Archive for the ‘Garden visits’ Category

When we first moved to London, we became members of Kew gardens.  This was perfect for us, being obsessed with gardens and indoor plants.  We got free entry plus guest tickets that we could use to take visitors and house guests.  After visiting many times, we got restless and ten years ago we moved on to join the RHS.  Wisley replaced Kew as our regular haunt for days out.  Then after years of Wisley, we moved on again and joined the National Trust.  This allowed us to go to some superb country gardens round the country like Sissinghurst and Scotney Castle in Kent, and Cotehele and Anthony in Cornwall.

Now we’ve decided the rotation has come back to Kew.  Wow, what a decision.  In the ten years I had forgotten just how much I love Kew gardens, and how much I’ve missed it.  It’s like meeting up with a much loved old friend and being delighted to find that you still have so much in common.

For a start, the sheer diversity of habitats and growing conditions means that they can fully represent the planet’s flora.  It’s just mind-blowing that one minute you are in a tropical rainforest and then when you go through a door you’re in an amazing desert.

We literally travelled the planet in a day.  The most varied glasshouse in terms of plants is the modern styled Princess of Wales Greenhouse, which to my mind contain most of the interesting specimens. There is a huge range of both temperate and tropical plants, including some of the biggest and oldest cacti in cultivation, carnivorous plants, and a large collection of orchids.

I think Kew preceded the Eden project by displaying “plants for people”, and they have such plants alongside information about how they are used by humans.  I particularly enjoyed seeing the chocolate plant for obvious reasons.

The large range of environments and plants makes this my favourite glasshouse.

However, for sheer beauty of construction, you can’t beat the Victorian glasshouses.  They house impressive specimens from all the continents of the world.  You can also go upstairs and view the plants from the “rooftop”.

There are some wonderful plants to look down on:

Some of the plants look more impressive from below:

Some of the outdoor plants are just as exciting as the indoor ones.  I was particularly thrilled to get the following pictures of ferns unfolding:

There’s a traditional walled garden, which for me is enhanced because every single plant is marked, so you can take note if you want to get one for your own garden.

All in all a plantswoman’s paradise.

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The House of Dun is near Montrose in what I think of as “Golf” Country (Carnoustie and a billion other golf courses).  The Montrose Basin is nearby, with the nature reserve.  However, what I found most impressive about this National Trust property was the espalier fruit trees against the kitchen garden wall.

I have honestly never seen such amazing fruit.  The leaves were dark and glossy.  The fruit looked sumptuous – rich, ripe and plentiful .  My garden envy was at an all-time peak.  I want their secret!

It must be the climate, and I was quite prepared to up sticks and move to Scotland that instant.  That day, my eyes were opened to the possibilities for fruit trees, and one day I will fulfill those.

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We went on holiday to Scotland this summer, and it was a very pleasant oasis of cool and damp following our long, hot summer of drought.  The green made a vibrant contrast to our brown and yellow, and when the sun came out, you didn’t feel obliged to run for cover.  The reward for the changeable weather was a lush natural world and stunning landscape, with nature teeming from every pore.

We were staying in Kirriemuir, the hometown of JM Barrie, writer of Peter Pan, and were lucky enough to be staying in the cottage next door to his birthplace, pictured above.

Kirriemuir is known as ‘the Gateway to the Glens’ and I could not more highly recommend anywhere for a restful break.  The traffic levels were non-existent, and the gentle pace of life was the perfect antidote to city living.

It will come as no surprise to some to hear that most of Scotland started out as a separate island from the rest of mainland Britian, and in prehistoric times the continental plates ‘crashed’ together.  The rocks are radically different in composition, and this explains the different landscape of the highlands to the lowlands, and the ‘granite city’ of Aberdeen compared to the red sandstone of Edinburgh.  Well, the Angus glens are formed on the boundary of that historic join.  Where the two types of rock collided, you get the most fantastic waterfalls imaginable.

You can see salmon performing almost miraculous jumps up the waterfalls.  If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I couldn’t have believed it.  As well as stunning natural features, there were lush forests full of wildlife.

I have to say that it was very easy to start believing in magic too!  The Glens are peppered with castles, both inhabited and ruined, leftover from the days when the fertile lowlands needed protection from raiders from the mountains, known locally as ‘Caterans’.  The one pictured below is a ruin at Inchmark in Glen Clova.

Scottish Heritage maintain some of the remaining ones, including this one at Edzell, which has been enhanced with a picturesque knot garden.

In keeping with the emblem of Scotland, wild thistles grow everywhere, and along with heather were fully in bloom, adding a purple tinge to the green and browns of the countryside.

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Last week we went camping on the Isle of Wight for my first visit to the Island.  I had read that it was ‘the new Cornwall’, and one of the homes of ‘cool camping’, thanks to Vintage Vacations, who rent out various vintage caravans and locations including the converted chuch below:

Originally we planned to stay in a yurt, but as we have got all our own camping gear, it seemed like a bit of an exgtravagance.  Since the election, David Cameron and George Osborne have got us scared witless facing ten years of tax rises, pay cuts and redundancies, so we are trying to save every penny.

In the end, this had to be the cheapest holiday we have  ever had, with the ferry to the Isle being the biggest cost at £80.  The camping cost £55 for five nights, which paid for this view out of the tent:

We stayed at Chine Farm campsite on the South coast.  It is right next to an old derelict and vandalised holiday camp, which was a bit eerie, but as long as you didn’t look in that direction, it didn’t really put us off.  Even the petrol didn’t cost us that much as it is quite a modest distance from London, and the Island itself is only 27 miles across at the longest point.

We brought all our own cooking gear, and it was the first time we had gone camping with the dutch oven and the firepit/barbecue, so we were eager to get cooking.

I was desperate to explore and form my own opinions of the Isle.  Looking at reviews on tripadvisor, it is either a paradise of picturesque countryside and old-fashioned seaside resorts or incredibly dull and past its best.  I suppose both of these could be correct, depending on which part of the island you are on.  The Isle of Wight has a surprisingly dense population, and it feels as though there are too many hideous 60s bungalows ruining picturesque seaviews.  Parts have a feel of a fading resort that was once very busy and developed, now fallen out of favour.  Things such as the deserted holiday camp and the Isle of Wight Pearl have a quite tragic air about them.

But to judge the whole island on these alone would be a travesty.  The rolling hills and idyllic beaches combine to make you feel you have stepped into a 50s advert for Anchor butter.  You can’t ignore the fact that the place has the highest hours of sunshine in the UK, something we really appreciated as we drove round the stunning coastal road.

The surf at Compton Bay on the south coast was like nothing I have ever seen before in the UK.

The National trust offers great value leaflets showing walks round the nature reserve of the Newtown estuary, which we almost had to ourselves, even on a sunny day in half term.

Ignoring the more run down gift shops selling cheap imports from China, you can find some real hidden gems by scratching the surface.   These ranged from Liz Earle’s skincare shop in Ryde to a small farm which was selling 100 flavours of home made ice-cream (I had elderflower).

There are picturesque villages such as Godshill, which didn’t even lose its charm on the rainiest day of our break:

For gardeners, Ventnor Botanical Gardens have the largest range of tender and half-tender plants growing in the UK. You can buy great value seeds from many of the specimens in the gardens, which are collected each year by enthusiasts and volunteers.

To top it all off, we visited Shanklin Chine, which is a pictureque gorge running towards the sea:

The Chine is the embodiment of green, and very soothing on a hot day.

I think it’s safe to say we’ll be back!

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I try to resist it each year, but have to admit that at times I really do hate winter.  It just doesn’t come naturally to me to sit indoors while it is cold outside.  Everything I like doing is outside – the allotment, gardens, camping, walking, sitting out and so on.  I am generally happy as long as I can be outdoors comfortably.  All winter I feel like a battery hen and by the start of February the cabin fever is reaching its peak.

So far this winter I have read the whole Twilight saga, watched umpteen films, scoured the internet for bargains, and generally trodden water in any way possible till the warmer season hits.

I do suspect that perhaps the hibernation every year recharges my creative batteries for the year ahead?

So it is an especially lovely bit of light relief when someone in the blogosphere remembers that I exist, and sends a lovely comment my way.  After a particularly drab but stressful day (if that combination isn’t too much of an oxymoron), the lovely mangocheeks at Allotment2Kitchen woke me out of my restless boredom with her lovely my favourite photo meme.  We have blogged together through thick and thin, and I am in awe of someone who can create so many new recipes so often.  A true talent and a fantastic inspiration.

And I instantly knew which one I would choose:

I may be cheating here by putting a photo of the girls rather than myself.  It also may be cheating to put a photo on where they can’t be recognised, in these days of internet paranoia.  It’s not even the best quality photo I have by a long stretch.  And yet…

It sums up for me that warm, sunny, carefree childhood feeling.  My little girls in a haze of sun, their fine hair shining like halos round their heads.  Surrounded by lavender in our local area, our main claim to fame and the plant that connects me to the land here in so many ways.  The loveliest thing about the photo is that it will always remind me of their complete childlike joy that day.  Their fresh enthusiasm for every new experience that comes their way, their excitability when I take them places that I love.  Their love for me, which I never feel I deserve, and their love of life.  I hope I can give them a childhood that captures that feeling for them, and bottles it forever.  In some ways, my girls feel like two halves of me anyway – they share my looks in totally different ways, they share different character traits.  For me, it is like watching a ying and yang of different halves of yourself – if that isn’t too selfish a way of looking at it.

I have never done this before, so I apologise if it is intrusive, but I would love to pass this sentiment on to just some of the bloggers that make the online world so colourful.

First and foremost, my amazing sister-in-law at Marble-Rose.  I can’t really describe how much inspiration and camaraderie I have got from her over the years.  Her beautiful, talented and fun personality has brightened some of the darkest days we have had. I would love to see what photo she would choose.

Nic from Nipitinthebud has been a constant presence and inspiration, and yet I would be intrigued to find out more about her.

Kella from Kellasmusings would have been my next one, but she started it off, so I can’t ask her to be involved.

Kilbournegrove provides me with so much inspiration and house/garden envy from Canada, and I would be intrigued to learn more.

From the Stanley Road allotment site, Alithefrog has a fantastic blog and puts my gardening efforts to shame!

The ScatteredGardener is another brilliant inspirational blogger from sunny South London, and I hope you won’t mind me namechecking you here.

I would also love to pass this to Matron from Downontheallotment, who provides lots of ideas and brilliant competitions that I will enter one day when I have something worth entering!

I hope this brings a bit of cheer to someone during the long winter season.


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Last time I posted about Columbia Road Market, I had forgotten to take my phone or camera, so when we went back today I took some photos of my favourite haunts there.  The iphone isn’t the best camera for a dull day, so I apologise for the quality.

I will start with a general overview of the market, before taking you round some of my favourite haunts.  First and foremost, the Sunday morning market is a fabulously cheap place to pick up plants and flowers.  It’s a gardener’s paradise.

There is a mind-boggling range of market stalls offering everything from bedding plants to seeds to herbs to cut flowers.  It reminds me of Hampton Court Flower Show in the variety and quality of the items for sale, but about half the usual price.  Most of our favourite specimen plants have been lugged back from here at some point in the last 10 years or so.

But although the flowers and plants attracted us there, it is the boutiques and shops that bring us back time after time.  Here are some of my favourites.

First up, the Fleapit, one of the fantastic retro coffee shops in the area.

All the furniture and even the crockery feels like it is straight out of my childhood home.  Well, if my parents had stuck to their original 1970s style, I suppose.

It is a great place to get a home-made cupcake and a coffee to start you off on a cold morning.

First stop after coffee was Vintage Heaven, where they have the most fabulous collection of vintage crockery, kitchenalia and fabrics.

It’s an absolute treasure trove of bits and bobs, and not so expensive that you can’t pick up something quite reasonable to add to your rapidly expanding vintage fabric collection (eek).

This time I got a set of chair covers for some dining room chairs that haven’t made it out of my head into reality yet.

Next up, Treacle the cupcake shop, which is the only reason my girls still get excited about the whole experience.

They definitely have a way with icing and pink sparkles that hits the spot:

The smaller cupcakes are £1.  Although it’s a lot of money for a mouthful of cake, it is worth it for the rapturous reception the girls give it, and the 10 minutes peace and quiet it buys me to browse the other shops and galleries to follow.

Fred Bare, a shop dedicated to interesting handmade hats:

Lots of shops full of vintage inspired nicknacks:

A retro sweet shop:

Beyond Fabrics sell a range of haberdashery supplies and lots of fabrics sold by the metre:

I love the range they have, again many either vintage or retro-inspired designs.

This is really just a very small selection of some of my favourite places.  There are baby boutiques, vintage clothes shops, as well as many places to buy unusual gifts.  It’s very hard to come away without buying anything, but you also bring with you a hoard of ideas and inspiration.

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Apologies for the long break in blogging.  There are various reasons for this, some important and some trivial.  The main one is that I was involved in an accident in November where I lost the end of my right little finger (eek).  I have had various operations since then (including one on Christmas Eve), and I had effectively lost the use of my right arm until now as I was having to wear it in a sling and with a huge bandage.  I am starting to get some use back, and am testing the waters by entering this post, but it is going to be a long road to recovery.  I am tentatively starting to type again, a bit slower than before, but thankfully with less agony than it was late last year.

But enough of that already.  It is now thankfully 2010, and I am making a fresh start on many fronts.  As there is very little to report on the plot at present, I thought I would do a series of some of my favourite pastimes when I can’t do much on the plot.

The cold makes the finger very painful, so there will be very little going on this winter.  Come April there will be a frenzy of activity!  We are trying to move house, so this may be the first year that we are able to grow seedlings in a greenhouse at home.  The reason we haven’t put a greenhouse on the allotment already is that we don’t get to visit reliably as often for watering as I think you need to.  Really for us it needs to be out the backdoor or on a windowsill.

Our flat is now just too small to accomodate the various propagators we have acquired over the years, so we have waited until we get a small garden with at least one sunny spot for a greenhouse.  Anyone who has ever tried to sell and buy a house can imagine how fraught and stressful the whole process is, and so the sooner it happens, the better for our sanity.

Onto the main topic of the day:

Idea 1.  Visit Columbia Road Market

A fabulous market for garden and plant lovers, and well worth a visit to London if you live further away.  Every Sunday morning, rain or shine, the market is a hive of activity, from fantastic value plant and bulb stalls, to flowers seemingly straight from the suppliers.

In addition, the road itself is lined with shops selling vintage and handmade stuff, as well as a sprinkling of unique and interesting cafes.   Nearby at Bethnal Green, is the recently refurbished Museum of Childhood.  The V&A have taken it over and made it a fanastic experience for young and old alike, with vintage toys  from your childhood as well as lots of sensory and play areas for children of all ages.  Well worth a visit while you are in the area.

Photo Gallery of the Museum of Childhood:

Thankfully there are still lots of toys before my time!

My kids still play with these classic building bricks, although the packaging has changed over the years...

Enid Blyton - Essential To Childhood

Snoopy Dog - how many of you remember this one? We had one at home.

Who could forget the story of Dogtanian, which brought serious literature to pre-schoolers?

This set brought back memories that I didn't even know I had until I saw it!

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