Sunday, August 30, 2009


Well, we did it. We opened for the National Gardens Scheme for the third year running, we got a record 170 visitors, and we raised more than £600 (that's nearly $1,000 at today's exchange rate). I'm not sure of the exact figure - I'm too tired to count accurately.
There was only one problem - we ran out of cake. I had made 10 cakes, thinking that each cake would provide 10 slices, and not all visitors would want a piece. However, we got more visitors than I expected, and by 4.30pm, we were embarrassingly cakeless. In case you're interested, the cake varieties were carrot; lemon; coffee and walnut; classic Victoria sponge with fresh cream, and blueberry. My daughter had also made some very cute cupcakes, with pink sponge and flavoured with rosewater.
The weather wasn't great, either. There was a glimmer of sunshine as we opened, but then the temperature dropped steadily as the sky clouded over. By the time 6 o'clock came, I was quite happy to run inside and thaw out. Still, it didn't rain, which was the main thing.
So what were the highlights? I loved meeting Dawn from Little Green Fingers who came with her husband and was as charming in real life as she is online. I enjoyed being filmed for a Caribbean television programme about growing bananas in the UK. It was great to see so many friends turning out to support us. And I was thrilled to meet Penny Snell, who is chairman of the National Gardens Scheme, and who has been London county organiser for 28 years.

What would I do differently next year? Well, first, I'd make more cake. Second, I'd give my son a note of the name of the bamboo in our front garden. He was taking the money at the gate and apparently was questioned by several "bamboo-ologists", as he called them, about which variety it was.The visitors this year all seemed to be keen gardeners, which was great, asking loads of questions about the plants and how I coped with overwintering the more tender things.

The first view of the garden the visitors get

The Tea Team with some of the cakes on display

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ouf, I've been memed

Diana at Elephant's Eye has very kindly awarded me a "Blotanical Was Here" Red Gerbera for getting her involved in the Blotanical world. It's a great honour to feel that I've inspired someone else to do something - usually I'm looking for people to inspire me. She's also asked me to list seven things about myself and to tag seven other people. Goodness, I'll have to think about that one. It might have to wait until after my garden opening.
I've also been tagged by VP at Veg Plotting with a writing meme, which seemed an easy option in comparison.

Which words do you use too much in your writing?
I did a Wordle of my blog, and it said the word I used most was "Eeeek!" I think that's pretty accurate.

Which words do you consider overused in stuff you read?
OK, I'm going to turn into a pompous sub-editor here. I hate it when interviews with people in gardening magazines (or any magazines, come to that) say ' "Blah blah blah," she laughs' or "Blah blah blah," he smiles'. What someone says is either funny or it isn't, and I don't think "laughs" or "smiles" works as a synonym for "says". It's a personal prejudice.

What’s your favourite piece of writing by you?
I liked writing
The Legend of the Pinging Frogs. I love the idea of telling a story and yet being able to inform at the same time.

What blog post do you wish you’d written?
Anything controversial and hard-hitting. I'm far too soft-hearted and always worry that I'll upset someone.

Regrets, do you have a few? Is there anything you wish you hadn’t written?
When I sat Higher History, I wrote "Yes" in answer to the first question (something about did the unification of Germany lead directly to the outbreak of war in 1914) and "No" in answer to the second. (Can't even remember what that question was.) I was having a bit of a protest about being forbidden to sit Higher Art, but in retrospect it seems a bit childish. (I wasn't allowed to do art as I was already doing music and the school thought I ought to do something "useful" instead.)

How has your writing made a difference?
It's probably annoyed the readers from time to time.

Name three favourite words...
Eeek, eeek, eeek.

…And three words you’re not so keen on
Eeek, I can't think of anything.

Do you have a writing mentor, role model or inspiration?
I've never had a mentor, I didn't study English at university and I've never been to a creative writing class. When I was a trainee reporter in Edinburgh, I had a fearsome news editor who shouted at me all the time, so that nearly put me off ever writing anything at all. As far as he was concerned, I'd committed five major sins: I was female, Catholic, a graduate, I had an English accent and I didn't attend one of the posh Edinburgh private schools. I escaped to the subs' desk with a sigh of relief.
My favourite sort of gardening book is one that you can read, rather than one that has lots of pictures. I love Anna Pavord, Vita Sackville-West, Anne Scott-James and Christopher Lloyd for their ability to show you the world through their eyes, in words that will make you remember that particular vision without the need for an illustration. None of them uses particularly complicated or difficult words or ideas; they write simple, straightforward prose. Yet each phrase is their own - there are no cliches, just what appears to be an effortless originality.

What’s your writing ambition?
I've never had the slightest ambition to write, which I suppose is rather eccentric considering that I'm a Fleet Street journalist. I find the idea of writing a novel absolutely horrifying. What's always interested me about newspapers is physically putting them together, which is why I'm an editor rather than a reporter. However, in the past few years I've written more and more, and now I would even consider writing as an alternative career if I ever decide to downsize from full-time newsroom mayhem.

Plug alert! List any work you would like to tell your readers about:
My next post?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A big thank you to everybody

Thank you all, so much, for all your comments during the past few weeks. I would have liked to have replied to them all individually, but as you can imagine, I've been scurrying around the garden most of the time, trying to finish off bits of planting here and there, and generally attempting to keep things looking reasonably tidy. (Do I mean tidy? Perhaps I just mean looking as if they're meant to look like that.)
In the middle of concentrating on the back garden, I suddenly noticed the front garden was looking a bit tatty, so that's had a bit of mini-revamp too. Not so you'd notice - as a friend remarked, the only thing you ever really notice in the front garden is the bamboo. To my eye, however, it looks a bit fresher and greener. The yuccas that stood on guard either side of the front door have been moved, and replaced by something a bit more boring (spotted laurel - Aucuba japonica - underplanted with Carex oshimensis 'Evergold') but much more welcoming than spiky leaves. After all, it's not as if there is any shortage of spiky leaves for people to look at in my garden.
For anyone who thinks they might be able to come and visit on Sunday 30 August, here are the details (above). If you do come, please grab me and say hello, even if I look completely frazzled. I shall be very hurt if you don't!
If you can't come, and you live in the UK, Emmat has written a lovely piece about it for the Independent on Sunday this weekend (Sunday 23 August). You can read it online here.
Martyn Cox is very kindly also giving the garden a mention in his column in the Mail on Sunday on 30 August and Pattie Barron will list the opening in her column for the Evening Standard next Wednesday. I'm incredibly grateful to these journalist colleagues, as the aim is to raise money for charities that mean a lot to me, and the more visitors we get, the better.
However, I'm also incredibly grateful to those of you who have commented, made me laugh and otherwise encouraged me in my moments of gloom. I don't want to single anyone out for fear of hurting anyone's feelings, but I would like to make an exception for regular commenter Petoskystone, who I am convinced has been sending good vibes from Connecticut to keep my pond pump working without any problems.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sunshine and bananas

2009 seems to have been the Year of the Chainsaw in my street. You may remember I had my purple-leaved plum pruned in the spring. Since then, one of my neighbours on the south side has removed a huge flowering cherry altogether to make way for a shed and this morning I awoke to the familiar slash and crash of tree surgeons at work on the eucalyptus in the garden that backs onto ours. Frankly, I couldn't be more pleased (sorry, Esther, I know you have strong views on tree mutilation). Not only have I now got a new bit of garden to play with, but I have a new lighting scheme as well. Fantastic!
I had meant to do a "before and after" post on the new firepit area, but I was so entranced by the new light and colour in my garden this afternoon, I found myself prowling round taking pictures from new angles instead. (Besides, the firepit "before and after" requires trawling back through the iPhoto archives, and dragging the images onto the desktop and then loading them onto Blogger. It's a job for a rainy day.)

The back of the garden, looking south-west. Thanks to a bit of judicious pruning, it now seems much lighter - but my neighbours' loft extensions are still invisible.

A red banana glows in the afternoon sun. It's not really a banana, it's Ensete ventricosum 'Maurellii', which is tender. It grows really well in a pot, as long as it gets a reasonable amount of water. I'm going to try treating them like cannas this year, cutting them down in autumn and storing them in the garage to see if I can get them to overwinter.

Looking across the garden towards the south. The phormium in the foreground is 'Maori Queen' which I used to think was absolutely disgusting. Then I realised it was just the right colour to pick up the red of the purple plum foliage at the back of the garden, and it looks lovely with the evening sun shining through it. Some people are very sniffy about coloured phormiums, but they have their uses. (The phormiums, I mean, not the people.) The crocosmia is 'Météore' which I bought in bulk at RHS Wisley. I know 'Lucifer' is much more fashionable, but I find it too harsh a red. 'Météore' is a two-tone orange which seems much softer. The tall grass on the right is Arundo donax. There used to be much more of it to screen the trampoline, and I'm still debating whether to rip the last bits out.

Looking towards the back of the house. I never used to be able to take this angle as the trampoline was in the way. Oh, the excitement!

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Emmat is coming to see my garden on Monday. Eeek!

Rob is coming to see my garden on the following Monday. Eeek!

On 30 August ( that's in four weeks time, I think) I open my garden for charity. Eeek! Eeek! Eeek!

I guess I won't have much time for blogging between now and then. However, I do promise to do you a virtual tour at some point, and reveal the new firepit area that replaced the trampoline. That is, when I've put the firepit together. Eeek!

Finally, I've had to move all my baking stuff to another cupboard (luckily I discovered this before I started on the home-baking marathon for the garden opening) because a mouse has got into it and chewed all the packets. SQUEEEEEEK!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

It's been a tough summer

"Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward" Kurt Vonnegut Jnr

See this titan arum? I know just how it feels. I went over to Kew last week to have a look at it, but by the time I got there it had finished flowering and collapsed in a heap. Unfortunately my garden has nowhere near finished flowering, but I have had to collapse in a heap several times. I'm weeks behind where I thought I would be by this stage.
Luckily, my original schedule aimed to get everything finished by the beginning of the summer, so I could sit back and relax, so there's quite a wide margin for error. I'll get there, but it's been a hard slog.
Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that I lost my husband, Craig, nearly nine months ago. Since then I've been through the painful journey we call bereavement. Shock and disbelief have been the two major ingredients - it took me months and months to accept the fact that he was never coming back.
I simply could not get my head around it. Every time my thoughts wandered in that direction, I would push them away with work, or household chores, or paperwork, or blogging, or anything that might distract me from a reality that was too terrible to face. I tried to hang on to the life I had known with Craig, but it was like trying to push back the sea. In the process, I became exhausted.
I've had huge support, not only from family, friends and colleagues but also from my doctor and my counsellor. Some of you reading this will have talked to me or emailed me, offering advice and sympathy. The one thought that has stayed with me over those painful months is that I'm very lucky.
I'm lucky to have been so happily married to a man I thought was absolutely wonderful. I'm lucky to have had guidance and help available when I needed it. I'm lucky to have so many friends who have been an invaluable source of glasses of wine, cups of tea, chocolate biscuits and shoulders to cry on.
I've been pottering around in the garden all summer but it has been more from a sense of duty rather than a feeling of unalloyed pleasure. However, on Monday, my neighbour Ruth took me to Wisley, and while we were wandering around, we came across a member of the staff tidying a border in the Penelope Hobhouse garden. I stopped to admire her hat (the RHS staff wear rather nifty Australian-style bush hats, with a mesh crown). As I watched her clipping away, with her wheelbarrow at her elbow, I suddenly felt, for the first time for ages, a sense of huge excitement about gardening. Very soon, I think that's how I'll feel about life.
Just let me put my feet up for an hour or so first...