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!

Winter garden inspiration

My partner in crime writing, Julia, moved house last autumn and is planning how she is going to design and plant up her new garden. I’ll let Julia tell you what she’s been up to…

One of the many Cornus to be seen at Rosemoor.

I am fortunate enough to live about half an hour away from RHS Garden Rosemoor, where they run talks and courses about all aspects of gardening. My new (new to me, anyway) garden is large, relatively empty, on a very slight incline and south facing… almost the complete opposite of my previous garden that was steep, terraced half in shade, and a frost pocket! My new house is also about 700ft above sea level so I am keen to try and ensure I buy the right plants for the garden.

As well as the right plants for the setting, I also want to try and ensure I have interest throughout the year. My old garden used to be at its best from May to July and pretty uninteresting the remainder of the time. So, my first session at Rosemoor was called ‘Winter colour for your garden’.

The amazing Acer griseum, the aptly named paper bark maple.

Their course brochure says: “Winter is often considered to be a closed season in the garden, but this definitely need not be the case. Colourful and fragrant flowers, striking barks and stems and a wide variety of evergreen plants all help to brighten up the garden and provide a wealth of interest throughout the winter. On this walk we will look at a good selection of plants, all of which are star performers during the winter months, and also discuss how to care for them.”

Luckily for me, the mid-February day was sunny and not too chilly. Rosemoor has a specific winter garden, and it was wonderful to see just how much colour and interest you can create. The thing that struck me most was the scent! I had no idea a winter garden could smell so wonderful. As the air was crisp, the mix of winter sun, birdsong and floral fragrance was just wonderful. Sarcococca is not a shrub I had encountered before, but I will definitely be buying some. Compact, evergreen shrubs with simple, leathery leaves and tiny, fragrant creamy-white flowers in winter or spring, followed by red, purple or black berries they smell divine. While I am familiar with Daphne, it’s another winter flowering plant whose fragrance I had not really appreciated.

Dramatic Camelia.

As well as scent, you need colour. While Camelias are a good bet for dramatic flowers, I was drawn more towards the coloured stems of Cornus, or dogwood as I have always called it, their bright red and yellow stems looking wonderful against a dark hedge or fence in deepest winter. Dogwoods is pretty wonderful all ways around, having blossoms, berries and, when you prune back the stems, providing beautifully coloured whips that you can use to make woven shapes and decorations.

I am lucky enough to have space to plant some trees. Witch hazels, or Hamamelis to use the proper name, are a delight with their fuzzy brightly coloured flowers and attractive scent. They also tend not to grow too large so they are definitely on my list. A tree that I fell instantly in love with at Rosemoor was a paper bark maple, Acer griseum, a beautiful tree with cinnamon-coloured peeling bark. I don’t think I’d ever seen anything quite like it.

Sarcococca confusa… I think!

At the end of our walk and talk, we were given a comprehensive plant list… this is, of course, fatal, as you feel you want to rush out and buy everything on it! I didn’t and am instead trying to draw out a proper plan of what to plant where as I won’t be able to do much in the garden until late summer anyway due building work going on. As an RHS member, I receive discounted rates on any walks or courses I go on. If you live near an RHS garden, it really is worth becoming a member… or get to know someone who is as they can also get you the discounted rate!

In lieu of a holiday this year, I have booked myself on a series of these events looking at what to grow throughout the seasons and, as I am now the proud owner of a greenhouse, how to manage cuttings and collecting seeds. Planting a new garden can be terribly expensive, but if you can grow from seed and take cuttings you can keep the cost down. If you don’t live near an RHS garden, there are hundreds of videos online and hints and tips to refer to. The RHS website, as Joanna has said before, is always worth looking at, as are the BBC Gardening sites. And apart from anything else, gardening is just so good for you!

 

 

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Snowdrops – it must be Spring, surely?

I have loads of snowdrops peeping out of the grass and flowerbeds in my garden – oh how much that sight cheers me – some crocuses too. Does that mean Spring really is around the corner – ooh I do hope so!

I always plant lots of bulbs (yes I add a few more every year), mainly because they brighten my days when Winter is making things just too uncomfortable and I need a reminder that it doesn’t last forever! I hate the cold – not a fan of super tropical heat either just to be difficult, but the cold – nope not good.

This card was really designed just as a happy ‘It’s nearly Spring’ card – but obviously, it makes a great birthday card too. Or, it would be ideal for someone with a pet named Snowdrop… yes I do know a rabbit called Snowdrop!

The Spring flower dies – well all the flower dies – in the Signature range are so easy to use and bring me a lot of joy and fun. You all know how flowery I am and, if I get a chance, a card I make will feature flowers somehow, somewhere – thank goodness many of the men I make cards for are gardeners. You can see from this example that the simplest cards can be made with a repeated die design and they look lovely. This card wouldn’t take more than a few minutes to make and pow! – it looks amazing.

I don’t think you need instructions for the card – it’s obvious from the photo how it is constructed. Your choice of backing cards could be totally different, depending on what you have in your collection and it would still look wonderful. In this instance, the die has been cut out in green and then again in white and all you have to do is pop the white flower heads on – no colouring required!

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Tree-mendous!

Trees are such a familiar part of our countryside that I think we often take them for granted. Not only are trees ‘the lungs’ of our world they are also incredibly beautiful, varied and inspiring. People write poetry about them, paint them and hug them.

I am lucky in that I live quite a rural life and Devon has a reasonable amount of woodland. However, I was somewhat surprised to read that the UK has one of the lowest tree cover rates in Europe, just 13% compared to a European average of 37%.

The Woodland Trust has launched an ambitious plan to plant 64 million trees by 2025 and they want us all to help. They are offering a free pack of seeds containing rowan, dog rose, alder, buckthorn and holly, and it comes with full planting instructions and care advice. What a great idea! They will also offer help and advice as your seedlings germinate and grow.

The seeds they send you will be kept moist with compost to help them germinate. This means it will be harder to tell the different seeds apart when they arrive. If you would like to try and identify the seeds you’re planting you can wash the compost off but then the seeds must be sown immediately. It will be much easier to identify your seedling once it has germinated. To claim your free seed pack click on the link here.

I think this is an absolutely brilliant scheme and the more of us that get involved the better. I will be claiming my pack today.

If you are lucky enough to already have trees in your garden, have you ever considered collecting seeds from them, propagating the seedlings and then either planting more yourself or perhaps giving them away as gifts?

The top four methods for seed collection used on the UK National Tree Seed Project (UKNTSP) are easily remembered through the handy acronym SEED:

Shake tree over a large laid out tarpaulin

Extra-long pole to prune off seeds clusters

Encase branch ends in a cotton fine-meshed bag to collect small wind-dispersed seed

Delicately hand-pick fleshy berries

When collecting seeds it’s best not to collect from the ground, to avoid collecting old seeds from previous years. Never take more than 20% of the seed crop, remember seeds create the next generation of plants and sustain wildlife. There are lots of good reasons to collect seeds and you can read all about it here.

So, the next time you’re out collecting seeds or growing them in your garden, just think of the extraordinary journey their counterparts are on. Heading towards the ultimate goal of ensuring your great-great grandchildren can have the same experience you’re having. The simple yet irreplaceable delights of planting and watching your own seed grow from a tiny speck into a monumental tree.

The Woodland Trust is well worth supporting, and its website is full of interesting facts. Do have a look if you have a moment…

All photos copyright Julia Wherrell. Top illustration – The Woodland Trust.

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Butterfly birthdays!

I have been playing with these new Jane Shasky butterfly papers (Jane Shasky Vintage Butterfly paper pad) a lot in the last few weeks. I took them onto Create and Craft at the beginning of February and they sold like hot cakes, which was a great feeling – lovely to know the viewers agreed with me, they’re fabulous.

It’s very straightforward to create a beautiful card using these sheets – I love card making but often I want a beautiful delicate result without hours of grumbling and re-doing and frustrations.

This card used backing papers from the Age of Elegance CD – another ‘must have’ that I love to use on vintage cards.

The ingredients used here are:

  • 8″ white card blank (our Joanna Sheen range really are 8 x 8 – not slightly smaller)
  • Backing paper from The Age of Elegance CD
  • Jane Shasky Vintage Butterflies paper pad
  • Antique gold and pale lilac cardstock
  • Length of cotton lace and gold satin ribbon
  • A few flat backed pearls and peeloffs
  • Glues (I used double sided tape and some Pinflair)

Layer the main topper onto some lilac card and then wrap some ribbon around each corner as shown. It is easy to secure with a piece of Sellotape at the back.

Now layer the backing paper onto a piece of gold card that has been trimmed to approx. 7 1/2″ inches square. Cut the border from the Jane Shasky pad sheet – stick this to the bottom, lined up with the backing paper so a tiny bit of gold still shows.

Wrap some ribbon and lace around as per the picture and again secure with tape. Now attach to the card with Pinflair or foam pads (to accommodate the bump made by the ribbon/lace). Add the layered topper to the card again using foam pads or glue gel and then layer up the little sentiment and add that to the bottom as per the photo.

Finally decorate with some flat back pearls and dare I say it peeloffs. I know we don’t tend to use them as much these days, since the invention of dies but they do still have their place and this just adds some little gold highlights!

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Guerrilla gardening!

There is a roundabout, just off the A30 on the way to my crime writing partner Julia’s house, that is a delight to behold in the spring and summer when it is a mass of colour with wildflowers in profusion. This oasis in the middle of a three-way junction is the work of a local ‘guerrilla gardener’!

Marvellous, we cry! But did you know that planting roundabouts and road verges with flowers and plants is actually illegal? Going onto and planting any land you do not own is illegal in most countries in the world. How very dull…

However… very few people have ever been prosecuted. Councils are in a difficult position because there are, understandably, health and safety issues around people gardening on roundabouts at night and they can’t be seen to condone it. Sense seems to prevail though and most authorities take a relaxed stance and, if people enjoy the results and no damage is done, they tend to turn a blind eye.

If you fancy a bit of rebellion in a terribly nice and green-fingered way, you may want to look at The Guerrilla Gardener’s blog. He says: “Let’s fight the filth with forks and flowers” which strikes me as a very fine sentiment!

As you may know from previous blogs, I am a bit of a fan of things in miniature. So if you fancy trying some guerrilla gardening on a smaller scale, have a look at the fabulous images and ideas on The Pothole Gardener’s blog. He creates miniature gardens in potholes – and before you rush out into the middle of your local dual carriageway, I should add these are potholes in pavements, not roads! As much as I would love to do this, I fear my knees would not be co-operative!

Have you spotted any guerrilla gardening near where you live? Or, have you ever undertaken any yourself…? Do let us know!

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