In a vase on Monday: Half way and jug half full



imageI’m having a much-needed rest day and am home alone today so time for a few photographs and a catch-up post.



Despite, or more likely because of, all the rain the garden and allotment have never been better. Frogs, toads, hedgehogs and birds (I have a wildlife pond and never use slug pellets at home but have used them sparingly  after transplanting French beans, Florence fennel, basil and  Zinnia “Envy” at the plot) have been taking care of the slugs and snails. Interestingly and in my experience direct sown crops fare much better than transplants. I don’t use mains water on my garden (it goes against my organic credentials  to use drinking water on an ornamental garden)  so in a very dry period my garden can suffer temporarily but it always bounces back when rain falls and this year it has been wonderful to see everything looking so perky and un-stressed.


For weeks now I’ve been bringing home armfuls of sweet peas, sweet Williams, sweet rocket, anemone, Nigella (a new white one with a pronounced purple centre as well as the ordinary blue), cornflowers, cerinthe and borage from the allotment and my kitchen frequently resembles a flower shop.

I love this time of year. The main strawberry season is over for me but for about a fortnight I was making a couple of jars of strawberry jam every other day. The summer raspberries are now producing enough for two and the ever-bearing strawberries and the red gooseberry bush are just starting to crop. I’ve taken a dozen runners from my strawberry bed and soon I will dig up the exhausted plants, manure and plant  purple sprouting broccoli. The new strawberry plants will be planted in fresh ground in September. The leeks are transplanted,  the garlic is drying, the Charlotte potatoes are delicious and I’m awash with salad leaves. The broad beans are nearly ready and I have little-finger-sized courgettes on my three plants. The French and Borlotti beans are climbing  (I had to start again with the French beans due to slug attack), the basil and Florence fennel have just about recovered from munching molluscs and five blue Kuri squash plants are effectively suppressing weeds as they cover the ground. I even found time to make a couple of bottles of elderflower cordial last week and have been making lemon verbena syrup which makes a delicious gin-based mojito with muddled lime and mint  (recipe in last weekend’s Guardian magazine) which slips down very well.


At home the grass is green,  the peonies have been fleeting, the roses are simply beautiful, the scent of philadelphus fills the air and clematis is in bud. Oh, and the pond is brimful and clear and teeming with life with yet another dragonfly currently eclosing on a flag Iris.



In the last couple of weeks we have been down to the sea several times for easy restorative shoreline walks and I’m finally getting over my bike fall a month ago which shredded my left arm and badly jarred my left shoulder which I normally take good care of due to an ancient torn rotator cuff injury. Unsurprisingly I’ve upset the old scar tissue which I know from experience takes weeks or even months to settle down. Amazingly apart from bruising and grazing to my left hip there wasn’t another mark on me and I know I was very lucky especially as I was coming downhill at speed and wasn’t wearing a helmet. I had a tentative swim last week and my shoulder held up so I hope to be be back to full strength very soon.

It has been an exhausting spring and early summer though. We are almost there with selling the cottage and we can say goodbye to our fortnightly mowing and weeding sessions. I am so glad I blitzed the cottage garden in early spring. I think we spent three long days pruning, weeding and burning but even so we’ve taken boot loads of green waste and other rubbish to the recycling facility and the compost heap is taller than me. Looking after the garden has been fine but it has never felt like mine (just like the cottage itself has never felt like home) and I neither need nor want the responsibility and work that owning a second home entails. Why did I not realise this earlier?  We have done an enormous amount of work in a short space of time and I have learnt so much (not least about myself) but now it is time to regroup, focus on the things that really matter and get on with our real lives. I have to say that my husband, who is not a gardener, has been a complete star and has tackled everything  I’ve thrown at him with aplomb. We definitely had our scary moments during the cottage renovation but we’ve come through it as a team.

Meanwhile our son has graduated (with a 2:1) and is now travelling through India with his newly-graduated girlfriend. He is posting occasional photos so we know all is well. We had a wonderful midsummer day with them both, the one sunny day during an especially wet, cold week, and I felt so positive and optimistic for all the young people graduating and then the Brexit axe fell. I do hope the UK is able to extricate itself from this muddle. We all make mistakes (see above!) but surely for all our sakes this is a decision that could be/should be reversed by parliament?

I’m so pleased to be joining in with Cathy and many other bloggers around the world with my flowers today.  I have been picking and plonking  regularly but have had no time to post lately so it feels good to be here today.









A life in a day in London



The river sweats oil and tar, the barges drift with the turning tide. Red sails wide to leeward, swing on the heavy spar. (The Wasteland, 1922 by TS Eliot)


I spent the day in London with my daughter last week.

We caught the train to Waterloo which is one huge shopping mall nowadays. The sky was grey and there was a chill breeze coming off the river. Along the South Bank the plane trees, which do a good job of absorbing pollution and providing shade, were just coming into leaf, which shows what a cold slow Spring we’ve had in the south east of the UK.

Our first stop was the National Thatre where we bought tickets for the evening performance of  ‘The Deep Blue Sea’ by Terence Rattigan. We also took the opportunity of walking along the Sherling High-Level Walkway which offers a fascinating glimpse into the set-building, rehearsal rooms and prop making areas of our busy National Theatre.

Across Waterloo Bridge to Somerset House. I always enjoy the space of the cobbled central courtyard with the fountains playing. We paused briefly in a small exhibition space devoted to marking the 500th anniversary of the publication of ‘Utopia’ by Thomas More. I still have my battered paperback edition from  when I was studying History ‘A’ level at school. Thomas More was one of my heroes, partly because he took the education of girls seriously.

We emerged into Lancaster Place (where I used to work in 1983 in my wine and spirit days) and skirted around Covent Garden before stopping for lunch at The Farmstand which serves local, seasonal, sustainable and delicious food in a very civilised environment. Highly recommended especially if you need a quick pre-theatre supper in the Covent Garden area.

We wended our way along narrow lanes to Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Our destination was Sir John Soane’s House and Museum. Sir John was an architect and designer and a master of perspective and illusion and his house is a labyrinth of vistas, reflections, changes of level and demonstrates the 18th century mania for antiquity and all things Gothic. Of particular note was the excellent exhibition celebrating Shakespeare and the actor David Garrick.

We continued along quiet back streets to Bloomsbury (I love these austere Georgian brick terraces and green squares and looking out for the plaques to famous residents such as George Orwell, Stephen Spender, Roger Fry, not to mention Vanessa and Virginia of course) to The Foundling Museum on the corner of Brunswick Square. If you are interested in social history, women and children and philanthropy then I can’t recommend highly enough a visit to the Foundling Museum. The Foundling hospital was founded by Thomas Coram, a shipwright, in 1745 because he was horrified by the number of abandoned babies and children on London’s streets. The original building was  demolished in 1926 and in 1937 a new building was erected on the site and the 18th century Court Room and the Picture Gallery remade. There is a permanent collection of works  by Hogarth, Gainsborough and Reynolds, all donated by the artists in their lifetimes to support the work of the charity and these artworks are in poignant contrast to the collection of tokens left with the abandoned infants by the mothers as a means of identification just in case they were ever in a position to reclaim their children. Buttons and scraps of fabric from dresses, name tags, lockets and tiny pieces of embroidery – all unbearably sad.

Last week we were here specially for Cornelia Parker’s superbly curated exhibition entitled ‘FOUND’. Altogether there are 60 outstanding artworks spread around the museum all with a story composed by Cornelia or the artist.  Some were heart-wrenching, some made me laugh, but all made me think. A few that really stood out included Anthony Gormley’s bronze cast of his six-day-old daughter which made me think of the thousands of newborn babies who have died in London over the centuries and indeed who still die today throughout the developing world. Another was a filthy sleeping bag by Gavin Turk with the outline of a human being inside laid carelessly in front of the fireplace of the Court Room, one of the grandest baroque drawing rooms in London then and now, which made me think of all the freezing and hungry homeless people in London and around the world.

By this time we were both feeling foot-sore and weary (I was still getting over a painful bike fall six days earlier) so we took the most direct route back across Waterloo Bridge to consider where to eat.  In fact it was an easy decision and after a quick sit-down in the National Theatre foyer we headed out to Wahaca, the buzzy Mexican restaurant housed in stacked shipping containers, very appropriate as we were on the site where ships and barges would be unloaded by stevedores before the advent of containerisation and purpose-built container terminals in the 1960s. We kicked off with a mojito and a bowl of guacamole and tortilla chips and then shared four plates of delicious street food. We were on the highest level and the view across the Thames to Somerset House with fairy lights twinkling in the trees was so pretty.

Back in the theatre there was a full house for ‘The Deep Blue Sea’ and a palpable air of excitement.  Helen McCrory (last seen playing Medea at the National Theatre) was mesmerising as Hester Collyer and conveyed the passion, the rawness, the desperation of a woman in love with a man who cannot meet her needs, not necessarily through any fault of his own. In many ways all the characters were victims of circumstance – of that particularly repressed mid-20th century period which followed two world wars. All the performances were excellent and the direction by Carrie Cracknell illuminating. I am sure it will be screened in local cinemas and theatres soon as part of the NT Live initiative. It rounded off a wonderful and memorable day and I must say a special thank you to my daughter for being the perfect companion.


In a vase on Monday: It’s been a while


I am so pleased to be joining in again with Cathy’s  In a Vase on Monday meme on this beautiful June day.

In my pottery jug I have Sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis), Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus),  Nigella and cornflower (Centaurea cyanus), all growing in wild profusion at the allotment from sowings made last year. I made a new planting of my favourite Anemone coronaria ‘Sylphide’ from bulbs/corms bought from Waitrose at Easter and I’m very glad I did as last year’s crop has dwindled to almost nothing after flowering more or less continuously for the last 12 months. They are still sending up the odd flower but they are poor in comparison to the ones I picked  today. I won’t dig up the 2015 planting as I would like to see whether they’ll rally after a ‘rest’ this year.  As before the anemones are planted in full sun in very well-drained much-improved soil and I will water them once a week with weak comfrey tea which promotes excellent flowering in all sorts of plants including and especially agapanthus and roses. Oh the roses. What can I say? So much promise.  It is going to be the most glorious month – fingers crossed.


The walled garden at Goodnestone Park, Kent. 


Roses at Smallhythe Place, Kent, the home of Ellen Terry from 1899 until her death in 1928. 


Looking  forward to visiting Cathy at Rambling in the Garden and seeing what she and everyone else has made today.


In a vase on Monday: Conversation piece




imageI wish I could remember the names of these two tulips picked this evening from the allotment, but I can’t even remember planting them. I do remember thinking that a deep purple and rich red tulip would complement Erysimum ‘Blood Red’ sown last year and even researched Sarah Raven’s website for suitable contenders. As an added extra for today’s jug I was able to pick a couple of stems of Sweet William, also sown last year but not quite out yet.

I was at the allotment for half an hour in between showers but it was long enough to pick probably the last of the purple sprouting broccoli and the very first stick (singular) of asparagus as well as rhubarb. I also dug up and composted all the old tulips including T. Purple Prince which was a hand-me-down from Poleseden Lacey last year in the hope that the new purple and red tulips (it’s not Queen of Night because I don’t think the flower shape is right, but the red could be T. Red Georgette) do not become infected with tulip fire unfortunately brought in on T. Purple Prince. I am not a tulip expert but I know a man who is. Mike ‘the Flower’, as we affectionately call him, worked as a florist for forty years and what he doesn’t know about flowers is not worth knowing.



Meanwhile scenting my sewing room is a pewter mug of frilly double with an egg yolk middle narcissus picked from the cottage garden yesterday. I have a similar variety in my front garden but mine do not flower very prolifically so I never pick them but I couldn’t resist bringing these home yesterday, the first flowers I have picked from the cottage.


And talking of sewing and flowers here is a progress report on Midsummer Sprigs. I’m really enjoying stitching this sampler and working on grey 28 count linen instead of black is much easier on my eyes. I know it’s not true to Alicia’s design or even to Mrs Delaney, the 18th century artist who created flower mosaics from coloured paper on a black background  and whose work inspired Alicia, but I’m very happy with the way it’s looking especially as I’m mostly matching the colours from my box of embroidery silks.

Let’s go and visit Cathy at Rambling in the garden to see what she and many others from around the world have found for their Monday vases this week. I wonder if any of you will be able to help in identifying my tulips. If I do have a brainwave and remember their names I will be sure to let you know. Here they are growing in the ground if this helps.



Inquisitive jackdaws




A pair of young jackdaws are trying to build a nest in our chimney. Throughout the day piles of sticks have been falling down and landing in a sooty mess on the carpet. I’ve now spread out last weekend’s Observer newspaper and hopefully they have found somewhere else to roost for the night.

It has been so cold and damp recently. A late spring such as this always brings to mind Thomas Hardy’s poem “A Backward Spring”. Much as I love his novels and the story of his life and loves it is his poetry I return to most often. A couple of years ago we walked along the river from Boscastle to the church of St Juliot where as a young man he met the love of his life and which became the setting and inspiration for his first novel “A Pair of Blue Eyes”. It was the Easter holidays and primroses and bluebells had spread to the banks of the river and even though Boscastle itself was heaving, once we’d walked 500 metres from the centre we did not see another soul for the entire walk.


No Cornish holiday for the foreseeable future but tomorrow we will be at the cottage and walking on the South Downs, where we should catch a glimpse of the sea. Last weekend we were in Kent to celebrate our daughter’s 20th birthday. The weather was wet, windy and cold and the north Kent coast was grey as grey could be but we had a lovely day with our special girl.



I’m comtinuing to direct sow at the allotment despite the rain and today I prepared another seed bed (I love doing this) and sowed borage, cerinthe and flat-leaf parsley. Leeks were sown in a rough square grid one sunny  evening this week and the sowings I made the other week (salads, rocket, beetroot, radish and perpetual spinach) are all up and through. Even the sweet peas are tentatively starting to climb.


We are eating lots of purple sprouting broccoli, chard and rhubarb from the allotment and last night I made Yotam Ottolenghi’s paella with purple sprouting broccoli which was delicious. Yotam’s recipe was actually served with out of season broad beans and as my first sowing was eaten by mice and the second batch are still to germinate I reckon it will be July before I will be podding and skinning broad beans. But the asparagus is just visible, although these early spears are sure to be damaged by tonight’s frost. The earliest date I’ve picked enough asparagus for four (as opposed to lunch for one!) has been 16 April. I wonder when the first proper cutting will be made this month.




As respite from the cold and wet today I’ve started hand quilting a hand-pieced hexagon quilt made using the scraps from my first log cabin quilt completed almost a year ago. I am also enjoying cross stitching Alicia’s Midsummer Sprigs sampler. I started this about two weeks ago thinking it would take me until at least midsummer and I’m now pacing myself as I don’t want to finish it too soon.

It’s a strange on the cusp time of year. On one hand I would love to hold on to this chilly April day. My garden is a vision of snow white beauty with amelanchier at its very best, blossom breaking on the pear tree which will soon look like a ship in full sail and, in a supporting role for now, a pure white magnolia stellata, all underplanted with Narcissus ‘Thalia’, N. ‘Sailboat’, and N. WP Milner, white tulips (Purissima and Spring Green) and white anemone. Primroses, epimedium, and erythronium are providing a wash of softest yellow. But you can’t deny the tug of the season as the days lengthen and the sun climbs higher. I hope you’re making the most of every moment too.












In a vase on Monday: Spring sprigs


It is always a pleasure to join in with Cathy’s Monday meme to gather and arrange a vase of home-grown delights. This morning I was up to see the rosy sun rise (early morning cross stitch is my latest passion, but even with morning light and fresh eyes I couldn’t see to sew on black so I’m using Confederate Grey 28 count linen)  but since then the weather has deteriorated so I’m glad I cut my sprigs early.

For my Royal Winton hand-decorated spongeware jug which my mother in law gave me about 25 years ago (how come this has lasted for ever while Emma Bridgewater mugs lose their handles at the drop of a hat?) I picked: Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’, Spirea ‘Goldflame’, sarcococca, unknown honeysuckle with a lovely purple stem, hydrangea petiolaris, purple-freckled white hellebore, epimedium, coral heuchera flowers and N. Thalia and N. ‘Sailboat’ (delighted to see these bulking up year on year) and a week-old tulip with a gorgeous ink-splotched centre picked from the allotment. I resisted the urge to pick tulips from the garden despite T. Purissima and T. Spring Green coming back year after year as I prefer to see them growing in the garden.

Also in the picture is the little blossom tree Prunus Kojo No Mai and a posy vase of white anemone blanda. Whenever I see the white form popping up in the sea of blue Anemone Blanda that is naturalising in my gravel garden I try to carefully remove them to plant under the pear tree.  I’m disappointed that my white A. Nemerosa bought from Sissinghurst last spring has not made an appearance yet, but maybe she’s still gathering her resources.

During a sunny walk in the woods yesterday I saw lots of wild primrose, violet, white wood anemone and bluebells all of which are clearly loving the recent chilly damp weather interspersed with the odd ray of sunshine.

Do go over to Cathy’s blog, Rambling in the garden, to see what she has arranged today. I’ve just had a quick peek and I can tell it’s a good one.