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2015: My Year in Pictures

Happy New Year lovely people! I always like to start a shiny new year with a little reflection - looking back on the highs and lows, and looking forward by setting a focus and some intentions for the year ahead. One of the main ones this year is to live more in the moment, and to develop my meditation and mindfulness practice to help with that. But I don't think that means that you shouldn't reflect on what has been - I find I can learn a great deal that way, when it is done with kindness to myself. And it helps me realise how much I have to be thankful for, and how far I've come.

I thought I would gather together some of my favourite images of 2015 in some seasonal collections this time. It's always so hard to choose, but here are the Spring shots that make me smile:

I had the pleasure of discovering Merriments Garden, near Hawkhurst in Kent, and seeing it change colour through the seasons. There were plenty of walks on the beach in my beautiful new home town of Seaford. I was overjoyed to find row upon row of pretty colourful beach huts and soft sand and dunes at West Wittering. Then there were the beautiful tulips at Pashley Manor Gardens and the spectacular display of bluebells on the Arlington Bluebell Walk.

And here we have my summer picks (just look at all that colour!):

There was more feasting on colour at Merriments Garden, fun hunting down the colourful beach huts at Littlehampton and East Preston, a day of marvelling at the beauty and variety of the flowers at West Dean Gardens, and lots of time to enjoy the sunshine at home in Seaford.

And then we move on to one of my favourite seasons for colour and marvelling at the beauty of the world around us - Autumn:

I absolutely adore autumn. This year I had the pleasure of discovering some new haunts, including Sheffield Park & Gardens. But I had to return to my all time favourite, Westonbirt Arboretum, for a birthday photography shoot - their collection of Acers cannot be beaten.

And then to round things up, I have a collection of seascapes for you, as my first year living by the sea in East Sussex has meant lots of visits to the coast. I have thoroughly loved discovering so many new places and look forward to lots more of that next year. I am so deeply grateful that after years and years of discussion we were able to make our dream of living by the sea a reality. I love it here so much!

The first row shows Camber Sands, a beautiful big stretch of sandy beach with dunes behind and so much S P A C  E. Then we have the breathtaking Birling Gap, with its tall, sheer white chalky cliffs and giant rocks - I just adore this place - somewhere to really feel the power of nature and put your troubles in perspective. Row three are some favourites of Westward Ho! on a gorgeous summer evening - I love the space here and the beautiful pebbles. And finally we have a collection of shots showing Seaford Head and Cuckmere Haven (some of you may recognise this from the recent Luther episode) - the scenery that tempted us to move to Seaford.

If you'd like to see the full images, do have a browse through my 2015 Faves album on Flickr and you might also like to follow along on Instagram too.

So let me end by wishing you all a very Happy New Year, filled with many happy moments, and many flashes of inspiration. I'm off to ponder my 2016 goals and intentions and write them down in my 2016 planner :)

Thank you for being a part of my journey, and for all your support and encouragement - it is much appreciated xxx

Why I photograph & the magic of bluebells

The lovely Melanie of Geoffery and Grace asked me a little while ago why I photograph? A wonderful question. You can read Melanie's answer in her why I take photographs blog post. For my part, I think these beautiful bluebells do a good job of answering the question.

Quite simply, I love to capture and share the beauty around me. I think our world is pretty amazing. The strapline of my blog is "beautiful simplicity" and I think that sums up my photographic style nicely. I love to seek out special places and try and capture some essence of their magic and beauty to inspire and uplift. I'm not one for darkness and gritty reality (I think we all deal with enough of that in our day to day lives!), so many of my photos will be light and bright, full of space, with a soft, dreamy quality. I love to shoot wide open with a very shallow depth of field and often intentionally blow the highlights to try and recreate the same quality of light that only our eyes can see. A friend once said the sun always shines on Zoë's side of the beach :)

Photography is a compulsion for me. I have a strong urge to create and photography is one of my favourite outlets. I get twitchy if I haven't taken a photo for a while! I'm constantly seeing photo opportunities wherever I go. I don't think it stops me being present, in some ways I think it enhances my senses, as I try and take in and feel all that is around me. I totally lose myself in it. I guess it's that feeling that I try to capture in my photos, not a realistic copy of what was there, but my impression of what I saw and felt. The world through Zoë's rose tinted, dreamy spectacles.

I also think that capturing memories is a big part of why I photograph. I have a terrible memory and find so much slips away from me so easily. I love to look back through photo albums and remember happy times - often it's a small detail that sparks something off. I've been making a huge effort recently to organise my photos and my memories (whilst I still have them!) into some yearly photobooks. I've just completed the 2014 version and will share more about it in another post.

The photos above were taken on the Arlington Bluebell Walk on Bank Holiday Monday. It was my first visit and SUCH a magical place. I wish you could hear the birds singing and feel the sun on your face. The sight of those bluebell carpets, dotted with white wood anemones, glistening in the sunshine really does lift the spirits. The woodland was so well cared for and surrounded by countryside and it was so lovely to see so many people out and about enjoying our wonderful world (although I'm glad we got there early when the paths were quieter!).

Why do YOU photograph?

Pretty pastel beach hut love

I was super excited to finally make it to West Wittering on a beautiful sunny day last week. West Wittering is beach hut paradise, complete with soft sand dunes, and has been on my hit list for quite some time. Well, let's just say I fell in love!

Imagine row upon row of pretty wooden beach huts, each one different, painted all the colours of the rainbow. All nestled into the dunes on the softest sand.

I especially loved the stripey pastel ones...

We had lots of fun taking some portraits on the verandahs once the beach had emptied a bit. Look, I match the pink one perfectly - it must be mine! I much prefer being behind the lens rather than in front of it, but even I made an exception for such a pretty location :) Photos of me taken by my lovely husband, alpower.com.

These little wooden beauties are surprisingly expensive - think £25k+ ballpark for what is essentially a shed to keep your sunchairs and beach gear in and make tea! Rather outside my reach, but I'm planning on getting something similar for my garden instead, to paint in pretty pastel stripes :)

I can't tell you how lovely it was to feel soft warm sand beneath my feet, the sun on my face, whilst listening to the waves lapping at the shore. It was high tide when we arrived, the sea just a few metres away from where we were sitting. Absolute bliss! I will most definitely be back. There is so much to explore in the area (Hayling Island, Chichester, Bosham, Arundel) - hopefully we can come for longer next time. Any other recommendations for beautiful beaches and places to visit in Sussex always gratefully received - we have so much still to discover :)

In case you haven't seen enough(!), a few more beach huts can be found in my West Wittering Album on Flickr. I hope you enjoy the remainder of the long weekend - finger's crossed the sun will shine tomorrow!

Spring spectacular at Merriments Garden

Since we left Oxford at the end of last year I've been on the hunt for some new gardens to frequent - I need a regular dose of beautiful blooms! I'd been totally spoiled in the past by having the University of Oxford Botanic Garden on my doorstep. So I was very happy indeed to discover the beautiful Merriments Garden, near Hawkhurst and Ticehurst.

We visited twice last week and ended up joining their garden club so we can visit as many times as we like over the year - hurrah! I'm so glad we made it in time to see the blossom in all its glory. There is the most amazing cherry blossom tree over-hanging the Monet pond with a beautiful blue bridge. The petals were falling like confetti and floating in the water - it reminded me of a pointillist painting. I feel privileged to have seen it - a week later it was all gone - so precious and so fleeting...

We also timed it perfectly to see their beautiful and very colourful display of tulips, part of their "Spring Spectacular". The garden isn't huge, about 4 acres - but it's jam packed with flowers, just the way I like it. It's beautifully designed too, with so many different viewpoints and gardens within gardens, places to sit and ponder, and lots of curves. It gets a big thumbs-up from me!

There were so many different kinds of tulips and every colour imaginable - it really was a feast for the eyes. I loved the combinations - lots of ideas to take away for my garden at home...

These ones reminded me of raspberry ripple ice-cream!

But it's not just tulips - there were so many other flowers out too, including the most delicate fritillaries. And lots of blossom. Please excuse the gratuitous photos - I just adore blossom and can't get enough of it! We sat and picnicked under the beautiful pink number below in the car park field. Is there anything finer then picnicking under blossom filled blue skies? I really don't think so!

Oh and I mustn't forget the Magnolias, looking glorious in the sunshine.

My apologies for such a picture-heavy post - and believe me, there are many more! If you are anywhere near this beautiful garden, I highly recommend a visit - I can't wait to go back in a month or so. If you are in the area, there is another lovely garden nearby in Ticehurst you must see, which also has a tulip festival on at the moment and is looking rather spectacular: Pashley Manor Gardens. But I'll save those photos for another day and another post!

Sunny strolls around Seaford and the Birling Gap

Hello there folks! I had a lovely Easter break with my sister, who came to stay with her husband and two little dogs. We had lots of fun showing them round our beautiful new coastline. I managed to take quite a few photos, once the sun finally decided to shine, and thought I'd share some here so you can see something of the beautiful East Sussex coastline. We're on "staycation" next week (moving house is rather expensive, but we don't feel the need to get away anyway as there's so much to explore right on our doorstep) so things will be a little quiet on the blog. But I suspect this will be followed by a large outpouring of photos of our travels! I'm so looking forward to be doing something other than DIY :)

Those of you who follow along on Instagram will have seen plenty of these pretty pastel beach huts at Seaford - I can never resist a shot! So apologies for sharing more here, but I thought these magnificent clouds were too amazing to stay locked away on my computer!

We drove the very scenic route from Seaford to the Birling Gap and headed up on the cliff path with the dogs. We wandered in the direction of Cuckmere Haven, taking in the stunning views and trying not to get too close to the edge. I'm forever worrying about tourists who go so close - it's hard to see how sheer (or crumbly) the cliffs are when you are up there.

We congratulated ourselves on packing a picnic and sat admiring the beautiful views whilst munching our sandwiches in the sunshine for free :) I can't recommend this route highly enough - but be warned, it is very strenuous - lots of very steep inclines and declines - my bottom is still feeling it from our weekend walk!!

By the time we returned to the Birling Gap the tide had gone out far enough for us to be able to have a decent wander. There's just so much to delight and feast the eyes upon.

I found quite a few shells, close to the cliff edge. My collection is growing quite quickly!

It's really hard to capture the majesty of this place in a photograph. The scale is so epic - those cliffs are so high and so sheer - and so white! When the sun shines and the sky is blue, it looks tropical....

As always, more images can be found on Flickr in my East Sussex 2015 album - it's looking quite colourful considering most were taken in the winter months/early spring!

Shades of spring blossom

Nothing makes me happier than the sight of those first spring flowers poking through. Except perhaps the blossom that follows. All that perfect, pastel froth and loveliness displayed for free, lining our streets and filling our parks. I adore spring!

I'm currently loving variations on the blush pink colour palette and various shades of dove grey. So much inspiration to be taken from the spring colours outside.

I'm pondering using some such combination to paint our living room, to complement our new charcoal sofas. But I suspect the pondering might continue some time as I'm desperate to get outside and enjoy our beautiful world now that we are finally unpacked and have completed the essential DIY. All the same, I'm collecting some favourite shades on my Pinterest Colour Palette board.

I'm on the hunt for the perfect location for spring blossom near me. All these trees were found nearby and are very beautiful, but I'd love to see more froth! In Oxford, I knew exactly where to go, but I'm starting afresh here in East Sussex. I'm planning to visit some gardens on our holiday next week, so finger's crossed the blossom will hang around a while longer. But if you have any top tips for beautiful blossom in East Sussex, I'd love to hear them!

I may be feeling a little blossom poor, but I'm loving these beautiful Summer Snowflakes that have popped up all over the neighbourhood and even in my garden. Aren't they beautiful? I hope you're enjoying the beautiful spring flowers near you. Expect more from me soon! And in the meantime feel free to have a browse through my Spring Bling set on Flickr if you're in need of some spring colour.

Exploring our new coastline

Well, helloooooooo there folks! I'm sorry it's been so long. We've been rather busy sorting, fixing and nesting after the big move.... It's all been pretty exhausting, but oh so worth it! I won't bore you with our many plumbing woes, but thought I'd share some pictures from our adventures from the last couple of months. We haven't managed to get out as often as we'd like, but there's plenty of time for all that :) Our new coastline really is pretty stunning. I hope to share a few pics of our interiors too, just as soon as we are a bit more sorted.

First up is a little montage of iPhone snaps from Brighton, Eastbourne and our home town, Seaford. Absolutely loving all that fresh sea air and the beautiful sunsets.

Next up are a few shots from the lovely Pevensey Bay - our nearest beach with a bit of sand and lots of lovely space. So many dog walkers out and about - we are definitely living in dog territory - I've barely seen any cats! Just as well, as we are hoping that a furry friend may join our family soonish.

Then we have the absolutely stunning Birling Gap on a perfect sunny Sunday at the beginning of February. This place really takes my breath away. The scale of the beautiful towering white cliffs and the pounding waves...it's all very humbling.

I was in heaven staring at the mesmerising waves and clambering over the beautiful white stones. In fact, I don't think I've been more excited since we got here!

Of course, it's not just all stunning cliffs and crashing waves - the rolling South Downs are pretty spectacular too - just look at those beautiful green undulations. There really is so much to explore. We also wandered up the cliff path to see the mighty Beachy Head - it really is such a beautiful spot, and somewhere I know we are going to visit often.

I hope you're not too bored yet, as I'd love to introduce you to the most beautiful Camber Sands as well. A bit of a journey for us, but so worth it to see those beautiful sand dunes and all that stunning S-P-A-C-E. It really reminded me of Saunton Sands in Devon. We totally lucked out with the weather and were basking in beautiful sunshine - there really is nothing finer in February!

It was so lovely to see so many people out and about enjoying the sunshine - there were horse riders galloping along making the most of the space, dog walkers aplenty and families playing in the sand. I could *almost* believe it was summer! I'm definitely ready for more sunshine!

So we really are some of the luckiest people around to have all these beautiful spaces within easy reach. I'm looking forward to plenty more exploring - we still need to go west! Z x

2014: my year in pictures

On the last day of the year, I always like to look back and reflect on all that has happened - the highs and lows, challenges and adventures, and to share some favourite images....

2014 has certainly been a challenging year for me. It has been a year of learning to live with chronic fatigue, to figure out my path to recovery, to better understand myself. A year of exploring my creativity when my energy allows. And a year of deciding to move to pastures new: from a mad decorating frenzy in May/June, securing a buyer in July, to a summer tour of the UK deciding where to move to, and many bumps along the way. I'm very happy to say that we completed our journey two weeks before Christmas and are now happily ensconced in our new seaside home in Seaford. So I hope you'll understand why things have been rather quiet of late on here :)

First up, are some of my floral favourites. I've been a regular visitor to the beautiful Oxford University Botanic Garden over the seasons, and this year I got to visit the very beautiful Cambridge University Botanic Garden as well.

Next we have some seaside favourites - always so hard to choose! We had the pleasure of visiting the beautiful Christchurch on a sunny spring day, a delicious week in Watergate Bay in Cornwall in late spring and a fabulous summer week exploring South and East Devon and a little bit of Dorset.

Then I've put together a few favourite snaps of my home and vintage bits and bobs, as well as a few of my makes. I was delighted to have my home tour published in Mollie Makes back in January (you can read about it here and here), followed by the Back Page Project in the summer where I talked about getting my inspiration from the seaside. I'm excited to have a new home to style and decorate and make my own - so watch this space!

Next up are a selection of my favourite Blythe images from throughout the year. I always try and take a couple away with me on my trips - the outdoor shots are always my favourite :)

Now the year wouldn't be complete without a good dose of autumn colour. I just adore autumn leaves and was lucky enough to visit three arboretums this year: Batsford, Harcourt and Westonbirt. I'll have to find some new autumn haunts for next year!

And last, but most certainly not least, I thought I'd share some favourites from my new neck of the woods: East Sussex. We have visited many times this year as we researched where we wanted to move to, including a lovely week near Alfriston. We fell in love with Seaford - the stretch of coast between Seaford and Eastbourne is breath taking. We are spoilt with beaches, dramatic cliffs, undulating green hills and beautiful forest (and of course, Brighton is only a short hop away). I'm looking forward to lots of walking and exploring in 2015, with my camera of course! Still pinching myself to make sure we really do live here and feeling immensely grateful.

So, may I wish you all a very happy and fulfilling 2015, full of love and good times. Go follow your dreams! See you soon. Z x

NB. In case you are interested, many of these images are available to buy from my Red Bubble Shop in a variety of formats, including cards, prints, tote bags, cushions and iPhone cases :)

Autumn glorious autumn ~ Part 2

I enjoyed a fabulous wander around the stunningly beautiful Westonbirt Arboretum at the end of October as my traditional birthday treat - there really is no better place to be at this time of year :)

My favourite bit without a doubt is the Acer Glade in the Old Arboretum - I just adore Japanese Maples. We started here and returned for some Blythe shots. It really is quite tricky to find the right spot to prop them up that's at the right height and supportive enough to hold them (their heads are very heavy!). It was VERY muddy so I was paranoid that they would take a tumble into the mud. Luckily the worst that happened was a bit of green slime on their tights ;)

I love the photo below of me, taken by my lovely husband. This was how I was to be found much of the time - head in the trees, searching for the prettiest leaves and the prettiest light! My favourite lens for autumn leaves is my 100mm macro lens - I love to focus on the details with a soft background. Low light levels make holding the camera steady pretty challenging, though, so inevitably lots of photos ended up in the bin!

Most of the leaves here are now on the ground, so these photos will have to help carry me through until springtime - I really don't like everything bare and brown! Nature really does put on a pretty spectacular seasonal finale.

As always, you can find more photos on Flickr in my Autumn Glory Album. I've also uploaded several of these images to my Red Bubble shop in case you are interested in cards or prints. There's currently a 15% discount on Wall Art (posters and prints in a range of sizes and formats) and Home Decor (cushions) with code RBGIFTS15 which is valid until the end of Thursday 13 November.

Autumn glorious autumn ~ Part 1

I just adore autumn and it's glorious display of colour in such warm, rich shades. It's so uplifting. Autumn leaves are such a gift - I always feel compelled to capture that beauty on my camera, to carry me through the winter months when the trees are bare and the world becomes monotone.

It's an annual ritual for me to go hunting leaves with my camera - and a traditional birthday treat - nothing makes me happier (except perhaps the sea!) :) These photos were all taken in Harcourt Arboretum in Nuneham Courtenay, Oxfordshire last weekend. And this weekend, as my birthday treat, we're heading to the amazing Westonbirt Arboretum. So I thought I'd best get these photos published pronto :)

There really is nothing finer than listening to birds chirping away with sunshine on your face, and gorgeous low, warm light pouring through the trees, setting the leaves aglow. It really is tonic for the soul.

For more autumnal fabulousness, take a look at my Autumn Glory Album on Flickr.