My Self-Made Woman Heroes

Everyone has their heroes.

When I was a little girl, these were the stars of stage and screen. Katharine Hepburn was the woman I looked up to.

She was dazzlingly beautiful of course, walking with the kind of class and grace that you rarely see in the stars of today.

katharine-hepburn-653173_1920The thing that made her such a powerful influence on my life wasn’t her fame or success, it was the characters she played. Strong, independent and utterly witty, this was a time when the roles women played in movies were often the intellectual equivalent of their onscreen partners, rather than just serving as eye candy for a mostly pubescent minded audience.

My dream of becoming a film star was, of course, not realised. I found that I often froze up on stage and had a terrible habit of forgetting lines. However, old heroes can always be replaced by new ones and, thanks to the booming numbers of self-made women, building empires out of nothing but their hard graft, there are plenty to pick from.


The 3 women that I have picked as my current heroes (perhaps ‘inspirations’ would be a better word for them?) have all created niches and careers for themselves, sometimes completely reinventing their identities in order to progress in their chosen industry.

 

Angela Liddon – Food Blogger & Authorangela li

Although I can’t admit to being a huge fan of Vegan food (dividing a Northern girl from a sausage roll is never a wise move), Angela’s inspirational story starts in 2008, long before her Vegan Food blog hit the mainstream. Recovering from an eating disorder, Angela was teaching herself how to eat more whilst also encouraging her fast-food loving husband to eat better. She catalogued her journey in her blog, which started to gain traction despite her not having any experience in Food or Photography.

The Oh She Glows blog now attracts over 1 million individual readers each month, her Instagram feed is followed by over 400,000 people and her recipe book has over 300,00 copies in print.


vikYou Need A Vicky – Professional Organiser

Vicky Silverthorn is an entrepreneur and author who has served as a major inspiration for me as a business owner. Like me, Vicky had spent a large portion of her life working for other people. Before starting her business she worked as a successful Personal Assistant for major celebrities such as Lily Allen, however, she wasn’t content with this life. She’d seen a niche in the market that she knew she could exploit. Combining the skills she developed as a PA with shrewd business sense, she started You Need A Vicky, a professional organisation service.

Last year she published her first book.


Susie Ryan – Actress & Beauty Bloggersusie

If you’ve got a particularly good memory for faces and an affinity for noughties era Soap-Dramas then you may well recognise Susie. Making her name as an actress on the Sky show, Footballers’ Wives, Susie found moderate success as an actress. However, the acting game is a tough one and Susie soon had to find that she was in need of a separate revenue stream. Her makeup and beauty blog is one of the most trusted in the community, with her consistent replies to comments proving her to be equally dedicated to her readers.

Between television appearances, acting jobs, recording video blogs and writing – Susie has a hectic life that she has absolutely earned for herself.


These women have all rightly earned their places amongst the pantheon of heroes in my mind. If I can become half as successful as just one of these talented ladies then I can rest easy.

 

A Busy January Revisiting Old Friends

With a whimper and a bang – January is at an end!

Messy veg patch

Oh dear, look what happened, a whole month has passed and I’ve neglected to write on this blog even once!

In truth, I’ve been far too busy, which is surprising given the time of the year.

Winter is usually a quieter time of year for the business. With Christmas now a distant memory, the older clients in my books are less interested in keeping their front gardens in good order, so I would usually have more time on my hands for my own projects. However, it would appear that the older generations of Leeds have simultaneously taken on a raft of ‘get fit’ resolutions, leading them to demand my services much more than usual.

The first surprise of the year was receiving a call from one of my very first clients. Mavis was 65-years old when I first met her, 10 years ago. Even at the age she is now, she’s still making plans for the future and her garden is one of those. We’d met during the Christmas season, at an RHS Dinner & Dance and she’d admitted to me what a ‘frightful show’ her front garden had become. I told her that these things happen and I’d be happy to sort it out. Was there a reason why this, usually active, older lady had let her garden fall to pieces? I asked and the answer was rather adorable.

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At the age of 74, Mavis had found love…again.

She’d been twice married, twice widowed and had not expected to meet anyone in the 10 years or so that she had left.

Against the odds, however, she had bumped into a refined gentleman of 76 at a stately garden. They both shared an affinity for staunch independence in old age (they had each driven over an hour to get there) and a passion for the beauty and peace of a well ordered garden.

I can only assume that when you get to a certain age, you feel like you must make the most of every day that you have left. Mavis and David have spent 4 out of 7 days in each other’s company for the last year. They are refraining from moving in together; both value their independence too highly, but they are still revelling in each other’s company, discovering that they suddenly have a new lease of life.

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With so much of her time already taken up with socialising, Mavis found that her garden started to grow wildly out of control once more. When I arrived halfway through January to take a look, I barely recognised it. The hanging baskets had overgrown and begun linking together, somehow feeding off each other in a symbiotic fashion. Meanwhile, the small vegetable patch that I had carefully maintained for her for a number of years was a hopeless scrub land of rotting fruits and germinating roots.

When I arrived she was just being escorted out of the house by her new beau. She had an apologetic look on her face, as if she wanted to stay and chat for a little while longer but was just too busy. I told her it was OK and got on with the work, sighing at the sorry state of her once immaculate garden.

As I tilled the hard ground and cleared the dead vegetation I remember thinking that was the first time I’d ever seen a septuagenarian glowing.

You Can Just Call Me Charlie Dimmock

Always Make Room For A Water Feature!

It may seem like something that should have been left in the 90s, but there’s still plenty of room for a water feature in the modern garden.

 

A lover of the home transformation shows of the 90s; busy mother of two, Janet Armstrong, never had enough time to sort out her garden.

 

Her detached home in the outskirts of Leeds was perfect for her husband and three boys, but the huge back yard was simply too much for her to handle. Her boys, born a year apart from each other, had barrelled through the house for 12 years and torn up the forlorn back garden, that had been left to overgrow.

It’s often the biggest gardens that are the hardest to plan for. If you’re fortunate enough to have a wildly active young family, like Janet, you might have faced a similar problem yourself. Unless you can actively involve your kids in the gardening process, it can be impossible to get anything done whilst also keep a watchful eye on them.  Struggling for years, she just about kept her 3-bed house in one piece, whilst her husband was away on business for long stretches of time.

 

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In the 12 years she spent raising her boys, she’d had little time to do anything to her garden, which now resembled a rather battered recreational field.

Now her kids had grown up and the muddy yard was no longer big enough for their football games – Janet finally had her opportunity to reclaim her garden. She felt that it was the right time to orchestrate a major redesign of the back garden. Her plan was to create a peaceful sanctum that she could enjoy for the summer ahead where she would, no doubt, have even more time on her hands.

When I met Janet, for her initial consultation, I could tell that she was a woman who had a clear vision in her mind.

Throughout the last 12 years, she had been mentally planning her dream garden: free of dirty boys, abundant with wildlife and, at it’s centre, a serene water feature – reflecting the inner peace that would be emanating from within her.

asian-garden-designAfter the first meeting, Janet gave me so many ideas that I had no problem coming up with an initial design for her.

Taking the grand dimensions of her garden, a healthy 20ft by 40ft, I mocked up a design that incorporated her initial thoughts, with a few added accoutrements. An easily manageable stretch of lawn would lead to a pathway, which would stretch over a 3 ft by 20 ft pond – this would offer Janet the tranquillity that she had been yearning for, for over a decade.

Janet was thrilled with design. As money was no object, she was keen to ensure that the pond would not be a natural one. Although it would, arguably, not be healthy for any wildlife straying in – she requested that the pond be extended and transformed into a modestly sized swimming pool. It looks like my water feature might have just got a little bigger than initially anticipated!

I’ve not worked with swimming pools before but, after consulting a UK based company that specialises in swimming pool skimmers and covers; I think I’ve got to grips with how this is going to work.

I always enjoy being thrust outside of my comfort zone.

What started out as a design built around the ideas of natural curves and plenty of wild flowers, has now transformed into a post-modern Buddhist-style retreat. Complete with pebble garden, bonsai trees and a completely still, heated pool that Janet will be able to dip her toes in.

Within just a few months, hopefully I’ll be able to deliver her the Eastern Modernist Peace Garden of her dreams!

Harold’s Allotment Project

Proof that a 125 squared metre scrub of land can be pretty

Although I love getting my hands on an expansive back garden space to design, sometimes the most satisfying jobs can be when I’m given the most limited resources. 

Harold is one of the many retired clients that my long serving friend, Mavis, has passed on to me. A veritable elderly social butterfly, her hectic weekly schedule puts her into contact with dozens of potential new customers and she’s always eager to recommend my services. She’s become so prolific at giving me work, that I’ve started to pay her some commission to say thank you – thanks to her I’ve never been busier!

plotting

Anyway, Harold came to me looking for some help with his half-size allotment.

He’d owned it for the best part of 20 years, taking it on when he retired at 65. Although he’d spent hundreds of hours pottering around his shed and planting the odd tomato, he’d let the little space run somewhat ragged in the past year or so and now it was in desperate need of sorting.

Winter is a great time to clean house and strip back.

Flash freezes and cold rains do a great job of breaking up soil, making it easier to till and pull up unwanted roots. Harold didn’t have a particular plan in mind when he hired me, he just knew that his allotment was a mess.

There’s a certain satisfaction I get from completely wiping a slate clean.

more-weed

In every allotment, every garden and yard – there’s the potential for some thing beautiful, nutritious and verdant. I’m often hired by people like Harold who have just got a bit overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff that they’ve accumulated over the years. Gardening can often go hand in hand with a hoarding habit – pots, tools, seeds and ornaments are just a few examples of the detritus that a retired gardener can collect over the years.

Far from being a possessive magpie, Harold gave me full license to trash as much or as little as necessary from his cluttered shed.

It’s a good thing I brought a few bin bags with me – because there was a lot of things that needed binning there.

Cracked plastic plant pots, hideously scarred garden gnomes and a worrying infestation of sprouting seed packets – all of these were mercilessly trashed. Buried beneath the useless bric-a-brac were a few choice items that I kept, to make sure that Harold still felt at home in his little refuge.

deliver

Amongst a few vintage terracotta pots, I found a mouldy copy of Wisden Cricketer’s Almanac from 1973, an adorably small wind-up radio (which still worked!) and a smattering of old photographs  – which were in surprisingly good condition. I arranged these odds and ends with a few potted herbs from my own green house, to give the shed a lived in feel and fill it with a fresh fragrant odour.

Once the ground outside has been tilled and the shed had been sorted, all that was left was to reintroduce Harold back to his allotment.

Country Break To Bowland Fell Park

Stunning Natural Beauty with a side of Ordered English Country Charm

Lovely gardens combined with a touch of retail therapy, all book-ended by a lovely place to sleep.

Leeds has been my home for a large portion of my life. It’s a city that is full of life, noise and chaos – so sometimes it can get exhausting.

I’ve had the good fortune of being able to travel a lot in my previous occupation – so now I’m satisfied with taking small breaks within the UK. Although it’s just a short drive away, I’d never thought of visiting the Fells. After being told of their surprising beauty, as well as the wealth of Gardens in the area, I booked myself a little caravan to sleep in and set off.


Bowland Fell Park

Situated right on the edge of the Forest of Bowland, this park, comprising of several stationary caravans (in addition to a thoroughly charming 17th Century Pub) offers gorgeous views of the deep green forest – as well as access to some paths and circular routes that are great for dog walking. The caravan I booked was a lovely size, cosy enough for myself and my partner, with plenty of space to prepare some dinner in the evenings.

bowland-fells

For those not wanting to brave the Winter weather in a tent, a stationary caravan is a great go-between – providing the feeling of being right next to the outdoors, whilst leaving you with a comfortable night’s sleep.

Stydd Gardens

If you’ve been to as many Gardens and Stately Homes as I have, they can start to blur into one. Without trying to besmirch the good name of England’s tourist attractions – over the years they have started to become homogenised. The same cafes, kindly attendants and gift shops – they’ve almost become a cliche unto themselves. Thankfully, there are still fiercely independent places like Stydd Gardens, attempting to break the mould.

stydd

Small but interesting gardens are laid out in a quirky fashion, whilst the usual cafe is avoided completely in favour of 3 separate eating establishments. It’s a smart move for a countryside garden, providing three very different eateries for locals and visitors alike.

Plant World and Gardens at Myerscough Gardens

The last place I have to recommend from our trip to the Fells was the wonderful, but daftly names, Plant World. An offshoot of Myerscough College, on whose campus it’s located, Plant World is a rather grand name for a sizeable green house packed full of lovely English flowers and vines. It’s essentially a small garden centre, but thanks to the wonderfully eager students employed there, it turned into a thoroughly enjoyable educational experience, as well as a shopping trip. In addition to the shop, there’s a ‘Tropical Zone’ – a warmer greenhouse where you can admire the exotic specimens that the students have been growing, as well as the ‘Temperate Zone’ – an even warmer area, where the tropical breeds are nurtured from seeds.

myerscough1

Outside, there’s also a lovely little landscaped garden, complete with a pond, bog garden (which is actually prettier than it sounds) as well as an ornamental kitchen garden – a lovely surprise.

Helping Out Mavis With Her Vegetable Patch

Winter Can Be Tough For The Elderly

Now that Daylight Savings have come into effect, the days can feel like they flash by in an instant.

gardening-stuff

For the elderly, who live alone, this can be a grim dark time of year – this is why I like to dedicate a few hours each week to keeping my local OAP gardeners company.

When I first started out with Delphinium, some 10 years or so ago, I struggled to get hold of much design work. Having spent so long in the Science Industry, it might come as little surprise that the people of Leeds were a little uneasy about handing me creative control over their gardens – so I had to make do with some basic gardening work at first.

back-yard-gardenEveryone has to pay their dues, I suppose.

The first piece of regular work I picked up was for Mavis. 10 years ago she was a little more spritely, at 65, but still needed help keeping her unruly garden in order. Packed full of creeping vines, weeds and flower beds (that were crossing all sorts of boundaries) – her little yard was abundant with life, but had become too much for her to handle.

I spent that first summer struggling to find work and spending too much time in Mavis’ back garden.

She’s what my Father would have called ‘a strange old bird’. Fiercely independent, yet also wholly reliant on the company of others – Mavis had led a a sociable and active retirement up until the Winter of 2006 – when she broke her hip falling down the stairs. That’s when she enlisted me to sort her garden out and, essentially, keep her company.

Gardening is one of those fantastic hobbies that can entertain people of all ages.

From the very young, to those reaching the twilight of their years, simple tasks such as tilling or mulching can provide comfort and a sense of purpose to those looking for it – without exhausting the individual. This is all well and good in the balmy summer months, however, as winter approaches and the plants that you have nurtured throughout the warmer months begin to die, it can be hard to motivate these wonderful people to go back out into the garden.

yardMavis simply needed someone to get her out of the house a few times a week and sort out her flower bed for next spring.

Every week I’d let myself in round the back and tap on her window – within seconds, she’d be outside wrapped up in several layers of wool, with a mug of tea in her hand for me. I’d dig the weeds and rip the vines out of the stubborn soil, whilst she would collect the off-cuts and bag them up for the bin.

Mavis recommended my services to her friends, which eventually led to me getting my first design job – for that I will be eternally grateful.