What the world needs now…

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I don’t mean to get all Dionne Warwick on you, but I’d say a decent helping of love is EXACTLY what the world needs right now.

There are lots of people feeling really upset and shocked about what’s happened this year and massively fearful about the future. Myself included. The people of America have elected a  velutinous kumquat as their president, there’s the ongoing shitshow that is Brexit, we’ve seen people demonstrate abhorrent attitudes towards people fleeing war zones. I could go on. What has taken place is incredibly complicated, but I think it all boils down to this:

People are not being nice to each other.

I know this is a bit simplistic, even a little naïve, but isn’t that it? Racism, sexism, homophobia, war. Put simply, it’s people not trying to see things from others’ perspectives and not being nice to each other. When we worry about the future, we’re worrying that people won’t be nice, and they’ll make unfair decisions that make peoples’ lives worse.

The purpose of this post is to show that while people can be lots of things – horrible, rude, thoughtless, hateful – they can also be wonderful. FEEL-GOOD FACTOR ALERT: I’m about to talk about the kindness of strangers.

I am a real-life version of Dory the fish and not in a cute way. I’ve written off two cars. I fell down the stairs on my friend’s hen do, and sequelled this with a dramatic tumble down a medieval staircase during her wedding. While working as a waitress I once caused a small fire.

I’m also really forgetful and have a tendency to put things down, get distracted and then walk away leaving the item unattended.

When this happens, 99.9 per cent of the time, I get the item back and this is purely thanks to the kindness of complete strangers.

I think returning a lost item is a really selfless, gesture of goodness. They often remain anonymous and get no credit whatsoever. They don’t know me, and therefore they don’t really care about me, yet they’ve put themselves out because I’m in need of help.

Sometimes it might just be handing the item in to a lost property desk, but other times, they’ve had to find an envelope, pay for a stamp and take it to the Post Office – i.e. one of the WORST places a human being has to go. (Don’t get me started on the Post Office). These little acts of generosity never fail to cheer me up and are enough to fill me with hope and optimism about the future – people can be lovely.

It occurred to me, that those who don’t lose stuff all the time might never realise how many nice people there are in the world.

Here’s an example for you.

My diary

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Last year while I was on a trip to Toronto, I arrived back to my hotel room to find a small, intriguing brown parcel waiting for me on the table. It had my name handwritten on the front in marker pen.

Who had sent me a present, all the way in Canada? I don’t know anyone here!

I ripped open the packaging and saw inside my travel diary. This diary, has been to Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, France, Poland, Costa Rica and Canada. I hadn’t realised, but earlier that day I’d put my little black moleskine down on a bench, and walked away from it.

Tucked into the first page of my book, was a little map of Toronto, with a cross marked on it in biro and a note saying ‘you left your diary here!’

THIS PERSON HAD TAKEN A FERRY, FOUND THEIR WAY TO MY HOTEL AND WALKED UP 30 STEPS TO RETURN MY DIARY TO ME!


To summarise, all is not lost. Just because there are horrible people, doesn’t mean EVERYONE is horrible. I’m at risk of starting to sound like some kind of Jesus Christ, Bob Geldof care bear here so I’m going to wrap things up. Just, be nice everyone.

The line of beauty

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Since moving to Kew Gardens last year, a fair portion of my life has been spent on the rattly, elegant and idiosyncratic District line. Here is my love letter to- in my opinion – the best of all the London Underground railways.

Firstly, the District line is most definitely a railway, rather than a tube. Most of the time it’s actually above the ground, and even when it does as its name commands and goes under, it’s barely below the surface of the Earth.

The trains are tall with high ceilings. In the older trains on the network, the seats are arranged in a baffling orientation. In the centre of the carriage, a cluster of eight are positioned as if passengers were sat around a picnic bench. This leaves space for just one solitary seat before the doors. A seat that is encased in two walls of clear plastic, giving its inhabitant the overall impression of being sat in a fish tank.

The stations along the route vary from the grubby gloom of Mansion House to the graceful arches of Gloucester Road – curiously a station where no-one appears to board and no-one seems to disembark. There’s the futuristic chrome of Westminster and the sense of occasion at South Kensingston (“change here for the Museums and the Royal Albert Hall”). Generally speaking, the stations are quite beautiful, old-fashioned and filled with flowers. Cones of geraniums, little fenced off areas with ramshackle community gardens, in the spring – box after box of daffodils. The signs are hung from ornate metal beams, thick and rounded from years of repainting.

The line’s attitude to timekeeping is reminiscent of an eccentric, stubborn old aunt, arriving when it suits them, in their own time. The trains are every ten minutes at best – they keep you waiting and offer no apology. No other line could get away with a 13 minute wait with no explanation. No passenger alarm has been pulled, the rain is of the right kind, the leaves have been swept from the track. The train is not delayed. It’s just 13 minutes away. Is there a problem?

From Earl’s Court heading West, the signage simply isn’t interested in letting you know how long you will be waiting. Most of the time they tell you what train is on its way, but sometimes they don’t even bother with that. At Earl’s Court, the perplexing board of stations with its pop up arrows, is like something Alice would be confronted with in Wonderland.

Then, just after Gunnersbury, there’s the bit where the train crosses the river. Even to a regular District line commuter, the view is worth lowering one’s book for. Through one window you can see a view of the picturesque strand-on-the-green, through the other Oliver’s Island – a mysterious little wooded patch of land in the middle of the water.

And finally, did I mention that the District line has the best taste in colour? That green!

pantone-356

Pantone 356

District line, I love you.

The hanging gardens of Barbican

Blog, Sights

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Many of London’s great landmarks are easy to love. The architecture is straightforward, quite obviously attractive, easy to photograph and aesthetically pleasing without question.

The Barbican is a place that my eyes aren’t quite sure what to do with. I find it truly fascinating and it’s one of my favourite spots in London.

I love the great rhinoceros-grey sprawl of concrete and the way its long round legs trudge through the still green ponds. I love the contrast between the brutal straight lines of the buildings and the window boxes overflowing with flowers that tumble over the edges.

At the same time, there’s something quite ugly about it.

I realised, in order to describe how I feel about the Barbican, I need a very specific word. After some searching, I found a term that ticks the box: “Jolie-laide”.

Jolie Laide: a woman whose face is attractive despite having ugly features.

During my semantic search, I came across an article by Stephen Bayley in the Architectural Review, talking about this whole idea of beauty and ugliness. In the article he suggests that “we only enjoy the ephemeral deliciousness of beauty if we have an active concept of ugliness…

“Heaven needs hell.”

 

I work nearby, so I took a lunchtime stroll recently. Here are some picture taken on my wander.

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Making a bath soak, making a mess

Blog, Writes

DIY-bath-soak

After the success of my homemade shampoo (read about it here) I felt pretty bloody good about myself. Inevitably, I thought it would be a crackin’ idea to start making more of my own beauty products.

I decided to start with my own bubble bath. How tricky could this be?

VERY TRICKY it turns out. I’ve tried lots of different recipes and none of my creations seem to actually make any bubbles. I’ve even tried chucking an egg white in the bath, which only seemed to create this weird meringuey scum on the surface of the water. Now I love meringue, but I can say from experience, it’s not nice sitting in one.

So after many hours spent scouring the internet, and a similar number scouring my bath to remove egg residue, I’ve decided to be resourceful, and simply rebrand my failed attempt at a bubble bath as a BATH SOAK.

I’m not entirely convinced that this is as eco-friendly as the rest of the internet will happily claim. At the end of the day, oil is still going down the drain which is bad. PLUS, essential oils, might not be as hippy and hemp wearing as they make out either.

NEVERTHELESS, this recipe has far fewer chemicals than the standard bubble bath you find on the shelf of a pharmacy, and this whole thing has made me more aware of what I wash with, and what is going down the drain.

It still makes a really nice bath, and afterwards you feel all soft and smooth and you smell really nice. In summary: all is not lost


Recipe for homemade bath soak

  • 150 ml water
  • 6 tbsps Dr Bronner’s castille soap
  • 5 tbsps coconut oil
  • 4-5 drops of essential oil

Chuck everything in a jar, mix it up, then shake the jar vigorously to combine

Wait for it to settle, then pour into a bottle.

Add a sprig of lavender to the bottle to finesse and voila! DONE!

Picture of ingredients for DIY bath soakDIY eco friendly bath soak. Use castille soap, water, coconut oil and essential oil with water. Recipe via A Ranson Note http://nicolaranson.comCoconut oil used in DIY bath soakShake-the-jar!DIY-bath-soak

 

The loveliness of vintage labels

Blog, Writes

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One of my favourite things about buying vintage is that every piece has a story attached. Sometimes this story is based in fact – when an item’s history and era are known by the seller – and sometimes I make up a wild history myself. I just love that each piece has lived its own life before I found it.

When little is know about the origin of a vintage item, one of the biggest clues or hints into its past, is the label.

Sometimes these labels just tell me I’ve got a great deal or that I’ve bought something of quality. I found a pair of metallic silver Michael Kors pumps in Rokit a few months back and I have a delicate silk scarf that claims, via its flimsy label, to be Armani.

My REAL favourites, are the items from mysterious, unknown brands or shops. It’s these little badgers that make my imagination gleefully run amok. Over the years I must have spent HOURS puzzling about my the birthplace of my favourite dresses, filling in the gaps with my own little made up tales.

For example, take my orange flowery shirt. I wore this almost every day during the summer of 2005, with a ripped denim skirt, a pair of cowboy boots and some fake raybans. Who on EARTH did I think I was?

ANYWAY. Stitched into the shirt, is one of those nametags that tells me it was once owned by someone called Magali Viallet. Who are you Magali!?!?

I imagine that Magali isn’t a child. I reckon she owned the shirt when she was 19, and in protest against her twin sister stealing her clothes, spent hours stitching her name into them all.

So, here is a selection of some of my favourite labels.

I’ve spent some time googling them myself but if you happen to know ANYTHING about any of these makes – please let me know in the comments. In reality, these dresses are probably from a 1970s American equivalent of Matalan and my romantic ideas are entirely overblown, ludicrous and ridiculous.

Jean-Chanell

My favourite label of all. Magali Viallet, WHO ARE YOU?

Dressing-ClioSallySunshine-StarshineIsabel

 

The river at Postbridge, Dartmoor National Park, Devon

Postcards from a roadtrip to Cornwall

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The river at Postbridge, Dartmoor National Park, Devon

The river at Postbridge, Dartmoor National Park, Devon

Despite going to university in Devon and spending three years living right on the brink of Cornwall, until last weekend I had never been there. How did I let this happen!??

Anyway. In the early hours of Friday morning, we packed up the MG and headed West.
The weekend was spent adventuring, in the glorious twin counties of Devon and Cornwall.

We explored the moors of Dartmoor National Park, ate Cornish pasties and waved hello to a tiny Dartmoor pony who was just trotting around, swishing his tail, doing his thang looking so cute and tiny.

Later in Bude, we wandered along the clifftops, dodged swooping seagulls and ate fish and chips and crab bisque by the beach.

After lunch, we zoomed along the Atlantic Highway to Tintagel with the roof open, the sun on our faces, and much to Gavin’s disgust, the sound of Justin Bieber pumping through the speakers.

Upon arrival, we skipped down the steep path to see the turquoise waters of Tintagel cove. Gavin then imparted a load of made-up facts about what makes the sea look turquoise, the history of Tintagel and the legend of Arthur before we huffed and puffed and grumbled our way back up the hill. It was very steep you know!

We took a trip to Padstow, then meandered around the harbour eating ice cream and lolling at creepy peeping gargoyles.

It was a GREAT weekend – may I suggest you all go there immediately.

When you do, stay in Langstone Manor. They have sweet little wooden cubby holes to sleep in, they love the environment and the site is actually inside the boundaries of Dartmoor National Park – i.e the WILDERNESS.

Field-through-the-bushesPostbridge-bridge-not-the-postbridge-bridgeMG-outside-the-podGavin-driving-the-MGField-and-GateTiny-ponyBeach-at-BudeFlowers-in-PadstowPadstow-harbourPadstow-beachTintagel.jpg

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BOTH CREEPY AND PEEPING.

Black tights and glittery shoes

Black tights be gone/an ode to opaques

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Black tights and glittery shoes

The time has come to retire my opaque tights for the summer.

I know it’s hot and I know it might make you feel hot to look at my fabric-covered pins, but I could wear tights all year round. I would. And I have. When I was about 16 I defied convention and wore black tights and cowboy boots for the duration of the summer.

This year, however, I am baring my legs to the world. I’m doing this because:

A) I’m sick of hearing “aren’t you hot in those!?!?”

B) articles like this suggest it’s what you’re supposed to do

C) the irritants from point A) actually have a point, it is quite hot this year.

So with reluctance, with sadness, with regret, I have pushed my tights to the bottom of the washing bin, folded my tights up and put them away for the year, accepted that they are the adult equivalent of a safety blanket and told myself I can survive without them.

It sounds so simple doesn’t it? Just stop wearing tights! If anything, it should save a couple of minutes in the morning, non?

NON.

There are a MYRIAD of issues that crop up the moment the trusty opaques are banished.

Sit comfortably fellas ‘cos I’m going to list the myriad. Ready?

ONE

The moment opaques are out the window, you suddenly realise that all your dresses are far too short to be appropriate for the workplace. In a tight, I can skip around, pick up boxes, even venture outside on a windy day. Once the legs are bare, I’m in constant danger of flashing someone and all my dresses seem to reveal an awkward amount of thigh.

TWO

I don’t mean to get all Protein World here, but I don’t feel “summer body ready”. I feel like a thumb that’s been under a plaster and has gone all pink and wibbly. As females, before baring our legs, we’re generally supposed to make them completely and utterly BALD like the head of Harry Hill. That takes a while and is boring and/or expensive.

My legs are also the colour of an albino earth worm. I think the next stage, generally expected of me by a society influenced by the Daily Fail Sidebar of Shame, is to go to Boots, buy a bottle of brown, and then pour the brown on my legs. FEMINIST RANT AIR HORN: Why do I have to do this and my boyfriend doesn’t? Why can’t I leap around like a happy antelope with white hairy legs?

‘White hairy legs’ sounds gross doesn’t it? But Ryan Gosling has white hairy legs, and that’s not gross, and antelopes have hairy legs too and they are the most elegant creatures there are! Exhibit A.

I say let’s change our leg-inspo icons. Less GISELE, more GAZELLE?

THREE

I am incredibly clumsy and I go about my business bumping into stuff and acquiring a fair amount of bruises along the way. In fact, I tripped up a curb and fell onto the street a few weeks ago. Completely flat on the floor. A few days later I fell down the stairs.

Do you ever wonder who actually needs to be reminded to ‘mind the gap’ when leaving the tube? ME. I once fell down the aforementioned gap and had to be hoiked out by a random.

In summary, I am Madame Bump and my legs reflect this.

In the summer I can’t cover these catastrophes with a double-figure denier. I have to bare them, with all their cuts and scrapes looking like I’ve been dragged through a bramble bush, set on fire and then pelted with bruise-hued paintballs.

Don’t tell me to use concealer – do you not think I’ve tried this? It doesn’t work.

FOUR

What am I doing with my shoes? All shoes look completely different without tights. I know some people can pull off bare legs and black boots, but I just look like I got distracted while getting dressed and forgot to wear something. It just looks wrong.

And then pumps. Do you wear socks, or are we also going sockless all summer? And don’t get me started on sandals. My feet resemble something from Lord of the Rings, it takes weeks of work to make them suitable for a general audience.

In summary, the day I have to cast aside my trusty opaque tights is a really sad one. On the flip side, I appreciate there are far more pressing issues in the world right now, so basically dear Nicola, suck it up and get over it!

RANT OVER. [DROPS MIC]

The secret wonders of Kew Gardens Tropical Nursery…

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Fried-egg-orchidCactus-in-Kew-Gardens

Tucked away in a leafy corner behind a pair of Victorian wrought-iron gates lies Kew Gardens Tropical Nursery. It’s a hot, misty place, filled with intriguing and bizarre wonders of the natural world, from the world’s largest flower to the tiniest lily.

The Nursery is where Kew do research, conservation work, and look after rare plants. It’s not usually open to the public, but Gavin somehow managed to wangle us a tour. Gavin has a habit of winning tickets for things – I’m not sure whether he enters hundreds of competitions or is just really lucky. Either way, we got to go and look round and find out about all kinds of crazy plants.

Kew Gardens Tropical NurseryKew Gardens Tropical NurseryCactus in Kew GardensOpen-closy-thingOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now I am a nerd and absolutely love plants and learning new things. But I’m aware that a lesson on tropical plants isn’t the way EVERYONE in their mid-twenties would choose to spend a Saturday afternoon. (On that note, at what age must one reluctantly swap ‘mid’ for ‘late’ when talking about age? I’m 27 and I’m clinging on to my ‘mid-twenties’ label for at least another year.) Seriously though, some of the plants in this Nursery would fascinate even the grumpiest plant-hater.

Cafe Marron

Cafe marron, the Lonesome George of the plant world.

Café marron, is a flowering plant from Mauritius. A few years ago, the cafe marron’s future resembled that of Lonesome George – there was just one sad little plant left in the wild. Luckily, Kew Gardens saved it from extinction – they propagated a load, kept a stash in the nursery and send some back to Mauritius.

Kew Gardens is one of my favourite places in the world. It’s not just a pretty garden, it’s so important to conservation and science. Being there makes you realise how incredible our Earth and its inhabitants are, and  how we should do all we can to preserve and protect them.

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After our visit, we popped to see the Hive. It’s a brand new art installation that mimics a real beehive. It was designed by artist Wolfgang Buttress and has lights and music that reflect the activity in a hive located elsewhere in Kew Gardens.

The Hive is surrounded by a swaying field of wildflowers. Since the 1930s, the UK has lost NINETY SEVEN PER CENT of its wildflower meadows. This is disastrous for bees. It’s where they love to hang out and without these meadows, our poor pollinating pals are under threat. (I’ve banged on about how much I love bees and how important they are before, the post is here if you fancy a read).

After visiting the Hive we wandered around the gardens and I spent the best part of an hour scampering around in the flowerbeds trying to take a photo of a bee…

I’d really recommend a visit to the Hive, followed by a stroll through the secluded garden to spot bumbles in the bushes.

Bees in Kew GardensBees in Kew Gardens

 

Costa Rica, a tropical paradise filled with sloths and parrots

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The view of Manuel Antonio National Park from Hotel La Mariposa

Regularly labelled the happiest, greenest and most sustainable country in the world, Costa Rica is a tropical haven in the heart of Central America. The country relies mostly on renewable energy, it doesn’t have an army and it’s home to the world’s most adorable creature: THE SLOTH.

To summarise, Costa Rica is about as close as you can get to heaven on Earth

Tortuguero beach, Laguna Lodge, Costa Rica via A Ranson NoteGardens at Laguna Lodge, Tortuguero, Costa Rica via A Ranson NoteMural in San Jose, Costa Rica

Thanks to its tropical climate and lush vegetation, photographs of Costa Rica need no filter. It’s like someone has turned up brightness and saturation on the whole place, it’s so green, so blue, so yellow and so red, in equal measure. Describing it without resorting to cliche is nearly impossible.

We recently spent an incredible two weeks travelling around Costa Rica and it was an absolutely unforgettable trip.

On the canals in Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica via A Ranson NoteTortuguero Village, Costa Rica via A Ranson Note

We hiked through dripping rainforests, sailed along crocodile-infested canals and trundled along mountain roads past erupting volcanoes. We shooed cheeky monkeys away from our picnic and in turn were chased by brazen coatis and racoons after a quick snack.

We floated gently down the still waters of Tortuguero, watching with wonder as white-faced capuchins leapt high above our heads.

Tree Canopy in the Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa RicaFungus in the Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa RicaMoss on a branch in Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica via A Ranson Note

The cloud forest is a curious, misty place. Every branch is covered in moss and vines, orchids and bromeliads. Ferns hang down, creeping vines curl around other plants.

In the early morning light, we crept through the forest on the hunt for the country’s beloved Resplendent Quetzal. The aptly named bird has rich green and red feathers, a ludicrously long tail and big eyes to help it see in the forest. Stubbornly resistant to living in captivity, the Quetzal can only be found in a few places on Earth, the Monteverde Cloud Forest being one. We were so lucky to spot a family nesting in an old tree.

Sun shining through the trees in the Cloud ForestResplendant Quetzal in Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica via A Ranson Note

Alongside the early mornings, strenuous hiking and long journeys on treacherous unpaved roads, we found time to relax. We rested aching limbs in hot springs heated by the lava bubbling under nearby volcanoes. We splashed in infinity pools, swam in clear blue seas and sunbathed on the pure white sands of unspoilt beaches.

Sunset in Tortuguero, Laguna Lodge, Costa RicaTortuguero beach, Costa Rica via A Ranson NoteOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If this is sounding too much like advertising blurb from a travel agent brochure, then it’s only because I really, really, love Costa Rica. But to balance it out a little, I’ll say this: at times, the humidity was unbearable. One night, I lay in bed, in a room with no air conditioning, in a place with 89% humidity and I felt like a little tree of broccoli being gently steamed ready for a Sunday lunch. It was impossible to think about anything else but the stifling, inescapable heat. I lay there for over an hour, dripping with sweat, imagining what it would be like to be steamed to death.

Aside from the dream about my untimely demise, it was an incredible, beautiful trip. On the way to the airport, I even shed a little tear that it was coming to an end…


For more photos and travel journals, visit SIGHTS

Misadventures with a wildflower window box

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I had high hopes for our balcony when I started gardening in September last year. I saw our modest concrete enclosure through rose, tulip and poppy-tinted spectacles.

It would become an urban jungle, I thought, filled with hanging baskets brimming with trailing ivy and big, beaming flowers, birds and bees making the glorious space their home. It would be a balcony garden to rival Mr Hoppy’s, the green-fingered star of Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot. 

Mr Hoppy balcony

The dream.

We were in the garden shop on the hunt for plants when I spotted the sale rack. The sale rack always tugs on my heartstrings. I look at the sad, wilting flowers, disfigured petals and droopy leaves and I just want to scoop up the whole grotty lot and take them home with me.

I looked at Gavin. He did a reluctant nod. He knew resistance was futile. I bundled carton after carton of sorry looking pansies into the basket and with glee skipped off to the checkout.

On my way to pay, another garden centre misfit caught my eye.

It was a hefty bag of wildflower seeds, reduced to 50p. Without a second of hesitation, I threw the seeds in the basket and off we went.

That afternoon, I spent a good few hours carefully potting all my new planty friends in their containers and window boxes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASpring balcony 3.jpgWindowbox

The final touch, the pièce de résistance if you will, was the bag of wildflower seeds.

With what can only be described as “reckless abandon” me and Gavin sprinkled the whole bag all over the balcony – no pot escaped the seed sprinkle.

“WE’LL HAVE A BALCONY MEADOW!” I declared with joy, arms flung wide Hills are Alive style.



Let’s fast forward to June shall we? We’ve just returned from a two week holiday. After much umming and ahhing beforehand about what to do with our plants, we bunged some in the bath, and the rest we left outside at the mercy of mother nature, hoping that while we were away it would rain enough to keep them all alive.

The balcony now looks atrocious. It’s like the scene from the Lion King when Scar takes over the Pride Lands. Everything is parched and impoverished. The window boxes are barely visible beneath swathes of yellow grass and weeds. The once blossoming strawberry plant has shrivelled. I’ve never considered lawn-mowing a window box before, but at one point it looked like the most sensible option.

To say the wildflower window box was a mistake would be unfair and perhaps premature. I think it’s more a case of unrealistic expectations, combined with a long period of time without water.

In fact, despite everything, I spotted a fuzzy little bee hanging out among the stems the other day, which was the main purpose of the wildflowers in the first place. 

A little bee having a rest in what’s left of my strawberry plant.

Plus, after significant plucking and pruning, trimming and watering, I think they’re starting to look a lot healthier and might just be on the mend. I’ll keep you posted.

But in the meantime, a gardening tip from someone who knows nothing about gardening: Don’t plant a metric ton of wildflower seeds in containers and then abruptly stop watering them. They. Will. Die.

 

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