Things looking up?

Well, it’s been a disappointing start to the year what with the wind and the rain and then the bloody snow that covered everything.

Over the past couple of weeks though, in between the weekend rain I’ve been sneaking out and getting some bits and pieces done.  A bit of pruning here and there, some tidying and clearing, a bit of weeding, and most importantly right now – puppy proofing the garden from a small whippet with a penchant for flowers.  Seriously, he has so far ripped up an entire pot of crocus flowers, some hellebores, and just the other day I caught him trying to climb the Camelia and pull the flower heads of that too (climbing as he’d already pulled off the one’s that were low down.), alongside that I’ve had to cover a fair amount of open space with chicken wire to stop him getting to certain areas altogether.

20180316_171110.jpgAlongside what remains of the red flowers of hellebores, we still have the untouched green flowers on the other one currently flowering.  I’m guessing he just hasn’t noticed them yet.

So, with all that done I had plans for this weekend.

Pleased to see some colour appearing in parts of the garden again it has encouraged me to start planning this years garden.  And this was going to the be the weekend it was all going to start.  I’ve even been out and purchased a few plants in readiness.

Beautiful white crocus alongside the red dogwood and tucked behind the primroses are looking lovely in the woodland area.  The hyacinths, bluebells, snowdrops and miscanthus are all shooting too and I hope we get some colour from them this season up there.

And now?  Now they’re forecasting more snow over the weekend.  Seriously?  I don’t want more snow, I want to be out in the garden doing some work.

Fingers crossed they get it wrong and it doesn’t hit us.

Right, so back to the plans.

At the end of last season and with all of the perennials gone from view it became clear that one of our beds, the main bed in the first part of the garden, was missing any kind of structure to hold interest through the winter months.  Also, this was the most open space where the new pup could get through, and now it the chicken wire it looks, well, unnatractive.

This means a different tact on this bed.  Whilst it was beautiful when in flower, I want it hve interest all year round so when you look out the windows in the miserable weather, it still has something to bring a smile to the face.  And also something to fill the gaps and hide the chicken wire.

20180316_171212The plan then is to turn this in to a mixed bed of shrubs and perennials.  I have a shrub I love that is evergreen and am using this to tie in to the rest of the garden by having another variety of it.  Brachyglottis Silver Dormouse will be added.  This is a lovely little everygreen plant which will give me a lovely contrasting leave to all of the green going on.  This will be planted alongside some Hebe Pascals, which will bring a hint of red.  There’s a couple of Viburnum’s to go in which in time will be used to give some height at the back and help hind the fencing.  Then some of the other shrubs I’ve got I’ll move around when the time is right to help build it all up a bit more, things like Tandaris Gold which I’ve always loved, and the Spiraea Japonica, Goldflame, another beaut of a shrub to have.

There’s also a Mock Orange in there, something I’ve always wanted ever since my dad had one, this however is going right by the veranda so we get the benefit of that lovely sweet smell when it’ flowers

I’m genuinely quite excited to build this bed up now in to something a bit more substantial, full of evergreens that will flower throughout the year as well as plant it up with some different perennials.  Maybe I’ll even venture in to bedding plants this year?

Now, fingers crossed the snow doesn’t happen and I get out in to the garden and get these things in to the ground!

With my first batch of seedlings shooting well I’m hoping we’ll have another good display this year with plenty of variety and colour across the whole garden.

Here’s to 2018 being a succesful year for all us keen gardeners!  Cheers everyone.

 

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Well, that didn’t go to plan…

Well, there was a plan in place for this weekend.  It was going to be my first weekend out in the garden.  Bit it went awry.

I did get out in the garden today, and I did manage to plant 15 wild roses at the back of the woodland garden which I’m hoping will grow up against our back fence and act as both wind-break and as a deterrent for anyone who thinks climbing the fence might be fun, plus they should provide a nice place for wildlife when they come in to flower.

I didn’t however manage to start my first seed trays of the year, and there was a very simple reason for this.

We have a new member of the household and he proved, well, rather distracting to say the least.

20180210_150500Meet Twiglet, our cheeky little whippet pup who came to stay with us yesterday.

We hadn’t really planned to get another puppy just yet, but we agreed to look and then within two days he became available and when we met him it was a no-brainer.

He’s such a little cutie and seems to have a wonderful temperament and lovely character.

He’s still settling in, but he’s a lot braver today compared to yesterday and is investigating, stealing, terrorising the cat and our chocolate lab.  He’s fitting right in.

Looking forward to more adventures with the little fella now, it’s fair to say I’m completely smitten with him.

 

New Year, New Plans

So I decided to take some time away from my laptop over Christmas and concentrate on my immediate world – from my husband, my son, our house to those around me and just enjoy Christmas.

It was also a time to refocus a bit on myself and my life and what direction I want to go.

So, I need to think about how I challenge myself in 2018 and going forward, how I get the most out of blogging and sharing the things I love with others.  Determined to get more from the things I’m passionate about such as cooking, gardening, photography and how I add to that by learning a new skill this year.

With that in mind I’m hoping to share more this year around my gardening antics, push myself to spend more time with my camera, more time in the kitchen cooking fresh, proper food, and then on top of this I’m learning to draw and paint.  This is something I’ve always wanted to do but never since leaving school never pursued.  So I am pushing myself to follow the daily painting movement and spend up to an hour every day this year sketching or painting.  We’re currently 21 days in to the new year and I have so far produced 20 images which I’m sharing on Instagram in the hope of getting tips and advice, as well as using this to show my journey from rank novice to hopefully a fully fledged artist at some point.  At the very least I’m hoping by documenting my journey I will see some improvement and eventually find a style that feels comfortable for me.

For now though, lets start with the Garden and where we’re at right now and what’s in store for 2018.

The garden was snow covered for a few days here and there in December so I did have to spend some time going round and shaking the snow off of the plants it was beginning to weigh down.   Once all thawed out it was clear to see that there was little damage done, just the rosemary bush had snapped under the weight, but as it’s an old but healthy plant, it’s not done too much to it.

Everything else in the garden has held up well. The plants I was most worried about losing in the cold are looking nice and healthy and have so far survived the frosts and cold.

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We’ve had two big storms hit us with winds up to about 80mph within the last couple of weeks.  Again, the plants held up well but the structures that came under attack.  One trellis and support post ripped apart, one wind-break now at a slightly steeper angle than it was before, and a bit of emergency repair work and extra bracing needed to the sagging shed roof.  We also noticed a big gap in one of the fence panels yesterday.  Nothing that some new nails and a hammer won’t fix however.  The top of the garden got blown around a bit and is looking very sorry for itself so that will all need cutting back and tidying up.  It’s all still standing, but it’s all in need of some fixing up and being made secure.

 

So as the days beging to get longer I find myself beginning to think about the gardening year ahead again and what we might do this year.

As I walked around the garden yesterday in the sunshine it was lovely to see so many plants budding, the acers, the weeping birch, the hazels and the willows all with new buds ready to come to life, the magnolias we planted last year are covered in buds and from the ground the shoots from the muscari, tete a tete’s, snow drops and bluebells in the woodland garden and then the alium bed full of green shoots where we planted the 100+ bulbs at the back end of 2017 and as an added bonus the tulips from last year are shooting again.

Seeing the garden come back to life fills me with happiness.  There are even flowers on one of the Hellebores.

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So, what are the plans this year?

Well, three of the main plans for garden are:

  1. Get rid of the paving slab pathway in the first garden and replace it with a lined slate-chippings path to meet the one in the second part of the garden.  I’ve started putting the mini border in that will edge this.
  2. Purchase and assemble a poly-tunnel.  I have been debating for a while removing the shed and digging out the whole area and putting in one huge polytunnel, however as our garden tends to be a bit of a wind tunnel I’m not not sure this is the wisest move to make.  So I’m now debating keeping the shed where it is and putting a smaller poly tunnel alongside it.  This is in the hope that they will help shelter each other a little bit.  I’m going to plant some tall, solid, shrubs in front of them to act as a bit of a wind break in the hope this might also offer some protection.  I also don’t need a massive polytunnel.
  3. Get rid of the old compost area and build it up to meet the pond, move the rockery down to surround the pond and then turn the old rockery area in more of a wild flower meadow area.  This is because it sits next to the hedgerow at the back of our garden which all of the birds nest in, so it makes sense to me to turn that whole area in to one which is more bird and wildlife friendly than the rockery is.

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I’m also planning on planting some bare-root hedgerow plants at the top of the garden, for three reasons: to act as a windbreak for the fence panels, to attract more wildlife to the woodland area and to act as a deterrent for anyone trying to climb over the back fence.  Not that they do, but it would be easy to do so if anyone wanted.

I’m happy with all of my shrubs and plants that are currently in the garden, so the next decision for me is deciding what seeds to plant so that I can fill the rest of the garden with colourful annuals.  I’ll have my sunflower and wildflower bed again this year as that bought me so much joy last year, but I want to make sure I’ve got a good selection of other favourites in the garden too.

So there you have it, the gardening plan for 2018.  It’s not the biggest year but I think we’ve got most of the really heavy work out of the way in the past couple of years, I’m looking forward to the challenges and really making the most of the garden now.  Here’s to a year of colour, beauty and wildlife – what more can anyone want?

If you want to follow my learning to draw & paint escapades you can find me on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/themanwhocouldntdraw/

 

 

The Winter Garden

It’s been a while since I blogged last – this year has bought a few things along that have meant my focus has had to be elsewhere for a while, but that’s potentially for another blog, for now though back to the garden which has been a little neglected lately.

After the snow last weekend today was the first time I’ve been at home in day light to be able to see what was going on and if any damage was caused to anything.

I’m pleased to say that very little damage occured, just one plant suffered due to the weight of the snow that fell.  Our rosemary bush has lost one of it’s main branches, snapped off at the trunk.  A real shame as this branch really gave it some shape, but hoppefully the rest of the plant will be ok.

Otherwise the rest of the garden is looking exactly as one would expect at this time of year.

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The perennials have all died right back, and the annuals have all gone.  It looks incredibly bare, but that’s to be expected.

The planned woodland area is in good shape, the Grape Hiacinth (Muscari) are sprouting, but nothing yet from the bluebell and snowdrop bulbs, although I suspect we’re still a little early for those.  The plum tree and the weeping birch, although bare of leaves, have plenty of buds on them.  There’s even some catkins on the hazels which is the first time they’ve ever appeared.  And through the remains of the snow there’s still some colour coming from the primulas and cyclamens.

Our Gunnera has, well, dissolved is probably the best description.  It didn’t really get going at this year, the actual rhubarb in the garden was three times of the size of this giant rhubarb.  A real shame, but hopefully it’ll come back next year and show us what it can really be.

There’s definitely still some tidying to do around the pond as I didn’t get to tidy that up before winter hit.  It’s still very green, but it’s all wilting, especially the enormous Calla Lily that grew to a spectacular size but without flower.

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There’s something a little sad about this time of year, however seeing all the buds on the plants just gives you that little bit of hope that things will come back bigger and better next season.  Seeing the shoots of the 100 Aliums in the Alium bed breaking through is a promise of colour I can’t wait to see.

Elswhere, the beds are in a good place.  I managed to get them tidied and weeded, everything trimmed back, pulled out where necessary and prepared for replanting in the new year.

There’s still some colour in the roses which is surprising,  in the snow last week one red rose shone through in the whiteness, and the two miniature pinks are still going.  The yellow stopped a month or so ago, but the pinks are still budding and flowering, here’s hoping for Christmas flowers.

So along with the little splashes of colour, the new shoots from the bulbs and buds on the trees there is plenty of new growth going on every where.  Out lovely little Hebe’s have shot up and are glowing purple at the moment, and the conifers have visible growth.

As this year comes to an end, the promise of what is to come next year fills me with actual excitement.  I’ve still got lots to learn and this is really my first year of gardening through winter, but I’m genuinely pleased with the progress over the past year and am looking forward to next year – new plants, new knowledge and new adventures.

So here’s to 2018 and lots of new gardening fun to be had.

Have a lovely Christmas everyone.

Paul x

Gardening: Preparing for Winter

I guess one of the downsides of gardening is the amount of maintenence you need to do to keep it looking nice.  If I just had one simple flower bed, this would all be done by now.  But I don’t.  I created several large beds and with that comes having to maintain them constantly.

And now it’s the time of year when all of the preparation needs to be put in place ready for winter and so that the beds can look their best again when Spring comes around.

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There’s still a few splashes of colour around the garden.  Our Standard Fuschia’s are still flowering and covered in buds, as are our miniature roses.  The Verbena is still showing colour, and the Wallflowers are looking good still too.  I have to shout out to the ornamental grasses too, some of these are looking stunning at the moment.

The rest however, is either dead or dying.  Their colour has gone, the leaves are browning and, like me, they’ve seen better days.

There’s some work to be done here.  A lot of weeding to happen.  It’s amazing how quick these little buggers grow, unseen for ages, before you know it there’s a 4ft weed suddenly appeared in the middle of the bed.  The ivy, bindweed and several other plants that seem to spread and self-root.  Plus the Euphorbia is attempting to make a come back and as for the Buddleia, I’ve just discovered another two plants about 2ft high hidden amongst the plants, so this must have self-seeded at some point too.

20171026_124524The lawn also needs to be re-edged.  That will be a maul, but it will also be worth it.  The one piece of advise given to me by garden loving aunt – if the lawn is nicely edged it will always look neat.  And she was right, even if the grass is a little long the whole thing keeps it’s shape when you can clearly see the edges.  Which currently, you can’t in some places!    Also, there’s an area around the Magnolia where the grass is coming back, so all of that needs to be removed.

And once all of this is done and the beds are as weed-free as possible…It’ll be time to mulch it all.

Just weeding this first 3 metres of the long bed took me 2hrs.  I know it will be worth it in the long run though. There are still 7 metres to go though.

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If I want this area to look it’s best next year, then it’s important that work gets done now so that it’s in good condition for the Spring flowers and planting.  Once it’s mulched with compost, it will also look so much better.

I’m trying to decide what to leave standing for the winter, just so I don’t lose all structure in the garden and have some interest.  Also I want to make sure that the birds and insects have a place to go so it’s important I don’t strip everything back.

Our neighbours are determined to finish their outbuildings this month too so that they’re waterproof before winter kicks in.  And they’ve worked really hard the past couple of weekends so it now has the boards on the roof and they’ve slatted one part on our side.  We’ve also agreed with them that we’ll paint our side as we wanted it a specific colour, which they’ve agreecd to, so that’s something else we need to get done.  It’s looking good though.  Shame as it means we’ll see less of them in the garden and we get on well, but we’ll all be pleased it’s done.  Plus, it’s not like we won’t see them at all and I’m sure both sides will enjoy the privacy.

November is going to be a lot of hard work!  Time to dig out those Wellies again I think.

The Great Pretender…

Forgive me this post, but I’ve had a bit of a week and a few days of intense soul-searching.  For so long I’ve battled something in my brain that I haven’t been able to really figure out.

I’ve always, always just said to people “It’s BDD”.  And yes, I do suffer with BDD.  But that’s not the root cause.  It’s one of the side effects.  I’ve never really gotten to the root cause.

Now, I know I could talk to any psychologist or “hobby” psychologist as I like to call certain people in my life, and they’ll tell me that it probably all stems back to my childhood and that I was surrounded by women who were on a different diet every month and made comments about their bodies, each others bodies and my body.  I know that.  Many of those people have told me so.  But I feel that dredging that all up probably won’t do me any favours and will achieve very little other than find somewhere to lay the blame.  And one thing I’ve learnt in my life is that blame is not helpful or healthy.  It has a tendency to become an excuse for something else.  “I do this because of this…because they made me do it because of what they said to me”

That’s all very well, but the blame isn’t really important, what’s important is understanding  why you react how you do and what you do to change that behaviour.

I’m the first to admit that I have insecureties, I’m pretty damn sure that most of us do if we’re absolutely honest.  Until the recently I hadn’t realised what my insecurities actually are – my weight and body are an obvious place to stop.   I didn’t know until the other day that there was a “syndrome” that my thoughts and behaviours possibly come from.   I admit that, having read all the evidence, this is a self-diagnosis.  But the evidence is strong.  I’m a massive cynic when it comes to reading most things as I always feel that it’s easy to find bits that are relevant to oneself and suddenly you have something to place your faith in.  I’ve never read anything before where every sentence, across several sources, repeats back to me the words that constantly go through my own mind.

I still have these thoughts and they’ve getting worse, more magnified,  over the past few months.  Until a few days ago I was beginning to feel swamped and lost in a world that I felt I didn’t really belong.

The conversation that brought this all about is neither here nor there, but it resulted in me essentially blurting out the truth about what I was feeling, and that only happened because I was under pressure.  The person admitted it could have gone horribly wrong, but they wanted to try a new tactic with me, which was to relentlessly push me in order to get me to say what it is.  Yes, it could have gone horribly wrong and I might have clammed up even more and become even more defensive.  But I didn’t.  They did the right thing.

So here it is.

And it might sound ridiculous, as often these things do when you say them out loud.  But trust me, it’s a scary thing to face.  And it does actually sound ridiculous when I say it out, I feel like a fraud saying it.

Over the years I have had many jobs and careers, jobs and careers I have loved.  From trainier, actor, photographer, marketing, chef and one could say I had some success in each of them.  Apart from me.  I fail to see my success in any of them.

I am surrounded by amazing family, friends and have a beautiful husband I adore, and yet I feel like I don’t deserve to have any of them in my life.

I have spent a lot of my life saying things like “I’m scared some day they’re going to realise I’m not a very nice person”  or “Some day they’re going to realise I’m no good at what I do”.  There will be a day someone finds out that I’m not the expert, or the kind soul they think I am, and that one day my life will fall apart around me, all because someone found out the truth about me, the truth that only I know.  That I’m just not good enough.

Imposter Syndrome 2

Success to some is what they strive for, for me I strive to just to do what I do, success belongs to others, and if it does come my way it’s not because I’ve earnt it it’s because of luck, or lack of judgement, or because there wasn’t any other choice.

Now, all this might seem like I’m a right miserable ass, but I’m not.  I don’t spend my whole time putting myself down, not consciously at least. Most of the time I happily get on with what it is I’m doing.   But when something good happens, it isn’t because of anything I did and therefore I dismiss it after the initial “well done” type of conversation.  When I’m put in the spotlight of recognition I go in to a blind internal panic.  All eyes are now scrutinising me and one of them will see it, one of them will see that this was a one off – it was a fluke that I managed to pull something together that warranted this temporary praise.

I’ve always strived for perfection.  I’ve learnt that’s a dangerous thing.  My line manager often tells me off for using the word “perfect” when it comes to my work.  They tell me they don’t want perfect.  So I’ve been working on that part.  It’s not been easy.  I have to fight the thoughts that what I’m producing just isn’t up to standard.  A standard set by me.  The problem with this is, that if I produce something that isn’t up to their standard, my inner thoughts turned to “They’ve caught you out”.  And so the spiral begins again and the panic and worry sets in.

I couldn’t tell you exactly when this all started.  I don’t remember it as a teenager, and even though when my anorexia was at it’s worst in my late teens and early twenties I don’t remember having these thoughts.  But if I really think that through, the reason I stopped feeding myself is because my body wasn’t up to scratch compared to others.  I was the flabby one, the blob, not the perfect physique.

It’s important to say that I don’t think I’m bad at everything I do, I just think that there’s someone who can do it better than me, who is more deserving than me, who should be getting the credit instead of me.

What I hadn’t realised it quite what effect this has had on me, and now, many years later, the deep-seated damage it has done to how I view myself and my place in this world.  When you start doubting that you don’t deserve the people around you, your family, friends and husband.  When you think they deserve better than you.  These little nagging doubts creep in from time to time and before you know it they’ve spiralled in to what I can only describe as a paranoia.

So why didn’t I say anything sooner?  Well – imagine if your worst fear is actually true.

Imposter Syndrome 1

I’m on the beginning of my journey right now.  A journey to learn more about it and more importantly, how to deal with it.   Having someone tell you you’re good at your job, or that you’re a kind-hearted guy, or they think you’re intelligent – it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t believe it.

So, my first question?  How do I start believing?  What do I need to do to start making a change?  I want to change.  I want to stop.  Nobody wants to live with these thoughts.  I can look back now and see the damage these thoughts have done – how many people have I pushed away from me because I thought it would be better for them if I weren’t in their lives any more?  Too many.

I’m glad there’s a name for this.  I’m glad I discovered Imposter Syndrome – although even saying it out loud makes me feel like a fraud. Maybe I am, maybe I don’t have it.  As I said earlier this is a self-diagnosis based on reading several sources – I can’t find anything as yet to make me think it’s wrong.  I don’t however know if I believe it or not yet.  But it’s a start, and it feels like it might help.  So, here we go.  Time to take my life back.  Time be a more open person.  Time to start liking myself.  Maybe one day it’ll be love, but I’ll make do with like for now.

Even writing this down has helped a little.  Makes me believe I will do something.

And even if it’s not Imposter Syndrome, even if this is something my brain has latched on to, just giving it a name has helped as it’s given me something I feel I can beat.  It’s no longer the unamed demon lurking in the background, it has a name and a form and it can now be beaten.

Every journey starts somewhere.  This particular journey for me starts here.

I’ve lost a lot of my life to these thoughts.  No more.

Plant of the Week

Callicarpa Giraldii “Profusion”

So, bringing you this weeks star and actually a new purchase.

I had seen this shrub before and forgot to look it up at the time and so forgot all about it, but I loved the purple colour of the berries and thought they would add good colour to the garden as winter approaches.

Then up it popped in this months Gardeners World Magazine so I found out what it was called, and then the following day when I went out shopping there it was.  I took it as a sign that I should buy one and so there it is, in the sunnier part of the woodland garden where it will sit alongside the Dogwood and the Holly to help add a dash of colour to the area.

Callicarpa giraldii Profusion

I’m regretting slightly having not purchased one last year as I might have a bigger plant by now, potentially I could have been more patient and found a bigger plant somewhere else, but then I wouldn’t have been able to call it fate, that would have to be classed as shopping!

 

Anway, I have one now and I can’t wait for it to grow!  That said, I’ve no idea what the actual growth rate is.  I’ve looked at 5 websites and found three different answers              2 x “Average”, 1 x “Moderate”, 2 x “Fast”, so it could be anything and I’ve not been able to find any specifics – I’m not really sure what any of those mean in terms of cm growth per year?  If anyone does, please let me know 🙂

Final height should be somewhere between 1.8-2m, with a spread of around 1.5m.  It is deciduous and I’ve read has pink flowers in the spring, I’ve only ever seen the berries so looking forward to the spring to see it in flower.  I’m hoping the growth rate is decent enough so that within a couple of years I have a decent height bush in the part of the garden.

With the Pyracantha in the garden in full berry, it’s nice to have some different colour berries elsewhere, and once everything else is depleted these will a bit more food for the birds in the garden.

This Weekends Garden Jobs

Well, there was a lot I had planned to do in the garden this weekend.  However, a sudden bout of heart palpitations, sweats, dizziness and bright lights meant it was all cut short.

After that little turn I decided the best thing I could do was just take it easy this weekend.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t get anything done though.

Before it all kicked off I pulled up all the Sunflowers that have nothing more to give, which now only leaves me with two plants that are full of flowers still.

The plan for the weekend was: pull up the sunflowers, mow the lawns, cut the Echinops down, clear the pond of bindweed and fallen leaves, but the edging in up in the woodland area.  There was also the remains of a field maple that needed digging out of the ground, and a shed load of weeding around the garden.

20171015_152921So, the first thing on my list was achieved – yay me!  Next I headed up to the woodland garden – bit of a grand name for a 10 x 10 metre area, but the idea is to get it feeling a bit more like a woodland.  I wasn’t going to do anything on this area until next year, but hey, plans can change.

I’d already put in a few plants, such as the holly and the dogwood, plus planted some cyclamen, oh and about 200 bulbs – hyacinth, miscansus, narcissi, bluebell and snowdrops.

This whole area started last year with the planting of about 18 Hazels to border it, some primrose and a plum tree.  We also put in three field maples.  The Hazel’s are well and truly established, although some are much bigger than others and as they’re now 3yrs old I’ll be able to start coppicing them from next year.  I’ve got 6 others elsewhere so have plenty to work with.  The whole area was then covered with weed-proof lining and a shed load of bark chippings put over the top.

The weed-proof lining didn’t work at all and it wasn’t long before the bind-weed and the grass started getting through.  I knew I’d have to do something about it, but as I said was putting this off until 2018.  I’m just too impatient.

And so I dug out my trench to put in the corrugated steel edging.  I only bought one roll as I wasn’t sure if I’d like it or not and wanted to try it before I spend out on more.  Now that it’s in the ground, I actually like it and so will get some more.  Once that was in I decided to remove the final Field Maple.   And it was this that did me in and brought an end to my gardening for this weekend.

It was bloody hard work.  I had to dig down about 3ft and work round the roots.  The ground is very sticky and compacted so it took a lot of breaking up to get anywhere.  After about 40 minutes I started feeling a bit odd and then had to sit down.

This means nothing more got done this weekend.  So these jobs need to be carried over to next week, so fingers crossed the weather holds out.

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There’s a lot of grass and nettles growing on this edge – I’m tempted to keep the nettles going as I know they attract a lot of insects, especially tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies.  I just need to keep them under control a bit as they were the dominant plant at this end of the garden and to be honest I was getting fed up with being stung.  That said, I don’t want to get rid of them completely.

20171015_152841Now, apart from a bit of weeding I don’t think I’ll much more to this area this year – just get the final edging in now I’ve tried it out.  The shoots of the bulbs are already showing in some places, so I don’t want to dig it all over again and disturb them.  Once we get to next year and the Weeping Birch is back in leaf and hopefully the Plum will be better too, I’ll think about the other plants I want to get in up here, such as the Harts Tongue Ferns and Sweet Woodruff.

Once this area is in place the real work will have to begin, as the corner plot behind it is in a right state at the moment.  There’s a massive Buddleia tree with brambles draping from it.  The previous owners dumped loads of wood, bricks, roof tiles, planks of wood and even an old steel day bed back here and it’s all been taken over by bind weed and nettles.  It’s going to take a lot of hard graft to clear it, but we’ve got the plan to turn it into a bit of secret  garden leading off of this woodland garden.  it could be lovely, we just have to do it!

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Pixels #15

Pets

If you can’t get a person to sit infront of your camera for you and you want to practice portraits – you can do worse than use your own pets.

I’m sure over the years we’ve all taken great snapshots of our dogs, cats, rabbits, gerbils, lizards etc, but how often have you looked at your pet and decided to use it to practice some portraiture work.  i.e. treat it like you would if you were photographing a person.

Our poor animals have been subjected to full on studio lighting and casual outdoor portraiture work – all in the name of practice as well as to have somenice pics of them.

It’s got to be said, when it’s something that moves alot it’s a bit more difficult than a person.  Plus you can tell someone exactly where to look and hold their head, you cannot do this with a cat or a dog.  They do not take this kind of instruction particularly well – so be happy if you can just get them to sit for more than two minutes.

The only trick I have up my sleeve for dogs is to hold my hand up where I want to them look and say “biscuit” – this gives me a couple of seconds before they leap up to investigate, but it does get them looking in the right place.

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For cats there is no trick other than patience.  I tend to wait for him to settle down and get comfy for a nap and then annoy him.  He’ll usually stick around for me to get a few decent shots before he turns his back and goes to sleep properly.  Occasionally I’ve been lucky and he’s just sat in the right place at the right time.

So, think about this – how would you photograph them if they were a person?  How would you light them, what kind of portrait are you taking?  How can you capture their character.  Every pet has a character – whether it’s reptile, mammal or fish, or bird, or anything else I might have missed.  Arachnid?  Insect?

Now obviously, not every portrait has to take place in a studio with full on lights, natural light or a simple fill light can bring out the best too.  Even when I photograph people I like to use natural light as much as possible too.

If I’ve learnt anything over the years when taking photos of animals, it’s patience.  Never assume it’ll be a quick photo and you’re done.

I’ll follow them around, roll on the floor with them, play with them and generally annoy them.  Then, after about 15 minutes I’ll start taking photos.  Be prepared though, I have also learnt that as soon as you get down to their level, some dogs like to come in close.  Really close.  I’ve had many smeared lenses. There is no such thing as a fail-safe, one glove fits all, plan when photographing pets.

I find that my success rate with pets is slightly less then it is when photographing people – this is down to the inability of an animal to understand “hold it there”.  But to be honest, that’s half the fun.  Some of my favourite pics have happened as the animal has moved.  A little bit of blur can be a good thing.  It can be frustrating as you wait for a certain behaviour and look and then they shake and ruin the whole photo.

Every time you pick up the camera you learn something new, every time you put someone different infront of it you learn something new.  The key is to have fun and learn.  Technique will continue to improve and that success rate will get better.  Just bear in mind the old adage of children and animals.  Only do work with them, it’s fun.

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Oh, and if the owner is happy for you to do it – have a pocketful of treats ready – these really help!

The Black Dog

I decided to take a week off of my usual Plant of the Week this week, as I’ve had this bubbling up for some time to write about.  I know PotW isn’t until Wednesday but I thought it wouldn’t hurt to take a weeks break and leave this up for a few days…

I hadn’t heard the phrase “The Black Dog” until about 2yrs ago.  I had never used it and I had never heard anyone else use it either.  I have openly talked about my own issues to people, both in the real world and in the virtual one and I’m not going to go in to detail on this blog, but I’ll give you an overview.

Black Dog is associated with depression, not used for all mental illnesses, but I think it covers well the feeling of anyone who reaches rock bottom where the light no longer shines at all.  A lot of mental illnesses lead to a feeling of depression and deep anxiety.  And lets just be clear – depression is more than just feeling a bit sad or a bit blue.  Depression can be absolutely devastating and debilatating.  We all have a few down days and dangerously the term “I feel a bit depressed” get’s overused and I fear weakens what it really means to those who suffer.

My story started when I was 17, so 28 years ago now – where does it go?   I was a skinny child who became a fat teenager.  At 17 I stopped eating.  My brain convinced me that I was disgustingly morbidly obese and ugly.  And so I stopped eating and was very ill.  Whilst to this day I remain fat, I do eat and have my demons under a certain amount of control – there are days when I struggle however and the voices remind me what I am.  I had one attempt on my life, and thought about it several other times when I was at my worst.  That’s what depression does to you.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I really became aware of others who so often battled demons of their own and so often lost those battles, as I once did, spiralling in to a place so dark they could see no way back.  Back then I felt so alone, like I was the only person that this was happening to.  How wrong I was.

tumblr_mgp8m44nQK1rn3h1to1_400-3491I have friends who suffer badly with depression, anxiety and inner voices.  Friends who every day fight off those inner voices, the negative thoughts and go on to fight another day.  For some this isn’t the case.  For some the voices and the thoughts become too much.  The causes and manifestations for each person may be different, but the end result is scarily similar.  It’s not nice to see someone destroy themselves from within, it’s even worse to be that person and having to go through it all in silence in your own head.

Help isn’t always easy to get.  Trust me.  Just talk to your GP and they’ll tell you that in spite of what Ms May and her merry band of underachievers are telling us – funding is being cut left, right and centre for help with Mental Illness.  They say it’s a huge priority for them and yet behind the scenes they are crucifying the service that is needed and playing with peoples lives.  So unless you’ve got a spare £1000+ to get the help you need privatelyyou can expect to be on a waiting list for quite some time.  Unless you actually hurt yourself or someone else you won’t be a priority because they don’t have the people in place to be able to cover everyone.

We are all a little bit broken in some way or another, we all have some insecurity or fear or nervousness about something, something that makes us squirm slightly when asked to do it or just to think about can bring on anxiety.  We are all people and we all deserve to be happy in some form.

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I’m one of the lucky ones, for now I remain on top of my voices shouting them down every minute of every day.  But it’s tiring and one day I might not beat them.  The thought of being in that place again is a scary one.  The thought that thousands and thousands of people around me are going through that is terrifying, upsetting and it makes me angry that the help isn’t there for them.

As luck would have it, today is World Mental Health Day.  I swear I didn’t time it for this, I only just found out as I was writing.  In truth it shouldn’t just be a day, every day should be that day.  We should all be looking out for each other constantly, not just for one day because someone reminded us.   But it serves as a good reminder, in the same way the Mental Health Week in May does, it does remind of us of something that we do forget about most of the time unless we’re the one’s living with it or with someone who suffers.  to most people it’s an invisible illness, there aren’t always physical symptoms and most people I know are pretty good at hiding it from the rest of the world when they need to.

So just be that wonderful thing we all like to talk about but don’t always end up being – be a human being.  Be a friend.  Be a shoulder or an ear.  You don’t have to know what to do or what to say – sometimes you don’t have to say anything.  Sometimes you just need to hold someone and let them cry, or sit and listen, or even sit in silence drinking tea so that someone else isn’t alone.  It might be a bit awkward, a bit strange and new, but you have no idea how such a simple act of kindness can change the way someone feels.

When you’re in a bad place it’s easy to think you’re all alone and the only person who’s going through it, a simple word from a stranger or a friend to say “You’re not on your own” can change someone’s world.  We, none of us, should ever be on our own when there’s so many people around us.  The help might not always be welcome – I was a horrible person to be near and wouldn’t let friends help – but even though I spurned them they didn’t go far away and they kept an eye and they were there when I was ready to let them in.  So don’t give up.

There is change happening, but there is still a stigma to mental health, I’ve seen it myself with attitudes of some people I’ve talked to.  Not everybody understands, but the more we talk about this, the more we say “It’s ok” the easier it will eventually become.  Workplaces still need to improve, there are some amazing places out there who get, but still some that just don’t.

There is no off button, there is no just getting over it, but it can get better with the right help and support, it can become a bit easier.  And it’s up to all of us to be there,  we have a responsibilty to each other.  In a moment when our world seems to be falling apart and full of hate, lets try and push the kindness a little bit harder.  Be more tolerant.  Be the person that steps up with a hand offered to help someone.

And if you’re in that place, looking for help, I hope someone steps forward for you.  You derserve it.

To all those I care deeply about know that you’re not alone.  To those I’ve never met and possibly never will – know that you’re not alone.    With 7.4 billion people on the planet, I would like to think, perhaps through slightly rose-tinted glasses – that someone has got someone elses back and nobody is truly alone in this world right now.

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