#JanuaryJoy: Plan to revamp your garden

This weekend saw me out in my new garden for the first time. I’m characteristically so fed up of the doom and gloom in January that I want to get outside a lot. So far I have been waiting to see if any bulbs would sprout up in the garden heralding spring but there were a fair few leaves around so I decided to get out and rake them up, and after finding that there were in fact no bulbs to be seen, a quick trip to B&Q rectified that with trays of primroses and ready to grow bulbs.

Image credit: Lawson Photography

I am chomping at the bit to get the new garden planned and am bursting with ideas but waiting on the devastation that will be unleashed when we start the work to the kitchen and outdoor deck area. Adding to that we plan to knock down the double garage and create a dining area there, so 75% of the garden will be changed. As a result, I thought today would be a good time to share some pictures of my old garden, something I have never shared on the blog before and to also tell you that the old house is featured in this months Good Homes magazines – on the shelves now!

I was contacted early last year by a freelance journalist who suggested I send in my home to a magazine but I was a bit slow in getting my act together. Fast forward almost 6 months later and I realised that we were running out of time and it would be a lovely momento of a house I have been very happy in. Laura and Peter Lawson kindly agreed to come round and shoot the house and Good Homes said they were interested. I’m so happy with the images and I’ll be sharing more here soon but in the meantime do go and buy the magazine – I have to confess, I’m not a regular Good Homes reader but I was thrilled to be featured in the ‘Bold & Bright’ issue and felt it couldn’t have been more suited to my style – I’ve got so much inspiration for the new house from it already!

Anyway, back to the garden!

Image credit: Lawson Photography

When we moved in the garden was a typical terraced concrete yard with some bizarre attempt at decking outside the back doors that covered about ⅔ of the ground and was edged by stair bannister railing! One of my biggest priorities coming from a flat was to create an outside area and so we paid a handyman £100 to come with a pickaxe and bash up the concrete and take away the decking. Best £100 I think I have ever spent!

Image credit: Lawson Photography

One of the things I loved about the garden was that it was walled, which worked to our advantage in the summer as the walls held and radiated the suns heat back in to the garden, long after it had sunk beneath the houses behind. However the walls also created pockets of deep shade that needed careful planting. We couldn’t maintain a lawn in that space (nor could we store a lawnmower!) so we opted for gravel with a patio for outdoor entertaining.

Image credit: Lawson Photography

The patio flags came from a local builders yard and came in packs that made a 2m square patio area. We bought 2 and instead of arranging them squarely created an irregular edge and used a few spares to make a stepping stone path to the back gate. After the concrete came up we were left with an uneven mud pit and spent a weekend levelling it, creating some planting beds around the edges with a victorian style rope edging tile, underlaying the gravel area with weed proof membrane, laying the patio and making 2 steps down from the house.

Image credit: Lawson Photography

After that the planting was a work in progress. It started off with a lot of flowers and some favourite shrubs but found the flowers high maintenance in such a dry garden (made worse by them being close to the wall,) and some of the shrubs grew too big. Over time I chose different plants – shrubs like the hydrangea which provided summer colour without leaving a hole in the border come winter, montbretia (crocosmia) for structure and an olive tree suited to the warm dry conditions. I also made the most of the walls but growing clematis, climbing roses and a rampant clematis montana around them. It ended up pretty wild but felt like a little oasis.

Image credit: Lawson Photography

I added the final touches just last summer, rearranging the furniture to move our bench (a wedding gift from my mum) to create more seating on the patio, added the festoon lights (from IKEA) and some cushions (from Next) a bird box with a copper roof from Homesense and my favourite succulent, also from IKEA.

Image credit: Lawson Photography

The back gate was our only bug bear as it was practically rotting off the hinges but we opted not to replace it before we moved as we didn’t use the exit onto the alley anyway. As the plants overgrew it I liked to think it gave a bit of a secret garden appearance :)

So readers, I would love to hear about your garden improvements and any changes you have planned for this year. If there’s anything you want advise on, feel free to ask!


Spotted: Festoons of Happiness

I’ve been obsessed with the strings of lights seen on American blogs, at outdoor weddings and even parties, since they first exploded onto the UK scene. I first saw them in outdoor weddings not long after my own wedding 4 years ago and instantly wished I had had THAT kind of wedding. For a while I forgot them, then more recently I decided that if I couldn’t have that wedding, I could have that life. You know the kind, where people have elegantly thrown together casual outdoor dinner parties in their beautiful gardens, with their stylishly dressed close friends… ;)

Credits R-L, Top to bottom: 1 // 2 // 3 // 4 // 5 // 6 // 7

Some of you may have shared my frustration that these so called ‘festoon lights’ seemed to be an exclusively American item. I searched high and low and although we have plenty of ‘fairy lights’ and ‘string lights’ I just couldn’t find a good match for festoon lights anywhere. They had to be bulb lights, large, widely spaced, on thick cable and they had to be oh so pretty. So imagine how excited I was when I spotted that Cox and Cox had introduced a set. Before splashing out the £50 required though I thought I would turn to the Florence Finds readership and see if you guys had any tips and you really came up trumps, sharing finds from IKEA to Lights4fun and B&Q.

1. Cox and Cox £50 // 2. Ikea (solar powered, £12 // 3. B&Q (not featured online, look for their Blooma Ascella string lights, £20, and glass globe lights, £30) // 4. Lights4fun (allow you to connect several sets) // 5. Toast (not available online, check instore)

I figured there must be more of you like me who had been desperately looking for a little string light magic to festoon around your garden this summer and as these were such bargain finds, I had to share them here.

I’m in the middle of a little garden revamp that I’ll be sharing very soon, but rest assured, it’ll be featuring my very own festoon of happiness. :)


The Southport Flower Show

Last weekend, I headed home to Southport and went back to something I used to do every year as a child, visiting the Southport Flower show. Jess wanted to get some garden inspiration but if you want to visit any of the Royal Horticultural Society shows (like the Chelsea Flower Show or Tatton Park for example) you have to be a member, which can really inflate the cost. As an alternative I suggested we visit the Southport Flower show.

The highlight of the show for me used to be the small garden design that is right at the entrance of the show so I thought I’d share those with any of you looking for some garden inspiration.

This rather modern (and Cheshire-set looking I thought) garden was the first prize winner. It’s a bit too stark for me, but I liked the furniture. I was actually quite disappointed by the gardens this year. They were smaller than I remembered but maybe thats a hazard of growing up, although when I later discussed it with a colleague who also went, she said they were no different to the big RHS shows.

Modern seemed to be the order of the day with sleek paving, square and rectangular planters and still water features amongst the paving. What I did like however was the soft planting which juxtaposed with the hard landscaping beautifully particularly in the bottom two images above.

This garden was completely different and designed for a shady garden full of evergreens and a woodland influence. It looked like a little fairy woodland escape.

One of the things I always take away from flower shows is something that I don’t think people really consider when planting their garden – colour theming. This ‘Cool Runnings’ inspired garden might be taking things a little too far with the resident bob sleigh team, but the Jamaican inspired colours of hot pinks, fiery red, oranges, purple and yellows all looked amazing together. I’m always inspired to make my own garden more colour themed as all the gardening greats did in their time!

Inside the various tents there are fantastic displays of plants from nurseries and specialist growers from all over the country. You can buy everything from a garden perennial to rare cacti. Unfortunately due to the wet weather the ground was sodden and flip flops did not make for easy navigation around the tents – better footwear next time!

We spent a considerable amount of time in the flower arranging tent chortling about the critique given by the judging panel to each entry – Stepford wives at dawn doesn’t even begin to describe the cutting criticism dished out to all who dared to enter!

There was even an amateur growers tent with tables of giant and prize vegetables which were amazing and stands of fragrant sweet peas we wanted to bury our noses in. After poo poo-ing the craft tent we were seduced by some gorgeous wool and alpaca blankets and I picked up a Barbour-esque short wax jacket for £38 after a bit of haggling. The birds of prey and food tent wasn’t a bad stop off either!

I’ve never been to a country fair although I imagine it would be a fun day out. Have you been to any fairs or flower shows that are worth a mention here?


Florence’s Favourite: Cottage Garden plants

Today I thought I would share a list of plants for those of you to buy who are looking to plant a cottage garden. Hugely popular, this style of planting yields lots of cutting flowers for the house and has a dreamy, thoroughly English feel to it. All you need add is a picket fence! This is by no means an exhaustive list but contains some of my favourites. Plant a border with a combination of these flowers and you’ll be well on your way to having your own cottage garden in no time.

Perennials (Plants that you plant once then come up year after year, dying down over the winter.)

  • Dicentra or ‘bleeding heart’, named for the heart shaped pink flowers. Late spring flowering, copes well with partial shade.
  • Lavender, always a favourite, choose the traditional English type for a quintessential English country garden look. Try edging your borders or paths with it. Suits sun baked corners and dry conditions.
  • Peony. Hard to grow but rewarding when it finally flowers. Patience is a virtue! Needs plenty of sun.

Annuals (Seeds you grow in the spring then flower in summer, then die. They live for only one summer.)

  • Nigella, also known as ‘Love in a Mist’ – pretty pink, blue and white flowers veiled by fern-like foliage.
  • Cornflower. Classic country meadow flowers, easy to grow in sunny conditions and not just available in blue! (There is also a perennial cornflower that is easy to grow.)
  • Sweet peas are perfect for picking, grow the old fashioned varieties for a fabulous scent. Make sure you don’t let them go to seed – picking them ensures they keep flowering throughout the season. They need support – buy or make wigwams out of cane and tie the plants to the supports loosely.

Biennials (Plant in spring or summer of one year and they flower the following summer.)

  • Lupins – Spires of multicoloured flowers and a long flowering period. Easy to grow but needs good sun.
  • Foxglove – perfect for shady corners and reminiscent of woodland gardens. Tall spires of flowers rise from low plants so place them between lower bushes like ferns or hostas which provide ground cover and also like shade.
  • Delphinium – Tall blue or white spires of flowers. Needs sun and often need staking.
  • Hollyhocks – Very tall spires of large pink flowers.


  • Garden Rose – The prettiest kind and grown on a bushier plant that is better in a border than the likes of newer tea roses (think interflora!)

So have I missed any readers? Have you got any favourites? Please feel free to add any you love in the comments box.




Reverie Lifestyle: Festival Chic

It’s that time again! Head on over to Reverie magazine‘s blog to see my contribution this month with lifestyle inspiration to recreate festival chic in your garden. We’re not all lucky enough to be heading off to a festival this year but why not revel in the vibe of that festival feel without the washroom nightmares?

Now, who’s checked the weather forecast…? ;)


PS. Normal afternoon post coming up at 14.30.

The Allotment Diaries… May

It’s time I updated you on the allotment… fast becoming an allotment saga in our house for a multitude of reasons. May has been a wash out, not least because of the weather.

You might think that rain followed by sun is a good thing for plants, I certainly did. Surely lots of rain to help the seeds germinate and then sun to help them grow constitutes perfect conditions? Apparently not and thinking on, it’s not hard to see why. Rain would have been good, had it been accompanied by warmer weather, but sadly the lower than average temperatures didn’t signal to the seeds that it was time to germinate. Seeds need the ground to warm up you see, indicating the spring/summer growing season. Next thing was the sun baking the ground hard and although the warmth came, the poor seeds still couldn’t germinate as they had no moisture.

A view over all the allotments

Why am I waffling on about the intricacies of seed germination? Well, as a result of all that the allotment is a great big flop. Some things have done well and although not flourishing like they should be come mid-June, there’s a fair bit of growth going on. I’ve got broad beans at about a foot high and flowering already, but the runner beans have all been eaten by slugs. Ditto the peas, all but a single solitary plant that seems to have done well and is growing and looking a little lonely!

A view over all the allotments

Three rows of lettuce, spinach and salad leaves have produced little other than a few lettuces which I thinned out and re-spaced today. Hopefully they will survive but a bed of broccoli and cabbage, plus a row of pak choi has been decimated by slugs into oblivion. It’s so upsetting.

Broad beans on the left and onion rows on the right.

However, there have been some successes and even surprises. The potatoes are doing well and we have rows of onions that although in need of a good weed, have thrived. Last year my carrots failed to germinate as did the parsnips and not to be put off this year I bought pre-germinated trays of both round and traditional carrots, and parsnips. Planted out just over a month ago, they’re thriving too, with little orange carrot tops just showing above the surface of the soil.

My carrots

The raspberries are laden with fruit which is fattening up nicely, so I’ve made a mental note to net them off before the birds have a field day. Most successful of all though? The thing we pay least attention to and still grows rampant… the strawberry bed. Last year I planted 12 strawberry plants and could easily have quadrupled the amount of plants this year although I haven’t divided them, I did take several to a friend’s house where they are also doing well. If you’re in the mood to divide yours, just let the shoots they send off (called runners) touch the ground and pin them down. They will grow roots and then you can cut off the runner as the new plant has its own support system, and replant it wherever you like.

The strawberry bed, heavy with fruit waiting to ripen

It’s funny, I don’t think I’ve ever had less success as a gardener than I have this year so far, but instead of giving up, I’ve planted more beans and peas in trays at home, along with a tray of beetroot and some purple sprouting broccoli to plant out when conditions are more conducive to success. We shall see. It’s never too late to try again.

So how is your garden growing?


How to plan your Garden

Believe it or not, before I wanted to be a Doctor, I wanted to be a landscape architect. It’s probably the years I watched my Dad re-landscape the gardens that we had in each house we moved to which rubbed off and I picked up a few hard-lanscaping skills too. Our current house is a terrace and came with a concreted over 4 x 4m square yard. Not terribly inspiring. Even so it was the first patch of outdoor space I had to call my own and I was determined to make my city garden somewhere peaceful and pretty. I thought I’d share some of the things that you need to take into consideration when doing the same, regardless of the size of space you’re looking at.

Live with it.
The worst thing you can do (and I would go so far as to extend this to the house, although to a lesser extent,) is to plan your garden without really knowing its character. Aside from the weather, Summer is a good time to plan, and it’s the time of year you will spend most time in the garden.

Parisian Patio
You need to figure out where the sun is and when, where the shady spots are, what you see from various views from the house and what you don’t want to see (that ugly wall or neighbour’s house?)

Make a list
Work out what you want from your garden. Everybodies priorities are different when it comes to the garden. If you’re young and without a family, you might want a party garden that works for outdoor gatherings, and area where you can put sun loungers.

Single sail over pink and orange cushions
You might want a pond or water feature, or not if you’re about to start a family or have young children. Keeping things low maintainenece might be key, you might want space for vegetables or you might want to plant an orchard. Do you need to site outside storage like a shed or new garage building?

Get real
How do the features you want really fit within your garden? If you try to make a garden do something that the characteristics of the site don’t naturally fit, you’ll create a nightmare in terms of maintenance and probably an eyesore as the plants won’t flourish.

Modern terrace
For example, a shady area by a wall won’t produce a spectacular floral display but can be equally beautiful with shade loving foliage plants giving a lush green appearance. Similarly, think carefully about the space you need for each feature. A garden table seating six needs not only the space for the table and surrounding chairs (when fully pushed back from the table,) but space around that to walk on so you’re not falling into a flower bed or onto the lawn.

Think about the practicalities…
This is the time to be practical too. Sometimes the area that catches the evening sun where you are planning to eat al fresco has to be at the bottom of the garden, but it’s much easier if you can to have cooking facilities like your BBQ near to the kitchen, so you’re not trekking back and forth while you have guests or on an impromptu night in.

Terrace with canopy
Does your shed or garage need to be alarmed and therefore also close to the house? Do you want a second eating area for lunch that is shaded from the midday sun? Consider the mundane like where you will store your bins and perhaps build compost heaps or site water storage butts for when hosepipe bans come along.

I hope these are helpful tips. Let me know if you’re renovating your garden and what your plans are. I’d love to share some real garden renovations in my real rooms series so if you have done anything lovely with your outside space, do send your pictures in. Perhaps I’ll share my own garden with you soon :)


Florence’s favourite: Gardening books

This morning, I thought I’d share some of the sources of the wealth of knowledge I’ve accumulated on gardening. Most of that came from books over the years and I love getting a recommendation for a good book. It’s also a little distraction from the dismal weather we’ve been having (bonus Florence points if you’ve secretly been looking out of the window thinking how good it is for your garden!) that will get you ready for next month’s warmer weather and gardening boom time.

So here goes…

  1. The Flower Expert - Dr D G Hessayon £6.19. Growing up, this was my bible. I used to read this book, cover to cover, every year when I was deciding what to plant. It tells you what conditions a plant likes, the size and spread it grows into and what sort of plant it is. It’s part of the best-selling Expert series with a book on nearly everything you could need and you can’t go far wrong with them. Must buys for the garden enthusiast or beginner!
  2. The Kitchen Gardener: Grow Your Own Fruit and Veg - Alan Titchmarsh £13.00 I got this one more recently, when we got the allotment. Arranged year by year with list of jobs to do, what to sow and when, and chapters on how to arrange your vegetable garden and rotate crops etc, it’s a great one to turn to for reference.
  3. Alan Titchmarsh – The Gardener’s Year Similar to the Kitchen Gardener, this is a month by month guide to your garden. Think of it as an old friend or taking the place of your grandad and his green thumb which could make anything grow. I love Alan’s books because he’s so no-nonsense and easy to read. No pretences and he has a healthy attitude to just getting on with planting.
  4. Small Garden - John Brookes £11.04 This last two were purchased when we moved into our house. John Brookes is a fantastic garden design writer and a name to look out for if you want to buy a gift you know will be decent. This collection of small garden inspiration is a real treat if you think your garden isn’t big enough to do anything with.
  5. Planting a Small Garden: Simple steps to success (RHS Simple Steps to Success) – RHS £4.89. Taking more of a practical approach, this book has lists of plants perfect for small gardens, from trees that won’t overshadow your patio spot, to plants for tricky shady borders or damp patches. It’s all easy to read and with loads of gorgeous gardens to feed your ideas!

So tell me, how does your garden grow this April?


Florence’s Favourite… Grow your own Veg

This week, my mind is already wandering towards the four day weekend approaching. Mine is looking like a mixed bag of glammed up fun with friends, days out in the country and a visit home to catch up with the family. It’s going to be good. So this week on the blog I’m leaning towards sharing some things to make your Easter weekend a little bit better, whether that be in the style stakes, or getting the garden sorted.

This morning, that’s where we are starting, the garden, or more specifically, it’s time for me to update you on the Allotment!

We’ve been a bit lax on the Allotment over the winter, aside from the prematurely early cold snap before Christmas, since the New Year we’ve been so busy gallivanting that we’ve not had any free weekend time to head down there. Now the light nights have arrived though, I’ll be heading down in the week to keep on top of it. Any of you who followed me over here from RMW may remember that the allotment we got was reclaimed land by the council at the edge of the pre-existing allotments and we had to wrestle it back out of the hands of perennial weeds and rubble. Here’s a few pics to remind you…

The first pictures we took of our allotment when we got it, completely covered in weeds, then the first bit of clearing we did and the new path.

We managed to cultivate well over two thirds of it last year, set up a compost bin, a plastic grow-house in lieu of ever more expensive greenhouses, some rotating beds and learnt a lot about vegetable growing that was new to me, having been more of a flower gardener before. Having not been for a while and knowing we had lost the grow-house in the winds this January, I was kind of dreading what we would find going back down this spring, but it’s not looking too bad!

A lot of what we grow this year is going to be based on working around what we learned last year. I’m a great believer in working with your growing conditions rather than battling against nature, although I will give some things that failed last year another go… The carrots that didn’t sprout, the peas that Pete accidentally weeded and garlic that also didn’t grow.

Our great successes were in the form of beans, both broad and runner, and as a result of the heavy crop we reaped (and distributed!) I’m growing less this year. The potatoes were also a success and were edible, stored in a traditional potato sack, right through until January this year. The best thing however were the onions. We are still eating last years onion crop which have stored beautifully and I’m proud every time I reach into the cupboard for one to add to our dinner!

Last year’s growing, including the rotating beds and rows of canes for the beans.

Of course, I know that many of you don’t have a whole allotment, so I thought I’d put together a little list of tips for growing vegetables whatever the size of your garden. The most important thing to remember is the conditions. Vegetable plants, regardless of type, work really hard producing crops which requires a lot of energy, so they always need a sunny spot.

Grow your own!
1. First up, potatoes! Possibly the easiest things in the world to grow and they produce a heavy crop. If you’ve got something at home that resembles an old fashioned tin bin or an empty water butt you can happily grow these in a corner somewhere. Fill the bin about half full and place your seed potatoes, (buy these anywhere, from a garden centre to B&Q and they’re best left in the light for a couple of weeks to start sprouting a little shoot. This is called chitting,) sprout pointing upwards, then cover with 6-8 inches of soil. As the shoots poke through, continue adding more soil week by week, the potatoes form along the stalks that are growing upwards, so the taller they get the better. It also keeps the potatoes well under ground to stop them going green and inedible if exposed to light.

Signs of life this year, a Peony plant (top) for my cutting border, the strawberries and Pete clearing up into the compost bins.

2. Courgettes. If you have a friend who also has a garden (or even better, a few,) then share a packet of seeds between you for courgettes as a two person household can easily be fed all summer by a single plant. Sow a couple indoors now, in case one doesn’t germinate, then plant in a large pot, at least a foot wide and let it ramble over the edges. No fuss veggies.

3. Tomatoes. Traditionally these do much better in a greenhouse but if you have a south facing wall, in a warm corner, you might do ok with them outside. Again, either sow them now indoors or buy ready grown plants in places like B&Q. They need plenty of water and plant food throughout the summer and then you might, (I say ‘might’ because last year seemed to be universally bad for tomatoes due to the poor weather and lack of sun) get lots of lovely tomatoes. Go for cherry tomatoes for the best, tastiest results.

4. Beans. Probably the easiest thing to fit into a normal flower garden, beans grow easily and add some height to your borders with cane wig wams. (Like the ones you can see me making here.) Sow directly into the ground late on in April or early May and watch them shoot up. Runner beans are the easiest with pretty orange flowers before the pod develops, French beans can be trickier as they’re less hardy. Broad beans aren’t as pretty as they don’t grow up canes… They’re self supporting and grow to about 1m high, then can get a bit straggly and you’ll get less beans from the same space.

5. Cabbages were one of our biggest successes last year. I love savoy cabbage and think they look quite ornamental so if I had a flower garden I’d be dotting them about amongst the borders. I bought 6 seedlings from a local nursery and they turned into 6 frilly enormous cabbages which we harvested one by one througout the winter. :)

Preparing the first 2 beds again this year in the rather bare allotment, and making wig wams for the beans and peas…

Just one more thing on the garden front, it’s really tempting right now to be sowing seeds and getting started but it’s still a little early. Apart from bad weather being forecast, the weeds haven’t started growing yet which is a good sign the ground is still too cold. Watch and wait and when you start to see everything turn green and annual weeds popping up you can sow directly into the ground or in pots outside. In the meantime, get started on a sunny window ledge indoors ready to plant out in May. Don’t worry that that is too late – plants grow amazingly quickly once the conditions are right, so they’ll more than make up for it in the summer months.

Do let me know if you’re going to be trying a few grow your own veggies this year and if I can help with any questions I will.


Rose tinted glasses: David Austin

This morning I thought I’d share or perhaps remind, some of you of the beautiful roses to be found at David Austin. Oft used as a replacement peony for brides getting married outside of peony season, I think they’re worthy of mention in their own right and beyond wedding days. Did you know you can grow them easily in your garden?

David Austin sells bare root roses (delivered as a twig with bare roots that you then plant yourself) which are best planted in the winter, but also stocks potted roses throughout the year. I have 3 in my garden, as seen below, one in the front, one climbing over a garden wall and a third in the border.

‘A Shropshire Lad’, ‘Elegantyne’, ‘Falstaff’ and ‘Geoff Hamilton’ English Roses

I discovered David Austin years ago when a house we moved into had the most beautiful rose collection, including the stunning (both in colour, form and smell) ‘Falstaff’ above. Before that, roses had left me cold after seeing modern ‘tea roses’ (the type you see in florists or for Valentines day,) grown in bare flower beds. These were a revelation to me, laden with scent and grown amongst the cottage style border I loved. You can also grow bush or shrub roses (below) with fabulous hips that turn red in the autumn to feed the birds and work well as hedging too.

Shrub roses

If you’re interested in how to grow roses, what is the best plant for you and aftercare, the David Austin site has tons of information clearly presented and is well worth a look.

Give them a try, you won’t be disappointed and they’re super easy to grow with a bit of sun and decent soil!