Lockdown in London

What a difference a week makes. One week we were in Mexico City slightly (me hugely) worrying if we would get home. Normally I wouldn’t have minded being delayed for a month in Mexico. But not in the current climate! I had visions of being locked down there unable to get back. Other guests at the fabulous b&b from Canada had been advised to return. Airports were closing. Flights cancelled. Choices limited. But thankfully our flight was fine and we arrived back to London with a week or so to spare before we went into lockdown. Phew.

Had we had time we would have decamped to the cottage in Somerset. But in reality and in retrospect staying put has been the best decision. We can and do walk to the local shops. We have a brilliant butcher. Greengrocer. Pharmacy. All within 10 mins walk. We also have Kings hospital close by in case of emergencies.

I so wanted to start the dance from The Full monty in this queue on Saturday. Could you imagine Ian’s face? Especially as one of the debit card transactions was declined. You know the ones. They decline. Send a text to check and say you have to confirm in 2 mins. You don’t get the text until 10 later. Worse thing was I’d left my wallet at home and was using Ians card. I was in the shop. He was outside.

I’ve used deliveries from our local farm shop in Somerset. From our local coffee roasters in Bruton. We haven’t wanted for anything. Well that’s not quite true. The occasional bag of flour. And a week on my own (there I’ve said it). Whilst waiting at the airport to fly home I ordered bags of flour online and I will continue to use them post lockdown. However that may be. I will also at the end of lockdown have that week on my own.

The major benefit of lockdown is that we have been in one place for longer than I have been in the last 5 years. The opportunity to spend some time in the tiny garden here. Rather than there. Or there. It is tiny but I’m so glad to have some outside space. The other benefit has been seeing the tulips slowly open. Then boom. An explosion and a riot of colour. Normally we would have been away at this time of year for Easter. Easter is huge in Spain with the Semana Santa celebrations in every Pueblo Blanco and town and it’s amazing to be part of the community for these festivals. Oh. And I love our little pueblo blanco.

I have filled my Instagram timeline with tulips. More tulips. And even more tulips. I make no excuses as they have been amazing this year. My brother told me ‘ at least you’ll soon move onto agapanthus’. I will but I will be missing the allium segment, and the explosion of wild flowers on the roundabout which isn’t a roundabout in Spain.

I get my tulips from Peter Nyssen where Karen is one of the most helpful people you can find. Last year we saw this tulip at Phillipa Burrough’s open day for the NGS. Phillipa is an inspiration and I love her garden both at tulip time and for the summer explosion of planting. This tulip ~ not this actual one obviously ~ was in a pot by the greenhouse. I fell in love with it. Tall. Big. Bonkers. I knew I wanted to try it in pots for the front garden here and in the cottage pots. I also planted a few in Spain which flowered, but tulips never flower as well there. We don’t get that cold snap in the Autumn.

I added Tulip Uncle Tom to the pots which is another one I hadn’t grown before. Turns out it’s one I will grow again. A lovely peony type with a shiny looking petal in deep red. Opens up beautifully.

Tulip Uncle Tom

I also used it in the window boxes and the colour selection has been great. I’d like

To say it was a considered and measured plan. To be honest the tulips sat in their box in a spare bedroom and I planted late again. So come planting I first took the box to Somerset and planted the pots and brought what was left back to London.

I haven’t grown Angelique for a few years as I found it had lost a bit of its charm but I decided to give it a go again. Sometimes you grow the same one as you know it works. It’s been a corker in the window boxes but is now going over. One for next year but not for the window box. I have to change them year on year.

Tulip Angelique

The window box combination are all of a peony type which I particularly like. When they open fully they are all big, blousy and a bit of a show off. Belle Époque, Uncle Tom, Angelique and Copper Image. In lockdown and because we have been here more and on the front garden the comments have been brilliant. Except the comment by one passing couple. Lovely roses he said as he continued walking. I didn’t get the chance to correct him.

Tulips hocus pocus opened slightly later than the others and has lasted slightly longer. It needs sun to open fully but when it does it’s pretty large.

Tulip Hocus Pocus
London tulip pots

As well as planting here in London I plant tulips outside the cottage in Pitcombe. I planted in late November and December and the last time I was there, just before we left for Mexico, they were growing but not open or anywhere near it. Sadly with lockdown there was no way we were going to see them. But worry not. Our neighbour has watered them. Our friends when out walking and passing the cottage watered them ~ we are lucky that we have a fresh water spring called Jacks Shute for them to get water. So there has been socially distancing watering!

As well as the generosity of friends and neighbours we have been so fortunate to be sent photographs. To have Instagram posts. E mails and what’s app messages. It has brought us such joy in seeing them in the photographs even though we couldn’t see them in person. You can’t beat good neighbours and friends.

The cottage tulips.

Pitcombe tulip pots

Now all I need to do on the tulip front is to decide on the tulip colours and combinations for next year. I have made a start on my list with new colours and new tulips recommended to me by various friends and gardeners but no doubt I will change my mind. Just the once or twice before during and after ordering.

Back in London Ian said at the start of the lockdown ‘at least you won’t spend as much’ But at the end of the first week he muttered. ‘How many more deliveries are you expecting’ Today he said is that the last of the orders. No. I said. We have one more tomorrow. Then remembered the herb order for next week. What he doesn’t know is that as soon as we get to go to Somerset we will be starting all over again.

It’s been an opportunity of being in one place to do the things that have been on the “to do list” for a while. So paint was ordered. Floor paint. Paint for the window sills. Paint was delivered. Week 6 it’s still unopened. I need to move the window boxes after the tulips have finished and before the summer ones are planted. I have no excuse for the floors. Except diversion tactics. I’d rather be in the garden.

Plants have been delivered. Gaura from Burncose. Herbs from Pepperpot. Perennials from Todds Botanics. Hardenbergia from Fibrex. That’s it I told him. No more. Then a 4ft tree fern arrived from Todds.

4ft tree fern log from Todds Botanics

The one delivery he didn’t comment on. But the one thing he’s got involved in and had me moving half the pots around the garden to accommodate ‘his’ tree fern. We have yet to plant it. But he’s decided where it’s going which meant moving two others around in the bargain. I have said no more.

The garden is tiny but is packed with pots. A large oblong planter of narcissi. Much later than usual and only now going over. Quite what I’ll put in there under lockdown though is yet to be determined. But will depend on what I can get Ooh. I’ve just remembered. I have another plant delivery. Salvias from Middletons.

I will move the tulips and narcissi to the Somerset garden which needs some TLC. It looks like we may be spending the summer there. We have a lot of work to do but needs must and if we are unable to travel then we will make the most of the time.

We have one single climbing rose in the garden in a pot which blooms like crazy. The jasmine was planted in a small pot and is now 25ft up the down-pipe. The scent from it is stunning on a warm evening. This will be followed on with jasmine clotted cream and then traechospermum with its gentle star like flowers.

But it’s not been all gardening. We have lurched from one meal to another. Breakfast merging into lunch then into supper. With snacks all the way through. The builders are on notice to widen the doors after lockdown. Here and there. There and here. I’ve gone through three stages of clothes. Fat fatter and enormous. There has been cooking. A lot of cooking. And eating. Menu planning. Shopping.

I think Ian and I invented social distancing. We have been practicing it for years. On our walks for sure. We have taken it to another level with Continental social distancing. One of us in the Uk. One in Spain.

The cats are confused. Why are you still here? Any chance you can go out for more of an hour a day. Go away for a week or two. All this attention is a bit much. Your getting under our feet.

I’m missing the garden in Spain as well as our Spanish framily, but we keep in touch with face time. Messenger. What’s app. It was three years ago this week that we signed the documents to start a new adventure and it seems like only yesterday. So much has happened in those three years. Visitors. Friendships. Gardening.

Our friends and neighbours in Spain have had it harder under lockdown. Much harsher. Not allowed out for exercise at all. One person to go shopping. Fined. Military patrolling the Pueblo blancos.

But they now have a plan. This weekend they were allowed out to walk – restricted to 1km to their home – no driving to a spot then walking ~ and the restrictions will be progressively lifted over three phases. Quite when we will be back is uncertain. But the certainty is we will in whatever way is allowable.

I’d planted a lot of new things in the garden. Things I won’t see this year. The new gaura as part of the lavender path. New alliums. New salvias. I have had photos and a video sent. I’ve heard the elusive black and white bird of paradise Is about to flower ; last year it didn’t. This is it in 2018.

But. We’ve have stayed at home. We’ve social distanced. We’ve clapped on a Thursday. We have washed hands. Smothered ourselves in sanitiser. Social distanced. Followed the rules. If we have to do that for a few more weeks then so be it. We are lucky. We are here. We are healthy.

The only question is. Which one of us will go mad first. The jury is out.

Adios Mexico City. Hola Guanajuato

Peter Paul and Mary once sang ‘ Leaving on a jet plane , don’t know when I’ll nee back again.’ Well this time I wasn’t. And I did. No jet plane for us on the journey North to Guanajuato. And. I knew when we would be back again. In roughly 10 days time via Oaxaca.

Yes. Ian had said that the journey would be better by bus. 5,5 hours. By bus. He’d done his research and decreed that the best bus to travel on was ETN. So we went and booked days in advance. Asked for the best seats which were upstairs and at the front. I also did my research and asked if they used the toll roads. Why? I’d heard you were less likely to be held up,if you used the toll roads. See. My paranoia was still there. But. The journey was easy. Comfortable and the bus was quiet and added to that we got to see the countryside. When I wasn’t snoring.

I’d never heard of Guanajuato. I’d looked it up and read a bit but Ian had said I’d like it. Greta photo opportunities he said. So I did what we all do theses days. Hashtag Guanajuato.

Guanajuato was a wealthy city in Mexico famous for its silver mines and at one point accounted for two-thirds of the world’s silver production at the height of its production.

Ian had booked the accommodation either with Airbnb or Home Away. Not Home and Away ~ that’s totally different. It had all been done months before and I had forgotten what was where. Oh boy. Did he hit the jackpot with this accommodation.

Entrance to the house

The entrance hall from the street lead up to the first floor. Filled with tall columns. A skull. And an atrium full of plants. I mean full. A lovely house overlooking the plaza.

The roof terrace
Garden ideas

But for me the piece de resistance was the terrace. Boy. What a terrace. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I couldn’t remember seeing this on the itinerary. Filled with plants. In pots. On top of Columns. So many ideas to take away with me on and if I ever left the house.

Breakfast

Perfectly situated to go to the bakery for bread and pastries for breakfast and for fruit. But. There were things to see. Places to go.

Guanajuato City built its wealth on mining and silver in particular. Getting into the centre is an interesting experience. After being dropped off at the airport you ave to get a taxi into the centre. But to do that you have to enter via the underground tunnels which are too low for buses and it’s one way in and one way out.

It’s a colourful city with narrow one way streets and small roads with a lot of steps and small alleys. We stayed on Plaza San Fernando where cars weren’t allowed.

Colourful houses

The houses are definitely colourful and so opposite to the Pueblo Blanco’s in Spain. Guanajuato is a world heritage site and apparently it’s illegal to paint the houses in any other colour. I ant find why they were painted in the first place but maybe to identify them. But colourful they certainly are. Viewed from El Pipila after taking the funicular they are an abundance of colour shape and size with an obvious view of no planning controls.

El Pipila is the nickname of a local hero and was famous for his heroism at the beginning of the Mexican war of Independence in 1810. The base of the stud is where us tourists go to get the best pictures of the city. You can climb the steep steps instead of using the funicular. Guess what. We didn’t.

The streets of Guanajuato

Like Mexico City the streets and squares had trees. I particularly loved the way that many of the trees were cut and shaped to provide shade for the benches below.

Shade topiary

Wha a great use of topiary.

Bus porn

I’ve never been a bus nerd. But these buses were amazing. Classic. Old fashioned and plentiful. I say that like we used them. We didn’t. But I loved the shape and style and the way they wrote the destinations on the windows in what looked like windowlene!

I was surprised to find such a beautiful theatre right in the heart of the city. I don’t know why really but I did. The Teatro Juárez, a stunningly beautiful facade and interior which was built between 1872 ~ 1903. We were lucky enough to sit in on a mornings orchestral rehearsal when we wandered in. The auditorium was stunning with fabulous acoustics. Sadly the facade was heavily graffitied when we were there during the women’s march. Very sad as graffiti is never the answer.

Orchestral rehearsals

The presence of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo is everywhere. But especially in this city as it’s the city of Diego’s birth. We had to go visit his home which is now a museum ~ not as interesting as Casa Azul but informative. The ground floor where photos were allowed were the living areas. The upper floors now galleries where no photographs we’re allowed. The house has many of Rivera’s early works which were interesting but if I’m honest I liked the large murals more.

I really loved the way they shaped these trees which I understand to be Indian laurels. Cut to shade the benches below them. Needed in the heat of the day and one thing that surprised me was the amount of greenery in both Mexico City and again in Guanajuato.

Ex Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera

We took a cab ride to the mansion and gardens of Ex Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera The mansion was part of a mining complex and is open as a museum where you can see the living parts of the house. The gardens are large and are set in themed areas. An English garden. The Italian garden. The Mediterranean garden. All interesting in their own way. But it didn’t take my breath away.

We visited the most visited museum in Guanajuato ~ Museo de las mommas de Guanajuato. I did take some photos. But to honest the place freaked mo out.

The Museum  has a large number of naturally mummified  bodies. These were interred following a cholera outbreak in around 1830. You can see facial expressions and some mummies still have articles of clothing intact. And hair. It wasn’t one of the highlights of the trip but was full of Mexican families ~ the mummies are part of the national culture. But ~ Not for me,

You always need cake & biscuits

I needed cakes and biscuits when we got back to the house. There was a fabulous bakery close to the house where we went to buy pastries and cakes. Next door we could buy fresh fruit. You have to know where these places are. Don’t you?

Take away fruit

I loved the house Ian had found. The terrace was amazing and full of lovely plantings. The pots were really interesting. Pots on the top of large pieces of tree trunks. Glorious colours. Strange to see some British annuals amongst them. Allysum for one. I hadn’t seen that since my parents garden in the 1980’s.

Plants on the terrace

The lovely Jardin de Union was a central square surrounded by cafes and restaurants and parading singers. Another lovely green space in the centre of Guanajuato. A little bit too busy at night but a great central point to sit and people watch.

After five days it was time to move on. A flight to Oaxaca via a three hour stop over in Mexico City. Adios Guanajuato.

Hola Mexico = Mexico City

When Ian suggested a trip to Mexico I have to admit that I wasn’t convinced. Yes. I like a holiday or two but this was different. It was Mexico and the plan was that we would be away for nearly three weeks. He was also planning we visit three places in that time. Stay in Air BNB or similar and for one journey travel north from Mexico City on a bus. For 5.5 hrs. Friends didn’t believe the bus bit.

People kept saying to me before we went. Be careful. Ian kept saying be careful with your camera. Not conducive to calming my anxieties.

What I didn’t expect that this was probably to be our last trip for quite sometime.

But ……..

Hola Mexico City.

We arrived early evening to a glorious welcome from the sky as we approached the airport. Early thoughts on what I saw. It’s a bloody massive city. By massive I mean massive. Getting through immigration was easy. Finding a cab to take us the first accommodation was easy. But I don’t think I have ever seen so many cars in my life. The road out of the airport was a car park. But the cabbie was friendly. Chatty. Thankfully Ian and his Spanish was a huge help for the whole trip. I added a bit here and there but it was Ian who did most of the talking. That in itself is a huge role change. Me. I usually talk and talk. Mostly about nothing at all.

I hadn’t looked at the accommodation that had been booked in ages. The trip was planned late last year and I had little idea where we were staying. I’m not sure if that was intentional because I was unsure. But apartment number 1 was great. I say apartment but it was a cross between an apartment and an art gallery. Up on the 14th for of a building with 24 hour concierge service we were met by the owner and the property manager and shown around. A small but beautiful apartment. Small balcony with views over the city.

We were then shown the art room which was unexpected. The room furnished with art and sculptures by local artists. It took my breath away. For a lot of reasons. .

I didn’t know what to expect from Mexico City. Ian had done the homework. Had a list of places to visit. Museums. Art galleries. Parks. Even pyramids. Who knew that Mexico had pyramids. I didn’t.

One of the places on our list was Casa Azul. The house where artist Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived. I didn’t know much about either of them before we left but a number of friends had mentioned them and said that it was a must see.

Casa Azul

I think I could see why it was called Casa Azul when we approached it. It certainly was blue. Very blue. It became even clearer when we entered that Ian had received the email. You know. The one saying today’s the day your shirt should match the paint colour.

All the blues

He definitely merged into the background. He made me take the photo quickly as he kept saying. Quick. People are looking at me.

The house was beautiful ~ you know one of those houses you say without hesitation. I could live here. I didnt know that at that one point Leon Trotsky had stayed there before he bought his own house just around the corner. A house visit and a history lesson all in one.

Outside the kitchen Casa Azul

It certainly was a colourful house. A stunning studio and a lovely peaceful shade garden.

The studio was a beautiful light space and you could imagine the artists painting here.

The studio at CasaAzul

I loved the brugamasia against the blue wall with the colours of the strelitzia in the garden. Both striking and looking that they had been planted for the special effect.

The colours of the garden Casa Azul

Leon Trotsky’s house was a short walk away and totally unassuming from the outside. In fact the inside was pretty basic. What you did notice were the high walls surrounding the house. Not surprising really. It was here that an attempt on his life was made resulting in his death.

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Leon Trotsky’s house Mexico City

Two very different houses. Two very different gardens. Casa Azul brightly coloured. Shaded. Trotsky’s open with a birds eye view of the high walls. Yet peaceful.

Did I mention pyramids. Who knew they had pyramids in Mexico. I didn’t. To be fair if I knew then what I know now I may have just avoided them. Yes. They were fabulous but worth nearly having a coronary? To be fair. Probably.

Pyramid of the Sun

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Teotihuacan is 40 km out of Mexico City,and is the site of the most important pre Colombian city in Mexico. Building began around 200 BC and at its peak was believed to house 200;000 people. The main pyramids are the Sun and the moon and unlike Egypt’s pyramids are solid.

We climbed the Sun pyramid. I say we climbed it. Ian managed to get to the top. I managed half to three quarters of the way. Stopped as I thought I was going to die and went back down. Going down was even worse to be fair ~ I never knew I had a heart ~ but something was beating so hard that it nearly popped out of my chest. Talk about being dizzy. A little bit sick and terrified. It is after all 143 ft high. Up dodgy uneven steps. At an altitude of 7,000 feet.

I know it mind sound stupid but I hadn’t even thought about altitude. Not until the tour guide mentioned it!

We stumbled upon a tourist fair in the main square on Sunday. A square is an underestimate. Another massive area ~ called Constitution Square or Zocolo you could imagine huge armies marching and great ceremonial events being held here. Our visit had none of these. They must have missed the email saying we were arriving. What we got were a huge amount of stalls with Each area of Mexico represented!

And dancing.

The colours were fabulous ~ this group was from Oaxaca which was stop no 3 on the trip.

What a difference a couple of hundred yards makes. Just off the square and next to the Cathedral. You don’t expect to walk out of the cathedral and into groups of exotic looking dancers with scary masks and headdresses. Called Conchero dancers with an interesting history of Aztec and Christian mix.

Next stop. A museum. I hadn’t heard of this one but it was on Ian’s list. A collection of 66,000 pieces donated by a Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim and housed in a fabulous space The Soumaya named after his late wife. A beautiful building and in the inside a bit like New York’s Guggenheim. All circular walks up to each floor. An amazing collection of art and statues with the largest collection of Rodin outside of France. It was breathtaking in its simplicity and beauty. The building itself looking like a twisted top hat.

Soumaya

Rodin’s The Thinker

Rodin Rodin everywhere

One of the things that struck me about Mexico City was just how green it was. Chapultepec Park is huge and it received the International Large Urban Parks Gold Award and was named the best urban forest in the world.

Covering 1,695 acres it includes Chapultepec Castle which overlooks the park, the Botanical gardens and huge swathes of trees. The views from the castle are pretty amazing as you look out over the city and see a sea of green. The roads have planting on the sidewalks and many have planting along central reservations.

Green Mexico

Another lovely building is the Palacio de Belle Artes which houses one of Diego Rivera’s most famous murals ~ Man at the Crossroads. This was commissioned by Rockerfeller but when Rivera refused to omit Lenin from the artwork it was painted over. I have to say the Mexican mural art really fascinated me. It was recreated for this museum. There is an interesting back story to the whole fiasco.

There were other pieces by Mexican moralists which I found fascinating. One I really liked ~ David Siqueiros was involved in a failed assassination attempt on Leon Trotsky. Another fact I learnt!

Mexico City was fabulous. A real surprise and full of amazing museums , friendly and polite people. There were so many photo opportunities.

Having survived the big city our next trip was the five and a half hour bus ride to Guanajuato, a smaller and courful town north of Mexico. Tickets bought. Bags packed. Taxi booked.

Hola February ~ Spain

It’s been a while since I was in the Spanish garden. Post Xmas, a busy few weeks in London so it has meant that I’ve missed four weeks. Not too bad in January early February as the weather isn’t that troublesome. He says but We had a lot of rain early on when we weren’t there and then some unseasonal bright sun. Add to that a breakdown on the irrigation system and I was wondering what I’d find.

Freesia

To be fair I was lucky. The rain had soaked the soil. But with the bright sunny and warm days it was slowly drying The plants had gone a little mad.

The freesias I had planted three years ago were first out of their blocks and were flowering. Well starting to flower. The newly planted bulbs are all in bud and will smell delicous when they are all out. They grow really tall and strong and I find them better in pots than the ground. Possibly as it seems easier to tie them in so they don’t flop over. The ones I have bought from Peter Nyssen are really tall and strong and flower for ages.

Oxalis pes-caprae

A bit of rain. Bit of sun and out come the Oxalis pes-caprae on the roundabout ~ that’s not a roundabout. The bank is full of them as well. A bright acid yellow which open in full sun and carpet the hill. A weed by any other name. But the colour at this time of year is welcome.

Yellow must be the colour of Spring. The hills on the road into town are covered in an explosion of yellow. With the oxalis and the yellow gorse and in the green I have found some tiny narcissi poking through the osteospermum with the yellow winter jasmine in flower too.

Seed pods of oleander

The oleander has burst its seed pods and is a bit of a beauty. Not all of the oleanders ~ we have a few ~ get the long tapered seed pods but the ones that do look pretty spectacular as they mature and burst open.

We cut them back quite hard last year and this year we should get some decent flowers. I’m reminded each time that I do anything with them that all parts are poisonous. Makes note wear gloves.

Clivia

Back in the 90’s an ex Blue Peter Gardener Clare Bradley became a neighbour and friend of ours in Somerset and fortunately for me she opened a gardening shop in Castle Cary. It was Clare who introduced me to different plants and bulbs and I was enthused by her selection. Her introductions included a large variety of daffodil and narcissi from Cornwall and as house plants Clivia. I’d never heard of Clivia before meeting Clare. After seeing them in the Botanic garden in Malaga – La Conception I knew I wanted them for a shady bit of the garden and planted a few next to the gate. This is the second year of flowering and I love that they remind me of someone.

But I’m also reminded of Clare these days as she has introduced her own gardening gloves Donkey Gloves which I have brought to Spain and also bought some as gifts for friends to try. Clare now lives on Dartmoor and Profits from which go to help pay for the rescue donkeys and other animals on her farm. Would I recommend the gloves. Definetly .

Australian wisteria

I love this time of year when the Australian-wisteria (hardenbergia violacea) is in full flow over the garden gate. It’s a magnet for bees, is a fabulous colour and a pretty rampant grower. Downside ~ Only one for me is that there isn’t a scent. But you can’t have everything, but you can wish.

There is scent in the garden with the jasmines. Azoricum. Sambal and officianle but sadly not at this time of year.

Osteospermum

As is usual the osteospermum have gone mad. A bit of rain a bit of sun and they are off. it self seeds like crazy but in this part of the garden it’s most welcome. I gave it a good haircut after flowering and it’s come back thicker and better.

Ferns and more ferns

The ferns never cease to surprise me. In a sunny position they have romped away. I have fed them a bit over last summer and they have all come through the winter and added new growth. Lots of it. Fingers crossed it continues as they are a fantastic addition to the garden.

Along with the colocasia and the Alocasia. The colocasia black Magic from Farmer Gracy is holding its own over its first winter and new leaves are starting to appear. The mojito is struggling a bit but will return. I have asked Lorraine at Viveros Florena to hold onto a pretty large colocasia mojito for me to collect at the end of March. I love the colour and the silkiness of the leaves.

melianthus major

I love NGS open gardens On two accounts. You get to see other people’s plants. And I’m nosey. There I’ve admitted it.

I first saw Melianthus major in Jack Wallington and Christopher Anderson’s Clapham garden . I then identified it in Holly Grove shrubbery and wanted one for Spain which I managed to get. It didn’t flower last year but I have high hopes for this one. It has grown really well and I’m hoping for the honey flowers this year.

Salvia Africana

Of course there was a visit to Viveros Florena ~ largely to get some soil to top up the beds. But also as I can’t resist a wander around to see what’s new. Lorraine has knowledge of what I like and is on hand to show me what is new.

I loved the coppery colour of the Salvia Africana so I bought one. Well I bought one for the kitchen window bed and one for the garage bed. That’s my description of one. One here. One there.

It has a lovely flower head and I’m hoping that it does well. Salvias seem to have been a good flower in the garden so fingers crossed. The Salvia leucantha has flowered all through the winter ~ the amistad has only recently stopped and has been cut back and the new Salvia oxyphora hasn’t stopped flowering either.

Asphodelus fistulosus

I was also taken with these ~ Asphodelus fistulosus ~ onionweed. The fact that they spread and the fact that they are drought tolerant what’s not to love! Though I have to say when they say plants are drought tolerant they are but often a bit like me only tolerant for so long!

Tools and the hedge

The hedge ~ myoporum laetum, commonly known as transparente hasn’t been cut in months and the prospect was if I didn’t do it now then it would be another six weeks or more before I’d get the chance again. It’s a task I hate.

We have some on the entrance to the house on the drive which we had cut back hard last year. It was getting bare at the bottom and too tall at the top. It’s the Spanish version of privet. It does it’s job but I’m not a great fan. Nor it of me when it’s pruned. But needs must and I did it. It looks ok from the terrace side but trust me it’s a dodgy old cut from the other. The bank is steep. I’m not as nimble on my feet as I was and it’s a bit of a slide and drop. It’s had a good short back and side. ( singular). Next thing is to top the mimosa on the bank after flowering. A job for someone else.

Fruit and nuts

I bought a Meyer lemon last year. I wanted another lemon to add to the one a we had which have been poor to fruit. we have a Buddhas hand lemon in a pot which flowered like crazy last year but didn’t hold its fruit.

They are spectacular fruits when formed ~ pretty useless as a lemon except for the zest and peel. I saw the Meyer lemon at our local garden centre and it’s another unusual one. Slightly sweeter than normal lemons ~ I will report back when I pick one.

But the attraction was the name, a friend and neighbour in Somerset died last year – Guy Mayers ~ and I thought the name was close enough for me to plant it in memory of Guy.

The lime has surprised me. Last year I had a schoolboy error. I re potted things and I obviously missed making sure the new pots had holes in the bottom. So I drowned the lime. I re potted it again with the requisite drainage and said you have two choices. It took the best one and has flowered and we have three limes growing well. It’s also now flowering so I’m hoping that we will have many more next year.

The almonds are flowering ~ always late in our garden although not as much blossom as last year. That’s not worrying me as I still have a bag of 2018 and 2019 almonds in the garage.

The nispero/loquat has a few fruit but again I’m not worried. I’m not that keen and they don’t keep or travel well.

I bought some small pots of succulent to place on various surfaces in the garden. On a small little table on the terrace and on the kitchen window sill. Then promptly ignored them big notices that they are now starting to have those small delicate flowers. Great to have on the window sills outside too.

John Ringo Pail or George?

Not found in our garden but up close to the roundabout moving as slowly as I do up the hill. Very slowly. The thing I don’t miss from London are the slugs and the snails and it’s great to see some insects along with the gekkos in the garden. There seems to be an abundance of birds this year with a fabulous chorus.

The plants are slowly waking up. The tulips I planted are poking through ~ though this may be the last year I grow them in Spain. We don’t get a cold enough spell to spurt them into growth and they aren’t as good as the ones in London.

The alliums are through and the Summer Drummer are the first out of the ground. some of the canna didn’t die back and are starting to shoot as well. Don’t ask me about the lavender. I’ll report back next time but all I will say that I have planted some tall gaura along the pathway with the lavender. The honeysuckle and the banksia rose are also starting to move so once things get going they get going.

Through the garden gate

The gate has been closed on another visit and the irrigation has been fixed and is scheduled and the garden will be watered by hand as well when needed.

It wasn’t all gardening though at times my back felt that it was. We did drive down the wiggly road to the coast and there were people on the beach and in the sea. In February. As I was wearing a jumper and alpaca socks. The flowers of the agave on the banks sprouting their long flower stems against the gorgeous blues of the sky and the sea a welcome sight.

Agave on the cliff side at Nerja

And back to scouring the plant and bulb suppliers to find some new delights for the garden.

Here and there. There and here.

It’s been a busy time in the Mathieson ~ Jones household over the last few weeks. It’s been a bit here there and everywhere. But we managed to get a few weeks together over Christmas in Spain. Second Christmas and third New year. How time flies. In Spain not with Ian. Ask him he’s says about 8 years. That’s dog years by the way. Add another 20 and your nearer the time.

The weather can be changeable and when I arrived it was wet. Now spending half our time in Somerset for the last 25 years you’d think I’d be used to wet. But in Spain it’s a different kind of wet. Yes I know I’m a little bit bonkers but trust me it rains in the West Country. It’s often biblical like last night as I returned on the A303 and the M3. Rain so hard you couldn’t see Stonehenge. To be honest not that I want to. If I have time to see it it means I’m stuck in a traffic jam and after 25 years of passing it it hasn’t changed. Not a bit.

But the weather was proper pants when I arrived. I didn’t go out for two days as it rained so hard that the water was rushing down the hill. You would have been able to surf down La Rampa I’m sure. Not that I’d know. I didn’t venture out for two days. But the rain makes me happy in Spain. Wet ground means easier planting. Our water deposit is full.

Ian arrived a few days after me and it’s always amazing at what he manages to pack into his case. As well as some Xmas goodies which we would struggle to get and of course we can’t live without there were some major additions. A while back I had bought a fabulous cake stand and dome from my friend Mr Glass in London from London Times Vintage up in Islington. I wanted to bring it to Spain but was nervous. It’s heavy. On a stand and is glass. It arrived with Ian in his suitcase. All in one piece.

Those who follow me on Instagram are well used to seeing Ian’s back. This is one I made him stand still on the terrace looking down to the coast.

Trust me you don’t know how hard it is to get Ian stand for a photo. Let alone pose. Before I’ve even pressed the shutter he’s on the move thinking it’s done.

But the weather picked up. Chilly mornings. Glorious days. Chilly nights. That I can cope with. Oh. And have I ever mentioned sunsets. Maybe one or two. Hundred. At this time of year they are stunning and the views vary from the campo to the town to the areas above the town. Luckily there are others as obsessed as me who take sunset pics

On a clear day we can see the coast of Malaga, to the left Gibraltar. And further to the left usually on a different day Morocco.

As we had rain it was an opportunity to plant the final bulbs. Many I had planted with a pick axe earlier had started to poke through so this time planting was easier with the ground being a little damp. The garden in Somerset is like a paddy field after all the rain we have had. In Spain we do actually have a pick axe. Not that I use it that often but it may be useful if I ever want fancy dress as one of the seven dwarfs. Ian says I’d be a mix of grumpy, dopey and sleepy. Point is. He’s probably right.

Last years freesia are already in flower and a gorgeous yellow one was in bloom. Was is the correct term. I knocked the head off as I clumsily passed by! They grow amazingly well in the garden and I finally planted the last batch. We have pots dotted all around and the scent is fantastic a big winner from Peter Nyssen again.

There is already colour in the garden. The osteospermum are spreading like crazy and as each day gets a bit warmer more open. That and the one Gazania that seems to be way ahead of the others.

The almond trees are bursting into flower. Sadly not ours this time as ours are the latest to flower. Probably in the whole of Andalucia. Which in many ways is good. Maybe a bit less windy to have the beautiful flowers blown like confetti across the garden.

There are two different flowering types in our garden and our neighbours. Both our neighbours are out already. I love the pinky red throat of the second almond flower.

Patience is a virtue. One that I’m not great at. Particularly where plants and flowers are concerned. To be honest best I just say patience isn’t a virtue.

I witter on about the roundabout that’s not a roundabout. Not a lot. But it’s so coming into life. The acid yellow of the oxalis pew caprae is beginning to carpet the ground. This year they seem to be taller and more abundant than last year. I blame the weather!

We are over 600m above sea level. A bit exposed in parts so when the wind blows the wind blows. The enormous leaves of the strelitzia Nicolai get shredded. I’m gutted that there are no signs of flowers ~ we last had them in 2018. Fingers crossed for this year. They are magnificent in their blue/black beauty.

We have a number of strelitzia Reginae with flower spikes which will be bursting into the fabulous bird of paradise flower in the next few weeks.

When we moved into La Casa I was surprised to find that we had a Swiss cheese plant. As a child growing up we had one along with the obligatory rubber plant sitting in the sitting room. This one is in the garden. Really slow growing and to be honest it’s taken me over two years to like it. But I do. I’m hoping it doesn’t grow as large as the ones in the Botanical Gardens Malaga. Then I won’t like it. But I suspect there is no chance of that. The seed pods of Sesbania Punicea are still hanging and are a great shape. You can hear the seeds rattle inside as the pods are so dry.

The dodonia s a pretty dull plant most of the time but when autumn and winter come the green leaves turn to a gorgeous red. I’ve tried replanting some of the seedlings but they just don’t take. The final leaves of the grape are falling ~ hurrah as they are a pain to keep sweeping up. I know I should store them for leaf mould, but I fear the tree rats or some slithering snake may take up residence.

I love the foxtail agave. A lot. This is one at the bank at the back of the house. Them there’s the plecanthrus which is in the main bed. Has a bit of a funny smell. I can’t explain it. Looks a bit like an alien as it grows. Succulents on the back bed. Mr Prickly ~ the one of three healthy prickly pears. Which fruited this year.

We also did a bit of walking ~ down at the coast in Nerja. And a walk from Canillas de Albaida to Competa. A walk in an area between Canillas de Albeida and Canillas de Aceituno.

It wasn’t all gardening. Quite of bit of this trip was leisure as well. Picking lemons from next doors garden. With permission! Making the final batch of quince jelly. Picking olives to dry salt them. Making limoncello. I must remember to take that one out of the cupboard when I’m next home

So for now it’s a waiting game. For some more rain. For the alliums to start poking through. The orange blossom to make an appearance. Time to prune the grape and the olives. There’s never a dull moment, and nearly three years later I’m still excited when I drive up the wiggly road.

And surisingly. It all starts again soon.

Hola Valencia.

It’s a well known fact that we like a holiday. Or two. It’s also a fact that Ian researches the trips well before we book. Fact threee is that we love Spain. A lot. Even more so,since we bought the house in Andalucia which many friends thought would stop us from having breaks elsewhere.

It hasn’t. We spend as much time as we can in Competa which largely is based on not becoming tax resident! Old habits die hard and tax is always just one step away. For me these days it’s a very large one.

But in the last two and a half years we have visited Córdoba, Seville, Toledo, Salamanca, Cacares, Granada, Ronda and of course Malaga with points in between. So we haven’t just spent time a la casa. On sun loungers or in the garden.

There is a list. This week we have visited Valencia. Which has been on our list for some time. Easier surprisingly to fly direct from London than to get here from Malaga. We decided to get a few days of sunshine in before the Christmas hullabaloo.

It rained for the first three days. When I say rain I mean biblical. The heavens opened.

Ian always finds great places to stay. For Valencia he had booked an Air B&B. Which always makes me a little apprehensive. Will it look like it does in the pictures?. Will it be clean? All the questions. Well. The answer to all that was yes. Yes. And yes again. So clean I think I’d like the hosts to come and clean our house. Ian had chosen a trendy area. Full of restaurants. Easy walk to the metro and into the centre. Spot on again.

Home for five days

So happy with the accommodation we decided to walk into the centre and explore. To be honest it feels like we haven’t stopped walking for four days. Literally. My poor fit bit has been working overtime and must think it’s been attached to the wrong persons wrist. I’ve done more steps in 4 days than I’ve done in weeks. Says my fit bit stats. Says my body. Good thing I listened to my mother. Sensible shoes.

The colours of Valencia

There is so much to see and life’s too short not to see it all. It’s also so varied here. The usual. Churches and Cathedrals. Museums. Markets. Squares. Oh. And the amazing CIudad des las Artes y las Ciencias.

Palacio des Marques de Los Aquas

The beautiful facade and entrance to the Palacio des Marques de dos Aguas. A stunning restored palace which houses the National Museum of Ceramics and Decorative Arts. To get to the collection on the upper floors you meander through the various rooms which are furnished with period pieces and are stunning.

Red carpet walk

Ian has still to master the art of the red carpet leading to the rooms on the first floor.

The red salon

1920’s ceramic planters and Darden furniture

After a major and devastating flood in 1957 the City made a plan to reroute the river Turia to the south of the city and the work took nearly 10 years to complete finishing in 1974.

The river bed was turned to gardens and is now the Jardines del Turia. A mix of playing fields, cycle tracks and gardens and is a lovely walk up to the City of Arts and Sciences.

The walk through the old river bed

Turning the corner out of the gardens is quite breathtaking. Suddenly you, well I did , feel you are in the midst of a sci fi film set. Or you have wandered into scenes of Doctor Who which I believe had some scenes filmed here in series 10.

It is quite spectacular and a little eerie. Think South bank without the crowds. Less brutalist but futuristic. The buildings are awesome. Not a word I use lightly. But they are. But the area is so quiet. The buildings were designed by architects Santiago Calatrava and Felix Candela.

The buildings house an IMAX cinema. Planetarium and laserium in L’Hemisferic which was designed to look like a large eye. From certain angles to me it looks like a fish!

There is an interactive museum of Science ~ El Museo de las Ciencies which also has a basketball court. Another building L’Aora holds the Valencian Open ATP tournament.

L’Umbracle was closed which was disappointing as it is an open structure with a landscaped walk and outdoor art gallery.

We didn’t go in and it’s on the list for the next visit is El Palau de les Arts Reine Sofia ~ the Opera House and performing arts centre

It is a complete contrast from the architecture surrounding the park. Certainly a huge contrast from the building we have just left and it deserved more time to explore.

Sci Fi City.

Back to the past and not the future we headed to the Silk exchange. – La Lonja de la Seda.

Another building of historical importance and described as one of the most famous gothic monuments in Europe. It was declared a World heritage site by UNESCO in 1966. Being a Spanish Bank holiday entrance was free and it was busy. It’s a stunning building with exceptional floors and ceilings. Beautifully restored.

The Silk Exchange

Gorgeous floors in the Silk Exchange

Sightseeing is a strenuous thing and you need plenty of coffee and cake stops. If in Spain those stops need to include churros. It would be rude not to wouldn’t it. We had a choice. Churros or Fartons. Churros won.

Churros and Chocolate

You also need to stop and try on hats. There are two fabulous hat shops that we found. But this hat was in a trendy shop. I tried the hat, but not the mask, but thought whilst Peckham may be ready I was not.

Hats and fans

We stumbled upon the Museo Convento de Carmen , a lovely old convent which hasn’t been restored. It houses art exhibitions in the first floor. The building is of Gothic Renaissance and Baroque architecture.

Everywhere you look in and around the city there is street art. Lots of it. These were two of my favourites of which there were many pictures to choose from.

Just down the toad there is the cat house. A little house in the wall. With a small entrance for cats. It is said that the previous owner of the house had it to shelter the many stray and feral cats. Who knows.?

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Cat house

Everywhere you look in and around the city there is street art. Lots of it. These were two of my favourites of which there were many pictures to choose from. The art is everywhere with shop shutters covered in art advertising their products. Some is highly sophisticated. Some not.

Street art

You can’t visit a city without a visit to the Botanical gardens. I had read a review from someone who had visited recently who had complained that there weren’t many flowers. Um. It is December. But I did agree with the second comment in that you could walk straight past the entrance. Luckily we didn’t. It’s an interesting space and has some great trees and plants. Yes. Not a lot flowering but as you’d expect.

Walk in the Botanical Gardens

The cactus area is great and it’s also good to see a few that we are growing in our garden in Andalucia. The ever faithful foxtail agave doing well and as I post pictures of that constantly I have spared you here. Their prickly pears show no sign of the cochineal fly we have in abundance in Andalucia.

Whilst we were there a group of young lads were looking at the cactus. They decided to take a short cut across the borders when one of them screamed. One of the others said ‘ Did it bite you? ‘ – they weren’t impressed at the man laughing. Bite? No you just got too close to the thorns and you got jabbed.

The city at night looks so very different. First off it’s Christmas. So you get the Xmas lights. In the fountains. On the buildings. The carousel and the ice rink.

Christmas is a coming

The City at night is fabulous. The street lights aren’t that glaring white but a subdued yellow. The streets look like they are paved with gold. But that’s the light and the fact that they were still wet from the torrential rain of the night before. It was difficult walking on the shiny pavements. Both narrowly missing a fall as we meander around the sights.

Night streets

Estacion Nord.

You are never far away from a Cathedral or a Church in Spain. It never ceases to amaze me the variety and the architecture that you find in each and every one. The Cathedral was as you’d expect stunning. Whilst it had the pomp of all the cathedrals we have visited it had a kind of calm about it. Light. Bright and peaceful.

Cathedral

We decided to go to the beach as it was out last full day and the sun was finally shining. No coats. No macs. No umbrellas. We took the metro which was easier back than it was going. Largely because we are rubbish at directions. But we got there. A big and sandy beach with the usual long Spanish promenade. But decent sand.

It was a tale of two seasons for some. One man clearly not giving in to the changing season whilst one embracing the hoodie and beach culture. These were taken on the same day on the same beach at the same time of day. 500 yards apart yet worlds apart.

Long avenues of palms along the front.

I could go on and on and I usually do. But that’s it for Valencia. For now. We will be back. There is more to see. More time to explore the ones we have seen and want to revisit. The City of Arts and Culture could fill a weekend alone.

Next stop. Christmas and New Year in Competa.

Valencia December 2019.

Not just gardens and gardening! Part 1.

I’m coming to the end of another spell at La Casa in Spain. Something I always have mixed feelings about. I so love it here. People ask me why and for me the answer is easy. The people. The culture. The traditions. Oh and the food and wine. But I also,love that I’m fortunate enough to be able to have the mix of both here and there. There and here. Both very very different. Two very different social lives. Gardens. Cultures.

We have settled in here. Settled into a routine. Favourite restaurants. Cafes. Shops. People. But Ian told me when we bought the house that it wasn’t always a holiday when I’m here. There are still things to do. The house to maintain. The garden to maintain. To be fair he was and is right but we try and squeeze as much into each visit as we can.

The last two weeks have seen us have two separate visitors. The first a friend from Somerset we have known for over 20 years. I think she likes coming to stay as this was visit no 4 in the last 2.5 years. The second my old friend Michael or Ooh allo as I call him and have done now for 37 years. When we first met I said ‘ hello you must be Michael’ to which he respndedn’ Ooh allo’. So that’s his name. Must be welsh thing. You know. We have Jones the Milk. Pete the post.

Ian always says guests are like fish. Both go off after 4 days. Not these two. We always manage to fit something in new each visit.

Mosque Cathedral Córdoba

I try and find something and somewhere different to take Helen when she is here. The first trip,was The Alhambra the second was Malaga, the third was Ronda. So this visit I decided we would go to Cordoba. The thing about having a place in Spain is that you do get visitors and this was the third time I had been. This trip I decided that we wouldn’t drive; but park in Malaga and take the train. Bingo. An excellent idea.

The mesquite cathedral is fabulous. A word that I use a lot about the historical buildings and the gardens here in Andalucia. But they are. Simply fabulous.

The difference between the simplicity of the Mosque against the pomp of the cathedral is staggering. Both beautiful in different ways. I loved the cool repetition of the pillars and the subtlety of the colours of the mosque. With a dash of the sun through the stained glass peeking onto the floor of the mosque.

Reflections from the stained glass

I have seen the Alcazar de low Reyes Cristian gardens at different times of the year and these are lovely at any time. Not on such a grand scale as the Alhambra and probably not as well known as those in Seville but these are beautifully laid out. With some impressive topiary.

The Alcazar dates back to,1328 and has been used in the Spanish Inquisition and as a garrison for Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops in 1810. I didn’t go into the building this time. Steps up to the top are steep and as we had walked and walked and as I had been before I left a helen to do that whilst I had a snooze. In the chapel.

The gardens of the Alcazar de los Reyes Córdoba

The closest I’ll get to being on that plinth in Trafalgar Square

Typically we wandered and wandered in between coffee to,the Roman Bridge. A spectacular looking bridge, a bridge I have yet to cross to the other side. You may recognise it as it was used in The Game of Thrones. As in it was used in the filming of. They closed the bridge to,film apparently. I was neither in the series,:watched a full episode or was there when they closed the bridge.

The Roam Bridge Córdoba

Lunch. Ice cream. Coffee toilet stops and then fell upon a small renovated house in the Jewish quarter with a beautiful courtyard garden.

We are also lucky that the coast is a short drive down the wiggly or windey Road. Dependent on whether you want to go left or right at the coast. I decided that for Sunday lunch we would go left. Down to the costa tropical. Who knew. I didn’t. I’d heard of Costa de Sol. Costa bravo. Cost a lot. But never Tropical. But down the wiggly road and turn left you head toward The province of Granada and the Costa tropical. Sunday was a trip to La Herrudura for lunch at a little chirringuito that a friend had taken us to previously. Lunch right on the beach. Fresh fish. Delicious. A walk on the beach after lunch to round it off. La chambao de Vicente is one of my favourites.

La Herrudura Costa Tropical

Unknown to us until the second year of being here and thanks to our friend Sergio we went to El puerto deportivo de marina de este just around the coast from the beach of La Herrudura. . A quiet marina full of expensive boats. Some restaurants. A large apartment complex. And not too many people.

El puerto deportivo de marina de este

There are two,ways to drive back. The high road. Or the low road. Ear worm starts to,sing the theme tune from some obscure TV series. The low road is the coast road and is the one I like to take. It takes you through the outskirts of Maro and through the town of Nerja. With a stop off in Maro to take in the sight of the Aqueduct that originally took water to the sugar factory down in Maro itself. Today it is used for local irrigation. The sugar factory long gone. Although there is still some sugar cane growing as you walk down the road to the small little beach.

It wouldn’t be a proper visit without a stop off in Nerja. When we first came to the area I have to admit I did t like it. I went there to go to my bank. Nothing else. Oh. And the fabulous fruit shop across from the shop that sells excellent empanadas.

Now we go often. Sometimes to eat in the evening. Sometimes just for a coffee and a wander.

Nerja

There’s always a visit to Nerja. Even if it’s only to have a wander along the Balcón de Europe to look at the sea. Grab an ice cream. So visitor one was due to depart. Ian due to arrive the following day. Two days to relax before visitor no 2. And it starts all over again. Different friend. Largely different places for week 2.

What will be similar is that they have both requested to go to Casa Paco. To El PIlon to see Dani & Loli. And to the Teteria.

Am I complaining. Never. .