Monday Meditation: My Walk Around the *Neigh*bourhood

A9782E54-B393-4A09-B173-2A2C704B7C59As I write, it’s midday on Sunday, the sky is a clear blue as far as the eye can see and the sun is bringing out the crocuses and daffodils in the front garden. A perfect time to go for a walk. Except it’s 2 degrees C out there with an icy wind. My crazy husband is out on a bike ride with the club, but I’m waiting a couple of hours for those predicted extra couple of degrees! So, I’ve put on the Prime Chill album, made a cup of 3 Mint tea and thought I would show you some pictures of last week’s walk on a similar day, when I went up to what used to be the horses’ field.

Not that long ago, I used to go regularly to see the permanent residents of this field, Dolly and Annie, two working carriage horses. Dolly was a black heavy, plodding mare who was so quiet and friendly. Annie was a tall chestnut and very temperamental. She was a bully and any other temporary residents were given short shrift, including the foals, often receiving a nip or a kick to let them know their place in the scheme of things. She was quite haughty, looking and behaving more like a thoroughbred. She would always push herself forward for any treats and I often had to distract her so that I could sneak some apple or carrot to Dolly or the foals. But they both allowed me to befriend them and would make their way over from the far corner of the field as soon as I approached, Dolly plodding over in her slow, lumbering fashion, Annie skittish and tossing her tail.

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I was privileged to witness one of Dolly’s foals being born, a really ugly little thing with a huge head, but he was so friendly and funny. Annie had a much more elegant-looking long-legged foal not long after and some months later, on a beautiful summer evening, I stood and watched as first Dolly’s foal started racing around the perimeter of the field, then Annie’s foal joined in. Annie was not impressed and tried to put a stop to it, but then Dolly got the itch and began charging around after the excited foals, pounding the ground with her heavy feet, and before long, Annie had to join in the fun. I’ve never witnessed anything like it. Four horses careering around the field at full gallop, round and round, uninhibited, kicking up their legs every so often with the sheer freedom and fun of it all. Oh, to move with such joyful abandon in the fresh summer air under an endlessly clear sky!

 

Now, sadly, the field lies abandoned. The local authority wants to build a supermarket, petrol station and housing, by a busy roundabout in a residential area at the entrance to the town. Of course there has been a huge outcry and everything has been up in the air for a few years.

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This gnarly old tree used to be the only shade for up to 6 horses, next to a pond that gradually shrank over the years. Now the tree has apparently been struck by lightning, cleaved in two. It wasn’t an ideal situation for the horses: in summer it was completely overgrown with tall thistles and nettles, in Spring and Autumn, it was a boggy quagmire around the perimeter with all the rain. But it was a large space, with a right of way for walkers, who would bring treats as they passed through. I loved taking my young grandchildren there: they, too, saw the baby foal within minutes of its birth. It was a special time. We were on a nature walk at the time, I had given them a list of things to look out for. We had spotted guard-dog geese, a pair of swans with their cygnets, collected feathers, but this was truly a gem.

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Annie’s foal with my grandson

On my most recent walk, I spotted these gates further up the road on the opposite side to the field:

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I don’t know how many hundreds of times we have driven past, or the dozens of times I’ve walked past, but I have never noticed them before. I was always looking over the road for the horses. They are beautiful iron gates with metal flower ornamentation.

When I arrived home, a little sad and angry at what I had found by the field (see next Monday), I came through our gate and smiled. I saw the first real signs of Spring:

 

The daffodil had been proudly standing in bud since early January, the only one to be in such a hurry, and I thought it would be sure to get caught by the frosts, but has withstood everything the elements have thrown at it: frost, hail, rain, snow and icy winds, and now it was fully open. And there, too, was the first forsythia flower, a sign I always look for tell me that Spring is really very close.

And now the outdoors calls again, the sun couldn’t be brighter: it’s bouncing off windows and cars. Incredibly, we are forecast snow on Tuesday! Have a wonderful week, we are confined to barracks having the parquet flooring in the hallway refurbished, pictures soon.

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

 

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Monday Meditation : Gratitude & Faith in Nature

About 15 years ago, I bought a baby tree. The label said it was an hibiscus and that it would grow 6′ wide and 10′ tall. Its job was to fill a gap between a maturing leylandii hedge along the drive and the garage at the top of the drive, so that the back garden was enclosed and private. I liked the idea of a hibiscus tree. I had read of them in novels set in an exotic context and always wondered what they were like.

I waited and waited. It crept up inch by inch but did little to inspire my confidence in its reputed inherent beauty and ability to fulfill its allotted task.

Several years went by. It grew up, but didn’t reach anywhere near its full potential. It did not grow out. It eventually began shooting tight and tiny dark burgundy buds but they resisted any enticement to open out and show themselves off.

About 5 years ago, we released this tree from its obligation. We didn’t think it would ever have the strength or intent to fill the gap. We decided to put a fence behind it. We allowed the tree its freedom. I made sure it was kept watered during dry weather, and occasionally admired the variegated leaves. There were by now lots of plants below and around it that had more colour and vibrancy.

 

Two summers went by and I noticed the tree had grown about 5″ above the fence. It had bushed out too. I didn’t let it know I had noticed, but I kept a close eye on it.

Last year, the tree had put on about another 12″ of growth above the fence and now filled the gap! It was covered in tight burgundy buds. I realised it most likely hadn’t been happy being exposed to chill winds in winter and baking sun in summer. It was much happier sheltered by the fence and was now paying back for our consideration.

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The other day, I was walking on the drive, in a great deal of pain throughout my back and legs and trying to ease it with movement. I had been struggling for several weeks and nothing was improving, or at least, if it did it was only for a brief while and then it would come screaming back, laughing at me for thinking I could get away with making a smoothie or drying my hair. I was finding it hard to keep smiling and have faith in my improved health.

It was getting chilly and I knew I should go back inside, the cold would just make things worse. As I passed the fence, I glanced up and saw the most amazing sight: it wasn’t that big or overly showy, but there it was, a single pink flower in the middle of the hibiscus tree, showing just above the fence. I stopped to take a closer look and smiled. A broad, happy but disbelieving smile. I momentarily forgot about my back and the cold. I reached inside my back pocket, but I’d left my phone inside. I slowly made my way to the house to find my camera. I was afraid that either I wouldn’t be able to make it back outside or the flower would have dropped off before I had time to capture it.

But I did on both counts.

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It is still the only open flower on the tree. It is still making me smile, even just to think about it, just knowing it’s there. I’m so glad I held faith with this tree and it with me: neither of us gave up.

I can’t wait to see what happens next summer.

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

Sweetpeas For Dave

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I so wish this was scratch-and-sniff and I could fully share these beautiful sweetpeas wth you all! They have such a powerful scent, my husband’s allergies won’t allow him to be in the same room. But every year he grows me a pot full because they are my favourite flowers and they bloom in July, which is doubly significant as it is my birthday month and also the anniversary of the death of my younger brother, Dave, age 22, who also loved sweetpeas.

I have struggled for some time to find a way to mention him. We as a family find it difficult to talk about him, even after all these years. His death was so violent, so sudden and so incomprehensible. Far fom home. It is still too raw.

This month is so difficult because he died the day after Mum’s birthday, 5 days before my birthday and 7 days before my son’s second birthday, and in between all those dates we had to cope with a post-mortem, an inquest and a funeral. In fact, I learned of his death as I was getting my toddler son ready to attend his friend’s birthday party. I hid my tears as I operated the music for Pass the Parcel and Musical Chairs. Since then, we have added three more July birthdays, so this month is bitter sweet.

One of my other brothers and I have spoken about him in recent times, we have different perspectives as I was away from home in the latter years and there are huge gaps in my memories. However, Judith at Nature Knows Best published a post today that happened to be about grief and the colour of one’s kitchen (yes, really, pop over and read it), and it struck a chord – in particular because we are currently choosing the colour of our kitchen! I commented on her post and it seemed to open a way for me to publish my own post on this topic.

Dave was an artist, poet, lyricist, bongo player; he loved animals, nature programmes and being outside; he hated being cooped up. He worked intermittently, finding it difficult to fit in and adhere to another’s routine. He worked for the park’s department so he could be outside.

When we were young, people thought we were twins, there were only 13 months between us. We both looked like our dad: mousey hair, skinny, short-sighted. He was not in robust health through his short life. I remember him having Scarlet Fever and breathing problems. But he was so strong, he could easily beat me at arm wrestling and I still remember the Chinese burns!

Dave was a bit of a cuckoo and there are few photos of him past a certain age as he rarely seemed to be present for family photos. He was always off doing his own thing. The one below was given to me by my best friend, Denny, with whom he wrote many songs and whose guitar he decorated. Denny still uses it. It is well-worn now!

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I cut some sweetpeas every year and bring them into the house for him. They are fragile, colourful and last only a short time, but they have a strong impact while they bloom and few are unaffected by their appearance.

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Copyright: Chris  McGowan

Typical Holiday Weekend: Planting Flowers Between the Showers

We had beautiful scorching weather recently, into the high 20s Celsius. After hb had forced his creaking knees to comply with a tidy up of the garden, revealing lots of spaces where the forgetmenots and bulbs had died off, we bought some plants. This is typical Bank Holiday behaviour in the UK, oh and decorating and DIY, all of which we planned for the weekend. Then -also typically – the weather forecast was weekend storms. The plants took refuge under the garden table. We waited for the downpour and the winds. All we got, however, was a freshening breeze, drop in temperature and a few light showers!

Not complaining, we needed some rain and it certainly made it more comfortable at night.

So here are some photos of the gardens after hb’s hard work and also of the irises in the front garden which are in full bloom now, they make me smile every year – oh and some avian visitors and the feline neighbour who not only scares them off but also usurps my place!

We had our first dinner of the year outside, too. For those of you of a curious nature, I had spiralised carrot, cucumber and courgette tossed in a lemon, avocado and pine nut dressing on a bed of watercress, rocket and babyleaf spinach with baby plum tomatoes. All vegan and organic. The photo looks sharper on Instagram, in fact all of them do, not sure why.

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The green smoothie in the photo of the irises I’m afraid I didn’t record, but from memory I think it was banana, blueberries, moringa powder, coconut water, chia seeds, live plain soya yogurt. There might have been some romaine in there too.

Now, a question for all you green-fingers out there: we foolishly allowed one wild aqualegia to take root at the back of the garden under the acer 2 years ago and now they are everywhere! They are growing in amongst the rocks, all over the patch to the left of the acer, in the cracks between the crazy paving up there at the back of the garden and under the forsythia near the house. They have made a lovely display at the top of the drive where nothing else will grow because the it’s choked by ground elder coming from our neighbour’s garden, but we don’t want our entire garden full of it. The roots are too hard to pull up from the stone once established and we don’t like using chemicals. Any ideas?

Here’s a better photo of the robin, this time paying an evening visit. I took it through the window with my iPhone after I’d written this post, but it’s sharper than the earlier one:

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

Bees, Baskets & Begonias: Summer Flowers At Last!

imageChance would be a fine thing! We haven’t had any consistent sun in weeks. However, many of you were kind enough to appreciate my post I Love My Garden! and I thought I would take a break from posting healthy recipes and do another post for the spirit, showing the gardens now that the summer flowers are finally coming out. It has been a long month of deluge after deluge, which has fed the weeds and flattened many of the flowers, as well as sapping our souls, but it is refreshing and uplifting to look out of the windows and see all the colours and the bees! They love the pink and purple flowers and are so busy at the moment – if you look carefully you can see them.

If you’re viewing this via email, you’ll need to click onto the blog to see the slideshow.

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The sharp-eyed amongst you will spot that the title is something of a misnomer: because it has been bucketing down with rain, the begonias are in fact still in the greenhouse waiting to be planted! They are my husband’s domain and he has been tied to a paintbrush in the interim, struggling to cover blue tester paint patches with white – did you know you’re not supposed to put test samples directly onto the walls? imageNo, after years of doing exactly that with no problems covering it with the chosen colour, we now have a large blue ‘m’ in the middle of our chimney breast showing through cream stain cover and white emulsion! Apparently, you’re supposed to put the test paint on a piece of card and hold it up to the wall! Really?! How is that going to give you a realistic image if your wall is a different colour or texture?! Don’t say I never teach you anything.

It’s been a trying few days.

We need some sun!

Hope you enjoyed the show and if you have a surplus of the yellow stuff, we’d be extremely grateful if you could send a bit our way. Thank you.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

I Love My Garden!

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(Image Credit: timelesswheel)

It’s yet another heavy, darkly overcast day and I felt so disappointed that yet again there was no sun showing off the garden to it’s best advantage. Yesterday, I had watched as the rain distorted the view we have from our kitchen window, and sighed. I have always looked forward to this time when all the blossom and the rhododendron flowers burst forth in a synchronised display and the garden looks altogether very pleased with itself.

I could see that there would be more heavy rain before long which might ruin the display so, checking first that it didn’t feel as wintry as it looked, I decided to make the most of it and sit outside drinking not only a cup of licorice and cinnamon tea, but also drinking in the spectacularly colourful show around me.

I love my garden. I love the peace of it. I can sit there in contemplation and hear only the birds, the bees, the occasional thwack of leather on willow in the distance (that’s cricket to my American readers!) or wood on wood from the local bowling green. Sometimes I can hear young children laughing and splashing in their paddling pool – children laugh so uninhibitedly, it always brings a smile to my face.

My garden is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination; it is informal, wild plants have insinuated themselves and been welcomed if they fit and don’t get greedy, while other cultivated plants have self-seeded in nooks and crannies, like the pink nemesia covering an ugly corner of the path, and have been allowed to take up residence.

I never fail to have my spirits restored and uplifted when I’ve been in my garden, even for just five minutes. Breathing in the fresh air scented with floral perfumes and sometimes wood smoke fills me with joy and gratitude. I feel renewed. Any stresses and frustrations are lifted for a while as my brow unfurrows and I lift my gaze from the ground and up towards the sky, the trees, the shapeshifting clouds.

I am always grateful that I have been fortunate to have this space and I wanted to share a part of it with you.

Forgive the quality of the pictures, I only have the iPad camera!

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The baby apple tree will hopefully have a better backdrop soon: my lovely daughter has volunteered to paint the garage against which it stands after I gave up on the fairies performing this kindness over the past couple of years!

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The bright pink azalea and the irises are from last year when the sun was more generous with its rays, this year the frosty hail and constant rain destroyed the azalea flowers before they could sit for a while and be admired, while the irises are still thinking about waking up.

I hope you enjoyed the show!

Copyright: Chris McGowan