Posts tagged ‘flowers’

March 21, 2014

Book: The Ivington Diaries

Books about learning to garden can be a bit repetitive. After all, there’s only a handful of ways to sow seeds. Books on gardens, however, are wonderful. This example from Monty Don, has captured my attention and really made me want to learn more and visit more gardens to understand planting on a larger scale. It’s written as a year’s worth of diary entries, but with the years ranging over roughly a decade, so for example January 1st 1999 is followed by January 4th, 2004 and it’s utterly captivating.  Monty writes so engagingly he makes you want to walk around the acres of garden (sections have names;  spring garden, jewel garden, white garden) and take a peek into the potting sheds. He writes of practical matters, mulch being a favourite, and of the joy and artistry of creating a beautiful garden, not to mention the work that goes into creating such a garden from scratch and his words are accompanied by lush photography so you get a good overview of the different parts of the garden through the year.

The book format (even down to the paper and font choices), reminds me very much of Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diary which is an absolute favourite book of mine, so if you liked that, imagine a similar book set in a garden, and you’ve gone some way towards capturing the feel of this book.

The garden in question is at his home, Ivington, where he and his family moved following the collapse of the family business and the death of his mother. The house they bought and the creation of the garden seems to have brought their lives back together and in his own words ‘rebuilt’ him.  He writes with such love, attention and humour and, because the book is written as short diary entries, it’s really easy to dip into and read whenever you’ve got a free minute. I really recommend it, and think it would be a wonderful gift for Mothering Sunday…

The Ivington Diaries

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December 13, 2013

Bringing The Garden Indoors.

Now that I’ve moved to a third floor flat, I am without a garden of my own. This is offset somewhat by my allotment and we have a shared garden, but it’s overlooked by several large trees. This makes for wonderful bird watching – I appear to have become an accidental twitcher – but means that the garden is darkened, covered in leaves, and any plants would need to compete with lots of tree roots so it doesn’t bode well for much growing.

So, to satisfy my green fingers,  I want to bring some of the outdoors into our home.

The first thing I did was plant ‘Paperwhite’ bulbs into little terracotta pots. I have a handful of these around the flat and they’ve brought a bit of cheer and a heady fragrance into our home. Although you can force these in the dark, I just left them in my mother’s greenhouse for a few weeks and they’ve flowered quite quickly. I love that the bright green shoots are mirrored in the green that has grown on the old terracotta and they look wonderful against the pale walls; a touch of next Spring in the early days of Winter.

Paperwhites in pots

I’m currently reading through ‘The Virgin Gardener’ by Laetitia Maklouf again, which has some great ideas for gardening without a garden. I’m going to have a go at growing succulents, as I was really inspired by the Alpine House at RHS Harlow Carr earlier this year. The structure of these little plants fascinates me, and they’ll be a great way to add greenery to our home.

Alpines at RHS Harlow Carr

There will of course be herbs in the kitchen, but I’m on the lookout for the best plants we can have in the rest of our home too. I’m after plants that will last well, help clean the air, cope with the temperatures and look great too.  I’ll be doing a spot of research over the next couple of months, but if you’ve any fabulous suggestions, do let me know!

July 24, 2013

Three Good Things: Week Two

The first week of Three Good Things was so well received and I have been completely delighted by how many people got involved. It seems that I’m not the only person who wants to slow down and practice a bit of gratitude for the small things in life.

We may not live perfect lives – I know I definitely don’t –  but there are a lot of things to be grateful for. Things that bring a bit of joy to the everyday, a spot of sunshine and a smile. I want to document them and be reminded that, although my life is not perfect, it is my life. And I’m incredibly lucky to be living it.

So, here we go…

One: My sweetpeas

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The first thing on my list this week are my sweet peas. More than any other flower I know, sweet peas demand to be picked. The more flowers you pick, the more flowers the plant produces, in the desire to ensure its own survival. Added to that, if you choose one of the older varieties or perhaps Matucana (the original sweet pea) you are rewarded with an incredible fragrance from so few flowers. And, if that’s not all, they’re incredibly easy to save seed from. Just allow the pods to dry well, and pop out the large, dark seeds. Keep them somewhere cool and dry and they’ll be fine for sowing next year. Just remember that if you choose an F1 hybrid variety, the saved seed will revert back to the parent, and so you might well end up with a colour you weren’t expecting. But, hey, that’s part of the fun of gardening…

Two: Bun making with my daughter.

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I’m not the kind of parent who does lots of craft activities with my kids. Something I’m going to attempt to change this summer. But I do cook with them. This week, we made buns. Not cupcakes or fairy cakes. Buns. That’s what my mum calls them, and so that’s what I call them. Anyway, these ones, with too much icing and a mountain of mini marshmallows on each one, were lovely.

Three: New perfume!

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This week I was reminded that delated gratification can lead to far greater rewards. For about a year now, I’ve longed for a new perfume. One specific perfume, to be precise. 34 Boulevard St Germain, by Diptyque. I don’t know about you, but every time I see something that I’d really like, I say to myself ‘on payday, I’ll buy that’.  Of course, each payday comes and goes and I don’t buy lovely things. I pay bills.

This month, however, I did buy it. After a year of wishing that I could have this perfume in my life, I finally do. If you see me around, expect me to smell of it! It’s a complicated and quite unique fragrance, inspired by the flagship Diptyque store in Paris. As the store sells a myriad of perfumes, candles and home scents, you could be forgiven for thinking that it would be a tangled mess of a smell. Not so. It starts off with green top notes, then the mid notes are floral and then dries down to  the lingering woody, earthy, rich and perfect base notes. I love it. Adore it. And it feels more special to me because I had to wait for it. I doubt I’d be treating it with the same reverence if I was just able to buy it on first encounter without having to really think about it.

So, that’s my three good things for this week. I’d love you to share your Three Good Things, either in the comments or in a blog post. Here’s a little round up of all the fabulous people who wrote a post last week – do go and read them!

Hello Kirsty  – In which we learn the Spanish for ‘we are turtles’ and see a glimpse of the best birthday party dress ever. Brilliant.

Espresso Coco –  More language fun in this post. And some of my favourite things from one of my favourite people and collaborator on a brand new blog! It’s about TEA. You’ll love it.

Leeds & Me  – Isobel has greener fingers than she thought! And because of this post, I’ve a new book on my reading list.

A Hell of A Woman – This blogger is one of my online best buddies and in this post she shares news of a great new project.

Lady Lugosi – This post made me laugh out loud and again, there’s a brilliant project included.

Spider’s Filthy Assistant – I love this post. It’s sexy, optimistic and has made me want to pay a return visit to Edinburgh this year.

Nyssapod – A post from one of my  favourite online friends. I’m coveting the phone case in this post! And I’m going to listen to the money-saving Audioboo.

Looking at this list of posts has made me smile the biggest grin. I probably shouldn’t have it as one of my Three Good Things for next week, but it’s tempting…

September 3, 2012

RHS Harlow Carr: a guest blog

I love RHS Harlow Carr in Harrogate, it’s a absolute joy, but I’ve not had the chance to visit for a while. Happily, my wonderful friend Dawn Jackson has just been and she’s agreed to be my very first Guest Blogger! Hurrah!

So, on that note, and with a little drumroll, I’ll hand you over to Dawn…

We visited Harlow Carr gardens on Sunday and took some photos of the flowers.   I’d love to tell you what plants these are but I didn’t make a note of the names.  I took the photo because I liked the vivid colours and the variety of insects that buzzed around them.   The picture is taken from the view that my four year old had as he rambled about fiddling with flower heads and looking for spiders.  Like most parents of young children I spend a lot of time on my knees or crouching down at kid’s eye level.  It’s the best view of herbaceous borders because I feel like I’m amongst the plants.

There’s a lot to see in these gardens.  We generally stroll around the veggie gardens in the summer and sniff the sweetpeas.  My son nibbles on a few raspberries.   I like the structure of the veggie patch.  The gardeners use hazel and willow to support the climbers which creates a homely, organic look.  The shapes of the veg beds are charming.  For anyone who grew up with a parent or grandparent who kept a garden, or who grows their own, wandering amongst them is like a favourite story gradually unfolding.  Cheery rhubarb, sunny sunflowers, spiky gooseberries, runner-beans, beetroot and scrambling peas amongst many others jostling for space, light and room and doing their very best.

Then we like to re-fuel at Betty’s in the centre of the garden.  Pink lemonade, ginger beer and cakes or ice-cream.  On Sunday the RHS had laid on a brass band.  We sat and ate and drank and listened to the cheerful ‘ Floral Dance’ (my mum used to have the 45 of Terry Wogan’s version).  I wondered if I could be anywhere that was more ‘English’, and then it rained.

Our next stop is usually at the play area under the trees, which is lovely if it’s a hot day, and a long stop at the log maze to run round and round and clamber up onto the platform and wave and jump.

We came across two new elements to the garden this year.  The introduction of a tree house and a collection of oversized outdoor instruments in the woodland garden. Both are magical.  The tree house is like something from a fairy tale or Robin Hood.  It’s only possible to conclude that every garden should have a tree house.  Discovering the musical instruments was exciting.  They blend beautifully into their setting in the woods and even when played tunelessly they are placed in such a big space it feels and sounds fitting amongst the natural rustling of the trees.

These gardens are not attached to a house or a home.  I found that odd initially.  I imagine they are designed as a demonstration of what planting can achieve in a variety of settings.  They achieve that magnificently and gloriously.  All of the elements of a domestic garden are present however (admittedly on a grander scale) and the space is well loved and well cared for.  It’s a pleasure to visit, relax and enjoy the whole sensory experience.  One day I’d like to take more photos and learn the names of the plants…

August 31, 2012

A posy by the bedside.

I’ve not managed to grow many flowers this year on the allotment. My ambitions for great armfuls of dahlias were ruined by the slugs that have had a wonderful time working their way through my plants, and the sweet peas haven’t fared much better. Thankfully, I do still have enough to bring home. The great thing about sweet peas in particular is that the more you pick them, the more flowers you get, as the plant continues to try and produce seeds.

You might remember, a while ago, I decided to try and sort out my bedroom and make it a tranquil, child-free space. Well, that didn’t go exactly to plan. The stacks of books are still there, the laundry regularly overflows and the yin and yang of cycling (aka my Pashley Princess Sovereign and my husband’s Specialized road bike) are currently propped up at the end of the room.

So, despite my beautiful grey walls (Farrow and Ball’s French Grey, which I love) and white bed-linen, it’s not that haven of tranquility I imagined. I’m not giving up though. One of the ways to bring a little beauty into the chaos is by adding flowers to my bedside table. That way, when I wake up, the first thing I see are beautiful flowers and I can imagine for a split second that I’m the kind of person with a bedroom worth featuring in a design magazine. Then reality kicks in, obviously. And that’s if I haven’t been woken up by my three year old son launching himself, elbows first, onto my bed anyway, which is how I’m usually catapulted into each morning!

Thankfully, given my lack of abundance on the cutting patch, a small bedside posy of flowers doesn’t need to be huge to have impact.

The other thing that flowers bring to the room is scent. Even a small handful of jasmine can provide the rich heady fragrance that the flower is famous for, and it’s a wonderful thing to go to sleep with that fragrance swirling around you. In a larger room, the amount of flowers I usually use would get completely lost (especially given my clutter creating tendencies) but by the bed, they’re perfect. I’m really inspired by Sarah Raven who creates beautiful and heavily productive gardens, with the aim of cutting flowers for the house.

In these photos, I’m using a small Emma Bridgewater bottle. I also love to use an empty bottle from REN Rose Otto bath oil, which is little and has a narrow neck, perfect for more delicate flowers and my mum just gave me a vintage half pint milk bottle from Cowes (no pun intended) which will also be put to the same use.

Having flowers in the house  is a gentle reminder to me of my ambition to study horticulture, so I can be more successful at growing flowers in the future. For the time being, these little posies bring me a little bit of joy every day.

August 15, 2012

Growing: gardening and career changes.

It’s not been our greatest year on the allotment. As I’ve written before, too many other things have been getting in the way, and coupled with the awful weather we’ve had, we’ve had our fair share of failures. Now that we have some more help with the work, in the shape of my mum, things are getting lots better and I have lots more renewed enthusiasm for it.

In fact, my enthusiasm for gardening as a whole has gone through the roof recently. There is something very satisfying in working with your hands and the process of making things grow, or at least attempting to, is such a soulful and satisfying one that I’m hoping to make it a source of income at some point in the future. With this in mind, I’m going to attempt to take the RHS level II courses to give me some formal qualifications.

Anyway, what I really wanted to share with you today is this photo:

I grew this!

This lily has survived the horrible weather, being driven over by toy trucks and repeated over-watering by the kids. It looks far too exotic to be growing in my little Northern back yard, but there it is in all its flamboyant beauty. Perfectly positioned in a pot so I can gaze at it through the window when I’m doing the washing up! It smells incredible too, a bold heady fragrance. I’ve been tempted to cut it and bring it indoors but I’ve realised that it is better where it is.

It’s made me think about a couple of things. Firstly, that plants want to grow. Really, really want to grow. Fling a few seeds in a pot and the chances are that something will come up. Even if you think you have no green fingers at all, I do urge you to try. Growing anything, even a few herbs, will really give you lots of pleasure, and you never know where it might lead you.

The other thing that I’ve been thinking about this flower is that it won’t be here for long. Soon it will die and I’ll no longer be able to look at it when I do the washing up. But that, perhaps, is a good thing. I would never want to not be filled with joy when I look at it. Never want to just take it for granted. I always want to be proud that it’s grown at all! So, I accept that its beauty will fade, and I won’t see it again until next year. The memory of it will remain, and that stimulus, the one I have had to develop gardening as part of my paid working life, will hopefully live for much longer.

January 18, 2012

Grow what you like…

It’s the time of year when I rarely make it to the allotment and instead spend far too much time planning what I will be growing in the Spring. The mild weather we’ve been having has forced me out of the house on a few occasions this winter, but now it’s colder, the ground has frozen. At the moment, all I have in the ground is some over-wintering onions and garlic, which have started to grow but will now lie dormant until the weather warms up again.

Instead of going outside and freezing, I spend lots of time in the winter looking through seed catalogues and marking the varieties I fancy growing this year. Generally, I get far too carried away and end up with enough seeds for a small farm, but this year I’m going to be more organised about it. The main problem, I’ve realised, is that I’ve been growing the wrong things.

If you look at a ‘traditional’ allotment, you will see rows and row of vegetables, lined up with some kind of precision, unlike mine. Lots of brassicas – cabbages, cauliflowers, brussels sprouts, as well as climbing runner beans. There is a pretty standard crop rotation too, which means you move everything round every year, depending on what group the vegetable belongs to – roots, brassicas, legumes, onions. Potatoes often fall outside of this, and I pretty much put them anywhere, especially in places where the ground needs work, as they do a lovely job of breaking up the soil for me!

What I’ve come to realise is that this crop rotation just doesn’t work for me. I’ve been growing things because I think I should, because they fall into the crop rotation and because, in truth, an allotment just doesn’t look finished without a teepee of beans scrambling up it.

No more – this year I’m only going to grow what I LOVE to eat – loads more French beans and no runner beans. More sweetcorn and fewer cabbages. And if I want a teepee of climbers, they’ll be sweet peas instead of runner beans. I will grow more of the kids favourites too – peas, raspberries, strawberries, carrots. My new crop rotation plan, therefore, goes something along the lines of: if it wasn’t grown there last year, it’ll be fine to grow it there this year. Which might produce some interesting results, but I’m hoping that by concentrating on our favourite foods, we’ll end up eating more of what we grow. Or, in the case of the sweet peas, bringing more of them home to fill the house with scent and colour alongside all the dahlias

So, now all I have to do is choose what varieties to grow! I’ll share them with you once I’ve made up my mind.

January 11, 2012

The Year of the Dahlia.

So, I  realise that 2012 is going to be the year in which lots of things happen. The London Olympics, the end of the world (if you believe the long-dead Mayans) and more importantly than that, my first trip to Rome. Did I mention that I’m going to Rome? I did? Sorry. I’ll stop. For a while, anyway.

2012 is also the year in which I am going to plant more dahlias on the allotment. Lots and lots of dahlias. Which, incidentally, are pronounced like Roald Dahl, rather than ‘day-lia’ because they’re named after a Swedish botanist who also had the name Dahl.

I still pronounce them ‘day-lia’ because that’s how my Grandma says it, and I know better than to argue with her. She is, after all, my dahlia inspiration. Every year, Grandma enters the local show with her flowers and every year she comes away with prizes. Given that she’s a superb knitter too, she’s like the family version of Kirstie Allsopp. This year, although I won’t be entering any shows, I want to be able to go to my allotment and pick great big dramatically bold and beautiful bunches of flowers for my house.

The cutting bed last year.

The lovely dahlias have suffered in the past for being exactly that – a bit too bold and bright, especially those with pompom or spider-like shapes too. Like 1980’s style, they went out of fashion when everyone suddenly decided that minimalism was chic and that bright and blowsy was just a bit common. However, those of us who like a bit of colour never wavered in our love for them. Now, thankfully, they’re back and in a big way.

The main place I look every year at dahlia tubers is the beautiful and inspiring Sarah Raven catalogue. The variety of types, sizes and colours available there is second to none. If this goes anything like my vegetable seed buying from there turns out every year, I am going to struggle to narrow it down to a few varieties and will end up ordering half the catalogue and then spending the rest of the year frantically trying to grow everything. The good thing about the dahlias though, is that they will not end up in seed trays all over the house, like my vegetables…