So, that’s dark and dreary January over. Thank goodness. February here may still be dreary but at least the days are getting longer in soggy England. February hasn’t gone well so far for us. Only three days old and already three bad things have happened. First, a close family member on my husband’s side has passed on. The next we heard some other bad news which upset us both. And this morning,… click to read more
Hello Blog Readers
I’m back after a long break despite good intentions earlier this year to blog more frequently. Life has been chaotic in the Domino household since March with many setbacks, medical issues and other matters of which I shan’t bore you about, suffice to say we are now back to normal. I think. Well, as least as normal as it can be here.
Sadly, a brief summer seems to have passed us by and autumn is well and truly on the wind. The leaves are turning and dropping already and most of the garden flowers spent although a few are maintaining a colourful display. To be honest, it’s been looking quite good these past few months thanks to the extra effort put in by the other half now he’s retired. At the moment he’s busy putting up new soffits and guttering around the man-cave before winter exerts another toll upon the tools and man toys.
As for me, I’ve had a few setbacks and disappointments but none that cannot be overcome and move forward from. I’ve even managed to create some artwork this summer and can boast three on public display in a nearby town venue.
I’ve also had a few shocks this summer, the biggest being when one day the other half requested curry and rice for dinner. Curry? Is he serious? Oh, and can I put apple and sultanas in it too? In all of our 42 years together he’s never once asked for a curry, let alone eaten one. He’s always moaned and grumbled and groaned whenever I’ve had one out, even if simply chips with curry sauce! Okay, so who is this man and what have you done with the real Dave? So a mild chicken curry I made. Well, I say made, it was made using a Korma curry sauce curtesy of Aldi. And golly good it was too. And now a regular on the Friday lunch menu. Talking of menus…
As you are probably aware, or not, I am a great lover of Greek food. Greek anything, in fact. And sadly, I haven’t been able to get to Greece now for several years, the past two years with no holiday at all! (Can hear the violins playing already.) I love the dips, especially tzatziki and hummus but those ready-made ones from supermarkets are just not the same. I had a deep craving for hummus one balmy week in June but didn’t dare make one as Dave is allergic to garlic. The smell, the taste and the thought. He goes ape. He can’t stand it. What to do…? How to curb such a want. Dare I attempt to make one?
Yup. I picked up a couple of tins of chickpeas, opened one, read the instructions how to make – easy enough and blitzed away minus the garlic. It tasted bland, it tasted dull, it tasted … of nothing. Then came a lightbulb moment. Now, it might seem obvious to you but it wasn’t to me until that moment. I added a dollop of roasted onion chutney to the mixture and voilà. Wonderful roast onion hummus I could eat until the cows came home, well… until it was all gone, without him moaning and groaning about it. It would have been even better with some garlic, but hey ho, this little beggar can’t have it all ways and this was better than none at all. So here’s the recipe.
1 400g tin of cooked chickpeas – drained and rinsed.
2 teaspoons of tahini
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
3 tablespoons of olive oil
Put all the ingredients into a food processor and whizz to desired consistency.
Then add 1 tablespoon of onion chutney and blitz for a few seconds, add more lemon juice/oil/chutney to taste.
It even freezes well too.
Shame I can’t get Dave to try it. Perhaps one day he’ll surprise me again.
Why does everything seem to come in threes? Is it magic number? We have the Three Stooges; plants should be grouped in threes; the Holy Trinity; the three wise men, traffic lights – red, amber, green; clothes, especially for babies: one on, one off and one in the wash; pre-packed meat in supermarkets, chops always seem to be in threes, not one or two or even four … Click here to read on
So, it’s the middle of February, and the middle of winter, the spring equinox still some six weeks away. Yet here in the West of England spring has well and truly arrived today. Gone are the chilling winds, the grey leaden sky, the snow, the sleet and the rain. Today the sun is shining, the central heating off as the temperature rises, and out in the garden flowers are everywhere.
The first to greet any visitor to the house is the front lawn along the driveway – a technicolour mass of white snowdrops that are self-seeding and thus multiplying each year, and crocus popping up everywhere in many shades and hues of blue, violet and yellow, and with the sun out today, the flowers are fully open. Wonderful! I even noticed the first yellow flower, just one mind, on the forsythia hedge. There’s a yellow haze on the hedge which means it will not be long before it, too, bursts into full golden glory.
Out in the rear garden, cyclamen are in flower along with most of the red hued hellebores; the white clumps are still in bud but should be fully open by next weekend. I love hellebores, the flowers last for weeks. I sometimes pick a few flowerheads and float them in a pretty glass dish of water indoors so we can admire the flowers. In the garden, most varieties always have their heads down. I might try a plant in a hanging basket next winter and see how it fairs.
Already some of the daffodils are open too, the majority of which are the small, dwarf types. The stock of these has been building up over several years as I am wont to buy small pots of them in the supermarket each week instead of buying bunches of, as I used to. My sister gave me the idea of buying the potted ones for indoors and then after they have finished flowering, to plant them in the garden for next year. Now why didn’t I think of doing that sooner?
If the weather forecasters are right, next week here is going to be even more mild and bright so I shall have to get my skates on (no, forget skates, snow’s gone…) garden shoes on and bring the rest of the garden to life. There’s much tidying, pruning, dead stem pulling, general clearing and maintenance to do. Already there are fresh leaf buds on the clematis and honeysuckle, things are moving fast. I shall be popping outside everyday looking to see what else is coming up.
It’s such a delight hearing the birds singing in the early morning. The dawn chorus always gets me off to a good start knowing the dark days are behind us. And to think, before much longer I shall be able to enjoy coffee and breakfast in the garden again. Yippee!
Slowly, imperceptibly, Earth has tilted towards winter again, and as the clocks are forced backwards an hour, daylight increasingly less and less, my garden is still proving to be a delight. The start of this month in the UK has been dismal and grey, however, this morning the sun is out and before my backyard is plunged into shadow for the remainder of the day and the year, I ventured outside with the camera to capture the garden’s last flush before tonight’s frost plunges it into hibernation… Read the full story at Over The BackYard Fence.
Whilst my husband would say I’ve wasted most of this morning, it’s his fault — he bought me the bird feeding station. This morning especially, it’s brought me and the birds a lot of pleasure. I am a bird watcher (not a twitcher), I just love watching them. They are fascinating.
This is the first winter I’ve had the station and the amount of birds drawn into the garden has been wonderful. I’ve always fed the birds — they need help in all seasons — and I’ve always had a flock of sparrows here along with a dunnock, blackbird, wren and blue tits year round. Winter always brings in a blackcap or two, the familiar robin, and occasional thrush and redwings depending on how cold the weather is. This season hasn’t been particularly cold, certainly no snow here (thankfully), yet the birdlife is booming.
This morning I’ve spent over an hour watching two wrens whereas normally only see one darting in and out of the shrubbery. This morning they are gorging themselves on insects and grubs they find in the various flower troughs of bulbs and pansies around the koi pond. It’s such a pity the zoom on my camera isn’t good enough to capture them. One of them has been singing his heart out most of the morning, a gloriously loud song from such a tiny bird.
The robin sees off the blackcap but ignores all the other birds, while the blackcap will see off the sparrows, who generally ignore everyone else. Meanwhile, the dunnock will mind his own business and quite happy to rummage about the undergrowth in search of his fill. At first glance he is very much like a sparrow to look at, but has different coloured legs and behaviour and is always on his own. I’ve never seen him feed off the station, but always pecking on the ground beneath it.
Four blue tits are frequently flitting to and from the peanut feeder and occasionally feasting on the crumbs and bits on the plate feeder; three great tits are also flying in every so often to feed.
Then there’s Waggy, a pied wagtail that struts his stuff around the garden as if he owns it, ignoring the other birds but he’s very nervous and will fly off at any sudden noise or movement.
Instead of just one blackbird, there are four males in the garden this year, two in particular are always together. Despite this, they maintain a distance from each other where the food is concerned, one chasing off the other from his favourite feeding spot. So far, all the bulbs poking through— the hyacinths and bluebells, have been left alone by the slugs and snails, although I’m finding lots of empty snails shells. Thank you, blackbirds. I hope you stay during the rest of the year and keep these pesky pests in control. The snails decimated my hostas last summer despite an all out attack by me. Believe me, eggs shells, grit, coffee don’t work!
A short while ago, a noisy flock of seven long-tailed tits flew in, pecked and fed on the feeder and in the shrubbery before flying off again.
Other rare visitors today were a pair of goldfinches who munched at the seed feeder for several minutes before moving on. Beautiful birds which rarely come into the garden. Wished they’d call more often.
I’ve observed some interesting behaviour from the magpies too today. I know they like shiny things and will steal and hoard them but one here this morning has been taking large beakfulls of food (crumbs and bacon rind) and burying it elsewhere in the garden. I’ve watched him drop the food into various holes on the bare veg patch, then pick up a large stone and drop it in the hole before placing a large twig across the hole, like some sort of marker. I never knew they did this, and am interested to see if and when he comes back to claim his treasure. I don’t mind the magpies as they see off the pigeons, of which we are plagued with here.
So, maybe to some it was a wasted few hours when I should have been doing other more productive things but I don’t care, for what is life if for several minutes we cannot stand and stare and enjoy the beauty in nature around us.
Right, off to make coffee and wile away another half-hour watching the birds.
It’s hard believing October is nearly at an end, that the clocks went back an hour last weekend and that it’s only some eight weeks to Christmas, especially when this morning I found myself sitting in the garden, drinking coffee and enjoying the birds and the sunshine, and most of all the unseasonally warm temperature here at 9 o’clock this morning. Unheard of for this time of year in England! The garden borders are still looking good, with cosmos (I’ve never known it grow so tall – over 5ft) and dahlias, coreopsis and fuchsias still in a profusion of bloom, even a carnation poking its scarlet head through the flowering oestospermums and the rudebekias are still going strong. Not a breath of wind either, which is most unusual for this garden as we’re high up and invariably there’s always a wind blowing.
With a second cup of coffee in hand, I watched the robin who’s claimed the garden as his home flit from seed feeder to bird bathe to flowerbeds in his busy hunt for food. He’s getting quite tame now, and even before I’ve turned away from filling up bird tray on the stand each morning, he’s there picking out his favourite morsels from the oats, suet and mealworms before the greedy starlings flock in. A quick drink and he’s up in the holly tree chirping his heart out in competition with the two wrens sitting in the ivy – such little birds with loud voices and beautiful songs. Anyone would think it was spring instead of approaching winter. A pleasant two hours spent listening to the birds chattering, the sparrows vying for a place on the perch of the seed feeder.
But two hours was all I could spend there today, not because of the things indoors I had to do but because at this time of year, the sun has left the patio by 10 o’clock, thrusting the garden into shade for the rest of the day. Another week or so and there will be no sun at all in my back garden until March, so I made the most of it before going back inside and sorting the washing, find the vacuum and the duster. I found them, but then couldn’t be arsed to do any housework. Perhaps tomorrow. Perhaps it will be too cold to sit outside. Perhaps it will be cold enough to turn on the central heating, put on an extra layer of clothing and think of the glorious days we’ve had this summer. On the other hand…
We might now be in August, but you certainly wouldn’t believe it with the weather the last few days; there’s a distinct autumnal chill in the air early mornings and not warm enough (for me) to sit outside, but the forecasters say it is only a blip. Meanwhile, thanks to the wonderful invention of photography, I can at least sit back and admire the garden as it’s been these past few months – it’s been glorious!
It’s been one of our best for colour. Dave and I love colour; not for us the subtle tones and pastels as we love big and bold and bright and the unusual. We happily plant pink and yellow flowers together – they look great and, let’s be honest here, nature doesn’t pick and choose and colour co-ordinate. And the yellow rudbeckia planted next to a pink phlox and overhung with a blue clematis works for me!
This year we have planted the hanging baskets and pots with begonias, the showy, blousy sort I never used to like but I have been converted. It is a pity the winds and heavy rains of recent days have knocked them about a bit but they should recover. The dahlias, many of which have been grown from last year’s seeds, have not failed us. The bees love them and so do we.
Other plants in pots include pelargoniums (or geraniums as they used to be called), particularly pink ones, and complimented by black pansies. These have proved a lovely foil for many plants and ones we will grow next year.
Also we’ve included lots of white nicotianias in the borders. Not by design, more by luck. These have all germinated from those we grew in planters last year – plants for free and, again, a perfect backdrop to bring the colours of other plants particularly in the shadier parts of the garden.
Best of all has been the wild flowers. A couple of packets of seeds strewn in the bare patches where I have removed unwanted or thug plants and bingo! A plethora of flowers have been growing non-stop for weeks.
Many of these wild flowers I do not recognise, others I’ve not seen for many a year, and I shall let them all set seed and fling themselves around the garden in the hope they will come again next year. Plants such as corn cockles, marigolds, love-in-a-mist (white, pink and various shades of blue), candy tufts and violas, snapdragons (although I know them as bunny rabbits!), cornflowers in blue and pink, poppies and many, many more I do not know and need to find out. I just hope I can buy the same seed mix next year.
The bees and insects have been loving all this although what is missing is the numbers of butterflies seen, way down from last year. Just a few red admirals and painted ladies, the odd comma, spotted wood, a holly blue, and very few cabbage whites – a good thing as it’s meant there’s been few eggs laid on the nasturtiums and thus no caterpillars to destroy the leaves, that’s been left for me to cut back to allow the flowers to be seen. I wonder if the lack of butterflies after last year’s plethora has been caused by the wet spring we had. There must have been lots eggs, chrysalises and caterpillars about. Did most get washed away, drowned or destroyed in the floods and rain?
On the plus side, I’ve had many birds visiting, thanks in part to the new feeding station, but also I think because of the extra insects thanks to the wild flowers. Apart from my resident sparrow flock, now numbering over 30 that congregate and sleep in my firethorn, along with the usual robin, blackbirds, wren and tits always flitting about, I’ve had goldfinches and chiff chaffs as regular visitors this year.
Yes, it’s been a good summer so far and there’s much still to come. It’ll soon be time to gather stock and decide what add, what to move or to change for next year. I’m hoping the sun will come back soon so I can put my feet up sitting in the shade on the patio, enjoying the sights, smells and sounds of my little patch of heaven.
…well, maybe not 101, but there’s certainly more to this fruit than sliced in a salad. And yes, cucumbers are fruits.
This year, we’ve grown a dwarf variety, two plants which are cropping ridiculously well. If we’d only grown one plant, it would surely have died, as in previous years, but this summer we are awash with them, cropping 5-6 a day. The Bee Gees may have had a Cucumber Castle (how many of you can recall that film, I wonder?) but we have a cucumber mountain!
I’m all for eating 5 a day, but I don’t think that it meant 5 cucumbers! Oh heck, what to do with them all? I’ve given plenty away, and eating the rest as best and as fast I can in the hope that like the cucumber, it will make me tall and thin, and most probably turning green as a result.
My dear English granny would always and only serve cucs thinly sliced and soaking in malt vinegar – not for me. It seems that was the only way the British ate them, apart from sliced into thin, brown bread sandwiches so beloved of the English garden party and tea at the Ritz!
These cucs, as fat as the normal ones but only much shorter, are too big to pickle and preserve like gherkins, so apart from making tons one of my favourite Greek dishes -tzatziki (yogurt, crushed garlic, and cucumber) and adding them to every sandwich and salad, I’m also been happy to use them as a side dish vegetable with a cooked meal. You may wonder if I’ve gone a little mad, but this dish is one eaten often in Germany, and one my mother showed me how to prepare. It’s simple and delicious and goes very well with hot food such as casseroles or steak or chicken (think KFC chicken with coleslaw). It’s especially good with fish dishes and one I always make when serving trout.
Simply peel cuc and thinly slice, add a finely chopped onion, and toss in mayonnaise. Serve within half-an-hour or the water in the cuc will thin down the mayo too much. If you do want to make this more in advance, slice the cuc, put into a colander, sprinkle with salt, and press down with a heavy weight, ie a brick on a plate, to extract the juice. Then, before adding the other two ingredients, pat the cuc slices dry on a clean tea towel or kitchen paper.
That still leaves me with a mountain to conquer, so yesterday I attempted making cucumber soup. If leek and potato soup can be eaten hot or cold (even if it is renamed vichyssoise), I thought why not give it a go. I love cold soups, gazpacho being a favourite frequently made in the summer. Cuc soup didn’t disappoint. Hot or cold, it was lovely and simple to make. I enjoy making soups as you can use anything and especially useful in using up those bits and pieces lurking in the fridge. As long as you have the basics: potato and onion, you don’t have to fuss with weighing and measuring everything either.
Using approximately equal volumes of cucumber, potato and onions (spring onions, including the green parts, also work) simply the peel the two veg, chop into chunks then sweat these two in saucepan in a little butter or oil for a few minutes before adding cubed cuc – no need to peel.
Add enough water or vegetable stock to cover (I used the water my runner beans were cooked in the previous day – full of goodness and flavour), place lid on saucepan and bring to a gentle boil before turning down heat to a simmer for approx. 10 to 15 mins or until veg and cuc tender. Then add in some chopped lettuce, such as cos or little gem, and cook for a further 5 mins.
Add salt and pepper to taste and if you wish, a flurry of chopped fresh parsley. Allow to cool slightly before blitzing with blender until smooth. Serve hot or cold with a swirl of cream or yoghurt. If reheating, do not allow to boil.
This is one I will definitely be making again.
SURPRISE! Have you missed me? Where has the time gone? Actually, it’s gone so blooming quickly I can’t believe my last blog post was September 2013. So much has happened and gone on it’s difficult to know where to begin. I won’t bother you too much with details, suffice to say if you really want to catch up with what’s been happening in my world these past months, you are more than welcome to pop your head Over The Backyard Fence and read my monthly missives there.
It’s been a chaotic and difficult time, I have to admit, a few health issues, a major project that I’ve been working on and keeping under wraps, as well as a few problems and incidents plus a major, milestone birthday earlier this year, all of which left me feeling very depleted and down. I’m not by nature a person to succumb to depression but I did hit a low point, only to bounce slowly back. The warm weather now has certainly helped, and as I sit in the garden typing this, I can honestly say, “I’m back!”
It’s not been all doom and gloom – my life’s not like that. On the plus side, I’ve sold several paintings and, fingers and paint brushes crossed, hopefully secured a commission for a large landscape, so watch this space. I’ve created a new blog/website for my art, due to go live in the next few weeks, and meanwhile have been working hard finishing a novel or two – “Finishing”, being the operative word. The past few months have been a time for reflection, evaluation and redefining the path my life is taking and I am now at the point where I am moving forward, taking a different route, and getting back to enjoying life to the full.
You might have noticed I’ve dropped off the radar on Twitter too. I think I got bored with it, plus it takes up sooo much time and nothing achieved or gained. I mean, doesn’t anyone “talk” on Twitter any more? All I see is a constant bombardment of “Buy my book”, or words to that effect. What’s happened to all the jokes and fun and light hearted banter that used to go on? – which was why I joined in the first place. Okay, I’m a writer too and a book person, but I don’t want books, books, books 24/7. The same with Facebook. Okay, most of the changes there are FB’s own doing. They keep changing it, moving things around and, well, ruining what was a good thing. Not much I can do about that.
So, what do I have planned for my blog? A promise (to myself) to blog more often, to get back to writing about the things that are important to me and articles on any subject which I hope will be of interest to my readers. I’ve some recipes to put up, gardening features and, well, back to what it was when I first began.
I mentioned I’m in my garden. It’s had a bit of sorting out year, with many shrubs pulled out, plants divided and moved and it’s beginning to come into its summer glory thanks to a packet of wild flower seeds costing £1 from Lidl, and scattered all around the garden. I think every seed has come up and with a promise of much more to come. Will certainly buy that again. I haven’t done as much to it as I’d planned though – lousy weather and lousy joints have put paid to a lot of that, and the cost of shrubs in the garden centres – extortionate this year! Still, there’s always next and I already have a lot mapped out for spring 2015. I’ve also got a new bird feeder which the birds are loving and I love because it brings them much closer to the patio and means in winter I won’t have to venture across muddy, wet, frozen grass to get to.
Well, that’s about it for now. Hope you all come back soon.
It’s been ages since I last blogged here but life and business have been hectic with little free time despite the virtual holiday I had last month (you can read all about that here!) Summer is now heading towards autumn (boo hoo) but what a glorious one it’s turned out to be here in the UK and the garden has certainly rewarded us with its glory.
To think we went from this:
Last year’s weather was a washout and this year was forecast to be the same yet Mother Nature has a way of recovering and boy, did she! From a superb display of daffodils and stupendous tulips:
to being eventually entertained, if about a month late, with the most wonderful array of poppies, peonies and foxgloves leading into a hot, colourful display all round. One foxglove grew to over 6 foot tall.
But not everything faired well. The fuchsias haven’t been good, the columbines peaked all at once and were over within a week and my two tall, all-summer-long varieties were blown over in the strong winds we have here. As the plants flourished, so did the snails to decimate my hostas – their leaves are like lace curtains although the flower spikes survived. We aren’t plagued with slugs, thankfully. We have an army of frogs that keeps them in check. The roses have re-bloomed three times now, and we have never had such a glorious or long display of sweet peas. I’m still picking them.
The rear garden is still dazzling splash of colour with many pots and hanging baskets,
and the new lilies we found, in red, yellow and white, were exotic but each flower only lasted a day.
The good weather enabled me to get in the garden more, enjoy my early 7:00 am coffee out there and it’s been wonderful being able to sit outside all day and work whilst enjoying the sights, sounds and perfumes.
Along with the glorious flowers we have taken much pleasure this year in the wildlife that’s come back to the garden. We came across our first slow worm for many a year, although he nearly got chopped up by the lawnmower!
Dragonflies have been in abundance, as have the butterflies (read more about the butterflies in Over the Backyard Fence), moths including the fascinating humming bird hawk moth, crickets and bees – I never realised there were so many different sizes and varieties of bumble bees, from tiny “baby” ones to huge fat, long haired ginger ones. Certainly no shortage in my garden.
What we haven’t had this year is the plague of flying ants we normally get in July, nor wasps.
Soon it will be time to put it all to bed and dream of next summer. I’ve great plans for the garden. Much has to come out as it has become crowded, many larger plants need dividing, ie the astilbe and hosta, most of the irises and crocosmia will be thinned out so I can put in a wider variety of perennials and shrubs, and several larger shrubs must come out altogether as they are taking up too much room and creating far too much shade, apart from which they are not the colour they were supposed to be when purchased, but they have served their purpose and given the birds handy perches whilst waiting to feed.
Ooops, spoke too soon. A wasp has just landed in my glass of wine. Oh well, at least he’s died happy and merry. Best go and get rid of him and refill my glass.
So cheers, here’s to a wonderful summer. Thank you, garden, for giving me such a good one this year.
It’s official. I hate winter. Always have. Always will. I hate always being cold – but I’m that during the summer too, even my husband will tell you I’m the only one he knows who can be under a tropical sun on a beach in Barbados and still have goosebumps! I hate wearing layers and layers of clothes which, in turn, means there’s far more washing in the winter, and how the hell are you supposed to get it all dry? Thank goodness for the tumble drier. No, I much prefer to feel the sun on my skin, only happy when I can wander about all day in a floaty cotton kaftan, when I’m not hungry all the time, and when don’t have to rush to the loo every five minutes to spend a penny.
And pretty as it might look, I absolutely hate snow. We’ve had our fill here yet more is forecast this weekend. The only good thing about snow is that it makes for some nice landscapes to paint.
So, thank goodness January is over, always the worst month of the year, and we are now into February. On the first of this month, the snow had melted, the sun was out and it was mild, so I took a walk around the country estate garden, to see what was happening. And joy of joys, the snowdrops were out, as were some crocus. Last year, these were in flower on New Year’s Day, so they are only one month late.
The daffodils by the hedge stood a foot high and buds showing that first tinge of yellow. The hellebores were nodding their pretty mauve, red, white and two-tone heads and the primroses were out. The hyacinths were up, as were the first leaves of the bluebells.
In few weeks the forsythia hedge will be blossoming, and I see as I look through the gap between the houses opposite to the wood, the trees are showing hints of green. Yes, spring is definitely edging in. Yippee. And in a few more weeks’ time, hopefully, I can enjoy breakfast and morning coffee in the garden again. Bring it on, I say!
It’s almost time for my husband to return to work following his hip replacement, which has gone so well even his surgeon is surprised how swiftly he’s recovered. Four weeks ago Dave was tamping at the bit, bored and anxious to return to his job, but both his surgeon and GP were adamant he takes the full 12 weeks’ recuperation. After the glorious weather we’ve been having here in the UK this week, I don’t think he’ll be so keen to return to the 7-til-7 schedule. Particularly after days like today.
We are, as you probably are aware, keen gardeners and our patio already resembles the local garden centre, full of row upon row of seed trays and bedding plants waiting to be planted out, and the greenhouse is stacked almost to the roof with shelves of plants, so many in fact, you cannot actually get in the thing, and have to be careful how you open the door. So, with little else to do now until we are clear of frosts, he decides today he wants to go somewhere, go for a drive. I had other things planned, but heck, when he says he fancies going out, I don’t argue, equally eager to take a day away from the computer screen to enjoy the sun.
We headed for our favourite garden centre some 30 miles away deep in the Gloucestershire countryside, where we couldn’t resist buying a few more plants. But neither of us can stop at one – garden centre, that is. And with the boot of the car (good job it is a small one) full of plants and several on the rear floor inside, we set of for another. And then another. The pleasure isn’t just the plants and the looking and loitering, the planning and imagining, deciding shall we, shan’t we; it’s the actual drive we enjoy the most, and the Gloucestershire countryside in Spring is glorious. Dave knows lots of little side roads to take, bypassing the busy main roads, up and down valleys, round steep hills and narrow, stonewalled lanes, where we jealously admire the honey-coloured houses set in acres of green fields full of springy, bouncy lambs (aah) and steeped banked verges in an early flush of bluebells, green shoots of wild garlic, and blossom and drifts of daffodils and primroses.
We stop in a small village shop and buy pasties and Coke and treat ourselves to a couple of pastries and then drive further on to pull up on the verge of a quiet lane with views overlooking a cascade of small lakes, turn off the engine, open the windows, and with silence except for birdsong, we enjoy our impromptu picnic watching robins, chaffinches, thrushes and bluetits in the trees, and pheasants strutting their stuff across the fields. I’ve never seen so many gathered at once. Stupid birds but so beautiful, elegant and graceful. Except when they try to fly, usually straight at the car.
As well as a love of bluebells, I also have a passion for lavender and my three pots on our front garden have taken a hammering this winter, so Dave drives to the Lavender Gardens near Ozleworth. I only wanted three plants, but we end up buying nine, three for each pot.
Finally arriving back home, relaxed and happy, we settle in the garden with a couple of G&Ts (me) coffee (him) and reflect on what has been a perfect day, even more so as I don’t have to prepare a cooked meal as we are both still replete from our lunch. “If this is retirement, bring it on,” Dave says. Going back to work is going to be hard for him. At least he only has another nine months to endure. Then we can enjoy a lot more days out together – days like today.
So, here we are into February already. A full 12 months of not having to the do the 9-to-5, and loving it. But what has 2012 brought already? Well, apart from the cold setting in now, quite a bit to the Domino household.
I’ve become a Great Auntie again. My niece, whose baby shower I attended at the beginning of the year, gave birth to a beautiful little girl – Evie Faith. I am so looking forward to my first cuddle.
Talking of the cold, New Year’s Day was greeted by the first of this year’s crocus in bloom on the front lawn. A few days later, several clumps of snowdrops appeared and now all along my drive is a sea of flowers which, with the sun on them, open out brightening the day and putting smiles on passers-by faces. The hellebores are about to open too, only today after last night’s heavy frost, they are hanging limp and forlorn. But they will pick up again. I hope.
I’m close to completing the final edits of one of my novels, ready to be published soon. It is actually quite scary after all this time to be on the brink again. Like being on the edge of a precipice – will I fly or will I fall? But then, that’s me … always nervous, always shy.
There has been one other major event in my household in January. On the 12th, my husband underwent a hip replacement operation. He’s doing okay now, but we did have a few “difficult” days whilst he was in hospital and shortly after he eventually came home. I won’t bore you with all the details as I don’t want this to be a moan, suffice to say one ward care assistant is no longer employed at our local hospital thanks to her lack of due diligence and neglect of care.
Today he managed to walk to our doctors and back on his own with the aid of only one walking stick instead of two, and yesterday was able to make us both a coffee and carry it through to me. He still needs a lot of help with washing and dressing and getting into bed, and still eating a lot of painkillers, but it is early days. Thankfully, he has been fitted with a ceramic hip joint, not a metal one like there’s been all the fuss about lately; you may have heard. This because he is still relatively young, still working and very fit. (Time now to look away if you are squeamish!)
He did rather grin widely when he saw on the medical form he collected today what our GP had written beside Likely Date Fit For Work Again: June 2012. The smile soon fell away when I reminded him he doesn’t get sick leave pay from his company, only SSP. Apart from which, I know him only too well. Come March he will be itching to get out and do some gardening, and by then he will also be missing his job and friends at work. I’ll give it until April. You can’t keep a good man down for long!
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The Earth has turned another full circle and in a private corner of southern England I sit enjoying the warmth from the sun on the patio whilst I drink my mid morning coffee and reflect on a summer blown too early into autumn. A chill wind has forced the Bishop to lay spreadeagled across the lawn although his scarlet-red flowers are still vivid and bright, many more still to open. The hanging baskets are forlorn and limp, ripped by the wind, the last few flowers holding on in a blaze of orange and purple. The geraniums in pots around the koi pond and patio are still wonderful in fiery splashes of red and white and pink. Yellow, red and orange nasturtiums light up pansies and begonias against background foliage; whilst under the shrubs, wild cyclamen poke out their white heads, a sure herald of the shortening days.
I’ve seen far more creatures in the garden this year but perhaps that is because I have had the time to sit back and look more than in previous summers. Butterflies have visited in profusion. Red admirals, peacocks and commas, holly blues, and for the first time an orange tip danced and fluttered in the sunlight, enjoying the buddleia and erysimums, teasing the frogs that hop in the flowerbeds.
A little field mouse decided to take up residence under the stone sink in which carnivorous pitcher plants dwell. He’s become quite tame. What was once a quick dash to grab a few seeds put down for him is now a carefree amble as he comes close enough for me to stroke, but I refrain, content to just watch and admire him.
My family of sparrows patiently await their turn on the bird feeder. It’s such a pleasure to watch them communally splash in the birdbath; some prefer to sit below on the grass to wash in ensuing shower of water droplets instead. Despite reports that sparrows are in decline, they certainly are not in my garden. Their number has risen from six to twenty during the summer. They’re cheeky little birds and will come and tap on my patio door if the feeder is empty or to tell me the birdbath needs refilling. When the sparrows have finished playing in the water the robin jumps down from his favourite perch on the obelisk to take his bath before flitting to the bird table to breakfast on oats and mealworms.
There have been lots of birds in the garden this summer, blackcaps and dunnocks, blue and great tits, greenfinches, bullfinches and a garden warbler. Most days a sparrow hawk rests on the fence or up in the neighbour’s cherry tree to catch his breath. He’s used to me sitting here, as are the other birds. They don’t seem to mind my company.
Soon the sun will no longer rise above the roof and my garden will be in constant shade until next March. I shall miss not being able to sit in the garden but it will still delight during dark winter days with white and purple hellebores, sweet-scented yellow mahonia and the bright yellows, blues and reds of the primulas until the snowdrops and crocus emerge, heralding a new spring.
“A poor life this if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”
William Henry Davies