Away . . .
Hello! We have been away soaking up some vitamin D, and enjoying the patterns and colours of lovely Portugal. There, everything was bright blue and red-brown. The contrast between those shades and the familiar green of home has seemed very striking to me over the past couple of days. There we ate tasty sardines, swam in the sea, enjoyed hot sunshine and cool evening walks along the cliffs. Here, my tatties are thriving, my potting-shed cucumber has fruited (and fruits have been eaten), everything is lush and flourishing and yesterday we saw an osprey hunting on our loch from the living room window. We ran outside for a better view and, looking up into the evening sky, saw it circling just above us with a still very-alive fish squirming in its talons. A remarkable sight.
Bruce has been away too. Perhaps he’ll tell you about that later.
One of the things that drew us to this house was the fact that it had a garden. Or rather, it came with a nice big blank expanse of lawn that might one day become a garden. I’m not too keen on lawn, but I’ve always liked growing vegetables, and was excited by the prospect of finally being able to do so in a garden of my own. The space we have here has some advantages – its on a south-facing slope that gets a lot of sun. But it has some disadvantages too: the soil is the worst kind of claggy clay, not at all fertile, incredibly wet and boggy, and very poorly drained. Our house is part of what was once a farm, and from old maps I have discovered that the top of our garden was once home to a water wheel, a stone building, and associated machinery, which were used for timber cutting and processing. A small amount of investigation quickly reveals the traces of the land’s former use – it is full of rocks and water. And even if I could dig (my balance is so poor that I just fall over), it would take an enormous amount of work to improve this soil. I have a compost heap, and a good source of manure, but rocks and clay just aren’t that good for growing vegetables.
Last year, I got round this problem by growing things, with some success, in pots and planters. This year we decided to get a little landscaping done, and put up a potting shed, which would allow me to bring on plants efficiently rather than (ahem) taking over every room in the house with seed trays and seedlings.
I am showing you this slightly loopy photograph of me on a ride-on mower so that you can gain some sense of what things looked like at the top of the garden previously. To the left there’s a nice summer house, and to the right a bandstand-like area of decking, both of which were put up by the previous owners. We had the decking removed, took out a couple of trees at the back, and laid concrete foundations alongside the summer house for the new shed. In front, we took up the turf, put down gravel, and set up raised beds. (I say “we” but what I really mean is that we hired some blokes with a mini-digger). Here are the new raised beds.
This set-up is absolutely brilliant for me – there is room for me to get around the space easily, and with my kneeler I can work in and across each bed with minimal difficulty. Once the mini-digger had departed, Tom and I got to work painting the new potting shed and the old summer house. Ta da!
I can’t tell you how happy the new shed makes me. I now have a space which can house my tools and seeds, in which I can bring on my seedlings, and in which I can attempt to grow the greenhouse vegetables to which I’m stubbornly drawn, like cucumbers and tomatoes.
The shed has potting benches, lots of shelving and staging, and my solar-powered radio. I can check on my plants, sit in there and knit, and enjoy a cup of tea.
(this apposite hanging was made for me as a gift when we moved house. Thankyou, Anne!)
I’ve planted out my potatoes, courgettes, strawberries, salad leaves, and the peas and beans.
Yesterday Tom and I built and painted up a pleasing planter . . .
. . . which is now home to some jolly geraniums.
There’s also a border, in which I’ve planted some flowers and shrubs I’ve always wanted to grow, like aliums, and this ceanothus.
We’ve installed a giant water butt, set up another big composting bin, started up the wormery again, and today I think I’ll move the brassicas (which I’ve been bringing on in window boxes, while I was waiting for the raised beds to be built).
Not for the first time, I feel incredibly appreciative of my present situation, and the potential we now have in this lovely productive space. I’m looking forward to many happy hours in my new shed and garden!
It is a year today since we moved from Edinburgh to this wonderful spot. We absolutely love it, and are all enjoying our new life here. An inhabitant of towns and cities all my life, I have always loved the outdoors, and have often yearned to live in the country. . . and being here at last has already made a massive difference to my mindset, my outlook, my work, and most certainly my health. Outdoors walking every day, I feel incredibly connected to my surroundings and the changing seasons: every day is subtly different, and I love tracing the turning of the year through the appearance of wildflowers and the songs of different birds. I have learned the privilege of recognising wild animals as individuals (not just “a hare” but “that hare”) and have enjoyed encountering many different beasties on my daily walks from newts to hen harriers. There are still many mornings when I wake up, find the world around me absolutely breathtaking, and can’t quite believe I actually live here. I wonder if this feeling will ever go away – I rather hope it doesn’t. The eighteenth-century women, whose letters I used to work on, were very fond of quoting Micah 4, the bit that comes after the swords and ploughshares about sitting under one’s own vine and fig tree. All I can say is that here I have at last found my vine, and my fig tree, though, this being Scotland, I’ll definitely have to erect a greenhouse if I actually want to grow them.
Here are some photos from our first year in our new home.
It is a beautiful time of year, and here in the West of Scotland we have been enjoying some incredible weather. Most days you will find me here . . .
. . . knitting away on my current YOKE, looking at this . . .
. . . and occasionally these . . .
What a joy to have a garden!
The midsummer evenings are truly extraordinary. Around 9.30 the world turns to gold.
Every day I am bowled over by the beauty of my surroundings. I like how connected I feel to the outdoors, the surrounding landscape, its sense of space, the changing light, my lovely neighbours. So on the one hand, these days around the longest day have been delightful. But on the other, they have been kind of hideous. Tom, who has suffered from recurrent bouts of appendicitis had an attack last week in Dublin and finally had the offending organ removed in St Vincent’s hospital on Thursday morning. Thank goodness for the prompt and careful action of those surgeons, because it turns out the thing was dangerously gangrenous. Thankfully he is now doing well on some serious antibiotics, but it has nonetheless been a horribly worrying few days during which I have felt rather useless, there being little I could do. I am so incredibly grateful to Una and Roger, with whom Tom has been staying in Dublin, whose support has really been above and beyond. We are hoping to get Tom home by the end of next week and I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to seeing him after the grim worries of the past few days. Hopefully he can then spend some time recovering and relaxing in our garden. Its a shame he can’t knit. . . Well, please keep Tom in your thoughts, everyone, and I hope you are enjoying a lovely Midsummer weekend!
I finished painting the kitchen yesterday! Although it is still waiting for various things to be put on the walls, I am very happy and wanted to give you a peek.
I’ll try to summarise the main features:
The cooker is a (gulp) rangemaster with an induction hob. (The house has a fantastic stove in the sitting room that fires up the boiler and heating, so we didn’t need the range to do that). This is the first time I’ve used this kind of hob and I rather like its efficiency. The oven heats up amazingly quickly and a delicious roast lamb appeared out of it yesterday: in short, so far we really like it.
The worktops / counters are oak to match the floor, and the units are from the Appleby range at Magnet. I have to say that I have been mightily impressed by pretty much everything about Magnet. Over several hours and in great detail, we designed the kitchen with Bert at the Edinburgh branch. Then, with the kind permission of the former owners of our house, Scott the fitter came out to measure up carefully before we moved in so that we were able to make some necessary adjustments to the plans. Everything arrived on the date we’d arranged and Scott and his brother Tom removed the old kitchen; built, wired, plumbed, and fitted everything in just six days. Tom also fitted nine new ceiling lights, relaid areas of floor, and arranged for the walls and ceiling to be replastered. Tom and Scott arrived when they said they would; kept everything remarkably clean and tidy and were incredibly accommodating and helpful. Best of all, though, there was nothing to worry about, as I just knew we were in really good hands: the quality of their work is superb, and the whole finish of the kitchen is really lovely. In short, if you are in the UK, I would heartily recommend arranging a kitchen through Magnet’s Edinburgh branch. (Thankyou, Bert, Scott and especially Tom for all your help.)
Walls. Because the kitchen faces East, and because the natural illumination in this room comes from two windows set deep into the wall (our house is a converted old farm building), we wanted to keep the space as light and airy as possible. We decided on open shelves, clean white tiles and walls painted a pale, fresh shade (we are putting up spice racks and utensil rails on either side of the range so the walls will not be completely bare). We tried out several Farrow & Ball shades, and were going to go for ‘Pale Powder’, but in dim rooms F&B recommends selecting a shade lighter, and we have experience of the way blue paint can intensify over large areas, so plumped for ‘Pavilion Blue’ above the tiles. Though it was not our intention to match the Appleby units, the colour actually turned out to be virtually the same, in both tone and hue. I am really very pleased with it.
The tiles are of the standard white metro / subway kind, of which I am very fond, and would stick everywhere if I could. Because I wanted them to look very defined, I have spent quite a bit of time over the past few weeks thinking about grout. I honestly never knew there were so many different kinds of grout, or that it came in so many shades of grey, but it really does. The grout used here is neither ‘silver’ nor ‘charcoal’ but a mid-grey ‘cement’ colour. Our tiler Paul, came on the recommendation of another Paul (the former owner of our house), and I am incredibly grateful to both of them. Accommodating my very specific grouting requirements, Paul-the-tiler sourced all the materials I’d asked for at trade, and, with no fuss and considerable aplomb, laid eleven square metres of tiles over one long day. I hadn’t thought of laying tiles into the kitchen’s two deep window recesses: this was Paul’s suggestion and it looks fantastic.
Paul made more work for himself inside these windows as the recesses are on a slightly narrowing slope, so the tiles had to be cut at an angle. Observing Paul’s work, I have a new appreciation for the craft of tiling.
. . . and am pleased with the very precise greyness of the grout.
So, here is the whole room, which also features a Belfast sink (which I have always wanted), a dishwasher (which for me, the washer-upper, is extremely exciting) and a couple of tall larder units. This is the first time that Tom and I have designed a kitchen for ourselves and both of us are really pleased with how it has turned out. But I have to say that, so far, this pleasure has been tempered by a certain amount of class guilt as neither of us are used to spending lots of money on our immediate surroundings. However, yesterday, when I put the final coat of paint on the walls, I could see just how lovely it looked and finally sort of accepted it. Our main aims were to make the most of the light and the space and to create something that felt calm and homey and just like us. Now its finished, it really does feel like our kitchen and I know that this is a room that we are going to enjoy for many years to come.