A few flowers

Magnolia stellata | Wolves in LondonChionodoxa | Wolves in LondonPrimrose | Wolves in LondonWe continued with Operation Sort-out-the-garden this weekend.

It’s an ongoing attempt, that’s been running for about, oooh, the 2.5 years we’ve lived in this house.

It’s not that I’m not crazy on gardening or that I’m not actually really quite desperate to have a garden that’s nice to sit in… it’s just that we’re also simultaneously running Operation Finish-decorating-the-darned-house and Operation Look-after-two-small-kids.

Anyway, I’m really starting to see progress now. I might even share some whole garden photos with you soon… (The suspense! I know!)

Yesterday was spent shoveling a big pile of soil into buckets to put onto a new bed. The soil pile has been sitting in front of the greenhouse for more than a year now (intended time of habitation in that location: about one month). There is something wildly satisfying about a bit of physical labour, especially the repetitive thrust of the spade into a big fat pile of earth.

On Saturday, with the sproglet’s help, I sowed a few more seeds, removed the duckweed from the pond and peered at a huge ball of frogspawn, did a bit of weeding around the rhubarb, checked on the new bed that’s been dug out for veg, and went on a snail hunt.

In between all the gardening, I spent lots of time admiring the new flowers that are appearing.

Oh and the hubby got in on the act too, cutting down the gigantic wooden post that was in front of our greenhouse (you can see it in the picture here) that once led a visitor to comment that it was always nice to have some gallows in the garden…

Next weekend, we’re putting up an arch in the same location, planting some honeysuckle and evergreen jasmine round the base, sowing the seeds into the veg bed and doing whatever else I can add to the list in the meantime.

Nowt like Spring, is there?

Life recently

Well after that gloriously wonderful weekend of sun and spring weather, we seem to have returned to the depths of winter, plunged back to rain, grey skies and cold temperatures (here in London, at least).

I have to say, it’s put me in a rather bad mood to have been given the promise of sunnier months, only for them to disappear so quickly. Judging by the incessant moaning and whining of the sproglets this morning, they’re feeling the same way too.

Still, cold we might be, but life has continued in an anticipatory vein around here. I’m just dropping in quickly with a few photos from the last week…

Mothers day flowersMy Mother’s Day flowers are looking very beautiful on the mantelpiece. Tulips and daffodils can’t fail to make you feel all spring-like.

The sproglet and I have been spending every spare moment dedicatedly (some might say obsessively) sowing seeds. Most surfaces in the house and greenhouse look like this now.

Borlotti bean seedsWe’ve mostly done fruit and veg so far: three different tomatoes, two aubergines, these borlotti firetongues (which I keep seeing out of the corner of my eye and mistaking for a plate of chocolate cupcakes), some yellow courgettes, chillies and yin and yang beans.

Next up, this weekend, are the veg that are going straight out into the garden: carrots, broad beans, chives, beetroot, radishes and some garlic and onions that I bought for Autumn planting, but which have been sitting around in the house ever since.

I’ll let you know how I’m getting on when I have some germination!

Finally, but taking up most of my time recently, I’ve been working away on my next garden design assignment. This was to create a planting plan for a shady border in a bookshop courtyard.

Garden design planting planI’ve just finished putting all the different elements together and am feeling pretty proud of my first ever design. My new A3 printer arrived today so I can print the final sheet out in proper size this evening. Exciting stuff!

Now, if the good weather would just come back again too, life would be all but perfect.

Spring’s sprung at Wisley

Oh, but I bloody love Spring.

The lighter evenings, the bulbs nosing up through the soil, the constant refrain of birdsong. Above all, the sense of possibility in the air, a renewed energy to get up off my arse and just do stuff. Anything! For everything undertaken in Springtime can’t fail to be fun.

Crocuses at Wisley | Wolves in LondonSnowdrop at Wisley | Wolves in LondonOn Saturday, we made another trip to Wisley so I could steal some ideas get some inspiration for my latest garden design assignment. I challenge you to find a more enjoyable place in the country to enjoy one of the first days of Spring.

I visited for the first time last Summer (read about that here: Wonderful Wisley) and was totally won over by the glorious gardens. Our trip on Saturday just deepened my love.

Everywhere was a riot of crocuses, with clusters of snowdrops, winter aconite and lots of beautiful irises to enjoy. I felt immense pride every time the sproglet stopped, delighted, by a snowdrop and said, “Look! Mummy! A nodrop, a nodrop!”

Grass at Wisley | Wolves in LondonGrass heads at Wisley | Wolves in LondonWe wandered round the lakes, admiring the dogwoods, ate an immense and delicious (but pricey) meal in the restaurant, ambled through the library, bumped the pram through the glorious woodland area and generally just felt pretty bloody contented, with the sun on our faces.

Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn' at Wisley | Wolves in LondonJust before heading home, I took the sproglet into the glasshouses to see the butterflies. It was crammed to the rafters with hundreds of other families doing exactly the same thing, so we raced on through, stopping to spot a few butterflies on the feeding tables, but not much more. (The V&A butterfly house we visited a few years back had a better butterfly to person ratio, I found, though I have to say this was the last weekend at Wisley, so perhaps most of the butterflies had already died off…)

Butterflies eating bananas | Wolves in LondonAhhh, days like these are just good for the soul. Roll on more Spring weather, please, life feels so jolly at this time of year.

The garden of my dreams

The sprogs have both been ill, with various bits and pieces, these past few weeks, which means that my days have disappeared in a blur of antibiotics administering, snotty nose wiping, eyedrop dispensing, multiple night-time wakings soothing and generally feeling pretty knackered myself.

There’s not been much time for blogging. Or thinking. Or brushing my hair.

French country cottage gardenAlso taking up a fair bit more time than I anticipated is my garden design course. Yup, that same garden design course I was so excited about starting and which is now feeling a little bit more like a chore in my life because of the mountains upon mountains of homework that come with it. Still, I am learning lots of nice and interesting new things, so I’m not complaining too much. Even if I am suddenly plummeted back into my English Lit student days where you always, but always had an essay due in in a week’s time and consequently any other event that was going on* had a shadow hanging over it whispering to you: “You really should be writing that essay you know…”

So when I stumbled across photos of a beautiful garden when doing some research for my course, I was immediately tempted to go and visit it and have a nice day off.

Garden des JoetsThen I realised that it was in France. Hey! Even better!

A quick Google later and I’ve discovered you can get the ferry to Dunkirk and then drive for 30 minutes and be in Eecke, the home of Le jardin des Joets. Ferry timetables are being consulted, cars are being booked, the surrounding neighbourhoods examined for friendly looking B&Bs.

Meanwhile, I just had to share some of these photos with you as they are, in essence, my absolute dream garden. In these still rather cold and dreary early March days, I find it deeply cheering to look at a garden in full bloom and dream of the drowsy bee-filled summer months.

Summer flowersAll photos from a rather brilliant French website, Le jardin de Sophie. Do head over and take a look, there are lots more wonderful pictures to tempt you to book your place on a ferry too: Le jardin des joets.

*Events going on in my student days could probably be summarised with: making supper, smoking a cigarette, going out in Bristol and getting steamingly drunk.

The torture of Sisyphus…

Cleaning brush

I’ve been in a bit of a blogging slump recently.

I won’t bore you with the overall existential ponderings. (Brief summary: but what is my blog for? *Scratches head, spends months trying to come up with the answer*) Coupled with that has just been a basic lack of things to write about.

When I started out, I mostly wrote about craft. Various lovely (or not so lovely) things I had made. But I’m not making anything these days. A cardigan for the sproglet has been sitting on my knitting needles for five months now and nothing else even attempted.

Sometimes, I used to tell you about nice places I’d been. These days, it’s mostly a blur of toddler dance classes, singing classes, the nursery run, lunches round at friends’ houses while our kids play together (I am sorry, but I just cannot use that vile term “playdates”) – all a pleasant enough way to spend time, for sure, but not offering wildly fascinating stories that I can retell to avid readers.

Weekends are mostly taken up with the endless chore of painting the damn house. Or thinking about painting the damn house. Or not painting the damn house and then regretting it.

And, of course, there are lots of bloggers who keep up regular lovely, inspirational posts, showing you nothing more than the insides of their house. Their beautifully styled, gloriously white houses with eclectic collections of carefully sourced nicknacks and curios. My house, however, spends most of its days looking like a cesspit. Or at least the place where a charity shop vomited up its insides and nobody’s yet had time to sort through everything and price it all up…

Housework, ah housework. Before I had two children, I had expected – of course – that more of my time might be taken up looking after the kids. (I didn’t realise that somehow this time would not double but possibly quadruple…) But I didn’t anticipate that the time needed to do the housework would also exponentially increase.

It’s, quite literally, a full time job attempting to wash everyone’s clothes, stack and unstack the dishwasher, cook everyone’s meals (that are left mostly untouched or thrown to the floor), sweep the floor, think that I really should get around to mopping the floor one day soon, get two children washed in the evening and napping at the right times throughout the day.

And not a full time job at which I am doing well, either. A full time job at which – were I to have the corporate time waster that is a quarterly review – I would be found “failing to meet expectations” and put on a three month probation period, almost certainly fired at the end of it due to lack of improvements.

(I should say, I do (almost definitely always) get the kids fed and washed. Don’t worry about that. In clean clothes every day? Hmmm, not so much. Frequent is the Friday where I fish out some dirty clothes from the washing pile and use a wet wipe to clean off the worst of the stains before dropping the sproglet in to nursery – wondering if I am secretly being judged for consistently bringing my child in in unwashed clothes…)

How does everyone else manage it, I wonder?! Of course I know that behind the blogging / instagram photos of immaculate mantelpieces are almost certainly messy sitting rooms, but still, still, congratualtions to all those who find time to not only beautifully style but also photograph their mantelpieces!

Anyway, I may no longer be bringing you craft projects, reviews of fun places to visit in London, or even a decent photo of any old thing these days, but I did stumble across this fabulous quote a little while ago, which perfectly sums up how I feel about all this. And this, my friends, is definitely worth writing a blog post just to share.

Simone de Beauvoir on cleaning:

“Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day.”

Now, please, tell me I’m not alone!

PS, scrubbing brush image above from the Graphics Fairy. I’m not kidding you, I literally can’t find the time to go and snap a photo for this post…

…Postscript

Water droplets on the window
Water droplets on the window

Did you spot the foolish assertions in my last post?

Let’s revisit for a second. I’d been ill for three days, then working late on my gardening assignment for three days and then, then, I decided it was the perfect time to spend a weekend painting the house.

Was that a good idea? No. It was a ridiculously bad idea and, guess what, I’m back in bed again today with the dreaded mastitis once again.

It’s a most gigantic pain in the arse (or, more accurately, a gigantic pain in the boob) and my levels of patience with being a patient, already low after three days cooped up, are dwindling even further.

The good news? No vomiting this time, hurrah, and the very wonderful SELDOC (South East London’s out of hours doctor service) prescribed me some new antibiotics at 8pm last night and let us send a taxi over to collect them.

So, once again, here I am, looking at the white walls of the spare room, agitating about everything I should be up and doing, but instead lying on a hot water bottle (which I have just discovered has been leaking actually, arggghhh) to try and ease the aching bone pain in my back.

I’ve got to say, in my experience of not-especially-serious illnesses, mastitis is a pretty grim one. The pain isn’t too bad as that can be relieved by a constant supply of paracetamol and ibuprofen, but the fevers, the chills, the night sweats, the nausea, the dizziness and the bone aches are a truly horrible combination.

Anyway, on days like today I am hugely thankful for my Kindle (I’m re-reading The Secret Garden which is rather wonderful and wholesome and, of course, all about gardening, whoop whoop), my trusty laptop (on which I am writing now and on which I have been having a good old catch up of all sorts of fabulous blog posts) and my iPhone for perusing hundreds of lovely photos on instagram from people who are not lying in bed, but out and about doing wonderfully photogenic things.

And who knows, with an unexpected extra day in bed, I might actually get round to finishing some of the millions of half-written blog posts that have been sitting in draft since the start of the year.

In all things a silver lining, eh?

On the go…

Lavender
No, this photo has really no relevance to anything I’ve mentioned in this post, but it is quite calming to look at…

Hell’s bells, what a week it’s been.

If you follow me on instagram, you will have already seen me moaning on about being ill this time last week. I managed to get mastitis (mastitis! I ask you! With a nine-month-old! That is something to keep you occupied while you have a newborn, isn’t it?!) which completely floored me for three days.

Before I was sick, I would have said, “Mmmm, three days in bed, just lounging around and relaxing while someone else looks after the kids. Bliss!”

But, actually, with a fever and a temperature and shaking and sweating and chills and vomiting… …well, guess what, it wasn’t a huge amount of fun.

I also missed my beloved garden design course last week as a result and then didn’t have a chance to talk through the first assignment with my tutor.

And then my baby got sick. And then he came out in a rash – we later found out as a reaction to his antibiotics.

Oh and our broadband went down for five days, which meant I couldn’t even get started on my huge, gigantic first garden design assignment until a few days before it was due in.

So, Wednesday, everyone is finally better, broadband is back up and I had to start working like a crazy person trying to finish in time for the Friday deadline.

Anyway, all of which was supposed to be a little brief few lines to explain why I’ve been a little absent here recently, but of course turned into a full-blown moan. What can I say? I just can’t help grinching when I’m ill…

But, phew, here we are on the other side and it’s the weekend again. This weekend is all about painting the house. As you might remember, our decorating attempts have been a little slooooow since we moved back after all the building work, ahem, a whole year ago now. The downstairs is more or less finished, but the two main bedrooms upstairs are still bare plaster on the walls.

We’ve booked a carpenter to come round and put shelves up for us in a few weeks, which means we need to get the paint up in the sprog’s room and our room pretty sharpish. This weekend is the turn of the sprog’s room. His cot is in our room, we’re in the spare bedroom, the littlest is squeezed in wherever he is least likely to be woken up (most likely in bed with us in the spare room, I suspect…)

And, now I’ve written this, I’m off to paint and paint and paint, and hope we can get a good first coat up this evening. Phew. I feel a little worn out already just thinking about it.

Defining your Signature Style: a few photos

When I first moved from print to online journalism about, oooh, 15 years ago now, everyone was abuzz with the “immediacy of the web.”

Print is dead, they raved. (Okay, I might have raved a little bit as well…) Gone are the days of waiting to hear the news the day after it happens in the newspapers. We can read stuff now immediately on the shiny new internet.

Well, here I am today to show you the complete opposite; writing not about something that happened this very morning, but, erm, almost three months ago.

Hydrangea | Wolves in London

Yes, the not-so-shiny-new internet is still as fast as anything, but this old human dolt can still move as slow as can be.

Back at the start of November, I went on a photography and moodboarding weekend workshop, with Emily Quinton (of Makelight) and Gudy Herder (of Eclectic Trends).

The course was all about defining your signature style visually – through your photos and through moodboards.

It’s something I’ve thought about quite a lot when it comes to this blog. My photography is slowly starting to improve but I’d love to get to a point where you could look at a photo taken by me and think, “oh yes, that’s a Wolves in London photo”…

bowl and ribbon | Wolves in London

The first day of the course was focused on photography. We looked at three distinct photographic styles (minimalism, moody, and bright/colourful) and talked about how to take that sort of photo.

I was drawn most to minimalism: all white backgrounds, clean lines, simple arrangements and so forth. (I’ve got a few newly-discovered instagram accounts to share with you another time as well, for some gorgeous inspiration…)

vase | Wolves in London

So, off I went to practise and took a few nice minimalist(ish) photos and then, with the sun going behind the clouds, I took a few moody ones as well just for good measure.

Some of the pics I was more happy with are scattered through this post for your delectation.

Rosemary | Wolves in London

The following day was all about moodboarding with Gudy, which was really fascinating to me, since I didn’t – if I’m totally honest – even really understand what moodboarding was before. (Well, you know, it’s that thing they do in the Great Interior Design Challenge, of course, but I hadn’t thought of it in a wider context than that…)

Gudy showed us lots of examples of different types of moodboard, which I discovered needn’t just be the obvious such as pictures stuck to a background, but could also be collections of objects arranged on the floor, or even 3D moodboards including bits of furniture / paintings / vases of flowers and so on. I got loads of inspiration for things I might try and incorporate on the blog at some point in the future.

Then, in the afternoon, we made our own moodboard for our blog (or website, brand, whatever). For some reason, I completely neglected to photograph mine, but you can see it — along with everyone else’s — over on Gudy’s blog here: a workshop review.

Shells | Wolves in London

All-in-all, a really fun weekend, where, as is so often the case I find, one of the most enjoyable parts was meeting all the other people on the course and seeing the really creative things everyone else got up to.

If you fancy going yourself, Emily and Gudy are running another day next summer. You can find out more info as well as reading a (much more detailed) overview of the day on Emily’s blog here: Moodboarding and photography.

A snowflake bedroom

Hello hello! Happy Tuesday-in-that-odd-bit-between-Christmas-and-New-Year. I hope you had wonderful Christmases and are ready for amazing 2015s.

I’d meant to post this in the run-up to Christmas but, of course, what with everything else, I got a bit sidetracked and it never managed to make it out of draft mode. Still, it’s not specifically about Christmas, just winter, I suppose, so hopefully still of some small interest in these last few breaths of December…

Paper snowflakes | Wolves in London
Scuse the graininess, there’s no blinking light at all up by the ceiling in the middle of winter…

Because my Mum lives 90 minutes away from us, whenever she looks after one of the boys for the day, she spends the night beforehand in our guest room.

The term “guest room” is a bit of a misnomer. It’s more like a “dump the junk that won’t fit anywhere else room,” stuffed full with car seats, concertinaed spare prams and teetering piles of craft supplies.

Ever since we renovated the house about a year ago (and then ran out of money before finishing the decorating, just like in every TV property show ever broadcast) it’s had some curtains tacked in place across the window, not able to open or close. It used to be the bathroom, before the big house reshuffle, and the window has been specifically designed to be permanently open a crack, an icy breeze filtering through at this time of year.

So my poor old Mum has spent many a night picking her way to a bed through a floor full of detritus, sleeping overlooked by stacks of boxes and, though mostly cosy under our warmest, thickest duvet, she has confessed to me that she sometimes puts a pillow over her head to try and keep her face warm from the draught.

As she spent Christmas with us this year she had five whole nights to enjoy the delights of our spare room. And, it being Christmas’n’all, I wanted to actually make it a pleasant experience for her.

The boxes and spare prams were banished to a desultory corner of our bedroom, the car seats stashed in her car on arrival and, most exciting of all, we actually put a curtain pole up, so the curtains could be opened in the morning, woohoo.

And then I thought, oh wouldn’t it be fun to make it like a proper white Christmas in there?

So, one evening, the hubby and I (well, mostly the hubby, really) made hundreds of snowflakes to hang from the ceiling.

Now she’s gone back home, I’ve brought them all down into the sitting room, where they sway endlessly in the breeze from the window and the heat from the radiator. What do you think? Quite festive, no?!

Paper snowflakes | Wolves in London
The one on the top right of this picture is my fave

I think the overall effect is actually quite classy.

Okay, maybe only a little bit classy and a lot kitschy.

I followed various different templates and patterns I found on Pinterest (obvs) — but mostly just hacked out little shapes from folded triangles of paper to see how they would end up. If you feel like brightening up your room in January, you can find all the patterns saved in my Pinterest board Homemade Christmas.

But, even better than this veritable paper wonderland for my poor old Mum, I also made a draught excluder from an old pair of pyjamas to lie across the gaping hole in the window. Otherwise, she may well have woken on Christmas day, a glacial breeze wafting across her face and — yet to put her glasses on — glanced up to the ceiling and thought she had woken to a genuine white Christmas.

So on that icy note, happy 2015 to you all! I hope you’ve got something lovely planned for New Year’s Eve. Me, I’ll be digging something out of the freezer to eat, scoffing the odd mouthful, inbetween the wake up calls of my two never-great-sleeping children who have entered all manner of horrendous sleep regressions over the Christmas week, downing as much wine as I can manage when free to do so and possibly watching an episode of Modern Family before, most likely, flaking out on the sofa at about 10pm. I know, I know, I’ll stop now for fear of making whatever plans you’ve got seem completely anticlimactic in comparison.

xxx

On the mantel: December

Ahhh, the Christmas mantelpiece.

It’s the one I remember most fondly from my childhood. Hundreds of cards jostling for space. An ever-growing nativity scene, ultimately boasting four baby Jesuses made out of clay, the child/sculptor’s name scrawled into the bottom and the constant pestering to my Mum to decide which of us had made the “best Jesus.” An advent calendar and advent candle hiding in there somewhere, the candle lit ceremoniously in the evening – though we’d frequently forget it for days on end, or leave it burning for longer than we should, so it rarely showed the right date.

Christmas is really all about creating traditions for kids, isn’t it? It’s something I look forward to with more excitement each year as the sproglets get older and more able to understand what’s going on.

December mantelpiece | Wolves in London
Oh so hard to take photos in these dark days!

My mantelpiece now is nowhere near as full, riotous or jolly as those we used to have when I was little, but I’ve got a nod to some of the same elements.

On the right, perhaps my favourite Christmas decoration of all time: an angel candle holder. The angels spin round and round when the tea light is lit… I’ve had it for four years now, but it was only when examining in closely with the sprog, that I realised each angel is carrying a different offering.

Angel candle holder
I could watch these spin round for hours…

The beautiful poppy illustration to the left is an RHS 2014 calendar that I discovered in the attic just last week… I must have put it away when we moved out last Autumn for the building work and then forgotten about it once we moved back in. It is absolutely stunning, so I’m pleased to be enjoying it for the last few weeks of the year, anyhow, ha ha.

All is not lost, however, as I plan to cut out some of the illustrations and frame them, so they can have a more permanent position in the room.

RHS calendar | Wolves in London
This is a poppy illustration in festive Christmas colours…

Of course, we don’t only have one Christmas card, the rest are on the bookshelves in the alcoves surrounding the mantelpiece. But I am quite fond of this little polar bear in his woolly hat…

Polar bear card
It must get cold in the Arctic. I’d want a woolly hat too…

On the far left, a fabulously kitsch Mary, Joseph and Jesus, nestle next to an offcut of our Christmas tree and some pinecones. The little nativity trio were sent to me by one of my oldest friends a few Christmases ago when we were out in Hong Kong, as part of a fabulous Christmas bundle to bring a bit of the classic British Chrimbo to our little patch in China. (Also included, The Muppet’s Christmas Carol, a CD of Christmas songs and some Christmas tree hairclips.) It might well be the favourite parcel I’ve ever received.

Nativity | Wolves in London
Shiny shiny

In a slight aside, I’ve been pondering a lot this year how to explain the whole Christmas thing to the sproglet. I was raised (very loosely) CofE, but am not religious at all anymore.

(For anyone interested, the nutshell version of what I believe is that this short life we have here on Earth is all there is, so let’s all be nice to each other and try and make it as enjoyable and as much fun as we can. )

I’m not quite sure, though, what line to take with the sproglet when explaining various (mainly Christian) religious things. Obviously, we are actually celebrating Christmas, so do I just give him the story of Jesus, or do I preface everything with “some people believe that…”?

It seems like there’s quite a fine line to tread in there somewhere, explaining about all religious festivals, but why we only celebrate certain ones of them if we’re not, ourselves, actually of that religion. And why other people, such as friends or relatives, believe things different to what we (or rather I) do.

Anyway, he’s only two still, so perhaps I can worry about all that another year.

On a much lighter note, the ginkgo garland below is still hanging since last month (missing on a central leaf). I had planned to take it down and replace it with something more Christmassy, but I just love it so much, it’s stayed up there. I’ll leave it til Christmas Eve and then put some stockings up.

The fireplace remains unlit, again something for Christmas Eve, I think. Meanwhile, the wicker basket is full of blankets, for snuggling up under in these dark cold nights.

Candlelight, blankets and kitsch ornaments: I need nothing more from Christmas!

I’ve been showing you my mantelpiece each month since September, but have decided not to carry on in 2015. I’ve become aware that there are lots (and lots and lots!) of other bloggers out there showing beautifully styled, beautifully photographed vignettes from around their houses. Now, I’m not a stylist, nor an especially proficient photographer (see my struggle to get these images in gloomy winter weather) so I started to think I’m not really adding anything especially interesting to the mix…

I’m planning on sticking a bit more to what I’m good at: crafting, gardening and a lot of wittering, ha ha.

I’ll be popping back in tomorrow (Christmas preps all going well, at any rate) to show you a little crafty / papery project I made for my guest room and then it’s off to the mulled wine and mince pies and duck that we’ve got planned. Hope you’re all settling down to enjoy festivities…