So, where was I...?

This blog feels a bit like one of those movies where the words "Three years later" come up on the screen, thus neatly sidestepping any tedious narratives about what everyone has been doing in the meantime.
I suppose the edited version of the past six months would go something like this:
The long cold winter finally came to an end. The kitchen was finished, the stone floor was laid and the living room was redecorated. I managed to start planting my garden, and spent quite a lot of time weeding and pruning. Other people came and did major hacking and pruning.
I went to San Francisco, to the Garden Bloggers' Fling, where I felt a bit of a fraud (having not written a single post for half a year). By the time I got back, a heatwave was in full swing, thus putting paid to any good intentions I had about catching up with my blog. Oh, and I won second prize in the village show for my picture of a lupin in the rain.
I've posted some pictures here, because I know how much people love "before and after" stories.

This is the kitchen back in February, when the old units and fittings had been ripped out. The house, which was built sometime between 1800 and 1850, had originally been a two-up, two-down cottage and in the past 40 years, it had been extended twice. When I moved in, it felt very much like two different houses joined together, so I decided to lay a stone floor in the kitchen and through the entrance hall to try to give some feeling of cohesion.

Here's the stone floor just after it was laid. It's French limestone from the Bourgogne. The patchwork effect is created by the natural differences in colouration, and the guys who laid it spent quite a long time working out which slabs would look best where - just like piecing together a quilt.

At last! I'd been without a kitchen for about two and a half months before the fitters could finally come in and get on with their work. The kitchen was designed and built by McCarron and Company and I love it to pieces. McCarron are fairly local to me; they are based in Devizes, where they build all their units at their own factory. You can go and see the process from start to finish, beginning with the sawmill and finishing with the paint shop. I loved the idea that the money for my kitchen was going into the pockets of local craftsmen - and of course, it meant that if we hit any snags or queries, someone could come straight round and have a look.
I suppose you'll want to know what has happened to the garden too. First, I should remind you that in the middle of all the chaos, a small person called Rufus joined the household.

Rufus arrived at Awkward Hill at the end of February. He was quite a quiet, shy little puppy - I can remember wondering if he was able to bark, because he hardly made a sound. He's made up for it since (below). He spends most of his time woof-woofing by the front gate to attract the attention of tourists, then grovels shamelessly for attention. He must feature in thousands of Japanese iPhoto albums.

It had been difficult to get any work done in the garden over the winter because of all the snow. This was a rare mild day in early March, when I grabbed the chance to clear out the two borders behind the house. They were so choked with weeds, it seemed easier to take off the top three inches of soil. Well, when I say easier...

... it was actually a long, laborious task, involving a lot of heavy lifting and de-turfing, while at the same time rescuing huge clumps of Iris sibirica, snowdrops and crocuses. Eventually both the borders were cleared, and mulched with well-rotted farm manure before being replanted. The strange black structures in the border are a set of nesting metal tables from Ikea. I put them there to stop Rufus and the cats using the border as a litter tray. It sort of worked.

I was desperate to introduce some colour into the garden, especially after such a long bleak winter, but I didn't want to buy anything too expensive in case I changed my mind about the layout. In the end I settled for bomb-proof stalwarts that I knew would encourage pollinators and provide months of floriferous display.

These included the perennial wallflower Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve' (described by the RHS as a plant every garden should have), Sedum 'Herbstfreude', Euphorbia characias subsp wulfenii and a selection of hardy geraniums, including G. cinereum subcaulescens for the front of the border, G. 'Sandrine', a new variety called 'Midnight Clouds' (makes a big dark-leaved clump with creamy-pink flowers). Other favourites that had to be given a place were Mexican daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus), Alchemilla mollis, Verbena bonariensis and a couple of box balls.

I also decided I couldn't live without two 'Ballerina' roses, whose clusters of single pink flowers seemed appropriate for a country garden, and Dianthus carthusianorum, which I had lusted after since seeing it at Knoll Gardens. The Cotswolds is a great place to grow roses and clematis, so I expected the Ballerinas to perform well, but the dianthus was a revelation. It went crazy, and competes with the 'Bowles Mauve' for the title of "Most Loved by Pollinators Plant". Here's a Peacock butterfly enjoying the benefits.

The physical changes to the house and garden seemed dramatic at the time, but as they recede into the past, they seem almost negligible - little blips on the calendar that are barely more than punctuation marks. What you can't see, but which is far more important, is the realisation that this has become my home, rather than somewhere I moved to.
A few weeks ago, I discovered that the garden I left behind in London - Victoria's Backyard - had been radically remodelled. I'd expected this to happen, because the new owners had young children who wanted a goal posts and a trampoline and all the usual things that allow the under-12s to let off steam outside.
It still felt quite sad, though, and while I was in San Francisco, looking at gardens full of palms and cordylines and succulents, I felt very nostalgic for my old sub-tropical oasis. I bored Helen at Patient Gardener, who was in SF with me, with wistful yearnings.
Coming home to an unexpected heatwave, and a garden full of roses and lavender, put all thoughts of exotica out of my head. How could I possibly feel regret about anything else when I had all this?


  1. It is sad leaving behind a much-loved garden, and it certainly doesn't help knowing that a lot of your hard work is quickly undone. Having been through a similar experience, I can empathise.

    But ... and it's a big but ... your new garden is just gorgeous. You've created something beautiful already, in such a short time, and it rightly deserves a place in your heart. It's easy to see why your new place now feels like your new home, rather than just 'somewhere I moved too.'

    Lovely garden, stunning kitchen! It was terrific catching up.

  2. Beautiful Victoria. I love it all. I really do hope I get to see you and your garden next summer!

  3. It is so beautiful, Victoria, inside and out! Well done! And here are a few more !!! Seeing this post was worth the six month wait, but I do hope you will find time and inspiration to post a little more frequently. Your photos and writing are both soothing and exciting, if that is possible. I am so sorry to have missed seeing you in SF.

  4. Oh, this is so wonderful to see what you're doing to old home and garden! And Rufus. . .what a dear little guy. I treasured our meeting in SF, what an honor to meet you. I look forward to all your stories on your old house.

  5. Oh Victoria, I would never think that you would leave everything behind, but seeing this makes me remember like somebody said: if you don't close one door, the other one will never open and sometimes the other one is much greater.
    This is what I think about your new garden.
    Do you think you will post more often?

  6. Love Rufous, the limestone floor, the new kitchen, and the new garden. A lot to do over the past six months, but all of it about settling in and making it your home. Beautiful work!

  7. Ridiculously gorgeous, every single bit of it (even Rufus - and I'm not a dog person).

  8. Victoria, I love the kitchen and the garden both! It was such a good explanation about the thought process that went into the house as you lovingly remodeled the kitchen. I know I'll be sad when I leave this garden, but I also realize that without help in a few years, I won't be able to keep it up. Sad thoughts really.

    Bill and I remodeled our house years ago. It was so hard, and especially difficult was the kitchen because I love cooking--at least I did then.~~Dee

  9. I avoid driving past places I lived at. Best to keep looking forward. & such a lovely garden to look forward to! Are Luigi & Mario still bent about sharing a home with Rufus? I hope that your weather has settled down. I can barely breathe, much less think, during the heat & humidity. Congrats on the photo win. Do you have two ovens in your kitchen (gorgeous work, btw)?

  10. Beautiful, inside and out. Thank you for posting again, and please don't way "three years" until the next post!

  11. Have you discovered Daylesford Farm yet?

  12. Have you discovered the strawberry starts at Daylesford Farms yet?

  13. It looks great. Glad to see you are back, and good to see the before and after shots.

    P.S I've managed to get the Schubert Serenade to a state that I am happy with. I even played it in public! I've tried to be a bit more Horowitz than Langlang with it. ;)

  14. Well worth the wait, my friend. Thank you.

  15. Well worth the wait, my friend!

  16. Oh wow, last time I looked in no new post, and now two :-)) - I can sympathise with the sadness of hearing what had happened to your former garden, considering how lovely it looked. I have only seen it on photographs. But as my aunt said after she'd left her allotment, "it's not mine anymore, people can do what they want." But, your new garden looks lovely - as does Rufus. How are the cats doing in their new home?

  17. It looks very good, both inside and out. I love the kitchen units and the use of local business. We have tried to do the same with everything we have done here. There are so many really great local craftsmen. I hate to see newcomers bringing their own workforce in from the city! Great looking dog too!

  18. Welcome back! I was afraid I'd blighted your blog by asking how the new garden is going ...
    We are in the throes of planning the next kitchen, and garden, while we continue to wait patiently for someone to call this house their new home.


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