Tuesday, 26 August 2014

August flowers

I hope you had a good bank holiday weekend. It's been too cold for summer and has felt rather miserable in South London - the sky was filled with rain and dark clouds for the last few days. But it meant a lovely afternoon spent making a compilation MiniDisc (don't ask) for an upcoming trip to Wales - here's my sketch for #DrawingAugust yesterday.

Here are some flowery photos from this month. Pink cleome and white Cosmos 'Sensation' by a fence.

The first Delphinium 'Galahad' to flower. I was very happy about this!

Beautiful lavender-coloured flowers on scented lavender mint.

The cool silvery leaves of Senacio cineraria were warmed up by the bright, dandelion-like flowers.

The dedicated cut flower patch has grown into a bit of a monster. Cornflowers and panicum are hidden behind ammi at the back, whereas cosmos is over 150cm tall at the front with stems as thick as rhubarb. Yes, yes, I got things back to front. I live and learn! I let my sweet peas go to seed and have collected a few bags of seeds for the first time. I've no idea if I've done it properly - I'll have to see what happens when I try to grow them. I gave some to the lovely Sara Willman who I met in London when she and her husband visited the city last week. I also collected some panicum seeds, but as you can see from her photos, she has no need for grass seeds! Here's the only red zinnia from my 'Early Wonder' mix with sweet pea pods.

I can't wait for more sweet peas next year. And I'll try to grow more autumn-sown cornflowers successfully this time.

The pollen from cosmos is a pain when arranging flowers, but it's all for a good cause - the pollinators love it.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Single dancing cosmos

A single cosmos, left over from one of the cut flower buckets, seemed to dance amongst the leftover gentian, scabious, snapdragons and garden roses.

I hadn't included it in the leftovers posy at first...

But then...

There was a single pale peach rose, which I left in a co-ordinating 'Pear and Rose Syrup' juice bottle from Brogdale. Such a sweet scent and a perfect bloom.

I'm doing things backwards today, and finishing with the main event. A big bouquet, stuffed with flowers from the garden - cosmos, ammi, borage, zinnias, phlox, cleome, delphiniums, panicum and escallonia. There were also gorgeous blue scabious and gentian, and dark crimson snapdragons from the market. Not much scent in this one, but lots of texture and a beautiful white-pink-red-blue colour scheme.

That's a wrap!

Friday, 15 August 2014

What's your type?

Romantic? There were so many pink, blousy roses, they were perfect for a romantic, fluffy bouquet, with white scented phlox, pink and white cleome, floaty white ammi, and fairy dust-like panicum.

Old-fashioned? Peach and pink roses, mixed with lavender, borage and orange thyme, made for a old-fashioned, scented posy.

Opposites attract? I love the combination of cerise and lime green. Nicotiana 'Lime Green' has proved to be a brilliant cut flower, and the plants do well indoors too, releasing their gorgeous scent at night. These were leftovers which were used to brighten up the bathroom - a room that I never would have considered decorating with flowers until I read Jane Packer's wonderful book, At Home with Flowers! The other flowers are Cosmos 'Sensation', Zinnia 'Purple Prince', cornflowers and sweet-smelling sweet peas.

Scatty Scarlett? The late Charlotte Coleman played Scarlett in Four Weddings and a Funeral, wearing an outfit that Gareth (Simon Callow) described as "ecclesiastical purple and the pagan orange symbolizing the mystical symbiosis in marriage between the heathen and Christian traditions." Nothing so philosophical was going on here; I just wanted to show Ben "Higgledy Garden" (who provided my borage and nicotiana seeds) that girls like purple and orange flowers too! These were verbena bonariensis and an orange zinnia.

Neighbourly? Pink, purple and blue sit next to each other on the colour wheel, and are one of my favourite colour combinations. Here are pink zinnias from the mixture of 'Early Wonder' colours, purple verbena, and blue borage.

As you've probably gathered, I don't really have a type. Although if I had to choose, I'd go for scented and old-fashioned. I like lots of different combinations of flowers - sometimes I don't know what works and what doesn't until I put them together. 

Pick flowers from the garden, or get bunches from the florist, and try putting them together in different ways. If you don't think you have a good eye for colour, this lopsided colour wheel might help. I had to create it for a floristry assignment when I did my diploma...I'm shuddering at the memory! The true colour or hue is on the outside ring, followed by the tint (hue+white), the shade (hue+black), and the tone (hue+grey).

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

On suicide, bereavement, and being a good friend

In the work I've been doing recently for a bereavement service, I sometimes have to ground myself to prevent tears rising up. It feels like an honour to sit there with someone as they tell you about the person they loved and still love, the death, and the effect it has had on them. But sometimes it's terribly sad, and I feel there's nothing helpful I can do or say, other than to just hold that sadness (and anger and other feelings) with the person sat in front of me.

Yesterday morning, along with millions of other people, I woke up to the news that Robin Williams had died. It was reported that he had severe depression and had killed himself. And like millions of others who were strangers to him, I couldn't believe it. We didn't know him, had never met him, but his tremendous voice and his energetic presence played in our living rooms time after time. Although many of us admired his darker work like Insomnia and One Hour Photo, and his dramatic roles in Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting, it was his (often improvised) comedy that we'd enjoyed so much. Aladdin was the first film I took my sister to see at the cinema. It was the old cinema in Sidcup which is no longer there. I don't know what she understood, but she giggled a lot. I bought the VHS for her and she watched it every day.

It seemed deeply unfair that a person who brought so much kindness and laughter to others could feel so unhappy. As I read the news, I found myself crying. I don't often cry at the news - I think the last time was when I saw the filmed reports when David Cameron visited Sri Lanka. I wasn't sure why I was crying at first yesterday, but then I realised it was probably to do with my friend.

My friend took her life over a decade ago. I don't want to share her name here out of respect for her family and also because I hate the idea of people Googling her name and seeing links to horrible tabloid reports that don't represent the young woman I knew. I found out through my boyfriend at the time - his boss had read the report about my friend in a tabloid, and wondered if I knew her. I remember the phone call from him almost word for word. And I remember the phone call a few hours later, to my friend's boyfriend. I will never forget his kindness to me during that call. At the time of her death, my friend and I weren't speaking. A stupid, childish argument that was never resolved, despite her attempt to reconcile things at one point. But her boyfriend didn't care about that; he said my friend knew I cared about her and she would have wanted me at her funeral. It was the first funeral I went to.

I still think about her. I wonder what sort of woman she would have grown into, whether she would have stayed in the job she was doing or changed careers, whether she and her boyfriend would have got married, or whether she would have met someone new or just been happy on her own. I wondered if she would have had children and what they would have been like; she was one of the most maternal people I knew at that time. And more than anything, I wonder if she would have been unhappy or content.

I'm agnostic, which leaves me in a bit of a no man's land as far as life after death is concerned. If someone asks me, "Do you believe in life after death?" I'll answer, "No." Logically, impulsively - no, I don't. But somewhere, I don't believe in something but I feel something. Memories, I guess. But they don't feel stuck in the past to me. My memories of my friend are as much as a part of my present and future as my past. I don't want to forget her. She deserves to be remembered. So I sometimes think of her. I sometimes have a one-way conversation with her in my head (this is fairly normal bereaved behaviour, by the way!). I've donated to charity on her behalf for her anniversary. I've written her a letter I'll never send.

Once the shock and sadness had subsided, guilt was the overriding feeling after she died. I imagine a lot of suicides leave the bereaved feeling angry or guilty. Or both. I wasn't angry, not at her, and can't ever imagine feeling that towards her. I feel sad that she was so troubled, and guilty that I wasn't there when she needed a friend. I don't believe I could have "stopped her", but...I don't know. Maybe she'd have felt the tiniest bit less alone. I don't know. Maybe it's just selfish of me. I was just someone who was friends with her for a fairly short time. What on earth have her family and boyfriend been going through?

After yesterday's eventful morning, and a slight reprieve photographing the supermoon, I threw myself into my flowers for the day and was so grateful for the peace that they give me. I had to deliver flowers on the train...and found myself crying again. Although I stopped long before I got to the front door. I left a lonely bouquet at the train station - I hope it brightened someone's day.

When I got home, I cut for myself a Genova dahlia, a Galahad delphinium, and made a tiny posy of Cariad David Austin roses, phlox, verbena, mint, and my only red zinnia. Zinnia = I mourn your absence, phlox = our souls are united, verbena = pray for me, mint = warmth.

If you are feeling depressed or have thoughts of ending your life, no matter how small or fleeting the thoughts are, please talk to someone:

In the UK, you can contact the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90, or Mind (who can provide details of local mental health services), or your GP. The BACP has a list of accredited therapists who you can contact directly.

In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. 

And if you are friends with someone who has depression, please contact them as often as you can and don't ignore them when they reach out to you. People say, "You can ring me anytime", but it's not as simple as that - depression and anxiety can be debilitating and soul-sapping. The idea of phoning someone can be terrifying, and the disappointment when people don't answer the phone or ring back can be huge. You don't have to talk for hours, but a real conversation with a real person can make such a difference.

I'm fortunate to have a lovely friend called Tracey who calls me and chats for hours on end. When I was going through a hard time last year, she sent me a different "How many...does it take to change a lightbulb" joke every single day for a month - by postcard, text message or Facebook. I think Robin Williams would have been proud of her.


I don't think I'd heard of the term "supermoon" until a few days ago. On Sunday night, I went outside to take photos of this giant spectacle that people were talking about, only to see that my view of the sky was obstructed by clouds and the odd helicopter. When eventually I did see the moon, there were too many trees to take a decent photo. I gave up and went to bed.

The next day, I came down early to cut flowers from the garden. I looked for the moon but it was hidden behind clouds. The sky was pretty though.

On Tuesday morning I woke early to the news that Robin Williams had died. I'll post about that separately. I was weepy and unhappy, but while I waited for the kettle to boil, I looked outside. There was the moon, looking clear and bright. I took this photo at 4.40am (ISO 400, f/14, exposure 1/40 sec). Most of the other photos were too bright - I have no idea what settings to use for night photography (as you may have gathered, I like to learn through trial and error), and the moon looked like a glowing star in half of the pictures!

After I'd finished my tea and the sky looked lighter, I went back and took a few more photos at 5.20am (ISO 1000, f/7.1, 1/500 sec).

I tried to get next door's beautiful buddleia in some photos too, but couldn't focus on both of them (f/5.6, 1/320 sec, and the photo at the top of the post is 1/400 sec).

Monday, 11 August 2014

Basil and borage

This is a photo of some basil ice cream I made last week and borage iced-water. Yes, really - ice cream made with basil. I saw that Sarah Raven had posted a recipe for it, and I thought I would make it, since I've been growing basil but don't enjoy cooking. Basil ice cream does sound odd, but then mint chocolate ice cream is well established (I once saw a little boy cry, "But I wanted mint chocolate!" when he was mistakenly given chocolate ice cream at Marrocco's in Hove). Basil isn't so very different from mint, is it? Although in flower language, mint means "warmth" and basil means "hate" - which is why I never use basil in arrangements.

I've never made ice cream before and I don't have a churner, or common sense. I used a liquidiser to blend the ingredients, and probably should have used an electric mixer instead. But I took it out and mixed it after an hour in the freezer, and after another couple of hours it was ice cream. And it was delicious - honestly! I used a quarter of the recipe; I don't entertain much and ice cream isn't exactly the sort of thing I can take to a friend's on overheated London trains.

I've also been making borage ice cubes, which gives water a lovely cucumber taste. I think borage is the most versatile flower I've grown - it looks great in arrangements, the bees love it, it's edible, and it looks pretty decorating food. If you've never used it, consider growing it next year. I got my seeds from Higgledy Garden. I have so many borage plants, I gave some to a friend who needs to attract bees to her garden for some of her vegetables to fruit.

And those of you who are still unsure about using basil in ice cream may be relieved to know that I used homegrown basil, tomatoes and a red pepper to make soup. Does that sound a bit better?

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

A taster post: Brogdale in August

...with a longer post to follow. It's a bereavement counselling day today (which I'm really enjoying, by the way), which means less time to research and write for pleasure.

As you can see, Brogdale is looking very different from my blossom-filled visit in April - not least because I remembered to borrow a camera this time! The photo at the top is of cobnuts (hazelnuts) which are almost ready - the guide, Tony, said the squirrels are clever and are waiting until they're at their best. Then apples, and below are greengages - a type of plum. I was too late for cherries and apricots - I will need to be on the ball and visit promptly next year.

The apple below is Devonshire Quarrande and the plum has no proper name but has the label WJ 106 2/4.

Get down to Faversham if you can and go on a guided tour - you'll learn more, see more, and be able to taste the fruit (which you can't on a self-guided tour, where you also have to stick to the path). Brogdale holds the national fruit collection, so you'll get to see and sample varieties that you would never find in the shops. I tried greengages for the first time - these ones are called Russian Greengage and they were so delicious!