Sunday, October 26, 2014

What dreams may come...

The great thing about neglecting a garden like mine is that it hardly shows!  Two acres of semi-woodland means that nature can kind of do what it likes and it hardly looks any different....well to my eyes at least.

I had been feeling completely overwhelmed by the garden - every time I started on something the sheer enormity of the task got to me and I'd retire back inside to do something more achievable - like sewing, crochet, painting furniture....basically anything other than what felt like 'outdoor housework'.

This is not a good strategy because nature keeps on working even when you don't and the garden has started to look a little too wild.
One the signs of leadership is the ability to ask for help, so I did.  I asked my garden designer friend (and devoted surrogate owner of our dog, Asha) Janet if she knew of someone looking for garden work.  She did!!!

So now we have the amazing Charles and his steady and consistent work is helping me regain confidence in my vision and ideas.

Let the dreams begin!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Gardening Relationships: 10 Permaculture tips

I have never thought of myself as a gardener. I’ve taken care of a few houseplants along the way but the idea of working in the garden seems like outdoor housework.  But 2 years ago we bought a house that sits in what was once the orchard to an old Edwardian estate.  The fruit trees were gone, self-seeded ash and sycamore had set up camp amongst the brambles and the ever-thickening hedge of laurel was slowly creeping over the garden like a dark spell.

Fortunately, through a series of wonderful discoveries, including Martin Crawford’s amazing book ‘Creating a Forest Garden’ and the Permaculture Magazines my daughter was bringing home from work, I began to learn there was another way to approach gardening, nature and growth.  I began to see what I could use to bring my garden back to life without killing myself in the process: Permaculture. 

Permaculture offers a model of design that promotes practices and processes for a sustainable lifestyle.  Its one of those things that’s easy to understand but takes ages to explain. The word means 'permanent agriculture' and is a model of design focussed on living and caring for ourselves, others and the earth in a way that is creatively resourceful and keeps the focus on the long term, not just 'what is in it for me?

Most of us don’t ‘design’ our relationships consciously, we’re more likely to stumble and/or bumble along in the hopes that they’ll grow in the right direction.  They usually catch our attention only when things have gone wrong and we scramble around trying to stop things from unraveling.  But imagine if we put the same thought and attention into building a relationship as we do to creating a productive, efficient garden?

I have just completed a Permculture Design Course and in the crossover between my work as a relationship coach and my steep learning curve with my garden, I've found some valuable parallels.

1. Mulching.
A relationship is a growing organism, create the right environment and it will thrive.  Mulching offers several things including nourishment, protection and effective action with least effort.  So how do you mulch a relationship?   By paying attention and being more observant, learning to listen, understand & communicate more openly; simple gestures of care and affection can bring about amazing changes rapidly. 

2. Greater productivity lies at the Edges
Relationships have their growing – and dying – ‘edges’.  Just before a relationship is about to move to the next phase there will be a great deal of productivity.  Sometimes that can be arguments, disagreements, upsets and misunderstandings. It can also be feelings of deeper connection, greater love, more respect and trust. Either way there will be an increase in emotional ‘productivity’. Be curious about the emotions, about what changes are occurring, we can use this productivity wisely to build a strong and more resilient next phase.

3. Design for co-operation rather than competition.
Make sure your companion planting takes everyone’s needs into consideration!  Just like a plant, we communicate our wellbeing by healthy productivity.  It is really important to understand that some people compete to win and some to lose and those who compete to lose will do so in order to win later. Both styles of competition uses up nutrients in the relationship soil. A healthy relationship design is one where everyone thrives and feels valued.

4. Use the least effort to create the biggest effect.
This translates simply as ‘be authentic’.  It is the small, genuine gestures that work the most effectively.  The language of the heart is the communication that resonates most clearly, goes the deepest and lasts the longest. 

5. The yield is only limited by the imagination of the designer.
Every relationship is deserving of a Vision, what Vision do you have for your relationship? What do you believe is possible? What yield are you hoping for (closeness, co-operation, laughter, trust, forgiveness)?  If the yield seems low, it may be time for you to study the relationship from a new perspective, to open up your imagination and get creative!

6. Appropriate technology is that which can be easily applied.
If your relationships are hard work and feel like you’re trying to push the river uphill, its a sign that you are going against the natural flow. Stop. Give yourself some breathing space and think about what is really being called for and what it is you are capable of giving, easily, authentically and wholeheartedly.

7. Start small and work out from well managed areas.
It helps to assess what is working well and build on it. Trying to make big changes or address difficult challenges can seem frightening and overwhelming.  Learning to chunk things down in to manageable pieces helps relieve the stress and creates a better focus. 

8. Turn problems into solutions.
Weeds and pests get into relationships too.  They’re made up of beliefs, thoughts and experiences we bring from the past and can take hold in a relationship, creating feelings of suffocation and heartbreak.  10% of pain in a relationship comes from the present, 90% is old childhood hurt being recycled.  I often see relationships blossom when people discover that hiding beneath the pain is a new level of connection and friendship.

9. Mistakes are opportunities for learning.
To embrace this principle we need to retrain our minds to see mistakes differently; not as a something deserving punishing but as behaviour that simply need correcting. It can be scary at first to open up and talk about mistakes and misunderstandings, it makes us feel vulnerable and defenceless.  The safest and most effective tool in relationship is empathy, it takes the charge out of situations and makes space for forgiveness.  Forgiveness means being willing to ‘yield’ to ‘give way’.  But if we look at the productive concept of ‘yield’ you can see how forgiveness is a way to improve harvest!

10. Everything Gardens
To live a meaningful life it is important to give everything meaning.  Everything that happens in our life, every event, every encounter is helping us to grow and evolve as individuals.  We are all on a journey to fulfilling our potential; the events and lessons we are presented with are there to help us be more productive, if we have the eyes to see it. 

Just like the Earth, relationships are a rich and precious resource.  Once we view them as source of opportunities for growth and development, any emotion or experience becomes the organic matter to be composted and processed in order to promote growth, health and well-being. 

Some of this article was published on the Permaculture Magazine website.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Brave New World

I went off to beautiful Devon to attend a Forest Gardening course with the inspirational Martin Crawford.  The two day course took us through the process of understanding what a Forest Garden is and how to create our own.

I came back and frightened everyone with my enthusiasm.  This poor, sleepy little garden that quietly snoozes in the lea of the hill is about to have a rude awakening.  Whilst she is yawning and stretching and waking up to LIFE, she has no idea what's in store.  It's going to be Garden Boot Camp.  She's flabby, undisciplined, out of condition and downright lazy.  She has let herself go completely and her diet is appalling.  Her hair and nails need seeing to, her wardrobe needs revamping (although there are some key pieces) and her general outlook on life requires an overhaul. She's lost her mojo, her sense of purpose, her self-worth but we are going to make this bad girl GLORIOUS.  

The most important thing is not to scare her - or myself - with the scale of the job.  Let's break this thing down into manageable chunks.  

The Weigh In:
The first stage is to do a site survey: soil readings, draw a site map to scale and plot not just what is here, but what needs to go.

Nutritional Review - or the non-diet diet:
As Martin talked us through the history of his garden we were aware that he used really simple strategies to keep his workload manageable, for example, after planting a tree he covered the surrounding area with protection to kill off weeds, grasses and other competition.  Genius.  I would have dug a big hole, planted and then made loads of work for myself having to weed regularly.  As one participant whispered 'he's quite lazy, isn't he?'.  My kind of gardening.

Lots of digging is bad for the soil.  Just as the human body is very vulnerable when cut open, dug over soil can lose valuable resources and is exposed to external bacteria, unwanted seeds etc.  So rather than brutal digging, weeding etc we're going to throw a dark blanket of covering over tough areas full of brambles etc and kill off weeds that way and throw good seeds/plants at other areas to encourage fertility and improve the soil.  A two-fold approach depending on the area's needs.

In other words.  You can still have a Hobnob, but let's start the day by juicing.  A kind of Stealth Bombing nutritional programme.

Mini Make-Over
When embarking on a health kick every woman needs a new wardrobe - just a few new pieces to make her feel better about herself and give her some confidence.  

What is our girl going to get?  A lovely little number that can be used for many occasions - dressed up or down and lovely to look at.  Rosa rugosa hedging!!!

Beautiful flowers that can be put in salads and, later, lovely hops that are full of vitamin C and can be made into syrups and cough mixture.  There is a delicate scent and the bees love it.  The garden equivalent of the Little Black Dress!

Waiting for the new outfit
We'll put this at the fence at the entrance to the garden and it will really give her a boost.  It's the first thing that people will notice and it will communicate her change of attitude.
Definitely time for a make-over

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Floral Dance

My mother-in-law calls those dried wreaths you get at Christmas 'Death on the Door'.  I have to admit, I've never been a fan of them.  

However, I've seen photos of flower wreaths that look so pretty and summery I wanted to put some on the wall in the courtyard outside my kitchen.

Today my florist daughter taught me how to make them.  We had such fun just going round the garden collecting leaves and flowers and look what we created!  

I'll be interesting to see how long they last - but as the garden is over-run with geraniums and lady's mantle - I could make a fresh one every day.*

I basically used any pretty flower I could find - suddenly even those I had considered weeds had a new beauty.

By the way, with regards to Lady's Mantle,  another use for this is as a herbal tea.  Just pluck the top flowers and leaves and add hot water (I also add mint or lemon balm).  Keep a saucer over the cup whilst it cools to trap the steam and prevent the volatile oils from escaping. It is a uterine tonic and good for menstrual cramps.  Tastes like honey!

*four days later - still looking good.

If you'd like to learn how to make a wreath (it is really easy!) there is a great tutorial by inspirational florist,  Jay Archer  on great website called

Monday, June 25, 2012

I know it's early, but.. get ready for Spring!

Hay fever Remedy.

Just a quick apothecary note on those elderflowers.  A herbalist friend of mine gave me a great remedy for hay fever using elderflowers and as they are still in bloom so late this year, there is still time to do this.

Pack a jam jar full of elderflowers.  Get a jar of your local runny honey and pour it over the flowers, get as much in as you can.  Leave the flowers to infuse, shaking from time to time.  

After 5 days strain the honey and re-bottle it.  Next Feb as the pollen count starts to rise, take a teaspoon of honey a day to ward off hay fever.

Use the honey-soaked flowers as a tea - hot or iced!!!

Bless you.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Wild Abandon

Just arrived
Looking for sunshine
 The 'party favours' on the tables at our daughter & son-in-law's wedding were packets of wild flower seeds from West Sussex.   At the end of the evening there were several packets left behind and I was keen to gather them all up to scatter in the garden.

Who knows what happened - I only ended up with 2!  However plenty of people took some home and they are being spread over fields and flowerbeds across the land - some even got as far as Ireland.  I haven't heard how any of them are doing yet.

Once I had recovered from the amazing week of wedding preparation & celebration I sprinkled one pack of the seeds over the soil in a prepared flower pot.  The second packet I just sprinkled over a pretty ropey old flower bed.

3 weeks later seedlings in the pot are doing well.  With the flowerbed it's hard to detect what's a flower and what's a weed seedling at the moment.  Wild flowers don't need rich, moist conditions, in fact, I've read that they prefer rough conditions.  Well, the cosy flower potted seeds have germinated and are doing well and I may have to use them as my identification guide for anything that surfaces in the flower bed. I'm hoping both sites produce lots of flowers and that they self seed this autumn.  
The 'before' of the veg patch

We're going to build a vegetable garden at the top of the garden, basically all the shrubs you see in the mid-foreground of this photo. As it's on a hill we want to create level ground so the approach will have a bank which I want to be full of wild flowers. Introducing them into the garden now could mean they get there of their own accord.  

I'm also intending to have a wall of roses and an arched gateway into the vegetable garden.  I have a beautiful, tall yellow rose with an old fashioned scent that grows infront of the garage.  I would love to have a wall of these roses at the entrance to the vegetable garden so am trying to propigate them.

Can you see the red buds?  They're there!
My advisor - my 76yr old mum - says to dip them in hormone rooting powder and then stick them in the ground.  That what she does and her roses thrive.  She also sits next to the rose 'nursery' smoking and I reckon the lack of clean air kicks their survival mechanism into full gear and they grow like crazy to cope!

Mine are doing okay - if you look carefully you can see little red buds starting to emerge.  I have a little chat with them on a daily basis - I reckon roses are quite sensitive, fragile spirits who need lots of reassurance and then cope brilliantly in difficult situations.  The summer so far should provide them with plenty of opportunity to overcome adversity!
Smell this.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Elderflower Cordial

Sambucus something aka elder

Last May I made my first ever batch of elderflower cordial - easy peasy and totally delicious, but I only made 2 litres, which was drunk very quickly.

Whilst I was delighted when our daughter got engaged in June last year, I was disappointed that the elderflowers were over as I thought little bottles of homemade cordial on the wedding breakfast table would have been a wonderful touch.  Anyway, the day was gorgeous without it - but I have been determined to make enough cordial this year to last longer than a month!

The first batch soaking up the sun
The problem was getting enough bottles.  I love those olive oil bottles with the flip cap - but had only managed to collect 4 of them.  Someone suggested old screw top white wine bottles - perfect!  Had to do some extra work emptying them, of course, but it was worth it in the end.

I have proudly given away a few litres of the stuff but now I've discovered a recipe for elderflower vodka!  I went to pick some flowers (they're much later this year due to the rain) but they smell a bit 'over' - so that will have to wait 'til next year.  Anyway, I've found a recipe for elderberry & wild cherry syrup that I want to try so I'd better leave flowers for that (and the birds, of course).

PS I've planted a Sambucus nigra - which is the dark leaved/pink flowered version of the elder, can you make cordial from that and will it be pink?  I really hope so, but will have to wait until next May to see.

Elderflower cordial


in season

Elderflower cordial
Homemade elderflower cordial is so much better than anything you can buy. Serve with sparkling water for a refreshing drink or sparkling wine for a delicious cocktail.


Preparation method

  1. Gently rinse over the elderflowers to remove any dirt or little creatures.
  2. Pour the boiling water over the sugar in a very large mixing bowl. Stir well and leave to cool.
  3. Add the citric acid, the orange and lemon slices, and then the flowers.
  4. Leave in a cool place for 24 hours, stirring occasionally.
  5. Strain through some muslin and transfer to sterilised bottles.