At Blogtacular

BlogtacularConferences don’t tend to be my cup of tea.

For a start, the cups of tea are always tiny. You have to drink at least three to equal a normal mug size.

But it’s not the tiny teas that are the worst thing. Not by a long shot. It’s all the bloody networking. It reminds me of the very first work party I ever attended in my first job after uni.

I was working for a newspaper and the work party happened to be taking place a fortnight after I had started. Nervous enough already (of being in an office; of being expected to know how to do things like filing and replying to emails and generally behaving like an adult), the thought of having to stand and sip champagne and make small talk with all these deeply intelligent journalists, whose photo bylines I had been looking at for years, was absolutely terrifying.

I arrived at the party, and stood at the back, clutching a glass of champagne and talking to the next most junior person in the office.

He filled me in on some gossip, we had a bit of a laugh and I started to unwind. And then after ten minutes he cheerfully declared, “Well, there’s no point standing here and talking to you, is there? I must go and network now and see what prospects I can get lined up.”

I swear, it honestly took me a good minute to realise he wasn’t joking.

But Blogtacular, the blogging conference I went to yesterday (of my own volition!) isn’t anything like that, of course.

Yes, there are the faces you recognise from the About pages, the bloggers you’ve followed for years and deeply admire, the same sense of trepidation on entering the room with everybody else chatting and laughing.

But Blogtacular is billed as a place of creativity where people can come together. And this year, 2015, the overriding theme was collaboration.

It was a packed day, almost overwhelmingly so, and there is really far too much to try and squeeze into one blog post. Plus, I know there are likely to be hundreds of posts popping up over the next few weeks with all sorts of information about the event.

So, rather than a full account of what I did, here is just a gathering of some of the things I found most inspiring.

  • In a completely fabulous talk about food styling and photography, Marte Marie Forsberg shared this poem, which I found so unbelievably beautiful as it popped up on the projector that I had to subtly brush away a tear. (Luckily, I was sitting in the front row, so I don’t think anyone noticed me blubbing…)

Tea for Two (A Tragedy)
For Richard Brautigan, who couldn’t be with us

It wasn’t until after
I poured the second cup
that I realized
I was alone.

Post-event Googling, I’ve discovered it is by Pamela August Russell. Beautiful, taut and haunting.

  • Grace Bonney’s opening talk about harnessing fear of change was filled with fabulous soundbites. Perhaps my favourite was her belief that a blog “isn’t just about more, more, more…” We shouldn’t be on a constant mission to increase the numbers; more readers, more likes, more shares. But instead, we should be searching for “an engaged reader” – someone who gets us, is interested in what we have to say, and wants to come back time and again.
  • I went to a second talk by Marte Marie Forsberg on creativity and inspiration. She told us that in her house when she was growing up there was a craft room, referred to by the family as The Blue Room, that was filled with everything you could need to be creative in any imaginable discipline. Every Monday evening, parents and children sat down together for a few hours of making. I was practically texting my husband to demand an extension to our house asap, so we can do the same.
  • And a final thought from Marte Marie: “Creativity is just about problem solving.”
  • Cate Sevilla from Buzzfeed took part in a panel discussion about growing your audience. She was fabulous and direct and had a brilliant point of view on just about everything that was discussed. Including: “You can’t grow an audience by doing the same thing over and over again.”
  • The closing keynote presentation was by Anthony Peters, who showed a trailer for his film, “Made you look”. It contained the most excellent quote:

“Twitter’s a bit like shouting into a cupboard, or talking into a cupboard… No-one hears you. No-one cares.”

Ha! My sentiment, exactly.

  • As well as the talks, I met lots of really lovely bloggers, some of whom I felt I already knew well having read their blog for ages, some of whom were new discoveries. But, I’m restricting myself to telling you about just one awesome person I met: Sarah from A Life Less Physical. I got chatting to Sarah at the very start of the day and she was witty, dry and refreshingly honest. After having a good read of her blog this morning, I can say she writes in the same way. Do check it out.

So, across the day, a huge great wallop in the face of inspiration, ideas and things to mull over for where I want this blog to go and what I can do to take it there. (Regular readers will know I’m already prone to somewhat constant blog navel gazing, so I’m hoping I don’t fall into a rabbit hole for too long and remember, instead, the main thing: just keep writing.)

And the best thing of all: every single person I spoke to seemed genuine and interested. And not a single one told me they needed to end a gossipy conversation in order to go and network with someone more important.

Links:

Blogtacular

Marte Marie Forsberg photography (If I happen to have a lottery win before October, I will be booking myself a place on this Venice food and photography course!)

Grace Bonney’s Design*Sponge

Cate Sevilla at Buzzfeed

The trailer for Made you look

A Life Less Physical

Bishop’s palace and gardens

Perhaps this is a terrible indictment on the state of education in the UK, but the extent of my knowledge about the bishop of Bath and Wells (of whom, presumably, there have been many) is his appearance in Blackadder.

You know the one, the “baby-eating Bishop of Bath and Wells” who turns up and demands money owed to him by Blackadder, but is instead painted in a compromising position with Percy. Ah classic Blackadder, how I used to love that show when I was younger.

Wells Cathedral | Wolves in London
No babies consumed here

Anyway, I’d love to tell you that my recent trip to the Bishop’s Palace and Gardens, right next to Wells Cathedral, gave me the chance to learn loads of factually accurate non baby-eating information, but actually I just spent a lovely morning there wandering round the gardens and looking at trees and plants.

Ah well, I’m clearly just not up for edukashun on a brilliantly sunny day.

We have lots of family in Wells, so we go down there fairly frequently, yet I’d never spent much time before wandering round the town. It’s a truly beautiful place; a lovely old market town with some glorious views and, of course, there’s the famous cathedral and the adjacent palace and gardens.

Bishops Palace | Wolves in London
Wall of the Great Hall

Parts of the palace are still intact and inhabited, though the Great Hall is just a rather picturesque wall. An enthusiastic guide told us, as we came in, that the Victorians pulled the hall down intentionally as they thought it would look better as a ruin. Gung-ho, to be sure, but I agree with them that it did look rather spectacular; the cathedral beyond framed in the windows…

Bishops Palace and Gardens | Wolves in London Bishops Palace WellsWe wandered round the gardens, the sproglet and his cousin having a lovely time examining the flowers and bees.

Wells cathedral | Wolves in LondonBishops Palace and Gardens | Wolves in LondonFlowers | Wolves in LondonThe planting was really lovely, and I’m rather regretting now that I didn’t take a few notes about some of the things that were there.

Oh but I could cheerfully spend every sunny day wandering round a garden and looking at flowers. Here’s to plenty more this summer, please.

Cotswold Wildlife Park: where garden design meets rhinos

Over the half term week we had a holiday – of sorts – down in Somerset.

Clanville Manor
The sproglet is rushing ahead to open the door and let us in to our holiday cottage

I say “of sorts” as the kids were both a little bit grouchy and clingy for much of the week and I returned home feeling somewhat exhausted.

We were staying in a wonderful, atmospheric holiday cottage with a huge, child-friendly garden (The Tallet at Clanville Manor, above, for anyone interested – not sponsored, just a genuinely lovely place). But the sproglets always take a little while to adjust to new surroundings and we really spent far too much time driving around in the car and trying to squeeze in naps ad hoc for their liking.

One of these days, I’m sure, we’ll crack that magic family holiday formula of doing just enough of the things to keep them happy and just enough of the (interesting) things to keep us happy…

Anyway, apart from the clinginess, we had a great time. As well as catching up with family and friends, we took a couple of day trips.

The first was to Cotswold Wildlife Park and, my goodness, if you are ever in the area I urge you to go, go, go!

Cotswold Wildlife Park
Oh yeah, that’s a rhino wandering across the front lawn
Cotswold Wildlife Park
The manor house

If you were to draw a Venn diagram of the interests of this family, then I think this place would sit firmly in the centre of it.

Loads of animals: tick. Beautiful planting and gardens: tick. A gigantic playground: tick. A stunning old manor house hosting brass rubbing: tick. An orangery where you can eat your lunch: tick. A miniature train: tick.

The layout of the place is fabulously quirky; lots of the animal enclosures bordered only by electric wires rather than solid fences. So it is that the rhinos appear to be simply grazing on the front lawn, surrounded by huge flower beds stuffed full of alliums.

Bedding at Cotswold Wildlife Park
I’m not usually a fan of bedding, but who can resist this riot of colour?
Tropical planting at Cotswold Wildlife Park
Yes, this really is in England…
Meerkat at Cotswold Wildlife Park
Strange little things…

In the walled garden, tropical planting was enjoying the microclimate, alongside some meerkats and the sloth enclosure. (And if you’re anything like me, the combination of the words “walled garden” and “sloth enclosure” would be enough to have you jumping into the car before finishing reading this paragraph, ha ha. But wait, wait, there’s more!)

Particular favourites of ours were the giraffes (such incredible, yet elegant creatures), some fabulously grumpy looking camels, their winter coats just starting to hang off them, and this lovely red panda hiding at the top of a tree…

Red panda at Cotswold Wildlife Park
Shy? Me?

We were only there for three hours or so in the morning, on the way down between Oxfordshire and Somerset, but we all wished we could have stayed the whole day. I think we may well be making a return trip as a treat for the sproglet’s birthday this summer…

Part two of our hol, featuring the wonderful Bishops Palace gardens in Wells, later in the week.

PS, Please excuse the slightly crappy nature of the photos. As you can see, it was a rather gloomy day and the light wasn’t great for taking pictures. But it was such a brilliant place, I just had to tell you all about it anyway…

You call this June?

June eh? I’ve got to confess, I’ve had the heating on these past two evenings. And looking out of the window, I can see that one of my tomato plants has been blown over in the winds. Sigh. Good old English summers…

Moaning aside, I dashed out of the back door the other evening, and took a few shots of the garden in between the showers. It’s been a while since I’ve taken any photos out there, but everything has been growing quite well recently, especially the veg. Anyway, come and see:

Flower bed
This is by far the worst photo in the post, so please keep reading. Why, in fact, am I even putting it at the top?!

Only one of my flower beds is even a little bit planted up. (We’re contemplating moving house this year (I know, I know! It seems a bit insane, but there we go…) and if not, then I plan to re-design the entire garden next year, once I’ve finished my garden design training. So, it seemed a bit silly to spend lots of time putting plants into beds only to either leave or have to dig them all out in a year.) This is that bed. On the left is the wallflower (Erysimum ‘Bowles mauve’) that I bought last year.

Allium christophii going to seed
The last of the flowers just clinging on

The alliums have been amazing (Allium giganteum) but by the time we got back from holiday, they were starting to go to seed. I do love the seed heads too, so they will stay in situ as long as they don’t get too windswept.

White allium
Can anyone identify?

And I think these are white allium, just about to bloom. I remember, vaguely, planting them last Autumn, but not exactly what they were.

Erigeron karvinskianus
Undoubtedly one of my all time favourite flowers

At the bottom, are lots of wonderful Mexican fleabane, aka daisies, aka Erigeron karvinskianus. I planted it all last year and it’s doing really well now. I just adore the way they turn pink as they get older.

Stachys byzantina and raindrop
Look at the amazing fine hairs

Also at the front of the bed, I procured some lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) on my recent trip to Painshill Park. I say “procured” which sounds as if I stole it, but I’m not that much of a rule-breaker and I just bought it from the shop. It’s one of my favourite plants ever (so very very very soft!) so I am pleased to finally have some in the garden. Of course, I will need to divide and increase the solitary plant I’ve put in and try to make a proper little clump of them at the front.

Pink geranium
I have the name of this kicking around somewhere, but it’s not to hand

Also recently purchased (from Eltham Palace, this time), this rather delicate looking pink geranium is currently in my window box, but I’m planning on moving it into this bed eventually too.

Campanula and forget-me-nots
You can leave this well alone and it will just keep on coming up, year after year, perfectly happy

There’s also a fair bit of campanula with the odd forget-me-not still going strong. Some say these are weeds, but as far as I am concerned, any plant that produces gorgeous flowers and is just happy looking after itself is very welcome in my garden.

Raindrop on sweet pea leaves
I wish now I had an even-more-macro lens

Elsewhere, I’m hardening my sweet peas off outside and found these little rain drops sitting in the leaves. Rather lovely.

Tomato Super Marmande
Just starting to unfurl…

The tomatoes are all just starting to flower. I can’t remember if I said before, but I’m growing many different varieties this year (Super Marmande, Gardener’s Delight, Tigerella, Tumbling Tom Yellow and some tomatilloes as well…) The one above is a Super Marmande, which I’ve not grown before. The flowers appear in the most amazing way: what seems to be a gigantic flower bud comes out at the very top of the stem, then slowly, it peels back and separates to reveal several individual flowers all on tiny stalks. Rather fascinating to watch.

Greenhouse
No longer such a beast

And finally, do you remember how, last year, I planned to spruce up my greenhouse? It’s not yet a finished result (I plan to artfully string some more bits and pieces from the outside, and hopefully give it a paint job as well) but here’s a little “in progress” shot for you. It’s definitely improving from the monstrosity it was before. Maybe next week I’ll take you a little tour inside…

Turning one

We’re just back from a lovely week in Somerset and I’ve got lots of photos I want to share with you of some of the beautiful places we visited. However, since I think I would need to change this blog’s name to Gardens wot I have visited if I were to follow on with yet another garden visit post, I’ll save them up for next week. This, instead, is something I found sitting in my drafts, written a month ago when it actually had just been the littlest’s birthday and then left as I had wanted to get some better pictures. I think it’s time to admit defeat on that front and just publish it…

Just popping in rather quickly to share a photo of the T-shirt I made for the littlest’s first birthday at the weekend.

 

Homemade birthday top
Oh glorious baby chubbiness!

I’m thinking of turning it into a bit of a tradition, this birthday T-shirt thing. Do you remember the top I made for the sproglet’s second birthday last July?

Needless to say, far less time, thought, planning and energy went into the making of this one for the poor old baby. Where the sproglet had a large, well-planned and well-cooked-for first birthday party, last Saturday’s affair was a family only, last-minute organised do, catered by a quick trip to Waitrose to pick up sausages, scotch eggs and the like. We managed to make him a cake, at least, but forgot to buy candles.

Homemade birthday t-shirt
Crumpled and creased, post-action

And as the first guest arrived – my Mum – I was still busy ironing the image onto the front of his birthday T-shirt, cobbled together in the last few minutes before the party officially started.

Ah well, I rather suspect this will be his lot for the rest of his childhood. Hand-me-downs and less fuss made over all the big milestones. I wonder if it might not be a much easier entrance to the world, though, always aware that you’re not actually at the very centre of it, making it all spin round. At some point in time, his elder brother, the sprog, might get a rather rude awakening to all that, after the constant adoration and amazement from his family.

Gorgeous boys, both, in their different ways. I’m very lucky.

PS, I should mention that the image I’ve used isn’t actually copyright free and good for reproduction, so, erm, don’t tell on me. In a bit of a rush, rather than use my normal vintage images sources, I just had a very quick Google.

PPS, If you’ve not already seen it and want to make your own T-shirts (or anything else at all), check out my tutorial for how to print on fabric.

Painshill Park: the weirdness of landscape gardens

Hot on the heels of my trip to Eltham Palace to check out the 1930s planting, yesterday saw me visiting Painshill Park in Surrey, this time to visit an 18th century landscape garden.

Painshill Park | Wolves in London
The lake at Painshill Park

A bit of potted garden history for anyone interested. The “landscape” style of gardening became popular in the UK around the 1700s; its best known designer Capability Brown.

It’s a style of gardening that essentially aims to “improve” the natural landscape, intending the results to look like a beautiful spot of English countryside (though, in fact, huge chunks of money were likely spent on creating these effects, and vast swathes of land dug up and moved around to make “natural” lakes and hills and woodland areas…)

Painshill Park | Wolves in London
View of the estate

Nestled within the bucolic scenery were (in my opinion) completely lunatic buildings, designed to become a focal point and draw your eye to the horizon, across the sweeping vistas. Gothic follies, “ruined” abbeys, temples, towers, arches, bridges… …nothing was considered too grand or too weird for the aristocrats who owned and built these gardens.

At Painshill, close to Cobham in Surrey, all these features are apparent. Designed by its owner, the Honorable Charles Hamilton, an aristocrat with good connections but little actual money, the park was extensively re-designed and re-built to adhere to the 18th century ideas of a beautiful landscape.

Among other great ventures, the oxbow lake was re-dug to form a more appealing shape; a tumble-down ruined abbey was built to hide some actual modern-day brickworks; a grotto was bejeweled inside with crystals; and, most bizarrely, a Turkish tent was erected on the top of a hill at one side of the estate.

Grotto at Painshill Park
The outside of the crystal grotto. Think this looks weird, then take a look…
Crystal grotto at Painshill Park
…at this! Every single crystal was stuck onto the ceiling by hand.
Crystal grotto at Painshill Park
And this was one of the views from the grotto’s many peepholes
Gothic temple ceiling at Painshill Park
This is the ceiling of the gothic temple
Hermitage at Painshill Park
Naturally, there was a hermitage (!) – this was the rather beautiful view from its window

I’ve got to admit, it’s not my favourite era of garden styles. A little bit too much effort and artifice to create something “natural” – and a serious lack of things that, to a modern eye, are desirable. Such as, you know, flowers or non-evergreen trees and shrubs.

But a morning wandering around (in rather cold May drizzle) was a good way to blow away the cobwebs of the week. And I did very much enjoy the (non-original) watermill and the glorious walled kitchen garden on the way in.

Kitchen garden at Painshill Park
The walled kitchen garden
Water wheel at Painshill Park
The waterwheel building was gorgeous
Waterwheel at Painshill Park
As were the views behind

Incidentally, if you’re thinking of visiting a landscape garden close to London, I would recommend, instead, a trip to Stowe (where I was lucky enough to spend two years in the sixth form at the school there). Designed by Capability Brown himself, this is landscape gardening at its absolute finest.

Next week, we’re off on holiday to Somerset and I’m hoping to visit Hestercombe while we’re there. With a garden designed by Lutyens and Jekyll, I’ve got high hopes of some serious inspiration there…

Falling in love again

Of course we loved our house when we first bought it. You’ve got to really love a collection of bricks to hand over the best part of half a million pounds, after all.

I remember when we first viewed it: I was seven months pregnant, we were looking at 13 houses that weekend and we thought we’d found everything we ever wanted as we wandered through the cute little Victorian terrace in East Dulwich.

Pebble dash London house
Our house, the day we viewed it for the first time

It was perfectly preserved in the 1950s, a real home where we could imagine bringing up our imminent arrival.

And, best of all in our eyes, it was a doer-upper. “Oh yes!” we exclaimed when we heard there was no central heating. “Oh we’ll just extend this kitchen right out to the side and back” we panted with enthusiasm on discovering the long narrow galley kitchen with no natural light. “We’ll have that pebble dash off on the very first day” we grinned to each other, all the while thinking of the savings we were making on the purchase price by doing all these things ourselves.

And then we moved in. And the love affair came to a rather abrupt end.

That first winter was so fricking freezing. Without central heating, we shivered away. Ancient electrical heaters in the main rooms provided some warmth but left me with the constant fear of an electrical fire in the night. Heaven forbid if you had to walk out of one room to reach another, shivering all the way down the corridors.

Eventually, the builders moved in, 14 months after we first did. Four months later, structural work completed, we moved back. To a house of bare plaster and a need for endless decorating. Once again, I was seven months pregnant.

Our money long (long!) eaten up, the past 14 months have been spent painting, sanding, hole-filling, caulking and getting quotes for various things that cost a fortune.

But at last it feels as if the end is in sight, signalled by the momentous occasion of the pebble dash being removed. And you know what, I’m reminded for the first time that my house is actually a real little looker.

Under all that ugly brown and grey pebbledash are some beautiful London stock bricks, all now beautifully re-pointed and able to breathe the air for the first time in probably 40 years.

London terraced house
That brickwork! Who knew I could be so excited by a lovely brick?

Next steps: plant a climbing white rose up the front and replace the windows. Possibly in the opposite order. Ah, little house, you’ll be a proper beauty again before too long.

Loving the 1930s: Eltham Palace day trip

I always wonder, at some point in a blissful three day bank holiday weekend, whether every single weekend would be as good if everyone only worked a four day week all the time. Surely so much office working is just faffing around, chatting, making coffee, checking emails and so on, that actually it could all be squeezed into four days instead and the whole country could have three whole days off every single weekend? Anyway, such dreams are unlikely to become reality (and perhaps I would find then that I longed instead for a four day weekend?) but a bank holiday Monday is always a very delightful thing for me… …even though I don’t even have an office job to go to these days.

This Monday past, we set off for Eltham Palace, an English Heritage owned house and garden in deepest South-East London.

Eltham Palace | Wolves in London
The main entrance was across a fantastic bridge…
Eltham Palace | Wolves in London
…and round the curving drive to the front door

My latest garden design assignment is to create a planting plan for a London garden attached to a 1930s house; the planting needs to sit nicely with the period of the home. I didn’t know much about 1930s gardening, but a quick Google told me that Eltham Palace has some of the best 1930s borders in the country (and described it as a “gardener’s garden”) and Google maps told me it was a 25 min drive from our house. What luck, eh?!

The gardens were, indeed, stunning.

Along one side of the house, the formal gardens are set: a rose garden, a “linear” garden, a square pond and so on. In my research on 1930s gardens, I discovered that this was quite common in Edwardian times (and, indeed Arts and Crafts gardens, which were still in fashion in the ‘30s): more formal gardens, laid out often symmetrically, planted closer to the house, often in a series of “outdoor rooms” and then, as you got further towards the boundary, the planting became more naturalistic and wild, blurring where garden ended and open country began.

Eltham Palace gardens | Wolves in London
All is symmetry and tradition here
Eltham Palace gardens | Wolves in London
This looked like an old potager
Orangery at Eltham Palace | Wolves in London
The heavenly orangery. Oh to have an orangery!

So, too, at Eltham. Across the most fabulous bridge from the moat, a meadow area was full of trees, grass and wildflowers, with a series of paths just mown into the meadow. This is an idea I absolutely adore and one I definitely plan to do if I am ever lucky enough to own a piece of land big enough to have a meadow…

Eltham Palace | Wolves in London
The bridge across the old moat – perfect for the Billy Goats Gruff
Eltham Palace meadow | Wolves in London
The meadow had some magnificent trees

Though the house would originally have been enclosed by the moat, nowadays only half is still filled with water. The section of moat at the back of the house has instead been turned into huge borders, flanked by beautiful old red brick walls.

Even the car parks were beautiful, in fact, this brick wall being one of the first things we saw when we parked the car:

Eltham Palace car park | Wolves in London
Yup, I haven’t uploaded the wrong photo here, this really is the wall in the car park…

Looking at the “1930s borders,” I’ve got to say, they looked like any contemporary flower borders to me, using all sorts of plants that I’ve learnt about in my course and love. I certainly wouldn’t have known that they were specifically from the ‘30s if I hadn’t been told so.

Garden notes a Eltham Palace | Wolves in London
I loved this sign on the way in…

white flowersflowerseuphorbiablossombleeding heartsAs for the house, well, that is the most fabulously 1930s place you could ever imagine. I’d left my camera in the pram (which wasn’t allowed inside) so I’ve got no photos, but it was a wonderful stroll round rooms preserved in their 1930s best: fabulously decadent gold mosaic-filled bathrooms; round windows all over the place; a special room (with central heating) for the pet lemur, called Mah-Jong (or Jonggy, if you’re on intimate terms) and walnut-panelled guest bedrooms. Given half a chance, I would have moved in then and there…

So, definitely worth a visit if you’re a garden lover, 1930s buff, or just fancy a wander round a nice house and grounds. We were talked into signing up to a year’s membership with the English Heritage at the entrance (you know, cos it ends up only costing three times as much as just paying to get in and that suddenly sounds like a great deal when someone says it to you enthusiastically) so I hope we’ll be visiting lots more places before the year is out.

Grow, forage, cook: stickyweed salsa verde

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I am just absolutely bloody loving this good weather. Oh, the sun! Oh, the warm temperatures! Oh, the chance to potter around the garden, smelling the fabulous springtime smells of new growth out there!

Actually, though, not a huge amount of pottering has been done in the garden as much of the new growth is in the form of weeds. While I turned my back for a week or so, the weeds took over, until our main flower bed was basically one mass of weeds with the odd desultory flower poking through.

Cleavers weed botanical imageSo, rather than potter, I have been weeding at every spare second I get.

I say this in no way as form of complaint. I rather enjoy weeding. There is something quite pleasing about crouching down in the grass, in front of the flower bed, carefully tracing a weed flower back to its roots and plucking them out of the ground, taking care not to disturb all the bulb foliage alongside.

It’s quite therapeutic, weeding away in 15 minute stints, while the sproglets are sleeping, or happily engaged playing with their water table. (That is, a table filled with water, not the water table below ground. I’m not such a lax parent that I let them dig deep holes and leave them to flounder around in the underground water… Though I have no doubt that is exactly the sort of way they would both deeply enjoy spending a sunny afternoon.)

Of all the weeds in the garden, it’s cleavers, or stickyweed, sticky willy, goosegrass (Latin name: Galium aparine) (botanical illustration above) of which we have by far the most. It spreads and spreads and spreads. In fact, in the time it’s taken me to write this, it’s almost certainly taken over a good square metre of garden.

And while I knew that there were certain weeds you could eat (nettles spring to mind as one of the better known), it never occurred to me in a million years that I could actually put cleavers to use by, shock, consuming them.

But, reading a recent post on the wonderful Seeds and Stitches blog, by  Fore Adventure, I discovered you can do exactly that. I know! I nearly fell off my chair too.

This recipe for salsa verde uses whatever green herbs you can get your hands on. Including nettles and cleavers.

So on Sunday, I decided to do a bit of weeding and make myself my own salsa verde.

Stickyweed salsa verde | Wolves in LondonI adjusted the recipe a bit, to use what I had on hand. My greens of choice were a big old bunch of cleavers, fresh from the flower bed, along with some carrot, beetroot and radish thinnings.

Rather than the cornichons in the recipe, I used some pickled cucamelon that I made last year (never blogged, because I wasn’t really convinced that it was a particularly good way of eating cucamelons once I’d made it). I also omitted the anchovies as the hubby has had a recent fish allergy develop, which means he vomits whenever he eats any. Not the response I want to anything I’ve cooked, really…

salsa verde ingredients | Wolves in LondonAlong with a few capers, as in the original recipe, and some olive oil, I roughly chopped the greens and then just blitzed the whole lot in my hand held blender. In fact, the only thing about the recipe that took any time was washing all the greens in the first place.

I have to say, I was rather sceptical about just how tasty cleavers was going to be to eat. It’s so dratted sticky I could imagine it being rather unpleasant to swallow. But I was more than pleasantly surprised to discover that the salsa verde I made was actually bloody delicious. I’m not sure you really taste much of anything beyond the vinegar and pickled vegetables, but there is a definite spring freshness to it, provided by the cleavers, though I couldn’t give you any specific identifiable flavour they have.

I only made a small jar, in case it hadn’t turned out too nice, but I will definitely be making it again.

I might even experiment with a few other weeds this time. Now, if only bindweed was truly palatable, my garden would be a place of great productivity at all times.

P.S. On finding the rather lovely botanic illustration above on Wikipedia, I then read the article and discovered that it’s not just the leaves that are edible, but that:

“Cleavers are in the same family as coffee. The fruits of cleavers have often been dried and roasted, and then used as a coffee substitute which contains less caffeine.”

Astonishing, no! And there was I thinking it was just a pesky weed all this time…

Plant it now: lavender

I thought it might be nice to start up a(nother) little gardening series, taking a look at some of my favourite plants at the perfect time for planting them in the garden (or sowing seeds).

Too often, when I read about plants that I decide I simply must have in my little patch, it’s at a time when they’re in full bloom and by the time it’s the perfect occasion to plant or grow them, I’ve completely forgotten about all my wonderful plans…

Lavender lined path
© Ashridge Nurseries

First up then, a plant that I would argue is an absolute essential in any garden, the quintessential cottage garden stalwart: lavender.

I adore lavender. I love the look of the silvery foliage; I love it clipped into neat balls (so much more interesting than the ubiquitous box!), I love the fluffy purple and blue flowers and, of course, I love the gorgeous scent, redolent of lazy summer days spent lounging on picnic blankets and watching clouds drifting overhead in blue skies.

Possibly the only thing to love lavender more than I do is bees, and, hey, waddya know, I also love a wildlife garden too, so this is pretty perfect.

Lavender spikeEvery year, I also cut some stalks, to dry, use in craft projects, put in pots and just generally festoon wherever possible. Actually, now I think of it, I even used lavender in the buttonholes we made for our wedding party.

I’m working on putting more lavender plants into my own garden. At the moment, I’ve got a very old, leggy, woody shrub in the back garden that we inherited when we moved in (you can see it here from last summer) and which really needs replacing. And I’ve got about, hmmm, 25 small plug plants in the greenhouse that I grew from seed last year.

My plan is to replace the old shrub with a healthy new one and also to plant a row of lavender balls running down the pathway to the front door. (Incidentally, please don’t imagine I have a gigantic front path – it will take approximately five balls to fill that space adequately. The rest will have to find a home elsewhere.)

And now is the perfect time to plant lavender: get it in the right situation for the glorious blue haze of flowers in the summer. Incidentally, spring and autumn are generally the best times to plant any shrubs, so they can get their roots nice and settled into the ground at a time when they’re not also concentrating energy into making flowers.

If you’re tempted to plant some in your garden, after all this rhapsodising, do take a look at Ashridge Nurseries, a really excellent online seller of trees, shrubs and hedging. They’ve got my two favourite varieties of lavender for sale: Munstead and Hidcote. (Named after Gertrude Jekyll’s garden at Munstead and Hidcote Manor, respectively…)

Lavender from Ashridge

Plugs start at £2.95 and you can also find loads more information about using lavender in the garden along with advice on planting and pruning. (Plus a little selection of lavender trivia; what’s not to love?!)

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post with, hey you guessed it, Ashridge Nurseries. Regular and wildly attentive readers might notice this is the first collaborative piece I’ve run on Wolves in London. Though I’m approached fairly frequently, I tend to know nothing about the companies or don’t think they’re a great fit for the blog. Ashridge, on the other hand, is a website I’ve been using myself for about eight years now whenever I want to buy any trees or shrubs. I’ve always found them to provide an absolutely excellent service, amazing value, brilliant trees, as well as a fantastically informative website. If you remember the rosa rugosa hedge I put in last year, that was bought from Ashridge. So, I’m happy to sing their praises to you all! (And, of course, I’m always happy to sing the praises of lovely old lavender…)

Lavender