Be Here Now

I started last year with a grand plan. 2018 was going to be the year of the blog. It was going to be the year that I took the blogging process seriously, writing a weekly post about my garden, following other bloggers, commenting, engaging, doing the whole thing properly. And as part of this commitment I was going to learn to take better and better photos so I could show people what was going on in my part of the world.

But I have a confession to make. Which is that very quickly it all got too much for me. After a belting start I got struck down with the demon flu, and was then incapable of doing anything that remotely resembled putting myself out there. Taking photos, blogging, Instagraming, Facebooking, thinking about posts, planning new stuff for my garden. It all felt too much. The thought of doing any of it left me feeling breathless and burdened and overwhelmed.

And I couldn’t for the life of me understand why. Particularly when, once the beast from the east had had its wicked way with us, the weather turned glorious, packed to bursting with sun filled days, blossom more bountiful than I can remember, colour and warmth and brightness. So much to post about. What was not to feel happy and grateful for? Why the tight chest and anxious feelings?

It was the Ceanothus ‘Trewithen Blue’ that finally did it. But I can’t show you a photo of it. Because I didn’t take one. Even though it was crying out to me every time I walked past it. There it was in all its fabulous powdery blue, clothing the wall by the drive, billowing with gorgeousness. And I rushed past with my head turned away, hardly daring to look at it. The sight of it triggered anxiety, almost a feeling of panic.

And what a thing to be feeling anxious about. When there is so much going on in the world, I was getting in a state about blossom!

So I talked to a friend. We were looking at her beautiful garden, and I mentioned the anxiety I’d been feeling. And it turned out she’d been feeling the same.

We asked ourselves if it was our age. Turning sixty, time shrinking, life a finite thing, only so many springs left so better make sure we don’t miss anything, etc, etc, etc. And yes, we thought this might well have something to do with it. But I began to give it a bit more thought, and I realised that there was more to it.

Because here was the thing. I’d fallen into the trap of trying to hold onto the moment too tightly. Been searching for a way to make things permanent when they’re not. That’s what all the photography and Instagram and Blogging and writing was about. It was my way of trying to fix the things that I love in a place where they couldn’t be lost.

But the truth was that the more I tried to hold them close the further away they became. And the effect was to stop me from enjoying them while they were there. I was avoiding the Ceanothus because I knew its beauty wouldn’t last, and – because I hadn’t found a way to capture it that did it proper justice – I was feeling anxious.

I’m reminded of that quote about happiness being like a butterfly, how you can’t chase it, but have to sit and wait for it to come and land on your shoulder. My problem was that I’d been trying to catch it and trap it and pin it into a glass case for posterity. Which had precisely the opposite effect.

This was a bit of a eureka moment for me. (I have them from time to time!) It was the moment I realised that I needed to stop feeding the anxiety and start doing things differently. So I made a decision. I took a step back from all the stuff – the commitment to weekly posting, the blog following, Instagram checking, photo taking stuff. And instead I went out and stood under branches heavy with blossom, and breathed in and breathed out. Walked and looked and took the time to see. I started with the Ceanothus. Went and stood and marvelled at the blueness of it, the contrast of dark green leaf with flowers miraculously arranged into panicles, the structure and form and sheer perfection of it.

And I decided to make time to go round the garden and count ten things that made me feel happy. Without taking photos or planning posts or doing anything other than looking and feeling and being there.

It kind of worked. Getting ready to open the garden for the NGS in June rather got in the way. But I had a year away from being out there, and it was a year to reassess my relationship with myself and the wider world.

So now, at the start of another year, I’m going to get back to writing and taking photos, but I’m going to do it for me. When I feel like it. (Which is why I’ve written two back to back posts and may well not write another for months to come!) So that I’ve got a record to look back at of the things that matter to me.

It’s not that I’m giving up on all the stuff. I’m just going to do when it feels right. And enjoy the moment.

The real me….

The sharp eyed amongst you might have noticed that my profile picture has changed. The previous picture was taken at the beginning of last year, just before I set off on my awfully big Everest Base Camp adventure. But I’ve changed a lot since then. And I’ve been looking at last year’s photo and thinking that it didn’t look like me anymore, and that it was time for an update.

Because this year has been my year for coming to terms with myself. For recognising that I’m not Gertrude Jekyll or Beth Chatto, I’m not Margaret Atwood or Anne Tyler. I’m me. And that’s fine.

I’m fifty-six years old, my oldest child is going to be twenty-eight this year, next April I will have been married for thirty years, my eyesight is bad, I’ve got age spots jostling for space with my wrinkles, and my hair is very very grey.

And you know what…. I feel bloomin’ fantastic.




I don’t want to worry you….

But you know that scene in the first Alien film – the gut busting, stomach wrenching, ohmygodwhatthehelljusthappenedtoJohn Hurt moment – that had me scraping myself off the ceiling of the cinema the first time I saw it. Do you remember the way poor John had no idea that anything was wrong until his belly exploded….?

Well I’m sitting on my sofa nursing a vastly expanded waistline. And I’ve got a worrying feeling that I too may be about to explode. And while it might be all the chocolate I’ve eaten this weekend, I’m a little bit scared that there might be another more sinister explanation….

Because I was out in Puerto Pollenca for a few days last week. And there is something weird going on out there at the moment.

First off there’s the alien on our terrace….

I knew something was up last year. The Cycad, which has dutifully put on new growth each year, was behaving very strangely. Cycad

It appeared to be growing a head.


I told myself that it would all be fine by the time I came back after the winter. All that wierdness would have settled down and we would be the proud owners of a perky Cycad with a lovely new set of leaves.

…. But I was wrong.


Alien eggs?
Alien eggs?

What’s that all about……? I lay awake in the night and wondered about aliens invading my inner space.

Because it wasn’t just the Cycad….

There was also the spooky beeping….

We heard it the first night as we were going to bed. Sounded like the battery on someone’s fire alarm had gone flat. So piercing beep every few seconds for half an hour or so. And I’m beginning to wonder if earplugs might be the answer, because the owner of the house with the dodgy fire alarm is clearly not there. And we could be in for a long night.

But then the beeping stopped.

Ok – owner must be back, batteries replaced – we can all relax. I turn out the light and prepare for a good night’s sleep. And the beeping starts again. And then a while later it stops. And then starts again. And continues onning and offing throughout the night.

The next morning I heard it joining in with the dawn chorus. What was going on?

On our walk home from dinner in the port the following night, as we walked beside the water’s edge along Pine Walk, we heard the beeping again. And that was when we discovered that it was coming from somewhere above our heads, in a tall pine behind the villa on the corner as we turned away from the bay towards our house.

So we went straight home and we looked up ‘weird beeping in Puerto Pollenca’ on the internet. And you know what….

…. it’s a Scops Owl. Only eight inches high. It’s sitting up there in that tree. And it’s beeping. If you want to know what it sounds like click here

At first we thought it was calling to a mate. Because in the distance we could hear a faint reply. But then it hit us. It wasn’t another Scops Owl…. It was an echo….

So ok – the beeping is a lonely owl story. And the waist expansion is probably just down to overindulgence. But I’m keeping an eye on that Cycad….


Happy Anniversary

Just a quick post –

Because it’s a year ago today that I started this blog and I couldn’t let it go by without acknowledging the fact.

It’s been quite a year. I’ve learnt how to do loads of stuff I couldn’t do before, been to Everest Base Camp, become an empty nester, and decided to embrace my grey hair. Along the way I’ve managed to write 76 posts. (There were a few more that I wrote for my Everest blog some of which I posted here as well.)

My posts have been viewed 4,954 times by people in 42 countries.

The most popular post (Where Would you be?) has been viewed a total of 571 times, with 306 views on one day.

I’m sure there are loads of blogs out there with more impressive statistics than mine. But this particular old dog is feeling pretty pleased with herself for sticking with it.

So Happy Anniversary to me….

Winter windup….

Does anyone else agree with me about the weather?

I mean I know it’s been pretty miserable. The wind hasn’t stopped blowing and the rain hasn’t stopped raining. People have been without power for days over Christmas. They’ve been flooded out of their houses, there’s the possibility of more flooding to come. And lets not forget the cold weather coming over from America….

But has it really been as Armageddonly, world endingly, life will never be the same againasly, bad as the media is making out? I’m not sure it has. And I’m not sure how good it is for us to have this constant stream of bad news drip fed to us like Chinese water torture.

I began to feel uncomfortable when I heard someone on the news before Christmas saying that ‘hundreds’ of homes had been flooded. Now I know ‘hundreds’ is quite a lot of homes, and for the people who have had water pouring in through their front doors it must be an absolute nightmare. But when you think of the total number of houses in the entire country, then hundreds isn’t an awful lot. But from the way the news was being delivered in the hushed tone, prepare yourself for the most appalling news you’ve ever heard style that newsreaders these days seem to think is appropriate for everything from suicide bombings to lost dogs, you would have thought that the whole country was under water.

So then I heard that these were the worst conditions in TWO DECADES. Yes that’s right…. TWO DECADES. Now if they’d said TWO CENTURIES it seems to me that there would be good cause to feel a bit anxious. But TWO DECADES. That’s twenty years to us ordinary human beings. And twenty years doesn’t feel like that long to me. After all I’m coming up to three lots of twenty years old in a few years time. And lots of big stuff has happened weather wise in the years I’ve been around – the big storm of 1987, the winter in the early 60’s which I was very young for but can remember because we were snowed in for a very long time. And for people older than me, of which there are more than quite a few, there must be all sorts of major weather events that make what has happened these last few weeks seem…. well just in the grand scheme of things seem not quite as earth shatteringly life changing as the media would like us to believe.

I mean it was only in October last year that I read that we were all set for the worst winter since the Ice Age. And now there are all sorts of gloomy mutterings about the ‘Polar Vortex’ coming over from America. It sounds like something out of Doctor Who. But you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s just a fancy new name for something that’s been around for ever but now that it’s called something else…. now we’ve really got to start worrying about it.

So, as I say it’s not good for us. All this doom and gloom, and just you wait for what’s coming up next, makes us feel anxious and miserable and stops us living in the present and enjoying life as it is now. Take my dear lovely mother in law, who has been worrying that the world is coming to an end. For someone who has lived through a lot more hardship than a few days with the lights out it seems unfair to me that she should be worrying because of all the stuff being thrown at her by the modern news machine.

So I know it’s not a new idea but let’s sit back and look around us and start focussing on the good stuff that’s happening right here and right now. Because there’s always something.

Winter Berries
Winter Berries

I’m offering the sunshine this morning, and the colour of the berries on the trees, the bliss of getting between just laundered sheets in bed last night, the fact that I’ve nearly finished all the work for the start of term next Wednesday, the poetry of David Whyte who I’ve just discovered. And that’s just for starters.

If anybody has got any suggestions I’d love to hear them. Because I think we need to start redressing the balance.

So here’s to good news and the things that make us feel positive about life.

And a very HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Watch this space….

Hello you poor neglected blog you…. And so much for my aim to write at least one post a week!

But I’ve got an excuse. Which is that I am in the last throes of editing my book and it’s soaking up all my creative juices and leaving me no time for blogging. So please bear with me….

I’ll tell you all about it when it’s done, introduce you, show you pictures of what the front cover is going to look like, give you a bit of a taste of what it’s all about. Because I’m expecting you all to read it…. of course I am.

And then there’s my greenhouse project to write about, and the planting up of my front garden which has been on hold for so long it’s embarrassing. Along with all the usual ponderings and musings….

So apologies for the watch this space status of this blog at the moment. And if you could just stick with me I won’t let you down….

Even the best laid plans….


So a slight change of plan….

For those of you expecting to sign in and read about the final term of the garden design course that this blog started out being all about – I’m afraid you are going to have to wait a bit. Because I’ve had to put it on hold. And the reason why…. I’m going to be honest…. Because I underestimated the amount of work involved and simply didn’t manage to get it all done.

When I signed up last year I didn’t expect to have quite so much course work to do over the summer holidays. Actually I didn’t expect to have quite so much course work to do, full stop. So I planned to do lots of other stuff, including my trip to Everest Base Camp at Easter, and didn’t leave myself enough time (or energy) to get everything done. Cue panic….

Add in some unanticipated family issues that needed my attention, and I found myself contemplating the start of the autumn term with two projects unfinished, a new project to get started on right away, and the realisation that I simply wasn’t going to be able to get it all done. But all is not lost. The fates – and the lovely people at KLC – have been kind to me. Demand for the Diploma Course has been so great this year that they’ve been running an extra course which started the term after ours. So they are very kindly allowing me to delay completion of the final term until January 2014.

So a few words of advice to anybody thinking of doing this course. Believe them when they tell you…. it’s a huge amount of work.

But I’ve been lucky. And now I’m going to devote the next few months to re-editing and publishing my favourite of the five books I’ve spent the last twelve years writing, completing the unfinished projects for the course, working in my sadly neglected garden and…. having a bit of a rest.

I’m going to keep on blogging, so I hope you will all stick with me. I don’t know where it will take me, or what I will be doing at the end of it all. It’s a bit of a watch this space situation. So stay tuned….

Ever increasing circles…..

This blog is taking on a life of its own. It’s expanding.

It started out as a way of recording my experiences as a trainee garden designer at KLC. But along the way other things have crept in. And recently they’ve been threatening to take over.

But I don’t want you to think that, just because it’s the summer holidays, the course work is taking a break as well. Oh no….

Because there’s the dreaded Construction File to complete, which I’ve been working on since term ended. I’ve still got 11 CAD drawings to do – which I keep putting off, because CAD and me are not exactly what you could call the best of friends… and I know it’s going to be painful.

Then there’s the work experience. Regular readers of this blog may remember that I was supposed to be going to Great Dixter for two weeks. I had to pull out of this because my father in law died, but I did get to spend a wonderful week at Long Barn, Vita Sackville West’s first garden after she left Knole. Of which more to come in later posts….

And running alongside everything else this summer is the project that we have to be ready to present on our first day back in September. Which is no small ask….

This week I’ve been working on the 3D model we have to make as part the project. And it’s been a tortuous experience. There are people out there who are good at this sort of thing. I’m not one of them. I went out last weekend and spent my life savings on tissue paper and plasticine, and anything else that looked like it might help me to build my dream garden in miniature. On Monday morning I went to the little shed in the garden where I work feeling quite excited. The excitement lasted about five minutes.

By Wednesday morning I was on the verge of packing the whole course in. You should have seen the state of my shed. There were bits of torn up tissue paper, drinking straws cut into pieces, broken cocktail sticks, lumps of plasticine, cardboard. It was like the scene of an explosion in the Blue Peter studio.

Which is ironic. Because explosions are what my project is all about.

Crane Park in Twickenham, the location of Project Number 4, is the site of a gunpowder mill which closed down in the early 1900’s. Making gunpowder is a dangerous business. While the mill was in operation there were numerous explosions, some of which could be heard as far away as Heathrow. And over the lifetime of the mill seven workers died.

It was this aspect of the site that caught my attention. So, at the start of the holidays, I began to research explosions. And while I was away in Majorca I spent many happy hours on the internet (feeling uncomfortably aware that some big brother somewhere was aware of the person in Puerto Pollenca typing ‘gunpowder’ and ‘the aftereffects of explosions’ into Google). And this was how shock waves became the theme of my summer.

There was one picture in particular that caught my attention. Not because it was useful for the Crane Park concept –

shock waves but because it made me smile.

And I got this idea in my head that while we were in Scotland I should try and persuade the rest of the group to re-enact a ‘shock waves’ moment on the beach up there.

Which is how it came to pass that, if you had been on the Achnahaird beach near Alchiltibuie on a particularly blustery day a couple of weeks ago, you might have been a little surprised to see ten fifty somethings drawing circles in the sand and leaping into the air.

First draw your circles....
First draw your circles….

Practice your jumping,,,,
Then practice your jumping,,,,

Now altogether....
Now altogether….

I said all together.....
I said all together…..

Don't think the dogs quite get it....
Don’t think the dogs quite get it….

Ok so maybe the jumping isn’t quite as accomplished as the original….

But if anyone else happens to find themselves on a beach with nothing better to do….

Just remember you don’t have to be young to have a laugh.

Summer in the City….


…. it’s the bus syndrome again.

Nothing for weeks. And now….

Get ready for a stream of posts from this old dog. With so much to write about…. And so little time.

Because hasn’t it been wonderful? The summer I mean. After an endless run of damp dark years, when it felt like July and August had gone off to somewhere else in the world and forgotten about us, we’ve been rewarded for our patience with a summer from the days when we were young. Where we can throw open windows and doors…. Put up the sun umbrellas and lay out the cushions in the garden…. Drag the cover off the barbecue and light it…. and then do it again a couple of days later. Sit outside in the gathering dusk, eating and talking and remembering old times…. without having to go inside because it’s really far too cold or about to rain or the wasps have taken over.

And while this glorious weather has been doing it’s thing, I’ve been doing a few new things of my own.

A couple of weeks back I went to the Proms for the first time.

Picture the scene. It’s a Tuesday afternoon.  I’m on a bus from Victoria station. The backs of my legs are sticking to the seat, the hair on my neck is hanging in damp curls. I’m so hot I feel like I’m going to dissolve, so that when the bus stops outside the Albert Hall it will be a puddle of water that slides out of the door onto the pavement.

But I make it intact and step out into a swarming mass of excited Wagnerites. Because this is what I’m in letting myself in for. A night of Daniel Barenboim conducting Die Walkurie, the second part of Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

Am you completely mad, I hear you cry. Die Walkurie goes on for five and a half hours…. You missed the first part so you won’t have a clue what’s going on….. There are no costumes or props or anything to keep you amused if the music doesn’t…. And no subtitles…. Just singers and an orchestra and not a lot else. And to make matters worse it’s eighty-five degrees in the shade…. And The Albert Hall doesn’t have air conditioning.

But this is how the BBC described the evening.

‘Daniel Barenboim’s Proms Ring cycle with the Staatskapelle Berlin continues with the razored strings and yelping brass of a violent storm, the cloudburst of incestuous love, a bitter marital dispute and the first appearance of Wotan’s rebel daughter, Brünnhilde, sung by a leading exponent of the role, Nina Stemme.’

Sounds kind of exciting, don’t you think!

And it was. Exciting and amazing and fantastic. Honestly….

It helped that we were there with the chairman of the Wagner Society. (Who happens to be a friend, and is a reassuringly normal, fully functioning human being.) So he could fill me in on what it was all about. And it also helped that according to the review in The Guardian the following day ‘the cast that had been brought together at the Albert Hall was very close to being as good as any that could be assembled from singers today.’

So if I’m going to be introduced to Wagner and The Ring Cycle it’s the right way to do it…..

And I loved it.

And then two nights later I went to The Globe for the first time.

Another beautiful night. So perfect for a theatre with a roof that opens to the sky. And I’m there to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream with my daughter Hattie, who has bought the tickets as a mother’s day present.

So dinner together in Borough Market. Then we wandered along the side of the Thames through the evening crowds.

The Globe is lit up and enticing, like a birthday cake.

IMG_0472Inside the atmosphere is buzzing. We’ve rented cushions (thank goodness…. the seats are wooden benches) and we settle ourselves down with the rest of the audience and prepare to be dazzled and amazed. Which we are….


It’s fast and furious and laugh-out loud funny. Fairies, muddled lovers getting lost in the woods, Bottom and Puck and Titania; Shakespeare at his most relaxed and devious.

At the interval we sit on the wall by the Thames as the light fades.


And when it’s over we walk back along the river towards London Bridge station. With the moon competing with the street lights to see who can outshine who.

Not a great photo but spot the moon in the middle….

You’ve got to love summer nights….