A new kind of madness

I was reading the introduction of an embroidery book yesterday morning which really spoke to my inner gardener, as much as my embroidery self.  The book,  Needlework Antique Flowers by Elizabeth Bradley is from the early 1990s and belonged to a former member of my Embroiderers Guild who sadly died earlier this year. I love ‘old’ embroidery books as they often have real instructions on all sorts of lost stitches and techniques.  This book is about woolwork which is essentially like tapestry by done with cross stitch instead of tent stitch.  Anyway, I digress, the thing that struck a chord with me was the following comment from the author:

“Modern gardeners and gardening writers seem to fall loosely into two schools.  The first are plantsmen whom I greatly admire.  They really know their charges, can remember their Latin names however often they change, and thoroughly understand what each plant needs to thrive.  Their gardens, although often beautifully designed and laid out, differ from others by their plants also growing perfectly, each well staked and with enough space around it so that it can grow properly and be seen to best advantage…..I as a gardener, fall into a second category that can only be described as the school of enthusiastic amateurs.  I love my plants and know most of their names but just will not make the time to really find out what is necessary to get best out each.”

The reason this struck a chord with me is I often like to think of myself as a plantsmen, although I recognise I am being a little presumptive. Some gardening friends seem to think I am very knowledgeable ad plants (if they read this blog they would know I can’t remember one name from one week to another) and I do research what conditions my plants need but I fail completely when it comes to showing my plants perfectly so they can be seen to the best advantage.

Maybe this passage was in my mind when I spent some time on Sunday morning tackling the big border.  What started out as a little dead-heading quickly become more involved and the large red opium poppy was dug up.  Its huge leaves have been smothering so many other plants and I have decided that it is just to substantial for the border, which I am trying to focus more on grasses, bulbs and grassland plants.  The poppy has been cut back hard and potted up ready to be planted out in the front garden, as part of the editing work that needs to take place.  The camassia foliage has added to the problem as the leaves are dense, sword like and long and when it rains are flattened down on new foliage from other plants which are trying to grow; so they too are being edited. The alliums suffered the most from the suffocating foliage and were growing almost horizontally with weird kinks in their stems. So……

…each allium ended up with its own stake – how mad is that!  I think this must surely be the way to madness.  The lesson I take away from this is to plant alliums amongst less dominating plants.

Whilst, I aspire to show each of my plants to their best advantage, because of my preference for well filled borders I don’t think I will ever grow my plants “with enough space around it so that it can grow properly” .


Six on Saturday 4th May 2019

I would like to claim that this subtle combination of Thermopsis, the pale yellow tulips and the Euphorbia in the background was planned but it wasn’t.  I can even remember planting the pale yellow tulips and they don’t appear on my bulb order form last Autumn so I am wondering if in a moment of enthusiasm I bought some more bulbs from the garden centre having forgotten that I had already planted plenty.  Well it doesn’t really matter as I love the effect and its great to have a second wave of tulip flowers.

I do remember planting the Dutch Iris.  I add a couple of dozen every year although generally only a few actually grow, but they do come back year on year.  I have learnt that you need to plant them well into the border as they grow very tall and the foliage of summer perennials help to hide the leggy stem.  I’m not sure which variety this one is.  I added Miss Saigon this year but I am pretty sure that is a slightly paler more lavender blue so hopefully she will be along soon.  Sadly, I may miss her as I am about to go off my travels for just over a week and looking round the garden this morning there were so many flowers in bud which I just know will be over by the time I return – such a pity.

But I haven’t missed my Rhododendron ‘Happy’ flowering.  I have had this plant since 2001, it grew in a pot at my old house and then was planted out a few years after we moved to this house.  In recent years the plant has got somewhat leggy due to my neglect and fear of pruning it.  I haven’t been very good at pruning any of the shrubs really.  I grew up with a father who loved to domed plants, it didn’t matter what the shrub was it was domed.  I prefer my shrubs to look more natural so I have generally avoided pruning but over the last 9 months or so I have noticed that many of my shrubs have suffered from my neglect.  They have lot long and leggy, competing with each other and generally not looking great.  So I have been tackling them bit by bit and mostly they are looking at lot better and the garden looks better for it too.

At the other end of the spectrum to shrubs is Lily of the Valley.  This romps around my garden, appearing all over the place.  I suspect this is because I regularly pull bits up to try and get it under control.  I would then put the bits I had pulled up in the compost bin and then a year or so later spread the compost around the garden and lo and behold Lily of the Valley would appear in a new place.  Well it doesn’t do any harm and this year due to my shrub pruning, it has benefited from more light and I have more flowers.

My last two Six on Saturday are Aquilegias which I think are very under rated.  Some gardeners don’t like them as they say that over a number of years you just end up with the sludgy pink ones.  I would disagree with that whole heartedly.  I suspect the sludgy pink ones are the more native, and therefore stronger varieties, and they self-seed better.  I have over many years grown a wide range of varieties and mixes and it is reflected in the varieties of colours and types of Aquilegias in my garden – no sludgy pink ones to be seen.  The one above is more like the standard Columbine, or Granny’s Bonnet, and you can see why it is called that.

My favourites are the ones with long spurs, which I think are more American than European.  All mine originate from McKana Hybrid seed mixes.

So that’s my Six on Saturday on this chilly but sunny Saturday day.  This time last year I was in Texas, although it seems like a life time ago and this time next week I will be in Sicily. I wonder what memories I will come home with.

For more Six on Saturday visit The Propagator’s blog and check out the comments box.




Six on Saturday – 27 April 2019

I had such good intentions of posting my six on Saturday post yesterday. I took the photos in the morning despite Storm Hannah gusting her way across the garden sending my neighbours fence off down his garden. But then it all went pear shaped and I caught my foot in a pile of bed linen sitting waiting for the washing machine – I went flying but got back up and limped on with the housework only to stub the same toe on the stair riser at which point I burst into tears and was told by my son to just stop.

It really knocked the stuffing out of me so even sitting writing a blog post seemed to much until this evening. My biggest worry is that I am off on my travels a week tomorrow with quite a bit of walking so I do hope the bruised toe will be better by then. Whilst my toe is a bluey purple the garden is very blue at the moment with the camassias in full bloom.

I love camassias; they do really well in my garden possibly because of the clay soil but it may also be that they are in a slope  so good drainage. They have been multiplying for a number of years now and I really need to thin some out. I did add a few a couple of weeks back to the front garden but the lesson I learnt was that camassias don’t transfer well when they are about to flower. However, they should look great next year.

But its not all Camassias the Deutzia has just started flowering and as ever is looking stunning.  I inherited it when I bought the house 13 years ago and every year it never fails to deliver a wealth of flowers.

Tulip China Town
Tulip China Town

Last week I showed you Tulip China Town in bud and now its flowering, I think it looks more stunning in bud but its still pretty gorgeous.

And finally, the flowers on the Melianthus major is still unfurling.  The leaves are looking a little frazzled but the flowers are quite wonderful in their weird way.

Those of my highlights this week, next week I’m anticipating the Dutch Iris will be flowering.

For more Six on Saturday posts visit The Propagtor’s blog – who kindly hosts this great meme

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day – August 2018

It seems I have a growing collection of Agapanthus in the garden more by luck than design.  It probably is because I have a weakness for all bulbs and at this time of year its seems to be either Agapanthus or Crocosmia.  Over recent years they have been moved to the big border which is in full sun, slopes and has a large quantity of gravel in, so good drainage.

Most of my Agapanthus are anonymous, but I am pretty sure that the one above is Agapanthus ‘Alan Street’.  I need to liberate it a bit as it has been overshadowed by something else and the stems are quite bendy.

I have included one of Echinacea  partly because I am pleased that it seems to have established itself now coming back for a number of years but also because I  think it is interesting the impact the drought has had on the flower formation.  I have a number of plants where the flowers and stems are just short this year presumably because they haven’t had enough moisture.

I also seem to have started to collect Knipofia; I like the contrast their vertical spires bring to other flowers. I used to despise their gaudy flowers and tended towards the more subtle varieties such as Knipofia ‘Toffee Nose’ which has finished flowering this year.  But this year I have added a couple of the Knipofia  ‘Popsical’ as they are excellent for pick up the orange of the Crocosmia and tying the border together.

Also new to the garden this year are a couple of Agastache. Again the Agastache ‘Apricot Sprite’ helps to pull the border together with the Kniphofia and Crocosmia and the Anemanthele lessioniana.

I’ve also added a couple of Agastache ‘Black Adder’ to provide a contrast to the oranges.

So these are my August floral highlights. Thanks to Carol for hosting this meme – check out her blog for more GBBD posts


GBBD May 2018

Sweet Cicely

Whilst I was away having a jolly time in Austin the garden was busy getting on with life and a new cast was waiting to surprise me.

The first Aquilegia flowers definitely signify the imminent arrival of summer. Sadly over the years the number of long spurred Aquilegias seem to have diminished, something I must redress as they are my favourite.

The Camassias peaked but are still just about holding their own. They will soon be joined by the Alliums and Dutch Iris.

I realised when I was wandering round the garden that a lot of the blooms this month were from shrubs; I hadn’t realised I had so many shrubs.

Lathyrus aureus

On a smaller scale I’m really enjoying the orange flowers of Lathyrus aureus and Maianthemum racemosum

Maianthemum racemosum

Thank you to Carol, who I was delighted to meet for the first time last week, for hosting this monthly meme.


Austin: A quilting interlude

Whilst I have an inordinate amount of photos of gardens and plants to trawl through before posting on the amazing gardens I saw in Austin during the Garden Bloggers Fling I do also have a few photos taken on my iPhone of some amazing quilts we came across on our last day so I thought I would start there.

My friend, Victoria, and I stayed on in Austin for a couple of days after the Fling and on our last morning we decided to explore some of the cultural history of Austin visiting the State Capitol, the Bullock Texas State Museum and the Joseph and Susanna Dickinson Hanning MuseumSusanna Dickinson was one of a handful of people to survive the battle of the Alamo.

The Mexican General, Santa Anna, told the Texan rebels that they could either surrender or die and they chose to fight to the end. However, Santa Anna, spared some of the women and children including Susannah Dickinson and her small daughter and sent her to General Sam Huston to tell him of the outcome of the battle.  Santa Anna’s purpose was to scare the Texans into surrender but instead the Texans determination to secure their freedom from Mexico was increased when they learnt that even those who surrendered at the end of the battle were killed. In less than a month the tables had turned and Texas secured its independence from Mexico.

Susannah lived in poverty for many years after the Alamo, being refused financial support or land by the Texas government.  She married a further four times and ended up in Austin with her last husband, Joseph Hanning, who ran a furniture store. The bed in the top photo is in Susannah and Joseph’s first house in Austin.

The quilt on the bed was put together in 2010 in honour of the Alamo descendants and coincided with the opening of the house to the public.  All the Alamo descendants who attended the opening were invited to sign the quilt and if you look carefully at the white pieces you can make out a range of signatures.

Also in the house is this Texas Lone Star Quilt which was created around 1900 – detail below.

Earlier in the morning we visited the Bullock Texas State Museum and learnt more about the history of Texas which was fascinating. There were two quilts on display.  Sadly I didn’t take a note of the information for the next one but am including the photos anyway for your interest, especially the close ups.

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The final quilt in the Museum has an interesting story. The quilt was created through a quilting bee led by Miriam Ferguson who was the First Female Governor of Texas from 1915-1917.  She invited her closest friends to stitch the quilt to commemorate her years in the Governors Mansion.  The idea was that all the ladies would sign the quilt but due to the limited size of the Miriam had to choose which of her friends could actually sign the quilt and those who weren’t chosen felt snubbed and never forgave her the slight.

This is just a section of the quilt as it was hard to photograph in its case with other items.  If you look carefully you will see names stitched in red.  Personally, I think she could have included a few more ‘friends’.

It was good to get a sewing fix while away as despite taking some embroidery with me on the trip I never seemed to have time to do any.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Centre

The first of, I suspect,  many blog posts from my garden visits in Austin, Texas. Our first stop yesterday was the Lady Bird  Johnson Wildflower Centre, part of the University of Texas in Austin. The Centre, opened in 1982 by Lady Bird Johnson and Helen Hayes, is one of America’s  largest online native floral resources and is dedicated to the promotion of native species.

As  you can see from the oppressive sky the weather was not in our favour yesterday and we experienced what I think is called gullywasher  with just under 4″ of rain falling. There was just time to scoot around the garden taking photos before the heavens opened so I didn’t have much time to stop and consider what I was seeing so I think I will just share some photos to give you a flavour of just how pretty Texan flora is.

The first photo is a Lady Bird Johnson quote which I really liked and thought was so true in so ,any ways.

The idea here is that each of the square beds show you what native plants to use in what conditions – simple but effective.

I may well get a chance to return before I fly home so I may be able to expand upon this post later.

I hope this has wetted your appetite for more amazing Austin gardens, we certainly have seen some fantastic gardens already and there is more waiting for us tomorrow.







End of Month View: March 2018

My apologies for the delay in this post which should have been published yesterday. I have been somewhat distracted by a lack of heating, hot water and reduced cooking appliances since Thursday.  I won’t bore you with the details suffice to say it’s not due to am oversight on bill payment. The situation should be resolved on Tuesday but in the meantime I have been unbelievably distracted with staying warm.  The persistent cold and damp weather have not helped the situation and sitting by a fire hand quilting a double quilt has been more attractive than sticking my head outside all of which makes me sound quite old!

Anyway, I have woken to sunshine this morning and a light bulb moment of “goodness it’s the start of April and I am late on the EOMV post” so here goes – at least the photos are sunnier than if I had taken them yesterday in the rain.

The above photo is what I call the bench shot because I stand on the patio bench go take it. I was going to say that not much has changed over the last month especially as we had yet more snow but actually things are starting to happen. The first daffodils are flowering adding extra sparkles of colour to the hellebores. I plan to add loads more narcissus for next Spring and will try to remember to make some notes of the gaps that need filling over the next few weeks.  I also want to add lots of the tiny blue and pink bulbs – Scillas, Chionodoxa, Pushchkinia and Ipheion. There is a mass of these at work which just looks stunning at the moment.

And it’s not just the bulbs that are making an effort the Prunus kojo-no-mai has started to flower and should shortly be followed by the large unidentified Prunus and the Amelanchier and Elder are both beginning to unfurl their leaves.  My gardening friends at HPS agree that spring is going to come with a rush this year and we will be playing catch up so I’m off this morning to sow some half hardy annuals in the greenhouse.

Whilst it might not seem like much has changed over the last month in the garden I have been busy when the weather has allowed. I have made real progress in redoing the back of the garden and am now starting to think about what plant needs to go where. My task today will be to dig up the Buddleja salviifolia, which you can just see behind the top bench, and bring it down to a more sheltered position on the patio. Hopefully it won’t be a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted; as you can just about see it looks a little bedraggled and has suffered in the cold winds. The Euphorbia characias ‘Silver Swan’ in front of it will also probably be moved as it’s grey leaves may not work with the new planting but we shall see. I can’t quite visualise it yet but if I pot up the Euphorbia it will clear the space and I will be able to see it with fresh eyes.

As I break down the back terrace to make a slope I am having to dig up all sorts of seedlings and perennials and relocate them around the garden.  It is amazing how many aquilegia seedlings there are although I suspect they will all be that dirty pink that aquilegia seedlings tend to be. Nevertheless, I have been popping them in any gaps I can find in the borders so we shall see.

So this is my garden at the end of March and I am amazed how much colour there is despite the cold and damp.

If you would like to join in with the End of Month View meme you are very welcome to, the more the merrier.  All I ask is that you link to this post in yours and leave a link to your post in the comments box below so we can all come for a visit














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.