Happy Easter

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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.

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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.

Helen

My Garden this Weekend – 25th January 2015

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Seeking the Spirit of Christmas

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I have found myself pondering the meaning of Christmas over the last week or so.  Now I know that sounds very deep but from an agnostic’s point of view it is quite a key question.

We are a somewhat small and depleted family having lost Dad a few months ago.  There is me, my two adult sons and Mum.  Of course there is also my brother-in-law and niece but since my sister died five years ago his focus, understandably, has been more to his own family, and I find myself thinking of them as an extension to our family rather than the core family if you understand my meaning.

When my sons were small the whole focus of Christmas was around them.  The excitement that built up from shopping trips, visits to Santa’s grotto, school activities until by Christmas Eve they were fit to explode and indeed they did around 4pm on Christmas Day when it all got too much and they burst into tears.  As they got older the focus moved to my niece some 11 years their junior and then we had the trauma of Christmas without her mother.  We found a way of moving forward going through the motions including trips to the pantomime.

This year, as I have said, there will be 4 of us around the Christmas table.  There is no pantomime trip for a range of reasons and it has started to feel that I was going through the motions following a prescribed routine which was fuelled by the media and commerce. It felt as though Christmas was really just a glorified roast dinner with some gifts, that none of us really need, thrown in. This is why over the recent weeks the sense that I needed to provide Christmas and some magic, whatever that maybe, has grown and grown.  It lead me to wonder what Christmas was actually about.  We don’t go to church so once you take out the whole religious meaning of Christmas it seems you are left with the commercial aspect which doesn’t sit well with me at all.

I have said I am an agnostic; despite being christened and confirmed I struggle to embrace organised Christianity.  However, I do believe there is something out there – I have no idea what – and over recent years I have felt myself more empathetic to the old religions, the circle of life, mother nature, call it what you will. I find myself more attuned to the changing seasons, lengthening of days, cycles of the moon than I ever will be to the teachings of Christ or any other religious deity.  I believe more and more in respecting our surroundings and working with nature.

So as I pondered on how to make Christmas special for my small family, how to bring some magic into the house, how to move away from the commercialisation of it all (prompted by my son on a recent visit to a well-known supermarket saying ‘You can buy Christmas here’). I found myself thinking about why we decorate our homes with greenery, why we have Christmas trees, why we feast and why Christmas is when it is?  It doesn’t take much effort to discover that the timing of Christmas coincides, almost, with the winter solstice and the old religion celebrations.  When Christianity was being devised (I’m sorry I don’t mean to offend I can’t think of another word) the key celebrations were timed to coincide with existing pagan festivals in order to ‘sell’ the new religion to the masses.  In so doing many of the traditions associate with the pagan festivals were subsumed into the new celebrations which is why when you start to think about things like mistletoe and the obsession with holly and ivy and how they relate to Christianity it makes little sense – the same applies to some of the Easter customs. The bringing in of greenery into the house was partly to ward of evil spirits, it was for decorative reasons, and  in some cultures evergreen were brought in and decorated to represent gods or goddesses.  Mistletoe was considered by the druids to be extremely sacred. It was cut on the sixth night after the winter solstice and distributed to the people to hang over their doors to ward off evils spirits. As for our modern obsession with gift giving this may have developed from the  Roman celebration of Saturnalia, an ancient festival which took place in late December.

Where does this leave me and my quest for the spirit of Christmas?  Well I have decided, that I wanted to refer to the winter solstice and nature more, and to start some new family traditions.  So I have left the artificial tree in the loft and instead we had the fun of going to choose a real Christmas tree, the annoyance of trying to get it to stand up straight and we will no doubt spend a considerable amount of time over the Christmas period hovering up the needles but it feels special.  I have kept the decorations simple and traditional – no gaudy tinsel.  Finally, I have used the branches cut off the bottom of the tree to make a wreath for the front door to which I have added foliage collected from around the garden which for me is a celebration of mid-winter and marks the turning of the year and days getting longer – as a gardener something I look forward to more than Christmas.  Just these simple things have brought Christmas to life in our house far more than in previous years.  I think the ‘effort’ of having made/created these things myself rather than buying them ready-made off a shelf means more; my sons have certainly commented on it.

This year it will be a quiet Christmas, with a nice meal, some gifts and spending time together. We will miss Dad and my sister and remember past Christmases and tell stories.  It will be a time for reflection but also for looking ahead to the future and I think that is what Christmas is, for me,  really all about – being with loved ones and sharing good times and in a way tapping into the American tradition of Thanksgiving, remembering how lucky we are in whatever way.

 

 

 

Remembrance Day Tree Planting

 

My sons never cease to impress me in one way or another.  My eldest, the cabinet maker, is also a Scout Leader.  He is conscientious and wants the best for his scout group, always trying to improve the scout hut and facilities along with his best friend.  Anyway back in the summer I noticed on Twitter that the Woodland Trust was offering community projects free trees to mark the Queen’s Jubilee.  I mentioned this to my son and he was very interested.  The scout group over the last few years has had a new building and new fencing has been installed particularly to try and prevent equipment being stolen.  My son, a keen woodsman, did not like the chain link fence and wanted to soften it with trees with a goal of at some point in the future being able to use wood from the hedge to teach woodmans skills.

Anyway, having investigated the options offered by the Woodland Trust he applied for a ‘Year Round’ medium sized hedge and waited.  Then in October he had an email to let him know that the application had been successful and the 105 young trees would be delivered late October.

Planting 105 young trees is some undertaking and my son wanted to make it an event so given the timing of the delivery he decided to incorporate it into plans for the scout group to mark Remembrance Day.  Last weekend he and another scout leader dug 105 holes along the fence to give a double hedge.  The plants arrived in a large box along with a Royal Oak sapling.  This sapling had come from a Royal Park and one was included in each pack in order to mark the jubilee.  At the Scouts grounds there is a small hill, mainly constructed out of the spoil from the new building being built and the plan is that the Oak will be planted on the top so they have a focus for future rememberance events etc.  However, we think there will need to be some serious soil preparation so the oak has been planted in a nice pot and will live over winter in my  garage.

Today, Remembrance Sunday, a service was held at the Scout Hut to mark the day but in such a way that it was relevant to the young people, unlike many church services.  The Oak was formally presented to the group by the vicar and after the service all the scouts, cubs and beavers went outside, were given a tree each to plant and an oak label (made by my son) on which to write their name and a message.  Of course the Scout leaders went along behind to make sure the trees were planted properly and watered.

I think this was a wonderful idea.  The hedge, providing it survives and grows, will be associated with remembrance by many of the scout group and the Oak will especially, as it grows and matures, provide a focal point for the group and their activities – what better way for young people to show their respect and rememberance for those who have lost their lives fighting for their country.

Note: there are no photos of the tree planting due to the number of childre involved and the need to have permission for their photographs to be put on the web in the first place.