Category Archives: Outdoor Spaces


The Small But Perfect Cheyenne Botanic Gardens

When Cheyenne in South Dakota was first settled, there were only a few scraggly trees in the area.  The land and climate was simply not great for plants and trees.  Either it doesn’t rain or it rains so hard that the water bounces off the parched earth without a chance to soak into the ground. Cheyenne is now a leafy city because the city’s women made a point of planting trees and maintaining them.  They would take a train out to where there were trees, dig them up and return with them to plant in their city.  When their children went to school, they were sent with a bucket of water that the household had recycled and expected to water a tree. The school children would leave the bucket by the tree so that other children would know that tree had been watered.

Cheyenne botanic garden

This background is what makes the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens so beautiful.  The garden is small by botanical garden standards and occupies only 9 acres. I’m sure keeping this garden lush takes some serious effort in the High Plains climate.  Starting off as a small community garden in the 1970’s, the botanic gardens are still the state of Wyoming’s only public garden.  The garden, however, is free to the public and run and maintained by volunteers.  Many of the volunteers are the elderly, at-risk children or the disabled.  Working with the garden is considered horticultural therapy for them.

cheyenne botanic garden

For visitors, the garden is also very family-friendly.  There are lots of shaded areas and paths to meander along which are well-protected from the blazing sun.  The wetlands area has funny poems which my children liked to read explaining how wetlands work.

dragonfly poem

The garden also has lots of sculptures and other things to maintain your interest, such as these stones with quotes.  There is an old out-of-service locomotive engine on the grounds too.  After all, you can not forget that Cheyenne started off as a railroad town.

The little maze was charming even if it wasn’t very high.


There is a separate children’s garden which not only provides entertainment but also teaches with interactive exhibits on solar energy, windmill power etc.  The whole thing is based on sustainability and promotes eco-awareness to a new generation in a fun way.  Adding to the crunch granola feel is the little peace garden.

peace tile

There are also lakes where you can take a paddle boat or a row boat out.  These lakes were actually watering holes back in the days when the cattle barons would drive their cattle into Cheyenne for sale.  During our visit, we saw lots of families.  In fact, I think I saw more families at this botanical garden than usual because more traditional gardens are probably a bit boring for children.  It’s hard to maintain a child’s interest in dozens of varieties of roses!

We spent a lovely morning in this garden.  In Cheyenne’s heat, it would be very easy to stay inside in air conditioning.  This garden, however, lets the whole family enjoy fresh air and beautiful surroundings in a climate-challenged environment.


Simple Summer Pleasures

Sometimes the simple pleasures of summer can be the most fun (and delicious!).  We love to pick fruit and vegetables from farms we encounter on our summer travels.  Children seem to think fruit is even more delicious if they have picked it themselves.raspberries

This summer we did a lot of travelling up and down the Eastern seaboard visiting family and friends.  We have picked corn, apples, pears, peaches, blueberries, and blackberries from assorted farms.

We even found wild grapes on Martha’s Vineyard.  They were not ripe enough to eat though.

martha's vineyard grapes

In one orchard in Connecticut, we found a sunflower maze to wander through.  It was so pretty and so much fun!


As summer draws to a close, I shall miss this simple task of finding a farm on the roadside and grabbing some fresh fruit straight from the source.

What simple summer pleasures will you miss?


girl with luggage

You Can’t Go Home Again

Today is moving day.  The movers are at the house packing up our daily life into boxes.

girl with luggage

Why the move?  I was heavily influenced by fellow blogger Doris Lee who writes at Diary of An Interior Novice.  In a post back in April (right before Easter holidays), she mentioned some great advice she had been given on marriage by a former colleague.  She was told to create a joint bucket list with her husband for what you as a couple want to accomplish whether in one year, 5 years or 10 years down the road.  I discussed this idea with Mr. N and he could not contain his enthusiasm for a “lets-talk-about-our-future-talk”.

Mr. N couldn’t avoid the topic though when he got stuck in a car with me on our 7 hour road trip from Pennsylvania down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina over Easter. He and I realised we didn’t even know what we wanted out of life in the next year never mind further down the road.  We’d just gotten into this habit of drifting happily towards whatever waited us next.

welcome to north carolina

We did agree that our family time together was most important and that we simply did not get enough of it.   The solution to this problem was relatively simple.  Sell our house in Belsize Park and downsize which is part of the 1 year plan.  We would then be in a position to figure out our next move without the pressure of a mortgage.  I would love to do a round-the-world-trip with the children but, somehow, I think that is part of the 10 year plan.  Baby steps.

Enough introspection, so let’s focus on the positives of our soon-to-be-empty home.  Our garden is looking glorious with all the sunshine London has been having.

The wisteria is growing long and I love the little jungle attitude it’s got, like it thinks it’s a bad-ass jungle vine.

overgrown wisteria

Back in March I took part in the Urban Revival challenge set up by online garden shop Plant Me Now and the results are now showing.  The front planters are sprouting flowers everywhere!  I love the pink colour against the dark grey. It’s definitely Urban Revival – The Fast-Track Version.  Unfortunately, the flowers are already beginning to fade in this summer’s heat even with regular watering.  I should be thinking ahead to winter colour  and to putting in spring bulbs and winter bedding plants. That would make our garden pretty even in the dark grey days of winter when the sky matches our trellis paint.

I hope the new owners keep up the summer planting and think ahead to putting in spring bulbs and winter bedding.  Good-bye flowers!  Good-bye house!  Thank you for the memories.

fresh flowers in tin cans

A Return To Regular Programming

I can’t believe I’ve not blogged in 3 weeks.  Seriously, I had no plans to drop off the face of the Earth at the end of June.  The children finished school at the beginning of July and there was the usual chaos associated with the end of the school year – sports days, school plays and prize giving.  We don’t have sports days and prize giving days in the US. It seems like ritualised public humiliation to me especially if a child is not sporty or academic.  My English husband assures me that it builds character.

We’ve changed my daughter’s school so that as of September she will be going to the same school as my son.  It will make my school runs a lot easier but it was a difficult decision because she (and I) loved her old school.  We’ve also had a few other exciting life changes which I will share with you once we firm them up.  For example, we are in the process of selling our house in London! Poor Mr. N hadn’t wanted to move but I convinced him that he could put on his big boy pants and deal.  So I’m on the lookout for a new renovation project (or two).

We also started our annual summer sojourn to the United States. I’m really pleased with our summer house renovation and look forward to sharing it with you soon.  I was not expecting to be thrown for a loop though on seeing the house!  Things were just not where I remembered and I found it disconcerting even though I had known, planned and overseen the changes.  The time just passed in a blur of change, travel, jet lag, houseguests etc.

Saturday morning I got to spend time doing some of my favourite activities in Martha’s Vineyard – hitting up a couple of yard sales and going to a farmer’s market.

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Farmers market such pretty flowers.

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Finally, I feel relaxed and ready to take on the summer.  Good food, music, and flowers will do that to you!more fresh flowers

Here are some photos of the West Tisbury Farmer’s Market.  It’s held every Saturday morning and the local farmers sell their wares from the back of their pick-up trucks.

flowers in a pick up truck

The food is always delicious – a combination of fresh fruit and vegetables, home-made preserves, and baked goods, local cheeses and freshly-made coffee, iced-tea and lemonade.  Amusingly, one of the most popular stalls is not based on a farm at all.  A Chinese grandmother who lives on the island sells her home-made noodles and spring rolls which make a delicious lunch.

marrow and zucchini

Marrows and zucchinis (courgettes) looking plump and delicious.

home-made preserves

Home-made preserves from a West Tisbury farm.


A vendor carefully arranges vegetables.

nitro cold brewed coffee

Have you ever tried nitro cold brewed coffee?

fresh flowers in a vase

Cheese set out to taste.

There are fresh flowers everywhere and it’s all so pretty!  The whole place is a riot of colour and people.



The flowers were arranged in a variety of containers such as rusted tin cans, milk cartons and mason jars.

fresh flowers in tin cans

Of course, I could not resist the flowers.  Here they are in my home:

I liked sunflowers for the screened-in porch area.  I was told that to keep sunflowers going longer I should change their water daily but also add very hot water to the container.  Apparently the hot water kills off germs growing on their stems and keeps them healthier longer.


This pretty bouquet is in the living room.

pretty bouquet

Sometimes, it’s the little things that ground us in a period of transition.  For me, it was a quiet Saturday puttering around yard sales and farmer’s market.  What are the things that ground you and give you a sense of self when times are changing?  I’d love to hear from you.

Remember Me

RHS Chelsea – It’s All Coming Up Roses!

When I think of English gardens, I think of roses.  Of course, I may be unduly influenced by Elton John’s song, Goodbye England’s Rose, which was playing everywhere my first couple of weeks in England in September 1997.  So how best to celebrate the ultimate in English garden shows, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, than a look through that most English of flowers.

I had no idea there were so many different types of roses.  They also have such lovely names.

I love this place setting.  An English tea party with English roses.  So very pretty.

tea and cake

Of course, roses weren’t always the quintessential English flower.  Some interesting facts and legends about the most popular flower in the world:

  • Ornamental roses, have been grown for thousands of years, in Mediterranean countries, the Middle East and Asia.
  • Roses probably were cultivated first in Ancient China about five thousand years ago.
  • In Ancient Greece, the rose was supposed to have been created by Aphrodite, the goddess of love when her tears mixed with the blood of her lover, Adonis.
  • Roses were considered sacred in Ancient Egypt.  Cleopatra had her rooms filled with roses so that when Marc Antony smelled a rose, he would be reminded of her.
  • During the Roman Empire, the Romans established large public rose gardens in the city.  Newlyweds were often crowned with roses.
  • According to Arab legend, all roses started off white until a nightingale fell in love with a rose. He held the rose to himself so intensely, the rose pierced his heart and was coloured by the blood.
  • The rose was a symbol of war and politics during the War of the Roses  in England.  The winner of the war, Henry VII, created the Tudor Rose by cross-breeding other roses.
  • Empress Josephine, the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, created a garden at her home in Malmaison where her ambition was to have every variety of rose in the world.

I’ll never think of a rose as boring again!  There’s got to be something special about this flower which has been universally grown for millennia.  What do you think?

Noa in the Fields

The Noa Garden House

The Grand Designs Live event at the Excel Centre this week has no shortage of structures that you could place in the garden for extra living space.  By far the most stylish garden house though has got to be the Noa Garden House sold through Katus Architecture.

The Noa Garden House is designed by Jaanus Orgusaar, an Estonian designer-inventor, who built one for his whole family.  He uses his garden house as a summer house.  You could add multiple modules to adapt the space to your needs either to the side or even stacking on top.

Noa in the Fields

Noa Summer House
Image credit: Jaanus Orgusaar

This structure would look like a piece of modern sculpture at the end of your garden.  The shape is a rhombus, more specifically a rhombic dodecahedron. The module is made from sustainable wood materials, limestone paste and cottage cheese paint.  The outside is treated with iron oxide so the wood fades to a grey which should help it blend into its surrounds.

The internal space is 21 square meters (226 square feet) but it feels much more spacious because of the high ceilings and the hexagonal floor.  Despite the angled walls, inside the house, it really does feel like a circular space.

Inside of Noa

Inside of Noa
Image credit: Jaanus Orgusaar

The two fisheye windows are wide and help with making the internal space bright.  The high ceiling adds to the feeling of space.  The ceiling light which throws such fantastic shadows is another creation of Jaanus Orgusaar called Solar and available through his website.

solar light

The structure is supported on posts in the ground.  It doesn’t actually have a foundation in the ground.  The house is necessarily built with a stairs and a deck which bends up and around for internal access.


Image credit: Jaanus Orgusaar

I think this garden house is the coolest thing for a backyard office or a children’s play area.  At an approximate cost of £11,000 though, it is not the cheapest option.  I am, however, thinking that the Solar light would be a terrific addition for a child’s room.

What do you think of the Noa?  Is it too ‘out there’ for your back garden?

Munstead Lavender

Lavender’s Blue

I’ve been wondering what to do with the front garden for a while now.  The ornamental grasses have gotten a little too wayward.  So, I was intrigued when Tim Milward from Plant Me Now suggested a lavender hedge on the sides of the buxus plants that I have.  They would be tall enough to cover the brickwork but not to obscure the window.  In addition, with the windows open the scent of lavender would waft through the house.


Lavender starts off pretty small.  Over time, they will knit together and form a hedge like shape.  Here are some beautiful images of lavender hedges.



Great idea – except for one small problem.  Lavender attracts bees and butterflies very well. My urban kids are afraid of bees.  I have told them that bees are good for nature and are no bother so long as they are left alone.  That argument didn’t wash for spiders and hasn’t worked for bees either.  Tim’s suggestion has been to trim the flower spikes which are what attract the bees.

bee on lavender


The lavender Tim has chosen is the Munstead variety.  They are among the shorter types of Lavender and make very good hedging plants.

Munstead Lavender

Lavender Munstead

Anyway, Tim suggested intersperse the lavender and with some tall delphiniums as well.  The delphiniums will add colour that will compliment the lavender.

I’m really pleased with our planting and can’t wait to see them grow!  We are also waiting for some trailing plants to be delivered from Plant Me Now which should arrive by May.  More on that later!

I was provided the lavender and delphinium free of charge as part of the Urban Renewal project from Plant Me Now but all words and opinions are my own.



Spring in My Step

With all this beautiful weather, I’ve been taking doggie on longer walks.  Our community spaces are beautiful with cherry blossoms everywhere.   You feel automatically happier with such beauty around you.

spring path

It’s not just the parks either.  I have come home to realise our drab front garden doesn’t quite meet some of the neighbourhood standards.  A little bit of sunshine and all these flowers just spring to life and add some much needed colour.

I love the way the plants topple over walls and peek through fences in an effort to maximise their exposure to the sun.


My front garden which did well last summer has wilted over the winter.  The planters are holding up well and most of the topiaries.  However, two of the box topiaries have picked up something which is making them die. The incredibly helpful Tim Milward, one of the gardeners at Plant Me Now thinks they could have been affected by box aphids or red spider mites which are common in box that is planted near brickwork. I would love to salvage these box plants as I think they are quite striking!

The calamgrostis Karl Foerster grass has just gotten too big I feel.  There’s floppy and then there’s just falling down!  I played around with grasses last summer but this year I’m thinking of mixing in more traditional bedding plants with the ornamental grasses.  The good thing about planters is that you can make small changes without too much effort.

front garden grass

I’ve narrowed my inspiration down to this selection of photos.

spring collage

Why do I like this “springspiration board”?  I like the lush haphazard beauty of these flowers.  Nature’s exuberance cannot be contained.  I feel like that now that the weather is getting better!

What do you think of a garden bench or chair in the front garden?   In the picture above I think it is charming. We have room for a seat but I don’t know if that is just odd? I’m thinking of garden furniture – a sure sign that summer can’t be far away!

sleeping angel

One of the Magnificent Seven, Highgate Cemetery

On a cold rainy day last month, I visited Highgate Cemetery on a whim.  Living relatively nearby, it seemed like a good reason to go outside on a day when I would otherwise have not done so.  I took a guided tour by a volunteer guide who regaled us with fascinating tidbits of history.  Divided into two parts, east and west, Highgate Cemetery is one of the great monuments of London.  It is Grade I listed by English Heritage.

highgate cemetery

Prior to the early 19th century, all of London’s dead were buried in local parish churchyards.  As the population grow, this method lead to overcrowding and unhygienic disposal of corpses.  In 1832, a Parliamentary encouraged the creation of private cemeteries in the outskirts of the city.  Eventually seven such cemeteries were built of which Highgate was one.  The term Magnificent Seven was given to the Victorian cemeteries in the 1980’s by an architectural historian.

highgate cemetery

Highgate was opened in 1839 and soon became a fashionable place to visit.  Set in the beautiful countryside, the Victorians would make day trips to the cemetery to visit their dead relatives and picnic in the grounds.  Highgate cemetery now has over 170,000 people in 50,000+ graves.

The most famous person buried in Highgate Cemetery is Karl Marx.  I thought his tomb was one of the less attractive ones.  The giant head looming over everything is, in fact, a bit disconcerting.

karl marx tombstone

I thought the Victorian tombs were beautiful, especially in the sombre light of the grey day.  Notable people who are buried here include:  Henry Gray, the author of Gray’s Anatomy, Charles Cruft, the founder of the Crufts Dog Show, Christina Rossetti, poet, and the parents and wife of Charles Dickens.

The Egyptian Avenue was created by the Victorians because interest in Ancient Egypt was very fashionable at the time.  It’s main feature is a giant cedar of Lebanon tree which had been in the manor grounds from which the land was purchased.

highgate cemetery cedar

I was surprised to learn that the cemetery still accepts corpses for burial.  With the changing demographics of North London, it has become popular with the Russians.  I saw the tomb for Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian who was poisoned using polonium in 2006 in what is widely believed to be a Russian-government ordered execution.

litvinenko tomb

You can book tours online for Highgate Cemetery directly at their website.  I really enjoyed my visit which was fascinating and educational thanks to the excellent guide/volunteer who really knew his stuff.

scarecrows RHS hampton court

Whose Afraid of the Scarecrow?

Are you feeling autumnal?  Even with the seasonal weather, I was thinking my family needed a reminder that summer was over.  With Halloween just around the corner, if we were in the U.S., we’d be inundated with autumn and Halloween decor.

On Sunday when we had the torrential downpour of rain, my daughter and I decided to do some seasonal crafting.  We found this easy craft stick scarecrow project on First Palette.  All you really need is popsicle sticks and the rest can be improvised with stuff around the house.  After making scarecrows, we went off piste and made a witch as well.  I let my daughter run with her ideas and she made scarves and high heels for the girl scarecrows as well.

scarecrow craft

Since we were on a roll, we also did the paper pumpkin (super easy) which we decorated with paper punched leaves.

paper pumpkin

This crafting interlude reminded me that the RHS Flower Show Hampton Court back in July asked local primary schools to make scarecrows.  I loved that the scarecrows are all unique and represent a variety of countries.  Here are some of my favourites.

scarecrows RHS hampton court

(clockwise from top left)

Farnham Common Infant School.  This scarecrow is named Joy, the name of the Welsh grandmother of a child in the class upon whom the scarecrow is modelled.  I’m sure Joy (the grandmother) was thrilled to be the model for a scarecrow.

Northborne Park School.  This scarecrow, named Kikuya, represents a Japanese Geisha.  She is hand-painted and has real flowers in her hair.

Hillmead Primary School.  Miss Hawaii is in a traditional raffia skirt and wears a headdress of flowers, foliage and feathers.

Sayes Court Primary School.  They picked this Maasai tribesman because of his cultural belief in protecting the land for future generations.

Maidenbower Junior School.  This scarecrow is Ready For All Weathers.  He represents Britain and is indeed ready for all weather in our unpredictable climate.

scarecrows RHS Hampton Court

(clockwise from top left)

Riverhead Infants School.  The Jack in the Green is pushing the May Queen in a wheelbarrow to celebrate the arrival of spring.  Spring, autumn, whatever the season, these scarecrows are quite charming.

Belmont Primary School.  This Thor is made from recycled school items such as school posts and fencing.

Epsom Downs Primary School.  These two scarecrows, named Ogbeni and Iya afin Agun, represent a traditional Nigerian wedding couple.

Wonersh and Shamley Green Infant School.  This scarecrow, called Gloria Ghana, is dressed in national colours and has a Phormium headdress.

Trafalgar Infant School.  The Royal Guard is inspired by the excitement at the school about the birth of the royal baby.

Great Kingshill CofE Combine.  This scarecrow, named Senorita Flores, is a traditional  Spanish flamenco dancer.

Will you be doing anything to usher in Autumn and Halloween into your home?  With half-term around the corner, some seasonal decorating may be just the thing to keep young hands busy.