Struggling into spring

I never quite understood what TS Eliot had against April, or lilacs (mine flowers in May, not April, anyway – the photo below shows its buds still squeezed tightly up in the last week of April), but this spring has certainly proved that April can indeed be the cruellest month.

As the Easter holidays approached, we’d had a few glorious sunny days, when it felt like the year had turned the corner – the clocks had gone forward, the evenings were light, and finally things had begun to grow.

Then, the Easter weekend forecast began to grow worse, and it rained solidly virtually all day on Good Friday. Easter Saturday and Sunday stayed dry, more or less, but there was an iron grey cloud overhead all day; the sun simply vanished. It felt more like February than April.

Spring seemed to give up on us: I can count on one hand how many daffodils grew in the garden this year – it was as if the leaves came up, but the flowers thought ‘nah, can’t be bothered’.

Easter Monday we spent in Greenwich, where the Observatory was a good indoor distraction for a child ‘doing space’ at school next term – but what a dismal sight compared to the normal view across Greenwich Park! I felt sorry for the tourists seeing one of my favourite places at its absolute worst.

Having lost most of February half term to a vomiting bug, I had been banking on the Easter fortnight to be a chance for fresh air, sightseeing and fun, but fitting around work commitments, play dates and the ever worsening weather forecast meant we had little chance for proper outdoorsy exploring anywhere new or exciting.

There was one glorious, perfect sunny day in the first week of the holiday, but various plans already made that day meant we had no time to go further than Streatham Common (when it looks this lovely, though, who’s complaining?)

The next day, which started out grey but got better, we went to Crystal Palace Park, another old favourite, which as luck would have it had a funfair – I felt I was giving the children one unadulterated fun day which didn’t also involve me running errands, making a delivery or doing some other dull adult task en route.

And coming across lesser celandine spreading itself across waste ground in dappled sunlight (just outside the park) will always make my day – so that was, overall, a good day. That was the last sunshine we saw for quite some time, though.

Of course, we’ve had cold, wet and windy weather in April before – looking back at past blogs at this time of year I can see I’m always complaining about the rain and the lack of spring warmth – but there was something about the cold grey spell managing to last exactly the length of the Easter holiday which was relentless in its ability to grind me down.

We did find indoor stuff to do, naturally – the Horniman, Tate Modern, Flip Out, swimming, visits from friends and a thrilling trip to meet Doorkins, the famous Cat of Southwark Cathedral – but the endless grey skies were a monotonous backdrop to all the photos I took.

The day at Tate Modern was eerie and oppressive, with the City gradually disappearing into fog over the course of the afternoon – memorable, certainly, and perhaps a glimpse of London Dickens might recognise – but dismal when compared to past sunny day outings across the Wobbly Bridge and watching the street entertainers.

Into the second week, I felt the weather was beginning to troll me – the forecast when school went back was suddenly lovely, heading up to 24 degrees or more.

This felt like torment – all the fun times we could have been having, but the children will be back at school and preschool and I will be locked into the usual routine racing up and down the hill between them. Not fair!

In the end, it doesn’t really matter. The small ones had a fun time, and the mini heatwave, when it came, was still lovely. (We seem now to have settled back into more typical April showers followed by sunshine with a side serving of brisk winds, but the weather is set to worsen again this weekend – THANKS FOR THAT, APRIL).

Still, after the short intense burst of warmth and sun, the garden has finally caught up with itself, and May bank holiday weekend weather is looking promising – but then I’m spending it in the Lakes, famous for its prolonged dry spells and sunshine….oh well!

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Exploring the White Garden at The Rookery

I was going to call this A Whiter Shade of Pale but I just couldn’t bring myself to. So in place of awful pun, a very pedestrian title for a beautiful place.


I have written more than once about the Rookery, our lovely local walled garden on Streatham Common, and we go there more than ever these days, due to the upgraded cafe, much-loved paddling pool and the convenience for dropping in on the way to or from school. 

With our visits being so frequent, I wasn’t sure there was anything new to write about – till I realised I had never really looked closely at the famous White Garden

It’s right at the bottom of the main walled garden, secluded and usually peaceful, but a bit of a through-route to the other half of the common, Norwood Grove, so I’d never spent time really sitting and appreciating it.


However, recently I had the time, and a compliant toddler, so I decided to stop and have a proper look. (And it was probably the time of year to see it at its best, too).

Apologies that so few of the shrubs or trees are identified – I’d love to know what some of them are, though I do know some of the planting is meant to reflect the history of the gardens and replicate some of what was there originally.

Sweet peaHydrangea
To begin with, there were sweet peas growing up tripods which were exclusively white – I must admit, a little dull when you are used to the classic pastel shades – and a gorgeous pale hydrangea.

The next things I noticed were plants evidently chosen for the pale or silvery foliage (ok, in the second image here, it’s still fairly green, but it has a kind of silvery sheen on it I rather like).

CranesbillOx-eye daisyArum lily
Then there were more cottage garden-y plants – a white cranesbill, popular with the bees, ox-eye daisies (ditto) and the slightly more exotic arum lily.


A proper view of the border gives you a real sense of the scale of the place – the way the greenery is offset by the warmth of the brick wall is very pleasing, with little dashes of white here and there, and the dramatic height of the tree behind.


I especially liked the contrast of this frothy, fluffy shrub against the wall.


And on the other side of the garden, another even more fluffy bush. No idea what it is, but I love it!


Finally, a view of the other border, which is dominated by the tree left of centre – it was hard to get a good picture of it alone, but it had creamy white flowers like a magnolia, but flat rather than bell-shaped.

Not much else to say except what a pleasure it was to take these photos and how glad I am I took the time to have a proper up-close look at the White Garden. 

Please, if you’re lucky enough to have local parks and gardens as nice as this, visit them, enjoy them, appreciate them!

A Walk around The Rookery

From where I live, you can walk for 10 or 20 or 30 minutes and reach some of the nicest parks in South London. It’s one of the reasons I like it here so much and a reason why I chose to move here.

There is one particular green space, though, that has a special place in my heart, because I saw it first the same day I viewed my house for the first time. It was January 2008, and my house-hunting mission in South London had rather haphazardly landed me with two viewings a couple of streets apart, but also several hours apart.

I had the prospect of nothing to do for those hours except sit in a cafe, but with my A to Z to hand, I determined to explore the local area more and headed for the nearest open space on the map. My curiosity paid off and I found myself on a green slope overlooking south-west London and beyond to the Downs.

It was Streatham Common I had been fortunate enough to spot on the map, and when a flock of parakeets flew over my head I pretty much decided then and there that a house 10 minutes walk from such a lovely place had to be worth buying.

I didn’t even discover the best bit of the Common on that first visit – right in the heart of it is a walled garden, The Rookery, formerly the grounds of a long-gone mansion, which has been a favourite spot of mine ever since, and a big influence on my own garden planning.

It’s the kind of garden you might dream of in your best ever dream – stately trees in every imaginable shade of green march down a lawn, beyond that is a formal flower garden with bowers, trellises, a covered walk and wishing well, and even further beyond is a white garden inspired by the famous one at Sissinghurst, complete with cute white wooden benches.

Taking advantage of a brief sunny interlude on Saturday, we went down to the Rookery for a morning stroll, and I was pleased to see the April downpours had left it looking rather splendid. In the formal planted area, wedge-shaped beds were full of the brightest blue forget-me-nots I’ve ever seen (the ones in my garden are anaemic compared to this electric shade of blue) – and to contrast, a couple of beds were planted with pink forget-me-nots instead. I normally sneer at the pink strain as inferior to the classic native blue shade, but here the effect of the block colours en masse was striking.

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Apart from the gorgeous forget-me-not display, I was thrilled to find one of my favourite flowers hidden in a corner – London Pride. A variety of saxifrage, I grew it in my first flowerbed at my parents’ house, and have been looking for it ever since (I have a couple of other saxifrage in my garden now, but would still love to have this too).

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The flower came by its common name supposedly because it grew easily on Blitz bomb sites during the war – a charming story, but I’ve never yet seen London Pride growing on waste ground in London – usually it’s the rampant buddleia, bindweed or rosebay willowherb which sprawls everywhere given the chance. Either way, I was glad to see London Pride had found a foothold somewhere in the city which gave it its name.

That only gives you a tiny flavour of all the delights of Streatham Common – I haven’t even mentioned the Kite Day, the time I saw a fox cub in the woods, the cafe, or the gardens of Norwood Grove. It just goes to show, buying a house on a whim because you like the fact there is a common nearby can sometimes, whatever sensible estate agents may advise you, be a good idea.