Salix caprea ‘Kilmarnock’

Salix caprea ‘Kilmarnock’ ( weeping goat willow) is a very ‘in’ plant at the moment, proudly on display in every garden centre. With their beautiful architecture of the weeping willow grafted on to a stem, you can buy them a perfect size and height to fit any small garden.

Like all trees, they need care and yesterday I finally finished pruning ours. 


I say pruning, but I discovered this actually meant removing the dead branches. As the willow grows, the trailing branches grow new spurs out towards the light which will bud and blossom, with tactile catkins and lime green leaves. The old branch dies, hidden behind the canopy. If untended the canopy gets thicker and thicker with these dead twigs until nothing can grow beneath the tree and every local cat decides it’s a great place to go to the toilet.


A few hours work and now there’s light and air beneath the green and the whole tree looks happier.




The branches are incredible, twisting in many angles to reach the light and the past years of neglect has meant ours has formed this wonderful sculpted trunk.




Getting up close and personal has also taught me how not to stake a tree… He has grown around this iron pole which must be going straight through his root ball. 




If you are considering buying one of these trees, may I offer this as an alternative way of staking a young tree? 



Here the wooden stake is facing into the prevailing wind, and the tree is attached with an adjustable rubber tree tie. 


Unlike for my magnolia above, the future for our ‘Kilmarnock’ doesn’t look bright: he isn’t very stable anymore, and between the iron spike, the cats and having outgrown his space I don’t think he will stay once we redo our front garden. Though I might consider replacing him with a new little one, straight from the garden centre….

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Wanting it all

Last week on holiday I noticed the first signs of feeling down again… Nothing to really put my finger on, just a bit more tired, a bit less patience for the girls, more grumpy mornings when I awoke.


One of my least helpful questions to ask myself when feeling like this is ‘Why do I feel like this?’ I don’t know about you but very often when I’m like this my thoughts can follow my emotions : I feel sad therefore I can think of a hundred reasons to justify my sadness (none of which would even occur to me the day before or the day after). 


A far better question to ask myself is ‘What am I doing differently?’ And it only took a couple of minutes to discern that all my hard work in maintaining pleasurable activities towards the end of the pregnancy has rather gone to pot since baby’s birth. He is still feeding for 40 mins in every three hours during the day, which unsurprisingly takes up a lot of my time.  My solutions seems obvious: it is time to fit more exercise and seeing my friends back into the diary.


Having said all that talking with Simon did reveal some unhelpful thoughts which I need to account for. These can be usefully summarised as ‘I want it all’. The baby has been born now, I feel well, we are both getting a good night’s sleep and I want it all. 


I don’t have to navel gaze very deeply to find I want to:
  • be fit and healthy, with a working pelvic floor 
  • be able to run 3 miles
  • do fun educational activities with my girls  
  • go on family days out whilst we are both on leave
  • be planning and cooking meals
  • use our new Southmead Food co-operative
  • be on top of the laundry and washing up
  • have meaningful couple time
  • have a good sex life
  • go on dates with my husband
  • apply for the next jobs in line to further my career
  • go to Keep In Touch days at work 
  • feel ready to return to work in August. 
  • breastfeed my baby 
  • go to baby massage
  • meet with God in worship
  • listen to sermons  rather than falling asleep 
  • contribute prophetically to the life of the church. 
  • be hands on in making the best garden in Southmead.


I could (unfortunately) go on…


Writing this reminds me of November’s blog – all those things I wanted then I now have, but still I want more.


Praying at church today, a friend gently told me that I can have it all… Just not all of it now. I need to elongate my desires, to give myself time to do this stage now. Baby’s only 11 weeks old, after all. And many of these things are similar in process to making our garden, or running a marathon. At each stage, you only need to do the next little bit. And slowly slowly, one plodding training run or one plant in the right place at a time, you move towards the goal. It isn’t the wanting that’s the problem at the moment, it’s merely the time frame I’m seeing it all in. 

So I’ve made my behavioural plan to help my mood, and I know what this month’s unhelpful thoughts are, so hopefully I can notice when they occur rather than letting them suck me in. 



And with God’s help I will leave the ‘wants’ in His hands and come back to the challenges and joys each day brings for itself. This evening I need to feed the baby, bathe the girls, and enjoy Chinese take away and my in-laws’ hospitality. I think I can be content with that :) 


on holiday 

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Making my peace with breastfeeding

My third child, like my first two, is being exclusively breastfed. I don’t particularly enjoy it.


Breastfeeding, in my opinion, is one of ‘those’ things. You know the ones… Those things as mothers we secretly feel we should be doing, even whilst we verbalise every mum’s right to choose. Those things that when we say we do it, other women try to justify to us why they don’t (even if we never suggest they should). Those things that when I don’t do them and I hear another woman talk about them, I feel judged and get defensive. Like carrying my child in a sling, or purée-ing organic home cooked food, using reusable nappies, home-schooling, co-sleeping. ‘Those’ things.


For example, I was chatting about slings with a friend the other day. (I have a sling. I find it hard to use). I had composed a whole spiel in my head about my problems using it when our conversation was interrupted by our toddlers falling off a log, and by the time I returned to the conversation I realised that I was being defensive even though she wasn’t attacking. No-one was. No-one cares if I use a sling except me. It was one of ‘those’ things again.


Back to breastfeeding. I really really wanted to breastfeed my first. I was totally convinced by the research literature , my close friends all breastfed (or at least gave it a darn good try) and isn’t it just what middle class UK mums do? 


And it hurt. It really hurt. My nipples cracked and bled and I had to express entirely from one side for the first month. My overriding memory from that time is my husband casually saying “It’s going alright isn’t it?” whilst driving us to our two week midwife appointment, and turning to see silent tears dripping down my face because I didn’t think I could keep going with breastfeeding anymore, and to stop would mean I had failed.


I didn’t stop. I got help. I found things to motivate me. I struggled through. I had my first pain-free feed at 3 weeks and by 3 months it didn’t hurt at all. In the end she self-weaned at 11 months and we went straight on to cows milk as part of her normal diet. 


With my second, an amazing lady from Barnardos helped me to understand what had gone wrong before and showed me some tips to make it better.  We stopped earlier though: by the time I retired to work at 7 months we were down to just morning and evening feeds. As this baby wouldn’t take a bottle at all we went straight to a cup and a normal diet for those evenings I was working and she was fine – we dropped all evening feeds soon after. I decided to stop feeding her in the mornings a couple of months later: firstly, I needed to run for the sake of my mental health and I couldn’t do that in the mornings if I also had to feed. Secondly, I had developed gallstones, and I couldn’t take the pain killers I needed to whilst breastfeeding. 


I felt agonisingly guilty about stopping feeding, as I knew it was a decision I was making for my sake, rather than hers. I rationalised it: she needed a healthy and happy mummy more than she needed breast milk. Again, we went straight to a normal diet – I had still never fed either child formula milk.


And here is baby number three. Another baby with a small mouth and a difficult latch. More support needed from Barnardos. More painful feeds, sore blistered nipples, difficult positioning. We got down to ‘uncomfortable’ fairly quickly: nothing that a good dose of facebook/novel escapism can’t deal with. Since his birth I’ve read all the Swallows and Amazon books, my entire collection of Dick Francis novels, a few more here and there I can’t remember and now I’m working my way back through the entire Sharpe series. 

As you can tell from this, I’m spending a lot of my time feeding, perhaps up to 9 hours a day spent with my baby attached to me between waking up at 7 and midnight. I haven’t timed it. It would be too depressing. That much facebook is frankly just miserable. Watching tv is a no-go too, as my older children inevitably walk in if there’s anything on I don’t want them to see. So novels it is, and daydreaming about plants and day by day we are getting through. 


But this one is different – maybe because he is my last, maybe because he is visibly growing with all that milk and I can see his newbornness slipping away, maybe because by your third you know how precious this time is and how quickly it disappears, maybe because life with two other children is so busy and full-on that to slip away and feed, just me and him, is special time. Maybe because it’s the one role in our family that I and only I can do, or because having my husband at home and no school runs means I have the freedom to just be and to feed for as long as it takes. 


But for the first time, I’m enjoying my child during the baby stage and treasuring these quiet, uncomfortable times of feeding, with its peculiar ache of letting down milk and scratchy pinch of suckling. I know the whorls of hair on his head, the way his breathing changes when he wants a feed, the cheeky grins he gives me as he catches my eye mid-feed, his outraged expression when he needs a burp. 


And for the first time, I genuinely don’t mind if I have formula ‘as a back up’ in the cupboard, or if we end up using it full time. Accepting the feeding for what it is to me – an uncomfortable and slightly painful way of having lots of time to read books and be on my own with the baby – has freed me from both my earth mother idealism and my pigheaded refusals to quit. Maybe I will feed till 7 weeks, maybe I’ll keep going till he self weans. Either is fine by me.


And whatever I decide to do, I’m going to try my hardest to not get defensive about it. Firstly it’s not actually a moral issue: there’s no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ when it comes to feeding my baby, only us making the best choices we can. And secondly, when other mums tell me about their decisions to breast feed or formula feed, to wean or to keep feeding, I’m going to try and remember that as with all ‘those’ other things they aren’t actually attacking me, judging me nor telling me what I should do: they are simply making conversation.  


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Baby has arrived

The last few weeks of pregnancy were in some ways the toughest: I became impatient, frustrated at the lack of control and over analysing every tiny cramp and movement in the hope of labour starting. By the end I had been off work for ten weeks without a newborn and was bored.

Still, arrive he did, as babies do. Labour and birth were the best I’ve had of the three – no undiagnosed breech like my first , and thanks to the good planning and care no post partum haemorrhaging like my second. In fact, despite being under consultant care and booked into the Delivery Suite and therefore most ‘medicalised’ of any birth plan I’ve had so far, it was a lovely, natural, midwife-led, gas and air, intervention free delivery. Praise God! And all credit due to the NHS and the great staff at Southmead hospital. I particularly liked the way my midwife accepted that I was in labour and due to have the baby soon, despite having very irregular contractions.
He’s a week old now, and it’s been ok on balance. I had a few days of baby blues (that’s the normal mood dip and tearfulness you get around day 3 when your progesterone levels plummet). I could tell because my eyes welled up at the thought of having to get up and dressed, or saying hello to lovely people who had made me meals. But frankly, between sore nipples from a couple of poor latches, aching breasts with the milk coming in, extreme sleep deprivation and my muscles from uterus down feeling like I’d just given birth, I think that’s pretty fair.
I’ve had loads of support – my friends were praying for me and wishing me well all labour,  my husband is on paternity leave, my mum has been down for most of the week and our amazing church is doing a food rota for us. Again I’m so grateful for all the help.
And the baby himself is a joy- he looks a little more like a Miles than my girls did, I think, and so far seems to like infacol, routines, hiccuping, being warm, sleep and being in constant human contact. Fair dos, for your first 7 days. 

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Treating my perinatal depression : thoughts.

I’m back in bed feeling miserable, this time with a chest infection. It’s an opportunity to examine my thoughts. This is the part of depression I find the hardest to deal with head on – I much prefer the sneaky, round the back, change the behaviour approach. You see often I believe that my thoughts are true, accurate reflections of the world and that my response of self pity is therefore justified. It takes guts to accept that my thoughts are just thoughts, little passing mind blips which don’t necessarily correlate to reality. When I examine them I find  some are realistic, some are unhelpful, and others are downright lies. The skill lies in knowing which are which and treating them differently.


Examples of realistic thoughts.
‘I feel ill.’ ‘I don’t like being ill.’ Yes, they are grumbly and complainy but I’ve found thoughts like this, honest opinions about my situation, are better to acknowledge and share judiciously than to try and persuade myself otherwise. I dug myself into a hole in the first few months of pregnancy telling myself ‘I should be enjoying this last pregnancy’ when I would have been better off accepting the truth that I was struggling and not enjoying it. Sharing that truth helped me realise that most other mums I chatted to didn’t enjoy it either, and that was ok.


Unhelpful thoughts.
‘What if this turns to a serious infection like pneumonia, and I spend the rest of my pregnancy feeling this bad, and then I’m ill all the way through labour….’ This is one of my familiar ‘unhelpful thinking patterns’. It’s called catastrophising and is unhelpful and like all thoughts starting with ‘what if’ it’s unanswerable. I need to recognise it for what it is, and be done.


Untruthful thoughts.
I’m a pathetic person for being ill in bed.’ ‘I should be downstairs helping with the children.’ ‘I’m a failure as a parent.’ Now CBT teaches great strategies for recognising and weighing thoughts like this, and coming up with helpful alternatives. But I’ve been here before and I know what they are and how to come against these ones. Quite frankly, they are lies. And the truth I need is in my faith and the Bible. ‘I’m a child of God.’1 ‘I’m accepted, beloved.2 ‘I don’t stand guilty and condemned but forgiven and free.’3
Even non-Biblical but slightly more balanced and rational thinking helps. ‘I’m an ok parent.’ I’m treating myself the best I can and following NHS advice for this infection. ‘
CBT calls it ‘cognitive restructuring’ or ‘thought challenging’. The Bible calls it ‘taking captive every thought’4 ‘reckoning the truth’5 or ‘renewing your mind’6.


Call it what you will, I don’t find it easy to do. It’s easier to believe the rubbish inside my head and ride the spiral path down to despair, to hide under the duvet and escape into the latest fantasy novel / self help programme on tv. Because once I accept the stuff inside my head needs to be sorted and then accepted ignored or challenged, I can’t let it dictate my behaviour any more. Which takes me back to last week’s blogs on treating my physical symptoms and changing my behaviours… And up and round the spiral I go, fighting for every step out of depression and despair.


  1. 1 John 3:1
  2. Eph 1:4-8
  3. Rom 8:1
  4. 2 Cor 10:5
  5. Rom 6:11
  6. Rom 12:12

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Amy and the stumpery garden

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Going out the front door

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”


I haven’t been running since my youngest daughter (then aged 2) overtook me on our weekly run last autumn.  With pregnancy a fast receding memory and gaps between feeding the baby becoming more regular running is back on the agenda.


I saw my physiotherapist Helen a couple of weeks ago. My pelvis is correctly aligned, which is good news as my ligaments start to tighten again, and my divaricated stomach muscles are coming together nicely. I need to keep stretching and doing the pilates exercises but she was pleased with my progress. ‘You’re actually pretty healthy when you’re not pregnant, aren’t you?’ she said.  When it comes to running though, she warned me to take it easy until my pelvic floor gets stronger, in order to avoid longer term problems.


This advice was echoed by my doctor at my six week check, who also advised me to up my Kegel excises to three times a day. Up till then I had been feeling proud that I was doing them once a day – obviously I’ve reacted to good advice by managing to forget to do them nearly every day since. Oops.


I was planning to start gently anyway… Back to couch to 5k for me, and before that I wanted to try walking for twenty minutes. Given that I hadn’t walked for more than five minutes during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy, that seemed reasonable. 


So today, 8 weeks after birth, I dug out my trainers and rather tight running bra stepped out my front door. 


I went for an 18 minute walk on my own in the evening drizzle. My right thigh aches slightly (I came in, fed the baby and forgot to stretch) but no bottom pain so I’m counting this as a good start. 

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Gunnera and the problem of the back wall

Last week we stole the gunnera from my father-in-law’s garden. My husband planted it when he lived there over a decade ago, and since then it’s been moved and divided but it’s never really grown. Despite being ten years old it doesn’t get over a foot high, and for a gunnera manicata whose leaves can grow to a magnificent 2 meters in diameter, that’s not much.



So we’ve moved it from the Ridgeway chalk to our Bristol clay, and going to see if, with a bit of love and care, it can flourish here. It’s the first plant in our stumpery area – ideally we would give it pond to live by, or a bog garden to keep its feet wet, but neither pond or bog have made it into the final design. 


Our other current concern is the back wall: we both loathe it but have so far not agreed on a solution. Options range from the very costly and time consuming ‘rip it all out’ to various degrees of covering it up. The leylandii effectively discourage almost everything from growing for a strip 1m deep along the back. Despite being at least 30 years old even the ivy has struggled to clothe the council estate grey breeze block wall which is topped with a variety of old fence panels. In these conditions somehow the bindweed and horsetail (equisetum arvense) seem to thrive of course. 



Our current plan is a series of raised beds planted with climbers and fruit trees, just in front of the canopy. This will leave a dead space behind which would be a children’s running space/ potential chicken run.  Maybe our trip to RHS Wisley tomorrow will give us some ideas. 


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Today I pruned the buddleia

One of the lovely unintended consequences of this blog has been that people have consistently asked how I am, and specifically how my mental health has been, since B’s birth.


I don’t always know how to answer. ‘fine’ in short I suppose, or I could give you a detailed analysis of each day.


It’s been nearly three weeks now. I had a couple of teary days at the start, like I mentioned, and since then I’ve twice woken up with the black dog on my shoulder. Both times followed very sleepless nights, where by 4am I’m feeling resentful towards B, and can’t bear the thought of feeding yet again. And at 7am the girls are up and bouncing on the bed, crashing into B and me and upsetting his latch, invading my precious personal space and touching my tender body; the skies are grey and ahead of me all day is yet more feeding and not much else.


By the evening of a day of grumping I’m wondering if it’s time to call the mental health nurse and discuss going on medication, because I can’t bear weeks of this and I know the sertraline will take a couple of weeks to kick in, and going running is still a month away.


And then the next morning, the skies have cleared, and I’ve had more sleep, the feeding is a little less uncomfortable than the day before and I have plans to see my friends and I realise that yesterday was just a normal day after all, when one is sleep deprived and at home with a newborn.


To balance the dark days out, I’ve had moments nearly every day of pure joy: I’ve been able to get out in the garden in between feeds a couple of times and this morning my husband discovered me perched on a wall, pruning saw in hand, taming the buddleia with a huge grin plastered across my face.
I had my first social smile from the the baby. A few days ago my toddler ate an entire plateful of a cooked meal which was new to her (huge thanks to my church for our food rota which continues to bless me with gorgeous food I have not cooked).  On Sunday we made it to church and I was able to stand and sing a worship song to God. Friday I made it to the fish and chip shop and introduced the baby to the staff there – it’s the first time I have been able to walk that far since before Christmas.
Writing this at the end of another long day of feeds and childcare, I am content with my lot. Because in between the occasional difficult day and the frequent moments of pleasure is normal life, and it’s a life I want : full of feeding and nappy changes, looking after the girls and washing up, seeing friends and discussing the garden with my husband.
I’m keeping a close eye on my mental health: I’ve my 6 week check booked and my GP will ask and the health visitor is coming at 8 weeks and will check on it then too. I’m accepting the tough days when they come just that. I think the difference won’t be in how they feel but in the quantity and frequency of them, so I’ve decided if I get 3 in a row then I’m calling the nurse for a chat.  But so far, so good, and I’m grateful for it.
And I’m grateful to you all for asking. Every time it reminds me that people care and are interested, that I’m not alone in this and I’m loved. Thank you all, for asking how I am. Today, I am well. Today, I pruned the buddleia.

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