Bumper crops



it’s been a good year for elderberries. One of the plants I’m going to miss most on the allotment is the huge elder tree which has provided me with a good crop of flowers in spring and berries in early autumn. Fortunately there are numerous foraging opportunities within a stone’s throw of home as I have no room for an elder in the garden. Since writing about elderberry cordial and pontack I’ve discovered the delights of elderberry tincture, which is – if anything – even easier to make.

Elderberry tincture is a delicious homemade medicine which can be taken when you feel a cold or virus is about to take hold, making use of the plants antioxidant, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties. Strip the ripe berries off the stalks into a glass jar and cover with  brandy.  Leave for two weeks, shaking every day. Then strain the mixture through a sieve lined with muslin, bottle up and label. Take  1-3ml 3 times daily as required.

Delicious and oh so good for you.

Time to say goodbye


I can’t remember when I took on my allotment. I know I applied for one when we first moved to Bradford on Avon and I waited nearly three years on the ‘list’ so it must have been ten years ago, judging by these photos of the children with their allotment beds. 







After months of clearing brambles, weeds and even mounds of rubbish which had been buried and covered with old carpet I started to grow potatoes to break up the soil and planted some raspberry canes, strawberries, gooseberries, currants and rhubarb. Gradually I laid some wood chip paths, built a double compost bin from recycled wood and installed some raised beds. I collected dozens of green wine bottles which I used to edge the long cut flower bed and planted herbs and foliage plants to add to cut flower bouquets but I never really tamed it.  It was always on the edge of getting out of control as I fought back the encroaching brambles, the council hedge which was rarely trimmed as resources were cut and the huge diseased horse chestnut trees and hedge on the edge of the neighbouring municipal golf course, which never were.

I have spent hundreds of hours on the allotment with the children when they were small and working alone as they got older and gardening became less interesting for them. They even coined the phrase ‘allotment time’ to describe my propensity for nipping over there for half an hour and coming back four hours later. Best of all I have fed my family with homegrown produce and grown hundreds of my favourite flowers for cutting.

In truth I have a difficult relationship with my allotment. I loathe the inaccessibility when it’s time to mulch with compost or manure, the lack of water – no standpipe and regulations preventing putting up a shed from which I could harvest rainwater, the visiting badger who is determined to dig up bulbs as soon as they are planted and knows exactly when the sweetcorn is ripe enough to eat and the occasional thieves who pop in and help themselves to whatever they fancy. I’m not too keen on the person who regularly allows their dog to defecate in front of the gate and doesn’t pick it up. But I love the space to grow, to be alone with my thoughts only two minutes’ walk from home and the memories of the children growing up playing archaeologists and then learning to grow things over ten years.And the herbs grow better on the allotment than in the garden.

I have nurtured this little piece of Bradford on Avon for a long time but everything has its season and returning to the classroom has given me even less time to spend on growing. I need a space i can pop out to for ten minutes before leaving for work or whilst the supper is cooking and , in all honesty, it won’t be long before the children fly the nest and I want to make the most of the years we have left. I’ve put in two potager beds in the garden now that it no longer serves as a football pitch and so the time is right to let the allotment go.

Over the last few months I’ll admit that I have struggled with this. I thought about looking for a partner to share the allotment but that didn’t seem quite right and now that I’ve made the decision to give it up I am at peace. I remain true to my precept of always leaving a place better than I found it. I hope the next keeper of plot 2b has as much joy as I have over there. I’m even a little excited to see how it develops in someone else’s hands.

Hedge Veg


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Whilst holidaying in Guernsey this year we stumbled across Hedge Veg, a relatively informal garden gate market stall arrangement where residents sell veg, flowers, fruit, jams,  chutneys, honey, plants and even second hand books from boxes placed in the hedgerow near their homes. Of course the 35 mph or less speed limit on the island helps you spot goodies as you drive by. Some boxes were well stocked whilst others were empty for the whole week but wouldn’t it be a good thing if Hedge Veg made an appearance in your neighbourhood? Or perhaps it already has. It makes a change from the leaving your glut of runner beans or courgettes on your neighbour’s doorsteps under cover of darkness.

The Germander Hedge


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It’s time to clip back our rampant germander hedges again so that the road bike, which is in almost constant use, can get down the garden path. This is a carefully timed operation because it is such a bee magnet and I want to wait until there are oodles of other feeding stations for them in the garden before it gets a haircut. Wall germander is one of those old-fashioned plants that does not get much of a mention nowadays but with many gardeners worried about declining bee populations it comes highly recommended from the physic garden.

It was Catherine from  Pepperpot Herbs who first suggested it to me. I was looking for some box plants to edge a new cutting bed in the garden and she mentioned germander. I took her advice and ordered a batch. It grew so well that I went back the following year when I was making a second bed for more.

If you’re looking for a low-maintenance plant for edging and keeping the soil inside a potager bed rather than spilling over the path, one which is great for bees and butterflies, which will grow low and dense, which smells good and is useful then germander is the one for you. (I use the dried stems in pot pourri and wreath projects.) It is drought-tolerant (handy this summer), not overly fussy about its soil and looks good all year round. What’s not to love? I think it was used to treat gout in days gone by, despite a suggestion that it can cause liver problems. Fortunately we have no need for its herbal properties but it’s here to stay. A stalwart of the physic garden.




Summertime …and the living is easy.



Sunset at Cobo Bay

It’s been another busy year. Hence the radio silence on the blog over the last few months. Unexpectedly full-time at school and seemingly part-time at home as the children have reached important milestones. The eldest started his A levels and the long-haul of applying for a medical degree and passed his driving test; the middlest completed his GCSEs and grew about a foot in the space of a couple of months and the youngest has become a poised and independent young woman overnight. The start of the school holidays saw my long-planned production of ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’ at the Tithe Barn in Bradford on Avon and then a couple of weeks of attempting to tame the garden and allotment followed alongside some of the home jobs which are neglected during term time. Time spent with all three children at home, out and about, exploring and connecting is truly slipping through my fingers. and I never intended or wanted that to happen,

And so it has been a delight to spend a family week away in Guernsey relaxing on the beach, exploring the island’s Occupation history, playing tennis, walking the coastal paths, cycling around the island and watching episodes of Foyle’s War together in the evening. Precious moments when you are the mother of teenage children. Making memories for the times when they have flown the nest.

Quiet but beautiful beaches – one of the best things about Guernsey

Les Piques Country Cottages St Saviour – the perfect base for us

When rain stops play…



When you want to spend the day in the garden digging a new herb bed, weeding and potting up the last of the box of dahlia tubers (did I really order that many?) and the nearest you’ll get to it is this brave host of daffs under the trees glimpsed through a rainy car windscreen, I find it hard to rejig my plans. I have a script to work on, rehearsal schedules to organise and schemes of work to finalise for next term. I won’t be idle but I REALLY would prefer to be outside planting these under the hazel near the compost bin.

After weeks of being cooped up in classrooms for the daylight hours getting outside, even for half an hour every day is essential. My heart and mind tell me it’s spring despite the view through the kitchen window. My great grandfather and mother planted potatoes on Good Friday every year. The former was of the generation of farmers who advocated dropping your trousers and placing your bare backside on the ground to test the soil temperature in Spring. I don’t grow potatoes and prefer to use the germination of annual weeds as a reliable indicator that all is warm enough to get sowing but I have oodles of work to do.I guess today is not the day to start in earnest.


The pros and cons of being listless



I am a reluctant list maker. For years i kicked against the notion of any kind of list. Make a shopping list? *rolls eyes. I prefer to decide what to buy in an impromptu fashion. I loathe the necessity of deciding what a family of five will eat for a week ahead.

My husband however is an avid listmaker. He has one for the packing of what we need when we visit the outlaws, one for the ‘jobs’ that need doing around the house. He is SO different from me but the older I get the more I realise that a list is essential. If it isn’t written down, it simply doesn’t happen any more.

Some time ago I started making ‘to do’ lists and, as I have an unhealthy stationery fetish, I keep them in a range of smart notebooks which I find a fascinating read to document our family life over the period of a year. And I am not alone. Comedienne Jenny Eclair went listless for a day of Radio 4 recently. It was a fascinating listen about how and why people make lists, how they cross off what they’ve done, where they record their lists, how they prioritise the items on their lists, individual v communal lists and the essential differences in the lists of men and women.

It seems the handwritten list is still favourite. This pleases me. As an English teacher I am not a fan of the comparatively little amount of handwriting that takes place. There has been interesting research recently about the links between handwriting and language learning. There have been others about writing before bedtime to promote better sleep and about handwriting and cognitive development. Handwriting matters. I don’t want a list app of any kind. Give me a lovely pen and a hard-backed book with an artistic cover. I cover mine with photos or wrapping paper,just as I did with my exercise books at school.

Look closely and you’ll see that my list today is heavily garden and home-based with a bit of drama thrown in for good measure. School holidays. I love them and I am not in the least listless.

Monday musings



Blue skies, a box of seeds and the morning stretching out ahead to potter on the allotment. These are the best Mondays. My school holidays have begun and although I have oodles of schoolwork to do, I am mistress of my time whilst the others are still at school and work for a few days. The daffs and tulips are up in the cutting patch on the allotment; the weeds are more or less under control;I have a bin of homemade compost to spread (….and the bin to repair with some new planks of wood after the ravages of the winter and the visiting badger)

Last Monday the middle of town looked like this. I slid at 15 mph across country to work, leaving the  the family at home as their school was closed or work from home was suggested and the eldest rather glum that his driving test had been cancelled. I had references to write for members of my tutor group who are leaving at the end of the school year; marking to do, lessons to teach and a sixth form parent conference to prepare for.

What a difference a week makes. In 2013 I was ahead of the game. Here were my sweet peas in February. I am sowing 2018’s today.


The Christmas Chronicles Part VII – Midwinter reading


The Christmas holidays is perfect for kicking back and escaping into the home library, which sounds rather grand but is, in fact a few piles of books that I haven’t had time to read yet, placed strategically on bedside table, kitchen dresser and the corner of the room which contains all those things which are in transit between house and recycling centre, the ironing and numerous cardboard boxes. Most of this year’s Christmas books have been a treat.

I loved Nigel Slater’s Christmas Chronicles. In fact the lovely Mr Slater is living my life of cooking, pottering round the garden and shopping locally but without the mothering and the demands of having to be part-cheerleader, part-parent, part-mentor and fount of knowledge on how to achieve a decent examination grade to a few hundred teenagers. He writes with joie de vivre shot through every sentence and is the master at conjuring up the essence of a life lived simply and well.  Monty Don is similar in his approach and desire to impart the tips and tricks of soulful gardening in tune with the seasons. Mary Beard’s witty and erudite musings on women’s place in society, a couple of classic detective yarns and an interesting commentary on helping adolescent boys avoid the pitfalls that modern society lobs at them almost filled my fortnight. I’ve just started to re-read David Wood’s playscript of a classic wartime story which I am directing in July along with some useful historical research on the experiences of evacuees. And bringing up the rear is Susan Hill’s latest ‘book of books’.

I’m always curious about other people’s bookshelves and really enjoyed Hill’s last foray into the genre ‘Howards End is on the Landing’. She is strongly opinionated, drops names liberally and has a rather disconcerting habit of hopping between topics – but I’ve learnt to expect that from Hill. It’s refreshing, revealing but too much to take on Twitter where I find myself getting irritated by what I regarded as some of her ill-informed opinions. At a supper party I would thoroughly enjoy a frank exchange  with her but Twitter is not the forum for that. In the book however I loved the mash-up of nature notes, book recommendations and anecdote. Her comments about J B Priestley will form the basis of some useful discussion with my GCSE class and there are some memorable one-liners (Has Donald Trump ever read a book?). Describing Coleridge as being shot through with “a streak of lightening” is clever and I’m always grateful for a booklist from which to choose some that I would never have considered without a steer.

There is an underlying sense of discontent which pervades this book however – not just an element of grumpiness about some aspects of  life. Maybe the move to Norfolk from the Cotswolds has thrown her out of kilter and it does have aspects of a book which was dashed off to a deadline. On several occasions Hill repeats herself almost word for word. A more considered approach and judicious editing would have smoothed this out  but these are small niggles. Whilst it is not as The Times reviewer said of her previous volume in a similar vein “totally beguiling, utterly persuasive” I was informed, entertained and made to reconsider my own opinions of the books and authors she mentions. A few hours well-spent, after all.

The Christmas Chronicles Part VI – All is quiet on New Year’s Day


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My timeline is full of people congratulating themselves for having taken down the Christmas decs and given the house a thorough clean ready for the new year. My day is less fraught with activity. The tree still graces a corner of the kitchen and the Christmas candles are throwing a rosy glow over proceedings. Today’s activity is firmly rooted in my plans for the coming season.

There was a year when I spend a few carefree hours turning the compost but as a nod to the damp weather, today’s activity is cerebral. A pile of seed catalogues are lined up on the dresser awaiting perusal – although my seed merchants of choice are online – Higgledy Garden and Real Seeds. I like their ethos and seed germination rates have been excellent over the last few seasons.  I’ve made a list (unusual) and among the abundance of cut flowers this year I am making room on the plot for some purple podded climbing beans, heritage lettuce and purple carrots. I’ve also plumped for field beans ‘Wizard’  rather than broad beans. Only two of the household are fans and these are hardy. A more organised woman would have sown them back in October but teaching is so often an all-consuming activity and so a few will be sown now and the rest later. I still have tulips to get in the ground, after all!!

If you want to make this year a better one than last then you’d do well to spend more of it in the garden. This is a good place to start with #five new year’s resolutions for gardeners. It’s American and written in 2012 but those of you who have followed this blog for a while or subscribed to Our Flower Patch will be familiar with the principles. I’m going to take my own advice because 2018 is already shaping up to be busy with the children being variously occupied with driving tests, university applications, GCSEs, county rugby and a production of Goodnight Mister Tom to direct, thirty years of marriage to celebrate and the usual frenzy of life at the chalkface.

And after the seed order is in I will continue with my pile of new books (reviews to follow) and a spot of baking.

Simple pleasures.