6 easy updates for a beautiful summer garden

When I first got into gardening, I was always slightly embarrassed by my own garden in the middle of summer. Springtime tended to be luscious and green, Autumn was russet-toned and lovely but in the very middle of summer… …well, quite often not much seemed to be going on.

Where were the flowers? Should the grass be that brown? Why did everything look like it might be about to shuffle off this mortal coil?

In fact, since learning a bit more about horticulture, I realise that high summer is one of the trickier times in the garden. Lots of the earlier blooming flowers are over, those that wait for the cooler days of Autumn are yet to impress, and everything tends to be in good need of a large drink of water.

Thankfully, I’ve also learnt it’s not that tricky to resolve the situation, so here are six easy tricks for sprucing up your garden.

  1. Bedding

    Nicotiana | Wolves in London
    Delicate star-shaped nicotiana
Cosmos | Wolves in London
Beautiful cosmos
Sweet pea | Wolves in London
Sweet pea

I used to dismiss bedding as old fashioned, blousy and, frankly a bit naff. If someone mentioned “plugging up the gaps in your beds with bedding” I’d immediately think of petunias or marigolds. Garish flowers that would look perfect in an Victorian park, with head gardeners wasting endless supplies of water keeping them alive, only to rip them up at the end of the season and start again.

Actually, though, there’s plenty of tasteful, beautiful, non-garish and even modern bedding around.

Technically speaking, bedding can refer to any plant that’s an annual, or lives only for a year. Because it’s just a one season thing, it’s cheaper to buy than perennials (nobody has had to look after it for years before it blooms) and often easy to grow from seed.

Some of my favourites, all of which should be available in a good plant shop near you, are cosmos, snapdragons, sweet peas and Nicotiana alata. The last of these has the most incredible scent in the evening, but is fairly toxic, so make sure you plant it towards the back of a bed if you have kids or animals roaming around.

The best thing to do if you’re planning on buying bedding, though, is just taking a browse at a garden centre or (even better) a plant nursery and grabbing anything that takes your fancy and is looking good right now. Remember that it won’t be around next year, so make sure it looks like it’s got a good bit of flower production still left for the season and then just plant it anywhere that needs an extra dash of interest…

  1. Pots

white flowersThis is the quickest win of all when it comes to gardening. Buy some plants already in flower (bedding, or perennials) and put them in a pot in a prominent position.

Gardens Illustrated always has brilliant combinations for plants in containers if you need inspiration, or just follow your heart and choose things you think look nice.

The really great thing about pots is that you can move them around, so once a display is over, put the pot into a hidden corner to wait until next year, or dig up the plants, re-plant in your garden if appropriate and put something new in.

3. Cleaning

Al Fresco summer garden | Wolves in London
Perfectly clean!

I know, sorry, what a boring option! But if you’ve not got the time / money / inclination to re-paint fences or furniture, then just giving them a really good scrub can often work wonders to perking up the whole look of your garden.

Endless spring showers (and often summer ones too) mean that tables and chairs can get dirty and everything can start to look a bit drab and brown.

This is especially true if you have a very modern-looking white-rendered wall style of garden, where every stain and mark shows up. A friend of mine who works as maintenance gardener once described working in these gardens as being a bit like an outdoor cleaner: more often than pruning shrubs or weeding, she found that cleaning the walls made the biggest difference to how everything looked.

  1. Mow the lawn
Walcot Hall, Shropshire
NB, this is not my lawn! (Photographed at Walcot Hall, Shropshire, where we got married.)

I am constantly, constantly amazed what a huge difference it makes to my garden once we’ve given the grass a good mow. Suddenly, everything looks neater and more intentional when set against the backdrop of a finely trimmed sward

  1. Choose some lighting

High summer is prime time for late night suppers in the garden. In an ideal world, we’d all have atmospheric mood lighting to accompany the event. You know the kind: dramatic uplighters highlighting a stately tree trunk, or a string of romantic bare bulbed lights over our eating area. In real life, this is often a fairly expensive option for the rare evenings in this country where we want to be sitting in the garden at night.

But mood lighting can be simple (and cheap) too; candles for eating dinner are perfect. Perhaps a hurricane lamp strung from a tree. Or just some outdoor fairy lights festooning a fence. Anything that twinkles, basically, is a good bet…

6. Add some fabrics

London garden

I can sometimes be guilty of not bothering to carry things outside to the garden, because I know I’ll just have to take them back inside at the end of the day.

But a picnic blanket, some cushions, a hammock strung between the trees: these are the things of comfort and relaxation and long days spent soaking up the sun. Our kids love their red and white striped teepee and can spend hours minutes sitting inside quite happily on their own and pretending it’s a space rocket.

Do you have any other tips for quick fixes to make your garden look inviting? Do share them below…

6 tips for a summer garden update







Five on Friday

Manor house windowEnglish countrysideCowsCountry house with flowerbedsView from the window

  1. The photos above are from last weekend’s trip to Herefordshire. My friend’s family own a house there that is the very stuff of watery-eyed English nostalgia. A huge mansion, surrounded by formal gardens, giving way to fields of cows, sheep and hay bales as far as the eye can see. In the distance, a church spire peeps out, a river rolls past and you sit, sighing, watching the sun set and feel as if all is right with the world.

The house itself is a spectacular mansion, 300 years old, and charming in that slightly crumbling way that English manor houses do so well. I coveted the peeling William Morris-style wallpaper in the bathrooms, the study filled with dark paneling and, most of all, the amazing huge windows letting in the glorious light.

It was a group of my school friends staying, with all our families and dogs, and everyone got on perfectly. We wandered a nearby castle one day, ate late into the night in the fabulous dining room while the kids (mostly) slept above, and generally caught up on life from the past few years where we’ve all been too busy for more than the occasional meal or rushed telephone call.

If it all sounds a bit vomitously perfect, I’m afraid it was rather. One of those weekends where everything, including the English weather, just pans out perfectly. (Oh and I did get actually copiously vomited on by the littlest on Saturday night after he accidentally consumed some cheese, just to bring matters back to a slightly more realistic level…)

  1. I have finally, finally sorted out that phone upgrade and am now the proud owner of an iPhone 6s. It only took me four months to get round to it. So my photos work again, the phone doesn’t freeze whenever I try to download an app and I am back on instagram once more. If you’re over there too, do say hello: @wolvesinlondon. In my absence, all those weird instagram changes have happened and I’m not sure if I’m really seeing everyone’s posts anymore (or, indeed, if they’re seeing mine) but I’m sure I’ll start to remember all those little insta-foibles like relevant tagging soon.
  1. The sproglet was back in nursery yesterday after his enforced two weeks away, following his tonsil op. Good god, two weeks of child-rearing without pause is tiring. I am soaking up two days a week to myself again, especially as my garden design course is on summer hols, so Thursday doesn’t mean schlepping over to Regent’s Park anymore. (Just sitting at home and working on all the assignments due in in November, aka, the same time as my due date, ha ha.)
  1. Both boys are off to Minnis Bay in Kent on a nursery trip today. Do you know it? I googled it to take a look at their destination and it looked rather heavenly. I liberally sun-creamed them up this morning, and sent them off with reminders to wear their hats and think about going to the loo long before they need to take their swimming costumes off. I have a feeling it might be a rather chaotic day for the nursery staff…
  1. And I can’t let this week go by without officially mentioning the heat! It’s been hot, hasn’t it?! We’ve been outside in the paddling pool most days, the boys splashing around while I quietly perspire on the grass. I need to get a comfortable outdoor chair, that’s for sure…

Hope your weeks have been brilliant and here’s to a sunny weekend!

Joining in with Amy and Five on Friday.




Five on Friday

Poppy | Wolves in London

Hello! Phew! Goodness, it’s been a busy few weeks. I’ll try and sum it all up in five salient points…

  1. It’s been a fortnight of hospitals. Last week, the sproglet had his tonsils and adenoids removed, which meant a day at St Thomas’s and then a whole week of quarantine at home. He was pretty brave, for a boy not yet four, but groggy as anything after the general anaesthetic. He’s not quite back to full health, but talks fondly about his time at “Thomas hospital” — I think he thinks it belongs to a certain tank engine. I find it too adorable to correct him.
  2. The other major hospital visit was to Kings for my 22 week scan because yes, not content with an already somewhat hectic life, we’ve decided to add another sprog to the mix. All was well and, apart from being exhausted most of the time and huger than I have ever been in pregnancy before, it’s been the easiest pregnancy so far. The other two are looking forward to having a baby in the house and (mostly) remembering not to jump up and down on my tummy.
  3. Do you remember all the dilemmas about our house move? (You know, the one that has been ongoing for about five months now?) Well, our mortgage got refused on the house we were trying to buy because of suspected subsidence. After finally deciding not to leave London, it now looks a bit like we might have to leave London after all.. If we can’t manage to find another way to buy this house that we want, everything else round our area has got insanely expensive and moving locally just isn’t an option anymore. We’ve applied for a mortgage with someone else that we have some (scant) reason to suspect might be more inclined to lend on that house, so it’s just a waiting game, now, to find out if it will go through. Keep your fingers crossed for us.
  4. Today was the last day of my garden design course for the summer. We spent it walking round Canary Wharf and then the Thames Barrier Park looking at gardens. Actually, I started the day sitting on the floor of a Jubilee line tube in tears because I was so fed up that nobody had offered me a seat for the whole journey and I had just lost the will to battle with all the self-absorbed suited-bastards who rushed past me to grab the seats and stare at their Blackberrys for hours. It was deeply embarrassing, I have to say. (See above, for pregnancy hugeness and exhaustion and also a reason why I’m perhaps slightly more emotional than normal, ha ha…) I feel obliged to point out that even when I was sitting sobbing on the floor, nobody still offered up a seat. A commute into Canary Wharf is enough to make you give up on any belief in human decency.
  5. On a more relaxing note, we’re off for a long weekend in Herefordshire this weekend, staying with a whole bunch of my school friends and their families in a beautiful Georgian manor house. I am hoping for some long walks, long meals and general pottering around. Oh and for some sunshine, of course.

‘Til next week. Hope you all have wonderful weekends…

Joining in with Amy and Five on Friday.


Currently reading: all the books

Reading all the books | Wolves in London

I haven’t written a ‘currently reading’ post for a few months. But what I have been doing in that time is reading. A lot. Voraciously, in fact.

When I started to make a list of everything that I’ve read since my last post (about the utterly terrifying Marie Kondo book) I was slightly shocked at the volume. Around 20 books in a couple of months.

There isn’t, of course, time to give you my full, frank review on every single one of these, so instead a brief sentence on each one. A Twitter review, if you will.

And to make things really straightforward, I’ve listed them in the order I most enjoyed them:

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

How did I miss the hype the first time round? Peters out at the end, but brilliant, compelling, sharp, intriguing and fantastically-written. If you somehow also failed to read it when it came out, then do so now…

Twenty thousand streets under the sky by Patrick Hamilton

Epitomises the London of a foggy, cold day. Fabulous, bleak, fascinating, unrelentingly “real.”

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt

A story about two contract killers in California during the Gold rush. If that doesn’t sound like something you’d ever read, ditto. Read it anyway. I adored the rather literal narrator’s voice and the prosaic catalogue of bizarre events that ensued.

The complete works of Marian Keyes (re-read)

One week I became obsessed with re-reading everything written by Marian Keyes. It’s chick lit for those who (like me) don’t usually like chick lit. Trashy, yes, but also extremely funny and very much un-put-downable.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

She’s a fantastic writer, there’s no doubt, but that couldn’t quite make me ignore the fact I never love a modern re-working of a classic. If you’ve never read Sittenfeld before, then seek out American wife instead, which remains one of my all-time favourite reads.

The stranger’s child by Alan Hollinghurst

I found The line of beauty one of the most over-hyped books I had ever read, but really very much enjoyed this book, Hollinghurst’s fifth novel. Set in five different decades, I vastly preferred the earlier (1913 and 1920s) sections to the modern day ones. But overall, definitely worth a read…

The man of my dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld

Sparks of brilliance, but a slightly unfulfilling plot. See above…

Under the Tuscan sun by Frances Mayes

Practically porn for a property-fiend and Italophile like me. Will almost certainly make you sell your children in order to finance the purchase of a falling down house in Italy.

The versions of us by Laura Barnett

Has been compared to One Day, which seems fair to me. An enjoyable read, but not something I would remember in five years time. A good holiday book.

Oxygen by Patrick Miller

Perfectly readable holiday literature. Almost instantly forgettable.

The Elena Ferrante Neapolitan novels

Page turners, undoubtedly, but I didn’t find them the great literary feat everyone else seemed to. I preferred the descriptions of Naples to the musings on friendship and relationships.

Number 11 by Jonathan Coe

Good god, I thought this was tedious. A “satire” on modern culture (which actually felt especially topical after the referendum), but though I agree with the politics, I found the writing and humour rather schoolboyish. And (*spoiler alert, look away now*) at the very end a giant spider eats all of the bad capitalist conservatives. I kid you not.




In the garden: June

SeedheadWell, wasn’t the last week of June utterly depressing. Like so many, I was knocked for six with the results of the referendum.

I find the whole thing terrifying and bleak. The result itself, the reports of increased racism that have peppered the news this past week, the furious packpedalling of the Leave campaigners, the Leave voter regretters, but also the really unpleasant bile and accusations that have been rife on my Facebook feed ever since — predominantly from those who share my political views and also voted to remain.

Yes, I agree, it is bloody miserable that more people said leave than stay, but I don’t think that justifies branding half the population either racist or moronic. Nor do I feel much empathy for those who want to take London out of the UK (erm, doesn’t that kind of go against the whole point of staying stronger together?) or moan about how they’ll no longer be able to retire to a lovely villa in Spain.

Anyway, let’s hope that something comes up to stop us actually following through and leaving and that the unpleasant racism and Facebook fighting dies down and maybe, just maybe, we can all stand up against a political system filled with lies and nonsense pedalled merely as a desire for personal gain, irrespective of the good of the country.

In the meantime, pottering in the garden has provided me with some respite from the bleak outlook. June is often a bit of a “flower gap” in my garden, a time when the Spring blooms are over, but high Summer is yet to hit its peak. But there’s just enough of interest to keep me wandering around between all the rainstorms.

Thalictrum delavayi 'album'
Thalictrum delavayi ‘album’

white thalictrum

My complete obsession at the moment are my stunning thalictrum plants. They’re Thalictrum delavayi ‘album’ and the flower buds form perfect white circles that bob about on slender stems, before opening to reveal delicate yellow stamens. I have about nine plants dotted throughout the garden and I just adore them. They were newly planted in the Autumn, but I shall put them in every garden I ever own from now on…

Scabiosa bud
Scabiosa bud
Scabiosa flower
Scabiosa flower
Scabiosa seedhead
Scabiosa seedhead

Another favourite is this scabious; I love watching it unfold from tightly packed bud to luscious flower and then into a rather glorious seedhead. I planted it next to some salvia argentea, which is a huge fat-leaved, hairy silver plant, that looked absolutely amazing for about a week. And then the slugs devoured every last bit of it. Three plants, completely munched through, with only the leaf veins left. Grrrr.Bee on erysimumBee

Regular reads might chuckle to know that, yes, my wallflower is — as ever — in full bloom. Not only does it flower pretty much continuously for 11 months of the year, but the bees love it. It’s a garden staple, I think, if a little unglamorous.


I planted a beautiful pittosporum towards the back of the garden, but it has become a breeding ground for aphids. Every time I see a ladybird anywhere in the garden, I put it on the pittosporum in the hope it will munch those little pests right up. But, a few minutes later, there will be no sign of the ladybird and hundreds more of the little black dots multiplying in front of my eyes. I think I need a more effective form of control, but the hose doesn’t reach that far down the garden to blast them away, and I always feel a little queasy, I have to confess, about wiping them off between my fingers.


There is lots on the verge of flowering at the moment too. Some poppies that have grown from seed that I asked the sproglet to chuck liberally across the flower beds are growing well. I can no longer remember what type we sowed, so I watch them every day in eager anticipation, waiting to see what colour the flowers will be. And my newly-planted echinops is getting taller and taller, the flower buds fattening. I can’t wait for them all to burst open.

London garden

Finally, a rather crappy shot of the garden as viewed from the patio looking away from the house. It’s not quite as short as it appears in the photo, but we cleared all the plastic kids crap away to put up the much more attractive fabric tent last weekend, so I thought it needed a quick snap. You can just make out the chicken house and the veg beds at the far end…

So, roll on July. Here’s to less rain, more flowers and, hopefully, a little more optimism in the whole political situation. Fingers tightly crossed.


Eating sustainably: three new superfoods

Pullet egg
Pullet eggs: tiny but delicious

Am I alone in having good intentions that frequently outshine my actions? Surely not.

Though I’ve thought (and written) much about our intentions to live as sustainably as possible, in real life, time or cost often win out against worthy ideals.

So, yes, I grow a lot of veg and get a weekly organic veg box, but (whispers it) I also do a monthly online Tesco food shop. Even though I hate Tesco and everything they stand for, without a car we can’t do a regular big shop ourselves and Tesco is currently the only supermarket who will cheerfully deliver to us without plastic bags and carry the crates of food all the way through to the kitchen.

But with our country move delayed, and, with it, plans of a more self-sufficient lifestyle also put on hold for a few years, I am determined to try and be more conscious about the food we consume as a family.

So I’ve done a bit of research into the current trends in sustainable eating! (Because, let’s face it, this is an area of ever shifting sands and ever new heroes. Who can forget the Apprentice acai berry show?!)

And, my goodness, what a lot there was to discover…

  1. Teff

I’ve long been a fan of quinoa, so the promise of Teff, a new “supergrain” from Ethiopia creates a strong lure. The gluten-free seeds, used in place of wheat flour, have been growing in popularity in recent years, even leading the grain teff to be placed at 4 to 1 odds as the next big superfood

Though we’re not a gluten free household, I am aware that almost everything the kids like to consume is packed full of the stuff (pasta, bread, cakes and biscuits making up pretty much the entire list of foods that will be allowed past their lips) and I’m always looking for ways to vary this unending wheat onslaught.

Plus, of course, the promise of a large exporting foodstuffs market in Ethiopia, if managed effectively, would be a huge boon to a nation that is currently on the UN’s list of least-developed countries.*

Teff flour is currently available in the UK from Planet Organic and, in smaller more expensive quantities, from Sainsburys. Expect it to start appearing on the shelves of other supermarkets soon…

  1. Pullet eggs

Did you watch the Jamie Oliver expose on pullet eggs last year on Jamie and Jimmy’s Farm Feast? For anyone who missed it, the short story is that huge numbers of small eggs, known as pullet eggs, are discarded because the supermarkets don’t want to buy them. As with so many things (wonky veg and so on) there is no real rationale behind this – a pullet egg, laid by a young chicken who has only just started making eggs, tastes just as good as a normal sized one and, in fact, the yolk-white ratio is higher so it’s arguably even better! (Read more about it on Jamie Oliver’s website here: eggs and animal welfare.)

I’m quite passionate about this subject for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the farm that Jamie visited is owned by the hubby’s relations, who are just as brilliant and fun as they seemed on TV and do an amazing job of running an organic farm and spreading the message about pullet eggs.

Secondly, since owning our own chickens and watching, with astonishment, when they first started laying these adorable little tiny eggs, I can tell: you they taste bloody brilliant! How anyone could discard such an insanely tasty egg simply because it is a bit smaller than usual strikes me as pure insanity.

Anyway, it is now possible to buy pullet eggs, either direct from The Mac’s Farm in Sussex, if you happen to live close by, or via FarmDrop if you’re London based, and nationwide from Abel & Cole (where they’ve called them “petite eggs”).

  1. Baobab

Surely one of the most iconic sights of Africa, the baobab tree casts such a mythical hold that it’s unsurprising its fruit has gripped public attention. And with health benefits that are seemingly un-ending (it contains more vitamin C than an orange, just for a start) baobab powder has been popular in health food stores for some time now.

In past years, though, baobab production has really taken off, with a number of sustainable initiatives starting in a range of African countries. Many of the organisations involved with the trade of baobab to the west are conscious of the need to address issues of monoculture and deforestation that have been rife with popularity of other crops.

I’m yet to test the baobab and, I have to confess, I remain sceptical about endless health claims from any one food, but with a huge range of baobab foods available in the UK now, I’m going to search out some baobab rich snacks and see if it’s something I can incorporate into my diet. Check out Planet Organic’s range for a huge choice!

*There’s a fascinating article in the Guardian all about teff, and the growing conditions in Ethiopia, here: Move over quinoa







Five on Friday

White allium | Wolves in London


We’re a household of germs and lurgies this morning. I’ve lost my voice (and feel as if I’ve lost all muscles from my entire body, the amount of work it seems to walk up the stairs), the sproglet has a level of grouchiness that is usually associated with some form of illness, and the hubby is off work with a vomiting bug. Only the littlest has escaped, and remains cheerful, bumbling around the house singing songs to us and occasionally stopping to tell me, with a huge grin on his face, “I grumpy, Mummy, I so grumpy”…


So I’m writing this, curled up on the sofa under a blanket, PJs still on and a roll of loo paper by my side for the constant nose wiping. Actually, if I’m making this all sound miserable, it’s really quite pleasant. The sprogs have just gone off to nursery and the hubby is now having a sleep upstairs and I have that rare moment of quiet and peace in the house, with the companionship of knowing someone else is in.


Apart from all the bugs, work has been on my mind almost constantly this week. Work, or rather, the lack thereof. The sproglet turns four in just over month, marking four years in which I haven’t really done anything that could reasonably be called working. The lack of money, not to mention the lack of identity, has been grating on me these past months. When we applied for additional borrowing on our mortgage for our imminent house move, we were told that we could be lent more if I was taken off the mortgage, and it was in my husband’s name only. We’ve had to do so, house prices round us being so crazy that we couldn’t afford to move otherwise, but it was a real dent to my sense of being an independent, functioning, valuable member of society. And a feminist. Anyway, I could rant for hours about all this (and have done to numerous friends over the past few weeks) but the short result is that it’s made me really want to step up my plans for my own company and push ahead a little faster than I had originally thought.


Luckily, two lovely family members have agreed to hire me to mastermind garden overhauls. I registered my own company last year, but have only done a few (very) small jobs since then, but now I’m ready to crack on with something a bit bigger. For my sister, I’m drawing up a planting plan to bring some colour into her garden (at the moment, she has huge swathes of grass and privet hedging, but not much flora). And my Mum has commissioned me to completely re-design her entire plot, which will be exciting, albeit a challenging task. I’m off to my Mum’s house at the weekend, to carry out a site survey and discuss initial plans with her. Garden design company is go!


Though political, I really hate to discuss politics normally (I’ve spent too many evenings, pressed back against a wall in a gloomy pub with some half-inebriated uni friend aggressively shouting their beliefs at me for hours, oblivious to the fact I’ve said, six hundred times already, that I completely agree with them…) But next week, of course, is a pretty big deal, so I feel compelled to mention that I am, naturally, voting to stay in Europe, for all the reasons that everyone else has said before. The thought of leaving is pretty terrifying to me, but I remain hopeful that, on the day, a general sense of inclusiveness being better than alienation will win out. This time next week, we’ll know for sure.

Joining in with Amy and Five on Friday

East Dulwich in bloom

Last Friday, I took a walk through my local streets, camera in hand, to photograph some nice examples of hard landscaping for my recent garden design assignment.

Does that sound interesting? It wasn’t hugely. I soon found myself photographing roses instead.

Pink rose | Wolves in London

White rose | Wolves in London

Rose bud | Wolves in LondonOver almost every front wall, it seemed, profusions of roses were blooming. Every colour, scent and type imaginable was adorning the streets of East Dulwich.

These are some of the finest…

pink frilly rose white dog rose dog rose

And if you ask really nicely, I might share my hard landscaping photos with you at some point in the future, but in the meantime, here is a photo of a nice bit of sandstone paving, plus cat…


Five on Friday

Path to the beachTall grasses in SicilyNoto cathedralNoto street, Sicily Noto rooftops, Sicily One of my all-time favourite blogs to read is CJ’s Above the River. She’s a brilliant writer, witty and wry, and her glimpses of family conversations never fail to amuse me. I particularly enjoy the weekly Friday posts, joining in with Amy’s series Five on Friday, and thought I would join in myself with a little rambling about five things from the week just been. So here goes…

  1. I discovered a few more photos I’d taken on our Sicily hol in my hubby’s phone this morning. The path and huge grasses lead to a hidden cove, a nature reserve with the most turquoise sea and white sand.  The town of reddish stone is Noto, right down in the southeastern corner of the island, mentioned in passing in our guidebooks and one of the most beautiful towns I’ve ever visited. As we arrived, there was a Vespa parade through the main (pedestrianised) street, accompanied by much horn-honking and cheering. The scooters were all adorned with signs, proclaiming which local Vespa club they belonged to, and there were so many that the whole thing too a good ten minutes to go past us. I longed, once more, to live in Italy always.
  2. The reason the pics weren’t on my own phone, is that it’s properly given up the ghost. 18 months of manhandling by the sproglets has meant my camera is so ingrained with dirt and greasy smears that every photo I take looks as if it’s been sprinkled in sand and a dollop of vaseline. My contract has finally expired and I’m due an upgrade, but am busy debating whether I can really justify adding an extra £20 a month to my phone bill in order to get the massive iPhone 6s. Any thoughts?
  3. Said lack of phone camera has led to an enforced instagram break which, rather to my surprise, I have found completely liberating. I realise that I’d got a bit negatively addicted to instagram, checking it first thing in the morning, constantly scrolling through feeds of artfully styled flowers and floral scissors and Observer guides, and feeling a perennial pressure to be taking photographs as beautiful as those that everyone else seemed capable of. A few months off has been a good breather and I have a determination not to get so sucked back in once I finally return.
  4. I was out on Wednesday night at the launch party for 91 magazine, for which my friend Laura is the deputy editor. I had a lovely time, though had that thing when you’re in a room with lots of bloggers, where you’re not sure if you recognise people’s faces from seeing them online or because you’ve met them before. I swung between wondering if I was being anti-social by not saying hello to more people, or being a bit crazed fan-stalkerish chatting to people who had no clue who I was. Perhaps both at once?!
  5. I’m rather sunburnt as I sit writing this, after spending a day at Capel Manor, Enfield, yesterday, surveying a garden for our next garden assignment. The task ahead of me today is to draw up the plan on the computer, something that hurts my head severely every time. I’m trying to teach myself Vectorworks, the CAD program of choice for garden design, but it’s a slow, complex process, that frequently ends with me shouting at my laptop or slamming it closed in a huff. There is a special sort of rage, I find, reserved for technology that is supposed to make your life easier, but that instead complicates the most basic tasks.

My love for Italy and a trip to Sicily

Bougainvillea: the backdrop to pretty much every summer holiday I’ve ever taken

I’m a long term Italophile.

I was first seduced by the charms of Rome at the age of 23, visiting on a long weekend. I was on my own – the first break I’d ever taken solo – which felt both risky, alarming and hopelessly cool at the time.

I fell head over heels for everything: the food, the language, the beauty of the city, the vespas, the fruit market on Campo dei Fiori, the shouting… …and perhaps most of all, Maurizio, the silver fox who owned the apartment in which I was renting a room.

On my last day, he took me out for an alternative tour of the city on the back of his motorbike. We visited the abattoir, set off up Monte Gianicolo and he took me out to supper at one of his favourite restaurants.

As dusk fell, we took a walk through the centro storico and wandered upon a piazza where an open air tango class was taking place. We stood and watched for a while, leaning up against an archway. I started to feel a little nervous as Maurizio leaned closer towards me, butterflies in my stomach telling me that, oh god, perhaps this outrageously hot man 20 years older than me was about to try and kiss me.

Panicked, at the last moment, I walked off, suddenly keen to explore something else on the other side of the square, and the moment passed.

But though I spent the following four months regretting my fear and wondering what might have been (an Italian wedding! Hordes of Italian children! Learning to make pasta from the hands of a master! Etc etc) my love for Italy was well and truly sparked.

A few weeks later, I quit my job in London, and moved to Rome for six months, attending Italian language school in the mornings and wandering galleries, museums, parks and piazzas in the afternoons. *

Balcony in Siracusa
Can you spot the dog on the balcony?
The island of Ortygia in Siracusa
The island of Ortygia in Siracusa
Locals grab even the tiniest spots for a bit of sunbathing

Ever since, I’ve taken any opportunity I can to visit Italy, the most recent trip a fortnight in Sicily, from where we’ve just returned.

Our last Italian jaunt, to Puglia on honeymoon, was rather stressful with the sproglet at a tricky age for travelling, so I’m pleased to report that this trip was – if not relaxing, for what is relaxing with two toddlers – definitely more successful.

This time round, the boys were delighted by the proliferation of pasta, pizza and ice cream, and just as happy to wander round museums, art galleries and ancient ruins as they were playing at the beach. I also dragged them to a fair few gardens, with the promise of playgrounds that rarely materialised. (Not, I hasten to add, a cunning parenting ploy on my part, just an inaccuracy in the guidebooks…)

Taormina public gardens

Taormina public gardens

The landscape of Southern Sicily
The landscape of Southern Sicily

They were an absolute fricking nightmare at mealtimes, smashing up tables in the time it would take the food to arrive, but we soon learnt to eat only at restaurants on piazzas where they could run around or at their preferred café on the beach. (“Mum, please can we go to the place where the nice man talks Italian to us and gives us free chupa chups lollies?”)

But, overall, an enjoyable jaunt, marred only by a middle-of-the-night trip to hospital to get four stitches in the sproglet’s chin after he fell out of bed onto the tiled floor one evening.

I took my brand new, incredibly expensive camera lens with me, thinking I was going to get a selection of amazing photos. But on uploading them to my computer at home, I see that almost all are out of focus. So, perhaps luckily for you, I only have these to share with you. They are pretty representative of the whole area we were staying in: bougainvillea dripping over every wall, huge fields of bronzed grass and tall pines, every building a statuesque if crumbling beauty, and the backdrop of the turquoise sea wherever you look.

The view from Taormina, Mount Etna in the background
Taormina greek theatre
Ancient Greek theatre in Taormina

Italy: my love for you continues…

*I met up with Maurizio once for lunch – let slip that I had since accrued an English boyfriend and never heard from him again, ha ha. A good lesson about the desires of Italian silver foxes, I suspect…