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.

If we were having tea right now…..


If we were having a cup of tea right now I would be telling you about my fab weekend at the Alpine Garden Society annual conference. I learnt all sorts of things, many of them not to do with plants.  For example I learnt that New Zealand’s only native mammals are bats (is that right Yvonne?) which makes it strange that the Speargrass (Aciphylla), a native, is a very prickly thing when there is no need for it to be as there were no browsing natives!!

If we were having a cup of tea right now I would tell you that I am very weary as I didn’t get to bed until 1am due to gossiping in the bar last night, I am getting too old for such outrageous behaviour

If we were having a cup of tea right now I will admit to buying two more books today: Autumn Bulbs by Rod Leeds and The Well-Designed Mixed Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Aust. Manning the second hand book stall this morning was quite reassuring as it appears my book purchasing addiction is not unusual.  It occurred to me that us plantaholics seem to often also be book mad and if we aren’t buying some plant to shoe-horn into our garden, we are buying a book to shoe-horn on to a bookshelf.  We are just collectors looking for things to collect.

If we were having a cup of tea right now I would tell you how pleased I am that I got to buy some fresh Hepatica japonica seed as well as some narcissus and lily bulbils.  Last year I didn’t notice that certain seeds sent into the AGS seed exchange which have to be sown fresh or bulbils which won’t travel well in the usual packaging were available so I was determined this year not to miss out on this one day opportunity.  I will have to make sure I get sowing next weekend.

If we were having a cup of tea right now I would tell you that I am wondering what possessed me to sign up to the NaBloMoPo challenge this month.  I have two days this week where I won’t be home from work until probably 8:00/8:30.  On top of this as I was away for the weekend I have had little opportunity to take photographs in the garden and I didn’t take any at the conference so I don’t have many prompts or ideas for posts – oh dear, I will have to get my thinking hat on.

If we were having a cup of tea right now (and you were into plants) I would be asking you why you don’t join the AGS.  You don’t have to be interested in the ubiquitous cushion plants or those you might associate with rockeries.  ‘Alpine’ covers all sorts of bulbs, in fact most bulbs that aren’t tender (and even that isn’t always stuck to) as well as those plants that grow in the wooded foothills so things like Peonies, Aquilegia, Primulas, some delphiniums, and my favourite, ferns.  But more importantly as well as having access to the wonderful AGS seed distribution scheme you can go to events like this weekend and meet all sorts of passionate plants people and hear fascinating talks which continue over lunch or dinner – such a nice change to work.

Suburban is not Urban

My Garden

I have a bit of a bug-bear on the way suburban gardens are represented in garden media. If you pick up any selection of gardening magazines you will find the usual selection of large country gardens and small chic city gardens, often courtyards, or community gardens, or people growing vegetables in small spaces – which are loosely termed urban gardens.  These are not suburban gardens.  I live in suburbia and I do not recognise them as gardens I am likely to encounter in this environment.  This month’s RHS The Garden magazine has the theme of urban gardens. I muttered on Twitter about suburban gardens never being featured in magazines and I was told by the editor of the magazine that the rules are the same for urban and suburban – really?


I suppose you could argue that suburban gardens are small and therefore the same rules apply but this does not take into account that suburban gardens do not generally benefit from the micro-climates you get in cities; they don’t have the same levels of noise and other pollution; they are often more open gardens which means they can suffer from wind damage and other extremes of weather; they often have large front gardens which they might not be allowed to have fences or hedges around; they can be all manner of strange shapes due to the idiosyncrasies of the housing development planners.  They have their own set of issues and their own benefits.  So No the same rules do not apply.

A large part of suburbia is made up of housing estates, such as the one I live in.  They do not feel the same as walking down any road in a city even in the residential areas on the outskirts.  Houses on older estates often have good size front gardens with the driveway to one side – when do you ever see an article in a magazine looking at these.  These front gardens, like mine, are like the front room my grandparents had, areas which are kept nice but never used.  Gardens can be a myriad of shapes – yes many are long and thin like urban gardens, but you have wide and short gardens (like mine), or triangular plots or even strange irregular pentagon shaped gardens and there are never articles on how to address such shapes.  Or maybe the garden wraps around the house if you have a nice generous corner plot, again nothing.  And then there is the sloping garden which hasn’t been ironed out by the town and city planners and when do you ever see any sensible practical advice on dealing with a slope without spending vast sums on hard landscape, contractors and designers – if we had that sort of money we would probably be living in the countryside and be interested in different articles!

Hester Forde's garden outside Corke

Hester Forde’s garden outside Corke

And that brings me to another difference between suburban and the urban and country gardens that are featured in the garden media – funds.  Time and again you read an article about a country garden and you read about the acreage, a small garden is an acre, and how the owner works with the gardener to create this or that, and how they removed the woodland or extended into the neighbouring fields etc etc etc. Or how this urban garden was created with the help of this designer or that designer or the other extreme how this community or gardener created everything out of nothing – there is apparently no middle ground in the urban garden.

What about the suburban garden?  How many of them have been designed by a designer or are maintained by a regular gardener pretty few I suspect.  They are the expression of many people who are passionate about plants, or love their gardens, who draw inspiration from the urban gardens and country acres  they see featured and maybe visit and then create their very own special mix and match style of garden but do they ever see anything they can relate directly to in the media – rarely.

Garden outside Dublin

Garden outside Dublin

I  wondered if it is because suburban gardens aren’t visited much and therefore the great ones aren’t known about.  I sense that they are under-represented in schemes such as the NGS as the owners may think that they cannot meet the 45 minutes of interest criteria. I notice that many garden magazines seem to rely on the NGS guide for gardens to feature which is a pity as it means the diversity and excitement that is out there in the whole gardening world is missed.

And that is what the garden media world hasn’t noticed, suburban garden are equally as interesting and fascinating as their  alternatives.  We might not be creating wacky  gardens on  rooftops or growing vegetables in strange pots down an alleyway or lounging of an evening around a fire pit in our designed outside room.  We might not be creating a border for a specific season, or a wildflower meadow where the tennis court was, or planting an orchard.  We are however, taking the best of all of these, distilling them into key elements and we are quietly working away creating beautiful spaces and growing amazing plants.

Surely it is about time that the suburban garden was given as much print and air time as other gardens instead of this passionate suburban gardener flicking through a magazine and not finding anything to relate to.


To write or to garden, that is the question

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that I am a passionate gardener, so my response to today’s Writing 101 prompt about what I do when not writing is easy.

The majority of my time is spent at a PC in my office at the University where I am an administrator so in fact I spend the majority of my time writing something or other at home or at work.

Gardening is my mechanism for de-stressing.  It allows me time to clear my mind either through day dreaming about wild and mad schemes for the garden or in complete contrast  focussing on something small and precise such as peering into a pot of compost convincing myself that that small green dot is in fact the sign that a seed is germinating.  At times of extreme stress I find that just 20 minutes pottering around the garden dead heading and watering calms and soothes and then I can come back to whatever it is that is troubling me with a clearer mind.

In recent years much as been made of how good gardening is for your health.  It is something that is beginning to be recognised as useful in the recovering of people who have experienced severe trauma.  But of course gardening is good for our physical well-being as well as our mental.  It is a good form of gentle exercise, gets you out in the fresh air and keeps you active.  It will never be a form of burning off lots of excess calories, well not unless you regularly dig over something like an allotment, but it keeps everything moving.  I am reminded that when I was visiting gardens in Ireland earlier this year we met a number of older gardeners, one who was 87 and had a huge garden, and each of them believed whole heartedly that it was their gardening passion which had contributed to their longevity.

But I am drifting off topic.  The specific question asked what I do to recharge, rebalance and clear my mind for writing.  Whilst gardening is key to this and so much else that is important to me I also embroider and read.  Reading means I encounter ideas that might inspire me and I experience writing styles which may influence my own writing.  Both gardening and sewing give me material for writing but they also give me the space between work and leisure time so my mind can readjust and find the voice I want for whatever I am writing.   So for me it is important to have a good balance in your life if you want to be able to write.





An Open Letter to the Worldwide Web

Image result for worldwide web

Dear Worldwide Web

Or if I maybe familiar www, I am writing to express my amazement and appreciation of the contribution you have made since you emerged in our world nearly 25 years ago.

My sons are oblivious of the world before it had a worldwide web but as a child of the 60s I am constantly amazed at how we managed without you.  I am befuddled as to how you do what you do but I am grateful that I can search your resources for cultivation information on some obscure plant, I can order a last-minute present for my niece without traipsing around the town looking for  inspiration, my mother can email her brothers on the other side of the world, my son can set out his wares in the job market in an innovative way and I can find a recipe for dinner tonight – all from the comfort of our sofas.  Through you the world has become smaller, we can meet people from nearly anywhere in the world, and most importantly nearly everyone can access information.

Information is power, through knowledge and education we can shape our world and make informed choices.  But sometimes the information is too much, it appears too quickly, we are overwhelmed by images of tragic and difficult events, we no longer have the buffer zone of distance and editorship.  We can react to images without always considering the broader context, and our views can be influenced by clever manipulation of what we see. There are some that abuse your resources, to prey on the vulnerable and who use it to cause unhappiness and hate amongst us.

I think you are one of most significant inventions of the last two centuries. Your creation has revolutionised the world as much or more than the combustion energy and discovery of nuclear power. But, the human race needs to learn how to manage your power and capabilities.  Like a child with a new toy we are obsessed and seek to find answers to everything in you.  We need to remember that most of the things we use you for we could do just as well, albeit it maybe slower, before you arrived and I am sure you will forgive me if I would still rather pick up and read a printed book or have a chat on the telephone with a friend.

Thank you for opening my eyes to things and people I knew nothing about but this evening I will be ignoring you and reading my book.


This was written as an assignment on Writing 101 – the brief was to write an open letter to so

Why do I write?

Why do I write?  Because I can’t help myself.  I need to let out the thoughts and whitterings that run around my mind.  As Sylvia Plath said:

“I write only because
There is a voice within me
That will not be still”

I am a restless soul with a mind like a mad chirping bird that flits from one thing to another.  I try to calm my mind, to focus on one thing but its a struggle. Mental multi-tasking would be my super-hero quality but …. and its a big BUT when I have written, be it in a diary or on my blog, especially when I write from the heart my busy mind is calm.

I think the process of writing makes me focus on one thing, banishing other thoughts away, and sometimes I let it help me sort through tangled thoughts and muddled priorities.  I often don’t publish my most heart-felt ramblings but the act of writing them down is sufficient.

What do I write about, well mainly my garden and gardening but I want to explore other types of writing.  I write a lot at work as well but these are reports so a different style of writing, very concise and dry – my mind flits a lot when I do this writing.

I started blogging because I wanted to connect with other gardeners and to be honest with gardeners more of my generation than the older generation that inhabits most garden clubs.  I wanted to find people who were plant addicts, who got excited when the seeds for some unusual or difficult plant germinated.  I have been writing this blog for over 8 years and it has held me in good stead.  It has provided me with a rock during times of extreme difficulty, a safe place where I could forget for a while the troubles and tribulations that were assaulting my being.  It has allowed me to see places and become involved in events that I would never had been able to without the virtual connections I have made. Writing has enabled me to draw out the real me.  A me that had lost its self-belief and confidence after a difficult and abusive marriage and other equally destructive relationships.  A me that felt guilty for being a single parent, a me worried about how society judged me, a me frightened of my own shadow.  Through this blog I have learnt to trust my instincts, to listen to my heart rather than my head and to believe in myself.  It has given me confidence and self-esteem.

But (yes another but) I feel a need to improve my writing, maybe to develop it, I don’t know.  My life is going through significant changes both at home and at work, it has led to a surge of tidying up, obviously due to a need to be in some sort of control, sorting out of cupboards, drawers etc and I think my mind.  I feel as though I am exiting from a grey oppressive place that I have inhabited more on than off,  I feel as though I am beginning to like myself, to accept myself and not feel as though I need to apologise so much for just being…well me. Liking yourself is not always an easy thing to do.

So as part of this unintended tidying up, sorting out, improving I signed up to Writing 101 (and Blogging 101) hence this post – my first assignment.  Apologies for regular gardening fans but the blog may go a little off-piste over the coming days but who knows you may enjoy it.  I hope I do.




What’s in a Name?

Thinking - kinda!

Thinking – kinda!

I have alluded occasionally over the last few months, maybe longer, that I have been making plans, sorting things out.  I suspect some would try to label my mind-set at the moment as ’empty nest’.  I disagree but I do think I am at one of those moments in life when you feel that things could change.  I don’t mean I am at some sort of cross roads metaphorically, or in reality, or that I have had some sort of revelation.  No, it is more a feeling that I am entering a new phase of my life and that if I choose to I can change some things.

I think it is true to say that some of this could fall into the ’empty nest’ category as both my sons now work and the youngest will probably be relocating to Devon in the next month or so but I have been in that situation for a while and I don’t feel a need to fill any void.  I have for some years now been in a position where if I fancy doing thing and work and funds permit I do it.  My life is also quite full with a job that can be demanding and can have long days and I am involved with two horticultural groups, serving on the committee of both and then there is the blog and that’s where the block really is.

I have been writing this blog for around 8 years.  I love it but sometime, like now, it feel onerous.  I have tried walking away from it in the past but it is like turning your back on a really close friend.  They are after all rare and you never know when you really might need them so it is best to solider on through the less fun times.  Recently I have become somewhat obsessed with the stats and my position in a league table.  This is not good, it is in fact quite unhealthy and taps into my competitive streak which rears its ugly head from time to time.  I have been working hard on the blog, leaving comments on others, responding to comments, trying to keep the content regular etc but the key expression here is ‘working hard’.  Blogging shouldn’t be hard work, it shouldn’t be onerous, you shouldn’t do it just to come further up a league table than someone else.

Why should you blog?  One of those questions that each blogger will give you a different answer to. I have always said that I blog for myself but I love it when it engages with others and this is still true today.  This is why it doesn’t work when I am chasing stats etc.  But now I come to another stumbling block which has crept up on me over the last few months and relates to the sense of change I mention above.  My blog is entitled ‘The Patient Gardener’ but my interests are diversifying and I want to, and do, other things so why don’t I blog about them more?  Is the blog name too prescriptive, am I letting it block my thought process, am I over thinking this – probably! When I first started blogging I got excited when someone left a comment, I got excited to find a new gardening blog, or I saw a plant I hadn’t seen before – but familiarity breeds contempt, well not contempt as that might be going to far, but you know what I mean – and I have lost that thrill.

I love my garden, I enjoy ‘working’ in it but I am struggling to get enthusiastic about always blogging on this subject. I have been looking for something recently, I haven’t been sure what, but I have felt that something needs to change.  I have even looked at moving house but realised that I love my house and garden too much to move – the neighbours have put their house on the market this week and I had a quiet tentative cheer!    I have started walking and my interest in wildlife is returning.  Also having played around with different crafts I have found myself enthralled with embroidery again and getting absurdly excited when I find an embroidery blog, they are few and far between, and positively stroking the cover of the Inspirations magazine when it arrived from Australia full of projects and plans.  Whilst I am going on a garden visiting holiday this year, and I have been on them before, I don’t feel an overwhelming urge to go on more.  I love visiting gardens but there is so much more to the world and I want to see it.  I have a list of places and things I want to see and strangely there are few gardens featuring:

  • Cuba
  • Iceland including the Northern Lights
  • Highland and island to see Golden Eagle and Otters
  • Whale watching
  • Peru
  • Southern Italy
  • Sicily
  • Isles of Scilly
  • Costa Rica
  • Halong Bay
  • Anka Wot
  • China – the Terracotta Army and Forbidden City, as well as the rice fields
  • Petra
  • Istanbul

and that’s just off the top of my head.  I am in a position to start planning these trips so why not?  I have found some companies that do trips specifically for solo travellers, which aren’t aimed at people looking for partners and which don’t charge a single supplement.  I have two solo trips coming up over the next two months which will test how I get on.  This weekend I am off to the South Coast to visit West Dean Gardens, Great Dixter and Sissinghurst.  I am staying two nights on my own in a B&B so that will be the first challenge.  Then in July I am going on a trip to visit gardens in Ireland.  It is an organised trip but I have to find my own way to Dublin, not that hard I know, and it will be interesting to see how I get on spending a week with complete strangers but people who have a similar interest. I am feeling more content with life as though I have served my time over the last 20 something years bringing my sons up on my own, penny pinching, working hard and now its time to rediscover the things that really matter to me (aside from my sons of course!)

So what I think I am struggling with is sharing all of this on a blog which for the last 8 years has focussed on gardening and gardens.  I have tried having a separate blog for crafts but it was just too much.  Do I carry on with the same blog name or should I come up with a new one?  What would that be – The Whims of an Empty Nester – sounds a bit sad really! Or The Patient Gardener and other musings – too long? Or What Helen Did Next – sounds possibly more interesting than it might be? Would a new name attract new readers but also lose some of my regular readers? Would moving away from a niche mean that its harder to attract regular readers, build up the community of readers that I have been reading about today – does this matter? I don’t want to turn my back on writing about gardening I just want the blog to reflect my life better rather than one aspect of me and I am stuck on how this would work



My Garden This Weekend – 26th April 2015

 Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Valentine'

Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Valentine’

Today the forecasters predicted low temperatures of around 10C and wind and maybe rain.  Now I would certainly have welcomed the rain since it hasn’t really rained all month and whilst the established plants are fine those I have been planting out over the last month are struggling.  However, the reality of the weather is that we have had an amazingly beautiful spring day with temperatures reaching around 18C this afternoon.  We had rain overnight, not enough to make much difference to the water butts but at least it was some.  I was meant to take my mother out to buy a lilac for her garden as a birthday present but she was so convinced by the weather forecast that we went and bought it during the week meaning that today I was free to play in the garden.

2015_04250061The focus of my efforts today was to address all the seedlings that have been germinating and need pricking out.  I am very good when it comes to sowing seeds but the looking after them once they have germinated, certainly beyond the initial pricking out, leaves something to be desired. I am trying very hard to do better. It is that time of year when space is at a premium and I am conscious that in a week or so I will be sowing the tender annuals such as zinnias.  Both the cold frames are full on the top shelves although the bottom halves are empty since this is very shady and not ideal for seedlings but good for storing tall plants over winter.  Anyway, as ever it started out with some organised pricking out and then the greenhouse got yet another reshuffle.  The temporary shelf was replaced with a wider one – its amazing what wood you have to hand when your son is a cabinet maker.  Whilst this was a distraction I finally took cuttings of the aeoniums and malmaison carnations which I have been meaning to do for weeks. I am really hoping that with a little care I can get the carnations to flower this year. I have started to pull some of the larger plants out during the day to start hardening them off so hopefully it won’t be too long before the space issue is no more.


The border along the patio which I really sorted back in March is looking so much better now. By removing all the bluebells the lily of the valley has re-emerged and its fresh leaves look very pretty.  Sadly there aren’t that many flowers and I wonder if this is because the plants have been swamped for years; time will tell.  The four meconopsis poppies are still in existence and have grown slightly, hopefully if we have the rain they forecast later this week they will put some real growth on.  2015_04250021

But the thing that has been occupying most of my thinking is the front garden.  I was going to say I have a love/hate relationship with it but that would be far to generous – I hate it.  I always have and it has defied all my attempts to engage with it and make it something I am proud of.  Maybe that is a little harsh since obviously it’s not the garden’s fault that I don’t like it but I do despair particularly with the area at the very front by the birch.  I have added loads of organic matter and mulched it over the years but as soon as we have some dry weather the clay in it turns to rock and it is pointless trying to weed or plant or anything.  I have blamed some of my apathy on not enjoying working in the front garden as it’s not very private but both the laurel (not my best idea) and beech hedges I have planted have grown and provide a degree of privacy. I squared off the lawn a few years back to provide some formality and have tried an approach of planting an edge of alchemilla mollis, bergenia and as you can see ballerina tulips but whilst I love the tulips I think this style/approach isn’t me. When I was weeding here earlier in the week I found myself telling myself off.  The front garden is the size of many a small garden and here I am ignoring it whilst I am desperate for more space for the plants I love in the back garden.   It dawned on me that part of the problem is that my favourite plants are woodland plants and I enjoy planting shady borders. Whereas the front garden is anything but shady and I need to embrace a new range of plants and a new approach to make the most of this space.  2015_04250020Where to start? It occurred to me that I needed to consider plants that could cope with baking in the clay in the summer so I started to re-read Beth Chatto’s The Dry Garden which was quite inspiring.  The thought process lead to the notion that really I should just dig up the lawn and be done with it.  Lawn is far to grand a term as it is mostly moss which goes dry and yellow in the summer. I think I find the strong shape of the lawn quite limiting for some reason, I much prefer the more relaxed approach I have in the back garden.  I also looked at the recent book on A Year in the Life of Beth Chatto’s Garden which is very photogenic but lead me to conclude that a dry garden wouldn’t necessarily work given the wet clay in winter and to be honest I struggled to see me working with this style of planting.  Then by chance yesterday, I won Dream Plants for the Natural Garden in the raffle at the local HPS meeting and this coincided with a thought that maybe I could finally get grasses to work in the garden.  So the current thinking is to go for a naturalistic approach.  I want to add a small tree and I can visualise some Stipa gigantea catching the morning sun, then….. well that as far as I have got.  My block at the moment is that there is no reason for anyone to go in the front garden.  The front door is roughly in line with the side border where the tulips are so anyone coming to the house walks up the driveway and to the door.  I have toyed with putting some sort of path through the garden but again it would be too contrived and no one would use it.  I think there needs to be some sort of path or clearing if only to assist me with working in the space but I just can’t visualise it yet.

I don’t plan to do anything drastic until late summer/autumn so lots of time to think and plan and draw up lists of plants.


Happy Easter


As I said back at Christmas I am not a religious being and so I don’t celebrate Easter.  However, I enjoy the long Easter weekend as it is an opportunity to spend time with my sons and mother.  Having four days is a luxury, you can embark on a proper project, you can take time doing something rather than trying to fit it into a weekend, you can sit and stop and just listen.  2015_04030016

I keep a garden diary although the entries tend to be sporadic.  I was reading back through it last night and it was very interesting to see that I was saying some of the same things back in 2012 as I am today such as I want to spend more time focussing on gardening well.  It also recorded my decision to give up the allotment, a decision I have never regretted and my initial enthusiasm for alpines and showing and then my gradual loss of interest.  There are plans I have carried out such as the new seating area and others that never moved beyond a whimsy in my diary such as the mad lozenge shaped grass stepping stones when I was persuading myself to give up the lawn.  2015_04030014

I can sense my battle with grief back in 2012 and 2013 after losing my sister in my descriptions of extreme tiredness which I now recognise as the bereavement process. I also noted how my tone changed as I discovered some new gardening clubs and started to make real gardening friends. My local HPS group has been a lifeline to me over the past 7 months since losing Dad. But throughout the diary is a recurring need to learn more and a clear love of plants and how they grow. Anyone who questions the healing nature of gardening has obviously never spent a quiet evening as the sun goes down slowly working through a border, weeding, and listening to the sound of the birds.  You lose yourself, the stresses and strains of life float away.


So to all my readers whatever your religious persuasion I would like to wish you a happy Easter break and may you find it a recharging and relaxing time, hopefully with your family and loved ones.