A gardening post…on why Hellebores maketh the gardener…and my butt. 

My favourite clump!

You know those first forms and applications at school that ask for your interests/hobbies?  I used to dread them- as I knew I didn’t have any. I just wrote swimming-every time- yet could only do a length. I think I felt hobbies were for older people – and socialising is your main priority at that age anyway. Interests develop as the years go on and I am happy to be in a kind of personal ‘renaissance’.  I am discovering so many things I enjoy doing and can throw creative energy into.

My mum has a beautiful garden.  I grew up hearing all of the names of plants, shrubs and flowers and I was reliant on her when I had to put in or take anything out of the ground, so much so, it was ‘her thing’ not mine -in my head- but nevertheless- I spent hours discussing design and plants and gazed out often, making corrections in my mind’s-eye.

Like many people, my interest really grew when I bought my first and then subsequent home with a ‘proper’ garden. I was forced into a position of ‘doing something’ with this outside space and, in the process, fell in love.

As I said, I was always interested, i’d taken countless trips to RHS gardens and spent hours listening and participating in plant-talk with my parents and I would watch Gardeners World, (it was after university, I was friendless, what can I say).  I felt I wasn’t the target market for it all though. I was stepping out of my territory and into my parents’.

I half expected groups of silver-haired heavies to show up at my door demanding that I stay off their turf.

But then…I found I was starting to develop a genuine interest ‘for myself’, I found out things, as I bought my plants, I somehow kept bumping into my kin, people of all types, all ages and backgrounds/professions who were into horticulture- in particular -creating beauty through plants, shrubs and flowers or turning their hands to a spot of pottage and growing vegetables and fruit. I learnt of some quite rock n’ roll gardeners out there-  members of various bands and so on. Did you know there isn’t actually an age restriction on plants!?

It’s interesting now to me that I hid this interest – even from myself.  I see prejudice often. Many people perceive it to be an older persons’ pursuit and even refer to it as something you do when you don’t have anything much else going on- gardening leave. I beg to differ. It is the perfect antidote when you are frazzled and barely have any time! It is the ultimate stress reliever – and works you as hard as any gym.

You won’t always feel like going out there, it won’t seem appealing and then after 10 minutes of your hands involved with some plant or shrub, pruning, planting, sowing or just tidying it all up, it works on you- like magic. It’s meditative and distracting. It consumes you and you feel healthier and more alive each minute you are there. I maintain that it is something to do with how we ‘should be’- it’s our natural state to work the earth. I’m of Irish descent and so I think it’s in my blood to work the land! It just feels right and I’m very at home when I’m in a garden.

I heard someone say on a gardening show that it’s the antithesis of our modern, busy, gotta ‘have-it now’ culture and mentality.  It takes time, you see your results, but slowly and gradually.

I’m not a tidy gardener and so I think this helps. I think people who buy leaf-blowers are probably nuts. I don’t pick weeds out of my lawn or sculpt-out perfect lines. I like a natural set up, it has to feel like you’ve stepped into nature for me-not a glossy magazine. I like spontaneous clumps of daffodils; random bulbs popping up between the shrubs; unmarked borders and rocks covered in moss- flanked by ferns and heather. But there’s room for everyone’s tastes. There aren’t any rules!

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Something happened to me though- in terms of my gardening ‘plant age’. I think we all have one of these. I started out loving Azalea and Rhododendron and admiring those summery, bright, in- your-face blooms, but then I started to grow a little in my understanding of how an outside space develops and got a yearning for ‘year round’ beauty, the timeless elegance of Wisteria still captivated my imagination but the subtlety of Pulmonaria, Snowdrops and Hellebores started to work on me. The spring-garden started to have a bigger effect on my thinking. Your garden is not just for summer -it is for life 🙂

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I remember the turning point. The Hellebores.  They are sometimes nicknamed the ‘Winter Rose’  because err they come up in winter – and what a serious bonus! The dark, green foliage fans out into rich stars and the flowers are little nodding heads of loveliness. I had seen them many times but couldn’t understand the fuss.  They weren’t big and blousy, they had very little in the way of attitude, they weren’t going to stop you in your tracks.  Ahh how wrong I was.

Hellebores – lime-green lovliness

You see, at the time of year they come into their full, beautiful best, there has been little else out in the garden and so on a number of levels they are a wonderful tonic.

You have been starved of colour, apart from the odd winter Jasmine, Dogwood or Viburnham (Daphne is winter-flowering) , the Daffodils might be appearing, just, and then there are the Hellebores.  Giving it the big I AM.  They are varied in colour but yet have those old-fashioned hues.  Mine ‘pop’ in their lime-fullness and then I have a few younger ones nodding happily in their richer, ‘vintage’, pinky, reds.  I have a lot to thank them for.

Hellebore -in my garden today! Isn’t it just a beauty!

They made me a gardener.  They made me see something about gardening I didn’t see before.  They are also like a little secret that other gardeners know about.  Chances are if you have taken an interest in Hellebores you are a gardener.

Hellebore – bought at a boot sale for 20p
Hellebore -another boot sale seedling

The great thing is there is no end-point in gardening.  It is ongoing and that’s what makes it so relaxing. You never know it all and it doesn’t matter anyway.  You try things, you learn things, you develop your tastes.

It works well with children   -ish.  They like to be out there with me and we all get some fresh air, which is never a bad thing.  They do of course use my newly-formed arch, smothered in Clematis Montana (though not in flower yet) as a football goal -but I accept the fact that family life has to fit in with our surroundings and vice-versa.

arch- Clematis Montana – will show it in flower later… plus football
little “helper”

One addition to your garden, I would recommend, to avoid lugging water-vessels around your garden in the hot-summer months, is a water butt.

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Not only do some plants prefer rain water, like Camellia, it is a great way to use water in an environmentally friendly way and useful if there’s a hose-pipe ban.  My husband put it together and we use it a lot, the children can work the tap (has advantages and disadvantages there!) and it gives me that same feeling as when I re-use my carrier bags, one smug-saving-the-planet point to me. It is also the source of some infantile humour in my house: “have you see my butt?” , “your butt looks leaky”, “my butts full’  etc etc…

Whilst I know I probably lost many readers at the line, ‘I watch Gardeners World’, if you have gotten this far, I thank you, and welcome your pictures / gardening anecdotes and comments.
…and compliments on my butt gratefully received.

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Never underestimate a ‘whim’, speed-dating rabbits or lollipop ladies…

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a rabbit in possession of a hutch to himself must be in want of a mate. image

My childrens’ rabbits are feuding and it’s our own fault. They were bought on a mood-lifting ‘whim’ to help ease the misery that weeks of chicken pox -and subsequent infections -bestowed on us.

We are into ‘whims’. We got married quite quickly; had babies rather quickly and are now going around populating our garage with furry creatures -quite quickly.  I think to survive the melancholy of life, sometimes, you just have to do things on a ‘whim’.

When I was younger, before courts hauled parents over the coals for keeping children off school and publicly disgraced them for sneaking off to Minorca, we used to have the odd ‘stolen’ day. Now, my mother valued education, she ended up with children who have all studied and two ended up teaching, but, she knew the value of ‘whims’.  We used to wake up bleary-eyed, heads hanging and expecting the usual: uniformed, bag-packed, walk of death to school, when, she’d suddenly say, “we are not going today”.  The shock would ripple. “What do you mean?!” elated voices would implore. “We are going to have a stolen day”, came the blasé reply. Oh did I love it.  We’d go to the zoo or somewhere special and relish every minute of it because we ‘knew’ it was stolen.  Like someone else’s chips- it was so much better. Now, don’t go trying it and blaming me if your kids nag you for more; become school refusers and shop you for it.  I’m not advocating it as a parenting choice, i’m just pointing out that ‘whims’ can be beautifully refreshing- and memorable!

‘Whims’ also get things neatly into perspective as an adult.  When you really feel ‘that’ person’s opinion matters sooooo much, or, you absolutely ‘have’ to do this thing or that, ‘whims’ can come along and blast that out of the water.  It is a bit of a finger-up to the rules, but, history is littered with those who have broken the rules and it has served them very well on occasion.  This is coming from a teacher – a mouthpiece for the rules.

I don’t believe in breaking rules for the sake of it, or deliberately hurting others in the process, but, I do think some rules are self-imposed or can become out of balance with our purpose here on earth.  “Whims” have an important job.  They can make you remember that it is o.k not to care what others think, when they get too important, or to relax a family home a little after weeks of telling yourselves, we need to ‘do’ life better.  Really?  Do we need to ‘do’ life better? A ‘whim’ is needed when we think we could have a better way of approaching the washing, shopping, bill-paying, work-life balancing, card-buying, homework organising, DIY ing and many more verbs that I don’t want to think of…i’d rather this go off on a whim…

So, the rabbits, we were told, were communal creatures who needed a furry friend. Right. So the two rabbits that bite each other at every opportunity (I won’t go into the explicit nature of the last attack) are meant to be together? I spoke to a rabbit expert. She claims they can be matched up with more appropriate partners… ?!?! Apparently, like us, some bond instantly, literally love at first sight; others do a bit of jostling and chasing then fall in love, slowly, then others hate on sight and will probably never bond and she wouldn’t risk trying to match them up. My only option…rabbit speed-dating apparently. I kid you not. This woman does it for a living.

It got me a thinking though about how some people gel and some don’t. I can suffer from a mild social paranoia – I think we all suffer from it at times, for me, like a cold, it is mild and it comes and goes. I mainly get it when I go into new situations where the stakes are high- like when my son started school. This is a tricky time.  You don’t want to alienate a whole group of people you are going to be seeing off and on for the the next decade potentially.  This is on top of the general parental angst around this time-am I doing things right? Am I too scruffy to go to the school like this? Should I wear hot pants at the nativity? (Only joking!) You can’t worry about everything -you just have to keep it all in perspective.

The problem is, like a cold, it resurfaces , like the time I had fallen asleep and woken very late and had to run to the school with a pillow mark and hair that looked like I had auditioned for ‘The Supremes’. My daughter chose this moment to let me know she is two and threw a tantrum of such epic proportions that an entire playground of parents and staff stopped to have a good-old gander.  Then -on a ‘whim’ – a lovely woman I had never met placed her hand on my back and simply said, “we’ve all been there”.  I felt my shoulders drop and I smiled it out.  Thanks to that woman, I gained a teensy bit of perspective when I needed it.  You see at the end of it all I am not going to wonder if I should have worried more am I?  I mean, yes, I may turn up looking like a call-girl at the school gates on occasion because I let my two year old do my make-up or a bag lady that forgot her bird-feed because I haven’t slept properly all week- and can’t be bothered to sort the pile of clothes on my bedroom floor- but it won’t matter in the grand scheme of things.  I believe in a grand scheme and I believe in ‘whims’.  They’ve worked out well for me. Really, people, especially parents, just need others to be in community -not competition-with and we all really, really need whims!

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Not the real lollipop lady.

The lollipop lady though – now she really hates me. She’ll meet every eye, smile warmly to every parent and child, but when she sees me it’s all she can do to hold a grimace. I rub her up the wrong way. All I say is “good morning” and “thank you”- I swear- nothing else has ever left my lips-but still she avoids eye-contact and smiles sweetly at the next mother or father or child. One day I tried to ignore her; perhaps I was too keen, maybe I smacked of desperation for lollipop lady love. It didn’t work. Lollipop ladies don’t like playing hard to get. I am living with this.  I mean she smiles at my kids and that is who she is there for- I don’t need to jump on their bandwagon. I have concluded, I won’t always be accepted, not everyone will like me and some will dislike me for no reason on sight, as with rabbits, this is nature and it is ok. As long as there are ‘whims’ floating about I will be just fine. xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx

By the sea all worries wash away…

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We all go through times of hardship, it is the cost of being human, but sometimes we go through times when there are no hardships to speak of- yet we are just not happy.  Happiness, of course, is overrated- many believe contentment is far more prize-worthy.  Personally, I think peace is the dark-horse creeping up on the inside.  To me, peace is everything.

IMG_0310You can be in the middle of an emotional storm and if you can keep even a tiny sense of peace in that core of your being then you can weather it. When you don’t have peace everything is hard. I always think of the words of a W.B Yeats poem, “when peace comes dropping slow” .  I can really relate to that line, many times, I have felt that lack of peace and it can be excruciating, drip, drip, in small droplets, like the agony of a leaking tap, when what you need is a gushing wave of it to cover you!

I needed waves.

I had recently had my second baby, perhaps it was my hormones, but I just couldn’t settle my heart.  My head was o.k, I just knew my soul wasn’t right. There was one place I always went when I had that disturbance inside and it was the sea. I booked a long break at an old familiar seaside town from my childhood.  I didn’t particularly want to go there exactly, but, then I came across this little beauty…

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Oh how it spoke to my heart!  I knew this was somewhere i wanted to be for a while.  I couldn’t contain my excitement when I realised I could hire it and a caravan and it was only an hour up the road.  I know some would find this strange…it is hardly Barbados and it definitely is a holiday ‘of old’ these days…but a simple, caravan holiday, a spit-away from the sea with a perfect little hut straight out of a Cath Kidston brochure really rocked my boat!

Then I saw the sign at the back of thIMG_0199e hut, “by the sea all worries wash away” .  That sealed the deal.  I knew it was the tonic I needed.

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I couldn’t wait to soak it all up.  I didn’t care if it rained – alright I did a bit – but I just wanted to drink in that saltiness; take in the energy of that wild air and watch the crashing waves of the North Sea.

We made pancakes in the mornings, a tradition that has stayed with us whenever we have a lazy day of nothingness ahead of us.  We fed birds from our caravan door and they came up to my little one’s highchair to feed; she squealed with joy- and the peace dripped.  We went for long walks to get the baby to sleep and it dripped some more.  We built castles and moats and channels and pretended we were deserted on islands and it dripped and dripped.  We got a dingy and took it out to sea and laughed and screamed when we got splashed, then the baby fell asleep in the boat on my lap and we bobbed about near the shoreline.  It dripped and dripped and poured and poured and soon we were awash with peaceful, joyous moments and finally relaxed into our lives as a new family.

IMG_0306We didn’t want it to end.  So I went in search of a hut of our own.  I asked around and rang numbers and discovered they cost a lot.  Then we came across a wreck- at least to an untrained eye.  To me, a keen spotter of something that is going to make my heart soar, this was a haven by the sea.

I envisaged a retreat where I would spend hours of quality time with diaries of ideas and (in my imagination) a typewriter.

In reality, I had to spend hours cleaning theIMG_0262 thickest layer of grime I have ever seen and wire-wool a rusty old gas stove just to get a cuppa at the end of it- but what a cuppa!!!!

Look at that view!!!

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To me, she was a beauty… sure, her interiors were, erm, rustic but that was and IS her charm…  We intend on dressing her beautifully, it has been a long process, there were stairs to fix, stain to buy and rusty nails to deal with.  This year though, it is the interior that will take the limelight and I cannot wait!! Below is the first time I went in, after picking up the keys, and recently… after painting!!!!!!!

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There are many things in life to try us and none of us escape pain or a lack of peace, as I guess we won’t truly find this until we meet our maker, but, I have found if I concentrate on the things that make my heart do back-flips then I get a little closer to that peace.

Now can you see how this hut is begging for crochet??!!

More pics to follow, charting the journey of this neglected- but heavenly -hut!

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