Two books you should read in 2019


robin in winter

Well, we made it. Tomorrow is the last day of 2018 (also: my birthday, blah, whatever etc) and here I sit, slightly battered but still functioning. This year has been a funny one. It’s been very money and work-centric, with many “oh shit!” moments thrown in for good measure. That’s what’s eaten up most of my brainspace  – work, juggling finances, and then basically worrying my way through the seasons, increasingly crippled by more and more hours in front of a laptop and it felt, at times, somewhat disconnected from the outside world. My anxiety has been pretty much a constant, manifesting itself as one perceived health crisis after another. I’ve muddled my way through the last two months in particular, barely taking a deep breath or moment to relax. I’m crawling my way to the very end of the year, hopeful that I’ve at least laid a lot of groundwork for good things to come.

And, breathe. I made it. Seriously… breathe Lucy, breathe!

I’m getting to the main topic of this rambling post, but first, let me offer a little background. Sometimes I feel a bit buried, and I often turn to the garden to help me collect myself, rebalance and reboot. Books can often have the same effect, and the right story or passage can lift me up and relight a little fire in my belly. Gardens and books are like medicine. And two books in particular have sparked my imagination this year, helping me to find my way out of the fog. 

The Bumblebee Flies Anyway by Kate Bradbury

The first book that I insist you must read is The Bumblebee Flies Anyway by Kate Bradbury. I read it in under 48 hours (and bear in mind, I have a very energetic mini teenager in the guise of a two year old to contend with too, so this is quite the feat), and I feel like it’s brought me back to where I needed to be, right on the cusp of this new year. Kate’s story of bringing life back to a bleak, unloved garden space made my heart sing. At times, I felt as if she had lifted webs of thought from my brain and laid them out on the page. It’s not a how-to guide or journal. It’s a real story, weaved with light and dark, tragedy and triumph. It’s a memoir, and an utter inspiration. The protagonist is nature, and the book is a bittersweet but ultimately optimistic account of its perseverance against the odds, in this little corner of Brighton. The overarching story of how Kate invited nature back into such a dead and devoid space is a microcosm for what we all could do on a grand scale, if we all just did a little bit more. 

I loved how she wondered about the history of certain spaces and locations; just like me, trying to see through history of what was before, and how we can breathe life back from under layers of brick, tarmac and decking. Through despair, she also offers hope of what could be, and how we will be rewarded if we redeem ourselves and give nature a way in.

I honestly felt like punching the air at times and shouting “me too! me too!” when she wrote of her love for the sparrows, the dawn chorus, the fascination with the smallest of creatures… how we are never really alone, when nature is alongside us. I nodded when she wrote, with great sadness, about our walling off of gardens and green spaces (I’ve made several holes in our fence to allow hedgehogs a right of passage through our little patch, and love the fact that she may have inspired others to do the same). I have made notes as she described her evolving planting schemes, from the sad, winter-bare sticks of roses that grew to thrive and flourish, to the wildlflowers and nectar-rich plants that offer a lifeline to so many pollinators. I realised that my nettle patch and my lawn littered with “weeds” and wildflowers are both so, so valuable.  I even ordered a field guide to bees after finishing her book, because I really want to learn more about the different bee species that frequent the Smallest Smallholding, and pass this information onto my daughter. 

In short, she’s helped me to fall in love again with the slice of land that I am so fortunate to be a steward of. She’s informed, inspired and motivated me to get back to my mission statement – be the change that I want to see in the world. 

Buy this book, borrow this book, get your hands on this book somehow. Just read it!

The Almanac: A seasonal guide to 2019 by Lia Leendertz

My second must-read is a beautiful find that I will carry with me throughout the next year. It’s essentially a guide to the seasons, an ode to each month and the natural rhythms and events that mark out each month from the next. Meteor showers, lunar planting schedules, recipes, songs, moon phases, flower of the month, hints and tips on what to do in the flower garden and vegetable patch. It does what it says on the tin – as a seasonal guide – but it’s so much more than that. If a book could be a comfort food, the Almanac would be the biggest, warmest hearty bowl of seasonal soup served with slice after slice of rustic, homemade bread.

It’s the little details that really make it – the utterly beautiful illustrations by former blogger at Purple Podded Peas’ Celia Hart, the little guide to native tree buds, the naming of each month, the tables of sunrise and set, and even moonrise and set… this book will gently guide you by the hand back to nature. It will urge you to stop and take not;, to look up, look down, look all around. It’ll help you reconnect and re-calibrate, enjoy the small shifts and big events in each calendar month. It’s a valuable resource that will help you to live life a little more in rhythm with the world around you. 

Just like medicine. 



Holding onto these precious autumn days

ash tree in autumn
It’s been a while since I last posted. Life is just one hectic day after another at the moment. The Smallest Smallholding is gearing down for winter, albeit going out with a bang in all its autumnal glory. The ash tree is slowly shedding golden leaves everywhere, and the cherry tree is at its pinnacle of burnt ochres and ruby red before it gently releases the last of its leaves to lay at rest on the lawn.

In the veg plots, only a few autumn raspberries remain, with the carrots still in situ and some hastily planted leeks thrown in for good measure. The first frosts arrived last month week, taking out the dahlias, cosmos, pumpkins, nasturtiums and zinnia. I felt a little sense of sadness as I pulled them all out, the last vestiges of a long summer discarded on the compost heap.

I didn’t have the time or inclination to put any brassicas in this year, so it’s a case of tidying, prepping and putting the garden to bed until spring. We also have a lot of interim work to do – namely clearing some ground to plant trees – and have already cut back the hedges ready for new growth next year. We’ve got birch trees ready to go in, and I have my eye on a rowan and possibly another apple tree!

Unfortunately as much as I want to be busy in the garden and tending to my Smallest Smallholding during these ever-decreasing daylight hours, my life at the moment is focused on increasing my part-time income. That means I’m either looking after my daughter, in work, or at home tapping away at a screen when my daughter is asleep. I have precious little time for anything else.

I’ve taken on extra project work and am working flexibly (so, early mornings before my two-year-old wakes, nap times, and then evenings up until around midnight), as well as freelance work – on top of my normal part-time hours. It’s really tough. There’s no downtime, no me-time, no hobby time. I’m not complaining – the extra income is a saving grace. And I’m determined to get rid of my personal debt and live the life I’ve always wanted to… and that can’t happen whilst I’m held back financially. It’s just a case of going all guns blazing until I break through the wall of debt. Then I feel I can start moving forward.

The dream is still alive. But it’s taking so much more work than I ever anticipated to even take a step on the path to where I want to be. I’m tired… no, absolutely shattered at the moment, but I’m still determined. 

There has been a little downtime recently, though. We had a lovely Sunday with the in-laws, which offered a rare few hours of relaxation. We stopped and ate by the riverside, and afterwards my daughter stomped, skipped and jumped her way along the leaf-strewn riverbank. She was captivated by peacocks, chickens, ducks, swans and geese – making me hanker for more avian friends here at home – and spent hours showing off her new conversational skills, chatting scribble happily with her grandparents. The perfect Sunday.

I’m holding on to these special days. They make the grind worth it. It’s going to be a tough winter, with the extra work (I’m just thinking about the extra income!), the amount we’ve still got to do on the house, and trying to keep up with everything else in between. But it will be worth it. It will. 

New no-dig beds, James Grieve and other plans

The rain has finally arrived, and brought with it a cool, freshness that signals the end of summer here in Bedfordshire. Autumn is definitely on the horizon; the earth no longer smells warm and baked, and the sun is sitting lower in the sky. The long nights are finally beginning to draw in and I sense that the birds are beginning to fatten up, foraging and gorging on berries, nuts and seeds that we leave out for them.

The garden marches on, despite the relentless heat followed by relentless downpours in late August. My raspberries are ripening slowly, though the berries are a dainty and the yield noticeably smaller than last year. I’m still collecting blackberries from our scrambling brambles, and the apples from our two little trees have ripened early too. In the flower borders, helenium, cosmos and the Californian poppies continue to bloom. The veg patch looks bare, save for a few strips of chives, carrots, burgeoning nasturtiums, and a blaze of bold colour from the marigolds and zinnia that have thrived despite a prolonged heatwave and drought-like conditions. 

I’ve been longing to get back to my little potager, but I’ve been so busy with work and motherhood. To be honest I’m surprised I’ve achieved as much as I have this year, harvesting fruit and just about keeping things looking relatively neat and in order. Winter, spring and summer of 2018 have been seasons of extremes, and I have a feeling 2018 isn’t done with us yet. I’d love to think a gentle autumn is on the cards – fresh, sunny days interspersed with enough rain to keep things ticking over. I’d love to think I have enough time to put my autumn plans into action:

– Create two new no-dig beds; one for soft fruit, and one for cut flowers (if I can persuade Rich to give up some more lawn!)

– Plant in leeks

– Paint the tool shed

– Tidy the greenhouse

– Mulch, mulch, and mulch some more

– Tidy our little woodland patch

– Plant the paper birch trees

– Plant a James Grieve apple tree to create a trio of Blenheim Orange, Charles Ross, and James Grieve.

With the nights drawing in fast as we hit the midway point in September, I can feel my time is becoming really limited again. I’m working hard to rebuild my freelance portfolio, but with little E now over the two-year mark and catapulting around toddler-style, and Rich busy with getting DIY patch up jobs around the house before winter comes, my hands are really full at the moment.

cosmos flower