Easter highlights

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No trip to Stourhead followed by a coffee and cake, no egg hunts, no sunrise walk around the village fields, no church service.

It’s been a different kind of Easter this year but there was some chocolate eating, home-baked cake, a family roast dinner and gardening.

It’s been great to catch up virtually with what friends have been doing. These beautiful photographs tell me what is important about this time of year – new life and renewal.

Packets of potential

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The postman’s called and it’s almost time to sow a few seeds outdoors. I’ve got a few peas, beans and beetroot in already but I tend to wait to sow annual flowers, salad, spinach and squash until later in the month. I don’t mess about much with sowing in seed trays any more. Seeds that are sown direct soon catch up.

Now that we’re in lockdown, growing your own has never been so popular. There’s quite a dig for victory vibe going on. I love that families are looking to dig up bits of their garden and grow their own veg and there’s always room for a few flowers in a cutting patch.

There’s plenty of advice online for newbies as well as more experienced gardeners. My grandad always said you should hold off on outdoor sowing until the soil is warm enough to drop your trousers and place your bare backside on it comfortably. I’d suggest a less extreme measure. Just wait until the annual weeds begin to sprout, hoe them off and then away you go. I deploy old CDs on string as bird scarers to keep my seedlings safe from the pigeons. Other birds don’t seem to scavenge as much.

I’m partial to lettuce varieties with interesting names. Last year’s was ‘Drunken Woman’. This year’s is ‘Elf’s Ears’ courtesy of the very lovely folks at Vital Seeds, whose strapline is packets of potential.

They certainly are. Potential for growth in the future.

I think we need that right now.

Shout if you need any advice.

Lunar living

Pop out into your garden at around 3.35am tomorrow morning and you’ll see a beautiful pink supermoon. It seems particularly significant whilst many of us are isolated from our wider family and friends. The moon is one of the few constants right now. When you look up at the moon, wherever you are in the world you can be sure that your loved ones can see that same  moon. It’s a way of bringing us together when we feel disconnected.

I’ve more than dabbled with biodynamics or sowing, pruning, mulching and harvesting according to the phases of the moon in the garden for a number of years. Read about it here. Times are tough but looking up at the moon always makes me feel connected.

Spring flowers

The sun’s out, the sky’s blue and our tulips are blooming. I love a tulip but there was a time when I wasn’t quite so enamoured. When they are planted in groups in the borders they tend to flop and look a tad untidy. I had a Damascene moment when I decided only to plant tulips in pots (like Nigel Slater, who has been tweeting pics of his beautifully structured garden where pot after pot of tulips flank a gravel path) or close together in trenches for harvesting.

I order mine from Peter Nyssen during the summer holidays. I prefer to order from a specialist bulb merchant rather than a garden centre. The bulbs seem more reliable and they arrive in timely fashion to be stowed away in the garden shed until November, when I plant them. Tulips need a period of cold in the ground to grow long stalks. Even though last Winter wasn’t particularly cold, these have done okay – but they wouldn’t win prizes in a show.

They are good enough for my kitchen table jug nevertheless.

Pop a note to order tulips on your calendar in July or August when, God willing,  today will be a memory only. And not a wholly bad one if we focus on the sun, the blue sky and the tulips.

When life gives you dandelions….

I know many people are feeling out of kilter. Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Or are you just doing your best in difficult circumstances? When you see dandelions in your lawn do you enjoy their pretty showiness or bemoan a less than perfect lawn?

Me? Well I leave some for the bees and harvest some to make dandelion petal jelly. Just like a did a few years ago. Here’s how. 

A perfect creative make to do with or without your children when you’re cooped up and want a little bit of sunshine in your life.

And yes to me a lawn is wasted growing space, never perfect but a concession to the rest of the family. I might replace the weeds. moss and rye grass with one made of chamomile this year.

Watch this space.

Friday Night leftovers

I used to shop on Saturdays for food and so Friday night In this house is leftovers night. Since the lockdown we’ve had some pretty weird supper combos, but tonight’s roast dinner was extraordinary. Not for the ingredients this time, but because a Friday night roast is a first. I have never had the energy to face cooking this after a week in the classroom. But life in the topsy-turvy world of COVID19 can offer opportunities as well as restrictions and uncertainty.

This week I am grateful for the time I got to spend with my family, to cook, to potter in the garden, to watch theatre productions live streamed to my pc and to reflect on my teaching practice. I’ve even signed up for some online courses to make me a better and more informed teacher. I haven’t had time for that for years,

There are still leftovers in the form of some over-ripe bananas so my daughter whipped up a quick banana loaf after supper. It’s easy – 140g each of butter, caster sugar and self-raising flour, a couple of eggs, 2tsp of baking powder and a couple of very ripe bananas whizzed together and baked at 160 c for half an hour in a fan oven.

And now I can relax in front of Gardener’s World, watching Rachel de Thame start her walled kitchen garden project.

One day that will be me.

 

Hopefulness

Week two of lockdown.

I made the mistake of looking at social media this morning – full of Jeremiahs quoting doom-ridden stats. I’m not sure  of the origin of what was being quoted and am realistic about the situation but what I need to get me through the next few weeks is hope …..and gardening.

So I planted some peas. A few sticks, a packet of Kelvedon Wonder, some homespun bird scarers fashioned from old CDs and string. The soil was well-worked so I used a hoe to create a shallow drill, sprinkled in the peas, covered them over, created a frame for them to scramble up et voila!. This is a perfect activity to do with your children. Mine are past the excitement of gardening but no doubt it will return to them in a few years – as indeed it did with me when we rented our first house and all those years of experience on the allotment with my dad kicked in.

The sweet peas have popped up nearby and the harbingers of high spring  – tulips, daffodils, cowslips, primroses, herbs have put in an appearance too.

I’d rather idle away an hour in the garden than on social media.

I have a yearning for wild garlic pesto and I know just the place to find some within a stone’s throw of home. That’s tomorrow’s job.

Grounded

It’s been a couple of months since I last posted. This time last year (and the years before) I was at the start of three weeks of blissful relaxation at home with my family, away from work, planning some spring cleaning, tending the garden, going for walks and reading books. Despite the lockdown it’s not so very different this year. Perhaps that’s why I feel strangely grounded amidst the inevitable uncertainty.

We are lucky. We can work from home and although our children have had GCSEs, A Levels, holidays with friends and the first year at Uni cancelled they have plans for next year which they are likely to be able to put into practice. Changes to our routine have taken place; we are less blasé about our good health but that’s pretty much it. We’ve coped with shortages in the shops when panic-buying took place and one or two meal combinations would have been worthy of Letitia Cropley in The Vicar of Dibley. The local plant nursery even managed to deliver three bags of compost and some plants yesterday, keeping their livelihood going and cheering up a customer – namely me.

I am conscious that for many the last week has brought a huge upheaval; finding a new normal has been an inevitable struggle. There are financial and health concerns, separation from family and friends and a cessation of all the activities that normally fill the week. For others (those who live simple, low-impact lives closer to home) adaptation to lockdown rules has been more straightforward. But adapt we must. Above all people are looking to their local communities for advice, support and assistance and those communities have risen to the challenge in many, many cases.

Let’s not forget that being locked down at home has shown us the strength in community and in family and the positivity that comes with spending time reading with your children, playing games, baking, volunteering, appreciating small gains and practising thankfulness.

That has to be a good thing.

Welcome home

Photo by Alan Tyghe

I’ve experienced some enchanting views  this week. Some of them in daylight – misty views as I headed down into the village of Kilmerston as woodsmoke curled up from chimneys, thick Dickensian fog in Bradford on Avon and this one, near Great Chalfield Manor – one of my favourite places for a walk – posted by a friend who takes lovely, atmospheric pics.

But home is where the heart is.

January is when my front garden begins to bloom in earnest. Yes. Really. It’s a Winter garden. I blogged about it last year. Delightful Daphne is in full bloom, welcoming me home and  scenting my way to the front door, now that the Christmas lights are packed away.

The theme of the Chelsea Flower Show this year is loneliness and mental health and Jo Thompson helped a little by Zoe Ball has been commissioned to design a front garden which encourages conversations with neighbours and a friendlier community. 

I wanted to make our North-facing patch at the front of the house thrive and so I spend a fair amount of time in it. Certainly I’ve found that working in it has been a conversation starter. We’ve extended the patch by putting in an amelanchier lamarckii in a large painted oil drum container and repainting an old garden table as a pot stand. And I have plans for the summer for a few more pots.

It’s good to know that by creating and maintaining a garden that welcomes us home can also provide a place of beauty for others who live or pass nearby and an opportunity to have a chat with your neighbours.

 

Nobody’s perfect.

People seem to be looking for perfection – every day, everywhere. I can’t think that’s good for anybody’s mental health and well-being. Airbrushing, body shaming, posting your (heavily edited and filtered) life on social media, blocking people who disagree with you and pretending they are not there and the endless nit-picking if someone in the public eye shows that they are human, with flaws, like the rest if us. All these point to this trend for perfectionism.

We just need to make today that little bit better than yesterday – if possible. Hope, resilience, engagement, taking responsibility, taking small steps, finding contentment in the little things are all better than negatively promoting perfectionism. It’s a theme I share with students every day in the classroom and with my own children.

The firstborn heads back to Uni today after a five week break over Christmas. As a mother back in December I was looking forward to having all my children together again under one roof. In my imagination we’d go on frosty country walks, eat leisurely breakfasts, go down to see grandad in London and pop up to see the lights, play board games in front of the fire and share round the Christmas chocolates and mulled wine.

It wasn’t quite like that.

There have been some shared meals, one game of Monopoly, a trip with the boys to the bookshop and a family trip to Stourhead. I’ve binge-watched episodes of Sherlock and Father Brown with the eldest, nattered with the youngest over a coffee in the kitchen and mused over university applications and the likelihood of the Green Bay Packers making the Superbowl with the middlest. The weather has been frosty in the last few days but largely grey and wet before. Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve saw the teenagers head out with friends rather than staying in by the fire with their parents. There have been no huge gatherings of family and friends.

On reflection it’s been a bit chaotic. Most of the time my kitchen has been a bicycle cleaning and repair shop. I haven’t given the house a proper clean in weeks and we haven’t sat down to one family breakfast in the whole of the time there have been five people under one roof. Last night I lit the fire and gradually everyone appeared with their hot drinks and stayed for the rest of the evening, laughing and chatting. Proof that my life is beautiful.

Unplanned, imperfect but beautiful.

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