I don’t mind if I do. A trip to the Alhambra Palace & gardens 

We had our first visitor to the new house this weekend. Which was exciting. You know that feeling where you love something and hope others do too. Well that. 
The joy of being here in Spain is the opportunity to look at new and different gardens.  To look out for new ideas and new plants to weave into our new Mediterranean garden. It’s a huge learning curve and one where after only theee months I have lost a few plants on the way. The ground is hard. The climate harsh this summer. Hot. Dry. My visits here scattered. 

So with our first visitor we headed off to the Alhambra We had been 18 months ago in April 2016 but it’s a stunning visit and one I will not tire of. Not yet anyway. An easy 1.5 hour drive away.  The Alhambra is a series of buildings with the Nasrid  palace the glittering jewel  in the crown. One where you have an allotted time to visit. 

The gardens when we were there in April were nice. I hate that word. Nice. It kind of means bland. Nice.  So I was interested to see the summer planting. The colours. The smells, but slightly worried with this years extreme heat we may have missed it. 

Tickets for the Alhambra are always sold out. There is no point deciding on the day to  go visit. You need to plan. Your tickets. The entry time to the Nasrid  Palace. Plan your trip. Thankfully we had. Tickets booked in May.  The route planned with the assistance of  my good friend  Sally. Sally sat nag. We are rubbish as map readers so are happy to be dominated by the Tom Tom. 

Water is a bit of a luxury here in Spain especially during the summer months. So I was surprised to see the gardens being heavily watered. At 10am. By watered. I mean Watered. Heavily. But when you walk around the vast and varied garden you can tell I’m not watering enough in mine. Even for drought tolerant plants.  This years heat has been brutal. 

But I have to say the planting is simply gorgeous. Stunning in parts. Colourful. Interesting. Plants I knew. Ones I haven’t seen in years. Simple. Interesting. A few I have to revert to Twitter for help in identifying.  The planting so colourful that it reminds me of my parents front borders of the 1970’s.  

There is structure. Carefully cut and structured hedging. Labelled. Please do not touch  the plants. It’s yew. It’s poisonous. Something I’ve found a lot of the plants here are. 

I was surprised to see roses. I don’t really know why – but I’ve been Surprised  to see many things in the gardens here. Hollyhocks for one. 

 There has been an absolute stunner of a rose growing over the gates of the house opposite us. A gorgeous red. So full of bloom I had to go and check it was real.  It was.  This yellow rose in the formal structured beds was a stunner. I thought too yellow for Graham Thomas. But a beautiful rose dotted about over the gardens. There were a lot of standards. Giving height.  Structure.  Colour at eye level. 


I haven’t seen Alyssum since it was planted down my parents front path  in the 1970’s.  Like lobelia a staple  in gardens years ago – , which I have in window Boxes for the first time in years this year and has grown  and looks well ,but like Alyssum seems to have fallen out of fashion for more blousy plan more unusual plants for the borders and window boxes. It was the standard bedding plant back in “the old days” along with lobelia, tagetes ,petunias, godetia,  busy lizzies and begonias.  Oh and red bedding salvias . Most of which were to be found in beds across the Alhambra. To be honest – it was a delight to see old friends. 

Purple & white Alyssum
Begonias at the Nasrid Palace
Red Bedding Salvia amongst the bedding

The line for the Nasrid palace queues alongside some lovely beds. I love the orange colours in the garden but hate the smell of tagetes when you handle them. In a mass planting the orange of these are uplifting. Dotted under standard roses. 

We came across this gorgeous plant. Planted as a mass in some beds whilst in others there were splashes of colour and in some more a riot of colour. An explosion. After a shout of ‘help’ on twitter it was identified as an euphorbia- euphoebia marginata  Kilimanjaro. Thank you twitter folk. 

Eurphobia Marginata Kilimanjaro


They certainly know how to do colourful with their planting. More an explosion than planting. But it’s stunning.  There were also beds of dahlias, statice and all manner of things.  Salvias a plenty. What looked like a form of knautia. 



 

Someone has been kept busy. The shape size and scale of some of the  topiary was awesome. I have trouble trimming our hedges and I know if I tried to shape them I’d end up with such ugly shapes. Yep. I know. A bit like me! 

Alone again – naturally

It wasn’t all colour. The agapanthus in huge drifts at the entrance were going over. Flower heads turning into big fat seed heads. I think I’ve taken enough photos of aggies this year. There were some tall architectural trees. But an abcence of succulents  unless I was too mesmerised with the colours that I. Issued them. 

How’s that for a bit of topiary
Magnificent cypress
The Joshua Tree

You can’t help but be in awe of the buildings here. The intricate craftsmanship of the decoration in the marble the woodwork and the history. 


But the gardens are a surprise. A welcome place to wander and reflect  the majesty of the palaces. 

A reminder to me of the blaze of colour I grew up with in my parents borders – the planting of annuals where the concept of less is more was rarely understood. But it set me up for the  love of colour. Of gardens and gardenning. 

1970’s borders – my parents style
I can’t wait to go back again in the spring and to see what the bedding has been replaced with. I hope bulbs. Lots of them. 

Weeds. Weeds. And more weeds. 

No it wasnt funny the first time said Ian. A grown man standing in the garden. Squeaking. Weed. Weed. I guess he’s too young to remember watch with mother. Bill and Ben the flowerpot men. With Weed .  Behind the potting shed. Which looks nothing like the lovely potting shed of Karen Gimson. She knows I have potting shed envy. That I’m going to move into hers. 

Anyway. As usual I thought it was funny. Obviously not. But I was here to weed. 

Having bought our new Spanish house and having a new garden to manage and with spending more time there the garden in Somerset has been a bit neglected.  Ooh. A lot of ands there. 

It hasn’t helped that we have had sun. Rain. Sun. Sun. Rain. So the garden has grown. You can watch it grow. From the dryness of inside the kitchen window. Plants are taller. The weeds stronger. I maintain I have the national collection of bindweed. Hideous weed. The plant. Not the Bill and Ben  character. 

 I’ve tried for weeks to get to the cottage. But every time I have a day or two it rains. It pours. Horizontal rain. Wind.Great British Summer.   I’m a wimp. I’m a fair weather gardener. Don’t judge me. You know who I mean! 


It’s sad to see that the garden isn’t as pristine as I usually have it.  Pristine is the wrong word. It’s not a show garden. I’m not a gardener. I garden for me. I grow what I like. Where I like. But I usually have more time. The grass had been cut but there was work to be done. But yes. There were some lovely plants in bud. In flower. Seedheads. New beginnings. 


The roses I pruned with Sara Venn earlier in the year were budding like crazy. The second flush of flowers coming through now. I had a great day with Sara and she taught me a lot about pruning fruit  trees. Maybe I can persuade her to come to spain! 

The apple tree we pruned is loaded with fruit. The best I’ve seen  in years.  We were a bit ( I say we – Sara ) worried about the tree with the red apples. But it’s done amazingly well.  Some have been picked and brought home. The tree was supposed to be a Laxton  superb. My mothers favourite apple. You can’t beat a laxtons  she used to say. Well someone has beaten me. This ain’t laxtons superb. 

Apples

Everyone knows I like a dahlia or two and I planted a couple of new ones this year – well more than a couple to be fair. 

Bought and planted. Before I knew we would hopefully be on the move. Two have flowered beautifully. But. Hello. Cafe au lait where are you hiding? Not under the bindweed. Surely not.  I first saw cafe au lait at Georgie Newberry’s Common Farm Flowers  And fell in love with it.  I have had so many suggestions over the last year for new dahlias I can’t keep up. 

Dahlia shooting star
Dahlia peach delight

The dahlia bed was doing ok. The tubers  I had left in had come through. Beaten  off the slugs  – and a couple were blooming lovely. Black Jack. Rip city. A couple of bishops.  


There’s a couple of things I’m rubbish at.  – gardening things. Staking is one. Always on my list. Rarely crossed off.  Remembering when the plants get straggly. Or there is wind. The other. Labelling. I have had the intention of a plan. Labelling the plants. Putting them down on paper. A proper plan. So I don’t forget the names. It was a plan. But 23 years later it’s still a plan. I’m trying not to make the same mistake in Spain.  I’ll tell you how I get on. In 23 years time 

But thankfully I have the invoice still from Withypitts so have identified Peach Delight and Shooting Star.  


The bees havent deserted me. The Echinops all a buzz. Two for the price of one. 

The weeds are bad. So bad that I have a helper. Quite how Ian  has decided to help I don’t know.  Obviously there is no tennis on the TV  But he has. I might have to turn a blind eye at his technique and the odd pull of a plant that is not a weed. Today he’s keen.  Carry on regardless. 

It’s amazing. Often there are plants which run away with themselves. This is one. I swear that this year it’s two foot taller than usual. I like them. Great for cutting  but boy are they invasive or what! 

The monbretia. Yes I know it’s all crocisima now. But my parents called it Monbretia and old habits die hard. This clump has never previously  flowered. I mentioned it last year and moaned about it. Someone said that they always flower. This year the clump is flowering. Like crazy. Have indeed me anything different. No. Not that I can think of. 

I planted an Emily McKenzie and it’s in bud. I’ll miss the flowers this year as I am away again. 

The garden photographs well. Looks good. Even if I say so myself. But please don’t look too closely. Bindweed and groundelder are everywhere. 

We have a grape vine at the back of the house. It catches the sun. But I thought that this year we had no grapes. They aren’t sweet and last year for the first year I picked them. Ate one. Even sourer  than me.  So I made grape and  Rosemary jelly. Went down a bomb. So I started to hack the growth back – full of horticultural technique me – and lo and behold hiding under the growth were bunch after bunch of grapes. Larger than last year and hopefully with some Aug sun ( please ) they will get fatter and juicier. Chateau Pitcombe if wont be. But good old grape  and Rosemary jelly again. And again. 


Rhubarb. Not picked for ages. So I have. No need to force this rhubarb. Looks like I’d need to force it to stop. There will be rhubarb gin and rhubarb and star anise cordial. Some for  next door for a crumble.  The gin to add to the sloe gin supply  gently brewing in the kitchen cupboard. 


The poppies are over for another year. The seed heads are drying ready to explode and sow themselves for another year. 


So now I ache. My back. My arms. I’m weeded out. But do you know what. Give it another three weeks and on my next trip and I’ll be doing it all over again. Whether I want to or not. 

Hello again hello. 

It’s the last week of July and after  a trip to Italy and a quick whizz around two NGS London open gardens I’m back in Spain. The open gardens were fab –  two very different London gardens. 

Jack Wallington garden was a revelation in what you can do in a small London garden. Great planting. Huge varieties and all plants labelled! Oh dear. Please don’t judge me Jack. I always forget what names. Let alone plants.  But jacks echiums are  giving us ideas for our new Mediterranean garden in Spain.  Other plants Ideas for our small London garden. Oh. And it’s open again on 10 September. 

Jack & Chris garden in Clapham

So after an abscence of three week what would the Spanish garden have in store.?  Well. Certainly drier than in London. I’d been panicking a bit about the heat. The temperatures are high. Even for summer. In the Andalusian hills. There is an irrigation system. And someone to go in and water. But…….

At the back of the house we have a slope. I’ve mentioned it before. The last time I went up there I itched for days. Was worried I’d encounter a snake. And we had an Italian experience. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that. 


 Was worried about fires so we arranged for it to be strimmed. I was asked. Why don’t you do it yourself – you’ve got the time. “Excuse me” I said. “Strimming an extremely dry slope in 30* heat dressed from head to toe in overalls.” Thanks. Maybe next year. So it was done. Not by me and looks so much better. The almond trees look better and there is a good crop. Quite what I’ll do with them is another question. . The figs are ripening and hopefully will be ready to pick when we have friends staying in the next two months. 

the almond trees
Almonds
Lovely figs. Waiting to ripen and turn black

The other side of the bank doesn’t look as great and needs some more planting. The prickly pears look like they are going down with a disease again this year. I know they were all cut to the ground last year and a skip filled between two houses. I’m hoping to have a mix of nespera, olives and some succulents dotted about. But the ground is as hard as iron. We need to wait for the rain. 

Down in the main  garden most of the plants were looking ok. Some are struggling in the heat. Even those that are drought tolerant.  There are three areas to the garden. The main area at the front of the house. Three beds. A lavender path. Some citrus. Some pots. To the side of the house and ro the back two sloping beds. Cactus. Succulents. Stuff.  The mandarin and lime that Ian wanted and are in pots are looking good. Plenty of mandarins. No limes this year. There will be next. 

The pearly agave in a pot is looking fab. Particularly  if you catch it in the right light. I’ve found another at the back of the house – I’m hoping they will flower. 

Pearly agave
When I left three weeks ago I thought the Stephanotis would flower and be over by the time I got back. Its in a large pot and has struggled a bit but there were still beautiful waxy blooms. As I tidied the plant up I found one single solitary fruit. I never knew that they could fruit – mind you I have only really seen them as pot plants. Indoors. Used in bridal bouquets apparently. Not mine. 

They smell lovely. 

Waxy stephanotis

I forgot to take a picture before I left  – the fruit has changed a lot in a week. Apparently the black silky seeds can be easily propagated. Not by me I fear. 

The fruit of the stephanotis

This border and the circle under the old olive tree is doing well. There are loads of olives. The strawberry mint I planted and which I thought had died is growing again. I didn’t think that even I would be able to kill mint. 

The lavender likes me being away. I tend to overwater. So it does better when I’m not there. 

The very mixed and confused border
I cleared a bit of the oleander next to the garage. And found a lovely plumbago. Struggling behind the oleander but the blue is lovely against the white of the garage. Now I know it’s there I’ll make sure it does well. ( right – as if ) 

Plumbago
The wall planting has one solitary red geranium flower – we are in between blooms. The scented pelargoniums are doing really well. I find them a bit boring. Insignificant flowers. But boy. As you brush past the scent is delicious. And they are pretty hardy in the dry. 


I also found that there are six quinces on the quince tree. Well what else would you expect? But I was surprised. Now to see what I can do with them. 

Quince

I’ve mentioned before that my mother was the queen of deadheading. Something she instilled in me. I’m not as bad as her – I don’t walk up anyone’s path and deadhead as I go. She did. But these little flowers drive me insane. I’m forever taking off the dead ones. I mean forever. 

The agapanthus have finished and are setting seed. I’m going to let a lot self seed this year. There are a lot of plants. I have space for more. Don’t I? But I have been making a note of some really dark ones. There have been some great suggestions of new agapanthus for me to look at on twitter this last month. 

The shade of the olive tree

It’s not all been gardening. I managed a day wandering around town taking some photographs. But the heat defeated me.  I had to sit in the square people watching. That was so hard to do. For hours. 

The sunsets are awesome and are something I don’t think I will tire of. Glorious from our terrace.  The sun was so red and bright in the sky as it went down behind the mountains. 

The town of Competa. A 10 min drive from the house. A glorious white washed Andalusian town. Nestling on the hillside. 

The hanging houses of Competa

So I’m home for just over a week and then back to Spain for three. It was supposed to be only a week in August but we have visitors coming for another week – and we can’t not be there with them. Not when it’s our two favourite boys arriving with their parents. Wouldn’t be right would it.

 Ian will be there for a week as planned.  Largely to drink wine. On 15 August the town celebrates its wine festival – NOCHE DEL VINO: – which starts with the wine treading  on the Plaza de la Vendimia. Then goes on all night.  Not that we will. We also have. A friend staying for that. But we are also heading to the Alhambra. In August. In the heat. But it will be worth it. It’s such a stunning place. 

I also found some gardens that open near to Granada. Though we may not have time this time. 

But. As I left the forecast for the end of this week is 41*. With night time temperatures of 24. Who know what I will find next week!! I’m sure I’ll tell you though.  

Lovely day for a white wedding – my day in the life of Common Farm Flowers

Have I mentioned I’ve retired. Just once or twice I’m sure. The joy of being retired means I am able to do different things. Able to indulge. Whether it is gardening or travelling. Meeting people I have been engaged with ( rather than to ) on social media over the years. One of my biggest joys has been the opportunity to spend time at Common Farm Flowers with Georgie Newbery. The flower farmer of British grown flowers. Grown not flown.  It’s well known I’m a huge fan. I buy flowers. Have attended workshops. Wandered the garden. 


Over the last 18 months Georgie has allowed me to be part of the team at Common Farm Flowers to assist on busy days whether it be for Mothering Sunday,Easter, Christmas or one of my favourites – big wedding days. My friend Lorraine Pullen and I roped in as part of what Georgie calls ‘the dream team’ working alongside Georgie and Sharon in the flower studio. Who would have thought that 18 months ago I was pushing a pen around a bit of paper in Canary Wharf – not the actual Wharf but in a building on it – and now I’m occasionally pushing gorgeous British flowers into fantastic flowery arrangements. And loving it. Totally. 

Georgie – not me

I was delighted to have been asked again last week to help out with a white wedding. So delighted I arranged my holidays around it. 

 The bride had asked for white.  Previous weddings I had helped with were more colourful so I wasn’t sure about all white to be honest. But hey. What do I know. I’m just the work experience guy in this! Georgie had mentioned that the studio was full of around 4,000 stems. I’d seen the studio full before but boy. Was it full. And white. A small corner of colour for the bouquets going out that day. But predominately white.  I love the studio but when it’s full of flowers, scent in the air it’s awesome. 


The list was long. Brides bouquet. 4 bridesmaids. Button holes. Two large arrangements for pedestals for the church. A local Rural church  in Cucklington whose records date back to 1291.  One for the Norman font – a glorious arrangement warranted for such a historic structure. .  Garlanding for the church entrance. Garlanding for the tipi in the field for the reception.  Little arrangements for the gates of the church. All white. With green foliage. The list was endless. Where to start. How about a cuppa tea and a croissant.  I came armed with goodies. 

I’d called in the day before.  right’ says Georgie cracking the whip ‘ ‘ early start tomorrow’  she reminds me . There’s a lot to get through. Say 8.30. Thanks. Did I mention I’m retired. 8.30! I work gentlemans  hours – some say I always did. But for Georgie and the joy the day gives me I’d be there at 6. But don’t tell her that. Please. 

My role for the day is to make a start on the 15 table arrangements – oh I forgot those in the list- oblong arrangements with a hurricane lamp and candle for the centre. 

15. That’s not too bad I thought.  That’s not what I thought hours later with an aching back and cross eyed from looking for gaps. 

First job was to soak the oasis. Thanks Sharon – she had done it already. Team work that. I love Sharon. We work well together. She laughs at my jokes. She eats more cake than I do. Doesn’t mind my teasing her. And is brilliant at what she does. Sharon gets on with the garlanding. My job is easy compared to hers. That’s what I think. She just quietly gets on with it. In between answering the telephone. Life at the flower farm goes on. Despite 4,000 blooms sitting waiting to be arranged. 

The table arrangements taking shape

Make sure that the whole of the oasis is covered with green foliage says Georgie. Ok. That shouldn’t be difficult. I’ll be finished by lunchtime. Hmmm. 

First I go cutting ivy. A wheelbarrow full ready to make a start.  Which isn’t enough. I have to go cut more. Thankfully there is a lot.  I can’t go wrong cutting Ivy. 

Hello ivy

Along with a whole host of other foliage. Including Rosemary – eucalyptus, camelia, lots of trachelium as greenery. Oh. And more ivy. More eucalyptus. 

Sharon concentrates on getting the garlands made. These will be amazing  at the end of the day. Great attention to detail. Worrying if she should add more. Or less. If less is more. If I’ll ever shut up up telling her she’s missed a bit. It’s really interesting how adding a different flower actually lifts the garlands. One minute you wonder – then with a small addition it lights up. 


How hard is it I’d thought. 15 table arrangements to green up before the flowers go in. Can’t be that bad. Right. As soon as you think it’s done you look again and I can see a bit of oasis. If I can see it the boss lady will too. Eyes like a hawk. . Turn it around. There’s another. How much more foliage will it take. Let me tell you. Loads. And loads. And when you think your done. Loads more. I hear The boss say ‘ I don’t want to see any of that oasis’ – yes boss. Before we start adding white flowers. And then more white flowers. 

Meanwhile Georgie is full on with bouquet and pedestal duty. Oh and in between some colourful bouquets for a 50th to be delivered later. Life isn’t only about tomorrow! There are orders to take. Other flowers to arrange. Kids to sort. 


There is constant banter between us. We are missing Loraine who because of injury – not a flower arranging injury… but the banter continues.  She always joins in. And gets us singing along to cheesy tunes. I miss Lorraine. She’s a diamond. Like me retired. A whole different life in the police behind her and it’s great to spend days like today as a team. That’s one thing I do miss in retirement. Team work.  Common Farm works as a team. With Georgie at the helm. 

I’d like to say that this is  Sharon and I playing peek a boo over the flower tables. But it’s not. This is sharon checking for gaps. The garland will be high up and needs to be covered. I love this photo. Not only is it fun. It shows the attention to detail that Common Farm Flowers applies to the arrangements. Flowers. Friends. Fun. What more could I ask for. Other than another piece of cake. A cuppa tea. A sit down. 

I was wrong about white. I like colour. But the white flowers were gorgeous. I’ll take a deep breath and try and remember what we used –  Antirrhinums, sweet peas, feverfew, philadelphus, daisies, astrantia, limonium, jasmine, larkspur, delphinium, stocks, Ammi, roses, scabious, all looking awesome in the arrangements. Bears breeches to give height to the large arrangements for the altar.  Ammi dancing and floating in the arrangements. The large floating heads dancing above the rest. Posh cow parsley someone said. Maybe. But I love it. I must actually look up pink cow parsley which I saw in the garden at Ardraich in Scotland. The stocks smell delicious. The small white roses look awesome.  The larger more open roses fill the spaces. Will look even better tomorrow – I hope! 


The large arrangements for the altar at the lovely local Church are given height with lovely bears breeches. To stand magnificently in the little rural church. 



I’m also ‘odd job’. Collecting the cuttings. Of which there  are many.  Many trips to the compost. All organic here at Common Farm Flowers. 


Or being sent out to cut the white roses to be used for the rose petal confetti. I love that. Being sent to the cutting garden on my own. That means I’ve been promoted. Trusted to cut on my own! Hurrah. I spend more time admiring the flower patches than I should. I’ll make up for it by making lunch. Which I do. Make shift pizzas. Alcoholic lollies. 


The day is long. Tiring. I’m not used these days to hard work. Standing for hours. Bending. Having to constantly ask questions to Georgie. To Sharon. What should I do! Is this short enough? What flowers should be used next.? Told how many of each. For me the day ends at 7. The  large arrangements have been delivered to the church. A bit of a panic over the altar cloth. Me ironing another. Did I say I was odd job.. too right. One thing my mother said I should be able to do was iron a shirt and sew a button on. Which I can. Oh. And bake a cake. 

All that’s left is for the rest of the flowers to be delivered the following morning and put in place. I’m not there for that bit.  But it doesn’t stop me worrying that all is well. That the flowers haven’t dropped in the night. That they like them. That I haven’t messed up in any way. That I won’t be asked back. 

The following photos are courtesy of Georgie. To show the flowers in place. In the Church. In the tipi. At the gate. The sun came out and The flowers were fabulous. I’m sure the bride was fabulous too.  A lovely day for a white wedding. 

Here comes the Bride
I declined from joining  in the photo. I’d didn’t want to spoil the bouquet!  Ian was already traumatised when I said I was seeing Georgie about wedding flowers. I didn’t want to give him a heart attack.  He said we’d done it twice without flowers. No need for a third ceremony. Just for flowers. 

Georgie wrote about using white in the tipi for wedding flowers. Top tips for the tipi! Go look at her Blog here for inspiration. 

Garlanding on the church entrance
Garland in the centre of the tipi
The lovely church pedestals

So what does a flower farmer do when he or she has finished. Take photos of what has been created. 

The day after the wedding Georgie received a letter from the bridegrooms father. Saying how lovely the flowers were. That for me makes my aching back. My tired legs all worth while.  

For  my small contribution to the day. 

For my part I’m hoping that I get asked back again to continue my valuable ‘work experience’ along with Lorraine who is my senior and with Georgie and Sharon. That is if If Sharon hasn’t asked that don’t return unless it’s without my camera. Especially without my camera and my ability to take some awful pictures of her. Taken unawares.  But not for here! Plus my constant requests of ‘ can I turn the lights off please’ . I’ll go back with almost any conditions! Almost. 

Information on Common Farm Flowers can be found here. Great place to order bouquets – I know – I have ordered a few in my time! Great workshops too.  Oh. And wedding flowers. 

 Tuscany 

These last few months my feet don’t seem to have touched the ground. The purchase of the house in Spain and the excitement of the new Mediterranean garden has taken over. Things happened with the purchase  far quicker than we imagined. We had our summer trips pretty much sewn up. Now to add more. 

For the last five years we have had an annual trip in June, after RHS Chelsea of course, to Italy to stay with a friend an hour or so from Florence and close to Sienna.


 It’s an easy drive from Florence airport – provided you can find your way out of the rental car park onto the  Motorway. That’s the difficult part. Where we will have our first disagreement. Neither are map readers and Sally sat nag even gets confused. ( don’t even ask about the return journey. ) 

This year we did it. Straight out and straight onto the right road. No argument. No ‘ why don’t you bloody drive then’ just a quiet drive through gorgeous countryside ( once off the main roads ) through grape vines – not literally – past cypress trees – olive groves and very very dry countryside. If we think our ground is dry it’s nothing like the Med. a pick axe wouldn’t even work! 

The grape vines
You’d think I’d be used to the long and winding roads after Spain. Not really. They still get to me even in such glorious surroundings. 

Majestic cypress

I love the cypress trees so tall and majestic. Like sentries particularly when they line those long and winding roads! 

The gate to Casa Zacardi


The garden where we  stay has some great pots – shame I couldn’t pack them and bring them home! Amazing lavender. Roses. With what seems the obligatory Italian plant. What I call ivy leaf geraniums. Pinks. Reds. And every shade thereof. Everywhere you look there are pots. Crammed full with colour. 


We travelled to Pienza  a renaissance town and is a UNESCO World Heritage site but is not too touristy. 

 The  town is also well known for being the home of Pecorino cheese. .  The street smells of cheese. Seriously. Smells of cheese. But the choice is amazing. Big cheese. Little cheese. Yes please. So we did and great cheese it was too. 

Pineda Tuscany

Pecorino
The views from the centre of the town  are breathtaking high up over  the valley below but it is abundantly clear just how dry the soil is. The avenue of cypress so very Tuscan. 

The light was spectacular – so spectacular we needed an Aperol spritz to take it all in! With lunch of course. 

Luckily we found that La Foce a short drive away was open for a garden tour after lunch so we hot  footed our way over to the house and gardens. La Foce gardens  were designed by  the English architect Cecil Pinsent for an extraordinary Couple  the Origa’s and are glorious. Three distinct sections on three levels. A lot of structure. A lot of box – god help them if they ever get box blight. Very symmetrical. One layer all box and big lemon trees in pots. The lower garden is Visually stunning with extraordinary views. 

It was very English. Lawns. Box. A wisteria walk which had gone over but had the longest seed heads I’ve ever seen. I’m sure the walk is spectacular if you get it at the right time. 

There is a flower garden too which was difficult to photograph. Roped off and too bright. But some lovely salvia plants. Some agapanthus. . Lavender. A lovely border of Annabelle hydrangea. 

The history of the house and its owners iris & Antonio Origa. is interesting. They created the garden over a period of 14 years and she wrote a diary of the gardens in the years of the second world wAr. Kindle  here we come. 


As I only had my faithful iPhone camera I will definetly be back to Pienza and la foce but don’t tell Ian. He’d tell me to la foce off. 

This is a great description of the garden at La Foce 

Back at the house the wild flowers were out in abundance. . The lovely blue of the chicory a joy amongst the dry grasses and the oats that had blown over from the adjacent  field. There was the cry of the deer in the thicket behind the house calling for the young who were bouncing around in the field. The sight of a big fat hare sat watching. The birds swooping down to the pool taking a sip of water the parents majestically. The fledglings almost dove bombing and getting a surprise as they took the water and moved off. 

We lunched at   La botega volpaia what must be one of my favourite restaurants. Not just because on a previous visit I had my belt caught up on the chair and had to be released by a handsome Italian waiter.  But for the food and the ambience. Amazing pasta. The best chips. Peas in sage.  Great views from the terrace. 


 The entrance to the restaurant has the most amazing  Trachelospermum hedge which has the most delicious scent. 

I had decided to leave my camera at home this trip so I used my iPhone. But we are back next week for two weeks. My camera is charged. The spare batteries are ready. 

If we get out of the car rental parking.  

London Calling 

So I said goodbye to sunny Spain. Sadly left the mew Mediterranean garden and the heat behind  to catch the delayed flight to London. Down  the long and winding road. Again. This time singing to myself. Ian flew back a few days ago. 

Nothing better than sat waiting to board the plane whilst an irate passenger berates rather rudeley the girl at the gate. Who smiles sweetly and let’s him rant. Well done  I think.  Then says. In broken Spanish. Thank you sir. I am Ryan Air. You are travelling British Airways. Boom. A deflated and embarrassed angry man. 

We eventually depart. A full flight. An announcement goes over the tannoy. ‘Today we have a passenger flying with us who has a severe nut allergy. We will not be serving nuts.  We would also ask you to refrain from eating your own nuts. ‘

Childish I know. But I collapsed into a heap of giggling childish laughter. 

Did I say escape the heat. Huh. It’s hot back in London. Without the air conditioning and everyone complains how hot it is. Even me.  

There is another constant. My love for agapanthus! They have gone crazy whilst I’ve been away. Combination of the heat and the feeding of  Lou’s pooh in the spring. We had great leaf growth and I had thought I had overfed. But the number of buds has been great. Agapanthus  that struggled to flower  last year are bursting. 



I almost love the opening buds more than the full flowers. Or maybe the seed heads after flowering. 


We bought two plants a good few years ago and put in a large pot in the centre of the front garden. Garden is  an wxagatration. It’s an area at the front of the house. But this agapanthus never ceases to amaze me. There are loads of buds every year which virtually appear over night. Small light blue flowers. I keep thinking I ought to split them. Maybe next year. Maybe not.  


The agapanthus by the front door were bought at Columbia Road flower market a few years ago. Cheap. Cheerful and have been great. This year they seem taller than usual so I will need to be careful that they do not snap off. Or get picked like they did a few  years ago! 

Agapanthus bud

I know that this one will be the darkest of them all. The tell tale signs of the bud give it away. It’s a really dark colour – like a black almost. 

But like Spain a lot will open whilst I’m away which happens every year! The good thing is that they have a good flowering period. Oh. I’ve just found a self  seeded one about to flower in the orange tree pot. 

Agapanthus washing line and pegs

The back garden is small and I mean small and has to incorporate everything. Like a washing line amongst the plants. All the plants without exception are in pots. The tree ferns.a couple of olives. An almond tree. Easy to move around. But a pain to water. 


An empty chair.  Usually occupied by one of the cats but it’s too hot for them. They are sprawled out behind s tree fern. 

Fred the cat

View from above


I have always had  window boxes.  I think it’s an inherited thing. My parents did hanging baskets. Hanging at  their front door. A bit of a show off with  next door as to how could have the best.  .  So I like to have the front looking good. I maybe have missed  one or two years where I have had a break but this year I decided to go back to the good old geranium. They were great in the pots in Somerset last year and went on right into  the autumn only being moved to make room  for the tulip planting. Which I also did in the window boxes here for the spring. 

This year for the first time I added some lavender  to the boxes with the geraniums and it’s worked really well. Even if I say so myself. I also used good old lobelia for the side boxes something I haven’t planyed in years. My parents always grewv it along the front path accompanying allysum which I don’t think I’ve seen at a garden centre or nursery in a very long time. That and the good old Busy Lizzie! Their garden was a homage to the planting of the time. Lobelia. Allysim. Petunia. Tagetes. Godetia. All grown from seed. 

I digress. 


Gardening in London is a challenge. The garden is small. There’s lots I want to grow but can’t. Dahlias another of my loves are rubbish here. We get overrun with snails. Not slugs. I have one climbing rose. A lovely David Austin bought my a good friend of mine Emma. As a thank you for staying at the cottage. 


 But the upside is that we have a sheltered garden where most years we don’t have to cover the crowns of the tree ferns. Tracheospernum grows well. Jasmine grows like crazy up the drainpipe out of a ridicously small pot. A black bamboo whist scraggy is over 10 foot tall. 

Window box in kitchen bay window

There have been disappointments. As the garden is small I like to have some scented plants. The jasmines flower at different times and the smell of both is very very different. So I bought a Philadelphus to add to the mix. A belle etoille which we have had in Somerset. Gorgeous smell. White flower with a purple throat. But it appears that it’s not what I got. Pretty. But plain white with little scent. Annoying. It will have to go. It’s not what I want and I don’t have room for mistakes! 

Belle etoille – I don’t tho so. .
The email has arrived from Peter Nussen re  Speing bulbs! Oh. Lordy. I’ll have to make decisions  for next year soon!

Right. I’m off to water. Yet again 

More garden adventures 

So here we are. Back again. This is the time that we were expecting to collect the keys to Casa Verano Eterno.  But the transaction was completed two weeks early. So we are back. Ian for a short visit. Me 10 days. Hurrah. Ian has reluctantly gone back to London – the joy of retirement means I can stay a little longer.  Oh that hurrah wasn’t because Ian has gone back. But that we are here again.  He has become the gardeners assistant. 

The Gardeners assistant

The road to Competa gets no less windey each time we visit. Nor less beautiful. The sight of the mountains  as we drive up is truly spectacular. I’d take a picture. But I am driving and as I have started I will finish. But I will take one. Eventually. Ian says look at that.  Look at this. I see nothing but the long and windey road.

The mountains of Andalucia

A week is a long time for a garden. I had worried that the timers wouldn’t have gone off. I knew that the pots had been watered as I was sent a pic of the estate agent and friend at the house. Watering the pots. They were fine. As was the watering system. 

The back planting bed

The garden has been largely planted for drought resistance plants so it doesn’t need much.  I was greeted with one of my favourite plants bursting to flower. The garden has a lot of agapanthus. Some I suspect have seeded but I am not complaining. I love them so I am more than happy that they are here. Next year I will have to smuggle some poo in my bag. 
Agapanthus love

The lavender path is holding up well. I have a tendency to overwater and I know i can’t do that with lavender. Nor should I.. especially as the cost of water here isn’t cheap. 

The lavender path

The jacaranda tree is in full bloom and is best seen  from a distance. Or looking at the floor as it is constantly dropping its flowers. Is it romantic to walk on a flower covered path, swathed in blue flowers. No its bloody well not. It stains the floor and i have been sweeping up on the hour. 

Slight exaggeration there but I don’t need a workout. I’ll get a wash board stomach yet and get rid of the washing machine and tumbler drier one that Ihave now. 

The jacaranda roaring above

I was never a fan of succulents   – ! but having a new Mediterranean garden i am going to have to get to like them. That and Cactus. There are a few prickly pears in the garden ( maybe Ian and I will. Be know as the prickly pair – we are grumpy enough). 

A prickly pear

There are some great big triffids on the bits of a hill that’s ours.  Bit grand really but its across the access road and has a few fig trees on it and is basically scrub. It will stay that way too.

Ian also picked out some plants. I thought they were cactus. But they are euphorbia. Euphorbia candelabrum cactus . to be precise. News to me. I have potted them and they will probably stay at the front.  Another with a poisonous sap. 


 The  garden has a lot of interesting plants and its a huge learning curve. I’d only just got used to my cottage garden planting! I have arranged for someone to come in in Sept to talk plants. Pruning. Some new planting. I have also discussed spring bulbs – there are no flies on me – and my order has to be done before the end of July. They stocked some of my wish list last year and I have requested Brown Sugar to go on the list. Plus alliums. I need to check that they will grow. It’s odd. There are things growing I wouldn’t have thought. There is a great show of hollyhocks on the drive into the town. I have bought two to grow in for next year. Hopefully they will self seed


Twitter is a wonderful thing you know. As well as being pretty rubbish. But that and Instagram when you need a plant identified is awesome. Like the Daucus carrot. Thanks to Phillips Burrough, Sara Venn and Georgie Newberry.  I know know what this plant is growing on the bank at the rear of the house. 

Wild carrot

There are other things I don’t know. Lots of them. But I will before the decade is out. But something else I don’t know What it is. 


Rather stupidly last time I was here i went up onto the bank. In shorts.. never ever again.. My legs were as itchy as hell. Not only the moziies had attacked me but I had a reaction to the grasses that were there.  

Unlike the man who was weeding  the bit of ground outside his house as I drove past yesterday. He was in the shortest shorts that could almost have been budgie smugglers. . No shirt. Flip flops. His skin as red as the shorts he was wearing. Spraying weed killer. In the heat of the day.  Weed killer obviously doesn’t affect beer bellies. It may even enhance them. I’m not about to find out. 

But I had to stop the car as I was laughing so much. I didn’t dare take a snap. But the vision is in my head. Protective clothing. Never,, health and safety. Never.  So I have safely arranged to have our bank strimmed by someone else. The weeds and grass are as dry as. I’m hoping to grow some wild flowers there. It’s not a meadow. It’s a slope. An incline. Dry. Rocky. So maybe poppies. And more cacti.  More succulents. Some more almonds and olives. Sounds grand but there are three almond trees loaded with nuts. . 

Things are dying back. Things are coming to life. I have had a mother moment  and spent most of yesterday dead heading. A snip here. A snip there. Just like she used to do. I’ve said it before. In her own garden. And if she walked up your path she couldn’t resist deadheading a rose or two.  Irritating that. The garden is not  somewhere you can burn the cuttings. It’s too dry. So no bonfire here. 


We collected Ian’s lime tree which is now potted up and ready for the watering to establish it. It will fruit this year but we will take them off and wait until next. Not so the manadarin which is going great guns so far as are the two established orange trees.


.Talking guns. I asked what the black and white sign was outside the gates. Apparently is a no hunting on this land sign. Great I can safely take my shirt off in my own garden without the threat of great white whale hunter appearing as I get in the pool, 

No hunting
Which I have done. As its now warmed up enough for me to get in. I am a bit of a big girls blouse with cold water to be honest. 


I also went on a rescue  mission. I rescued a lemon. Forget driving over lemons. Try crawling on your belly in the border under yuccas to retrieve the one and only lemon that you have in the garden. Which has dropped off the tree when you weren’t looking. But you were determined to retrieve it. 

My one and only

I was determined that it wasn’t going to waste so it will sit in my gin and tonic this evening. Not the whole lemon. I will remember to slice it. Or as I found an electric juicer in the cupboard I could juice it. But really? Gin sounds better. 

We had a business day on Monday. Off to the bank in Nerja as they had cancelled my bank card. Here two weeks and it gets cancelled. Only because I hadn’t signed a form. But I emailed on Monday early and saw my personal account manager at 10am. Excellent service and I signed in about 46 places and got my card reactivated. Then onto the lawyer to sign  the insurance papers. A two hour wait before I had to see the notary meant a little bit of a shopping. So. A bit of pool art in the name of Nemo. Placed at the pool side and looks great. Great colours but be careful. It’s tin and gets hot.  Behind it on the rails is a lovely Jasmine. Jasmine Azoricum. The smell is just gorgeous. 

Finding Nemo

A trip up to Frigiliana to see an artist that we had seen previously and two pictures later we were on our way to the notary, who this time hadn’t disappeared to Rome. A swift flick of a pen and my will was signed. 

So surprise surprise I have been busy snapping away in the garden. Partly because I can but also so I have a record of what’s what. I am not here for a month and the garden changes so quickly. 




I’m pretty miffed that I will miss some of the agapanthus at their best as well. 

But the main thing is the stephanotis that is just about to burst next to the front door. I swear they weren’t there a week ago. I’m sure the smell will be fab and there are loads of separate buds. Ah well you can’t win them all. 


 I have deadheaded   some little blue maugerite type plants which I think flower continuously so hopefully they woill be awash with colour when I am next here. I have admired the black or blue bird of paradise yet again. It’s a real bee magnet. 


So I am in the square again. It’s Thursday and there will be no horsemen riding by. That’s a Sunday. Ive decided to have breakfast on the square. watching. Observing. Practicing my Spanish. Ian’s worried that I will repeat the phrase that came out wrong when I was doing my homework last week. Speaking into the iPhone app in my best accent it was translated back into English  as  long penis.  Quite what I was asking for I don’t know as i collapsed into a quivering heap of laughter.   So Far the only potential issue could have been when I was looking for Salvias and asked if they had hot lips.  I kept a straight ( yea I can do it) face and carried on..  they didn’t by the way. so i bought two others. And yes they have been planted.

So. Off i go to the hardware place that is always full of builders and workmen. I must try not to embarrass myself as I’m  only getting keys cut. Maybe. 

Two More days and then back to my window boxes and tree ferns. Retirement is hard.