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Thursday, 21 May 2015

days in front gardens

Thousands have been flocking to the Chelsea Flower Show this week. Millions of us who couldn't go (boo hoo!) have been eagerly drinking in the TV coverage of the show each night for inspiration and motivation in our own gardens.

Yet according to the Royal Horticultural Society this week, one in three front gardens have no plants growing in them, in their report " Greening Grey Britain", which looked at front gardens in 2005 and this year.

That's no surprise...I regularly drive through suburban estates, where the only colour in the front gardens is from the cars parked there. But what now seem arid landscapes, devoid of any greenery, were lovingly tended lawns and borders in years gone by.

Are we paving our way to hell? Well, the RHS report says that  paving, tarmac and concrete are causing environmental problems, including increasing the risk of flooding.

What's more, the RHS also believes planting in a front garden can help boost community spirit among neighbours in the street as they can socialise while they tend their  gardens.

That's not rocket science, I remember summer evenings and Sundays during my brothers and I would be playing out with other children while our fathers would be mowing the front lawns and chatting to our neighbours. It was like a scene from a vintage Ladybird book.

We can't go back to those days, but wouldn't it be lovely if there were far more front gardens filled with plants, flowers and vegetables?

Someone who has been transforming her neighbourhood in North London is gardener, photographer and writer Naomi Schillinger, I met her eighteen months ago at the Garden Media Guild awards ceremony in London. I was up for an award, but didn't get one, however I did meet the lovely Naomi.

She told me how, from a very small beginning, sowing free packets of wildflower seeds in tree pits (the area around the bases of street trees) she and her friend Nicolette started a community vegetable growing scheme in people's front gardens.

There's now over a hundred neighbours all growing fruit and vegetables...they see each other, compare notes and's a brilliant scheme , and Naomi has written a book about it, together with ideas of what and when to grow. Published by Short Books, it's called Veg Street, and it's a very accessible, heart warming book which left me with a smile on my face.

Like Chelsea, this book is inspiring and motivating. Unlike Chelsea, there are no medals to be won, but Naomi and her neighbours are winners already. They're a living embodiment of what the Royal Horticultural Society's report  says this week....planting in a front garden can help boost community spirit among neighbours in the street .



Thursday, 14 May 2015

Country Living days

I don't know what your favourite magazine is, but mine is Country Living. I've been a loyal reader too...I've been reading it since 1988, poring over the pages packed with country homes, articles on gardening, hen keeping, rural issues , seasonal recipes and wellbeing.

And this month's edition June 2015 is a very special one. Firstly the magazine is celebrating its 30th birthday

And secondly there's an article about five mothers and their daughters who enjoy reading the magazine, and my daughter Lucy and I are featured.

I may be used to hearing my voice over the airwaves of the BBC, but it was quite a shock to see a photo of Lucy and I in a magazine which we both love.

The first copy of Country Living I saw was placed on a table by my bedside with a small jug of flowers from the garden. Mr Thinking of the Days, our children and I were visiting my brother  Richard and my lovely sister in law Cindy....I remember it was the summer of 1988. I read it from cover to cover, bought the next month's issue, and that was it.....I was hooked, and have read every copy since!

At the time we were living in surburbia, on the very last  road before open countryside. Yes , we could walk down the lane into open country, but I yearned for a cottage in the country. Reading Country living fuelled that longing and five years later, my husband, three children and I were living in an idyllic conservation village in a  three hundred and sixty year old thatched cottage in Leicestershire.

So what do I like  about Country Living? Well, most things really. I love peeking into other people's homes and gardens for inspiration, the pages on rural issues, and particularly am enjoying Patrick Barkham's evocative features and Louise Elliot's Country in the City columns. I've tried many of the recipes over the last twenty six or so years, and in the old days I very much enjoyed Barbara Grigg's articles on health and wellbeing.

There's a monthly ritual following the thwack of the magazine  through the letterbox. First of all, I make myself wait until I am comfortably sitting on the sofa with the dogs beside me. I may have a cup of coffee by side, or it's after 6.30pm, there will probably be a glass of wine involved.
I look at Suzy Smith's editor page first...then it's straight to the homes and gardens features, where I admire or, lust after various properties and gardens with the wow factor. Then it's a straightforward read, page by page through the magazine. I might leave the magazine on the coffee table or by my bed for a spot of late night re reading. After that, the current issue joins the others in various piles of Country Living dotted around the house. I keep the copies for about three years, sometimes more.

 When I'm feeling under the weather, there's nothing more comforting than a whole batch of magazines to have a flick through sat by the fire or propped up in bed.

But even being such a hoarder, there's a time when the old magazines have to go! But not before I 've cut out favourite recipes or things that have caught my eye.

I haven't bought my own copy of  Country Living for a while now though - my mother very kindly buys me an annual subscription as part of my Christmas present. And in turn, I now buy one for my daughter Lucy. I have to...otherwise my copies might go missing!

So Country Living, congratulations on your thirtieth anniversary, and thanks for the memories...


Friday, 8 May 2015

The day I went to Hedgehog Hall

It was a lovely sunny Bank Holiday Monday, with lots to do in my own garden thank you very much. Weeding, digging and the like. I went outside, and came back in very quickly. I was not going to spend a lovely afternoon, a Monday afternoon no less, when normally I would have been at work, slaving away .

I also knew there was an Open Garden  about twenty five minutes away in the car. An interesting garden opening its gates for charity as part of the National Gardens Scheme. A half acre garden at a house called Hedgehog Hall. How could I resist? 

I couldn't, so soon found myself in the village of Tilton on the Hill, a village I've driven through many times, but not off piste , down by the byways. Well, I did and what a surprise.

At the bottom of a hill lies  the house and garden , and it was a steep drive up into the neighbouring field before parking the car, with what seemed like hundreds of others. Good news for the NGS I thought, but I hoped it wouldn't be packed to bursting.

I made my way down the hill....

Although I was the 311th visitor (the house had opened on the previous cold and rainy day) there was a nice buzz about the place, and a well packed plant stall on the left in front of a wonderful series of three terraces and narrow paths built into a very sharp bank. 

And at the very top, a mini terrace to look over the adjoining field and sky.

When I say the terraces were heavily planted, my goodness, I lost count of the amount of beautiful hellebores of all hues - dusky pink, cream and white.

So much so that at a first glance, it's easy to miss some absolute gems..Talking to owner Janet Rowe later,  she asked " Have you seen my sweeties?"

And we walked over to the most delightful , prettiest little plant, an Anemonella Betty Blake. It is absolutely adorable, although I'm afraid my I phone can't quite catch the freshness of the exact shade of green flower.

And here's a little sweetie I loved pretty in pink, looking vetch like..was it called lathynus rosea? I'm not sure....

This series of terraces have lovingly been created from what a huge, deep slope framed by a large hedge. Although Janet has designed the planting , the hard landscaping and back breaking physical work have been done by her husband Andrew.

As she explained "I started thinking one terrace might be nice, then he added a second, and then I asked very nicely about a third. This year I suggested I would like a patio right at the top...and he's done it."

Good grief, this man is a saint.  It takes me all my powers of persuasion to get my husband to mow the lawn. I'd love to kidnap this man for a weekend and get him working in my garden. Obviously that isn't going to happen though, so let's get back to the plants shall we?

I love the leaf formations on this sanguisorba armena ...and it should be quite spectacular later in the year when its burgundy flowers are on show .

Although the majority of the garden is here at the front, there's an enticing archway

leading to a side garden with a rather healthy collection of hostas...

 And right at the back is a small courtyard which was  packed with tables and people having a cream tea and cake.

But it was time to go home, with a quick look back at the house and garden....

 and then a steep walk to the field where I left my car. A chance to inhale lungfuls of fresh air while I watched a red kite soar above for a few minutes.  Perfect.....

Hedgehog Hall is open again on Sunday 28 June from 11am - 5pm as part of the National Gardens Scheme and visitors are also welcome by arrangement May & June for groups of ten or more.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

A day of rain and dog modelling

It's not just damp out there this morning, it's wet. It has been raining cats and dogs since I got up at 7.30am - so much so, that even my two dogs don't fancy their morning walk just yet. They've been to the kitchen door, poked their noses out, smelling the air, and nope, it's just too wet.

Eric is not amused...he's sitting there, paws crossed, waiting for the rain to stop.....

Boo is lying on her chair looking rather peeved too. It reminds me of rainy days when my children were small. They needed to get out into the fresh air and let off steam, and I would be frantically thinking of activities to amuse them. Putting a blanket over the dining table as a makeshift tent, sitting them all around the table and making biscuits, you know the sort of thing. Anything to keep them busy until we could go puddle jumping.

Unfortunately I can't do that with the dogs. But Eric had his first very own parcel arrive last week. Addressed to Eric Blair, it contained a new blanket which Mama (my mother ) knitted for him. He's very enamoured with it, so we've decided to do some dog modelling while we wait for the rain to stop.....................

This is the off the shoulder shot.....

Then Boo thought she would get in the act with her own blanket too...(also knitted by Mama)

There's something about the camera that Eric and Boo love...they'll sit for ages posing. So does Rudi, Eric's brother...he even smiles for the camera. That's one dog who needs to be snapped up by a dog modelling agency!

Well, that kept them busy for fifteen minutes, and although it's still raining, it seems to be petering out, so I suppose I'd better get my boots on and brave the elements. With a puddle jump or two...there are some things that are always fun!


Thursday, 30 April 2015

A day of thankfulness

When I wrote last week's blog post, I was worried and upset. It was so upsetting to watch with the world of the devastation that the earthquake in Nepal had caused. I was even more worried when my son told me about his close friend Sam.

The oh so gorgeous Sam was missing in Nepal. I spoke to his Mum Alison who seemed very positive and together over the phone. That was an act of course...she and her husband Martin were desperately frightened. In classic British understatement mode, Martin smiled wryly as he told me "well, we've had better weekends!"

But on Monday lunchtime, there was good news when Alison phoned. Although they'd not heard from Sam directly, they had received a phone call from the Mum of another trekker who was with Sam. They were alive!

I drove out immediately to see them and to record this listen, and hear what happened by clicking here:

It was wonderful to share their relief and absolute joy , and to take a photo which says it all...

My son was over the moon to hear the news that Sam was safe. They are part of a close knit group who met when they were eleven years old, all starting out at their new high school. Always in and out of each others houses, it's been great to see them grow up together.

One of the highlights for me has been our annual village barn dance ..and every year, the gang have met up in our garden on late Saturday afternoon in June

to pitch their tents on our lawn ,and off to Shirley's barn at the other end of the village...all dressed in jeans, checked shirts, boots and hats, to dance like crazy to old tunes and dances from a band, a caller, and then strut their stuff until 2 or 3am at the disco afterwards.

 Sam even travelled back from Brussels one year just for the weekend to be with his friends at the barn dance. Happy times. Now of course, they are all scattered all over the UK and the world. My son Callum went off to Oz for two years, now Tommy is in Columbia to teach English, Tom is in Peru, George is in Hong Kong, Andrew and Gazza are closer by.

They're all having adventures and learning about life, which is as it should be. Although we don't know yet how Sam is ,or when he'll be home, there's one thing he will have learnt for certain and that is just how precious life actually is.


Saturday, 25 April 2015

Very different days this week

It's been quite a week. A strange week. And when I say strange, I mean an emotional, shocking week in some respects.

At the beginning of the week I heard from my friend Shannon. She has a benign brain tumour, but her latest MRI scan shows that it has grown again and is now perilously close to a major vein. Her neurologist says he and his colleagues cannot operate. It is too dangerous. Next stop for her is a date with a radiation oncologist, if that's an option.

On Monday I stayed behind after work  to interview a man and as he talked, tears began to run down his face. He asked me to forgive him for being too emotional. There was nothing to forgive, he was recounting one of the most pivotal parts of his life, and besides, tears were trickling down my face too by now.

On Tuesday, I went to another interview in a large Leicestershire village, with a lovely older couple who have been married sixty six years. I knew they had quite a story to tell, but I could never have guessed just how surreal their story was.

Doctors often say that when they see a patient, they talk about a certain ailment, sometimes it's a trivial one, sometimes it needs treatment. But many times, it's just as the patient is leaving the room. that they will turn and say while I'm here doctor, I must just tell you about another pain, ache or problem. They then come back and sit down, and the doctor realises this is a major problem or fear that the patient has.

There's a similar moment when I'm interviewing someone, just as we finish talking, when I switch off my digital recorder, and put my notebook away. As I put them in my bag, whilst hunting for my car keys, something tells me there's something more. That's what happened on Tuesday....I found out right at the end I was talking to a man who had been one of Hitler's bodyguards, but he didn't think that was relevant.

When I say it was a jaw dropping moment, I almost lost the power of speech. I can't tell you much more now, because those interviews won't be broadcast until 7th May, but I can tell you they've given me lot to think about.

I was going to end this blog with something nice that happened this morning. Something which put a  smile on my face. But I can't do that. As I've been writing this, I've had a phone call from one of my sons who is desperately worried about one of his closest friends. This gorgeous boy who's stayed with us so many times and who has the loveliest smile and nature, is in Nepal. A couple of days ago, he was starting an expedition, a trek, an adventure. Since the earthquake, there's been no contact since. I 'm hoping with all my heart everything is fine and dandy, he's well and it's just that he can't access the internet or phone.

This news has just knocked me for six. It has been quite a week.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Nesting days

At the back of what was the outside loo of our cottage in days gone by,

 is a wooden and wire storage space. It's covered with ivy and virginia creeper and houses various bits of paraphernalia such as plastic garden pots, some logs etc. It isn't pretty and may look pretty awful to you, but to me it's a very special place.

At the moment this space is acting as a maternity home to not one family but two.

At the top amongst the ivy is a little wren's nest and we've been watching this little songbird for a while now in the garden.

She's been flying around for a week or so, but it was only a few days ago that Mr Thinking of the Days realised that she had a nest so close to the house. There are eggs waiting to hatch.

Meanwhile in the profusion of ivy underneath the roof, there is also a robin's nest. We've always had robins around  the cottage, they're quite cheeky and like to perch on the wooden fence outside the kitchen window. And when it's cold, they pop onto the window ledge as if to say "Hello, any chance of some more seeds or nuts?"

But there's frantic activity at the moment with a robin constantly flying in and out with food, so we know the eggs have hatched. And as robins have two broods a year, this could be the start of a new robin dynasty.

Meanwhile, I hope to see all the chicks when they're old enough to fly, and luckily Boo and Eric our trusty terriers will protecting the birds by ensuring no cats come close by.They don't like cats, but do like to lie on the patio in the sun idly watching the birds fly above.