Posts Tagged ‘Home and Garden’

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a cottage back garden

black labrador chewing a bone

midsummer sunset

Midsummer? It feels like the year has only just started and yet here we are already. But it was glorious and reminded me why I love this place. Long, light hours of warmth. No wind (a rarity). Supper outside, with Nora by my side gnawing on her bone. Bats silently swooping up and down the lane as the daylight dwindled into a rouge-y sunset, the darkness finally claiming the light around 10.45.

The garden had exploded since the last time I’d seen it, so I’ve had a lot of catching up to do. Last year’s left-over, autumn-sown Higgledy Garden seeds had grown huge while I was away, so I picked as many flowers as were ready, to give the few remaining as much time as possible to develop.

I sowed most of the Higgledy seeds last Spring but scattered some remaining hardy annuals in the Autumn, with the more tender lot going into the ground in the late Spring this year as a bit of an afterthought. They are the tiny ones in the top of the flower pictures below. Rather a long way to go yet.

small raised bed with flowers

Nigella and California poppies in a blue vase

A week later when I’m writing this and the flowers are mostly still going strong. Only the old roses have died. They never last long but to make up for that they smell fantastic.

box of garden flowers

In case this is sounding just a little too lovely, I should add that I also spent hours strimming, and cutting the hedge and sweeping up the bits. This was a lot easier after the big cut Jay did in March but still really hard work with my gammy wrists.

trimming a long hedge

Nora helped with some of the pruning though.

dog chewing a rose

We walked on a very quiet Cothelstone Hill courtesy of the World Cup and Nora kept relatively still while I played with taking a panoramic shot, so we didn’t end up with a ‘dogarpillar’ walking across the view, which I’ve seen online a few times.

Cothelstone Hill panorama

And finally, carelessly picking up the wrong set of keys, I locked myself out and had to go down to the farm and ask for help. Kind Sally, whom I hadn’t met before, came back with me to hold the borrowed ladder while I climbed in through an open upstairs window. If you’re going to get locked out, living up the road from a farm is the best place to be because there’s always someone around. “I thought you must be from Spring Cottage,” she said when she saw me. Probably made a laughing stock of myself now, haven’t I?

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flower trug hanging from nails


shed crop


The woodshed is one of my favourite places at Spring Cottage, although I like all the outhouses, of which there are three; there’s also a garage (used mainly to store gathered wood for kindling) and an ancient stone building known as the wash house.

I’ve worked out that the woodshed’s 1960′s windows used to be the kitchen windows before my predecessor ‘improved’ things with a wide span of double-glazed panes overlooking the fields. The trouble is that the double glazing has let moisture in between the panes, so the build-up of condensation often means you can’t see out as clearly as you might like to. But, that aside, at least the woodshed has some nice windows.

The light is lovely in there on a fine evening, and the building is warm and smells gorgeously woody. The floor is covered with wood-chips, fragments of bark and butterfly wings however much I sweep. I don’t know why so many butterflies seem to meet their ends in here; perhaps they find the log pile a good place to rest.

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I’ve always longed for a garden trug but new ones are really expensive and it’s something you can easily do without. After all, a cardboard box or a plastic basket of some kind work just as well for holding picked flowers until you bring them indoors. Also, until I came to Spring Cottage I didn’t really have any flowers to pick so a trug had to wait. P1010966 Now, however, Spring brings loads of daffodils and other narcissi, and I also plant all kinds of seeds in my cut flower beds specifically to grow things to bring inside. So I’m enjoying a clapped out old trug that I bought last summer at a car boot sale for three quid. It’s a bit brittle and won’t last for ever but I’ve waterproofed it a little by painting it with Danish oil and it now looks as thought it’s a family heirloom, which I much prefer to things being brand new. It kind of goes better with the ancient nature of the cottage, looks suitably rustic hanging in the woodshed, and I can spend the money saved on seeds instead.

The main flowerbeds here are in the front garden, which is at the side of the cottage, if that makes sense. Being at the side, at the gable end of the house, there is no window overlooking it. So I have to bring flowers in if I want to see them more than in passing on the way to the car. in hedge Many of the daffodils have also been planted under the various hedges. Well, they would have originally been under the hedges but now they are in the hedges, the hedges having grown widthways as well as in height over the years. So the daffs need rescuing before they are forced to bend over by the branches sprouting above them. daffodils on windowsill

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water barrel and tapI love allotments; those little patchwork plots in cities, like here on the edge of Bridgwater in Somerset, where people grow vegetables and flowers; where they build sheds and scarecrows out of discarded materials; where they go to relax and unwind by toiling on their actually not so little patches of earth. Turning the overgrown, run to seed dirt into neat rows of sprouting vegetables and fruit.

allotment run to seed

allotment compost heapI think it’s the variety that you find on allotments that appeals to me: neatness, abundance, rot, abandonment and nurture side-by-side in equal measure. I love the textures of the ground, of the buildings, and of the things that are grown. I find them just as satisfying to look at at this time of year as in the fullness of harvest time.

I don’t have an allotment or even aspire to having one, having just one mouth to feed these days, but they’re still very pleasing to look at. It’s like looking at a microcosm of the countryside: tiny little fields, sharing water, battling to outdo each other yet doing completely different things, their keepers annoying each other with their varied methods of cultivation and outcomes.

Allot 4  Allot 6 Allot 7

Allot 5

What do you think? Have you got an allotment or do you want one? Or are you one of those who find them a messy eyesore on their horizon? Are my glasses totally rose-tinted?


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N2 When Nora arrived she was small enough to slip under the gate to the back garden from the little contained area immediately around the house. Fortunately, that didn’t last long and for a few months it was safe to let her out of the back door knowing that she wouldn’t be able to run off and get lost.

Then she became a teenage dog and discovered exploring. Through the hedge she would go, unerringly finding the one section where there was a break in the ancient wire netting embedded in it. Terrifyingly, she would run out into the lane and then stand stock still in the middle of the road ignoring all calls for her to return. Heart stopping, knowing that people bomb down here fairly fast, although it’s often quiet for hours, lulling you into a false sense of security. more fence Then she got even naughtier and started to jump over the ridiculously low back fence and go off foraging for things in the field behind the cottage. The fence was deliberately low, having been put up by my predecessor who favoured the view. Oddly, at that time the field was used for cattle grazing, which was brave or foolhardy of her, depending on your point of view, as she might have had a ton of cow land on her while she was sitting out in the sun. fence Worse than the possibility that Nora would leave an occasional poo among the growing crop was my fear that she would be seen. In the hills, you can see an animal from a long way off when it is the only moving object in a field, so I worried that the farmer would be annoyed that I’d let the dog loose on his land.

So, off I went to buy some wire fencing to temporarily (I hope) constrain her adventurousness until she is old enough to listen when she is told to wait and come down. It’s ugly, much harder to put up than I thought and knackered my hands completely, but it does the job and I hope to be able to take it down in about eighteen months or so.

I do feel rather sad at spoiling her fun as there are a lot of pheasants around at the moment and she’s very curious about them. Nora 1

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Usually, I’m pretty annoyed at hearing machinery on a beautiful morning. However, today the noise I’m listening to is a chap cutting my hedge.

I can’t quite express how happy this makes me after almost five years of cutting the rather long hedge myself, which has been exhausting and quite painful sometimes, as I have carpal tunnel syndrome and, frequently, tennis elbow – the latter most likely as a result of trimming the hedge. Afterwards, I always have a few days of numbness in my hands and pain in my forearms. I try to keep my strength up in the gym but wielding even a light trimmer at arm’s length for several hours takes its toll.

So after all this time the hedge was much taller than I wanted, as I couldn’t really give it the ferocious cuts it needed. And it became harder with each passing year as another couple of inches was added to its height, so Jay is taking a good eight inches off the top of the hedge today.

man cutting hedge

But it’s only waist height, you might be thinking. Indeed, on the garden side, it’s only that high but on the road side it’s probably about eight feet high, so no fear of anyone peering over the top. And that’s part of what’s made it so hard for me to cut, for, in places, it’s not reachable from the garden because of its width. Teetering on a ladder in the path of the traffic has been part of the fun of living here.

Man cutting garden hedge

Of course, Jay has the right equipment: a petrol-fuelled hedge trimmer far heavier than I could wield comfortably for any length of time. I’m rather envious of it though.

fuel for hedge trimmer

An added thrill is the fact that Jay’s parents used to live at Spring Cottage in the 1960s and 70s. They sold it to the woman from whom I bought five years ago. So he was interested to see inside and he was able to fill me in about which improvements his parents had made to the place (the addition of bathroom and kitchen extension, and the demolition of several layers of wall and fireplace to reveal the original inglenook).

hedge cutting

I wonder if it feels odd to Jay to be cutting hedge that was most likely growing here when his parents lived here almost 35 years ago. I’m hoping I can perhaps get to see some photos of the cottage in the old days when he next comes. I find this kind of thing endlessly fascinating.

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Nora has been helping in the garden: she’s been digging…

dog digging





watering… although some of that is me getting rid of her puddles…


and generally having a whale of a time.

dog playing with flowerpot




Thankfully it’s the end of the growing season, and most of the less established plants that I couldn’t move were either rescued from Homebase’s discounted section or cheap purchases from Morrison’s that I put in quickly to make the garden prettier for the Boy’s visit in the summer. (I should really start calling him the Man, given that he’s now 25 (and a half) but that just sounds weird.)



But there are still some pretty things and this phase won’t last forever. I can see from the pictures – the ones where she isn’t wearing a collar are from last week – how much she has grown.


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I have the impression that people think that I swan around doing nothing when I’m here. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, sometimes it feels like my sole purpose is to keep the place going. So, amongst the many boring, practical things I’ve done in the house and garden this week, I’ve finally managed to tick something very, very dull off my To Do list.


For a small property (20 perch, an ancient measure that amounts to a bit less than an acre), Spring Cottage has too many gates. Six to be exact. That’s because there’s a front and a back garden, and a kind of inner sanctum, which I can only imagine was once necessary for a previous resident to keep non-flying and non-feline animals in the garden out of the area closest to the house, or to keep something domestic out of the grassy and flowery bits. I wish I knew.IMG_3075



Obsessing about my gates really does make me sound extremely small minded, doesn’t it? I can hear the click of people closing their browser windows and going elsewhere.

But, with the amount of rain we’ve had here in the last couple of years and the constant storms of mud and dust unleashed by the traffic in the lane, the gates were looking hideously dirty and covered in mildew, instead of shiny and black. The countryside is a filthy place. City dwellers with nice pavements outside their houses have no idea. I certainly didn’t before I came here.

Plus, every time I had to go through a gate I made a depressing mental note that they looked horrible and made the place look unnecessarily run down and, most of all, that I still hadn’t taken the time to clean them. But life really felt too short most of the time.

And yet, I always forget how keeping on top of things like this actually cheers me up. For a compulsive maker of lists, there’s nothing worse than not doing the things on them.


Anyway, over the last couple of days I finally took cleaning cloths and a brush to my multitude of gates, only a couple at a time because they’re quite fiddly. Now every time I go through one I feel happier and can stop beating myself up. And because I was so pleased with myself I also cleaned the windows, using a copy of The Sun someone had left here – almost the best use I’ve put it to so far, other than using it to start the fire.


And here is lucky gate number seven, not mine so I don’t really count it, which is fortunate because it’s falling over.


And that’s where my houseproudness ends as I’m sure I’m not going to have time to do much in the next little while because on Saturday, we are getting a puppy. But that’s another story.

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After last year’s debacle with the non-growing vegetables that yielded about six carrots and a few lettuce leaves, I decided to try growing cut flowers instead.

small plot of flowers

The space in the garden for growing things is intentionally very limited, since tending time is spread out and infrequent. It’s rather like having a very inconvenient allotment rather than a back garden. But it has, nonetheless, been relatively successful this year.

Plot 1

Of course, some things didn’t grow at all and others did very well. But overall the amount of flowers was just right. Not overwhelmingly many – although it would have been nice to have had a few more to give away – and not so few that I regretted cutting them. Having a plot just for growing flowers for cutting means that you don’t feel guilty about removing from the garden, and the insects, what is rightfully theirs.

yellow 2

yellow 1

The seeds came from Higgledy Garden with a lovely, handwritten letter from Ben Ranyard. He only supplies seed that he has produced himself on his plot in Cornwall and, although he has only just moved there from Cambridgeshire (I think), that’s proof that things will grow in this part of the world, maybe even on my exposed hillside.

gyp and field scab

gyp and field scab

I planted about half of each seed packet, not bothering to sow inside first and then plant out. They just went straight into the ground on a windy and wet, late May morning in little rows, the order of which I noted (applause!) and that quite coincidentally went from A to Z from left to right. The seed packets weren’t marked with sowing instructions and I should have taken more care to look at Ben’s excellent online guides than I did but, given my rather hit and miss approach, I’ve been very pleased with the results.

phlox 2


My favourite has been the phlox, which has an old-fashioned, cottagey look about it and, yet, is quite geometric and modern looking. The ammi majus (kind of delicate cow parsley), eschscholzia (California poppies), nigella and gypsophila have been great, and I’ve completely loved the tall, dark purple cornflowers, which were substituted for the blue that I ordered (I’m very happy about that as they’ve been stunning). The lupins came up and were eaten before I even managed to see them, which wasn’t their fault but mine. The cosmos purity, which should have grown well, have disappointingly managed only one flower so far. The zinnias are only just starting to grow, so the pack of spring sowing varieties have been well spread out over the summer months, which has been perfect.

dark 2

dark 1

I’ve got some seed over for next year, if it’ll keep that long, and have separated out the hardy annuals for sowing next month for next spring. That’s really something to look forward to.

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IMG_2363 IMG_2362 IMG_2361

I do love this garden in the Spring.

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My little kitchen in the hills, with views into the back garden and across the fields. Nothing special. A bit messy but bright and cheerful. It’s full of light and garish colours, unlike the rest of the house.

Blogging a lot, saying little. Not sure what that’s about. Maybe wanting to be somewhere I’m not.

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Just after nine in the morning. I’ve already walked across the park, had breakfast and coffee. No work until tomorrow.

I say goodbye to the Girl today. When I next see her, she will have finished her degree. It feels as though it’s barely five minutes since she started secondary school… lost her first tooth… was born. The Boy is dreaming of going to Australia.

And I am here.

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There’s something so lovely about a daffodil. They are so welcoming and so joyful, and so totally appropriate for Spring.

One of the lovely things about this garden is the sheer variety of daffodil-like flowers that appear at this time of year. I think there are about ten types of narcissi out there. I don’t know the names of any of them as I owe them all to my predecessor here.

different varieties of narcissi

As soon as one type has ‘gone over’ another pops up and so they continue for a few weeks. They grow in the flower beds in the front garden, on the lawn and the banks in the back garden as above, and at the back and front of the house.


I’ve just had a good rummage about at Peter Nyssen and found that I have a pretty good cross section of the different types available. Had to log out of there quickly before I bought something…

more types of narcissi

The ones I find the least successful are those that are really fancy – double headed cream-coloured ones – in the picture below, with their second flower not yet open. They look a bit washed out compared to their brighter, more exuberant cousins but it could also be that they are planted where they look a little lost in the bare earth of a bed not yet colonised by alchemilla mollis and strawberries.

double headed narcissi

At this time of year, I buy a bunch of daffodils almost every time I leave the house if I’m not in the country. They are just so cheerful that I want to fill every room with them.

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When I was in Stockholm, I was lucky enough to be able to stay with a family who live there. This is so much nicer than staying in a hotel because you get a real idea of what living somewhere is like.

You can feel the rhythms of the day as the trams pass by and the children go off to school, instead of being stuck in the centre of town all the time.

Many Swedes have a great sense of panache when it comes to decorating their houses. I always come back full of ideas and plans for my own home.

So many months of the year are so dark in Scandinavia, that the Swedes embrace light as much as they can. Windows are rarely curtained and usually have wide shelves or windowsills, on which live lights, candles and flowers.

More than anything, the Swedes really love their ljus – candles. As you travel through cities and countryside, windows are most often beautifully lit displays of light and warmth. Of course, it helps that they usually have much better windows and insulation than we do in the UK. So draughts and heat loss through glass isn’t a problem.

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It’s cold. The sky is clear. Inside is best tonight.



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