Green Fingers

gardening, growing and outdoor fun

Weekending: Home Harvest

Planted Wellies

Are you having a lovely weekend?  I hope so.  It’s been 48hrs of sunshine and woodsmoke here; the epitome of seasons on the turn and the kind of weather that has you itching to be outside, sleeves rolled up, doing nature-y things.  We planted up an out-grown pair of wellies with vibrant autumnal chrysanthemums, and they now stand proudly outside the door to The Little House.  I lined them with plastic beforehand so that they can be worn again by the feet of smaller cousins in due course, but for now they will be perky sentries at the playhouse door until first frosts arrive.

We bought a new gadget and immediately tore off the packaging and set to work; a telescopic apple picker which makes light work of plucking the biggest and juiciest apples from the top of our ancient apple tree.  A family production-line ensued, with Harry-the-fearless given the task of checking for bug holes and nasties, whilst I cagily packed the safe ones into plastic plant-pot trays salvaged from our local garden centre.  Wrapped in newspaper beds and stored deep in the cellar, I’m dreaming of endless apple crumbles and pies through the winter.

The Apple Harvest

Walking to our local coffee shop for sustenance, we stumbled across this beautiful tree; the only one on a footpath of green which was beginning to turn.  It turned our thoughts to New England and our eagerly-awaited trip (not long now..).  After admiring it, we stuffed our pockets with fallen leaves, and inspired by this picture, had a go at making leaf table confetti with craft punches from my art cupboard.  (The leaves still look lovely at home, but it’s funny how nothing quite compares to seeing them outdoors – I can’t wait for Vermont).

Fall Leaf Table Confetti

Our hedges are full of rosehips, and I filled a trug with them, mostly just so that we could put them in a bowl and admire them.  My brother mentioned that you can cook with them (“I think they taste like cranberries”), so I searched briefly online for recipes, most of which cautioned gravely about the need to remove all seeds from them to avoid ‘significant gastric disturbance’ and ‘problems of the bowel’.  Hmmm.  As a fairly slap-dash cook this was warning enough, so instead I trimmed them and tumbled them into a vase for a welcome splash of colour.

Hedgerow Foraging

Rosehips

If you thought rosehips in vases were a little surreal, then may I introduce you to my tomato hat;

Tomato Hat

Around this time every year my friend Lou holds an Annual Tomato Festival, which is essentially an excuse for an evening of alcohol-fuelled, competitive merry-making under the guise of a genteel event.  Categories this year included Most Oddly Shaped Tomato, Best Wine to Drink with Tomatoes, and The Crafty Tomato, as well as the more conventional Best Tomato Dish.  Last year’s category of Most Adventurous Tomato was won by a cherry tomato which found itself tied to a sky lantern and set on fire, and was last seen floating over the Thames.  On safety grounds, the category was rested for 2013.

My hat was made with ping-pong balls, red spray paint and the tops of real tomatoes, and that is probably detail enough; I don’t think it could be classed as a mainstream crafting project, after all.  I won a Highly Commended certificate, and as a consolation prize was invited to judge the food, which of course meant tasting every dish.  Delicious, but not without consequence; 24 tomato-based dishes represent a culinary marathon rather than a sprint.  I write this evening cresting on a wave of mild acidic discontent, with  - whisper it – a distinct hangover.

Tomato festival

Good times…

Have a great week!

Kate

 

 

 

Retreating and Restoring

Firstly, thank you for the comments and encouragement and sharing of memories prompted by last week’s post; for me the loveliest thing about blogging is the connectivity and conversation it creates.  The sense of a shared maternal experience of that first day of school, whether separated by days or decades, was potent and wonderful.

Over the last few days, we’ve been in keep-your-head-above-water mode, taking every day as it comes and exhaustedly acknowledging a job well done at the end of each.  For Harry, each day at school has brought a volley of ‘firsts’ and newnesses which have left him glassy-eyed and teetering between giddy exuberance and tearfulness; for us it’s meant juggling work schedules with new school hours, navigating the unspoken rules about drop-offs and collections, pegs and bookbags; the chastisements for wrongly-labelled uniform or missing permissions forms… I’m in yet another maternal learning curve and tackling it with my usual hit-and-miss style.  As a result, it’s been a week of retreating and nesting, where the hours outside of work and school have been filled with the familiar; things which nurture us and guarantee smiles.  Things like..

apple recipes

I took our huge bounty of windfalls and your recipe suggestions and have been revelling in a heady, appley-fog in the kitchen.  Batches of apple sauce, pie and crumble are filling the freezer, and our hands-down winners so far have been more-ish apple & pecan muffins, which we convinced ourselves are healthy enough to be classified as breakfast rather than cake.  Our new apple peeler is a family favourite toy, providing hours of entertainment as we attempt to peel and core every fruit and vegetable we can lay our hands on.

pinceone firelighters 2013

Our walks in the woods coupled with a week of high winds have allowed us to fill pockets full of pinecones; I made a few batches of firelighters for the months ahead and we lit the woodburner one unseasonably chilly night to give them a test-run.

The gradual turning of the seasons has given us a chance for bonfires which beg for marshmallows on long toasting forks.  Soon we’ll be piling foil-wrapped potatoes into the embers and lighting sparklers as we warm our hands with mulled wine, but for now we’re still eking out the last of the summer rituals.

campfire marshmallows

And in a few heady moments of escapism and me-time, I went to a local antiques barn and fell in love with this vintage packing trunk, which is soon to take up pride of place at the foot of Harry’s bed.  A large, wooden trunk complete with working clasps and canvas inlays, it felt very Harry-Potteresque to me and appealed to my current preoccupation with school-life… but I hope it will  grow with Harry’s own taste and look equally good in his room at 14 or 16 as it does now.

harry potter trunk

My other treat this week has been a visit to our local garden centre where the trays and baskets of winter bulbs are stacked high, and where you can stuff paper bags full of papery brown hyacinths which promise to fill the house with scent and colour throughout the darkest days of the coming winter.  It felt like choosing sweets as a child; I limited myself – somewhat – and am looking forward to a weekend of pottering and planting up, aided by a small helper who will doubtless shower soil throughout the house but will revel in the importance of being my Right-Hand Man.

Hyacinths ready for planting

Have a wonderful, wonderful weekend, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing…

Kate

The Little House

The Little House in Winter

House-painting can be a relentless, unforgiving task.  Slaving away in the burning sun and occasional rain, painting never-ending woodwork atop a wobbly ladder.  My advice?  Buy yourself a house that’s all of 8 foot high and you’ll find you can paint it in approximately an hour, including varnishing.  Trust me; it’s enormously satisfying.  A little small, perhaps, for the whole family, but perfectly proportioned for a 3yr old.

You may remember we bought a second-hand playhouse (above) for Harry’s birthday last winter, and it has sat looking picturesque but slightly weary through the harsh winter months.  Soon after buying it I added curtains made from tea towels and a slate ‘Little House’ sign, but we waited until the Springtime before tackling the interior.  Last weekend I gave it a proper overhaul, painting sills and gables, planting up hanging baskets and turning the bare interior into a proper bachelor pad. If you’ve time for a cup of pretend tea and a plastic cake, come on inside and have the tour…

the little house sign

When the playhouse was delivered, the inside was bare wood – and somewhat battered from having legions of small feet pattering in and out over the years in its former home.

playhouse renovation

We gave it a couple of coats of whitewash and glued inexpensive carpet tiles to the floor, and then decked out the interior with Harry’s play BBQ, table and chairs…

playhouse interior

harrys kitchen diner

All of these furnishings have simply been moved out from the playroom for the summer, freeing up some valuable space indoors.

Here’s the ‘loft’ sleeping platform before….

harrys loft before

And after…

little house loft

Above the sleeping platform hangs – securely –  a watchful angel; in reality a photograph I took of a folk-art Christmas decoration I bought years ago in New England.

little house angel

There’s enough space to hang your hat above your pillow, and a clock to wake you from a nap, should the bird chorus outside fail.  A decorative driftwood garland hangs by the ladder, and some well-worn old linens make for a comfortable den to retire to with a favourite book.  The paper animal garland was leftover from Harry’s first birthday party a couple of years ago and has found renewed purpose in bedecking the playhouse walls – I give it a few more months before it is declared too babyish and relegated to the (real) loft.

play loft

Do you remember Harry’s Hardware Store (below)?  With the advent of warm weather this has found a natural home inside the playhouse, where young drivers can park their scooters, pedal cars and balance bikes at the door and come in for tools, coffee or petrol.  It does a roaring trade..

harry store main shot

playhouse with built in store

Externally, The Little House is ready for summer; I exchanged the faux-topiary balls of winter for some low hanging baskets which Harry and I planted up with strawberries; they are just reachable for 3yr old hands, but tantalisingly out of reach for slugs.  Geraniums burst from the window box, mirroring those of the main house, and a passion flower climbs alongside the door.   A bird box mounted near the eaves will hopefully attract residents next winter, and a brightly painted cockerel weather vane adds a distinctive finishing touch.  And finally, I can’t forget our sunflowers, which now sit along the side of the Little House, where they can turn to the late afternoon sun, protected from the mayhem of small people crashing in and out of the playhouse itself.

The Little House in Springtime

the little house exterior

Work over, we all hunched inside for a celebratory cup of tea, served up with a hard, wooden play sausage and half a head of garlic.  Whatever else Harry does in his life, I doubt that a future in the kitchen beckons.

amish star

And finally, before I go; this week Pinterest is launching formally here in the UK, to great excitement.  For those who haven’t yet come across it, Pinterest is a very visual way of collecting together all the things you love, by ‘pinning’ images to your boards from all across the wide world of the web.  For those who are already converts, you can find me (and images from all of the projects on my site) here, or by searching under pinners  for ‘Kate Curates’; for those who are new and want to explore for the first time, you can register using the link here.  One word of advice; don’t do this if you have a deadline looming, or a child soon to wake from a nap, or indeed anything which requires your undivided attention for some time; it can be absolutely, deliciously addictive…

Weekend Notes

Hello Typewriter card

Did you have a lovely weekend?  We had a divine long weekend of sunshine, friends and downtime, with very few places to be and nothing which required more sartorial effort than t-shirts and deck shoes.  Perfect.  it gave me a chance to plant up the windowboxes which line our sills and always make me think of those beautiful hidden squares in the heart of French villages..

Geraniums

We managed to eat al fresco every single day, with picnics in the park and long, lazy lunches in the garden at home.  The magnolia trees continue to explode in bloom so I snipped a handful of buds to float in a bowl in the centre of the table;

magnolia

magnolia 2

magnolia 3

We feasted on some tried-and-tested family favourites like this tomato salad with grilled halloumi cheese, torn basil and balsamic glaze;

summer salas

…and experimented with some new decadent dessert recipes which I’ll share with you properly in due course.  The cocktail glasses were all scraped clean with happy sighs so I’m considering that a resounding success!

Strawberry Cheesecake Cocktails

There was one small shadow cast over the weekend, and a grave reminder that pride surely comes before a fall.  My sunflower, which shot off the proverbial starting blocks just a week ago, has now developed a worrying lean.  Like a teenager in the midst of an ungainly growth spurt, it has somehow overshot itself.  We’ve called in the fire brigade to assist but I’m not confident.  The other two are standing strong, but I may make an early and untimely exit from the family race..

wobbly sunflower

And finally… one of the loveliest things about the gradual arrival of summer is the long balmy nights.  I spent one evening this weekend with the garden door propped open, glass of chilled white wine to hand, making these cards (top and below) using a photograph I took of my Valentines typewriter.  I’ve included a printable version at the bottom if you want to use this yourself; just trim around the main image, then carefully slice around the top three sides of the typewriter-paper which is inserted into it.  Roll the flap lightly around a pencil to create a curve (see below), then glue the main image to card stock, being careful to avoid glueing your flap down.  Ta-da; a 3d typewriter correspondence card.  I added simple white shirt buttons to the keys as further embellishment..

typewriter correspondence card

Before I sign off, a huge thank you for the lovely comments recently, and welcome to those who are new here; it’s wonderful to hear from you and  to have you along for the ride.

Have a good week, and may the sunshine be with you!

Vintage Typewriter Printable

The Great Sunflower Race 2013!

The Great Sunflower Race begins

This time last year, we launched our inaugural Great Sunflower Race, pitting our horticultural skills against family, friends, neighbours – and you.  We painted our pots, googled top tips, and Harry and I then watched in glee as our seeds germinated seemingly overnight, sending out perky shoots and promising great things.  We tut-tutted over my husband’s barren soil  - his seedling eventually grew about a foot before peaking and retiring – whilst watching our stems shoot heavenward.

…They were eaten as an appetiser by a passing deer the following week.

But there’s something about the British spirit of perseverance against all odds; a relentless optimism  combined with a constitutional patience that causes us to quietly join queues and wait in line even if we have no idea what we are waiting for.  Some argue that it is this spirit which has won wars; it’s certainly the same dogged optimism that compels us to try again this year – and with such passion and fervour!

Once more Harry and I have had a fun time packaging up seeds into tiny envelopes to give away to old friends and new, so that the race can begin in earnest;

sunflower packets 3 copy

great sunflowe race master

And once again we’d love you to join us, if you have a patch of soil or even just a doorstep – the beauty of sunflowers is that they need very little space.  Choose your seeds, fill a pot and throw your virtual hat into the ring via the comments below, and we’ll have regular progress checks on sunflower growth spurts around the world.  Let the great sunflower race begin!

 

An Easter welcome…

Easter approaches, but not the vibrantly green Easter of sudden unseasonal heatwaves, spring picnics and al fresco fun.  Instead, Easter in our small corner of the world promises to be sprinkled with snow flurries, with only the hardiest early apple blossom and narcissi spikes braving the chill.  We don’t care; at Easter each year the house fills with family and friends, and we’ve been adding some decorative touches to spruce things up for their arrival.  Let’s start with lunch…

wallpaper table runner

I wanted to create an interesting Easter table that will see us through a number of meals and provide some distractions for little hands; I used a leftover piece of wallpaper for a simple, natural table runner.  It’s wipe-proof, unlikely to tear and means there’s no need for a tablecloth beneath.  I love using wallpaper for table runners – our local DIY store lets you cut sample lengths and I have a bundle of offcuts from when we were decorating bedrooms; some vibrant and some, like this, more subtle.  Simple brown kraft paper looks great too, or you could use a roll of black paper to mimic a chalkboard; I’ve done this for informal dinners with friends and it looks gorgeous when decorated with white chalk pens (leave some on the table for guests to doodle with..)

spring hare napkin rings DIY

I made these seasonal napkin rings by cutting toilet rolls in half and glueing a length of fabric around each.  I sourced the archive image of the spring hare from here; it was once a bookplate in a dictionary…  I printed it out several times on a sheet of white paper and cut into strips before glueing around each ring.

I used the same image for placemats, printing onto A3 recycled paper, and creating a set of hares racing around the table…

march hare placemat

For the centre of the table, I trailed a variety of spring elements to create a narrow but interesting feature, that can stay in place throughout the long weekend…

tonal spring table

We dragged a mossy log back from the park and this, when dried out, provided the backbone (n.b. if you do this, I’d suggest leaving it in the porch overnight for any existing many-legged residents to seek alternative accommodation, thus avoiding a mass exodus across the lunch table). Homemade nests were placed at each end, with smaller ones tucked along the log.  Old terracotta pots planted with narcissi are scattered at intervals, and should come into bloom at just about the right time…

easter or spring table centrepiece

Hard-boiled white duck eggs sit alongside faux eggs and blown quails eggs, filling bowls and egg cups, and even a tiny vintage silver tea pot from Harry’s play kitchen.

easter table display with teapot

 

I wandered around the house collecting any small vases or bowls of the right sort of palette, like this duck-egg blue vase which normally sits on a mantel but looks just right here…

easter tablescape detail

I decided to make a decorative banner for the fireplace in the kitchen, so set about painting some eggs in fantasy colours and designs (don’t try looking these up in any bird book; accuracy was never my strong point).  These beautiful paints are from legendary Parisian art store Sennelier, and were a gift from my father; I don’t break them out very often but when I do they’re a joy to use.

watercolour eggs

I painted my eggs onto watercolour postcard paper, then scanned them in so I could cut out enough for a banner; I like how they turned out, and think I’ll use them as individual place cards, or maybe transfer print them onto a plain tea towel in the future; if you want to use them for anything seasonal I’ve attached my file as a PDF below, which looks like this when you open it;

bird egg collection

If the weather-man is right, we’ll be lighting the log fire more than once and it will be the centre of attention, so I’ve arranged the folded books from a couple of weeks ago to add a spark of humour and interest…

easter fireplace

And as a final touch, on the large cook’s table sits a vase filled with plastic eggs and a fallen cherry-tree branch, a victim of the recent storms; we rescued it, trimmed just a little and then decked the branches sparingly with speckled eggs.  To do this, I placed a drinking glass inside the vase, filled it with water and inserted the branch, before carefully dropping the plastic eggs all around, filling up the space between the glass and the vase.

easter vase filler

Elsewhere, a collection of  wicker baskets which we’ve collected over the years sits waiting in the hall for the small hands of eager egg-hunters on Easter Monday.  We’re all ready to lay out the hunt (below), but are waiting till the very last minute to decide whether this is a bracing outdoor escapade calling for wellies, scarves and hot chocolate, or whether instead we’ll be placing eggs in nooks and crannies around the house before unleashing indoor chaos…

egg hunt signs

Our next task is a spot of seasonal baking; these baby chick cupcakes went down well last year so a newly hatched batch is top of the list.  If you click on the picture below you can find the details of how we made them.

Hatching Chick Cupcakes

Have a wonderful Easter weekend, wherever you are and whomever you’re with; may spring sunshine and good chocolate find their way to your door…

March hare tablemat

Six Speckled Eggs by Kate

Nesting

DIY birds nest tutorial

Bird nests; one of nature’s most abidingly beautiful things, evocative of spring & new life.  Did you know that birds make on average 500 trips to build a nest, working with barely a pause for several days on end?  And that if you’re a poor male Weaver bird, your nest is the dating equivalent of a statement of your net worth, your DIY skills and your general domesticity and attention-to-detail all in one? Frankly, if  your nest doesn’t cut it,  you’re destined to remain the eternal bachelor.  And that’s a lot of pressure, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Fortunately these homemade nests (above and below) take about 30 minutes and require only a good rummage under the hedgerows, a small amount of dexterity and creativity, and a dab of glue.  Oh, and a few well-placed hair grips.  They may not attract exotic winged wildlife to take up residence, but they will look very pretty as an Easter table centrepiece, or strewn around the house decoratively through Spring.  Mine are currently perched on the kitchen windowsill and tucked into bookshelf corners, and make me smile in the morning.

DIY birds nest project

bird nest DIY 2

DIY feathers

speckled birds nest DIY

A tiny nest has even found its way into the pocket of Harry’s waistcoat, watched over by a territorial pheasant (a lingering Christmas tree decoration).

bird nest in waistcoat pocket

birds nest on branch

bird nest still life

The fabulous thing about bird nests – in real life and here – is that each and every one is different.  You can use different materials to construct it, and weave all manner of things into the basic structure.  Through trial and error I’ve found that there are three main good things to build your basic shape with;

Salim, or seagrass, is perfect.  I got a huge bundle from my local garden centre / florist for a few pounds, and it’s a (messy) delight to work with as it naturally binds itself together

Raffia is very widely available and comes in many different colours.  It’s great for kids to work with and also good for building nests that will house chocolate or candy eggs

Handfuls of reeds, creepers, living willow or other garden plantstuff also work well; you want a good thick handful of whatever you choose, at least 12-18 inches in length.  Green willow will become brown and stiff as it dries out, but is very malleable when freshly cut.

bird nest basics

Once I’d bought my seagrass, we went to the park to gather up bits and pieces to adorn the nests.  Harry loved this bit,  racing back to us with carefully cupped handfuls of treasures including feathers, bits of string and pebbles, interestingly shaped twigs… we threw it all in to our collecting sack.  Duck feathers are particularly beautiful as they tend to be very small and speckled, sometimes with hints of blue and green which look gorgeous when you add in eggs to the finished nest.  Whilst Harry and I fearlessly waded amongst mounds of duck poo to collect tiny, crusty feathers, my husband grew restless; ‘Would it speed things up if I just kidnap a duck for you to pluck later?’ he enquired, through chattering, gritted teeth.

faux birds nest materials

Once you’ve assembled everything (in a clear, sweepable space; don’t do this on a carpet, trust me..), find some clothes pegs, craft glue and simply hair grips like these which you’ll use to hold the nest together.  Now, we begin..!

Step 1: Take a thick handful of your seagrass (or raffia, etc), about 12-18 inches long (like a bundle of spaghetti).  Bend it into a tight tyre or wreath shape and secure it in place.  You can do this by tying it with string or wire, or by clipping it temporarily with clothes pegs and then using a glue gun, removing the pegs when dry.  You should end up with a messy but firm hoop like this below; don’t worry that it has no ‘bottom’; we’ll fill this in later.

nest building step 1

Step 2: trim off all of the bits that stick out (decide whether you want a very neat, trimmed nest to impress the neighbours, or a more random, scruffy one; I like both in different ways).  Tuck a loose ball of seagrass and offcuts into the hoop to make a base.  This will hold blown eggs very easily, but if you’re planning on putting anything heavier in the nest you might want to place it in a bowl or on a plate at this stage. Place it on its ‘bottom’ and make sure it is stable, neatening up where necessary.

nest building step 2

Step 3; Now you can start to accessorise your nest.  You can add moss (real of faux) by dotting it around the edges and securing with either hair pins (pushed straight in), or by wrapping around with brown or invisible thread.  Strands of leafy ivy are a great alternative.  Then tuck feathers in around the sides and top edges, along with any other treasures that you’ve gathered along the way;

nest build step 3 moss

nest building step 4

nest building step 5

Your nest is now ready for eggs!

nest building step 6

bird nest on fireplace

I’ve used a mixture of hand-blown quail and duck eggs in my nests, some of which I’ve dyed and speckled using a dry-bristled paintbrush dipped in paint, and some shop-bought ones too.  For a step-by-step tutorial on how to dye and speckle eggs, have a look at this post I wrote last year by clicking on the picture below;

101tonal-eggs-with-ink

Now, I must leave you in order to go sweep up in the aftermath of our nest-building frenzy, but first a quick but heartfelt ‘thank you’ for all of the lovely comments, likes and for those of you who have signed up for more, week after week; it puts a spring in my already-bouncy step and makes it all very worthwhile…

Have a lovely weekend!

speckled egg

A little birdie SOS call

In the aftermath of Sandy across the Eastern Coast of the US, our week of wet and windy weather here seems to pale into insignificance. I hope that if you’re reading this from across the pond you’re safe and well, unscathed by the havoc the storm has wreaked.  In our small corner of England, the stormy weather is proving traumatic for the garden birds arriving here for the Winter months.  Stories abound of weary birds dropping from the skies into the waters around  coastal harbour towns, metres from reaching dry land, after days of flying in battering, gusty winds.  Harry and I have decided to launch our own garden bird SOS by making a myriad of DIY bird feeders, to welcome the exhausted new arrivals and help to fatten them up for the chilly months ahead.

Making birdseed feeders is one of the messiest and most fun kitchen projects; it’s incredibly simple, gratifyingly mushy, and very forgiving; if your mixture hardens before you’re done, you can just warm it up and start all over again.  We made a mixture of feeding balls and cookie-cutter shapes, pierced through with straws to create a hanging hole for thread…

Some of these looked so pretty that I think we’ll make them again to accompany Christmas gifts for our green-fingered friends and family members.  Others looked so vast and lumpy that we had to search out very hardy branches to hang them from; I suspect that any robin or chaffinch brave enough to tackle one of those will have trouble getting airborne for a while afterwards..

The other glorious thing about these is that even the most haphazard and amateur cook can manage it (that’s us, of course…).  As long as your ingredients are in proportion to each other, you’ll be fine. So, grab a cup or  a mug and measure out:

  • 4 cups of birdseed (we chose a winter bird mix, with differing sizes of grain to attract different birds)
  • 3/4 cup of flour
  • 3 large spoons of golden syrup (corn syrup)
  • 1/4 cup of hot water, in which you’ve sprinkled and stirred a sachet of powdered gelatine (find these in the home baking section of supermarkets)

Mix all of these together in a bowl. Have lengthy and circular conversation with any young children about why this is one recipe where they are not allowed to lick the spoon and/or bowl at the end

Spoon into pre-greased cookie cutters, using your fingers or the back of a teaspoon to squish the mixture into the edges and compress it down; the more firmly you can pack it, the easier it will be to hang and then peck. For the birds, that is.  Resist the urge to peck at them yourself.  Poke a chopped up piece of straw into each to create the hole for hanging.

After a couple of hours of drying, ease them out of the cookie-cutters and remove the straws, then turn over, so each side can harden.  Ideally leave them overnight for this stage.  If you need to free up the kitchen counter space, you can pop them in the freezer for an hour instead, which does the trick.

Finally, thread a piece of string, cord or ribbon through each, ready to hang; we chose bright ribbon to attract the birds, and to give us something cheerful to look at through the kitchen window..

So now we’ll retire indoors, and await the happy sound of chirruping and crunching from our feathered friends.  At least, that’s what I have assured Harry will happen.  I suspect that in fact I will be bursting through the door again in minutes, shrieking at the squirrels who will descend upon our efforts with glee, as the neighbours look at me, baffled at such random behaviour.  Such is life…

A Scented Christmas


At this point in the year, you can bet that Martha will have baked her Christmas Cake, completed festive gift shopping not only for her nearest-and-dearest but also for those unexpected guests who may drop in over the holiday season. Mulled wine is probably even now gently steeping on the Stewart household stove, and the turkey is gobbling a little more anxiously than last week. No such preparations are afoot chez nous; we are tardy as ever. Only Harry is our constant reminder that Christmas is not so far away, as his anticipation builds about the arrival of ‘Farmer Christmas’ (something may have been lost in translation there, but I do like the mental picture of Santa arriving on a large muddy tractor).

The one thing I have done today is plant up some bulbs to ensure that the house is full of festive colour and the intoxicating smells of winter hyacinth and paperwhites….

I love the process of choosing the bulbs; visiting the garden centre and filling a large brown paper bag with handfuls of these rustling bundles of promise.  This year I’ve chosen hyacinths of shades of delft blue and rich purples, which I’ll combine with white, silver and wood tones when decorating at home.  I’ve planted some in glass forcing jars so that Harry and I can watch the roots reaching out for the water and see the process of growth and flowering happen at close hand.

We carefully carried these into the dark coolness of the garage where they’ll sit for a few weeks until the tips are about 1.5 inches long, when we’ll bring them inside to flourish and scent the hallway.

Paperwhites exude a more subtle scent and love company, so I added a handful of these to a simple tin basin, tips just above the soil, before consigning them to the dark alongside the hyacinths.  We filled just about every available container with bulbs; they’re so cheap and plentiful, and their beauty distracts from the fact that they’re housed in old tin cans, mugs, mismatched flowerpots and jars (and besides, this was just never going to be a home where stuff matches, let’s agree..).

When we take to the woods this weekend on our usual expedition to hunt for bears (we more often find the ice cream van and the swings, but Harry remains hopeful), we will also be spotting places for the best mistletoe and holly berries, so that in the midst of one cold December morning we can nip out and gather some for our Christmas table.  This may be both the beginning and end of my Christmas preparations for now, but at least we’re off the starting blocks…

First Harvest

I wrote here about the moment in April when Harry and I caught Spring Fever and had an exuberant flurry of planting fruit and vegetables, before collapsing exhausted on the lawn with a stiff drink (of milk, naturally).  We are complete amateurs, seduced by the adverts in the garden centre which promise abundant produce from phoenix-like plants which thrive on neglect and rise from the dead every time.  Harry’s selection process involved choosing the brightest coloured packets which were reachable at knee-height, and that seemed as good a plan as any to me. It’s fair to say we put our feisty seedlings and their hardiness to the test, as did the British weather – the amount of floods and hailstorms we’ve had in recent weeks would suggest to the Biblically-minded that eternal damnation is quite possibly just around the corner.

Still, today we harvested our first crops and have held a small judging ceremony to score our efforts.  We have been generally tough on ourselves but start with the stand-out winners, our beautiful, abundant sugar snap peas.  Or perhaps I should just say peas; they grew way beyond sugar-snapping size and are now cheery fat pods bursting with perky peas. We’re very proud.

Our second crop was courgettes.  Everyone warned me that courgettes grow in the blink of an eye and that gardeners the world over will roll their eyes and tell you of the glut they always experience, and their weariness of having to cook courgette 50 different ways to try to run down their stocks.  It is thus with some embarassment that I confess we have managed to grow just one courgette.  One, Uno, Solo.  And that one is approximately the length of Harry’s finger, and only slightly wider.  It is perfectly formed, but insufficient for a meal, unless perhaps Gwyneth Paltrow was coming for dinner. We give ourselves 6 out of 10.

Chantenay carrots were my secret favourite crop; I pictured rustling up a bowl of them for Sunday lunch en famille, where they would glint under a knob of melting butter and look radiant and perfectly formed, yet just earthy and organic enough for it to be clear they were not from a supermarket.  Well, of all these goals we seem to have achieved only the latter; there aint no doubt that our carrots are not shop-bought….

Still, who needs to eat carrots when you can give them false eyes and name them individually? (this one above is The Lobster, by the way…).  We may not be close to winning any beauty prizes for our efforts, but we’re having a lot of fun growing them…

Outside in.



As we restore our crumbling, ancient home I’m continually drawn to natural materials and a muted palette, be it the newly laid wooden floors, the kiln-dried accent logs we’ve stacked high around our wood-burning stove, or the stone fireplaces we’ve sourced from reclamation yards.  I recently papered Harry’s room in this beautiful winter Woods wallpaper from Cole & Son, aiming to create the aura of a nighttime forest, with a soft canopy of fairy lights. This week’s project was to create a tree stump bedside table (finished article above) on which toys, storybooks and a glass of water can perch whilst he sleeps.

Image courtesy of Cole & Son

To make the table I ventured down to the log pile at the end of our garden, home to every invertebrate known to man (including – mortifyingly – some which jump…) I’d love to boast that I fearlessly hefted a few likely logs into my wagon and strolled casually back, but in truth I wimped out and rustled up my husband to do the dirty work whilst I mutely pointed at the logs I wanted with a trembling finger, from the safety of the patio.

I chose a couple of level, even logs and let them dry out in the sunshine for a couple of days before chipping off loose bark and sanding until smooth.  This latter stage sounds deceptively swift; in reality it’s relentless and dull and likely to cause your arm to go numb and induce temporary deafness. Still, it’s worth it (sort of).  Once your log is really smooth, the final stage was to wax it; I mixed up 3 parts natural liquid wax (wood oil will work fine) to 1 part white emulsion, and applied two coats to give it this soft warm glow.

So now my first log project is complete and has pride of place by Harry’s bed, and his room is almost complete.  The memory of the spiders, sanding, paint fumes and the sheer weight of the finished table as I dragged it upstairs are rapidly beginning to fade, and I’m already pondering what to attempt next… here are 3 gorgeous projects from elsewhere around the web which caught my eye; hmmm, which to choose?

Log pencil holder from strawberrychic.com

amazing log sofa from dornob.com

Log candles from etsy.com