About Me

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SW London
A semi-mature, hardy individual who tries to get away with doing as little as possible in gardening as in life, still expects the best results & wonders why she is frequently disappointed! She likes to keep a photographic record of everything, good & frequently bad!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

20 Books


I was reading an article in The Guardian the other day, ‘The 100 books to actually read in a lifetime’. It was commenting on a recent list by Amazon.com & how some books are so familiar you think you have read them when actually, you haven’t. I certainly find that is true & it is the same with films.

As always with a list I went through it & found I had read 33 out of the 100. Of course it was a very American biased list & no doubt I would have achieved more if it had been a UK list. After all I am a great reader aren’t I? My mother would frequently embarrass me by telling whoever would listen how she called me to get ready for school when I was about 7 or 8 & found me standing by my bed reading a book with one leg in my knickers & one leg out. I frequently had several books on the go at any time. Can’t fault me on the quantity front!

I tweeted the list to see how others did resulting in the suggestion that we blog our favourite 20 books. A tricky task; so few vacancies for so many books, books which change from day to day depending on moods, memories & a multiple of other things. These are not necessarily great books, but somehow they have made an impact on me. My list today is…..


Saucers Over the Moon – Malcolm Saville.

book 2 This book is from those knicker leg days. It is a tale from the Lone Pine Adventure series of books I read avidly as a child. I would rush out to the travelling library to see if there were any new adventures I hadn’t consumed. I wanted to belong to the gang, I wanted to be a girl with a boy’s name (Peter) & have adventures like they did. No Secret Seven for me, this was the real deal.

The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe – CS Lewis.

I guess this was another adventure that I wanted to be in, but a rather more fantastical one. I remember it being read to me at Primary school &  still vividly recall the feeling in the pit of my stomach as Aslan was sacrificed on the stone table.

Gormenghast – Mervyn Peake.

Another fantastical tale read as a teenager. I loved those mad, bizarre & even grotesque characters interacting in the gothic castle & kingdom of Gormenghast.

Rogue Herries – Hugh Walpole.

book 1 The first of four books in the Herries’ Chronicle, it is a turbulent story of Frances Herries who uproots his family from Yorkshire & moves them Borrowdale. Full of passion & drama set in the dramatic scenery of my beloved Cumbria. I loved it.





Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger.

This book really hit the spot when I was in my teens. I have been too scared to re-read it since!

Waterland – Graham Swift.

I have often claimed this as my favourite book of all times. I am not sure why but it is the one that always pops into my head. It is something about the interweaving of the past & present, the history of an area & of specific characters in it & how that impinges upon lives in the present. The waters of the Great Ouse seem to constantly lap at the edges of the story or  flow through the middle to great effect.

Trumpet – Jackie Kay

I love all of Jackie Kay’s writings & have read her short stories, poems, auto-biography, but this book was the first of her writings I had come across & I loved it instantly. What isn’t there to like in a tale of an acclaimed jazz trumpeter and the revelation of his biological sex as female after his death, causing ructions in his family.

Nicholas Nickleby - Charles Dickens

There are a number of Dickens’ novels I could have chosen but this one I particularly love. It has tragedy & humour in equal part & is a stonking good read.

Persuasion – Jane Austen

As with Dickens, I could have chosen a number of Jane Austen’s novels. I love her writing which delicately threads its way through the manners & mores of society at the time. I often feel she has her tongue firmly in her cheek & love the veins of humour running through the ups & downs of the many relationships.

Old Filth – Jane Gardam

“Failed in London Try Hong Kong", this is the moving tale of a retired judge who began life as an orphan of the Raj. The title may put you off…please don’t let it.

Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This novel haunted me; as a child I can vividly remember the news about the effects of the Biafra’s struggle to gain independence from Nigeria. This novel weaves the tales of different characters during a turbulent period of African history.

Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe

Whilst on the subject of Nigeria, another tale with an enormous impact, this time as colonialism is taking hold with its impact on the traditions of the Igbo people. A hugely important book, but so readable & thought provoking.

Mapp & Lucia - EF Benson

I first heard this on the radio & the extract I heard made me want to read this, one of several volumes about the characters of the small town of Tilling in the 1920s. Bitchiness & snobbery abound & again the tales pivot on the manners & mores of that period, but don’t we all love a bit of gossip.

The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck

There has to be a Steinbeck & this massive tale of a family in the Great Depression forced to move from Oklahoma to California, not just to seek a better life, but to enable them to survive. So moving right to the end where a final act almost breaks your heart.

Beowulf - Seamus Heaney

This is a recent addition to the list. As a child I always loved the epic tales of gods & heroes. It was therefore such a joy to read Seamus Heaney’s   version of this Old English epic poem. I could almost hear Heaney reading it aloud as I raced through the pages.  (In fact I bought the CD of him reading it later)

The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins

This is generally considered the first detective novel in the English language. It was a must read for a long time but became a did read after i had read The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher, an actual murder case which Collins & Dickens were fascinated by & which is generally thought to have influenced their writings. A really good who dunnit.

Nemesis - Philip Roth

Beautifully written & moving, this work explores the effect of a 1944 polio epidemic on a closely knit Jewish community. Roth has said this is his last novel. I recommend it.

Secret Scripture - Sebastian Barry

More beautiful & moving writing, this time from Ireland. As with many of his novels Barry deals with the religious and political upheavals in Ireland in the 1920s – 1930s & interweaves that with the present day & how it has tainted the lives of those who lived through that period.

Geek Love - Katherine Dunne

This may seem a bizarre book to choose, but it is indelibly imprinted on my brain.  The books follows a circus family who breed their own freaks for a freak show by altering the genes of their unborn children in varying ways. I know, what a premise for a book about family love, which is the underlying theme of an unforgettable tale.

The Black House - Peter May (The Lewis Trilogy)

I think this is the most recent addition to the list, after all we love crime & thrillers so here is one of the best. The reason I loved these books is that holding up & weaving through the solving of the crime is the fascinating background of the protagonists on the Isle of Lewis & how they lived their lives in that very individual environment.  Highly recommended.


So there it is…..but what about those that got away……..

To Kill a Mocking Bird
The Hobbit
Little House on the Prairie
Northern Lights
In Cold Blood
Madame Bovary

What has happened to John Rebus, as I sit here looking at the many books we have, I realise i could go on forever.


For other lists of 20 please read these lovely people Arabella Sock, Patient Gardener, Veg Plotting, Piano Learner

Thursday, 30 May 2013

A letter to Kate Bradbury

The Wildlife gardener

Dear Kate

Thank you so much for inviting me to the recent launch of your book, the Wildlife Gardener. It was lovely to see you again as it has been quite a while: another book launch if I recall* Such a shame we didn’t have time to catch up & have a good natter but huge thanks to your mum for being so kind to a bit of a Billy-no-mates.

I have had a really good browse through the book & love it. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in nature as a very readable & doable volume about our wildlife & how we should & could all be trying to do a bit more to encourage as wide a variety of these creatures as possible into our gardens. It  has certainly made me think about my own garden & what I can do in some small way to make it more user friendly for wildlife even though it is a very small urban patch. We already do a bit with bird feeders, a bird bath, pond & many plants & flowers & certainly attract a fair amount of birdlife. Whilst I am not sure I can go so far as to grow a clump of nettles in the garden & really don’t want to attract foxes, there are lots of other things I can do. I have already instructed my husband to get hold of some logs & make an insect hotel. (I won’t repeat what his reply was…..along the lines of ‘do it yourself’.)

Now, deep breath, I have to make a huge confession, I feel I must cleanse my soul, ease my wildlife conscience by telling you of something I used to do. OK, I was a child, but really it is no excuse for the heinous crime against nature I committed, not once, but several, possibly many times……………….I would fish tadpoles out of our pond (there were masses she says desperately) & I would squash them or leave them in the sun to fry………………there I have said it. I am truly sorry for what I have done & hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. I certainly feel better for sharing this load although I am not sure you will!

Hoping to remain your friend


PS Are we allowed to squish vine weevil grubs without guilt?

PPS Oh yes, & lily beetles?

*You are certainly far from being bad tempered.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Chelsea ramblings & squashed balls


The Chelsea Flower Show 2013 is now a dim & distant memory; it finished all of 2 days ago but the next kid on the block is gearing up as preparations are made for Gardener’s World Live. It seems that it is one flower show after another these days. So lets have a quick ramble about the show.


This show was particularly promoted & celebrated as the 100th; indeed because of this gnomes were given special dispensation to attend resulting in hilarious segments in the BBC coverage of the event! (Did |I just say hilarious?) So as the centenary show, what did I think of it. I don’t normally get too wound up with whether it was a ‘good’ show, I enjoy the spectacle, but I did expect more from a celebration of 100 years of cutting edge gardening & garden design.


As always people have hugely differing views about the gardens but I thought this year they were really rather on the safe side. There was excellent design & beautiful planting but part of me felt that much of it has been seen before; the Laurent Perrier garden always looks like a Laurent Perrier garden. Where was the wow, the gasp, the ‘what the hell is that all about’ garden. I missed the plasticine, the tower, the Mars garden, the smarties on sticks or the fantastic garden last year to mark the 60th anniversary of the Korean war. Love them or not they did get people talking.


I suppose most gardens are very much constrained by the sponsor or the message that has to be incorporated in the design. People have suggested to me that the gardens reflected the financial climate but I am not sure that is the case. I would have loved to see a little more spark in some of the big gardens.


So enough of pretending to be a semi-sensible critic, didn’t you just love the little Japanese garden


and Chris Beardshaw’s stunning planting.


And of course every year there is ‘the plant’, the one that seems to appear in almost every garden. This year Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing', the purple foliaged version of the common but no less beautiful Cow Parsley which froths forth from our hedgerows & roadsides in spring was everywhere.

But did you also note the appearance of the squashed ball? I found it slightly bizarre this year that a particular shape kept recurring in many of the gardens. We are all used to seeing balls, particularly box balls (other balls are available) in many show gardens. What was rather interesting this year was that many of them looked as though they had been sat upon & deflated somewhat; the squashed ball was ‘in’, the round ball was ‘out’.



Even Chris Beardshaw had squashed balls!


Thursday, 23 May 2013

Best in show

The smoothest curviest of curves


The most photographed


The best table decoration….in the picnic area. I know, only at Chelsea


The most delightful wall topping


Best hanging basket(ish)


The windiest garden


The most beautiful path


Best arse(s)…..not! (SORRY!)


The twinniest hats (a very poor year for hats, it must be the weather)


Most original garden edging


Best shed….hooray for a very well deserved Gold medal for those Heucheraholic heroes (don’t we just love ‘em)


Best solo effort……luvverly wall


Best mulch


And last of all, but by no means least, my gold for the most, most, err well just the most shirt ever


Sunday, 12 May 2013

We avoided the nut that crashed to the ground, but was it a golden day?


On Thursday I, accompanied by the redoubtable MrB, arrived at the Malvern Spring Show. It was, apparently, Golden Day! I confess that, other than my arrival, I am not sure what was supposed to be golden about it. The special gold parking, available until 11.00 had all gone & it was only 10.10. But no matter, we weren’t parked miles away from the entrance.

Now a friend expressed some surprise that we were attending Malvern as she said I was a bit snotty about it last time I went. She was right: we went about 3 years ago having heard so much about what a wonderful show it was & to miss the experience was to miss an essential part of any gardeners life. Admittedly this was the year after the great garden bloggers meet up which, even for a shy & secretive person like myself sounded a cracking sort of occasion so I went full of high hopes & enthusiasm preparing to be wowed after years of same old Chelsea & Hampton Court. And yes, I confess,I was a little underwhelmed &, dare I say it, disappointed! With hindsight  I expected too much. So snotty & snitty I was indeed. However, when MrB surprisingly suggested we go to Malvern this year I thought it seemed like an excellent idea …

The weather forecast for the day was not good, windy & heavy showers so we left home early to try & beat the worst of the weather. The sunshine as we left at 7.00 seemed to augur well for the day & it didn’t seem too bad on arrival so we were all set.

First stop was a bacon roll (we had been on the road since 7) & a coffee. Second stop was to buy a hat each – well who could resist a perfectly suitable & reasonably priced hatty watt. Then, at last,  we managed to get into the more flower show type of things.


There were some fabulous plants & exhibits in the floral marquee although whilst walking round the extremely blustery winds & heavy rain showers that were never far away were causing some consternation as the covers flapped & banged loudly & the metal supports creaked alarmingly. One of the metal nuts from the frame came crashing down as we walked round which was a little concerning as were exhibitors looking upwards with worried faces .

I wasn’tt sure about the His & Hers gardens on one stand; surely not. Perhaps I just missed the joke.



As you can see His was full of funky ferns & palms with only splashes of bright colours whereas Hers was much more frothy & full of colour from flowers. Oh come on, stop it!

We thoroughly enjoyed walking round all the nursery stands & there was a fabulous selection of plants to choose from although i did balk a little at a pot with an Honesty seedling in it for £4.00. Some HRT (Horticultural Retail Therapy) was indulged in although we were extremely sensible, mature & restrained. In truth our small garden is crammed to the hilt although that fact does not always stop us.

We even got a couple of cushions for our garden chairs saving us a trip to Ikea!

By the time we had wandered round all these stalls, had a little light lunch, looked at the delightful crafts on sale time was moving on rapidly & we had not yet had the opportunity to see the show gardens……of course by now it was raining good & proper! Damn. Our viewings were rather brief.


I am only sorry we were not able to really do them justice but there were some really nice features.

Of course in any show there are things, either in show gardens & frequently on sale when you think ‘Now who would buy something like that?’

021 I mean you just wouldn’t, would you?






So what were my thoughts second time round. I really did enjoy my day, despite the weather. I had no unreasonable expectations of the show this time & indeed felt very relaxed & unpressurised about the event. I do have some criticisms about the Gold day though…

‘Escape the show crowds and join us on our exclusive Gold Day ‘ is the invitation on show website. The day offers free gold parking (!) & talks & displays exclusive to the gold day. I have already mentioned the parking & some of the talks may well have been exclusive to the day BUT there weren’t really many of them to chose from: 3 events in the Plants & People theatre on Gold Thursday, 7 on the following day! Whilst we were able to see the plants & displays at their freshest & presumably in less crowded circumstances I am not sure that the promise was fulfilled,  particularly in view of the differential in ticket prices.

Oh, & I think I may well go again.