Release the frogs!

Frog | Wolves in LondonThese past few weekends we’ve been digging out the pond from the bottom of our garden to convert it to flower bed.

I’d been agonising about what to do with the pond (as is my wont) for a good few years. On the one hand, the pond isn’t very safe for the kids, is under three apple trees so spends a large portion of the year full of rotting apples, and leaves a huge swathe of bed behind it completely unreachable and, therefore, covered in bindweed and more rotting apples.

One the other hand, it’s the home of huge numbers of frogs, which we all love.

Finally, the first argument won over, and so — with plans to put a new, smaller pond in place somewhere that’s not under loads of trees — we’ve decided to dig this one out.

Job one: removing the water and re-housing the resident frogs. Which was wildly, vastly more fun than I could have possibly imagined.

We thought we had a few frogs in there. If pushed to pick a number I probably would have settled on five. But, slowly removing all the water in bucketloads, we discovered about 30, including a couple of soon-to-be Mums, their bellies fat with eggs.

The boys and I watched on, impressed, as my husband caught them all in his hands and put them into a bucket of pond water. And then we set off, the four of us, down to the lake in the local park to set them all free for a new home.

The littlest was especially impressed with the frogs, pointing at them and yelling “Rog! Rog! Touch! Touch!” so we soon developed the routine that the hubby would get a frog from the bucket, hand it to the littlest, who then set it free beyond the fence of the pond.

(Where they mostly sat around looking perplexed for an alarmingly long time and I worried that the heron was going to swoop down and eat them at any second.)

By the third trip, we had gathered a bit of a crowd to watch the frog-releasing exploits, and even the sproglet and I gathered up enough bravery to also hold and release a frog of our own. We made a few new friends, had some good frog banter, and my husband was even called “a modern David Attenborough” — which I think made his day week year as Attenborough is his number one hero.

All in all, the perfect way to spend a Sunday.

NB In all the excitement, I completely failed to take any photos of the frog-handling / frog-releasing so instead you’ve got an old photo from a few years back of the frogs in the pond as it used to be (you know, in case you’ve forgotten what a frog looks like while you’re reading this…)

Urban Jungle Bloggers: plant shelfie

Wolves in London plant shelfie

I’d written you a ridiculously whiney blog post to go with these pictures a week or so ago.

It was mostly complaining about the lack of light and how much I had to do at the moment.

“Oh I’m sooooooo busy right now.” “Oh the light is sooooo bad right now.” “Oh I’m soooooo stressed out right now.” Moan, moan, whinge, whinge etc etc.

Anyway, it made for terribly dull reading and besides, any reasons for moaning are all in the past now, for my garden design assignments were completed and handed in on Friday and the sun, the sun, the wonderful sun, has been back out in the sky these past few days (even if only for a few hours).

So I’ve hit delete on that and here I am instead with nothing much to say but just some photos for this month’s Urban Jungle Bloggers.

The topic this month is plant shelfie; a topic I read with glee when the email came round last month.

Wolves in London plant shelfie

My “shelf” (ahem, yes I know it is really my mantelpiece) is currently heaving with succulents. I bought all the plants a few weekends ago at the RHS Frost Fair, a fun-filled day of reindeer-feeding, Christmas wreath making and plant purchasing.

I’m not actually going to keep them all there, in one place, like a crazy succulent lady, but with the rather gloomy weather we’re having, it’s one of the few places in the house that still gets a decent amount of sunlight.

Aeonium | Wolves in London

Succulent | Wolves in London

Succulent | Wolves in London

So, for the next few months, I’ll be crazy succulent lady, gathering all my fat little treasures into a sun-drenched spot. In fact, since I took the photos, I’ve added a few more plants to the collection.

So that’s my shelfie. Do go and check out some others over at Urban Jungle Bloggers; I’m lusting for a seriously increased houseplant collection after reading some of these posts…

Leaf love

Leaf | Wolves in LondonLeaf | Wolves in LondonGod, but this endless rain is grim, isn’t it? I’ve been rained in for the past three days; I really need to invest in some proper waterproof clothing and shoes this year. (A lament that I make every November and then fail to act on in any way. This year, surely, will be the year I purchase some proper leather boots that don’t let the rain in, so I don’t need to get my wellies out every time it drizzles and then end up with blisters from walking too far in them…)

Apart from moaning about the wet weather, I’ve been spending lots of time recently snapping photos for my sister’s Instagram feed. Regulars will probably remember that my youngest sister has a really beautiful Letterpress stationery company, called Wolf & Ink, where she designs and hand prints loads of beautiful things.

I’m giving her a hand on promoting all of her Christmas cards this year (so, firstly, go and visit! Wolf & Ink Christmas cards) and I’ve got a fabulous box of her work that I delve into and grab something to photograph most days.

Yesterday, after dropping the sprogs off at nursery, I took walk to all the good Autumn foliage trees of the neighbourhood and helped myself to a few leaves to put together a rather nice collage (if I do say so myself, ha ha).

Leaf | Wolves in LondonBut I think my macro lens and plants is turning into a bit of an addiction for me, because I couldn’t resist grabbing my camera and taking a few close up shots as well. Just because.

So, you lucky things, here they are! Glorious Autumnal leaves in wonderful colours.

Leaf | Wolves in Londonyellow leafIn other news, I really do have every intention of writing about something that’s not just gardens / gardening / visiting gardens / garden design / photographing gardens sometime soon. Those who started following me when I was purely a crafts blog are probably heartily sick of all this gardening chat (or have stopped following, of course, in which case I suppose I needn’t worry…)

The combo of a big deadline for my garden design course in a few weeks, along with these bits and pieces I’m doing for my sister has rather put paid to my Thursday blogging time that I was enjoying earlier in the Autumn. But I’ll be back in force before Christmas, I promise, with a range of different articles, just as soon as I have time to write up and photograph all of the trillions of ideas percolating in my brain.

‘Til then, I’m afraid you’re probably going to have to put up with a few more photos of wet trees…

Kew’s tremendous trees

Kew palmhouse in AutumnKew in the AutumnThe hubby excelled himself with my birthday presents this year. Back in September, on the day itself, I got a gorgeous grey wool winter coat from the littles. (Who are still too little to choose their own pressies, I should note…) It makes me feel as if I’ve stepped into a moody French black and white film when I wear it, as if I should be wandering along the banks of the Seine and meeting with lovers. (Though it’s mostly worn to the playground…)

The crowning glory, however, was my present from the hubby itself: a two day photography course at Kew, getting tips and hints on how to photograph trees. Uh-huh, he knows me well.

I took the course in the tail end of last week, in rather crappy, grey, drizzly weather – nothing like the glorious weekend we’ve just had. (Though that did mean I could wear the new coat.) But even damp and mizzling grey British rain can’t spoil the beauty of Kew, nor my enthusiasm for endless course taking, nor my love of chatting with other people about how nice trees are. Oh, and snapping the odd pic in between.

Ginkgo leavesGinkgo trunkOur course tutor, Edward Parker, seemed to live my dream life. He is a one time environmental campaigner, turned photographer, learning as he went on his travels around the world.

He’s now photographed or written more than 30 books (including Ancient Trees and Photographing Trees which are both now on my Christmas list). He works with awesome organisations like the Eden Project, WWF, and the National Trust. And – if that weren’t enough – also runs a “rural centre for creative and sustainable living” in Dorset called Springhead. I know, I know, I totally wanted to hijack his life too.

He also had fascinating facts about loads of the trees we visited in Kew. The ginkgo, above, for example is the oldest ginkgo in the country. He told us that the evergreen oak opposite it was uprooted in the storms of 1987. As the Kew gardeners went round trying to see to the many tree casualties, they righted the oak, only as temporary measure before they had time to fell it properly, but were astonished to see that it started growing in far ruder health than before. (The earth around its roots had become compacted over many years of people stomping above. Coming right out of the ground had brought oxygen to the roots that the tree needed to grow well…)

Red Autumn leafTree trunkFallen leavesAnd, of course, rain or no, the stunning Autumn colours round Kew led to plenty of time photographing hundreds of leaves. In fact, this selection are my favourites from, erm, around 500 photos I took in the space of two days.

Pine tree at Kew Pine branches

So, in all, a most excellent few days photographing trees. Incidentally, if you share my tree love, I heard recently that if you use the tag #treesfortrees on instagram, then the Heart of England Forest will plant a tree for every tag they see. Which is pretty cool.

Relevant info:

  • Kew runs hundreds of amazing-sounding courses, there is more info on their website: Kew short courses (I can’t see another photographing trees one at the moment, but there are various other photography courses over the next few months).
  • You can see some of Edward Parker’s photography on his website: Edward Parker or check out Springhead if you’re in the market for an eco retreat. It sounded really heavenly as he described it.
  • Finally, take a look at Trees for trees for more info on the tree planting.

Inspiration from Beth Chatto’s garden: 9 tips for drought-tolerant planting

Our latest (and final) assignment for my garden design course this year is my favourite so far.

We have to design a gravel garden, inspired by Beth Chatto’s, using plants that are capable of surviving without being watered.

Beth Chatto's gravel gardenI am massively into the whole idea of “right plant, right place” – in other words using plants in situations where they will thrive, so you need to do a minimum amount of care to keep them happy.

Yes, I admit, this is partly because I am quite lazy, but it’s also because I wholeheartedly buy into the sustainable / environmental implications of the idea as well: don’t waste precious water on plants, instead making sure they can live on whatever rainwater they receive; don’t pump your soil full of chemicals to fertilise them, but choose plants that like the conditions you’ve got; and don’t spend ages pruning plants into small shapes, but just let them grow to their natural form. (Though, that’s not to say that I’m not partial to a bit of topiary…)

All these ideas, in fact, are almost a given these days in garden design, but back when Beth Chatto started advocating them in the 1960s they were a radical departure from the manicured, high-labour-intensive, high-irrigation form of gardening that was popular.

A few weeks ago, we took a college trip to see the gardens and had a tour from one of the gardeners there. Now, we’re busy working on our own designs and selecting plants.

Along with sharing some of my photos, I thought it might be interesting to pass on a few tips to bear in mind if you’re planning a drought tolerant garden…

1. No watering…

Beth Chatto's gravel gardenThe ultimate aim of a drought tolerant garden is that you never need to water it. In the gravel garden at Beth Chatto they never, ever water the plants there. Even in the hottest driest summers. Once the plants are established, they survive entirely on rainwater, and never get topped up by a hosepipe.

It’s a liberating thought, both in terms of labour reduction (I find watering things a spectacularly tedious task in the summer, I have to admit) but also because — even when there isn’t a hosepipe ban in place — we should take care of our water usage and be aware that it is a finite resource.

2. …except at the beginning

The only exception to the no-watering rule is for newly established plants. When first plonked into the soil, all plants need to be watered for a while as their roots grow and they settle into their new home.

At Beth Chatto’s garden, we were told that all new plants were watered for the first six weeks while they established themselves in their new position. Of course, if rain is forecast, don’t worry about watering, but if you’ve just planted something and there are weeks of long dry weather, then you will need to irrigate while they get settled.

3. Know your conditions

Beth Chatto bog gardenThe Beth Chatto gardens are located near Colchester in Essex, one of the driest parts of the UK*. The gravel garden is the sunniest, driest part, on the site of what used to be a car park. Plants, obviously, need to enjoy sunshine and drought.

Just around the corner, though, the bog garden is planted in a hollow at the side of a river, where it always damp and the plants need to survive with frequently water-logged roots.

My point? Even within the same garden, you can have all sorts of different conditions. Check the soil type before you plant. Drought tolerant planting does well in dry, slightly arid soils (many of the plants used tend to come from the Mediterranean or other warm locations) so choose the place in your garden that meets these conditions best.

4. Choose the plants carefully

Tips for drought tolerant plantingIf you’ve got good conditions for drought-tolerant plants, the next thing you need is… …drought-tolerant plants. Ha ha, it sounds obvious, but it’s worth pointing out.

Depending on their origin, different plants thrive on a huge variety of different conditions. If you’re planning on having a no water garden, you’ll need plants that are capable of surviving drought. I think I’ll do a whole separate post on some suitable plants, once I’ve finished choosing my favourites for my design, but you can always find good options by searching on websites like the RHS plant finder. Select the full sun and drought tolerant options. On the Beth Chatto website, there is a huge list of suitable plants sold at their nursery that are used within the gardens as well and you (by which I mean, I) could spend many a happy hour browsing through the selections: drought loving plants.

5.Harmony and contrast

Contrasting foliage texture at Beth Chatto's gravel gardenAs a general rule of thumb, great garden design is all about harmony and contrast. You want to use plants that look good together, so you want some of their characteristics to be shared: colour (for example, similar flower colour or a flower the same colour as another plant’s leaf), shape, leaf size, or form, for example.

But it’s really important to use contrast in order to notice all of the amazing characteristics of a plant. So, if you had a plant with big, fat leaves (known as a “coarse texture”in garden design terms) like a bergenia (seen at the front right of the picture above) you could place it next to something with thin, delicate, feathery leaves (a “fine texture”) such as a tall grass like Stipa gigantea, as seen in the photo above.

As we were shown round the gardens, the gardener pointed us to a part that he jokingly referred to as “Beth Chatto by numbers”. It was a line up of a hosta (big, broad, flat leaves), next to a fern (delicate, small, frondy leaves), surrounded by a drift of arching grasses (fine, delicate leaves, with a contrasting arching form). Though each plant had a contrast of form (plant shape) and texture (leaf shape), they all shared the same colour of green, which provided harmony.

To be honest, I think if you knew nothing else at all about garden design, you could still make really stunning, eye-catching displays, just thinking about harmony and contrast.

6. Vary the height.

Eucalyptus treeAnd a final design point: don’t forget to plant upwards! Don’t just use small plants, but ensure you have planting at eye level. Trees are great for bringing height to gardens, as are really big shrubs or climbing plants. Yes, it’s great to go out into the garden and look at the ground and really appreciate all the plants down there, but when you first step out (or look out of your window) it’s really important to have things at eye level, so the space doesn’t look boring.

My favourite of the tall plants at Beth Chatto was this spectacular Eucalyptus dalrympleana. Disclaimer: do not plant a huge eucalyptus if you have a small garden. They are beautiful, but grow very, very tall and may well take your whole house out with their roots…

7. Think about the whole of a plant’s lifespan.

Phlomis seedheadIt’s oh-so-easy to look at pictures of lovely colourful flowers in catalogues, be seduced with their beauty and buy a plant that ends up doing nothing for 48 weeks of the year. Beth Chatto, actually, hardly ever uses flowers, preferring plants with dramatic leaves, shapes, seedheads and so on…

Think about how a plant will look at all points of the year. If it flowers, will the seedheads look good afterwards for the winter months? How will the new shoots look as they push through the soil in spring? Is the bark particularly appealing in winter months on a deciduous shrub?

The more interest a plant can give at different stages of its lifecycle, the more deserving it is of a space in your garden.

8. Leave space for plants to grow.

Planting space: Beth Chatto's gravel gardenBeth Chatto’s style is very much a natural one. Plants aren’t clipped and pruned to resemble odd shapes, but left to take their natural form. And, unlike the traditional herbaceous borders, stuffed full, cottage-style, with hundreds of plants, the gravel garden has plenty of space between plants, allowing them to get bigger, and grow to their natural shapes.

The benefit of this? You need fewer plants (which costs less money), you don’t have to spend lots of your time pruning, plants won’t compete with each other so much for valuable water and you don’t need to be removing plants that have outgrown their spaces. Plus, personally, I think it looks really lovely and evocative.

9. Prepare the beds well

gravel gardenYes, you’re going to need tough plants that can make it on their own without being pandered to. But that doesn’t mean you don’t give them any help at all.

Though they don’t water or fertilise the gravel garden, they do make sure to prepare the beds really well before planting. They dig through the area and add lots and lots of well rotted organic matter (manure or compost or something similar) so that nutrients are retained in the soil.

This is good practice for any type of gardening, to be honest, but especially important if the plants are “going it alone”.

So, phew, the end of a monstrously long post. Congratulations if you made it this far! Hope there was something useful in here. I’ll share some more of my final design and the plants I’ve chosen once I’ve got a bit further along with it all…

* They get around 60cm of rainfall a year, compared to 76cm where I am in London, or 90cm in Bristol where I spent a wonderful, if soggy, four student years and to where I would return in a heartbeat except for the incessant rain…).

Three ways to plant a terrarium

You know the string of hearts plant that I bought last week for my sister’s birthday and then fell in love with so much I became reticent to give it away?

Well, I needn’t have worried, for she is a sister of excellent taste and – at our joint birthday celebration last weekend – she gave me this.

Copper terrarium planting ideas | Wolves in LondonA copper framed terrarium.

Isn’t it a beauty?

I’ve been lusting after a terrarium for some time now, and we both admired some excellent examples earlier this year at Grow London. Wonderful sister that she is, she remembered and bought me my very own.

But with such beauty comes great responsibility. I wanted to make sure I planted it up in a way that worked with its lovely exterior. And though I’ve been studying horticulture in one form or other for three years now, I am still fairly new to keeping houseplants. (Or at least, to keeping them alive…)

So as soon as I got home I jumped on Pinterest and started looking for the perfect planting choices to go inside this little gem.

Here are my three favourite options for terrarium plants:

  1. Succulents

Succulent terrarium
From Wit and Whistle
Succulent terrarium
From Floral Verde

Needless to say, succulents were the very first thing that sprang to mind. Most of the Pin-worthy terrariums that I’ve been lusting after have delicate little plantings of succulents on top.

This won’t work in a sealed terrarium (mine is an open version) as the succulents don’t like humidity and can start to rot, but with a bit of heat and a bit of air flow, they should stay pretty happy.

I absolutely love succulents at the moment (who doesn’t, right?), but after considering it for a while, I decided that my terrarium was too big for my favourite rosette-type  and it would be a bit of a waste of all the vertical space at the top, which could better be filled with a taller plant.

Still, I’ve been feasting on pictures of these fat-leaved delights.

  1. Tillandsia

Tillandisa terrarium
From Centro Garden
Air plant terrarium in a lightbulb
From The hipster home

AKA air plants. This is another great terrarium option, for the obvious reason that they don’t need soil to survive. And soil in a nice glass container can end up looking a bit… …mucky.

In the wild, air plants grow in jungles or deserts, the roots attached not to the soil below, but to the trunks of other trees or rocks. (This can allow them to grow high up in the tree’s canopy and get to sunlight that wouldn’t reach the jungle floor below.)

In terrariums, you can place them onto whatever looks attractive: a few pebbles, a piece of wood, sand: anything that won’t retain too much moisture and cause the plant to rot. Then you just need to spritz it with water every now and again to keep it moist.

Having read up a bit on tillandsia, I am definitely tempted to buy a few, but not, I think, for my terrarium. I think those copper edges might not work so well with the fine, feathery leaves that characterise lots of air plants. And so, on to…

  1. Pitcher plants.

Pitcher plant terrarium
From Apartment Therapy
Pitcher plant terrarium
From Lila B Design

When I came across the photos above I knew that I’d found my dream plant.

I’ve had a passion for pitchers since an old flatmate strung one from our kitchen window when I was in my early 20s, but, I have to say, I have never succeeded in growing one myself.

I bought a lovely hanging pitcher plant from Columbia Road flower market years ago, but killed it off in record time (probably because I didn’t bother to water it with rain water…) Then, when we were living in Hong Kong for six months, I strung our balcony with a variety of different pitchers, but killed them all off before we moved out (probably because I didn’t bother to water them at all, thinking they would get water as they were outside. Of course, as we were in a towerblock balcony, there was no way they were getting wet in the rain…)

Still, I’ve learnt loads more about plants in the intervening years, so, fingers crossed, I should be able to keep them alive this time round.

After a bit of internet research I’ve found the brilliant sounding Triffid Nurseries in Sussex ( who specialise in carnivorous plants. I shall be making a trip in the near future and then will get on with planting up the terrarium. Promise to let you show you pictures once it’s done…

(Oh, and, just so you know, I couldn’t resist that string of hearts either. I went back to the shop I bought my sister’s one and got another for me. It’s sitting on my bookshelves and looking rather wonderful right now.)

Tomato, tomato, tomato: a season’s growing notes

Home grown tomatoesOf all the veg and fruit that I grow, there is no doubt that I have most success with tomatoes. Tomatoes love me and always grow well for me. I love them right back and am always ridiculously over-proud of my tomato-growing achievements.

And this year is certainly the pinnacle of those tomato-growing achievements so far.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been growing five different types of tomatoes in my giant beast of a greenhouse.

Three tomato varietiesSuper Marmande is a beefsteak variety (the seeds given to my hubby as a present a year or so ago, but stolen by me this spring time). Gardener’s Delight is a small cherry tomato that I grow every year as it crops so very well and tastes so very good. Tigerella are new to me and are striped like a tiger. I know! Could you ask for more? Tumbling Tom Yellow is another new-to-me variety. I’ve got some small still-very-green tomatoes on a few plants that I can’t wait to see ripen. And finally, a solitary plant of Lizzano, the only seed to germinate from an entire packet. Also yet to ripen.

I was hoping against hope that I’d have all varieties ripe and ready to eat at one time so that I could photograph them all together. But, I suspect that the Marmande and Tigerellas will be over before the last two ripen, so I settled for some nice pictures of the first three varieties.

Gardeners Delight tomatoes
Gardeners Delight tomatoes
Super marmande tomato
Super Marmande tomato
Tigerella tomato
Tigerella tomato

All three have cropped magnificently. My only quibble is that I would say the beefsteaks aren’t always quite as beefy as I suspect they should be and the cherry tomatoes are sometimes very, very tiny.

But all are utterly, utterly delicious and I will certainly be ramming my greenhouse full with these varieties again next year.

Red tomatoesA few lessons I’ve learnt from this season:

  • Don’t pack the tomatoes too deep onto the staging. I’ve been finding it seriously difficult to pick the plants at the very back without crushing the plants at the front. (At least it does release that heavenly tomato vine smell into the air, though.)
  • I won’t use tomato growbags again, an experiment I tried out for the first time this year. I found it a total pain trying to water into the small exposed bit of soil at the cuts in the bag, which were often covered up with foliage. Much easier to water into a normal pot, and all the rest of my tomatoes – growing in (often quite small) pots – have produced more fruit than the ones in the growbags.
  • In the height of summer, if the tomatoes are in a greenhouse, you might have to water twice a day. To be honest, I find this a bit of a pain. I dream of having the money to afford a computerised irrigation system for the greenhouse!
  • If you do water a bit irregularly, you’ll most likely spot blossom end rot: a sunken brownish patch at the bottom side of a tomato fruit. It’s caused by a lack of calcium, but comes about because the water flow to the plants extremities isn’t sufficient. I lost a couple of fruits this way, after a very hot week and not enough time spent watering… But I upped my game after that and all the rest were subsequently fine.

Tell me, do you grow any varieties that I should know about? Do let me know in the comments below…

Notes from a summer: Regent’s Park sunshine

Echinacea in Regents ParkHellebore leavesRegents Park sausage borderA few Fridays ago, I had the most blissfully relaxing day I have had for some time. Possibly for three years, in fact.

The thing about living with small kids, I find, is that no matter how many wonderful, cute, endearing individual moments there are, day-to-day life can feel a lot like a repetitive slog.

Well, I speak only for my own small kids, of course, who both still need post-lunch naps to avoid serious meltdowns, and who will both only contemplate taking post-lunch naps in their own beds, which ties us close to the house at all times, and mostly on a merry-go-round of park visits / singing classes / soft play excursions, all accompanied with a never-ending soundtrack of “why haven’t you put your shoes on yet to go out when I’ve asked you ten times?” or “can you please eat something from your lunch plate that’s not just grated cheese” and “why are you throwing that bouncy ball at your brother / the priceless Ming vase / my head”…

Chocolate cosmosSedumAnyway, a rather exciting development at the end of August was that both boys started to go to nursery two days a week. Leaving me with one day a week to attend my garden design course and one day to… …do whatever I like!

This particularly blissful Friday a few weeks ago, was the very first of my child-free days. I left the boys together at nursery, sitting next to each other at the breakfast table, eating rice crispies and looking very happy and not at all sad to see me leave, which was completely wonderful.

Then I had to pop to Regent’s Park to take some photographs of one of the flower beds there for a garden design assignment.

Regents Park in the sunSunflowers in Regents ParkSedum flowers at Regents ParkAfter which, I went and had lunch with the hubby at a French wine bar in Farringdon. I had pâté and cured ham and drank a kir. Oh my days, I tell you, I felt so carefree and relaxed!

The sun was shining, I travelled the tube unencumbered by prams and without any deadlines to arrive anywhere, I had an actual conversation with my husband without being either completely shattered or interrupted. Well, all in all, it was a pretty heavenly day. And it made me realise that having a few more days like that would no doubt do me (and the rest of the family) the world of good.

All pictures here, by the way, are from Regent’s Park on that day. One of our assignments for my garden design course is to photograph the same flower bed each month of the year to see how it changes. The bed I chose is known as the “sausage border” because, erm, it’s sausage-shaped. It has some really lovely herbaceous plants in there and at the height of summer is an exuberant riot of abundance. If you’re ever close to the park, head over to the Mediterranean garden, just past the rose garden, and you can find the sausage bed a little further north from there, just next to a small pond. It’s a great space to sit and think on a sunny day…

So here’s to days for relaxing, days to yourself and days of sunshine. May we all have at least one of these this month.

Urban Jungle Bloggers: plants and art


Urban Jungle Bloggers: plants and artI’m sure you’ve all come across Urban Jungle Bloggers, a monthly series about living with plants, organised by Igor and Judith, that aims to:

“highlight the beauty and benefits of houseplants and other greeneries in urban spaces.”

As you know, I’m something of a plant fanatic, so the only surprise is that it’s taken me so long to join in. *

This month, the topic is plants and art and I had planned to get my little bathroom plant crew (a few ferns and lovers of low-light) and photograph them with some of my old botanical illustrations.

But yesterday, I bought this little beauty as a birthday present for sister and just couldn’t resist photographing it before I hand it over to its new home.

String of hearts plantIt’s called string of hearts (Latin name: Ceropegia woodii) and, oh my goodness, it is an absolute stunner. I didn’t know it before (I’m not wildly up on houseplants, it has to be said) but it stopped me in my tracks when I went into the flower shop originally to try and buy a small succulent in a terracotta pot. I couldn’t resist.

The glorious little marbled heart-shaped leaves spaced out on a long string-like stem makes it just beg for an old pot and a position on a high shelf, where it can cascade down appealingly.

Ceropegia woodii leaf

I found an Alys Fowler piece about it on the Guardian which says it’s super easy to care for and not too fussy about light levels, fluctuating temperatures or high humidity. (So, potentially, good for a bathroom or kitchen.)

Pretty to look at and easy to care for: basically my idea of the perfect houseplant.

Maltese statue

As for the “art,” hem hem, this is a little replica statue I bought on holiday in Malta a few years back. I’m sure I’m showing my ignorance by no longer having any recollection of what exactly it is replicating. But I have always loved her tiny head and fat thighs. Beauty in all shapes and all that…

So, that’s my contribution. Do head over to Urban Jungle Bloggers to see more, or take a look at the #urbanjunglebloggers hashtag on instagram. I can already tell I will be enjoying taking part in this monthly challenge hugely.

But now, I think, I must run back to the flower shop and buy one of these string of hearts plants for myself. I think I’m just going to miss it too much once I give this one away.

*Actually, if you’re a regular reader, you probably won’t be in the slightest surprised, knowing that my To Do list is generally six pages longer than my “Done” list, ha ha.


Notes from a summer: London Wetland Centre

London Wetland CentreAhoy there! Hello! How are you? It’s been ages, I know. I fell off grid a bit, this August. Technology (such as this dear old laptop on which I write all my blog posts) becoming substantially less appealing than lying outside in the sun on a picnic blanket.

Anyway, such times have come to an end, it seems, with this utterly relentless and miserable rain of the last week, so I’ve finally remembered how to open up Word and plug my camera into the computer to take a look at some pictures I’ve taken over the past few months.

It’s been something of a pottering sort of summer. No big holidays, but the odd weekend away. Few exciting day trips, but lots of time poking around in our garden pond, or building soil castles in the flower beds, or mooching along to the local park.

Still, I have a couple of little gems of visits to share with you so, for the next couple of days, a few notes from summer 2015.

First up, the utterly wonderful London Wetlands Centre. We visited a fortnight ago, when the summer flowers were just reaching their end, and the first hints of autumn were coming in.

Summer planting at London Wetland Centre
Kniphofia, grasses and asters looking abundant
Wood sculpture at London Wetland Centre
I loved this wood sculpture
London Wetland Centre
I shared this pic on instagram, having been astounded at my wondrous photography prowess. Very few people liked it, ha ha. Just goes to show, you never can tell with instagram,

It’s a great spot for kids: acres and acres of lakes, surrounded by long winding paths, perfect for running down and exploring.

(Side note: last time we visited the littlest was still pram-bound only, and I found that a more peaceful experience than our most recent visit when he was off toddling away and I had to keep a close eye to ensure he wasn’t about to leap off into a huge body of water. So if your child is toddling age, perhaps wait six months or so until they really understand why it’s best not to run headfirst at a lake…)

Of course, there’s lots of wildlife to see, of the ducks, birds and otters variety, but I am always especially taken by the glorious plants. It’s naturalistic planting at its best, in my opinion, everything appearing to be growing just where it wants to but – I am sure – in fact carefully planned and designed.

London Wetland Centre
Paths for wandering
London Wetland Centre
All the reflections made me think a lot about what plants are best to sit next to water. There is something lovely about seeing the flickering mirror image upside down of a beautiful plant.

A high point of this trip was discovering three sleepy ducks sitting on a wooden bridge. As we approached, they opened their eyes to take a look at us, but made no attempt to actually move, so I got the chance to photograph them for some time, while the sprogs stared and asked various questions about their feathers, their legs and why they had chosen to go to sleep on a bridge.

Ducks at London Wetland Centre
Duck feathers
Those amazing feathers!

And aren’t these just the sorts of conversations you want to be having on a day out?

Practical info:

  • The Wetland Centre is in Barnes and is run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT).
  • Entrance is £12.75 for an adult or £7 for a child. Various family, concession and membership options also available. I’ve just seen, while checking prices to write this, that you can save 10% by booking online. Doh, if only I realised that before we went.
  • Their website is here: London Wetland Centre
  • There’s a cafe (essential in my eyes) and various activities for children too.