Hola Hola

It’s been a funny old time weather wise. Not funny ha ha. But funny. Both here and there. Depending whether I am here. Or there. Or there or here. Here now is Spain where the words ‘mucho frio’ have been ringing in my eyes for weeks Because it has been. People have said it’s the worst winter and Spring in many a year. . Yes. It rained. We needed it. But the volume in such a short time. And the cold. Went on for ever. The good bit is that the reservoirs are full. And the hillsides are green. Oh And I bought flannelette duvet covers. Because. Mucho frio was a good description. It has been very cold.

So I’m back. Yep. As a friend said. Again? I am and it’s a pattern for the next few months. The hills and mountains are green. The verges are colourful. Wild flowers everywhere. Everywhere and in the back of the garden and on the roundabout. Which isn’t a roundabout.

The garden in three weeks I have been away has changed a lot. The weather has been ok. There has been sun. It’s been warm. This week positively hot. So hot the legs came out and will stay out now until November. Only in Spain though for now. Out came the gardening hat and sunscreen. I’m waiting for the return of the mozzies.

.There is an abundance of colour in the garden. And in the sky. A great ball of fire. For most of the day.

The gazania just love a bit of sun. They open as wide as they can and are gorgeous. There Are 8 flower spikes on the strelitzia – and the two that have opened look amazing. I love them.

But i was beyond excited to find that there is a flower on the black/blue/white Strelitzia. There is only one flower again this year but I’m excited.

The banksia rose is climbing the jacaranda tree and is full of flower. It looks great against the blue sky.

There’s been a bit of tidying to be done. The Vinca has been a complete pain in the posterior. It’s everywhere. Yes it looks pretty when in flower. But not when it’s strangling everything around it. I had a good clear of the bedding area at the side of the house and came across a plant I wasn’t sure about. Until I touched it. And got the smell of popcorn. There was no doubt. . This was a popcorn Senna. I have two on the bank which aren’t doing anything. This one at least had a fair bit of growth. And flower buds.

Now this plant is poisonous. Like a lot of the plants in this garden. The last time I touched a Senna didymobotrya I rubbed my eye. Yes I know. Basic school boy error. But we all do them. Don’t we? A quick visit to the pharmacy and some eye drops I was back. So I was aware of not touching it without my gloves. But I did. And my legs brushed it. So it was straight into the shower. So far. So good.

The alliums have shot up. More are on my list – the never ending list – for next year. These are from Peter Nyssen and they are loving the growing conditions here. I have dotted them all round the garden but need to be a bit more adventurous in the planting. I need to group them better next year. With a few different varieties in a great big drift of colour.. Makes note on order schedule. Right. Like I have one. Well this year I very may well do.

The white wall planter was crying out for colour. What better plant than the good old geranium. I bought pink. I gave them away. They were the wrong colour. They got lost in the planter. I needed bold. Brash. Bright. I wanted red. Now I know a lot of people don’t like them. Feel they are the staple of municipal planting. But I don’t care. It’s the right plant in the right place for me. And with a couple of permanent pelargoniums I think they look the business.

I have been cutting stuff back a fair bit. And I found a pomegranate. Yes. Found it. I didn’t know it was lost. Because I didn’t know it was there. But it was. Hidden. And. It has flowers. But will it bear fruit?. I’ll let you know. If it does. I’ll tell everybody. Because the other two don’t even look like they are going to flower and I believe that they have never fruited.

I’m assuming that these are flowers on the small palms that sit in the middle flower bed. Again I’ll keep you posted. Don’t hold your breath. I may forget especially if they aren’t photogenic.

The osteospermums get everywhere and I love this bit of randomness in the garden. Succulents and flowers.

Behind the house we have a steep bank. I’ll admit o occasionally I do climb down it. But I’m mad. You can easily slip into the transparante hedge below. There are some wonderful pines on the edge. A walk up the steep slope – the access road behind the house and you get a fantastic view through the trees to the mountains and in a clear day to the coast.

We found some nests of processionary caterpillars in the pines and had them swiftly removed and destroyed. They are lovely trees, a bit wonky. But like wonky veg there is nothing wrong with them.

I do and I don’t want the agave to flower. If it does. It does. If it doesn’t it sits there until it does. I like them. As long as they don’t get that bug that eats them from the base and they rot and die. That added to the destruction of the prickly pears from cochineal fly would be awful.

I have been out spraying the prickly pears I want to save with a water and neem oil mix. So far. So good. The prickly pears are doing ok. Me. I smell of neem oil. Maybe the cochineal fly and if I’m lucky mozzies will leave me alone too.

So it’s been a busy time in the garden. There is still loads to do. I haven’t touched the beds at the rear of the house. That’s for another week.

But I did have a chance to go and drool over my neighbours bee orchids. Which are small. Beautifully formed and gorgeous. Me. Jealous. Too right I am. I will just have to be content with the wild orchids I have in our own garden. Of which I have found another 4.

There is so much going on in the garden as things start to flower. There are flower spikes everywhere on the Aloe. The pelargoniums are in full flower. The orange blossom fills the terrace with wafts of its scent. The Viburnum opulus is heavy with flowers. This year there is an abundance of fat white globes hanging down. But the one I have been excited about is the one solitary flower on the Echium pride of Madeira. Wait till next year.

So I head back to London. But only for a week. Planning what next in the garden. Maybe. I’ll also have time to sit and enjoy it.

Tip toe through the tulips.

Yes I know it’s a Sunday Ian. And I know you haven’t had a lie in all week. But. I said I’d go to the open day for The National Garden Scheme – you know the one I missed last year. Ulting Wick

Yes. I know. It’s in Essex an hour and a half drive away. But. Trust me. It will be worth it. And there is cake. Lots of cake. 10,000 tulips. Reluctantly he agreed. Oh. I forgot to tell you. We have to leave early. It’s the London marathon so we will have to skirt the race to get across the river.

Me. I needed no encouragement. I have followed Philippa Burroughs on social media for some time. Have exchanged comments. Liked pictures. Swopped recipes. So I was in the UK at the right time and I was determined. Add to the mix that there would be a smattering of the twitterati attending it was a no brainer. I was keen to put names to faces. Find out real names rather than twitter handles.

I explained to Ian on the way. Its an 11 acre garden in a beautiful setting with amazing black tar varnishes barns. One open for teas. There are tulips. There are plants. Cake. Nice people. Oh. And it’s sunny.

We arrived. Talk of Tip toe through the tulips. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Tulips tulips everywhere. Forget daffodils. Today was the time of the tulip.

The planting is stunning. No other word. Stunning. The colour combinations are magic. I’m stealing some for next year. The combinations. Not the actual tulips.

Last week I was thinking, as I’m sure Philippa and Lou – Head Gardner Lou – @loujnicholls on Twitter – were also thinking – would the tulips be out. Would it be dry. Well. The sun was shining and it was a perfect day. The tulips were out and there were still a lot in bud. Perfect.

There’s the white garden. The pink garden. Kitchen garden. Old farm yard beds. The spring bed by the pond. The stream bed. The meadow. All beautifully planted. Colourful. And so well maintained. But not manicured. Well tended. Planted. And interesting.

Tulip varieties I’d not seen before. But will again as I will be talking to Karen at Peter Nyssen for next year. A note on the door to the magnificent listed barn mentioned that the Tulips come from Peter Nyssen. I’m a huge fan. Huge. And Karen is brilliant. Gorgeous colours. Colour combinations. Shapes. Sizes.

The tulip above was a favourite. Noted for next year for my window boxes in London. – Dior. I love it. Big. Blousy. A better one for me than Belle Époque.

These tulips were translucent in the light. With no filter. Just the sun.

Gorgeous whites in really stunning displays.

Ian loved this bed. He loved the colour combination so I think this will be another for next year. Maybe the pots in Spain. If I can work out how not to get short and stumpy. A bit like me really.

There were so many variations that I could go on for ever. Ian says I will anyway. I usually do. But everywhere you looked there were different tulips. I didn’t count them. But there must have been 10,000. ( I know. I read that somewhere). I moan at planting mine which are a fraction of that number. A mere fraction.

Well done to Philippa and Lou.

There is more to the garden than just tulips. I’m reliably informed that I should visit again for the August opening to see the perennial borders. If I can I will. This time we walked through the meadow – what a beaut it is. Full of cowslips. Beautiful yellow cowslips. So lovely to see a meadow of them and people obeying the signs. Keep to the paths. We did.

We had a wander around the garden with stops – plural – for cake and tea. Now for me. You Judge a garden opening by it’s cake and it’s tea. This was right up there. Chocolate and Guineas. Coconut and lemongrass. Gin and tonic. Lemon and lavender. The list was huge. Like the queue for cake. Word had got Out. The cake was good.

The perennials are starting to shoot. There is a fabulous row of ferns starting to get growth on the edge of the water. And more ferns. And more perennials. I want to go back and see the dahlias.

Add to the opening for the National Garden Scheme we had Barbara Seagall who was signing copies of her book with photography by the late Marcus Harpur – ‘Secret Gardens of East Anglia’ and features Ulting Wick. (Page 110) – which I will read this evening. One copy is for a friend. I must put it away.

I have followed Barbara on social media for some time. We have replied to each other’s photos. She has encouraged me with my blog. So it was such a treat to be able to meet up and to be able to put a face to the name. I’ll forgive her for recognising Ian first – which is magic as most of his photos on social media are of his back. As he said to Barbara. He must have a distinctive bald spot. But he was in deep conversation by the time we left.

Its not just flowers. There is a fabulous kitchen garden which I would love. But don’t have the space in London or the water in Spain.

All that was left was to pick up the plants I had bought and head home.

A huge thank you to Philippa and Lou. The garden was stunning. I loved the planting. The colours the variety and thank you for arranging the sun to shine and for the tulips to be open.

I shall be back. If you’ll have me.

Just a walk through the park

I can’t remember when it changed. But it did. I can’t remember when I started enjoying the park at the end of our road. Or when it became alive. Children in the play area. Teens playing football. Families picnicking. Trendies sitting on the grass chatting. People playing on the fixed table tennis tables. But it did. So very different to the 80’s when the park was threatened with a cut and cover tunnel for the planned Euro star route. It never happened. Thank the lord. A community grew up.

This year a sea of daffodils has appeared. Beautiful. Colourful. Interspersed with blue.

It’s a joy to walk through the park on the way to the station. Past my favourite tree.which is now staring to bud.

This year there are plans to plant wildflowers around the edges. There are hanging baskets to be hung on the lamps posts along the path. The wildflowers by the Friends of Warwick Gardens. The hanging baskets by Southwark Council.

Outside the gate and along the path are cherry trees. The white blossom being scattered in the wind. Beautiful at this time of the year. Three or four in a row. Here a sea of white.

Leaving the park you head towards the station. Via the Holly Grove shrubbery. Or via the road. As often as I can I walk through the shrubbery. A small bit of green along Holly Grove. Naturally. That’s where it gets its name from. Just to check out what’s flowering. What’s there to surprise.

A Narrow space. Some seating. Houses to the left. Black railings to the right. A curved path down the middle.

I didn’t know when it was planted. Or who planted it. But for a council owned space the planting is interesting. Very interesting. Some great perennials. Unusual ones for a local green open space.

A little research shows the land was purchase in 1897 by Camberwell Council for £996 planted and opened to the public in 1897. Its opposite the listed houses which were built between 1816 and 1822.

The details of the purchase of Holly Grove shrubbery give additional details.

There’s ceanothus. I’ve never been lucky with ceanothus – not in Somerset anyway. Maybe too wet. There’s Forsythia. A memory of my parents garden. They had one bush. I’ve never quite got forsythia.

There’s melianthis major. I intend to have some in our Spanish garden after seeing them in Malaga Alcazar.

There are hellebores. Two colours. There are bulbs interspersed with dandelions. Just inside the black iron railings. I’m surprised that the railings weren’t removed during the war years.

Things have come alive. There is colour. The lime green of the Euphorbia. The pink of a plant I can’t identify. The whites. The yellows. There are blackbirds in the bushes whilst those pesky parakeets screech overhead.

It makes a lovely walk through first Warwick Hardens and then Holly Grove on the way to the station and the noise and clutter of Peckham Rye.

At the end of our street the other way is Camberwell Arts College. A newly refurbished frontage of the college which is adjacent to the South London gallery. A bright frontage. Lit at night.

In front of the college on the wide pavement area they have created beds. I have walked past here a lot. I can’t remember what was here before. But now there are flower beds. The front ones have been planted with beautiful white daffodils. With what looks like white vinca. And the prospect of alliums. Hopefully white too. Genius planting. Not to have your usual bog standard yellow.

It’s is lovely to see such fantastic planting. Who ever is responsible – well done! Behind the front beds are beds on a slope. It looks like these are full of alliums. I will keep a look out for the flowering as I go to the Sainsbury’s local when I run out of Milk. Toilet rolls. Or cat food. One of the three.

We may be inner city but there is plenty of colour. Some lovely planting. And at long last. Some sun and warmth to bring it all on. .

Rain. Snow & a Spring. Garden

Another trip over. Another delayed flight back to London. But at least this one has left Spain with no overnight trip to Horrorleminos. Thankfully.

We have spent over 2 months in Spain. On and off. A trip back to London here and there. Had fun on a 2,000km road trip via Cordoba, Cacares, Toledo and Salamanca. Witnessed the spectacle that is Semana Santa. And a spectacle it certainly is. I was a bit Semana Santa’d out by the end of the trip. Its big. Its busy. Great marching bands. Huge traditions and a huge family event. Also a bit scary at times. But a fabulous spectacle.

Semana Santa in Salamanca 

Started Spanish lessons on a one to one with a spanish teacher in Competa. Nervous at first. Back to school. Rubbish pronunciation. But I’m getting there. Slowly. Some words I need practice on. One slip of the tongue and I’ll be ordering something off menu. Something very off the menu. Ian is scared. To be honest. So am I.

The trip was tiring. But an amazing adventure. . Cold at times. One minute in sunshine. The next driving through snow covered mountains wondering if we need be worried that there was a snow plough car park. The terrain was green. Very green. The rivers were flowing. Which is unusual after a few dry years.

I’ve said it before. The rain in Spain doesn’t mainly stay on the plain. It’s everywhere. Especially for three weeks here in Spain. It didn’t just rain cats and dogs. It was the whole ark. Great for the plants. Great for the reservoirs. Although some plants may have drowned.

So back to the village and home. Its always good to get home. Which ever one it may be. I’ve said it before a hairy gardener does! He knows who he is.

I’ve managed two weeks in the garden. Hedge cutting a priority. – I will never win prizes for my topiary. I realise that hairdressing is also not a new career choice for me either. I hate hedge cutting but needs must. Its like edges on a lawn.

Not a shabby view to cut a hedge 

I was so envious of the immaculate and straight lines of the hedges at the Alhambra.

Oh. Yes. Did I mention I’d been to the Alhambra. Again. To be fair it’s only the third time since Xmas. No 4 is in 3 weeks. I may as well get a guides job. But the uniforms not flattering enough. Oh. And that’s the last of 2018. Well maybe. The garden joy this time – fritillaria imperialis – they were magnificent. I may just try them myself. Next year.

I would be interested to see the bedding later in the year. It’s different to last year so maybe …..

The joy of the Alhambra Granada 

Back to my garden. Highlight of Spring has to be the Peter Nyssen freesias. They have been brilliant. Tall and elegant. Perfumed and colourful. Unlike the short stubby tulips which I will add are not from Peter Nyssen. I think it’s a mixture of the weather and late planting.

I’m making my order list for the autumn already. I have just made another bulb order to add to the summer garden.

Peter Nyssen Fressias

Some tulips are ok but overall I’m disappointed. The Belle Époque which were big bold and beautiful last year ( but in London) just haven’t done it for me this year. The brown sugar and Ronaldo are ok but a bit short.

Belle  Époque 

The alliums are running away with themselves – I can’t wait to see them in flower. At least I will see some of them. The trouble is if you are away for a couple of weeks things can come and go and you think they haven’t flowered.

The pomegranate trees has leaves. Plenty. They will have flowers. Plenty. But no pmegranates. I refuse to believe it’s an ornamental. Or that both trees are ornamental. So I may have to go out with my tickling stick to encourage a bit of pollination when the flowers arrive. No photos please.

Who thought that in my retirement I’d be oiling my prickly pears. The cactus are shocking in Andalucia. Blighted with cochineal fly they are ravaged and it is such a shame. Further up into Granada they are better. Maybe the height. Maybe the cold.

The ones on our bank may not be worth saving but there are two at the side which are. So armed with a neem oil and water mix I have been out spraying them. It looks like it’s doing the job so now I will move onto some small ones on the other bank. Worth a try and exercises my balance on the slope.

Prickly Pear

I shan’t be oiling these though. In fact I stay well away. They have a habit of jumping out and stabbing me.

The osteospermums are spreading. And when the sun is out ( which occasionally it has been ) they look great. A bit of colour in the garden. The oranges are ripening. I find it strange that there is still fruit on the tree and there is also new blossom. Lots of blossom and the heavy rains have helped the new year fruit set. The scent on a warm day is breathtaking. We were in Malaga – which isn’t just a sun sea sand and tourist resort but is actually really interesting. I digress. But the scent of orange blossom by the Alcazar is amazing.

Back in the garden – the pine trees are doing well. We found some processionary caterpillar nests which we had removed. Nasty little blighters. There are plenty of new cones and the colouring is really cool. I’m only used to seeing the mature cones. Tip. Great for starting the log fire.

Caterpillar nests

I uncovered some succulents from under the honeysuckle. This week I found them about to start flowering. Hopefully when we get back it will be in flower.

I planted two popcorn senna – Senna didymobotrya – on the bank a while ago. There has been little sign of life so I ventured up the bank ( or down) to see what was happening. The bank is steep. I’m not slight. And there have been a couple of slips. Not a pretty sight at the best of times. . Me. Not the bank thankfully. I found some new growth. And a flower starting to open. It will be a yellow flower. The whole plant indeed does smell of pop corn. Top tip. Don’t touch it without gloves. Top top tip. If you do. Don’t rub your eyes if you do. I did. Big fail. A trip to the pharmacist. She spoke no English. I spoke no Spanish. So it was Spanglais – before my Spanish lessons. But it meant I could pretend to be a pirate for a few days. The one eyed idiot from up the mountain.

Popcorn Senna

The garden is definitely more a Spring and Autumn garden. The heat of the summer is harsh. Even I wither. Not literally but I used to think that villages were deserted. Shutters shut in the mid afternoon when only mad dogs and English men venture out. But they are being sensible. There were times in July I shut the shutters. . Turned on rubbish TV – I’m not saying what – and went back out when it got slightly cooler.

By cutting back the bank last year we have had some wildflowers come through. I found this glorious wild orchid on the roundabout which isn’t a roundabout.

Wild orchid on the roundabout 

So there has been colour. Glorious colour. There has been scent. Lavender. Jasmine. Freesias. Orange blossom.

There have been birds and bees. Oh. The birds and bees.

Busy Bees

That made me think of my mother. You do know about the birds and bees she would say. Oh I did indeed. There has been rain. Sun. Rain. Sun. The succulents are coming alive. The seeds I had sown before our trip have shown themselves. The calendula art shade from Mr Higgledy are up and saying hello.

The poppies I scattered in their thousand have em. Done nothing. Still time yet but there are lovely red poppies on the road edges. Not that I look. You have to see the road to understand why I don’t. But I did when we were being driven by another. I’m hoping that if not this year then next.

You’ll get fed up of that plant they said. It grows like a weed. Huh. If its on the bank and is pretty it can continue and it has. Looks like a tiny sweet pea.

I’ve sown Tithonia spurred on by seeing some in a NGS garden in Camberwell last year. I am hoping they look like the ones I saw.

Tithonia
Tithonia in a NGS garden last year 

I have planted some Echium Pride of Madeira on the bank. Inspired by Jack Wallington garden – open last year and this for NGS . They are not the same as Jacks – a friend arrived bearing a gift of one. So I had to buy 4 more. Didn’t I? It will be interesting to see what flowers I get this year. I shall be off on the hunt for some different varieties when I’m back. They have settled in on the bank and if they will self seed I’ll be happy. Jack also identified a plant I had posted on Instagram – melianthus major. I had seen them in the Alcazar in Malaga and loved them. Another for my list.

There hasn’t been a lot to pick for the house and I refused to pick the freesias. But there was Mimosa.plenty of Mimosa.

Mimosa

Mimosa is abundant on the bank. Glorious yellow flowers and been a bit of a riot of colour on the way up to the house. A bit prone to wind snap but I’ll cope with that.

So there is colour. Lots. As its Spring it seems predominately yellow.

A bit of colour for Spring 

The fruit is ripening and setting. The loquats with their big leaves are starting to get fat and some are ripening. Please wait three weeks. They all come at once. Like the big fat black figs. Which are just leading up.

Loquats fruiting 
Black figs 

We have had a huge harvest of Olives on the one large tree. I don’t like waste so I have salt cured some. Apparently they are good. I’m not a fan but Ian and friends have tried them and say they are great. So I salted another batch. And brought some back to London to do the same here. Waste not want not. They will last 6 months in the fridge. Longer if you freeze them.

Olives from our garden! 

So. It’s London for the next three weeks. . Doctors. Dentists. Opticians and a haircut. Oh. And a visit to the Vets. Cats. Not me. Though it’s easier to get an appointment at the vets.

A spell in our London garden ( small rear patio) – its a mess though we have almond blossom out – before another month in Spain. Well nearly.

Life’s hard when you are retired.

Rain rain go away

We are back in Spain. Again. So soon after the last adventure. We arrived back. The suitcases arrived with us. We arrived at the right airport. The bad weather came with us too. Not the snow. But rain. It was raining when we left 10 days ago. To be fair it hasn’t stopped. We needed it. The reservoirs needed it. The plants needed it. But please stop. Right now. Thank you very much.

The hills are green. Much greener than I have seen them at any time me in the last year. Thos was taken as I waited for my Spanish lesson which continue. Who knew this time last year i’d be talking spanish weather. In Spanish. In Spain. ‘ Especially comments ‘Donde esta el sol. ‘Mucho lluevia’ ‘frio’

There are still things In not allowed to say. For fear of poor pronunciation. A slip of the tongue having me order something not on the menu. But Ive progressed past saying please and thank you.

It’s been a busy week. By coincidence – friends from Somerset were staying close to Malaga. Plus Old friends we haven’t seen for 12 years staying in Nerja. So there was a lot of catching up. Lunch. Checking out the house and garden. Moving in presents. Fizz and plants.

They liked Competa. And – It stopped raining for part of their visits. The sun shone a bit but its always bright in town. Its a pueblo blanco after all.

The plants I’d planted before we went back were well watered. The banana plants were fine. The mew agapanthus had settled well. The bulbs were pushing through fast. Tulips. Allium. Foxtail Lillies. The new little rosemary hedge on the path at the side of the house had taken. Rosemary does so well here. .

There are signs of Spring. Especially the spring leaking from the bank at the bottom of the hill onto the road. Water water everywhere. Much more and the plants may just drown. But there is colour. The freesias are a blooming. Great freesias from Peter Nyseen.

Ive never seen such long stems. Glorious colours too. The osteospermums have been spreading. When the sun shines – briefly so far- they all open together.

The pomegranates have started to bud. I had cut them back hard. They have lovely flowers but no fruit. I’m not convinced they are ornamental so lets see if we get any – just one would be nice- this year.

I wandered up to the roundabout. Which isn’t a roundabout at all. What do I find. A solitary wild orchid. I think we have some more at the back of the house. In the orchard which isn’t an orchard as it only has half a dozen trees. Fingers crossed. They are glorious and such a fabulous colour.

We have some pine trees on the bank. I love them. The fallen pine cones are a great starter for the log burner. But before we left last time i spied three nests of processional caterpillars in one of the trees. Thanks to Twitter I had read about them. Not these ones obviously but I was aware that they were nasty little blighters. And not for me to deal with. So there was a man that could. And did. And they are no more.

I love the garden after a bit of rain . And there have been plenty of times this week. I love the rain drops like little diamonds just hanging on the leaves. On the the flowers. Just not all of the time.

The cistus in flower in the bed behind the bank. A glorious bit of colour. The petals looking a bit like crumpled crepe paper.

The solitary lemon is getting fatter. The clivias are in flower or in bud. The wild sweet peas are wild. The Australian wisteria is still blooming lovely over the garden gate. I’m hoping that Fibrex Nurseries still have one when I get back for London. There is lavender along the path. Which may be cut back hard next week. I cut some back nervously before xmas and its done really well.

The ferns are happy. Other than the one I drowned. Don’t ask. Schoolboy error. My fault too.

The dodonea has some flower buds but i understand that they are pretty insignificant. But the colour of the leaves are pretty awesome.

The new gazania are flowering but would do better for being a bit drier. A bit more sun. But then again so would I.

The strelitzia continue to flower – this ones going over but the plant which is in a large pot has a further 6 flower spikes in various stages of growth. The ones in the garden have had their flowers bashed a bit. But I love them. Maybe one for the micro climate of our london garden.

When friends arrived on Friday they came bearing a plant. ‘We aren’t sure if you have one’ they said. ‘We bought it in the garden centre on the way up.’ No’ I replied. ‘ I haven’t but Ive always wanted one’ It was true. I wasn’t just being polite. I’d seen Echium at Jack Wallington & Chris Anderson’s NGS open garden and had said. I want. . Ian said No. you’d like. No I replied again. I want. So it has been planted on the bank. With the other 4 I dashed off to buy. You have to don’t you? They will look amazing when in full flower. So there are now five Echium fastousum planted on the bank. They will look striking in full bloom. Working on the bank is a struggle. Stoney. Steep. And in parts slippery. But thought of the tall blue plumes made it worthwhile.

Even Ian has been out in the garden. Probably looking to see how many new plants I’d bought. Oh. And to make sure I have planted them. Only three to go. Oh. And the seed to scatter on the bank. I was planning to do that yesterday but its been a bit too windy.

We are off on a Spanish road trip. To Cordoba. To Toledo. To Casares. To Salamanca. And back to Competa for Semana Santa. The Easter processions and celebrations are huge here and I haven’t seen one single Easter egg. So Bags packed. Raincoats in. Hats at the ready. And brollies. . Of course brollies.

Top tip. If you ever go to the Alhambra in Granada and there is any chance of rain. Take an umbrella. On our first trip two years ago it was entry price €12. Umbrella price €25. It was either buy or wander round like a reject from a wet t-shirt competition. The said umbrella. No one wants to see me in a wet t shirt. Least of all me.

You’ve gotta have friends

So this trips not all been about the garden.It has also been time for friends. Ooh Allo Mike was out for 5 days. Then the ‘dream team’ were on tour. The Dream team. Common Farm dream team. Since I’ve retired I’ve spent some time with Georgie , Lorraine and Sharon helping out at the Flower Farm. Been the gofer. Bottle washer and even let loose on the wedding flowers. Lorraine on the other hand is queen of the jam jar posies. Sharon and Georgie the leaders of the pack. The experts.

So we planned a ‘dream team’ trip to our house in Spain. A chance for me to show them the garden. The town. The wine. I managed to book a trip to the Alhambra. Despite living close to Common Farm flowers it was the power of social media that brought us together. Me ordering flowers from the flowery lady up the lane. Then her delivering to the cottage. And it went on. Progressed into friendship

The date was set. Tickets booked. House cleaned. Garden tidied.

The flight arrived early. We arrived 5 minutes late. They were in arrivals. Wearing tiaras. Waiting. Smiling. ‘ Well’ they said. ‘You’ve said all week on social media it was a royal visit so we have arrived prepared’. They only came off once we got to the car. Trust me to be mean and park in the car park with the longest walk. Home up the dark and windey road. Wine. Snacks. Bed. In that order. But only after a lot of catching up.

To be fair. Saturday morning wasn’t a great start to the weekend. Table laid for breakfast. Orange juice squeezed. Kettle on the boil for more coffee. Boom. Off went the electrics. Nothing else to do but head up into Town.

We managed a wander around the market, coffee and croissants in the Plaza and then happened to bump into the plumber. Now I know what your thinking. Electrics. Plumber? Well along with our friend and Estate Agent they arrange everything for us. He promised that if it wasn’t on in a few hours Domingo would come out. On a saturday. Just like that.

Theres always something going on in the town. I couldn’t have arranged it better. A children’s fancy dress parade through the town. Some parents ( mothers!) dressed up. Some grandmothers. Tiny babies in pushchairs. A great family event wandering through the narrow whitewashed streets.

Next stop Nerja. A drive down the wiggly road to the coast. I need to up my game. This is our standard itinerary. Competa and the market if its a Saturday. A drive to the coast. Either Nerja or Torre del Mar. Today was Nerja. A short drive – after depositing Ian at the house to wait for Domingo – oh and after a couple of glasses of Cava – them not me we headed off.

Now you cant be in Spain and not stop off at a traditional Tapas Bar. Surprise surprise. We did. Packed too. With Spanish. Always a good sign. So we sat at the bar like locals. But stood out like we were not. Tempting Georgie into trying the different choices. A typical Tapas. One drink. One small tapas free. Oh. And wine and beer. For them. Not me. We had to get back up the wiggly road

A wander through the streets. A look at the sea.

Presents for the children. Not the spanish children obviously. The wriggler and Bear back in Somerset. And back up the hill to a house with electricity. Good old Domingo.

Supper at one of out favourite restaurants El Pilon.

A bucket of gin for an aperifif – Dani doesn’t know the word small. Even in Spanish. After 3 weeks of lessons I do. But to no avail. I try when he pours my caramelo. Caramel Vodka. My nightcap of choice these days. Another great evening – great food – conversation and catching up

Back at the house and time to relax. Not quite sure what Lorraine was explaining. But this was during the day and no drink was involved!

Sunday was our main event. A trip to the Alhambra. Now its not easy to get tickets. But it is. Booking opens three months in advance and tickets are limited to the Nasrid Palaces. Entry to these are by timed tickets. So unless you know your dates in advance you can struggle. Most of our visitors haven’t know their dates so far in advance so we always start with well it would be nice but. But. No guaranteed. Persistence is key. Keep checking the official website and days open up. Slowly. So I’ve managed to get dates for Feb. April and May. Yes. Glutton. one word of advice – they have a new booking system and they ask for names. Passport numbers and ages. Sorry ladies. I know and I will keep it secret. Passports required to be carried. But rarely checked.

I knew Lorraine wouldn’t arrive without something ‘dream-team’ related. I wasn’t wrong. Printed Tshirts. Yes before you ask. Im breathing in. We loved them. Thank you Lorraine.

A fashionable arrival. A pashmina that would mean Georgie wouldn’t get lost. Lorraine hidden under a parka. Umbrellas supplied by Ian. Yes. It was drizzly and cold. I keep forgetting how different the temperatures can be. But the Alhambra is high up in the Sierra Nevada. There’s skiing and snowboarding close by. Not me of course. Imagine. Me. Snowboard. Never. It would need stabilisers. But it was cold. Bloody cold.

A wander first around General life and the gardens. They are just planting the annuals in the beds so it will be interesting to see how it goes between now and my visit in May. Apologies to Lorraine. I kept wittering on about the box. But it looked sad. Very sad. They also had some myrtle hedges. Interesting.

A rare sighting of Ian. You usually only see him walking ahead if me.

Why are they laughing below? Because Mr Camera was trying to get a good shot and nearly went into one of the rills. Wet feet. Freezing cold. I would have wanted to go home. But its a nice picture.

I have become a regular visitor to the Alhambra over the last few months and every time I visit there is something else to see. Things I’ve missed. Things I see differently.

Its also great to see it through other peoples eyes. Standing in the midday queue being read the history of the Alhambra. Rather nicely read too. In one of these pics Georgie is talking poo. Poo and soil. She did a live Insta feed on it too.

The gardens change every visit. Two weeks before the dream team visit they were planting the bedding plants. In some areas there were gorgeous ranunculus. Shiny red ranunculus. Stocks. Scented. I am back there again in a month. Then again in May.

The Nasrid Palace is the jewel. The tiling. The ceilings. The stonework. Its beautiful and I think it exceeded expectations

. I know i can be a bit blasé about it. But I’ve been 4 times in the last year and have another two booked in. But it changes. Not the palaces obviously. But the light. The gardens. The tourists!

During the late summer I will book for a night tour. I think to see the palaces at night will be magical.

We even had chance of a silly selfie! Thats unusual. Both in a picture. At the same time.

You’d never know it was cold would you. Not by the look of Lorraine all wrapped up in her coat. Hood up. Shes the one in the blue by the way! The pink hat and green coat had nothing to do with us! Or Lorraine.

The one thing you do at The Alhambra is walk. And walk. And walk. It covers a large space. The gardens. The towers. The palaces. Up and down steps. To the top of the towers with amazing views of Granada. So there’s always a relief when you get a Saga stop. Especially on nice chairs!

A chance to sit and look out over Granada. Rest the pink trainer feet. Catch a breath. Post an Insta.

We spent five hours there. Yet still you don’t have time to see absolutely everything. Back home up the wiggly road. Out for supper.

But first Georgie wanted to see a sunset. She had seen loads on my timeline. But she wanted to see one for herself. Saturday night was overcast. No sunset.

Thankfully Sunday night obliged.

She isn’t really having to reach above the hedge to get a good pic.

It was a great weekend. Lots of chatter. Garden chat. People chat. Nonsense chat. Wine. Good food. And especially laughter. It will be repeated. Hopefully when the sun is hot. But not too hot. Diaries at the ready.

Botanical Gardens Malaga

Its always the same. Whenever you have visitors you make the effort to do things. To go places. Since we gave had the house in Spain we have done a lot. A lot of the same. I’m not complaining when the same is the Alhambra but sometimes is good to be encouraged to don something different. So with a new visitor in tow who is interested in all things garden we went to The Botanical Gardens Malaga .

I have been driving past the gardens for nearly a year – it can be seen from the motorway on our way to the house from the airport. Not that I have looked before – I’m always driving and my eyes are on the road ahead behind and sideways – why? Because I am driving on the wrong side of the road and it needs concentration.

The gardens are pretty central and were quiet – tickets inexpensive and a good cafe just as you go in. You just have to start with a coffee and a cake don’t you? I need sustenance for the walking.

Armed with a map of the gardens we were off along the date palm walk up to the cactus and succulents.

To be honest first impressions weren’t one if wonder. Yes. The date palms were impressive. There was a lake. A walk up to the cactus and succulents. It was ok- the three of us agreed on that. The cactus individually were interesting and there were some pretty fine specimens. But it felt unloved. It didn’t have the feel or look of Kew. Great individual photo opportunities and great viewed from the paths looking down.

Theres a great variety of cactus – great to see a few that we have in the garden!

The walk from this area moved you through huge and by huge i mean huge trees, palms bamboos. Both tropical and sub tropical. An area of native plants. A historical garden. I wish I’d read the Malaga tourist board information before and not after I visited as it gives an interesting history of the garden and its walks. Still. Im going back in April and will do my homework first.

I’ve seen a review which bemoans the fact that the paths are uneven. I think it adds to the experience. One of our comments as we walked through was that the palms and succulents hadn’t been cleared of the dead leaves in what looked like decades. But. In their natural habitats they wouldn’t have would they! I guess we are so used to seeing manicured gardens where everything is tended for viewing by paying visitors. Stripped of any sign of dead wood. . Dead leaves. Spent flowers. theres weren’t.

But hey. What trees. What palms. The biggest Strelitzia I have ever seen. And it was the blue and white flowering one. Not that it was flowering now. Nor could you really get a picture! So you will just have to believe me.

The trunks of the trees were impressive. My mother once said to me ‘ you have legs like tree trunks’. Not like these mother! Massive. Gnarled. Creeping and in parts creepy. I wouldn’t want to be locked in here at night!

There was bamboo. Ive never seen such huge bamboo. invasive. Tall. Yet impressive. There was a huge area of black bamboo – the bamboo wood which covers over 1.000 sqm. Really thick really tall. The bamboo areas are over 150 years old. You’d never run out of bamboo canes would you!!

This Swiss Cheese plant – Monstera Deliciosa was indeed a Monstera. A huge Monstera. We have one our garden. Its a mini one in comparison. Look at the staking this one has been. There were loads if them. Literally loads. Makes tje one that sat in my parents house with the obligatory rubber plant , look like a bonsai.

That and agapanthus. Not yet in flower. I’dlike to see the agapanthus when in full bloom . I’m a huge fan of them. As Arnie said ‘I’ll be back. ‘

I was surprised to see some gorgeous clivia. I don’t know why I was surprised. But I was. Now clivia is one of my favourites. When we first had the cottage in Somerset – 20 odd years ago a neighbour , a horticulturist and ex Blue Peter gardener had a shop in the next town. She introduced me to unusual plants. Cornish daffodils and clivia. So these always make me think of her. In the UK I had them as a houseplant. But I’ve recently bought some for a shaded part of our garden in Spain. So it was interesting to see swathes of them underplanted in beds beneath the canopy above. Shade lovers. So I have planted right back at home. phew.

The leaves are similar to agapanthus but a bit fatter and firmer.

What I haven’t seen before is such glorious seed heads. Lets see if mine get them.

I’ve seen some reviews bemoaning the fact that there are no flowers in the Botanical gardens. Well there are. Maybe not the flower beds you see at the Alhambra – which are being planted now with annuals. But this is a different garden. Oh. And there are flowers. A walk through the Hibiscus walk is colourful. Even when not in full bloom. .

We have one hibiscus – in a pot in out garden. Colour unknown. But I would happily take any of these. ( i didn’t.)

I love finding plants I’ve never seen before and this one – Justicab Aurea Schitd ( spell checked the last bit. Me and fat fingers an all that!)!! Brazilian Plume is a beauty.

There is a big wisteria arch which at this tome of year wasn’t in flower. But all along the sides of the arch on the floor was pot after pot after pot. Of aspidistra.

Despite my initial reaction I have to say I loved it. Not manicured to death. Trees and palms untouched – looking more like they would in their natural environment.

I will be back. In April!