The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Great Aunt Doris and Great Aunt Lillian. Flowers bring back old memories.


Photo: Gerbera Lillian looking peaky

Photo: Gerbera Lillian looking peaky

It must be 40 years since I last saw Aunt Doris and Aunt Lillian. When my mother married my stepfather he came with a great big pack of relations – Doris and Lillian were amongst my favourites.

I first met these elderly aunts at the wedding reception. All I can remember about the event was that we ate Baked Alaska, I was wearing my first new shop bought dress and those Aunts.
Aunt Doris peered at us and exclaimed
“You are so thin – we’ll have to fatten you up!”

From then on they were always referred to as The Thin Aunts.

Both unmarried they lived together. Aunt Doris was tall and slim with thinning hair (always in a net). Aunt Lillian was the quiet one with perfectly curled grey hair and pastel clothes. Her elder sister had had a rackety past – dancing on tables and looping the loop in a biplane over Paris. As a child it was difficult to believe that they had ever been young. But Aunt Doris was still fun, hugely well read and interested in a vast swathe of things.

Being a child I enjoyed the lunches that they treated us to and the trips to The Dartmouth Bookshop (run by Christopher Robin Milne in those days). They were always generous at Christmas. They must have been well off as they always sent ‘main’ presents – which was a joy. But most of all I appreciated the fact that they accepted us as nieces and the whole family was in a good mood when they were around. 

I had almost forgotten about The Thin Aunts until I was researching pinks for the garden and came across Doris which is a highly scented variety that my mother used to grow in our house in Torquay. Back then Doris was a very old fashioned name – so my aunt and this flower were the only two in my life bearing this name.

A few days later I noticed that my new gerbera plant ‘Lillian’ was looking very peaky.  A quick bit of online research pinpointed the answer immediately – she needed to be planted in much sandier soil. Hopefully my precious gerbera will perk up now she had been repotted in much lighter loam.

So flowers led me to remeber The Thin Aunts who went to The Great Bookshop In the Sky years ago.

  Leave a reply


  1. danast

    Thank you Fiona for bringing back such wonderful memories of my own great aunt. She was a lovely person with a whacky sense of humour, some of which I hope I have inherited.

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Michelle

    Yes I was thinking that too!

    The Min Pins are having the time of their lives. However Inca would prefer that I played with her than garden.

    Hello Honeybee

    Thank you so much for your generous comment.

    I’m lucky that I have an optimistic nature but there have been tears shed over the past 11 months. Building a whole new income from scratch has been tough and we still have a long way to go.

    However I am happier than I’ve been for years.

    I think that maiden aunts bearing gifts is the secret to being appreciated when it comes to children.

    Hi Jane

    What a coincidence that they had the same names!

    Hi Cookie Girl

    Yes, like your relations, The Thin Aunts were from a different era. They were born before cars and plains had been invented.

    Hi Sue

    What a fabulous offer. Thank you!

    Hi Paula

    I think that The Great Bookshop in the Sky would definitely have a small deluxe bar.

    Hello ChickPea

    Thanks for that. TGBITS would have to be vast to pack in all the colourful characters from our lives!

    Hi Sue

    Thanks for making this point. Help is at hand – Danny is working on a programme that hides the left hand advertising on the blog for regular readers. Hopefully he will crack it soon.

    However we have to run advertising on the blog. It has moved from being a rather expensive hobby (the cost of hosting a high traffic site is horrendous) to being my main source of income. I used to be proud of the fact that we had no advertising but that was when I was fit enough to work full time.

    Hopefully the blog content will outweigh the irritation of the links. There is a site that I visit every morning – Chickens in the Road The author’s main income is from the advertising on the blog. Sometimes I find the advertising invasive but the beauty of the writing wins everytime!

  3. Hi Fiona,
    I’m an avid reader of your blog but feel I have to make a comment with regard to the increased advertising. Whilst I understand your need to host adverts and that you are very selective it’s not their content I object to but the way they intrude on the aesthetics of the blog. Up until now I wasn’t too bothered, but the latest addition which has intruded on the left hand margin to me has really spoilt your most enjoyable format and your articles now seem squeezed out which is such a shame. Do any other readers agree?
    Needless to say it hasn’t stopped my visits yet, but it was the visual appeal of your presentation that caught my eye initially before I became engrossed in the content and just wonder if it might now put off new readers.


  4. ChickPea

    Thank you, Fiona, for prompting many celebratory memories amongst us – certainly my family held a few characters who have just slipped through recall….

    That Great Bookshop in the Sky will be full of the most fantastic characters – I hope there’ll be room to get in and join them…….

  5. oh oh oh! Is it a Great Bookshop in the Sky? How lovely!

    I promise to be very good from now on!

    (and if the Great Bookshop has a Tiny Little Bar where they serve dry martinis, that would be heaven, indeed!)

  6. Susan Purveur

    Hi. Back in 1986 I had a small book published on named plants. It was called ‘Plant that Name’ and although now out of print, can still be occasionally found on the web and Ebay. I still have a couple of copies and am wondering whether you would like a signed copy, as a thank you for all the hints and tips I’ve received from your blog.
    Do let me know via my email address, and if you send me your contact details, I’ll pop one in the post for you. Sue.

  7. Cookie Girl

    Gosh this has got me thinking about Nelly and Betty – my great aunts, they were unmarried sisters too that shared a house. They were lovely and made a big fuss of us children when we did see them, which was not very often.. The last of the four sisters, my grandmother, died last year. I feel that was probably the end of an era…

  8. My grandma and Great Aunt were called Lillian and Doris and they were both lovely in their very different ways. I have very fond memories of both of them.

  9. Honeybee

    I’ve been a silent admirer of this site for ages, but I’ve decided to “come out” and tell you how much I enjoy your daily reminiscences, recipes, comments on life and gardening tips. You’ve hard a hard time recently with your illness, but seem to have managed to stay so positive about everything. You and Danny are a real inspiration to us all and long may you succeed in your quest for a better way of life.

    By the way, I had two maiden aunts just like yours and I wish I had appreciated them more when they were around. Your story brought back lots of memories.

  10. Michelle in NZ

    I followed the links to look at the two flowers – my, they seem to have been named in reverse of your Great Aunts’ natures!

    I’m so enjoying reading your current garden exploits. The Min Pins must love having their Fiona around all the time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags are not allowed.

2,234,244 Spambots Blocked by Simple Comments

Copyright © 2006-2012 Cottage Smallholder      Our Privacy Policy      Advertise on Cottage Smallholder