rosie flo saves the day

P1220350It seems that summer has been and gone, and its disappearance has put the kibosh on our plans for regular trips to Portishead Lido — just as with camping, we are fair-weather swimmers in this household, or at least I am which means the kids are forced to be.

But the arrival of a rather lovely parcel from Roz Streeten, aka Rosie Flo, lifted everyone’s spirits. A Pool Party. Perfect. The girls were beside themselves with excitement and spent all weekend drawing and colouring in the little figures, while outside it poured with rain.

P1220359P1220597Most parents of school-aged children will have come across the phenomenon that is the Rosie Flo Colouring Book. But if you haven’t, then click on the link, or head to your nearest good toy shop, and check them out — you are in for a real treat.

P1220591The brainchild of graphic designer, Roz Streeten, the colouring books feature charming line drawings of wonderfully eccentric outfits to which children (and adults) are invited to add heads, arms and legs, as well as lots of colour. The books are printed on lovely heavy paper and are quite unlike any colouring book you will have seen before. My children have been obsessed with them since the books first appeared, about ten years ago, and I would guess that between them they’ve worked their way through twenty or more.

Two years ago, Martha was given Rosie Flo’s Colouring Fashion Show for her birthday: a 3D colouring extravaganza which, in turn, prompted all three girls to make a whole range of their own paper pop-ups last summer.

islay paper games

All children seem to love colouring in, whether or not they like drawing, which means that there is an enormous market out there for colouring books. Such a shame then, that most  colouring books are of such poor quality: so often the paper is horrible and the art work worse — heavy black lines around simpering Little Bow Peep-type characters or gurning leprechauns. Urgh.

P1220355And this is why Rosie Flo has been such a huge success. Roz Streeten’s books not only satisfy a child’s desire to colour in, but they also invite children to engage their imaginations in order to embellish the scenes. Often, Martha races through her copies armed with nothing more that a black biro, adding faces and limbs, and sometimes additional characters in the background. In fact, now that I think about it, she’s never really been that interested in colouring, but she has always loved these books. She adores the witty detail in the drawings, some of which I hope you can see in the image below — the cupcake hat the waitress is wearing, the tiny ice lollies and the shelves stacked with cakes.

P1220405I was lucky enough to find myself standing next to Roz at an event at last year’s Bath Children’s Literature Festival. We peered at each other’s name tags in order to launch into the obligatory small talk and I explained that I was an unimportant ‘plus one’; she countered by saying that she wasn’t an author or illustrator but made colouring books, at which point the penny dropped, “Rosie Flo?” I said. “Oh you’ve heard of them?” To say that I was excited is putting it mildly. I really, really do love these colouring books. Roz seemed surprised to find such a grown-up fan; but I know that I’m not the only forty-something devotee. I would guess that many a parent has breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of a rack of Rosie Flo colouring books in their local toy shop — imaginative, charming, simple, fun and at £4.99 to £5.99, affordable too. Over the years the range has expanded to include packs of postcards and large colouring posters (£2.99). Not only do the colouring books make brilliant presents, they are also the best way to stave off cabin fever during the holidays or at weekends when the rain sets in — as it did last weekend.

Thank you Roz, the pool party saved the day on a very wet weekend!

The pool party is in the shops now, and I’d highly recommend it. And for all festival goers, you might like to know that for the second year running, Rosie Flo is behind the Camp Bestival Colouring Book.

this evening

P1220302I understand from various photographer friends that 5am is the best time to photograph a garden. Sadly I cannot get my lazy bones out of bed at that time, and so although I know that 8pm is nothing like a fair substitute, it will have to do.

This is how the garden looked ten minutes ago.

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P1220303The trellis is a little overbearing (though I’ve managed to avoid it in these shots), but by this time next year it will have weathered nicely and, I hope, it will be hidden by climbers such as Clematis montana Tetrarose, which smells delicious.

P1220294 P1220301The bottom of the garden is a bit of a hotchpotch, and my runner beans are holding it all together while I decide what I want to plant here in the autumn. But yesterday these wonderful irises (White Bridge from Nyssen) finally opened. A second clump, in a shadier spot, have yet to unfurl. I’m itching to cut a few stems, but can’t bring myself to rob this part of the garden of its star performer.

P1220293One of the prettiest geraniums, Splish Splash (who thinks up these inane names?) also opened this morning. I planted it around the base of R. William Lobb last autumn and I hope it will look good alongside the deep pink rose which should open soon.

But the real excitement for me, and the reason I went out with my camera this evening, was the sight of the first flowers of Ferdinand Pichard. More on him tomorrow.

NB The geraniums in the shot above the irises are Mrs Kendall Clark (pale blue) and, deep breath, g. x oxonianum f. thurstonianum (hot pink star-like flowers), both firm favourites of mine and fantastic as a cut flowers.

cut flowers

P1220104The weather continues to taunt us: bright sunshine one minute and with it the promise of a glorious day; the next moment the black clouds roll in and all thoughts of summer are put on hold. But the flowers suggest the seasons are moving on, or are in transition at least.

P1220107This morning, whilst the sun was out, I picked the last of T. ‘Queen of the Night’  (which always remind me of baby aubergines), dusty pink aquilegias, and an allium,

P1220110some nepeta, R. ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ and R. ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’,

P1220109and R. ‘Teasing Georgia’.

P1220125Summer in a vase.

malaika

P1210824I can’t quite bring myself to throw this tulip out. It was the first one up; the only one to return from a group of Malaika that I planted last year. More from a fresh batch are about to open any minute — and I really do mean any minute: the buds are fat and flushed with colour, and with a bit of luck and the warmth of the sun they could be open by lunchtime.

P1210827I’ll resist picking them until they’ve done a week or two in their pots. They will provide interest whilst the sweet peas make their slow start up the wigwam, and the rest of the garden gets into its stride. Malaika is one of my favourite tulips — so elegant as it emerges and then puts on a spectacular show as it dies. I will buy more next year.

taking stock

P1210209Amazing what a dose of even fairly weak sunshine can do for one’s spirits.

P1210205Every year I spend much of January and February trying not to look at the garden. When I do, I am filled with despair: I simply can’t believe that it will ever look nice again. Back in October I dug up almost everything at the bottom of the garden to make way for new raised beds and a pond, and this section looks particularly bleak at the moment.

P1210223But Sunday’s sunshine tempted me outside. The novelty of feeling the warmth of the sun on my back and being able to wear only one jumper rather than three, meant that I spent most of Sunday afternoon pottering in the garden — my first proper session in the garden.

It looked pretty desolate, but it was good to face up to the ravages of winter and my total neglect. And after an hour or two of methodical pruning, cutting, raking and mulching, most   of the garden had sprung back into focus.

My thoughts had snapped into focus as well, and I now have a plan for those empty beds.

P1210194For now, I’ve cordoned off the area with chicken wire to protect the few remaining plants from the rampaging dog, and to be honest it looks worse than it did before. But in a week or two things should start shaping up.

In the pop-up green house, I was delighted to see that the first of my sweet peas are emerging and tiny little dots of green on black, damp soil tell me that my rocket and
cut-and-come-again lettuces are on their way too.

P1210237By five o’clock it was chilly again, so I kicked off my boots and finished these mittens (ravelled here). And despite today’s sunshine, it was cold enough to wear them.

fallow*

anemoneIn January, I embarked on an interesting project with two friends, which will run until July. It’s strange to have a formal structure to my week after so many years in which my work has come in fits and starts with lengthy lulls between the deadlines. I can’t write about it in great detail because, although it’s not a secret or particularly special, the project isn’t entirely mine, so it wouldn’t feel right to air it here until we’ve finished. Enough to say that it’s rewarding and painful in equal measure, and doesn’t leave me with much spare time. Something has had to give, and I’m afraid it’s been the blog.

But this post is by no means “over and out!”, more an explanation of the fallow state of my corner of the internet.

P1190966I began writing here, nearly three years ago, in order to record the life of my small city garden. Naturally enough, as with most other blogs I read, its remit quickly expanded; but the garden was always there in one form or another —  a bunch of flowers, a newly planted bed, rose petal jam. But in January the garden was asleep and so it felt like an appropriate moment to take time out from blogging regularly.

P1190968Actually, the garden wasn’t entirely asleep: these Anemone de Caen, which I planted in an old wine crate last spring, have been flowering, one or two at a time, since late October.

Over the last week other things have started to emerge and the usual gloom I feel about the garden at this time of year is lifting. My mood was given a further boost by the arrival of a really wonderful and incredibly inspiring book: Veg Street Grow Your Own Community by Naomi Schillinger, whose blog Out of my Shed is one that I have long admired. I’m off to read it now, over a cup of coffee and, as the sun is out, I might even venture into the garden with pen and paper and make a few plans.

I will post a proper review of the book later in the week, but for now I’ll just say that I cannot recommend her blog highly enough, and I feel sure that I’ll be saying the same about her book.

* Hoping that, as with farm land left to lie fallow, there will be increased productivity later in the year!

happy christmas

P1190649                                   We had a lovely day, hope you did too.

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and, better late than never, our wreath …

P1190516made from a swatch of weeping birch twigs which I found on the pavement on Christmas morning last year and kept for just this purpose. A rare (and embarrassingly excessive), bit of forward planning.

wreath round-up

P1190454Last year I became so obsessed with the wonderful local wreaths I started photographing them, much to the embarrassment of the girls who were usually with when I took the pictures. This year, having made a note of the whereabouts of my favourite Christmas displays, I went out alone and photographed them over the course of one very circuitous walk up to school. I recognised some of the wreaths from last year, though the brussels were adorning a different door last December.

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This is by no means a comprehensive survey of local weaths – since taking these photos more and more have appeared, all very photogenic but the weather has been against me  (incessant rain and terrible light), so I haven’t been able to photograph them.

I haven’t been able to photograph our wreath either, as it only went up an hour ago and the light had gone, so I’ll post it tomorrow along with a picture of the tree – though I’ve discovered that Christmas trees are very hard to photograph.

NB There is another nice wreath round-up at Spring Cottage.

anemone de caen

A rather surprising sight greeted me this morning: a single Anemone de Caen. I planted the corms in an old wine crate last autumn and they produced a wonderful, if gaudy, display back in June. I really wasn’t expecting to see them again until next April or May.

Generally, I prefer these anemones as cut flowers because their exuberance can sometimes overpower everything around them, though on the Crocus site I notice that they recommend lavender as a suitable planting partner (sadly, I have no room for lavender, and what little I have had in the past has never done well). But in their crate the anemones proved to be a useful, moveable feast, and I was able to relocate them as needed.

I had so many flowers from the 25 corms I planted, I was able to cut them regularly during June, never more than two or three at a time though. This is surely the cue for me to get some more anemones for the two wine crates currently filled with gardening clobber.

PS  Following Uphilldowndale’s comment regarding the scent of anemones, I am now rather tempted to cut this single flower and bring it indoors – which I think means that, although I haven’t done it yet, I can just about qualify for Small but Charming’s monthly flowers in the house link up.

yeo valley organic garden

So the soil arrived late on Monday afternoon, on the third attempt. The sack is currently upside down in the road, and I am hoping that it won’t rain too heavily between now and Saturday, which is when I’ll be able to start shifting it down to the garden. I couldn’t bear it if it was all washed away down the hill by a river of rainwater. Mustn’t think about it. Better to think about how the bottom of the garden will look when the soil is in and I have replanted everything I had to dig up to make way for the new beds and pond.

And with that in mind, I’ve been looking through the photographs I took three weeks ago when I visited The Yeo Valley Organic Garden (links to their site here and here) on their last open day of this year (next year’s season is a little longer, with visits from April 25th to October 29th). The two image above are from the cutting garden which I imagine is all but over now, though the beds filled with dahlias and cleome were still looking strong.

Although I love seeing gardens in high summer, I find I learn more from visits made when gardens are just waking up or heading into decline – spring and late autumn. It’s easier to spot the plants that might help hold my garden together during the lean months when most of the stars of summer are dormant or dying.

At Yeo Valley Organic Garden I was particularly struck by the huge drifts of echinops and verbena bonariensis, which were threaded through with lower growing grasses such as stipa tenuissima and ribbons of sedum and echinacea.

              Now all I have to do is work out how to make it work on a far tinier plot…

I’d really love to visit this garden again during the winter; I imagine that it will still look stunning. It’s a shame that this isn’t an option, though I expect low visitor numbers at that time of year make it impractical. I must add that as well as the gravel garden and the cutting garden there is a large meadow, which looked completely magical even on an overcast day, a formal garden – the bronze garden – with a large pond, and much else besides. Oh and a lovely, lovely restaurant selling the most delicious cakes.