The glorious British bluebell… or is it?

Bluebells are with us early this year, the mild weather brought them into bloom at the end of
 March in this part of the world.

The delicate bell-shaped blooms are definitely something to be enjoyed en masse – a carpet of bluebells in woodland is a gorgeous thing to behold – and wonderfully British.

Sadly our native bluebell is under threat from an aggressive hybrid. Apparently, these invaders are spreading rapidly and are appearing in woodlands rather than just urban areas.

Bluebells are protected and it is illegal to dig them up from the wild. However, there are various nurseries that grow them for sale. They are best planted around this time of year ‘in the green’, which means that they appear with leaves rather than as dried bulbs. You don’t need a huge woodland to grow bluebells as they will grow happily under deciduous shrubs, or along the bottom of a hedge.

Can you tell a native bluebell from an interloper? Nope – well here’s a quick guide – you too can become an instant Bluebell expert!

Native bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

  • Flowers have a strong, sweet scent
  • Pollen is creamy-white
  • Flower stems nod to one side
  • Deep violet-blue in colour
  • Often found in woodlands or shady areas

Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica)

  • Native to Portugal and western Spain
  • Pollen is deep blue
  • More upright than native plants
  • Flowers can be pale to mid blue, white or pink
  • Grown in gardens and found in the countryside

Hybrid bluebell (Hyacinthoides x massartiana)

  • Flowers range from dark to pale blue, pink and white
  • A hybrid of native and Spanish bluebells
  • Can show characteristics of both parent plants
  • Widespread in urban areas; has been recorded broad leaf woodland
  • Thought to be more common than the Spanish variety

In the meantime just enjoy that blue haze of little flowers anywhere you can – the bluebell native or interloper is a beautiful sign of Spring!

10 Comments

Shellcraft

We are so lucky to live near the coast and beachcombing is great fun. Sadly, I don’t have as much time to do this as I’d like but, whenever I do, I always keep my eyes open for pretty shells and interesting shaped bits of driftwood and pieces of dried seaweed as you never know when they might come in handy…

I wonder how many of you have tried using shells? The finished results can range from really rather yukky seaside ornaments (that aren’t even made in the UK!) to works of complete and utter beauty that can be found in museums and art galleries.

My Mum’s work comes somewhere in the middle – I would say they are definitely of complete beauty but I do realise I am utterly and forever biased – so I am trying to seem fair!

I have used shells many, many times in craft work and you can get the most amazing results. Here are a few tips to help you get the best results when working with shells:

If you are doing something small – as these boxes are – scale down the size of shells that you use.

A detailed little mosaic of miniscule treasures is going to look amazing – clunky lumps of big shells just don’t do it.

I have used shells mainly for mirror frame decoration – so I upgrade the size slightly but again try and go for a more complex intertwining shell look. I usually mix with preserved ivy or something soft and feathery like silk foliage to fill the gaps and balance the strength and angles of the shells. You really can create some beautiful effects.

Experiment with several glues before you make your definitive masterpiece.

Nothing is more infuriating than shells dropping off or not standing the test of time. I have used a dozen different glues over the years but I would say the most useful ones have been pinflair glue gel, hot glue and tacky PVA. In all cases I would ensure you have a fine nozzle rather than gloops of glue – it’s never a good look!

There are lots of places online that sell shells and the little ones look fab on cards – the huge ones are a work of art in themselves – why not have a play? And next time you are on a beach, make sure you keep your eyes peeled!

5 Comments

The cream of Devon!

It may not be healthy and it may not be slimming – but it is utterly delicious! I’m talking about a Devon cream tea and, with this spell of glorious weather, l’ve spotted lots of lucky people sitting outside cafés and in pub gardens all tucking into this simple yet scrummy treat. But is it that simple…?

I always think of Devon as the home of the clotted cream tea… but is it? It’s a debate that has been rumbling on for years between the Devonians and the Cornish. Devon has a pretty strong claim to it as, apparently, there is evidence of people eating bread with cream and jam at Tavistock Abbey in Devon as far back as the 11th century!

In Devon, we start by halving a freshly baked scone, where as in Cornwall, the cream tea was traditionally served with a ‘Cornish split’, a type of slightly sweet white bread roll. But it seems that nowadays, the Cornish have seen sense and have moved over to scones too.

Then there’s the really crucial question: which is correct – do you put the jam or the cream on first? I’m a fan of jam first, it gives you a firm base to then dollop on – I mean delicately spread – the cream. Put the cream on first and it can all get a bit slippery and the jam slides off. But there are plenty of people who insist cream first is right. What do you think?

And is it jam, then cream in Devon, and cream then jam in Cornwall…? Or the other way around? I can tell you, it is a regular topic of heated debate in this part of the world! Feelings run so high that a couple of years ago, the organisers of a Devon food festival had to commission a new publicity poster after the first one featured a cream tea made the Cornish way. Trouble is, what they said was the Cornish way, is what I call the Devon was – jam first. Oh dear!

It’s all so complicated… and we haven’t even considered the jam itself. For me, it has to be strawberry. I’m told raspberry is very good too, while some racy people even opt for damson. Surely not!

All I know is that my Mother, Diana, makes the most perfect cream tea. She’s of a generation that can turn out two dozen scones at the drop of a hat and always seems to have clotted cream to hand. She makes her own jam, of course and, with the addition of a few slices of fresh strawberry as an added treat, can produce the most delicious cream tea you’ll find anywhere. Lucky me!

 

23 Comments

Herbs for colour…

I always have to restrain myself at this time of year – unlike me I know! Yes, it’s spring and everything is bursting into life, but no, it is not *quite* time to start rushing outside and planting things as we are not safely free of frost yet.

Some of my veg growing friends have got their beds prepared and have planted their early potatoes but generally, it’s best to hang on just a week or so longer…

Luckily, one of my favourite pastimes is buying packets of seeds and looking through seed catalogues or, more likely nowadays, browsing websites full of beautiful photos of plants and herbs.

Although I don’t have time to grow veg, I do like to cultivate herbs. Herbs are so wonderful – they look gorgeous, they smell wonderful and they are delicious too.

If you intend to grow some herbs this year, now is the time to start planning and, if you can, sowing seeds indoors or in the greenhouse.

I made a list of some of the prettiest herbs I could think of and thought I’d share that with you as you might like to try something new. 

Borage
Rich blue, for salads and summer drinks, it grows like wildfire in this part of the world!

Lavender
That lovely soft purple, for scent, pot-pourri and also cooking

Nasturtiums
Vivid reds and yellows, easy to grow and lovely to add pepperiness and beauty to a salad or garnish

Violets
Purple, for medicines and crystalised decorations

Elderflowers
White and fragrant for wines, cordials and favouring fruit dishes. Again, grow freely everywhere! 

Pot marigolds or calendulas
Vivid orange for salads, pot-pourri and food colouring

1 Comment

Daffodils – harbingers of spring

When the first daffodils start to appear, I know that spring is really here.

Here in Devon they have been out for a few weeks and not only are people’s gardens full of them, but there are a few wild ones in the banks and hedgerows around the lanes nearby. Absolutely beautiful.

Daffodils are hugely cheering, their rich yellow colour and their open faces just seem to brighten your mood. You may not think of daffodils as a particularly scented flower – but they do have quite a strong perfume. I had some in my office last year and, having left the door closed overnight, I was amazed at the lovely strong aroma that greeted me the next morning!

Daffodils belong to the genus Narcissus, so we shouldn’t be surprised they smell lovely, but it’s a less heady smell than narcissi, lighter and brighter somehow.

I have pressed daffodils successfully. You can press the whole flower for smaller species like narcissi and the lovely mini Tom Thumbs etc, but for the larger ones I usually cut them in half and then press them to give a sideways profile of the trumpet. You can also dry them in silica powder/crystals although they do reabsorb the moisture eventually they are a fun project to play with!

A very popular flower they even have their own society established back in 1898!

 

3 Comments