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!

Gardens. A palace and a celebration. 

Autumn weekends can be so lovely. This weekend was one of them. As a birthday – not just a big birthday – a massive birthday  treat I was taken to Oxford for the weekend by two of my closest friends. 

Celebration

Lunch at a mighty fine hotel, a day at Blenheim Palace and then supper with more friends in Woodstock. 

Yes.  Woodstock. And yes. The friends I went with soon got feed up with my childish comment ‘ you do know ‘ I’d say ‘ by the time we get to Woodstock there will be half a million strong’ …. it wore thin after a while. Unlike me. 

Lunch was amazing. Glorious food. Plenty of wine. Too much cheese. Can you have too much? Yes. Definetly. The need for a walk around the garden  after lunch at Le Manoir. 


It’s interesting to see how the gardens at hotels with restaurants work. Here there is a glorious kitchen garden – an amazing array of veg which is used in the kitchens. Together with flower beds and lavender paths. I’m glad to say that my lavender paths in Spain could compete. They have trimmed theirs back which I will do when I am back in Spain in two weeks time. 

Veg beds.

The greenhouses are open where you can  wander in and look around.  What I loved as well is that most things are labelled clearly so you know what you are looking at. A bonus for a novice gardener like me. 

Indian Borage
 
There were some pretty interesting things around. I had never seen snake gourds before. These ones hanging down from the greenhouse roof like well. Snakes. I hate snakes. Though at first I thought they were cucumbers. But. They were clearly labelled! 

Snake gourds

There was a great display of gourds and chillis in the garden teaching space. Amazing colours. Great shapes. 


Amazing selection of chilli’s

The flower beds were interesting too. We had missed the best as you’d expect as Autumn falls. But there were still some intersting plants and grasses flowering. We didn’t fully explore the gardens to be fair but what we saw was great. An excuse to go back? A long wait until my next significant birthday. 

Flower beds
Grasses and flowers
It was a great contrast of a weekend. Lunch at a 2 Michelin star restaurant and breakfast at a Premier Inn. 


A short drive after breakfast to Blenheim Palace. An imposing palace – birthplace of Winston Churchill and where he proposed to his wife. At this time of year the rooms on view of the palace are limited – in summer you can also view the private space. I will be back. I’m nosey. But the rooms are glorious. The artwork amazing. But I wouldn’t want their heating bills. 


The estate is huge – great trees, huge massive trunks that look like feet, a rose garden, the Churchill memorial garden. A massive lake. 

I imagine the rose garden in full bloom is awesome. Planted with just a few varieties. Iceberg. Peace. Royal William. A pink I didn’t get the name of. The first two grown in my parents garden in the 70s. Not these roses obviously. But they grew these varieties. I suspect that the ones here weren’t bought at Woolworths gardening section though.  


 My mother would have had a field day. I’ve mentioned before. She was an avid deadheader. She would have been in her element. I know it’s the end of the season but there were a lot of buds still there and if the frost stays away … at some point I guess they will need to refresh the beds. A lot of dead wood. Hopefully the pruning will cut it all back. 


It was a glorious walk around the Estate. A massive Estate. Amazing vistas.  Awesome trees. Water. Wildlife. Tourists! 



The feeling of a great TV blockbuster drama unfolding as you walked around. The boat house. The lake. But I wasn’t about to do a Mr Darcy and emerge from the lake all moody.  And wet. I don’t do wet. I’m someone who has to change his swimming trunks as soon as I get out of  the pool. I can be moody. But not in a Mr Darcy way. I guess more Grumoy than D’Arcy. 


These were great big pots. Filled with black grass. As a friend on Instagram said ‘ I’m not sure about these. Look a bit like toupees’ – looking at them again. She’s right! But they did look great and I guess are pretty easy to manage. 


Autumn is here. The leaves are turning. The colours are fab on the trees.  Leaves are on the ground. For now. Crisp. Dry.  Gorgeous. 

By the time we got to Woodstock – I didn’t say it again. Honest. I won’t say it now. 

 Tuscany 

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

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


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

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

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

Majestic cypress

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

The gate to Casa Zacardi


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


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

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

Pineda Tuscany

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

This is a great description of the garden at La Foce 

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

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


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

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

If we get out of the car rental parking.  

Keys keys keys 

So. We saw the house in the middle of March. On Tuesday we completed. Whilst we were at Chelsea having given the lawyer power of attorney to sign on our behalf. Miss Chelsea. Never. So we went to Chelsea on Tuesday as usual. I went again on Weds. You can never get enough. Then first thing Thursday I got on that flying machine and whoosh. I was off. First on the plane. Last off. Eager to get going up that long and winding road. 

We were expecting to complete next week. Not this week  and for a number of reasons RHS Chatsworth being one we weren’t coming out for another two weeks. So time for the Estate Agent to get a few things done for us. Sort out some locks being one. But we completed early. Being impatient. I am here early. Excited. Not Arf! 

Boy we’re there keys. Lots of them.  The vendors said there were keys. It’s like Fort Knox. Ian will be happy. You don’t notice little details when you view! 


So I arrived. On my own.  Ian not arriving  until the next day. In a foreign land. To a house that I had dreamed of and which was in front of me. Did I get emotional. Huh. Yes. It was scary going in. Not because I was scared scared but because we had only seen the house  three  times. Some people pooh pooh love at first sight. So do I generally – unless it’s cake. Or a plant.  But I fell in love with the garden. Straight away. No hesitation. No thoughts  on how I would manage to keep it as is let alone change anything. So big breaths and all that …..

The House of eternal summer

And I’m in. First reaction – no lock on the front gate! But I’m  two weeks early. It’s Spain. Manyana.  A word I’ve been told to get used to.  I open the gate – the smell of honeysuckle mixes with the scent of Jasmine greets me. I’d forgotten how much I love that smell. 

The garden is as lovely as I remember. More lovely now as it’s ours. Debbie whose garden it was had been panicking about the lavender hedge. One part of the garden not on the simple irrigation system. She needn’t have. It was fine. Before I opened the door I went to check that the timers had been put  on the taps. They had! Good old Victor had been. The Estate agent had given me a plan of the areas for the zones. I have yet to work that out. That’s for another day. So I’m in. The house is just as I remember. Just as well really there is no going back at this stage. 

So down go the bags. A quick whiz around and straight out into the garden. A cuppa tea in hand. We have been left an array of garden tools.- a wheelbarrow. Hedge trimmers. A chain saw! I find the secateurs. I’m an avid deheader. That’s my mother’s influence. She couldn’t resist walking up the path without deadheading her roses. Or anyone else’s to be fair. 

Garden tools!

The tools . All neatly hanging on the wall.  So armed with the secateurs I wander around snipping here and there as I go. 

Next to the olive tree

A trug soon filled. It’s exciting to find the plants. The scented Lavender path. Honeysuckle. Jasmine – 

One of the three types of Jasmine

I counted three varieties of Jasmine this one a sweet smelling Jasminum azoricum – a new one on me. But I’m going to try it in London. It flowers all summer. 

A pineapple guava, whose name I got from a request to my friend Sara Venn.  The flowers and fruit are edible.  I’ll try the flowers next week. 

Pineapple guava

There is olive , citrus, bird of paradise, a black bird of paradise something I’ve never seen before and had passed by twice thinking the plant was a banana. Not noticing the flowers half way down the plant. 


My favourites – agapanthus in pots, & the borders. I suspect self seeded. And I forgot to bring out my poo. Lou’s poohs – Alpaca fertiliser. 

Succulents who’s  name s I have no idea. 

Various flowers in the garden

So am I happy. Hell yes. A good sleep and I’m wakened on Friday morning I think by the sound of the bell on the gate. ( it sounds grander than it is. Trust me. ). Well I think I heard something and get up. Throw some clothes on.

 Look out of the window to see that the bell may have been rung. But we have no gates. They are  on the back of a van. Being manhandled by a young man. A young man who speaks no English. My limited vocabulary in Spanish of ordering a coffee. Asking for the bill. And toothpicks is no good in situations like this. So between us we speak Spanglais. I ask him how long they will be away ( we are having a lock fitted – I know more keys) at which point he sticks two fingers up. By that I am meant to understand two. Two what.? Hours. Days. Weeks. I understand the word hours. But do I believe him. 

In 2 hours the gates are back. With a new lock. Hung back in place and two of them this time knock the kitchen door with 3 more keys. 


All whilst Mr Wifi is on the roof pointing his aerial across the valley so I can get access to the other important things in life. Calls via Tu for a start as the signal is a bit iffy.  Social media. Emails. Skype. 

So we have lift off. A front gate with a lock. And wifi.  Not the lock. That doesn’t have wifi. What more could I ask for. I don’t suppose they deliver pizza round here. On horseback. 

I have  fun looking at plants. Looking again. And wondering what on earth I do. We have a slope behind the house. It has almonds. Some figs. Nespera/loquats I’m not sure if those olives are on our bit. Next time I see the previous owner I will have to ask. 

High on the hill

I decide to go for a swim. Which I do but it may say it’s 22* but to me that’s like swimming in the North Sea.  So I’m in and out as fast as Ian Thorpe in the Olympics. I have a confession. I hate wet swimming trunks. Hate them.  Always have.  Trunks that stick to your legs. That and those crappy hotel shower curtains that stick to your bum. Hate them. 

So. I get out of the pool and quickly get out of the trunks as usual to change into a dry pair & wrap myself in a towel. Just as the bell on the front gate rings. I can’t ignore it – they may never come back. It may be the plumber. Or the Estate Agent. Ha . It’s  the neighbours coming to say hello! The last time I took my top off in public was 1986. What a way to greet them. Lovely neighbours too. With a bottle of red and a card to welcome us both. So I’m off and in quick  time I had thrown on some clothes. But I looked shifty. They will have thought I’d been skinny dipping. Not at 22* I hadn’t. Trust me. 

I decided that as I was picking Ian up from the airport late – like 1.30am I should fill up with fuel. Another job I hate in a strange car in a new town. What side is the cap on. Will I get it off. ( don’t mention France when I couldn’t and threw a strop. I know. Me. A strop).  Easy least this one. Drive in. HOla. Buenos días. cómo estás To the young man. Who says 95?  I look bewildered I know but I haven’t even got my bus pass. Not yet. Then realise he’s taking fuel grade. 

Cheapest. It’s a hire car. So I’m back in the 50s and he unscrews the cap and fills up the car. With 95. I pay. Go back to the car. Get in. Actually get in. Sit down. Now they are laughing at me. 

Why? Because I’ve only got in the passenger side. Sat down and looked down and realised there was no steering wheel. Huh. That broke the ice. The mad Brit  who thought he was being asked his age then gets in the wrong side. Ian can fill up on Monday. . 

So day 1 and day 2 of  the new adventure. Interesting. Fun. And at times embarrassing! 


Tomorrow is another day. .and to be honest. I can’t wait. 

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.