Ivy, love it or hate it?

A lot has been written about Ivy or to give its latin name Hedera helix.  Often in my experience opinions of this rampant climber seem to fall into two categories.  On the one side it is harmless – let it be – on the other it is unsightly, invasive and there to be eradicated.  Like Marmite there is a definite love/hate divide!

My own personal view swings violently at times between the two.  Recent days have seen me crawling around on all fours through neglected and overgrown borders where Ivy has become the dominant plant.  Shrubs and small trees have lost their graceful identity – the deciduous have become evergreen all year now, clothed as they are in the twinning Ivy stems thick with glossy palmate leaves. Trees grown for their ornamental bark show only glimpses of the beauty beneath.  Some shrubs have become standards, lollipop like, top heavy all growth below strangled into submission.  Underneath the dense ivy covered earth few remaining ornamental ground cover plants survive.

Hours spent digging, pulling, teasing, cutting and extricating, sometimes laying prone on the ground to reach under and into the centre of large established shrubs have taken their toll on my joints, surprisingly for a change not my hip – a result possibly borne from hours spent strengthening in the gym and pool!

My wrists especially the more dominant right are sending out twinges of pain from my thumb through to the wrist whenever I rotate my hand.  With each twinge my love for this plant is being sorely tested although if I am honest the blame is not wholly down to Ivy.

Periods using frames, crutches and canes to aid my walking over the last few years have taken their toll on my right wrist, the latest after my left hip revision only a few months previous.  Furthermore this autumn the twisting, pushing action needed to plant over 700 bulbs including 300 in my own garden did little to promote   Diagnosed with tendonitis, I resorted to a splint for a good few weeks as a support while working, eventually it healed enough to garden without until the dreaded Ivy!

So far I have painted only the negative effects of Ivy, I must remind myself and you the reader some of its more friendly merits before I send you all rushing for the machete!

Hedera helix (Common Ivy), I much prefer the sound of old now rarely used ‘common names’ – ‘Bindwood’ and ‘Lovestone’ referencing the materials to which it would cling and grow over.  Images spring to mind of flower fairies from childhood books sitting on cushioned stones or swinging gently from long, looped stems.

Importance to wildlife – my forced clearing on ground level revealed ladybirds, beetles and other hibernating and sheltering insects. The dense covering not only providing cover would have lessened the hardening effects of frost allowing birds in the depth of winter to find food in otherwise frozen ground. High up empty nests were tucked away safe within its twining arms.

Collettes hederae (the Ivy bee) depends on its flowers from September timing its very existence around the occasion.  This little bee was first recorded on our shores in 2001 in Worth Matravers (Dorset).

Many winged insects including Bees, wasps, Moths, Butterflies and Hoverflies are all attracted to its plentiful food source and vital cover. In winter the berries that follow on from the flowers are a welcome food source for visiting birds.

The art of disguise – it does this so well – unsightly buildings, fences are all rendered unrecognisable quickly becoming green walls alive with life.  Telegraph poles – hard lines become softened, some with imaginative pruning become topiary subjects.

Ultimately Common Ivy by its very nature will always create a divide nevertheless for me its benefits to nature alone outweigh its sometimes unsightly – but rarely fatal – stranglehold on its hosts.  The now newly cleared borders are on first impressions quite devoid of its rambling presence, yet lurking unseen visible only to someone like me – commando crawling to the back and beyond – glossy leaves on now shortened stems will continue to help in natures cycle of life.

Luckily for me the Christmas holidays are almost upon us. I will be taking two weeks off from gardening hopefully giving my joints some time to recover.  With the forced distance between us ‘Lovestone’ and I will once more share a mutual respect when next we meet on ground level.  For now with the festive season in full swing, Christmas wreaths on doors, swags on mantles will continue to remind of its many attributes!








Adjusting in a Smaller Space

Moving to a much smaller garden although good from a less stressed hip point of view, has at times made me feel like a chicken with her wings clipped.  Like them I scratch about on the surface, my boundaries closer, with few places to expand in a ready-made garden and for the most part made well!

My long-suffering as he commutes home on a Friday will say this is a blessing.  He can feel safe in the knowledge there will be no grand labour intensive surprises, long lists – of the garden variety – or worry from watching his wife limping around from labouring overkill.  Few things at all in fact to interfere with his weekend sporting fixtures in front of the TV!  The biggest exertion for him most weekends since March is getting the mower out of the shed for the 15 minutes it takes to cut our much reduced – by at least 90 minutes in mowing time – the back lawn area.

In the early days when we were making our previous much-loved large neglected plot my term of endearment for my wonderful husband was not ‘long-suffering’ – he became this post accident. No my preferred choice was ‘Victor Meldrew’ inspired after the often morose fictional sitcom character from ‘One Foot in The Grave’, with his negative grumpy mutterings and dour face pulling every time I came up with a new spade wielding ‘project’, the resemblance was uncanny minus the bald head.

At the beginning of our gardening journey from winter 2000 and beyond especially while reconstructing the overgrown and hidden stream area his energy and enthusiasm was easily on a par with mine.  Unfortunately a few years of digging heavy clay soil – constantly wet in winter or rock hard in summer – gradually whittled away all the above.

Gardening  journal, excerpts from four years on…

17th Feb 2004.  Time was spent this morning evaluating the front grassed area resulting in my decision to turn a third into a new Kitchen garden.  After lunch I marked out the area to be fenced ie. rabbit proofed, with canes and string.  Later my excitement at relaying and showing my plans to Richard on his return from work was  severely tempered by a very grumpy ‘Victor Meldrew’ impression!

18th Feb 2004.  Not to be disheartened by Victor Meldrew – from hereon in for the purpose of this Journal shortened to VM – I have organised the position of the raised veg beds and rung round suppliers to acquire prices for posts, netting and hire of a turf cutter.

20th Feb 2004.  VM needs three weeks – only three!  Preparation for this new project I have thrown at him obviously needs contemplation time.  Very grumpy for the last two nights however there is light on the horizon I think with a bit more persuasion he will slowly come around to the idea.

24th Feb 2004.  Great excitement!  VM went to bed with yesterdays birthday present my new book ‘Making Gardens’, leading me to believe my kitchen garden and other ‘projects’ could soon after the prerequisite VM become a reality!

Although not on the grand scale as before I have still on occasion given Richard cause to put on his VM face even on our much reduced landscaped plot.  I write this with a smile on my face, so far borders have been extended, widened, trees thinned, rope swags erected for rambling roses, a new wild flower meadow in an existing front lawn, planted up with 300 bulbs and 300 native wild flower plugs.

I think over the last few months my wings have slowly grown back, whilst not needing to change the layout of  the hard landscaping areas, some of the planting needs much rejuvenation.  The question is how long can the confines of this garden sustain my free range ideas before I feel clipped once more?





Man versus Machine?

Not normally being one for using power tools, I have today succumbed to the lure of the Leaf Blower.  The reason for this in a word is gravel.  Our new house – as of March this year is surrounded by it in one form or another!

We have neighbours too with a shared gravel drive between the three properties and right of access for the farmer to tend his huge often waterlogged field.  Having neighbours comes with a certain sense of responsibility, especially when neat and tidy looks the norm!

For the last four days on my return from work my senses have been bombarded from both sides by the continuous – and after only a few minutes annoying sound of the leaf blower. For me nature, rake and broom have been my tools of choice in the matter of leaf disposal. However on all this gravel I fear it will become an evil necessity.

I have always found the sight of workers spending huge quantities of time blowing leaves from one place to another slightly amusing. As fast as they blow them in snaking orderly lines even a gentle breeze will whisk them up and distribute them back from whence they came starting the whole process again.

Of course there are other reasons to clear by hand, the whole body workout you get in the process is as good as any session spent in the gym.  The fresh air for another -petrol power tools by their very nature give off fumes, electric with the easy to cut cable can shock you or worse without a circuit breaker.

Well, with all the gravel and pressure of recent activity I had the opportunity to try one out today, thanks to my kind neighbour. The model offered was an electric Black and Decker with the blower attachment fitted – apparently it sucked as well with a different part fitted on.  A short tutorial, basically how to switch it on and I was ready to go

After plugging in and flicking the switch the force from the powered air jolted me backwards like the recoil from a rifle, I was momentarily stunned having not expected such a high power level for blowing around a few dried leaves?  Looking down I was dismayed to see that along with the leaves the gravel was now displaced and I was looking at a patch of bare driveway.

Unfortunately, before I could gather my wits and find the off switch more damage was being done, self seeded Myosotis ‘Forget me nots’ and Nigella ‘Love in the mist’ were being uprooted and flying across the drive at alarming speed along with more of the leaves, driveway and goodness knows what else!

Eventually finding the off switch calm and more importantly quiet was restored, well almost, apart from the security alarm from next door still emitting its constant beep now on day three. They return tonight!

It was my turn to be the butt of my own amusement, I felt I was acting out a scene from a cartoon sketch. With much trepidation I resumed blowing, it was a thankless task but did get easier once I had got to grips with the distance between blower and leaves.  In the end it was down to my long suffering husband to rescue me from this most mundane of mind numbing activities. He blew, I happily by hand gathered and disposed!

Verdict then…… Even surrounded as I am with a sea of gravel, very tidy neighbours and lots of leaf producing trees I will stick to rake, broom and for the leaves I happily leave behind Nature can reclaim as it sees fit with my blessing.








Why is my glass half empty?

I can honestly say pre accident I was always in the mindset of a glass half full.  An optimist even when things were going wrong as they sometimes were wont to do.  I was brought up to be strong anything else was considered a weakness which is why my mental state post accident completely threw me off balance and occasionally still does!

The thing about depression – even writing and admitting to the word now is distressing, it creeps up on you slowly, taking you unawares to a sinister dark place.  In the early days and months after, I was still quietly optimistic of my recovery.  Pain was ever present, however the edge was taken off by the vast quantities of prescribed medication. These in themselves caused their own set of problems in addition to those of my broken body.

At first I really was grateful to still be alive – I was so lucky as everyone kept telling me, and doing so well.  Outwardly I was, my broken bones were slowly healing, with relentless daily exercises I regained some mobility although walking unaided was still a long way off and unbeknown to me then would require more major surgery.

Inside I was drowning, pain my constant companion, grinding deep in my groin whenever weight was put through it. Moving my leg was haphazard at the best of times or in certain positions non existent no matter how hard I tried.

As the months wore on, life for those closest to me carried on more or less as normal –  other than supporting me in my recovery when time allowed.  I on the other hand started to spiral ever downwards becoming  resentful of their active lives.  My forced inactivity was slowly debilitating, not only to my body but my mind also was no longer able to find even one positive. I was stagnating, getting left behind, nothing interesting to say anymore. My progress had all but ceased.

Gardening should have saved me, at times it did briefly, but the beautiful garden we made from a neglected three quarters of an acre site with its lush streamside planting, deep borders, kitchen garden, wildflower meadow and pond became my frustration.

The garden sloped from front to back down to the stream over the bridge and up the other side to our boundary backing on to fields beyond.  For over a year the spring fed stream area – my favourite, was out of bounds to me unless I was accompanied, my hand held like a childs to steady me and prevent me from slipping.

I could only watch from the sidelines as my perfect partner worked alone in the little time he had to try and keep order, a never ending task!  Occasionally on a good day I could contribute but by mid summer the pain was unbearable.

At rock bottom I could see no future, the dynamics of my marriage had changed drastically – my husband had become my carer, I felt dull, old, lifeless, ashamed of what I had become, my pathetic attitude. What was wrong with me?  Other people were dying, losing limbs, homeless and more besides, my life by comparison was good!

My days were often spent in bed, the only place the pain would ease – so long as I stayed still.  I would lock the door, shut the curtains let the phone go to voice mail and ignore the doorbell. Seeing people was hard work the same question every time… ‘How are you today?’ Same answer ‘Fine’ conversation over. I had nothing to add, I no longer did anything of merit be it working or in my role as a wife and mother.

Thoughts of running away somewhere remote where I could hide from the world and my family and friends expectations of me were uppermost almost daily.  Google was my best friend for research.  It was at this point I was advised to start counselling sessions by my immediate – eight months later, needs assessor who had luckily for me realised from our conversations where I was heading.

Counselling was not the cure, but it did give me coping strategies and brought me back from the brink of an abyss.  Only when the debilitating pain eased the following year would my glass start to be half full once again.

Three years on from the brink I still flounder and panic when life gets complicated as it must.  I can have weeks where for no reason I become melancholy, unable to focus, distracted, tearful, frightened, my confidence plummets.  It is at these times my gardening really does save me, on my hands and knees working often in solitude I can lose myself, forget for a time those worries of the mind.

Removing dead and decaying plant matter today exposed the shoots from the first of the bulbs for next years display.  The sight of which prompted my half empty glass to become half full once more at the promise to come.



My parents both loved to garden although my mother had less time to indulge busy as she was running their village stores and off licence.  My father was twenty years older than my mother.  As I grew up – the youngest of four, he was by then semi-retired. His main jobs in the business were newspaper man, stocking up and serving on occasion in the off licence and all the general maintenance in and around the property.  This left plenty of time for looking after us younger children.

School holidays and weekends I was often to be found pottering outside in the garden with my father.  Sweet Peas and Snapdragons were his favourite, not for him the tricky latin names – Lathyrus odoratus and Antirrhinum respectively,  I was encouraged to learn throughout my horticultural training and working.

His way to garden was a relaxed romantic style, plants billowing over the edges every bit of earth planted, in contrast my Mothers preferred style was and still is of controlled formality.  Shrubs are kept small and regularly shaped, only plants that behave in an orderly fashion are allowed to stay, Hydrangeas rule.  Flopping is never allowed only bare earth between, devoid of all weeds and in autumn every last leaf!

However when it came to propagation my mother ruled.  Not for her following rigid instructions, she was an opportunist.  Cuttings, seeds, seedlings, the latter stuck in anyhow and any where grew strong healthy and productive, indeed her tomatoes were of show quality.  My father on the other hand following meticulous instruction from his trusty Readers Digest ‘The Gardening Year’ could only look on in despair as his carefully tended plants never quite showed the same promise or yield.

I like to think both their styles and techniques have been instrumental in shaping the type of gardener I am today.  My personal gardening style follows more my fathers relaxed approach, my own borders billow and undulate in an unruly fashion, that is on the surface…… Behind the scenes though I do exercise some of my mothers ‘crowd control’, thinning the thugs to allow the weaker plants to shine through.

My everyday work in Design and maintenance of gardens requires me to adopt both my parents approaches this manifests itself in design styles as Contemporary, Country, Formal, Informal and more besides.  Because of them I am able to shift easily between different styles respecting my clients individual tastes.

A few of my clients are new gardeners tentative, unsure where to start, many are elderly and have great knowledge and technique but not the strength to work as hard.  I hope to teach and inspire the learners as my elders continue to teach and inspire me.

Our gardens like us gardeners are all different and we like our gardens have to adapt to new and sometimes harsh challenges throughout the ever changing cycle of life.



The Main Event

This time of year much of the work in the garden involves preparing for the next years display whether that be planting spring bulbs, moving, dividing plants or as I have been doing today preparing the soil ready for late autumn planting of 3 bare root fruit trees.

The trees I am planting will never become full size orchard specimens, instead they will be trained on wires attached to short stout posts as stepovers to edge a border. The yields are not as high, however in a small space more varieties can be grown in this way. Preparation of the soil for all trees is the same no matter the size. The better the ground work before planting will give them the best chance to grow away with good strong root systems.

My trauma surgeon followed the same principle when he planned the surgery to put my pelvis back together. This meant that for the week following the accident my left leg was attached to a heavy weight hanging off the end of the bed, gradually pulling my leg out by degrees from within the shattered hip socket In preparation for the repair work to come.

The strength and fitness I had built up over the years- labouring in mine and other people’s gardens as well as swimming, cycling, keep-fit classes and Salsa dancing was about to stand me in good stead for the immediate future and beyond. Although the flip side of this in the months/years to come would be frustration at my forced inactivity.

In my hospital bed with my lower half rendered immobile, my upper body bore the brunt of any attempts at movement using the cold metal triangular hoist above my head. The heavy lead weight was forever dragging me down the bed, my arms were forever heaving me slowly-on account of the eight broken ribs back up. This scenario and others-think balancing on unstable cardboard bed pans, went on many times during that long painful week until this date back in 2012.

I was informed by a nurse the day before that I was ‘The Main Event’and would be going down for surgery at 9am. I had briefly met the lead surgeon earlier in the week to outline his plan of action. My short list of questions were at the ready, in the event my mind a jumble with all the strong medication and information I could only ask one ‘will I be able to dance again?’ He chose to evade giving an answer. A removable filter was to be inserted in my neck the day before surgery, this would catch/break up any clots to reduce the chances of me suffering a possible fatal embolism on the table! At this point as I signed the consent form I found myself wondering with the seriousness of the upcoming surgery, would the night before be the last time I ever saw my family again. My morbid thoughts were threatening to overwhelm me……….

Thanks to good pre op preparations – many painful X-rays, traction, blood transfusions and more my surgeon gave himself during the 7 1/2 hour operation the best chance to fix my shattered bones and in turn gave me the best chance to grow strong once again. I was hopeful my damaged nerves would slowly like the fine roots beneath the trees grow out and in time along with my damaged bones and muscles stabilise my body to walk and eventually stand tall once again.





Leaves glorious Leaves

My new watch arrived yesterday a week early, not only does it tell the time but tracks and records my activity levels amongst other things.  Waterproof to 50m – an added bonus for me a regular swimmer all my life. The last four years especially, the water has been my lifeline helping me to walk again. In water there was freedom my limbs could move freely – albeit not always in the right direction. I felt like me before…and then I would have to get out. Back on poolside I was Quasimodo again, limping on my uneven legs, trying to control the sticks from slipping on the wet floors, fear and pain with every step. The challenges of the changing room another story…..

This morning I decided to put my watch to the test.  After a night of heavy rain and strong winds I left home early to drive to my local pool. There is something about being up and out at the crack of dawn, you get to see magical sights that later on completely disappear as the world wakes up. This morning the headlights of my 4×4 revealed the beauty of untouched fallen leaves. They lay on the road in a thick layer covering every inch of the tarmac like a never ending soft eiderdown illuminated in shades of burnt orange, brown, red and gold. The roads became like tracks through fairy tale woods enclosed for miles by the tall hedges and trees on either side of me as I left my village in rural Dorset.

At the centre, my watch set to 25m pool swim I plunged into the cool water. At the end of the session a quick check of my watch revealed it was still watertight. All I had to do was stop the activity counter. Sounds simple!

The first problem was flashing instructions on the watch face, without my reading glasses I could not read the small print. There followed much pressing, swiping and tapping to no avail except to cause reboot!

Back in the car, watch rebooted, in the natural daylight I could just about make out the message on screen. Turn dial to expel water – ok I thought it was watertight! Water expelled and looks like my activity counter has stopped itself.

This time of year out of doors there is no getting away from the leaves, I love nothing better than spending a couple of hours raking them up into neat piles or spreading them as a mulch under the hedges. This was my first job today for a client. The worms had already started working them down into the lawn to decompose and feed the many organisms below. Above ground a robin foraged amongst them looking for his next meal.

After an hour or so of brisk raking I checked my watch to see how much energy I had used only to see it was still on swimming mode, I had now swum 148 lengths and counting! Obviously a lot to learn on the watch front but for now I didn’t need technology the sun was shining, the cold wind was chilling I was doing a job I love in the great outdoors surrounded by Leaves glorious Leaves.