2015: A Year in Review July-December

Oh dear!  Not a good start to the year!  January has whizzed by at such an incredible rate that this review may not be completed before midnight strikes and February arrives.
Has the month gone by more quickly because, with the exceptionally mild weather we have been having this winter and all the spring flowers in bloom weeks early, that it feels as if this review was (and should have been) written weeks earlier?

Crocus (2)   copyright

Working on the premise ‘better late than never’ here it is now.

July: As a plantsman I’m very aware that some of the most beautiful blooms can disguise the more ominous aspects of a plants nature.  Ragwort, a common weed of grassland and waste areas has cheery, bright yellow daisy-like flowers yet hides toxins that can be fatal to horses and cattle.   Control is usually carried out by hand pulling for poisoning the plant with weedkillers makes them even ore attractive to animals as they graze the dying foliage.  However, pulling the plants put humans at risk as the sap is absorbed through the skin to damage the liver.

Always remove the pulled plants from the field

In Ragwort: A Curse or a Blessing?  I looked at the controversy surrounding this plant for it has its benefits and uses too.  Should you destroy it before it destroys you?  Click here to find out.

Ragwort and horses - not a good combination

August: A different quandary was discussed in the post A Quiche or a Quad Bike?  It isn’t often that you visit a restaurant that sells quad bikes.  Or was it a quad bike showroom that sells the most delicious home-baked quiches?  Either way, there was a dilemma: which did I want to have the most?  Click here!

001   copyright

August is also the perfect month for planting daffodil bulbs – also toxic, by the way, although no-one would ever suggest banishing them from our gardens.  Remembering Wordsworth’s immortal words on the subject, this post (click here) looked at how to create drifts of colour that look as if they have been growing there since the poet’s days.

Naturalised Daffodils   copyright

September: back on Exmoor, my spiritual home and, to my prejudiced mind at least, England’s most beautiful National Park for another visit.  The tiny village of Exford lies at its centre.  Exford’s church pre-dates the Norman Conquest of 1066 and the post (click here) looks at its Celtic origin.

Exford - St Mary Magdalene   copyright

October: travelling again, this time to the south of France.  Staying in the foothills of the Pyrenees it would have been easy to write about the magnificent mountain views, the gentle Blonde Aquitaine cattle or the fine dining in every wayside café.

Blonde d'Aquitaine   copyright

However, it was on the drive home that we discovered the village of Aurignac and marvelled at its silent streets and historic houses that appeared untouched by modern living.  It was only later that I discovered it was hiding an even more ancient secret – it was the place where man’s first footsteps in Europe over 40,000 years earlier took place.

Aurignac (2) copyright

Even if you’re not too interested in pre-history it is well worth clicking here to look at the photographs on the post  of this enchanting place.

Wind Hill (10) copyright

December:  It wouldn’t be Christmas without a bunch of mistletoe hanging somewhere in the house to catch visitors for the traditional kiss.  This month’s post (click here) looks at the tradition which is now spreading worldwide.  It also explains how to grow your very own mistletoe plants so that you never have to be unloved in the years to come.

Mistletoe (7)  copyright

A rather belated Happy New Year to you all!




An Exciting Evening

Fellow bloggers often comment about when they first began to write and  especially when or why they began to blog. When you come to think about it, blogging is rather an odd thing to do: you write your piece, perhaps add a few images, press the publish button and it’s out there for all the world to see.  Many of us assume that no-one will bother to read it and, after all, why should anybody be interested in our thoughts or projects?  But, again as many of us know, gradually people find us, follow us and friendships start to build.  The great majority of our followers we are never likely to meet in reality yet they share our tales and show real interest in what we are doing, whether it be family, travel, garden or whatever else we blog about.  Just occasionally, you come face to face with one and this happened last night.

Followers of this blog, whether here or on Facebook or my new website – or my Tweets –  can hardly have failed to notice that I have had my first book, “Why Can’t My Garden look Like That?” published recently (for I have been talking about virtually nothing else lately).  It has been an incredible journey with a huge and rapid learning curve; from commission to publication  it was completed in only thirteen months.  Fortunately, I had huge support and encouragement from my publishers, Constable & Robinson.  Fast forward another seven weeks to yesterday evening: the date of the official book launch.

I was delighted that our local bookshop, Jaffe & Neale, hosted it for Chipping Norton is very fortunate in having such a lovely, independent and award-winning bookshop.  It couldn’t have been a better choice of location for the town was glowing golden with the heat-wave sunshine emphasising the colour of the old, Cotswold stone buildings.

With Polly Jaffe of Jaffe & Neale, who hosted the evening, and Nikki Read and Giles Lewis of publishers, Constable & Robinson

I felt remarkably relaxed at the thought of making a speech to a large number of people.  In fact, my real concern was that no-one would turn up at all!  However, over one hundred came, filling the bookshop and spilling out onto the pavement giving the whole evening a real party atmosphere which, in turn, created more interest from passers-by.

A memorable evening was made all the more so as I began to realise just how far people had travelled to be with me.  Bette Baldwin of Friends of Hoar Oak Cottage had travelled up from Devon – I had met Bette only once before on Exmoor, thanks to the power of blogging.  Several others I had not met for a very long time; thirty years or more and, of course, there were others that I’d never met before at all.  The evening came to a close with a celebratory dinner organised by friends at a local restaurant.  An exciting evening and one never to be forgotten.

Yet more excitement today as I find that my book has been reviewed and described as “brilliant” by LandLove magazine.  They are also running a competition with ten copies of my book as prizes.  You can find out more about that by clicking the link here.

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Christmas 2011

Many thanks to all of you that have read and followed my blog during 2011.  Despite the dire weather predictions, the secret valley is having the mildest Christmas for years.  Instead of extreme cold and deep snow as forecast some weeks ago, the sun has been shining and the temperature has risen to +13C.  I’ve had to rely on a snowy photograph from last winter!

Wishing you all a very happy and peaceful Christmas
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Blogging One Year On….

Greetings from the secret valley! Today is a special day for it is exactly one year since my very first post.
the secret valley
When I began blogging, it occurred to me that, as what I was writing would be in the ‘public domain’, that someone might read it. However, deep down, I didn’t think that anyone would. It is a constant surprise that it is read and that the number of viewings is in the thousands rather than just half a dozen or so. Thank you so much.
Like many of you, I write for my own pleasure but, knowing that the words are read, I do make some effort to write coherently and, hopefully, interestingly – not always, I fear, with success. The secret valley is always a source of inspiration and, sitting at my computer, I look out across the fields to the trees and the little, winding river. The photo below is what I see every day and never forget just how lucky I am.
view of the secret valley from my desk
And so, one year on, you have followed me through the seasons:


in the cold


and as the weather warms
You have followed me on my travels:


Grafton Street, Dublin, Ireland



Lee Bay, Exmoor


You have met my family:



The old nags


and the very special She-dog

And you have witnessed my gardening:


my successes….
….and my failures
But best of all, through blogging, I have met interesting people from all over the world, from all walks of life and I am all the richer for it.


and sometimes I still can’t get the spacing right between paragraphs – is it me or is it Blogger?!

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How Extraordinary – an Award!

I am not certain as to why I should be so honoured but Kilbournegrove, has awarded me with the Best Blog Award. I may not know why I have been honoured, but honoured I feel. Thank you very much. The next paragraph I have lifted from her own Canadian blog Green Theatre. I am certain that this is acceptable behaviour on my part – however, if it is not, then I grovel and beg for forgiveness….

Post the award on your blog along with the name of the person who passed it on to you and link to their blog. Chose 15 blogs which you have recently discovered and you think are great and pass it on to them. Don’t forget to leave a comment on their blog to let them know that they have been chosen for this award.

So, now we know what to do, here are my 15 blogs that I think deserve special mention:

The Gaudy Garden Jim is one of my favourite American bloggers, writing in a sharp and witty way, mostly about roses. He calls a spade a spade. I like him!

Wood Ridge Lynne is another American blogger, aiming for self sufficiency in Virginia. Lynne writes on anything from gardening to recipes to needlework and much else besides. Full of energy, even her thoughts on the American Constitution were interesting – even to an Englishman like me.

The Patient Gardener Written not so very many miles from the secret valley, this is all about plants and plantmanship.

Great Stems This Texan blog – I seem to like American bloggers – has the most amazing photographs. I like following this blog as it inspires me to attempt to improve my photograhy. I live in hope.

Bay Area Tendrils Alice’s blog from California is another great photgraphy blog. And it deserves special mention for the fabulous rill in the title photo.

Helen’s Blog Helen’ s frequency of writing is somewhat erratic (I’m sure she will agree) but is always interesting. And those of us in the UK can follow her readily in her columns in the Telegraph, a national newspaper.

A Chef in the Garden The title says it all – Tim (yes, American again!) gave up chef-ing to become a full time Estate gardener but food is never too far from the blogs.

A Gardener in Progress Another blog with wonderful photos.

Down to Earth An Australian blog this time.

Elizabeth Rhiannon An American desperate to live in England – and who can blame her even with our taxes?

High Altitude Gardening This is the blog that started me off on my blog adventures! Kate gardens at over 7000ft (I would have thought she would be gasping for breath not digging). My favourite of favourites.

My Little Vegetable Garden This is a Malaysian blog, again with beautiful photos. Fascinating to read about gardening in a climate I have no experience of.

Notes From a Somerset Garden Pictures of Exmoor means that I have to include this one!

Plant Tips & Guidelines for the Desert Garden Noelle’s blog is another great favourite of mine, partly for the photographs and for introducing me to plants that I am never likely to experience. I do have cousins that live in the New Mexican desert, so there is just the slightest chance…

Welsh Hills Again A very recently found blog and how glad I am that I did find it.

And for those of you that haven’t been mentioned, I promise I will on another occasion.

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