Do what you love

17 Oct

Phew, what a week! The blog’s been a little quieter than normal as I’ve been otherwise occupied soothing toddlers, solo parenting, thinkin’ reeel deep about what makes me happy and drawing my own hand. Yup.

Drawing of a hand

It looks oddly masculine, doesn’t it?

The sprog was taken down with a bug last week, which he’s yet to recover from, poor little pickle. And if there’s one thing in the world worse to nurse than man flu, it’s toddler illnesses. Goodness that boy has firm ideas of what he wants and what he doesn’t want when he’s under the weather. (What he doesn’t want can generally be summed up as: anything that involves Mummy not paying attention solely to him for a single second…)

Anyway, the poor little thing is back in nursery today, hopefully almost fully recovered and I have a teeny bit of headspace back again.

The illness coincided with a work trip to Portugal for the hubby (not jealous, no, definitely not jealous, no, would definitely not like three whole nights sleeping in a hotel bed the whole night through…) though my lovely Mum came up to help out too, so that was great.

On a more exciting note, I also began a few new courses. I’ve been back at Capel Manor College (where I took my horticulture course last year) to start a short six-week course in Graphics and drawing, the first step to a garden design qualification I’m hoping to do later on.

Drawing of secateurs

Secateurs. Drawn my me. (Copying another drawing, I have to say…)

It’s been rather eye-opening so far. I had expected that we would just be learning about how to draw garden designs (straight lines for the paving, scale plans of patios, nice big swirly circles for bushes and so on), but in fact we spend every afternoon just drawing. Anything! Like chairs, or our hand or a sphere… Our teacher follows the methods in the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which, in brief, posits that everyone can draw, but that we need to let go of our logical parts of the brain (that tells us, for example, that a table is a rectangle) to allow our more creative parts of the brain to actually just look at what’s in front of us and draw it.

Cross hatching

This is just me trying out cross hatching, but I kind of love it the most…

As I’ve always thought that I “can’t do art” (to my endless disappointment, I have to say), I find it really interesting. Each week we break drawing down into small elements, in order to try and help us access this creative, right side of the brain. I drew my hand (above) in the first week, and though I’m certainly still no great artist, I’m quite impressed with the results!

NB, I realise that illustrating this post with my drawings from the course makes me look a bit like a 14-year-old doing a GCSE in art (or perhaps I am being too kind to myself? Maybe art GCSE is a little more progressed than this. I never did one…) And it’s not that I am so proud of my work I just had to show it to you, it’s just that the drawings were to hand and, like I said, time has been tight, so photos of drawings were easily achievable in a short space of time…

Shading spheres

Trying out different ways of shading. Bottom right is in charcoal, wot wot. That’s like the stuff that proper artists use, y’know…

On Monday I also started a month-long online course called Do what you love for life. I’ve mentioned here before that I sometimes struggle trying to hit on one specific focus for this blog, so perhaps it won’t be a surprise to regular readers to hear that the same is true for my life as well…

Though I’m still very happy being a stay at home Mum right now, the finances are starting to pinch very tight, and I’m thinking about what I can do as my next step.

It’s not that I’m short of ideas. Quite the opposite. I have about a million gazillion different ideas of all sorts of things I love doing, and I’m hoping this course will help me focus in a little bit and settle on a specific direction for where to go next with my life.

(Failing that, if anyone has a great idea how I could combine garden design, writing, blogging, making stuff, having a smallholding, owning alpacas and the ever nebulous fabric empire into a well-paid job in which I choose my own hours and always manage to do nursery / school pick ups, then please let me know in the comments, ha ha ha…)

I’ve not actually had time to do more on the course so far than the first few days’ assignments, so I’ll have to do a bit of catching up this weekend, but so far I’m really liking the clarity it’s brought to my many and generally very varied thoughts about what’s important to me.

Finally, if you’ve come here this week looking for my latest Grow, forage, cook post, then my apologies. (What? You haven’t recorded my posting schedule in your calendar?!) My next post will be up, a week late, next week; it’s all about planning a kitchen garden…

In the meantime, if you’ve not seen it already, do head over to Laura’s blog to check out her interview with Rachel from Fore/Adventure to hear all about foraging and the good life in Dorset. I tell you, my friends, at Fore/Adventure they’re already doing what they love for life…

 

In the garden: October

10 Oct

Surrounded by cobwebs, the last of the flowers are just clinging on out in the garden at the moment.

Garden cobweb | Wolves in London

A teeny tiny feather caught in a cobweb

Elated by the sunshine, I took a trip out this morning to photograph the few remaining splashes of colour, to try and hold onto them for as long as possible before the garden takes on its winter coat of unbroken green.

Actually, I love all the different shades of green you can find in a verdant garden, but I would like to add a little more colour as well.

I’m currently agonising over whether to cut down a rather large, browning, overgrown conifer that’s moping about next to our pond and planting some dogwood in its place: Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ (you can see some in my post about trees / shrubs with winter colour from the start of the year). The idea is, the bright red stems in the winter would reflect in the pond and bring a bit of cheer (and contrast) to the otherwise green vistas. (Ha! I’m not sure you can actually use the word “vista” if the total distance you can see is probably about 20ft…)

I had just started to write a lengthy essay explaining to you the pros and cons of the decision, but have deleted the six paragraphs on the grounds that it’s not wildly exciting reading.

Anyway, back to what’s actually there at the moment…

The two pink rose bushes continue to bloom: they deserve an award for outstanding longevity as I think they’ve both been in flower for around six months now.

Pink rose | Wolves in London

This rose must surely be one of the last?

Rose | Wolves in London

I prefer these, less formal, roses…

Meanwhile, my new Rosa rugosa hedge has been making the most glorious red hips.

Rosehip | Wolves in London

Peekaboo

In an equally impressive display, my perennial sweetpea is still (still!) putting out flowers. For the last month or so, I’ve been thinking every bloom I see is the last, only for another to appear a few days later…

Sweet pea | Wolves in London

Incidentally, if anyone knows by looking what type of sweet pea this is, do let me know. I no longer remember what I sowed…

In the back garden, there are lots of bright Hesperantha coccinea by the pond. (More usual name? Not a clue, I’m afraid…) I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of red flowers in the garden, but somehow, once the main summer has passed and we’re into autumn, my opinion changes completely and I am delighted to see such rich colours.

Hesperantha coccinea | Wolves in London

So cheerful

Behind them, my Japanese maple is still looking a little unhealthy, but has managed to put out lots of lovely purpley/red seed pods. What glorious colours!

Acer | Wolves in London

Ignore the brown, curling leaves and just look at the seeds…

And my lovely pink daisies have just put out a second bloom…

Erigeron | Wolves in London

I thought these were over, but some more just appeared

Finally, I just can’t resist sharing this photo of my little photographic assistant. He’s been given use of Daddy’s old camera and has spent much of the past few weeks in poses fairly similar to this one.

I asked him, “Are you taking a photo of Mummy?” and he looked at me quizzically, as if that would be a very odd thing to do, and said, “No! Taking photo of dis plant…” The apples don’t fall far from the tree, eh…

Toddler photographing | Wolves in London

Gardener, cleaner, photographer extraordinaire…

Back on the needles…

7 Oct

My knitting has taken a bit of a back seat these past five months.

After the knitting-nesting frenzy before sproglet mark II was born, my needles have been consigned to the needle holder, evenings these days not given over to knitting a gorgeous blanket, so much as slumping, weary, in front of the TV, too tired to even change the channel if the remote control happens to be out of hand’s reach.

 

Vintage knitting needle roll | Wolves in London

Not in use, but at least resting in nice surroundings…

But no longer, my pretty needles! Autumn is truly here, the days are shorter and colder and knitwear is needed in this house. The elder sprog has outgrown most of his jumpers from last winter so I spent a particularly wonderful 10 minutes last week going through saved cardigan patterns on Ravelry with him, asking him which ones he liked best.

(At two years and two months, he had some pretty firm ideas about which ones he did and didn’t like, which I found particularly endearing. I’m sure in six months or so, it will drive me round the bend when he dismisses clothes out of hand, but for now, his firm, “no like dat colour” makes me want to hug him very tight…)

And so it was the wonder years cardigan by Elizabeth Smith was selected. The sprog liked the stripes, I liked the comfy Grandpa look of it and the leather buttons.

By amazing good fortune, I was lucky enough to win tickets to the Knitting and Stitching Show, taking place later this week at Ally Pally, from the very lovely This Blog is Not For You. What better place to choose some lovely squishy wool?

So, with a bit of luck, evenings from now on will be taken up with hot chocolate, knitting, oh, and still a bit of telly too. I’m all talked out by about 7pm nowadays, so vegging and staring is the only option.

Vintage knitting needles | Wolves in London

A glorious array of plastic!

I’ll let you know how I get on…

P.S. My knitting needle case is rather lovely, isn’t it? It was my Granny’s, acquired when she went into a home, at the same time as the bronze urn on my mantelpiece. I assume that she made it herself — I think the outer fabric was probably from some curtains she had, and the inner one is, I believe, Liberty print. Most of the needles inside were hers as well; I love their fabulous rainbow colours.

Knitting needle roll | Wolves in London

Liberty fabric?

P.P.S. I’ve just realised it’s wool week this week! What a fortuitous post this proves to be. (Well, it would be even more fortuitous if I had actually *knitted* something already, but, still, the thought counts too, right?!)

Related articles:

A few things that have already been actually finished and created fully by the wonders of my needles:

 

Photographing trees

2 Oct

Earlier this year I resolved to spend lots of time this summer photographing (and identifying) trees for my Instagram feed. (See A love of trees for more.)

Now, if you follow me on instagram you can’t fail to have been struck by a simple fact: you haven’t remotely been spammed with hundreds and hundreds of tree pictures.

Why not? It turns out it’s really tough to photograph a tree; decent camera on your phone or not.

Myoung Ho Lee trees

© Myoung Ho Lee

Recently, I came across a wonderful South Korean photographer called Myoung Ho Lee who manages exactly what I couldn’t succeed in doing and I had to share these images with you.

He takes the most awe-inspiring photos, each tree with a simple white sheet hung behind it.

Myoung Ho Lee trees

© Myoung Ho Lee

I never fail to be impressed by trees. Of course, flowers are really great too. They’re pretty and you can arrange them in a vase and suddenly even the dingiest most hovel-like room in your house is transformed into a place of beauty. But there’s something about the immense majesty of trees – their sturdy immovability, great age and refusal to be brought indoors – that makes them my plant of choice every time.

Myoung Ho Lee trees

© Myoung Ho Lee

If ever I’m feeling glum, or bored, or just out-of-sorts for whatever reason, a short walk to the park and a stroll under the canopy of ancient trees always, but always, brings a spring back to my step.

I think that’s why I love these photos so very much. They seem to say: Here it is,  just a tree, on a white background.

Who needs more than that?

All photographs copyright Myoung Ho Lee. See the website of the Yossi Milo Gallery in New York for more photos from the series.

Grow, forage, cook: September round-up

30 Sep
Grow, forage, cook September roundup

Grow, forage, cook September round-up. Click on photo to see in greater size, and see below for details of photographers (plus links to some truly delicious-sounding recipes…)

Ah, September, always one of my favourite months of the year.

I say this not just because it is the auspicious month of my birth. (Actually, my birthday was a rather muted affair this year; the sproglet choosing the day to give me two full-on hour-long tantrums and my birthday cake not lovingly made by the hubby, but purchased from the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Not that I’m complaining, as my Mum came up for the day and was the one who bought me the cake, but the hub could do well to take a leaf from Laura’s book, who made this fantastically toothsome looking creation for her husband D’s birthday*: Ginger and pear cake.)

But, birthday ramblings aside, September is usually a month of the most wonderful weather and this year has been no exception. The Autumn light creeps in, the leaves turn, the conkers appear and I thoroughly enjoy sticking on my wellies for a walk to the park.

Of course, this is also the month with the best harvest and I have been so enjoying following our #growforagecook hashtag over on Twitter and Instagram and seeing what everyone has been up to.

My recipe book is heaving with ideas, my “to plant” list for fruit and veg next year is growing daily as I garden vicariously and I am on an ever-more-desperate search for sloes and damsons as I watch others’ gins and jams. (Anyone have any tips for places to search in South East London? Please, please leave a comment below if you know of any good spots…)

Grow, forage, cook: September round-up

See below for photographer’s details

Here is a selection of some of our favourites from this month.

Top selection:

Top row, left to right: Anne Wheaton: The edible hedge in September and @slamseys on instagram; Gemma Garner: making rosehip syrup and @gemmagarner; Amelie and Richard: @amelie_and_richard

Middle row, left to right: Fiona Annal: @fionaannal; Hannah Frances Boulton: @hannahfrancesboulton; For Adventure @foreadventure

Bottom row, left to right: Kat Goldin: @katgoldin; Margot Barbara: @margotbarbara; Growing Spaces: Make your own sloe gin

Bottom selection:

Top row, left to right: Be Nourishd: Sloe gin (I know, two sloe gins, but I just love the stuff, and both of the photos!); Really Pretty Useful: Spiced stone fruit compote and @reallyprettyuseful; Fore Adventure: @foreadventure

Middle row, left to right: Hello Mister Magpie: @hellomistermagpie; Fiona Annal: @fionaannal; Little Green Shed: @littlegreenshed

Bottom row, left to right: Carie May @cariemay; The Linen Cloud: Plum jam and @thelinencloud; Capture by Lucy: @capturebylucy.

All wonderful, aren’t they? And enough to make you reach immediately for the spade, secateurs or mixing bowl!

Thanks so much to everyone for joining in, please do keep on using the #growforagecook hashtag on Twitter or Instagram (and tag either @wolvesinlondon and @circleofpines); or, if you’re not on either of those, do just leave us a comment linking up to posts you’ve published…

And so October approaches, I feel drawn towards winter veg and endless pickling, along with my feet up on the sofa, poring through seed catalogues to plan the veg garden of my dreams for next year… What will you be up to in the coming month?

On the mantel: September

23 Sep
September mantel

A little glimpse at my sitting room mantelpiece…

You may recall that our house is in a near permanent state of being done upness. (I’m pretty sure that’s the official term that all property developers / architects / interior designers use…)

We have little flurries of activity here and there, but fundamentally progress is slooooow.

The last few weeks, however, have been one of those rather wonderful periods of flurry. Brought about, as is usually the case, by having booked a tradesperson to come and do some work, which necessitates us getting of our lazy behinds and doing a lot of work beforehand…

In this instance, it was an excellent carpenter (female!) who came and built shelves and a lovely cabinet in the alcoves of our sitting room. Necessitating us to actually get round to painting the sitting room first. (I may be lazy, but there is no way I am going to risk spilling paint on some exceedingly expensive bespoke shelves by painting the walls after they’ve gone in…)

So, as I sit here writing this on the sofa, I am looking not at bare plaster walls, with a bare pine mantelpiece and a load of boxes all around me, but at some beautiful grey walls, lovely books on even nicer shelves and… …well, the mantelpiece is primed, though still needing its final coats of paint.

For the first time since we’ve lived here, this room is starting to feel like a home I would actually choose to spend time in.

Rather fortuitously, just as I was thinking about how nice it will be to arrange things on the mantelpiece, I came across a wonderfully evocative piece on Gillian’s blog, Tales from a Happy Home, with some pictures of her September mantelpiece. Did anyone else fancy joining in? she asked. I was already feeling tempted but was completely won over as I went on to read:

“It’s not about styling or making things looks beautiful necessarily (although that is fun). It’s more about the meaning behind beloved objects and pictures, and the place nature has in our lives, and the way we humans like to surround ourselves with treasures and memories throughout the year.”

So here I am, a whole load of wittering at the top of the article first, but finally ready to begin what will hopefully become a new monthly series showing you what’s on my mantelpiece.

September is an auspicious month to start. Perhaps because it’s the month of my birthday it’s always been one of my favourite times of the year. The flowers on the right of the picture were a birthday bouquet from the hubby, stuck in my favourite flower arranging vestibule: an Ikea jug. (The same jug of fame from my post about attempts at styling…)

 

Bouquet | Wolves in London

Lovely birthday flowers

You can see the hubby himself in miniature form next to the flowers. This little peg doll version of us was painted by him for the top of our wedding cake. This month is also that of our first wedding anniversary and the card behind was from the hubby to me on that auspicious occasion. We first met out in the Philippines on a marine conservation expedition five years ago and hit it off straight away. But it was upon discovering a mutual love of lindy hop (swing dancing) that we really connected. Though, realising that we went to the same class in London (me in beginners, him an hour later in intermediate) was temporarily so freaky that it actually put me off a bit, ha ha.

Wedding cake toppers | Wolves in London

Diddy me, diddy him

The bowl with the lion on has recently come out of storage as we’ve finally put up some shelves in the kitchen for all our crockery. It was part of our wedding crockery and is a mighty fine holder for conkers as well.

Conkers in soup bowl | Wolves in London

This is the first year the sproglet has really enjoyed conkers. It feels like a rather momentous childhood occasion…

The picture behind it was a present from sister for my birthday last year. As we’ve not had a decorated house since then, this is the first time it’s come out into the open air. I love it. A lot.

Wolves in London mantelpiece

My sister knows me well, I don’t think you could get a picture more up my street…

The huge bronze urn belonged to my Granny. When she moved into a home a few years ago, she left everything in her house and I went round one evening with my Dad, collecting a few things that I liked. I adore the urn, but am not entirely sure about keeping it on the mantelpiece – I think it looks a little bit as if we have someone’s ashes in there, no?

Urn | Wolves in London

Beautiful but a little sinister in that position I think. Must find it somewhere else to sit…

Underneath it, a selection of poetry books. I am currently absolutely addicted to the website The Book People (www.thebookpeople.co.uk). Have you come across it? When I worked in the communications department of a giant corporate bank they used to come and do book sales outside the canteen once a month, but I’ve only just realised they also sell online. There’s a huge amount of commercial tat, as you’d expect from a large discount bookseller, but you can pick up some absolute gems for next-to-nothing as well. These beautiful books cost me a few pounds I think. It’s pretty great for birthday presents, especially for children. (Lots of Julia Donaldson on there too…)

Poetry books | Wolves in London

Oh these just look far too beautiful not to be on display

(Yes, yes, I know I shouldn’t be buying books on the cheap from a website, but should instead be putting money into my local independent and absolutely wonderful bookshop, it’s just I am so fricking skint right now, I can only really afford books if they’re massively discounted in the first place.)

(Even as I write that, it sounds like a bad argument to me, so, hmmm, perhaps I should stop using the Book People and just buy fewer books at a normal price.)

But anyway, onwards…

The fireplace below is glorious isn’t it? When we moved in, the original fireplace had been removed and instead we had a 1960s electric fire, which looked as if it might be about to set the whole house alight while we slept. We ripped it out and got this original one in its place (bought from the wonderful Blue Mantle on the Old Kent Road for anyone interested and local…)

Oh, and finally, the clock is just our clock. No story there, ha ha…

So, that’s it, the September mantelpiece. Come and have another look in October will you? Hopefully by next month I will have painted it properly as well… And thanks so much to Gillian for inspiring me to join in.

Grow, forage, cook: saving seeds (and free seed envelope template)

19 Sep
Vintage style seed envelopes: free download | Wolves in London

Seed collecting: like foraging in your own garden…

Far be it from me to deny the joys of veg gardening (of which there are many, even in years of disappointing harvest) but I have to confess that one of my absolute favourite benefits of growing your own is the chance to get something for nothing.

Yes, it is just quite possible I am a massive skinflint, but it makes me very happy to spend a pound or two on a packet of seeds and then enjoy fresh tomatoes for the entire summer months.

And saving and storing some seeds from said tomatoes to grow a full summer’s worth the following year entirely for free is enough to put a beam on your face throughout the whole of a miserable dark winter…

So it is, around this time of year, I head out into the garden and collect seeds from anything I’d like to grow again.

Honesty seed cases |Wolves in London

Honesty seed cases; remove seeds and stick in a vase for winter. Heaven

Of course, at the same time as I’m collecting seeds, I should be taking the opportunity to do a bit of weeding, sweep down the paths, get the greenhouse ready for the winter and so on and so on. But no, I find these maintenance tasks a little boring, so instead I’ve been square-eyed in front of the laptop, making some rather attractive seed envelopes to store all my seeds in.  (Even if I do say so myself.)

Free seed packet download | Wolves in London

Envelopes wot I made mesself

There’s one for fruit, one for veg and one for flowers. The images, as ever, are from the wonderful Graphics Fairy website (check it out if you’re a fan of vintage pictures). I’ve used a botanical rose illustration (of course, you’d be highly unlikely to actually harvest rose seeds, I should point out, but I just really liked the picture), this botanical pea illustration for the veg and this botanical apple illustration for fruit (again, don’t actually go collecting apple pips, not only would it take you years to get a tree, but they wouldn’t be the same as the original tree anyway).

If you’d like to make some envelopes of your own, by all means go ahead! Just click on the image below to download a pdf that contains all three templates.

[NB, On my laptop, when I click on the link it shows me the document with all the Ss missing. If yours is the same, just download and save it to your computer first and you’ll see it in all its glory. How these things happen, I do not know. Before printing, check the settings are for “actual size” and landscape…]

Free printable seed envelopes | Wolves in London

Once you’ve got the envelopes, you’ll need something to put inside them. Here’s a few pointers if you’re trying seed collecting for the first time:

Poppy seeds | Wolves in London

Poppies: the easiest seeds to collect.

  • Different plants produce seeds in different ways, requiring different harvesting techniques. The easiest to collect are those flowers that store their seeds in something akin to a salt cellar, in order to shake them out once they’re ready. Flowers like poppies, snapdragons or love-in-a-mist all do this. To collect the seeds, just shake the seedhead onto a piece of paper, or straight into the envelope, and your seeds are ready.
  • Peas and beans (including sweet peas) are also very easy to harvest. Make sure you leave a few on the plant long enough for the seed to ripen. The outer bean part will turn brown, the seeds will start to dry and shrivel up and, once ready, should be easily removed. Dry for a day or two longer on some kitchen paper to be sure they’re completely dehydrated and then store til next year.
  • For soft fruit and veg, like tomatoes, you need to wait until the fruit is ripe, which means the seed will be ready, then just mash up the fruit a bit and remove the seeds. The easiest way to do this is to put the fruit and some water into a bottle or jar and shake it well until it has separated. If necessary, leave for a few days or up to a week. Remove the seeds, dry them completely on a piece of kitchen paper and store.
  • Almost all seed should be stored in a cool and dry environment. Wrap in clingfilm to keep out the moisture, then put inside an envelope (or, of course, my lovely new seed packets!)
  • Different seeds are viable (ie capable of germination) for different amounts of time. On the whole, most seeds will do well to be used within a few years. Label the date of your seed collections so you can try and use them as soon as possible.
  • Lots of fruit / veg nowadays is grown from seeds known as F1 hybrids. I won’t go into the science of this as it’s a bit complicated, but it basically means that the resultant plant is likely to be stronger, healthier, less prone to pests and diseases and will crop uniformly and heavily. All sounds great, right? The only thing is, seeds collected from the plants grown from F1 hybrids won’t grow true to their parent. So, when you’re buying seeds, check whether it says F1 hybrid on the pack. If so, it’s probably not worth bothering collecting the seed from these plants, but better to just buy them again the following year.
  • Finally, a word of warning, certain seeds have what’s known as an inbuilt dormancy, that means they won’t germinate until certain environmental external conditions have been met. The most common of which is a drop in temperature. (In the wild, this means the seed doesn’t grow at the wrong time of year – it waits for winter to be over, for example…) It’s best to do a double check online for seeds before planting them, just to make sure you won’t need to fake the necessary environmental conditions before planting. (If you’ve stored the seed inside your centrally heated house, it won’t know that winter has been and gone, so you might need to put it into the fridge for a week or two to trick it into thinking it has…) Don’t be put off by this though, most seeds are fine to chuck straight into the ground – or a nicely prepared seed tray – but it’s definitely worth checking in advance to avoid disappointment if they don’t grow…

I hope you enjoy the seed packets. Please do share photos of any seed collecting you’re up to, or any other growing, foraging or cooking by using the hashtag #growforagecook on instagram or twitter, or just leave a comment here!

[Grow, forage, cook is a series I run with Laura at Circle of Pine Trees, where we share some of our successes (and failures) with homegrown, foraged (or just bought!) seasonal food. We’d love it if you’d join in too. Every month we publish a round-up of our favourite Grow, forage, cook captures. Check out last month’s over on Circle of Pine Trees: August round up.]

 

On writing (and blogging)…

15 Sep

Blackberry | Wolves in LondonI’m going through one of those phases where I’ve forgotten how to write.

It’s a phase that’s not uncommon to me, as someone who has made their crust for the past 15 years with writing in one form or other (journalism / editing / communications / whatever the particularly tedious brand of writing is called that is simply trying to persuade people to open yet another promotional email newsletter that they really just want to delete).

I think almost all writers would admit that they frequently compare themselves detrimentally to other similar writers. It was this irresistible but bad-for-the-soul trait that really diminished my enjoyment of working on a big broadsheet back in my 20s.

You’d pick up the paper every morning and look through it, reading the pieces by your friends and contemporaries most carefully.

“Great piece this morning, John,” you’d say as you bumped into John ten minutes later in the lift popping off for a fag on level one. But secretly you were thinking, “Bloody John, that turn of phrase in paragraph two was really brilliant. I’m never going to be able to construct a sentence as well as that. John’s going to get that job that I really want on the books desk and probably a reader is writing in to complain about the factual error in my piece right this very second and I’m going to get fired on the same day John gets his promotion…”

When I’m going through a bad writing phase, though, it’s not other people’s writing that is making me feel depressed, but my own. “Good god,” I think, reading some witty, intelligent and beautifully honed article I wrote a year ago. “I could really write then! That’s a great joke! That’s an insightful but deftly managed point of view I’ve put across there. I will never, never, be able to write as well as that ever again. All my best work is behind me!”

So, yup, that’s where I am right now.

My lovely friend Laura pointed her readers towards a blackberry and apple vodka recipe I posted last year. I trotted over there too, just to remember what I had said and thought, blimey, I haven’t written anything as nicely as that for a while.

Why am I telling you this? Because I’ve decided that it’s time to give myself a little bit of a break. Stop beating myself up about my lack of writing panache and instead to just ride out the lull until I get my mojo back again.

So, dear readers, if you’ve noticed a certain dullness about my posts recently, an awkward turn of phrase, a clumsy repetition, please bear with me. If my posting isn’t as frequent, it’s because I’ve written something and decided it’s all a load of rubbish and deleted it in a fit of pique. And if I haven’t made you crack a smile for a good few months, my apologies.

In the meantime, head over to my archives and check out some of my articles back from the days when I could really write… There’s a particularly tasty blackberry and apple vodka recipe you might like to start with.

Ode to a broad bean

12 Sep

unappetising broad bean | Wolves in London

Oh green broad bean, oh green broad bean, you’re really rather small.
Oh green broad bean, oh green broad bean, you’re hardly there at all.
Oh solitary green broad bean, I still like you a lot(ty),
Though you hardly bear comparison to last year’s fine borlotti.

Your skin is wan, your colour’s dull, your seeds just number three,
Your black and speckled blotches are as ugly as can be -
And if I, famished from the day, and ready for to sup,
Picked you to feast upon, why bean, you wouldn’t fill me up!

Yet even with these many faults, upon you I heap praise
And I sing about your glory til the ending of your days.
For in one aspect you stand tall: a bean above all others
And so it is you still remain, far longer than your brothers.
Yes, beany, you’ve escaped the fate their sad short lives curtails;
You haven’t yet been eaten by our many slugs and snails.

Single broad bean | Wolves in London

P.S. Yes, I probably should get out more…

Garden moodboard: September

8 Sep

It’s quite possible, looking at this month’s moodboard, that my love for white flowers might be getting a little out-of-hand. But what white flowers they are!

September garden moodboard | Wolves in London

September delights from the garden

Along the bottom row there is a white cosmos (‘Purity’), with a small daisyish flower next to it, followed by Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus, a current obsession of mine). Above them in the top left is a glorious anemone, just below that is a nicotiana and to the right and slightly above, a self-seeded snapdragon.

Oh yeah, there are some other non-white flowers too, but really, who cares so much about them???

Anemone Honorine Jobert | Wolves in London

Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’

I think this stunning anemone is my favourite of all. I planted it a few years ago in the front garden, back when we removed the giant cactus. It has a little struggle at the start of the summer each year, when I think it’s not going to make it against its battle with the slugs and snails, and I see everyone else’s anemones in full flower, while mine looks a little sickly but then, a few weeks later, tentative little shoots and buds appear and around now the flowers are looking wonderful.

Hesperantha coccinea | Wolves in London

Same flower, new name

I’ve shown you this Hesperantha coccinea before, but it’s changed its name since then. It used to be called Schizostylis coccinea, but for some reason unknown to me, that changed. A rose by any other name, etc etc… I’ve only had a few of these by the pond so far this year, last year there was a veritable forest of them, so we’ll wait and see what happens later in the season.

Rosa rugosa rose hips | Wolves in London

Hip to be a rose…

Also autumnally-coloured, these are the rose hips from my new Rosa rugosa hedge. I think rugosa hips are good for eating, so I shall definitely be trying some culinary experimentations with these later on this year. (Not these actual hips in the photograph, of course. I don’t think they would last that long…)

Nigella | Wolves in London

So frothy!

Along with a mass of seed heads (on the bottom right of the main picture) my nigella has also put out a few more tiny little flowers in the last week. It’s nice to have a little bit more blue out there. On the left of this photo is some campanula, which has struggled on throughout the summer, producing the odd flower here and there. I really need to figure out something else to plant alongside it to cover up its rather unattractive leggy stems. (And, be still my beating heart, the lovely Erigeron is on the right of this pic again…)

Nicotiana | Wolves in London

Yeah, okay, it’s a looking a little blotchy

This photo doesn’t do my nicotiana any real favours (especially with those odd brown blotchy bits on the flower) but I’ve not photographed it yet this summer, despite its almost constant flowering. It wilts almost immediately after being picked (and often throughout the day on hot days) but looks and smells utterly wonderful around twilight. I don’t know what type of nicotiana this is (it looks just like ‘Lime green’ except for the fact it’s not, obviously, lime green) so if anyone knows, do drop me a comment. I bought five plants from the garden centre back at the start of the summer and they’ve just kept on going ever since…

Salvia seascape | Wolves in London

Salvia seascape

Finally, woohooo, a little bit of new colour. I grew some of these salvia seascapes from seed this year. They’re mixed colours and actually all the other plants are white, but this one is just starting to put out some blue flowers. In retrospect, I slightly regret cutting it down just to take its photo — but I think there were a few more flower spikes coming up on the same plant.

So there we have it, the joys of September. I’m thinking this might be one of my last monthly garden moodboards; for the time being at least. I feel as if I might be reaching the end of my range-of-plants-photographed-against-white-background capabilities. I’ve been joining in with Karin and Asa for just over a year now and have thoroughly enjoyed watching my little garden progress, but, at least until I do a major planting session anyway, I feel as if I’m now getting to a point of repetition in plant photography… Anyway, I’m not making any definite decisions, but we’ll see how the mood takes me in October. It may well be time for pastures new though. (Pastures such as Grow, forage, cook for example!)

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