Autumn glow and falling out of love with Instagram

By far the hardest part of moving away from the area where our children were born and where they went to primary school was moving away from the friends who’ve chugged along with us on the roller-coaster parenthood journey. I miss their easy company, the laughs and the camaraderie. Luckily we do still live near enough to meet up halfway and we try to arrange to get together as often as possible. One good friend and I have been steadily working our way through various gardens and places of historical interest that are roughly equidistant to walk, discuss our children’s exploits and life in general, and have lunch; the most recent one was Great Comp Garden near Sevenoaks.

The garden was glowing with autumn colour from salvias, dahlias, asters, grasses, shrubs and trees, and I kept stopping to take photographs while my friend stood waiting patiently. We caught up on our news as we meandered along the woodland paths and through the garden areas. The grounds apparently cover 7 acres but we didn’t have time to see it all. We also didn’t have time for cake so we’ll have to meet there again in spring to see the magnolias and hellebores, which are meant to be fantastic.

The garden was created by Roderick and Joy Cameron who moved to the 17th-century manor house in the late 1950s. It’s now run by a charitable trust which relies on the entrance fees and donations for the garden’s upkeep. The house isn’t open to visitors but the garden is from 1st April to 31st October, plus a few other days. You can find out more here. If you’re interested in salvias, this is the garden to visit – there are loads of different and unusual varieties and you can buy most of them in the nursery.

Ok. I’m about to have a rant. Skip to the end if you wish…

If you’re on Instagram, you can’t fail to have noticed the increase in ‘sponsored content’, otherwise known as adverts, and the fact that you don’t get to see what the people you follow post when they post it. Sometimes a pic will appear a few days after the event. I’ve also noticed an increase in ‘advertorials’ among the accounts that I follow. I’m getting extremely cheesed off with this. I loved the immediacy of Instagram, the inspiring photo with a bit of text, little windows onto other parts of the country/world, little insights into others’ lives – it’s quicker than blogging and a lovely way to get a dose of inspiration when you have a few minutes to scroll through photos. I like being able to quickly share how gorgeous the sea/sky/etc is looking today, or cake, or things on my mind, etc, without many words. And, as through this blog, I’ve found a lovely community of like-minded people.

If I choose to follow someone, I want to see what they post when they post it; I do not want my feed curated by some algorithm. I also do not want to see adverts and I find it irritating/disappointing when people mention their stats, how many followers they have, how their grid is looking (or changing their content in order to appeal to more people) and I really don’t like people trying to promote stuff because they’ve been paid to do so. I don’t care what type of coffee they’re drinking (because they’ve been paid to promote it), I don’t care what their kids are wearing because they’ve been sent a load of clothes, I don’t want a review of an event or book because they’ve been given a freebie in return for promoting it. They’ve sold out to the man. I’m so cross about it that I’ve unfollowed some accounts and I ‘report’ every advert (when I have time!). Do they think we’re fools? Or sheep? Or both?

What I want is honest, authentic, genuine recommendations (‘I’ve just read this book from the library, it’s brilliant!’), or just beautiful photos. I’m thoroughly fed up with Instagram being commercialised. It’s obviously Facebook’s fault. Bloody behemoth social media companies; I hope they eat themselves. I used to love Instagram and now I don’t.

You may wonder why I don’t just take myself off IG altogether. Well, I might but there ARE some genuine, funny, charming and inspiring accounts that I’d miss. For the time being I’ll try to ‘curate’ my own account!

If you’re still reading, thanks. I feel better for getting that off my chest. Hope your week is going well.




In a vase on Monday: October sunrise

There’s something special about sunrises at this time of year – there is probably a technical explanation about the angle of the Earth’s axis but whatever it is, the colours seem more intense. These photos were taken at 6.50am when our little patch of the world was bathed in a glorious pink-tinged golden light as the sun appeared then disappeared behind a blanket of cloud.

Tenuous link… There are still bright sun-filled flowers in the garden, most notably zinnias still doing their thing. They’re a little tatty from the wind, but valiantly producing powerfully coloured blooms. And the deep red nasturtiums seem unstoppable – they’re spreading and flowering all over the place and I’m happy to let them. I’ve cut a handful of these sunshine flowers to bring a little sunrise indoors. The red-tinged leaves are from Pelargonium ‘Attar of Roses’ and they smell delicious.

Astoundingly, I also found these sweetpeas on a plant that was destined for the compost heap. A last hurrah because it knows its days are numbered, perhaps.

Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, who I’m sure you know by now hosts this weekly gathering of vases, has links to many others from around the world, so do go and take a look if you have time.

Thank you for the insightful and encouraging comments on my last post. You are a lovely lot. Wishing you a good week ahead.

Life changes

I think I’m a little high from the fumes of a certain cleaning product. We have incredibly hard water and a limescale problem; I’ve been standing in the kids’ shower scrubbing and scrubbing the glass doors, occasionally sticking my head out to breathe fresh air, and contemplating life. I’m waiting for a delayed manuscript to edit, so in the meantime I’ve been getting ahead with all the housework and laundry. All this housewifery means I’ve had brain space to draft a blog post in my head. Dog walks and housework are when I do most of my thinking.

My first-born will be 18 next month. This time 18 years ago I had no idea, no idea at all, about how my life was about to change. I had absolutely no idea how much love it was possible to feel, how much pure joy, how much fretting and worry, how much mess and chaos, how much disorder, how much your life is thrown into the air and how it settles back to earth completely reordered, priorities totally changed. To be honest, I can’t really remember how we filled our days before parenthood. There was work, of course, and there was a lot more socialising, eating out and going to the cinema and theatre, and travelling. We certainly had a lot more spare cash! But I wouldn’t change a thing. Not one thing.

It’s an exciting time for my boy and I keep finding him lying on a sofa with his eyes shut, headphones plugged in. I suspect he might be finding it all a little bit overwhelming. He has a lot to do – a personal statement for applying to university, working out where he wants to go and which course, keeping on top of all the essays for school, working the occasional shift at the local hotel, socialising, sleeping. And he’s flying to the Washington DC at the weekend on a school trip. I’m cutting him some slack.

I’ve made a couple of big personal decisions recently. The first is trivial but a big decision for me nonetheless. I’ve decided to stop dying my hair. You know, it annoys the hell out of me that I have felt the pressure to keep looking youthful by colouring my hair. I’m cross at my conforming. I don’t judge anyone who chooses to dye their hair, but I don’t want to do it any more. I’m fed up of sticking chemicals on my scalp just so I’m not reminded of my ageing when I look in the mirror. For a start, there are the health concerns but it’s also blinking expensive. I did start growing out my grey hair last year but chickened out after meeting up with a friend who gave me a good talking to and told me I was effectively letting myself go. I was at a low ebb, took it to heart and promptly booked a hair appointment. Shallow, no? Grr. Well, no longer. I am embracing my real self. It is perfectly possible to look gorgeous with grey hair by keeping it healthy and having a good cut. If people don’t like it, it’s their problem not mine. (Of course, I can always change my mind but I hope I don’t!)

My second big decision was to enrol in a local adult education art course. I did Art A’level at school and always intended to go to art college. It was the only thing I ever wanted to do but I lost my way in my late teens and ended up following a completely different path, putting away my brushes and paints for a very long time indeed. I still have them. I’ve been carting around my old palettes, brushes, paints and portfolio for over 30 years. I held on to the tiny thought that one day, one day I might give it another go. Well, I am and it’s so exciting. I am rusty but there was a spark in my brain when I started drawing again. It feels like I’m rekindling a fire.

That’s all for now. Back to the housework. Hope your week is going well.

In a vase on Monday: Octoberfest

The leaves may be turning on the trees, conkers may be falling, berries ripening and seed-heads forming, but there are still plenty of summer flowers in my garden. Cosmos, osteospermum, snapdragons, verbenas, nasturtiums – all continue to produce blooms in jewel-like colours. Joining these flowers in my Monday vase are a few Crocosmia seed-heads, a length of hawthorn heavy with berries, a twig spindle leaves, a sprig of old-man’s beard (wild clematis) and some field maple which is just starting to turn.

October (before the clocks go back and it starts to get dark in the afternoon) is one of my favourite months. There’s the prospect of a walk through crunchy leaves, burnished and shiny conkers to find in the soft autumn light, and fruit, berries and seeds to harvest. It can be warm enough to be outdoors in a t-shirt (like today) or chilly enough to need a coat and scarf. Whatever the weather, it’s a month when you can really sense the seasons turning and I find that reassuring and comforting.

Thank you to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for hosting all the Monday vases. Click on the link to see her lovely collection of persicaria and links to many other vases from around the world.

Wishing you a good week ahead.


The Earth keeps spinning, nature does its (amazing) thing

There is something breathtaking* and humbling about standing in a field while swallows whizz about in the sky above your head, zooming low to skim past you, especially when you know that these acrobatic birds are busy feeding up before migrating epic distances for the winter. For the past week or so, the skies round here have been full of these little birds feeding and gathering in large groups before they cross the Channel on their way to South Africa. Incredibly, they fly around 200 miles each day to reach their wintering grounds. (You can read more about swallows here.)

We’re lucky that there is a thriving population of swallows in our village – they nest in local farmyards and stables where there is a ready supply of nesting material and insects. Just up the road from us is a smallholding of Shetland ponies and goats where over 30 swallows have fledged this year from 4 nests. There is a second brood in one nest and although the babies are flying, they still have the yellow edges to their beaks and fluffy feathers. They seemed completely unperturbed by me when I took these photos; if I’m going to be anthropomorphic, I’d say they were watching me with interest 🙂  I got within a metre of them and it was only when I lowered my camera that I noticed another one perched close behind me. It chirruped and took off, flying over my shoulder and out through the door, up into the sky. Hopefully, they will all be fully fledged and strong enough in time to survive their long journey south. We will be waiting for them to return next spring.


* Obviously this wouldn’t be thrilling if you suffered from ornithophobia…

In a vase on Monday: autumn gold

Swallows wheeled about in the sky all around me on the clifftop this morning. Large flocks of them calling to each other and riding the thermals from the sea, feeding up for their long migration south for the winter. I walked along slowly, taking it all in while the dog snuffled in bushes – such a magical moment. There”s are sights, smells and sounds particular to autumn, aren’t there? Berry-laden bushes, cobwebs everywhere, flocks of birds leaving, others arriving, leaves turning… As I walked back to the house through the garden, I spotted a couple of golden bells of Clematis tangutica (golden clematis) in the wildflower patch under the fruit trees. We don’t want clematis growing here so I went back out again to snip off the tendrils and cut a few white Japanese anemones that are growing in the steps to put together a simple Monday vase.

Cathy at Rambling in the Garden also has a jug full of autumn gold today.

I also have jars and jugs of zinnias in the house – the colours are more muted than the very bright colours in summer but still lovely.

I used to spend more time than I had spare gazing out to sea when we first moved here. After a while, I got used to the view (you have to get on with daily life!) but there were several moments yesterday when we had to stop and stare at the dramatic skies and the serene view.

Wishing you a good week ahead.

Salutation, appreciation and celebration

You may have heard of The Salutation in Sandwich because of its colourful previous owners who regularly featured on the tv show Gogglebox. It may have put you off visiting (or it may not) but the place is now under new ownership and is a super-elegant boutique hotel and restaurant (which is receiving rave reviews), a lovely tearooms and a glorious garden. You can visit the gardens, without staying at the hotel or partaking of food, for £8 (or £15 for a year’s subscription, which, frankly, is a bargain).

Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, The Salutation was built in 1912 on the site of a market garden and pub. You can see the Lutyens influence in the way the gardens are laid out in distinct areas with clever sight-lines and pleasing symmetry, and hidden nooks and crannies. These days, the deep borders and beds are jam-packed with lush planting, crammed with unusual and exotic plants, perennials, grasses, annuals and fruit and veg, but the star plants at this time of year are the dahlias. Head gardener, Steve Edney, is a member of the RHS Dahlia Committee and it’s clear he knows his stuff. It’s the Salutation’s 8th Dahlia Festival this coming weekend and visitors are in for a treat – there are large planters of pristine dahlias, whole borders just of different varieties of dahlia, and large clumps of striking dahlias dotted here and there among other plants. They obviously have their slugs and snails well under control.

I had such a lovely time wandering around the garden soaking in the beauty of the place that I failed to make a note of the different dahlia varieties but I’m fairly sure that the striking, dark, star-shaped one above is ‘Verrone’s Obsidian’ (which is a fantastic name). As much as I love them, I have decided to give up on trying to grow dahlias for the time being – I just can’t be bothered with plants that require hyper-vigilance when it comes to pests. And now that I’ve found this local gallery of dahlia perfection, I am content to leave it to the experts and appreciate their efforts instead.

In other news… It was my younger son’s sixteenth birthday on Tuesday. Sixteen. How did that happen?! He’s grown from a sunny, yellow-haired poppet into a funny, mostly sunny (with occasional dark clouds), intelligent, kind, tall string bean who shares my appreciation of a tidy room, loves his Dad’s baking and is there with a hug if needed. Oh, and his cake of choice is coffee and walnut.

My daughter making a cameo appearance 🙂

Hope all’s well with you and that you have a lovely weekend.