It’s a Jungle Out There

We all love creatures great and small, right. I would far rather employ the birds and bees than use chemical bug control and so we go to great lengths to entice them into our garden. But then there is the small matter of our six cats to consider. And so we constructed the Catio: By encasing the pergola surrounding our 27ft x 8ft patio with wire mesh, we created a safe outdoor environment for our cats to enjoy fresh air and exercise, whilst protecting the wildlife in the garden from their basic killer instincts!

Cats in the Catio

© Caroline Broome – Cats in the Catio.

It also allows us to enjoy watching the birdies on our several feeding stations, the main one being no more than a metre from the enclosure. And most pertinent of all, I’ve got myself an amazing micro climate in which I can grow tender perennials such as Cannas, Abutilons and Eucomis and extend the annual summer displays well into November.

All creatures great and small seem quite relaxed in each other’s company, especially the starlings: their manners certainly are! I think pigeons get a bad name; we have two ferals and one wood pigeon as regular visitors and they never mess on their own doorstep, obligingly hoovering up all the scattered bird seed that the aptly named chatter of starlings fling all over the show. 

Mealworms, that’s what’s caused all this riotous behaviour. In early Spring the bird feeder started getting regular visits from a pair of starlings, which I now recognise as a scouting party. Nature having taken its course, within a month or two the fledglings had joined their parents, squawking impatiently to be fed. Ahh, how cute they looked, isn’t nature wonderful. Then word got out to all their relatives and before you know it there were 17 of them (all under the watchful eyes of our cats, a mere paw’s snatch away, under the protective custody of the Catio!) I’m having to refill the feeders twice daily; it’s costing me more to feed the birds than it is to feed the cats, I swear. The chaffinches and tits love the white sunflower seeds, the robins favour the suet blocks as does the woodpecker. Black sunflower seeds, so popular last year, are last resort, so fickle! I’ve even managed to train the squirrels (yeah, right) onto their own bird feeder further up the garden. Yes readers, the caged feeders do deter the squirrels.

Regrettably however, the 25mm mesh surround does not keep out fledglings, frogs or mice. So far, our Siamese kitten Ethel (named after my beloved 106-year-old friend who died last year) has bagged two mice (deceased) and several frogs (survived – clearly more robust.)

Fledglings, frogs and mice

©Caroline Broome – Fledglings, frogs and mice have all made their way through the mesh of the Catio.

The last frog escaped with its life by crawling into the cup of my bra (not, I am relieved to say, while I was wearing it) in the laundry room. But the highlight of our wildlife adventure has been the Female Emperor Dragonfly resting on a Miscanthus grass in the front garden. (Good job that never got in the house.)

Female emperor dragon fly

© Caroline Broome – The Female Emperor Dragon Fly.

We’re very lucky to attract so many birds, due no doubt to numerous large mature trees surrounding us in neighbouring gardens and the church yard. But a mile away in the Hampstead Garden Suburb several Hort Soc friends’ gardens back onto Big Wood. One such garden regularly welcomes woodpeckers, parakeets and goldfinches on a daily basis. Unbelievable racket! Surely Alfred Hitchcock took his inspiration for The Birds from The Suburb! On our NGS Group Open Garden Day recently (we raised £9000 by the way, she mentions nonchalantly) another woodland garden attracted a very friendly bird. It seemed quite at home, hopping around on the drive, amongst the throngs. It even ate out of one visitor’s hand and another identified it as a White Eared Iraqi Bulbul: Many Iraqis owns Bulbuls as pets, and they are considered to be one of the smartest and most intelligent birds on earth. This one certainly wasn’t daft as it soon sussed out the best tea and cake in the group. Hope it was reunited with its owners though, no doubt it was mentioned in despatches on the Suburb Chatline.

 Iraqi Bulbul bird

© Caroline Broome – Me and my new friend the Iraqi Bulbul bird.

Talking of which, when the Hort Soc opened for the NGS in 2017 we held a children’s treasure hunt: a model bird or animal was placed in each of the Open Gardens for the children to find, (on loan – the ornaments not the children – from our very supportive local nursery.) Quite a few garden owners bought theirs afterwards, including our esteemed Chair Doc Page, whose eagle befit his status! Having perched it on the apex of his greenhouse he then posted a photo of it on the Suburb Chatline. Had several residents in quite a flap apparently………(pardon the pun)

Catch up with you all later……..Caroline

A Tyranny of Pots

Seed Sowing

© Thompson & Morgan – Seed Sowing

Lately I’ve been thinking about this Plastics recycling issue; it’s really starting to bother me. Everywhere I look I see plastic pots, black ones, terracotta ones, grey ones, yellow, green, blue ones. The collective noun for pots is a stack of pots or a row of pots. I see it more as a tyranny of pots! Now, I admit that I am obsessive about order and like to ‘do the right thing’ but even I can lapse occasionally. If I try to sneak a plastic pot (or a dozen) into the black bin I am overcome with guilt. How can I preach the Recycle gospel if I’m not totally committed myself? I’ve tried leaving said pots on our front garden wall for neighbours to help themselves to no avail, in fact there is such a plethora of plastic pots (ooh alliteration) amongst us gardeners I’m surprised passers-by haven’t added their own! So what to do? Well, necessity being the mother of all invention I have become quite ingenious: 

  • I wash them all as I go along, then stack them by size and colour, oh yes, and shape, along the bottom shelves of my greenhouse.  We can’t have square pots, tall pots and round pots in the same stack, can we?
  • I’ve stopped (ish*) using plastic plant labels, opting instead for writing the contents of the pot onto the pot itself.
  • Once you start reusing the pots do remember to include the potting date each time and cross out the name of the last occupant; it’s surprisingly easy to mistake a petunia plug for last year’s osteospurmum. (* Of course, that won’t work on black pots.)
  • So I’ve been using the black pots up-turned in the bottom of large patio containers instead of crocks, much lighter and less soil used.
  • By cutting off the base of small pots you can use them as protective collars around juvenile tomatoes and cucumbers.
  • Ditto larger pots around border perennials to protect their early growth from slugs and snails. So far its saved my echinacea, lobelia and phlox from extinction.
  • If you sink a 9cm bottomless pot into the soil so that the rim is level with the soil surface, next to a cucumber plant, you can fill it up with water which slowly releases moisture towards the roots well away from the vulnerable neck of the cucumber.
  • This one is debatable, but sometimes it’s the only receptacle that comes to hand: if you stack two pots inside each other, then rotate the inner pot so that the drainage holes do not line up, you can use them as a scoop for soil or gravel. (Not vermiculite, that just flies everywhere!)
  • Here’s one I’ve just thought of: if you put a spool of twine in a pot and thread the end through one of the drainage holes you can use it as a dispenser.

Unfortunately, with a plant buying habit like mine, supply is always going to outweigh demand!

Colourful flower displays

© Caroline Broome – Colourful flower displays

Anyway, here we are approaching the Longest Day. One minute it was March, I sneezed and when I opened my eyes it was June already! Fast forward T&M trial plants: (At least I was able to use up dozens of 9cm plastic pots for the plug plants.) I finally managed to integrate them all into the patio planting scheme, when, hey presto, a surprise bundle of experimental seed trials arrived! Always one to rise to a challenge, out came the seed trays and off we go again! Spaghetti squash, radish, tomato and lettuce, zinnia, ipomoea, nasturtium and sunflower – just a few then! (Lesson learnt: the later you sow seeds, the faster they germinate.)

Ipomoea are already planted in a tall Ali Baba pot to see if they will trail as well as climb. In the greenhouse the resident mice ate the first batch of lettuce and radish seedlings straight out of the tomato trough, second attempt in freestanding pots more successful. Sunflower seeds have been secretly sown in our next-door- neighbours’ front raised bed adjacent to mine, as a surprise for their young children. Squash are winding their way up an obelisk instead of along the ground as there’s no more room.

In the meantime, the first batch of trial annual bedding plants are starting to flower. Nasturtium Orchid Flame are truly gorgeous, wish I’d bought more! Petunia Sweetunia Fiona Flash had its first flower within a week of planting into its hanging bucket, looking very chic alongside a grey green hosta. Every day a new begonia or petunia surprises me.

Mixed progress with tomatoes Sun Cherry, Sungold and Sweet Aperitif. Sungold as always is romping away and has already produced flower trusses. Cucumbers Mini Munch are healthy too. They might even have a chance to produce fruit seeing as I’ve finally cut back all the enveloping ivy that was threatening to transform the greenhouse into a grotto. Let there be light!

Showcasing this years flower and vegetable trials

© Caroline Bloom – Showcasing this years flower and vegetable trials

Ipomoea are already planted in a tall Ali Baba pot to see if they will trail as well as climb. In the greenhouse the resident mice ate the first batch of lettuce and radish seedlings straight out of the tomato trough, second attempt in freestanding pots more successful. Sunflower seeds have been secretly sown in our next-door- neighbours’ front raised bed adjacent to mine, as a surprise for their young children. Squash are winding their way up an obelisk instead of along the ground as there’s no more room.

But the one that is really challenging me is nicotiana Langsdorffii, what an absolute fiddle! Seeds the size of dust, I managed to prick out four tiny seedlings and grow them on, but oh so brittle. When they reached 8” tall, I planted them out in the central prairie bed, (with plastic pot collars and small stakes so that they wouldn’t be bullied by neighbouring thalictrum and calamagrostis) and then – it’s poured with rain solidly for two days. I haven’t dared go out there and see if they’ve survived. I saw them on display at the T&M Press Open Day show ground at Hyde Hall last summer and absolutely fell in love with them. You never see them as cultivated plants for sale so I guess this is the only way forward, fingers crossed.

When I do take a moment to enjoy the garden, it’s the roses that are taking my breath away. Rosa For Your Eyes Only has so many blooms it resembles the eyes in a peacock’s feather. I’m so enamoured with it that I’ve JUST HAD to buy its sister Eye Of The Tiger, which I’ve incorporated into the vibrant corner of the garden, red and yellow (most hated colour combination by my erstwhile embroidery teacher) with magenta echinacea purpurea, rouge lobelia Queen Victoria, (ooh, get me!) purple loosestrife. It’ll either look stunning or hideous, time will tell.

Breathtaking Rosa For Your Eyes Only

© Caroline Bloom – Breathtaking Rosa For Your Eyes Only

It seems slightly aimless not to be opening our garden for charity this summer, but oh the joy of not having to check the weather forecast every ten minutes, not to have to second guess which plants will be in flower and which will be over On The Day. In fact, I’ve had to wind my neck in a few times, not to be so goal orientated. I bet the plants are heaving a sigh of relief!

But it’s not all bucolic bliss. There’s the small matter of Hampstead Garden Suburb Horticultural Society Open Gardens Day for The National Garden Scheme. (Take a breath!) I may not be opening my garden, but as Assistant County Organiser for the Suburb, I’m responsible for 14 gardens, 4 of them new, and one allotment, all doing the honours for charity on Sunday 7th July. A village style opening in the heart of London. Oh, I could wax lyrical, but for full details please follow this link:

Catch up with you all later……..Caroline

Beyond the Pail

Seriously? It’s April already? How did that happen! (If that’s rhetorical, does it need a question mark?) It’s all systems go here. David and I are Going For It big time: NEW sculpture focal point, NEW rill feature, NEW rose arch. And NEW hanging baskets – no more wicker, gone off rustic – and in their place, vintage galvanized buckets. We’ve even got one for the cats to lie in. More of that later…

Caroline's new rose arch, feature and focal point

Caroline’s new rose arch, feature and focal point
© Caroline Broome

In-between bouts of furious activity in the garden, we’ve been out and about too. (New Year’s Resolution: Get Out More). In March we visited Kew Gardens to see the orchid exhibition, and even though I’m not a fan of orchids I thoroughly enjoyed it. Such bold displays of colour and theatre that I even managed to get from one end of the hot house to the other without having a panic attack and running out! (Memories of Eden Project tropical biome.) There was one orchid that was so intensely turquoise blue that I had to touch it to make sure it was real. (Get a grip girl, it’s hardly likely to be plastic, is it, it’s KEW GARDENS!) Bumped into our esteemed Hort Soc Chair, Doc Page with family and friends; clearly not a good location for a secret rendezvous!

Stunning displays at the Kew Gardens Orchid Exhibition

Stunning displays at the Kew Gardens Orchid Exhibition
© Caroline Broome

Last weekend we joined friends H & N at their lodge in Belton Woods, Lincolnshire, for a couple of days of R&R. An amble through the ash woodland revealed a cathedral of towering trees, their branches stretching up towards the cloudless sky. At the edge of the woods we saw a small herd of Sika deer. Oh, the peace and quiet; I could get used to this!

A catherdral of trees

A cathedral of trees
© Caroline Broome

Spurred on by all these bucolic influences it was straight back outside on our return, to start planting out. I was surprised to find myself slightly daunted by quite large patches of bare soil (more than 1m² I consider extensive in our garden) that I created by lifting loads of perennials last autumn. But gradually they are all being replanted in a more balanced design, with plenty of room still to spare for new ones of course.

At a recent horticultural club where I was presenting a PowerPoint presentation of The Evolution of Caro’s Garden, I was asked what my favourite plant was. And, like so many other gardeners, I answered, “the one that’s in flower right now.” Which is brunnera. I’m building up quite a collection with no thought whatsoever of where I will accommodate them. Brunnera Hadspens Cream is my latest acquisition, and my T&M trial ‘Alexander’s Great’ from a couple of years ago is certainly living up to its name!

Having derided wicker hanging baskets in our recent Hort Soc newsletter, I felt it would be churlish of me not to put my money where my mouth is, so all nine of them have been swapped for vintage galvanised buckets, purchased through a certain auction website. Once we’d entertained ourselves with humorous quips such as, Kicking the Bucket and Beyond the Pail, David got down to work drilling drainage holes, adjusting brackets and fixing chains, before I replanted all my cherished hostas, ready for the addition of colourful T&M plug plants, which are arriving by the minute.

Brunnera 'Alexander's Great' and Caroline's new hanging baskets

Brunnera ‘Alexander’s Great’ and Caroline’s new hanging baskets
© Caroline Broome

Talking of which, every day is like Christmas, anticipating the arrival of new plugs: so far Nasturtium ‘Orchid Flame’, Begonia ‘Buffey’ & Begonia ‘Sweet Spice Bounty Coral’. Petunias next. Grown from seed, Tomato ‘Sweetest Duo’ aka. ‘Sungold’ & ‘Sweet Aperitif’, Tomato ‘Sweet Cherry’ and Cucumber ‘Mini Munch’ all have their first true leaves, and even one or two tiny seedlings of Nicotiana langsdorffii (much admired at last Summer’s T&M Press Open Day) have managed to survive thus far! Ricinis communis and Cerinthe major ‘Purpurescens’ seedlings, the easiest to grow, are well established now.

Mind you, the mad dash to the greenhouse to open the door and switch the propagators off before work, followed by the inevitable nocturnal dive to shut the door and switch the propagators back on overnight, is fraught with tension (quel domage, that should be one’s greatest worry in life, n’est-ce pas?).

Even going away for two nights was touch and go! Should I cover them with cloches, but they might bake to death; should I leave them uncovered, but they might wither from damping off. Shows you what my priorities are: as soon as we arrived home, a quick grovel to the cats, begging for forgiveness for leaving them, and then straight up to the greenhouse – to find all seedlings fine and dandy. Phew!

But what of the cats? Our covered patio, or Catatorium, was specifically designed for feline frolics in an outside space without risk of injury to the cats themselves or the wildlife beyond. Hence all the shelves and tunnels. The large wicker hanging basket was never meant for them, we just hung it up one day pending planting and Fred got in, and the rest as they say, is history. So the hunt was on for a galvanised replacement, big enough to accommodate two cats, after all, he’s got to have a double bed for him and his new bride, Ethel. And as luck would have it we found the very thing in Belton Wood Garden Centre, a 15” pail.

Caroline's cats, Fred and Ethel

Caroline’s cats, Fred and Ethel
© Caroline Broome

As time marches on plans for this summer’s National Garden Scheme Open Gardens is well under way. In July (Sunday 7th to be exact, put it in your diaries,) our Hort Soc is holding its second NGS Group Open Garden Day in Hampstead Garden Suburb. Our first suburb group open day in 2017 was such a rip roaring success that everybody wants to join in now, so we’ve ended up with 14 gardens (4 new) and 1 allotment, making this group possibly the largest in the UK for NGS. No pressure then!

So as dear old Arnold Schwarzenegger would say, “I’ll be back”. Can’t picture him pottering around in the garden though…

Spread The Love

I’m really not a fan of the aforementioned festive season, but I’ve suddenly realised that I lurve January! The inclement weather gives me the perfect excuse to be bone idle guilt free. Mind you, some things can’t wait, especially when you are up against the horticultural prowess of Diane, she of the London Gardens Society Best Large Back Garden 2016/17/18. (When will it end?) The task at hand is simple muck spreading. (Some might say we are experts in the wider sense already!) So I was galvanised into action after a phone call from Diane on New Year’s Day to tell me, smugly, that she had managed to lay seven bags of well-rotted horse manure over her borders that very day. And I, readers, hadn’t even placed my order yet! Quelle horreur! Within the week I had spread three-bags-full but more supplies were required on both sides so off we went to Crews Hill, Horticultural Retail Epicentre of The World. A dozen bags duly loaded into the vehicle, off we went to Myddleton House, home of celebrated horticulturalist E A Bowles, (ancestral connection with our very own Duchess of Cornwall having never occurred to me before).

Myddleton House Border

Myddleton House Border.
© Caroline Broome

What a lovely way to spend a dull January morning. The grounds were empty bar a couple of in-house landscapers who were rebuilding a dry-stone wall. We wandered around admiring the snowdrops and hellebores in the crisp echoey stillness of a typical winter’s day, the fragrance of hamamelis contorta and chimonanthus praecox filling the air. Mistletoe was abundant in the tree canopies but also at ground level, where we were fascinated to see how it grafts naturally onto its host. The ornamental grass borders looked so orderly combined with sedum spectabile – my sedum never looks that erect even when it’s in its prime. The hot houses were full of exotic succulents, tillandsias and cacti in pristine form. Reminded me of when I was a gel; I lived opposite Broomfield Park in North London and used to love to sneak into their huge lofty greenhouse. Somehow it seemed forbidden and eerie, with its seemingly bottomless irrigation channels sunk into the floor under the benches. (Didn’t care a hoot about the plants but just loved the otherworldliness of it.)

Contorted hazel, mistletoe and tillandsias at Myddleton House

Contorted hazel, mistletoe and tillandsias at Myddleton House. © Caroline Broome

…But the rivalry doesn’t end there. There’s even Green Bin One-Upmanship! With the regular collections having been suspended for six weeks over the New Year, it’s a competition as to who’s created the most waste: “I’ve filled up my two garden bins as well as my two allotment bins.” “Well, I’ve filled up our bin and ALL the other neighbours’ bins in the entire street!” And now she informs me she’s had her silver birch trimmed. I tell you, she doesn’t let the grass grow under her feet (boom boom!)

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. There’s something so satisfying about spreading the mulch. Apart from the opportunity it gives you to get up close and personal with your plants, to get a sneak preview of spring as bulbs, shoots and buds start appearing, the borders look so finished once its down. (Reminds me of the flattering effect a layer of moisturising foundation can bring to one’s tired and dull complexion, my dear!) Mind you, it seems impossible to imagine the garden at full tilt in high summer with so much bare earth exposed right now. And of course there is the small matter of my digging up half the garden last autumn ‘cos I was bored with it all. Pity the poor transplanted perennials cowering their pots, exposed to the elements, until I’m ready to replant. (Hmm, wonder how soon I can start – steady on, its not even Valentine’s Day yet!) Seems everyone’s at it now, Rosie’s been out mulching the borders in her garden in all weathers. I really can’t be lagging behind so it‘s off to the nursery to buy bark chippings for the fernery and gravel for the stumpery.

Every year, a clever acquaintance makes a note of all plants flowering in her garden on New Year’s Day. Wish I’d the wits to think of that. So here’s my list of flowers for mid-January instead, some bang on target, some way off the mark seasonally speaking:

  • Hesperantha Major formerly known as schitzostylus (so annoying all these name changes.)
  • Salvia Black and Blue insinuated itself up the fence alongside a variegated trachylospurnum, its flowers cascading like wisteria. Hope I can bring that through the frosts, what a combination!)
  • Salvia confertiflora
  • Salvia Uliginosa
  • Coronilla glauca Citrina
  • Rosa Mutabilis ish, one or two bedraggled blooms amongst the orange hips.
  • Viburnum tinus Eve Price
  • Hellebore hybrid Spring Promise aptly named and much admired in the front garden, underneath the contorted hazel.
  • Fuchsia thalia on the patio
  • Fuchsia thymifolia
  • Snowdrops
  • Aconites
  • Melianthus major no natural timing this one, always produces buds just before the first frosts!

Hellebore hybrid Spring Promise and Caroline's front garden border.

Hellebore hybrid Spring Promise and Caroline’s front garden border. © Caroline Broome

There are an amazing amount of little treasures to be seen out there if you go looking. Over the holiday season David and I did our usual New Year’s Resolution walks in Kenwood on Hampstead Heath. Some might find the low light levels rather bleak but I love the paired down landscape, the bare trees, clear ponds and uninterrupted views of The City. You share your strolls with every dog and his man, chitchatting with owners and catching snatches of conversation as your pass. Cormorants and parakeets, magpies and crows, sparrowhawk.

Kenwood, Hampstead Heath

Kenwood, Hampstead Heath. © Caroline Broome

Talking of birds, I’m looking forward to introducing three newcomers to the results of my Big Garden Birdwatch: goldfinches, starlings and a black cap. Must be the extensive array of seeds on offer, costing me a fortune. Black sunflower seeds, white sunflower hearts, meal worms, three flavours of fat block, oh and mixed birdseed for the squirrels. So worth it.

I feel quite inspired now, so it’s back to the T&M Spring Catalogue to place my Trial Plant Order. Colour colour colour 2019.

Roll on Spring! Love, Caroline

Messy Job, This Gardening Lark

Autumn colour came late this year, and puff, it was gone, leaving chaos and disorder in its wake. Now I’m a bit fussy about tidiness, not the best character trait for a gardener. And I’m not a fan of formal or minimalist gardens, preferring the organised chaos of more naturalistic schemes. This time of year I just have to man up and get on with the annual clear up. The recent mild weather has meant that whist some plants have well and truly crumbled, others are stubbornly growing on. No wholesale cutting back and mulching in this garden, oh no, flowers keep popping up, (quell damage, colour in December!) and deciduous ground cover keeps growing back, thinking its spring no doubt. So far we’ve filled six of our non-gardening neighbours’ bins and with one week to go before the council stop collecting the green bins until end January, the pressure’s on! Oh how I long for the leaves on the contorted hazel to drop awf to reveal its mystical twisted stems, but on the other hand I shall be so sorry to see its neighbouring blood red Ricinus inevitably succumb to the frost. And when do the grasses change from being architectural to a frightful mess? I can certainly relate to the expression on a friend’s ornamental bunny. (How I restrained myself from snaffling that little fellow home with me I shall never know!)

Contorted hazel, silver hellebore, ricinus and the brilliant bunny!

Contorted hazel, silver hellebore, ricinus and the brilliant bunny!
© Caroline Broome

With all the tender salvias finally lifted and tucked up in the greenhouse along with the heuchera waifs and strays recuperating from the evil vine weevil, I can while away the time daydreaming and reflecting as I tidy up and file away Garden 2018. A challenging year, certainly on the weather front, with The Beast from the East then the Long Hot Summer, but what a learning curve. Confidence built, lessons learnt (yuck, cliché). Salvias, melianthus major & agastaches, which weren’t supposed to like the intense cold, survived. Reliable roses Rhapsody in Blue and For Your Eyes Only failed to flower in the heat. Slugs and snails almost extinct, hardly any wasps. But still the cannas didn’t come into flower until August. Win some, lose some.

And in general terms it’s been a year of extremes. Great pride and joy at winning the London Gardens Society Best Small Back Garden third year running; great shock at losing two of our cherished cats but great relief that two of our other cats survived serious illness. Deep sorrow at losing my wonderful 106-year-old friend Ethel. I first met Ethel when she asked me to do her garden for her as she could no longer climb the ladder to prune her honeysuckle. She was 100. She had nerines that were older than me! Ethel was a great believer in the adage, ‘Adapt or Die’. As it is in life, so it is in the garden. When Ethel eventually moved into a care home I continued to visit her every fortnight. Even then, she was always Up For It. Countless number of times she would reel off a poem she had leant as a child and I would look it up on Google and join in. I learnt so much through Google with Ethel that I would never have known otherwise: Why are yawns catching; do the nails on your dominant hand grow faster than on the other? And as a postscript, we are about to introduce a new Siamese kitten into our household. And her name? Why, Ethel of course!

December colour and Caroline with her friend Ethel

December colour and Caroline with her friend Ethel
© Caroline Broome

We had holidays in Cornwall in October and Cyprus in November. Do you realise that it took the same amount of time to drive to our friends Bob’n’Patti in Manaccan near Helford, as it took to reach our friend Naomi in Paphos? 7 hours, door to door on both counts. Never mind Friends in High Places, its Friends in the Right Places as far as we are concerned! B&P recently had their garden landscaped, including the regeneration of their wildlife friendly perimeter hedge. Their house isn’t called Fair Winds for nothing, so all the plants must be resistant to severe exposure (something I am not, being the cossetted Londoner that I am). The temperate climate is host to all variety of plants that I have little experience of, or at least ones that I am used to treating as annuals. Echiums spread like weeds in their garden; so-called tender fuchsias & agapanthus grow in robust clumps. Nerines everywhere (again?). Schitzostylis Major on steroids! And imagine having a Trachycarpus Fortunei as the focal point of your borders. (Can’t help name dropping now.) We spent a happy couple of hours at a local nursery choosing a second wave of shrubs for the gaps in the original design, common to both of our gardens, such as hebes, hydrangeas and viburnum.

Bob and Patti's Cornwall Garden

Bob and Patti’s Cornwall Garden
© Caroline Broome

For poor travelers like me Cyprus is a perfect holiday location; driving on the left-hand side, same power points, taxi drivers with cousins in Turnpike Lane. You can tell a British ex-pat by the number of roses in their gardens. The only lawns to be seen are at the luxury beach side hotels, expensive enough to employ gardeners and sprinklers 24/7 – somehow they just don’t go with the local terrain anyway. Parasol shaped pergolas, intertwined with bougainvillea, frame the pavement cafes lining the streets of Paphos harbour. Oleanders and brugmansias adorn every suburban villa; ipomoea winds its way through the wire fencing of every parking lot; wild rose, lantana and rosemary hedges. Coastal paths lined with trachycarpus, olive trees, and banana palms. Cannas along the road side verges. Mega-aromatic pots of basil, lemon balm, rosemary and oregano, placed casually up the steps to Naomi’s apartment.

A banana palm and a contemporary seaside garden

A banana palm and a contemporary seaside garden
© Caroline Broome

Of course, we made our annual pilgrimage to Tala Monastery Cat Sanctuary, currently home to 800 abandoned and stray cats, all named and loved and cared for by English manager Dawn Foote and husband Mark. Whether a fine pedigree or a one- eyed feral, all cats are pragmatic but barmy, illustrated here in some truly ludicrous sleeping poses.


© Caroline Broome

So there it is for another year, life chez Broome: gardening, friends and cats. We’ll be raising a glass to 2018 and toasting new challenges for 2019. I make no apologies for my sentimentality. Season’s Greetings, keep healthy, live and love well. Laugh a lot. Caroline xxxx

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