Make menopause matter


The Oxford English Dictionary describes menopause as ‘the ceasing of menstruation’ and menstruation as ‘the process in a woman of discharging blood and other material from the lining of the uterus at intervals of about one lunar month from puberty until menopause, except during pregnancy.’

Over 60% of women going through the menopause experience symptoms resulting in behaviour changes which can last up to fifteen years and one in four women will experience severe debilitating symptoms. The Local Government Association estimate that over 13 million people in the UK are either menopausal or perimenopausal, yet until relatively recently no one really talked about it. Menopause usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, as a woman’s oestrogen levels decline. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51.

My experience

My periods have been erratic for a number of years now. I was fully aware of the reasons why but aside from the nuisance of going from having periods like clockwork to having, what I thought were an increased number of periods, I felt I was managing well with ‘the change’. However, in June 2021, my periods stopped (a day I had looked forward to for almost 40 years) and soon afterwards I began to experience other symptoms. Definitely a case of be careful what you wish for and better the devil you know.

Following a heatwave, I noticed I was still feeling incredibly hot, even though the temperature had dropped. The heat I soon realised was multiple hot flushes and night sweats. Initially, I thought I could manage these too. ‘Don’t be a baby, you’re just a bit hot’ I told myself. However, for six weeks I didn’t sleep through a single night without waking multiple times feeling that I needed to be wrung out, or have a single day without multiple hot flushes, which started as a tingling sensation around my eyes and cheek bones and quickly crept around my whole body, as if the heat was trying to escape, leaving me feeling so hot I felt as if was going to pass out. If that was not bad enough, I watched, as my hair, which had become incredibly dry, disappeared down the plug hole every time I washed it and pulled masses of it out of my hair brush. Hair loss and hair thinning was not something I was at all prepared for. Beginning to feel rather miserable, I decided it wasn’t funny any more and I needed to seek help.

Perimenopause

The  symptoms I have been experiencing for a few years now, I now know are what is called the perimenopause, that is when a women experiences symptoms due to hormone changes but still has periods that are changing in nature or frequency. 

During perimenopause, because hormone levels are fluctuating, women may have a normal period one month, then it can be heavier or missed altogether, before going back to normal for a time and the odd excess periods that I experienced, I now know courtesy of a friend, are not periods at all, but ‘breakthrough bleeding’ that occurs when a woman starts having less periods. Essentially, she explained to me, when you ovulate, a follicle releases an egg, after which the follicle ‘collapses’ in on itself and becomes a gland.  The gland releases progesterone, a hormone that stops the lining of the womb from thickening, preparing the womb to receive and implant the egg. However, without progesterone to stop the lining from thickening, the thickening keeps on going until it has to stop because it sort of ‘can’t take any more’ and this causes ‘breakthrough bleeding’, with the womb lining coming away in the absence of egg production and therefore not producing progesterone.  

So, rather than menopause being a short sharp event, it is actually the culmination of a gradual process which begins with perimenopause and ends with menopause, when a woman has not had a period for twelve months.

Hormones

Pre menopause the hormones oestrogen and progesterone work together to regulate menstrual cycles and the production of eggs, however a lack of oestrogen can trigger a range of symptoms and as humans have hormone receptors in cells all over our bodies, changes in hormones can affect many parts of our body, even those we wouldn’t expect. The Greene Climacteric Scale (GCS) tracks a list of twenty one symptoms that are often associated with the menopause, these are:

  • Heart beating quickly or strongly
  • Feeling tense or nervous
  • Difficulty in sleeping
  • Excitable
  • Attacks or anxiety, panic
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Feeling tired or lacking energy
  • Loss of interest in most things
  • Feeling unhappy or depressed
  • Crying spells
  • Irritability
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Pressure or tightness in the head
  • Parts of the body feeling numb
  • Headaches
  • Muscle and joint pains
  • Loss of feeling in hands or feet
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Hot flushes
  • Sweating at night
  • Loss of interest in sex

I have experienced many of the symptoms on the list but it is not exhaustive and there can be many other symptoms too. One thing I have learned about the menopause is there doesn’t seem to be a ‘normal’ at all, with women having both similar but individual menopause experiences. It should however be possible to diagnose the menopause on symptoms alone and before I saw my doctor, I completed a symptom checker document which can be downloaded from websites that provide information about menopause.

The importance of oestrogen

Oestrogen is important in various ways. Firstly, it provides lubrication for joints and prevents inflammation, it can also affect the texture of hair, with a lack of oestrogen leaving it prone to breaking. As oestrogen declines, androgens (a collective term for male hormones) sometimes become more prominent. This imbalance of hormones shrinks hair follicles making hair fine and it is also responsible for facial hair.

Oestrogen helps protect against osteoporosis. Around 10 per cent of a woman’s bone is lost in the first five years of the menopause and this increases the risk of osteoporosis which weakens bones and makes them more likely to break. Until we are around 30 we normally build more bone than we lose, however during menopause bone breakdown occurs at a faster rate than bone build up, resulting in a loss of bone mass. Oestrogen also protects against other long terms health issues such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia.

While hot flushes are one of the most well known symptoms of the menopause, the reason for these is not really known. Some believe falling progesterone levels affect noradrenaline, another hormone that regulates our body temperature. Oestrogen also directly affects the thermoregulatory areas of our brain. There is no normal number, frequency or duration for these. In my case, from the time I started experiencing these symptoms, I didn’t go a day without hot flushes or night sweats and they happened multiple times a day. On particularly bad days, they were as little as 50 minutes apart and lasted for around a minute at a time.

Here and now

At the time of writing this post I am two and a half way weeks into taking HRT. This is not a decision I ever thought I would make and I was anxious about starting the treatment but I appear to be tolerating it and I am seeing signs of improvement. The past couple of months have felt overwhelming both in terms of the physical symptoms I have been experiencing but also because of all the learning I suddenly found myself needing to do. However my current mood is cautiously hopeful. Writing this post has partly been about me trying to understand what is happening to my body, while wanting to raise awareness and encourage women to educate themselves about the menopause before it happens to them but it really only touches the surface of all things menopause.

I feel very fortunate, that at the time I am going through this, people are beginning to think differently about menopause and rather than it being a taboo subject, are now talking about it openly. I am grateful for not going through this even thirty years ago, to have a couple of friends who were happy to talk to me when I was feeling at my worst and for a lovely and understanding doctor, which I know is not everyone’s experience.

Since 2011, World Menopause Day has taken place in October each year and as a result of campaigning, from September 2020, menopause was added to the RSE curriculum in England. The Make Menopause Matter campaign is calling for all GPs to receive mandatory menopause training and for a mandatory menopause module to be taught at every medical school, meaning that women in the future will be much more informed than I was. And on 29 October a second reading of the MP Support for Private Members’ Bill: Menopause (Support and Services) will take place. This is an important opportunity for women and families as it aims to improve the support and services given to those experiencing Menopause in the UK, including, crucially, the exemption of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) from National Health Service prescription charges.

Further information

The Balance website and The Balance App have been an enormous help to me. The website has a fabulous search function so you can search for specific symptoms and find articles, factsheets and videos relating to these, while the app allows users to journal their symptoms. The book Preparing for the Perimenopause and Menopause was a big help to me too.

There are other websites and books too. Some of these can be found below.

Treatment options

Campaign work

Training and education

National Institute for Healthcare Excellence

If you want to go on HRT but are struggling with getting this prescribed, guidelines to improve the consistency of support and information provided to women in menopause can be found on the National Institute for Healthcare Excellence website.

The graduate

In July 2021 I graduated from the Open University with a Bachelor of Science First Class Honours degree.

tonimum

I had began studying with The Open University in 2002 and in June 2009 I graduated without Honours.  For someone who didn’t enjoy school and was painfully shy, never wanting to put her hand up in class to give an answer or ask a question, for fear of drawing attention to herself, this felt like a huge achievement.

I always tried hard in school but the grades I got for effort, never matched my attainment grades, which were often disappointingly low. I chose to leave school at 16 years of age having convinced myself it wasn’t the place for me but when I told my English teacher I was going out to work, she told me I could do better for myself than that. It was as I recall, a short exchange of words but it was the first time anyone had indicated they thought I could achieve anything and the words stayed with me, niggling way, until eventually I embarked on my first OU course, some 15 years after I left school.

Beginning with a short course about The Human Genome, a subject I was interested in because I am diagnosed with a genetic condition. The course was only for a few weeks long but it gave me a chance to get back into learning and also get into distance learning, which is quite different to studying in a classroom and requires much more discipline. My final course was titled ‘Innovation: designing for a sustainable future’ and was a project based course. The blog I created during the project can be viewed below.

Steps and a shiny floor are not a good combination for someone with a neuromuscular condition and as I watch the film my dad took of me graduating, it really shows but I was so proud of myself that day and even more so when I watch the film and hear my dad shouting as I collect my award – I didn’t hear that on the day, as we were sat miles apart, although I see me looking for him and having safely reached the foot of the stairs I remember turning and giving him a big wave, as I now knew he was sat somewhere up in the Gods.

Exhausted, having worked full time throughout, I decided to take a year out before completing my Honours year and that year turned into twelve. However, in late 2020, I found myself with the opportunity to finish what I started and I enrolled to complete my Honours year. When given the opportunity to write my own research question, I chose to write about the material and attitudinal barriers faced by people with disabilities and gained my second distinction. It was a tough year as I knew it would be, made tougher still by a global pandemic but in July 2021 I proudly accepted an offer of a First Class Honours degree, the same year that I turned fifty years old.

Toni’s graduation: 5 June 2009, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

More photos

The Dope Judies

During world war two, my grandmother, Delia Eileen Abram (nee Clarke) worked at Sywell Aerodrome in Northamptonshire, repairing the Irish linen skin covering on the bodywork of Wellington bombers.

nan-2

The aerodrome  dates back to 1927 when local landowner, Mr Harold Brown agreed to let 55 acres of his land off the Holcot Lane, adjacent the Belman Gate, to the Northamptonshire Aero Club. Today it has evolved from a world war two RAF facility into general aviation airfields.

During the second world war activities at Sywell included the expansion of flying training, repairs to 1,841 of the RAF’s Wellington bombers and completion and flight testing of some 100 Lancaster mark two, four engined bombers. Brooklands Aviation Ltd oversaw the use of the ‘shadow factory scheme’ and saw two major sites used for aircraft overhaul and maintenance.

  • Site number one concentrated on Wellington repair and Lancaster construction.
  • Site number two site was based at Buttocks Booth in Moulton mainly for Wellington work.

Wellington Bombers flying in formation.Wellington Bombers flying in formation.

Other local engineering shops and businesses were subcontracted to undertake specific component repair too, including Earl’s Barton Motors (Abram’s garage) which was run by my great grandfather Joseph Charles Abram. A document from the Harrington Museum states:

‘The number or aircraft needing repair increased rapidly during 1940 and the accommodation at the main centre at Sywell was found to be inadequate. This together with the policy of dispersal and the benefit of taking work to the people instead of the reverse with consequent saving in travelling, led to premises being requisitioned including Abram’s Garage, Earls Barton – used for undercarriage and bomb beams.’

The full document can be viewed below.

Second World War recruitment poster.

Second World War recruitment poster.

Around 2,000 people worked for Brooklands either directly or indirectly during world war two. However, as the men were conscripted, much of the work fell to women to undertake, including driving the roof cranes that shifted wings and tail fins into position, installing electrics and stitching a planes linen carapace.

The women who recovered and stitched the linen on airframes were nicknamed ‘Dope Judies’.  The word dope referred to the layers of dope that formed the outer skin of the aircraft that the Irish linen was treated with.

Flight Mechanic website explains:

‘Fabric-covered aircraft play an important role in the history of aviation. The famous Wright Flyer utilized a fabric-covered wood frame in its design, and fabric covering continued to be used by many aircraft designers and builders during the early decades of production aircraft. The use of fabric covering on an aircraft offers one primary advantage: light weight. In contrast, fabric coverings have two disadvantages: flammability and lack of durability.Finely woven organic fabrics, such as Irish linen and cotton, were the original fabrics used for covering airframes, but their tendency to sag left the aircraft structure exposed to the elements. To counter this problem, builders began coating the fabrics with oils and varnishes. In 1916, a mixture of cellulose dissolved in nitric acid, called nitrate dope, came into use as an aircraft fabric coating. Nitrate dope protected the fabric, adhered to it well, and tautened it over the airframe. It also gave the fabric a smooth, durable finish when dried.’

Wellingtons under construction, showing the geodetic airframe.
Wellington bombers under construction, showing the airframe.

Stitching  tightly with a curved needle, at a regulation eight stitches per inch, so the wind could not rip the seams open, the mostly female workforce worked 12 hour shifts, six days a week, in damp unheated hangars.  

Sources

 
Further information
 

Thompson, Munns and Peach families

Prior to marrying my great grandmother Milly May Bowers, my great grandfather Joseph Charles Abram was married to Lucy Thompson.  Although not an actual ancestor, I have discovered her  family to be very interesting, so their stories appear below.

The lost art of typewriting

Recently while reviewing a document I had written, Microsoft Word admonished me with the warning ‘only one space between words is better’. Oh no, I thought, not you too. The issue had come up in an office I worked in a few years earlier, with younger members of the team happy to inform me what I was doing wrong. The world it would seem had changed as the typewriter gave way to the computer. Type ‘one space or two after a full stop’ into a search engine and you will see the debate that is raging.

Thoughtful typist.

I learned to type in high school, in the 1980’s on a manual typewriter. I can still remember the click clack hammering sound of the keys being struck, the sound of the carriage return lever being hit when I needed to start a new line, the bell as the roller returned to the left hand margin and the sound of the roller as it turned moving the paper up out of the machine. Electric typewriters came along not long afterwards (although my first exams were taken on manual typewriters) and computers came fast on their heels.

History

In the 1860s, Christopher Latham Sholes, an amateur inventor in Milwaukee invented the first typewriter, which he developed with Samuel Soulé, James Densmore and Carlos Glidden and first patented in 1868. Resembling a piano, it was originally built with an alphabetical arrangement of 28 keys, so everyone would know where to find them. In 1878 US Patent Number 207,559 marked the first documented appearance of the QWERTY layout and a deal with gun maker Remington, proved to be a huge success.

Remington typewriter advert.

By 1890, there were more than 100,000 QWERTY based Remington produced typewriters in use across the country and in 1893 when the five largest typewriter manufacturers – Remington, Caligraph, Yost, Densmore and Smith-Premier merged to form the Union Typewriter Company, they  agreed to adopt QWERTY as the design we know today.  However, the monospace type of a manual typewriter did not create a sufficient visual space between the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next, so users needed to use two spaces in order that sentences did not run into one another. Today with proportional fonts, only one space is necessary to create the necessary separation but for those of us who had it drilled into us that two spaces should always be used after a full stop, it a hard habit to break. 

Vintage typewriter keyboard.

A learned skill

If you wanted to work in an office, typewriting was a skill that had to be learned and for which exams were sat and qualifications achieved. Typewriters were complex pieces of machinery as can be seen in the illustration below. The strange unfamiliar arrangement of the keys was the first of many things I had to learn before I could begin typing, such as how to insert a sheet of paper, how to wind the roller to bring the paper in and out of the machine, how to adjust the paper if it wasn’t straight and how to hold the paper in place with a ruled metal bar which was also used for setting margins and tabs. 

Remington typewriter parts.

Diagram showing Remington typewriter parts.   

As my training progressed, I learned to touch type by typing the same letters over and over, for example asdsd, fadsf, dfsaf, so I would learn where the keys were without looking, before progressing to ‘the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’. I was taught how to layout letters correctly, sometimes with full punctuation (that is using commas within dates and addresses); how to type envelopes and labels and I learned that the word ‘stet’ next to words that had been crossed through or changed, meant the writer wanted me to ignore the alteration – the word means ‘let it stand’. If my letter was to have an enclosure, the letters Enc needed to be added to the bottom of the letter.

kayser-bonder

Example of a letter using full punctuation.  

Then there was carbon paper, thin paper coated with ink which was used for making duplicate copies of a  document. So for example you may be asked to produce a letter with two carbon copies, say an office copy and a copy for another recipient and would have to construct a sandwich made of paper and carbon paper which then needed to be fed into the typewriter. Copy letters needed to have the letters  CC and the name of the recipient inserted at the end of the letter, so that everyone could see who received a copy of that letter. However, if you wanted copies of a letter to be sent without everyone knowing who had received it, you had to instead handwrite the letters BCC, which stood for blind carbon copy, along with the name of the recipient on the copy letter only (and also remember to put the right letter in the right envelope). Speed tests were undertaken too, as typing exams were timed, so you needed to be able to produce your work in the allocated time when you came to sit your exam. I remember feeling terrifically proud of mine, which were signed by my typing teacher and my headmaster.

Speed test certificate.Speed test certificate.

There was one font size and font style but no way to emphasise text in bold or italics. The typewriter ribbon, black on the top half, red on the bottom half, allowed the typist to type in one of the two colours, depending on how the machine was set. The ribbon also needed to be changed regularly by reaching into the top of the machine, removing the ribbon spool and replacing it with a new one.  Underlining if required was done by repeatedly hitting the underline key the length and distance of the text that needed underlining. Tables were created in a similar manner and rows and columns of figures had to be lined up correctly and evenly spaced. It was slow, methodical, detailed work and any mistakes had to be corrected manually, using a typewriter pencil, tippex liquid or tippex paper. However, presentation was of the utmost importance, so if errors could not be corrected neatly, you would need to start over with your document. 

type-a-letter-exerciseExample of an instruction to type a letter.

Examinations

I remember undertaking many practice papers in preparation for my exams and anxiously waiting my results. RSA and Pitman were the typewriting qualification boards and they had strict rules that needed to be adhered to if you wanted to pass your exams, meaning that attention to detail was a must. Two spaces after a full stop or a colon and one after a comma or semi colon were essential and you lost marks if you failed to do this.

RSA exams were timed and assessed in three areas – production (completing the work in the given time), accuracy and presentation. Failing in one area meant you failed the whole exam. Candidates could achieve RSA qualifications at three levels – elementary level (RSA one), intermediate level (RSA two) and advanced level (RSA three).

type-a-letter-exercise-2
Instruction to type a letter.

Today I am the proud holder of RSA qualifications at levels one, two and three, an RSA elementary qualification in audio typing, Pitman advanced and elementary qualifications, along with Computer Literacy and Information Technology (CLAIT) and European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) qualifications. Then I learned how to create and update websites too, which I have now done for over 15 years. And I feel proud, not only for me but for those who went before me, doing it the hard way, learning their craft before computers ruled the world and then, as we entered the digital age, learning new skills and ways of doing things. 

So, if you feel annoyed when seeing two spaces after a full stop, just for a moment consider how important it actually is. And remember, there was a time when two spaces were the standard and the only way to do things. Typing wasn’t always as easy as it is today. And finally, you never know what changes may happen in your own lifetime, so maybe take a moment to think before you dismiss someone’s way of doing things out of hand. Be kind to those who may do things differently to you, as one day, you may find yourself in their shoes.

Note

Microsoft Word now enables users to change document spacing. If like me you find two spaces a hard habit to break but need to work to a house style, select editor on your toolbar, then ‘punctuation conventions’ and ‘one space’. Further information can also be found in help by typing ‘change the spacing between text.’

Sources

Further information 

Ordinary women, extraordinary lives

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by history but more recently I have become intrigued as to why women’s lives so often seem to go unrecorded, devaluing and silencing their achievements and why it is that as we get older, society so often dismisses us, when in fact there is a lifetime of achievements, experiences and stories to share. On this page, I share some of my favourite stories of ordinary women who led extraordinary lives and whose achievements should never be forgotten.


Hazel Hill

During the 1930’s, Hazel Hill, a 13 year old girl, figured out the precise mathematical calculations to enable improvements to be made to Spitfires, increasing the number of guns to eight from four and helping to win the war.  A 30 minute documentary about Hazel can be viewed below.

Hazel_Hill
Hazel Hill

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks helped initiate the civil rights movement in the United States when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955.

rosa-parks
Rosa Parks

Mary Ellis

Mary Ellis joined the Air Transport Auxiliary after hearing an advertisement for women pilots on BBC radio and was responsible for delivering Spitfires and bombers to the front line.

mary-ellisMary Ellis

The women of NASA

In the 1940s, a group of female scientists were the human computers behind the biggest advances in aeronautics, breaking down gender and racial barriers at the same time.

Katherine_Johnson_at_NASA,_in_1966
Katherine Johnson, whose calculations of at NASA
were critical to the success of the first and subsequent
US crewed spaceflights.

The Mercury 13

On 9 April 1959, NASA announced that seven men, who would become known as the Mercury 7, would go into space. At the same time,  thirteen women, enrolled on a privately funded program, successfully underwent the same physiological screening tests. The women never went to space.

mercury-13
From left to right Gene Nora Jessen, Wally Funk, Jerrie Cobb, Jerri Truhill, Sarah Ratley, Myrtle Cagle and Bernice Steadman, seven of the First Lady Astronaut Trainees (FLATS) photographed in 1995.


Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr was an  actress famous for films such as Samson abnd Delilah and White Cargo. She was also an inventor who pioneered the technology that would one day form the basis for today’s WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth communication systems.

hedy
Hedy Lamarr

Striking female machinists at the Ford Motor company

On 29 May 1970, two years after going on strike, 187 women working at a factory in East London witnessed their hard work pay off when the Equal Pay Act received royal assent. Coming into force five years later, the Act sought to ‘prevent discrimination, as regards terms and conditions of employment, between men and women’. This meant that it was required for men and women ‘in the same employment to be treated equally, in terms of their pay and conditions of work.

Further information

Jeremiah Maloney

Jeremiah Maloney was the son of my great great great grandmother Ann Abram (nee Cox).  On the 1861 census, I have been able to locate Ann, living with my great great great grandfather, where Joseph, a shoemaker aged 23 and Ann aged 21 were living at 4 Lower River Terrace, St Sepulchre in Northamptonshire with three children, Emma, Charles (my great great grandfather aged 1) and Harriett. The photo below was given to me by my relative Margaret Creighton in Australia. Jeremiah is shown wearing a British army uniform but also a turban which appears to have a Northamptonshire Regiment badge on it.

jeremiah-maloney

Sadly, it appears that Joseph died aged just 28.  The death certificate shows he had been suffering from Phthisis Pulmonalis (Tuberculosis) for 13 months. In 1869 Ann appears to have married William Maloney and her story continues on the 1871 census, where, aged 31, she is living at St George Square in Northampton but now with William Maloney of Ireland, Charles (aged 11 and recorded as Charles Abram Maloney) and three other children, George, Emma and John W Maloney.

In 1881 William and Ann can be found living at 12 Alpha Street, Northampton, with four children, Jeremiah (aged 9), Eugene, William and John Maloney.  Finally, in 1891, Ann can be found at 50 Adelaide Street, Northampton.  She is a widow and working as a laundress. Eugene, William and John are still living with her.

Jeremiah Maloney does not appear on the 1891 census with his mother and siblings but I believe I have located him, aged 19, living as a boarder at Luther Street, Leceister in the home of William and Sarah Abrams (both recorded as being born in Northamptonshire) and their children Herbert and Amy, along with two other boarders,  Ellen Maloney aged 24 and and Eva M aged 1.  (I believe that Jeremiah Maloney married Ellen Frost in 1889).

Jeremiah’s army service records are detailed below.

  • First name(s) Jeremiah
  • Last name Maloney
  • Birth year 1871
  • Birth parish St Sepulchres
  • Birth town Northampton
  • Birth county Northamptonshire
  • Birth country England
  • Service number 6568
  • Regiment Northamptonshire
  • Regiment Year 1902
  • Attestation date 12 Mar 1902
  • Attestation age years 31
  • Attestation corps 3rd Northamptonshire
  • Document type Attestation
  • Series Wo 96 – Militia Service Records 1806-1915
  • Archive The National Archives
  • Archive reference WO 96 Box851
  • Box record number 286
  • Record set British Army Service Records
  • Category Military, armed forces & conflict
  • Subcategory Regimental & Service Records
  • Collections from Great Britain, England

The South Africa 1900-1902 Medal Roll, 3rd Militia Battalion records a Private J Maloney,  was awarded the Queens South Africa Medal with Claps for Cape Colony and South Africa 1902.

Hydrangea

Hydrangeas are deciduous hardy shrubs. There are many different types of hydrangea, including mophead hydrangeas with their huge flowerheads and lacecap hydrangeas which have smaller more delicate flowers. The word hydrangea is derived from the Greek word hydor meaning ‘water’ and angeion meaning ‘vessel’.

hydrangea-10

All photos by Toni Abram.

Hydrangeas should be planted in spring after the last spring frost or in autumn before the first winter frost. They can be grown in pots or borders and should be planted in a partially shaded, sheltered spot, in moist but well drained soil.

I have mine planted in a spot that is in full sun for much of the day. This is definitely a case of ‘don’t do as I do.’ As happy as my hydrangea is, it can struggle on very hot days. It is however very good at communicating it is thirsty, with the flowers going floppy and sad looking, however within a short time of watering, the plant perks right up again.

I have a blue hydrangea which I have worked to keep that way by planting it in ericaceous soil and using hydrangea colourant, which can be purchased from a garden centre or online and can either be sprinkled around the base of the plant or added to water. The flowers on my plant range from dark inky blue, light blue, purple, lilac and lavender, all on the same plant at the same time.

hydrangea-9hydrangea-7hydrangea-8

I also have a pink hydrangea, which I got by taking a cutting of my blue hydrangea and planting it in general purpose compost. The colours of the flower on this plant also vary and change throughout the lifetime of the flower.

hydrangea-mum

While changing the colour of hydrangea flowers is possible, it isn’t instant and not every hydrangea will change colour. It should also be noted that it’s easier to change blue flowers to pink than pink flowers to blue.

As the flowers of a hydrangea fade (they tend to go a bit grey when they are past their best), they should be deadheaded to encourage more flowers. During late summer, it is also easy to take hydrangea cuttings and you can learn how to do this below.

How to take hydrangea cuttings

Hydrangea flowers are attractive over the winter months too and they will help protect your plant from frost damage, if you leave them over the winter months.

hydrangea-12hydrangea-11

Common problems

There are few pests and diseases to be concerned about when growing hydrangeas. Those grown in pots may be prone to vine weevil attack and some plants can be damaged by frost as described above. Powdery mildew, leaf spot wilt and blight can also appear on hydrangeas. Common pests include aphids and red spider mites.

Hydrangea cuttings

I have had a hydrangea plant in my garden for many years now. It is a beautiful blue variety and I keep it that way with ericaceous soil and hydrangea colourant, both of which can be purchased in garden centres or online.

hydrangea-6

All photos by Toni Abram.

The plant is a real conversation starter, so a couple of years ago I decided to experiment to see if I could take cuttings to give to neighbours and was really happy to find how easy it is to do in just four easy steps.

Step one

Take a cutting from a branch of the hydrangea about 5 – 6″ long just underneath a leaf node.

hydrangea-1

Step two

Remove all but the top two leaves.

hydrangea-2

Step three

Cut the remaining top two leaves in half.

hydrangea-3

Step four

Plant and water cuttings (you can use rooting powder at this stage but I never have). The cuttings are best taken when the plant is looking its best – sometime from July onwards.

hydrangea-4

Don’t expect the cuttings to do anything much over the autumn/winter, however from March onwards you will begin to see new growth and you can expect to have a reasonable sized plant the following summer.

hydrangea-5

Echinacea

Echinaceas bloom in late summer. They have pronounced rounded centres (known as cones), horizontal drooping petals and are loved by bees and butterflies. There are many varieties and the plant is often used to help alleviate skin rashes and to boost the immune system.

All photos by Toni Abram.

lgdaisy1

Similar to heleniums, echinaceas have daisy like flowers but they are stiff stemmed and more robust looking, which means the plant should not need staking. They grow well in full sun and can tolerate drought due to deep taproots which enable them to store water.

pin-ech


Echinaceas can be grown from seed and should flower in their first year if planted by March but I have always purchased well grown plants from a garden centre or online.

They can be planted in pots or garden borders but once planted you should try not to disturb them – if you do have to move or divide them, spring is the best time and you must dig as large a root ball as you can manage around the plant and replant it immediately.

echinacea

Flowering time can be prolonged by cutting dead flowers back to a leaf where you can see a new bud developing, however towards the end of flowering, it is worth leaving some flowers on the plant to dry and go to seed for winter interest in the garden.

ech

A perennial plant, echinaceas die back over the winter months but will re-grow the following summer, spreading and self sowing each year.

Peas

Peas are incredibly easy to grow, so good to try your hand at if you are new to growing your own, as you can usually see them beginning to grow within a week of planting them.

All photos by Toni Abram.

pea-pod

I have grown peas for a good few years now. Previously I have grown them up a wigwam type structure (if you have been watching Grow Your Own at Home this year, this is the way David Domony grew his) but this year I decided to live dangerously and instead planted my peas in a row, in a trough. I was a bit concerned about the size of the trough and that my plants wouldn’t get enough sunlight where the trough is situated in the garden but I need not have worried, they grew just fine.

I started my peas off in small pots in the kitchen and when they got to a good size, I planted them outside, each time planting some more in the house.

peas-pot


I tied some garden canes together to make a framework for my peas to grow up and it made it easy to see which plants were doing well and which were struggling.

peas-trough

pea-flowers

The plan had been to do successional planting (sowing little and often so I didn’t get a glut or a shortage), meaning that I would have peas for best part of the summer but something got a taste for them and many times I found myself replacing once healthy plants that got eaten overnight.

Towards the end of June, flowers appeared and soon afterwards my plants became heavy with pea pods. It is always very tempting to want to eat the peas as soon as the pods appear but if you can stop yourself from eating them, you will get bigger and fatter peas.

pea-pods

pea-plants

Home grown peas taste amazing, I happily eat mine straight from the pods and would definitely encourage anyone with an interest in growing their own produce, to have a go at growing their own  too.

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pea-pods-3
peas