Flower & Food Festival

flowers, fruit, Grow Your Own, Houseplants, Other Gardens, Plants, Uncategorized, Vegetables

This is one of the highlights of my gardening year – Dundee’s Flower and Food Festival.

I go every year and really enjoy being in the midst of the best of what our area has to offer in terms of plants, produce and food.  There are displays of beautiful plants and flowers, from amateurs, dedicated growers and local businesses.  Not to mention the rows of fruit and veg and the amazing giant leeks, carrots and cabbages.  It feels like an exhibition built on the hours of love and joy which people have put into growing their favourite things.

I have a new-found appreciation for the people who enter these competitions.  You can’t accidentally grow three petal-perfect chrysanthemums or dahlias.  It’s impossible to grow a leek the size of a plank without putting in a great deal of time and effort to make it as large and perfect as it can be.  Maybe someday when I have more experience, and a great deal more time, I’ll consider trying my hand at a competition bloom, but for now I think I’ll continue to enjoy the flowers and veg I grow on my windowsill or on my plate…

Dahlia heaven at the Flower and Food Festival – so many beautiful blooms on display as part of the Scottish Dahlia and Chrysanthemum Society’s annual competition.

I was also very taken with some of the indoor plants on display – especially this frilly variety of coleus and these gorgeous swirly begonias.

The fruit and veg looked so healthy and colourful – you can tell the people who produced them just love growing!  #veggiegoals

#TBT to Chelsea Flower Show 2018

flowers, Garden design, Other Gardens, photography, Plants, Uncategorized

As it’s Thursday, and I didn’t have the time to write about it at the time, here’s my own little summary of the joyous day I spent at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018!

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Me on my first visit to Chelsea Flower Show

This was my first ever visit to the show and it’s fair to say I was excited.  Very excited.  The event lived up to my expectations and I felt awed, inspired, influenced and delighted while I was there.  Although watching the highlights on TV give you a pretty in-depth view of the show gardens and plants, as well as a useful commentary from experts and the designers themselves, there’s nothing like standing right beside that garden and experiencing it for yourself.  Admittedly, you’re sharing that experience with hundreds of other people, all jostling for a good view, but it’s still a great experience.

Of the show gardens, my ultimate favourite was probably the Yorkshire Garden – I just loved its lush cottage garden planting, the stream and the beautiful stone building.  It looked like somewhere I could sit and enjoy for hours (assuming it wasn’t still in the middle of Chelsea and being viewed by thousands of plant-hungry people).

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I also loved the artistic creativity of the Harber and Savills Garden – I enjoyed its colours and the view down the line of the garden to the sculpture at its centre.   The one that took me by surprise was the South African Wine Estate, which I expected to feel ambivalent about – in fact I loved the different stages of this garden and the way it captured all the aspects (I assume) of the kind of land it was depicting.

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Delphiniums, roses, foxgloves…perfect cottage garden planting

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Cottage garden section of the South African Wine Estate 

The winner of Best Show Garden was of course Chris Beardshaw’s garden for the NSPCC.  I felt a little underwhelmed by it at the time, but I now wish I could go back and take another look at it again, having read a little more about it.  I think you would also fully appreciate the garden if you were able to get inside it and stand amongst the plants and enjoy the seating spaces.  This is, of course, impossible, but it must give the judges, celebrities and journalists a sense of each garden which we can’t quite achieve observing from the outside.

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I loved this planting combination – purples, red-purples and zingy greens, with the dark cornflowers popping up in the background

I felt the greatest connection to some of the smaller gardens, however.  The playfulness of the Seedlip Garden was brilliant.  I loved that every plant in it was from the pea family, and yet it was interesting and varied, as well as educational – I never knew there were so many ornamentals in the pea family!   (As a sidenote, if you haven’t tried Seedlip I’d encourage you to do so!  It’s a non-alcoholic spirit and it tastes of the garden.  Lovely with an elderflower tonic.)

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Lupins and other pea-family planting in the Seedlip Garden.  Note the brilliant pea-villion! 

The Artisan Gardens also impressed me – they also seemed more playful in their creativeness; there was a freedom in these which I imagine the bigger Show Gardens can’t quite access.

Of these, the ones which stood out for me were the Billion Dreams Indian garden with its blue Mecanopsis and gorgeous patterned marble walls; the peaceful and elegant Japanese Hospitality Garden (amazing moss balls!) and the Laced with Hope Garden – this last one reflecting on the journey of a child with cancer.  Its graffiti wall certainly wouldn’t be for everyone but I loved the explosion of colour, which was also reflected in the planting, and the sculptures which I think really illustrated what the garden was trying to achieve.

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The Great Pavillion was almost overwhelming there were so many flowers and plants on display.  The highlight for me was the The National Dahlia Collection.  So many dahlias on display in one place… I added loads to my wish list but the real inspiration was the planting combinations.  They looked fantastic next to hostas, grasses, foxgloves and aquilegia.  I’m still learning about how and where to grow my dahlias and this was really helpful and interesting.  I will definitely try to combine some of these in my garden in future.

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Dahlias planted with foxgloves, grasses, ferns, aquilegia 

So, what did I take away from Chelsea? Inspiration, ideas and a packet of seeds.  Sweet pea ‘Harlequin’ in fact.  Other stand-out plants which I will now seek out: lupins (especially ‘Masterpiece’), more geums (‘Mai Tai’, ‘Cosmopolitan’) and it’s reaffirmed my desire for some astrantia, having seen a variety of these on show too.

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Lupin ‘Masterpiece’ and Cerinthe major

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Astrantia – I need some! 

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I wasn’t sure about this Iris – until I saw it planted with this straw-coloured grass

I really did love my visit to Chelsea – I felt like I was in Plant Heaven all day, which is how I feel in my own garden, only with extra Pimms and a few more celebrities!  Will I go back?  Yes I think I would – although ideally on a day or time when you could avoid the worst of the crowds.  It’s definitely made me keen to see more of the RHS Shows too – next on the list, Chatsworth… 😉

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Back garden planning…

flowers, Garden design, Other Gardens, photography, Plants, Uncategorized

It’s time to concentrate on the back garden for a while.

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View of the back garden.  Obviously, it’s not normally covered in snow…

I’ve been turning my attention to planning the front borders up until now because there’s just so much bare soil out there.   I now have this space three-quarters planned – there’s just one corner I’m not exactly sure what I’ll do with yet.  I’ve moved most of the shrubs I want to move and even binned a couple which have outlived their usefulness.  Now it’s a case of waiting for everything to grow; most of the herbaceous perennials or annuals I want to plant in the front I will grow from seed.  This is probably ambitious, to say the least, but I simply couldn’t afford to go into a garden centre and buy everything I’ll need to fill the front garden, and I kind of want the satisfaction of knowing I’ve created much of it myself, from seed.   Don’t get me wrong – I have bought and will continue to pick up bits and pieces along the way, especially if I spy bargains at a plant sale or special offer.  But I’m trying my best to grow most of it, and that process is already underway.

So, with spring fast approaching, it’s time to look again at the rear garden.  There’s plenty of bare soil here too and I want to take a different approach with this area.    I have had the idea of woodland planting for the back garden for a while, as it tends to be more shady and there are a lot of mature, established shrubs and conifers.  This was confirmed on a visit to Belfast Botanic Garden in late spring last year when much of the planting which caught my eye was lovely lush, untamed woodland-style planting and I was inspired by many of the combinations – pulmonaria and geraniums, ferns and tiarella, hostas and hellebores, planted alongside rhodedendrons, pieris and euphorbia.  It struck me that I have the basis of this kind of planting already and want to keep the theme going.

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Ferns and pulmonaria at Belfast’s Botanic Garden

There are other criteria for the back garden: I would also like it to more or less take care of itself, I’m happy with a slightly ‘wild’ look and the plants will also need to be fairly tough as the chickens are free-ranging out there regularly now and love to scratch about in these borders and take dust baths in the driest spots.

Colour-wise, everything that’s out there already is purple, pink or white and that’s a theme I quite like and will continue – with the exception of wild primroses.  I really want these, as they are perfect woodland plants, will spread and provide early spring colour.  I hope their soft yellow shade will be a nice contrast for other planting in this area.

The plants which already shine in the back garden are geraniums, hostas, aquilegia and some alchemilla mollis which I have to keep an eye on or it would take over.  There are quite a few Fritilliaria melleagris (snakes head fritillaries) which will soon be emerging I hope and I’m also watching for the hellebores to make an appearance.    Last year I also added some white Hesperis matronalis (sweet rocket) which I really like and some Japanese anemones – I hope these will settle in and spread around the back and in between the larger shrubs.

So, the planting is already fairly ‘woodland’ or ‘wildflower’ in theme and I want to continue that, adding some sturdy specimens which will provide more colour for more of the year, and preferably ground cover too.

I’ve made a start – my local garden centre had an offer on pulmonaria this weekend, so I’ve picked up three ‘Raspberry Splash’.  These have lovely silvery-variegated leaves and are a pink-red colour which I like as an alternative to the more common purple variety.  They’re quite large so I’m pleased that they’ve already filled quite a good-sized gap.  I also spied primula vulgaris, which I’ve been hankering after and got half a dozen to plant at the front of the border.  They’re not in flower yet but I really hope they’ll establish and provide a very welcome spot of early colour.

Here’s how it’s looking now they’re in place:

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Obviously, still quite a lot of soil on show, but as we know, gardening is about playing the long game, and I’m hopeful these young plants will establish and spread over time.  I expect I may still have to use some annuals or bedding plants to fill in the gaps for a year or two but that’s fine with me.  In fact, I have a plenty of forget me nots grown from seed which will need a home and I think they will work nicely here too.  The other plant I want for the back garden is tiarella – I think the frothy white spires will provide a nice contrast to some of the other plants and, again, should provide some good ground cover in time.

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Tiarella at Belfast’s Botanic Garden – I love the fresh green leaves of this variety

So watch this space – I certainly am!  I’m checking almost every day for the little green shoots of bulbs, hostas and other perennials emerging in this part of the garden and I’m looking forward to creating a little bit of Belfast Botanic Garden which I can see from my kitchen window.

 

Garden visit: Cambo Estate

flowers, Other Gardens, photography, Plants, Uncategorized

This is the perfect time of year to visit Cambo Estate in Fife, when it hosts its annual snowdrop festival.

I make a point of going each winter/spring because there’s no better way to lift you out of the winter doldrums than gazing at hundreds of snowdrops.  And there are, literally, hundreds of snowdrops at Cambo.  There are 350 different varieties on display in the gardens and around 70 acres of woods, carpetted with snowdrops and aconites.

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Not only that but the grounds of Cambo Country House also include a walled garden, prairie planting, beds of winter interest planting and piglets!

In winter the walled garden is full of grasses and seedheads, with sculptures dotted around, a huge weeping willow over a stream, a pergola and glasshouses with specimens of succulents and pelargoniums.  It’s one of my favourite places to be and I’ve promised myself to go back in the summer so that I can see how different it looks at that time of year.  I love it in winter so can’t wait to see what impact it has full of flowers and greenery.

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The garden isn’t all brown seedheads and straw coloured feathery grasses…check out this dogwood – no filter or post-processing for this image!

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BLAM.  They also had some Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’ which I may have coveted for my own garden…20180217-DSC_0993.jpg

And another hit of colour in the glasshouse…20180217-DSC_0980

One of the highlights of the visit at this time of year is the large daphne planted at the rear of the house.  You can smell it before you see it…follow your nose and you’re rewarded by the most beautiful scent.  Daphnes can be tricky plants to grow, liking only specific conditions – well, this one must be very happy because its flowers this year are prolific and the fragrance is amazing.

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The snowdrops which caught my eye this year had a touch of yellow to them:

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These may have been ‘Hippolyta’ although I admit I forgot to snap a picture of the label to remind me. However I did get a photo of  ‘Lady Elphinstone’ as she was another favourite.

I didn’t allow myself to fall completely in love with snowdrops…as galanthophiles will tell you, it can be an expensive obsession, with some single snowdrops selling at Cambo’s visitors centre for as much as £20.  However I did manage to come home with a small clump of doubles which I’ve planted ‘in the green’ under the magnolia bush in the back garden.  I hope they’ll thrive and multiply so that I can enjoy a little corner of Cambo in my own garden.

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Curly wurly

Nature & Wildlife, Other Gardens, Plants, Uncategorized

I’m noticing a certain kind of shape around me at the moment – for the past few days I’ve been spotting curls and twists, exposed I suppose by the bare branches of winter.

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One that I notice daily is the contorted hazel (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’which is right outside our back door.  This large shrub is also known as a twisted or corkscrew hazel and by the nickname of ‘Harry Lauder’s walking stick’, after a Scottish entertainer who apparently used to carry a walking stick made from a branch of the shrub.

Only a couple of days ago I was listening to a podcast of Gardener’s Question Time and this plant came up – one of the panellists revealed that the twisted hazel was first discovered by a drunken vicar, who fell into a hedge, looked up and saw the contorted stems.  So he took a cutting, grew the plant and that’s how it’s ended up in many of our gardens (according to Chris Beardshaw!).

It’s a fascinating shrub to look at, but especially in winter, when you can see the exposed shapes of the branches, and then in spring when little yellow catkins appear.  Even its leaves are quite bumpy and textured so it’s well worth having one in the garden for year-round interest.  You can even bring it indoors – sort of.  I’ve pruned a few branches from mine as each year it throws up a few vertically, which is out of keeping with its general weeping shape; so I’ve put the pruned shoots into glass vases so I can admire the twists and turns inside as well as out.

And now it appears I’m being followed by twisted branches… on a visit to the hospital last week to donate blood I noticed a twisted hazel in one of the flower beds in the grounds.

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It looks quite good with the background of the brighter green conifer.

Then on a walk around the village a few days later, I looked up and noticed these striking trees in someone’s garden:

IMG_0730.jpgI’m not certain if these are hazel or not – I expect this is the ‘tree’ version of my medium-sized shrub.   I couldn’t get close enough to check but they make a fantastic silhouette against the winter sky.

Finally, one of my favourite little plants in my garden, this little grass…

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…which is Carex comans ‘Frosted Curls’ and provides a wee corner of interest in its spot in the front garden all year round.  At this time of year its little curls bounce around in the wind and towards the end of last summer it provided a brilliant backdrop for the chocolate cosmos I planted next to it.

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So there you have it, everything’s a bit twirly at the moment and I like it.  Nature really doesn’t do straight lines and what’s more interesting for your winter garden than a twisty, turny, curly, wurly plant to make you stop and look for a while…

 

 

 

 

 

A day in Edinburgh

flowers, Nature & Wildlife, Other Gardens, Plants

When I’m not in the garden I do my best to hold down a job, working in communications.  Today I’ve been in Edinburgh at a PR festival, in an attempt to learn a bit more about my profession and do some networking. So I’ve spent the day listening to PR experts discuss the media, politics, best practice and public affairs.

Here are the highlights of my day:


sorry it’s not too clear – it was hard to get close!

Make sense? Nope, not to me either! I realised by the time I got onto the train home this evening (where I’m typing this post!) that all the things that have made me smile today have been to do with gardens or nature.  Walking through Princes Street Gardens this morning I noticed most of their roses are blooming and enjoyed seeing new cosmos plants being put into the borders around a fountain.

At lunch I escaped all the people and went in search of cake, which I found at the fantastic cafe Love Crumbs. As I ate I looked out of the window to a courtyard below which was full of plants but looking a bit scruffy. I wished I could get my hands on it to pull the weeds and tidy up the plants which were in need of a bit of tlc. I also stopped in at the second hand bookshops to indulge my love of old-fashioned gardening books and found this:


Who better to get some wisdom from than the grande dame of gardening, Gertrude Jekyll?!

Later, on the way back through the grounds of the Parish Church of St Cuthbert I spotted, an instantly fell in love with, a lovely double-petalled geranium. And to crown it all I saw a family of magpies!  They were floating through the trees the way they seem to do on those black and white wings, the youngsters calling to the parents; they stopped under a bench for some crumbs presumably left from lunchtime, the older birds feeding the fledglings. It was fantastic – the first time I’ve ever seen six magpies together – a whole family.

And now, as I type this on the train I have in front of me a copy of Garden News which I brought with me to read…and inside is Carol Klein, describing one of her favourite geraniums, Plenum Violaceum, a double variety of a meadow cranesbill!


So it’s been an interesting day. I expected to come home buzzing with enthusiasm for public relations and communications practice. And I have to admit I did enjoy the conference and learned a few things.

However, what I’ve been most excited about is all the green stuff I’ve seen, new plants and books I’ve discovered and an awesome bird-spot.  Whatever this all adds up to, it’s been a good day.

Beetroot & Coconut cake with Earl Grey

Too busy gardening to blog about gardening!

flowers, Garden Birds, Garden design, Other Gardens, Plants, Pots and containers

Which is a good thing, really!  But I have missed writing these updates and sharing the photos and plants which I’ve accumulated in the past couple of weeks.

The weather has, unbelievably, been marvellous – sunny and warm and perfect for getting into the garden and planting out all the seedlings and young plants which have, until now, been crowding the utility/greenhouse, plastic growhouse and my ‘hardening off table’ outside the kitchen door.  Over the past fortnight I’ve planted out marigolds (mostly in the veg garden), cosmos (corner patio), zinnia (in the raised bed with other cut flowers) and filled an enormous hanging basket with lobelia.

The garden’s also filling up with some new additions, thanks to a local church plant sale which was quickly followed by the school summer fair – I managed to pick up about maybe 20 different cuttings and small plants for less than a tenner!  Annoyingly I forgot to photograph them, so I can’t display this triumphant haul, and I have now planted most of them!

They included some crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ which is now in the front borders in between the rhodedendrons to provide some late summer colour.  I’m looking forward to seeing those spring up.  I also picked up some gorgeous little forget-me-nots, which I’ve put into the side patio bed (the plan for this has changed somewhat – but that’s for another post!).    There was a cutting of rosemary, two cornflower plants, some more lobelia and a mystery plant which I’ve put in a pot to see how it will turn out!

I’ve also picked up some new plants at Gardening Scotland – an event in Edinburgh which featured show gardens, plants, floral displays, food and lots and lots of gardening-related equipment for sale.  My mum and I had a great day wandering around and enjoying the sights and scents.  There was a wide variety of plants for sale, most by independent Scottish nurseries, and I found some beautiful, delicate alpines (I love them so much I will also do a separate post on these) and two hydrangea.  I just couldn’t resist the hydrangea, as I have a weakness for these anyway, but also because these were unusual varieties and beautifully coloured.  One is called ‘Popcorn Blue’, basically because it’s blue and looks like popcorn!

So, along with these new additions to the gardening, and thanks to the abundant sunshine, everything is filling out nicely and the garden’s beginning to look properly lush. The nearby trees have obviously filled out and we’re now surrounded by greenery.  I’m spotting young birds visiting frequently and if you pause to listen you can often hear the squeaks and cheeps of a little feathered family nearby.  The starlings are still doing daily raids too – I wonder if they’ll stick around when they’re grown, as we don’t usually get starlings in our garden.

The fruit and veg in the secret garden’s also looking brilliant, but I think this post is long enough and they deserve their own entry!  So, it’s time to get back outside.  I’ll leave you with a few photos of the various plants which are new or are showing off in the garden just now…

 

 

Not a gardening post

Chickens, Other Gardens, Uncategorized

This weekend was unfortunately spent not gardening, so this is a ‘not gardening’ blog post.  I was Not Gardening for various reasons:

  1. The weather was poor, which was actually a good thing because…
  2. I had to paint my study, and keep getting distracted by the good weather and the garden when really I need to Get On With It.  My study is my little refuge – for reading, writing, blogging and occasional staring at the garden while planning the next job…!
  3. It was quite a busy weekend with a grown-up party, a kids party and a visit to my parents to take into account, as well as a hairdresser’s appointment to keep.

However, even when I’m Not Gardening, I’ve found it’s difficult to shake the gardening habit. When I was in town for the hairdresser appointment I popped into a few shops and discovered that my eye is now drawn to garden-themed clothing.  The evidence…

I’ve also been inspired by a couple of books which will hopefully help with my garden plans – I’ve been reading Chicken Coops for the Soul, which I stumbled upon at the library when I was looking for something completely different.  It’s a useful insight into the realities of chicken-keeping and is helping me to get an idea what it might actually be like, if/when I take the plunge.  So far, it’s not putting me off!

I have also recently received this book which I ordered from a second-hand online shop…

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…and I can’t wait to get stuck in.  Although I haven’t read it yet, it’s one of the inspirations for this blog – Monty kept a diary, written and photographic, of everything they did when they moved to Ivington and this book is the result.  Now.  I KNOW I am nowhere on the scale of the mighty Mr Don, but we do plan to be in this house for a long time, so I’d like to think that a record of the development of the garden would be a great thing to look back on in years to come.  And if at that point I’m a big famous gardening expert *ahem* , a publishing deal will certainly be very welcome…so I’m getting started early!

Look at this face, how could you not trust the advice he gives…

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Don’t even get me started on his new puppy.

So, as I said, it’s been a weekend of No Gardening.  Followed by today – the Springiest of Spring days and, Sods Law, I’ve had to go to work, in a windowless office, with zero plants or soil or anything.  It is genuinely frustrating, to have to spend such a beautiful day indoors, but when I start to get worked up about it I remind myself that I am very lucky to have a good, flexible, part-time job, and that my three days of work allow me to have two days of non-work and the means to own the house and garden that we do.  So the next time I get annoyed about it, I will take a breath, count my blessings and walk through the office door, dressed  in one of my lovely new garden-themed shirts…

 

 

 

Snowdrops!

Other Gardens

Just a small selection above of the hundreds and hundreds of snowdrops currently on show at Cambo Country House and Estate, near St Andrews.

Cambo hosts a National Collection of over 350 varieties of snowdrops and is one of the only places I can think of where you can visit a country house, woodland, gardens and the seaside almost simultaneously!  Its proximity to the coast means a ramble through its gorgeous wood, taking in huge carpets of snowdrops and aconites, gradually leads you out to the coastline.  My children (and husband, and father-in-law!) took great delight in mucking about in various rockpools while I was content to try and snap some of the flowers.  I was glad of my Nikon 5100 which has an articulated viewfinder – I was able to get the camera down nice and low for some shots close to the ground.  They were a bit hit and miss but I think I managed to get a few decent photographs.

It was also a really bright and sunny day and the afternoon light coming through the woods was perfect.  I really loved this visit to Cambo – it was so relaxing and inspiring to see the huge numbers of flowers and plants on show, and gave me a chance to appreciate the first flower of spring – the snowdrop – in all its hundreds of forms, as we have absolutely none in our garden at Alvare!