Not quite the Good Life

I’m feeling oddly proud at the moment because I’ve harvested and cooked my first ever crop of home-grown potatoes.

As you can see, it wasn’t exactly self-sufficiency – there were ten altogether – but it’s not bad for one small leftover spud stuffed into a pot on the patio.  And they were delicious.



Friday Five – garden mysteries

P1020888I’m a sucker for any kind of mystery and I love gardens and gardening, so it stands to reason I would seek out books with a bit of both.  I’ve read a few over the years; here’s a selection of some of them:

Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

Still one of my favourite books and a big influence on my writing even now. I love the descriptions of the garden of the past, and the happiness Tom finds there, and the reveal still has the power to send shivers up my spine. I also love the way she manages to write a children’s novel without ever talking down – the language and themes are remarkably grown up.

The Savage Garden by Mark Mills

A fascinating exploration of a Renaissance garden in Tuscany, and the macabre hidden message it sends out via statues, grottoes and classical inscriptions.  I found it hard to put down.  It’s billed as a murder mystery, but really has more in common with Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, except that it’s less hysterical and much, much better written.

The Serpent in the Garden by Janet Gleeson

Overall this was a little too cosy for my tastes, but I enjoyed the descriptions of the 18th century garden, the hot house and the mystic art of growing pineapples!  There’s also a nod to the work of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.  A shame that the plot, involving a stolen emerald necklace, didn’t entirely hold up to scrutiny.

Thornyhold by Mary Stewart

Another favourite, with a wonderful sense of otherworldliness and a plot that involves telepathy, white witchcraft and herbalism.  In places it’s desperately sad, but the ‘fairy godmother’ saves the day.  A beautiful and absorbing read.

The Sea Garden by Sam Llewellyn

A recent find, set in a fascinating 18th century garden by the sea (on an island off the Cornish coast, no less), where the new owner finds a human skull in a flower bed and sets off to discover who it once belonged to.  Again, this is less murder mystery and more a sprawling family saga involving all sorts of skeletons in all sorts of closets, and I really enjoyed it.

Going crazy about paving

When we first moved into this house we didn’t really have a front garden – just some slate crazy paving that covered the whole area, plus one small laurel bush in a little bed of its own in the middle.

The bush died in our first, very harsh, winter, when temperatures got as low as -18c, and stayed below freezing for well over a week.  I can’t really blame it – I was keeling over too and I had the benefit of central heating – but it left the space looking very empty.  Over the next few years I’ve done my best to fill it, planting up the bed with a couple of conifers and some other bits and bobs, and putting out various pots.

Earlier this year, though, we felt the whole thing was looking scruffy and depressing.  It didn’t help that one of the bits/bobs I’d planted was alchemilla, which has put runners out underneath the paving slabs and was coming up merrily all over the garden, even in the middle of the path.  We tried weeding it out but it’s incredibly tough stuff and defeated both of us, so we resorted to weedkiller (always my least favourite option) and were left with scruffy brown patches instead of scruffy green.  Sigh.

Time to call in the experts.  I had a few ideas on what to do with the space, but nothing very unusual or imaginative.  I was sure a professional designer would do better, and that with a bit of mud, hard work (theirs), and money, it would be transformed.  Ha.  Big mistake.  Two designers came out.  One, a local chap from a few streets away, never bothered to send us a design; the other, from the local garden centre, did.  But what a disappointment.  It was incredibly dull – just the same crazy paving, re-laid, with one flower bed at the front, one running down the side wall, and an even smaller bed in the centre, filled with – of all the dull things – heather.  How that fulfilled our brief of “brightening the place up” I have no idea, but they wanted £5,000 up front, just for doing that.  We haven’t got back to them.

Instead, we’re having a go ourselves.  We’ve bought a few more pots and filled those, and I repainted a metal obelisk thingy we’d inherited and have stuck that out there with a bowl of sweet peas to hopefully climb up it.  We’ve bought bags of gravel, to replace the rather horrible mortar in between the crazy paving slabs, and plum slate and cobbles, to strew around in the corners.  And *insert drum roll please* I’ve created a pond.  Well, a “water feature” at any rate – a cheap plastic tub filled with some cobbles we acquired on our honeymoon, a couple of water plants, and topped up with water.  It’s my first ever attempt at anything like that and I’m oddly proud of the result:


The garden is very much still a work in progress while we hack out the rest of the alchemilla, and the mortar, and get the gravel in place.  After that, I’m hoping we’ll have a front garden instead of a morass of crazy paving.  And the birds already seem to love the result.