Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Plant Inspiration at Wild Leaf

I'm absolutely useless with plants. Not being blessed with the most patient of dispositions, I don't put much store in following instructions or reading manuals, and when it comes to gardening or placing greenery around the home, I tend to just focus on my immediate aesthetic requirements rather than considering things like soil suitability or positioning. 

While I might like to think of myself as the 'nurturing' type, healthy, lustrous plants and flowers wither under my supervision and pots that started life as a colourful riot of blooms become lifeless seemingly overnight. In short, green fingered I am definitely not. 

As it happens, I don't have much of a garden to experiment with anyway. But things don't tend to work out any better indoors, either. I've killed pretty much every form of plant life that has ever crossed the threshold of our home, from beautiful orchids to death-defying spider plants. Thing is, though, I adore plants and flowers. And when I'm feeling a little blue, there a few things I find more comforting than wandering around a garden centre or plant shop. 

Filled with life-giving greenery, they provide the perfect counterpoint to all that noise and stuff that fills up daily life. And while I might not be good at looking after plants myself, I find a great sense of inner calm when I'm surrounded by greenery. 
So I was delighted to discover a tiny haven of green stuff just off the Gloucester Road called Wild Leaf. Open since August, this bijou plant shop is filled with gorgeous plants and has a remit to help even the least gifted of plant owners create interesting green spaces in their homes - I think they call it 'plantscaping'. And if there's one thing I've wanted to do recently, fuelled by countless beautiful pictures on Instagram, it's 'plantscape' my home.

Stocked with truly unusual plants and succulents, Wild Leaf is a true treat for the senses. There's so much to feast your eyes on - over 80 plant species to be exact. From covetable succulent pots to decades-old, towering cacti, the shop's counters and shelves are filled with unusual greenery.

A beautifully merchandised space, Wild Leaf is the sort of place that makes you want to go straight home, strip your space of all clutter and fill it instead with cascading baskets of String of Coins, light-loving Tradescantia and pots of lustrous Zebra Basket Vine. If you're a plant killer like me, the owner, Tya, can offer all the advice you need on correct care and placement for your plants. 

Turns out the wonderfully named Mother-in-Law's Tongue (or 'Sanseveria') might be a good one for my light-filled kitchen. And given its hardy nature and need for only weekly watering (yes, I do tend to forget about watering my plants too) it might even defy my poor plant care track record. 

As well as plants, Wild Leaf stocks gorgeous ceramics, pots and baskets, as well as a wonderful array of potted succulents for less than the price of a coffee. For more serious plant collectors blessed with nurturing hands, there are some really special 'heritage' plants amongst the collection - I definitely couldn't be trusted with a 135-year-old Mammillaria Geminispina (£295) though...

Located at 63 Overton Road, Wild Leaf is a lovely place for some plant inspiration, whatever your plant aspirations and abilities. Visit their Instagram page here to take a look.


Thursday, 14 September 2017

Coping with the End of Summer Blues

If you're familiar with the film Breakfast At Tiffany's you might also be familiar with the term "the mean reds," a poetic term used by the protagonist Holly Golightly to describe a brooding sense of panic and hopelessness that makes you look for the nearest happy place. In her case it was Tiffany's because, as she explains in the movie, "nothing very bad could happen to you there."

I usually get my own dose of the mean reds at this time of year. With the summer waning and holidays a distant memory, I struggle with the knowledge that dark days beckon and the end of another year is looming. Feelings that lay dormant over the lazy days of a routine-free summer start to crowd my mind again: Are the kids doing okay at school? Should we do that loft conversion we keep talking about? Why have I STILL not put any money into my pension? When did the house become such a mess? How have I failed to do all those things I said I was going to do at the start of the year? You're useless, look - everyone else is doing lots of useful, life enhancing stuff ALL THE TIME!

The other day on the school run I found myself feeling particularly teary. I was missing a best friend who passed away earlier in the year, and thoughts like the above mingled with a deep longing to return to the wonderful suspension of reality that accompanied our summer holiday. I was feeling anxious about work and mindful of the need to pay off a looming post-holiday credit card bill. I was also feeling exceedingly tired of the relentless rain. That's the trouble with wonderful holidays - they bring the mundane, difficult realities of real, everyday life into sharp relief when the holiday is over.

Luckily I have found some mechanisms to help keep these feelings in check. I will always find this time of year difficult, but there are some things I've always done, and some things I've made an effort to do more recently, which are currently helping to keep the mean reds at bay...


I've always been a walker. Driving in the city is not something I enjoy, and with Bristol's roads becoming ever more crowded and aggressive, I avoid it wherever possible. There's something about the rhythm of walking I find very calming; combined with listening to a podcast or something on Spotify a walk around the Downs, on my own, away, wherever possible from the traffic, always makes my mind slow down. When I run, I feel like I have to push myself and can often get frustrated by my lack of stamina. 

But walking - with no particular purpose or requirement to reach any particular destination - is perhaps the most effective way I've found to deal with stress. On the days I work from home, I go out for a walk whatever the weather, either as an add-on to the school run or during my lunch hour. And my walk to work on Fridays is something I actively look forward to - an hour of interrupted free time to spend in the fresh air.

Reading (but only certain things)

Earlier this year I came to the (rather late) realisation that I was fed up of people trying to sell me stuff all the time. I stopped buying the Sunday supplements and fashion magazines and I unfollowed a whole load of bloggers and Instagramers. I started to realise that I'm not that fussed about 'stuff' anymore. When you're feeling blue, there's perhaps few things more soul destroying than scrolling through a feed of people showing off their free stuff. Perhaps it's an age thing, but I suddenly started to feel a bit of a mug for having previously, on occasion, been influenced by these 'influencers'. 

I'm not saying there aren't people or publications out there that I find inspiring, but I decided it was time to cut through the noise and be more selective in my reading matter. For a start, that meant reading actual books again (how very easy it is to slip into the habit of mindless, pre-bed social media scrolling) and it's been a joy to discover some perspective-giving reads this year (I highly recommend anything by Mitch Albom and Letters of Note, a book guaranteed to shift your mindset if you're having a crappy day.) 

And then I swapped my subscription to Red Magazine for one to CN Traveller. Yes, I'll probably never visit half the places featured in its glossy pages, but it's been a balm for the brain to look at lovely pictures of places instead of heavily marketed pictures of things. I gain no excitement from seeing a photo of a £1500 handbag or a £70 face cream. In fact, I get worked up that £1500 handbags are even a thing. But transporting my mind to a sun-bleached island in the ocean - even if I'm unlikely to ever go there in real life - is a far more life affirming activity. 

Writing (or cooking, painting, sewing...)

There's a reason I write this blog and it's not financial. My mind processes information much better when it's written down and likewise I feel I can express my thoughts better in written form. Whether people read what I write isn't really the point, but having some kind of creative outlet and a place to record my thoughts helps me organise my brain a bit better. 

And of course the act of total absorption in any activity - be it writing, cooking, painting or sewing - is a great way to take a holiday from yourself.

Detangling from the digital world

This is something I've found hardest to do but perhaps the most beneficial of late. Working as a social media manager has meant that sometimes I've become a bit too embedded in the digital environment. I have to be on all the platforms, and while - ostensibly - I might be looking at Facebook for work, it's only a small step from planning a campaign for my job to spending an hour mindlessly trawling through people's supposedly perfect lives (and subsequently feeling a bit shit about my own perceived failure to match their personal and professional achievements.)

As I mentioned earlier, I've found it wonderfully liberating to press the unfollow button on quite a few Instagram accounts recently. I was finding the barrage of sponsored posts and pictures of free things very wearing and not at all inspiring. I'm tired of product placement in flat lays, glossy photos of instgramers touching their hair or wearing unflattering clothes because M&S are paying them to do so. The world is cynical enough as it is.

Thankfully, there are some lovely accounts I'm now following that I find much less mentally aggravating. I'm following a heap of 'ordinary' people who just take nice pictures of the places I love - Ibiza, Italy and France. Genuine and lovely to look at, these accounts don't exist to keep big brands happy. They're just about nice pictures. 

And I'm making a conscious decision to not just unfollow but truly switch off too. It's not always easy but I'm getting there...


Monday, 4 September 2017

A Second Summer of Love in Ibiza

Half way into our second visit to the White Isle I found myself googling "English School Ibiza." Window shopping took on a new meaning as I found myself drawn not to Ibiza Town's boutiques but its estate agents instead. And I spent a good few hours distracted from my holiday reading by considering the feasibility of buying a holiday apartment in our complex (sadly not really feasible in my current financial circumstances.) 

I never expected to feel this way about Ibiza but it's true what they say - there's a unique and special magic about this place that has me well and truly under its spell.

So what is it about this island that makes it so different to other destinations in the Med? Like other places in Southern Europe, it's got all those classic associations of summer holidays - sunshine, olive groves, sandy beaches and cicadas - but there's another something Ibiza brings to the mix, a hard to quantify ambiance that you just don't get elsewhere. 

With a long heritage of being a place of hedonism, experimentation and liberalism, Ibiza has - despite attracting an increasingly monied clientele - a very inclusive, welcoming feel about it. There's a sense that anything is possible here and the zest for life of its lucky inhabitants permeates the island. There's a lot of joy and playfulness in Ibiza and coming back to the UK after a two-week break can feel a dispiriting and grey experience. 

But before you get to enjoy the wonder of the island, you do need to steel yourself for what can be a "lively" outbound journey. Those with a low tolerance of stag and hen parties might struggle to contemplate a 2.5 hour journey surrounded by large groups looking forward to the prospect of a holiday in San Antonio. In our case, we were surrounded by a group of about 20 lads hitting the island's notorious resort for a "three day bender." Sitting behind a couple of them made for informative listening - let's just say that my nine year old now knows the best place to purchase drugs on the San An strip...

But if you can grit your teeth, be assured that Ibiza is not in any way defined by the bright lights and brash nightlife of San An, and you'll find a completely different side to the island everywhere else. Our base just outside Santa Eularia offered easy access to all corners of the island - the great thing about Ibiza is that no journey seems to take longer than 40 minutes making wider exploration of the island really easy. I'd definitely recommend getting a hire car if you want to experience Ibiza properly - it's the only way to explore some of the less obvious beauty spots on the island's stunning coastline, as well as penetrating its tranquil rural heartland. 

New discoveries on this trip included some breathtaking beaches on the Northern Coast, the least developed part of the island. This is my favourite corner of Ibiza, a tranquil and authentic mix of lovely villages and idyllic coves where the water is spectacularly clear and the snorkelling is outstanding. We loved the tiny Cala Xuclar and the blissful S'illot des Rencli, both of which are blessed with incredible waters swimming with an array of fish. 

Inland, Sant Joan is the epitome of Ibiza's hippy identity, a sleepy village that comes to life on market day (Sundays) and features a smattering of lovely cafes and restaurants, including the outstanding Giri Cafe. On the expensive side, we opted to combine a visit to the market with breakfast in the Giri's gorgeous gardens - a truly lovely treat that didn't dent our wallets too badly. 

Brimming with atmosphere and lovely things to buy, the Sant Joan market encapsulates Ibiza's creative and colourful vibe - it's the kind of place where proper old school hippies rub shoulders with beautiful girls selling handmade espadrilles, and open air yoga sessions take place amongst the stalls. A little further up the road lies another of our favourite discoveries this year - the amazing Los Enamorados, a boutique hotel, bar, shop and restaurant in Portinatx. 

A stunning 1960s hotel, this quirky space is a retro lover's dream. Filled with mid-century furniture, '60s glassware and armchairs covered in loud palm tree-printed upholstery, Los Enamorados combines an amazing aesthetic with a lovely position overlooking a quiet bay away from the more touristy end of the town. 

The perfect setting for a sundowner, when I wasn't gawping at the view I was making lots of mental notes for integrating a bit of '60s Ibiza into my own home (do have a look in the gallery to see how pleasing the owners' vision is.)

If '60s-style boutique hotels don't really do it for your children, head up to the Can Marca caves close to San Miquel for something totally different. An underground wonderland brought to life with atmospheric lighting and music, these remarkable caves offer a fun alternative to beaches and swimming pools. 

Heading South, a real highlight of our trip was a visit to the cosmopolitan Cala d'Hort beach, a lovely bay overlooking the famous Es Vedra rock. Come dusk, we headed up to the cliffs for an experience that no visitor to the island should miss - sunset casting a pinky hue over the mystical landmark that has inspired all sorts of myths and legends over the years. It's the perfect place to watch the sun dip into the sea, although in August you'll be joined by quite a lot of other onlookers. 

But there's something very lovely about the elemental experience of a group of people quietly observing this everyday happening. And the sunsets in Ibiza really are very special, inspiring the crowds to speak in hushed voices and clap when the sun finally disappears on the horizon. 

We fell in love with other discoveries on the coastline too - tranquil Cala Mastella on the East Coast for its unspoilt, undiscovered feel (despite being the location of the highly regarded El Bigotes restaurant); S'Estanyol, a lovely bay a short distance from Ibiza Town and venue for one of our blow-out lunches (at the gorgeous Cala Bonita - expensive but idyllic beach-side dining); and Cala Saladeta, an impossibly beautiful sandy beach with breathtaking turquoise waters just 5 minutes from San Antonio. 

We returned to old haunts also, which didn't disappoint second time around - the rural restaurant of La Paloma was every bit as magical as I remembered it, shopping in Sluiz was mental and Ibiza Town was as vibrant and exciting as ever - we even got to see some of the famed club parades this time around and finally made it to S'Escalinata for cocktails. 

Another highlight which we loved first time around was Las Dalias, the venue for our have-kids-will-club experience. Host to a brilliant club night called Acid Sundays, it's a great place to soak up the inimitable spirit of Ibiza's club culture without having to pay epic entry fees. Colourful and fun, this place is everything I love about Ibiza - it's a celebration of life for anyone and everyone, with all ages and nationalities welcome to join the party. 

But all good parties have to come to an end and my children have made noises about trying somewhere different next summer. So perhaps Ibiza in the spring might be nice for a change? Or maybe we'll fit in a child-free weekend so I can realise my ambition to dance the night away in Pacha. One thing's for sure - I'm not ready to put Ibiza out of my mind just yet...

You can read my previous blog post about Ibiza for more travel recommendations here. 

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