Try and visualise this little scenario with me. Go on, give it a try. It is one that I have replayed over the last few weeks, I am very well aquainted with it.

You’ve been hanging on the telephone for an age, listening to the recording of a very sincere woman assuring you that “your custom is extremely important to us” accompanied by a first class ear worm. Gordon from Birkenhead eventually comes on the line, apologising for your wait. Unfortunately, by this point in time you’ve forgotten not only why you called, but the point of life itself.

Today we completed the purchase of our new home. There has been a similarity in the process with the scene above. Although, to be truthful, which I always try to be, I was significantly happier when we eventually got through.

For those of you who so generously offered their own personal sacrifices to The Big Moving Gods in the Sky, your selfishness has been most welcome. Thank you.

In Between

It is a strange time, this in between period, a weird festive void. Christmas has gone, but the decorations are still up, although beginning to irritate a little. New Year is not quite here, but tantalisingly close. I’m in Limboland and eager to move up the line to Clean Slate Town.

Still, as we all know, you can’t hurry love. Here is a tree graveyard. That’ll cheer us all up.


During the original, and to my mind most pure and fruitful, lockdown we created a family WhatsApp group and every Sunday met up on Zoom. Some fool (me) had the idea, to spice things up a little, that it would be great fun to have a weekly challenge, chosen in rotation and to be judged by The Matriarch. These tasks proved to be a great joy over the weeks of our partial interment.

We are a keenly competitive family. Many years ago, when discussing the merits of yoga, I enquired from my ever patient Dutch sister-in-law who was trying to entice me to the calm-side, “but how do you win?”. I have since been converted to its merits, but at the time I was only half joking. However, I don’t think being competitive is always a bad thing, and in our family at least it is usually done with good grace and there are seldom tantrums. The urge to win rarely oversteps the mark, although sometimes it dillydallies at the periphery. An unseeming episode during the final round of The Christmas Jenga Championship 2008, involving a Senior General Practitioner and his six year old nephew, was the exception to the rule. And possibly best forgotten.

The Covid Challenges took me to places never before visited, all from the safety of my own home. I spent hours creating a collage of OH, which admittedly looks like it was glued by a 5 year old having an off day, but I don’t care. It is now framed and lives close to OH’s Meccano portrait of me, part Metal Michelle, part Princess Leia. As well as the portraiture, we wrote limericks, made musical instruments, iced cakes, learnt languages (well a couple of phrases), built towers and recreated great art works. Both the process of creation and the sharing of our masterpieces was immense fun. We cheered each other on and everyone tried hard to complete each labour as well as possible, all with imagination and wit. Most importantly, we laughed and we bantered and it was almost like being home. All this was overseen by Peggy, who mainly shouted “I can’t see it” and smiled to see her gang being her gang again.

During lockdown people didn’t start baking bread because they were hungry. Unfortunately, the hungry people didn’t have a designer sourdough starter and organic wholemeal flour. They made it because it was creative, and it made them feel good. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing things that make you feel good.

In the past I have shied away from doing things I’m not good at, which was a mistake. I am rubbish at art and a slapdash baker, but I really enjoyed giving it a go. I rediscovered the joy of participation, of doing my best and it being enough. If there is one good thing to come out of this trial, perhaps this is it. You don’t always have to win.

But of course there are exceptions. If I am playing anything against that dastardly GP, which hope I will be in the not to distant future, I will do my utmost to beat the socks off him. I will show no mercy! With love, naturally.

Either or Or

I am of the opinion that there are some who focus on the flowers and others that can only see the weeds. Can this be cured? I’m not sure. Perhaps it is just the way people are made. Usually I am a flower spotting kind of gal, but not always.

In the picture above, some might see a rusting chiminea, stuffed full of broken-up oddments of wood, standing next to a galvanised bin. Today, I chose to see a happy ginger monster, mouth crammed with giant twiglets, waiting for his friend Oscar the Grouch to come out to play.

It is not always this way. And sometimes it takes a little effort. But at the moment I am determined to see the flowers and not the weeds.


I am hopeless at defending myself. I am the submissive, roll over on my back with my legs in the air, type. However, when it comes to my own, it is a quite different matter. Yesterday, I found out that some (I am struggling to find an adjective adequate enough to describe them, so please feel free to fill in your own special word at this point) ……… person had attempted to defraud my Mum. I was very angry. I am still very angry. It is now sorted, thanks to my brother and the bank. There is no excuse for this vile practice and I want revenge. Quite stupidly of course, as it would do no good. But still I am very angry.

My Mum is quite alright, because she is a strong woman. Although a little daft on ocassion. I like to think I take after her.

Three Tales

Tale One

Many years ago, when I was still afraid of my own shadow, I accompanied my OH to a posh event in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Some of his discoveries were being displayed in an exhibition, he had been invited to the opening night and I was his Plus One. Of course, it was not just we two. There was a veritable plethora of historians, archaeologists and other non-specific museum types, all in their best bib and tucker looking like scary grown-ups who knew all the answers. After a short while of silently (on my part) mingling, OH excused himself and left me “rabbit in the headlights” within the throng. In the short time that he was away several people approached me, I was after all a lone young woman in her early twenties. In an attempt to strike up a conversation, their opening gambit was without fail “what do you do?”, “I’m a secretary” I replied. I might well have said I assassinated intellectuals. To a man, they hurriedly made their excuses and dashed off leaving me befuddled and embarrassed. In way of compensation, some might say over-, I proceeded to eat fist fulls of canapes and guzzle the free plonk. It comforted. There was however a saviour in the midst, and I will never forget his kindness. He was perhaps the most distinguished person in the room, a man of great knowledge and an expert in his field. I had met him previously when he had been in Bristol to visit one of OH’s digs. Seeing me marooned in a unfriendly ocean, he took me under his wing. He talked to me at length, explaining to me the significance of some of the displays, involved me in proceedings and, most importantly to me at that time, treated me with the respect that I, and all people, deserve.

Tale Two

A couple of years ago I met a friend at RHS Rosemoor, who to spare her blushes will remain anonymous. OK I will give you a clue …. “TT”. Yes, you’ve got it. I had brought my lovely neighbour along for the ride as she had never been to the garden before and was keen to visit. Chatting over tea and cake, possibly before we had even set off around the garden, TT had been reminiscing about her days as a radiographer. My friend, ever inclusive, turned to ask my neighbour if she worked. “Oh” she said “I am just a nursing assistant at the hospital”. Without pausing for breath, she was swiftly corrected “Never say you are just a nursing assistant! A good NA is worth their weight in gold and the whole system would collapse without them. It is a job to be proud of.” My heart swelled with pride. My neighbour relaxed, there was no hierarchy here. She had been shown the respect she deserved.

Tale Three

Today I came upon a conversation on Twitter that suggested that to presume a woman was a secretary was demeaning. It rankled. As gardeners we are often patronised, dismissed as mere muddy frippery. Which also rankles.

Surely we all deserve a little respect, whatever we do to eke out a living on this troubled planet.

Nothing is New

I love to read, I always have done, ever since I was a little girl and forced my younger brother to listen to me show off my prowess.  However exhausted I might be, I read every night, even if I have to reread the same pages the next day.  It is the full stop to my day.  Not to do it would seem bizarre.  Sometimes I am eager to return to the story, sometimes not so keen, but I almost always persist until the end.   I usually have two books on the go.  An Upstairs Book and, you’ve guessed it, a Downstairs Book.  Even with two on the go at the same time I have a lot waiting in the wings.  Post-Christmas the pile has grown substantially; poetry, memoir, cookery, nature and novels, and I feel secure surrounded by the potential wonders contained within.  The recent days of relaxation have meant more reading time, which has been a great joy.

A couple of weeks ago, on the Mantle Estate I was recalling a story of my youth to Their Lordships.  I think they were enjoying it, both with their eyes closed and mouths agape, making snuffling sounds as I told my tale.  Now you can savour my words.  Any insomniacs might save it for later.  Many years ago I went travelling with my boyfriend of the time.  We ended up in the south of France, bunked up in an enchanting house that his parents were in the process of renovating.  They were aiming to move there when it was complete, which they indeed did.  The house was in a small hamlet reached down a winding tracking off a winding road, deep within the sweet chestnut forests of the Cevennes.  It was a place of great beauty and I will always remember my stay there with great affection and a smile.   The property at the time was not much more than a shell, there was basic electricity, but no fresh running water and the toilet was in a outhouse where scorpions lurked and emptied to who knows where.  Each visit the family brought books from home which meant there were a meagre three shelves full of a varied assortment, a hotchpotch of fiction and non fiction.  These included The Glass Blowers by Daphne du Maurier, Hotel New Hampshire by John Irvine, Alistair McLean’s Where Eagles Dare and The Well Tempered Garden by Christopher Lloyd.  Mike was also an avid reader and having been on the literary wagon for many weeks we devoured these with undignified relish.  What I remember as especially wonderful was the fact that I was a captive audience, it was a case of “take it or leave it”, I would never have considered reading a gung-ho book about Special Forces or, God forbid, a gardening book!  Both I enjoyed immensely.

Waking The Mantles from their meditations I spied a large cardboard box spilling over with books and wondered what it was there for.  “Take what you like” Her Ladyship said “they are on the way to the charity shop”.  Then quick as a whippet “After that story, I think you should close your eyes first”.  Oh dear, she is rather fond of her Barbara Cartland, it could be a scary outcome.  Without peeking, honest guv, I rummaged around and pulled out the chosen one.

Yesterday I read the following passage in the current Downstairs Book, the very one that I had blind selected at the Mansion.  As I am a great fan of Hardy (both Thomas and Tom) it was a lucky pick.  This piece made me laugh and I read it out loud to OH who, from memory, had a similar countenance to that of my little brother all those years ago.

Nothing is new.

Here they turned over sundry flat stones and killed the slugs sheltered beneath them from the coming heat of the day, talking of slugs in all their branches–of the brown and the black, of the tough and the tender, of the reason why there were so many in the garden that year, of the coming time when the grass-walks harbouring them were to be taken up and gravel laid, and of the relatively exterminatory merits of a pair of scissors and the heel of the shoe. 

The Trumpet Major by Thomas Hardy 


Today we went for a walk.  This is an example of the crazy things I have got planned for my month long sabbatical.  It was nice.  We may well do it again.

One of the first things we saw was large fallen tree, a beech perhaps but difficult to positively identify without scrabbling and a festive excess of cheese and pringles has rendered this impossible.  It had crashed into another on its unfortunate descent, felling a further substantial specimen as it toppled.   We need more trees not less, I thought.  Although not surprised, the high winds and wet soil often add up to unstable footings, the sight did make me feel a bit sad.

Then, as we wandered around the garden where OH used to work, we came across plants that he had put in more than 7 years ago.  A three metre high Leptospermum grandiflorum, grown from seed I collected from Marwood Hill Gardens, a Crinodendron hookerianum now a fine looking large specimen, a dozen fruit trees all maturing well, a silver birch past the lanky teenage stage, amongst many others.  And I thought, a good job.   In our own way, as gardeners, we help to renew, to replant and to take up the slack.  We may not be as good as Mother Nature, but we do our best.

Trees fall, it is the nature of things.  If left to their own devices they may well rejuvenate from the rootball, any dead will provide a new ecosystem for all manner of birds and beasties, fungi and fauna, and ultimately will feed the soil it lies upon.  All is not lost.  Often a tragedy is not as fruitless as it first appears.

Which brings me in a very round about, the taxi driver from hell, way to the year ahead, which is shuffling in the wings as I type.   We must all do what we can to find positives amongst the many negatives.  To keep on doing what we can to make this a better world.  To spread the love.  To renew and replant, to take up the slack.  All is not lost.  I am hoping so anyway.

And I wish you all a fabulous 2020, filled with fulfilment and joy and of course love.  And if you feel so inclined, get out there and plant some things.


An Alternative Christmas Message (no corgis)

It is nearly here.  Whether you immerse yourself completely in the festivities or hole up in a cave on top of Ben Nevis until it is all over, tomorrow is Christmas Day.  Personally I love it, although I can understand why people distance themselves from the excesses and unnecessary pressures.   I love it because it is the time of the year when people seem less embarrassed, not so self-conscious, to be nice to one another.  Not everyone, that is true.  At this very moment the food hall of M&S might be a little less kindly, sharpened knitting needles may be involved.   But many do find it within themselves to be more thoughtful and empathetic, to smile at strangers and wish happiness and merriment to people they have only just met. To link arms and sing songs about peace and joy. And I like that very much.  It shows great potential for western civilisation.*

Enjoy yourselves whichever route you are taking.  And I wish you and yours a splendid 2020.  Keep the faith, whatever that might be.

* Philosophy thanks to The Muppet Christmas Carol.


It is raining.  Which means I have been cooking or thinking.  Unfortunately on this occasion, it is the latter.

I am a professional gardener.  When I am not being oh-so-professional in other peoples’ gardens, I write about plants for fun and for money.  It would appear that horticulture is my life, the be all and end all, that I am blinkered to anything lacking chlorophyll.  But you would be wrong.  Apocryphally my own garden is sorely neglected, staggering on with belligerent intent.  In my spare time I rarely read magazines or watch TV programmes about gardening.   Call me a lightweight, a half-cocked enthusiast, a traitor to the cause, but there are so many other things that interest me.  This isn’t helped by the fact that I find much gardening media repetitious or pompous or patronising or just not talking to me.

But there are exceptions, one of which is the BBC Scotland programme, Beechgrove.  For those of you not acquainted with this programme I will try to explain its attraction.  First of all it must be something special to extract me from my bed so we can breakfast early(ish) and settle down to watch the Sunday morning repeat for us softy southern Sassenachs.  Each half hour episode is over in a blink, packed full of delicious morsels.  However, if you are looking for breakdancing lycra clad dudes or indeed any kind of fashion statement you will be sorely disappointed.  There is a distinct lack of stage managed pets and no-one says “on-trend”.   In my opinion, and those of OH for those of you still not convinced, it the most enjoyable gardening programme in the known universe, although I am a little out of touch with the Venusian TV schedule.  It is not obviously concerned with demographics, everyone is included from young guns to elder statesmen, stately homes to allotments.  They experiment, have a few failures but many more successes.  What is more, they don’t pretend that the presenters do all the work!  They name check or feature the actual gardeners on a regular basis.  And very importantly they don’t take themselves too seriously.  It is funny and most of all throughly human.

I don’t know the whole story, the whys and the wherefores, but for some reason this diamond of a show is now off the air until the end of July.  Its 26 programme run has been streamlined to a measly 14, and in the meantime they “will be investing in more content on social media”.  I’m talking to you now, The Powers That Be.  This does not placate me, in fact it makes me want to laugh.  Or cry.  The point has been missed.  What I enjoy is sitting down with my partner, cup of tea in hand, to watch the interactions, the characters visited, the plants growing, listen to the advice tendered.  I use social media, perhaps a little too much, it has its place.  I am not however interested in, and will not be, having any interaction with the crew on line.  Beechgrove is going to be missed, and not only by myself.  It is about so much more than how to train your peach or when to sow your carrots.  It is what what we all need.  A little honesty in our lives.

The photo above is of a pretty pink dianthus, being held aloft by the soft foliage of a white heather.  Neither of these plants are à la mode, they are even better than that, they are timeless.