Lovin’ being radio Manc at Rhs Chatsworth

 

After a difficult start the brand new RHS flower show Chatsworth is now in full bloom and, thanks to BBC radio Manchester, I was there to see it fling open its gates and welcome the thousands of visitors who flocked to the Peak District to indulge in the finest that horticulture has to offer.

Queues were long but the scenery around Chatsworth is spectacular so it would be churlish to grumble and I, for one, love the little flutters of excitement I still feel on the way into a flowershow. Even when I’m not exhibiting I still get those tingles.

I had instructions to pick up a press pass at The Lodge and needed to park at The Great Hall. When I got there the passes had moved to Edensor. Then they were on the move again and I was told to go the Dark Peak gate.  What was going on? Had I suddenly entered middle earth? Was I in Lord of the rings!!!

I bumped into a couple of other radio Manc people on the outside and we got in ( I had to pretend to be Pauline which seemed to work). Spent the next hour accosting people asking if they had seen a big, yellow BBC bus. Nobody had which wasn’t surprising really as the bus, when we finally found it, was dirty white and quite small.

I enjoy doing the radio, really enjoy it. I usually do it on a Saturday morning. I love the banter I have with the DJ’s especially Phil Trowe, but it’s the people who phone in or I chat to live that make it such fun. I was expecting to chat to a few folk at the show then wend my merry way through the show ground buying plants, looking at gardens and consuming far too many free samples of cheese, nuts and gin.

But things were a little different ….

I was sent off to find some people who would be happy to talk, live on the radio. This was ace! I headed into the floral marquee and asked my favourite nursery woman, Sue Beesley if she would have a chat a bit later.

“Yes, of course” she said amidst a throng of customers.

Bless you Sue!

Sue Beesley and Becky Want

Nurseries put together a display of their best plants. Sue put anemone ‘White Swan’ next to nepeta. Do you see just how perfectly the lilac hue on the back of the petal goes with the nepeta. Totally took my breath away!

Hang on there Broccoli! Turns out this was a faux par. Judges weren’t happy. Good job I’m not in the business of judging, just appreciating. This combo is fab!

Then I found a gentleman from Kevock Garden plants; it was actually his blue poppies that caught my eye, they were utterly enchanting. He too was more than happy to chat on air. I asked him about his plants because I haven’t ever seen such a beautiful, colourful, magical display before, it captivated me.

Turns out they are alpinists that love to grow on mountain slopes. He fell in love with them because he loves to wander through mountains and gorges. I tell him I like mountains too. He tells me he met his wife on a mountain.

“Which one?” I ask.

“Do you know the Atlas Mountains in Morocco?”

Oh my. Here we go again!

I can’t resist Lorraine’s lilies so I go for a chat. She is well up for a bit of radio banter and tells me more about her business. Based in Congleton she is a regular at the shows, I think I recognise her lilies; they are stunning and the scent of them a little intoxicating.

“Do you do Tatton?” I ask.

“We do.”

“Do you sell off your lilies at the end!”

“We do.”

And I remember why this is so familiar. The eldest Broccoli child and her cousin Sophe bought one of Lorraine’s displays a few years ago when I had done a show shed at RHS Tatton. My little blue van was jam packed but those girls, those flowers. It was their first brush with nature and there was no way, no way I wasn’t getting those flowers home!

And talking about brushes with nature I made it my mission to find Lee Bestalls garden. I’ve been browsing what the designers are up to and just loved that Lee started his brief with these words.

‘People visit the countryside for many reasons, including to clear their minds and boost their mood. Fresh air and wonderful views make us feel great.

Because I agree. Being outside makes us feel good so, if we can get people outside, by creating beautiful gardens, then we are doing a good thing. (I think that’s the designer in me reawakening.)

Gardeners World presenters were hanging around the gardens. Suddenly folk were taking photos of those guys as if the gardens were no longer important. Bugged me a bit. Tele seems alien to the public, people pushed back, tapes around gardens, keep the presenters at arms length. Give me the radio any day. It’s brill.

This clematis grower was brill too. Peter.

FromThorncroft clematis he did a fab display using clematis to adorn an old tin bath and shower.

I asked him did he enjoy this display (of course he did! I can spot joy a mile away!)

He did. Seems the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire who reside at Chatsworth love a bit of imagination, a bit of innovation.

Bring it on you guys,

bring it on.

And bring on the nurserymen who can produce perfect daffodils

out of season…

And the crafts people…

If you can, go, visit Chatsworth flowershow. Talk to people, find the stories; they are there, like gold.

Today

It’s been raining in the night and I could feel despondent about that but I won’t. Because today I choose to ride on the wings of the morning and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.

Looking out of my window I can see two large black crows hopping about in a tree. They are big but not clumsy, agitated but not fraught. It’s two magpies that are bothering them, chipping away at them with open beaks and loud caws. The crows really can’t be bothered and appear to look at them with disdain.

“Friend?” I imagine them saying. ” What are you doing? There’s plenty of room for all of us.”

And there is. The tree is massive. It stands out head and shoulders above all the other trees and shrubs in the neighbouring gardens. But it’s not just its height that makes it stand out, I notice it because it is still without leaves. At least I think it is. Then I look closely, almost falling out of my bedroom window as I squint across the short distance.

“Oopsie”

And as I look closely (aren’t binoculars great!) I see the first leaves are emerging. Bud break! Life! It’s spring and the leaves are coming out.

I have forgotten about the crotchety birds. This quite, gentle unfurling captivates me more. No great song and dance just peaceful assurance that all is well.

And it is. It is well in my soul. And today I choose to see all that is good. Today I choose to revel in the beauty that surrounds me and I urge you to do the same too. Take a look around because today is made for you.

Dicentra spectabilis or bleeding heart finally flourishing in my garden now it has the protection of some hazel wands to stop it getting flattened by Padfoot!

The blossom and the bees

There’s a secret place I know where three fruit trees grow close together. And, when I need a little time to myself I scramble under the lower branches, dragging an old, soft cushion behind me and sit, absorbed in the healing power of nature.

I lie back and look up into the branches above me. The plum tree is clothed in creamy-white blossom and I give myself more than a moment to study the intricacies of this beautiful flower. So focused am I on the delicacy of the petals I don’t even notice my tumultuous thoughts and angst of the day slip away. All I know is I have found my peace in this moment and I am happy to stay.  I’m looking at the stamen, all clustered together like tiny golden-tipped pins in a pincushion, when a honey bee comes buzzing in.

As I watch the movements of the bee in the blossom I’m reminded of a question I was asked during the gardening hour on the radio. A gentleman called Gerry had noticed that the blossom flowers emerged before the leaves and he wondered if this was normal.

Most blossoms do emerge before the leaves and this is what makes their spring display so heart-stoppingly beautiful. The flowers burst out of bare branches with a glorious shout of “Look at me!” because they are doing their very best to attract the early pollinators.

Each flower wants to be pollinated in order to bear fruit. Whether it’s plums, pears, apples, cherries or berries for the birds they have just one thing on their mind. Sex.
A few days later the petals fall and the leaves emerge. The leaves protect the embryos as they grow, hidden from sight, whilst at the same time providing food through photosynthesis. It’s brilliant isn’t it.

There’s an apple tree close to where I sit. There’s still a few days to before the apple blossom comes out but that’s okay, there’s plenty of other trees in full bloom. I have two favourites. They grow on Ashton Lane in front of a block of apartments and, as soon as the they come out I know that Spring is on its way.

These trees always make me look up and I stop and stand under them for a moment; they are natures encouragers, reminding us to slow down and look for the beauty in our day.

Paddy, our old English sheepdog, is a very happy dog at this time of year too. Our evening walks are getting longer and longer as we stroll down roads less travelled to look for more blossom. I can’t resist it, it gives me an extraordinary sense of wellbeing.

Some of our favourite blossom discoveries are found in the hedgerows. These pure white flowers, born on prickly bushes, hold such promise. When I return in Autumn the flowers will have turned into deep purple fruits; sloes. They make the most delicious sloe gin which just happens to be ready at Christmas time.

The Japanese have a name for this flower viewing; Hanami. There’s a mountain in Japan called Yoshino-yama where over 30,000 cherry blossoms grow and this is considered to be one of the best places to indulge. Can you imagine what this must look like in full bloom? 30,000 blossom trees! On a mountain! I cannot think of a more perfect place for this nature-loving, mountain wanderer to be.

 

 

It’s not the granola that’s making me smile

 

I’ve never felt so happy reaching into the cupboard for a breakfast bowl. It’s not just because these gorgeous bowl are saturated with intense, beautifully rich colours, decorated with quirky fish doodles and finished off with a sprinkling of stars (I love stars). It’s not even the prospect of granola, swimming in ice cold milk, that makes me feel so good. It’s how I came by the bowls that makes me feel so flippin’ joyful.

For those of you that don’t know, I just got back from climbing Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa. Why? Because a series of serendipitous events left me in doubt it was the right thing to do.

Its been my dream for as long as I can remember to visit Marrakech so the offer of a trek up the Atlas Mountains with a day either side in Marrakech seemed just the ticket. I was more focused on the colours, the spices, the city and the souks than the summit. Then I met the mountain and it changed everything.

But let’s get back to the bowls. After returning from the mountain a few of us went into the souks to have a look around. I bought a hat, another one. It’s the Berber equivalent of a beanie and I paid 50 dirhams (or dib-dabs as we like to call them ) That’s around a fiver. We wandered through narrow streets marvelling at the brass lanterns and the many intricate, colourful rugs. We laughed at the funny slippers with curly toes and ducked and dived out of the way of the scooters, mopeds and strange motorbikes that careered down the narrow streets.

Then we happened upon a very colourful crockery stall packed to the brim with cups, plates, bowls and tagines. Lit up in the night who could resist? Well Peter, my new travelling friend, couldn’t. He was like a moth to a flame, captivated by a selection of enormous swirly plates.The shopkeeper knew he had him and so the haggling began. While Peter was being so beautifully fleeced I began to browse a selection of bowls. I wasn’t particularly interested in buying bowls, after all, how would I get them home? But the more I looked the more I kind’ve liked them.

“I give you a good price for a bowl” said the shrewd salesman, spotting my vague interest. “Oh I’m just looking” I said with a smile. What happened next was brilliant and I can honestly say I have never laughed as much as I did that night in a crockery shop in the souks. My sides were splitting! The haggling we got involved in was hilarious. Backwards and forwards we went with more and more bowls being added. We were having the best of times and then our new friend paused for a moment. ” Let’s be serious for a moment” he said. ” We are communicating, building a relationship. I still need to make a living, make money on these pots but this time is important.” And I realised, in that moment, that these connections are priceless. The relationship I was having, the time he was giving me, not the pots, was what I was paying for. I would have given him the world at that point for bringing so much joy and laughter to my life however, there are expectations in Morocco and so the haggling continued in earnest. He even dropped the price for another smile; I was beaming.

Five beautiful bowls later he wraps them up in bubble wrap. Richard, our amazing guide, reminds me of the beanie and suggests we put it over the top to keep the bowls safe; the situation goes from the sublime to the ridiculous! Our hilarious seller decides to draw a smiley face on the package to match mine. He then puts it under his arm and walks through the shop declaring it to be a new baby. I am convulsing with laughter and see the others are too. He gives me 20 dirhams back to look after the bowls!!! I am in pieces.

http://www.morocco-guides.com if anyone fancies the trek. I highly recommend it.

Twittering, tweets and snowdrops

I woke up this morning to the cheerful cacophony of a chorus of birds singing their hearts out in my garden. Yes, my garden! They chose my garden to be their stage.
Such gaiety saw me leap out of bed, with a somewhat unusual surge of enthusiasm, and head for the window; I am instantly captivated by the abundance and activity of the little birds that have chosen to visit this space I call my own.

 

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Five coal tits dart in and out of the branches of the silver birch as if they are playing some crazy game of tig. Then come the blue tits as fast and loopy as their monochromatic cousins. This playful dance carries on just below my window when a movement further down the garden catches my eye. It’s my goldcrest, a regular visitor. This minuscule bird makes my heart skip a beat whenever I see her because she always brings with her a curious sense of belonging, a feeling that all is well in my world.
A couple of robins join in the throng; it is a veritable feast of feathery activity. These birds are literally eating my garden and they are very welcome.

 

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This past week Twitter has been awash with photos of snowdrops; it’s that time of year. Snowdrop enthusiasts (or galanthophiles to give them their fancy name) are in their element and who can blame them? These pure and delicate flowers are so charming they can entice even the most latent of gardeners outdoors to witness their beauty.
Visitors flock to country parks and estates to witness the glorious sight of great swathes of snowdrops growing under trees and along grassy embankments. I however come over all Lord Byron and prefer the path less travelled. I gad about down country lanes, venturing into ancient churchyards to indulge my passion.

 

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Now I married for love not money and therefore do not live in a country estate but this doesn’t mean I can’t have my own little clump of snowdrops to adore. I have several clumps growing in my suburban garden and each year they spread a little further, so much so I can now pick two or three stems and bring them into the house where I spend too long marvelling at their gorgeousness.
Padfoot shares my love of snowdrops and carefully tiptoes over them to sit in his favourite place.

 

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I think he has noticed their delicate fragrance too.

 

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When a flower captures my attention I like to find out more about it and the snowdrop has quite a story. Folklore has it that folk were once afraid to bring the flowers into the house for fear it would turn the cows milk watery, make the butter go bad and affect the hatching of eggs under a sitting chicken. Now I’m no farmer but my own chickens lay very few eggs in snowdrop season and have shown no desire at all to try and hatch them in freezing cold temperatures. As for the milk and butter I think the development of the refrigerator has saved the day.

It’s exciting times for the snowdrop nowadays. Scientists have discovered certain properties may help in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, MS and trauma to the nervous system. Such promise of hope from a herb that blooms at a time of year when we all look forward to brighter and better days.

I’ve noticed that most writings about snowdrops always end with a warning. Do not eat them, they will make you very poorly. Now I’m not sure why anyone would want to sink their teeth into this little beauty but just in case you are tempted, best not.

Snowdrops belong in the flowery section of the kitchen garden. If you fancy growing some, now is the perfect time to get started.
Snowdrops are offered for sale ‘in the green’. This means they have flowered and will still have their leaves attached to the bulbs. Planting them in like this gives them a much better chance of thriving.

The blooming of late winter flowers is a sure sign that Spring is on its way so why not introduce some into your own garden. They are guaranteed to lift your spirits and chase any winter blues away.

Photo credits.

A massive “Thank You” to Paul Cliff for letting me use his beautiful photo of a coal tit and to my sister Sarah Anderson who spent the weekend tiptoeing through snowdrops and bombarded me with photos. Blog collaboration at its best!

Ps The pictures of Padfoot are all my own work 😉

The fragrance of winter

I had planned to climb Snowdonia today but, with blanket fog, zero visibility and arctic conditions forecast I decided to postpone my trek much to the relief of Llanberis mountain rescue.

I had wanted to climb for the view not the trek and was looking forward to being wowed by natures glory; as it turned out, I didn’t have to go far.

I haven’t been out in the garden much and, when I have it’s been dark, so I haven’t noticed the gradual unfurling, the slow unraveling of the witch hazel flowers.

Until now.

As I step across the lawn I stop in my tracks because what I see takes my breath away. The witch hazel, that grows next to the fence, unnoticed for most of the year, is clothed in glory. Explosions of tissue-paper flowers have erupted along each stem and it is gorgeous.

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It’s difficult to describe the colour; golden-yellow with a hint of lime maybe? Chartreuse yellow ? I try to capture the colour with my camera but it doesn’t do it justice so I stand and savour it with my own eyes instead.

I stand for ages taking it all in. Would I have stood on the summit of Snowdonia for so long? Not today.

Its impossible not to reach out and touch the tiny tendrils, they are so irresistibly tactile. Droplets of water run off them when disturbed and I am reminded that these are amongst the most highly scented of winter flowering plants. Nose twitching I lean closer, keen to get a whiff of their intoxicating aroma but, alas, today they are not releasing their fragrance. I will have to wait for a sunnier day.

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But all is not lost in the perfume department because the sarcococca flowers, commonly called sweet box,  are more than happy to gently permeate the air with their fragrance. The flowers of this evergreen shrub are often described by horticulturalists as insignificant. Insignificant! How rude! These tiny blooms bring joy to the dullest of winter days and, in my book, that makes them natures superstars.

Whilst enjoying these beautiful winter plants I am aware that I have not positioned them in the best places. The witch hazel is planted against an appallingly scruffy fence and the sweet box is behind the twisted hazel in a forgotten corner of the garden.

Its about time the witch hazel is given the very best background so she can really shine. A covering of bottle green ivy on the fence or closely clipped pyracantha will make a great foil. And the sweet box? Unlike the witch hazel she doesn’t mind being moved so, when the flowers are spent, I will carefully dig, keeping a good root ball of soil, and move her close to the path so that next winter, when I stroll through the garden, natures orchestra will begin with the soft, gentle notes of sarcococca reminding me that natures splendour is right here under my very nose.

Happy new year everyone !

 

 

Making Monday ~ Scones of old

It’s 8.15 am on a Monday morning and here I am making scones!
Why?
Because yesterday I was given a prophetic collage and on it is a Victorian recipe, hand written in faded ink, for scones. So I decided to make them.

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There’s an egg in this recipe. An egg? That’s unusual; all the scone recipes I’ve used previously only have egg as a glaze. But I am delighted this one has an egg because…..

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It’s a double yoker!!!

I always feel that their is something good in store for me when I crack a double yoked egg so I can’t wait for what today will bring.

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Already it’s good. The scones are out of the oven and they look and smell amazing. I’d better have one for breakfast…with a dollop of home made jam.

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Oh yes. I can confirm they are good, good scones. They are slightly crunchy on the outside and warm and soft on the inside. What a delicious surprise breakfast on a Monday morning. A warm scone, a cup of ‘good morning tea’, Classic FM playing softly in the background and a copy of Country Homes magazine to browse at my leisure.

I really must do this again sometime.