This week we have a treat with lots of lovely photographs as Kate Ryder, author of Beneath Cornish Skies, tells us about what she loves about her garden. Over to Kate …
“I like gardening. It’s a place where I find myself when I need to lose myself.” – Alice Sebold, Above and Beyond (interview with Katharine Viner, The Guardian, 23.08.02).
Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog, Morton. Did you know that I was a fellow shortlisted author for ChocLit’s 2016 “Search for a Star”? It’s amazing that you’ve had five books published since winning and number six out soon … Congratulations, by the way!
My latest novel, Beneath Cornish Skies, was published in January and I’m thrilled to say that within three weeks of publication it reached #1 bestselling Kindle in Paranormal Ghost Romance on both Amazon UK and Australia! It’s also available in paperback from Waterstones, W H Smith, Foyles and other major bookshops, and I hope independent bookshops will stock it too.
My garden has been a godsend through three lockdowns, and I’m so pleased my late mother passed on some of her passion for gardening! The Latin names of plants don’t roll off my tongue as they did hers, but when we first moved from the Home Counties to Cornwall the garden was a blank canvas and her guidance helped enormously in creating the one we enjoy today.
I live in a cottage situated in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the jam-first side of the Tamar Valley. When my husband and I first viewed the property, we were informed that it had been repossessed 10 years previously and since rented out. To say it was in a sorry state is an understatement, but as soon as I saw the cottage I knew it would be our future home. At the time of viewing a rainbow arced high over its roof, which helped convince my husband that although he’d moved the sales particulars to the “not of interest” pile, it was the one! Luckily, we were blissfully unaware of the number of years it would take to renovate that Cornish stone cottage, but ultimately it has proved worthwhile. In fact, the discovery of a time capsule hidden by a previous owner inspired me to write Secrets of the Mist – the novel that was shortlisted for ChocLit’s competition under its self-published title, The Forgotten Promise!
Anyway, back to the garden…
At the initial viewing, the estate agent warned us the property needed a fair amount of TLC, and she wasn’t far wrong. It was as good as derelict! The removal of a supporting ground floor wall 30 years previously had caused the floors of the two upper storeys to sag dangerously and we ended up gutting the cottage. The neglected garden comprised one immature Rhododendron and a patch of grass that fell away steeply and was overshadowed by trees. However, a sea of bluebells added a wonderful dash of colour and I was captivated by a glimpse of rolling hills beyond; a beautiful view in any season. An abandoned vegetable patch contained a couple of struggling gooseberry bushes and a small-gauge track ran around the perimeter of the garden – apparently, a former owner had been a model railway enthusiast. And that was it! As with the 200 year old cottage, the garden was crying out for someone to breathe life into it… and I knew just the person!
Once we’d completed the purchase of the property, we wasted no time in hiring a local digger to excavate a driveway – the only parking was in the lane on a first come, first served basis. We employed a couple of ‘old boys’ to build a drystone wall enclosing the car parking area and also to lay a side path where a dilapidated garage had stood before we demolished it. The men must have been all of seventy and soon became a talking point of the village, arriving each day in an ancient tractor with one of them transported in the front bucket! Best of friends since primary school, these master stonemasons bickered like an old married couple in their broad Cornish accents that my southern ear had trouble tuning into.
As soon as the wall was built, we erected trellis fencing on top and I planted climbing plants, such as Virginia Creeper, Honeysuckle, Clematis, Jasmine and Passion Flower, which during lockdown produced fruit for the very first time. Welsh poppies appeared from nowhere and now grace the parking area each year.
Where possible I like to recycle and conserve and we used the soil from the driveway to level the garden. Due to the overshadowing trees it was still in darkness, and sadly we made the decision to remove a few. A couple were ancient, gnarled, apple trees that no longer bore fruit; the last-remaining of an old Tamar Valley orchard. But what on earth was a previous owner thinking when she planted a giant sequoia? It towered above the garden at 60-plus feet and I postponed the fateful day for quite a while before eventually calling a tree surgeon. However, I’m a firm believer in upcycling and the sequoia provided enough timber to create a garden swing, window ledges throughout the cottage and a rustic shelf room divide, which is now filled with books!
Next, we dismantled the remains of the railway track and started to clear foliage from an overgrown rockery. The newly levelled area of garden was grass-seeded and I created a number of flowerbeds, planting shrubs including Camelia, Pieris, Rhododendron, Hydrangea, Japonica and Ceanothus. I also replanted a small clump of bamboo from the family home where I grew up. On a rare day off, I visited nearby Buckland Abbey and when I saw the wonderful Callistemon welcoming guests at its door, I couldn’t resist visiting the plant nursery and treating myself to a Bottlebrush of my own.
The majority of plants soon established, sinking their roots deep into the soil, but others didn’t fare so well. However, it’s a learning curve and, today, the garden has matured wonderfully and the bamboo is an impressive sight! We have a couple of lawned areas; a small copse that will soon be a carpet of bluebells; a stone patio, which is often watched over by the curious heifers that occasionally graze an adjoining field; a large rockery with a natural-looking waterfall that my husband created one year; and a small pond that is home to goldfish, visiting frogs and a number of newts.
Before I started writing full-time I worked as a country property negotiator and at a Bodmin Moor farmhouse I was selling I discovered a standing stone. It lay discarded with several other large granite slabs in a field and the owner of the farmhouse said that if we could lift it into the boot of my car I could have it. Well, I’m not one to baulk at a challenge, so now it has pride of place at the head of the waterfall. The cats love sitting on it, as well as the granite mushroom!
We added an area of decking a couple of years ago, which provides me with a wonderful writing space on warm, sunny days.
We also made the difficult decision regarding a multi-trunked beech tree. Reaching high into the sky, it was a magnificent specimen that unfortunately kept one side of the garden in darkness all year round. It took three men two full days to remove and the wood now provides us with a seemingly never-ending supply of fuel for the woodburner.
It’s hard to believe that next month we will celebrate 20 years of living in that once-abandoned, near-derelict property. Where has the time gone?
As everyone has experienced, life over the last 12 months has been very strange and we decided to give ourselves a lockdown project, turning part of the garden over to vegetable growing. I now have a poly tunnel, two raised beds, a wildflower area to attract pollinators, and four apple trees in pots that last autumn provided an abundant crop of fruit.
Green-fingers crossed, hopefully this particular Tamar Valley market garden will be blooming in 2021. Head gardener, Bella, assures me she will keep a watchful eye over the comings and goings from various vantage points!
Wow, what a lovely story and what gorgeous photographs. Thank you so much for sharing this with us! Mx
About Kate Ryder
Kate Ryder is an Amazon Kindle international best seller who writes timeslip and romantic suspense in a ‘true to life’ narrative. On leaving school she studied drama but soon discovered her preference for writing rather than performing. Since then, she has worked in publishing, tour operating and property, and has travelled widely.
A member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors, in 2017 Kate signed a 4-book contract with Aria (digital imprint of award-winning independent publisher, Head of Zeus).
SUMMER IN A CORNISH COVE, a contemporary romantic suspense set on the Lizard Peninsula, saw her nominated for the RNA’s 2018 Joan Hessayon award, while its standalone sequel, COTTAGE ON A CORNISH CLIFF, reached the heady heights of #2 in Kindle Literary Sagas.
SECRETS OF THE MIST, a mysterious timeslip romance, was not only rated in the #top 50 on Amazon UK Paid Kindle but also achieved #1 Kindle best-selling status in the UK, Canada and Australia. In its original, self-published version as ‘The Forgotten Promise’ it was awarded the first Chill with a Book “Book of the Month”.
Her fourth book, BENEATH CORNISH SKIES, a beautiful romance with a hint of ghostliness set on the north Cornish coast, achieved #1 Kindle best seller on Amazon UK and Australia.
Originally from the South East of England, today Kate lives in Cornwall with her husband and a collection of animals.
Keep in touch with Kate:
About Beneath Cornish Skies
To an outsider, Cassandra Shaw’s life looks perfect. She lives in a beautiful, luxurious house in the English countryside, with a handsome, wealthy boyfriend who insists she needn’t do a day’s work in her life. But Cassie knows that something is not right. Her boyfriend has grown colder, treating her more like a housekeeper than a future wife. And her time feels empty and purposeless.
Cassandra has always been riddled with insecurities and self-doubt, but, just for once, she decides to take a chance on a new beginning. She answers an advert for a live-in nanny, horse trainer, cook and all-round ‘Superhuman’ for a family living in a rambling manor house on the rugged North Cornish coast. The work is hard and tiring, but Cassie has never felt so fulfilled.
As she learns to connect with the natural beauty unfolding around her, Cornwall starts to offer up its secrets and, soon, Cassie starts wondering if she was drawn to this isolated part of the coast for a reason. Why was she guided to Foxcombe Manor? What are the flashes of light she sees in the valley? Is it her imagination or does someone brush past her? And who is the mysterious man living deep in the woods?
A beautiful romance with a hint of ghostliness, Beneath Cornish Skies is for anyone who has ever longed to start their lives again.
To buy the book use the following links: