Posts tagged ‘nature’

September 7, 2012

A Patch of Green

Last night, after tea, my husband announced that we should all go for a walk on the Valley. To a chorus of groans and calls for one more episode of Scooby Doo, he insisted. And, he was right. It was a glorious evening. We took our ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ football (a top quality piece of kit!), and walked through the grass paths of Primrose Valley to the playing fields where we ran about and played.

The photo I took at the end of our time there really does sum up how lovely it was, even though it’s somewhat rose-tinted through an Instagram filter.

When we think of the great outdoors, we may think of the National Parks, which for me means the Yorkshire Dales or the North York Moors. We think of beautiful and protected landscapes. Those are the jewels in the crown of our national, natural environment. And rightly so. But I would argue that they are not the green spaces that make the most difference. What makes the most difference to people is green space on our doorstep, close enough to where we live for it to form part of our everyday lives and not just be part of a special occasion or to see en route to the coast. This, proven to have positive effects on both our physical and mental health, can be sadly lacking in less wealthy areas. People are too scared to use green spaces, or they’re just not used to the idea that time spent outdoors, just for the sake of a walk or run about in the fresh air, can be great.

When I posted my photo, people commented on how perfect it looked. I blame my use of Instagram for that. It’s not perfect. There is litter, people let their dogs use it as a toilet around the edges, and yes, there can be the odd bout of anti-social behaviour (and here isn’t the place for looking at the deeper causes of that).

But it’s also one of the reasons we wanted to live here. It’s a giant, often underused, patch of wild green space in the city. Thankfully it has a small committed band of volunteers working to keep it looking as good as it does. I love it here. And we’ll be back again after tea another day…

Where is your favourite patch of green space? Is there one close to where you live? I’d love to know…

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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 21, 2012

Ventnor Botanic Garden: a moment of solitude

One of my favourite places on the Isle of Wight is the Ventnor Botanic Garden. The location of the garden means it is really well protected from the elements giving it a unique micro-climate. This means that they are able to grow many subtropical plants outdoors and on a sunny day it feels a million miles away from Great Britain. I never get the chance to see all of it in one visit, as my family are less enthralled by gardens than I am, so I have to prioritise the parts I want to see on any particular visit and make a beeline for them. One of the parts I’ve not made it to yet is the Hop Garden, where they grow the hops that will eventually become TropicAle, their own beer!

One of the truths about going on holiday with small children is that it’s not terribly relaxing. Although its lovely to spend time together, without the daily grind of school and work to think about, it’s generally not going to involve much lazing around in the sunshine reading a book. More like relentless noise and activity, and sometimes, to be honest, I find it a bit overwhelming.

On my flying visit to the Ventnor Botanic Garden this year, I decided to visit the New Zealand and Australia garden, one of my favourite parts. I love the Australian garden in particular as it is predominantly planted with Eucalyptus, the smell of which beings back memories of a wonderful trip across South Australia and Victoria, which I was stunned to realise the other day was ten years ago!

On my way back to the playground to meet up with my family (and what a great idea to have a playground, making it possible for me to be there at all!), I was distracted by the most beautiful flowering Eucalyptus I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately I forgot to make a note of the name, but I will try to track it down because I’ve fallen a bit in love with it. The peeling orange-red bark, the fine pointed silvery-green and pink  leaves, and the contrast between those and the white fluff of the flowers made for the most remarkable colour combination.

I stood for ages just gazing at it, when I noticed an older woman doing the same thing.

We chatted for a while about this amazing tree, then I confessed that I must go because I’d left my children and husband in the playground. On hearing this, she turned to me and said “Oh, but when you have small children, time spent alone is essential, my dear. Don’t ever feel bad about taking some time for yourself.” Then she smiled and went on her way.

So, I’m going to take her advice and make sure that I get a little time alone every so often and that my husband does too. He will probably be on a bike. I will probably be in a garden…

How do you like to find peace in a busy life? I’d love to hear about it. 

August 17, 2012

Weston Scarves and Burt’s Bees collaboration

A Weston scarf is firmly on my ultimate fashion wish list. Founded by Professor Richard Weston, the scarves are a remarkable fusion of art and science, with stunning digital images taken from nature, such as rocks and minerals, being used to great dramatic effect. The end result is something not purely to wear for one season, but something you would love forever. Perfect for someone like me, who wears a scarf like an adult comfort blanket almost every day (honestly, ask my friends) and cannot bear throw-away fashion. (I’ve written quite a lot of blog posts about scarves actually, if you want to look…)

This summer, Weston Scarves are collaborating with Burt’s Bees in a campaign to support the British Beekeepers Association, with the creation of a stunning ‘Wild for Bees’ floral printed scarf and matching, special edition version of their 24 hour Milk and Honey body lotion.

The beautiful yellow, purple and green scarf, which is over a metre long, is being sold exclusively through the Burt’s Bees website, with all proceeds going to the British Beekeepers Association‘s ‘Adopt a Beehive’ project. It’s a seriously gorgeous scarf, I covet it so much. If you bought one, not only would you feel great about supporting the charitable campaign but you’d never want to take it off!

You can buy the body lotion nation-wide from Debenhams, the Burt’s Bees website and independent stores. I’ve tried the lotion and it feels very light, absorbs easily and really does soften the skin very well. Along with the milk and honey, it also  contains shea butter, coconut and grape seed oils and vitamin E, so there is no surprise that it does such a good job. I liked it a lot.

I’ve written before about the plight of bees and every single project that is making a contribution to their recovery gets my full support. As an allotment holder and keen gardener, I’m only too aware of the importance of all bees as pollinators. Approximately a third of the food we eat has been pollinated by bees, so whether you think it matters to you or not, the survival of bees is vital for everyone. This campaign, working to support honey bees in particular, will hopefully raise the profile of the British Beekeepers Association and the work they do in supporting bee colonies. The limited edition scarf and body lotion will be available throughout August and September.

With thanks to Burt’s Bees for the body lotion sample.

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.