Garden update

Unfortunately, I can safely say that this year has been my worst ever gardening year (in my grand total of six years of green fingered adventures). A combination of the arrival of Elijah into our clan, blight, pests, and an uninspiring and limited garden are to blame I think. I’m feeling rather glum about it but not motivated enough to work out what I can do to salvage the rest of the growing year. But I’m hoping I can use this post as ‘therapy’ to work through the problems and find a solution so apologies in advance for the self indulgence!

I’ll start with some pictures and positives though, here’s what the gardens are looking like at the moment:

back garden
front garden

I can’t remember whether I mentioned already but as you can see we finally got around to laying some lawn in the back garden. I’m not going to lie, we did a shoddy job as we were rushing to get our bargainous and slightly yellowing rolls of turf (reduced to £1 each!) down before the rain fell. Consequently, it’s a fairly bumpy lawn but a lawn nonetheless. We only did one side on the premise that the other side would be covered with all the plants we’re growing but as that hasn’t been the most successful endeavour this year I am tempted to put some turf down on that side as well. Even just having a small stretch of grass has made a massive difference though. The kids go out there more, we’ve had lunches and dinners sat on the grass and there is somewhere to put Elijah whilst we’re outside pottering. So that’s a definite plus.

The front garden isn’t particularly exciting but is better than it was. The bed you can see is full of bedding flowers and just out of site are a few strawberry plants which while not abundant, have at least been producing some fruit. I had planted our Christmas tree in the gap you can see in the paving but it was obvious by February that it wasn’t going to survive and has spent the last 5 months getting slowly more and more brown, whilst losing all it’s needles. Embarassingly though, I only dug it up and cut it into pieces yesterday. Our garden is definitely the most untidy in our row! So now I’m thinking about what else I could put in the space – I like the idea of a little fruit tree, there are some nice lemon and orange trees in the garden centre so maybe I’ll try one of those. All my plans though are plagued with the small voice at the back of my head querying how much effort I want to put into a rented garden when it comes to things like trees that can’t necessarily be moved with us. I think the other voice that just wants a nicer (and less embarassingly messy) garden will probably win out though.

Other successes have been our potatoes as part of the Grow Your Own Potatoes competition (although we started eating them before I could take a picture of our modest haul – enough potatoes for perhaps half a dozen meals), peas briefly (until they all died for some reason) and salad (though it’s pretty hard to go wrong with salad!). Unfortunately though, that is the extent of our successful growing so far this year.

My tomato plants got blight, although weirdly the potatoes didn’t catch it. I tried cutting off the offending main branches but I didn’t catch it in time. I have one plant left that may or may not have escaped it – only time will tell. I’m assuming the pea plants caught it though as after their first crop they withered and died. The broad beans I was growing for the University of Sussex’s Beas and Beans project all got coated in minuscule black bugs or some sort of fungus so they’ve gone into the compost bin. The radishes are looking a bit out of control (is heady a gardening term?) and all my pepper plants got eaten. My cucumbers also didn’t survive past seedling stage. Sigh.

So what now? Elijah is obviously here, getting bigger and in some ways less demanding on our time and I’ve fully recovered from his birth so that’s not an obstacle to my gardening anymore. I can’t do much about the blight and bugs and we’re not going to be moving anytime soon so I’m stuck with the garden that we have, small and uninspiring may it be. So I guess I need to be content with what I have and try some new innovative ways of growing. I don’t think I’m too late to grow pumpkins and I have seeds from last year so maybe I’ll try and get them going soon. If anyone reading this knows what else I could start growing at this time of year please do let me know! Maybe I could try one of those pallet herb gardens that are all over pinterest!? Dan’s quite handy with the tools…

It’s been a bit of a lesson in humility, this growing season. I have been blessed with large, easy gardens for the last two years and before that we shared an allotment with friends so my haphazard style of gardening largely didn’t seem to adversely affect my crop come harvest time. Turns out that when growing on a smaller scale I should have been much more on the ball with pest control, watering and pruning. Maybe it’s something to do with everything being in pots rather than beds this year? I don’t know much about the theories behind permaculture but I remember reading about putting different plants together in order to stop pests (I want to say tomato and basil grow well together but I might have totally made that up!) so it kind of makes sense to me that plants would do better in the ground as well with a more varied nutrient source to use rather than just the compost I’ve put in the pots.

But I’ll chalk this up as a learning experience and just keep trying. In the meantime, I have a few lovely friends with big gardens who are happy for me to go and dig with them so that’ll keep my fingers green for this year whilst I try and reclaim my garden and prepare myself for a better growing season come 2016. What’s going on in your garden this year? Have you any wise words you can share with me? I love hearing from those patient enough to read my wild ramblings!

Wrens in midsummer

He sits in the elder tree
singing a morning song
sun streams through the branches,

The fragrant delicate flowers
surround him,
midsummer abounds.

She flies to meet him
joins him on his branch
their songs join together
in perfect harmony.
A beautiful union.


For Mr and Mrs Wren xxx

Savouring the days

This time of year always seem to be the most busy for us, and probably families everywhere. The sun comes out and with it so do the invitations for barbecues, impromptu trips to the park, beach and pool and ‘special late night ups’ in abundance (because who wants to be in bed at 7pm when the sun is still shining and you can hear the hustle and bustle of happy folk outside and, more importantly, who wants to be the parent trying to enforce that – not me!)

It’s a funny old thing though because I think sometimes I try to cram so much in that I end up suffering a bit of early summer burnout (usually just figuratively speaking but sometimes literally too if I’ve forgot to put on sun tan lotion again). I think that’s what happened this week. It’s only Tuesday but today was not a good day for us. It started well seeing friends for a ride to the goat walk but started to go downhill from there. A nasty tumble off a bike, a grisly teethy warm baby, a young man with sky rocketing emotions, a hard day at work for Dan and general fatigue at juggling the housework, home education and general childcare for me. I was relieved when bedtime rolled around and quiet descended.

I’m going to chalk it up to a bad day though and put it behind me because I’m been trying to consciously hold onto the good times at the moment. With Sophia and Isaac, I found babyhood hard. I was impatient for them to grow up. For them to be walking, talking and just to generally be more interesting! With Sophia it was mostly because I was bored and didn’t have many Mummy friends and with Isaac, he wasn’t the most content of babies which spurred more wishing away of his early days and weeks. With Elijah though, I’m finding the opposite. He is by far, the most happy, relaxed and sociable baby of all three of them (probably as a result of being the youngest of three). Every day, I feel a pang of sorrow that he is a bit older and that he won’t be so little again.

Smily beach baby!

Smily beach baby!

I know we won’t be having any more babies and he has been such a gorgeous blessing of one that I don’t really want his baby days to ever end! But he is doing mini crunches, desperate to sit up, can roll over, dissolves into deep belly chuckles at the merest touch, is starting to interact with objects around him and at just shy of 4 months is almost out of 3-6 month clothes. There’s no doubt about it, he’s definitely growing up. The ‘fourth trimester’ is over and if I’m not careful, he’ll be toddling about, shouting garbled toddler speak at me before I know it.

So I’ve decided that I’m going to make an effort to savour the days. I’m choosing to focus on the good times, the moments when the kids make you melt into laughter, when you wake up to a beaming baby and the sun streaming into the room, when you end up behaving like a big kid yourself with your husband. It’s easy to get bogged down with squabbling siblings, financial stress, mundane meal planning..etc. but I don’t want to look back at these early years of my children and remember being stressed and tired. I want to look back and remember being happy. Having fun, laughing, and loving hard.

Late night up nail painting with my best girly

Late night up nail painting with my best girly

Bro love!

Bro love!

I’ve written about this kind of thing before, I know, but I wanted to remind myself again and I find the blog is a good way to do that. Intentional living, choosing to focus on the positives isn’t something that comes easily to me, especially when I’m tired. But I wholeheartedly believe that putting in the effort is worth it. So again, I’m choosing to be happy.

Blurry, silly, selfie!

Blurry, silly, selfie!

Money, money, money, must be funny…

This could easily turn into a political post (rich getting richer, big businesses tax evading exploits, benefit cuts…etc) but that isn’t my intention- honest! I’ll try and stay on topic. I thought I’d try a budgeting post, although this is something that admittedly I’m much better at in theory than in practice.

But it seems that a lot of families I know, us included, struggle with finances. I reckon this is because a lot of us (either by choice or circumstance) are in one wage families in a society that seems to demand both parents work in order to stay afloat. In our case, we’ve chosen to sacrifice the second wage in order to home educate (although with one school age and two under 5 it’s unlikely I’d find a job that would fit in with school hours and cover childcare and still give us a significant additional income anyway). It’s a sacrifice that we’re happy to make but it doesn’t make budgeting any easier. When payday rolls around, I still get a sinking feeling as we try to squeeze in all the needs for the month and then hopefully a want or two as well.

I know you’re all a savvy lot but I thought I’d share my tips in case they are of use to anyone and hopefully some of you might have some for me.

The most useful thing that we’ve found is to formulate our budget on payday for the whole month. We look at our diaries to see what expenses the month might bring (trips that require more fuel than usual, home ed ventures that we have to pay for, birthdays..etc) and then estimate and tot up all the usual expenses (groceries, fuel, bills..etc) in addition to the extra bits. We always aim to have a £200 buffer zone for unexpected expenses (another parking ticket anyone?! Curses to Topsham and it’s parking wardens!) with the goal that if we don’t touch it it can go into our savings. Unfortunately more often than not it gets spent but at least it’s there for when it’s needed. The key obviously then is to stick to the budget for the whole month and not be tempted to spend money that you haven’t accounted for. This is probably where we fall down when a sunny day means that a BBQ on the beach is beckoning invitingly…. Still, we’re getting better!

When doing the monthly budget, I try to keep the child benefit separate in order to pay for Forest School, any home ed trips out, swimming and clothes, books…etc We tend to try and always buy second hand clothes – not least because my two seem to be the clumsiest kids I know and are constantly getting holes in their knees and all manner of stains on their t shirts. They grow so quickly as well, it just seems to be a waste to buy brand new. So charity shops and ebay are our friends! My one exception to this rule is shoes. I’m not sure why but I guess because if they’re decent shoes I know they’ll last a long time so for the last few years we’ve hit up Clarks for a pair of sturdy sandals in April or May and then again for boots or trainers in the Autumn.

We budget £80 a week for groceries for the five of us (that includes nappies and toiletries). I struggle to stick to this but in order to mostly do so, I make a meal plan before doing a weekly shop and then I make sure we stick to it even if someone fancies something different on the day. It’s amazing how much money we save by doing this. I also try to include any snacks we might want in the weekly shop so we don’t give in to the temptation of nipping to the co op once the kids are in bed (approximately 90 seconds from our front door) where a trip for one item seems to invariably result in a carrier bag full and a much bigger receipt than planned! We don’t eat masses of meat either, I tend to buy a chicken and one other meat item each week and then we eat meatless meals on the other days which helps.

The final tip I have is if possible, avoid buying things on credit. I believe that we live in a culture where we want everything instantly and credit card companies have capitalised on this (no pun intended!) massively. Dan and I always swore that we’d never start buying things on credit but instead would save up until we have the money up front even if that takes months. Our exception to this has been our bed. We bought a bed in December on a 10 month interest free scheme. But the springs were coming through on our old mattress and we were struggling to fit everyone in our old, slightly broken, bed so we felt that as a one off it was a good move. We knew we could definitely afford the monthly repayments and the difference to our quality of sleep was instantaneous. We have a credit card for emergencies and to put Dan’s work expenses on but other than that, we have remained debt free.

Juggling finances is tough though, especially if you have kids. My parents recently trained as facilitators for CAP (Christians Against Poverty), a debt counselling charity. They’ve got a really good model that you can follow to manage your money and if you are really struggling, they can offer your advice and practical help, confidentially and free of charge. If things are getting on top of you, get some help before it gets worse. There’s no shame in seeking support to turn things around.

Do you have any tips you could add for frugal living or effective budgeting? I’d love to hear them!