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?