Supper, teeth, story, bed, wine, telly, bed.

And four excellent alternatives to box.

Hello friends!

It’s been another bonkers week when running on a treadmill trying to keep up, just to stay still and I have proverbially gone splat; lying in a heap at the end of the thing as it whizzes around, wondering if I’ll ever get back on again. I won’t lie - I’m experiencing a certain perverse joy in capitulation and I’m watching things unfold from my scrunched up heap at the end of the treadmill.

The garden, as ever, has been a place of respite for me. I have pretty much exhausted the seed sowing possibilities with my (frankly bored) children, so have returned to what I normally do, which is to do my gardening whilst they play.

Monday

It’s suddenly cold again, and it’s also week three of isolation and homeschool. It suddenly hits me that we are in this for the long haul and that makes me feel sad and desperate. I keep swimming though. Joe Wicks is back in all his blandness and I slavishly do what he commands. The workout for me is insanely harder than it is for the children because I have the job of encouraging them and making them stick at it. I am painfully aware that, whilst I might relish the challenge of a boot-camp-like scenario, children need FUN, so there also has to be laughter and so on; utterly exhausting but pretty much key to my sanity, so we keep going. I grab a couple of small pots and some compost from the shed and bring them into the kitchen. The pilea babies that I removed from their mother a couple of weeks ago have sprouted roots and are ready to plant. I record an IGTV of me doing this (because if it isn’t recorded, it hasn’t happened ok?) and feel instantly happier. Honestly, there is something magical about giving a plant its own SPACE that makes you feel totally thrilled with yourself. Re-potting anything and everything will give you this joy, and now is a great time to get on with it.

Supper, teeth, story, bed, wine, telly, bed.

Tuesday

We do a good amount of hoovering. Full disclosure; I haven’t cleaned my own house for a long time. I pay someone to do that for me. (I am still paying her…she’s just not here, actually doing the cleaning.) I have become more than a little obsessed with cleaning recently; firstly because I want to teach my children how to behave, and secondly because we have mice. They are sweet and I rather love them, but they are here because the children are here, dropping crumbs and not clearing up after themselves. I know I’m not alone. Perhaps they are coming into houses because there’s less litter in the street, or on the underground, or just because little children with fat dimpled sticky fingers all cooped up inside houses eating biscuits on the sofa leave the best treats. Anyway, we hoover, and as I sweep and hoover and encourage my son to get into all the corners I suddenly realise that what I really NEED is one of those carpet washing hoovers that actually WASHES the stair carpet. I immediately look up the most expensive one at John Lewis and email my Rotter with the details (he is upstairs, friends…but we only see him when he comes downstairs to find THINGS TO EAT..in fact he is another reason we have mice). He orders the special hoover, no questions asked; my desperation must be showing. I go outside and pick some tulips for the house. The cooler weather has meant we aren’t based in the garden but indoors, and I’m not having those tulips going to waste. I’m a bit surprised by my tulips - I thought I had ordered orange ones, but these are all red. I was either drunk when I ordered them or it was the fault of bad photography. Anyway, I don’t care - they are STUNNING. I adore the red, and indoors, in the warm, they open out like massive scarlet dinner plates, splotched black in the centre. I pick lots and put them in most rooms. Better-making.

Supper, teeth, story, bed, wine, telly, bed.

Wednesday

It’s fitting perhaps that today, when I reach the end of my rope, I am fiddling about with string. The string thing is easy; every few weeks I cut a mass of string into lengths and stuff these lengths into my pockets, ready for tying in climbers as they ascend to the heavens, in a bid to make sure they do MY bidding (covering any bits of trellis) as well as doing what they WANT which is to climb directly up towards the sunlight. Making climbers fan out, or go horizontally, or cover a trellis rather than the bush next to it, is a daily five minute endeavour. And that’s why it’s so important to have string in ones pocket. Whenever you pass an errant tendril, you can gently tie it to its support, a little each day as it grows. The rope thing is less easy. I am abseiling into the abyss and my rope isn’t long enough, so today, I just let myself fall, howling into nothing. I can’t remember what makes me snap; perhaps it’s the thought of having to clear up, whilst simultaneously dreaming up YET ANOTHER MEAL when I did EXACTLY THAT twelve minutes ago. Perhaps it is tripping over someone’s carefully constructed lego creation and hurting myself. Perhaps it is having to diffuse and umpire and rule on YET ANOTHER argument about who should have what and when. Perhaps it is all of these things. Perhaps it is because I just don’t care about what’s for supper…what’s wrong with marmite toast? And what’s the point of sitting them all down and finding out why they’re fighting and making some sort of decision on all of that? What’s wrong with letting them just go at it, Lord of the Flies style? I decide to go on strike. Take myself off to my bed, shut the door and tell everyone that I’m not doing supper or bedtime. It works out rather well. Sushi (like the expensive hoover) is promptly ordered. Eldest reads the story and sorts tooth brushing, and Rotter puts them to bed. I sit and eat sushi and watch telly. PROTEST WORKS, FRIENDS.

Thursday

So yes, things are deteriorating (there is no timetable any more, and certainly no ‘lessons’ at the kitchen table), but there are four things that I am making sure I encourage and ‘cajole’ the children to do, not for THEM ..(no, I’m perfectly aware that they’d be absolutely fine watching telly ALL day)…but for ME to avoid feeling like a negligent mother. The things are, in no particular order

Exercise (see above)

Book (whatever they want me to read…even if it’s crap, for at least half an hour, and whatever my eldest wants to read…even if it’s crap, for at least half an hour)

Mathletics (for the uninitiated, this is maths that they can do on the computer. Daily tasks set for them by teachers which they complete and submit. I like it because it requires minimal input from moi.)

Violin (if we’re going to be stuck in the house, then practice must occur, at some point, each day. We are in no way musical, but I wish I’d been made to practice when I was little and here’s an opportunity to make it happen.)

I try to explain this to my children today…and find myself inexplicably wanging on about other things, like how important it is to laugh every day, and to be inspired by something, and to get good rest and relaxation…all of which is true, but none of which registers. They need clarity, so I write the four things above on the wall and tell them we’ll be doing those four things every day. Even in the holidays.

They help me water all the pots. I now have far too many, and I clip the first of my box balls while they bounce on the trampoline. It’s always a bit sad, clipping away at the new growth when it’s all beautiful and pale and soft, but the snipping will promote growth lower down, creating a denser shape, so it’s worth being a bit brave about it. I’ve written a short thing on clipping box, if you have it, with some very simple ‘rules’ for those who thrive on rules. You can find it here. As I go inside I notice one box plant is showing obvious signs of box caterpillar damage. I ignore it and retreat indoors.

Supper, teeth, story, bed, wine, telly, bed.

Friday

My suspicions are confirmed. The box caterpillar has returned and needs dealing with. I have a trap up for the moths, but obviously it hasn’t been entirely effective. You can find out all about box caterpillar here, but in short, it’s an asian moth with no natural predators (yet) in this country whose caterpillar babies totally destroy box, seemingly overnight, by chomping away at the leaves, until you are left with the spectre of a horrible, frass-covered skeleton of a plant. Not good. I use a spray (linked in my blog post) that kills the caterpillars without harming other insects. I’ll be spraying tomorrow as it’s most effective at temperatures above 15 degrees and today it’s too cold. Of course, there are many alternatives to box, so if you’re starting out and thinking of planting box, you might want to consider some different options:

  • Yew - the very best alternative to box if you love tightly clipped shapes. It loves to be shaped and will even come back from a totally bare stem, so it’s hard to beat. It’s also cheap, especially if you buy bare root plants and put them in over Autumn.

  • Sarcococca - A bit more shaggy than box, but still incredibly smart, with the added benefit of THAT SCENT in the winter months. I’ve seen these plants clipped very successfully into huge shapes. Sarcococca confusa is the best, most vigorous one.

  • Pittosporum tobira ‘nanum’ - I’m tempted not to put this in because it’s not totally hardy, but for those living in sheltered areas (like London) this plant is a gorgeous alternative with its very handsome little leaves and sweetly scented creamy flowers in late spring. I have it’s bigger cousin Pittosporum tobira which I absolutely adore, growing as two small trees in my garden.

  • Lonicera nitida - known as ‘poor man’s box’ It does exactly what it says on the tin and I love its very dainty little leaves. Clippable and a very good alternative.

The special hoover has arrived. It sits there, mocking me. Tomorrow. I’ll get it out tomorrow.

Supper, teeth, story, bed, wine, telly, bed.

All the good things

x Laetitia