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.

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!