My Favourite Flowers

I have been a massive fan of flowers all my life. From big gardens to tiny bunches, huge floristsHellebore arrangements to eggcups with a child’s posy in – I love all flowers, any flowers. Over the weekend, sitting looking at everything finally starting to turn green in the garden, I was reflecting on which flowers would be in my all time top ten if I was asked. Well, here are my top ten… what are your favourites – and why?

Number One – Hellebores
Hellebores (or Christmas Roses) in all colours there are dozens of varieties both single and double in my garden – I just love them!

Number Two – Hydrangeas
Hydrangeas, pink, blue or white! I love the possibilities of hydrangeas, you can press them, dry them, preserve them – all sorts of things and hung up in the spare room and then sprayed gold for Christmas – gorgeous!Classic English roses

Number Three – Old Fashioned English Roses
Old fashioned English roses – beautiful, beautiful flowers to look at and I love them whether they are on a bush in the garden or in an arrangement in the house.

Number Four – Snowdrops
Snowdrops – they are so pretty to look at but they cheer me up the minute any appear in the garden.

Number Five – Cherry Blossom
Cherry Blossom  – I know this is a tree and not a plant but I hope it counts – we have a huge cherry tree just outside my bathroom window and I just love the mass of white blossom in the spring.

Number Six – Lily of the Valley
Lily of the valley – oh that perfume, so wonderful and such a delicate pretty little flower.Violets

Number Seven – Common Daisies
Happy memories of daisy chains and lovely lawns, picnics and sunshine – it was sunny during the summer months then, wasn’t it?

Number Eight – Water Lilies
Water lilies – because my dream would be to have a large pond in the garden with stunning water lilies – they are just magnificent.

Number Nine – Violets
These flowers always remind me of my Mother, as we were given little posies of violets in church when I was a child to take home to our mothers… and they are a favourite of hers!

Number Ten – Agapanthus
This one sneaks in at number ten because whenever I see them,Agapanthus it reminds me of my sister and seeing them grow wild in the Channel Islands where she lives.

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Murder & mystery in deepest Devon…

The west country, with its dramatic coastline, brooding moors and secluded hideaways is a pretty perfect place for writers to escape to – well that’s what I keep telling myself whenever myAgatha Christie enthusiasm flags! Over the years, this corner of England has been home to some of our most popular authors of the 20th century. Two female literary giants – Daphne Du Maurier and Agatha Christie – both spent many happy years in this part of the world.

South Cornwall was the home of Daphne Du Maurier, writer of the haunting classics Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel and Frenchman’s Creek, among many other excellent novels. She lived a reclusive life down on the wild south Cornish coast and nowadays there is an annual Daphne Du Maurier Literary Festival (now called the Fowey Festival or Words & music) which I keep promising myself I must go to! 

In Devon, we lay claim to Agatha Christie. The undisputed queen of crime was born on 15 September 1890 in Torquay, just a couple of miles away from where I live. Once her fame was established and money no object, there was nothing she loved more than escaping with her family to Greenway, their Devon holiday home.

The National Trust opened Greenway House to the public in 2009 and for the first time, visitors had the opportunity to view the many personal collections and mementoes of this much-loved mystery writer and her family. It’s well worth a visit.

Greenway is an imposing house, sitting high on the slopes of the valley running down to the beautiful riverGreenway House Dart, near Dartmouth – one of my favourite Devon towns. If you take the Dart River Boat trip from Totnes to Dartmouth – wonderful in itself – you get superb views of Greenway from the river and can appreciate what a lovely place it was for her to escape to. 

Outside you can explore the large and romantic woodland garden, with a restored vinery, wild edges and rare plantings, which drifts down the hillside towards the sparkling Dart estuary. Lovely!!

I keep saying to Richard, all we need is a nice mansion by the sea where I can sit and muse while sipping a gin sling and I’ll have no trouble writing all my murder mysteries!! Somehow, I don’t think he is taking me seriously…

 

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The power of three

Have you ever stopped and thought about the number three? No, neither have I much, but if we do stop to analyse, it is actually quite an interesting little beast.

While that old saying ‘Two’s company, three’s a crowd,’ has a negative slant, the fact that three can be a crowd is actually very useful when it comes to arranging flowers and planting in the garden. It’s also a very important number to remember when you’re writing…

In appearance, an uneven number of things, three, five, seven and so on, always gives a more random, ‘natural’ look. A farmer friend of mine planted all his daffodil bulbs two by two in a regimented march across his lawn and, oh dear, did it look odd! If he’d done little clumps of three it would have looked much better.

I always plant my perennials in clumps of at least three, and the same goes for bulbs. Flower arranging, which I am trained in and did a very great deal of earlier in my career, works a lot with threes and the triangular shape, and the science behind it and how our brain sees things is very interesting…

The ‘Rule of three’ is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes will be funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. And that sentence was itself an example of it!

Apparently, we are more likely to absorb information if it is written in groups of threes. From slogans – the Olympic’s “Faster, higher, stonger!” – to films, many things are structured in threes. Examples include the Three Musketeers, Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

When I’m busy writing – whether it’s an article, a book or this blog – (that’s another three!) the rule of three does come to me quite naturally after all these years. At the moment, as some of you will know, I am working on a novel and, when I am trying to create dramatic, impact I do sit and chew my pen – well actually my finger nails as I type everything – and put a lot of effort into producing the most concise, clever and crafty sentences that I can. A series of three creates a progression in which the tension is created, built up, and finally released.

Will I succeed? Or will time, tiredness and tedium get the better of me…? Only time will tell. I’ll keep you posted on the novel’s progress…!

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Secret gardens just waiting for you…

Spring is so slow to get going this year that I am trying to convince myself it will be doubly good when it finally does arrive!

In eager anticipation of this, I thought that I’d mention the National Garden Scheme in this week’s blog. Some of you may already know it – it’s often referred to as ‘The Yellow Book’ scheme – if not, you are missing out on a real gardening treat. The National Garden Scheme (NGS) is a wonderful idea that not only raises lots of money for charity, but also allows you to visit some absolutely stunning private gardens.

Most gardens that open for the NGS are privately owned and open just a few times each year. Some gardens open as part of a group with the whole community involved. The gardens give all the money raised directly to us (including from the sale of teas and plants); the only exceptions being in some cases they ask that a small proportion goes to a nominated local charity.

When a garden is open, it puts out a distinctive yellow poster – look out for these! A few years ago, I had a wonderful afternoon wandering round a garden that was right next to somewhere I’d lived as a child. It had been home to Enid Blyton many years before and the current owners had done a fantastic job restoring the garden. I had been visiting the area and drove past the end of the road and saw the sign – pure chance. Sadly, that particular garden isn’t open this year, but there are no less than 3,700 across England and Wales that are, and some of them are bound to be near you. 

Buy a copy of their ‘Yellow Book’ Guide and it will tell you all the gardens that open, and when. There are some absolute gems! Their website is also very useful and includes details of when you can stay near particular gardens, details of plant fairs and nurseries etc.

 

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Feeding our feathered friends in winter

The arrival of ‘proper’ winter weather has seen the usual flurry of wild bird activity in our garden. I see robins fluffed up like pompoms and black birds looking huge – thank goodness they have such great insulation in their feathers. But it’s important we look after our garden birds throughout the winter months, especially now as so many of them are under threat.

Garden birds need extra nourishment to keep them warm, just as we do and, as I know you are all so keen on cooking and ‘making’, I thought you’d love to have a go at making your own winter bird feeders!

All you need is vegetable suet, or lard, bird seed mix and empty yogurt pots.

Mix one part suet to two parts seed, transfer to a saucepan and gently heat until the fat melts.

Next, make a small hole in the bottom of each pot and thread some twine through to tie the feeder to a tree branch. Pour the mixture into the pots – do this on a tray or baking sheet so if any fat leaks through the hole it won’t damage anything. Set overnight in the fridge, then simply remove the pot and hang up outside.

Don’t forget their water in winter. I keep a stock of old plastic post and cartons from packaging that I fill with water and weight down with a stone to ensure they always have fresh unfrozen water.

Finally, hygiene is very important – when a large number of birds are attracted into an area to feed, the danger of disease increases. Prevention is always better than a cure, and is the best thing you can do to help the birds.

The RSPB has lots of useful information about bird feeding and advice on how to keep everything clean. Click here to find out what they suggest

http://www.rspb.org.uk/advice/helpingbirds/feeding/hygiene.aspx

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