Green Fingers

gardening, growing and outdoor fun

January Colour

Colour

I can’t decide whether the greyest month of the year here in England is January or February.  Certainly both seem a little bleak and colourless after the intensity of Australia.  Last weekend I was at the supermarket,  wandering around aimlessly  choosing ingredients for dinner when I saw a rack of chillies on sale.  They looked vibrant and gorgeous.  I can’t remember the last time I used any sizeable amount of chillies in my cooking, but they looked so good that I bought them all; all ten packs (this is why you’re supposed to go armed with a shopping list).

Red chillies

I bought bay leaves too (the kind you find in slim packs in the herb section)…

Bay leaves

And then strung the chillies together along a length of florists wire with the bay leaves and some leftover dried orange slices;

Making a chilli wreath How to make a wreath step 1

Then I twisted the wired bunches around a simple wreath frame, lifting it up every now and then to check that they stayed in place and were secure.

Building a wreath

Winter wreath

Then when I ran out of chillies and oranges, I wrapped the last bit of the frame in ribbon..

Chilli Orange and Bay Wreath

If you don’t have a Greek god available to wear your chilli, bay and orange wreath once it is completed, can I suggest hanging it in the kitchen?  That’s where mine is now, and it catches my eye and makes me smile and think of summer.

Greek god

Have a wonderful weekend when it comes; I’ve been travelling for work this week and am now just back home, eagerly awaiting Harry’s return from school.

Thanks again for the wonderful suggestions in last week’s post; we’ve a trip planned to the library and the bookstore tomorrow!

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The Scent of Winter

Scented winter fire starters

Happy Sunday!

It’s been a frosty, overcast weekend here in this small corner of England, and each evening we’ve laid a fire in the hearth and drawn the curtains against the closing of the day; it’s a time for Hygge – for comfort, warmth and home.

To get the fire off to a crackling, scented start I made these bundles packed with clippings from the garden and the trimmed branches of our Christmas tree…

Winter firelighters from the garden

Scented fire starters in brown paper twists

I used sprigs of olive, from the huge old trees that we bought this summer to line our patio;

olive sprigs

And Nordic fir, shorn from the Christmas tree before recycling;

fir branches

Eucalyptus, one of my favourites that I use in the house all year round (try tying a sprig in the shower; it’s amazing!)

Try tying a branch of eucalptus under the shower for a blast of forest scent

And fresh rosemary, clipped from the pots around the kitchen door

rosemary sprigs

And then finally lemon rind, for a citrussy burst…

Peeled lemons

I tied the bundles tightly together and wove a slice of dried orange to each, before hanging them up to dry  out completely (slice a bag of oranges and arrange the slices on a baking tray, then dry out overnight on the lowest possible oven temperature; the scent is amazing and they look lovely..)

Scented fire bundles hung up to dry

Once they’re completely dried out, you can wrap them lightly in twists of brown paper (this stops them becoming tangled up and unravelling), and then use them to kindle a delicious, scented fire.

Scented fire starters for cold winter nights

For those without both the glory and the inconvenience of an open fire; try making these and simmering them in a saucepan on the stove instead for instant winter atmosphere and warmth; perfect for the bleak wintery months ahead.

Have a wonderful week ahead, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing!

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October!

I love October.  There’s something about the changing of the seasons and the arrival of the first frost …and the very, very first beginnings of the whisper of Christmas (I know, I know!! I can’t help it).

Here are some of the things we’ve been upto;

ghosts1

Making yummy gingerbread ghost cookies with some spooky Halloween cutters (recipe here).  I made and froze some extra batches of gingerbread to use at Christmas.  The smell of it – melted butter, ginger spices, caramelising sugar – is just divine.

ghosts3

We used the cutter to cut the same shape out of rolled fondant icing and then added googly candy eyes for maximum effect.  Almost – but not quite – too good to eat.

And then outdoors, planting bulbs for the springtime.  We jammed large terracotta pots full of these feathered tulips bulbs from Amsterdam (my favourite!).

tulips1

…and then hyacinths too; I hope these ones will flower in time for Christmas.  We’ve popped them in the shed to kickstart them in the damp and dark before bringing them in in December.

hyacinths1

We’re revelling in a change of pace with half-term break this week, but before that there was a scramble for finishing homework and spellings and projects like this one; the brief was ‘make a Paddington Suitcase out of a shoebox’.

Hmmm.  Quite possibly one of the messiest things EVER, but a very cool result.  I might jettison my reliable overnight bag and take this little number next time I’m travelling with work;

Paddington Bear Shoebox Suitcase

And finally, baking chocolate brownies!  Because this season of jumpers and jeans and big boots and soft scarves can hide a multitude of sins, and there’s no time like the present to begin..

brownies1

brownies3

(Our favourite recipe for the choc-raspberry brownies is here…)

Have a lovely week, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing!

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brownies2

 

In Praise of Autumn

This weekend has been a beautiful one so far, in the way that only a crisp, October weekend can.  Chilly mornings, pierced with brilliant sunshine and a newfound freshness.  In the park, horse chestnuts crunched under our feet and leaves swirled in the breeze; we wore our coats and scarves for the first time; shedding them after only a few minutes as the warmth broke through.

Inspired, Harry and I carefully picked some pumpkins and gourds and gathered armfuls of pine cones in the forest.  Last night, with a glass of wine in hand, I made this Autumn Lady who now graces the kitchen and wears the season in the folds of her skirts….

Harvest Lady

Built around a simple chicken-wire base, her dress begins with scraps of leftover silk fabric (from long-ago curtains). then branches of willow sprayed with coppery glitter. Dried poppy seed heads (from these flowers!) and faux crysanthemums mix with tiny fir cones, parting to reveal a giant, Cinderella-esque pumpkin…

Pumpkin dress

 

Pumpkins and gourds

The top of her dress is a simple length of linen, wrapped and tied with one of my belts (I am reassured by the fact that it strains a little more on her waist than mine…)

Autumn lady

Her presence in the kitchen has received a mixed reception from the household; it’s true that she does impede the direct line between kettle and fridge.  Also true that when you venture downstairs in the early-dawn, her profiled, looming figure can look startlingly like an intruder hell-bent on murderous attack (takes a few minutes to recover from that, I can confirm).

But still, she’s staying awhile…

p.s.

A winter dress, and a breath of Springtime.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

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DIY Projects: The Book Vase

DIY Vintage Book Vase

Our village has an extraordinary supply of second-hand bookshops, including one that gives away books for free that have been rescued from landfill.  Every weekend we have a browse, and usually come back with new treasures.  As a result, my shelves are creaking and my supply grows faster than I can read or repurpose them. I used a vintage graphic atlas bought last year to make this gift for a friend’s new baby..

Matilda's Map Dress

I also use illustrations from childrens books to make colourful envelope liners, and make secret boxes from the covers of interesting-looking books, by removing the text block (tutorial here).

Kates secret book box

This time I used an old book full of tips for gardeners to make a simple vase for fresh flowers (I love the title; these days it would be the ‘Dummies Guide’ or similar; not quite the same..).  Here’s what you need;

Making a book vase

  • And old hardback book with a sturdy, undamaged spine
  • A cardboard box that fits inside the book, and is the same depth as the spine
  • A water bottle, with the top sawn off
  • Glue, craft knife, ruler and pencil.  Coffee, chocolate, good music all optional but recommended.

Firstly carefully remove the book text from the spine by slicing down either side of the pages that hold the book pasted to the cover. Remove the book and set aside, leaving your hardback cover which should lie flat.  Place the box (without lid) inside it to check for fit.

Carefully slice out one side of the box, leaving an inch around the edges for stability and to help it maintain its shape.  Press the long side edge of the box against the spine and then glue the box into the book cover, as shown below.  It’s best to leave several hours for the glue to set; lie it flat and place something heavy on top of it to encourage the adhesion.

making a book vase step 1

Once the glue is dry and secure, slide your water bottle into the open ‘book box’ so that it is resting on the bottom.  Use a jug to carefully fill it with water…

Making a book vase step 2

And then just add your flowers!

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Add twigs for artistic effect.  Regret never having had any training in the art of floral arrangement.  Decide life is too short.

Book Vase

And then when your flowers are past their best glory, simply remove them and the bottle, and either clean out the bottle or replace it. Job done!

DIY Book Vasr

Have a wonderful weekend, when it comes!

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The Fir Lady returns once again

Christmas Lady

Christmas began to arrive in our home yesterday, as I staggered back from the garden centre with armfuls of pine, eucalyptus and berries.  Now the house is filled with resiny scent, as is my hair, my clothes, my hands… it’s intoxicating.

And the fir lady has once again come in from the cold and taken shelter in a corner of the kitchen; this year she is sporting a bright red military-style jacket (a charity shop find) and standing 9ft tall, thanks to an old chest we dragged in from the back of the shed.  Pine cones are dotted amongst her skirts, and boughs of red berries peek around her hem.

The Fir Lady close up

Fir Lady Skirts

Here’s last year’s Fir Lady, who sported a hessian bodice and a skirt adorned with simple wooden stars..

The Fir Lady 2014

And the original, 2013 Lady who had a rather more risqué skirt and a nipped-in waist..

Fir Lady for Christmas

If you have a spare mannequin lying around (and who doesn’t?) I gave a vague tutorial last year, with tips about how to build up a skirt and thread all the greenery together (tip: chicken wire is your secret weapon).  Mostly though it just requires trial and error, and is aided by a glass of red wine.  Or mulled wine.  Any wine in fact, but probably just the one glass, especially if using a ladder.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend; we’re lighting the fire and curling up for a Christmas movie; Elf and Arthur Christmas are the top contenders; popcorn and hot chocolate will be crucial.

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Home Harvest

Hello again, after a brief hiatus; I’ve been travelling with work to San Diego – a beautiful if fleeting visit, spent mostly in hotel meeting rooms but with the occasional, wonderful foray outdoors. One evening we caught the night ferry across the bay for dinner – those 20 minutes on the water, watching the lights of the city skyline and feeling the mist of the water spray, were a highlight of the trip.

I like travelling, but I love coming home even more, and this weekend has been spent nesting with the boys; apple-picking, crumble-making, bonfire-lighting, marshmallow-roasting and the havesting of everything edible from the hedgerows and trees.  We’re tired, scratched up, smeared with mallow and thoroughly happy – and the best is yet to come; tonight we get to eat everything we’ve made.

We began with the ancient apple trees along the garden wall….

The apple harvest

Even after discarding the ones with worm holes, dents and bruises we had seemingly hundreds, so gently wrapped and boxed them to store through the winter.

Apple storage

Apple storage for winter

They’re cooking apples rather than eaters, so I searched for good recipes before coming across this one for a divine-looking tarte tatin.  Incredibly simple, but a delicious, caramelised flaky dessert.  We cheated and used our favourite gadget, an automatic appple corer and slicer, so ours looks a little flatter than it was supposed to; I don’t think that will trouble the tasters later…

Tarte tatin

We’ve been gradually tearing down an old shed, amassing a pile of wood which we used for a bonfire today.  For fun, Harry and I tried making Ina Garten’s marshmallows, and managed to produce a tray of giant, wobbling cubes which made us laugh just to look at them.  Harry dusted them with sugar and added sticks.  Some we ate before the fire was even lit (how could we resist?), others we secured carefully onto toasting forks and roasted over the fire as it died down.  A small minority we managed to set fire to; I suspect it will take several hair washes before the woodsmoke-and-burned-sugar smell leaves us completely…

Making marshmallows

Making marshmallows to toast

And finally today we picked all the pears from our pear tree which was leaning ominously under their weight. Most were unripe so after googling advice we have consigned them to the fridge for a few days to hasten the process.  Apparently if we take them out next weekend they will soften up beautifully within a few days.  A handful were ready, so we invented a recipe of our own and made blackberry crumbles for dinner tonight, each with their very own magic, golden pear…

Gold pear crumble

My recipe is below if you fancy giving this a try – and if you’re a pear-lover and have some other favourites, please do let me know; we’ll have a lot of pears to work our way through this month!

Golden Pear Crumble

Have a wonderful rest of the weekend; it feels very autumnal here so once we’ve polished off the crumbles we’ll be lighting the fire and snuggling up in front of the TV, holding the oncoming week at bay.  I’m praying for a good night’s sleep after jetlag kept me awake last night; at 2am I was cheerfully – if quietly – rearranging cuboards and drawers in the dark, not something I’m keen to repeat…

I’ll be back in a few days; till then, take care.

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Strawberry baskets, and a picnic of Lavender..

Lavender in Bike Basket

How are you, and how has your week been?  I have the day off work today and am brewing up to hosting our annual family reunion; the kitchen is an explosion of pots, pans, sticky spoons and odd streaks decorate every surface (passata? chocolate?? let’s hope so..).  The windows are steamed up which is helpful, hiding as it does the fact that the garden is being lashed with rain and gales, and our carefully hung bunting is now drooping rather dejectedly and is speckled flamboyantly with mud.

Ah well, it will give us a chance to play how-many-adults-can-you-squash-onto-a-sofa and other such games, if the heavens do not comply.

In the meantime, here’s a couple of projects I did in the garden recently when the weather was much kinder; planting up hanging strawberry baskets and a hamper full of lavender.

I repurposed a couple of our Easter egg hunt baskets and added a binliner to help with water retention, then filled with potting soil and planted a couple of young strawberry plants we’d been coaxing along on the windowsill;

How to plant a strawberry basket

Whilst strawberries are delicious, strawberry plants are undeniably quite dull, so I added some of these gorgeous cappuccino-coloured trailing bedding plants to provide a bit of colour and contrast…

Hanging baskets with strawberries and cappucino daisies

I then twisted rubber-coated wire firmly around the handle, creating a double-strength cord to hang the basket from the tree (I used this make);

How to hang a strawberry basket

Hang from your chosen tree (I used this one under which we play our noughts and crosses)

Strawberry hanging baskets

Wait about 2-3 weeks, watering frequently, and suddenly… STRAWBERRIES!!!

We have strawberries!

Pick and enjoy immediately..

Strawberry picking

home grown strawberries

I also planted a wicker picnic hamper with lavender, using a plastic box as an inner to protect the wicker and stop the moisture from evaporating so quickly…

Lavender hamper

The lavender has grown quickly and filled out, creating a lovely feature on the patio…

Lavender basket on the terrace

And a helpfully portable one!  A nice welcome for our guests in the spare bedroom…

Lavender basket and old butchers block

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The hamper fits beauitfully in my old delivery bike, which I recently painted (admittedly in a rather half-assed way; it needs another coat..); we prop this against the garden gates whevener we’re expecting company…

Lavender in Bike Basket

Bike with flowers

And my final outdoor project, which is very much a work-in-progress; I’m trying to grow a living skirt for my vintage mannequin, after dressing her for Christmas and spring.  Climbing roses and clematis are slowly but surely weaving their way skywards; in my head I’m picturing a sea of cascading white flowers and delicate tendrils.  If the weather has its way though, I suspect I may instead by rescuing her from a tree, or even from next door…

the summer lady with her skirt of roses

Have a wonderful, relaxing weekend.  Ours may be wet and wild, but it will be enormous fun, of that I’m sure – we have a 30ft bouncy castle arriving at dawn and no-one can resist that… :-) .

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Painted Pots!

DIY Painted Pots from katescreativespace

Earlier in June the sun broke through the grey British skies and we had three magnificent weeks of an early taste of summer. We spent most of our free hours outside; building dens, bringing the garden back to life, practising football skills and planting up pots for some summer-long colour.  I have a HUGE supply of pots but most are modern, dull terracotta, so I raided our shelf of old tester pots of paint and brought them back to a more colourful life…

Painted pots

Here’s what I used…

DIy Painted Pots Materials

In each case I simply washed and dried the pots and then painted each a different, complementary colour, experimenting with techniques to see what happened.  For this first one (below), I used two layers of a lavender/grey paint and then lightly sanded around the rim to age it a little.  When dry, I used a bit of sponge to dab some lichen-coloured paint around the base (leftover from our kitchen!)..

Painted pots 1

For contrast, I used a deep, bold charcoal paint sample for the rosemary pot, and rubbed a tiny dab of silver paint (this one) around the rim to highlight..

Painted pots 2

And for the lavender, I used a vibrant blue and brushed it on very roughly, before stippling the dry paint with a sponge topped with white emulsion paint…

lavender pot in blues

When you’ve completed your artistic endeavours and painted all the pots, simply coat with a brush-on wax or varnish to seal – hey presto; summer is here!

Clustered painted pots

With lavender on my mind, we’re heading to Provence for a few days; I’m fantasising about swimming outdoors, browsing for brocantes in local village markets and sipping chilled rosé as dusk falls… I can’t wait!  If you’ve visited the region and have any recommendations do please let me know in the comments; we’re staying near Grasse, and hoping to catch a glimpse of the Tour de France as it barrels through the neighbouring countryside..

p.s. thank you for the lovely comments on last week’s Mouseketeers post; I’m still smiling…

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Silvered Pebbles; a DIY Garden Game for Summer

DIY Painted Rocks

We’re in the throes of an unexpectedly lovely May holiday weekend, and have been living outdoors, sorting out sheds and pottering in the garden.  I uncovered a stash of old tiles, leftover from bathroom and kitchen projects both here and at our last house.  They looked too pretty to throw away, so I’ve repurposed them to make an outsized, organic version of Noughts and Crosses (or Tic Tac Toe).  I used river pebbles which are smooth and tactile and call out to be stroked and handled, and the set can live outside in all weathers.  If you have a couple of old tiles and a supply of pebbles (mine were from our local garden centre; £5/bag), then this is a very gratifying afternoon project…

DIY Garden noughts and crosses

Playing garden games in summer

Garden games for families

You’ll need:

  • A large tile for the board; slate, granite or marble are ideal.
  • Felt pads to back the tile (optional, but avoids scratching surfaces)
  • Silver paint; I used Liquid Leaf.  Varnish is optional.
  • Masking tape and stencils
  • Pebbles; choose similar sizes, as flat as possible to aid painting and reduce wobble on the board!

First, wash and dry the pebbles and decide on your design.  I decided on stripes and a flower motif instead of noughts and crosses; I used masking tape freehand to mark the stripes on half of the stones, and then simply peeled it away again after brushing on the liquid silver…

step 1

Step 2Step 3

DIY Silvered pebbles

For the ‘noughts’, I used mini cupcake stencils from a local baking shop, and lightly sprayed them with repositionable glue to hold them in place whilst I brushed the paint on.  If you get any small runs or smudges, wait till the paint dries and then simply scratch away the excess with a knife blade; it’s gratifyingly easy to correct.  You can varnish your stones to make them even more hardy; gloss varnish will change the colour of the stone, so have a practice on a spare stone to check that you like the effect first.

Stencilled pebbles step 1

 

Stencilled pebbles step 2

DIY Silver motif pebbles

For the main board I chose a large grey floor tile and measured the gride for nine squares, and marked this in pencil.  I used my masking tape to mark very thin grid lines and then simply painted these in the same way as the striped stones.  You could make them thicker if you like (or even engrave them if you are a master with a Dremel tool (and thus far handier than I…).

DIY Tic Tac Toe for the gardne

Add felt pads to the back of your board (I used these felt coasters for ease, gluing them near the four corners), and place on a contrasting tile if you wish, or simply on a table top or patio.

I used two plank tiles to make platters for the sets of stones; these were wood-effect tiles leftover from the bathroom in our guestroom.  Again, I added felt coasters underneath and then laid out the stones on each; they look rather beautiful..

Decorated silver pebbles Striped silver pebbles

And there you have it… a stylish and fun game to entertain the little people in your life, or simply to look good as the seasons finally turn and al fresco living becomes a reality.  Roll on summer….

Garden tic tac toe

Garden perspective

A Horticultural Miscellany

Spring tulips

Life is full of injustices, big and small.  My mother was the recipient of one of these this week when the tulips we had each carefully brought back from Amsterdam last year burst into bloom in my garden and remained resolutely absent in hers, despite her attentive efforts and track record of green-fingered magic.

So this post must begin with an apology to Mum as I revel in their glory after nine solid months of neglect in a few forgotton pots in a corner of our overgrown garden.  It must be Karma, though for what I cannot guess…. aren’t they beautiful? :-)

feathered tulips

They are so plentiful in fact, that I even sacrificed a few to a vase by my computer so I can enjoy them all the time (but I’ll stop going on about the tulips now before I am disowned)

tulips in a vase

Instead, lets talk about the turn of the seasons; we still have winter Hellebores parading thei final glories as the  Magnolia trees which line our border burst into bloom; I continued around the garden with my shears and snipped a few of each, to arrange in a pre-soaked florist’s foam wreath tucked inside one of my old Easter faux nests…it took just a few minutes but has made a lovely table centre which has lasted a surprisingly long time…

Hellebores

wreath with willow

Spring floral nest

Winter hellebore arrangement

magnolia wreath nest

Magnolia wreath

And finally for my last act of green-fingeredness, I’ve planted up a couple of pots of edible flowers (below) ready for the summer, inspired by the array of beautiful dishes and recipes which are appearing in gourmet magazines and food programmes the world over… here’s to fantasies of long hot days and gorgeous plates of food with splashes of floral colour.  If nothing else, it can mask all my usual burned bits and distract from the taste – the art of aesthetic illusion!

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Edible flowers for Summer

But enough of this, I must scrub the soil from my fingernails and adopt as chic a demeanour as possible because this weekend we’re off to Madrid – Madrid! – to celebrate my Mum’s 70th birthday.  If she cannot have tulips, she can at least have tapas, music and the Prado, which will do very nicely instead.  I have been to Madrid for work but never for play, so if you have any ideas or recommendations for how we should make the most of our long weekend, please do let me know – we have a map and a wide open itinerary just waiting for inspiration….

Have a great week!

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