Last week I was lucky enough to get some gardening advice from Katie Rushworth from ITV's Love your Garden. It's not very often you get the opportunity for a professional gardener cast an eye over your garden, so I was very excited to see what she might say about mine.
I was asked to send some photos of the garden and three questions for Katie to answer, which sounds great, but when you're selecting photos for a professional gardener to case their eye over you suddenly get a bit nervous. I'm very much a beginner, so although there are parts of the garden I'm quite pleased with, but there are other parts that need are either in need of work or just look a bit of a mess.
I chose the following photos because they illustrated the problems I'm currently having, but please bear in mind that these are aspects of the garden that are usually carefully edited out!
You can read Katie's answers below, and I've also selected a few items based on her answers that are currently available from the gardening section at Tesco.
The choisya is the white flowering shrub in the centre of the photo
Question: The Choisya is beautiful but is getting too big and overcrowding the border. I'm nervous about pruning it because when I pruned a previous one I noticed it began to turn brown and a few weeks later it was dead (not sure what I did wrong). When is the best time to prune, and can you give me some tips on how to prevent damaging it. Katie: You need to prune it immediately after it has flowered. Always cut back to an outward facing new shoot and make your cut diagonally. Try not to remove more than 50% of the plant, that way it won’t be too shocked. Then mulch around the base of the plant with either well-rotted manure, homemade compost or a general fertilizer. Last but not least, give it a nice big drink of water.
Flower girl secateur pruning set
Heritage cream metal watering can
Question: I had a huge cherry tree pruned earlier this year to let more light into the garden, as a large proporion of the garden including the the lawn was very shady. Do you think that was that a factor in the lawn being so patchy? What your advice for making it look green again?
Katie:Yes, it is very likely that the tree was an issue. You can patch it up in the same way as you would any lawn (see my top 10 tips) however I would suggest you buy grass seed specifically for a shady area (it usually states very clearly on the box that is a suitable for shade)
Hand push cylinder lawn mower, perfect for a small lawn like mine
Complete 4-in-1 lawn food
Question: Over the last year or so, the decking and pergola area has been badly damaged in storms. I want to replace it but I'm on a tight budget, what would you suggest?
Katie: Given that you want to keep costs down I would first clear out everything that is broken and overgrown. I’d also re-paint the brick wall and re-stain the decking along with some old pallets. Stack the newly stained pallets on top of one another (usually only two high) to create a corner seating area, dress with big cushions and make a canopy from some strung up some festival lights.
Mason Jar Solar Lights
Water resistant pallet seat cushion
UV resistant sail canopy
And just because I love it, and we have a resident hedgehog, how about this gorgeous little hedgehog house:
I've already taken on board some of the advice, and I've pruned the choisya and reseeded part of the lawn. I'm also planning to start work on clearing the decking area and making a seating area with lighting. I'll be updating with photo evidence soon, and hope that I haven't done more damage than good.
Do you have any gardening tips? What would you do with that messy decking and pergola area?
This post is in collaboration with Tesco. Words, photos and selection of items are my own.
I've always been a good sleeper. When I was a child I used to enjoy the sensation of falling asleep, still do, and I can still fall asleep very quickly, but for the last few weeks my mind has been whirring and I'm having lots of wide-awake moments in the middle of the night (why is it always 3.30am?) and I'm not getting a full night of good quality sleep.
When I wake in the night, it's like BANG I'm wide awake and there will be a song playing on repeat in my head. Just recently it's been Queen of Peace by Florence and the Machine which, considering she has a voice like a foghorn, seems a bit ironic really.
Added to that, I've been having some back problems which is making the sleep issue even more difficult.
To try and resolve it and find some answers to why I'm sleeping badly, I'm having a bit of help from a Silentnight's sleep expert. I know, I didn't know there was such a thing either but there is.
After completing a sleep diary and questionnaire, I had my first session with Dr Nerina, a couple of weeks ago, and it wasn't quite what I was expecting. Sure, it started off as I imagined it would with questions about my quality of sleep, sleep routine, nutrition and how much caffeine I drink (too much tea apparently) and I picked up some tips on how to get a good night's sleep:
Avoid using technology at least an hour before going to bed. It can make the brain too stimulated;
Reading a book in bed will help you to relax before going to sleep;
If you have things on your mind, jot them down in a journal. Putting pen to paper can help to clear a busy mind;
cut down on caffeine from lunch time onwards. If you can't go without a cuppa try decaff for a change;
Put a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow. The scent helps to calm the mind and induce sleep;
Invest in a good quality mattress and check for signs of wear . If yours is older than 7 years it might be time to get a new one;
don't keep your phone next to your bed, it's too tempting to check it during the night;
Instead of using your phone as an alarm, buy an old-fashioned alarm clock and keep the phone downstairs, or at least away from the bedside table;
if you wake during the night, don't check the time. Instead, try a breathing technique to get back to sleep: Kundalini breathing is particularly good for a wired mind and body. Sit up straight in bed, pucker your lips as if holding a 10p coin, breathe in forcefully through the lips, exhale through the nose. Do this for one - two minutes;
Create the perfect sleep environment. Make your bedroom tranquil, calm and free from clutter, junk and technology. You should never bring your work life into the bedroom – make it a technology free zone.
Then it took an unexpected turn. She thought, from my answers and sleep diary, that I was "running on empty" and asked me, "So, who looks after you?"
I wasn't expecting that, and honestly didn't know how to respond, but I suppose it's something many parents are guilty of, and single parents are probably even worse. When there's only you doing everything it's very easy to be swept up in the busyness of life, and fall into the trap of not looking after yourself. There's always something that needs doing, or someone else to take care of, and looking after Number 1 is usually way down on the To Do List.
After establishing that my self-care is pretty minimal, Dr Nerina thought I should concentrate more on paying more attention to myself and my own needs. It's strange to hear a stranger, to all intents and purposes, say that you need to put yourself first, and consciously think about making some life changes. "It takes energy to change direction" she said. I've thought about that a lot since our session, and she's right, it does take energy (and courage) to change direction, but I suppose you also need to know which direction to take.
While I'm thinking about that, I'm going to be making a few smaller changes, and hope to see an improvement in the quality of my sleep, I'm going to be making some of the changes suggested by Dr Nerina, including decluttering and tidying my bedroom which I think will also help. I'll be writing about that later this week.
Disclosure: this is part of a collaboration with Silentnight, but words and opinions are my own.
Last year I lost 3 stone in weight (42lbs). It took me the whole year to lose it by following a simple 'easy less and move more' approach and I plan to lose another 3 stone, which would make a whopping 84lb loss altogether.
One of the unexpected pleasures from losing weight has been shopping for clothes.
When I was at my biggest I was a size 22, pushing a 24 if I'm honest, and having to choose clothes was excruciating. I hated trying things on, they usually didn't fit or didn't suit me, but if I could get into them I'd buy them purely because it was a relief to find something, anything, that fitted me.
At size 18 there are a lot more options, but it's also more fun to try things on. I don't need to shop at specialist shops anymore, and the pleasure in finding clothes in a regular shop still hasn't lost it's appeal.
I spend most of my time in jeans and trousers, but if we get a summer this year I want to stay cool without getting my legs out (not my best asset) so the answer has to be the summer maxi dress.
I love this Joe Brown's slightly retro style dress. It's cotton so would be lovely and cool to wear, and what a great colour. Would be perfect for a summer BBQ, weather permitting of course.
I love a monochrome dress, and this one has my name all over it. I like this wrap over bodice and the stretch jersey fabric would pack easily into a suitcase. What's not to love?
I love a hot pink, don't you? I never used to wear it but now I have several pink items in my wardrobe. This floral layer dress has the most flattering bodice and would be very easy to wear - I think it'll be coming with me on holiday this year, and it won't break the bank (I had to look twice at the price).
Ironically, all of these maxi-dresses are available up to a size 32 which would have made clothes shopping a whole lot easier if I'd known!
How do you keep cool in summer? What are your essential summer items?
This is a collaboration post with JD Williams, words and opinions are my own.
Well, since my last post about the garden I've kept to my word and done 20-30 minutes gardening a day. It's about the right amount of time to fit in with everything else, but still have an impact on the garden.
I've tided the curved border, and cleared out quite a few of the hellebores - they had taken over the whole border! I've planted three lupins, plus some irises and a couple of other plants (the names of them escape me at the moment) but it's looking much better. I also made a space to plant out the sweet peas and put some supporting canes in place. I'm hoping we'll have a really good show of sweet peas this summer.
It's at times like this I miss my dad, who was a very good gardener. He would have had a look around the garden and tell me what I should be doing,and give me some handy tips. So I'm very excited that later this week I'm going to be talking to Katie Rushworth* who is one of the gardening experts on Love Your Garden (along with Alan Titchmarsh) and she's going to be giving me some much needed advice about my garden. I can't wait!
What's the best gardening advice you've ever had?
*In collaboration with Tesco
Forgive the quality of the photos but they're from my phone, I still haven't bought a decent camera. I have the money saved but can't bear to part with it!
For #mentalhealthawareness week I thought I'd share some thoughts on how I have dealt with my own experience of depression, which I've written about before. I took anti-depressants for several years without a break, but taking them over a long period of time isn't ideal for most people, and I wanted to see what else I could do to improve my mental health.
Before coming off my anti-depressants I spoke to my GP who suggested weaning myself off them slowly, and introducing the new natural methods at the same time. I did a lot of reading on the subject before taking the plunge and when I was ready I tried out different methods for preventing depressive episodes.
Listed below are some of the things that have worked for me, they're all easily achievable and can be incorporated into a busy lifestyle without too much effort.
I've been doing them for so long now that they've become habits that I don't have to think about, they're just part of my regular daily routines and I'm pretty sure it's what's prevented me having any major depressive episodes for the past 3 years. I'm not saying they will work for everyone but I hope you find something useful here.
1. Try herbal supplements
After being prescribed anti-depressants for years and wanting to try something else I did some research into herbal supplements, and found that St John's Wort is regularly prescribed by German GPs to patients with low levels of depression, and so I decided to give it a go. I started off by taking one a day, and would occasionally increase the dose to two on days when I felt my mood dip or felt a bit low. I took St. John's Wort for a couple of years without any side-effects, and they worked well for me.
I took them for two and a half years without having any dark episodes of depression, although I didn't just take the medication - I also used some of the other natural methods listed below. That's not to say I don't feel down occasionally, I do, but having fluctuations in mood is normal (something that's easy to overlook when you've had depression) and although I no longer feel the need to take a daily dose I keep them in the medicine cabinet for times when I'm feeling a bit down to give me little boost.
You can find more information about using St John's Wort here. They're easy to get hold of too - you can buy them in health foods shops, pharmacies and supermarkets.
2. Get out in the fresh air This seems pretty obvious, but getting out in the fresh air is one of the best types of medicine for good mental health. Even a 15 minute walk can be enough to clear the mind and there's nothing like getting outside for a brisk walk to blow off the cobwebs.
Not only that but daylight is the best source of vitamin D which is essential for healthy bones, teeth and muscles. Our bodies create vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when we're outdoors.
As a dog lover you know I'm going to say that the ideal answer is to get a dog because they demand to be taken out at least twice a day, in all weathers. I do my best thinking when I'm out walking my dog Alice: it's a great time to mull things over and make decisions without the background noise that we become so accustomed to in our daily lives.
You don't even need to have a dog you can borrow one, or just get outside and walk, cycle, go for a run, do some gardening, watch the seasons change, do anything but get out in the fresh air and get that vital boost to the emotional immune system.
3. Do something for someone else
It's always good to do something for someone else, and the reward is that warm and fuzzy feeling when we've done it. I started volunteering for my local Royal Voluntary Service befriending service last year, and I get just as much out of it as the lovely lady I visit every week.
There are always loads of volunteering opportunities (contact your local CVS for volunteering ideas) or just do the occasional random act of kindness.
You'll reap the benefits, I promise.
4. Take a break from social media I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with social media. Most of the time I love it, and have been known to spend far too much time on Twitter, Facebook and (my favourite) Instagram. The problem is that it's not real life, and we're only seeing a carefully edited version of people's. The continual flow of images of lives that always seem so perfect can make it a little hard to take sometimes. There's always someone who is richer, happier, thinner or better looking than us on social media, but it's not always as it seems. Or usually isn't.
I had a chat with a blogger friend recently whose life seems to be made up of exotic travel, glamorous parties and exciting events, but even she told me things weren't as they perfect as they appear to be, and that travelling brought its own set of problems with family logistics and strains on her relationship. It's so easy to believe everything we see, but it isn't real life and for most of us it's also unattainable.
If it feels like it's getting too much take a short break, maybe a day or two. Or make a rule to turn all social media off by, say, 7pm every night for a week. I stepped back from Facebook six months ago, and apart from an initial Fear Of Missing Out, I really haven't missed it much. And as friends and family know I'm no longer on there, they send their news by text or email or, and this is very old school, they tell me in person! I might return to FB one day, but I'll limit the amount of time I spend on there.
5. Get enough sleep
Getting enough sleep is essential for keeping everything on an even keel, and I don't know about you but I don't manage well if I'm not getting a decent night's sleep on a regular basis. Invest in a good mattress, adopt a sleep routine, turn off the telly and tablet, put your phone away and get an early night. A bit of relaxing reading in bed is enough to make me nod off after a few minutes, but do whatever works for you. You deserve an early night.
If you or someone you know is depressed please take the first step and speak to someone about it. Speak to a friend or family member or see your GP. There is more information about Mental Health Awareness Week here. What are your recommendations for keeping depression at bay?
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease;
For Summer has o'erbrimm'd their clammy cells.
~ Ode to Autumn, John Keats
I love autumn, and love it even more when there's an Indian summer. I can't believe we're already in October and the weather is so warm.
I've been out and about with Alice this week, trying to capture a bit of autumn colour and we've had some stunning sunsets, bright sunshine and misty mornings, a real mixture. I love the light in autumn, and the long shadows caused by the sun being so low in the sky. I wonder if the blood moon (which I slept through!) had anything to do with the amazing sunsets that followed?
Of course autumn means Strictly Come Dancing is back on the telly, which is good enough for me, I love a bit of Saturday evening light-entertainment. I've never understood the snobbery about it, if it's done well then why not enjoy it?
One of my earliest memories is watching Come Dancing at my grandparent's. Come Dancing was the precursor to Strictly and was very popular in the 60s and 70s and whenever I went to stay with Nan and Granddad it was always a treat to stay up late to watch it. Happy memories.
Are you planning anything this weekend? Tall Daughter has asked if we can go for a walk on a beach somewhere, so that's a definite plan, and I think it's soup-making season again. You can't beat homemade soup with crusty bread. Have you seen the trailer for the The Intern? I like Nancy Meyers' films so that's on my weekend list too. Whatever you're doing this weekend, hope it's a good one.
I've spent most of this bank holiday weekend trying to get the garden under control. As you can see from the photos above, the garden has become a bit overgrown and neglected. It has the bones of a good garden but for several reasons last year I hardly touched it, which has meant some borders are overrun with hellebores (and their giant leaves), nettles or weeds. The lawn is very patchy, a vine has grown so wild it has strangled (and killed) a beautiful choisya in the main border, and a dogwood tree has grown so tall I don't even know what to do with it. The paths and patio are covered in moss, the decking, fence and pergola were badly damaged in the recent Storm Doris and needs to be replaced, and the shed needs some repairs to the roof.
The only thing I've done to improve the garden was to book a tree surgeon to prune the huge cherry tree in the garden. It was much too big and meant that 75% of the garden was always in shade, making it difficult to grow some plants and causing the lawn to be patchy and full of moss. The canopy of the tree is now much more in proportion and is letting the light back into the garden.
I'm kicking myself that I let the garden get into such a state, but last year my priorities were elsewhere and there was little time or inclination for anything else.
So, my plan is to do it in small bite size chunks.
I'm going to try and tackle it for 30 minutes at a time. Thirty minutes is short enough to fit into a busy weekday schedule, and long enough to tackle one job at a time.
I have a list of things that I need to do, some of them more pressing than others:
get the small curved shaped border thinned out, it has become overrun with hellbores;
plant out some favourite cottage garden flowers, such as lupins, delphiniums, foxgloves, sweet peas and dahlias;
clear the paths of moss and weeds
clean the patio
repair the shed roof
tidy the border under the living room window, which gets full sun, and choose some suitable plants to go in
dig up the roots of the choisya, and replace with another shrub (possibly another choisya or perhaps a ceonothus, we had one in our last garden)
plant up some tubs
renovate an old bench I bought, which has seen better days
paint the garden gate
replace the broken fence panel
There are also some bigger jobs that need a bit of planning:
plan what to do with the damaged decking and pergola
get estimates for replacing it
repair the lawn
buy and install some garden lighting
I'm already nervous about the amount of work ahead but hopefully doing it in smaller chunks will help make it more achievable. Watch this space!
I've enjoyed my prolonged break from blogging, but just recently I started to miss it again. The blogging world has changed considerably since I first started 10 years ago, but even so it's still cheap therapy and an enjoyable hobby, and that's enough for me.
So although there won't be any international gallivanting (unfortunately!), fancy photo shoots, or award-winning blog posts, there will be the occasional ramble about parenting, gardening or life in general and the odd photo here and there. It'll be lovely to have your company again.
We've just arrived home after a week in Devon. After our holiday there last year it was inevitable that we'd go back, and this time we stayed further south near Totnes and within driving distance of so many beautiful towns and beaches. It really is a stunningly beautiful part of the country, I can't believe we'd never been there before last year.
We stayed in a farm cottage with fabulous sports facilities - swimming pool, badminton court, tennis court, full-sized snooker table, table-tennis, boules, golf. Just brilliant, especially if you've got teenagers in your group and they need something to keep them entertained. I really enjoyed our morning dips in the pool, and trying my hand at badminton again, although I don't have the energy for the game these days.
The weather was pretty mixed for the first few days - as you can probably tell from the dramatic skies in some of the pictures above - but the second half of the week was much better and we managed plenty of beach time.
We managed to visit a few towns: Salcombe, Totnes, and Dartmouth, as well as the fabulous beaches at Shaldon, Blackpool Sands, Hope Cove, Thurlestone and, our favourite, Bantham Beach (top two photos). I haven't edited any of the photos, just thought I'd publish them as they came, although I'm yearning for a new camera.
It was just the three of us this year: me and my two girls, and I wonder every year whether this will be the last time we all go away together as a family. They're getting to the age where they may prefer a holiday with their friends, or boyfriends, and No.1 daughter has already said that she doesn't know what she'll be doing next year, so it could just be two of us, but whatever we do I really want to take our greyhound Alice with us. We didn't take her this year, and as my brother was away at sea, she had to go into kennels, and by all accounts didn't cope very well. She became quite stressed and refused to eat, and has been quite subdued since she came back home. Poor girl. Now that we're back I'm daydreaming once again about living there. One day maybe.
We've spent this week readjusting to life without The Teenager.
She has been enjoying Freshers' Week and has got to know her flatmates and those in the flat next door. Both lots of flat mates have already become firm friends, and today she sent me photos of the huge roast dinner they cooked together, enough to feed all ten of them. It's reassuring to know that she's happy, and that her flatmates are so friendly and they've all gelled so well.
This week she starts university 'proper' as the lectures and studying begins in earnest.
In the meantime, we've been finding life has been a bit odd without her, mainly because it's quieter and the house is tidier. Much tidier. There are no more late-night drives in my pyjamas to pick her up after her shifts at McDonalds, and the amount of laundry and dish washing has more than halved. I miss her.
On Saturday I managed to persuade Tall Daughter to visit a local vintage car event, although there were plenty of other things to do and see. There was an old-fashioned charm to it all. We've been in previous years, but I enjoyed it more this year.
I loved Mr Alexander's Travelling Show. Mr Alexander was an older gentleman who said very little but held his audience of small children captivated with his variety show skills: juggling, sleight of hand magic tricks, unicycling and puppetry, while all the time a crackly gramophone played old-time music in the background. Lovely.
Apart from that, it was a quiet weekend, although I'm sure it's not just me who seems to cram as many tasks into Sunday evening as possible. Why do we do that? Did you have a good weekend?
A couple of months later I took my own advice and contacted the Royal Voluntary Service who run a befriending service in my area. A couple of weeks later, and following the required safety checks, I was on my way to my first befriending visit with Miriam, an 87 year old lady who lives less than a mile away from me.
I was nervous and so, it turned out, was she. It's one thing saying you'd like to visit an older person in their own home, but it's quite nerve wracking when you finally get to do it. What if we didn't like each other? What if we ran out of conversation? What if...?
As it turned out we needn't have worried because within a few minutes of meeting, the kettle was on and we were having a cuppa, a choccy biscuit, and a good old natter.
It's been six months since I started visiting Miriam, and it's become part of my weekend routine. Every Saturday morning I call round to see her for an hour or so, and we watch Saturday Kitchen together, talk about all sorts of things - nothing is off limits - and more often than not we have some real belly laughs. We've spent time looking for her childhood home town on my iPad, we even found a photo of the school she attended in the 1930s, and I've introduced her to the joys of social media. She's picked it up really fast too. These days if we need to check something, she'll say "Can you ask twitter?"
She has a wicked sense of humour - when she asked me if I could pick something up from the pharmacy for her I said yes, of course, what do you need? "Condoms," she said, "I've got my eye on the 83 year old fella down the road".
I know Miriam looks forward to my visits because she tells me. She enjoys the company and knowing that she will see someone every week. She recently told me that she used to stay in bed on Saturdays because there was nothing to get up for. Now, she looks forward to my visit and gets up and dressed, does her hair and 'makes an effort'. It's quite humbling to know that our visits mean so much to her, but it also shows how vital this type of service is.
It's not all one-way though, because I get a lot out of it too, it's very rewarding and let's be honest, if feels good to know you're making a difference to someone. But more than that, she's become a good friend, she's had an interesting life and I love asking her about it, plus she's given me some cracking advice over the past few months. Visiting her is a pleasure, not a chore, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who's thought about volunteering.
This week is #VolunteersWeek. There are so many ways you can make a difference, and if you can make that weekly commitment of an hour or so it really is worth doing, I promise. It doesn't have to be befriending, there are plenty of other ways to volunteer that might suit you better.
I can honestly say it's one of the best decisions I've made recently, just wish I'd done it sooner. Are you a volunteer, or have you considered doing it?
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