Welcome to My Garden!

Another week has gone by and we’re deep into June. 2020 seems to be becoming the year that wasn’t – well, in terms of normal life, that is. Here in the UK we’re still in lockdown, although tentative steps are being taken to re-open society up again. Shops like IKEA and DFS have re-opened and were jammed solid with hordes of people who decided the chance to buy furniture and knickknacks was more important that staying safe and maintaining social distancing.

I’m afraid I can’t fathom why shops like this are considered essential and yet safari parks still remain closed. Surely the fact that you stay in your own car and drive around the park looking at animals from behind firmly sealed windows makes it the perfect isolation visit? I know the actual drive around bit is only one component of a safari park, but surely there is less chance of catching anything in an open-air park, so long as sensible measures were put in place, than crammed into the narrow aisles of an IKEA with dozens of other people? But mine is not to wonder why…

Primary school children were all set to return to school, then the government did a major U-turn and now nobody knows precisely what is happening. As for me, well, my store re-opens tomorrow, but only for the full-time staff. The company is assuming that the store won’t be busy enough in the beginning to justify a full complement of staff so will be assessing the situation on a fortnightly basis. But, if the state of IKEA and DFS are anything to go by, I have a feeling I will be returning sooner rather than later. I have mixed feelings about this. Yes, I want companies to be able to open and hopefully pull themselves back to pre-virus levels – if that’s possible – and of course I want people to stop getting sick and for the death rate to drop. But I can’t help wondering if we’re rushing to get back to normal a little too fast. Again, I am not the one making the decisions and I suppose we will just have to wait and see, and I will keep you posted about my own personal circumstances.

Several of you have contacted me about Skittles the cat. Enquiring if she is alright now and if she’s grown to love her recovery vest. I’m afraid she’s still not loving the vest, although she has stopped falling over each time we put her in it. I wish they made this vest in human size, because it seems to induce a state of sleepiness in her. I know she’s a cat, and sleeping is what cats do, but she sleeps now all the time. We put the vest on her first thing in the morning, and wham, she instantly curls up and goes to sleep on the sofa and that’s where she stays all day.

What’s new Pussy Cat?

We remove the vest last thing at night and use the antibacterial wash on the wound to slow down her frenzied licking of it. We dare not leave her in the vest unattended, as she’s already managed to catch her jaw in the sleeve and got her leg stuck in the opening at an awkward angle. The wound is definitely starting to heal and there’s signs of new skin growing over the abrasion. I think we’ll all be relieved when she’s healed and we no longer have to worry about putting vests on her, or have a cat litter tray in the kitchen, which I find totally gross.

June is officially the first month of summer, so of course it’s not stopped raining all week and the temperature has plummeted from the gorgeous hot sunny days of April and May, to damp, overcast and chilly days that turn into evenings cold enough to justify lighting a fire.

I have managed to do a few more bits and pieces in the garden, and as promised, below is a tour of my tiny plot. There is still a lot to be done, including buying more plants, but during these difficult times it has been hard to get what I wanted so some of it will have to wait.

Gardens are so intensely personal. To me, my garden is like an outdoor room – I can only fit at most six people around my tiny dining room table, but can fit up to ten people around my outdoor table – so it’s a wonderful space for entertaining (weather allowing). When I first moved in thirty years ago, the garden was the site of many a party and barbecue. Back then, most of my friends either still lived with their parents or, if they had moved away from home, lived in tiny, garden-less flats or even in single, rented rooms.

I remember towards the end of one barbecue, I was in the kitchen with some other girls attempting to clear away the aftermath when a friend came in and asked where I kept my coal, wood, and kindling. Confused, I told him down the cellar and watched as he and a couple of other guys bombed down there and came up with armfuls each. Now very curious, we followed them out into the garden and found that a campfire had been started in an old, large, galvanised metal bucket I’d put out there and half-filled with sand for the smokers to put their cigarette remains in. Back then, quite a few of my friends still smoked and I didn’t want butts all over my garden.

Apparently, in an attempt to be helpful, those left in the garden had gathered up the old greasy paper napkins and thrown them into the bucket, where they promptly caught fire from a still smouldering cigarette end. Hey presto, a make-do firepit had been created. Brilliant, they thought, then trooped in to get more combustible material to get a proper fire going.

Pulling our chairs around the flames, we sat there for hours in the gathering darkness, feeding the fire until it blazed up and warmed our faces, while I quickly ran inside and gathered up blankets, shawls, and jumpers to pull around us to keep out backs warm. It was magical and that bucket campfire quickly became a tradition. At the end of every party and barbecue – and we had quite a few back then – everyone would help me clear away and then we’d pull our chairs into a circle around it and sit there and drink and toast marshmallows, swapping stories and telling jokes. I wonder what happened to that old bucket, I think in the end all those fires probably took their toll and it had to be thrown away. Such a simple thing, yet what great memories I have of those long ago, summer evenings.

Anyway, on with tour, and we’ll start by walking out of the back door. Like most Victorian and Edwardian properties, my house has what is called a return running down the side of the kitchen to the garden at the back. It’s a small area, basically just a path, but with a bit of imagination it can still be an attractive place.

Looking out of my dining room window, you can see my freshly painted blue fences. Yes, blue. There are a whole range of fabulous fence and shed paints around now and no law that says fences can only be a shade of brown. That’s boring. Have fun, don’t be afraid to splash out with a bit of colour. And look how amazing the herbs on the window sill look against the blue backdrop.

Looking back at the back door, herbs on the dining room window sill so they’re nice and handy – parsley, thyme, and chives.
And a basket of mint – as you can see, it’s raining
I love having quirky – even kitsch – things in my garden
The world’s tiniest water feature – but it sounds wonderful on a summer’s day
I’ve always wanted a Green Man plaque, and over the water feature is the perfect home for him

Turn the corner at the bottom of the return and you’ll find my pergola which was built for me by my brother. I’ve always wanted a round table as I think they’re a lot friendlier and everyone can be included in the conversation that is bouncing around.

I can fit up to ten people around this table if we all squeeze in a bit.

I found these three screens at a junk yard. They are an ongoing project and I’m waiting for the plants to die down in the autumn so I can take them down, wire brush them and then paint them with a cream metal paint and pick out the leaves in a blue metal paint. I love how they stand at the bottom of the return and you can see hints through them of the garden beyond.

Looking out from under the pergola into the garden and my tiny shed. Those planter boxes are actually made of poured concrete designed to look like driftwood. They will never rot and need no maintenance. They cost a lot but were totally worth it.

Is this the world’s smallest shed?
Looking towards the bottom corner of the garden
This is my favourite place in the garden to sit
Gate leading to the back alley out of my garden. That wall is over 100 years old!
Look how the plants stand out against the blue fence
Built in BBQ to save space
There’s even room for a large garden bed – the bottom swivels out and there’s a huge cushion that goes on top
I’ve had my stone cat for over twenty years! See the “grain” in the concrete planter
I love hares! So when I saw this moon gazing hare I had to have him.
Fill your garden with oddities that make you happy
I trampled my ferns down when painting the fence, but I’m sure they’ll bounce back up
Looking back at the seating area under the pergola
This is the silver birch tree when I planted it in 2006 – with Miss F posing in front of it
This is it in about 2010
Look at it now!

As you can see, it’s a tiny space but boy have I crammed a lot in there. Those of you who read my blog of two weeks ago know how many transformations the garden has been through to reach this stage. I’m finally on the home straight, a few more touches and it will be finished.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my photographic tour of my garden and that maybe it’s given you a few ideas how to make your own outdoor space special, and a reflection of your personality.

A shorter blog this week, but hopefully all the pictures make up for that. Take care of yourselves. Stay safe and stay healthy and I look forward to chatting with you all next Sunday.

Regards

Julia Blake

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