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. 

Tulips. More tulips. And tree ferns? 

I hadn’t been to our garden in Somerset for two weeks. I expected the grass to be as high as an elephants eye but to be fair it wasn’t that bad. Needed it’s first cut of the season but it wasn’t too daunting a task. Especially in such glorious weather. 

What I hadn’t expected were the tulips to have burst into life. I had potted up a dozen or so pots and had left them on the rear terrace. The terrace is south facing and I bring the tulips on there ready to be played at the front of the cottage where there is sun for only part of the day. So with some assistance we heaved  the pots through the house to the front. 

Two days later with this weather the majority had opened. Last year was the first time I had grown tulips at the front and it was a huge success. I like to change the front so this year the tulips weee changed too.  My mother would have said it was  showing off. To be fair I couldn’t disagree. The cottage is right on the road. You can’t help but notice the tulips. 

Ian is no gardener but he saw tulips he liked at the Malvern show last year so as he showed an interest I decided to buy them. So the pots were planted with Brown Sugar. His choice and separate pots of Purissama -mine. As usual with the generous advice of Karen from Peter Nyssen I ordered others as well. Too many as usual so I have planted a lot in a cutting patch. Which will all flower when we are not there. 

The Purissima are stunning opening into great big blousy flowers which at a quick glance look like they have a bee inside. They are stunning and close up tight again when the sun passes. 

The pots have opened well and to be fair look great at the front of the cottage against the warm Somerset stone. 

Back in London I grew tulips in one window box and two large containers – and with very different colours to the Somerset tulips. I hadn’t used them in window boxes before but good old Karen assured me they would be ok. 

These have opened beautifully in the morning sun – and have been a joy. 

The pots at the back have spring into life this weekend. Tulip Belle Époque has opened and there are a few rouge Brown sugars in there too.  I didn’t mention earlier that these also have a lovely scent. 

Tulips are a new one for me to be fair. But on the basis of how they have been over the last two years  they are here to stay! 

We also had a wander around Lytes Cary a NT property on Saturday where they also had some amazing Tulips. I have a list as long as my arm of what I’d like to grow next year thanks to the Instagram,twitter and Facebook posts of everyone’s favourites. At Lytes Cary these were added to my list. Such a beautiful colour and in the sunshine just dazzled. 

It Was also good to see that the professional gardeners get a rogue  tulip here and there too. 

This one was very obvious! Along with what was probably one of last years that missed being dig up! 

I don’t feel so bad now with the odd one here and there that I have found out of place! 

So it was back to London for a busy week ahead – I know. I’m retired. But I’m busy!  But first to water. When I left on Thursday the tree ferns were good. They had kept a lot of their fronds over winter. I hadn’t had to put straw in their crowns. But I get back and all hell has broken loose. The two days of  sun has made them spring into action and they are about to burst forth. As long as Fred stays out of the crown that is. 

I love tree ferns and we are lucky that we have a micro climate in the small ( tiny) garden we have here. But the tree ferns. The olive. The banana do well. 

So move over tulips. It’s tree fern time. 

The Bishops Palace Wells Rare Plant Fair 

Hurrah. Hurrah. The first of this years Rare Plant Fairs was a local one for me – held at the The Bishops Palace Wells in glorious surroundings and in a part of the Cathedral I’d only visited for the Wells Festival of Literature . In the dark.  So I didn’t know what to expect! Why hadn’t I been before…

Surprisingly for me I didn’t take too many pictures of the stands – I was too busy looking at the plants!

Glorious hellebores did take my eye though. I have very few in the garden here in Somerset. I don’t know why really  – to be honest  there are some stunning plants out there.

These fritillaries  really did get my attention. A house close to ours had a spectacular display two years ago but they seem to have disappeared. These were such strong  large and beautiful plants that  I was tempted. But I resisted. For now anyway.

I did manage to buy plants.  No big surprise there then. After some huge indecision on my part – returns to stands more than twice I had decided on two roses –  some foxgloves – and  a monarda Jacob Cline I had been looking for. Added to that a selection of herbs – some strawberry mint – which I had never seen before  which will be good in pimms! I was tempted with so much more as  there was a great selection. But I had that voice ( Ian ) saying do you really need that. You can tell he’s not a Gardner. When did need enter into anything when plants or seeds are involved.

The admission price of the fair ( discounted by £1 for RHS members ( remembered my card for once) also included access into both the garden and into the Bishops Palace Itself.

At the fair end of the stalls stood a magnificant Magnolia which was stunning in its size and shape and flowers. Too big for my garden that’s for sure but pretty magnificant.

It was heartening to see such a busy fair and to run into a few familiar faces and put faces to  twitter handles – folk who I follow but haven’t met before.

The gardens and surroundings are stunning and very varied  – we only saw a fraction of it to be fair. ( no pun intended) There are 14 acres of gardens so it’s not surprising we didn’t get to see it all! But we will be back.

The community garden is an interesting space where volunteers can learn new skills. Looks a lot like allotments!

Euphorbia is stunning against the ruined walls in the East Garden – and looked magnificent. .  We had some stunners in our garden when we moved in but where have they gone now I asked myself.  ( reminder – you didn’t like them 20 years ago so you probably pulled them!)

The daffodils were out in force all around the gardens – except the formal garden – shame it’s not replicated in mine. I planted I don’t know how  many Pheasants eye last year but none have appeared. I know not why!  I know I was late planting and I don’t think I planted them upside down!

The banks of the moat were planted with colour and the famous swans were doing their bit for the tourists.  Introduced in 1870 they were taught to ring a bell for food which they still so today.  Somehow it won’t work for me at home.

The garden is interesting not just with plants. The buildings – the walls –  the remnants of the great hall – the history.

I shall certainly be back if only to see the Dahlias in the hotbeds. As you’d expect  in these surroundings the beds are planted with Bishops. Not your actual Bishops but those of the Dahlia varieties.

As well as the gardens we got to amble inside the BIshops Palace and the chapel. Well worth a visit.

What more could you ask for. A plant fair. Plants. A good walk around a lovely garden.

There are more Rare Plant fairs scheduled for the rest of the year – take a look at the schedule on Rare Plant Fairs – do go. You may buy a plant or two. Or three.

Roses and a day with Sara Venn 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flowers flowers flowers 

I’m lucky enough to live close to Common Farm Flowers in Somerset  and I’m even luckier to be able to say that I’m friends with Georgie Newberry. So I never miss an opportunity to go to the flower farm and help out when they are busy. Or to go to a workshop. Or two. Or three. 
Don’t get me wrong. Help out is a bit of a grand sweeping statement. I sweep the floor. I make the tea. I talk a lot. I might pop some flowers in buckets ready for the artistic bit to be done by others. But what I do get is to be around some of the most lovely British grown flowers that you can find. 

And to be with some lovely people and to eat cake. I always take cake. I think cake  is the answer. To any question. 

It also means I get to see Lorraine aka @lorraines_veg – queen of the jam jar posy  who is there too. Not just for the cake though that helps but to help as well. 

Getting to know Georgie, Sharon  and the flowery folk  has meant that I now look to see where the flowers I buy are grown. Drilled into me. Buy local. Grown not flown. These flowers are all British and dispels the myth that you can’t get British flowers except for the summer months. You can. 

By and large I always buy British. But like lots of things  sometimes you fall off the wagon. There is the odd occasion I don’t. Hands up. Guilty. Particularly when I am in London and I can’t source easily and I want flowers for the house. But more and more places do stock British. 

Our garden In london isn’t a garden. It’s a back yard. Great for pots. For tree ferns. . But no room really for a cutting patch. Well not at all. There are flowers but not enough to pick. There for show . . For colour.  Unlike Somerset where I can and do grow for cutting. ( I’d say picking rather than cutting!). 

I digress. It’s about the flowers. Not me. For once. 

So armed with thermals, vest.,Long johns and a Scarf. Oh. And cake I turned up for duty. You don’t heat up a flower studio – I learnt that bit very quickly!  The first thing that hits you is the colour.  Then the scent. Gorgeous sweet scents. 

I love spring flowers. Well actually. I love flowers full stop. The ranunculus were stunning. The tulips fresh. The anemones like little jewels. The daffodils and narcissi wafting their scent across the studio. The foliage complementing the flowers. Individually lovely but put  together in the bouquets – truly gorgeous. 

Anemone jewels 

I did manage to take some pictures. Well. A lot of pictures to be honest in between doing what ever I was told to do. 

There were bouquets to make. Pussy willow to cut. Hand ties to do. Boxes to pack.  Cake to eat. But there were flowers. Flowers everywhere. 

I just loved the ranunculus. Beautiful red. Bright orange. Gorgeous yellow. White. Strong upstanding. Majestic. I brought some back to london on Monday and they are still making me smile. 

A few of my other favourite pics 

A stunning hand tied bouquet. 

A selection of the lovely ribbon used to tie the posys and the bouquets. 

Who said I’d be bored when I retired. 

British flowers by post can be ordered  and workshops booked at http://www.commonfarmflowers.com


To be honest in the past  I was never  a big snowdrop fan. I don’t know why but I suspect it wasn’t something that my parents grew but as you get older ( and I am) things change. I garden more. I listen to proper gardners read their blogs. 

Last year I managed to go to the Chelsea Physic Garden for one of the snowdrop days. Interesting  but the snowdrops were a little late. I was a little early. But I was staggered at the range and the variety.  I missed the garden bloggers get together there this year which looked great fun. Thank you For inviting me – I will try to come to something! 

 Last years snowdrop theatre was interesting and I was tempted to buy some snowdrops.. but I’m always tempted. 

I had a wander last week along the Thames path and found a couple of clumps of snowdrops in a small park along the river. The King Edward memorial park is currently being dug up in places for a new sewerage to the dismay of the locals. I hope they leave these alone. Thames Water. Not the locals. 

I’m lucky though. The lanes near the cottage in Somerset seem to have burst into  life with snowdrops. There are little drifts along many of the lanes – I’m not sure I’ve really looked before.  The green lanes I know and have used for years are full of wild garlic  but somehow I’ve missed the snowdrops. Probably as I’m a bit of a wimp and don’t walk so much when it’s cold. The two pics here are of a clump as we drive out of the village on the hill. Just one of many dotted around. 

We have one clump in our garden. One measly clump. I think I need to order some in the green quickly.

We are also lucky enough to have a fab tea room 20 mins walk away from the village. Cole Manor Tea Rooms a gentle stroll across a field called Rye Ash along the river to Cole.  Most of the ash trees have now gone. Just like in the opposite field Alders – which once had alders lining the river bank. 

The tea room reopened  at the beginnning of February for the season to tie in with the snowdrops in their garden. This year they are awash with them. On the banks of the river. Under the trees. By paths. Great carpets of white which from a distance ( q Bette Midler song) looks like a blanket of snow. 

 I popped in yesterday for a cuppa tea and a cake (and a quiche and a cake) and thankfully had my camera with me. To be honest I’d probably need an operation to remove it these days. If I haven’t got it at least I have my phone. 

Great place for lunch or afternoon tea and for now with the added bonus of a great snowdrop display. You may see me there eating cake. 

Hello 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we are only two weeks in.