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.

Aspirations for 2017

img_9024I have resolutely avoided blogging about New Year resolutions. I am a great believer in doing rather than saying and it is easy to say I will do this or that but actually carrying it out is another thing.  I am also one of those people who easily feels a strong sense of failure if I say I will do something and then I don’t so I have become very wary about putting my head above the parapet and making rash declarations.

However, I do have aspirations and hopes for the coming year.  As many will know I have been through somewhat of an internal struggle with life over the last year or so, struggling with work, what to do in the garden, what to do with the blog, the list goes on.  There is probably a lot of over thinking taking place but I have concluded this morning, having listened to a seemingly very relevant ‘Thought for the Day’ on Radio 4 that I need some sort of direction in order to try to channel all my frustrations and feel that I am actually achieving or changing or developing something positive.  The thought behind the ‘Thought for the Day’ was about being the best person you can be.  An interesting idea which sounds very obvious unless you are me.  I have spent most of my life aspiring to be really good at something. Throughout my school-days I was always average, middle of the road  which is fine but it seems I have a deep-seated competitive streak so I felt frustrated that I couldn’t be top of the class in something no matter how hard I tried, I was always a B and never an A.

This quiet irritation has continued throughout my life along with a sense of needing to justify my existence.  When I was at home with my young children the house was always spotless and the children immaculate as I felt I had to prove something.  I am super efficient at work and the Queen of multi-tasking again constantly in need to prove something although I’m not actually sure what that is anymore and who I am trying to impress.

Recently something, albeit small, has relaxed in me and this Christmas instead of redecorating a room in the house as I have done between Christmas and New Year for years  I just pottered and I have to admit I feel much better for it and apparently I look more relaxed.  But there is still that niggling voice in the back of my mind telling me I should be trying harder at this or that so I have decided to set myself some aspirations or objectives for 2017 to focus my energies and to quieten the niggly voice.  I don’t want them to be aspirational in the sense of being hard to achieve, what I really want is a way to allow myself to not worry so much and to actually enjoy things but still trying to be the best person I can be but for my own benefit rather than to prove something to someone.

So some of the things I am hoping to make a regular feature of my life this year or to learn to do better are as follows:

  • Photography – buying my first SLR a couple of years ago was a revelation.  I procrastinated for ages about getting one convincing myself that my simple point and click was fine and I would never get off auto-focus.  I now use some of the macro settings but I want to understand how to improve my photographs more particularly close-ups of plants and flowers and how to frame a landscape view better.  To this end I am thinking on attending a short photography workshop or participating in an on-line course.  I am also going to try to do a weekly photography meme.  I have participated in Wordless Wednesday for years and have dabbled in WordPress’s own weekly photograph challenge (see the last post) but I am thinking of participating in one hosted by another blogger this year (see Blogging below)
  • Walking – I have loved my walks on the Malvern Hills this year.  I think the key was not to set myself specific targets to achieve or dates to do things by as I just rebel against those.  Instead I have got into a habit of just setting off on a Sunday morning when the mood takes me.  I would like to extend the length of my walks and start to explore new places so I am toying with doing some of the Herefordshire Trail circular walks.
  • Sewing – again building on joining the Teme Valley Embroiders Guild last year I want to make sewing more of my life.  I used to sew loads in my late teens and when the boys were small but for some reason it petered out and I lost my confidence, particularly in dressmaking.  I am participating in the 1 year of stitches project in which you try to do a little embroidery every day and post a picture on social media.  I am hoping that it will help me unlock my more creative side rather than religiously following kit instructions; who knows I may even get brave enough to try dressmaking again.
  • Blogging – this is my real struggling point.  I oscillate between wanting my blog to be amazing to win prizes etc and to just wanting to engage with a great community.  I think I have worried too much in recent times about the quality of the writing or the photographs and am in danger of losing the identity the blog had early on which I was proud of.  For me this is going to be the hardest step change as I need to make a mental commitment to enjoying the blog for what it is and using it to engage with and be part of the wonderful blogging community that is out there.  To this end I am going to try very hard to comment more on others blogs and to engage with a couple of memes i.e. In a Vase on Mondays and  a Weekly Photograph Challenge.  As I said under photography I could do the wordpress photo challenge but I like the idea of supporting someone else’s meme just as others have supported my End of Month meme.
  • Gardening – I need and want to engage with my garden more and not feel daunted by it.  I think last year one of the reasons I struggled was the uncertainty of the new neighbours and trying to adapt to the subsequent clearing of boundaries and feeling exposed.  I have, I think, talked myself into a good place in terms of this and can see lots of positives and am busy thinking about what new planting opportunities this gives me. I want to visit more gardens this year, when I did a review of the year I was amazed at just how few gardens I had visited apart from on holiday so I am going to try to visit something most months.  And more importantly I am going to try to visit those gardens with a view to looking carefully at planting, not necessarily in a plant addict way, but to try to learn how to combine plants and create interesting borders.

So these are my personal aspirations or objectives call them what you will, for 2017.  They have no measures or specific goals attached to them but are more about changing my attitude to how I live my life in a gentle way which should bring me a better sense of inner calm and well-being.






“But the beauty is in the walking – we are betrayed by destinations” – Welsh poet Gwyn Thomas

Having to some degree drifted through life for the last 10  years or so in the same job, the same house and with little variation in my daily life or past-times 2016 has presented me with a number of new paths to traverse; some more tortuous than others.

The photographs on this post represent what I consider the most beneficial new path I have travelled this year.  As I have posted before my eldest set me a challenge to walk to the top of all the peaks of the Malvern Hills.  I have to admit to not having completed the challenge, there is one peak not ticked off, but the challenge has had unexpected benefits.  It has given me an appreciation of the joys of walking on the hills, well to be honest just walking in the countryside.  I particularly like walking first thing in the morning or early evening when it is quieter and the wildlife is more active. I am so lucky to live where I do that I can walk on the nearby common in the evenings during the summer – a fantastic way to de-stress after work.


Work has been, and continues to be, a more uncertain path.  My job has changed significantly over the last year. There have been new challenges, some I feel I have risen to well and others not so much, my new role continues to be developed and it will probably be some months before it is all sorted and confirmed.  In the meantime I go through periods of extreme anxiety and self-doubt and have had to try to learn to manage these as best as I can.

This anxiety has impacted on other aspects of my life, and if I am honest I think I am still struggling with grief from losing my father just over two years ago.  In terms of my preferred past time of gardening it feels as though the path has been blocked for some time and I have tried various alternative routes around or over the blockage but none of them have been successful. Just as when you try to avoid a traffic jam by going on a long circuitous route only to find yourself behind the same car, I have realised that patience is what is needed.

However, one of my diversions has resulted a lovely new destination.  In need of an escape from my unfulfilling pastime activities I joined my local Embroiders Guild.  I have been welcomed by a lovely group of ladies and my enjoyment for sewing, particularly embroidery, has been truly reignited. Whilst the creativity of sewing is rewarding it is also the rhythm of embroidery, it is a wonderful calming experience.


With 2017 just around the corner I now feel like I am moving forward more positively, more self-aware and with a new determination to do and achieve what I want to.

This post was written in response to the weekly wordpress photo challenge with the theme of ‘path’ – it wasn’t the post I intended but sometimes it is better to go along the unexpected path.



There’s more to the life than gardening (and blogging)


I was surprised to discover today that it is 17 days since I last posted a post on this blog and even more surprising for someone who has posted 3 times a week for at least 9 years is the fact that I haven’t missed posting nor have I even thought about it.  I didn’t even share with you the photo of my blue meconopsis poppy, grown from seed, which flowered this year with half a dozen flowers nor did I ever get around to blogging about all the gardens I visited in Suffolk or my visit to Croome Park last weekend.  Something has changed in me not just in terms of blogging but in other aspects of my life and it is for the better I think.

Anyone who has read this blog for a while particularly over the last 18 months will know that my job has changed and this past 18 months has been quite unsettling for me as I step up to a much more responsible role with a huge feeling of needing to prove myself.  It has taken its toll on me at times emotionally and physically but recently a new phase seems to have started – maybe I feel more assured in my role, maybe its not as scary and new – whatever it is I am now sleeping better and I don’t feel so stressed which can be no bad thing.


One of my coping mechanisms in recent weeks, which I think has helped enormously, is walking.  Most evenings I go out after dinner for a walk, to the adjacent common or sometimes on the hills.  And it has made a huge difference particularly to someone who spends so much of the day at a desk or in meetings.  The local common is a wonderful place to walk as the grass is allowed to grow tall with just some paths mown through it and you can just loose yourself and let your mind drift; then on my return home I embroider.  In a strange way the compulsion I used to feel to garden in order to de-stress has been relocated to walking and sewing. I am sure that some of this relates to my new neighbours clearing the fence line and reducing my privacy.  I have tried to employ my usual Pollyanna approach to this saying it will be fine but I am struggling with it and we are looking at ways of addressing it – I’m even toying with moving house!  But I also think that the garden isn’t fulfilling my need for creativity any more.  I have basically run out of spaces to dig up.


I have nearly finished the revamp of the front garden and just need to put the path in.  I say ‘just’ but this actually means laying a brick edge hence the delay while I work through all the excuses why I can’t do it this weekend or the next until I decide to just get on with it and stop procrastinating.  I will have to post about it soon as I am rather pleased with how it is looking in its first year but I am waiting for some of the asters to flower to give it colour before I do.

There is nothing new to do in the back garden aside from day to day maintenance which I have been doing as and when but I have to make myself garden these days.  This morning I made myself deal with the dead rose blooms I could see and of course once I was outside I spent a satisfying couple of hours dead heading, cutting the grass path and re-engaging with the garden.  I was thrilled to discover some banana seeds had germinated in the greenhouse, that a wren appeared to be nesting in the old bird box and that the fig tree I had brutally pruned a couple of weeks ago, when I rediscovered it under the triffid branches of the Geranium palmatum, was covered in lots of new emerging shoots.


Don’t get me wrong I do enjoy my garden but not in the compulsive obsessive way I used to.  I don’t drool over the bulb catalogues any more instead that bad habit has been transferred to sewing magazines.  I don’t have a desire to spend every minute of my spare time in the garden, visiting a garden or at a garden club – instead I am a more rounded person which can only be a good thing.  Whilst I enjoyed my trip last month looking at gardens in Suffolk I would have liked to have had the opportunity to visit Gainsborough’s birthplace museum which was just near our hotel but always shut by the time we returned and I have recently developed an interest in the Northern Renaissance artists which may influence my holiday choices next year.

My family and friends think I have moved to a better place and that the real me is finally emerging.  Expressions like ‘you have blossomed’, ‘you have grown’ etc are being used and I think they are right.  I will always love my garden, whether its this one or a new one, but I don’t now need to rely on it to justify who I am, to prove I can achieve something and I don’t need to blog relentlessly any more to satisfy my need to mental stimulation and desire to connect with others.


This new phase, with adult children and a demanding but rewarding job, means that I have the time, funds and courage to embrace interests I used to have many years ago.  I want to travel more, maybe I will have a go at gliding again, I want to get fitter, I want to expand my sewing and embroidery abilities, I want to see art, I’m going to go canoeing for the first time and if I loose some weight along the way I will be thrilled.

There will be blog posts but probably more as and when and I have started a new blog to record my sewing journey and to connect to other sewers but I don’t know how successful that will be as to be honest I am actively trying to avoid looking at screens when I’m not at work but we shall see and that’s the key change instead of setting myself mad targets and schedules, looking for things to blog about, I have moved to a more relaxed ‘lets see’ approach and I am comfortable with it.  So ‘lets see’ what the future brings – I may paint the spare room or I may read a book this afternoon, it doesn’t matter.



The Future


So it’s the last day of Writing 101 – such a pity. Our final task is to write about the future.  As usual I drafted my post in my head on my drive home; my best writing often happens somewhere between Worcester and Malvern.  But it all became quite melancholy so I threw that virtual draft away and rebooted my inner Pollyanna and started again.

Starting in the near future I think the Writing101 course will help my blogging going forward.  I had got into a real rut and the past month with the prompts has made me think outside the box and explore different styles and approaches.  Interestingly Susan has commented that she thinks my writing style has changed; we shall see.

Beyond the immediate future I don’t have any real plans but I do have some aspirations.  I want to travel more and I am sure that my travels will somehow fit around my plant passions not just visiting gardens but also looking at plants in the wild.  I would also love to do some trips that involve seeing wildlife.  Next year I am hoping to go somewhere really special – maybe Japan and I have already made plans to go to the east of the UK to finally see Beth Chatto’s garden.  Maybe I will dabble in a little more horticulture learning by attending a course at Great Dixter or at Arne Maynard’s garden.

I will be turning 50 next March a big deal maybe but I don’t think so.  I have enjoyed my 40s much better than my 30s and definitely better than my 20s which weren’t good, so I am hoping that my 50s will continue the upward trajectory.  Over the last few years my life has entered a new phase.  My sons are adults with their own lives and I have few demands on my time outside of my work commitments, and work  is becoming more flexible, so I have the opportunity to please myself more which is really liberating and exciting.

Long term I suspect I may move house in the next 10 years.  I have toyed with placing the house on the market a few times this year but I am quite happy at the moment and I think it will depend on who buys the house next door.  There is though a bit of me that craves more space in which to indulge my hankering to plant trees and shrubs and to have a larger greenhouse but I don’t want to move too far from the Malvern hills which I have grown to love since we moved here.  Oh yes in the next I need to finish my challenge of climbing each of them.

So who knows where I will be in 5, 10, 20 years but that is what makes life interesting, anything can happen. I believe that if you plan too much you miss out on unexpected opportunities and those are the things that are often the ones that really transform your life.


If we were having coffee right now


Today’s writing assignment is to have a virtual cup of coffee.  The idea is already out there on various blogs – Kate goes global and Girl with the Red hair and basically you write a post as if you were having a conversation over coffee starting each paragraph with “If we were having coffee right now”.

So here goes, have you got your coffee ready?

If we were having coffee right now I would tell you about what a roller coaster my job is right now.  I am currently doing equivalent to two full-time jobs; my own and acting up in my former boss’s role.  I am shattered but loving it.  I told the Big Boss I wanted a challenge and boy have I got one.  It’s a steep learning curve, to be honest its a virtual line but it is giving me a great sense of achievement.

If we were having coffee right now I would tell you how inspired I was by a comment made by Kate when she and her husband popped in for a visit last Sunday.  She is aware of my lack of enthusiasm and engagement with my front garden and how I had been pondering grasses.  But, despite having a beautiful garden based around grasses, she didn’t push them at me but suggested I adopt a similar approach to the back garden and develop a hardy exotic look.  Obvious really but sometime you need someone else to point this out to you. I already have a list forming of plants to include!

If we were having coffee right now I would tell you how fab I thought the recent television series Odyssey was.  It’s the best thing I have watched on television for a long time and I shall really miss it on a Sunday evening.  I would also say that I felt the focus was all on presentation in the Great British Menu and not on excellent cooking and that I thought it was anyone’s to win in the Great British Bake-Off .  I think Flora will do well if she could just find her confidence and self-belief.

If we were having coffee right now I would share with you how pleased I am to have broken my Twitter habit. The amount of time I have wasted over recent years staring at my timeline, and over the last year in particular, waiting for something interesting to read, is ridiculous.  I am now trying to break the burgeoning SimCity habit that threatens to take its place.  Did I tell you I have an addictive nature!

If we were having coffee right now I would be telling you all the things I plan to do this weekend.  I have a weekend with no commitments so instead of just letting it unfold I am busy thinking, I could do this or that.  I must learn to chill and just be!!!!

If we were having coffee right now I would tell you how much I am enjoying the WordPress Writing 101 course.  It has helped me get out of a rut with my blog, it has allowed me to write about anything and not worry about people’s reactions.  It has reminded me that its MY blog to do with what I want. I would tell you how much I have enjoyed writing this particular post and that it is definitely an idea I intend to carry on with on the blog maybe ever couple of weeks.

If we were having coffee right now I would ask you what you have been up to and whether we could have coffee at yours next time?


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



A Wise Man Said


Recently a wise man reminded me that you don’t really appreciate things until you lose them or teeter on the edge of doing so.  That wise man was my eldest son and the thing I was considering losing was the garden.

I have been contemplating moving house over the last few weeks.  My youngest is buying his first home and helping him look at mortgages led to me investigating what I could borrow, which inevitably lead to some looking at property websites, and then to a valuation of the house.  We got as far as having an appointment set for last weekend for photographs to be taken and details put on the web.  However, whilst I was away in Rome I find myself thinking about the whole thing a lot and the persistent small voice of my instinct kept saying this was not a good decision right now.  My practical head argued that I was in a position to push myself up the property ladder and this was an investment for my retirement but still the voice of instinct niggled away causing doubt.  Finally, halfway up the M5 on the way home, I decided that the idea should be put on hold for the time being until my desire to move was stronger than just looking to improve my property investment.

On Saturday morning I stepped out into the garden and calm descended on my soul. My cricket like brain stopped jumping and the endless considerations of whether to buy a refurbishment project or a house already done, was there enough garden to satisfy me, was it overlooked, what about trees, what about slopes, how far from work was it, how far from Mum, what about when it snowed…stopped.  No actually they vanished and the garden and I became friends again;  like a pair of old friends reunited after some old disagreement the details of which neither could remember.

How, after all my work, especially in the last couple of years could I contemplate not waiting to see if my plans came to fruition? Would the Big Border finally have a sense of cohesion, would the Hardy Exotic Border look as lush as I imagined and would the tree peony ever flower?  We got to know each other again. I weeded and weeded.  I noted the gaps that needed filling and the odd plant that needed rescuing from being overwhelmed by its neighbours. Also the buds of poppies and irises mistreated over recent years but now forgiving me and offering a peace treaty, a floral supplication, not to be moved for a while.

We are friends again and I feel like a huge self imposed weight has come off me.  I really struggled while I was getting everything ready to put the house on the market with engaging with the garden.  I have become such an all or nothing character over the recent years that there seemed no point doing the garden, pricking out seeds, or buying anything at the Malvern Show and it made me so sad.  I really didn’t know what to do.  Now though I am back rushing outside after work and loving the garden.  There is still plenty of projects and plans that need completing or tweaking to keep me entertained for a few years yet.  Then maybe something will happen or come along that will mean that I have to accommodate less requirements when I move and the decision may seem more obvious and the wrench from the garden will not be so great.

Meanwhile the wise man nods knowingly and I find myself surprised at just how much the garden and some of the plants mean to me.

A Selfish Indulgence

Today was one of those achingly wonderful English summer days.  As I drove through the windy country roads of West Worcestershire there was not a cloud in the bright blue sky, the fields looked abundant with their hay or corn crops and you could hear crickets humming.

My destination was a small village church dating from Medieval times set on a small hill overlooking the rolling countryside.  Despite arriving half an hour early I only just managed to park in the tiny car park and join the others standing in the glorious sunshine.  Sadly our purpose was not to celebrate a marriage or a death but to give thanks for Dot’s life.

Dot was a work colleague of mine who died unexpectedly about two weeks ago.  Her death and my reaction to it both took me by  surprise.  I have, if I am honest, felt embarrassed at how profoundly I reacted to the news.  Dot was a good work friend, we had worked together in some difficult situations for the last couple of years.  However, it was Dot’s special talents which made her so important to me in what I can only describe as a selfish way. Dot was one of those special people who not only knew how to listen but was able to draw you out without you realising it.  These were  important skills for her job helping young people with mental health problems. She also had wonderful compassion and empathy.  Don’t get me wrong she wasn’t one of those people who feels sorry for people and says ‘ there,  there, yes you have had a rubbish time, you have every right to feel sorry for yourself.’  No, she would listen and she would help you put things into context, scale if you like, and help you move forward without you really realising she had done this.

Since I lost my sister unexpectedly about 18 months ago Dot has/was a huge tower of strength to me.  We never sat down to deliberately discuss it but I found it easy to chat with her about all sorts and sometimes this led to my sister or my niece or my parents and my struggles with their grief and it was easy with Dot to talk about things without getting upset or trying to hide feelings.

As I have said her death has had a profound effect on me and I have felt ashamed that my grief for Dot has been more obvious than for my sister.  However, today sitting in that medieval church, looking at the fading murals on the wall and wondering about the age of the faded oak roof beams I listened to others talk about her and her impact on their and her students’ lives.   Out in the sunshine I shared my feelings with someone who in the last 2 years as been diagnosed with cancer and lost her husband to cancer.  She too had found the experience of Dot’s death overwhelming and talking we realised that maybe this was a catalyst for us to face our grief, me for my sister and her for her own cancer.  Whilst we talked of such sad and tragic things, we also speculated on Dot’s age – no one seemed to know how old she was, she had kept it a secret from friends and work colleagues to her grave, it didn’t even appear on the order of service.  Typical of Dot – a warm and giving person who let you think you knew her but who actually was a very private lady.

We adjourned to a local country pub and sat in the sun.  Not the time to be putting on sun cream but it was needed.  We smiled that Dot would be laughing at us all getting burnt.  It was nice, my embarrassment turned to thanks and appreciation of how lucky I had been to know such a kind lady who had touched so many people ( the church was overflowing), who had helped me, often without my realising, through some very dark times.  I wish she was still here to share things with, to gossip with, to discuss shoes and which actor in Law and Order Uk was the most fanciable –  but she isn’t.  I will miss her terribly but I can move forward now feeling a little braver and a little less embarrassed at showing my feelings and emotions.

I do  not apologise for this post which some may see as a self-indulgence.  I find it helpful to write about my feelings, they clear my mind and I have no other way of telling Dot how much she meant to me.

No more procrastination

Dicentra scandens
Dicentra scandens grown from seed this year

I have had the last week off as annual leave and its been a real mixed week emotionally, but as I face the prospect of going back to work tomorrow I think the break has done me a power of good.

As ever I had ridiculously unrealistic plans for the week and luckily the rain which we had for most of the week curtailed some of those plans or I would have really run myself into the ground.  The week started with a visit to Hidcote and Kiftsgate Gardens in the Cotswolds with Victoria.  I wrote about the trip to Hidcote here and will write about Kiftsgate soon – promise. We had a great day though I found myself wondering whether visiting two gardens in one day is such a good idea.  It’s not so much physical demands but more trying to differentiate between the impressions left by the two gardens in my mind days later.

Tuesday brought a routine visit to the doctors which has resulted in me having to have a fasting blood test first thing tomorrow morning so no more food or drink for me until tomorrow  so this post might be rather long as a distraction.  The blood test is only precautionary to make sure there isn’t any medical reason for my continued tiredness which both the doctor and I suspect is due to me trying to come to terms with losing my sister last October. Not  having experienced grief before I have been overwhelmed by the extreme ping-pong effect on my emotions and the tiredness I feel.  However, a  positive thing to come out of losing Claire is that my attitude to life has changed,  this is not always a good thing as I tended to say what I thought before and this has probably got worse, but I do find myself thinking more and more that life is just too short so what the heck.  Instead of procrastinating about studying for the RHS certificates and finding 101 reasons why I shouldn’t do it I have just signed up for the  course.

Consequently, as part of the arduous process that seems to be involved with signing up for this course at the local horticultural college Wednesday found me on a taster day.  We were a disparate group: 4 teenage boys (1 a real goth), 2 chaps in their late 20s,  a 30 something lady who was into organics and community gardening, a lady in her 50s who wanted to take up garden design, and me.  It turned out that the taster day was for anyone interested in any course to do with horticulture, landscaping etc.  The morning was spent learning to take cuttings and potting up a decorative pot – not really challenging and then after lunch we were to do hard landscaping.  I have to say that my heart sank at the prospect but not as much as it would have done a year ago.  We were presented with some paving and told to have a go at laying it.  We worked in pairs (I worked with the 50-year-old lady who was also called Helen).  It turned out that all  the lads were interested in hard landscaping courses so this was right up their street.  Helen and I decided that we would just go for it and do our best in a corner out-of-the-way.  Turned out we were fab, every  slab was level first time – even our tutor was impressed and we out did the la!ds  We had such a laugh that I think we were bordering on hysteria.  Found myself seriously considering taking up hard landscaping – well for about  an hour!.

Thursday and the weather was rubbish – rain and more rain.  It was one of those days to address  jobs you have avoided so I did all my paperwork which did in the end leave me feeling quite pleased with myself.  On a positive note I confirmed the arrangements for a visit to Highgrove Gardens with a bunch of garden twitters (you know who you are).  It had taken less than a week from a casual wouldn’t it be nice to conversation on twitter to making the booking – more of my new grab life while you can attitude.

The week deteriorated after this due to reading that one of the US blotanists had lost her 21-year-old daughter in a car accident.  Not surprisingly this brought emotions to the surface which was challenging.  The remedy was to get my parents around for what the Americans call a work party.  We tidied the front garden, my least favourite part of the  garden, weeded the driveway and the patio and generally had a really good tidy up of the garden.  As I worked with my Mum we talked about my sister and her family which was good.  We also decided that we couldn’t face another Christmas like last year and that as Christmas would never be the same again we should do something completely different this year.  So I now have the task of finding a holiday cottage for us for this Christmas – just what I need, a project to get my teeth in to.

Finally, feeling recharged, today I set to in the garden and decided that enough was enough.  As some readers will know I am addicted to growing things from seed and then struggle to find homes for the plants I grow.  I am getting better at only pricking out a few of each batch but I do have quite a lot of young plants from seeds sown last year and the year before which were still sitting in pots looking neglected.  So today  I planted all of them – every single one.  I have about 20 Dierama which I have planted in a big block  in the raised bed at the top of the  garden along with lots of grass seedlings.  Who know what the  result will look like in a year’s time but I don’t care – I can always move things around and you never know my gung-ho attitude may have some good outcomes.

So that’s me all recharged emotional and physically and with projects identified to give me something to focus on for the next couple of months until my course  starts. Three days back at work and then we are off to Sorrento in Italy for a week I can’t wait.