2016: the year of spaciousness

Because there's more to life than work


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Why is noticing nature important?

We’re all busy. It doesn’t matter if we only notice nature at weekends or on the telly on Countryfile, does it?

Well, any awareness is better than nothing, but it’s the daily stuff that makes the difference. It means we’re pausing out of our oh-so-busy lives and noticing what’s actually happening, right now. You can call it mindfulness if you want (very fashionable just now), but really it’s just being prepared to pay attention, to be alert to the possibility of wonderment in everyday life.

I’ve just walked into our kitchen to make a coffee, and a charm of goldfinches alighted at the top of our cherry tree for less than a minute. No time to take a picture – soon as I’d registered them they were off, away in a dipping and soaring cloud to their next vantage point. But they brought a smile to my face, and reminded me that this is the third time I’ve seen them this week, but with bigger numbers in the group each time.

I find that the things I notice in nature – the barn owl swooping over flooded fields seen from a train at dusk, the birdsong while I’m writing my to-do list at the start of the day, the daffodil giving me the first real hit of yellow this year – are the things that stay with me through the day and beyond.

Daffodil February GoldAnd I think that’s why we all need nature regularly – it’s the stuff that feeds our souls, that lifts us out of ourselves and helps us to notice what’s happening in the huge amazing world we inhabit. And yes, a flowering daffodil is just as much a part of that as the Amazonian rainforest, the Alps or the icy landscape of the Arctic – and it’s right here on our doorstep.

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Chill winds

Strong northerly breeze keeping temperatures well below zero all day today. I’m still getting over a bad chest infection from last week, so nature was absorbed today either at a remove through the car window, or in quick dashes between the car and the house.

Crocus in sunlight

Crocus tommasinianus

The light was amazing today though – pure blue sky and clear sunshine ensuring that every crocus in the garden was wide open. These are some of my favourite crocuses (I’ve written about them before here) as they seed themselves around so prolifically, and are much earlier to flower than the usual crocuses you see.  I love the contrast between the pale mauve outer petals and the deeper middle ones.

Crocus in bud

I suppose their origin in Eastern Europe accounts for their early bird nature – nothing much seems to affect these beautiful early blooms.

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New starts

Helleborus orientalis Feb 2016

Hellebore Oriental hybrid in vase

So with the sunshine today, felt it was time to dust off the blog and start to write again. I’d begun to feel tired with my old blog – it had been fun to keep a sort of online diary of things outside work, but there wasn’t a lot of purpose to it other than that.

Recently though, I’ve been thinking about taking it up again, and although the theme is still taking shape, I know roughly what I want to write about:

  • The importance of paying attention to nature on a daily basis – especially when you live in a town or city
  • The increasing ‘tidying up’ mania that seems to be affecting the few wild spaces in those areas
  • The need to manage our own space in a way that encourages nature even on a tiny scale – I call it ‘micro-wilding’. It’s not quite the rewilding movement (I’m not planning on any wolves in my garden, though we do well for smaller scale wildlife), but it’s a start.
  • Using what we see in nature as a source of inspiration for creative activity

I’m not sure yet how that will pan out, and I may ultimately move away from this blog to start a new one – but for now I’m just experimenting.

So the pic above? A Hellebore – one of the orientalis varieties, and flowering much earlier than usual after such a mild winter. A plant that really benefits from a ‘laissez faire’ approach to gardening. Notoriously difficult to raise from seed yourself (the seed has to be really fresh), left to their own devices they’ll happily provide you with lots of new seedlings each May/June that you can easily transplant elsewhere. If you’re an enthusiastic ‘weeder’ though, forget it, as you’ll have them up before you’ve realised what treasure you were throwing away. And treasure is the right word: you can easily pay between £5-10 for one of these at a garden centre.

Helleborus orientalis centre Feb 2016

Centre of Hellebore Oriental hybrids

Let nature do what it’s good at, and you’ll maximise beauty and save money. Not a lot in life that you can say that about!


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Blossom time

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This is proving to be a seriously good spring for all types of flowers – tulips are coming out all over the garden, the forget-me-nots are just getting into their stride and I don’t think I ever remember seeing so many flowers on the magnolia and camellia.

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IMG_2671To give you an idea of scale, I can just about stretch to reach the top of the magnolia, and the camellia outgrew me a few years back. We planted both of them the year we moved into this house over 20 years ago and they’ve brightened every spring since.

IMG_2672Today had been grey with low cloud until about 5pm when the sky cleared and there was the most amazing low angled sun lighting up all the flowers.

IMG_2677I’d been reading the Portraits of Wildflowers blog earlier today about the amazing wild flower meadows in Texas at this time of year and thinking how marvellous it must be to see that. But honestly, the forget-me-nots, celandines and all the other parts of an English spring aren’t half bad either.

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Ingredients for the perfect Saturday afternoon

Sunshine, warm enough to take your jacket off and roll your sleeves up.

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Miles of paths to wander and explore.

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Good company.

IMG_2531Loads of plants and wildlife – rabbits scattering ahead of us, buzzards and curlews wheeling overhead, and dazzling reed beds.

IMG_2536Quick drive home for a cafetiere of freshly ground coffee and a newly made Chocolate Guinness Cake.

IMG_2539Such an easy cake to make – one of Nigella’s recipes – and I follow the recipe exactly except I use half the icing sugar in the topping as I don’t like really sweet icing. It would be a great first cake to make as it’s such a simple technique and tastes absolutely sublime. It’s probably not that low calorie though, so we only make it on special occasions (it’s my birthday this week :-)).

IMG_2542Honestly, make it. You won’t regret it. Unless you are trying to wear something close fitting tomorrow.


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Soft light

IMG_2507The yellow and green of daffodils just seems to perfectly pick up the light at this time of year. The days are rapidly getting longer, and when I went for a run this afternoon there were sheets of crocuses out – so much earlier than last year.

IMG_2509White, yellow and green and this soft, low angled light just sum up spring to me.

IMG_2511IMG_2521I’m thinking that next weekend might involve a bit of tidying up the pots, buying some flower seeds and getting out of the office and into the fresh air of a new season. Can’t wait.


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Here comes the sun!

So fantastic to see blue skies this morning, and great mood booster. I have to say I was not in a good state of mind this morning: I’ve just been experiencing that horrible realisation that the hair cut I had on Friday that looked fab in the hairdressers, when washed and styled by me today makes me look like I cut it myself in a fit of temper. Why does this happen?? If any of you have hints on how to make an angled bob lie flat and look like it’s angled, rather than that you just stuck a bowl on your head and cut around it, please comment: I’ll be very grateful.

So while my lovely other half has gone to do the food shop so I could calm down (‘I can tell you’re not really up to it’), I thought a blog post would be just the thing to take my mind off it. So what’s been happening? Lots of cooking good stuff like the garlic and rosemary focaccia he made last week:

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Quite a bit of embroidery – really like the way the black embroidery over the colours makes it look like the leading on a Tiffany lamp:

IMG_2430And some admiring of the spring flowers that are starting to appear in the garden. So lovely to see colour again after all the grey and rain of January.

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IMG_2440The first crocuses are really starting to open out now, and saw the first of the Iris reticulatas this morning too.

IMG_2435These are incredibly tiny – the whole flower is about half the size of my thumb at the moment.

The hellebores are also getting into their stride – I’ve seen people arrange these by floating the flowerheads in a bowl like waterlilies, which is a great idea as the centres are so spectacular and you can’t admire them properly when they’re hanging down.

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Ah. That’s better. Diversionary tactics worked nicely. The haircut will grow out, and it’s not that big a deal in the scheme of things. Shining sun, spring on the way and a partner who’ll do a dull chore on his own to give me some time out – that’s the important stuff that’s worth celebrating.