gardening

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!

IMG_6869

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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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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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!

IMG_9392

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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Midweek Magic: Frozen blooms

DIY Ice Disks

The garden looks very bleak at the moment; grey and brown, forlorn and hibernating.  We decided to give it some jewellery to brighten it up a little as the day begins.

Inspired by an idea in Landscape magazine, we’ve been taking advantage of the sub-zero nights this week to practice a little magic; leaving shallow saucers of water outside overnight, filled with seed heads, citrus slices and cyclamen buds.  When we came downstairs in the morning, we popped out beautiful frozen disks of colour that looked like they could be necklaces for some majestic ice maiden, or perhaps serving dishes for a fantastical snowy picnic..

I carefully poured  a thin stream of hot water to melt a hole in each disk, and then we strung them from the apple tree in our garden and watched the sun slowly rise and shine through them.  Beautiful, just for a few amazing minutes.  Most we left to melt in the sunshine; a couple we slipped into the freezer so we could save them a little longer…

Ice Disks

These are of course only transient; beautiful and then gone.  Half the magic  is in the anticipation of going to bed and wondering what you will wake up to find; will the bowls have frozen?  What do the different things you’ve added look like?  It was definitely fun for an otherwise chilly, bleak day, when even The Little House was too covered in frost to look inviting for long.

The Little House in the Frost

ice disks in winter

Notes:

We found that wide-based yoghurt tubs, frying pans and plastic lids were the most successful; avoid using china that might shatter in extreme cold.  You need about 1/2 inch of water; try adding food colouring for even prettier effects.  To loosen the disks, I placed them quickly in a sink of shallow warm water.  And of course, if you find that your disks haven’t completely frozen overnight, you can cheat by finishing them off in the deep freeze!

Icy garden Jewellery

The Fir Lady Returns…

The Fir Lady 2014

In early December last year I experimented with attaching boughs of fir to chicken wire to craft a wintery skirt for the dress mannequin that sits in our kitchen.  The result was a quirky, 50s-style fir minidress that added a dash of festive sparkle to the room…

Fir Lady 2013

This year I decided on a more decadent and formal, full-skirted look, so the Fir Lady has flowing, floor-length boughs and an elegant hessian shawl, fastened with a red corset-style belt from my wardrobe…

Fir Lady belt

I followed the same steps as before, securing some chicken wire around the dress form and then simply pushing fir branches up into the wire, twisting it tight as I went to hold the boughs in place (excuse the poor photo; my usual moonlight crafting takes place when the rest of the house is asleep.. )

Making a fir dress

Once the skirt was complete, I folded a length of raw hessian fabric in half and just draped it around the top of the mannequin, to cover the tops of the branches and ends of the wire.  A wrap-around belt cinched tight holds it all in place (and it looks far better on her than me, so unfair..)

Fir Lady with hessian Shawl

As a final touch, I scattered birch wood stars randomly over the fir skirt, leaving them where they fell, nestled half-in, half-out of the greenery.

Fir Lady Dress with stars

And here she stands, as if she has swept in from the garden to escape the chill; a little bit majestic, a little bit fun.  The inevitable gentle flurries of pine needles underfoot at breakfast time will probably be less fun, but we’ll manage…

Fir Lady in the kitchen

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Gifting ideas (and the week in which my tenuous grasp on horticulture is lost)

Wine Bottle Tags free download

Happy Monday!  I hope you had a lovely weekend, and one which hasn’t receded too dramatically into the mists of time.  Ours was packed with socialising with some of our closest friends, mostly al fresco thanks to the very un-British heatwave.  Long may it continue.  Friday night was supper with friends so I baked a batch of our tried-and-tested oatcakes to take along (delicious with cheese), and designed a bottle tag to drop around the neck of a bottle of wine.  An Eat Me, Drink Me combination worthy of Alice in Wonderland, but with somewhat more predictable results… and fewer rabbit holes.

Gifting ideas; wine bottle tags

Here’s my downloadable template if you want to make a batch of tags; for those with proper grown-up wine cellars or any kind of grape expertise, they’d be great for recording tasting notes or details of dates and vintage.  Or simply greetings and instructions to consume immediately, as we did…

Wine Bottle Tag Printables

Just cut around the outside, then punch or carefully cut out the hole and lightly fold along the dotted line before slipping over the neck of your bottle.

Wine Bottle Tag Printables

Our social whirlwind continued with a visit to Harry’s godparents and their new puppy, an adorable 5 month old labrador; we made her a jar of peanut-butter dog biscuits and I also experimented with a new iPhone/iPad app called Waterlogue which converts photos into watercolour-effect pictures.  All we had was this low-res picture of Lexie, but when imported into Waterlogue and transformed, it became a gorgeous, slightly abstract picture…

trialling waterlogue

I emailed myself the pic and cropped it slightly then printed it onto sheets of white linen cardstock to make a set of notecards for the family; I added text to some and left others bare.  I can see Waterlogue is going to be my new time waster for a little while…  if you have an iPhone it’s worth checking it out;  from my early experiments it works brilliantly with some photos and can’t seem to interpret or adapt others –  a bit hit and miss – but inexpensive enough to try.

Dog watercolour cards project

DIY cards using Waterlogue app

The heatwave has been perfect for racing through garden sprinklers and spending hours in the paddling pool, but alas fatal for some of our conservatory plants; a handful have quietly breathed their last despite my fervent attempts to water and ventilate whenever we’re home (I have felt more like an ER surgeon, racing from one to the next to check possibilities for resuscitation than the genteel green-fingered pottering I’d imagined..).  Still, the mouse-melons have not only survived but thrived, and are shooting out plucky lassoos as they climb at a rate of knots…

Mousemelons climbing

The courgettes too are soaking up the dense heat and we now have row upon row of shiny – if somewhat eclectically shaped – cukes ready for Harry to pack in his lunchbox.

cucumbers in a row

I occasionally manage an early-morning wander through the garden before work, cup of tea in hand; this rose (below) looked too beautiful to ignore and now sits on my bedside table smelling divine.

garden rose

…and in a local thrift shop I found the perfect book to photograph for the cover of my gardening journal; it’s so very true…

the amateur gardener

….as evidenced by this, my bizarrely shaped courgettes (zucchini), which taste good but look like they were caught in a moment of indecision during a growth spurt about whether to remain courgettes or aim higher and pretend to be marrows.

misshapen marrow

Still, it’s all a good (if steep) learning curve… and at least our peas are uncomplicatedly obliging.  In fact, we are slowly creating a pea mountain, as we search for endless ways of incorporating them into every dish.

have a great week!

Kate

 

peas please

California Dreaming (and other weekend notes)

haake-map_california

Are you having a lovely weekend? We’ve had a blissfully relaxed one after another hectic week, and have managed to plan a getaway for later in the year – to California! We had an amazing time in New England last October so have pooled airmiles and co-ordinated dates and this time we’re heading for the west coast; I’m already ridiculously excited.  We’ll fly in and out of San Francisco in late October but beyond that we have 12 days of completely free time to explore the coast and travel around.  As always, if you have any tips or recommendations I would love to hear; particularly for unusual or interesting places to stay or must-visit stops along the route.  We’re planning to travel at least some of the way between SF and LA, but beyond that have no fixed ideas.

Holiday-plannng aside, it’s been a rambling weekend of small domestic pleasures, enhanced by the sunshine and luxury of open doors and ambient breezes.  Like these peonies; surely the ultimate summer flower, which have been slowly unfurling on my bedside table and making me smile…

peonies

…and Saturday morning’s traditional baking foray; this week I adapted a basic sponge cake recipe by adding a cup of desiccated coconut and a generous handful of raspberries, and christening my new bundt pan; it produced a deliciously more-ish cake which was photo-bombed by a small and hungry footballer even as I arranged these shots;

raspberry bundt cake

bundt thief

So then we all had to have a slice…

bundt crumbs

The conservatory continues to be a source of endless pleasure and new discoveries; this week the mouse melons had a growth spurt so I potted them up into old tin cans which I decorated, and handed out to friends;

Mouse Melons

…and I continued to sporadically photo and document the growth of everything else whenever I had the camera to hand… we tried deep-frying courgette/zucchini flowers for the first time and felt very cosmopolitan (though lest you think this typical of our weeknight-suppers, let me point you back to the old baked bean cans above, of which we have an embarrassing number..)

Cucumber F1 Botanical Journal

Zuccini flowers

And finally we went adventuring, setting up camp in a local forest for a couple of hours and having a spontaneous picnic whilst keeping a weather eye out for the myriad of friendly dogs who appeared every time we rustled the sandwich bag.  I took along Harry’s IKEA play canopy (a steal at about £8, and used relentlessly for all different kinds of activities).

picnic in the woods

And now we still have the evening left, perhaps a warm enough one to sit outside with a glass of wine and unfurl our newly purchased map of California, savouring the last few hours of the weekend. I hope yours has been a good one too.

Kate

Illustrated map (top) by the wonderful Martin Haake

A Modern-Day Botanical Journal

Botanical Journal 1

As a child I remember being briefly transfixed by the Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady; a beautifully illustrated journal of all-things-country, penned by a fragrant, gentile lady who paused to capture nature at its most bountiful with her ever-ready paint palette.  I think I must have imagined myself doing the same one day, in blissful naivety.

Now, of course, I know that parenthood seldom allows you to pause for long enough to finish a cup of tea in a single sitting, let alone daub consistently beautiful watercolours (most of my painting is done under cover of darkness, which makes capturing the nuances of plant life somewhat tricky).  Also, that the chances of producing two beautiful sketches on adjoining pages of a notebook are slim to say the least, and that the inevitable ripping out of false-starts could render any diary very thin by the time I’d found my stride.

Instead, I decided to capture the ever-growing life in the conservatory with a kind of photo-diary; wandering around during these still-light evenings and taking a weekly snapshot of tendrils, buds, seedlings and even – most exciting of all! – the emergence of mini-vegetables.  If I manage to stay the course by both a) managing not to kill all the plants through ignorance and neglect, and b) taking some decent photos along the way, then I think I’ll make them up into a photo book like this one at the end of the year… but one step at a time.

This week; the first flurry of peas arrived; mini-cucumbers began to gain weight and dangle enticingly; the courgette plant swung into bloom and I acquired a lovely old watering can from a junk shop; both functional and – to me – beautiful…

Botanical Journal 4

Botanical Journal 2

Botanical Journal 3

Botanical Journal 5

Botanical Journal Week 1

Pea Shoots

For those who wonder about these things, I shot these photos very simply with a regular Canon DSLR and lens,  wandering around the conservatory holding a square sheet of Tim Holtz craft paper behind or alongside the plants to make for an interesting, arty picture (a behind-the-scenes shot of this below);

Behind the scenes pic

The paper takes on a very different tone in the differing lights and corners of the room, and the texture pools and melts away when I’m shooting close-up like with this vibrant-yet-poisonous Gloriosa Lily, which sits high on a shelf away where it can be admired from afar;

Gloriosa Lily

In other news; it’s been half-term this week, so a week of family time and an altogether slower pace of life; fewer early-morning alarm clocks and a very laissez-faire approach to planning each day.  Picnics in the forest, local excursions and lots of serious preparation from Harry for the first ever school Sports Day which looms on the horizon (his godmother has been coaching him for the egg-and-spoon race, professing her expertise – though she resorted this weekend to using a less conventional falafel-on-a-fork in the absence of hard-boiled eggs; we are nothing if not versatile in our approach).

There’s a back-to-school feeling for all of us this evening as uniforms and work clothes are laid out ready for the morning; but we’re drawing out the remains of the day for as long as we can.

Have a wonderful week, and enjoy the final moments of the weekend.

Kate

 

Green-Fingers (and the beginnings of a garden room)

The Garden Room project

For the two years since we bought our house, the conservatory has stood empty and neglected; a leaking, ill-fitting extension in a glowing candy-floss pink colour that we’d somehow never got around to painting over.  At some point we’ll probably take it down, but until then I decided to breathe a little life into it with a coat of soft grey paint and approximately 156,000 random seedlings.  They weren’t supposed to be random, or quite so numerous, but like many amateur gardening enthusiasts I sprinkled them liberally into soil plugs and then swiftly mixed up the packets, leaving me with little idea of what verdant surprises are in store…

rocket plugs

The conservatory is attached to the snug and the playroom, and is now gradually taking shape as a space we love to be in.  I’ll show some proper photos when we’ve finished moving extraordinarily heavy pieces of furniture in and out of it, but for now a few work-in-progress shots of it taking shape.  A new fig tree is settling in and adding some Mediterranean glamour to one corner, which is also home to Agnes, our rather surly looking statue who previously held court in the downstairs toilet and is now supervising the family sunflower race (I’m winning).

Creating a garden room 1

In another corner an old Ikea worktop has been co-opted as my potting bench, and now proudly displays a rusting old French bottle-dryer that I found in a junk shop last weekend;

duck duck goose

 

Creating a Garden Room 3

We added a patio table and chairs and had Sunday morning coffee in there this past weekend, enjoying the fact that the fusty, stale air of before had been replaced with that buzzy green smell and moistness that you get when everything around you is feverishly growing

peonies and coffee in the conservatory

The peonies, somewhat astonishingly, are from our garden; the schizophrenic weather of early spring means that the borders are a jumble of unseasonal colour as the biological clocks of the plant world try to adjust and work out exactly what they should be doing.

Creating a Garden Room 2

A glossy white sideboard that looked wrong in every other room of our house finds a natural home in this sun-washed space, and hosts some of the more decorative propagation, like these sugar-snap peas who are awaiting new homes with friends as part of a veggie seedling swap…

Garden Room 7

I used wooden skewers topped with beads to form wigwams to keep them happy until they can be transplanted…

Stake small seedlings with BBQ skewers topped with beads

Elsewhere a vintage garden chair takes the weight of my lemon tree which seems to be loving the heat and sunlight; you can smell the lemons from the sofa – a new favourite place to perch with a good book (especially with an olive tree at the other end).  For anyone who is wincing at the thought of a white sofa in a roomful of soil and watering cans, it’s a 15yr-old beauty with washable covers that seems to survive most of what life throws at it.

Creating a Garden Room 6  Creating a Garden Room 4

Against the long wall the really serious growing is underway; pepper plants, tomatoes, strawberries and cucumbers, pumpkins, sweetcorn and courgettes.  Some will remain in the conservatory, others will find a natural home in the garden once the weather is reliably warm.  For fun and pure aesthetics, we’re also growing mouse-melons, globe artichokes and borlotti beans – I find myself checking on them every few hours when i’m home, such is the excitement…

Pepper Bush

Strawberry planter

And now I must go, because watering this mini-jungle is no small feat and cannot be ignored.  In the meantime, I have a small corner left to fill; any ideas for greenhouse-friendly, interesting plants?  To misquote William Morris, if it’s either beautiful or useful – by which I mean edible – then I’m all ears…

Have a great week!

Kate