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. 

Have I told you I’m retired. 

Have I told you I’m retired. Oh. Yes I guess I have.  A lot. It’s approaching two years now. Two whole years. I am still getting asked. Aren’t you bored yet?  I always give the same answer. Bored. Bored? Only with being asked that question.

I have lists to get through. Lists given to me by Ian. Some things I have ticked off. Some still remain after two years. Like the loft. My theory is if it’s waited 15 years what’s another two. I have gardens to see. Workshops to do. Galleries to peruse. Oh. And add in a few trips to Andalucia. New plants and bulbs to purchase. 

I agreed, with myself admittedly, that I would have one day off a week. One day where it was all about me. Ian would say what’s different to the other 6. But I wanted a day where I could do what I liked. No home duties. No shopping. Just a me day. Admittedly some weeks I have two. This week was one of those weeks. Ok some weeks I have seven. Especially when I’m in the garden in Spain. 

I have had a a busy one. Involving gardens. A museum. A theatre visit. Making the most of a bit of late sun. In London. 

Yesterday was a good day. Starting in Blackheath with a pretty good bacon sarnie, a bus ride across the heath and down into Greenwich. It’s pretty surprising what you find when you have a bit of a wander. Aimlessly with you camera. And no sense of purpose. 

Having left Ian at the station I wandered along to the river. I used to cycle to Greenwich on my way to the office. Admittedly it was in a previous decade or two. I know that as at that stage I could and did wear Lycra.  So in some ways I was retracing old steps. This time not in Lycra. It wasn’t a pretty sight then. It would be shocking now. 

I used to go through the foot tunnel which is adjacent to the river. I was surprised yet delighted to find a small patch of planting close to the entrance to the tunnel. Even more surprised that it was not your usual planting , not the odd geranium here and there and bedding plants. Now. There’s nothing wrong with that combination. Planting is important. Of all kinds. But it’s great to find something different. 

Canary Wharf in the distance

The lovely planting adjacent to the Greenwich foot tunnel entrance

Having the  Piet Oudolf  garden near us in Somerset has made me a fan of this style of planting. But for me it’s great in summer and Autumn. I’m not a Winter or spring fan of prairie. Give me lots of Spring bulbs. Daffs. Bluebells. Tulips. 

 I love the effect of the planting against the harsh concrete and glass in the distance of Canary Wharf. Continuing colour into Autumn. With the drying seed heads. Canary Wharf.  The destination of my cycle rides. My work destination for 28 years. Now tthe  cycle rides are qin the dim and distant past. In later years I drove. Not through this tunnel of course. But through a different  one. 

The entrance to the foot tunnel at Greenwich

My destination of the day was the  Sky Garden at the Walkie Talkie building Fenchurch  street. But before my allocated slot I had  a bit of time to kill  so I had a wander. It’s easy to walk around London when you live here with your eyes closed and miss the things that are around you. To take things for granted.  Like the phone box and post box combination. Typically British. Very nostalgic. Since retiring I have had the opportunity to wander. Aimlessly and often. Here and there. There and here. Wherever here or there is at any given time! 

A George V postbox and the original immobile phone
I had wanted to go the Sky Garden for a long time. But for whatever reason I hadn’t managed to get a ticket. It’s free but you have to book a time and they only come in two week booking slots. I had booked for last Friday but somehow failed to get into town in time. Luckily you can change the time and day online and I was determined to get there. So I took the boat. From Greenwich to Tower Hill. The brilliant Thames Clipper. When I first started work in Canary Wharf decades ago I used to travel from  Embankment  to Canary Wharf on the original river taxis. It was the old days and traffic was light. There was a large boat. And a 12 seater which sometimes we were allowed to board. Things are different these days. A fabulous service where you can get a drink on board too! A great way to see the river frontage enroute  up the Thames. 

I digress. Which I do a lot. So to the Sky Garden. Situated on the 35th floor of 20 Fenchurch Street. 



Yes there is a queue for the timed entries. Yes there is airport security as you enter. But boy it’s worth it. 

View to the outdoor viewing platform

The views from the viewing platform and from inside the building are stunning.  London sights. St Paul’s. The Tower. London Bridge station. The London eye. 

There is a great cafe with some awesome cakes.  Hot coffee. Suitable for all the gardening fraternity who seem to like a bit of cake. Me included. 

Awesome cakes. Fit for a gardener

The planting is interesting. People know I am a bit of a fan of tree ferns. Of Agaves. Succulents. There are plenty here amongst a lot of good planting. 

I loved seeing a couple of pearly / foxtail agaves which we have in our garden  in Andalucia. 

Foxtail agave

The tree ferns were pretty spectacular too and there were a lot. 

Ooh. How I love a tree fern or two

I had been to the Crossrail roof garden the week before ( yep on another day off). I love that garden. The major difference to me is that there you walk through the garden. At the Sky  garden you walk around the periphary.  The planting hangs down two sides and you walk around it. And look up to it. Does that make sense?  It somehow feels that you are part of the planting at Crossrail and they have some cool information boards on the planting. 

The Sky Garden is a great space and I wonder how  the garden will evolve. It’s an oasis  in the city and worth a visit for sure. For me the views take over from the garden as they are spectacular. I found the garden secondary to the views. 

Roof top gardens in the City of London

It’s amazing what you can see from 35 floors up. These are two fabulous looking roof gardens on city of London rooftops. I have no idea of whose buildings they are but it’s great to see the diversity and greenery in the city. You would and do walk past these buildings with no idea what’s above you. 

St Paul’s. City Hall Tower of London London Bridge station

You often don’t realise how green the city is. Greenery splashed wherever you look. 

So. It was last week but I’ll include some pics of Crossrail place roof garden. It’s an amazing quiet space in the hustle and bustle of Canary Wharf. Canary Wharf is an amazing place. Yes. Concrete. Glass. But tee are some wonderful,diversions. Green spaces. Art. Sculpture. They do a great guide to Art on the Estate  

Crossrail place Roof garden Canary Wharf

There are a lot of green spaces around the Canary  Wharf estate beautifully maintained and an oasis. It’s definetly worth a visit. Despite having worked on the Wharf for 28 years I am still a huge fan! 

Green spaces and a piano at Canary Wharf
Earlier in the week I had wandered into the Wallace Collection A free entry museum in Marylebone. An excellent collection and a fabulous gallery. As usual I found a flowery picture to send to My friend Georgie Newberry


A nice autumnal painting by a Dutch artist. 

Next weeks another week. And another garden. We are off to Blenheim  Palace. With my camera of course…..

Highs and lows of Summer ‘17 

So I’m back in London. You can tell I’m in London. I am wearing long trousers. And socks.  The garden here is looking tired. It needs a bit of a haircut. A bit like me. The lavender in the window boxes want s great whilst it lasted but is failing fast but the red of the geraniums and the blue of the lavender was a striking combination this year. The geraniums are still blooming despite the voice in my head telling me I should have been deadheading.  

The geraniums still going strong in London
I have left behind in Spain a  garden that is still dry. Is pretty green in parts with some glorious seedheads dripping future plants across the garden. Agapanthus and jacaranda being the two biggest culprits. There is a lack of colour. Yes the plumbago is still blooming. There is the odd flower on the oleander. The white oleander, the pink has none. The yucca is flowering, but is about to go over, jasmine has some flowers dotted here and there but its more a spring and early summer garden. When we wee viewing in March the scent of freesias was noticeable as you passed by, Needles to say my bulb order will include freesias.  

Agapanthus seed heads in Spain

This summer has had both highs and lows for me. The biggest high finally finding and deciding in a heartbeat that the garden and the house – see what came first- in Andalucia was right for us.  Seen and bought In a matter of 8 weeks.  Any regrets? Four months in – not one.  A huge learning curve, well really  more like a steep ascent up the highest mountain, on foot with a huge backpack,  but great fun to see what has appeared so far and what will appear in early spring. Add the challenge of watering and you get the picture.

Casa Verano Eterno – House of Eternal Summer

The low – the acceptance that something had to give and after 23 years it was the Cottage in Somerset. The cottage is on the market and we will be sad to be moving on. But for one last season I was able to garden in all three gardens. All very different. All challenging in their own way. The wet West Country. The dry villages of Andalucia. The space restraints of London.  Different environments. Different plants. Different requirements. 

In Somerset I had to forgo  some of my favourite plants this season. Dahlias. I have only grown to love them in recent years and now I am deserting them. I will not be able to grow them in Spain and the garden in London will need some rearranging to accommodate. But having seen  Jack Wallington & Christopher Anderson’s  garden open for NGS I think I may be able to do it. Not quite as spectacularly as Jack thats for sure, his Dahlias are huge and gorgeous. 

Somerset Dahlias

I have loved the new Mediterranean garden as those who know me have been inundated with pictures, words a bit of a blog  and stories of our trips there. Getting to grips with new plants. With new soil. The constant heat – I don’t know about the plants but at times I have wilted. In the shade! The joy of seeing what was in the garden. The excitement of being away for two weeks and finding new plants when I returned. New colours. New  Scemts. The range of plants is excellent and the previous owner had an eye for detail.  Some will need to change to take in the fact that we are not there peramanemtly. Some additions,  More agapanthus more succulents. Some Mediterranean wildflower seed for the banks. A chop for the prickly pears to see if we can rid them of disease, a lesson in citrus. 

Then coming back to London to my window boxes. My small patio garden at the back of the house. So very different to Spain. Tree ferns. A black bamboo. Salvia, Monarda. A bit of lavender. Oh. And more agapanthus. Delighted to find that the agapanthus in Spain self seeds as easily as have the London ones. 

The ‘expensive ‘ book Ian commented on when I bought it has  proved invaluable to identifying a lot of the plants. It also helps that the author Lorraine Kavannagh has a  Garden centre – Competa  just outside town. Something I didn’t know when I bought the book.  Needless to say we have visited. On more than once occasion.  I have also bought another book. Wildflowers of Southern Spain. That’s my reading material for my next flight. In 3 weeks time and will prove invaluable for the Spring months. 

 


Back in London I have ordered the tulips for this years window boxes and pots. I like to change the colours but cannot move  away totally from the lovely Brown Sugar. First seen at RHS Malvern and grown for the first time last year. I have ordered a delivery of Alliums, freesia and Chionodoxa for Spain. All from Karen at Peter Nyssen  who is so generous with her time and help. Especially with those of us who know a bit and need some guidance.  I always say that I garden. I am not a gardener per se and Karen is so helpful with suggestions of what to plant whenI need some help,  So my orders are in and no doubt I will add to them as I remember things I’d like. I’m hoping that by the time the Alliums arrive in Spain the ground will be easier to plant. Fingers crossed  there will have been some rain. Otherwise it’s hi ho hi ho it’s off  to work  I go – with a pickaxe. Which in fact I have in the garage full of tools we bought with the house. I now realise why there is a pickaxe there. 

The planting of the bulbs in London will be a more sedate and easier affair! There is no major worry of frost in Spain ( he says glibly) but I must collect some straw from the local farmer in Somerset to put in the crowns of the tree ferns in London.  I didn’t last year and was lucky. We seem to have a micro climate in the garden here which they seem to like as does the little olives and the banana.  We had geraniums still blooming one a first floor window in January. 

  The back garden London
Our Cottage in Somerset is to be sold. I have loved having a typical Cottage garden – foxgloves,roses,clematis,poppies,honeysuckle fruit trees and a bit of veg. But all good things, like plants, has a life cycle and our time in Somerset has been wonderful. I have made so many gardening friends there and have had the opportunity to see some amazing gardens. But the new adventure is exciting. Hard work but fun. When I know what I am doing it will be even more fun, There will be mistakes. I have already made one or two planting errors. But thats part of the fun. Isn’t it

The garden in Somerset

So I head into Autumn with an air of excitement. New bulbs new choices for London. New bulbs and a wonderment of what’s to come for the Spring in Andalucia. 
Who said that retirement would be boring.

Back to the new Mediterranean Garden 

So I’m back in Spain. This time for three weeks. It should have been one but friends asked  to come to stay so it was decided (yay) that I should stay on and be here when they arrived. Which meant staying three weeks in total.  Oh. And I’m then home for 6 days to collect my bus pass and then back again for 12 days.

That’s not a bad thing as there is a lot to do. Blocked drain. One of the watering system pipes has detached itself. Neither of which I will do of course. But I’m here to sort out. And to do a bit of gardening whilst I’m at it. There is plenty of clearing up to do


I’ve said it before. But I’ll say it again. The ground is dry. Very dry. Too dry to plant anything. I have some plants still in their pots standing in a vat of water for whilst I’m away. Ready to plant when and if we get some rain.  Two salvias. A jasmine Azoricum. A clivia.

Some plants like the Leonotis Leonurus  – lions ear appear to have gone summer dormant as the weather has been so hot.

The clearing of the bank and what I call the roundabout are both done. I am now happy to go and look at the almonds and figs without fear of stepping on a snake. Or some  other creepy crawly.  The almonds are ready. My ‘book’ says check in August and September to see if the dupes are splitting. That’s a new word for my dictionary but not sure how often I can slip it into conversation. They are earlier than usual but the extreme heat has brought everything on earlier.

The almond dupes

There are loads of them on just three trees and I am 3/4 of the way through picking them. Once picked and the outer shell taken off the  almonds are then ready to dry. Please don’t ask me for how long. They are supposed to rattle when they are dry which some are doing. So I will pack them into air tight containers – Tupperware anyone.  Some will be given away as presents.

Light work of removing the dupes

I have laid them Out on trays and need to turn them regularly  -like every time I pass!

I hope no one needs a roasting tin

I’ll leave picking the rest for another  day there are loads left and I’m  not going to waste them.

There is beginning to get some more colour back in the garden. It’s been so dry this summer. Much hotter than usual and some plants seem to have hibernated. A drop of water and there are blooms again. Except the Leonotis Leonurus – lions ear which appears to have gone summer dormant.


This Bougainvillia is a lovely colour. There aren’t too many flowers on there but they are pretty lovely. I must  check on pruning for later in the season. I don’t want to prune next years potential flowers – puts pruning into google.  There is also one random plant on the back slope which has appeared since the clearing.

Waxy white stephanotis

I thought I’d seen the end of the stephanotis but no. There are still a number of buds. I lovethe waxy  flowers – they look so lovely  and smell delicious. Not enough for a bridal crown. Well not on my head anyway.


I love the colour orange in the garden. This has started to bloom again. Probably as I have been watering since I’ve been back. It just appeared overnight. That or I missed it as I walked past. But it’s a welcome sight in the corner.


Now I need to go and look at my book so that I can check what this is. ! . There are only two flowers left. But the seed heads are an interesting shape. .

Seed pods

 

Three months later I’m still learning what plants we have in the garden. Some are pretty unusual. What I didn’t expect was a swisss cheese plant outside.  What next. A rubber plant! Our house plants from the 70″s. So my book says the Swiss cheese can flower. Cream in colour and edible fruits.  Who knew. Not me. But I still don’t really like them. But let’s give it a chance. It may grow on me.


I loved and hated the jacaranda tree when it was in flower. The flowers were gorgeous. When they were on the tree. But they didn’t stay there. They fell – not a surprise – onto the path. Like a blue jewelled walkway. Staining the brick. Now it has seeded. Which are interesting. And they are not dropping . Looking like little bats hanging high up in the tree.

Jacaranda seed pods

We have prickly pairs dotted around the garden – mainly on the back slope but one or two in the main area. The ones on the bank are looking sad. Last year they were all cut to the ground. Suffering from cochineal fly. I wasn’t here then but have been told like it was a crime scene as once cut  they bleed. The cochineal flow are back.

Sad prickly pears

Looks like we may need to cut back them again.


Baby prickly pairs popping up over the garden. They easily take root.


A white version of the mandevilla  with a gorgeous yellow throat.  We also have a pink which is flowering when and if it feels like it.

Succulents in the sun

There’s a whole host of succulents dotted around and it’s great that they are drought tolerant  as with this weather that’s a huge bonus.

As well as the main garden which sounds grander than it is we have a small piece of ground behind the house across the road. This hadn’t been touched or cleared for over 6 years and we decided that when we were having the slope behind us cleared we would have that done too. I call this the roundabout. Which it is not.

The roundabout

There is little on there. Two fig trees. A sickly almond. Some spikey succulents but we will need to think of some planting. To hold the soil. And to look good of course. The one fig tree is awash with black figs. Today’s picking I think and I will freeze some for jam.

Edit

It’s all a bit different to what I have been used to. Our garden in Somerset all cottage garden. Not a prickly pear in sight. Unless you consider the prickly pair of owners.

We also have trees – real trees. 

So it’s been an interesting few days. I’m here alone. I have pottered in the Garden. Snipping here. Deadheading there. Taking photos. Making plans. Understanding why I didn’t attempt to strip the bank and the roundabout myself. Slipping over down the bank. Almost doing a triple toe loop and a couple of pas de deux as I hurtled to the floor almost falling flat on my face. Thankfully no one was around to see my inelegant moves. Or my embarrassment.

It hasn’t deterred me. There will be more gardening tomorrow after I have trained the welcome cactus to wave its arms for when the friends arrive with the 11 and 13 year old boys. Yes. It needs a sort te the pot. It’s on my ever increasing list. To add to the list that Ian has left me.

Eurphorbia Candelabrum

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Hello again hello. 

It’s the last week of July and after  a trip to Italy and a quick whizz around two NGS London open gardens I’m back in Spain. The open gardens were fab –  two very different London gardens. 

Jack Wallington garden was a revelation in what you can do in a small London garden. Great planting. Huge varieties and all plants labelled! Oh dear. Please don’t judge me Jack. I always forget what names. Let alone plants.  But jacks echiums are  giving us ideas for our new Mediterranean garden in Spain.  Other plants Ideas for our small London garden. Oh. And it’s open again on 10 September. 

Jack & Chris garden in Clapham

So after an abscence of three week what would the Spanish garden have in store.?  Well. Certainly drier than in London. I’d been panicking a bit about the heat. The temperatures are high. Even for summer. In the Andalusian hills. There is an irrigation system. And someone to go in and water. But…….

At the back of the house we have a slope. I’ve mentioned it before. The last time I went up there I itched for days. Was worried I’d encounter a snake. And we had an Italian experience. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that. 


 Was worried about fires so we arranged for it to be strimmed. I was asked. Why don’t you do it yourself – you’ve got the time. “Excuse me” I said. “Strimming an extremely dry slope in 30* heat dressed from head to toe in overalls.” Thanks. Maybe next year. So it was done. Not by me and looks so much better. The almond trees look better and there is a good crop. Quite what I’ll do with them is another question. . The figs are ripening and hopefully will be ready to pick when we have friends staying in the next two months. 

the almond trees
Almonds
Lovely figs. Waiting to ripen and turn black

The other side of the bank doesn’t look as great and needs some more planting. The prickly pears look like they are going down with a disease again this year. I know they were all cut to the ground last year and a skip filled between two houses. I’m hoping to have a mix of nespera, olives and some succulents dotted about. But the ground is as hard as iron. We need to wait for the rain. 

Down in the main  garden most of the plants were looking ok. Some are struggling in the heat. Even those that are drought tolerant.  There are three areas to the garden. The main area at the front of the house. Three beds. A lavender path. Some citrus. Some pots. To the side of the house and ro the back two sloping beds. Cactus. Succulents. Stuff.  The mandarin and lime that Ian wanted and are in pots are looking good. Plenty of mandarins. No limes this year. There will be next. 

The pearly agave in a pot is looking fab. Particularly  if you catch it in the right light. I’ve found another at the back of the house – I’m hoping they will flower. 

Pearly agave
When I left three weeks ago I thought the Stephanotis would flower and be over by the time I got back. Its in a large pot and has struggled a bit but there were still beautiful waxy blooms. As I tidied the plant up I found one single solitary fruit. I never knew that they could fruit – mind you I have only really seen them as pot plants. Indoors. Used in bridal bouquets apparently. Not mine. 

They smell lovely. 

Waxy stephanotis

I forgot to take a picture before I left  – the fruit has changed a lot in a week. Apparently the black silky seeds can be easily propagated. Not by me I fear. 

The fruit of the stephanotis

This border and the circle under the old olive tree is doing well. There are loads of olives. The strawberry mint I planted and which I thought had died is growing again. I didn’t think that even I would be able to kill mint. 

The lavender likes me being away. I tend to overwater. So it does better when I’m not there. 

The very mixed and confused border
I cleared a bit of the oleander next to the garage. And found a lovely plumbago. Struggling behind the oleander but the blue is lovely against the white of the garage. Now I know it’s there I’ll make sure it does well. ( right – as if ) 

Plumbago
The wall planting has one solitary red geranium flower – we are in between blooms. The scented pelargoniums are doing really well. I find them a bit boring. Insignificant flowers. But boy. As you brush past the scent is delicious. And they are pretty hardy in the dry. 


I also found that there are six quinces on the quince tree. Well what else would you expect? But I was surprised. Now to see what I can do with them. 

Quince

I’ve mentioned before that my mother was the queen of deadheading. Something she instilled in me. I’m not as bad as her – I don’t walk up anyone’s path and deadhead as I go. She did. But these little flowers drive me insane. I’m forever taking off the dead ones. I mean forever. 

The agapanthus have finished and are setting seed. I’m going to let a lot self seed this year. There are a lot of plants. I have space for more. Don’t I? But I have been making a note of some really dark ones. There have been some great suggestions of new agapanthus for me to look at on twitter this last month. 

The shade of the olive tree

It’s not all been gardening. I managed a day wandering around town taking some photographs. But the heat defeated me.  I had to sit in the square people watching. That was so hard to do. For hours. 

The sunsets are awesome and are something I don’t think I will tire of. Glorious from our terrace.  The sun was so red and bright in the sky as it went down behind the mountains. 

The town of Competa. A 10 min drive from the house. A glorious white washed Andalusian town. Nestling on the hillside. 

The hanging houses of Competa

So I’m home for just over a week and then back to Spain for three. It was supposed to be only a week in August but we have visitors coming for another week – and we can’t not be there with them. Not when it’s our two favourite boys arriving with their parents. Wouldn’t be right would it.

 Ian will be there for a week as planned.  Largely to drink wine. On 15 August the town celebrates its wine festival – NOCHE DEL VINO: – which starts with the wine treading  on the Plaza de la Vendimia. Then goes on all night.  Not that we will. We also have. A friend staying for that. But we are also heading to the Alhambra. In August. In the heat. But it will be worth it. It’s such a stunning place. 

I also found some gardens that open near to Granada. Though we may not have time this time. 

But. As I left the forecast for the end of this week is 41*. With night time temperatures of 24. Who know what I will find next week!! I’m sure I’ll tell you though.  

Lovely day for a white wedding – my day in the life of Common Farm Flowers

Have I mentioned I’ve retired. Just once or twice I’m sure. The joy of being retired means I am able to do different things. Able to indulge. Whether it is gardening or travelling. Meeting people I have been engaged with ( rather than to ) on social media over the years. One of my biggest joys has been the opportunity to spend time at Common Farm Flowers with Georgie Newbery. The flower farmer of British grown flowers. Grown not flown.  It’s well known I’m a huge fan. I buy flowers. Have attended workshops. Wandered the garden. 


Over the last 18 months Georgie has allowed me to be part of the team at Common Farm Flowers to assist on busy days whether it be for Mothering Sunday,Easter, Christmas or one of my favourites – big wedding days. My friend Lorraine Pullen and I roped in as part of what Georgie calls ‘the dream team’ working alongside Georgie and Sharon in the flower studio. Who would have thought that 18 months ago I was pushing a pen around a bit of paper in Canary Wharf – not the actual Wharf but in a building on it – and now I’m occasionally pushing gorgeous British flowers into fantastic flowery arrangements. And loving it. Totally. 

Georgie – not me

I was delighted to have been asked again last week to help out with a white wedding. So delighted I arranged my holidays around it. 

 The bride had asked for white.  Previous weddings I had helped with were more colourful so I wasn’t sure about all white to be honest. But hey. What do I know. I’m just the work experience guy in this! Georgie had mentioned that the studio was full of around 4,000 stems. I’d seen the studio full before but boy. Was it full. And white. A small corner of colour for the bouquets going out that day. But predominately white.  I love the studio but when it’s full of flowers, scent in the air it’s awesome. 


The list was long. Brides bouquet. 4 bridesmaids. Button holes. Two large arrangements for pedestals for the church. A local Rural church  in Cucklington whose records date back to 1291.  One for the Norman font – a glorious arrangement warranted for such a historic structure. .  Garlanding for the church entrance. Garlanding for the tipi in the field for the reception.  Little arrangements for the gates of the church. All white. With green foliage. The list was endless. Where to start. How about a cuppa tea and a croissant.  I came armed with goodies. 

I’d called in the day before.  right’ says Georgie cracking the whip ‘ ‘ early start tomorrow’  she reminds me . There’s a lot to get through. Say 8.30. Thanks. Did I mention I’m retired. 8.30! I work gentlemans  hours – some say I always did. But for Georgie and the joy the day gives me I’d be there at 6. But don’t tell her that. Please. 

My role for the day is to make a start on the 15 table arrangements – oh I forgot those in the list- oblong arrangements with a hurricane lamp and candle for the centre. 

15. That’s not too bad I thought.  That’s not what I thought hours later with an aching back and cross eyed from looking for gaps. 

First job was to soak the oasis. Thanks Sharon – she had done it already. Team work that. I love Sharon. We work well together. She laughs at my jokes. She eats more cake than I do. Doesn’t mind my teasing her. And is brilliant at what she does. Sharon gets on with the garlanding. My job is easy compared to hers. That’s what I think. She just quietly gets on with it. In between answering the telephone. Life at the flower farm goes on. Despite 4,000 blooms sitting waiting to be arranged. 

The table arrangements taking shape

Make sure that the whole of the oasis is covered with green foliage says Georgie. Ok. That shouldn’t be difficult. I’ll be finished by lunchtime. Hmmm. 

First I go cutting ivy. A wheelbarrow full ready to make a start.  Which isn’t enough. I have to go cut more. Thankfully there is a lot.  I can’t go wrong cutting Ivy. 

Hello ivy

Along with a whole host of other foliage. Including Rosemary – eucalyptus, camelia, lots of trachelium as greenery. Oh. And more ivy. More eucalyptus. 

Sharon concentrates on getting the garlands made. These will be amazing  at the end of the day. Great attention to detail. Worrying if she should add more. Or less. If less is more. If I’ll ever shut up up telling her she’s missed a bit. It’s really interesting how adding a different flower actually lifts the garlands. One minute you wonder – then with a small addition it lights up. 


How hard is it I’d thought. 15 table arrangements to green up before the flowers go in. Can’t be that bad. Right. As soon as you think it’s done you look again and I can see a bit of oasis. If I can see it the boss lady will too. Eyes like a hawk. . Turn it around. There’s another. How much more foliage will it take. Let me tell you. Loads. And loads. And when you think your done. Loads more. I hear The boss say ‘ I don’t want to see any of that oasis’ – yes boss. Before we start adding white flowers. And then more white flowers. 

Meanwhile Georgie is full on with bouquet and pedestal duty. Oh and in between some colourful bouquets for a 50th to be delivered later. Life isn’t only about tomorrow! There are orders to take. Other flowers to arrange. Kids to sort. 


There is constant banter between us. We are missing Loraine who because of injury – not a flower arranging injury… but the banter continues.  She always joins in. And gets us singing along to cheesy tunes. I miss Lorraine. She’s a diamond. Like me retired. A whole different life in the police behind her and it’s great to spend days like today as a team. That’s one thing I do miss in retirement. Team work.  Common Farm works as a team. With Georgie at the helm. 

I’d like to say that this is  Sharon and I playing peek a boo over the flower tables. But it’s not. This is sharon checking for gaps. The garland will be high up and needs to be covered. I love this photo. Not only is it fun. It shows the attention to detail that Common Farm Flowers applies to the arrangements. Flowers. Friends. Fun. What more could I ask for. Other than another piece of cake. A cuppa tea. A sit down. 

I was wrong about white. I like colour. But the white flowers were gorgeous. I’ll take a deep breath and try and remember what we used –  Antirrhinums, sweet peas, feverfew, philadelphus, daisies, astrantia, limonium, jasmine, larkspur, delphinium, stocks, Ammi, roses, scabious, all looking awesome in the arrangements. Bears breeches to give height to the large arrangements for the altar.  Ammi dancing and floating in the arrangements. The large floating heads dancing above the rest. Posh cow parsley someone said. Maybe. But I love it. I must actually look up pink cow parsley which I saw in the garden at Ardraich in Scotland. The stocks smell delicious. The small white roses look awesome.  The larger more open roses fill the spaces. Will look even better tomorrow – I hope! 


The large arrangements for the altar at the lovely local Church are given height with lovely bears breeches. To stand magnificently in the little rural church. 



I’m also ‘odd job’. Collecting the cuttings. Of which there  are many.  Many trips to the compost. All organic here at Common Farm Flowers. 


Or being sent out to cut the white roses to be used for the rose petal confetti. I love that. Being sent to the cutting garden on my own. That means I’ve been promoted. Trusted to cut on my own! Hurrah. I spend more time admiring the flower patches than I should. I’ll make up for it by making lunch. Which I do. Make shift pizzas. Alcoholic lollies. 


The day is long. Tiring. I’m not used these days to hard work. Standing for hours. Bending. Having to constantly ask questions to Georgie. To Sharon. What should I do! Is this short enough? What flowers should be used next.? Told how many of each. For me the day ends at 7. The  large arrangements have been delivered to the church. A bit of a panic over the altar cloth. Me ironing another. Did I say I was odd job.. too right. One thing my mother said I should be able to do was iron a shirt and sew a button on. Which I can. Oh. And bake a cake. 

All that’s left is for the rest of the flowers to be delivered the following morning and put in place. I’m not there for that bit.  But it doesn’t stop me worrying that all is well. That the flowers haven’t dropped in the night. That they like them. That I haven’t messed up in any way. That I won’t be asked back. 

The following photos are courtesy of Georgie. To show the flowers in place. In the Church. In the tipi. At the gate. The sun came out and The flowers were fabulous. I’m sure the bride was fabulous too.  A lovely day for a white wedding. 

Here comes the Bride
I declined from joining  in the photo. I’d didn’t want to spoil the bouquet!  Ian was already traumatised when I said I was seeing Georgie about wedding flowers. I didn’t want to give him a heart attack.  He said we’d done it twice without flowers. No need for a third ceremony. Just for flowers. 

Georgie wrote about using white in the tipi for wedding flowers. Top tips for the tipi! Go look at her Blog here for inspiration. 

Garlanding on the church entrance
Garland in the centre of the tipi
The lovely church pedestals

So what does a flower farmer do when he or she has finished. Take photos of what has been created. 

The day after the wedding Georgie received a letter from the bridegrooms father. Saying how lovely the flowers were. That for me makes my aching back. My tired legs all worth while.  

For  my small contribution to the day. 

For my part I’m hoping that I get asked back again to continue my valuable ‘work experience’ along with Lorraine who is my senior and with Georgie and Sharon. That is if If Sharon hasn’t asked that don’t return unless it’s without my camera. Especially without my camera and my ability to take some awful pictures of her. Taken unawares.  But not for here! Plus my constant requests of ‘ can I turn the lights off please’ . I’ll go back with almost any conditions! Almost. 

Information on Common Farm Flowers can be found here. Great place to order bouquets – I know – I have ordered a few in my time! Great workshops too.  Oh. And wedding flowers. 

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.