Highs and lows of Summer ‘17 

So I’m back in London. You can tell I’m in London. I am wearing long trousers. And socks.  The garden here is looking tired. It needs a bit of a haircut. A bit like me. The lavender in the window boxes want s great whilst it lasted but is failing fast but the red of the geraniums and the blue of the lavender was a striking combination this year. The geraniums are still blooming despite the voice in my head telling me I should have been deadheading.  

The geraniums still going strong in London
I have left behind in Spain a  garden that is still dry. Is pretty green in parts with some glorious seedheads dripping future plants across the garden. Agapanthus and jacaranda being the two biggest culprits. There is a lack of colour. Yes the plumbago is still blooming. There is the odd flower on the oleander. The white oleander, the pink has none. The yucca is flowering, but is about to go over, jasmine has some flowers dotted here and there but its more a spring and early summer garden. When we wee viewing in March the scent of freesias was noticeable as you passed by, Needles to say my bulb order will include freesias.  

Agapanthus seed heads in Spain

This summer has had both highs and lows for me. The biggest high finally finding and deciding in a heartbeat that the garden and the house – see what came first- in Andalucia was right for us.  Seen and bought In a matter of 8 weeks.  Any regrets? Four months in – not one.  A huge learning curve, well really  more like a steep ascent up the highest mountain, on foot with a huge backpack,  but great fun to see what has appeared so far and what will appear in early spring. Add the challenge of watering and you get the picture.

Casa Verano Eterno – House of Eternal Summer

The low – the acceptance that something had to give and after 23 years it was the Cottage in Somerset. The cottage is on the market and we will be sad to be moving on. But for one last season I was able to garden in all three gardens. All very different. All challenging in their own way. The wet West Country. The dry villages of Andalucia. The space restraints of London.  Different environments. Different plants. Different requirements. 

In Somerset I had to forgo  some of my favourite plants this season. Dahlias. I have only grown to love them in recent years and now I am deserting them. I will not be able to grow them in Spain and the garden in London will need some rearranging to accommodate. But having seen  Jack Wallington & Christopher Anderson’s  garden open for NGS I think I may be able to do it. Not quite as spectacularly as Jack thats for sure, his Dahlias are huge and gorgeous. 

Somerset Dahlias

I have loved the new Mediterranean garden as those who know me have been inundated with pictures, words a bit of a blog  and stories of our trips there. Getting to grips with new plants. With new soil. The constant heat – I don’t know about the plants but at times I have wilted. In the shade! The joy of seeing what was in the garden. The excitement of being away for two weeks and finding new plants when I returned. New colours. New  Scemts. The range of plants is excellent and the previous owner had an eye for detail.  Some will need to change to take in the fact that we are not there peramanemtly. Some additions,  More agapanthus more succulents. Some Mediterranean wildflower seed for the banks. A chop for the prickly pears to see if we can rid them of disease, a lesson in citrus. 

Then coming back to London to my window boxes. My small patio garden at the back of the house. So very different to Spain. Tree ferns. A black bamboo. Salvia, Monarda. A bit of lavender. Oh. And more agapanthus. Delighted to find that the agapanthus in Spain self seeds as easily as have the London ones. 

The ‘expensive ‘ book Ian commented on when I bought it has  proved invaluable to identifying a lot of the plants. It also helps that the author Lorraine Kavannagh has a  Garden centre – Competa  just outside town. Something I didn’t know when I bought the book.  Needless to say we have visited. On more than once occasion.  I have also bought another book. Wildflowers of Southern Spain. That’s my reading material for my next flight. In 3 weeks time and will prove invaluable for the Spring months. 

 


Back in London I have ordered the tulips for this years window boxes and pots. I like to change the colours but cannot move  away totally from the lovely Brown Sugar. First seen at RHS Malvern and grown for the first time last year. I have ordered a delivery of Alliums, freesia and Chionodoxa for Spain. All from Karen at Peter Nyssen  who is so generous with her time and help. Especially with those of us who know a bit and need some guidance.  I always say that I garden. I am not a gardener per se and Karen is so helpful with suggestions of what to plant whenI need some help,  So my orders are in and no doubt I will add to them as I remember things I’d like. I’m hoping that by the time the Alliums arrive in Spain the ground will be easier to plant. Fingers crossed  there will have been some rain. Otherwise it’s hi ho hi ho it’s off  to work  I go – with a pickaxe. Which in fact I have in the garage full of tools we bought with the house. I now realise why there is a pickaxe there. 

The planting of the bulbs in London will be a more sedate and easier affair! There is no major worry of frost in Spain ( he says glibly) but I must collect some straw from the local farmer in Somerset to put in the crowns of the tree ferns in London.  I didn’t last year and was lucky. We seem to have a micro climate in the garden here which they seem to like as does the little olives and the banana.  We had geraniums still blooming one a first floor window in January. 

  The back garden London
Our Cottage in Somerset is to be sold. I have loved having a typical Cottage garden – foxgloves,roses,clematis,poppies,honeysuckle fruit trees and a bit of veg. But all good things, like plants, has a life cycle and our time in Somerset has been wonderful. I have made so many gardening friends there and have had the opportunity to see some amazing gardens. But the new adventure is exciting. Hard work but fun. When I know what I am doing it will be even more fun, There will be mistakes. I have already made one or two planting errors. But thats part of the fun. Isn’t it

The garden in Somerset

So I head into Autumn with an air of excitement. New bulbs new choices for London. New bulbs and a wonderment of what’s to come for the Spring in Andalucia. 
Who said that retirement would be boring.

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.  

Driving over lemons. 

When I mentioned to some friends Matt & Clare  at my favourite local breakfast haunt Petitou in Peckham that we were looking at a place in Spain Matt said that he had recently recommended the  book Driving over Lemons to his daughter. A book that was sitting on the book shelf at home. It reminded me that I had read the books some years ago and thought I’d go back and read them again. I’ve started and they are wonderful and particularly relevant to the new adventure we find ourselves having. 

As well as twitter I use Instagram. A lot. My camera was a purchase not long after my father died and was a more expensive one than I would normally buy. But I’ve loved it. Never far from my hand it enables me to snap away. That’s why the pictures of Ian are always of him ahead of me. Firstly he hates pictures and there are very few of us together. Secondly. I am always hanging back snapping away happily. This and that. 

I digress. But only a bit. 

A fellow instagrammer commented on some of my recent Andalusia pictures and said that it was like Driving over lemons. That had me smiling. Two mentions of lemons in such a short space of time.  I almost gave myself a squeeze with delight. Rather than usually having a face like I’ve been sucking a lemon. 

It’s all about the citrus. Oranges and lemons. Lemons and limes. 


Andalusia is indeed special. Has beautiful scenery. Mountains. Great light.  Long and winding roads  where motion sickness pills may be required. Just to get to the bottom of the hill. Zig zag roads. Twisty.  The road from  Competa to Torrox Costa a roller coaster of a drive. There is Coastline. Beaches. Mountains. Natural parks. People. ( back to the horse rider again). Tapas. Wine. The attitude of don’t do it today if it can wait for a week.  Maybe not next week. But a week. You can’t be in a hurry in Spain. Unlike London where we are always rushing. Here there. So it’s a glorious difference and a great adventure to be starting.  Part time. Not full. I need no convincing. 

The mountains are spectacular surrounding  the Andalusia Towns and villages. There was snow on the mountain tops in early March when  we were last there. Now its all gone.  With bright blue skies. And a moon. Oh and heat and a mosquito. Or two. 



The white washed towns and villages hang onto the side of the mountains. Pristine. White. Narrow streets – steep and winding. But making you want to see what’s around the corner. At the top of the steps.  Breathless. Both in body. And spirit!  Ian ahead of me As usual. Striding to get to the top. Me just striving to get to the top. Eventually. 


The white washed town of Competa rolling down the mountainside. Beautiful. White. A pretty spectacular sight as you turn the bend on the road from Malaga. 



Dramatic skylines over Competa. 

I have found my Spanish’ Petitou. Casa Paco is situated on the square. Is friendly. Always busy. Now to try and order in Spanish. Or spanglais. I can ask for the bill. For toothpicks. Say hello. Ian is better than me. We both have apps on our phone trying  to learn. If you see Ian on the tube. He’s not talking to himself. He’s learning his verbs. If you see me. I probably am. 


Town squares to people watch. Eat Tapas. Drink wine. 

Just down yet another long and winding road is Torrox Costa and then onto Nerja . Nerja with its restaurants. The beaches. Glorious torquise sea. Rocks. A coastline. Sea air. A slight detour to Frigiliana  another white washed town nesltling on the hillside. But more touristy – has tour buses. Tourists. Like us. Except we have driven. 

So back to Competa.  On a clear day you can see down to the coast a 45 minute drive away. Probably quicker if I am not driving. Slowly. Ignoring my co driver saying. Ooh look at that.  Sorry Ian. All I can look at is the road ahead. 


The villages have these amazing doors. Original and painted in vivid colours. Or left to the old wood which is  equally striking, 

These are known as the hanging houses in Competa. There are literally hanging on the cliffl looking   pretty  moorish lit up at night. 

I wonder if i can get a part time job. The goat man with his herd of goats. Who walks them around the town and mountainside.  Ian unimpressed with my sound of music rendition of ‘High on a hill with a lonely goat herd’. He hasn’t heard the yodelling bit yet.  You smell the goats before you see or hear them. And the man has a whistle that they seem to understand. A bit pied piper to me . The downside for the part time job. That suit. I’m not sure it would suit me. 

These plants are lethal. They seem to have taken a dislike for me. Big time. I swear they see me coming and jump out to scratch my arm. Badly. My hand was swollen after getting stabbed by one of these. But they along with the palms are beautiful and majestic. 

More great views across the mountains. 


I wish I had shares in white paint. Every house is white. The churches are white. Some of the streets are white. But I don’t have a head for heights. 

I am looking forward to further forays into the surrounding villages. A trip to Granada. To Córdoba. To Malaga old town. A train trip to Sevilla. Oh. There will be pics. Lots of them. But not of me. Maybe of the back of Ian’s head. Of plants. And definetly of a horseman riding by. 

Gardens – a trip down a  garden path. 

Have I told I have retired. Oh. Yes. About a million times. Not that I exaggerate at all. But I have. That was the start of a new adventure. I’m still asked. ‘Aren’t you bored yet’ I’ve learnt to smile sweetly. And just say.  No. What do you do they ask. This and that I reply. This and that. Here and there. 

So the adventure continues.- with a bit of there. Rather than here. Or here  rather  than there. Dependant on where there is. At any given time. 

For a long time Ian and I have wanted something ‘abroad’. We looked at France. We loved France. But why buy in France when we can stay at  Cuq en Terrasses where we have celebrated big birthdays. Friends who own a fantastic Small hotel. With amazing food. We love Italy. But we have an annual invite to go and stay with friends at their house near Sienna. Which surprisingly. We take up. Annually. 

We love Spain and have been back and forth for the last few years. Gaucin – too quiet. Benhavis. Lovely but not for us. Archidona – lovely but again a bit too quiet. 

In March we headed to  Competa in Andalusia. An hour from Malaga. To stay at a fab B&B Casa B  We had some viewings. I was pretty definite in what I wanted. In the town. A roof terrace. No pool. But it didn’t work out like that. 

We are back here at the beginning of May. To sign papers with the notary. . For completion at the end of the month.  A place 10 minutes drive from town. Not a town house. Without a roof terrace. 

So what sold it. What?  The house or the town. 


For the town it was  life. It had a soul. In March. When many towns are still indoors. Still recovering from  Xmas . Tapas in the square. Coffee. A glass of wine. Or two. One for me. The road is windy and narrow. 

 Less than an hr to a beach and on the edge of a national park. A shortish trip down the long and windy road to Nerja. To Frigiliana.  We met some great people on the viewings. Stayed at a fab B&B. Made friends. 


There was Tapas. And sunshine. And no. The horsemen riding by  in the square on a Sunday morning didn’t swing it. Not really. I didn’t  really see them. The oranges caught my eye.  I was photographing the oranges. They photo bombed.  I have been sat in the square for hours this time waiting to complain. They haven’t reappeared. 


The house? Need you ask. It was the garden. I didn’t notice the house. Not at first. We viewed because I’d seen pictures of the garden.  Small but beautiful. Both the house and the garden. A lock up and go. But the garden. Lovely planting. Lots of plants. Mediterranean. Dry. 


Interesting. Different to what I am  used to. 



With amazing views across the mountains. 


In time I will be able to tell you which mountains. But geography isn’t my strongest point.  The sat nav tells you the route. Not the name of the mountain ranges. The garden has citrus. It has lavender. Different types. Lots of it. Along the path. From the gate past the garage. 


It has succulents. Agapanthus. Jasmine. A grape  vine. Bird of paradise.  It has plants I have no idea what to do with. How to care for. It has fruit I can’t pronounce or know what it tastes like.  But  for me the house had been sold on the garden. 


So. I bought a book. On Amazon. Mediterranean  garden plants. A whopper of a book. . Pictures. Descriptions. I took it with me when we went to meet the owners again. 



But first. I Made the mistake of not deleting the email from our joint email account. Ian saw the price. How much? Well was more of a shout of disapproval. I couldn’t lie. He’s seen the invoice. 

 When we met the owners again I hear him say ‘he’s only gone and bought a bloody book  and spent a fortune’. Oh that’s  Lorraine they say, on seeing the book  the author – she lives here on the outskirts of town. Runs a garden centre. Supplies all the plants he’d like to have in his garden  – whose laughing now eh. Especially as we went in  and said hello. Where she gave me details of two open gardens nearby but sadly I won’t be here when they are open. Or there depending when you read this. 

But I’m on her mailing list already. That book.  Money well spent I say. He’s said I’m not  to go there alone. I said she seemed very nice. I’m not worried about her he replied. Your gonna spend a fortune in there. And that’s just on what he’s seen! I haven’t started. New plants. New pots. 

So it’s an adventure. A new path. Lined with lavender. From the garage to the house. 

 So we begin the adventure at the end of May where will be go between London and Andalusia. Gardening in both. Two very different gardens. Two very different climates. Both exciting.  Different. Fun. Who said I’ll be bored in retirement. 

A decision also  made that after 23 years we will sell our lovely cottage and garden  in the West Country and embark on this new adventure. We have had a wonderful time. A fabulous garden. But sometimes in life you need a new adventure. A change. Something different. Surprisingly we have taken the plunge. 

There will be pictures. Lots of them.  A bit of a blog here and there too. Apologies in advance! 

Roses and a day with Sara Venn 

I’ve said it before. I got into gardening through my parents. They loved their garden and it was something they were proud of. Loved the attention when in full bloom. For years had borders full of roses. Gorgeous scented beautiful roses. Mum picked some. But not a lot if my memory serves me right. I recall her deadheading them. Every time she walked up and down the front path. She was obsessed with deadheading. No bad thing really. Dad did the planting. The pruning. Mum admired. And bought more. 

I spent a day with Sara Venn last week in our garden in Somerset. The person who looked after our garden had sacked us the year before – yes we were sacked. Long story . A very long story and since I had retired ( early – keep repeating it Andrew) I had been doing the work myself. With some success. What I didn’t know I asked. But I was worried about pruning. The roses. The fruit trees. Some of the shrubs. But the Roses. I could hear my mother tutting. A lot. Her saying. ‘Your not like your father’ He would have pruned them all. On time. And properly. She said that a lot. ‘ your not like your father’. 

Last year we were due to start an extension so I didn’t prune the roses. When the schedule was moved it was too late. Sara said. Leave them this year. We had roses. But not as good as in previous years. We were supposed to start the extension in the Autumn. And then the Winter. I could put it off no longer. If I had to dig them up later so be it. 

Sara agreed to come and spend a day with me in the garden to give me advice on how and what and when. But it was more than that. It was the push I needed to get going again. I’d been in limbo with the garden. Would I have another year of the flower beds?. Should I move things. Should I wait. Should I extend the beds? Was this space the right one for my new greenhouse? Don’t mention the greenhouse to Sara. Please. Don’t mention my greenhouse. 

So Sara arrived and we set to work. Talk of a practical. It was practical. Practically exhausted by the end of the day. Talk of a hard task master who encouraged me up a wobbly ladder – no elf and safety in this garden. But it was fun. Practical. Encouraging. And confidence boosting. I hadn’t made a total hash of the garden this last year. 



I always say I garden. I’m not a gardener. The garden is well established. We’ve been here 22 years. But I am rubbish at staking. I don’t plant deep enough. But I’m getting there. Slowly. Like my train journey this week accompanied by Doris. 

It hadn’t mattered I’d not pruned. The fruit trees were ok. Ish. The roses leggy but not dead. So We pruned. Cut back. Laughed. I fought with the rose prunings. They won and it didn’t matter I wore gloves. They just went for the jugular. We tidied up. Had tea and cake. She gave encouragement. Orders. Ate my cake. Took one home for Mr Venn. As promised. 

To be fair if we were being filmed it would have been more ‘Carry on Gardening’! Than big dreams – It was gardening made fun. ‘What do you think you are doing!’ was said a lot. And do you think you can wobble less’ what said I? As in walking or up the ladder? Both! 

The roses don’t look like this now obviously but now have had a severe short back and sides. A proper job. Like my Dad would do! 

Thinkimg of my parents garden got me thinking of their roses again All were bought in Woolworths when Woolworths had a gardening department. All grew well. Flowered strongly. From the department at the rear of the store. Memory is a wonderful thing. Before mum lost hers she could tell you the names of the roses. Each one. Not from the label. So I want some new roses. I looked up to see if I could get the named roses from their 1970’s and 80’s garden as I’d like to have a few. Josephine and Ernest were therir names so I may start there. Along with Superstar. That was my favourite. 

Who knew Woolworths won not one but five RHS Chelsea golds! I didn’t.

Woolworths history
Superstar; Iceberg; Ena Harkness; Blue Moon ! ; Peace; queen Elizabeth ;Just Joey; Josephine Bruce; Ernest Morse. fragrant Cloud; the Fairy. Compassion 

Those are ones I remember. None of that David Austin stuff for them. It was the wonder of Woolies !

Hello 2017

How have we already got to 16 Jan ? Where has the time gone ? Seems like only yesterday I was dodging the over filled shopping trolleys indicating it was some holiday.

I’ve started the year with my RHS Chelsea tickets booked. My RHS Chatsworth tickets booked. Both of which I’m looking forward to. Chelsea for me is a tradition – lunch first at Poulet au pot in Chelsea then a potter around the show. It’s become so familiar and samey but I darent miss it. But  I’m more excited about Chatsworth. Last year I loved Malvern. Next year I’m aiming for Tatton Park. 

I’ve been lucky to have had two outings already so far this month. A hot date with Georgie from Common Farm Flowers to  At the Chapel to the first of their 2017 events – a talk by Satish Kumar. A thought provoking talk on Soil Soul and Society. Helped along by putting the world to rights in the bar after the event. 

We are lucky to have Hauser & Wirth on our door step and the wonderful Piet Oudolf garden. It’s a stunning garden. Thomas Piper has made a film of Piet Oudolf and his  projects which is beautifully shot and has some great music. We were lucky to have them give a preview of the film at a sold out Hauser and Wirth event  followed by a Q & A after the film with them both. Piet Oudolf movie is definetly worth checking out. As is the garden at Hauser and Wirth. In all seasons.  Was interesting seeing the comments on instagram after the event and realising that people who I follow and who follow me were there as well. Next time. Badges.  

January is a dreary month in our garden in Somerset. More so this year as I’ve put off jobs as we weren’t sure of the timing for some work on the cottage which meant the borders would be moved. Looks like I may have another summer out of them. 

So in need of some advice I’ve persuaded the lovely Sara Venn to come and visit. That is if she ever stops to take breath. She’s here there everywhere and I can’t see a hairy biker without thinking of her! 


The last time we were together we were like naughty school girls at a workshop at Common Farm Flowers.  So I need to make sure I feed her cake and lunch. And listen and learn. 

I’ve ordered seeds from Mr Higgledy – where I’ll get said seeds and a note written in really writing. In ink. That is if Flash hasn’t eaten the seeds. Or the pen. Or Ben. 

I’ve a pile of catalogues to look at – gardening ones not Grattan or Freemans ( some not all will remember them). Dahlias to plan. A greenhouse to research. When I retired ( early. I have to keep saying that) I was given money towards a new greenhouse. That’s been on hold and the old one strapped together and glazed in parts with plastic. So…. decisions. 

It’s not all been gardening though at times like this weekend it’s been all I’ve done. Looks like the year has started as it will go on. A call to see if I was around and if I could have the boys for two days. Well it was one and I offered two. My hat goes off to parents. I don’t know how you do it full time. I can give them back!! Didn’t help I had to be a responsible adult with a 10 and 12 year old. In central London. In the lego shop. And the M and M shop. Or being embarrassed in the Chinese supermarket in China town as the 12 year old said  ‘ Uncle Andrew –  you need to check the sell by date on those crisps’. Thanks I said. It’s in Chinese. He picked them up. Turned them over. In front of the person behind the till. And said. Yep.  They are ok. I forgot. At 12 he’s learning Chinese. 

So we’re at back in London where I have geraniums still flowering on the first floor window and where a white agapanthus is in bud.Theres a micro climate on the patio – the frost hasn’t  caught them. There’s a potted orange by the front door. With blossom. It’s madness. 

And we are only two weeks in. 

Happy Anniversary to me 

So this time last year I was preparing for my last working day. My office had been cleared of 28 years of stuff. Precisely that – stuff. Clients had been told. Lunches had been had. Today was to be the day I retired. Not  Monday the last day of the month when it was expected.   Today. I would go to work as normal and at lunchtime I would depart quietly. A few goodbyes. But with no fuss. No ceromonial handshakes and the usual bollocks. An email set to go out after I had left the building. Thanking those I had respected. Valued. Loved. Saying goodbye would be bitter sweet.

I can’t believe I’m a year older. A year of retirement. Me. Retired. How did that happen. 52 weeks of not having that Monday morning feeling. 


I saw friends last week who I hadn’t seen in a while. Go on they said   – admit it – your bored. You must be  bored by now. 

My response – a huge belly laugh. Bored. Bored. You must be ‘aving  a laff. What have you been doing then they asked. 

Let me see. I posted A blog  a few months ago on my first 6 months. That was a period of adjustment I said – but think ducks and water. Fat ducks. Lots of water. 

I had lunch yesterday with an ex colleague who I hadn’t seen since Jan. You look really well she said – a comment that has been said so much this year. What have you been up to. I keep getting asked the same question and my reply is I’m busy all the time – this and that. Actually I don’t know what I’m doing. It just happens. Either that it’s on the list. Ian’s list. Of jobs. 

I have had a great summer in Somerset. Gardening. Growing fruit and veg. Actually picking it and using it too. Picking tomatoes. Cucumbers. Apples pears. Grapes. Runner beans. My dad would be proud. Except I didn’t dig a trench. That’s a big black mark from him. 


I picked dahlias. Constantly. Along with a whole load of other stuff from the cutting garden. Grand. What I mean is that the whole gardens for cutting! 



Socialising. Spending time with my godchildren. Continuing the  School runs. Being a manny for a day here and there whilst their mother worked. Think Mary Poppins but heavier and a better beard growth. Me not her. Although I’m sure hers wasn’t ginger and grey. Oh. And I can’t sing. Well I think I can I’m Welsh after all. I did annoy the  kids singing raindrops on roses whiskers on kittens. And changing the words just like my mother used to. 

The London boys reminded me when I picked them up from school  that I used to sing with them in the car. They asked me to put that song on again – oh dear. smarty pants by First Choice. They are now 10 and 13. They remind me that i changed the title. So I did again. 

Ian’s birthday
We used to sing it when they were 3. It also reminded me that We had a horror with one of them. We had taken Kai to the zoo. He must have been 2 or 3. On the way home we stopped to get cakes. Me in the car. Kai in the back. Ian got in and asked what was the matter. I said listen to Kai. Closely. We are gonna be in trouble. He listened. And was horrified. He looked at me and said. That’s probably my fault. We thought he was saying F off.  I turned to say no. Then burst out laughing. He actually was saying fork off. He had broken the little fork lift truck car his grandad had given him.  Phew. I digress. 


Having time to have days  out with the children.  Taking my god daughter for a ride on a steam train on a day I was looking after her. –  was that for her or me?  We went despite  an earlier tantrum on the doorstep where I nearly said thanks but no thanks to her mother. Take her away. 

Cooking with her brother  – a 13 yr old 6ft rugby playing young farmer who over the summer has grown from a mono syllabic teenager into an interesting young man who can bake and talk sheep.

I’ll lead you’ll follow. Young shepherd.
And at a cost of a new pair of rugby boots and trainers he looked after my greenhouse whilst I was away. Taking a 13 year old to buy clothes was an experience  in itself. He had a very definite opinion on what he wanted. 

Junior bake off. Making Bara Brith

I have attended talks at the  Wells festival of Literature  – Vince Cable. Rev Richard Coles. Mathew Parris. Intersting. Funny. Being taken to afternoon tea by my friend Helen with whom i had days out to Bradford on Avon. 

Afternoon tea at the Crown Wells
Attended courses at Common Farm Flowers   Been a Saturday boy there. ( well Friday’s really) when they have had a big wedding on. With my friend Lorraine – queen of the jam jar posies Helping out. 

Lorraine Queen of the jam jar posies. Bloody lovely she is too.
Me Queen of everything obviously – but on food and beverages and large arrangements. Being allowed to assist the head honcho.  Not making a complete Dick of myself. 

To me the highlight of my summer if I am honest. Spending  2 working days at Common Farm Flowers with Georgie Sharon and Lorraine was such fun. I’m hoping to be invited back for more in 2017!   Please….

Me with the inspirational Sara Venn

To breakfasts at   Hive Beach cafe with Ian on a Monday morning in October watching the sea from the cafe.

Hive Beach Cafe

Continuing visits to National trust properties on our days off.  A bit of travel here and there. A bit like taking a gap year except more sedate and a little more luxury. I’ve seen the Alhambra. The museums of Amsterdam. The east coast of Portugal. The wonders of Vienna. The delights of Madrid. Sat up most of the night in Italy listening to the referendum vote. And going to bed at 5am and saying to Ian. We are doomed. 

Short  European breaks going through the EU passport gates thinking it may be the last time. Who knows even now.

 A big trip to Canada – a trip of a lifetime. Bears and whales & Vancouver. A sea plane. Long car drives. Bears. Lots of them. So close  you could smell their breath. Making new friends. People. Not bears. 

Hello. It’s me

Cooking. Baking. More cooking. Making cordials lots of them. Jellies. Cakes. Standing in the tractor bucket 20ft in the air picking   bullace and making a version of sloe gin. Not whilst in the bucket but at home later! Planning for an extension that has flexible timescales. Very flexible. More flexible than me.  Now maybe into 2017. 

All things my time in retirement has allowed me to do. 

You’ve got to love a Welsh cake

Throw in the annual river clearance where I get to wear rubber. Waders. coffees with friends and Neighbours who are also friends – chatting with the coffee roasters at Bean Shot whilst purchasing beans and ground coffee. Or lunching at Cole Manor Tea Rooms 

Annual river clearance River Pitt

So that’s what I have been doing. Looking back I’ve done a lot. Throw in my endless trips for dental treatment over the summer where I travelled intercity like the men due ( anyone remember that ad) on my cheap day returns ( always an excuse to go into Selfridges) – my trips to the theatre. Continuing trips to exhibitions – Oh. And I stayed in a premier Inn. Shopped  in Lidl. Pounsaver. Aldi. Eaten a ton of Lidl stollen bites set aside for Xmas. 

So. I enter year 2 and whatever that brings.some things I know already.  I have my annual trip to Italy booked. My trip to Chelsea flower show. The new show at Chatsworth.  I have theatre booked. Hamlet.  Roaencrantz and guildenstein. Mary Stuart. All booked in already. 

No doubt there will be more child minding duties both in London and Somerset. More common Farm Flowers. More courses. ( billingsgate. And a  Bread one are on the list) – garden planning. Meetings within the architect. Maybe an extension. More short breaks.

But  whatever the next year throws at me I won’t ever have that Monday morning feeling again. 

Oh. I’ve also bought myself s new camera. You may have gathered. I’ve been snapping away like my life depended on it. Ian won’t stand still. He hates his photo being taken. I’m Still rubbish at selfies. 

So. Have I had a good year. Do bears  ….. in the woods? They do. And in the rivers. I can vouch for that!  So the answer. . YES. 

Ps. If your wondering. Yes. I still have the list from  Ian – the attic and cellar are still outstanding. But  You’ll be glad to know the septic  tanks been done.  Thereby hangs another story.