Mr S bought his house in February 2015. Save from a lone summer barbecue, the square of grass out the back lay virtually unused for over a year. One ill-fated attempt to spruce up the area left me pulling up weeds alone with nothing but a broken trowel for company. Boredom, hayfever and an aversion to sunshine drove Mr S into the shady confines of his mancave.
Moving in last winter gave me unprecedented access to the house and I quickly claimed the outside space as my own. Planting my flag firmly in the patchy lawn of course piqued Mr S’s interest. We have therefore embarked on a project to transform the space.
The first step was to take a look at what we’ve got. There was a moss ridden, waterlogged lawn, a square patio, a couple of areas of stone chips and a rather sad-looking plastic excuse for a shed. The fences had, at some point in the distance past, been treated to a coat of grim brown paint and were slowly being overtaken by neighbourly foliage. It was essentially a dull, characterless space with no purpose and unsuited to any sort of social event. (We did host one barbecue last summer where we perched borrowed garden chairs and an Ikea coffee table among the weeds.)
Top priorities for project garden:
- Add colour through planting and accessories
- Add height and structure
- Furniture and lighting
- New shed
- Keep the lawn
- Repaint the fences
- Improve lawn quality
- Encourage wildlife.
Back in April we went into this project with a huge amount of misplaced enthusiasm, believing it would take a weekend, maybe two at most, to carry out a complete transformation of the garden. Three months down the line a combination of inclement weather, inexperience and an ignorance of the effort required has taught us otherwise.
(For infor: sketches using gardena.com’s My Garden design tool.)
Nipping over to the continent for a Christmas market or weekend of cultural amusements is a snitch. So it beats me why I don’t do it more often. Over three years ago I took in the festive delights of Bruges, including a display of Disney themed ice sculptures that quite literally rendered me speechless but since have been something I’ve not been able to stop rambling on about.
I’m not going to lie, chocolate was high on our agenda for the weekend. A peruse around the chocolate museum and discovering that brandy tipped unceremoniously into a mug of frothy hot cocoa really is as good as it sounds were some of the highlights.
We made regular diversions into shops selling candy of all colours and unimaginable flavours – most of which have been long forgotten. Except Dumon Chocolatier.
A small establishment located quite centrally in Eiermarkt, Bruges, Dumon looks like something the Brothers Grimm dreamt up – a perfect Hansel and Gretel-esque cottage, a little at odds with the larger and later buildings. After descending a miniature staircase into the shop, floor to ceiling chocolate awaits.
Not wanting to put all of our chocolate eggs into one big Ballotin, we opted for a medium selection to take home. Our carefully transported haul of Bruges’s finest were slowly sampled in the run up to Christmas. Despite other chocolates displaying far heftier price tags, Dumon Chocolatier won on all fronts – taste, texture, design – leaving us hungry for more.
A colleague of mine recently headed to Bruges and asked for travel tips. Being mid-summer enthusing about ice sculptures was futile but chocolate has year-round appeal. Directions to Eiermarkt duly divulged, I was not expecting an offer of Dumon’s produce in return.
An email entitled “Mission Accomplished” pinged into my inbox and a gleaming picture of a Dumon Ballotin rewarded my eyes. What followed was a very long weekend of waiting.
The passing of time can warp memories, distorting opinions. Not so with these beauties. Packaged just how I remembered, the gleaming chocolates were once again a delight to be savoured. (If savoured means not scoffing them all in just one night.)
These snaps were taken on my last visit to Sidmouth, my late grandparents’ seaside abode, when we lunched at the top of Jacob’s Ladder. I have two very distinct childhood memories of this particular place: 1) my grandmother falling down, spraining her ankle and breaking her arm but not her spirit; 2) the flowers.
The garden ‘rooms’ are filled fabulous, flamboyant creatures made up of beautiful blooms – it was a veritable wonderland for a little girl. Although the sea is hidden from view, you can still taste its saltiness in the air and hear the gulls calling out (a sound that evokes the most glorious of seaside-y feelings when trapped in the landlocked Midlands).
The triumphant bursts of dahlias caught my eye on this last visit. I utterly adore these flowers.