In a Vase on Monday: spring forward

British Summer Time is here – lighter evenings – yay! It was also warm enough to wander around outside without a coat this morning. Big happy sigh. And all of a sudden there seems to be much more material in the garden to pick for vases.

The first of the tulips are flowering – these are ‘Pink Impression’. They are a more lipstick-pink than I was expecting, but the colour is softened by mixing it with others that are less showy. There’s my favourite purple/blue–orange colour combination here – Anemone coronaria ‘Mr Fokker’, Muscari and Cerinthe major (which has self-seeded from last year and started flowering) for the purple/blue and a little Geum of unknown variety (which is just coming into bloom) for the orange. I’ve also included a few dusky pink primroses. Greenery comes from a few sprigs of Lonicera nitida, a couple of tendrils of Vinca major ‘Variegata’ and the Cerinthe and tulips leaves.

The final photograph shows the vase sitting on a little coffee table I bought for £15 on Saturday (with its ‘Sold’ sticker in the corner). It was sitting on the pavement outside a second-hand shop that I often pop into just for a look, you know how it is, and I couldn’t resist it. My first thought was that I’d sand and paint it but my family rolled their eyes and laughed like drains when I told them. I have form here… There’s an old kitchen cupboard and another small table that were sanded and undercoated, erm, probably two years ago now(?!) but have yet to be painted. Perhaps the spring sunshine and longer daylight hours will spur me into getting a move on with them all.

I’m joining in as usual with Cathy and the other bloggers who take part in IaVoM. Do pop over to her place and have a look.

Wishing you a good week.



Plant therapy

When awful, random things happen to innocent people going about their daily business, it’s hard not to feel helpless and fearful for the future. The usual feelings of horror and shock are followed by a deep sadness for all those affected. That there are people who have so much hatred in their hearts, leading them to carry out such dreadful acts, beggars belief. Far more erudite people than me will have much to say about what happened in our capital city on Wednesday but it would have felt all wrong to not mention it here. London is a magnificent city full of wonderful people from all over the world who will not be cowed by terrorism.

I hope you won’t think me flippant and indulgent to now write about plants but whether I’m aghast at the world or just plain fed-up, spending time with nature always soothes me. Whether it’s in my garden or someone else’s, in a park or walking along the lanes and through the fields, being near plants calms my thoughts.

The straightforward rhythm of the seasons marks the months passing and spring is particularly uplifting. Sunlight shining through a patch of daffodils, the first hints of colour appearing on tulip buds, fresh spring foliage and bursts of vibrant colour popping up here and there – these tiny-seed-to-full-on-flowering-plant, blossom-bud-to-delicious-fruit miracles all work their magic. Not everyone thinks about plants in the same way, I realise that, but even the most urban, indoors type of person would surely appreciate the pleasure of spotting the first primroses of spring in the hedgerows and walking barefoot on freshly mown grass in the summer sunshine. Then there’s the joy of crunching through autumn leaves on a woodland floor and the surprise scent of a winter-flowering shrub. Nature carries on and plants do their thing year after year, reassuring and steadfast.

The mental and physical benefits of gardening are well-documented; it is used as a therapeutic mental health tool and in schools to help teach responsibility and how to nurture. Gardeners can vouch for the positive effects and we tend to be an optimistic and patient bunch. We have to be. Planting and tending a garden is always for the future – bulbs planted in autumn flower in spring, slender tree whips will take years to grow and create the desired effect, seeds sown in early spring bloom months later. And there are always a few casualties along the way. Slugs and snails munching our delicate seedlings, badgers eating our fruit, blight on our tomatoes, fungus on our roses – all these test our perseverance. But we continue to look forward, we see the beauty and we are full of hope.

In times like this, it’s even more important to appreciate the people we love, show kindness whenever we can, find the things that make us happy and hang on to that hope. Wishing you a safe and happy weekend. I’ll be spending as much of it as possible in the garden.



In a Vase on Monday: bud-burst

There was a lot of wet wind outside this morning, strong sideways drizzle; the dog and I were soaked through after our walk. She’s now curled up in a tight ball in her chair (I know) next to the radiator and I’m on my second mug of coffee. It’s the spring equinox today but it certainly doesn’t feel like the first day of spring!

Needless to say, I haven’t been wandering around the garden to find perfect spring blooms for a Monday vase. What I have to show you instead is a jar of prunings from our recently planted native hedge. The bare root plants (sticks) have been planted to fill a long gap in our boundary where the old hedge had died after becoming overrun with brambles and ivy. Rather than just replace it with a single species of hedging plant, we’ve gone for a mixture of native, wildlife-friendly species:

Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna – apparently recognised by the RSPB as the absolute best species for wildlife value
Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa – prickly stems to protect resting and nesting sites and sloes in autumn
Field maple, Acer campestre – good for insects
Alder, Alnus glutinosa – its seeds are a food source for many birds
Guelder rose, Viburnum opulus – berries for birds
Wild privet, Ligustrum vulgare – semi-evergreen provides a great nesting site
Wild cherry, Prunus avium – good for wildlife and seasonal interest
Bird cherry, Prunus padus – flowers for insects, cherries for birds
Spindle, Euonymus europaea – good autumn colour
Juneberry, Amelanchier lamarckii – white flowers in spring

The advice is to prune off two-thirds once planted to encourage bushy, healthy growth but our plants are so short that I reduced them by one-third to a half, and cut back any side shoots quite hard. Rather than compost all the cuttings, I rescued the longest few and brought them inside. Since they’ve been in the warmth indoors, they’ve all started to come into leaf and even flower. I’m fairly sure that the white flowers are Amelanchier and one of the stems is Acer, but I’m not sure about the rest. Whatever they are, I’m delighted they’re doing their thing and I think they look lovely next to the little vitreous enamel panel by artist Janine Partington (a much-loved gift from my brother and sister-in-law).

I also photographed this burst of sunshine in a vase – cheap supermarket daffodils – which are cheering up the lounge on this dull day.

Big thanks to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for hosting the weekly gathering of Monday vases – I do so love joining in. She is celebrating five years(!) of blogging this week with a pretty vase, made by her daughter, full of pink spring blooms.

In other news – my daughter had a lovely birthday last week and smiled at the flowers :-). Thank you for the kind birthday wishes. She had further excitement at the weekend when we visited friends where we used to live but it’s back down to earth and normal life this week…

I hope you won’t mind me sharing a bit of thrilling Agnes news here: Olympic hockey superstar Crista Cullen has kindly answered a load of questions about her teenage years to launch our new blog feature. Do take a look if you have a moment. Thank you.

I hope you have a good week.

In a Vase on Monday: thirteen flowers

Thirteen flowers for my daughter who is 13 today, 13th March. It is a joy to witness this girl making her way in the world and I can think of nothing more fitting than thirteen beautiful blooms to celebrate her birthday.

She is usually the first one up in the mornings in our house; she breezes into our bedroom, gives me a quick hug, then she’s off to get ready for school. Hair takes longer to do these days – looks are becoming increasingly important but she’s not interested in wearing make-up for school yet. She’s keen to fit in but is confident enough to be herself and not follow the crowd. It’s very rare for her to be downhearted and when she is I can usually lift her out of it and make her laugh. When I’m downhearted, she’s the one who notices and asks me what’s up. We understand each other, this girl and I. I’m aware that we may not get on so well in the years to come and she may have days when she absolutely hates me, so I am making the most of this happy, calm time.

We had her birthday party yesterday – trampolining followed by hotdogs and birthday cake back home, and games of sardines until parents collected their daughters. Our two boys laid low in their rooms until all the guests had gone… Today, we have a family birthday tea with another cake (Victoria sponge is her cake of choice – in the oven as a type). Not a bad way to start the week.

I was lucky to find thirteen different flowers in bloom in the garden at this time of year; I wouldn’t usually put all these colours together in a vase but they provide a vibrant burst of colour. The flowers are (from left to right in the first photograph): primrose, snowdrop, Anemone coronaria ‘The Bride’, scented narcissus (can’t remember the variety), narcissus ‘Tete-a-tete’, euphorbia (not sure which one), marigold, hesperantha, hellebore, violet, Anemone blanda, muscari and pulmonaria.

I’m joining in as usual with Cathy at Rambling in the Garden (who has tulips already!) for the weekly get-together of Monday vases. Do pop over to her blog and see what she and others have put together from their gardens.

Wishing you a happy week.


In a Vase on Monday: spring blues and primroses

Spring was tantalisingly evident here this morning – soft warm sunlight, glorious bird song, that smell of lush, green growth – and it took every ounce of willpower to stay indoors at my desk. It is not healthy to sit still for too long, though, so I took a stroll around the garden to pick a few spring beauties for a Monday vase. (Then of course I had to faff about with them for a while and take a few photographs… But, hey, I cracked on and finished my work before writing this!)

In the blue/purple vase, we have Pulmonaria officinalis, Anemone blanda (which I can’t get enough of; they’re SO LOVELY), Muscari and a couple of teensy weensy violets from my garden, and in the pink vase we have an abundance of primroses from my parents’ garden. They are currently away on holiday and I’ve been popping round to keep an eye on the house. They have masses of beautiful primroses in their front garden at this time of year, so many that I’m sure they won’t miss a few. I love the dusky, buff-pink ones and luckily there are loads of those. These crocuses are also out and looking particularly perky. I don’t know what variety they are but I like them.

David has been working hard in the garden, grubbing out old, overgrown bay trees that were in completely the wrong place, plus masses of brambles, and I’ve been weeding and cutting back stuff, so we had a big bonfire on Saturday afternoon to get rid of all the un-compostable material. (It took three rounds of shampoo to get the smell out of our hair.) It really feels as though we’re making good headway in the lower front garden now. Yesterday we planted up long section of wildlife-friendly hedging to fill a big gap on the boundary with one of our neighbours and made plans for planting more trees in the right places. We must get on and order a load of bare root Betula utilis var. jacquemontii (the Himalayan birch with very white bark) and plant them up within the next couple of weeks, plus a few apple and pear trees if we have time. We are opening our garden again for the village garden safari in June and would love to have this area looking good. Lots to do..!

I’m joining in as usual with Cathy at Rambling in the Garden and her Monday gathering of vases. Do pop over to have a look.

Wishing you a super-duper week.


My life in books

img_1833I’m hesitantly giving you a little peek into my soul. Today, as I’m sure you know by now (social media is awash with it) is World Book Day and I thought I’d take this opportunity to show you a few of my beloved books.

One of my happiest early childhood memories is being curled up in a chair for a whole day reading a Famous Five adventure. I can’t remember which one, but I do remember the solitary experience of losing myself in the book. That pleasure of transporting my mind to another place; of inhabiting the story; of imagining the scenery and what the characters looked like; of being totally unaware of life going on around me. That’s the power of a good book. These days, I usually read novels before I go to sleep. If it’s a particularly gripping book I’ll keep reading into the small hours. This is not a good idea but sometimes you can’t stop reading. I’m currently half way through ‘The Universe versus Alex Woods’ by Gavin Extence; it’s funny and charming.

img_1838-1The relationship you have with a book is incredibly personal – books have the power to shape you and to alter your view on life like nothing else. The photo above shows a fraction of the novels I love. These are the ones I could put my hands on quickly to photograph this morning. Jane Austen and Charles Dickens are high up on our shelves! If someone asked me to come up with a list of my top-10 novels I don’t think I could. Perhaps top-50… Perhaps. Compiling lists of books is contentious – almost everyone will have an opinion. My blogging friend Lynda has links to several great book lists on her blog today. She also compiled the brilliant reading list for Agnes which you can read here.

Tools of my trade.

My career before children was in books: the last proper job I had was commissioning illustrated reference books for a leading publisher. It was demanding but creatively rewarding. Receiving an advance copy of a book that I’d brought into existence, hot off the presses, was such a thrill. But it could also be devastating if it had a mistake in it (no matter how many people are involved or how vigilant you are, it happens)! ‘The Perfect Puppy, how to raise a problem-free dog’ (above), is the first book I commissioned and it therefore has a special place in my heart. It has been many years since I worked full-time in publishing and my freelance work these days mostly involves proof-reading books before they go to be printed. I still love playing this remote, small part in a book’s life, though.


Most of the books I proof-read are cookery books. Cake books, ice-cream books, party food books, lifestyle food books, restaurant food books, healthy food books… There are thousands and thousands of food books out there and I have quite a few on my shelves. These three are the ones I use in my kitchen more than any others though.


Of course we also have a lot (and I mean a lot) of gardening books. These are the ones David and I refer to time and time again and we wouldn’t be without.

Are you reading a cracking book at the moment? Are there any food or gardening books you wouldn’t be without?


In a Vase on Monday: heralds

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I generally don’t like yellow flowers apart from at this time of year. Narcissi in all shades of yellow (from deepest dark golden, through butter-coloured to the palest cream or white) and delicate primroses that are, well, primrose, and the fresh egg-yolk crocuses that pop up at the base of our old apple tree. Little vases of them bring a welcome touch of sunshine indoors, adding warmth on even the gloomiest of days.

It’s pretty grim weather outside today. I dashed out between downpours and snipped a few snowdrops, primroses and crocuses, and one of the first narcissi to flower in our garden – the dinky tete-a-tete. The hellebores are left over from my Monday vase from 30th January, four weeks ago. That’s pretty good going, I’d say.

All these flowers are heralds of spring in our garden. They are the early signals – it will be fully here soon. The large jug of daffodils was a supermarket buy. It would be daft not to add a bunch to the shopping basket when they’re only £1.

It’s March on Wednesday and so two weeks until my daughter’s 13th birthday. I remember sitting with her in my arms while watching the boys play in our old garden which was full of daffodils. It’s a joyful time of year and we’ve a party to plan.

I’m joining in with Cathy at Rambling in the Garden and all her In a Vase on Monday-ers. Do pop over to her blog and have a look.

Wishing you a good week.