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.




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.


My Garden this Weekend – 25th January 2015


With a little sunshine this weekend and a slight increase in the temperatures the first hellebores are starting to open.  This is the plant that hooked me on hellebores some 7 years ago.  I used to use it as my avatar on twitter and Blotanical.  It is one of the Ashwood hybrids and I love the yellow and red combination.

Galanthus Selborne Green Tips

Galanthus Selborne Green Tips


The mystery snowdrop has opened and I am none the wiser.  I know where and when I bought it but I can find nothing written down in my notebooks or on the blog about what it is.  Ho-hum

At last I have found the label for the snowdrop – Galanthus Selborne Green Tip


Although I like the special snowdrops I have bought I still feel more anticipation at waiting for the clumps of ordinary Galanthus nivalis to open.  I also have the double Galanthus nivalis Flora Pleno which is already beginning to spread despite only being planted just over a year ago.

Eranthis hyemalis

Eranthis hyemalis

Eranthis grunling

Eranthis grunling

Eranthis schwefelglanz

Eranthis schwefelglanz

My eranthis are beginning to appear around the garden which is pleasing as some were only added a year ago.  Unlike the snowdrops I can tell the difference between these three.  Eranthis hyemalis is the ordinary one, schwefelglanz is a pale yellow and grunling has green stripes to the flowers. I think there are some more which I would like to collect, I heard tell of a double the other day so I will be seeking those out.


The very first daffodils in the garden are about to open.  I have no idea what variety they are, they came with the garden but they always flower early.  This picture amused me as I think they look like two geese or ducks – but then I may have a strange imagination.

I did find some time to do a few gardening tasks over the weekend although I found after an hour outside my toes were quite frozen despite several layers of socks.  I am pleased that I tidied up the driveway border in the front garden and also the Big Border.  The garden is looking more ready for Spring than it has in any other year which is satisfying although there are still some areas that I need to tackle but these will involve more heavy duty work and some shrub rearranging.  Today I mulched the woodland border just managing to get the wood bark down before the bulbs had emerge too much making it tricky.  Like many gardeners I have spent some time over the winter thinking about the garden and planning what I want to grow and plant over the coming season.


I am going through a period of working through various emotions and trying to work out, as much as is possible, what I would like to achieve in various aspects of my life.  I suspect this need to have a plan or objective is due to several uncertainties in my life that I have no control over at the moment.  One of the things I can control and plan is what I want to do in the garden over the coming season and what will make me happy.  I have mentioned over the last month how I have been inspired by some television programmes and books and I feel that I have a much clearer idea in my head of how I want the garden to develop, finally.  Part of this is re-engaging with my old love of growing plants from seed and in particular some annuals that I haven’t grown for years including rudbeckia and zinnias.  My pocket diary this year has the saying ‘Do more of what makes you happy’ on the front and I have taken this as my motto for the year.   I spent yesterday evening sorting through my box of seed packets and sorting out what I hope to sow this year and when, for no other reason than the flowers make me happy – no planning for shows etc.


Part of my frustrations come from only seeing the garden at weekends although already this is starting to change and I almost get home in day light.  I have invested in recent years in a number of miniature bulbs, partly with a view to showing, but also because I love their daintiness.  However, I don’t get to see them properly as they are in the greenhouse and its generally dark.  I don’t have the time, working full-time, to perfect the plants for showing and I am someone who needs to do something well if they are going to do it – I hate failing.  I have decided to put showing on the back burner until I can do it properly unless there is a show near home and I happen to have something looking good.  My friend, Dee, posted a picture of iris reticulata on Facebook today on display in her home and I think this is what I want to do more – bring the pots into the house as the bulbs are about to flower.  I have invested in a plunge bed and I hate waste so I have been exploring the possibility of converting it into a heated propagator which it seems is very feasible, thanks to advice from friends on twitter.  This will mean that the annuals etc I want to grow from seed and the cuttings I would like to try taking will get a better start so hopefully all will turn out for the best.

I sometimes think I should rename the blog – The Indecisive Gardener – as I change my mind so much.  I think some of this is due to the overload of images and information you can get via social media so I need to step back a little bit to let my head clear.  I spend a lot of time on social media in the evenings, especially at this time of year, as it’s a distraction and it stops me chewing my fingers (a very bad habit).  I had been doing some embroidery which I have blogged about before but the project I was working on is a little fiddly and I have been avoiding it so I have today ordered some new materials for  new project which should be a good distraction and a calming influence until the evenings are light enough for me to play in the garden after work.

7 Years of Blogging!

Iris unguicularis 'Water Butt'

Iris unguicularis ‘Walter Butt’

Well who would have thought it! I had a message from WordPress this morning congratulating me on 7 years of blogging! If you had asked me the other day how long I had been blogging for my standard answer would have been 5 years but then I never have a very good perception of time.

I remember distinctly starting out on this journey.  It was a cold January and I was bored and frustrated because I wanted to get outside.  I also felt a need to connect with others who shared my interest and I was struggling to find something locally.  I’m sure it was the weekend and I remember reading a gardening magazine which had an article in it about the new phenomena of garden blogs.  Being a real fan of the internet I was intrigued and when I saw the ‘starting a blog tutorial’ on My Tiny Plot I decided to have a go (sadly the tutorial no longer seems to be there).  I remember throwing various names for the blog around in my head for 24 hours, wondering whether I should really have a go, after all what did I know about gardening being a mere novice but My Tiny Plot’s blog was all about learning and sharing successes and failures so why not.

I had to ask my eldest to help me set up the blog – it was really a hand holding exercise but in less than 24 hours I was off.  After about a month of seeking out other gardening blogs and being frustrated because all I seemed to be able to find were UK veg growers and not ornamental gardening blogs I discovered Blotanical which back then was a rapidly growing network of gardening bloggers from across the world.  I relished reading Pam’s Digging blog – all exotic and exciting plants in her Texan garden and Dee’s blog showcasing her beautiful American cottage style garden.  There was so much choice and diversity, plants I have never heard of or seen.  I started to attract readers to my blog, the blog stats rocketed and I haven’t looked back since.

Sadly Blotanical seems to have closed down; a victim of its own success I suppose but those friendships made 7 years ago continue.  Since then I have found UK ornamental gardeners who share my passion for plants, I have met many bloggers including some of my US friends, I have had opportunities that I would never have had before such as helping build a Chelsea show garden, being on the radio etc but most of all I feel I have found my voice and confidence.

Blogging is now part of my life.  Sometimes I think I’ll take a break because I haven’t got anything to say but after a day or two I find myself missing the act of writing even if it’s waffle.  I have found it a great comforter over the last five years helping me work through my grief at losing my sister, Dad and a close work colleague.  At these times there are always readers who offer comfort and support and you find yourself lifted out of the dark despair to feeling more positive and finding a way forward.  I have been inspired with all sorts of ideas over the years and in some ways blogging and reading blogs has given me permission to do what I wish with my garden far more than any television programme or magazine could.

So thank you WordPress and my readers for all your support over the last 7 years….I wonder if I will still be blogging in another 7

My Garden This Weekend – 18th January 2015


As you can see the garden has had a dose of winter this weekend albeit short-lived with the majority of the snow having melted by Saturday lunchtime. I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed that it was too cold to do anything outside as all I wanted to do yesterday was hide inside.  I have been overcome with a tidal wave of grief which has crept up on me unexpectedly during the week, just like when you don’t notice the tide coming further up the beach.  It left me feeling emotional and close to tears for 48 hours not an ideal state of mind when you have to go to work.  It took  a while to identify it for what it was, going through all the usual others things, dismissing PMT, depression, concern about changes at work etc.  No it was grief, cold and hard and something you just have to accept and wait for it to pass.


I have been getting on with life over recent months, being busy, since Dad died and although I think about him a lot I have felt I was doing OK.  But grief has a habit of creeping up on you and engulfing you when you least expect it.  I suppose I am lucky in that I learnt to recognise and accept it for what it is about a year after my sister died thanks to a wonderful counsellor.  This time it was a book that bought everything to a head.  A beautifully written book, if the first chapter or two is to go by, H for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.  The book is about the author training a Goshawk but it is also about her coming to terms with the loss of her father.  Needless to say it starts with her reacting to the news her Dad had died and I suppose it struck at something deep down because I kept obsessing about one paragraph, where they are looking for the father’s car.  I can’t even talk about the story without crying but then again I don’t think that is a bad thing because I believe it is better to let these things happen rather than fight them. We do more damage to ourselves with the British stiff upper lip approach.


So the only gardening I did this weekend was to move things around in the greenhouse.  Rejigging the pots of bulbs so that those emerging have the best light and the late summer bulbs, such as nerines, are moved under the staging to rest for a while.


Sunday has been a better day.  Having recognised the grief for what it was, had a good cry, I woke up feeling like my old self again and ready to battle on.  I have been decorating the hall, landing and stairs, which means endless gloss work which I can doing in stages.  So after tackling some of the bannisters Mum and I went out for a jaunt to Ashwood Nurseries which is just over an hour from here.  My boss had given me some garden vouchers for Christmas and I had earmarked them for some more hellebores and some spring flowering shrubs.  A lot of research has been done in recent evenings and a mental wish list drawn up.


The choice at Ashwoods is extensive and always so well displayed.  I realised I have only visited at this time of year, the last time for a hellebore talk, so I must try to visit again through the year but if this is the quality of the display in early January I can only imagine how wonderful it will be in a few months.

I came home with 3 hellebores – Anna’s Red, Neon Star and Walbertons Rosemary which has been bred to look upwards, 3 heptica nobilis, a clivia and two dwarf rhododendrons that are part of my new planting plan for the border you can see in the second photograph.


We had a nice lunch, a laugh, talked about Dad, grief, glosswork (Mum is decorating too) and strangely bought a resin tortoise (a gift for my Aunt!).  We are going back in March for my birthday so Mum can treat me to something, probably for the border above.

As for the book …. it is safely back on the shelf waiting for such time as I feel more emotional able to read it.