Author Archives: Kevin

Flowers for my future garden

‘I perhaps owe becoming a painter to flowers’

… Words spoken by that great artist Claude Monet, whose own garden at Giverny was such a delight and inspiration even for himself.

I may never become a great or even a passable painter, but one thing is without doubt: flowers sing to my soul. I couldn’t imagine a world without them. It’d certainly be a duller one.

And to think, there was a time when all I wanted for my garden was herbs! Ever the practical one… (thinking culinary and medicinal thoughts)

We’re surrounded by so many flowers, it can be overwhelming to try to single out the odd one to include in a garden plan. I worry when I have a garden again that I might go crazy and cram it too full of variety…

That said, I do have 12 particular flowers that I seriously long to nurture. Some I’ve grown before. Some I’ve seen in open gardens around the country. Others I’ve only admired in books, magazines and online.

I reckon my tastes will change in future, but for now, here are the 12 flowering plants I really long to have in my next garden.

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Climbing roses

At first I loved big, blousey and brash shrub roses, regardless of their scent (or lack thereof). It’s safe to say my feelings have evolved.

I can’t walk past roses these days without having a quick whiff. It disappoints me so much when they are scentless.

I now dream of arching stems laden with simple flowers in subtle tones, trained up bare walls, their fragrance carried over the garden on a light summer breeze. The closer in appearance to the dog rose, the better.

Some varieties I’ve seen and fancy include ‘Shropshire Lass’ (blushing pink), ‘Meg’ (apricot-tinged) and ‘Altissimo’ (rich red). I’m not sure if the last two are scented, however…

clematis armandii

Clematis

Another climber – but I’m a stern supporter of taking beauty upwards and utilising the space above the ground we own as well.

Ideally I’ll have a Clematis armandii. I got one of these evergreen specimens on a birthday a few years back and loved how it brought its dark foliage and sparkling stellar white blooms up through the empty skeleton of a tree in winter.

I definitely prefer the idea of clematis winding its way up through trees than up flat faces or artificial supports.

Other clematis varieties I’d like are C.alpina (blue bells), C.’The President’ (imperial purple plates) and C.cirrhosa ‘Jingle Bells (as good for bees apparently as it is for mid-winter flowers).

dahlia rusty

Dahlias

These once-shunned plants seem to still be continuing to grow in popularity, and they certainly won me over. Inspired by Monty Don and Carol Klein, I love the idea of growing them on and then dropping my dahlias into late summer gaps in the borders. They add exotic heat and flamboyance.

One year I bought and grew a decorative type named ‘Rusty Hope’ (orange-red-yellow), but as I moved home they perished from neglect (mea culpa…). These could perhaps be on my list again. Three others I like the look of are ‘Arabian Night’ (decorative type), ‘Bishop of Lancaster’ (a bee-friendly miscellaneous type) and ‘Chat Noir’ (a semi-cactus type).

Look these three up and you’ll clearly see I enjoy the deep, rich colours best.

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Eryngium bourgatii

I never had any luck growing these from seed. And I tried two years running! Boo.

Next time I’ll buy these ready-grown I reckon. They’re worth the extra expense to me. I have to have them for their spiky structural quality – stems, leaves and flowerheads – and their beautiful blue hue.

lavender no 6

Lavender

I have a little thing at the moment for the seating-and-summer-eating area in my next garden to be provençal in style, and no such area could be without its lavender.

Nothing fancy (I have grown the rabbit-eared L.stoechas before with great success), just the simple “English lavender” type, L.angustifolia, for that form which contrasts with things around it: the narrow spikes and pale blue specks clustered at the tips.

Of course, that scent is irresistible as well!

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Alchemilla mollis

“Lady’s mantle” is an unassuming flowerer that supposedly spreads like mad. Never so in mine or my parents’ garden, sadly.

One day I’m adamant it will though. I yearn for its softness of shape, its ground-covering habit and the use of those acidic little blossoms in flower arranging as well as outdoors.

Gladiolus murielae

Also known as “Abysinnian gladiolus”, I have only ever seen these online (I’m pretty sure the fantastic photographs of @gardenlivingno on Instagram first brought it to my attention).

I was lovestruck straightaway.

It’s so simply elegant and has a crisp contrast in its blooms between a pure white edge and sumptuous purple hearts.

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Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’

This one is probably popping up everywhere, almost as much as its incongruous cousin Crocosmia crocosmifolia, whose lurid orange flowers I despise (perhaps because it popped up a lot around the garden where I grew up).

Nevertheless, C. ‘Lucifer’ is anything but wishy-washy and uncertain. It is definitely and defiantly rich red in coloration. It is a brilliant statement plant.

I planted 30 corms in my last garden, but they never came to much before I moved on. They were transplanted to my parents’ place and now, two years on, are positively thriving. They have sprung up taller than ever, and the red trumpets are almost ready for their fanfare.

rudbeckia goldsturm

Rudbeckia

Most particularly, the variety R.fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’, with its dark centres and radiant yellow petals. They almost invoke the sun to come out and caress them. Planted alongside Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, their heavenly glow valiantly battles the devilish red. A marvellous spectacle in late summer.

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Angelica

I took some tiny seedlings from my previous garden to my mum and dad’s. Little did I know they were the offspring of my last Angelica archangelica.

Boy have we known it this summer! They became towering colossi, pushing and shoving each other for dominance of the front garden. They got plenty of admiration and enquiries from neighbours.

Why? Their thick hollow stems and giant leaves lead the gaze up to huge green floral globes that bees and hoverflies can’t resist.

What’s more, these are prolific self-seeders. Once you’ve got one, you’ll never go short!

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Hellebores

I actually used to hate these, but now I think they’re pretty fine. No winter garden is complete without a few hellebores. I particularly like H.niger and Helleborus x hybridus in their range of colours.

I think the lighter shades are perhaps better, given we tend to have dark mud as their backdrop rather than snow nowadays. I’ll probably include a few darker specimens too though, just in case we get snow…

tulips

Tulips

No list of this sort would be complete without tulips. The soil around here is very heavy clay on the whole, and tulips are originally native to light, gravelly soils, so I think growing in pots is a better option.

I’ve done this before, just as the stars of Gardeners’ World tend to, and it has the added benefit of mobility. If you’ve a rather bare spot or want to dress a doorway for guests, simply shift the blooms.

I love parrot varieties, but also have a thing at the moment for the pretty pale types like ‘White Triumphator’, ‘Très Chic’, ‘Ballade’. An added beauty is, when growing in pots especially, you can change the display each year – never a dull moment!

Which flowers can’t you live without? What are your thoughts on my list?

Modern Bodhisattvas

‘…literally a living being (sattva) who aspires to enlightenment (bodhi) and carries out altruistic practices’

That’s the definition of a bodhisattva according to the Soka Gakkai International website. It’s a word I came across years ago, which has stuck with me. I remember reading how there are many bodhisattva – traditionally individuals who sacrificed passing on to nirvana (bliss) in order to help others.

Well it’s struck me recently that there are several modern bodhisattvas, reaching out to inspire and educate us. They aim to improve not just our own lives, but society in general.

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This list could be far longer than it is, if I included everyone I have ever read a book by. I could also include more obvious people like Oprah Winfrey or Deepak Chopra; people who have been doing this for a lot longer.

Instead I have narrowed my list down to two guys whose regular podcasts I listen to often, whose feeds I’m subscribed to on my iPhone for the walk to work, plus two individuals whose YouTube videos and Instagram posts render me all aglow with positivity.

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Taken from Lewis Howes Instagram feed

Lewis Howes

Lewis Howes’ The School of Greatness podcast series was one of the first two I ever subscribed to. It’s a treasure trove of advice, promise and life lessons, helping to answer the question what is greatness for you? (No easy task!)

Lewis himself has struggled through a lot: watching the effects of bad choices on his brother; occasionally suffering that anti-climactic sensation after a shot of success; and finding his long-nurtured dreams were suddenly out of reach (to name just three).

These trials and tribulations ultimately have led to Lewis’ own form of greatness. He is great at bringing together a wealth and variety of successful people. He chats with men and women of different ages and backgrounds. Some had tough childhoods, others faced adversity as they reached for their goals.

Lewis’ academy allows us all entry as its students. Its teachers change from week to week, but its Principal ensures all lessons are accessible and hit their mark. Classes can be theoretical, challenging the mind, and practical, leading us to action; and they can often be a satisfying combination of the two.

Be sure to subscribe to The School of Greatness podcast for thrice weekly programmes, and also head over to Amazon to get a copy of his same-titled book (itself a great read).

Courtesy of marieforleo.com

Taken from marieforleo.com

Marie Forleo

Marie Forleo came to my attention through her YouTube show Marie TV, a lively mix of motivational monologues and interviews with other thought leaders.

However, Marie has had a colourful background before the launch of this, proving to us all that it is never too late and it is always possible to take a new path and try something different. She worked in the corporate world, was one of the first ever Nike Elite Dance Athletes and has authored the bestselling Make Every Man Want You.

Marie now describes herself as a “multi-passionate entrepreneur”, a term perhaps more of us should be employing in a world that demands ever more from us and where we regularly switch roles.

Questions and quandaries are welcomed by Marie and her team, and she aims to answer some of them on Marie TV, delving into her own experiences and the wisdom of others. She also works to answer questions we might not yet have encountered by bringing on a range of guests, recently including Marianne Williamson (on bereavement), Chris Guillebeau (choosing the right path for you) and Tony Robbins (on mastering your money).

Marie has strong ethics in her life as well as her work, including “enforced” breaks for her team and time away from technology to rest the mind. What a role model!

Simply type in Marie TV or Marie Forleo to YouTube to find her videos.

Taken from jeffsanders.com

Taken from jeffsanders.com

Jeff Sanders

The 5AM Miracle podcast by Jeff Sanders is the show I have been following the least amount of time, but I am already an avid listener.

The whole premise of this podcast hooked me from the start. I am without a doubt most productive in a morning. I do much better through early to bed, early to rise. This series backs up that philosophy through science and practical applications.

Once a week Jeff shares discussions with other prescribers of this way of life alongside his own thoughts and practices. Some of these practices and the ideology behind them could be called “common sense”, but it’s amazing how few of us bring them into play. For example, check out his podcast on 7 Productive Habits to Complete Before 7:00 AM and you’ll see what I mean (as well as alter your own thinking).

Jeff’s book The 5AM Miracle is on my Amazon wishlist for reading in the not-so-distant future, but in the meantime I’m staying tuned in to his podcast (all previous episodes can be found on his website too).

Taken from thebachbook.com

Taken from thebachbook.com

Jordan Bach

Jordan Bach, keeper of The Bach Book and his own YouTube channel chock full of optimistic videos, is another “modern bodhisattva” who has only just come onto my radar. Or so I thought…

Delving back through my liked videos on YouTube, I discovered I clicked the thumbs up on his first video God Loves Gays years ago. At the time I was reconciling distinct and contradictory perspectives on homosexuality in religion and spirituality. While I may not remember the exact details of that video, I can recall how deeply Jordan’s argument resonated with me. It was a source of comfort.

And this is what I would say about all of Jordan’s videos. They console. They warm the heart and soul. They shine a light into your life, even if only for the three or four minutes you’re watching. He speaks from a rich, personal place, whether reflecting on his own life or world events.

I would also say that Jordan is fervent promoter of others. He might not do the one-to-one chats on podcast like Lewis Howes or Jeff Sanders, or the in-depth video discussions like Marie Forleo. What you get instead is a mirrored surface, showing us all the messages of other greats past and present. In this way you see a reflection of your own spirit as well.

You only have to check out Jordan’s Instagram account to feel this.

What do all these modern bodhisattvas have in common? Well, as with the definition given at the opening of this post, they all carry out altruistic practices. They have a serious calling to improve their own and others’ lives, and they do this well.

They not only inspire us through social media and big events, but through their philanthropy and ethical business ventures.

Furthermore, they connect with other motivational figures, acting as springboards for our own interconnectivity and aspirations in life.

Lewis Howes, Marie Forleo, Jeff Sanders and Jordan Bach are my top four beacons of hope and exemplars of right living right now.

Have I missed anyone off this list who you feel should be included? I’m totally hooked on these inspirational podcasts, videos and books right now, and would love to hear any other suggestions (I’ll even accept more ancient teachers).

What I’ve learned from Brexit

Well. What a time we’ve had here in Blighty.

It’s been almost a month since we had the EU referendum, when the nation unquestionably voted LEAVE.

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I say unquestionably, but the fact of the matter is that even now, weeks on, Remain voters are very vocally arguing their cause. A cause which must be let go of, if democracy is not to be utterly undermined by those supposedly supporting it.

The nature of the beast is that when votes are cast, at least one group will not win.

In my eyes, no side has won this time, however. And I’m going to tell you why I think that.

Arrogance, greed and fear of change now reign supreme in the UK.

I was most upset on the morning of Friday 24 June 2016 to see the way a lot of Britons were responding. The way they have continued to respond.

There is a mardiness, a toddler-ish tantrum characteristic running right through the middle of many in our country. It’s a sense of if-I-don’t-have-it-my-way-I’ll-scream-and-scream-until-it-goes-my-way. The days after the referendum were, to be honest, a shameful bout of maliciousness and moodiness unbecoming of adults. Self-proclaimed intelligent adults at that.

On top of this, the referendum result highlighted a dearth among us. No longer do we seem to courageously face a situation head on and deal with it. No longer do we strive to make the most of what we’ve been handed. Only last Saturday did I listen to a podcast where someone reiterated that we rarely control what happens in life – it’s how we react to the happenings that’s important.

We might not be happy with the outcome. But Brexit happened. It’s done. None of us knows what the future holds, any more or less now in fact than before this decision was made. If tougher times come, are the British people capable of buckling down, sticking together and tightening belts? That’s my worry. Already Scotland and London have had their paddies and called out a desire for selfish independence from a united country they both normally seem to want to exploit, one way or another.

I’ve also witnessed intense hatred, and not from a source you might expect. Yes, there has been racial hate crime since the referendum. But I’ve also seen hatred of our fellow countrymen. There was a foul, unexpected tirade online and in person of Remain voters calling Leave voters “stupid”, “ignorant”, “racist” and “selfish”. Tarring all with the same brush. Are these arrogant individuals really any better than those they claim to protest against?

Lastly, but not so surprising in nature, is the fact that we remain, intrinsically, a reactionary nation nowadays. Not just in the government, but right down to grass-roots level, in our homes. This has been coming for over a year, whoever stood victorious. Why weren’t all options considered and measures put in place before then?

This reactionary and knee-jerk methodology seems to me to be the main reason the rest of the world was thrown into uncertainty from that fateful Friday morning. Let’s hope this methodology stops soon so we can be a shining light, not a dismal failure – through our own personal failings.

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In the words of our new PM Theresa May: ‘Brexit means Brexit’. So now let’s get on with things. Worse things have happened at sea.