Changing Seasons, Changing Mediums

It seems cliché to start this post  with a comment about the ever-changing quality of the world around us. The cyclical pattern of leaves, glorious summer skies greying to bleak winter afternoons, decaying bodies feeding living ones and so on. But there’s no denying that most patterns in our lives inevitably fit the narrative of continuous transformation.

I'm moving my writing for this blog elsewhere. A newsletter, to be exact. So, the blog that was transforms itself. I’m not sure why my writing here slowed – the medium felt forced, perhaps, and the sense of sending thoughts into an empty and unread abyss stilted creativity. But my interest in the natural world continues and I still want to find a way to share its beauty, brutality and oddities with someone. 

I don’t think the newsletter will be strictly about nature. The world outside us shapes our interiors lives, never more so than in our diets. While supermarkets might skew the patterns of seasonality in cooking, we still pick winter comforts and summer freshness for our plates, season by season. I like food, a lot, so it will probably make its way into this newsletter.  And potted plants will also continue to feature. Pieces of nature, however exotic, brought inside. 

A small note: this is terrifying to do. Ironically for someone who wants to be a writer, I find sharing my less structured written thoughts equal parts exhilarating and horrifying. So, I’m not making any promises about regularity.

This newsletter will probably grow and morph, take hibernations at times, while tumbling into your inbox like an exuberant pothos scrambling towards the light at others, but I hope it will bring a little bit of joy into your life when you read it. If nothing else, I hope it inspires you to look out the window, or head out the door and appreciate the natural world wherever it exists around you. Whenever I’m tired or stressed, or feeling drained of creativity and focus, it’s the natural world outside that wakes me up. I hope it does that for you, too.

To sign up for Leaf Letters, head to  .

Leaf problems: struggling with hot flats and cold water

This week has been a bad week for my houseplants. Over the weekend, I left my radiator on '4' in an already balmy, well-insulated London flat while I was off enjoying the sights of Liverpool. Cue, a lot of floppy succulents and a crispy peacock plant.

This winter, working out when to water my plants (and when not to) has been pretty traumatic. This is the first time I've lived in a flat that has working central heating and while that's great for keeping me warm at night, ensuring my houseplants happy has been more difficult. I'm not used to watering my succulents at all in the colder weather, but this year it's been a guessing game trying to work out if leaving them any longer without moisture might cause permanent damage. I've seen wrinkled leaves on my jade plant, my sedum adophii and even my normally resilient moonstones plant. My elephant's bush, already a tricky customer, has lost all but about four leaves in its quest to keep hydrated. Ignoring all advice from books, google and instagram, I've been water once every two weeks in an attempt to stop carnage on my window sill. The dry season doesn't exist in Peckham.

Even the moonstones have struggled to keep hydrated this winter. 

And central heating droughts are not the only water problem I've faced. This weekend, I identified a reason for the browning, crispy leaves of my peacock plant. Convinced for a few months that the plant just needed more misting and more watering, my daily aqua extravaganza was leading nowhere. The leaves were still browning in spots while the rest of the plant seemed largely healthy.

Cue a lot of googling and I think I've finally found the answer: my tap water is too cold. All my misting would only be making the brown spots worse because I've been using filtered water straight out the fridge. According to multiple google scholars, that cold water is burning the leaves and causing the brown spots. So now, I'm leaving water out to warm up to room temperature (even if that's a million degrees in this overly-hot flat) before I mist. Fingers crossed my peacock plant will start to look more healthy in the weeks to come.

This Ficus has also been drying out every few days. It's a struggle to remember to keep watering it. 
It's occurred to me that leaves are probably the best indication of when things are going wrong with your plants. I've had a few friends ask me what they can do to help their plants because the leaves are X, Y and Z. This list on the RHS website gives just a small flavour of everything leaves might be telling you should be changed about a plant's care.

Home for Christmas: Winter in the Childhood Garden

My childhood family garden has always belonged to Mum. Mum's garden. Mum's shed. Mum's chickens. Dad might strim a hedge or two, and fell an unwanted holly bush annually, but his interest wanes at edging beds or planting lavender plants five in a row. Even the more manual chore of mowing the lawn is now resolutely Mum's job. It's her garden: we merely visit it, admire it and labour in it for her.

The over-grown vegetable patch waiting to be restructured in spring.

Which is, increasingly, how coming home for Christmas feels as I creep into my twenties. However resolutely the Kehoe siblings are told that this will always be our home, each festive visit  reiterates the nagging sense of displacement as the childhood confidence in owing this space melts away into the realisation that one day in the not-too-distant-future we will only visit this house, and that it will not be our home. There seems no concrete line when the change happens, but one day I will visit my parents for Christmas, before returning to a new home that isn't Chauffeur's Cottage. That day is closer now than it has ever been.

For now, we are quasi-guests, comfortable but temporary. Each day of the Christmas periods reminds us of our displacement when drinking glasses are found to reside in unknown places and our clothes are hung in wardrobes that have new inhabitants (that don't belong to us). The ownership of the garden encroaches inwards, winding tendrils into the windows of the house, marking out the territory as familiar but owned by Mum, not us.

Mum incinerating the wrapping paper from Christmas Day

Now, when I return home, I am given the regular tour of Mum's garden. How the old are doing, what is new, what needs changing and what needs to be thought about changing. Chicken eggs are collected in pockets, the compost bin is given a berating for not being turned over in a decade. Winter is a moment of opportunity for Mum: to plan, to imagine, a glimmer of a future garden seeded in the wet mud. Unlike me, she knows the placement of the bulbs that are pushing against the soil deep down. She remembers the roots of hidden plants resting under the mud, waiting for the warmth of spring.

For me, the winter garden is more peaceful.  The woody stems of bare clematis creating architectural cages over fences, mossy pots standing to attention ready to be scrubbed. Every plant is waiting, pausing. Even the blooms of the winter-flowing clematis are unobtrusive, noticeable only if you look (and hard).  The silence of the damp earth patiently waits out the dim, cold winter months, expectations brimming just below the surface of the ground where roots continue to grow. But my image of the garden is only half formed. It is, after all, not my garden.

The winter blooming clematis

This is Mum's garden. Its future shape is held by her and I can only visit it when she grants me a comment or two. The four new veg patch beds will sit here, these dogwoods will be planted in that  space.  The beds are going to be extended round the corner in spring. She maps out the spring movements, the garden centre trips and the weeding days one-by-one.

Gardens are always owned by just one person. There is no such thing as a communal garden; they are either somebody's or they are a park (which isn't a garden). My childhood garden will always be Mum's. Resolute in the winter weather,  always present, always encompassing. It's her garden, but I'm allowed to walk in it.

A Viburnam, bright against the dimness of Winter