Have I told you lately that I’m retired?

So here I am. At the end of this month entering year three of retirement. Year three! How has that happened.

I still get asked the same question I was being asked after 6 months of retirement. What do you? Aren’t you bored yet? Go on tell me you are.

Sorry guys. The answer remains the same. I’m only bored with the same old question. I don’t have time to be bored. My feet don’t touch the ground. And no. It’s not because I’m always on a plane.

So what have I done?

Year two has been very different to my first year. But I’ve also done a lot of the same things. Yes. I’ve continued my Manny McPhee activities. Picking up the 14 year old from school. Taking him back to the cottage where this year he lolloped on the sofa with his mobile phone glued to his hand. Texting. Snapchating. Yes. He’s got himself a girlfriend. I feel old. Only feels like yesterday I was bottle feeding him! Which I like to remind him. To embarrass him. Mind you I’m embarrassed. I look like I’ve eaten him. I’m huge!

I’ve taken next doors 5 year old to infant school for the first time. Joined the school run of parents on the drop off and pick up at the school gates.

Chasing her down the road as she takes her scooter with her. Realising I need to get some more exercise as I am out of breath. A chattering five year old who is more entertaining than some of the adults I encounter. Her vocabulary is awesome. Who gets excited when uncle Ian surprises her and is at the school gates to pick her up as well. Learnt she only likes strawberry and chocolate ice cream and jelly with no fruit in it. But loves the sausage rolls I make.

We have had tea with the boys. They have visited. Stayed over. Visited us in Spain. All of which is challenging when you don’t have kids. But it’s fun.

It’s been a year Of decisions. Making yet another life changing decision in buying a house in Spain. Deciding to sell the cottage in Somerset after a joyous 23 years.

You know when the time is right to do something. And the time was right. We fell in love with the new Spanish house and the start of another new adventure began.

I’ve gardened in three different gardens this year. All challenging in their own ways. Somerset because I haven’t committed much time to it. Spain because of the change in plants. The soil. The weather. London is less of a challenge because it’s so small. Juggling all three and three different growing conditions has been interesting. To say the least. But there were tulips in London and Somerset and today I collect bulbs for the new Mediterranean garden here in Spain. I am loving the new Mediterranean garden. A lot. I’m sure you can tell.

I have spent days at Common Farm flowers. Being the junior on busy days for Valentine’s Day. For mother’s day.

And a big white wedding. Not mine. That was low key. Us two. Two witnesses no fuss. . Working with the dream Team. Georgie. Sharon. Lorraine. All of us presented us with a mug by my lovely friend Lorraine. I so love my days at Common Farm. It’s hard work. Being an oldie. On your feet all day. But…. it’s such fun and I’ve learnt a lot.

Days out with friends. An awesome birthday lunch for Georgie with Lorraine – a day out treat for the three of us.

Lunch in bath with Georgie Nic and Sara on a wet and windy day. But such fun.

The annual trip with friends to RHS Chelsea and meeting up with the poo lady. The lovely Lou from Lou’s Pooh. Especially lovely as she used one of my agapanthus pictures for the label of the agapanthus feed launched at Chelsea.

I did RHS Chatsworth with my friends Mary and Ann where I met up with an old friend who had moved out of London. Will I go again? Not for a while. Too far. Needed some more organisation. Our lunch or not as it turned out was chaotic.

Ian and I think we celebrated 25 years together this year but who knows. Because we don’t. Could be 25. Could be 26. Whatever it is it’s a b—–y long time. Who’s counting. But another milestone.

I’ll tell you when I catch up with him. He’s still walking ten paces in front. So much so I made him a book!

I had a big birthday. Well not big. Huge. You know when your a kid. 60 is ancient. Well it is. And it isn’t. 60 is the new 40. And there are days when I feel ancient. Look ancient. Talk nonsense. Ian will say that’s normal. For me. At least my prescriptions are now free.

I had a birthday supper with friends at the Savoy. Flowers delivered to the table from Georgie and the team at Common Farm flowers. A fabulous evening. I love the Savoy Grill. Great food. Awesome atmosphere.

I was taken to lunch by two of my closest friends to Le manoir which was fabulous, an amazing lunch and a wander around the garden. Back to the hotel to watch Strictly. An ideal day. Fab food. Fab company. Wine. A full stomach and Strictly.

Then we had breakfast the following day at the Premier Inn and a trip to Blenheim. An awesome treat. All of it. Le Manoir. Premier Inn and Blenheim.

I was crowned the birthday princess by Ian’s sister. But not in public. Well. Not where I can be seen by anyone who knows me.

I had the best present ever. My over 60 oyster card. I have been round and round on the circle line. All day. Why? Because I can. And it’s free.

I have been to exhibitions. To art galleries To the Hockney. To the BP portrait exhibition. To friends exhibitions in Somerset. To National Trust properties. To NGS open gardens. Saw lovely planting. Ate cakes.

We travelled to the Highlands on the Caledonian sleeper. Which was fun. Stayed at an awesome place Ardraich which had an awesome garden. And a stunning camellia hedge. Oh. How I loved that hedge.

I have had lunches with old colleagues. New friends. Old friends. Chatted to new friends on social media who have helped with questions on my new garden. Travelled back and forth to Spain. A lot. Spent our annual long weekend in Tuscany with friends. Followed by another two weeks. Visited Sienna. The cathedral. Fabulous gardens. Amazing food. We have visited the Alhambra twice, seen some fantastic theatre, visited Kew at Christmas to see then fabulous light show.

Wandered everywhere. Camera in hand. Snapping. Irritating Ian. But loving it. The snapping. Not the irritation. Oh. And you may have noticed. I’ve blogged a lot.

So. The question is. Am I bored yet. Do I regret my retirement. What do your think?

Ps. Remember that list of Ian’s right at the start of this journey. Don’t tell him. But I still haven’t sorted the cellar or the attic. I haven’t had time!

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It’s not all about the garden 

Being in Spain isn’t just about the new Mediterranean garden. Though at times that’s how it feels. It’s all new to me. The plants. The soil. The weather. Oh. The weather. I do like a bit of sun. But not in July or August. It’s too hot. And I never thought I’d say that!

But there have been visitors. Which I love. Which means we have to explore. And explore we have over the last 6 months. Trips to the Alhambra. Twice. Trips to the coast. Numerous. A trip to Malaga.  Oh. The trip to Malaga. Where  I parked in the car park of Cortes de Ingles. And walked into the old town. And where I couldn’t find the car in the car park when I got back. Had to retrace our steps back through the store. You could smell the fear. A hire car. Whose registration I don’t know – yes it’s on the key fob I know but in the panic I forgot. We eventually found it. After half an hour. By which time I was ready to cry.

So we bought a small house in Andalucia. In Competa. Up a long  and winding road. In the hills. By now you will know it has a garden. A lovely Mediterranean garden which I have bored the pants off everyone with twittering instagramming and generally talking about it. Even in my sleep. A style of house I didn’t want. I wanted a town house. A terrace. No garden. No pool. A walk to the bar. To the cafes. Which is the total opposite to what we bought.

Casa Verano Eterno. – House of Eternal summer.
We were also due to be based in Frigliana another white washed village  but the owners of the B&B we had booked cancelled a few days before. Not  because  we are bad guests but because they had a family crisis.

So Ian did his research and we booked into a fantastic B&B in Competa –Casa b Run by Carsten and  Bente who’s hospitality and breakfasts are incredible.  But  being based in Competa it gave us a lot of time to explore the town.  

The view at Casa B
Where is  Competa? I asked the same question to Ian when we booked to visit in March. It’s just over an hour from Malaga and and hour and a half to Granada and the wonders of the Alhambra. It is the jewel in the crown of the whitewashed villages. It’s breathtaking on first sight. Surrounding by the mountain ranges and is that type of place which you would say has a lovely feel. Which it does. The town has everything you could want. Great places to eat. Pharmacies. ( important when you get a swollen eye!). Bakeries. Fruit shop. Great places to eat and watch the world go by.  Wine shop with lovely local wines.  An amazing ironmongers. A petrol station. A kitchen shop ( heaven for me) and excellent friendly service from everyone. The Estate Agent we used  has guided us through the first 6 months with a general ease.

Competa

In August every year is the Noche del Vino – the night of wine. It’s an enormous annual  event in the town and there is a lunch cooked and prepared in the Plaza de Vendimia.  The  grapes are crushed by the Mayor and the lunch is served – Migas.  To be honest. It looked a bit like gruel. It’s olive oil and fried breadcrumbs. Add plenty of local wine to wash it down. Which is good. We were wimps and didn’t stay up to watch the flamenco dancing. There’s next year.


It is a lovely  white Andalusian town. High on the hill. And with its own lonely goatherd. Where the man and his goats wanders across the hills from side to side. You can smell them before you see them. A whiff of goat is not to be forgotten. Ever. And I love it. Hugely. The town. Not the smell of goat. Which I don’t by the way. The mountains are high. And no. I haven’t had a Maria  Von Trapp moment  running up the hills. Singin I am sixteen going on seventeen. More like 60 going on 70. If I could get up the hill in the first place.

Eau de la goat
I can usually be found in the square of a lunchtime. At my favourite place Casa Paco. Or in the evening to be fair.  Or at any time of the day. It’s friendly.

Plaza Almijara Competa


We are lucky to be able to get to the coast in no time at all –  should we wish to. Which we do occasionally.  Thrty minutes  down the wiggly road you get to Torre de Mar.  A long beach with a very long promenade. Which in the summer is busy. And I mean busy. Out of season it is lovely. Much quieter and the cafes are still cooking their sardines on the beach in boats on coals.

Torre Del Mar
Edit
Sardines cooked on the beach
Beach umbrella for one

Down the opposite road from the house. – the windy road rather than wiggly – you get to Nerja and further beyond the Costa Tropical. That’s a new one on me. Costa Del sol. Costa Brava yes. But never Costa Tropical. I was taken for supper to a lovely restaurant La Barraca on the beach at playa de Cantarijan. In the summer the beach and restaurant is only accessed by bus down a hugely steep hill. At night you can take your car down. I’m not sure I will. It’s very steep. Oh. And it’s one of the areas famous nudist beaches. We went at night. And ate. Fully clothed. Me. Naked. With mozzies. Never. The food and beach is great.

Restaurant La Barraca

It’s in a natural park and there is the fear of fire. You can drive down in the evening. I keep meaning to take a ian there. Maybe  next time.

We hadn’t explored Nerja much until I had a friend staying this time. To be honest it was complete noseiness on my part. Some friends have said they are coming to Nerja early in 2018 and if we were here we should meet up. So i went in search of their hotel. And found a new part of the town I didn’t know was there. Lanes of Tapas Bars and a nice long beach.

The beach at Nerja

The boys are back in town
Nerja

Ian has a weird desire to go to Torelominos. Which we will do. Just for a look – it has nothing to do with the IKEA close by. Honest.

There are hidden gems we have yet to explore along the Costa  Tropical. To explore beyond Malaga on the Costa del Sol. There’s MIjas. There’s Marbella. Worth a visit when we have friends staying. 

There have been a couple of trips to The Alhambra . Visitors say ‘are you sure you want to go again ‘ the answer is always yes. It’s an awesome place to visit and its a bargain. A day visit with entrance two the Nasrid Palace is one €14.95 euro. The Nasrid Palce is awesome and I want to go and visit at night.  The visit is worth it just to see the beauty of that palace. This weekend we visited in the rain. And boy did it rain. 


But the skies were kind to us and we had enough of a clear spell to do the outside.

The drive to Granada is easy and we have earmarked a weekend to stay overnight and explore the town. It looks fabulous. It’s too much to do The Alhambra and Granada town in one day. Unless you are on a tourist trip doing the whole of Eure in a week. Which we are not.

Granada a view from The Alhambra
Of course i have managed to look at the gardens at The Alhanbra on each visit and i have done a bit of a blog already about my August visit. Link to that is here.  A friend has reminded me about the Botanical garden in Malaga. That’s been added to the list. That’s what I love about social media. People tell you things you didn’t know. There are some gardens open in and around Granada so some forward olannning is needed for next year.

This visit  the  general life gardens at the Alhambra  remained colourful but the flowers were going over. I do think that even when not picture perfect the flowers look good. I was still surprised at the planting. In August I thought that the planting looked pretty English.  There were plants I hadn’t seen in a while. Some my parents had grown in the 70’s. Those tall red bedding salvias for one. A lot of orange tagetes. Some plants I want for my garden next year not the previous two but a fabulous euphorbia that was fantastic against the orange. 


There was an abundance of agapanthus the flowers of which I had missed. Come to think of. It. There were no seed heads to be seen when we were there this time.

Colours in the Alhambra gardens Nov 2017
Malaga is interesting as well We will be there for New Year and apparentky they decorate the town at Xmas. Will be interesting to go and see. My friend Helen and I did the Cathedral this time and it was interesting. Shame my pictures weren’t which was disappointing. Must have been all that incense wafting about! There is always a next time.  But at about €6 Euro it’s a bargain.

Street in the old town Malaga

The colours of some  of the houses in the old town are fabulous. We need more time to explore. The Picasso Museum is earmarked for the December trip. As long as I’m not Picasso’d out. I have seen a fair few PIcasso exhibitions these last 18months  but I’m sure the museum here should be fab.  If not there will be more Tapas time.

What  I also find interesting here is the cost of entry into the places of interest. By interesting. I mean how inexpensive it is to vist. Unlike many in the UK.  We have two days in Seville with friends at New Year  which we are all looking forward to. We are so liucky that there is so much within easy reach to visit. Cordoba is on the list for 2018 as well. We have yet to decide whether we drive or let the train take the strain.

But I pinch myself regularly just as to how lucky we are to have such wonderful opportunities.  I didn’t expect retirement to be so exciting   So varied. And such fun

So. It’s not all been about plants. There has been food. Tapas. Of course. An amazing Paella at El Pilon,  a lunch of avacado and spicy prawns at Casa Paco. Food to fuel the gardening. I can’t help myself.

Paella at El Pilon
Toasted avocado and spicy prawn at Casa Paco
For me learning a new language is hard. Last week I learnt a few phrases to introduce my friends to the waiter at the restaurant that we use. A lot. All was well. He understood what I had said. Corrected one word. Then bingo. He replied and my face was like a rabbit in the car headlights. I got the first and last word of the sentence. Nodded my head said Si a lot. And smiled. They need to speak to me like some peiople speak to them. Slowly. Very slowly. BUT I am determined to get there but be prepared for some disasters. Ian is doing brilliantly and we are both looking to arrange one to one conversational classes when we are there. 

I am so looking forward to the next 6 months. the garden is already showing the start of the growth of the bulbs – back to the garden – I know.  it’s exciting to see what will come through.  I have planted alliums. Freesias. Every time I return something new is in flower. In fruit. We have Seville to look forwards to. A trip to Malaga –  suppers with friends. Another season. 

No doubt I’ll let you know. 

      Here comes the rain 

Well I’m back. Not as Gary sang Back for good. But for two weeks. To be honest I’m approaching the last few days of this visit. And the rain that was forecast has arrived. With a vengeance. We drove into town last night in fog. Friends gripping the door handles as we drove along the bits of road where there is a sheer drop. A lovely supper  and it was clear by the time  we left but with thunder crashing in the distance and lightening cracking away. . We just managed to get the cushions off the garden furniture before the heavens opened and the storm hit the mountains. Boy. Did it rain. It persisted. All night. And was pretty torrential. Am I complaing? No. I have planted bulbs seeds and some plants this week!

 I have also made a huge school boy error. I dont like gardening in gloves. Somehow i have rubbed my eye after planting and its swollen. I kook like I’ve done 5 rounds in a boxing ring which is stupid. I wouldn’t even get in the arena. A quick trip to the pharmacy. A bit of Spanglais as neither she or I spoke the others language and I had antiseptic eye drops. Lesson learnt? I doubt it. 

Eye eye Captain

In between visitors I have been cutting back,  pruning, tidying. Unlike Somerset there is no real weeding to do. No ground elder. No Bindweed. But an enourmous amount of leaves from the fruit treees and fallen olives. The olive trees are heavy with olives. ( obviously) and I fear they will all go to waste.

I have taken the opportunity of tidying the bank. Climbing up and like a mountain goat. Well thats how our neighbour described my efforts. A bit of lopping here. A hedge cut. The access road to the house was once a dirt track, now thankfully concrete and easier to navigate. The bank on our side has some large trees.some scabby prickly pears and cactus bordered by a hedge and the smattering of oleander along the drive. I have scattered poppies on the bank. Let’s see what comes. I have struggled to get native Mediterranean wildflower seeds. But I’ll continue trying. 

The access road to the house.

I have cut back the oleander from the gate to expose the two pillars that are there -if they are there why not show them! I have also been tidying the opposite bank behind the house and to the front. There are a couple of pines  which are protected in Spain. Not that I’d want to.

 I have cleared a lot of the pine needles so that any wildflowers that may be lurking in the ground have a chance to appear. But I now understand that the pine needles are a good mulch! A bit late as I have collected barrow loads of them. But I still have a barrow full. 

I love seeing the garden at different times off the day as the light is so very different. Except the dark. It always looks the same. Dark. This was taken from the area where we park the car. Pines. Cactus. It’s a favourite of mine. 

The bank at the rear of the house.
A barrow full of needles

I’m yet to attack the roundabout  – that piece of land we have across the road other than to cut the tips of the end of the agave leaves that were threatening to stab anyone that walked past. Not that many people do but like a Boy Scout you have to be prepared,
There are some pretty big  agaves at the bottom and a number of baby ones growing. I need to dig the small ones and to replant. Something else to add to my list. At least this list is my doing and not the ones that Ian gives me. To be fair. I should say lists. There are three. Some are being reduced. Bit the attic is still to be tackled. 

The large agaves on the roundabout

I have at long last – 5 months in – managed to cut the hedge, its been so hot that the growth has so far been slow but I was warned not to cut it in the heat. Or it may die. To be honest so would I if I’d tried in the heat of the summer. I needed little excuse not to cut it. We have a hedge cutter but the route from plug to hedge is a long one. Around the edge of the pool. Which I could see as a recipe for disaster for me. So I tried to get a cordless one. Hmm try getting a cordless anything here along with a string of garden solar lights.  Total fail. So I ventured on, and managed with a bit of stretching and cursing to have cut it. Please don’t venture to the side on the bank. It’s not pretty.  I have also trimmed a bit of height off the trees in front of the hedge. Thank goodness for the big lopper.  The view to the coast is a bit clearer. Especially when I Put on my glasses. 

A hedge with a view

The town had 24hrs of rain the week before I arrived and it shows. The drive up looked a bit greener. Flowers were back out in the garden. A bit of colour. This Brazilian sky flower has been constant all sunmner. Throw in a background of yellow and bingo. Colour. 

Brazilian sky flower

We have a bourganvellia growing next to the garage. It hasnt done very much in terms of flowering despite my govong it a good talk to and some encouragement. But there is one on the bank. The dry bank. No water. No attention. Dry. Sunny. And blooming lovely. Framed by the fig and the Nespera. 


Talking of which the two trees that we have on the bank are flowering. They also have a nice scent. I was pretty surprised  to see the flowers as i thought it a bit early. But apparently not. I’m hoping for some healthy fruit next year. Which no doubt will all come at the same time. Like the figs. 

Nespera.

I thought that we had little or no fruit on the pineapple guava. But once again I’m proved wrong. Apparently they are ripen when they drop. So I have been collecting some every day. I like the taste. One of my visitors said they tasted like wait for it. Germolene. I hated the smell of that growing up. Along with TCP. I once worked with someone who I swear used TCP as an after shave. 

Pineapple guava
The rest of the fruit is doing well. The oranges are ripening. Again I thought we may lose the trees in this years extreme heat. But there will be some ready for Xmas. There are two pink grapefruit. Still there. Still getting fatter.  


An unknown fruit – maybe a sloe.  


The 5 quinces remain and are getting uglier by the day. If I have time I will make that quince jelly I’ve been meaning to make. For ages. I think I’m being told to do it. One big fat quince has dropped to the ground. 


The succulents are doing well. There are small ones appearing everywhere. I need to move some of them as they are in the wrong places. 

I have moved the two cactus. I know that they are Euphorbium  but Ian bought them as he wanted cactus. And they do look greatagainst the  White wall of the house.  . 


You can tell we have had rain. These have suddenly unfurled from the tight coisednuo balls they were on our last trip. Looking glorious and majestic in the border. Not likethe  aliens they looked like before.  

I’m seeing new cactus I haven’t noticed before. 

A view of the border at the back of the house. It’s pretty steep. 


All of a sudden there are plants appearing in the garden. That’s the joy of a new garden. You never know until you get to the end of the first year what you will find. 


I’m very excited with the bird of paradise plants. We had some flowers in the summer but they seem to have gone mad. 

There are a number scattered around the garden. One in a pot. Most have their Autumn flower spikes. The one at the side of the house strategically placed outside the bathroom window has theee  large flower spikes forming. The one in the pot  has three as well. And the ones in the flower bed have another three between them. To be honest. I wasn’t expecting that. But they are fab. 


The good old lantana continues in the rear bed to give some welcome colour. The one in a pot had suffered a bit but has been cut right back and is sprouting new growth already. I have a policy of hack back and wish for the best. If it works. Bingo if not then there’s a shopping opportunity. Talking of which. 

I called into the garden centre last week on my way into Malaga. . And ordered a load of plants for collecting later in the week. Which I did. And filled the car. Can’t you tell Ian wasn’t here. He would have said ‘do you need all of those plants’.  Yes. I do. And more. 

Have plants will travel
  Some new lavender. Verbascum. Plectranthus. A plant whose leaves and flowers smell like popcorn. It really does. Senna didymobotrya. Oh and like so many of the Mediterranean plants is poisonous. Probably that’s what I rubbed into my eye! 

I have cut back some of the lavender not being brave enough to do it all. I have replanted some slightly lower on one side of the bed so the lights to the gates shine a bit brighter for now. Yes I know. I should have taken the hose away to get the perfect picture. But it’s not perfect. The garden the blog the pictures are all a work in progress!! 


There is still plenty to do. But it hasn’t all been gardening. We have had friends staying. Which means trips out. To the  Alhambra. To the coast. To eat. 

We made our third visit to the Alhambra 

The gardens are going over but there is still some great colour. 

Flowers at the Alhambra
A day at the Alhambra
Granada from the Alhambra
Oh. It’s November. The mornings are chilly admittedly. But when the suns out it’s glorious. So you need a trip to the coast. And we made a few. Nerja. Torre de Mar. For lunch. For a walk. 

Trips to the Coast – Nerja & Torre Del Mar

So Ian and the visitors leave today. I have one full day left on my own in the garden. To move the prunings from the pomegranate. The lavender. To plant the rest of the alliums. To go collect the tulips I have ordered for the pots.  Ready to be planted on the next visit. To hide  them in the fridge from Ian to give them a cold snap before I plant. 

It’s getting colder. We had our first log fire in the new house on Saturday I’m sure there will be more when I’m back. In 12 days time!

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!