How can it be March?

Scarborough town, seafront and castle

Where did February go? Between the Winter Olympics, family visits and the ever-changing weather, the month has vanished and March is upon us. We are assured that Spring is around the corner, even though it is currently like Narnia outside the windows.

D and I are apart at the moment, as I am in Aberdeen and he is safe at home in Yorkshire with the cats. However, like star-crossed lovers who look out on one moon, reassured that the other is doing just the same, we are united by the dreaded Beast from the East. My view is of snow-capped roofs, his is the garden, but the snow and the bitter cold is identical. He has the advantage of the fire and two furry bodies to snuggle up to, while I have to make do with an electric blanket and a fan heater but I am trying not to be too envious – at least I can walk to work.

Before the Beast struck, we took a few days off last week to welcome D’s sister, partner and their very beautiful cat for a visit. We were all a little apprehensive about the cats beforehand but, in the event, all went well. Our feline guest stayed safely tucked up in the bedroom and our girls appeared oblivious. The Princess was momentarily put out to discover that her usual daytime bed was out of bounds but they were both delighted to discover that the sofa in the dining room became a proper bed for us all. “Why isn’t this out all the time?” they asked, stretching out luxuriously and more or less tipping D out the other side. “It’s much better than the other one – we have food, litter tray and door in easy reach and we don’t even need to go upstairs.” After the guests had gone home, it took days to put the sofa bed away, as they seemed to enjoy it so much.

During the family visit, in a moment of madness, we decided to go to the seaside and headed for a day out in Scarborough. D and I have a very soft spot for Scarborough, after a wonderfully relaxing few days there not long after we moved but, after all those years in Aberdeen, we should have realised that the East Coast in February is a very different thing. The wind was bitter, a forerunner of what was to come this week and it was inevitable that I would pick up a cold as a result. However, the town wielded its usual magic and drew us in, even in the cold. The funicular from the beach to the town was a new experience for us all and we agreed to go back together in warmer times, to enjoy the full beauty of the area.

Traditional sign for Tramway to Beach, Scarborough
Scarborough Funicular


In the meantime, what of the garden I hear you ask? It does indeed seem a long time since we ventured out there and we are looking forward to making a start on the new season. However, fair weather gardeners that we are, it will need to fend for itself until both the Beast and Storm Emma have passed.

Fingers crossed that Spring will be here before long. And if you can’t wait that long, hop across to HomeduJour’s latest post, which brought a smile to my face and the warmth of Spring to my heart – I hope it does the same for you all.

Hello 2018!

Ceramic tealight holder with meadow design

And so Christmas is over for another year. The presents have been opened, appreciated and in many cases used already, such as the beautiful candle holder in the headline picture above. The dinner was cooked and eaten, TV watched and family visited. Finally, this week, we took down the tree and put everything away for next time. It was good to get the house back to normal, clean and tidy ready for whatever 2018 may bring.

The garden, too, is in need of a spring clean. We pulled up a lot of veg for our Christmas dinner – carrots, leeks, the last potatoes, parsnips and sprouts – so there are a few empty beds to clear and make ready for the new season. The sweet peas, foxgloves and poppies which have germinated in the greenhouse from seeds I collected last year need thinning and potting on and there appears to be a large amount of pruning to be done. One of D’s gifts this year was a good quality pair of secateurs and matching knife, so he has been out cutting down the roses and tidying a few climbers which were making a bid for freedom via the guttering on next door’s shed. After last year’s attempt at pruning the apple tree, though, we may leave that to the professionals this year.

I had planned to cut back the herbs, too, but the smaller birds appear to be loving the seeds on the lemon balm, so I have left them alone to be enjoyed. Fortunately, the cats don’t seem to have noticed the sparrows and the brightly coloured goldfinches so far. The Pampas flowers are already being stripped for nesting material too and, as usual, we are sharing our home with some variety of feathered friends, who are living in the eaves. I have also left the hydrangea flowerheads intact and their intricate structure has brought me much pleasure through summer and winter alike.

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We haven’t had much snow here, much to our relief, but both the cats did go and play in it for a while when it was here. The Calamity Cat particularly enjoyed it, leaving a trail of paw prints in the previously untouched snowfall and pouncing on imaginary prey which was hiding in the strange white stuff. Once she had had enough though, she returned to us complaining vigorously that her paws were cold and her underside wet. It was fun for a time but could we make the nasty white stuff disappear now please?

Beyond the tidying and nurturing the start of this year’s plants, we are starting to plan for the coming season. We are going to concentrate on the flower garden this year. It’s a mature garden and we don’t want to lose the structure that we have but we want to put our own stamp on it in the same way as we have the kitchen garden and the house itself. More colour, more scope to experiment and play and more variety is our aim – it will be fun to see where we can take it as the year progresses and I hope you will stay with us for the journey!

Sketch pad with pencil plan of a garden
Rough plan of the current structure of the flower garden
Pencil detail of plan of garden
Detail of one area of the current layout


2017 – a year in review

Naive pottery nativity 3 piece tealight set

After my reminder last week of how precious our life here is, I thought that this, my final post for 2017, would be a good time to think back over the year and take a moment to really appreciate everything that has happened, good and bad, before we embrace whatever 2018 may have in store for us.

It was certainly a busy year. In the garden, we had all sorts of visitors, from bees to birds to frogs and even, so we are told, a rat or two. I admired its winter beauty, although preferably through a window in front of a warm fire, and embraced the spring once it arrived.

We developed our roofing skills on the woodstore, enlarged the vegetable patch and had a go at pruning the apple tree in the orchard. As well as a new shed, we bought a proper greenhouse. We sowed and planted – asparagus, sweetcorn and parsnips joined our more usual crop of potatoes, carrots and leeks. I made plum jam and roasted tomato sauce and many of the veg on our Christmas table next week will be home-grown. I got my gooseberry bush (although it hasn’t thrived so far – I am keeping my fingers crossed for next year) and planted a blueberry and strawberries too.

In the flower garden, we planted a rose bed and created a trellis for tomatoes. We pruned the hydrangea and the buddleia and, in spite of their age and my fears, they both responded well. Even the Pampas grass survived D’s enthusiastic trim.

The cats have also had a good year on the whole. When they weren’t sunning themselves on the new woodshed roof or supervising us in the garden, they were exploring cupboards and making a bid to eat all the food we bought in for them in the shortest possible time. The Princess has fortunately recovered fully from her suspected poisoning although sadly, it didn’t stop her from hunting for the rest of the summer.

We did the things that most couples do through a year. We holidayed, partied with family and embarked on home improvements in the form of a new boiler and bathroom refurb. We mourned with the nation after the terrible attacks which have occurred throughout the year. We faced my stress and anxiety together and together we are making our plans for the year to come.

Most of all, we are feeling blessed, to be here, to have each other and to be looking forward to a cosy Christmas, just the four of us. I will leave you with a few photographic memories of 2017 but first, let me wish you all a very happy, safe and special Christmas, full of whatever Christmas means to you. I’ll see you all again in the New Year.

Watch out for Maleficent!

Vivid pink hydrangea flowers amongst yellow green leaves

Last week, we became aware of the change of the seasons, with the first frost making its appearance. The leaves are really starting to change now – the beech hedge in the flower garden forms a multi-coloured backdrop to the roses, which are bravely clinging on as long as they can.

We took advantage of some mild weather and some autumn sunshine over the weekend to do some much-needed tidying up. D started with the tall evergreen hedge which separates us from next door. Getting out the old hedge trimmers, he made a start. It is not a job he enjoys – it is time consuming, the trimmers are heavy and the results are never as good as he would like. Clearing up afterwards is hard work, too, raking and shovelling leaves and branches from the lawn, just praying it will all fit into the brown garden waste bin.

Man on a ladder trimming an evergreen hedge
D gets stuck in with the old hedge trimmers

This time, disaster struck, Before he got very far, there was a smell of burning and black smoke started to belch from the trimmers. The thick hedge had finally broken them. Cursing, we made an emergency dash to Screwfix for a new set of trimmers. Well, it made a change from B&Q, I suppose.

Regular readers may remember that garden power tools are not my field. The summer D spent cutting my grass in Scotland using a mower with no blades in it was a case in point. As the hedge trimmers were even older than that mower, it should have been no surprise that replacing them was one of our better decisions. We got back in time to finish the hedge, which D did in record time. The new tool is lighter, sharper and far more effective than the old one. In what felt like a few minutes, we had a neat hedge which looked better than it ever had before and D was finally happy with the result.

In the meantime, I had weeded and tidied, dead-headed and dug to remove remains of summer annuals from the rose and hydrangea beds. All that remains to do in the flower garden is to tame the herbs (again!) and clear the bed near the Pampas grass, which regularly becomes overrun with an insidious, mat-forming and foul-smelling weed. We have no idea what it is, just that it is impossible to get rid of. We decided to save all that for another day, though.

Buoyed up by the success of his new toy – sorry, power tool – D was keen to carry on the next day, turning his attentions to our much-neglected front garden. It is intended to be a low-maintenance space, but it is amazing even here how quickly nature reclaims its own. The privet hedge creeps higher and fuller every year, almost without us noticing, while the ivy spreads its tendrils, taking a firmer hold of the hedge and spreading outwards across the gravel towards the house. The holly which grows through the yellow forsythia (itself reaching ever higher towards the sky) becomes denser and spikier and guests climbing out of their cars on the drive find a treacherous welcome as the decorative grass trips them up, intending it seems to lure them into the arms of yet another holly. This one is ludicrously shaped into an overgrown lollipop and appears as innocuous as the Ghostbusters Marshmallow Man, while being just as dangerous. And everywhere, curling its stems through everything it can, there is bindweed.

Large variegated grass
The grass is just the beginning of the battle to reach the front door

In short, without us realising, we were slowly being enveloped by foliage worthy of Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Unfortunately, though, I hadn’t slept as well as her the night before, so I was not in the mood to face it. D, ever-sensible, talked me round. “Half an hour,” he promised. “Just to get the hedge cut, that’s all it really needs.” Longing for a bath and a nap, I reluctantly agreed.

It is remarkable how gardening restores a tired body and a lethargic spirit, recharging batteries better than any nap could. Two hours later (so much for D’s half an hour!) we had tamed the wilderness, at least a little. The hedge was cut, the bushes trimmed to an even height and the ivy thinned. There wasn’t much we could do with the grass – it desperately needs moving further away from the drive but it is so huge, we wouldn’t know where to start (and even we know that November is not the month to try). I was determined, however, to reduce the lollipop holly to a more manageable size. I certainly did that, but I think we can safely say that topiary is not my strong point.

Standard holly tree pruned into a lollipop shape
Hmm, don’t think I’ll be winning any topiary prizes but at least I can get out of the car!

There is still a long way to go to make the front garden into a space we will be proud of. Nettles are still threatening the plants we bought earlier in the year and the bed near the front door is still terribly untidy and eye-catching for all the wrong reasons. However, the space feels twice the size that it did and, for now at least, we can go bed without fear of waking up in a hundred years, with the house totally smothered in forest.


Garden Round-Up

Pink rose

While we have been caught up in our heating drama, autumn has crept up on us outside and suddenly we are into November. We haven’t forgotten the garden though – it hasn’t let us.

Up in the kitchen garden, the sweetcorn was our shock success this year. Last time I mentioned them, they were wearing silly wigs and the corn was just starting to form. We watched carefully over the next few weeks, unsure how we would know when they were ripe. As time went on, it became a race against time – would they be ready before the warmth and sunshine disappeared? As we weren’t sure and we didn’t want to lose the crop, we harvested it in early October. It wasn’t all quite ripe to the ends but what was ready was absolutely delicious. We are converts and will definitely be growing it again.

Corn on the cob
We are so proud of our sweetcorn crop

We also left the cauliflowers with their brand new heads starting to peep through. We have definitely had more success with them this year. Last year we sowed them too late and had nothing to show for it. But we now have several caulis safely chopped and frozen, ready for the traditional Christmas cauliflower cheese. Cleaning them was a nightmare though – the dirt gets into the tiniest cracks and we had to cut them into quite small florettes in order to get them fully clean. It made us wonder about the beautifully white cauliflowers we buy from the supermarket. Where are they grown to be so white and pristine and are they cleaned with a Karcher?

2 cauliflowers in close up
Hooray! Proper cauliflowers!

The first frost took us by surprise, although luckily we had already harvested everything which would have succumbed to the cold. We are told that parsnips need a frost before harvesting so we are happy to leave them where they are for now – Christmas dinner is going to be truly great this year! We still have some carrots and plenty of leeks as well. It seems a long time since we had to buy vegetables from the supermarket – and we are loving it.

One thing we may need to buy at Christmas though is potatoes. As you may remember, after the success of our early and mid-season crops, we got a bit over-enthusiastic with late potatoes in bags. “Plant now for Christmas!” proclaimed the packaging. Hmmm, and then again … They flourished in the greenhouse, growing far too quickly and then, when we needed to move the bags outside to catch the rain while we were away, they were hit by high winds and suffered as a result. We harvested the last bag last week and, although what potatoes we got were tasty, they didn’t match the earlier harvests. Next year, we need to try planting a little later and either growing them totally outside or start them outdoors and then bring them in later. Still, it’s all a learning experience!

Dead potato plants in a green plastic growing bag
Our poor potatoes

Another thing we are learning is that the planning and planting never stops. We planted several rows of garlic recently and they are springing up already, ready for us to harvest next year. In the flower garden, the patio pots are full of Sweet Williams and winter primroses, with spring bulbs nestled safely underneath, waiting for the worst of the winter to pass. And the seeds I collected at the end of the summer – poppies, foxgloves and sweet peas mainly – have germinated in the greenhouse and are waiting to be pricked out and turned into plugs. They will stay cosy in the greenhouse through the winter and then be planted out next spring. Well, that’s the plan anyway!

Patio pots containing autumn and winter flowers
Our pots are ready to provide a little winter colour

Also in the flower garden, the roses have been an unexpected delight. They flowered through the summer but have had a new lease of life over the past few weeks, even surviving the frost and providing a much-needed burst of colour as the rest of the garden settles into its pre-winter rest. And, best of all, the Pampas grass has survived its haircut and has flowered to bring us pleasure throughout the winter to come.

We are all too aware that we are fair weather gardeners, that the time is rapidly approaching where gardening becomes a quick dash to the greenhouse or planning and dreaming in front of the fire. For now, though, we may have a couple more weeks to enjoy getting out there and to have an autumn tidy up and we intend to make the most of any sunny autumn days we have left.





Being mindful

Mug with redcurrants design containing Earl Grey tea with no milk

As part of the process of weeding out my stress and anxiety, I have started a mindfulness programme. It is teaching me to live in the moment more, to fully experience whatever I am doing, rather than living on autopilot, which leaves the mind liable to stray into areas I am not yet ready to deal with. The cats are a little bemused – they have been trying to tell me for months that what matters is the here and now, and they don’t really understand why I need to practise. It’s even stranger when practice consists of me lying on the floor to focus on my breathing and on relaxing each area of my body in turn. There is an upside to this, of course – it makes me available for climbing over, sitting on and even occasionally settling on for a companionable sleep. I find the experience so relaxing, sometimes I join in with the nap myself.

Focusing on each experience is actually more challenging than it sounds. As a reader and a writer I tend to internalise everything I do, weaving sentences in my head, even as I am trying to give my attention to whatever I am up to. I listen to podcasts as part of the course, and the oh-so patient tutor reminds me in the recordings that my mind will wander – it’s what minds do. The trick is to bring it back to focus on whatever I need to and to do so without judging myself as having failed the exercise. I am learning to experience things in the moment with all my senses, enjoying the physical nature of a walk or eating a home-cooked meal. My thoughts and ideas, while still an important part of who I am, are being put into a wider perspective of the whole, rather than dominating my existence.

Getting out and about is a vital part of this learning. I recently walked the city walls in York. Every time I found myself thinking about work or how I could write up my trip into a blog post, I stopped, took a couple of breaths and refocused on the beauty around me. It was a cool day, with a threat of rain in the air and I could feel the breeze against my cheek. Somewhere, someone had been cutting grass and its scent mingled with the unique smell of impending rain. I could hear the traffic on the other side of the wall but it faded into the background as I was enveloped by the peaceful scenes of back gardens in the Minster Close. As I passed families and couples also walking the walls, probably on their holiday, I caught snatches of conversation in a variety of languages and smiled at them all, feeling briefly like we had all ventured back in time just a little. Oops – there I go again, disappearing into my imagination …


Summer gardens and trees with York Minster in the background
View of York Minster from the City Walls

The walls around York are not complete, have never been complete as one side of the city was protected by a deep and treacherous pool of water. The pool is long gone, replaced by a retail park and my mind was definitely jolted back to the present and to the experience of the walk by walking down some steps and coming face to face with Carpet Right. I noticed the difference in the noise level and in the scents as I crossed the busy road to follow the River Foss around to the next section of wall. Even there, there was beauty to be found, as a family of black Canadian geese sailed up the river, avoiding the wide swathe of water lilies which spread across the water.


Black-necked Canadian goose swimming down the river with water lilies in the foreground
Canadian goose on the River Foss

And yes, I know, I have taken my physical experience and turned it into a blog post anyway. But at least I waited until I got home, rather than writing it in my head as I went round. It’s a bit like taking lots of photos wherever you go – if you aren’t careful, you only see the photo, rather than the view.

And on that note, I am off for a mindful cup of tea. Try it – next time you brew up, put your book down, switch off the TV and don’t think about your to-do list. Instead, focus as you drink – feel the weight of the cup, the heat against your lips, the flavour and how the hot liquid slides down your throat towards your stomach.  Savour every moment of your chosen beverage. I promise that, if you can do it (and it’s not easy!) your brain will feel as refreshed by the break as the rest of you.

I have something totally different for you next week. A fellow blogger, Lovely and Grateful, has nominated me for the Liebster award. Liebe is German for love and the award is a way for bloggers to share the love and other blogs that we enjoy. I am thrilled that Lovely and Grateful, whose blog I have been following for a while (she has the most beautiful cat called Mara – check out her site!), enjoys mine enough to want to share it with her readers and I am looking forward to doing the same for some others next week. I have to answer some questions about myself too so who knows, you might just learn something new about me as well as discovering some new blogs to follow!



Taking time to breathe

And so it seems that the stresses of modern life have finally penetrated our Yorkshire idyll. The huge changes of the past few years caught up with me in the end and I have had to take a few weeks out to assimilate my feelings and start edging towards a way forward for the future.

Stress is a little like bindweed, I think. If you keep your garden tidy, it is easy to spot and remove. You can never get rid of it completely, but you can keep it under control and stop it from smothering your chosen plants. We have a bed in our front garden that needs attention – I am planning to pull most of it up next year and start again. I walk past that bed for weeks, not seeing the tell-tale heart shaped leaves as the bindweed works its insidious way up the tangle of geranium and other plants which have run rampant. Only when it has taken a firm hold do I finally see it and removing it is much harder than it might have been. I see a few leaves first, start to remove them and then suddenly they are everywhere. Weeding them out is a daunting task.


Green heart shaped bindweed leaves and stems winding through a pink geranium plant
Bindweed leaves winding their way through our flowerbed

Stress is the bindweed of life. Whilst most areas of life are under control, it is easy to recognise and manage – never going away completely, of course, but at a level which can be used to challenge us, keeping us on our toes and even encouraging our creativity and fulfilment. However, as life throws more and more things at us, often so slowly we don’t see them coming, stress puts out its tendrils, winding through our lives until it feels impossible to eradicate. Finally, when everything feels out of control, just like our flower bed, we realise how we deeply entrenched it has become and addressing the problem can feel very daunting indeed.

No one thing can be held responsible for my stress. I love my life here as much as I ever have. The cats and garden are thriving, D supports me with his usual unswerving love and practicality and I still feel extremely lucky to be here. However, it cannot be denied that we have been through large life changes at a time when the world itself feels like it is shifting and changing in potentially dangerous ways and we have never really stopped to draw breath and consolidate the changes fully. I have needed the past few weeks to start that consolidation process.

Home has become my refuge and yet the best way I have found to start weeding out the stress is to go out and re-engage with the world. I have started small. Sitting in the gardens at Beningbrough Hall, listening to the bees in the flower borders and even on one occasion communing with a mouse who popped out of the wall to say hello. Walking down the towpath along the River Ouse, leaving the bustle of the city of York far behind me, greeting the dog walkers and ramblers along the path. Taking time to enjoy the garden at home and eating well, chiefly home grown fruit and veg. Spending time with the cats, with D and with family. Taking care of myself.

Pink poppies in a wide flower border with several insects feeding on the nectar
The insects are enjoying this border at Beningbrough Hall as much as I did


River with trees and lots of greenery on both banks
You would never know how close to York you are here – it’s so peaceful

I am starting to see my way back as I pull out more and more of the bindweed to reveal the flowers beneath – the things that really matter. I am lucky that I have so many positives in my life which I have never really lost sight of – they were temporarily covered but never totally buried. And when life goes back to normal, which it will eventually, hopefully I will have learned from the experience to take at least a little time to weed out the stresses early, while those bindweed leaves are still small and the stems weak, leaving me to enjoy the beauty of our chosen New Simple Life.

The Flower Garden

2 flowering red poppies with purple and yellow centres

Life is settling back down after our week away. We came back to discover that, in spite of the dry weather and nobody to water the plants, the garden had exploded into life and was making a bid to go back to nature. We spent our first free day after we got home cutting the grass and all the hedges, watering furiously and doing some serious weeding. However, it was still all looking a little ropey when someone we know from Aberdeen came to visit as part of their holiday. They are “real” gardeners too, and it wasn’t quite looking as tidy as I had hoped it might, but they seemed to like it all the same. They very kindly brought us a lilac and a lavender from their own garden, which spurred us into further action after they had gone, clearing a patch which had been totally overgrown with weeds and creating a new border. This involved digging up all the daffodil bulbs we planted at the beginning of the year, and they are now drying in the garage, ready to be stored for the autumn.

D also decided that the enormous Pampas grass needed a haircut and, in his own inimitable style, he set to with the shears. Not how you are supposed to prune a Pampas grass – Monty Don talks about running gauntleted hands through the fronds to pull out dead material – but ours is so large, gauntlets just wouldn’t be enough. You would need a full body suit and to actually get inside it (yes, it really is that big) and it just isn’t feasible. So, the shears it was. The result was – er – dramatic and only time will tell if it will ever recover fully. The shears certainly won’t. One of the handles snapped off altogether in his enthusiasm. I was secretly quite glad, or we may not have had a Pampas grass left at all! It did bring more light and air to the geranium and heuchera that I had planted underneath it though, so at least something benefitted from the cull.

Tall Pampas grass
My poor Pampas grass is looking very short now!
Red shears lying on grass broken
Somehow, I think we need a new pair of shears …

The cats had their own catching up to do after a week inside the house. After watching us work in the garden for a while, clearly wondering why on earth we would go to all that effort on such a warm day, they needed to revisit all their favourite spots. After a good sniff to make sure they hadn’t been invaded during their house-arrest, they then settled down for a nap in the sunshine – it’s hard work running a garden, you know!

In our absence, the new rose bed had burst into bloom. It would have looked fantastic, I think, if I hadn’t have had a crisis of confidence a couple of months ago and sown lots of annual seeds in the same bed. My thought had been that, as the roses were such new and small plants, they probably wouldn’t flower this year, and the bed needed a bit of colour. Unfortunately, not only was I wrong, but I didn’t check the relative sizes of what I sowed and so you can’t really see the roses for the tall navy cornflowers surrounding them. They are interspersed with marigolds too – no order or colour co-ordination in our garden! It wasn’t exactly a lack of planning or design flair, even though that is what it looks like – more just inexperience. I have learned from it though and, next year, I will leave our rose bed alone.

Rose bush with white flowers
The white Yorkshire rose in bloom

Two plants that have thrived after our over-enthusiastic pruning are the hydrangea and the buddleia. I cut the hydrangea back to nearly nothing last year, as it consisted solely of the remnants of two enormous blooms on spindly stems and a lot of dead wood. This year, we have over a dozen flowers coming and it is the most vibrant pink I have ever seen. Once the buds open on the goldenrods that are standing tall and proud behind it, it should be a striking display I think. That bed has also suffered slightly from my indiscriminate seed sowing, but at least the marigolds there, while densely packed (pricking out – what’s that??), are smaller than the other plants so don’t hide them altogether and the sweet peas have their own corner. The buddleia is covered with new leaves apart from at the bottom where it is covered anyway by something else and, after being convinced we had killed it back in March, we now have high hopes that it will flower later in the year.

Self-seeded poppies are attracting the bees, as is the hebe, beautifully set off by the purple clematis which has made its way through to us from next door. The photinia has gone mad and desperately needs tying back and so does the climbing rose and the honeysuckle which are both trying their best to escape from their shackles tied to a trellis behind the oil tank. Maybe we should train them over the tank and hide its ugly plastic shell. The pink roses smell divine and it is such a shame that they are difficult to reach behind the tank.

Poppy flower with 2 bees inside
Can you see the insects in here, feasting on the pollen?
White hebe with purple clematis running through it
Isn’t this a lovely combination? And the bees love it too

Finally, the petunias, which I lovingly reared from tiny plugs in the greenhouse, are now looking splendid in our handmade pallet planter on the wall next to the patio doors. We still have several pallets left from the delivery of our topsoil earlier in the year and, after seeing the tables at the pizzeria last week, it seems the possibilities are endless. I quite fancy a potting table next – now, where is D and that saw …

Blue wooden planter on a wall, filled with petunias
I am so proud of this!


A Trip to the Vet

The Princess has been under the weather. She had been biting at her back paw for a few days, so we were keeping a watching brief to see if it developed into anything serious. She spends so much time stalking the hedgerows, we wouldn’t be surprised if she got a thorn or something lodged in her foot.

Of course, she waited for the weekend before showing any sign of being ill. On the Saturday morning, she lay in the study doorway and showed no signs of interest in breakfast or attention. Fearing that we had, indeed, missed an injury which had become infected, we picked her up and inspected the paw. It looked fine but she growled at us anyway and that was enough for us. The Calamity Cat growls at anything but it’s not seemly for princesses, so ours doesn’t do it very often. Fortunately, our vet has a Saturday surgery so we popped her into her cat carrier (I am making that sound much less challenging than it is, although she didn’t put up as much of a fight as usual, a sure sign that all was not well) and off we went.

Why, oh why do cats always come alive when they get to the vet? You give the vet a tale about how they haven’t moved all morning, how lethargic and unresponsive they are. In the meantime, said cat has leapt down off the table with great agility and enthusiasm and is prowling around the consulting room, sniffing in all the corners and finally coming to rest by the fridge, just in case there is something more interesting in there than prescription drugs. The Princess was so alert, she was keeping watch through the glass door when the vet went to get a nurse to hold her and they couldn’t get back in until I scooped her up and put her back on the table. We told the vet our theory about the paw and she prodded and stretched her limbs with only the smallest complaint from our girl. Just when the vet was giving up, she must have touched something raw and the growl came from deep within. So she touched the same area again – nothing. She tried the other leg and again, she growled. Aha! The vet went back to the same spot and got no response – all very contrary and confusing.

In the end, unable to find anything specific, she wormed her, gave her an anti-inflammatory injection and sent her home, with strict instructions for us to bring her back if she became worse. From the loud complaining coming from the carrier all the way home, she was fine and most indignant about being poked and prodded for no reason like that.

Grey and white cat sitting with eyes closed on a pale blue patio table
This is one of my favourite photos of the Princess when she is well – enjoying the sunshine on the patio table

Once home, though, it was a different story. She retired to the safety of the wardrobe to groom the vet smell out of her fur and then went back to her spot in the doorway. She became increasingly unwell throughout the rest of the day, barely looking up when I touched her or offered her water. Mid-afternoon, she dragged herself downstairs to be sick, then went straight back up to the study, not moving again for the rest of the day. Mind you, I shouldn’t think the rodent she threw up had had the best of days either.

I got very little sleep that night, worried sick. And then – in the dead of night, I suddenly heard a noise downstairs. Was that, could that be – crunching?? The Calamity Cat isn’t that fond of biscuits, whereas the Princess is known for her midnight feasts. I had to check. I got up and bumped into her on the landing, on her way back up from her snack. She followed me into the bedroom and proceeded to jump on me, headbutting my nose and purring very loudly. It seemed normal service was resumed. Heartily relieved, I fell asleep with her curled in next to me on the pillow.

The next day, both cats asked to go out before breakfast as usual. As the Princess seemed fine, we opened the door and out they trotted. She wandered up the garden, having a good sniff at everything to see what she had missed the day before. She was on her way back down the path, clearly heading back to the house for breakfast when, without warning, she collapsed. We rushed outside and brought her in, where she lay on the table, apparently unable to move.

As soon as we could, we got her down to the emergency vet. By then, yet again, she appeared to have recovered and was making her feelings known very loudly about being stuffed in a cat carrier and taken back to that horrible place. At least it wasn’t full of dogs on a Sunday. It wasn’t full of anything when we got there – including the vet, who had been held up at a previous call-out.

The upshot of the whole saga is that our beloved girl had had a seizure, probably brought on by eating something diseased or poisoned. However, after a raft of blood tests the next day, I am pleased to say that they all came back clear. We kept her in for a couple of days, much to her disgust, and then, our hearts in our mouths, we let her out again. It didn’t take her long to prove she is back to full strength, hunting once again and even paying the neighbour a visit, as he told us the next day: “I was sitting in my front room, minding my own business, when this little grey face peeped around the door …”

Grey and white cat on hind legs on a windowsill, trying to get out of the window
“Pleease let me out!”

Cats’ memories are relatively short. It may take us a little longer to recover. Every time she lies down, we jump up and feel the need to check on her. Every time she leaves the garden, we don’t totally relax until she is safely home again. We have been reminded that our precious girls’ lives are so much shorter than our own, with dangers at every turn. All we can do is value and make the most of the time that we do have together and shower them in all the love and care they deserve.


A dry spell

4 small plants in pots in a blue shelf-style planter

Anyone who follows my Facebook page or Twitter account knows that I have been hoping for rain recently. With D away, watering the garden became my responsibility. With the water butts dry and the number of watering cans required increased daily, I was spending up to an hour every night filling can after can at the outside tap and then carrying it all the way up to the kitchen garden. I watered faithfully every night and then every morning the beds were as dry as ever. By the end of the week, I was quite seriously contemplating trying a rain dance and, while D and I love to dance together, it might have looked a bit odd if I started spinning around the lawn on my own.

Animation taken from


The weather finally broke at the weekend with some overnight rain (just as D was back – typical!) and what a difference it has made. Flowers are appearing daily – everything from the chives to the peonies to something unidentified in the patio pots. Yes, I did plant the bulbs in the patio pots but I can’t remember what I put in there! The poppies are in bud and – hooray! – so is the hydrangea, which I cut back hard last year.

Hydrangea plant in bud
Buds on the hydrangea

On the subject of containers, I have been busy planting up my new pallet planter. When we had the topsoil and gravel delivered for the kitchen garden, everything arrived on pallets and my creative juices have been flowing ever since. I cannot believe the things you can make from pallets – Pinterest is full of ideas. In the end, I decided to keep things simple. D cut one in half for me and attached it to the wall of the house so that all I had to do was paint it and fill it with plants. I bought some petunias in plugs and have been growing them on in the greenhouse for a few weeks. I carefully watched Gardeners’ World, took in Monty Don’s advice to harden young plants off before planting them out – and then totally forgot to follow it. I now have twelve young petunias out facing the big wide world, albeit in the relative shelter of a planter. Oops! They are holding their own so far and I am looking forward to a frothy display of flowers trailing from each tier in the coming months.

12 young petunias planted in black square pots
The petunias look huge here!
Bright blue planter made from a pallet and mounted on a brick wall
But they’re really just babies

Another success for us is all the work we put into the lawn. It still has a way to go, but it is looking and feeling much better already. The Wilko grass seed was particularly effective and we ended up with strange oval crop circles where D spread the seed in a wide arc. It looked so good where it had grown that we went back for some more but we treated ourselves to a spreader this time too, to get a more regular sowing. We spread the seeds that day and the birds have been enjoying them ever since. Watching a family of sparrows brought me so much pleasure, I forgave them every seed. Mum, Dad and baby all hopped around the grass, with the parents feeding the young one, even though, judging by the foraging it was doing, it was clearly capable of feeding itself. Every time the parents strayed a little too far, the baby flew the short distance to bridge the gap. It was the perfect family and I loved every minute. The swallows have also returned and watching them swirling around in the evening sky was truly magical.

Unfortunately, not everything has thrived as well as the grass. The carrots are slow to develop and the onions and leeks look like they have been eaten. As we haven’t seen any slugs this year so far (is this down to the cold start to the season or to the Nemaslug I ask myself), they have either had their tops nibbled by the cats or by pigeons – either is possible. Even worse, the larger tomato plants we bought have been caught by the frost and one may not recover. We have 1 solitary garlic plant and the parsnips have shown no sign of germinating so far. More positively, though, one of the asparagus roots we planted has grown and we have a spear standing tall and proud. The only problem with asparagus is that we can’t harvest it for at least 2 years, so for the moment, we just need to admire it from afar.

Oh, and the rain dance seems to have worked with a vengeance – it’s not stopped raining for days and it’s a serious case of “be careful what you wish for”. Hopefully the sunshine will be back again soon.