spring

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

Spring Projects (and Amsterdam!)

Magnolia stems

An unusual – and excitable – midweek post as I’ll be headed off to Amsterdam shortly – I can’t wait!  We’re planning on seeing some of the famous museums, taking a canal cruise, walking through the old town and window shopping our way through the De Negen Straatjes (nine streets) district of boutiques and artisan shops.  More next week, with pictures galore no doubt.  In the meantime, a few more of our springtime projects… like CRESS!  One of my first ever posts was about growing cress-men, and we still love the magic of scattering seeds and seeing them sprout almost overnight…

homegrown cress

The garden has swung into bloom, with a myriad of beautiful blush-pink magnolia trees (pictured top), and sweeps of daffodils dotted around the lawn.  Harry’s been busy gathering them up, and learning through trial and error the right pressure-point needed to ensure that they are picked but not brutally beheaded; fortunate that we have so many…

Picking garden daffodils

Grandma came to stay so we filled a vase for her bedside and added a photo to show the source of the effort; with demonstrating provenance so fashionable these days, we thought we’d illustrate the very short journey from plot to pot…

Vase of flowers with photo

I also made a couple of mantlepiece concertina photo books of recent family photos to send to relatives; tutorial from last year can be found here if you want to have a go (so simple, yet they look as if you’ve slaved over them for weeks; very satisfactory…)

Spring photobook

Spring photobook close-up

And finally a couple of work-in-progress peeks into future crafty projects about the house.  Firstly, the kitchen mannequin who we adorned with fir branches and baubles at Christmastime, and who is now gathering a gradual cloak of spring branches and blooms.  I tweak her practically every morning and add or remove bits and pieces; she’ll be finished before Easter weekend and I’ll show you the result…

Spring mannequin

And continuing with my passion for paper-cutting, I’ve been making March hares to use in cards and as gift tags… templates and ideas to follow when I’ve worked out what I’m going to do with them.

march hare papercuts

Have a great rest-of-the-week!

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The brief flirtation with Spring is over

spring tableau

Another smörgåsbord post tonight, of the best bits of the past week and a few passing obsessions.  The amazing and short-lived days of Spring last week encouraged the garden to burst into premature glory; I did a sweep at dawn this morning of all the branches and blooms brought down in the gusts of overnight wind and hailstones, and rescued a few of the most beautiful buds to play with and create a spring tableau on a sheet of watercolour paper (above and below).

Paintbox flower

The weather held off long enough for us to go car-booting this morning at a local flea market; the first of the season.  Pickings were slim, but I came across a huge box of vintage British walking maps, all heavily loved and worn, and printed on beautiful linen paper…

Old maps

I scooped up all of the coastal ones (I have an abiding love affair with Cornwall and Dorset), and some of the Lake District, and am just pondering how to use them; regular readers will know that maps are something of a passion of mine, so expect to see them popping up in projects in due course.  Fellow Cartophiles (did you know that’s what we’re called?  Thank you, google..) should try typing ‘maps’ into the Boards search on Pinterest to find some lovely curated collections like this one, and this. Just beautiful.

Vintage maps

I also found an old Polaroid camera for £2 which seemed a small enough price to pay for the risk of seeing whether it worked (and whether I could source film).  I was playing with it in Starbucks afterwards and clicked the shutter only to find an old roll of film still loaded inside; it produced a ghostly black and white image which Harry thought was very cool…

polaroid

We’re keeping up the Cake in the House weekend tradition, this time with a birthday cake for visiting friends.  A four-layer fudge cake no less, with ombré sponges graduating from vanilla through to caramel and chocolate.  Sounds highly technical but proved astonishingly easy (and forgiving of this distracted and cavalier cook).  It was devoured before I could show you the inside, but the recipe and ombré picture here; I’d definitely recommend it for when you need to produce a show-stopper and impress friends who are more used to you secretly roughing-up a supermarket cake until it looks passably homemade.

4 layer fudge cake

In other news, hurrah; I’m on my travels again, albeit briefly – I have a lovely weekend planned in Amsterdam with my mum next month.  I can’t wait!  We’re staying in the Museum Quarter but beyond that have no plans as yet (other than to talk, and walk, and repeat ad infinitum). Any insider knowledge or tips would be wonderful; my only prep so far has been to track down a copy of this lovely little book which lists all the craft workshops and small ateliers where you can find a myriad of handmade things which you don’t need but you want oh-so-much.

Amsterdam map by Evelyn Henson

Map above by Evelyn Henson.

And finally something that made me smile, albeit through gritted teeth as I pulled my soaking laundry from the line whilst blinded and drenched by a storm of hailstones; isn’t this so very true?  Serves me right for being all smug and sunshiny last week ;-)

seasons-winter-comic-funny-cartoon-

Illustration by Sarah Lazarovich, via acupofjo.

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

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An Overture to Springtime…

You know what they say about the best laid plans and all that?  Well, our trip to Morocco was eventful but not quite in the ways we’d imagined; the temperature dropped like a stone from around 28C to just 8C, sending Marrakech into a state of shivery shock; our hotel had somehow over-booked itself, resulting in a midnight taxi ride across the city in search of a bed for the night, accompanied by the profusely apologetic manager (we found a new hotel and bed which looked fine in the dark, but were greeted by a curious family of cockroaches on waking – cue yet another relocation after breakfast…).  Even our eagerly awaited trip into the Atlas mountains had to be abandoned as thick fog rendered the narrow hill roads too dangerous to be easily navigated.

A disappointment, for sure, but an experience so populated by adverse events that it quickly became funny, in that sort of mildly hysterically way when things spiral completely beyond your control.  Even then there were highlights; freshly squeezed local orange juice in the Jemaa el-Fnaa, the universally lovely and helpful people, and the rose petals, everywhere… beauty amidst the chaos which leaves us keen to return, albeit probably not in February.

Back home we tried to coax a little Spring sunshine and cheer ourselves up by throwing an impromptu dinner party on Friday night.

Paper Boat Placenames

I swiftly made paper boat name settings for everyone, and Harry and I dunked handfuls of curly kale into poster paint to make a fun sea foam for them to rest on (I’ll post a proper DIY for these in the week together with the patterns to download – a very easy yet lovely ‘make’ to do with a glass of wine in hand, and a little gift for friends to take home afterwards).  Along the table centre I placed random kitchen accessories and pots of herbs – anything that made me think of spring or summer, like fresh basil and lemons…

Springtime Tablescape

Fresh basil table centre

 

Bowl of fresh lemons Breadsticks

 

We had such a good night, in the way that often happens when you don’t have much time to plan and just throw people and food together; a lovely way to end the week and start the weekend.

In other news, remember my intent to start a proper glasshouse this year and your suggestions of Meyer lemon trees and other great plants?  My newly acquired lemon tree is looking beautiful and promising abundant bounty; whilst I can’t claim responsibility for the current crop of lemons, new flower buds have appeared all over in the last couple of weeks and suggest that it’s thriving; I’m very proud :-)

Meyer Lemon TreeMeyer Lemon Flowerbuds

Harry and I also took the opportunity of half-term to get busy in the kitchen, making Star Wars cookies using our newly-acquired cookie cutters from here (US Star Wars fans can find the same ones on sale here –  a bargain!).  We made basic sugar cookies and then rolled out fondant icing to stamp the toppings; C3PO also benefits from a light dusting of gold powder (we do love a bit of bling).

Star Wars Cookies

And finally, our cake-in-the-house Saturday ritual continues; this week it was lemon drizzle loaf cake, now just a scattering of crumbs.  Next week it’s back to work, and the gym, and a more abstemious few days of salad – but not just yet…it is Sunday evening after all.

Cake In The House

Have a great week, wherever you are and whatever you’ve got planned.

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Christmas; A Week in Pictures

Happy New Year!  Did you have a lovely break?  I hope so.  We’re slowly emerging out of our cocoon and back into the real world again, after a wonderful – if chilly – Christmas.  A few highlights to share; firstly, of course, that the Big Man himself came…..

Santa has been

We had carefully counted out nine carrots and measured a mug of milk and some mince pies, so anticipation had been high, not least after Harry found Santa’s telegram in the hearth on Christmas Eve morning;

discovering the north pole telegram

There was much debate about where to hang stockings, before Harry decided that the end of the bed was the surest approach.  On Christmas morning, he discovered a letter from Santa in the top of his stocking, talking about how busy life has been at the North Pole; describing the winter colds which have been affecting the elves and which Mrs Claus has been treating with her special medicine, and the sprint-start training which Rudolph has been leading the reindeer in to ensure the whole world is reached over the course of a single night.  Harry was transfixed – momentarily – before being thoroughly distracted by the tissue-wrapped packages in the stocking itself.

Santas letter

Our boiler resolutely failed to start, despite the efforts of several engineers, so we spent Christmas wrapped in scarves, hats, jumpers, thick socks and blankets, huddled around the open fires in the kitchen and snug.  Bathing was limited to kettles of water, which Harry saw as another Christmas present in itself (no hair washing!), and which the rest of us shivered through.  Fortunately our visiting relatives are a hardy lot, so we pretended we were camping in the wild and consigned all planned festive outfits to the back of the wardrobe in favour of warm layers; there was no glamour here this year.  Harry, incidentally, seems to have a unique thermostat that never registers the cold; he spent Christmas day mostly in his vest, accessorised with a new Batman cape and mask;

batman outfit

When it came to feasting, I focused on creating a feeling of warmth with minimal effort, so used the antlers which usually adorn the log basket to form a centrepiece, sprinkled with glitter and with neutral baubles tucked at intervals.  Glitter-dipped pinecones acted as place-name holders, and a length of black paper underneath complete with chalk sticks made for much fun between courses.  The most popular game with our rotating collection of family and friends over the break was to see who could scribble down the names of all of the reindeer first.  Have a go, it’s harder than you think;  though it’s perhaps a sign of the potency of my homemade Christmas Martinis that someone had noted ‘Nixon’ in their list.

Christmas Eve Table

 

origami log basket

Our main Christmas present to each other was a New Year escape to a beautiful little hotel in the Cotswolds, for a couple of nights of warmth, fun and relaxation; it looked so welcoming even as we pulled into the drive;

calcot manor hotel

…and Harry was immediately won over on discovering his bed (as were Digby and Marvin, who accompany him everywhere)..

hotel cookies

Back home we’ve been busy packing up Christmas decorations (how is it that the number of them seems to grow every year?)

bristle tree forest

…And making thank-you cards for the many wonderful gifts we all received.  For Harry’s, I designed a simple note and then added a picture of him in cowboy costume on the front.  I recently picked up some old and rather battered childrens’ books in a church sale and have been cutting out pictures to use as envelope liners, so this Christmas thank-you notes will come with gorgeous images from Elmer;

Harry thank you 2013 Harrys thank you cards  saying thank you after christmas

And now the festivities are truly over, and we’re left with a house that looks deliciously calm and uncluttered – and warm at last, with a happily chuffing boiler once again firing away. Spring seems a long way off still, so my thoughts are turning to all things green and to how I can ward off the January gloom with a bit of colour and new life dotted around the place; that’s the challenge for this weekend, before work beckons once again.

narcissi

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

Kate

Weekend notes

weekly shop

You just know it’s going to be good weekend when you go to the supermarket and find all the Spring bouquets discounted to £1.  Even then, buying flowers for yourself is somehow deliciously decadent.  Add baguettes, fresh figs, french cheese and drizzling honey and you have a sunshine feast in the making; never mind that I forgot the far more crucial household staples (domesticity will never come easily to me; lack of effort, I suspect…).

The same trip took me past a haberdashery store which was selling roll-ends of fabric; I bought some majestic raspberry velvet which will easily see Harry through a childhood of Harry Potter cloaks, wise man nativity outfits and Santa hats, plus a length of this cheery tea-party cotton for which I have a myriad of ideas; it will hang over my desk till inspiration settles.

time for tea

And on the theme of lovely-but-unnecessary purchases, the postman delivered me a long-awaited and utterly impractical lukrecja cotton apron from Polish company COOKie.  Whilst serious cooks would doubtless throw up their hands at the skittishness of my apron, I am giddy with adoration for it.  In its defence, it is made of heavyweight industrial cotton and designed for the kind of heavy-duty labour a kitchen skivvy needs.

lukrecja apron

Undermining this defence completely is the publicity shot for the apron (below), with the tagline  ’it is easy for Lukrecja to leave the kitchen to buy vegetables whilst absent-mindedly forgetting to wear clothes under her apron’.  Hmmm.  Completely mad, and all the better for it.  I have been waltzing round the kitchen in my jeans and apron, twirling and admiring myself in the oven door and every other reflective surface.  Dinner has been late.

LUKRECJA bicycle

In other despatches from the weekend, we’ve been channeling our inner Picasso, making a homemade picture for Harry’s grown-up brother who has recently moved house.  Harry adores Chris, so going to Chris’s first grown-up house is a very big deal.  In real life, Chris and his girlfriend Emma look as if they have stepped from the pages of an Abercrombie catalogue.  Harry, in the manner of Lucian Freud, has chosen to render them looking rather simian and obese, with no hint of flattery.  He stood back to examine them, then waved his hand dismissively; ‘they are done, mummy’. A 3yr old artiste.

Harry draws BIG, so I took his two pictures and scanned them in, adding the names and date, then mounted the print and placed it in a simple silver frame; he is immensely proud of his efforts, which manage to look stylish and understated in C&E’s hip neutral living room.

picture gift

The sun has shone this weekend, almost throughout, causing Britons up and down the country to hurl off their clothes and lie on every available patch of grass.  It’s a cultural kind of carpe diem; sunlight is so rare and cherished that we tend to overreact completely to the melting of frost and make the most of every ray of warmth.  In a rather more domesticated reaction, we hung washing on the line for the first time this year, and Harry tackled the spring-cleaning of his playhouse (for about 5 minutes; he gets that staying-power from me).

spring cleaning

We’ve planted our sunflowers, turned over a couple of flower beds and then there’s just been time, as the spring sunshine fades today and the air cools again, to lie on the still-damp grass and look up through our magnificent magnolia tree, which has suddenly burst into bud and bloom.

Heaven.

magnolia skies

I hope you had a lovely weekend too…especially those who planted sunflowers with us; let the race begin!!

Kate

An Eclectic Collection of Happinesses

My wonderful Valentine’s gift last week arrived at the foot of the bed in an enormous, dusty cardboard box, and gave me thrills; this vintage Imperial typewriter was a total surprise and is  - for me – the perfect choice. Grimy, weary and with a handful of stiff keys it will polish up a treat, and my mind is already racing with possibilities.  I think it will find a temporary home on the writing desk in our guest bedroom, perhaps with a welcome note typed out on it..

Typewriters

I’ve also been thinking ahead to the Easter holidays, and whilst we plan out trips and social events my mind has turned to decor, food and festivities; I’ve been having a go at making faux birds nests to fill with blown, dip-dyed & hand-speckled eggs; this (below) was an early attempt, and I’ll share with you the full how-to and some suggestions on materials and styling soon.  I think I’m going to place ours under the cloches we used at Christmastime, on a cake stand; but the possibilities are endless.

faux bird nest DIY

The weather briefly turned last weekend, shooting up a veritable 11 degrees and giving us a preview of Spring.  It was the only invitation I needed to brighten up the house, gathering these beautiful, vibrantly-Spring like hydrangeas from the garden centre, planting up a battalion of eggshell Cress-men to adorn our windowsills, and swapping my favourite woodsmoke candles for a hint of freshly mown grass.

spring blooms

Have a lovely weekend!

Seedlings, soil and a spot of light toil…

I’m feeling all green-fingered again. I’ve been swept away by a tidal wave of good intention and the recurrent vision of becoming a self-sufficient, kaftan-wearing earth mother who harvests dinner every night from her Kitchen Garden and whose offspring can name every variety of tomato under the sun. Like most fantasies, alas, this is impossibly far from the truth.  The kaftan-wearing bit in particular is just never going to happen.

Still, a well-lived life is one of constant reinvention, as I’m sure someone must have said as it sounds very profound.  Harry and I have duly cracked open the Dorling Kindersley Guide to Gardening for Complete Amateurs, and begun sowing in earnest.  Initially we’ve just planted lettuce, carrots, radishes and salad onions. The DK guide warns me ominously that carrots are plagued by the psila rosae Carrot Fly and must always be planted alongside onions, which will, it promises, have the same effect as Kryptonite on Superman or garlic to Dracula, thus ensuring that the evil weevils keep a flight exclusion zone around our precious harvest.  This is just as well, as I wouldn’t be able to identify a psila rosae if it fell into my gin and tonic.  Especially then, in fact.

I found this rather cool and slightly more macho planter for Harry (below), and once he’d wedged himself into it a couple of times and ascertained that it achieved a max speed of about 2km/hour when pushed along, he was happy to plant it up instead, bashing each tender seedling heavily with the spade for good measure.

And finally, what I’m hoping will be the most verdant and productive of all; this grafted tomato, which the garden centre has led me to believe is the genetic equivalent of Usain Bolt and will deliver such a bountiful harvest that even the sight of a tomato, come September, will make us feel a little queasy.

It must deliver on its promise, as I have a title to uphold; last year my very undersized efforts scooped the ‘Most Artistic Tomato’ prize in my friend’s annual Tomato Festival (a deliciously drunken garden party where tomatoes feature loosely, and other equally tenuous categories include ‘Best shop-bought tomato’ and ‘Best wine to drink with tomatoes’..).  I strung a handful of dwarf cherry toms together to form a fetching necklace and earring set which I duly wore (below); it did the trick – and works a treat when you get hungry and the canapés are far away – but I think that substance is going to have to trump style this year if I am to retain my title…

And in closing; a gratuitous montage of some of the most distracting spring blooms in the rest of the garden.  One of our great pastimes (having moved into our house in the depths of winter) is watching to see what bursts into bud, then flower, as the weather turns.  All helpful advice on identifying and naming the varieties of beauties below is more than welcome…