In a vase on Monday: stalwarts

There are flowers that are ubiquitous in a late summer border – stalwart flowers such as Japanese anemones, Verbena bonariensis, cosmos and sedums – and these are what I’ve picked to display in three Monday vases today (they wouldn’t all fit together nicely in one and I wanted to show off the flowers to the fullest extent).

The beautiful grey Royal Doulton vase was a birthday present from my best brother (no favouritism going on; I’ve only got one sibling) and I love its shape and colour. In the jug with the sedums, I’ve added pink scabious and Panicum elegans ‘Frosted Explosion’ which has appeared of its own accord in a different part of the garden to where I grew it on purpose last year. The little vase with cosmos was a second-hand shop find.

As I was taking the photographs I noticed a tiny passenger…

As usual, I’m joining in with Cathy at Rambling in the Garden who has a very colourful, lovely vase of late summer flowers.

Thank you very much indeed for the lovely comments on my previous post. It seems many of us have slight laundry mania 🙂 Brenda came up with a great suggestion of several (lots, if possible) bloggers writing about their day all on the same day. I think it would be fascinating to know what many bloggers from around the world all get up to on one day but I guess it might be tricky choosing a day that suits as many people as possible. What do you think? Who’s in?!

Have a great week.


An unremarkable day

Christina in Scotland and Leanne in Cornwall have recently written lovely posts about a day in their lives. I found these posts fascinating – I’m nosy and I enjoy reading about what others get up to in their daily lives – so I thought I’d write a diary post about my day today. It has been an ordinary non-work day, a drifting day of errands and hum-drum life (it’s long, so maybe make yourself a cup of tea!). Unlike me, you may not enjoy reading about the minutiae of everyday life, in which case let me know and I won’t repeat the exercise 🙂

6.45am – My daughter wakes me by climbing into bed for a hug (this routine won’t last much longer, I’m sure) and I hear one of my sons going into the bathroom (noisily). My daughter goes into my bathroom (she uses ours because it avoids arguments and banging on doors to hurry up). When she’s finished, I drag myself out of bed and splash water on my face. I don’t shower because there’s no time. I could get up earlier and make time but I don’t. I look at myself in the mirror, then put my reading glasses on to look at myself in the mirror. I’m looking tired and every day of my 52 years. Sigh.

7am – Dressed, I’m downstairs making tea, sorting out breakfast and making packed lunches for my younger two (the eldest won’t take one; he prefers to starve all day until he can get home and ‘eat proper food’). My children traipse into the kitchen, one by one, for breakfast. It’s only the second full day back at school after the long summer break but they’re all a bit subdued. None of us are morning people. The boys in particular are not going to bed early enough, despite my ‘strong advice’, so they’re not getting enough sleep. It can take a week or so to get back into the school routine. I drink a mug of tea and scroll through Instagram while I wait for them to get ready.

7.40am – We leave the house and drive to the station. On a clear run it only takes about 5 minutes but we need to allow at least double that to cross a busy main road to get from our village to the next village where the station is. There’s usually a constant stream of traffic and it can be quite stressful if we’re running late. Sometimes a kind-hearted person will slow down to let a couple of cars across but more often than not it’s a case of waiting for a gap in the traffic and zooming across. Very occasionally there isn’t a car on the road which is spooky. Today isn’t too bad.

7.46am  We arrive at the station where there are several other cars emptying themselves of children to catch the 7.51 train to school. There is no bus to the school from our village and the only other option would be to drive them, so most parents choose the train. My eldest is coming home early today (the sixth-form timetable has several ‘study periods’) and I remind him to get off the train in town as I’ll meet him there.

7.55am  Back home I notice what an absolutely beautiful morning it is, so I grab my camera and head into the garden where the sunlight is highlighting cobwebs and making everything look gorgeous. I notice that I forgot to bring in the washing yesterday and there are some cobwebby sheets on the line. My neighbour greets me from his garden and we agree that it’s the best time of day to be out and he wonders whether we’ll have an ‘Indian summer’. Wouldn’t that be lovely?

8.20am  Distracted by taking photos, I’m now off schedule for getting to my yoga class for 9.30am. I drink another mug of tea and eat a bowl of muesli while scrolling through more Instagram.

8.40am  I’m out of the house with the dog, who is particularly bouncy this morning. She’s not going to be impressed with the usual pre-yoga short walk – it’s the sort of weather for a long stomp across the clifftops. Oh well. We walk up the Leas and past the grazing Dexter cattle and ponies (one is having a good old scratch in a thorny bush). They don’t bother us and we don’t bother them. I see a friend walking her dog and stop for a chat (ignoring the time), then I notice swallows gathering on the telephone wire next to the hut where they’ve been nesting and zooming about the field with their chirrupy calls. I watch them for a while and film them with my phone, then jog back to the house.

9.20am  I run indoors, give the dog her after-walk treat, fill her water bowl, grab my yoga mat and car keys and rush back out. I am late. I have to say that I love yoga and it does me the world of good, and I am normally on time. I usually give a friend a lift but she’s not coming today and I’ve not booked into this session online – I think this is what subconsciously causes me to slack! If the road is clear I should be there during the warm-up (an acceptably late time to arrive). The road is not clear. I get stuck behind the slowest driver in the world and I finally bail out when I realise I won’t arrive until the session is well underway. I turn right instead of left and drive home, thinking that a shower and a coffee will do me just as much good. (I know it won’t really.)

10am  I shower, then go into the children’s bedrooms, pick up wet towels and open windows, and sort the laundry. There is always laundry. I put a wash on and take a mug of coffee outside and sit on the bench in the sunshine looking at the sea. The dog comes to lie on the grass beside me. She doesn’t seem that bothered about the short walk. I lift my face to the sun and enjoy the peace and quiet.

11am–1.30pm  I sit at my computer and check emails. I answer a few, make notes and rewrite some copy. I do a little research for a work-in-progress. I have more coffee and some toast. I hang the washing outside. I love hanging washing on the line and I am a little ocd about pegging it out in a particular way, shaking out t-shirts so they’re straight, hanging shirts at the seams and so on. It probably takes more time than it should but there’s something soothing about doing such a simple mindless task. I know: weird.

1.30pm  I have an optician’s appointment at 2pm so I drive to town, taking a couple of jackets to the dry-cleaners en route. I wear glasses for reading but I’ve noticed my eyesight is getting worse and I’m starting to find distances a little blurry and my eyes get extremely tired. The optician is reassuringly thorough and, as I suspected, she says I need new glasses for reading and a pair for driving and watching tv. It seems my eyes are also showing their 52 years. She hands me over to someone else who gives me several pairs of glasses to try on. One pair looks fine, good even, and is really lightweight but they’re £360… Maybe not. I decide to go back at the weekend with David – I want a second opinion if I’m to spend big bucks on two new pairs of glasses.

2.45pm  I call my son to tell him to meet me in Sainsbury’s car park but it goes straight to voicemail. I walk to the supermarket and see him waiting near the car – his phone isn’t working properly and he’s grumpy. I give him the keys so he can wait in the car for me while I pop to get a few things. I buy some fresh soup and bread for a late lunch, and milk. We always need milk.

3.15pm  Back at home, I put the soup in a pan to heat and eat a chunk of bread and butter while I wait. My son and I eat lunch quickly and chat about school.

3.40pm  I drive to the station to collect the other two. There’s a long queue of cars waiting for the train and it takes a while for everyone to sort themselves out and drive out of the busy car park. Both children have had ‘meh’ sort of days. My daughter is still having friendship issues and she has a good moan on the way home. My son offers typical brotherly advice from the back seat.

4–6pm  Back at home I bring the washing in from the line and the children eat the last of the loaf I bought for lunch. I make a pot of tea and we chat more about their days. The boys disappear to their rooms hopefully to do homework and my daughter lies on the sofa. We chat while I check my emails. She’s watching ‘Gilmore Girls’ on Netflix and is soon absorbed. I go into the kitchen to peel and chop some Bramley apples that are in danger of spoiling and freeze them. David phones and we have a chat, then he speaks to each of the children.

6pm  I unload the dishwasher (this is my eldest’s job but he’s fallen asleep and I don’t have the heart to wake him), I tidy the kitchen, cook dinner and listen to ‘The Archers’. I call the kids for dinner (eldest son mildly revived after his kip) and we all sit down to eat. There’s no sparkling conversation, just eating and low-key chat.

8pm  Everyone disappears to finish homework and I clear up. It’s not long before there’s an argument over whose turn it is to use the computer. This is the perpetual flash point in our house and it drives me nuts. I get cross, shout a bit and it takes a while to sort it out. One boy stomps upstairs and the other goes on the computer (but makes a pot of tea first as a small peace-offering). I sit down to start writing this.

9pm  My daughter goes up to bed. She rarely needs encouragement – she’s always loved her sleep. I go up to say goodnight and she reads for a little while. David phones again to say he’s off the river (he sculls on the River Thames after work and often goes out after dark; he phones to let me know he’s safe). We have a chat about weekend plans.

10.15pm  I boot my son off the computer and he comes into the kitchen for food before going to bed. My daughter is fast asleep and my other son is in his room. I’m about to sign off, make sure the boys are heading to bed and go to bed myself and read (I’ve just read Margaret Atwood’s ‘Hagseed’ – very good – and I want to read the ending again).

Goodnight and thank you for reading.




In a Vase on Monday: sunshine on a rainy day

It’s the last day of the school holidays here and my three are making the most of it, i.e. at midday one is still in bed and the other two are lying on sofas plugged into their devices. To be fair, it’s a dull old rainy day which makes everyone feel lethargic and not inclined to rush about doing all the last-minute back-to-school jobs, plus we’ve run out of breakfast cereal.

While there’s a lull in proceedings, I’ve picked flowers for a Monday vase (I’ve missed it these past few weeks) and set about photographing them with one of the best birthday presents I’ve ever had – a Nikon camera! As well as a fantastic new DSLR to play with, my mum handed me this gorgeous jug yesterday – it was my grandmother’s and she thought I’d like it for flowers. Isn’t it lovely? It’s a little chipped and worn but it holds such happy memories of my dear grandma and I love it.

The contents of the jug are: zinnias, pink Japanese anemones, Verbena bonariensis, poppy seed heads, Miscanthus flowers, jasmine leaves, a spire of Heuchera flowers, dried lavender and a lovely copper-coloured osteospermum. It’s definitely a late-summer-blending-into-autumn collection of blooms. As usual, I’m joining Cathy at Rambling in the Garden who is showcasing a gorgeous ‘Cafe au Lait’ dahlia today.

The village show on Saturday went really well, especially for David. His sourdough loaf won the ‘best home produce’ cup AND the overall ‘best exhibit in the show’ (a large shiny) cup! My son and daughter shared the cash prize for ‘5 meringues’ (he won but they agreed beforehand to split it as they were the only two who entered…), our ‘7 raspberries’ came first and second and my little milk jug of flowers was highly commended (which means it didn’t come first, second or third but the judge thought it had some merit). I also entered these zinnias into the ‘5 flowers of any annual’ and they won 🙂 A happy outcome all round for our family.

You can just see my daughter’s fingers on the right holding up the paper backdrop for me!

Right, I’m off to the supermarket. Wishing you a thoroughly good week whatever you’re doing.

A random summer summary

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  • It’s the last day of August and the school holidays are almost over. Other parents of school-age children will recognise marking the passing years in school terms – we’ve had 13 years of them so far in this family and next school year will be our eldest’s final one. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was rushing to get him to school by 8.45am with a baby and a toddler in tow. My perception of time seems to concertina and bow at the moment; something to do with middle age and teenage children!
  • I’ve temporarily taken my foot off the pedal with my blog and Instagram. It felt right to spend less time online and looking at screens, especially as I’m trying to help my daughter step away from social media a little. She has been experiencing the downside of it – girls’ social interactions are complicated and can be subtly cruel; there have been tears. I am grateful that I’m around to listen to her, give hugs and be a sounding board.
  • My middle son loved his trip to Madrid. The whole experience, from travelling with a couple of friends and no adult, to eating proper tapas and paella and staying with his Spanish friend’s family, was hugely positive. They took him to the Real Jardin Botanico de Madrid (lucky thing) and he even enjoyed that!
  • We had a grown-up party at the weekend and incredibly the weather was amazing – warm and still, with a crescent moon in the sky – we were so lucky and it meant the party could be mostly outdoors (phew). There were fairy lights festooned about the place and tealights in jam jars along the garden walls, straw bales for people to sit on around a fire and dancing indoors. I’d made all the food the day before – beef tacos, Moroccan chicken and a squash and spinach curry – and we had fig tarts (with more of our neighbours figs!), mini scones and other delicious puddings from friends. A load of friends and family came along and we had a blast. It took a few days to recover.
  • In the run-up to the party, I’d written many lists to keep track of everything: who was coming, food, drink, seating, lighting, music, etc. As someone who is an inveterate list-maker, I loved listening to Jenny Eclair is Listless Today recently on Radio 4 about why women write so many lists, especially to-do lists. Did you hear it? I always feel more in control when I’ve written a list (even if I’m not actually) and even better when I cross things off.
  • My favourite flowers in the garden this summer have been the zinnias. They took a while to get into their stride with flowering but they’ve been loving the hot, dry weather and I’ve picked many handfuls of bright blooms. They last really well – at least a week – in a vase, too. There’s something about their shapes and colours that just cheers me up. I’ll definitely grow them again next year.
  • My jam pan is full of raspberries and sugar macerating ready to be boiled up into jam later. I’ve made several jars already but I’ll keep going while there’s fruit still coming. Opening a jar of fragrant homemade jam in the depths of winter, when it’s dark and miserable outside, will remind me of long summer days, the heat of the sun on my back as I pick fruit from the bushes, my fingers stained with raspberry juice.
  • It’s the Late Summer Show in the village hall on Saturday. I’m entering a cake (a ‘fruity banana bread’), ‘7 raspberries’ and maybe the ‘flower arrangement in a milk jug’, if I have time. The bread class is a sourdough loaf, so David’s entering that and my daughter is planning to make ‘5 meringues’. I’ll be helping to set it all up and put it all away at the end, then we’ll be cracking open a bottle left over from the party.

I hope you’re enjoying this last day of August and have a lovely weekend. Thank you for stopping by.

Summer in my kitchen (part 1)

If you ever find yourself in the happy situation of having several large fresh figs and a bowl of raspberries, I strongly urge you to make a Fig and Raspberry Crumble Cake.

My neighbour has a large fig tree which has produced masses of exquisite figs this year and she kindly gave us a load. As there are only so many raw figs one can eat, I searched for a recipe and found this one from the fabulous cookery writer Diana Henry. I altered it only very slightly in that I used a little less sugar, used set Greek yoghurt instead of regular natural yoghurt, because that’s what I had, and omitted the flaked almonds (which should be sprinkled on top) only because I didn’t have any.

I did wait for 15 minutes for it to cool slightly before releasing it from the tin (as instructed) but the smell was so divine that I just had to cut a slice and try it while it was still warm from the oven. It looks quite stodgy and maybe even undercooked in the photo but it wasn’t – it was surprisingly light. (I didn’t eat all that by myself by the way.) This is Seriously Good Cake and it would also make a wonderful pudding.

As well as this cake, I also made two banana loaf cakes (recipe here) and a huge apple and blackberry pie – all in an effort to use up the fruit mountain that occurs at this time of year. I’m missing my sous chef, though, and she’ll be cross she missed a mega-baking day but we do have a big party to cook for soon, so there will be plenty more baking going on next week. Bang goes my waistline.

Good luck to any of you whose children collect A or AS level results today. My eldest took one AS level (these are exams taken half way through an A-level course; exams for his other two subjects are all at the end of the two years) and he’s off to school soon to collect the result. Fingers crossed.

Cheerio for now.

Snapshots of an English summer

Verbena bonariensis at Wimpole Hall
A whole swathe of Verbena bonariensis at Wimpole Hall gardens in Cambridgeshire.
Yorkshire cottage
Gorgeous stone cottage in Castle Bolton, possibly one of the prettiest places in Yorkshire.
Walking in the Yorkshire Dales
Father and son in the glorious Yorkshire Dales.
Durham Castle.
We took the train from Northallerton to Durham one day. This is the castle which is part of the university. Students actually live here!
River Swale and Richmond
Richmond, North Yorkshire, and the River Swale.
Apple tree
An old apple tree in a lovely community garden in Reeth.
Perennial planting
Community garden in Reeth
Yorkshire Dales
Yorkshire Dales views.
These very friendly chickens greeted us each morning. There’s a funny video of them running towards us on my Instagram.
Bolton Castle gardens
The gardens at Bolton Castle (from inside the castle).
Bolton Castle
The view of Bolton Castle from our holiday cottage in Castle Bolton!
Stupendously beautiful wildflower planting at RHS Harlow Carr, Harrogate.
I can’t remember what these flowers are but they are at Harlow Carr and were buzzing with bees!
RHS Harlow Carr
RHS Harlow Carr near Harrogate. Definitely worth a visit if you’re nearby.

At the beginning of the long school break it feels as though there is a whole heap of that nebulous luxury: extra time and empty days. But once you start organising days out, trips to visit people, people visiting you and a holiday, the days start whizzing by.

School holidays with teenage children have a different tempo. Mine are 17, 15 and 13, becoming increasingly independent and don’t necessarily want to do what we want to do all of the time. (To be honest, the two boys hardly ever want to do what we want to do these days!) My eldest son stayed at home when we went to Yorkshire recently – it’s the first time he’s not come on holiday with us and it felt odd just being a family of four. Happily, we (and the house) survived. We had a very relaxing week in Castle Bolton in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales and he looked after the pets and entertained friends without wrecking anything or causing a neighbourhood disturbance. He’s now got a holiday job in a local hotel so he’s finding out what it’s like to work hard for his money. Which is, of course, a good thing.

My daughter is currently away on an activity holiday until Saturday – the house is eerily quiet – and the other son flies to Madrid next week to stay with a school friend for a few days. Gone are the days when we spend all of the holidays together and I am slowly getting used to it. I do love the fact that I’m no longer responsible for their every entertainment but I sort of miss it in a weird way. The trick is to keep busy and make the most of the rare moments when we are all together.

While they’re off gallivanting or working, I’m also working and catching up with the garden in any spare time – deadheading, weeding, picking kilos of raspberries and tomatoes, plus courgettes and squashes, then processing the pickings (jam, chutney, sauces). Before we know it, it’ll be the time for buying new school shoes and stationery, the time of conkers and crunchy leaves 🙂

Thank you for calling by and saying hello (and hello to new followers). I hope your August is going swimmingly. Have a lovely week.

PS All these photos were taken with my increasingly cantankerous phone, hence the odd sizes and dubious quality!

Five flowers for July

Choris at The Blooming Garden is showcasing 10 of her favourite July flowers and encouraging other bloggers to do the same; I’ve chosen 5 because these are the ones that are looking good in my garden right now and are my absolute favourites.

1  I’ve said before that Verbena bonariensis is one of my top-ten favourite plants of all time. It’s the most striking, useful, gorgeous bee-magnet you can plant. It adds height, structure, colour and interest; I love the criss-crossing erect stems holding aloft purple flowerheads. They look airy and delicate but they’re tough as old boots and withstand the winds round these parts.

Verbena bonariensis
V. bonariensis is a great ‘see-through’ plant so you can put it anywhere in the border.
Verbena bonariensis and Crocosmia 'Lucifer'
Here with Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’.
Verbena bonariensis and bee
The flowerheads are made up of loads of tiny flowers full of nectar for pollinators.
Verbena bonariensis and plum tree
I know it’s fanciful but I think they look like tall, cheerful stick people waving big hands.

Verbena is a group of hugely versatile perennials – we also have Verbena rigida, which is another gorgeous purple and grows to about 50cm, and the semi-trailing, bright pink Verbena ‘Sissinghurst’, which is great in pots.

Verbena rigida
Verbena rigida
Verbena 'Sissinghurst'
Verbena ‘Sissinghurst’ growing in a pot with Nemesia.


2 Sweet peas. I can’t think of a better-value plant for cutting flowers – the more you cut them, the more flowers you get. It’s like magic. You can cut flowers every day if you have enough plants. They’re delicate, beautiful, easy to grow (in my experience, but beware slugs and snails early on), come in a wide range of colours and the fragrance is heavenly. Everyone has their own methods of growing and planting sweet peas but I grow mine from seed in tall pots (or even old toilet roll holders) in spring, pinch out the tips when they’re about 30–40cm tall to encourage side shoots (which flower), then plant out in May. Our soil is very free-draining so I shovel in compost and keep them well watered. I feed mine when I feed my tomatoes – once a week with a tomato feed – but everyone has their own methods. We have one plant that self-seeded from last year, grew throughout the winter and has borne loads of flowers since late May! They’re tougher than you think.

Sweet peas need support to climb up – a wigwam of twiggy branches is perfect, or beanpoles with twine tied around, or some people use trellis. Their tendrils will grab hold of anything nearby so it’s good to check where they’re heading occasionally and redirect them. Anyway, once they start flowering, you start cutting and, if you’re lucky, you’ll have so many sweetly-scented flowers you’ll have jugs of them wafting their glorious fragrance in every room with enough left over to give handfuls to friends. Get them going early enough and you could have flowers from as early as May through to October or even the first frosts but peak sweet pea month here is July. If you follow Sultanabun on Instagram, you’ll have seen it’s her peak sweet pea time, too.

Sweetpea tendrils
Sweetpea tendrils will grab hold of anything as they grow.
Sweet pea
If you give sweetpeas a little love (water well and often, feed them occasionally, plant in good soil) they’ll reward you with flowers and flowers and flowers.

3 Ammi visnaga. All the Ammi plants growing in our garden this year have grown themselves. They self-seeded from plants I grew from seed last year and have multiplied tenfold which tells you how easy and undemanding they are. If you want to grow Ammi and don’t want it spreading everywhere, make sure you dead-head rigorously… The best thing about them is that the flower heads are great big landing pads for bees, butterflies and hoverflies. Made up of hundreds of tiny white flowers, the heads are compound flowers providing rich nectar for pollinators. The foliage is a lovely green, delicate and feathery, so stems of Ammi make great cutting material for vases.

4 Another fantastic flower for pollinators (are you sensing a theme here?!) is Scabious atropurpurea. We have two colours here – white and pink. The seed packet I grew them from last year showed rich dark colours, so I was a little disappointed when they turned out to be pale pink, lilac and white. But they’ve come back this year strongly (they’re perennials) and the bees love them, so they can stay. I plan to grow some richer colours at some point.

It’s another plant that pumps out flowers all summer long and into the autumn if you dead-head regularly (or cut the flowers for vases). I sowed a £2-packet of seeds last year and have three large patches of plants for the second year running. Excellent value, I’d say.

White scabious
Here you can see a full flowerhead, one that’s turning into a seedhead (fluffy with a few petals still attached) and a tightly budded head at the bottom.
See – bees LOVE scabious.
White scabious
Grown here with linaria (going to seed) and hardy geranium in the background. This one needs staking (the twigs) as it grows to about 80cm tall.

5 Finally, here’s a flower I’ve grown for the first time this year and I’ll definitely grow it again – Salvia viridis (or clary sage). It’s a hardy annual and the striking blue/purple flowers you can see are actually coloured bracts, not flowers. The real flowers are tiny and grow close to the stem further down.

I planted them out in early June and they’ve been looking fabulous for a few weeks now and have been buzzing with pollinators. The stems are upright and quite striking, with real impact when grown together. We have a patch of about 5 plants, then others dotted between other grasses and perennials. They like free-draining soil and full sun.

Salvia viridis
Look down the stems and you can see the little purple and white flowers.
Salvia viridis
A drift of clary sage makes a big impact in the border. It’s upright and quite tidy so would also work well lining a path (which I might try next year).
Salvia viridis flowers
Close-up of the flowers.

Right, I’m off out into the garden to pick some sweet peas 🙂 Have a lovely weekend.