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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Nothing much (except snowdrops)

img_1801img_1800img_1793img_9261img_1784img_9257img_1776img_1794img_1788img_9269img_1782I feel I haven’t got much to say for myself this week but I’ll start writing and see what happens. There has been sunshine, rain and Doris. I’ve spent too much time at my laptop or cleaning the house (something to do with spring approaching) and too little time in the garden. I reached the end of my tether with our old vacuum cleaner last week (one of those cumbersome, pull-along ones; it must be at least 14 years old). I drag it along roughly and thoroughly grumpily, cussing under my breath. Everyone knows to keep out of my way when I’m hoovering, even the dog. On Monday I had Had Enough and I ordered a new one. It arrived this morning and I used it straight out of the box. It’s brilliant – lighter, very manoeuvrable and there’s no flex to get in the way or plug to have to keep unplugging and plugging in again. I told the delivery guy that it was going to transform my life and he laughed (rather pityingly, I thought).

We’ve had school meetings to go to: one to explain UCAS and university funding (yikes) and one regular parents meeting. Both have resulted in long discussions with each boy about The Future. The eldest, who has decided he does want to go to university next year (next year?!!) is slowly coming round to the realisation that he should probably get his act together; the middle one, who takes his GCSEs next year, is totally on track. Honestly, there are 20 months between them but they couldn’t be more different. I do feel for our first-born, though – his parents have no idea what they’re doing. I often have this uncomfortable feeling that I’m slightly behind the curve, missing information that could help him and that I’m out of touch. We muddle along and do our best, make mistakes and hope we haven’t done any lasting damage. Our daughter gets the benefit of our third-time-round refined parenting skills – it’s probably no coincidence that she is a ray of sunshine.

Moving swiftly on… It was a glorious sunshiny day today, so welcome after yesterday’s storm, and I went outside to see if there was any damage (there wasn’t) and inspect new growth. Seeing spears of daffodils and tulips shooting up each year gives me such a huge amount of pleasure, more than any other type of plant I think. It’s their their promise of colour – gorgeous, rich, jewel-like colours – after the lack of it in winter. And I love the shapes and arrangement of the leaves and the way tulip leaves are often tinged with a hint of the flower colour to come. I’ve worked out that there are several bunches of tulips out there for cutting in a couple of months time. Or maybe a few of massive armfuls. Oh yes. There will be tulips galore and just the thought of that makes me happy.

I hope you’re not bored of seeing snowdrops yet; ours are at their peak now. I’ve noticed several clumps that need dividing and it’ll soon be the time to do that, when the flowers go over but they’re still in the green. I’m amazed by how easy-going they are and how far they spread without any help from us. Several single snowdrops have popped up in the front lawn this year, their little white nodding flowers dotted here and there. No lawn-mowing here for a while, that’s for sure. The weather forecast for the weekend is dry but cold so I plan to sort out seeds and sow some. We also need to move some hedging plants. We might have a bonfire.

Whatever you have planned, I hope you have a good one.

 

Serendipity

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Anemone blanda
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Bergenia
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Anemonie coronaria bud
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The effects of winter cold on scented pelargonium foliage
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Unknown (and nibbled)  iris – a patch has appeared from nowhere this February.
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Hazel catkin
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Snowdrops
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Anemone blanda waiting to be planted.
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Hellebore picked for a Monday vase about two weeks ago when in bud; still going strong.

The long-awaited for snow did appear last Friday night and, although it wasn’t as heavy as forecast, it had a rather miraculous effect: two of my children came with us to walk the dog early on Saturday morning before it all melted away! My eldest usually doesn’t appear before late morning at the weekends so this is highly unusual. (The middle one is still recovering from glandular fever and extremely tired, so we let him off.)

We agreed it was more than a sprinkling of snow but less than a satisfying blanket – there was probably about 1cm, not much at all, but enough to look pretty and make that pleasing squeak-crunch under foot. The dog had a lovely time, running around and around making us laugh and it was a good start to the weekend.

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We’ve had a good half term week. I’ve been to London twice, once with my daughter to see friends and again with all three children for a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament. All of them are now at an age when they’re properly interested in the world (and two of my eldest son’s A’levels are History and Government & Politics) so this turned out to be a fascinating, enlightening and thoroughly interesting trip for all of us. We had a couple of hours to kill before the tour of Parliament so we decided to look around the National Portrait Gallery. The boys went off to look at the Stuarts and Tudors while my daughter and I strolled past the women’s portraits. We were particularly taken with those of Mary Wollstonecraft and Christabel Pankhurst (daughter of Emmeline) and we talked about the campaign for women’s rights in the UK. She’s 12 and can’t imagine a world where women were treated so differently to men (some would argue it’s still happening but let’s not go there..!). Later on, during the H of P tour, we admired and learnt about the contemporary light sculpture displayed in the Palace of Westminster, ‘New Dawn’, which commemorates women’s suffrage. It’s a fascinating piece, the colours change with the rise and fall of the Thames; you can read all about it here.

The tour of Parliament totally impressed us. Our guide was an incredibly enthusiastic, knowledgeable and funny young man who obviously loved his job. He brought the history of the place to life, roping in some of the younger children in the group to demonstrate the falling-out between Charles I and Parliament, explaining some of the finer points of our constitution, the respective roles of the Lords and the Commons, while making it all so relevant to our daily lives – we came away inspired and feeling mighty lucky to be living in a country with such a robust system of government. Whatever your political leanings, you can’t fail to be impressed by the place. Do go if you’ve never been and get the chance.

Anyway, enough of all that. It’s gone 5pm and it’s still light outside! It was about 10 degrees warmer today than this time last week and I spent a lovely hour or so pottering outside taking the close-up photos above. There’s a surprising amount going on out there. The snowdrops are nearing their peak and looking gorgeous in the sunshine (I missed the sun, though, so the flowers are closed up in the pic), tulip and daffodil spears are growing taller and the birds are singing their heads off (I heard my first skylark earlier in the week which gladdened my heart). I called in at a plant nursery earlier, you know, just for a look – I was passing; spring is coming… I bought some seeds (sweet peas, beetroot and purple-sprouting broccoli) and three little pots of Anemone blanda to plant under a tree by the path. They were such good value, I couldn’t resist them.

I’m planning to do some tidying in the garden this weekend, cut back the raspberry canes and Miscanthus, and maybe sow some seeds. I hope you have a good one, whatever you have planned.