In a Vase on Monday 11th February 2019

Spring flowers and a silver birch wreath. A honey -scented display for the summerhouse today.

Arriving home late from work, I’ve run round the garden and picked a few spring flowers to decorate the wreath.

This week, tete-a-tete narcissi and Iris Eye Catcher join the snowdrops in my display. I can report, the little test tubes I mentioned last week are working a treat. The double snowdrops have lasted seven days.

The test tubes arrived attached to a bouquet of orchids, a gift from a friend. As usual, I put them in the potting shed until I’ve thought of a use for them. We are all trying to manage without oasis florists foam, which is not recyclable and adds to pollution.

I twist a wire around the top of the test tube and press it into the twiggy wreath. It stays there securely, despite high winds. Storm Erik bashed the garden, but didn’t damage the display- with the summerhouse turned to face the shelter of the trees. I patch in some emerald green moss and fresh ivy to hide the workings.

Here’s where the flowers are growing, in the wild garden under beech, oak and cherry trees.

Double snowdrops came from Hodsock Priory. Singles, Galanthus nivalis, from Easton Walled Gardens.

Yellow aconites are finally starting to spread. They are slow to establish and like lots of leafmould.

I finish the day walking down the lane to pick willow stems for valentine hearts. And joy! The first lamb, born today. What a lovely surprise, and I’m glad it is a glorious sunny day. Not like last year, when they arrived in a snowstorm. Today is a good day to be born. I stand for a while watching the tiny lamb find its feet. Within minutes it’s jumping, all four feet off the ground. A sight I’ll never tire of, and another sure sign spring is not far away.

Links:

IAVOM with Cathy https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/02/11/in-a-vase-on-monday-and-so-it-goes/

Easton Walled Gardens https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/

Hodsock Priory http://www.hodsockpriory.com/

Yellow aconites https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/eranthis/eranthis-hyemalis

Floristry supplies Googies Flower Shop https://en-gb.facebook.com/googiesflowers/

Last week’s IAVOM https://bramblegarden.com/2019/02/04/in-a-vase-on-monday-february-4th-2019/

Six on Saturday- a walk round my garden, 9th February

I’ve got a pair of old nursery trolleys made out of metal with wooden plank tops. They are perfect for moving compost and plants about the garden. They hook together so in theory your could pull two. Usually we just use one at a time. They also make a good platform for a spring bulb display. It’s lovely to see my grandfather Ted Foulds’ Sankey terracotta pots out on show. He used to love to visit my garden each week and “walk the estate.” He had a good sense of humour and was a very kind man.

Iris Katherine Hodgkin is just coming into flower. So pretty, with markings that look as if they’ve been drawn in blue ink. Behind them, there’s royal blue Iris Harmony, and pale yellow Katherine’s Gold- a sport of Katherine Hodgkin, and new for me this year.

Behind the iris pots is an old zinc container full of Hyacinth Blue Jacket. It’s a beautiful deep velvety blue flower, and the scent is fabulous. I grew them from prepared bulbs, started last autumn. Some flowered for Christmas, but by leaving a few in a cold poly tunnel, I’ve spread the flowering over a longer period. It’s just now that I start to need some colour in the garden. I’ll put some hazel sticks in amongst the bulbs to support them. Those flower buds look so promising on a freezing cold day.

Still on the subject of bulbs … I never know how these posts are going to go on a Saturday, I usually just roam about the garden taking a few photos, and somehow a theme emerges. This week, it’s early bulbs. Here in the wild garden there’s cyclamen Coum and winter aconites Eranthis hyemalis. I didn’t plant them exactly in this spot. Mice or some other creature has carried them here. I actually planted them further across to the left, about 3 metres away. Still, they are thriving here, so who am I to complain. I’ll not disturb them now, or fight nature.

I’m pleased to see the snowdrop corner is finally starting to get going. I planted these yellow and white snowdrops two years ago after sharing a purchase with a friend. It’s the most I’ve ever spent on snowdrops, £12.50 for three little bulbs. And I probably won’t do it again. But they are such pretty things. I’m delighted to see they have doubled in number this year. They obviously like the leaf mould and undisturbed spot, under ash and willow trees.

Talking of trees, one of our huge beech trees had to be felled this week. It was leaning precariously towards the house roof. I can hear the chain saw sounds right now as my husband chops it up for next year’s firewood. I always feel sad when we have to chop down a tree. But it’s opened up a patch of sunlight in the paddock. Maybe I’ll plant something lovely there in its place. Meanwhile, I can’t stop gazing at the green mossy logs. They are a thing of beauty, don’t you think.

As you can see from my view from the potting shed window. There’s plenty more trees in the garden. We really ought to thin them out some more. But I can only face doing it a bit at a time. I’m very averse to change, and I’m getting worse. I would probably like time to stand still. But with gardens, as with everything in life, that’s not going to happen.

Six on Saturday https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/02/09/six-on-saturday-09-02-2019/

Cyclamen Coum https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/cyclamen/cyclamen-coum

Eranthis hyemalis https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/eranthis/eranthis-hyemalis

I wrote about Ted Foulds here https://bramblegarden.com/tag/tulips/

In a Vase on Monday-February 4th 2019

I’m starting to miss sunshine and warm weather. I’m muffled up with coat, scarves, gloves, two pairs of socks, and still the cold seeps in. There’s been such a cold wind. The ground is frozen and the pond iced over. And yet, mooching about looking for something cheerful, I find chinodoxa- untroubled by the cold, the colour of Mediterranean skies. A little bit of hope.

A circle of silver birch twigs makes a pretty background for spring flowers. I just twist the branches like rope and tie the ends together. I’m trying not to use florists’ foam as it’s currently not recyclable. I’ve found a solution. A friend sent me a box of orchids, each one with a 7cm test tube of water, keeping them fresh. Recycling them, I twist a piece of wire around the necks and stick them in amongst the twiggy coils. Topped with moss, and hidden with ivy, no one will know they are there. I just have to top up the water each morning, and at the same time, add fresh flowers as I please. The wreath here was made on Saturday with wild clematis -old man’s beard- ivy and winter flowering honeysuckle lonicera fragrantissima. It survived high winds, mostly. Silver honesty lasted a day, then blew into the back field hedge where it glistens like a tiny mirror. And the star-like cow-parsley seed heads have gone. It’s an arrangement that changes with the weather. I like that. It’s real life. A reflection of what’s happening in my garden today.

So this morning, I’ve picked some snowdrops and chinodoxa and added them to the arrangement. Chinodoxa known as “glory of the snow” seems untroubled by the cold north wind. Such a delicate flower, and yet so hardy.

To add my own sunshine, I’ve found some aconites, Eranthis hyemalis. We called these gold coins when we were growing up.

Snowdrops nestle amongst the foliage. I bought the single variety , galanthus nivalis, from Easton Walled Gardens. A little bit of history now growing in my wild garden. There’s been a garden at Easton for at least 400 years. A renovation project started almost 20 years ago, has rescued the garden for future generations to enjoy. The double snowdrops came from Hodsock Priory. Another favourite place to visit with my Mum.

My wreath sits above the doors on our 1930s turntable summerhouse. We’ve turned our backs to the wind and swung the summerhouse around to face the wild garden. There’s wild garlic thriving on the right, under the willow. I’m really pleased to see snowdrops I planted three years ago starting to form little clumps. How long, I wonder, before the scene is a sea of white. I shall have to wait and see.

Links :

I’m joining Cathy for her IAVOM meme. https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/02/04/in-a-vase-on-monday-skinny/

Chonodoxa https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/chionodoxa/chionodoxa-violet-beauty

Eranthis https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/bulbs-in-the-green/eranthis-hyemalis-winter-aconite

Easton Walled Gardens https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/

Hodsock Priory snowdrops http://www.hodsockpriory.com/about-us/the-gardens/snowdrops/

NGS snowdrop gardens to visit https://www.ngs.org.uk/find-a-garden/snowdrop-gardens/

Lonicera fragrantissima https://www.rhs.org.uk/Plants/68665/i-Lonicera-fragrantissima-i/Details

Last Minute Christmas Presents for Gardeners

Here’s my last minute recommendations. I would love to receive any of these. They all last longer than Christmas Day. Prices vary, depending on special offers and discounts.

1. Vouchers for a course at Common Farm Flowers.

https://www.commonfarmflowers.com/workshops.html .

I joined the Grow Your Own Cut Flower Patch course a few years ago, and I’m self-sufficient in flowers for my friends and family. There was enough information to grow plants commercially, if I had wanted to. I’m delighted to be able to wander about my garden at any time of the year and create beautiful hand tied bouquets and pretty jam jar posies. There’s something special about home-grown flowers. It’s all a matter of planning and knowing what varieties to grow. Georgie is an excellent teacher. After attending one of her courses, you feel as if you can conquer the world. It’s a rather wonderful feeling!

Courses on offer range from £15 for a garden tour to £290 for a painting course.

Courses: Flower Farming, encouraging wildlife, social media for small businesses, starting a kitchen table business, grow your own wedding flowers, hand tied bouquets.

2. RHS Membership. From £61.

Develop your gardening skills with an RHS membership package. Membership includes unlimited entry to RHS gardens, discounts for show tickets, personalised advice, and entry to 200 partner gardens. The RHS magazine,The Garden, is worth the membership price alone. It is packed full of inspiring ideas and information. Written by experts we all trust. I always look forward to my copy, and it keeps me up to date with new plants, ideas for recycling, using less plastic in the garden and information on the latest research into plant diseases. It’s great to see The Garden magazine will be delivered in recyclable paper packaging instead of single-use plastic next spring.

https://www.rhs.org.uk/shop/special-offers/active-offers/rhs-gift-membership-offer

3. Support the Woodland Trust with a membership package. £48.

Explore 1,000 Woodland Trust woods. A walk in a wood lifts your mood and re-energises you. It will do you a power of good.

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/membership/

4. Membership for St Tiggywinkles wildlife hospital. £36.

We all rely on our wildlife, hedgehogs in particular, to help us combat slugs. This is a wonderful way to support wildlife and learn more about them.

https://www.sttiggywinkles.org.uk/top-navigation/help-us/membership.html

5. Join The Hardy Plant Society. £17 a year.

A great way to discover more about hardy plants, find like- minded gardeners and join in with events such as talks and slide shows, conservation and plant sales. There’s two issues of the The Hardy Plant magazine a year, free advice and a chance to take part in the free seed distribution scheme.

http://www.hardy-plant.org.uk/whyjoinus

6. Charles Dowding No-dig course. Various prices. Approx £150 a day.

Learn all about growing all kinds of vegetables and fruit, productively and with less effort. Charles has helped me to garden with a poorly back. I fractured my spine in a car crash 15 years ago. Without his advice, I would probably have had to give up my one acre garden. With his no-dig techniques, I have managed to keep on top of weeds, and grow all the fruit, veg and flowers I want to, without aggravating my spinal injuries.

I hope these last-minute suggestions have been useful. If not for Christmas, they make a lovely birthday present.

What’s the best course, or membership, you would recommend? Let me know so I can share your ideas too.

Coming up in the new year, I’ve been invited to try out some weekend holidays for gardeners. I’ll let you know how I get on. I’ll be taking my Mum with me, of course. Something to look forward to in 2019.

Six on Saturday. Joining in for the first time.

Six photos from my garden and potting shed this week.

Catching the light in my potting shed window: Old Man’s Beard, wild clematis vitalba. Commonly called traveller’s joy. I stand on tip toe, reaching into hedgerows to harvest long stems with silver seed heads. They’re a lovely addition to winter flower arrangements.

Silver coins. Honesty seeds. Hanging from the rafters to dry. They will be tucked in amongst rosehips, holly and ivy for Christmas decorations.

Chinese lanterns, harvested in October. I love the various shades of orange. They fade to a delicate papery apricot colour. And left long enough, they become transparent.

My potting shed window looks out onto the wild garden. So heartening to see hazel branches with lambs-tail catkins. A welcome reminder that spring will return. The twigs make useful supports for my paperwhite narcissi and hyacinths which are in the dark under my point shed bench at the moment.

The last few golden leaves are fluttering in the breeze. Hazel, maple, ash trees make a mini woodland. I’ve planted 200 foxgloves in the wild garden. We sowed the seed in mid summer, pricked them out in August, and planted out, they will sit making roots over winter. I’m growing Sutton’s Apricot, a glorious silky, peach- coloured foxglove, and Pam’s Choice- white with a blackcurrant thumb print in each flower.

It’s dusk before I finish planting. I stand by the pond watching blackbirds taking a last-minute bath. I wonder how they can stand the cold water. I expect it keeps their feathers in good condition. A tawny owl glides silently along the field hedge. Short-tailed voles live in the long grass here. Within minutes, it’s dark. It’s not like in summer, where there’s enough moonlight to potter around. November dark is cold, pitch black. Time to go indoors, light a fire and make hot chocolate.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a walk around my garden with me tonight. I’m joining https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/ for his Six on Saturday meme. What jobs are you doing in your garden this weekend?

In a Vase on Monday – flowers for a christening.

Pink roses for a baby girl. Just the right flower. That’s what I decided when a friend asked me to make a door wreath for her granddaughter’s christening.

Setting out with a wicker basket, I spend a happy hour searching the hedgerows around the garden. I’m looking for ivy leaves, and their lime green and black flower heads and seeds. The perfect background for any circle of flowers. I find jewel-like Euonymus europaeus, or spindle tree, growing wild amongst the ivy, dogwood and hawthorn. Their bright pink fruit split apart to reveal orange seeds inside. Leaves turn a burnished bronze and then red. I add them to the basket. It’s like finding treasure.

I find some silver coins. Well, they look like coins. Honesty seed heads have turned a glorious silvery grey. Perfect for tucking in amongst the flowers. I love the way they catch the light. No need for fairy lights here.

I search around for some sprigs of a newly- planted viburnum. This winter-flowering gem is called Viburnum tinus Lisarose. Clusters of small pink and white flowers look lovely at all stages from bud to fully open. It flowers from November to April, just when we most need some cheer.

It’s my lucky day. I’ve found some late-flowering roses. My favourites, The Fairy and Pearl Anniversary. They have small clusters of pearly pink semi-double flowers. Both are compact, easy to grow varieties. Mine are thriving in containers and are moved into the greenhouse to provide flowers right up until Christmas. Pearl Anniversary is a compact, patio rose, and The Fairy is a small shrub rose. Both are repeat flowering and disease resistant.

Roses make the perfect focal point at the top of the wreath. Not many are needed to make a display.

Rosehips. So glossy they look as if they’ve been dipped in varnish. They cascade from the top of the hedgerows. The birds will have a feast. I harvest some for today, and some for Christmas, not taking them all. It’s best to share. I weave them in and out of the ivy. It’s a happy combination of hedgerow and garden. Just perfect for a baby girl’s special day.

Each week I join Cathy for her IAVOM Meme. Luckily flowers don’t have to be in a vase to be included. Why not go over and see what Cathy and all the others are growing and harvesting for their flower arrangements this week. Let me know if you have ever made flowers for a special occasion like I have. It’s lucky when the garden and hedgerow provides such bounty, even in November.

Cathy : https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/

The Creative Kitchen – Book Review

By Stephanie Hafferty

Published by Permanent Publications. November 2018

*Win a free copy in the prize draw by leaving a comment at the end of the blog. And there’s a discount code for readers.

New reading in the potting shed this week is Stephanie Hafferty’s latest book on seasonal recipes for meals and drinks and making items for the garden and home.

I have to admit, I have a passion for cookery books. Many of my favourites have been handed down through the family. I’ve got Bero baking books from my grandma Betty, which bring back happy memories of delicious cakes. She never ate them herself, but just liked to make everyone smile. All our trips to the seaside- and local beauty spots such as Bradgate Park – would be accompanied by her butterfly fairy cakes. Her trifles were liberally sprinkled with hundreds and thousands. And I bet my brothers remember her home-made toffee apples. It’s amazing our teeth survived, but they did.

When you think about it, many of our strongest memories relate to sitting around a table together, sharing food. All our celebrations, birthdays, anniversaries- and Christmas being the highlight of the year- revolve around food.

With my own family and friends, I’ve tried to carry on the cooking and nurturing tradition. Although, it’s not always easy to get everyone together at the same time. We live such busy lives. When I do manage to corral the family together, I’ll usually make a massive pot of soup, a casserole, a cheese and potato pie, a vegetable lasagne, or similar. And for afters, there’s nearly always something involving apples- we have them in store all winter, and they’re free.

My cooking revolves around what I’m growing. And this is where Stephanie’s new book comes in handy; all the recipes are seasonally based. So they are relevant to what I’m growing all year round. I always start with what I’ve got available, rather than choosing a recipe. Stephanie helps by suggesting what I can do with the gluts of the season. I often have that “what-on-earth-am-I-going-to-do-with-all-this-kale” moment. Hearty bean and vegetable soup might be the answer.

I’m very keen on throwing everything in a pan together and just leaving it to cook. It gives me more time to garden- and chat. My two favourite pastimes! Stephanie must have written this book specially for me. Her Bean Stew with Red Wine is simple to make, fabulously tasty, and looks pretty too.

Alongside the main meals, soups and salads, there’s recipes for store cupboard ingredients such as flavoured salts, vinegars, herb mixes, and infused sugars. I’m definitely going to try making mint sugar. Imagine adding it to hot chocolate. Such a treat on a freezing cold day.

I’ve been thinking about what to do about vegetable stock powers since my favourite brand decided to add palm oil to its ingredients. There will be no palm oil in my house. Apart from not trusting the “ethically sourced” statement, we do not want or need palm oil. Only if we reject it will the rainforests be saved. I am just one person, but it seems the message is getting stronger. People are picking up packets of food and reading the labels and realising that palm oil has insidiously crept into so many food and household products. Anyway, now I can make my own stock powers with Stephanie’s recipes for wild herb, mushroom and tomato bouillon. And there’s a fruit bouillon for adding to yoghurts, cakes and biscuits. Such a clever idea, and easily do-able.

I’ve had a go at making herb teas, but never tried gin or brandy recipes. Stephanie’s Rhubarb and Sweet Cicely Gin sounds- and looks glorious. And wouldn’t it make a fabulous present for someone.

Sugar Plum Brandy looks equally divine. Apparently, this makes a lovely after dinner liqueur as well as a cocktail base. I’d probably add it to fruit cakes as well.

You wouldn’t think you could fit so many good ideas into one book, but Stephanie seems to have thought of everything. I particularly love her Gardeners’ Hand Scrub, Floral Bath Bombs, and Herb Candles. I’m going to be busy for the next few weeks, trying all the recipes and making presents for friends. And I’m going to enjoy every single minute of it.

Stephanie’s book is paperback and £19.95 from https://shop.permaculture.co.uk. There’s a discount code for blog readers purchasing from the shop which is BRAMBLE. Apply the code in the discount section at checkout to obtain the book for £16. Postage is extra. The book is also available via Amazon here https://www.amazon.co.uk/Creative-Kitchen-Seasonal-Recipes-Drinks/dp/1856233235 . There’s one copy available in the prize draw. Names will be randomly selected. Publisher’s decision is final. There’s no cash alternative. Worldwide delivery, for a change. Usually it’s UK only. Nice to have an international prize.

Meanwhile, the view from the potting shed is sunny today. As well as reading, I’ll be deciding what to grow next year, and Stephanie’s book will come in handy while I’m making my seed lists. What books are you enjoying at the moment? What are you planning to grow on your plots for 2019? Get in touch and let me know.

The Bumblebee Flies Anyway

Book Review

Kate Bradbury. Published by Bloomsbury Wildlife. Hardback £16.99

It’s been a difficult year. I’m only just getting over serious illness myself, and then three relatives have been ill. I’ve been stretched to the limits trying to help everyone. So when I picked up Kate Bradbury’s book, it seemed to have been written specially for me. There’s a message of hope on every page.

Kate’s struggling too. Some kind of crisis. A broken heart. She ends up homeless, sleeping on friends’ sofas. She has to leave London and make a new home in a damp dark, basement flat. Even worse, the garden is a dead place. Decked over and full of rubbish. And yet, Kate’s book is not a tale of woe. It’s about struggling and striving. But ultimately, there’s a message of hope. After pain and suffering there can be triumphs and happiness again. It’s a message I needed to hear. I made myself a reading corner in the greenhouse and tried to absorb the positive vibes. It’s not easy when you are in the middle of a crisis. Sometimes I’d read the same paragraph over and over again, without registering the words. Stress is such a debilitating thing.

Kate turns her decked-over garden into a wildlife paradise. She makes a pond, puts up bird boxes and revels in every creature that comes to live in her tiny plot. It’s not just a book about rescuing a garden, it’s about rescuing a person too. It’s about the resilience of the human spirit. We may be bowed down and almost defeated by life’s events, but we will triumph. Nature, wildlife and gardens are a balm. Wouldn’t you agree.

I particularly love Kate’s descriptions of making a bee hotel and building a pond. I learn that a pond doesn’t need to be more than 30cm deep to be of value to wildlife. I could manage that. There’s plenty of places where I could fit a pond. And her tales of rescuing bees. I’d heard about giving bees spoons of sugar. Kate talks about finding an exhausted bumblebee on the pavement. She pops it in her pocket to keep it warm while she walks home. I’d never thought of doing that. She puts the red-tailed bee in a box with a pop bottle lid full of sugar water. It’s too cold and wet for the bee to go outside, so Kate gently places some shredded paper in the box to make a cosy nest until the morning. Apparently, some bees can be helped by gently stroking their thorax. I looked it up. That’s the part of the body between the wings. I can have a go at that too, if needed. Kate gives me confidence to try. Next day, Kate releases the revived and now grumbling bee. She searches for a mahonia plant to give the bee the best chance of survival.

There are lots of hints and tips sprinkled through the book for anyone wanting to make a wildlife garden.

Regular readers will know that we planted a mini-wood when we moved here, and I grow flowers and plants for pollinators. Now I have a few more good ideas for helping wildlife in my garden. Kate’s inspiring book and joyful message was just the pick-me-up I needed, to be honest.

The publishers have kindly given one free book as a prize for readers of this blog. Usual rules apply. One name will be randomly selected in the prize draw. There’s no cash alternative. Publishers decision is final. Please leave a comment to be included in the draw. Sorry, UK entries only.

Late October Blooms

I love the way the garden provides a last-minute rush of colour. Late October flowers have such magic. A message of hope. Winter is on the way, but spring will return – and so will the flowers.

Today’s flowers are like jewels. They are as welcome as the intermittent bursts of sunshine. There’s little warmth in the sun’s rays, but these flowers light up any room.

Shining brightly in the middle of the posy is rudbeckia. I believe this variety is Goldsturm. A reliable plant that flowers on and off all summer and then puts on a show stopping display in October. Goldsturm is a perennial form with flowers growing to 60cm tall. I love its dark brown central cone which sets off the yellow flowers a treat. It’s great for pollinators too. In my garden, the flowers are covered in bees and hoverflies.

Another daisy flower I’m particularly fond of is the white argyranthemum. Sadly the name has been lost in the mists of time. Perhaps someone will read this and let me know what it’s called. It’s been growing here for 30 years, so I can attest to its longevity! The centre for the flower starts off greeny-yellow and fades to pure swan white. Flowers last for at least a fortnight in a vase. Such a good value, reliable plant.

Adding a shot of blue is this wonderful aster- now renamed tongue-twisting symphyotrichum. I think I’ll be sticking with the original name to be honest.

October roses are so precious. Of course, they are glorious in the heat of mid summer. But they really are a joy just as the weather turns cold and miserable. I appreciate the scent more now than in June. In summer I’m always rushing around, too busy to smell the roses. By October, I’m slowing down. I drink in the scent, knowing I’ve got to hold on to that memory right through the cold days ahead. I’m kind of winter-proofing myself. Looking for a floral armoury to protect me from winter.

This hybrid tea rose is called Special Occasion. It has a fruity scent and is easy to grow and disease resistant. It’s a rose I can highly recommend.

There’s two varieties of anemone in today’s posy. One is pink, possibly September Charm, and one white, Honerine Joubert. You need plenty of space to grow anemones. We divide them every three years to keep them compact. There’s always plenty of spare plants to give to friends.

Fuchsias and salvias provide a splash of pink, and there’s a few Blueboy cornflowers too. There hasn’t been a week when the cornflowers haven’t provided a few flowers. They’ve been fabulously prolific, despite the heat and drought.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my slide show of today’s flowers. As always, I’m joining Cathy for her In a Vase on Monday meme. Why not go over and see what Cathy and all the others are growing and putting in their vases this week.

And let me know what plants you are growing at the moment. Are you, like me, winter-proofing yourself in some way. The colours of my October flowers remind me of a stained glass window. Wouldn’t you agree.

Sunflowers for Joan

I’m glad I planted sunflowers on every spare inch of ground this summer. Somehow, I must have known we would need them.

When my mother-in-law Joan was diagnosed with Alzheimers a few years ago, I started a cut flower garden. Each week I’d run round picking twigs from shrubs and flowers from the patch, anything to give her an idea of what my garden looked like- and keep her connected to me.

In my heart, I knew that one day I would simply be, the girl who brings flowers.

Nothing could have prepared me for the heartbreak when that moment arrived. It was literally overnight. One minute, I was her Karen, married to her son for 30 years. Mum to her two granddaughters. With all our shared memories of the ups and downs of family life; illnesses overcome, failures commiserated, success celebrated. The pain and triumphs of ordinary family life. A life shared. And the next, I was just someone. Someone who brought flowers.

The sense of loss is overwhelming. I’m standing on their front doorstep, flowers in my hand, and she doesn’t really know who I am. I have to remind myself to breathe. I’m literally holding my breath, hoping I’m wrong.

I stay overnight – we’ve all been taking it it turns. I’m part of a large and very supportive family. Everyone has stepped in over the past few years to help out. No one could have done more. Next morning, I find Joan standing by my bed. “Tell me who you are, and who am I to you?” she asks. I try not to cry. It wouldn’t help. I say we’ll have tea and toast and over breakfast I’ll explain everything. I can’t face the task without a cup of tea. Simple things. One step at a time. We have a really lovely breakfast together. There’s hand embroidered table cloths and pretty china cups. Joan tells me she loves honey because her father kept bees at the bottom of the garden when she was little. I didn’t know that. She likes honey every day because it reminds her of him. After breakfast I get out the family photo album and explain who everyone is. She’s delighted to have such a large happy family. Joan was an only child and always wanted a big family. Her three children have produced five grandchildren and one great grandson. And she’s always been very close to all of them. And yet. On this day. She can’t remember any of them. Only her father who she says is upstairs. Did I know he was there, she asks? I gently explain he’s been dead a long time. Five minutes later, we are still taking about her Dad. I can’t face telling her again that he’s not here. Joan seems to be going back in time. A parallel universe. I’m going forward, she’s going back. Only when we talk about flowers are we in the same world. The sunflowers look so cheerful, she says. It’s the only thing we can both agree on.

The cruelty of the illness is that it is like a bereavement. I’ve “lost” someone who always backed me up. Someone I could always turn to for help and support. A recipe, a knitting pattern. A costume for my daughter when she came home from school and cheerfully announced she needed a reindeer outfit for the play- the next day. Joan had a brown zip up suit she’d made for her son when he was eight. She’s kept it safe, and could put her hand on it straight away. How I love her resourcefulness. Make do and mend. Help everyone if you can. Nothing wasted. A lesson in life for all of us.

Now Joan needs our help and support and love. And luckily there are a lot of us willing and able to give it. The family have been amazing. But this blog is just about my thoughts and feelings and how I face challenges in life. And so I only mention what I am doing. Their stories are their own to speak about. But I want to make clear that everyone has played their part and been unstinting in their help.

I’m not the kind of person to be defeated by anything. So I have a new challenge now. My cut flower bouquets will fill the window ledges of the care home Joan’s just moved to. She’s there with her wonderful husband of 65 years. There will be flowers for the dining room tables, and flowers for the reception hall. I’ve sowed hardy annual seeds. Larkspur, calendula, love-in-a-mist, cornflowers. And I’ve ordered my sunflower seed for next spring.

I read somewhere about living in the “now” and creating moments of joy. My beloved Joan has a life made up of lots of moments of joy. We are all helping her find reasons to smile. And who can fail to smile when they see a sunflower.

Thank you to Cathy and everyone from IAVOM who have supported me these last few years when I’ve posted my posies for Joan. And for all the kind messages these past few weeks. They have been much appreciated.

For more information look on the Alzheimers Society website Here

These sunflowers were grown from Mr Fothergills All Sorts Mix. Click on the link to see the varieties. Sown in March in a propagator. Pricked out in April and planted out the first week of June. They’ve been providing multi-headed flowers all summer long.