowly processed things not in any sort of formal way, although I did nearly seek out a counsellor, but just through being kind to myself.  I have finally in the last week relinquished the last of my committee responsibilities for the various groups I attend.  I also closed my account on Twitter earlier in the year as I find it has become an echo chamber for views that I don’t share or just wasn’t interested in.  I also, as you may have noticed, took a break from blogging.  This wasn’t even really a conscious decision I just couldn’t think what to write – I think I was completely exhausted and my garden suffered as I thought I was moving and so disengaged with it. Stepping away from social media (aside from my instagram account that I use for textiles) has given me head room to think and heal.

I am an optimist and a survivor and have always found a way to deal with whatever life has thrown at me. Putting the montage together for the top of this post has reminded me of so many good things that happened in 2017.  I truly embraced my creativity and took the plunge and signed up for an embroidery design course with the Embroiderers Guild.  I completed Level 1 in November and got a distinction, I have this week started Level 2. Whilst I am over the moon at getting the distinction the best thing about the course was that it unlocked something deep inside me and allowed me to embrace my creativity properly. I have always been someone who knitted, sewed, embroidered, whatever but always other people’s designs.  I was too frightened of failure to go it alone – not any more.  I have found some much needed confidence which has been reinforced by the wonderful ladies at my local Embroiderers Guild.  They don’t realise what a real life saver they have been to me this year.

Work has settled down; my role was confirmed late in 2016 and whilst I can’t remember what my comfort zone looks like I have enjoyed the challenges that have been presented to me.  I have grown as a person, learnt lots about interacting with people and have delivered a number of projects successfully. I still have a long way to go but finally I have a job that is taking me forward, that challenges me and gives me a reason to get up in the morning – even when I have lost sleep fretting about some aspect of it.

Life at home changed in 2017.  My youngest who moved out some two years ago got engaged and they bought their first house but only 30 minutes away.  There is no date for the wedding yet, probably in 2 years time, but it will be exciting to help them plan their big day.  My eldest son who lives at home discovered the wider world and the delights of travelling to new places.  He spent just under 3 weeks in Iceland volunteering at a huge international scouting event, made loads of new friends and has more overseas trips planned for 2018 and beyond.  This has meant he is away from home probably more than he is here which was strange for a while as I am used to him being around.  However, I have slowly got used to solo weekends and now delight in them.  I can potter around in my own time, eat what I want, when I want, go where I want etc.  It has helped me start to discover who I am aside from a mother and someone who works at the local university and writes a blog!

So in the spirit of Janus and new beginnings what will 2018 bring?  I’m not one for new year’s resolutions as they just make you feel like you have failed but here are some things which I know will happen in 2018:

  • I’m off on my travels – this time to Austin, Texas to attend a garden bloggers event.  I went to the San Fransico one some years back and loved it and wished I had been to more.  2018 is the year I do it.
  • I’m also off to Somerset garden visiting with a group of friends who I have been away with for the last two years. Plus I am going to Newcastle in April to the national Quilters Guild conference – oh I didn’t mention that I took up quilting in 2017 and finished piecing my first quilt last week.
  • I will complete Level 2 of my embroidery design course and who knows I might even sign up for the final level 3 course.
  • I plan to try to go gluten-free.  I started to drop gluten out of my diet in 2016 and found I felt loads better but I haven’t successfully cut it out completely yet.
  • I need to walk more.  I haven’t been on my beloved hills anywhere as often as I did in 2016 and that needs to change – they are good for my soul
  • I’m going to redecorate my bedroom – new furniture, carpets everything.
  • I plan to do more blogging but not just about my garden, about whatever as its my blog, my journal so it’s up to me what it’s about but I hope you will enjoy it.  Oh and I plan to start hosting the End of Month meme again – after creating the meme some 8 or more years ago I need to look after it.

I hope you have things to look forward to in 2018 and that it will be kind to you and yours and thank you for reading and supporting my blog – it means a lot to me.

End of Year View – 2017

As 2017 draws to a close I thought I would capture the garden as the year turns.  I could say “in all its glory” but that would be an exaggeration as the garden has suffered from my lack of interest this year and is looking a little worse for wear.

I’ve taken these photos with a wide-angle lens as I always find it hard to take photos of my garden which is rather wide with access from one side (see garden plan via link at top of page).

It is interesting that having spent little time in the garden this year, and indeed even less writing this blog or engaging with horticultural social media, I find that  I am seeing the garden with fresh eyes.  I find that I am more critical of the planting and less sentimental about the plants.   However, on the whole the structure and layout of the garden is all right it is really a case of bringing the planting together.  As Gertrude Jekyll argues “the possession of a quantity of plants, however good the plants may be themselves and however ample their number, does not make a garden; it only makes a collection”.  This is a fair assessment of much of my garden so my aim is to make a garden from what I have.

The one change to the structure of the garden is the removal of the very top path which runs along the back of the garden.  It is a path that goes no where and was put in when I originally cleared the slope to give access. However, the wood planking which has supported the terraces is beginning to rot due to age and it is rather challenging walking along the path.  But in truth I hardly go to the top of the garden and I have decided to remove the path which will given me more planting space for shrubs.

Over the Christmas break, when it isn’t snowing, I have started the big job of tidying up the garden.  As well as the normal piles of leaves to collect up there is a lot of cutting back and weeding to do and pruning.  In fact I spent yesterday trying to find the back fence under a sea of pyracanthus.  As I hadn’t pruned the bushes for a year or so they had become top heavy and the snow pushed them away from the fence they were meant to be clothing.  After some satisfying hard pruning order has returned and some Chaenomeles in flower has been discovered – missed in the Boxing Day Flower Count.

I’ve prioritised the borders which have a lot of spring bulbs – well the ones with lots of snowdrops.  This explains why the border along the patio looks so bare as it is full of snowdrops and eranthis.

The greenhouse was the first space to be tidied, back in November, and is as ever full with all my tender plants.

Finally a view of the front garden which has been a triumph this year – though it might not look it now.

I’m hoping that now I have decided to stay put  I can enjoy the benefit of my hard work over the last 13 years and continue to delight in the view of the hills which I have realised are so important to me.


Boxing Day Flower Count 2017

So this is the seventh year I have counted the number of plants in flower on Boxing Day.  It’s an interesting exercise and makes you really look at the garden to spot any flowers. This year the snowdrops seem to be ahead of themselves.  Galanthus Mrs McNamara (above) is already in flower, with Galanthus Ding Dong and Galanthus plicatus ‘Colossus’ coming up quickly behind.

Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’

There are two Viburnums in flower; the Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’ and the Viburnum rhytidophyllum

Viburnum rhytidophyllum

Other shrubs in flower which I overlooked photographing are:

Grevillea victoriae
Mahonia ‘Media Charity’
Jasminum nudi-florum

and this Abutilon, whose name I have forgotten (as usual).

The first hellebore is in flower, last year they were only just in bud.

Conversely there is only one primrose in flower, where as last year there were numerous primroses and primulas in flower.

Another small delight is this little cyclamen, a new addition under a shrub. I choose the white flowers over pink ones as I wanted something to lighten the spot.

Finally, is the delightful pot of violets which lives on the patio table.  They have been flowering for weeks, only closing their petals when it snowed.

In total there is one more plant in flower this year, 13, to last year which remains low compared to 2015 when there were 35 plants in flower.  I suspect some of this might be because of my leanings more towards foliage plants other flowers.

For previous years counts follow the links below:

Boxing Day 2016
Boxing Day 2015
Boxing Day 2014

Boxing Day 2013
Boxing Day 2012
Boxing Day 2011



Merry Christmas

I would like to wish everyone who drops by this blog a Merry Christmas and best wishes for 2018.

Instead of a plant themed Christmas greeting I am sharing with you my Christmas sewing and craft projects this year.  I have really embraced my love of sewing and embroidery this year and made some lovely new friends through it.  Apologies for the poor quality photos, they are from my Instagram account and have lost something in quality in the transition to the blog.

The top photo shows a wall-hanging I have made this year.  The centre is embroidered in red work and has a quilted border.  It’s only my second wall-hanging  so I am pleased with the outcome.

The cushion was designed and made for my Embroiderers Guild Christmas competition.  The theme was ‘stars’ and I was thrilled to claim second place against tough competition. You can see the other entries on our Facebook page (see 16th December). I have to say though that sewing on white felt wasn’t the best idea and I learnt that I’m not very good at repetitive things.

My final project is a ribbon wreath.  It was very easy to make just involved a lot of ribbon cutting and tying – simple but effective

I hope you enjoyed seeing something different to my usual plant themed photos.  If you are interested in my handicrafts I share them on my Instagram account and maybe I will share some more on the blog in the New Year.

So it just leaves me to say Merry Christmas.




After the Snow

and we certainly had snow, about 20cm deep in less than 24 hours just over a week ago.  Whilst we have had heavy snow in the past, some four or five years ago, we haven’t had so much snow in such a short period of time.

And it was the best of snow; soft, fluffy, powdery.  So much of it weighing down branches, flattening the fragile grass stems, crystallising the Fatsia flower heads causing them to snap off.

It was so still, so quiet, nothing moved for hours not even a wind to waft the snow off the allium seed head.

Now on the shortest day of the year the snow has gone and I’m on leave and I finally have the opportunity to see the garden in the daylight and discover unexpected delights.  The first hellebore is flowering and a healthy clump of snowdrops are pushing their snouts upwards – possibly Mrs McNamara.

Removing broken stems and fallen leaves revealed so many fresh new bulb shoots – so much promise for the new year.




Fading Beauty and Hellebore Leaves

As I slowly re-engage with my garden it seems to me that this autumn has been unusually mild.  Even a couple of cold nights this last week seem to have made little difference to the garden.  It all looks as green and verdant as ever with some plants seemly thinking it is Spring like the potted Crocosmia which are already re-shooting.

I presume the mild weather is also prompting the hellebores to flower earlier.  My experience is that the whites tend to flower earlier than other hellebores with the yellow, if I remember rightly, flowering last but I’m sure this hellebore doesn’t normally flower before Christmas.  I only stumbled on it by accident amongst the neglected border because at the back of my mind was a notion that I should be removing the hellebore leaves around now.

I remove the leaves religiously every winter so the flowers stand out but I often find myself wondering what the consequences would be if I didn’t.  I suspect there wouldn’t be any consequences as in the wild Mother Nature doesn’t go along removing leaves so the hellebore flowers stand out better.  Apparently we remove the old leaves to also help reduce the likelihood of hellebore leaf spot (Microsphaeropsis hellebori (syn. Coniothyrium hellebori). Some of my hellebores do show some signs of this disease so presumably I should continue with this approach but I feel more relaxed about my gardening practice these days so maybe a few plants won’t find themselves as thoroughly de-leafed as before.



It’s all been about the boundaries the last couple of weeks with a new fence along one boundary and tree surgeons sorting out the neglected beech hedge.

I find myself wondering if this is me staking my territory again now that we aren’t moving, bit like a cat. But if I’m honest the fence was on the to do list before we put the house on the market and in fact the old fence was only staying up right as it was tied to the tree.

Who knew it was possible to get so excited by a fence.  I love this fence. It is so solid and robust and I love the colour. It blends in the with garden and isn’t that horrid garish orangey brown you used to get.  If you look in the top photo you can just about see how the angle of the fence as it goes up the garden.  To accommodate the fall of the ground the fence has been made bespoke and has such a better quality to it.  The only mild irritation is the black electric housing which takes the electricity to the workshop.  We have agreed that we will reattach it so it isn’t so obvious.

I’ve taken the opportunity to re-plant the area in the photo above.  This is the first part of the grand plan – well it’s not that grand a plan, just various ideas I have had.  This bit of border has been difficult ever since we moved here.  I have tried various things and the badger has had a good go too. I’ve improved the soil and have moved an Abelia from elsewhere as its such a robust shrub I think it will do well and hopefully thwart the badger.  Like Jekyll I really rate Bergenias as a good foliage and ground cover plants so I have added two to fill this space with wonderful foliage to give interest all year round.  I’ve also added some crocus to the snowdrops that are already in this space somewhere.

In the front garden the tree surgeons have reduced the beech hedge by around two foot in height and trimmed back the sides to improve the whole look of the hedge and make my neighbour’s life easier when they get out of their car. I have been ignoring the hedge and had let it get away from me but now that it has been reduced I think it smartens up the front garden and it should improve the light to that side of the space.

So those are the boundaries sorted – now I have the bit in the middle to do.


Foliage Follow Up

Well lookee here two posts in three days! Anyway, I have been reading gardening posts this last few days especially those from across the pond because I am planning to go to the Garden Bloggers Fling in Austin in May and I want to reconnect with the blogs that inspired me some 9 years ago to start blogging.

One of the first blogs I started reading was Pam’s Digging.  Pam is based in Austin and her blog is very much about foliage plants especially those that thrive in the heat of Austin – lots of Agaves. I was fascinated by the different look of Pam’s garden and continue to find the difference fascinating. Anyway, Pam hosts a Foliage themed monthly blog on the 16th of each month, following on the day after Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, and having spent an hour or two starting to re-engage with the garden I thought I would do a foliage post, albeit 3 days late.

This combination is one of my favourites in the garden.  The Melianthus major IS my favourite foliage plant and I have three dotted around the garden, grown from seed some 5-6 years ago.  I especially love the leaves at this time of year when they sparkle with rain drops or morning frost. The abutilon was acquired three years ago and is thriving so much so that my son can’t see out of his workshop window sometimes.  In the top photo you can see Euphorbia characias ‘Silver Swan’ which I have also had for a few years and has to be heavily pruned from time to time.

To the left of the Euphorbia is Fatsia japonica ‘Spiders Web’, planted at the same time as the Euphorbia. This photo is an indicator of the state of the garden with one plant becoming swamped by another. It’s that fine line between the borders looking full and generous and looking neglected and overgrown.  I need to do some careful editing and some rejigging to give the plants more space but I have plans to gain a little more space by losing the top path which goes nowhere!

I have decided to embrace my love of foliage going forward which should have the benefit of keeping the garden looking interesting through most of the year.



Still here

So a while back I posted that I was expecting to be moving, on to pastures new and especially a new garden. I found it a hard post to write and was very emotionally as I walked round the garden taking my final photos. This promoted a niggle, called Uncertainty, to take up residence at the back of my mind, was this the right decision?

While this niggle was setting up camp, another called Doubt, asserted its presence leading to sleepless nights and anxiety about whether the Cottage that had started the whole house moving idea off was the right house for us? Yes it looked out at fields, but those fields rose up from the house and as it was pointed out I would no longer see my beloved hills. I hadn’t realised how much the hills meant to me until that point, I felt quite bereft. Yes the garden was bigger, longer and had a brook – the stuff of dream, maybe, but I just couldn’t see me in the garden. I’m a very visual person and have to be able to see how a room or part of the garden will look before I can make changes, whenever I try to short cut this process the result is just wrong. The only part I could visualise was the other side of the brook which wasn’t part of the deal. Yes it was a Cottage but the space was no bigger than  our current home and whilst we don’t need space, and indeed in a few years it will only be me and the cat, something was jarring at how much more I would be paying on the mortgage a month for a house that wasn’t any bigger and needed so much work. And that was the crunch point, it did need work and there wasn’t scope to make big changes due to the fall of the land, trust me, and then the words ‘subsidence’ and ‘underpinning’ were mentioned and that’s when Doubt and Uncertainty threw an all nighter.

So I pulled out of the move, sent Doubt and Uncertainty packing and slept like a log. At times like this I really appreciate the support of my family. The advice from my sons and my mother was wise and measured, they empowered me to stop the process of buying a house just because it felt wrong, a step that really surprised some of my work colleagues.

And I have no regrets. When I bought this house the intention was to stay here until the boys left school, they are now in their twenties. Firstly I couldn’t afford to move, then there was uncertainty about my job and what my new salary would be and then it was all sorted and I suppose I felt obliged to move. But finding myself faced with moving I realised that this house is home, the only house that has ever felt like home. Yes I have found my neighbours clearing their garden challenging but my shrubs are growing and they seem to be nice people, better the devil you know and all that.

My eldest suggested that if I was planning to stay for the foreseeable then I should view the house as if I had just moved in and think about what I would change.  After all, when I bought the house 13 years ago, it was as a home for myself and my sons.  Now it is the case that it is mainly a home for myself, and the cat, with my eldest here about 50% of the time so we use the house differently and there is potential to change the space.  We have already made a start with a new sewing room from my youngest’s now vacated bedroom.

In terms of the garden I am seeing it with fresh eyes.  Having more or less taken a year out of gardening and blogging I am coming back to both from a new perspective.  The garden had stopped providing me with a creative outlet and stress relief, in fact the garden and blogging were making me more stressed. They seemed to be inextricably entwined and just impossible.

I stopped blogging, reading blogs and really engaging with anything horticultural and this has freed up my mind which was crammed with so many ideas, many of them conflicting.  I have realised that my real love is foliage, the bigger the better, and some specific flowers mainly from bulbs.  As I have neglected the garden there is lots of tidying up to do, which I enjoy, and with my fresh eyes I am planning some changes – nothing major – just better.

So who knows you may find the odd blog post popping up from me over the coming months as I have fresh things to share.

Malvern Autumn Show

There is something quintessentially English about a flower and veg show that I doubt you could find anywhere else in the world.

I love Malvern Autumn Show as it heralds the start of Autumn, a season I love with its colours ad abundance.

The show as so much to offer for everyone with all the key components of the traditional country show: giant vegetables, tractors, llamas (well this is Malvern), agility dogs – its all at the show to enjoy.

Over the years the horticultural element has increased with a few more nurseries each year but the show is really a country show and my favourite is the Autumn Show marquee.

Here there are a number of shows within a show with various societies having their shows alongside the Malvern open competition.  The quality and number of exhibits never fails to impress.

The embroidery design course I am doing has, I think, given me a new appreciation of textures and colours and I think this comes across in my photos this year.

I found myself attracted to strong colours and interesting foliage.  I loved the vibrancy of these hot dahlias against the dark foliage – stunning.

As for the wrinkly texture of this savoy cabbage – I can see this translated into a textile design.