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A very mobile week

A very mobile week

What a week Matt and I had, and what a start to the new year! It’s all good fun – what a very mobile week we experienced. I’m not talking about mobile phones here. I mean good old-fashioned physical movement. I can barely even remember […]

RHS Botany for Gardeners

RHS Botany for Gardeners

I buy so many books – usually on gardening and grow-your-own – it’s unbelievable. So I thought to myself: why not share some book reviews online? Kicking off our bookworming is the RHS ‘Botany for Gardeners’, which I purchased for £14.99 from Waterstones along with […]

My first month in horticulture

My first month in horticulture

In early October I took the leap of faith to hand in my resignation for my administrative job in the NHS. I’d reached a roadblock in my mind. To move up the ladder and earn more money, required qualifications, and I have enough of those already. Staying in the same post would involve a certain amount of stagnation. However, I’ve just surpassed my first month in horticulture.

My first month in horticulture

Just over a month ago now, all came good. Bestall & Co, the award-winning garden design firm where I’d been doing work experience, offered me a position as Graduate Trainee. This is going to involve a year-long in-house training programme and quarterly targets to obtain bonuses. While I may not want another course and qualification (just yet), I am excited at the prospect of this process. I love constant learning. In my mind, we’re like plants. The nutrients we need are non-stop education. It’s a reason I read so much – and amass so many books!

I’m sure to learn a variety of things, due to the nature of my role. Some of it is office-based, researching and writing up webpages and articles. The rest of my time is based out and about, finalising project planting and performing garden maintenance.

So what have I learnt in my first few weeks at Bestall & Co? While I may have known a fair bit from my upbringing and personal gardening experiences, I’ve already picked up quite a few things:

1. When planting into a long border, work backwards. That is, have your back to the direction you’re moving towards. Dig a hole, pop in the plant and firm the soil. Then step back to your next planting position. That way, rather than leaving unsightly compacted footprints, you leave looser soil

2. There are excellent spades out there now with double-width treads, making digging in a lot easier. These also come in very handy when cleaning muddy boots when leaving a flower bed. Wider treads allow you to scrape more mud off and onto the soil. Spear & Jackson fabricate some good double-width tread tools

3. Sometimes, despite number 2, the simplest options work the best. I’ve never been keen on bulb planters. Having planted out over 2000 spring bulbs recently, that dislike has intensified. You can’t beat a good old sharp trowel. Or a thick enough dibber for that matter!

I’ve also been subjected to recognising a range of perennials in winter, without their flowers, and a few without much foliage. What a task!

I’m looking forward to 2018 and even more little “tips of the trade”. Doubtless these will come in handy outside of work – like the fact I’ve applied for my first ever allotment too! (Matt and I are hoping to have our own place this month, but the intended doesn’t have its own garden). Fingers crossed I’m given a vacant plot soon.

Happy New Year everyone!

My top five gardens of 2017

My top five gardens of 2017

As my thirtieth year draws to a close, I want to reflect on my top five gardens of 2017. It’s a tough list to compile, and I’ve yet to actually write up reviews of a couple. Fingers crossed I’ll be getting to visit them again […]

Hunte’s Gardens

Hunte’s Gardens

Follow my blog with Bloglovin If you read my last post, you’ll recall I mentioned visiting the marvellous Hunte’s Gardens during our two-night stay on Barbados in November. In actuality, marvellous just doesn’t cover how awe-inspiring this sunken space is. While the entrance fee doesn’t […]

A noteworthy November

A noteworthy November

My 30 by 30 posts are done and dusted. They took up almost all of my November posts, so it’s time for me to reflect on a noteworthy November. It certainly brought a lot of notable events.

I already published a look at the Bonfire Night weekend, which you can read here, so I’ll start after that Sunday…

 

Heading south for secrets and surprises

The most significant change of November was my career. First of all, my last working day at the Northern General Hospital was Thursday 2nd. I didn’t have anything concrete to move onto at that point, but had a few ideas and one main hope. After saying my goodbyes to colleagues, it was time for a month or so to kick back and relax.

I spent much of the month at Matt’s across in Lymm. He’d advised me, in a clandestine card, to keep Tuesday 7th November free of any plans. There was a clue, but I’m hopeless at them so figured none of it out. I didn’t even know which direction we were heading in, until the morning when we set off in a southerly direction.

Trentham Gardens entrance

Matt drove us into the car park of the Trentham Estate whose gardens I first heard of earlier in the year. I’ll go into more detail about this in another post, because the grounds need more in-depth discussion. Suffice to say we had a pleasant if chilly wander round. The rejuvenated gardens are sublime, and I can’t wait to see them again in summer.

It wasn’t too long before Matt had us bundled in the car, and we were hitting the road again. He’d told me to dress pretty smartly for the evening. My mind was whirring with possibilities. The SatNav was needed nearer to the end of the journey, but Matt didn’t let me near it.

We went into Coventry – not my favourite place – and passed out the other side. Even more confusing! Finally we arrived at the Warwick University campus. Finding a car parking space was its own side quest. We headed off for something to eat and drink, and then made our way to the venue: Butterworth Hall. The event: Monty Don talking about his latest book Down To Earth and his lifelong gardening exploits.

Monty Don Warwick University

I was over the moon. Monty is a role model of mine. I think he’s a bit Marmite – you either love him or hate him. For me he’s the epitome of enjoying investing yourself in the earth and cultivating your small patch of this world. He has no professional education in horticulture, yet has learnt so much over the years. His voice is captivating yet soothing at the same time.

Monty Don Down To Earth signed book

Monty’s talk didn’t disappoint. It was inspirational and eye-opening, just seeing what can be achieved. The way he discusses his partnership and compromise with his wife Sarah is an additional lesson for all (you can read more about this in their book The Jewel Garden). There was insight into behind-the-scenes of Gardeners’ World filming, plus elements the BBC would never bother catching on camera. As for those like Matt, with less or no passion for hands-on gardening, Monty’s humour bewitches. He enjoyed the evening almost as much as I.

Monty Don talking

Wandering around the building after the talk, Matt and I managed to ambush a slightly befuddled Monty as he escaped for home… I even achieved a photo with the great man!

Monty Don and Kevin

 

Heading further afield

It wasn’t long before Matt and I ventured even further than the midlands. New York beckoned!

Virgin flight

I can’t recall if I mentioned my first ever trip to New York on this site or not. It was June of this year, when I accompanied Matt over there. I’d never had any urge to visit, as large, bustling cities aren’t my cup of tea. It was going to be a flying visit – 36 hours roughly, almost all spent awake!

Managing not to be too subjective about the trip, we fitted in a walk along the High Line, a night bus tour, a meal close to Times Square, Roosevelt Island and the 9/11 memorial site. I never felt truly comfortable; nevertheless, I’m glad to be able to say I went.

Matt convinced me to go again with him in November. He wooed me with how much more appealing it is in winter, wrapped up in warm clothing. I won’t lie: his promise of spending much more time around Central Park also won me over.

NYC skyline

This time we had two nights’ stay. Apart from feeling trapped in Central Park at one point – claustrophobia colliding with agoraphobia, bizarrely – we had a lovely time. We spent hours exploring Central Park. The autumnal colours were spectacular. My favourite spot had to be the Bethesda Terrace – stunning architecture – although the Belvedere Castle was fantastic and unexpected. The latter is predominantly a tourist destination with a gift shop and great views, but it’s also the site of the local weather station. I have to say the scale of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis reservoir was also breathtaking. It was a brilliant foreground to the surrounding skylines, with the sun shining above us.

New York reservoir central park

Matt and I managed to get into the extremely educational Museum of the City of New York for free. It normally costs, but we landed lucky. It was free all week. I would urge anyone visiting NYC to call in. We spent a couple of hours perusing the information boards. You could easily pass hours inside, with its different levels and regularly changed exhibitions.

Brooklyn Bridge NYC

We also made it along the High Line again and, this time, walked over most of the Brooklyn Bridge and back. Yet more wonderful views and astounding architectural feats opened up to us.

High Line NYC

On my first visit we never made it up a skyscraper. Second time round and we took the lift to the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building. I’m not usually scared of heights. This was something totally different! I was terrified. As breathtaking as the illuminated city all around was, I couldn’t venture close to the edge. Matt had a good look around though; I’m glad I didn’t hold him back, even though he’s been up before.

All in all I’d say everyone should aim to experience NYC at least once in their life. Hand on heart, I can also say I doubt I’ll go back again soon. We’re back to the subject of Marmite again – you love it or hate it.

 

Barbados, baby

We were only back in Blighty for a few days before Matt whisked me off to Barbados. Now this time I confess I loved the destination.

Bridgetown Barbados

I hadn’t been sure what to expect. I’d never really known anyone who’s experienced the Caribbean. I wondered if we’d end up kidnapped for ransom by drug cartels. My mind had obviously wandered down to the South American rainforests.

First and foremost, the Barbadian people are so friendly and relaxed. Even their driving is a dream. No high speeds, no road rage. However, no road signs either really. When your car hire company fails to provide SatNav, this can be a problem. Armed with a map of the island, we succeeded.

On the first day, we got up extra early to walk down to the beach. Matt had promised me horses. There they were, prime racing horses, taking a dip in the sea before the tourists awoke. Matt and I popped in for an hour or so too, before grabbing the hire car and setting off inland.

Barbados beach Barbados beach Barbados horse in sea Kevin and horse on beach

Our initial stop was Hunte’s Gardens. I’m sorry folks, but this’ll have to be another separate post. It has to be my favourite foreign garden visited to date. It’s up there with my top gardens full-stop. Anthony Hunte was there – a marvellous host – who’d designed and formed the sunken paradise himself over previous years. It was otherworldly in its perfection. Anyhow, I must stop myself before I say too much here. Stay tuned…

Kevin at Hunte's Gardens entrance

From there we moved on to the Andromeda botanical gardens. These were on the opposite end of the spectrum. More of a showcase, as botanical gardens often are, whereas Hunte’s Gardens was showy and jawdropping. What I enjoyed about the botanical gardens was the information guide you used to navigate the place – especially useful when the specimens before you are so unlike those in Britain. That said, the odd familiar name or shape popped out to say “hello”. We encountered yet more friendly folk here: two UK expats at the welcome desk who chatted with us for ages before we realised we should head back to the hotel. A troop of monkeys also stalked us for a while – a little different to the squirrels experienced in Sheffield Botanical Gardens!

Andromeda Barbados Matt and bearded fig tree Andromeda Barbados Monkey in palm tree Andromeda Barbados Pond Andromeda Barbados

Our second night in Barbados ended with a delicious meal at the simply named Tapas restaurant, and our second morning saw us hitting the beach for sunbathing and swimming. It’s bliss because, as long as you settle away from the hotel fronts, you get the sea and sand to yourself. Just remember to take plenty of drinking water and plenty of suncream! Matt and I laughed so much just messing about in the water like kids. Passers by must have thought we were mad as we launched ourselves into huge waves and tried “washing machines” and forward rolls on the surface.

Sea beach Barbados Kevin in the sea Barbados

One word of warning to anyone travelling to Barbados: it’s pretty expensive. Oh, and you’ll struggle to find postcards. Two warnings for you.

 

Grounding myself

As mentioned briefly at the start of this post, I left my job in hospital admin at the start of November. At the end, I began in a new position with Bestall & Co, award-winning garden design firm based at Renishaw Hall.

I’d been doing one day a week’s work experience with founder Lee and his team since summer. I’m over the moon that they felt I’m worthy of being taken on as a paid colleague. My new role is “graduate trainee”, and I’m excited to be undergoing in-house training that has evidently served previous new employees very well. It’s only a small firm, but that’s even more of a bonus. It’s friendly, personal and chances to pitch in are even more readily available.

Another aspect of the job I’m overjoyed about is the variety I’m experiencing. I won’t just be in the office doing administration. I’m spending at least half of my time outdoors, performing practical horticulture. For instance, we just planted over 1000 bulbs in a couple of days in a few gardens. I’ll get to see a range of designed gardens first-hand. When I am in the office, it’s unleashing more creativity than ever before. I’m researching and writing articles, webpages and presentations. Very happy!

It goes to show, life is full of unexpected but utterly amazing twists and turns. You’ve just got to seize the opportunities presented!

Focus on the positive

Focus on the positive

It’s the thirtieth day of November 2017, which means this is the final entry of my 30 by 30 posts. I’d like to finish off by pulling together everything I’ve discussed into one summative sentence. Here goes. Focus on the positive. Mind blown? Focus on […]

Start saving sooner

Start saving sooner

Most of my 30 by 30 posts have concentrated on spiritual growth and wellbeing. As we come to the end of November, I’d like to shift focus onto more material considerations. I want to underline a tenet I wish I’d realised when I was younger: […]

Avoiding bitchiness

Avoiding bitchiness

Today’s 30 by 30 post is akin to the article I wrote on being forthright instead of complaining. This post is focusing on avoiding bitchiness.

Much like having a good moan, being bitchy is a habit we can all very quickly fall into. Occasionally it begins as a small complaint. “Can you believe so-and-so did this to me?” Or “Have you heard how so-and-so did that yesterday and got away with it?” The problem is that we often don’t stop at the latest bit of controversy. We move on to previous failings or misdemeanours. The whole thing snowballs.

And ultimately, what is the result?

In the end, we’re actually just adding to bitterness, negativity and conflict (how many times have bitchy comments been passed on, much to our embarrassment?).

If this all sounds seriously preachy, then be reassured: I have been as much of a sinner in bitchiness as anyone.

Why do it?

Bitchiness can feel good at the time. It releases some tension quickly. Slating someone else behind their back can also contribute to a sense of community – after all, you have to be bitching to someone who feels the same way about your target.

However, both are serious mistakes. Firstly, while the tension may be let loose, it’s definitely not the best way to do so. Instead, take a break. Get some space or, better yet, some exercise. Use some time to calm and analyse your thoughts and feelings. Always remember each human is usually trying their best to get by in life, not being malicious. Conflicts and upset are generally down to miscommunication. Things might not have gone your way, or even the other person’s, but it’s the path they thought best at the time.

In addition, the sense of belonging and understanding through a mutual bitch session is a fallacy. If someone is bitching with you, do you think they might be capable of bitching about you too? From personal experience, being on both ends, the answer is yes.

So what’s the point?

There isn’t one really. Just avoid bitchiness. Keep your negative thoughts to yourself and focus on the other person’s positives. We all make mistakes, but more significantly, we all have strengths and virtues.

I intend from now on to forgive and then to forgo the bitchy comments. I want to think others are thanking and praising me, not ripping me to shreds; and I shall endeavour to raise others up in person and in spirit.

Discuss mental health

Discuss mental health

I’ve not told everyone I know this, but I suffer from panic attacks. I’ve experienced them for several years now, and wonder if I’ve actually had them on and off throughout my life. The older I become, the more essential I believe it is to […]