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.
Chickens
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!
Wildflowers
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!

In a vase on Monday: A–Z

With so much to choose from in the garden this week, I’ve picked just two different flowers – Ammi and Zinnia – for a Monday vase.

All the ammi (Ammi visnaga) are self-seeded from plants I grew from seed last year; they’re over-crowded and some are growing where I don’t want them. Rather than chuck those I’ve pulled up onto the compost heap, I chopped their roots and lower leaves off and plonked them in water.

This is the first year I’ve grown zinnias and I expected them to be rather prima-donna-ish but they seem pretty tough. According to what I’ve read, they hate root disturbance, don’t like overwatering and can’t be planted out until it’s warm enough to sit outside in the evening without wearing a cashmere wrap (I made that last but up). I was quite careful about potting on the seedlings, but not overly so, and there’s not much danger of them being overwatered around here. I was a bit worried about the temperature but I needn’t have as it’s been almost Mediterranean-like here. The major problem has been our slimy foes, the slugs and snails. A fair few pristine zinnias have been toppled and munched, sadly, – I reckon I’ve lost a third of the plants – but the survivors are hitting their stride now and starting to pump out flowers. They’re great for cutting as they last for ages in a vase, the colours are fantastic and they’re like sweet peas – the more flowers you cut, the more you’ll get, so that’s what I’m doing.

How’s life with you? It’s the last week of school before the summer holidays here and everyone is weary; the children are especially weary this afternoon as it was Sports Day today. Despite emails from the school inviting parents along to watch, my three pleaded with me not to go: ‘It would be social suicide, Mum!’. Mortifying our children seems to be something we’re particularly good at but I graciously stayed at home. It seems only five minutes since they were telling me where to stand so they could see me and to shout loudly. How times change.

‘In a Vase on Monday’ is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden. I recommend visiting her blog to see what she and other bloggers from around the world have found to put in a vase today; it’s always inspiring.

Wishing you 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: heralds

img_1826 img_1832 img_1819 img_1831

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

img_1770
Anemone blanda
img_1765
Bergenia
img_1768
Anemonie coronaria bud
img_1769
The effects of winter cold on scented pelargonium foliage
img_1764
Unknown (and nibbled)  iris – a patch has appeared from nowhere this February.
img_1749
Hazel catkin
img_1746
Snowdrops
img_1744
Anemone blanda waiting to be planted.
img_1737
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.

img_9127

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.

Waiting for snow

img_1675

You remember I said there was a tiny hint of spring in the air? Well, not any more. There’s a raw east wind and snow is forecast. The Met Office website showed heavy snow showers starting at 4pm and carrying on overnight until early tomorrow morning but I have only spotted a few flakes floating down so far. The sky is heavy with it, though, and I would so love it to dump a whole load on this little patch of land. The children are giddy with the thought of a whole week off school (in as much as teenagers are ever ‘giddy’; that’s more my exaggerated interpretation) – waking up to a fresh blanket of snow in the morning would be the icing on the cake, the snow on the clifftops, the best start to a week off in February.

Drifts of snowdrops are appearing throughout the garden although they are not in bloom yet. The clumps spread every year and I’m impressed by how easygoing these gorgeous flowers are. I’m forever accidentally digging up a load of their mini bulbs in the summer or autumn, so I shove them back in again and it seems to do them no harm whatsoever. I picked a few little stems with tight buds earlier this morning to bring indoors and within 30 minutes in the warm kitchen they had opened their petals to reveal the beautiful markings. These are common-or-garden Galanthus nivalis and they have a deliciously delicate scent. I also snipped the first Muscari which was blooming all alone in a sheltered spot by the back garden wall. These little bulbs also love the conditions in our garden and have spread everywhere, between paving slabs and cracks in walls, in every nook and cranny. There will be lovely patches of blue dotted all over the place in a month or so.

Although I’m excited at the prospect of snow, I am more excited at the prospect of getting back out into the garden, to get going with the sowing and planting. In the meantime, I’m flicking through my gardening books and catalogues and dreaming of colourful borders full of flowers. We have plans to renovate the greenhouse this year. It’s on its last legs; there’s a hole in the roof and the door jams. We’re opening our garden again in June for the charity garden safari that happens in our village every two years, so that will give us a boot up the backside to get things done!

I have no specific plans for the weekend ahead other than to walk the dog then sit by the fire, drink pots of tea and read. Meals are planned, the fridge is stocked, there’s a large pile of logs and all is well in our household. I hope it is where you are, too. (I’ve just looked outside and there’s no snow. Yet.)

Have a good weekend x