It's now been just past the eighteen month mark of us living here now and it's pretty amazing to see just how much the garden has grown up in that time. For instance, the borders in this picture did either not exist till about nine months ago (in the case of the one on the right) or were full of weeds (the one on the left). The main thing though, is that we've learnt an awful lot about how to create a garden for relatively little cost, so I thought I'd pass on the tips that we've learnt along the way.
1) Firstly, assess your space, see what existing elements of the garden you'd like to keep and what you'd like composted or put in a brown bin (acquiring a brown and a compost bin is a good step too). Get to know your soil as this will save you a lot of grief later on. We've also inherited quite a bit of stone and plant pots too we've repurposed and up-cycled for free.
2) This relates to the point above, but do your research. It will save you a lot of grief and money, if you learn about a plant's soil and sun or shade preferences. When we're all allowed to visit gardens, then do so if you can, but in the meantime, look online, follow garden accounts on Instagram, read magazines and books, think about join the RHS but at least use their website, watch Gardener's World etc. All of this info will filter into your brain and you'll absorb it more than you think.
3) Sow from seed as much as possible. Not every plant will grow well from seed, but for those that do, you will save lots of money for instance, mature foxgloves in flower are regularly £10 or more from garden centres, but will die after flowering as they are biennials. However, a packet of foxglove seeds is tons cheaper and you get so many more plants from the seed packet (hundreds if not thousands) and they grow very easily from seed. Of course, seed sowing requires more time and patience but is worth the extra effort.
4) If there is a perennial plant that you really like the look of, then forget the 'buy and plant in threes or fives rule,' buy just one of them, then when they grow, you can very often either propagate from them from cuttings or divide them in the following Autumn or Spring. We have stuck by this rule and saved lots of cash by doing so.
5) This point relates to above in that use your existing plants to create more for free. Collect seed from plants like poppies, foxgloves and calendulas. Take cuttings from rosemary, lavender and curry plants, these latter plants are more important than ever to take cuttings from, because imports from Europe of these plants are to cease due to the xylella virus, so we could see a shortage in the UK in the future. Also, as mentioned before divide perennials like hardy geraniums, astrantia, bearded irises, grasses etc. All of these steps will ensure that you can fill your garden borders for no cost, aside from the initial outlay.
6) Always be on the look out for deals. Nurseries and garden centres often have sales online or in the actual venues themselves if you can get there. We have in the past picked up some real bargains from the off season sale table where the plants themselves look dead or dying but if they're perennial then they will re-flower and come back strong next year. Subscribe to e-newsletters from nurseries as they will often give you early access to sales and deals and money off vouchers.
7) When they come back post Covid, plant fairs, fetes, markets and flower show stalls are places where you can often find something rarer and at some of these events you can get great deals too. If you see a perennial you love but buying several of them would be too expensive, then just get one (see point 3). Also, buy the smallest type of plant, tree or shrub available (e.g. bare root versions) as they will soon grow up and this will also give them time to develop good strong roots.
8) Again, this may apply more to a post-Covid world, but in the future when it's safe, try to share and swap plants and seeds with friends and family. This way you are sharing the joy of gardening for free!
9) Get to know rough prices for plants, seeds and bulbs and then compare different websites for the best deals. I've just spent a Saturday afternoon doing this for our Autumn bulb order. With bulbs too, bear in mind which ones will naturalise (naturally multiply by themselves), as you can buy these in smaller amounts because they'll do the work for you! Also, if you get to know roughly how much plants should cost, then you can spot bargains and deals more easily. We recently bought a rose that was £12 cheaper than it would have been elsewhere!
10) Most of all be patient! Gardening on a budget does take longer and is a bit more effort than buying the biggest most mature plants (instant gardening) but that costs so much more, so budget gardening is more satisfying.
These are the tips that I have found most useful but am sure there are lots more! If you have any suggestions or advice then would love to hear them, so please leave a comment or contact me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.
I've always loved scents, well not all scents obviously, but I'm a firm believer in the power of scent to affect one's mood and help de-stress which is something that we all need right now. Despite not going out, I find that I'm wearing perfume each day, more than ever before, which was something that I'd usually only put on if I was going out. I find that a nice aroma helps me to relax, it's a mindful, simple pick me up that cheers me when things are so crazy now in the the outside world. Scent is such a personal thing, and I quite like the uniqueness of it, as one person may love a scent and others hate it. Saying that, here are some of my own favourite personal scents and why I like them.
1)* Liz Earle Perfumes, especially No.15, No.9 and No.100 (though I like them all!). Liz Earle fragrances are natural fragrances made using pure essential oils and smell different on each individual. No.15 is probably my overall favourite and is a heady oriental fragrance. No.9 is a fruity, blackcurrant chypre and No.100 smells like a beautiful flower garden.
2)* Elemis Frangipani bath products and hydrating body mist . The frangipani flower has a wonderful scent that's hard to describe, it's kind of like a heady vanilla mixed with a spicy sort of freshness. It's gorgeous though and I love it.
3) Dr Organic Rose Skin Lotion smells incredible. It really smells of fresh cut roses and is purse friendly too.
4) Soap and Glory's The Righteous Butter has a lovely pink smell (like the colour of the tub it is in). It is a kind of fruit smell but not too overpowering and it's also good value.
5) Lush's Karma fragrance and bubble bar smell gorgeous, a kind of modern patchouli scent without too much mustiness.
6) Nux Huile De Prodigieuse in both it's original and florale fragrance is divine. It has a subtle richness to it and better still the oil is great at moisturising dry skin on both the face and body and you can even put it in your hair. A true multi-tasker!
7)* Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish and Gentle Face Exfoliator both smell amazing and really help when you have a cold and or hayfever, (as I have now) because the gentle scent of the eucalyptus is a real tonic to stuffy noses without being too overpowering.
8)* Elemis Cleansing Balm in Neroli is absolutely heady gorgeous scent of orange blossom and it is fantastic at completely removing all make up, even waterproof mascara. As it is oil based, I was nervous about using it on my combination skin but it morphs into a milk when you add water, so doesn't stay oily for too long.
9)* L'Occitane Shea Butter Hand Cream is something I've recently discovered, as I had heard that it was good and it is very moisturising for my poor mitts which are suffering due to increased hand-washing. It smells to me of clean laundry hanging out to dry.
10) Balance Me Super Moisturising Hand Cream is another saviour at times like these. I do suffer from contact dermatitis which has certainly flared up recently and I've found this gorgeously scented hand-cream that doesn't bring my sensitive skin into a flare up (though everyone's skin is different of course). This cream is scented with bergamot, lavender and patchouli.
* For more cost effective ways to buy these brands then check out QVC Beauty as they often have great deals (including individual Today's Special Values,' and easy pays) from time to time, allowing us to enjoy these premium products at more affordable prices.
Also, as you may have seen already on previous posts, we are in the process of creating a garden and I have tried to plant as many scents as possible into our borders. All the roses that we currently have (nine and counting) are scented. We have planted a herb garden with curry plant, (smells gorgeously spicy after rain), lavender, thymes, oregano and mints and I am going to plant some chamomile soon too. For our annuals, we have about sixty sweet pea plants, night scented stocks, phlox and mock orange blossom. Today I just ordered some strawberry plants of the Mara Des Bois variety which are supposed to have a gorgeously fragrant scent. According to the website I bought them from, this variety of strawberries are beloved by chefs and sold in French Farmer's Markets. Since we're unable to get to said markets at the mo, growing our own could be the next best thing. My cousin in Brighton is going to plant a gorgeously scented wisteria and hopefully some other plants too, maybe jasmine, which I wish we could grow, but think it wouldn't survive the winter up north. If we ever get a greenhouse or conservatory though, jasmine is definitely one I'd plant!
So that's my little round up for now. Scent is just one thing, as well as gardening, reading and spending quality time with Matt that's helping me cope through this strange time, when other things have been put on hold. Enjoying and appreciating these mindful activities, is helpful and something that I hope to carry through this time into the future.
The past few weeks right across the world we appear to be living in what my sister, so rightly calls 'a surreal dream,' or perhaps 'a surreal nightmare,' would be a good description of our current existence. It's certainly a stressful time and a time that we have not seen before in our generation. Social distancing and isolation, mean that more and more of us will be spending time indoors. As someone who has lived with a chronic illness this is not a situation that I am unfamiliar with, however, as the weeks go by I will still have to get used to not being able to pop into town to run a few errands, visit the library and meet with friends. Or get my hair cut of course! These are but small prices to pay, very small sacrifices in the scheme of things, in order to protect myself and others. So as we become more indoor home bods, I wanted to share a few things that I have learnt and am still learning, in order to cope whilst staying indoors and apply them to our current situation.
1) Stay updated. This is a rapidly changing situation that we find ourselves in. There is a lot of false information circulating. Therefore it is best to read the official guidelines everyday, keep yourself up to date. I spend the first few minutes of my day reading the BBC News at www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers which links to official government guidelines as to the status of the current situation. If you aren't in the UK then please keep up to date by reading your relevant government's official guidelines. Try not to read too much of the media madness outside of this though, as it can increase stress and anxiety.
2) Try to keep to a routine. If you are working from home and not used to doing so, then a routine will help you get into the groove of doing so by waking up at the same time, eating regular meals (get lunch etc). My sister has created a home working timetable for my young nieces whilst they are at home to build some structure into their new routine.
3) Seek sanctuary. Make your home and living space a source of comfort. You'll be spending a lot of time in it, so why not make it somewhere that you want to stay in, rather than want to escape from. This doesn't mean spending lots of money, it could be a case of just of keeping it as clean, tidy and organised as possible.
4) If possible and if allowed, then get a breath of fresh air and exercise by going out into your garden or shared grounds if you live in a flat whilst practising social distancing (keeping 1.5 -2 metres away from others).
5) Plan ahead. We're living in times of uncertainty but if we need stuff then internet order and delivery is the way forward if at all possible. Scheduling in food shopping, ordering medication etc is important and essential in case any of us do get sick and in order to not go out and infect or catch the virus.
6) Be community minded. Neighbours in our street have been asking after each other and checking that everyone is ok, or asking if they need anything (from a safe distance, obviously). If there are elderly or vulnerable residents then it's just a matter of checking up and seeing that they're OK, or if they need any help by talking over a fence or from each other's front or back gardens (whilst keeping to social distancing guidelines).
7) Stay in touch virtually with friends and family. Use Skype, FaceTime, email, social media and phone to stay in touch with family and friends. This is especially important if you live alone. Am sure that families will be creating virtual playdates with kids too.
8a) Target your to be read pile. Lots of us have a few books that we have been meaning to read for a while. Why not use this extra time to begin journeys to faraway lands, experience adventures and look at the world through someone else's eyes. Travel is pretty much difficult if not impossible at the moment, so travelling through reading is a way that we can achieve this safely and enjoyably at the moment.
8b) Watch that TV series you've been meaning to watch. This is similar to the point above. Perhaps there is a film that you've been meaning to watch for ages or a new or acclaimed TV series that everyone keeps raving about. This would be a good chance to actually watch these.
9) Write, create, or take up an online distance learning course such as those from www.futurelearn.com/ Use this extra time as an opportunity to learn something that you've always wanted to learn, to knit that jumper you've always been meaning to knit, to get back or start drawing, or in my case to finish that novel that you've begun. My writer friends and I have agreed to look on this time as a long writer's retreat and will be sharing stuff online. For some excellent creative ideas then check out the blog of my friend Juliet at thecuriouscreativeclub.co.uk/
10) Look at beautiful pictures and photos (whether online or from books). I've been taking solace from planning our back garden project and also looking at photos of beautiful gardens and reading about growing cut flowers. We have spent the weekend doing gardening. Our dining room is currently a propagation zone and we've sown lots of seeds, annuals such as sunflowers, snapdragons, cosmos and sweet peas. We will be moving onto planning our veg garden in April. For more about our garden progress then please check out my previous posts and Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/cultural_lc/. My friend Anna is also starting a veg garden and has made some gorgeous raised beds. To see her progress check out her progress at www.instagram.com/make_life_simpler/.
There are obviously lots more tips and advice but I just wanted to keep it simple for the moment. Hope that these help you during this strange time. If you have any other tips then please join in the conversation https://twitter.com/Cultural_LC or leave a comment. Stay safe everyone. :)
When we moved we inherited an established garden that had structure but not much else aside from trees and hedges and a few plants, some of which we kept and some we composted. Our original aims are to create a garden that is both productive in terms of vegetables, fruit and cut flowers but that also looks good throughout the seasons.
First up, boundaries, to stop the odd rogue horse coming back, (though that only happened once to be fair), we plan to clear the end of the garden which is currently wilder with a few brambles running through it. We want to have a wilder feel into the field beyond and encourage smaller wildlife from visiting, such as the pheasants, so we are planning a line of fence posts which will be planted a dark colour and we'll have plants will grow up against them. This should hold back the larger wildlife but still give us our view of the field. In the Winter, the site is quite windy as we're on a hill, so putting up a solid fence barrier would be a complete waste of time and money! 😂
Our other main issue here is the soil, which is heavy clay so we will need to keep adding lots of compost to it as well as growing plants that will work with it such as roses, which love clay soil. We've planted a total of seven roses so far, (x3 Gertrude Jekyll, x1 Darcey Bussell both David Austin roses, x1 Mme Isaac Perriere, x1 Rose de Rescht and x1 Charles De Mills). The roses vary in colour from a mid pink to a bright magenta and all them are scented. Hopefully, they'll do ok and that we get enough this year so I can bring the blooms into the house and also give to friends and family.
It's funny because I used to like the idea of a restrained palette of colour in a garden, mostly blues and whites, but since discovering dahlias, which we planted in pots last year, I've really grown to love more powerful vivid colours. We had quite a few dahlias and cosmos last year from pots which did OK, though this year we are planning to plant the dahlias in the ground so that they produce more blooms. They really are a great cut flower though and last ages in vases! If you're looking to grow your own cut flowers then I'd definitely recommend you try dahlias, even if you just have room for a pot garden.
We plan to add more vivid colours to our garden this year not only from the cosmos and dahlias, but also earlier in the season from tulips and sweet peas. Sweet peas are something we have grown in our previous garden but the soil there was sandy, so we're hoping that they'll do better in our richer soil here as they are hungry plants. We tried to choose varieties that are as scented as possible (Hi Scent and Matucana, Cupani are some of the varieties we are growing), as not all sweet peas are that scented, we've grown some before that seem to not have any scent at all!
Aside from the flowers, our veg garden will need to take shape this year. We are planning on adding raised veg beds to the back of the garden that will be near to the two apple trees, plum and greengage that we planted in January. I would love to maybe add a thornless blackberry here in the future but we'll see if there's enough space! The fruit trees may take two to three years to mature so we're not expecting much, if any, this year but hopefully they'll get going next year. As for veg, we plan to grow crops we're familiar with such as french and runner beans, sugar snap peas, kale and courgettes. We'd also like to try growing sweetcorn this year, so that should be interesting to see if it does well. In pots we'll be growing radishes and salad leaves like mizuna and rocket.
Currently, the back garden has a concrete path in it that we are going to gravel over and we're also creating a herb garden in the middle part of the garden by lifting some of the concrete slabs and planting herbs within them. This should hopefully soften the hard landscaping and give us some Mediterranean herbs for cooking that like the free draining soil that this environment will provide.
I haven't even had time to mention the front garden and this is all suddenly feeling quite daunting! 😬 I realise that we're being quite ambitious with our plans, but if we don't achieve all of them this year, then hopefully, they'll get done next year!
We have been living in our new house for just over a year now, so it seemed like a good time to reflect and look at our garden and see what we've done so far. One of the plus points we thought about this house was the potential of the garden, which we were excited about. Our previous garden was on a very steep slope that wasn't terraced, so it was quite difficult to garden there, though we did the best that we could.
Our new back garden is split into three sections, one with a lawn surrounded by raised borders on two sides, a path and thin border on the far left. The middle part consists of a patio and shed and the back part has another patio and long lawn area. The back part of the garden was very overgrown when we first arrived. It was very dark and the ground was very damp. We have clay soil here, so that's a bit of a challenge!
We had inherited two sheds on the site, a medium sized one on the small patio that was a weathered green colour and a large shed on the back part of the garden. We decided to get the larger shed removed so put it on Freecycle. This opened up the back part of the garden and provided us with a potential seating area of patio.
We also decided to call in the professionals, a local team to us who were able to on a scorching hot day, cut back all of the hedging and remove some of the diseased trees and shrubs. This left us with a much more open site, too open at the back actually because we had an unwelcome garden visitor one day, though luckily it only visited once! 🐴😂 The back has grown up a but since and we're planning to put open fencing in this spring. The wildlife we've observed include lots of birds such as pheasants, owls, goldfinches and even foxes and deer (which we have seen in the fields beyond).
The next part that we focused on, was cutting in deeper borders in the first section of the garden. We wanted to do this to grow more plants and flowers. It's grown up a bit this year though will hopefully look better this year because we have seeded annuals such as calendulas and nigella and biennials such as foxgloves and honesty into the borders. We've also planted some perennials such as hydrangeas, roses and grasses.
We removed the plants that were in the borders and that we didn't want anymore. We composted these or put them into our brown bin so nothing was wasted. We had a lot of Spanish bluebell in the borders that was so congested it bent a garden fork! We also had crocosmia, some of which we kept and moved around the garden as the clumps of it were also very congested. Things that we kept include the huge cherry tree, which is a lovely sight in the Spring and gives the added benefit of shedding its leaves into the borders below which break down very quickly and improve the soil for planting.
We have lots of ideas and plans for the future (see Part Two of the Garden Makeover plans to follow) but from writing this, I'm pretty pleased with how much we've achieved in a year.
It's safe to say that I love reading. For those that already know me, this will come as no surprise but I was reflecting on this thought earlier so thought I'd write about it. I've read profusely ever since I was a small child. I was unable to read until I started school at four, but was read to a lot as a child and then made up for the time lost by finishing the school reading scheme by the time I was halfway through what is now called Year One. I had to then take books out of the library to read and use the Junior school reading scheme. By the time I was seven my reading age was fourteen. It's important to remember though, that even though I could read the actual words, I'm not sure that I understood all of what I was actually reading. I remember reading The Iron Man at age six and not getting it, I think I thought that it was boring! 😂 I also used to love the summer reading challenge at the library in town. I'd choose the book and then read it in the same afternoon, then want to go back the next day to the library but my mum insisted that we would go back the following week. This was torture for me! 😂 I think my love of reading at this age came from the fact that I was a shy, introverted child who was less sociable than my peers (especially when I was very young).
With reading, I love that as soon as you read the first page, you are transported into different lands and worlds and can see things from so many different perspectives. As I got ill, reading enabled me to travel to places that I was unable to get to. Reading also keeps me company on those long nights when I suffer from insomnia (usually reading on my Kindle).
We have quite a few books in our house. Friends have commented that it is like living in a library, which I take as a compliment! 😂 I grew up surrounded by books as my Gran was a librarian, so it was inevitable that we'd have a few of our own!
A love of reading has certainly had a huge impact on my life, absorbing so many inspirational tales over the years made me want to begin my creative writing journey and has led me to write a crime novel which I hope to finish this year.
Reading also led me to my husband. If I didn't love books so much, I'd have never applied to work at Waterstone's and would never have met Matt! Something Matt says is that I married him for his library card (as both our cards are usually maxed out with mostly my choices!). He is however wrong on that account, because I was using his card before we got married! 😂😂
I love to share my love of reading and enjoy connecting on GoodReads with other readers. Check out my page here... We're lucky to also have some great independent bookshops nearby The Book Corner, bookcornerhalifax.com/ and Read, to-be-read.co.uk/ which are always great to visit and full of treasures from their expertly curated selections.
Until I sat down and wrote this post, I never realised just how much a love of reading has shaped my life. It really has been more pivotal and monumental than I ever imagined it would be. If you're a fellow bookworm, then I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments!
Hello! This is the newly relaunched blog for Cultural Life Connection. It is a space where I'm going to talk about not just culture but also include topics that will encompass 'life' / lifestyle and 'connection.' So you'll find a bit about books, films, art but also gardens, decor, beauty, relationships and health.
For this first post, I thought I'd take the opportunity to write a little bit more about myself. Above this post is a photo that was taken in the Spring of 2000, so at the moment, it is around twenty years old - yikes! It is a photo of myself and my husband Matt, a few months after we first got together and we are together still, after all this time and many house moves later!
When I was seventeen years old I visited a fortune teller who looked at my palm and began to tell me lots of interesting things about what my life would be like. I went to see them, not really convinced that what they would say was true. The most remarkable thing that they said was that I would have one significant romantic relationship in my adult life, which at the time I thought was complete rubbish! At the time, I had images of being this kind of jet setting person who wouldn't have many ties of that kind. However, after what is now twenty years with Matt, perhaps there was some truth to that part of the prediction! 😂 I am often asked by friends for relationship advice or how to keep a successful long term relationship going, so thought I'd write what I've learnt from experience on here.
I met Matt at my Saturday job at Watersones in my home town of Chelmsford. We were friends for a year before we dated. We had not been together long (only a month) when I got viral meningitis, followed a month later by glandular fever. Unfortunately the legacy of these illnesses persists with me still, as I have a chronic long term health condition called Chronic Systemic Angioedema that affects my day to day life. However, I don't let it get me down and have found lots of easy everyday things that help and keep me upbeat in the face of challenges. My illness doesn't define my identity or who I am though it does place limits on what I am able to do, I am positive in the face of overcoming challenges and am always looking for solutions to things. I want to use this blog to talk and share things that I find help with long term health conditions and also things that don't. (I am not a medical health professional so will use signposts where appropriate). I will talk a bit more about my personal health journey over time and am always keen to learn from others too, so hopefully we can get some dialogue going on the matter.
As for Matt and I, it seems amazing that we've been together for over two decades now. We moved house earlier on this year and are excited about sorting out the garden we've got to play with, so I look forward to sharing info about that here with you all. It would be great to hear about you too and what you'd like me to include on here, so feel free to comment or get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.