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.

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Back to basics…

It’s that time of year. Weather frightful. Rain hurling itself at the window. Wind wailing in the eaves. But, as far as I’m concerned, it can do what it likes.

Because I’m on a mission. The Jane King, DIY, get to grips with, find the confidence that’s been lacking, go back and have another go, mission. And the aim of this mission – to redesign the planting for the four central beds of my garden. I’ve put novel writing on hold and I’m channelling the gardener in me.

When I started with this garden in the early days, I knew less than nothing. I bunged plants in with little thought to how big they were going to grow, what shape I wanted them to be, how they would look when they were grown up. Some turned out ok. Others haven’t worked quite so well. Now, with time and space to draw breath and contemplate, I’m having a rethink.

These are the beds I’m working on.

Exhibit A…

Where do I begin???
The Where Do I Begin Bed

This is my biggest challenge. North-west facing, heavy clay, and more ins and outs to it than the Hokey Cokey. I’ve already drawn up and thrown away at least three plans. (The first of which I showed you in my last post.) So it’s still very much work in progress.

Exhibit B…

The White Mischief Bed
The White Mischief Bed

I went all Vita with this bed and decided it was going to be my white moment. It hasn’t worked. Which is why I’m having a rethink.

Exhibit C…

The Never Satisfied Bed
The Never Satisfied Bed

This was supposed to be my hot border. Didn’t really work. Time to reconsider.

Exhibit D…

The Rewrite Bed
The Rewrite Bed

This bed has had more rewrites than my first novel. (The Greenyards Legacy – you have read it haven’t you? And if you haven’t… WHY NOT?) Now I’m going to do it properly.

So you might think that – HAVING DONE A GARDEN DESIGN COURSE – I would have all of this planting design stuff under my belt, that I would be able to rustle up a cunning plan with my eyes shut. You would be wrong.

The amount of time we spent during the course on the principles of putting together a planting plan was minimal. Which left me contemplating the prospect with fear and trembling. Where to start? What to do? There are a million and one plants out there. Which, what, who am I going to choose? And how, when, where am I going to position them?

But with the help of two really excellent books, (The Complete Planting Design Course by Hilary Thomas and Steven Wooster, and Colour Your Garden by Jill Billington) I’ve gone back to basics. I’ve sharpened my pencils and I’m putting my ideas down on paper. I’m dusting off and rediscovering my Vectorworks skills, plotting and replotting plant combinations, drawing up plans… and then rethinking and starting over. I’m learning that, where the planting is concerned, it is important to view the garden as a whole, not, as I have been doing, as individual beds. I’m discovering that small gardens need a different approach to large. That there is an approach to planning the front, middle and back of borders which I’ve been failing to consider. And the light is beginning to dawn. I can do this thing. I have got what it takes.

Who knows where this will take me? But one thing’s for sure – my garden is going to look bloomin’ fantastic.

I am NOT a garden designer….

You know all that ‘I am a garden designer’ stuff that’s been going on in these pages over the past couple of years? Well, I’m going to let you into a secret. It’s all bollocks. And I’ll tell you for why.

Just because you do a garden design course for a year doesn’t make you a garden designer. Or at least it doesn’t make me a garden designer. What it does make me – or rather what it did make me – was slightly insane.

It’s taken me a year to realise this. But now, with a new year beginning, it’s time to set the record straight. Because –

I AM NOT A GARDEN DESIGNER.

There I’ve gone and said it. And boy, oh boy, does it feel good. Cos here’s the thing…

The reason I chose to do a garden design course (as I explained when  I signed up) was because friends had been asking me to help them with their gardens, make suggestions, offer advice. Which I was keen to do. But before I waded in I felt I could do with a bit more knowledge. I wanted to feel more confident that what I was suggesting was the right thing to do. I wasn’t looking for a full blown, start at the bottom and work my arse off career. I’d been and gone and done that thing once before in my life. I really didn’t need to do it again.

Added to this I had just been through a bumpy couple of years, with loads of family stuff going on, and I wanted to do something for me, something rewarding, enjoyable, challenging. What I was looking for was the life enhancement and fulfilment that I believed would come from learning about a subject I loved. Which is why I signed up for the garden design course at Hampton Court Palace.

So…? How was it? Challenging? Yes. Rewarding and enjoyable…? Hell, no.

The palace was fabulous. The people were lovely. The course was… a frickin’ nightmare. It was. I’m not exaggerating. And it all started out so well.

I loved the early stuff; the sketching, the garden history, the plant knowledge. But, after the first couple of weeks, it all went pear-shaped. To become a garden designer there is so much you need to know. If you’re going to go into someone else’s garden and start shifting earth around, knocking things down, building things, planting things that are going to live, die, grow big, take over… you really need to know your onions. (No pun intended.) You need to be an expert in design, know all about construction, about plants and planting, the climate, all that insurance and liability and who’s responsible for what stuff. You need to know how to sketch and draw, how to design using a computer. You need to know how to set up and run a business. These are vast subjects in themselves. Two days a week for a year can’t begin to do them justice.

So it was mad. It felt as if there was too much to learn crammed into too little time to learn it. Which for a raging perfectionist like me was complete hell. Added to which it seemed to me that we spent far too much time on the superficial stuff, and not enough on the nitty gritty. I wanted more substance and less packaging. For me it was too much about the presentation and not enough about what we were presenting. We were concentrating on, and being assessed for, drawing pretty pictures, when I wanted to learn about what makes a great design, how to manage space and utilise mass and form, the philosophy and guiding principles for putting together a planting plan.

I dropped out, went back, and dropped out again four weeks before the end. I came out of the experience feeling less able rather than more. And I lost myself in the process.

So do I regret doing it? Well I don’t believe in regret – and good stuff has come out of it. This blog for one thing – which led me back to writing. Which in turn encouraged me to have a go at self-publishing The Greenyards Legacy. Which in turn has encouraged me to have a go at writing another book. For this I am eternally grateful.

But if I knew then what I know now, would I have done the course? The answer is a resounding no. It’s entirely personal, but it seemed like a very expensive way of finding out how little I knew about garden design. Given the chance again I would find more practical, hands-on ways of learning how to be a garden designer. If being a garden designer was what I wanted to be. As it is I’m leaving it to the experts, and I’m going to stick with writing.

Will I carry on with this blog? I’m not sure. It depends whether I’ve got anything to write about that I think people might want to read.

Which means that this is yet another one of those watch this space moments. Only this time I don’t know if I’ll be back.

Writer’s Block….

Remember me….

I’m the schizophrenic, who am I, what’s it all for, gardener/writer, (or should that be writer/gardener?) who started this blog a couple of years ago with wild promises about writing once a week, and didn’t do too badly…. until a few months ago, when everything kind of went pear shaped.

Because I hit a wall. Couldn’t write, didn’t know what to write about, didn’t want to write. It was scaaarrryyyy….

I considered writing posts about my garden. But couldn’t summon up the enthusiasm. (The truth was I couldn’t summon up the enthusiasm for my garden, let alone writing about it.) Several times I started off writing about writing. And ground to a halt after a couple of paragraphs. Aaargghhhh.

It was horrible. I felt like I’d lost myself. Didn’t know who I was, who I was meant to be. Did people really want to know about my garden? Who really cared if I’d self-published a book? Was there any point in writing about anything?

But today I woke up, got out of bed, drew back the curtains, and peered out across the fields. The sun was shining in a pale blue, winter sky; the whole world was sugar-coated with silver. I went downstairs, fed the dogs, made tea, sat at the kitchen table, tea mug in hand, looking out at the frosted garden. The cotoneaster outside the kitchen window was weighed down with jewel-red berries, and two thrushes were perched in its branches enjoying a winter feast.

AND I REALISED THAT I FELT LIKE WRITING ABOUT IT.

Hurray! Hurrah! Hurrooh!

And now I remember why I write….

Because I want to.

So here I am. I’m not going to make any promises about writing weekly posts. Because who knows how I’m going to feel tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the day after that. But today it feels great to be back writing again.

And I’m going to leave you in a ‘watch this space’ place that could lead anywhere.

Exciting, huh….

Coffee and sympathy….

Ok. So here’s the thing.

I’ve just been paid!!!!

For writing!!!!

And it feels huge. After years of doing this thing that I really love, I’ve actually received money for it.

So I’m going to go out and celebrate. But what to buy with my hard earned cash…..? There’s the question. It’s got to be something memorable, something to savour, something to remember with pleasure in years to come when I look back and think about this special moment.

I’m thinking a cup of coffee maybe. Or a magazine. A cup of coffee and a magazine would be nice. I can’t do both.

Because the amount I’ve been paid is….

£5.00. Oh and $1.18 for the one book I sold in America.

This is the grand total of my earnings for the month of August, when I sold 25 copies of The Greenyards Legacy. Impressive huh!

So what I’m thinking is….

Maybe it’s about time you read The Greenyards Legacy. People who have, seem to have really liked it. It’s available at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. And it’s available on Kindle. So there’s really no excuse.

And if you buy it then maybe I’ll be able to afford the coffee and the magazine.

On second thoughts….

Ignore all that hard-done by impoverished writer special pleading malarky. I’m just chuffed to bits that people are reading and enjoying my book.

Big day, huh!

Spot the difference….

So I’m on holiday in Puerto Pollenca. And I’m doing the things I always do when I’m on holiday in Puerto Pollenca, like swimming in the crystal clear waters of the bay,

Pollenca Bay
Pollenca Bay

wandering along Pine Walk to the Illa D’Or,

Pine Walk
Pine Walk

soaking up a bit of sun, trying not to eat and drink too much so that I don’t come home the size of a house. And it’s all pretty much how it usually is, which is pretty much perfect.

Except for something’s different. And the something that is different is that when I’m sitting in the sun reading one of the books I’ve brought out with me, and beside me other people are sitting in the sun reading one of the books they’ve brought out with them, some of them are reading…. MY BOOK. That’s the book written by me.

I cannot begin to tell you how extraordinary that feels. Extraordinary and unanticipated and…. kind of amazing. Because they seem to be enjoying it. And I get to have a lovely time talking about the characters and the places and the plot. Which I love doing, because I love the characters and the places and the plot. Because the characters feel like family to me, and we all love to talk about our family, don’t we?

So here is Sue. And she’s reading The Greenyards Legacy.

photo copy

And if you’re interested, (which of course you are, aren’t you?) you can find out what she thought about it by clicking here.

Exciting, huh?

First Feedback….

Really really big day….

Just had my first review….

It was good….

Actually it was really good….

I’ve just come back down to earth after a bout of overexcited leaping around the room. And just felt I had to share this moment.

If you want to read the review – and of course you do, don’t you!!!!! – you can find it at amazon

Exciting, huh!