Garden aspirations

Hello again.

It’s that time of year when all sorts of things that have been lying dormant in the garden suddenly start to reappear.

Of course, the main things that reappear in my garden are the bindweed, ground elder, creeping buttercup and green alkanet, but hay-ho, some things are sent to try us.

On the plus side, although I am a very average and intermittently enthusiastic gardener, we do have some extremely talented squirrel gardeners who over the years have managed to plant – in lovely and appropriate locations – an ornamental cherry tree, several horse chestnut trees, a hazel, a most attractive hellebore and a handful of hyacinths.

I like to imagine that it’s their way of thanking me for providing them with so much free food via the birdfeeders – or perhaps they just enjoy the challenge.

Last year, we did manage to make quite a good show with a selection of plants chosen with much care entirely on the basis of having strong slug repellent properties (did I mention that we have slugs here – hoards of them?).

I’ve been poking about in the border, but I’m not sure how many have survived the winter – to be honest, I actually can’t remember where and what I planted. So, it will be exciting to see what comes up.

We have had a couple of early trips to the garden centre to indulge in our fantasies of herbaceous borders and cottage gardens. It’s wonderfully inspiring, but I’m conscious that there’s quite a gulf between my expectations and the reality in our small north-facing plot.

I suspect that my gardening aspirations are deeply coloured by the numerous visits over the years to proper gardens, especially the ones attached to stately homes. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I imagine myself another Miss Jekyll, commanding drifts of white flowers to magically appear and last all through the summer. Ah well.

Since discovering the joys of collage, I’ve been trying out a variety of ideas for pictures. Am I alone in finding that the art techniques and indeed subjects covered, that are most appealing to me as a viewer are rarely those that I seem able to actually create?

For instance, I love to see work in subtle, earthy tones. Moody, ethereal landscapes are often what I enjoy by other artists. But when I try to do something similar, it just doesn’t work. Or perhaps I should say it hasn’t worked yet, who knows what might happen at some time or other.

But for now, when I make art in whatever medium, it seems that I have to use colour. Almost all my stitched art features strong colour, bold yellows, purples, reds and greens. It seems so far at least to be the same with collage – bright colour rules.

I wonder to myself about this. Somewhere inside, I seem to feel that neutral shades, earth tones and textures are – how can I express – more sophisticated?

If pressed, I’d say this is a throw-back to school days when we were told that serious artists use neutral palettes, bright colour is what children play with.

Well, just lately, I’ve realised albeit with a slow dawning, that there’s nothing wrong with bright colours, in fact using colour is a really good way to bring joy into art. I know it’s not for everyone, that’s the way of art, nothing will appeal to everyone and nor should it. But there is a place for bright, colourful artwork in the world and if it so happens that it’s the kind of art I seem to produce, then that’s fine.

And then I thought, well, maybe, as I enjoy looking at gardens probably more than actually making my own, why not try to paint/collage some pictures of gardens. I spent a happy hour or so trawling through old photos that I’ve taken at various stately homes and gardens. Here are just a small selection. They’re my starting point. I’ll see where they take me.

Ascott House
Cawdor Castle
Baddesley Clinton
Chastleton House
Packwood House

I’d like to thank all the people who work in the gardens at these places. I hope they know that the gardens are just as important as the historic houses for many visitors.

Until next time – all best wishes

Anny x

Melancholy and excitement…


Strange sensations today.

The girls have gone back to school after the long holiday. For the first time in ages, we had a real sunny summer and what a difference it has made to us all. Number One Daughter who faces the heavy toil of Year 11 really doesn’t want to go back – and who can blame her – although her request at 7.30am this morning to be home-schooled fell on unreceptive ears. Number Two Daughter, who starts at the Upper school today, is full of excitement – I’m glad I’m not a teacher.

Not having the girls around, makes me feel a touch melancholy, but on the other hand, I am finally able to get back to what passes as my ‘normal’ routine – last night I excavated my desk so that today I could blog for the first time in weeks – a certain relief is beginning to flow in the veins.

The start of the new school year always gives me a buzz, which hasn’t anything to do with school, but everything to do with new beginnings, fresh starts and heightened enthusiasm. Especially strong this September I suspect because the summer has been so good and I’m definitely more refreshed and reinvigorated than I’ve been for quite some time.

And in the spirit of clean sheets – I think I should repent of my sort of failure – which is to admit to having failed on the no new book buying challenge. I gave it my best shot, I kept a wish-list instead of pressing Buy With One Click, I avoided the charity shops, I tried very hard- but during the summer I just couldn’t hold out any more. I now know, that being able to read something that sparks my curiosity is more important to me than I’d realised before. And of course reading blogs is a potent way to be pointed in the direction of writers who I’d never otherwise have encountered – and I love that.

So for anyone managing to sustain the challenge, I admire you enormously – but now I have confirmed the disappointing extent of my will-power.

Over the last few blogging-free weeks, I’ve been thinking about what I want to spend my energies on for the next few months. This has boiled down to:

Getting back into regular yoga practise (as I get older, maintaining flexibility becomes more and more important – my mother was a tremendous example of what could be done, and I’m determined to follow her example – and I’m lucky enough to have an excellent teacher who integrates the spiritual elements smoothly, which I appreciate even more than the physical exercise).

Getting to grips with the garden: No chance of turning into a Gertrude Jekyll, just the realisation that much needs to be done and finally, after only living in this house for fifteen years, beginning to get a feel for what I actually want in the garden.

flower tub

And finally – don’t laugh, I’m going to teach myself Old English. I’ve been intrigued by the evolution of the English language ever since I studied Chaucer for A Level, but over the summer, the programmes about the Anglo-Saxons, with Michael Wood, sparked a new interest in the early origins. Each programme showed texts written from the time of King Alfred and his immediate successors, and had extracts of the texts being voiced, with subtitles. It was so delicious to listen to, but also I found myself desperate to be able to read the texts. I’ve investigated text books, although not yet decided which one(s) to go for – they seem to vary from strictly academic, deeply grammatical, to the Old English equivalent of Teach Yourself in a Weekend. If any of you wonderful readers have any old books on OE sitting around unloved, or any advice on teachers, courses or text books – please get in touch!

Of course all this will take place against the background of daily life and endless tent stitch – life’s never boring…

What I should be doing…

I really shouldn’t be here. If I was being responsible, I’d be out in the garden, tackling the weeds. 

Yesterday, was all about laundry, but I took a few pictures in between hanging out the washing.

Colours are creeping back in with a vengeance…

I thought I’d lost the sage, but just look at it now.

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And taking the pictures in close up makes it harder to see the weeds. (Oh alright, who am I kidding…)

I suppose I know what I’ll be doing this afternoon.





Not Chelsea…


So it’s the Chelsea Flower Show again. Yet another year and I still haven’t been. I suspect that my type of gardening is very far removed from the average Chelsea affair, but a part of me would still love to go and see what I’ve been missing.

Evidently for some people, creating a garden must feel the same way that I feel when I design and stitch a tapestry. There must be a thrill in the planning, the drama of sourcing the plants to provide the textures and colours required, the physical effort of placing each element in the allotted spot and the sense of achievement when the whole garden is finished looking as they originally wished – or better.

But although I understand that, and although I suppose I create tapestries in a similar way, I don’t seem to transfer that approach to my own garden.

There is no way I could have created a laburnum, sycamore and plum tree combination.
There is no way I could have created a laburnum, sycamore and plum-tree combination.

For me the garden isn’t something over which I have overall control – despite my vague ideas, I don’t feel that it is all up to me what grows where and when, instead I sense that I am in a gentle partnership with nature, and I know who has the upper hand (and it isn’t me).

In my garden, nature takes the lead. My role is to keep things relatively tidy, give the stragglers a chance to come through, throw in the occasional plant and let nature decide if it’s going to stay or not.

If all that sounds terribly passive, I’d agree, but the fact is, that since I stopped trying to take control, and instead decided to spend more time enjoying what was actually happening, things seem to be coming together in a far more harmonious way than they have before.

I still enjoy visiting beautiful gardens, but I no longer come home feeling inadequate about my own. I get a huge contentment watching the seasons unfold in our tiny space and that for me is exciting and wonderful. And by letting nature make most of the decisions, there’s always the potential for a lovely surprise.

IMAG1430And over the years, I’ve started to take more interest in how plants really look – vast drifts of planting can be magnificent, but there’s no less beauty in single blooms.

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You just have to look for it.

And I am convinced that nature has a wonderful sense of style – how else would she arrange for a self-seeded wallflower to grow against the peeling paint of the garage door – and match the shade of paint peeping through?


So I’ll look froward to Alan Titchmarsh taking me on a guided tour of Chelsea, but this year it will have to be from the comfort of my sofa – again.