Welcome to my Country Days Blog!

I’ve lived in Devon for over 30 years and while I spend most of my time working in my studio, or in front of a TV camera or on an exhibition stand, country living does give me some time and space… to think about my next project!

A crafter in the country is never bored – nature is a huge treasure trove! Beachcombing, walking on Dartmoor, or rummaging about in hedgerows (while Richard pretends not to notice) produces all sorts of goodies. Shells, feathers, wildflowers, leaves – natural things are so often the ‘light bulb moment’ that gives me an idea for something new!

I have hundreds – actually, make that thousands ­– of ideas and projects from crafts to cookery to flowers that I thought I could share with you through a weekly country-inspired blog.

I love hearing from fellow crafters and swapping ideas and useful hints and tips, so do please feedback your comments on my blog, I’m sure it will be a lot of fun!

A bit of a swagger!

As I think many of you know, I have spent a great many hours of my life cutting, drying and arranging flowers both for work projects and also for my own personal pleasure, especially at Christmas. It’s a hobby I love and never tire of. Those of you who have read my latest novel ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’ will know that this keen interest of mine has even crept into a murder mystery!

But anything I have ever produced as a Christmas decoration pales into insignificance next the utterly extraordinary giant swag that, every Christmas, graces the Great Hall in Cotehele in Cornwall. Although this National Trust property dates back to Tudor times, the yuletide tradition of decking the Great Hall with a garland is a relatively recent one. Begun in the 1950s, the Christmas flower garland is now firmly established as one of Cotehele’s annual highlights.

Every November, gardeners and volunteers at Cotehele create the 60ft long Christmas garland using thousands of flowers grown on the estate. The giant swag hangs in the Great Hall throughout the festive season and, if you are anywhere near Saltash on the Cornwall/Devon border between now and 6th January 2018… I urge you to go! You will need to book, so do have a look on the website before you set off.

Preparations for the garland begin almost a year earlier in February when the flower seeds are sown and planted in early spring in the Cut Flower Garden. The gardeners pick them daily during the summer, strip their leaves and carefully hang them in the potting shed to dry. Stripping the leaves from each individual stem is one of the most time-consuming elements in the garland-preparation process. Typically, the gardeners would like about 30,000 flowers in the garland – yes THIRTY THOUSAND!!

One of the things I love about this magical project is that, rather than following a standard design, each year the garland is different and depends on which of the specially grown flowers have done well. The garland often includes ornamental grasses, paper daisy, paper rose, statice and garden thrift.

Creating the garland is a task that involves Cotehele’s gardeners and volunteers using scaffolding to add flowers into the growing festive display. The results are spectacular, not only because of the stunning visual impact the garland makes but also because of the months of work, skill and care that has gone into creating it.

Photo:  The Christmas swag at Cotehele – photo copyright National Trust, go to their website for more information and photos

 

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Sunshine and swing seats

Ah yes, sunshine and swing seats… Now that summer is a distant memory, I thought I’d reminisce about the summers of my childhood with this pretty card. When I was little we used to go and visit my godmother deep in the country and the main thing I remember from her garden was a lovely swinging seat. I have always loved swings and the luxury of a wide and comfy seat with cushions while you are swinging – yes, I was easily entertained!

The background image on this card is from one of the new Jane Shasky pads, Birds in the Garden. All of Jane’s work is brilliant for cardmaking but the latest couple of pads, Garden Delights and Birds in the Garden are particular lovely.

On this card I have snipped up a Morning Glory Vine die and wound the pieces around the swing seat, which softens it and adds a lovely embellishment. The basic card is 8” x 8” which is a size I find really easy to work with.

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A window of opportunity

The other day (over yet more book signing – yippee!!) I was discussing houses and décor with my partner in crime writing, Julia. She has recently moved house and is blessed with wonderful views of Dartmoor. Not wanting to obscure the views behind blinds or net curtains, she was telling me about the ‘window art’ she has discovered… hmm, interesting I thought, tell me more!

After living in a very old and dark farmhouse for the past 20 years, Julia wants to ensure she gets lots of light (and the gorgeous views) in her new house. She has opted for clear glass in her front and back doors, as well as patio doors and even her bathroom window! But to ensure privacy and to deter people, dogs and birds from colliding with the glass she has bought several designs of decorative window stickers.

I guess we’ve all seen the bird silhouettes you can stick on your patio doors to try and stop bird strikes, but if you look online there are a huge range of really lovely designs that transform glass to look as if it is etched.

All these images are from Metal Monkey, they have a huge range!

You can either buy frosted and decorative window film where there is a pattern or image cut out of the frosting (offers the most privacy), or you can go for the reverse, where you add a frosted design onto plain glass. While rummaging around on the internet, Julia came across some wonderful designs from Metal Monkey, the most expensive about £18 while the majority were under £10. It’s a very reasonable way to add a lovely design touch to what used to be a rather ‘utilitarian’ look and often involved buying whole new panes of glass and the expense of having them fitted.

Photo: Brume.

Julia has opted for modern designs to reflect the style of her house, but also kept them very ‘natural’ to compliment her lovely countryside surroundings. She has bees and birds for her patio doors, mostly to stop her dog Moss from squashing her nose on the glass when she forgets they are closed, and some lovely allium-inspired designs for her main doors. Oh, and some lovely Japanese leaping carp for her bathroom window! Can’t wait to see the finished results!

Jewel-like stained glass film from Brume. Photo: Brume.

One of the suppliers Julia came across is called Brume, and they are actually based just down the road from me here in Devon! They have some lovely contemporary designs as well as more traditional ones. As well as the frosted stickies, they also make the most gorgeous stained glass colours. Their coloured transparent window film can give you the sophisticated look of traditional stained glass without the costs and installation problems. And of course, if you decide to have a re-design, you can easily remove your stained glass window sticker and replace it with a different colour that reflects your home’s new look.

I must say I do fancy having a bit of a play with the stained glass idea… Have any of you already tried something Like this, I’d be interested to hear how you got on!

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Remembrance Day memories

Whenever we see poppies our minds often turn to Remembrance Day. The new Jane Shasky Perfect Poppies pad has lots of ideas and pages to inspire you whether the card is intended for Remembrance Day, a sympathy card or just a card celebrating someone who is no longer with us.

This particular card shows a photo of my late grandmother’s first fiancée. I say first fiancée as, sadly, this was around the outbreak of the first world war was when she was in her late teens and looking for a husband. So many of our young soldiers and airmen didn’t survive even one posting or flight and this young man was just such a casualty. She went on to meet several others and over the next few years of the war she lost every fiancé as they got engaged. Finally though, there was a happy ending and, just after the war she met my grandfather – hurray! He survived, left the army and although I wasn’t lucky enough to meet him, he died around 1950, so they had a very happy 30 years or so together.

This design uses our memories die and two sheets from the pad. The backing paper which has been matted onto some plain red card and a toppers sheet which I have snipped with my decoupage snips and made all the flowers into individual pieces. I then built them up again to make this corner display using Pinflair glue gel.

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A ‘Quick’ drink inspiration!

There is such an amazing renaissance going on in the gin world, it is quite extraordinary. When I was young, it was a Gordon’s and tonic, and that was it! Over time, the spirit seemed to dwindle in the face of more trendy offerings… now it is the ‘in’ thing and go into most pubs and there’s a selection of 10 and sometimes 20 gins to choose from. There are gin producers popping up all over the place, and while I am not suggesting we all need to start guzzling G&Ts, I think it’s a very positive development and is creating local jobs and generally promoting a ‘local’ product which has to be a good thing.

Copyright: Quick Gin

I featured Tarquin’s Cornish gin a while ago and have recently spotted a new gin on the block that is made in Exeter – given its bright orange bottle, it’s hard not to spot! Called Quick Gin, the producers use a wide range of botanicals (the herbs and spices used to give each gin its distinct flavour) – juniper berries, coriander seeds, orange peel, angelica root, cassia bark, orris root powder, lemon peel, liquorice root powder, nutmeg and cinnamon. They then infuse orange and a hint of almond to round off the gin. Hence the orange bottle!

Looking at Quick’s website, I see that they have all sorts of fun cocktail suggestions including one for Autumn, designed to enliven these long Autumn nights… well, it’s a good excuse, anyway!

Quick Gin’s Autumn Cocktail:

  • 25ml Quick Gin
  • 25ml Pimms
  • 25ml rhubarb syrup
  • 50ml apple juice
  • 25ml sugar syrup
  • 12.5ml lemon juice
  • Pinch of cinnamon

Add all of the ingredients to a shaker, add ice and shake. Strain over ice and garnish with an apple and orange twist.

Copyright: Seedlip.

For those of you that don’t drink alcohol or, like me, often look for non-alcoholic options, I also spotted this on a recent trip to Jersey to visit my sister Kate. Called Seedlip Spice 94, it is a non-alcoholic spirit, it’s made like a gin with botanicals, but is definitely not a gin. The predominant flavour is clove rather than juniper, and, most importantly, it has no alcohol! Perfect if you’re a designated driver or you’re just not drinking at the moment. Seedlip contains allspice, grapefruit, lemon peel, cardamom, American oak and cascarilla bark. Together, they make a fresh, warming drink that is full of flavour but is alcohol free.

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