On the cusp of seasons

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Well, what a changeable summer we had here in the UK! August in particular was wetter and cooler than usual here in the north west of England. We also had a few exceedingly hot days which were most welcome. This summer I spent more time at home than usual, relishing those dry, warm days and, like a contented sloth, lazing in the garden, admiring nature’s handiwork in which my own efforts have played a small part. Not knowing how many more luxuriously sultry, blazing days might still be to come – or not – I made the most of each, in case it was to be the last.

I also became something of a wimp as far as travelling was concerned. I hope this is a temporary thing. I found repeatedly that I could not muster up the enthusiasm for being out in the countryside or at the coast – or anywhere – in heavy rain, or in cramped, sticky, sweaty trains or buses on the hotter days. As autumn advances I’m sure I shall once again return to my gallivanting ways, but it has actually been rather lovely slowing down and enjoying my own small but exclusive green space.

Autumn is here. Instinctively, I hold with the ancient calendars which place the start of autumn in August at the time of the first harvests. There is a tangible shift which is felt most keenly in those colder, damper evenings.

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The blackberries in my hedges, which appeared for the first time two years ago, have been and gone. Blackberries remind me fondly of childhood when we used to go as a family on long walks, parents and siblings all harvesting the plump purple fruits in old ice cream tubs or Tupperware containers, fingers stained blue and arms invariably scratched from delving into prickly brambles. Those days are distant memories, and nowadays I leave my own miniature crop for the birds to enjoy.

The wild flowers have all died back now and new growth has slowed down. The rose bushes are still adorned with buds but I know from experience that many of those will not open. Those still in full bloom continue to nourish wild life.

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It has been a joy to see so many butterflies in the garden this year, mainly feasting on the verbena, which has been a triumph. There will be more of that next year too. Some of my graceful visitors are below: commas, small whites, small tortoiseshells, peacocks, speckled woods (I think!) and painted ladies which arrived en masse in late July.

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In mid September we are still enjoying some fine sunny days. There is still a lot of colour. The shop-bought Nigella seeds have, like last year, added so much beauty to every part of the garden in shades of white and various blues. They are amazing, growing vigorously and splendidly wherever the seeds were scattered.

Most have now finished blooming, their stunning seed heads continuing to delight.

A few have already turned brown and as thin and dry as old paper. The black seeds rattle inside their shell. After releasing and collecting them I’ll store in a dry dark place until the spring when they can be planted, providing me with an abundance of new plants for free.

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It will soon be time to place the spring bulbs in the earth and to cut back the spent growth so that it may rest over the winter until it’s time for the cycle of growth to start again. For now, I’ll enjoy this warm start to the autumn, relishing every moment.

Conishead Priory and Manjushri Kadampa Buddhist Temple, Bardsea, Cumbria

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About once a year I travel to the pretty Cumbrian town of Ulverston and from there make the short journey to the small coastal village of Bardsea to visit one of the most distinctive properties in the north of England, Conishead Priory.

In the 12th century a community of Augustinian monks established a church and hospital on the site which grew in size, importance and wealth, was promoted to the status of priory and later received a royal charter from King Edward II. The Priory ministered to the poor of the surrounding areas, spiritually and medicinally, and didn’t do badly in return through tithe payments and hopeful pilgrims seeking blessings and cures through the medium of the in-house relic, a piece of the girdle of the Virgin Mary, no less.

All that came to an end in 1537 when the Priory, and all others like it, was demolished during England’s Protestant Reformation. The estate passed through several owners until it came into the possession of the Braddyll family in the 1600s, remaining the family seat for almost 200 years. The last of that line to own the Priory was Colonel Thomas Braddyll who inherited the estate in 1818. He found it in a state of disrepair and decided to rebuild from scratch, engaging the services of architect Phillip Wyatt at a cost of £140,000 and taking 15 years to construct. Master craftsmen from all over the world were brought in to contribute to a grand design resembling a fortified house with an ecclesiastical structure.

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Financial losses in the Durham coal mines bankrupted Thomas Braddyll and in 1848 he had to sell the estate. After changing hands several times, Conishead was bought in 1878 by a Scottish syndicate and was turned into a luxury hydropathic hotel and health farm offering salt baths, lawn tennis and pleasure boating amongst other benefits for those who could afford it. A branch line from Ulverston Station even ran directly to the site which, sadly for me, was long ago dismantled.

The Priory continued as a place of rest and recuperation from 1928 until 1972 when it was run as a convalescent home for Durham coal miners, interrupted during the years of World War II when it was temporarily the largest military hospital in the north west of England.

When the miners’ tenure came to an end, the site sat empty for four years and fell into a shocking state of decay until it was bought in 1976 by the Kadampa Buddhist Community which, over many years, worked continuously, initially to repair the extensive rot and then to transform Conishead into an international college of Buddhist learning and meditation.

Conishead is, with no exaggeration, a fantastic place to visit because it has so much to offer. Primarily a Buddhist centre of learning, it attracts tens of thousands of Buddhists every year, especially to its festivals and retreats. Generously, it has extended its welcome to all, and the beautiful grounds are open, free of charge, to those of us who just enjoy this gorgeous place.


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The reception area gives a short multi-media history of the Priory and is the starting point of a tour – very reasonably priced at £3 – which takes place once daily at weekends and bank holidays, excluding religious festivals when the estate is closed to day visitors. Every time I have visited since the first time in 2015 I have planned to join the tour, but have never ended up doing so. Once I start roaming around the grounds I lose track of time and just want to carry on in solitary happiness, taking pleasure in the tranquility. I hope you enjoy, through my photos, my own solo tour which I’m sharing with you.

From the car park, an archway leads to what would have been the courtyard and stables. Cottages which would formerly have housed staff or been stables are now the homes of Buddhist community residents. A friendly cat greeted me as I approached.

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Continuing through the cottage courtyard and through another archway leads to a wide lawn area bordered by plants and shrubs. Community members also live in parts of the main house and some clearly love gardening.


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A tunnel of evergreens leads to a small wild garden. I love to sit in the corner surrounded by the fragrant herbs. Everything here is left to do its own thing and signs of autumn are all around in the form of ripening fruit and flowers gone to seed. In one of the pictures you’ll see a clue to our next stop on our tour.


Another lawn leads us to the spectacular temple. The lawn is surrounded by stone seating where visitors can sit and relax. It’s usually quiet here.

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The temple is relatively simple in design compared with others I’ve visited. Let’s look inside. We have to take off our shoes.



Everybody is welcomed warmly and free to sit quietly, look around, take photos or meditate as they like. Visitors can ask questions as there are always community members supervising, but happily they are not evangelical, and leave visitors to appreciate the space in their own way.

Back outside, we’ll walk across the outer lawn and into the private woodland.


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I deviate from the wide main path and come across a sad but lovely little clearing I’ve not seen before; a little resting place for furry friends passed away.



I stay for a few minutes thinking about life and love and how precious time is before moving on through the trees to enjoy the time I have right now on this warm sunny day. Glorious bright sunshine greets me as I exit the trees and walk out onto the Priory’s private beach, again generously available to all visitors and their dogs. The stunning fells of the Lake District are a splendid background. In the second picture below you can see the viaduct across the bay at Arnside.

Looking out to the right towards Heysham.

I sit for half an hour doing absolutely nothing before retracing my steps through the wood. Emerging outside the conservatory cafe, I head inside for a cold drink.

It’s time to leave. I promise myself that I won’t leave it so long in future.

A Warm Welcome To The Painted Ladies

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This year I have planted a lot of verbena bonariensis. I love this plant with its tall stalks supporting clusters of tiny purple flowers. Verbena grows quickly in almost any location and any soil, which is perfect for charlatan gardeners like me whose skills fall far short of their enthusiasm. Tiny plants which I placed in April are now about 6ft tall. The delicate appearance of the thin stems belies their strength; I am mesmerised by their waving and bending with the strongest of winds, bouncing back upright and unperturbed.

My main reason for including verbena is its attractiveness to pollinators at a time when we have to do our bit to help out wildlife, even in the humblest and smallest of gardens like my own. I’d noticed that the verbena didn’t seem to be as popular with the bees as some of the other plants such as the cat mint and lavender; butterfly visitors were also few and far between….until this week.

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Looking out of the kitchen window on Tuesday morning I was delighted to see three butterflies flitting gracefully from one purple floret to another, lingering long enough to feast. I quietly stepped out to take a closer look and was able to identify the visitors as painted ladies. They certainly did look like works of art, scallop-edged scarlet wings embellished with bold black and white markings. I marvelled at the trio for 10 minutes, contemplating the magical metamorphosis of unremarkable caterpillars into such beautiful creatures as these.

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Since Tuesday there have been more and more painted ladies gracing my garden, favouring the various verbena. At one point I counted eight on the same plant. I had wondered about their sudden arrival on the scene as if from nowhere; had they hatched somewhere nearby? It was wonderful to sit and watch their charming, oblivious exhibition.

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Deciding to find out more about my lovely colourful visitors, I came across some online news items about a mass migration of painted ladies to the UK this summer. So that explains it! 🙂. Painted Ladies are not rare or endangered, and they migrate here from Europe every summer, but this year promises to see huge numbers crossing the English Channel. I was utterly amazed to read about the epic journey which starts in North Africa and sees these tiny fragile-looking creatures achieve such an incredible feat. I don’t know how long they will stay, but I look forward to these ladies enjoying my verbena for as long as it lasts.

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A day in the life of the garden

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It’s the start of a new July day. It gives me great pleasure each morning to walk around my tiny garden whilst my coffee is brewing. I love to look for any new flowers which might have opened up to greet the sunrise and I feel a childlike excitement when yesterday’s bud has become today’s bloom. I tread the little stepping stone path through the carpet of cat mint, banana mint, scabia, lavender, verbena, salvia and buddleia in shades of purple, blue and white. It’s almost silent except for distant sounds of traffic. The bees are already busy harvesting nectar for the hive. They are not the only fans of the cat mint.

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It’s very warm already today so I bring my coffee back outside. I love this time of day. I don’t like noise so I operate a secret ‘time share’, relishing the moments when others are not out in nearby gardens. At other times ear phones are a godsend. 🙂

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I have some chores to attend to but return mid-morning, coated in factor 50 sun cream and with a new book to begin. I’m pleasantly surprised to find that although the school holidays have started, it’s still quiet. Maybe families have gone out for the day. A dog barks somewhere. Somebody is mowing a lawn in the next street. I recline my chair and open the first page but am distracted by a butterfly settling on the banana mint. I watch it until it flitters away.

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In the heat I inevitably start to nod off. I can see the heat shimmering in waves as my eyes close. I don’t resist. The heady sweetness of the caryopteris and the intensely vibrant geraniums appearing through the tall stalks of verbena add to the almost hallucinogenic other-worldly feeling.

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The harsh chattering of a magpie in the tree wakes me suddenly. I don’t know how long I’ve slept. Wondering what has sparked the commotion, I check if my cat that climbs has caused the alarm call. Fortunately, the tree is cat free. I admire my yellow Chinese lanterns hanging in the lower branches, storing up sunlight for their after-dark display.

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It’s time to go back indoors for a sandwich and to top up the sun protection. I drink a couple of glasses of water and remind myself to water the garden later.

Back outside, I decide to dead-head some spent flowers to make room for new growth. I have left the red roses to cascade onto the ground, creating habitation for insects.

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Small pots of wildflowers change day by day. Next year I will grow more. I love the surprise of not knowing what will emerge from the soil.

Last year I discovered Nigella or ‘Love in a Mist’. I was enchanted by the intricate structure and ability to grow anywhere, even from between paving stones where seeds must have been dispersed by the wind. I scattered a couple of packets around May time and the results are delightful once again. They have sprung up in sunny and shady spots alike, and need nothing apart from a sprinkle of water – my kind of flowers!

It’s mid-afternoon. I’m not getting on with the new novel. Life’s too short so I abandon it after five chapters. There is more activity now; a paddling pool is being inflated according to the excited shrieks I hear from two little sisters a few houses down from mine. A hedge trimmer whirs into action, brutally cutting through the tranquility. Two of my cats, also lovers of peace and quiet, return from whence they have been and offer a quick greeting before heading indoors to a favourite chair or bed.

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I follow them. I’ve been lucky and have enjoyed more time to myself than I had expected. In an hour or two there will be barbecues, music and the sounds of play all around. They are joyful summer sounds, and I don’t begrudge them for a moment, but I prefer the quiet. I hear an ice cream van play the theme tune to ‘Match of the Day’ as I go indoors.

I’ve been out for the evening but it’s still balmy when I return. It’s also quiet again in the garden, the only human sound the low indecipherable buzz of a TV coming from an open window. I’ve been told some wonderful news and feel like a glass of something is in order. In the darkness, the garden is a magical place. Lights twinkle. I pick out the shapes of moths darting through the air. Sometimes there are bats, but not tonight. There are always cats though 😁.

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Southport beach

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I’m officially on leave for five glorious weeks. Even if the sun doesn’t shine every day it’s still glorious having more time to relax and recharge the old batteries and having weekdays at my disposal to do as I please. Monday was scorching hot; too hot to do anything except laze around in my garden for most of the day – so that’s exactly what I did.

Yesterday was another very hot day and I decided to brave the sticky discomfort of travelling on a hot and potentially crowded train to Southport, the nearest seaside resort to my home, 35 minutes away on the west Lancashire coast. I wasn’t going for a paddle – though the idea was tempting on such a sweltering day – but because I wanted to buy some curtains from a well-known retailer which happens to have a store on the sea-front retail park. I dislike shopping and tend to do it online when I can, but at least this was for something specific (quick in and out) and the beach was a bonus. The train wasn’t too bad as the schools around here don’t break up until tomorrow or Friday – next week will be a different story.

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The sea was in when I arrived. To me, nothing is as soothing as the gentle rhythmic rolling of waves, and I can happily sit for a couple of hours, just listening. I think I was about 40 when I first saw high tide at Southport beach; all through my childhood that sight had evaded me and, like many people, I had come to believe that the water never advanced any further forward than a point about half a mile out. As kids, we always had to walk for 20 minutes just to get our toes wet.

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Southport is a different place now to the exciting resort that I remember from my childhood. But that can be said of everywhere, and change isn’t always a bad thing. British coastal waters are certainly much cleaner now, for sure. I don’t think people worried too much about that back in the day, or possibly were not even aware. I don’t ever remember being told in the 1970s that I shouldn’t go into the Irish sea, though in the 1990s I was certainly saying that as a mum myself. Fortunately, legislation and Health & Safety initiatives have improved seas for recreation, if not yet sufficiently for marine animals, sadly and shamefully.

In the 1970s Suthport was buzzing. It had a big funfair with the usual thrilling rides, candy floss kiosks and all the rest. There’s still a fair now though a much scaled-down version. Though Southport is known as a retirement town, the young families still arrive and appear to enjoy its charms. I was happy to see buckets and spades still seem as popular as ever with the little ones.

It’s amazing how quickly the tide turns, both incoming and outgoing. The seaweed-strewn sand was revealing more and more of itself as I sat and reminisced. Reluctantly, I dragged myself up and across the coast road to get some lunch and search for curtains. In the end I found that the ones I’d liked online were a pale imitation in reality; a bit like memories and the present day. I didn’t feel that I’d wasted my time though

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Crossing the road back to the beach I saw that during the hour-and-a-half or so that I’d been gone, the sea had also gone, leaving pools and rivulets and sand sculptures fashioned by the waves.

Closer to the sea wall, the grasses gently moved in the delicious breeze. I could have been somewhere far away, tantalisingly exotic…. as long as I didn’t look behind and back across that road 🙂

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A Walk Through The Woods

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Yesterday was a scorcher! The temperature steadily rose throughout the morning until it reached its peak of 28 degrees. I’m not complaining. And compared to most of southern Europe that’s nothing! I liberally applied the factor 50 to my burning-prone skin and positioned my reclining chair in a sun spot to soak up some rays.

By coincidence I had just started reading a book by one of my favourite authors, Bill Bryson. ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ is an old book, first published in 2003, but one I had never bothered reading before because it’s about science. Nevertheless, I’d decided that anything that Bryson had turned his hand to must be worth a look, so look I did. I quickly became sucked into (not literally, obviously) black holes, galaxies, mind-bending facts about the universe and that ‘singularity’ that is theorised to have been the first moment of life. I found myself wishing that my science teachers of yesteryear had been able to engage me in this way. It has been an easy and fascinating read so far. I squinted up in awe at that great ball of fire in the sky that sustains life on our planet and which, according to Bill Bryson (and I have no reason to doubt him) appears as a tiny dim dot to those planets which orbit at the outer reaches of our solar system. Then it disappeared behind a huge grey cloud.

Yesterday was also the anniversary of the death of a close friend; a vibrant, gregarious, compassionate and funny woman who cycled or walked the three miles to and from work each day, climbed mountains and swam most lunch times – and had decided she was going to live to be a hundred. A ferocious illness seemed to come from nowhere and took her within weeks.

My friend loved nature and had a favourite woodland walk which is where her ashes were scattered. I don’t know exactly where as, quite rightly, her family carried out that last rite. I’m glad I don’t know, as she would have hated the idea of her friends standing, all maudlin, as if by a grave. Instead, some other friends and I decided to walk in her footsteps and joyfully remember happy times we spent together.

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We approached the trees through dense long grasses and wild flowers which had been left to do their thing, mostly undisturbed. In one or two places the vegetation revealed snaking paths where regular walkers had left their marks. We followed those, confident of solid flat ground and not wanting to disturb the terrain elsewhere. Once into the thick of the trees, the intense sunlight filtered through revealing ancient roots and branches. I have a treasured photo of my friend sitting in the midst of those branches, laughing her head off because I’d suggested she looked like she was in a web and I wasn’t sure If she was predator or prey.

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In a clearing we came across some bees feasting. I got a close-up of one.

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Life burst forth all around.

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Suddenly, the sun once again disappeared behind the cloud as we approached a dense grove between the trees. It seemed to mirror life itself where joy and sadness, light and dark co-exist, in harmony and in balance, side by side.

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Life blossoms and decays, and out of the decay comes new life. The circle must complete itself for life to continue. Our friend celebrated this truth, and we celebrate her.

We laughed at anecdotes we had shared so many times already but which had not lost their humour. That’s how our loved ones live on. Our friend once said she wouldn’t mind coming back as a butterfly but we didn’t see any. We did, however, find the strangest thing on the ground amidst the sprawling roots and crushed twigs: this piece of bark with what looked remarkably like a heart at its centre.

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I don’t expect I’ll read about friendships in Bill Bryson’s science book, but we’ll see. There are many scientific explanations for the bonds that we form and hold on to and celebrate, even beyond their physical endings. It’s part of being human and will continue as long as we inhabit the earth and spin around the sun. 🙂

Buzzing After The Rain

Yesterday was the longest day of the year. Recently it has felt most unlike summer here in the UK where we’ve experienced one of the wettest Junes on record. In some parts of the country rivers have burst their banks, turning surrounding areas into flood plains. More water has fallen on some days than usually falls in the whole month. Where I live, thankfully we have not had to endure the worst of the weather, but it has still been cold and wet a lot of the time. Happily, temperatures are rising again now. Yesterday – appropriately on the summer solstice – the sun shone all day. Today looks promising too.

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After a warm dry May, the first rainfall was a blessing, at least for parched gardens. The rain soon outstayed its welcome, but at least the blooms, quenched and invigorated, seemed grateful.

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I cleaned up, resprayed repurposed this old fire pit which I’d hardly used and had become a rusty mess

My garden is tiny but it gives me a lot of pleasure throughout the year. Summer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is my favourite time. I love foliage and, if I could only have one or the other, would choose lush evergreens over brightly coloured flora any day. Happily there is room for both.

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Whilst some plants won’t flower until July there are still brilliant displays of blue and purple amongst the green. I decided this year to work with nature and keep things very simple. Apart from a few pots of gloriously bold geraniums which I love and will always find a spot for every year, any new additions to the garden would be first and foremost chosen as a food source for pollinators.

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In one corner I had previously had a lot of containers. I decided to move most of them as some had long since stopped thriving or even growing at all, and some of the pots looked ugly. I very reluctantly discarded the worst of them and have kept others for reusing. Unfortunately, a solution has not yet been found for industrial  recycling of black plastic plant pots – at least in my part of world – which is very frustrating.

Early in the year I had attempted to train some early-flowering clematis up the fence but sadly, as with all other clematis I’ve planted in the past, it failed. I dug them up and put them back into pots and they still seem to be OK , so with a bit of luck they may flower again next spring. I’ve moved some herbs from their pots into the ground and they seem to be happy enough there. Scabiosa and salvia are enjoying the sun spot along with a variety of cat mint, Walkers Low, which is a real pull for the bees. I’ve left the French lavender in pots as that’s how it seems to grow best in my garden. The bees can’t get enough!

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I plan to place some annuals in the gaps, also pollinator- friendly varieties. I’ll review these each year as the perennials spread and gain height and the gaps hopefully become fewer. Hopefully, in a couple of years’ time, the little stepping stones will lead through an abundance of green and shades of blue and purple.

One of my favourite shrubs is the Caryopteris Heavenly Blue which I planted about three years ago. It is another bee magnet and exudes a heady sweet aroma which I love. I would like to plant more of this but because it spreads up to 1.5 metres I don’t think I have room in a sunny enough spot.

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I’ve sewn a few wildflower seeds in small pots and they have come on well. I can’t wait for the Nigella to bloom in a few weeks’ time. Another favourite aromatic container is the rosemary and thyme against the back fence. The little purple flowers are beautiful and another food source for insects.

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My arthritis has really flared up this year, exacerbated by a knee injury a couple of months ago, and although I love  my little plot the more physically demanding aspects of maintaining it can be very challenging for me. Rethinking my garden, reviewing what grows well and what doesn’t, going with nature’s flow and including more of what thrives easily and with minimal effort on my part is my new philosophy. I’ll be keeping it very simple, providing a banquet for nature if I can, and a place for me and the cats to relax now the rain has stopped. 😁