Happy Seclusion

There is very little that can be said about seclusion that I would find worrying. Mostly I love it. I love the peace and quiet of home, the comfortable familiarity of what I know. The kettle on. The window open. The slower pace of a quiet life that makes no demands on appearance, brings no bad news, has no initiative to overwhelm.

Just the sounds of life outside, going about it’s business.

From my kitchen window I can see the church, the graveyard, other stone houses, the bridge and the river, as it winds it’s way gently through the village. From where I sit at my table, the comings and goings of various inhabitants of this little corner go about their day – at a respectable distance of course – and are busy with church yard maintenance, watering plants and trees, calling to each other across the river, heading on foot to the local store, walking their dogs. It is a delightful prospect.

Since my last post we have continued to adjust to our partial life in an English village, albeit a quiet one.

The little things thrill me terribly – like my mail slot.

Right in our front door, we have a mail slot. I actually had one of those in Tasmania, but it was novel only and left for the sake of appearance as the old door had been salvaged from a demolished building. This one though, is the real deal. I hear the squeak of the gate, the footsteps down the stone steps and POOF! Like magic, letters appear into the slot of the door and fall onto my floor. The first time this happened I actually squealed with such delight that Steve thought I had quite lost my mind. This was the stuff that movies are made of – a delivery of mail through my door.

Then there is the red phone box – right in my back yard. It belonged to the late mother of the lady who sold us the house. She intends to donate it to the village as a small lending library, as her mother would have wanted it preserved. It stands here until the job of restoring it can be completed and the relevant permissions granted for its relocation. For us, it is almost de ja vu. Steve’s mum was an English lady, emigrating to Sydney as a child with her family, and later moving with her husband and children to northern Tasmania. Steve fondly remembers how she somehow managed to find herself an old red phone box, and it lived in their front garden. On approaching this house via the lane, the phone box protruding from behind the stone wall was the first thing that Steve saw. I think the cottage sold itself to him right there and then. Of course there was a pang of disappointment when we learned it wasnt to stay, but then it will be put to good use and we will still walk by it every day.

Today we were given the local Parish newsletter – this was brought by hand by a masked individual (a sign of the times only, nothing sinister) walking his two boisterous dogs. He had quite a time getting through my rickety little gate, as it has an automatic closer, and he seemed to be stuck in between with him on one side and the wayward animals on the other. He did get through eventually, in time to place the item into my hands with a greeting and a wave (there isnt much conversation to be had through a surgical mask). It made for some nice reading this afternoon – all manner of newsworthy articles about what goes on, where and by whom. The Parish newsletter reminded us all to look out for our neighbours, check in on loved ones wherever possible and to become the church in the truest sense of the word.

Tonight I walked down the lane right on dusk and wandered over to the bridge. Watching and listening to the river making it’s continuing way to the sea reminds me that life goes on in whatever form it needs to.

So while we are secluded, isolated and confined, let us remember the little things. The quirks, oddities and simple marvels that colour every day. The ordinary is actually rather extraordinary when you think about it.

Happy day to you all.

 

The Kindness of Strangers

It has been my genuine intention to write more regularly but I think given the challenging times we find ourselves in, you will forgive me.

I know people are frightened, ill at ease, anxious at the future and undecided on their course of action. I want to extend a great, big virtual hug of reassurance to you all – this too shall pass. We are to stay at home, so let us put on the kettle, stack up the cookies (who cares about carbs now?) and remember how fortunate we are.

As it happens, I find myself sequestered in a little stone village in the south west of England. I dont really know how to sum that all up in a blog post, so for those of you who dont know the story you may have to stay with me a while, as I will piece it all together in stages through the next few posts. But for now, here we are.

We have arrived here to the next Secret Cottage for a visit – Steve was to stay two weeks to help set up, and I was to remain a few more weeks visiting with our younger daughters before returning to Australia for a while. And then, 2020 decided to up the ante and well, the upshot of it all is that as of today, we are not going anywhere, anytime soon.

I dont mind telling you, there are worse places to be stuck.

English village life is a whole other level to what I am used to. I am reclusive in nature, private and quite aloof when you first meet me. Of course, once I decide that I like you, then Im an open book and you can’t shut me up, but that doesnt come until later. I am not the social type right off the bat. I stay at home a lot and dont mind being alone when that is necessary. I rarely seek people out. I live in a bubble. Steve is similar and we tend to be happy with our own, or each other’s company. So, being an object of interest in a small gathering of souls was not our intention, but there it is.

Here in this little village, the people are interested in us and quick to offer kindness. From our arrival into our tiny cottage we have been quite touched by the willingness of strangers to adopt these somewhat weird Aussies, who have arrived on their doorstep amid a world health crisis for no other reason than a deep love for England.

On the first day, we grabbed a quick lunch at the local pub and were fussed over immensely by the manager when she was to learn we had just arrived. She welcomed us most enthusiastically and hoped that we would let her know should we need advice or help on anything.

Later that day we were visited by Jane Flower, our next door neighbour. (Yes, my neighbour’s name is Jane Flower – I’m tickled pink). She was to stand on our doorstep and heartily declare that she wont come too close, but wanted to say a big WELCOME to the village. And that is how she said it, in capital letters. She promised to bake us a cake, and was rather clear in the face of my meek refusal to put her to any trouble, that she would brook no argument. She left still waving and calling over her shoulder, “Its so lovely to see you here! We will catch up soon!” When I opened the card she gave me, it featured a watercolour of sun umbrellas and tables out on the grounds of the church – turns out, this depicts the annual summer tea party the village holds.

The next day, we went out to the supermarket and returned to a lovely card popped through the mail slot in the door, from the family of ten (three generations) people and two dogs across the lane. They introduced themselves by individual name, (both human and canine) have offered commiserations (“Oh, you poor things must be dealing with SO much!”) for our arrival and generous offers of help with anything we might need, providing phone numbers to boot. They let us know that they have lived in the village for two years, the man in the middle generation is headmaster of the local school, and the whole family absolutely love it there. They hope we settle in well and want to make us feel welcome.

It was later that evening as I was sitting down at the table, surrounded by a sea of boxes and paper and wondering how on earth I was going to fit all of that china into this tiny kitchen, when I heard voices at the front door and Steve called me out. I must have looked a fright, wrapped in my shawl (the heating system is confusing and I was yet to work it out), hair a mess and the frayed ends of jetlag still hanging about. I was greeted by two gorgeous young people with big smiles, who introduced themselves as Tom and Mel. They live in the adjoining cottage, over the back wall of ours and I remembered seeing their little brood of chickens clucking around. Mel handed me a card and a six pack of eggs from her “girls”, who she told me she rescued from a battery farm. She figured we would be snowed under at present and the eggs might keep us going a meal or two. I was very touched and even though I am one of those terrible vegans (and didnt like eggs even when I wasnt), I have no objection to backyard eggs – Steve will enjoy them. We chatted for a little while and they have offered to help with recommendations for everything from internet providers to ordering direct from the fresh food markets. Tom, after a quick glance around at the mess we were in, asked if we needed help moving some of the furniture upstairs. Then, with the promise of a cup of tea together soon, they were off. When I opened the card, it was a photo of the viaduct that runs through the village, taken on a misty morning.

Day three saw us with a visit from another family over the lane, who live in the house behind the big family. This lovely lady (whose name eludes me) popped in with her two children and a gaggle of dogs, endearing her to me instantly. I was to answer the door to two sniffling pugs and a beagle, who I descended on with relish, before it occurred to me that I was ignoring the people. Interestingly, even though I dont remember any of the human’s names, the pugs were Hermione and Tallulah, and – would you believe it – the beagle’s name was Pickle. I jumped up in surprise – surely not? That is the name of my remaining ten year old corgi, I told them – and there I was thinking I was so strange in choosing such a name. We then entered into animated conversation on the subject, and I was given a good history on the dogs, how they came to have them and their personality types. The children were a delight, and Im not only saying that because during the proceeding one of them handed me a bottle of wine as a welcome gift. Their mum (I wish I was better with names, I really do…) was very sweet and assured me I would love it there. I could see already that she might well be right.

We have engaged in conversations with several other village locals and it is a delight and a surprise to me that people seem genuinely pleased to have us there. It occurs to me that at these times, community becomes even more important. We will pass through this time and come out the other end, and who knows what form the changes will take? But here, in this little corner of the world, life goes on. It may have been restricted, a little controlled and more regulated than we would want, but it goes on nevertheless and the kindness of strangers is as touching as ever.

I feel genuinely grateful to have been enfolded into this little community. I am also pleased to announce that I have made fast friends with at least two of the local moggy’s who have blessed me with repeat visits. Between lovely adults, delightful children, pugs, beagles, hens and cats – it’s easy to forget the woes of the world for a while.

I hope wherever you are, that you can feel safe and calm.

Confessions of a Pluviophile

Pluviophile: someone who loves rain, and who finds peace of mind in rainy weather.

That is definitely me. I adore rain – the look of it, the smell of it and the sound of it on my old roof. If the first sound I hear upon waking is rain, I will smile all day.

It is refreshing, renewing and comforting. I love walking in it, and feeling it on my face. I love the way car tyres sound as they “splish” through the water on the road, the way the grass gleams and shines, the way the birds gleefully splash in the puddles and the feeling of gentle serenity in the air as the clouds hang low and the light seems gentler.

Rain has the ability to bring the world to life. It grows our food, it fills our lakes and rivers, it rejuvenates and refreshes the air. Rainy days remind us to stop if we can, slow down, take time. And walking is a whole other experience when the world is laying under a thin layer of pure, fresh water.

It’s the English ancestral memory coming out, Im sure.

Today is one of those days. I’m happy to say that all is quiet here in the neighbourhood and the mad rush of tree removal has ceased. The lane is once again just a pretty little road under big, weeping trees, rather than a non stop motorway of Diesel engines and things that chop, crush and spew. The new owners of our old place have a tidier garden, all associated machinery seems to have gone and we live in hope that peace is restored. Oh, happy day.

So it is that I find myself not writing as I should be, but sitting up in bed amongst sleeping cats with a low lamp on, a snoring corgi on the floor, some vast quantity of tea and my current read (Middlemarch by George Eliot) watching the rain through the window. It is peaceful harmony personified.

And for the record, yes The Holiday is playing in the background; muted so I can still hear the rain. So I’m vacillating between reading about English rural life in the 19th century, drops of water falling on the ground outside, and Kate Winslet’s dreamy cottage. Life is good.

So before I get back to all of that strenuous activity, I have a book recommendation that is a good pairing for my current mood – Rain; Four Walks in English Weather by Melissa Harrison.

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I got hold of this little gem some time ago, and love to dip in and out of it for various lovely sentences and comforting mental pictures. I love nature writing, rain and England so this one was pretty much a given for me. My copy is currently packed up with a lot of my favourite books and on a journey as we speak, but that is a story for another day. It is a lovely read, light and easy and expressive of that beautiful, comforting and reassuring substance we call rain, with all of its rejuvenating properties and it’s ability to nourish.

I wish for you a day of wet weather, in which you can retreat from the world and read, dream and rest.

With tea. And cats. And if you’re lucky enough, a snoring corgi.

Joy Cometh in the Morning…

We certainly hope so.

The interesting thing about living close to the property you just moved out of is watching how things develop in ways you hadn’t considered. Here we are in this little cottage, loving the fact that our lives have simplified and become quieter and all the while, I am watching the extreme level of motivation and commitment the new owners are applying to their latest project.

Which has slightly altered the “quieter” part…

I will admit to some reservation when I saw massive excavators, trucks, mulchers and chainsaw wielding arborists heading in convoy down our (usually) quiet little lane into the back of the property, and wondered if I should worry. I have to mentally slap myself at times and remember this is not my property anymore and as such, it is none of my business what they are doing – except for their insistence on using their right of way over our little lane for every entering vehicle, rather than their two perfectly acceptable and actual entrances – so I cant help notice what is going on at a very real level.

While we were living there, I was very committed to privacy and romantic, rambling gardens and huge trees that enclosed the house and hid it from the world – which might be code for the fact that I’m not a terribly good gardener, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. So I initially figured that a few branches might be coming off to tidy up a bit, and that was about all. Well, I always was an optimist.

What followed from this army-like entry into rural paradise was days of noise, dust and crashing fit to set the nerves of the cats, the tenants, the wildlife and me on edge as we tried to find a corner of the place that wasn’t deafening. One would think that living with a builder I have a casual attitude to necessary noise and while that is true up to a point, its true only up to a point. I’m watching as the long garden beds are thinned out, trees plucked from the ground with reckless abandon, branches come crashing down and get fed by an excavator into a huge mulching machine, to be spat out the other end in piles of fodder for future landscaping projects. The huge willow my children used to make tree houses in is now a stump, and the wisteria vine that twisted over the old shed has been cut to ground level. It is all very “cycle of life” of course, but trees being cut down generally make me want to cry; masses of them being cut down absolutely devastate me. I’m now looking in abject fear at the towering oaks and maples with long, hanging branches and wondering if they will still be there in a year.

As this process unfolds, I am starting to see the place open up. Suddenly from where I am over the lane I can see from my kitchen right into the little guest Cottage at the back. I can see through the previously thick and dense driveway garden bed to the other side of the property. The big pine at the front corner has been opened up at the bottom, making the grounds more visible from the road. And on our evening walk, from the church across the road it is visible right along the drive, to the house – something I’ve never known to happen, even in winter. The long boundary on the other side is now a virtually empty garden bed, with a tree every six feet – in what used to be a dense bed of rambling, climbing plant life. The density is gone, and the gaps are widening looking from the outside, exposing the beauty within.

As many of the locals consider this property there purely for their enjoyment, I think they’ll love it.

And it’s probably much better for the garden in the long term. Or something.

A couple of small trees in the bigger beds that had died but that I left in place because they were covered in moss and lichen and always had birds gathering nest material, have gone. Evergreens that tended to send sprouts in the yard here, there and yonder that we left alone because we used to notice the bunnies nesting under them have also been plucked out (we were asked a while back how we “keep the rabbits under control” and had to sheepishly answer that we didn’t – we loved to watch them around the place). And much of the dense undergrowth and smaller trees of the long beds have been taken out, a previous nesting nirvana for grey fantails and fairy wrens. The pond and all the plants around it have gone completely – no more tadpoles or frogs. I despair for the four wallabies that had also made their home there, and can only hope they have migrated safely to another haven that will welcome them.  I’m also conscious of the fact that our previous resident and somewhat shy pheasant may well have turned tail and retreated to whence he came in the face of all that noise and destruction. Wildlife are after all, not generally conducive to commercial ventures that involve everything looking perfect.

Change is inevitable and this whole production is very likely in the pursuit of better garden health and longevity. I have no doubt the new owners mean well and intend only good things. As they have ambitious plans for the grounds that really has to be the case. Today the machines have quietened a little and I am daring to entertain the hope that the might well be done for now and my peace of mind and body can be restored. But then, there is still an excavator parked right next to the lane…

The best thing to do in these situations, is to make a pot of tea. I await events.

 

And On the Story Goes…

My new year’s resolution for 2020 – other than the usual ‘join-the-gym-lose-twenty-kilos-eat-better’ resolutions that we all know will fall by the wayside – is to keep up to date with blog posts. It has occurred to me through various comments made by people as well as some of the emails and messages I receive, that people actually read them and – astonishingly – expect them to be a little more regular. Who knew?

As writing is at the top of my list of favourite things to do, one would assume this to be an easy task; not so. Consistency and I are not friends, and it is never long before I am distracted by a long list of jobs, some tempting and perpetually unfinished painting or just some dogs; but I digress once more from the point of this post (which isn’t to promise more posts).

The property we have spent the last (nearly) thirteen years in, is now in the hands of new owners and as the accommodation business was not for sale, it has now closed completely, although I was winding it down for some time before.

It is a new and exciting time in our lives, and the life of the house. A different family, infused energy, new plans, evolving activity, and renewed purposes. The story of the next chapter will need to be told by those who write it, but suffice to say things will be different once more. A new chapter for a grand old house that has an ever evolving story.

And as with all things, I find there is still much to say. As a defining period in our lives, the time we spent there will remain with us always. I am currently working on new projects that will encompass some of that. I endeavour to keep it all up to date, which means my two sadly neglected blogs have merged into what will hopefully be a more efficient way of posting my ramblings. The Secret Cottage Facebook page where much of it all started is here: https://www.facebook.com/secretcottagebooks/?epa=SEARCH_BOX

Thank you to everyone who has sent messages of well wishes – and thank you to all who have supported, followed, stayed, called, written, spoke, promoted, criticised (yes, even you!), attended events, ate and loved our food, drank, came for afternoon tea, explored, and engaged with us in some way. The last twelve years have been made up of all of those moments, including all of you.

I hope you will stay in touch – I will too.

Warmest wishes from us xx

A Touch of Spring Fever never goes Astray

Well, it is Spring.

Not really of course – it’s still winter according to both the calendar and my toes. The early mornings are far beyond crisp, the chill in the air as I take the dogs out reminding me that extreme cold can actually hurt you. We have had rain reminiscent of the days of Noah, winds fit to blow a dog off a lead and frost so thick at first glance I was convinced it had snowed. But in the last few days, around 10am, the frost melts and the sun rises higher in the sky and – behold – the gardens become visible in all their glorious splendour.

Daffodils are everywhere – scattered around the gardens and paddocks like dabs of paint. The Dutch iris have also made their appearance, as have the forgot me nots, populating the garden borders with their unique shade of periwinkle blue. And the blossom this year – it seems thicker, more abundant. The splashes of white to be seen around the grounds right now look delightful – even more so when the breeze pushes some of the petals to the ground, making the paths look as though they have been sprinkled with icing sugar. In the middle of the day, the humming of bees is a comforting reminder that the weather is warming up, ever so slightly and at that time of day in the full sun you could be fooled into thinking it was already way further into the season than it actually is.

Here at the guest house we are on hiatus. A temporary break from hosting guests means attention can be paid elsewhere. We’ve spent a good deal of time out of the state and also the country, with children now scattered to (what seems like) all corners of the globe. Suddenly, we need to plan our year around extended visits and travel so our guest booking window will be slightly shorter than in previous years.

The best thing about Spring is this fit of slightly deranged energy I seem to get. Suddenly I feel like redecorating, painting more ivy vines over window frames and recovering chairs. Trying to stay focused on one project at a time is a challenge – else I would be in danger of starting half a dozen things and finishing none of them. In any case, I wish you all a lovely day and a touch of your own Spring fever.

The Only Constant is Change

Well, posting consistent and regular blog entries was never our strong point.

Hospitality is something that should come naturally, but from a business point of view it seems to encompass so many other things these days. One must be social media savvy, post regular updates, inform guests – both existing and potential – of all manner of details regarding the business and market relentlessly. Listing on third party booking sites has become the norm rather than direct contact, and ensuring they have your best deals is part of the requirements. It rather detracts from the business of providing a welcoming haven for travellers, and in my more reflective moments I am conscious that we have lost something in all of this so called efficiency.

Less people are now looking for the sort of service a traditional Bed and Breakfast offers. In this age of Air B&B lowering the bar and homogenising the industry across the board, the travelling public now have less discernment and have accepted that a lower price and a quicker booking method can replace personal service. For those of us to whom personal service is key, it presents a unique set of challenges but also many opportunities.

Many of us are starting to rethink how we offer our rooms and under what circumstances. At Matilda’s we are now finding popularity among those who prefer a lower room rate rather than having breakfast included, for example. As we evolve and adapt to the changing mindset, it seems possible that one day Matilda’s may be a guest house that doesn’t serve breakfast – unheard of a decade ago! Some things will always remain as they are – we continue to prefer direct contact over third party booking sites and hold that a personal relationship with our guests is not only preferred but necessary to hosting them in our home. It is highly possible that one day a more business minded person will live here and do a better job of exploiting the vast potential than we have, but our sentimental connection to the property means that it won’t be us. Clifton will always be the home we have made, the place our children grew up in, the place that holds a thousand memories, and the place where guests return to us, year after year.

Change is a good thing, but our underlying commitment will remain steadfast.

Spring in the Valley

There are few things lovelier than Spring. Despite my professed love for the colder seasons, nothing provides as much hope and optimism as the first flush of daffodils and the profusion of cherry blossom. It makes us a promise, that flowers have not disappeared, they are resting and will return soon enough to decorate our garden beds with a brilliant display of colour. That the tree’s will not be bare forever, they will soon bear fruit that will ripen into sweet and succulent treats for summer baking and early autumn jam. That sunshine is just around the corner, made all the happier because of the gloomy winter days. And that soon, it will be abuzz in the Valley, humming with the activity of bee’s, birds and of course, people.

Tourists will arrive in droves, families will come for day trips from the city, dogs will be walked in the evening and the local food businesses will extend their opening hours. Produce will be plentiful and varied and the pickers from interstate and overseas will come, adding to the diversity of the area. Picnics will be planned, tours of our enviable food outlets will abound and plans for the upcoming festive season will go into overdrive.

Here at Matilda’s, we are content. It has been a gloriously wintery winter with lit fires and snoring dogs, glistening hedges and rushing rivers, crisp days and snow capped mountains. We now watch the blossom make it’s appearance tentatively at first, then with more confidence – in direct opposition to the daffodils, whose emergence on the scene is nothing short of unabashed and bold. The snowdrops are more elegant and understated, and the irises are patient – preferring to hold back a while longer until the danger of frost has fully passed. It is a time of discovery – the daily reminder of the beauty that has been hidden beneath winter’s covering and is only a distant memory, which is what makes it more delightful.

We have been blessed as usual, with the nicest guests and have made several friends. We are reminded that we have the best job in the world as we prepare for the season to get busier.

Welcome Spring, and thank you for your optimism and joy.

Autumn is Here

Here at the guest house, we are well aware that there are several things we do rather well; regular blog posts is not one of them. Here we are yet again and it has been months – really, you would think we were busy or something!

In truth, it has been a busier season than we had initially anticipated. With the usual tasks associated with the house and property, add a good stream of both return and new guests coming through the place and this first part of the year feels a bit of a whirlwind. The Valley is enjoying an ever increasing popularity with visitors and folks are coming from all over the world to stay here – having made several friends and received offers of returned hospitality from all corners, we are ever grateful for their custom and referrals. We really do have the best job.

The gardens are slowing and even the ever present Barry is being given a rest, having not been needed for some weeks now as the leaves fall, mulching the deep beds and setting the quiet scene for the winter stillness. It never ceases to amaze me, the way old gardens continue to take care of themselves – growing, blooming, dying off and repeat. The same cycle year in, year out and the beauty of it never fades.

Autumn is therefore, probably our favourite season – not just for it’s restful feeling, but for it’s glorious colours, it’s misty mornings and it’s abundant generosity. The quince tree is groaning, the apples are everywhere and the bright leaves on the trees provide a daily delight. It is just beautiful.

As the guest numbers slow, we have time to catch our breath. Daily walks with the corgi’s are prettier and no longer rushed or sweaty – although they do involve a lot of leaf rolling. The light is muted and so the paints will likely come out again for my next picture, although I continue to lament my lack of wall space for more such projects. Perhaps we will just light the fire and curl up with a good book.

Before we know it, July will be here and the busy weekends already full of guests visiting the state for the various winter activities happening – not least of all the Huon Valley Winterfest – will arrive. But for now, we will enjoy the slower pace as Autumn deepens and the cold weather sets in.

I issue a warm welcome to any winter visitors that we will see here, and you may rest assured that on the days in between, we are perfectly content.

The Garden Variety

Gardens are time consuming, involved and demanding things. They are also stunningly beautiful and productive if handled properly and a joy to behold when in the glory of their blossoming time.

Gardens at properties like this one were planted more for pleasure than anything else, and usually safe in the knowledge that there would me many hands to work the flower beds, prune the bushes, water the tree’s and generally tend the plants.

The gardens here have a variety of ‘pockets’ – little areas where one can be invisible to the others. The ornamental tree’s are gorgeous and the sweeping beds, abundant roses and climbing vines all present a beautiful picture – when all goes well, that is.

When the garden has been neglected for a time however, the whole thing takes on a life of it’s own and becomes something of a monster, threatening to overrun all of civilisation if not properly contained. We were almost confronted with such a situation upon reopening last year, but were saved in time by the good grace of Steve – who worked here for several years on and off in varying capacities, and not to be confused with the Steve who lives here. He pitched in to help and with his assistance we have almost managed to stay only a little behind nature’s persistent onslaught. Just.

Steve however, was not to remain gardening for the term of his natural life and announced he would be retiring at the end of the year from all of his local jobs – the year that recently ended, that is. Oh, horror. After realising that refusing to accept his resignation was not going to work, we sought to find some more help, with the added conviction that we need to get serious if this mammoth plant paradise is to be kept under control.

Enter Barry.

Barry is the father of a friend, and with a history in hard work, sound plant knowledge and excellent energy levels he agreed (after much coaxing, cajoling and well….begging) to come and have a look at the place for us to assess what might be done. He wasn’t promising anything. He may not be interested. It might not be the sort of thing he wants. He’s not sure. So Barry came, he looked and he started – then and there. That was a week ago and I am struggling to think of a single minute in any of those days that Barry hasn’t been here. What he has achieved already has been phenomenal. Each time I glance out of one of the windows, there he is – masses of growth being flung out behind him with every movement of his arms. I admit to some reservation when I saw the size of the branches being pruned from the roses, but my cowardice in pruning has not thus far achieved a tidy garden so I remain silent.

We’re impressed, and more importantly the garden is starting to appear again as something with a little structure and form.

The great thing about old English cottage style gardens is that their rambling nature means that they still look beautiful even when they are untidy. But when they are cosseted and coaxed a bit, attended to by someone who knows what they are up to and is game for the challenge, they shine.

While we will continue to claim that we ‘like a rambling garden’ (we have our story and we are sticking to it), it will certainly be nice to see it come back to order under Barry’s expert hand.