In a Vase on Monday: Evergreen


My vase this week is full of greenery from the hedges that border our garden. We didn’t fully clock the meters of hedging when we bought this house or realise what the task of maintaining them would actually entail. Still, it was an excuse for David to buy more power tools. Man-power-tools – it’s a cliche for a reason…

There may be no leaves left on the trees or blooms in the borders but these evergreen hedges continue to provide welcome shelter for local wildlife and some protection from the sea winds for the garden. I cut some stems of holly, yew, Viburnum tinus, holm oak, privet, Escallonia and bay – the whole collection smells aromatic and fresh (a mixture of the strong scent of bay with an underlying ‘green’, leafy smell) and has brought a wonderful whiff of the outdoors inside.

The jug is sitting one of my grandmother’s table runners on top of an auction-bought table, identical to the one my great-grandmother had in her front room. I’ve been feeling rather nostalgic about my female forebears recently. This may be something to do with the fact that I’m involved in an absorbing project which has got me reminiscing. It’s a website for teenage girls that provides information, guidance, reassurance and inspiration – a sort of ‘guide for life’ – and I’ve been thinking a lot about my younger years. Although the project is taking up a considerable amount of my brain space it is a thrill to be involved in it and I can’t wait to tell you all about it when it launches in the new year.

As usual, I’m joining in with Cathy at Rambling in the Garden who is showcasing some lovely ornamental grasses this week. I’ll be over to her blog later to have a look at a few more vases.

In other news… I feel that I’m not prepared in the slightest for Christmas but I have bought some cards and advent calendars for the children. I couldn’t resist this gorgeous Angela Harding one for myself. You’re never too old for an advent calendar🙂


Have a lovely week.


In a Vase on Monday


Storm Angus ripped through southern England this weekend – winds of 80 mph were recorded about a mile along the coast from here. It cocked a snook at our neighbourhood and ripped the remaining leaves from the deciduous trees, together with a fair few branches, and needles off the pines. It flattened fence panels and snapped trees from hedgerows into roads. The sea was wild yesterday morning – several cross-channel ferries rolled about on the huge waves, unable to come in to harbour, and a Coastguard helicopter winched crew from a cargo ship after it collided with a barge carrying rocks near Dover. That must’ve got the adrenalin pumping – the winds were almost 100 mph out there.

And the noise..! None of our household slept much on Saturday night. The chimneys howled, the rain sounded as though someone was throwing buckets of gravel at the windows and I swear the house actually shook. It had calmed down by yesterday afternoon but today it has been wet and windy again, although less fierce. I hope this isn’t going to be the pattern of weather this  winter. Parts of the UK suffered dreadful flooding in recent winters and the main train line from Dover to London was only reopened a few months ago after being closed for months and months to repair last winter’s storm damage. Bright, crisp, frosty weather is what I love. And snow. A few snow days would be lovely.

Our garden is a sorry sight. A heavy oak bench was tipped onto the strawberry patch and the outdoor table-tennis table was flattened on the back lawn. Branches and twigs and leaves are scattered everywhere. It’s a mess. There is very little colour (other than brown and green). Little pink cyclamen flowers are still dotted about looking cheery, their leaves now unfurling, but that’s about it. There was a clump of Hesperantha coccinea with several blooms looking good before the weekend but they’re now bedraggled and ripped. I snipped the remaining flower stems to bring indoors earlier, together with a few fern fronds. Ferns are a group of plants about which I know next to nothing, other than I quite like them. I don’t know which species of fern this is but it’s looking good, with its sori (clumps of spores) prominent on the undersides of the leaves. Any suggestions?

This week’s ‘vase’ is a bit dull, I’m afraid, and I nearly didn’t bother posting it but I liked the shadows and patterns, and it’s the taking part that counts, isn’t it? The coffee pot is in the photo for no other reason than it was in the shot :-) I’m sure there are much more interesting vases over at Cathy’s Rambling in the Garden to see.

Wishing you a calm, peaceful week.


In a Vase on Monday – Fading Light

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Grey clouds, drizzle and a distinct lack of brightness are not conducive to collecting material for a Monday vase, or to taking photographs, but I’ve skipped a few In a Vase on Mondays and I have missed the weekly excuse to faff with flowers. I busied myself with other tasks, hoping that there would be a chink in the clouds, a glimmer of sunshine, but no – dull, damp greyness all day. When it’s this gloomy it starts to go dark even earlier, so by 3pm I could wait no longer and I nipped outside to see what I could find.

There is not much going on in the garden at the moment. It’s been very wet and windy and cold resulting in lots of soggy brown everywhere. There are plenty of tiny cyclamen but I didn’t want to pick any of those. A couple of the cosmos plants are still flowering, though, despite being battered by the weather and looking very dishevelled. The flower colour is less vibrant, more muted, but it’s welcome nonetheless. I can’t bring myself to rip out these plants while they’re still flowering. I also found a few nicotiana flowers in the back wall border – the plant is tucked in the lee of a faded aster, sheltered from the worst of the weather. And there are still  smatterings of marigolds and scabious. The orange of the marigolds fairly leaps out at you among all the faded plants and the white/cream of the scabious glows in the gloaming. To these flowers (which I know I have used quite often this year for my vases) I added clippings from a rosemary branch that was hanging off the bush, which must have ripped off last week in the strong winds.

Trying to get a decent photo in such low light was a challenge. The first picture was taken with my DSLR – I changed the ISO setting to try to get as much light as possible without it being completely blurry and I think it’s worked fairly well. I took the other two pictures with my iPhone to see how it would cope. These are much more grainy and muted but I quite like the effect.

I’m going to visit Cathy’s blog now to see what everyone else has managed to find this mid-November Monday.

Wishing you a good week with plenty of chinks of light.




I first came across the concept of hygge on Elizabeth’s lovely blog about a year ago. It appealed to me greatly and I’ve since noticed that it’s become quite the thing with hashtags on Instagram, features in magazines, newspapers and on the radio, and a flurry of books. I bought one (the book of hygge) when we were in the Lake District, thinking I’d have time to curl up by the woodburning stove of an evening, all cosy, and read it. I didn’t. But I did take it with me on Wednesday to read while my eldest boy was having toe surgery; it proved a welcome distraction. He was brave, I was less so.

According to the author, to hygge (which can be a noun, a verb and an adjective) is “to create a harmonious atmosphere, a feeling of warmth, a mood of contentment”. Just thinking about that makes me feel better. The book is full of lovely quotes like:

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” Oscar Wilde


“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.” William Morris

We could all do with more hygge in our lives at the moment, don’t you think? I’m not going to stray into politics here. I’ve spent the last couple of days ranting and with a feeling of having stepped into a parallel universe. It’s hugely unsettling but it makes me even more determined to concentrate on goodness, kindness, tolerance and peace. More candles! More cosiness! More cuddles! Let’s hygge.

While I’m on the good things in life, we’ve been working our way through a mountainous bulb delivery (I went a bit click-happy in a website sale). We managed to get a load of scented daffodils planted last weekend but there are still more to get in the ground, plus about a hundred tulips. I’m working on my long-term plan to be able to pick armfuls of them to bring into the house. Vases, jugs and bowls of beautiful tulips dotted about the place come May…

The garden is definitely dropping its cloak to reveal its underlying structure. There are leaves everywhere from our neighbour’s stately copper beeches. They are gorgeous trees but they shed So Many Leaves. We’ve filled a one-tonne sack and hidden it behind the compost heap for the creatures to work their magic and create leaf mould but it’s hardly made a dent in the leaves on the ground. Bulb-planting and leaf-clearing are on the list for this weekend if the weather is fine.

We’ve had quite a few changes inside the house over the last few weeks. The one room that hadn’t been decorated since we moved here has changed to a delicious, dramatic dark grey. It’s a large room with a high ceiling and plenty of light in the morning and it looks magnificent. We’ve yet to sort out the furniture, hang pictures and buy and hang curtains. That’ll happen as and when. In the meantime I keep wandering in there and admiring the changing light on the dark walls. Perhaps the most dramatic change, however, has been to the old front door. It used to have mismatched, obscure glass panes, some of them cracked and was not a thing of beauty. Now it has clear glass and you can see through to the sea – it makes such a difference and the hall is definitely lighter. I’m looking forward to putting up a lovely wreath…

Oops, but there’s a rule in our family that we don’t mention, think about or even plan (ah, yes, well…) for the ‘C’ word until after my eldest’s birthday on 19th November. The John Lewis advert popped into my inbox yesterday morning, though, and I couldn’t resist taking a peek. Have you seen it? Go on – it’ll make you smile. It’s hygge.

Thank you for taking the time to stop by and for your comments. If you’re new here, hello and welcome.

Wishing you a hygge-licious weekend.



My head for heights


We’re  back home after a mammoth drive from the Lake District last night. After years of driving there and back, first from London and now from even farther away, we prefer to do the drive at night when the roads are mostly clear. The only downsides are eating on the road (I don’t want to see another burger for a long while) and arriving in the small hours of the morning does knock us out of kilter somewhat the following day. All of us have been feeling a little fragile today but, gosh, it was a memorable trip.

I was in my twenties the first time I went to the Lakes. David and I walked, climbed and camped there before children, we stayed there with first one small child, then two, then three. We’ve had large family holidays there and ones with just the five of us. And as the children have got older we’ve been going on longer and longer walks of increasing difficulty. This week we all pushed ourselves. I had to steel myself several times and overcome my anxiety at potential danger (‘Come on, you’ll be fine. Really.’) while ignoring my cautious inner-voice, my ‘what on earth are we doing’ voice. Once we reached the summits, though, all the uphill slog was forgotten. Reaching the summit is marvellous. Standing at the top, looking down into the valleys, you do feel on top of the world and there is no feeling quite like it. The landscape is majestic and being in it is exhilarating. These long walks are also a great excuse to eat sweets and chocolate, hearty pub meals and puddings… Back to normal eating now, sadly!

It’s the end of British Summertime tonight and although I’m not looking forward to the evenings getting darker, I am looking forward to that extra hour in the morning. I’ll leave you with this little snapshot of my family life: I popped into the kitchen earlier (about an hour after dinner) to find my eldest standing there munching chocolate biscuits. ‘What are you up to?’ I asked. ‘I’m thinking about what to eat while I’m eating,’ he replied. There you have it – the inner workings of a 16-year-old boy.


Views from Brantwood

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Brantwood, on the shores of Coniston Water, is a magical place. John Ruskin (nineteenth-century writer, poet, artist, philanthropist, radical, altruist and deep-thinker way ahead of his time) moved here after a series of breakdowns to recover and live a quiet life. I like to think he found solace in these surroundings. I certainly would.

We’ve been so lucky with the weather this week – in past years when we’ve visited the Lake District it has rained and rained. The autumn colours are glorious and it’s lovely to be able to go about without full waterproof gear on. As well as visiting Brantwood, we’ve done two seven-ish-hour walks from the cottage we’re staying in – one up the valley to the top of Helvellyn via Striding Edge (challenging and a bit scary at times) and the other along the valley and up Dollywaggon Pike via The Tongue (which sounds ‘interesting’; it was) and back via Grisedale Tarn. Both of these walks/climbs are the hardest we’ve done with the children and the dog. There’s been a fair amount of grumbling (‘Who said this would be fun?!’) and incredulity at the proposed routes up (‘But that’s really steep! There’s no actual path!’) but we all did it and, boy, did it feel good when we reached the summits and the long, hot soaks in the bath afterwards were bliss. We’re having a rest day today because everyone is a bit tired, especially the poor dog. She’s curled up tightly in her bed and giving us a look that says ‘Don’t even think about it!’ We’ll have a gentle stroll, a late lunch out, then watch the Great British Bake Off final on the tv tonight.

I hope you’re having a very fine week and enjoying some lovely autumn sunshine where you are.

Striding Edge

Apples and pears


A few years ago I played badminton every Monday evening. I loved this weekly leaping around the court, playing sport while laughing. We were all of a roughly similar standard (average to quite good) and none of us took it too seriously. Everyone was supportive and encouraging, there was a healthy rivalry and a lot of teasing. We had great fun.

One evening, one of the chaps bought along a bag of enormous pears from a tree in his garden. He didn’t know what variety it was but it was a heavy cropper. I was one of the lucky recipients of a few of these fruits. They were definitely not to be eaten raw, he said. Peel them, chop them and bake them for an hour or longer in a medium oven, were the instructions. The flesh will turn pink, he said, but that’s good. So I took them home and duly followed his advice. Well! The smell that drifted through the house as the pears baked was amazing. The flesh did indeed turn a gorgeous pink and I have to say that they were quite possibly the most divine pears I have ever tasted. Fragrant, the perfect combination of sweet and acidic, melt-in-the-mouth-delicious. Sadly, I moved away before the next pear harvest but, ever since, I’ve been trying to find out what variety these pears might have been and get my hands on some more. I look for large pears at markets and keep an eye out for anything resembling them. But no luck. Until this weekend…

We went along to the annual Apple Festival at Brogdale (home of the National Fruit Collection near Faversham) on Sunday morning. Apples, hundreds of varieties of apples, lined tables and benches in a barn, all labelled with lovely names like ‘Coo’s River Beauty’ and others that seemed completely made-up, like ‘Vlaanderens Roem Rode Boskoop’. There were also a few pears but no big cookers. I asked one of the guys behind the counter whether he knew about pears – he didn’t but he pointed us towards a portakabin and said there were a couple of people inside who did.

These people turned out to be Jim Arbury, fruit expert at the RHS, and  Joan Morgan, pomologist (yes, that is a word) and author of The Book of Apples and the highly acclaimed The Book of Pears. We had a nice chat about my mystery pear and they both agreed that it is probably an old cooking variety called ‘Catillac’. Sometimes also known as Pound Pears, because they’re so big – some weighing in at 1lb or over – they cannot be eaten raw and keep well because they remain hard until you cook them.

I might not have managed to get hold of any of the actual pears, but a ‘Catillac’ tree is now top of our wish-list and there are fabulous cooking pears in my future! This tree is a triploid so we will need two other pear trees for it to pollinate. We already have one, which I think is ‘Conference’, but we’ll need another. Any suggestions?

In other news… Life continues to whizz by at an alarming speed. It’s half term next week and we’re off to the Lake District for a week of blowing away the cobwebs, long walks in the fells and hearty pub dinners. I can’t wait. Have a good week.