Summer and NGS open gardens

So summers over and it’s a time to sit and reflect. A time to go through the mountain of photos I have taken over the summer. My own garden and the gardens of others. One thing I’ve been thinking of is the National Garden scheme visits that we have done this year. I’m a bit of a nosey one me. That’s why the NGS open gardens is a dream. I get to see other people’s gardens. Get ideas. See new plants. Take photos. Oh. And eat cake. There is always cake.

This year I didn’t manage many. I missed some which I have been desperate to see. The garden at Ulting Wick. I missed the tulips. The thousands of tulips which looked magnificent. Then I missed the later the openings as I was away both times. The 2018 dates will be in my diary. The one I bought today.

The ones I did see in London were all very different and all were in South London this year. Choumert Square in Peckham is a treat. The Peckham peculiar has 46 facts on the 46 cottages that comprise Choumert Square.

The square opens every year for NGS and despite living in the area since 1987 this is the first year I have managed to be here for the open day. On saying that can I admit to sneaking in and taking a peek occasionally. The open gardens is a bit of a fair day. There are cake stalls there is honey for sale. Plants. And a general feeling of great friendliness.

The entrance to Choumert Square

Lovely colours in the Square

Great herbaceous planting

The gardens are small and are all at the front of the cottages. At the end of the rows is a small communal space. It’s a lovely friendly place to live and the planting in the gardens is so all very different.

From Choumert Square we ventured to Camberwell Grove. One of the best if not the best example of Georgian houses in London. I’ve always wanted to live in this street. It’s a lovely wide tree lined street. The garden open here was very different to the Choumert Square gardens. A long oasis with a view of the spire of St Giles church at the end of the garden. The garden is covered in roses and colour with a lovely artist studio in the garden. Lots of lovely perennials in the borders adds stunning colour.

Camberwell Grove

Altogether a very different garden to the ones at Choumert Square.

I have followed Jack Wallington ( not literally) but on social media for a while. Jack and Chris had taken part in the Monty Don series Big Dreams Small Spaces and I’d remembered their story. It’s still on you tube if you want to take a look. It’s really interesting – Series 2 episode 2. A small garden in South London crammed full of plants. With a fern wall. So I was excited to see the garden and to meet Jack and Chris. The weather in the run up to the opening wasn’t great but the Sunday was dry and fine. Oh. And what a garden treat. Yes. The garden is small. But the planting and the variety of plants is awesome. Jack was on hand to answer questions. Which I asked and he answered. The plants were labelled and there was a plant list. Oh. For. A plant list and labels in my garden. And clean nails.

I loved the Echium and I’m looking for some for our new Spanish garden. Everywhere you looked there was something different. Astrantia. Dahlia. The fern wall which I had seen Jacks father making the supports for in Big dreams Small Spaces was brilliant. I know Jack can tell you the number of varieties on the wall. Did I get any tips?. You bet I did. I think of Jack as Mr Dahlia. He grows some huge dinner plate Dahlias on his allotment the photos of which are amazing.

Ps. Jack. Perhaps there should be an open day for your allotment!

The opening of gardens for the NGS is synonymous with cake. You can always get a decent bit of cake. Now there’s decent and there is extraordinary. The cakes at Jack and Chris’s were a visual delight as well as delicious. If there’s a prize for the most beautiful cakes then this is the winner. Oh. And for taste.

The icing on the cake. The dahlia cake.

I loved Jack and Chris’s garden and my one disappointment was that I was unable to visit for the second days opening the following month when more of the Dahlias were blooming. But I’ve seen the photos. Lots of photos.

Jack mentioned another garden that he thought I’d like which was open a few weeks later. Another one local to us in Grove Park. The garden of Clive Pankhurst. When you look at the front of many of these houses you can never expect to find such delights behind them. A garden full of exotic plants. Bee hives. Ponds. Lovely seating areas. A huge garden with lovely walkways. The owners have been able to buy some of the neighbouring gardens when the flats next door were developed. Where I found out my own next door neighbours mother who I see almost daily lives. So she gets to see the garden all year long.

I loved the garden and the planting. The variety. The colours. I also had some ideas for our own garden. That’s the joy of the NGS open gardens. You get to see plants you don’t know. Planted In situations you wouldn’t normally think. I’d never have thought of Echiums for a small garden. But they work. Really well.

The cakes were lovely too.

Next year I will be taking a notebook when I visit any NGS garden. My brain goes mush and I forget the names of the plants when I leave the gardens!

Till next year.

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. 

Weeds. Weeds. And more weeds. 

No it wasnt funny the first time said Ian. A grown man standing in the garden. Squeaking. Weed. Weed. I guess he’s too young to remember watch with mother. Bill and Ben the flowerpot men. With Weed .  Behind the potting shed. Which looks nothing like the lovely potting shed of Karen Gimson. She knows I have potting shed envy. That I’m going to move into hers. 

Anyway. As usual I thought it was funny. Obviously not. But I was here to weed. 

Having bought our new Spanish house and having a new garden to manage and with spending more time there the garden in Somerset has been a bit neglected.  Ooh. A lot of ands there. 

It hasn’t helped that we have had sun. Rain. Sun. Sun. Rain. So the garden has grown. You can watch it grow. From the dryness of inside the kitchen window. Plants are taller. The weeds stronger. I maintain I have the national collection of bindweed. Hideous weed. The plant. Not the Bill and Ben  character. 

 I’ve tried for weeks to get to the cottage. But every time I have a day or two it rains. It pours. Horizontal rain. Wind.Great British Summer.   I’m a wimp. I’m a fair weather gardener. Don’t judge me. You know who I mean! 


It’s sad to see that the garden isn’t as pristine as I usually have it.  Pristine is the wrong word. It’s not a show garden. I’m not a gardener. I garden for me. I grow what I like. Where I like. But I usually have more time. The grass had been cut but there was work to be done. But yes. There were some lovely plants in bud. In flower. Seedheads. New beginnings. 


The roses I pruned with Sara Venn earlier in the year were budding like crazy. The second flush of flowers coming through now. I had a great day with Sara and she taught me a lot about pruning fruit  trees. Maybe I can persuade her to come to spain! 

The apple tree we pruned is loaded with fruit. The best I’ve seen  in years.  We were a bit ( I say we – Sara ) worried about the tree with the red apples. But it’s done amazingly well.  Some have been picked and brought home. The tree was supposed to be a Laxton  superb. My mothers favourite apple. You can’t beat a laxtons  she used to say. Well someone has beaten me. This ain’t laxtons superb. 

Apples

Everyone knows I like a dahlia or two and I planted a couple of new ones this year – well more than a couple to be fair. 

Bought and planted. Before I knew we would hopefully be on the move. Two have flowered beautifully. But. Hello. Cafe au lait where are you hiding? Not under the bindweed. Surely not.  I first saw cafe au lait at Georgie Newberry’s Common Farm Flowers  And fell in love with it.  I have had so many suggestions over the last year for new dahlias I can’t keep up. 

Dahlia shooting star
Dahlia peach delight

The dahlia bed was doing ok. The tubers  I had left in had come through. Beaten  off the slugs  – and a couple were blooming lovely. Black Jack. Rip city. A couple of bishops.  


There’s a couple of things I’m rubbish at.  – gardening things. Staking is one. Always on my list. Rarely crossed off.  Remembering when the plants get straggly. Or there is wind. The other. Labelling. I have had the intention of a plan. Labelling the plants. Putting them down on paper. A proper plan. So I don’t forget the names. It was a plan. But 23 years later it’s still a plan. I’m trying not to make the same mistake in Spain.  I’ll tell you how I get on. In 23 years time 

But thankfully I have the invoice still from Withypitts so have identified Peach Delight and Shooting Star.  


The bees havent deserted me. The Echinops all a buzz. Two for the price of one. 

The weeds are bad. So bad that I have a helper. Quite how Ian  has decided to help I don’t know.  Obviously there is no tennis on the TV  But he has. I might have to turn a blind eye at his technique and the odd pull of a plant that is not a weed. Today he’s keen.  Carry on regardless. 

It’s amazing. Often there are plants which run away with themselves. This is one. I swear that this year it’s two foot taller than usual. I like them. Great for cutting  but boy are they invasive or what! 

The monbretia. Yes I know it’s all crocisima now. But my parents called it Monbretia and old habits die hard. This clump has never previously  flowered. I mentioned it last year and moaned about it. Someone said that they always flower. This year the clump is flowering. Like crazy. Have indeed me anything different. No. Not that I can think of. 

I planted an Emily McKenzie and it’s in bud. I’ll miss the flowers this year as I am away again. 

The garden photographs well. Looks good. Even if I say so myself. But please don’t look too closely. Bindweed and groundelder are everywhere. 

We have a grape vine at the back of the house. It catches the sun. But I thought that this year we had no grapes. They aren’t sweet and last year for the first year I picked them. Ate one. Even sourer  than me.  So I made grape and  Rosemary jelly. Went down a bomb. So I started to hack the growth back – full of horticultural technique me – and lo and behold hiding under the growth were bunch after bunch of grapes. Larger than last year and hopefully with some Aug sun ( please ) they will get fatter and juicier. Chateau Pitcombe if wont be. But good old grape  and Rosemary jelly again. And again. 


Rhubarb. Not picked for ages. So I have. No need to force this rhubarb. Looks like I’d need to force it to stop. There will be rhubarb gin and rhubarb and star anise cordial. Some for  next door for a crumble.  The gin to add to the sloe gin supply  gently brewing in the kitchen cupboard. 


The poppies are over for another year. The seed heads are drying ready to explode and sow themselves for another year. 


So now I ache. My back. My arms. I’m weeded out. But do you know what. Give it another three weeks and on my next trip and I’ll be doing it all over again. Whether I want to or not. 

More garden adventures 

So here we are. Back again. This is the time that we were expecting to collect the keys to Casa Verano Eterno.  But the transaction was completed two weeks early. So we are back. Ian for a short visit. Me 10 days. Hurrah. Ian has reluctantly gone back to London – the joy of retirement means I can stay a little longer.  Oh that hurrah wasn’t because Ian has gone back. But that we are here again.  He has become the gardeners assistant. 

The Gardeners assistant

The road to Competa gets no less windey each time we visit. Nor less beautiful. The sight of the mountains  as we drive up is truly spectacular. I’d take a picture. But I am driving and as I have started I will finish. But I will take one. Eventually. Ian says look at that.  Look at this. I see nothing but the long and windey road.

The mountains of Andalucia

A week is a long time for a garden. I had worried that the timers wouldn’t have gone off. I knew that the pots had been watered as I was sent a pic of the estate agent and friend at the house. Watering the pots. They were fine. As was the watering system. 

The back planting bed

The garden has been largely planted for drought resistance plants so it doesn’t need much.  I was greeted with one of my favourite plants bursting to flower. The garden has a lot of agapanthus. Some I suspect have seeded but I am not complaining. I love them so I am more than happy that they are here. Next year I will have to smuggle some poo in my bag. 
Agapanthus love

The lavender path is holding up well. I have a tendency to overwater and I know i can’t do that with lavender. Nor should I.. especially as the cost of water here isn’t cheap. 

The lavender path

The jacaranda tree is in full bloom and is best seen  from a distance. Or looking at the floor as it is constantly dropping its flowers. Is it romantic to walk on a flower covered path, swathed in blue flowers. No its bloody well not. It stains the floor and i have been sweeping up on the hour. 

Slight exaggeration there but I don’t need a workout. I’ll get a wash board stomach yet and get rid of the washing machine and tumbler drier one that Ihave now. 

The jacaranda roaring above

I was never a fan of succulents   – ! but having a new Mediterranean garden i am going to have to get to like them. That and Cactus. There are a few prickly pears in the garden ( maybe Ian and I will. Be know as the prickly pair – we are grumpy enough). 

A prickly pear

There are some great big triffids on the bits of a hill that’s ours.  Bit grand really but its across the access road and has a few fig trees on it and is basically scrub. It will stay that way too.

Ian also picked out some plants. I thought they were cactus. But they are euphorbia. Euphorbia candelabrum cactus . to be precise. News to me. I have potted them and they will probably stay at the front.  Another with a poisonous sap. 


 The  garden has a lot of interesting plants and its a huge learning curve. I’d only just got used to my cottage garden planting! I have arranged for someone to come in in Sept to talk plants. Pruning. Some new planting. I have also discussed spring bulbs – there are no flies on me – and my order has to be done before the end of July. They stocked some of my wish list last year and I have requested Brown Sugar to go on the list. Plus alliums. I need to check that they will grow. It’s odd. There are things growing I wouldn’t have thought. There is a great show of hollyhocks on the drive into the town. I have bought two to grow in for next year. Hopefully they will self seed


Twitter is a wonderful thing you know. As well as being pretty rubbish. But that and Instagram when you need a plant identified is awesome. Like the Daucus carrot. Thanks to Phillips Burrough, Sara Venn and Georgie Newberry.  I know know what this plant is growing on the bank at the rear of the house. 

Wild carrot

There are other things I don’t know. Lots of them. But I will before the decade is out. But something else I don’t know What it is. 


Rather stupidly last time I was here i went up onto the bank. In shorts.. never ever again.. My legs were as itchy as hell. Not only the moziies had attacked me but I had a reaction to the grasses that were there.  

Unlike the man who was weeding  the bit of ground outside his house as I drove past yesterday. He was in the shortest shorts that could almost have been budgie smugglers. . No shirt. Flip flops. His skin as red as the shorts he was wearing. Spraying weed killer. In the heat of the day.  Weed killer obviously doesn’t affect beer bellies. It may even enhance them. I’m not about to find out. 

But I had to stop the car as I was laughing so much. I didn’t dare take a snap. But the vision is in my head. Protective clothing. Never,, health and safety. Never.  So I have safely arranged to have our bank strimmed by someone else. The weeds and grass are as dry as. I’m hoping to grow some wild flowers there. It’s not a meadow. It’s a slope. An incline. Dry. Rocky. So maybe poppies. And more cacti.  More succulents. Some more almonds and olives. Sounds grand but there are three almond trees loaded with nuts. . 

Things are dying back. Things are coming to life. I have had a mother moment  and spent most of yesterday dead heading. A snip here. A snip there. Just like she used to do. I’ve said it before. In her own garden. And if she walked up your path she couldn’t resist deadheading a rose or two.  Irritating that. The garden is not  somewhere you can burn the cuttings. It’s too dry. So no bonfire here. 


We collected Ian’s lime tree which is now potted up and ready for the watering to establish it. It will fruit this year but we will take them off and wait until next. Not so the manadarin which is going great guns so far as are the two established orange trees.


.Talking guns. I asked what the black and white sign was outside the gates. Apparently is a no hunting on this land sign. Great I can safely take my shirt off in my own garden without the threat of great white whale hunter appearing as I get in the pool, 

No hunting
Which I have done. As its now warmed up enough for me to get in. I am a bit of a big girls blouse with cold water to be honest. 


I also went on a rescue  mission. I rescued a lemon. Forget driving over lemons. Try crawling on your belly in the border under yuccas to retrieve the one and only lemon that you have in the garden. Which has dropped off the tree when you weren’t looking. But you were determined to retrieve it. 

My one and only

I was determined that it wasn’t going to waste so it will sit in my gin and tonic this evening. Not the whole lemon. I will remember to slice it. Or as I found an electric juicer in the cupboard I could juice it. But really? Gin sounds better. 

We had a business day on Monday. Off to the bank in Nerja as they had cancelled my bank card. Here two weeks and it gets cancelled. Only because I hadn’t signed a form. But I emailed on Monday early and saw my personal account manager at 10am. Excellent service and I signed in about 46 places and got my card reactivated. Then onto the lawyer to sign  the insurance papers. A two hour wait before I had to see the notary meant a little bit of a shopping. So. A bit of pool art in the name of Nemo. Placed at the pool side and looks great. Great colours but be careful. It’s tin and gets hot.  Behind it on the rails is a lovely Jasmine. Jasmine Azoricum. The smell is just gorgeous. 

Finding Nemo

A trip up to Frigiliana to see an artist that we had seen previously and two pictures later we were on our way to the notary, who this time hadn’t disappeared to Rome. A swift flick of a pen and my will was signed. 

So surprise surprise I have been busy snapping away in the garden. Partly because I can but also so I have a record of what’s what. I am not here for a month and the garden changes so quickly. 




I’m pretty miffed that I will miss some of the agapanthus at their best as well. 

But the main thing is the stephanotis that is just about to burst next to the front door. I swear they weren’t there a week ago. I’m sure the smell will be fab and there are loads of separate buds. Ah well you can’t win them all. 


 I have deadheaded   some little blue maugerite type plants which I think flower continuously so hopefully they woill be awash with colour when I am next here. I have admired the black or blue bird of paradise yet again. It’s a real bee magnet. 


So I am in the square again. It’s Thursday and there will be no horsemen riding by. That’s a Sunday. Ive decided to have breakfast on the square. watching. Observing. Practicing my Spanish. Ian’s worried that I will repeat the phrase that came out wrong when I was doing my homework last week. Speaking into the iPhone app in my best accent it was translated back into English  as  long penis.  Quite what I was asking for I don’t know as i collapsed into a quivering heap of laughter.   So Far the only potential issue could have been when I was looking for Salvias and asked if they had hot lips.  I kept a straight ( yea I can do it) face and carried on..  they didn’t by the way. so i bought two others. And yes they have been planted.

So. Off i go to the hardware place that is always full of builders and workmen. I must try not to embarrass myself as I’m  only getting keys cut. Maybe. 

Two More days and then back to my window boxes and tree ferns. Retirement is hard. 

The  Garden at Ard Daraich 

We had decided that we would go away for Easter again this year. I’d have liked a bit of sun. Ian decided the Highlands of Scotland. As far away as possible from any sun. In April. But I was persuaded on two counts. The first a trip on the Caledonian sleeper. The second was a stay at Ard Adraich which looked great. Which also had a fantastic 8 acre garden.  The garden is open to the public and there is a small nursery where you can buy plants. The added bonus we were staying there. In the garden. Well not in the actual garden. But the garden studio. 

The house was originally owned as a holiday home by  the cookery writer and florist Constance Spry although  I suspect she wouldn’t recognise the garden today which has grown in size and beauty. 

To be honest. I was in love as soon as I saw the hedge. Yes. In love with a  hedge that sits along the front oft the main house. A stunning camellia hedge. And I mean stunning. 



We were staying in the garden studio alongside the main house where the first thing you saw as you came downstaors in the morning were rhodendrons . From the skylight window. 

The front of the house along the lane had a long row of skunk cabbage which I had never seen before and which is due to be thinned out. Thankkfully after we leave. 


The opposite side of the lane was filled with pheasants eye daffodils. I had planted a 100 for this year. I have to make do with these. Mine are probably flowering in Australia. 


And it got better. The path to the garden was outside our studio door. Inviting me to meander the garden at leisure. Which I did. More than once. More than once a day to be fair. 


The garden is the continuing work of Norrie and Anna Maclaren .  Norrie’s  parents bought the house in the late 1960s and were keen gardners. 

Norries father collected seed from around the world and the trees and the plants in the garden reflect this. 

The garden is full of  Rhododendrons azaleas and maples with rare exhibits and plants from around the world. . The rhodendrons are being catalogued and there are over 1000 species in the garden. That’s species not number of plants! 

Norrie kindly gave us a tour – an hour long through the various levels. They garden on a hill with practically no soil which in itself is impressive. I have heard of no dig gardening. But no soil.   The garden is fed with seaweed. The moss  taken off the granite rocks lay  at the bottom of the rock. 

The garden isn’t without moss especially on this tree which looks like a hand making a rude sign. 

But the variety of the plants, the planting and the colours are simply magnificent. Breathtaking. So much so I listened intently to Norrie and tried to remember the names and species. Great big fat fail I’m afraid. There were too many! But I heard maples. Camellias. Sorbus. Plants originating from Japan. South Korea 

Plants in bloom 


The flowers were glorious in bloom but I loved the ones which were budding and about  to burst into colour, form and shape.Of which  there are many. Hundreds if not thousands of flower buds. 





I have never really looked at the buds before. Usually just the big blousey flowers. But Norrie was right. The buds are often as interesting if not more exciting than the blooms and  they vary in shape, colour and size. 


I think these buds look like little birds! 

Alongside one tree were branches  still with last season seed heads. Brilliant to see this together with this seasons flowers.


The garden is much more than just rhodendrons. At the side of the path from the garden studio sits a big fat gunnera looking magnicent as the sun shines through the leaves. There are camellias. Euphorbia. Large trees. Sorbus. Maples. Hosta. Japanese anemones. Wild flowers. 


The large labels are ones placed on the rhodendrons when they have been catalogued by the rhodendron society. 

Other interesting plants and flowers 

Norrie keeps bees and even at this time of the year you can hear them working in the quiet stillness of the garden. As well as bees thengarden is a haven for birds and we have been lucky to watch the woodpecker at the feeder each morning along with blue tits great tits coal tits a sole robin and chaffinchs. 

I have taken so many pictures of the garden and I only wish I could remember all Norrie told me. The garden is stunning. 

The garden studio a great place to stay and with access to so many places nearby. Oh. I can’t forget fresh eggs from the Ard Daraich chickens, and the friendliness and helpful hosts. 

The gate to the bees the chickens and more plants! A glorious country view. 


Oh. And the amazing space to sit looking out towards the water and The beach. 

You may find me there. With a glass of wine. And a view.