Pixie and the Christmas Cactus

At this time of year, when the garden is asleep, I feed my need for green with indoor plants. This Christmas cactus is a great favourite and as it is now in full flower I have put it in pride of place in the kitchen, where Pixie does her best to rub the flower buds off by marking it with her furry face.

Christmas cactus gets it name from its flowering time, however my cactus thinks it is American as it is flowering on Thanksgiving thus demonstrating its alternative name – Thanksgiving cactus.

The cactus part of the name is a misnomer too. It isn’t a cactus from a dry place, but an epiphyte from the Brazilian costal highlands of S. E. Brazil ( Sao Paulo and Rio states) where it hangs from trees in cool, moist forests and is pollenated by brilliant, flashing humming birds. Brazilians call it the Flor de Mai, as in its natural habitat the perfect day and night time length stimulates it to flower in May.

In northern climes schlumbergera will only flower if it gets long dark nights. So in order to encourage it to flower it needs to be kept in a cool room which does not get any artifical light at night.  My mother in law had a wonderful plant in the downstairs loo.  The brief visits with the light switched on were fine; but as most of the time it was in darkness at night, the plant flowered prolifically.


I keep mine in my office, where I am pleased to boast, I do no work at all in the evening and so the cacus buds can form and and start to flower in peace before I bring it downstairs to amuse the cat and to brighten up dull November with promises of once familiar faraway tropical forests and humming birds.



Garden Safari

I bought a house with one bush, one tree and lawn. There was no shade, no flowers, no interest, no life. Six summers later, so much has changed and grown than we decided to spend a perfect summer’s day just exploring the wildlife that has made a home around us.

The fact that France seems very unsafe at the moment and Germany just over the border no better, made a day close to home doubly attractive.

It started with a tawny owl screeching before dawn and continued for 28 more species of birds, feeding in the garden or flying overhead: bull finches, linnets, redstarts, gold finches, green woodpeckers, serins, to name but a few in the garden and swifts , storks , sparrowhawks and even a honey buzzard overhead catching the warm breezes.

I had set my moth trap the night before and when I opened the lid there were 12 different species of night time beauties including oak eggar, cream waves and the extraordinarily named, setaceous hebrew character.

There were no big five mammals to hunt , but there was a soft furred pipistrelle bat hanging under the eves over the front door and a hedgehog wheezing and snuffling indignantly in his ideally overgrown raspberry patch in the in corner. Hedgehogs can make such a huge range of noises and this one sounded like water squirting and gurgling out of blocked garden hose.

The butterflies were out in force, a constantly flittering wall of wings over the lavender hedge and the budlia bushes. We identified 10 types from green viened whites to brimstones, but the commonest by far were the hundreds of gatekeepers over the flowers. I made a film of them and while I filmed my neighbour provided a perfect sound track as his practiced his accordion over the road with his patio door open – very Alsacian!
If I can work it out, I will up load it for you to see and hear.

We dug out all the guide books and Ed indentified 5 species of bees and 20 further mini beasts from hover flies to harvest men amongst the leaves and flowers of our disgracefully overgrown garden.

At the end of the day I was delighted to tally up 79 species of creatures and I know there are many, many more. We didn’t even start on the plants in the garden and will leave that for another day and another holiday.
Anyone can have a garden like ours, just mow the lawn very occasionally, let trees and flowers self seed, plant garden flowers that insects like and ignore anything that needs spraying with poisonous chemicals. Stop being so tidy; leave the corners completely wild and most importantly take time to marvel at the wildlife that can turn the most sterile garden to fascinating habitat with just a little benign neglect on your part!

Escapism  –  to H.M. Scudamore .


Second hand book shops have always been my door at the back of the wardrobe and my way through the looking glass when the “real” world is too dull or too frightening to want to spend time in. In England in late June, I picked up this wonderful book from a  charity book shelf and everything about it beckoned me in.

Firstly the title “Garden of Delights” seemed to promise something half way between paradise and indulgent sticky sweet meats. Next the dark green cover hinted at rusticity and the central illustration at Art Deco decadence. The uneven rough cut edges to the thick pages were the result of a paper knife that had pains takingly slit open each sheet in study somewhere under gas light and then the anthology of poetry and prose inside spoke only of beauty in sweeping countryside and secluded gardens.


It was exactly what I needed. Writers from Shakespeare to Cowper, George Elliot to Andrew Marvel  and Keats to the mysterious Melisande extolled the virtues of the garden, the beauty of the natural world and the ability of nature to consol and restore the spirit.

It was published in 1912 and as I dived into its resorative good sense and elegance, I felt a little guilty at such escapism 104 years later.

Then I looked at the inside cover and saw the neatly inscribed name : H.M. Scudamore  – 1941.  Who ever H.M. was during The Second World War he or she must have loved this book and needed it in far darker times than we know today.

And now in November the book, with its slightly foxed pages, blocked illustrations and musty smell, links me to HM ; to an optimistic England before the First World War; to a second hand book shop in 2016 and takes me out through the open window and on into a wet,winter French garden still  hoping to escape into a timeless spring.



Second hand book shops

Second hand book shops are the soul of the cultural world and I have sought them out where ever I have been. When I think of my life, it is punctuated by all the wonderful second hand book shops I have visited. The quiet, musty corners where I have felt uniquely safe and utterly absorbed in poetry, history , crumbling maps and stacks and stacks of fiction in to which I could dive.  I didn’t come from money. My love of literature comes from my mother who took me every week to the public library in Widnes and let me roam safely amongst the tightly packed enticing shelves of things I didn’t understand, but soon learned to love and to crave.

When I had some pocket money I soon realized I could buy four second hand books for the price of one new book and there could be no question of where I would spend my money. New books might be shiney and clean, but they had no one’s name written on the inside cover; no publishing date 50 years before I was born ; no angry scrawling in the margins; no pressed flowers to fall out between the pages and no love notes to crumble to poignant tatters as you turned the first leaf.

New books might contain stories, but old books were stories in themselves and I have loved them ever since.

As my garden is now officially dead I am turning to them again .

Crisped to beauty .

It is hard to find beauty in a garden destroyed by frost. The flowers are blackened and the grass is dead. A few freaks of snow promise to enliven the desolate scene soon, but the kale in the vegetable garden seems to blossom with frost; each curly leaf delineated and frilled by it. An exuberant winter green!