Keeping it contained!

Just as I enjoy small and intricate card designs, so I enjoy smaller, creative container gardening. It also makes me feel good as I can be frugal by recycling objects that might otherwise be thrown out, like old wellies, and results in something totally original that appeals to my slightly quirky nature!

Now I know you can be thoroughly green and use cut out milk cartons, plastic bin liners and old tyres, but I think whatever you use for your plant containers needs to fit in with your surroundings and be to your style, otherwise, you won’t be happy with the end result.

My favourite quirky planters include old watering cans, old wellies (the more colourful, the better!) and tin cans. The latter need some care and using tins with ring-pull tops are best as they give you a safer edge, you don’t want to cut yourself, but I do think they look good. Any containers you use will need drainage holes, so you might need to get someone (a man with a drill?!) to help you do this, unless it’s something soft when you can probably punch or cut the holes yourself.

Alternatively, old kitchen utensils such as colanders have built-in drainage holes and you don’t need moss or coir to line them – they make great hanging baskets too! Perhaps this is something Victoria should think about in our second novel ‘A Violet Death’, due out very shortly! Oops – did I just give our next book a plug there? Naughty me!

Have a think about what flowers will be right for the scale of your containers and try and get a nice mix of trailing and taller plants and decide whether you want similar colours, or more vibrant contrast shades. 

One lovely idea is to grow herbs in tin cans or in old kitchen utensils, they look great and it’s so apt too!

Here are a few more tips to help you get the best out of your containers:

  • Always raise your containers off the ground so that they can drain freely, both in summer and especially in winter, when they can freeze.
  • Water plants either first thing in the morning or in the evening – avoid the middle of the day when temperatures are high and so is the rate of evaporation.
  • Always add a barrier layer between the drainage materials and the compost to stop the compost washing down and blocking drainage holes. Use old net curtains, washing-up cloths, pillowcases, capillary matting, sacking or landscape fabric, and use old broken pots to help drainage.
  • Group containers in their final position before planting, especially when moving heavy pots.

 

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Eat your greens!

As the sap rises and the garden blooms, hen pal, and partner in writing crime Julia Wherrell, has been pondering her chickens again…

Last year, we had a bit of a disaster. On a very windy May day, the gate to the chickens’ run blew open and they escaped. There was no road kill or fox massacre, they simply strolled into my veg patch and ate every pea, broad bean and lettuce in sight creating their very own version of carnage. I was not impressed, but the hens were chortling merrily and happily stuffed with greenery. My partner felt sage and onion might have been more appropriate, but I restrained him.

A typical bowl of chicken scraps with rotten bits of fruit, wilted rocket and ends of vegetables.Chickens are omnivores so they’ll eat, or at least try, just about anything and spend much of the day scratch the ground looking for insects and worms. Any large insect, like a butterfly, foolish enough to drift through their run will be hotly pursued with all sorts of acrobatics and excitement and generally not come out alive. They love cheese rind, pasta and they have slices of brown bread every day and yes, they are spoilt.

They are also exceedingly fond of their greens. Any scraps we have – the bits you cut off the end of your vegetables, corn on the cob husks, wilted lettuce – they fight over. For entertainment, my farmer friend Greg will eat an apple and then lob the core into the run and watch the ensuing rubgy match as chicken after chicken grabs the core, runs off chattering happily, puts it down to eat it, whereupon it is instantly stolen by another hen and off they go again… A kindly neighbour regularly gives us the discarded outer leaves and stalk of cauliflowers which, to the hens, is about as exciting as receiving a box of chocolates!

Cauliflower leaves – better than a box of chocs!Of course we give them ‘proper’ chicken feed, including corn and things called ‘layers pellets’ but, just as we do, they love a varied diet. But greenery seems to play an important part in making their yolks rich and yellow. As a result, our hens’ egg yolks are a stunning deep rich orange and taste delicious. I rarely eat eggs anywhere but at home as I find their paleness unappetising. Sponges and quiches all look gorgeous as they have a naturally golden hue and they really do taste wonderful.

Now that my veggies are well advanced, the hens will be getting even more treats. Bolted cabbages, rocket and lettuces disappear down their greedy beaks in seconds. They won’t thank you for an onion or a leek though. And this year, my partner has adapted the door to their run so that it swings shut, even in the strongest gale, so I can be sure the greens they get are the ones I decide to give them and not the ones they steal!

 

 

 

 

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Flowery bookends

These bookends are huge sentimental favourites of mine. I made them as a sample to teach on one of my courses ten or fifteen years ago. Everyone who made them that morning made something slightly different and I bet many are still treasured by their makers!

You need to collect together some wood pieces to make the base – hopefully you might know a handy person with a saw and some screws to make you a plan and simple L-shape. You will also need a small terracotta flowerpot, a micro mini terracotta flowerpot, some dry flower Oasis, some gingham, silk or dried flowers and some tiny embellishments.

Paint effect the basic L shape of wood with crackle finish. Then wrap the terracotta in the gingham and wedge some oasis inside the pot to hold the material fast. Now using a glue gun, stick the large pot onto the L shape, add the embellishments and then finally arrange some flowers in the oasis and voila!

Obviously you can make dozens of variations on this – I did a lovely pair with gold leaf on the terracotta and others with fabric to match the bedroom I intended to put them in. Kept me quiet for hours!

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Looking forward in 2014…

I always love the first few days of any New Year as there’s so much promise in what could happen in the next twelve months. If I look back over the past year many things have happened that I didn’t have a clue about this time last year, so there is always the excitement of what could be round the corner.

I know we have to take the bad times  as well as the good but I am going to try harder this year to make more good things happen. So often it’s the little things that make me feel good rather than the big things – I tidied my craft room over the Christmas holiday and that’s making me feel really good.

I’m going to give myself some ‘me’ time regularly this year, and I invested in some more scented candles and I’m going to enjoy nice perfume and maybe a book, a game or just some time cuddled up on the sofa with Wellington, whose days I know are numbered but while he is here, he is lovely to cuddle!

I’m also looking forward to finishing my second novel with my ‘partner in crime writing’, Julia. It should be finished in April or May, we are about a third of the way through at the moment. Although there’s a lot of head-scratching and plotting, it’s also exciting as the plots starts to unfold as you are never 100% sure how it is going to turn out!

Sometimes the things that make you feel good can take you by surprise, doing something that benefits someone else can be really uplifting.

On a more down to earth note I am aiming to declutter a room in my house each month this year, I don’t have twelve rooms that need decluttering but I am building in a ‘fail’ for some of the months when work gets too busy or other things grab my time and attention.

I would love to tell you that I intend to succeed spectacularly with my diet this year, but all I can do is try and be kind to myself if I falter and then fail as I have so many times before – but the trying is always the thing that counts. So my resolution for this year and the thing uppermost in my mind is going to be just that saying – the trying is always the thing that counts and who knows what will have happened by January 2015!

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My top five festive reads

One day, I will have more time in my life to read. But at the moment my hectic lifestyle means that there is rarely time for me to sit down and get immersed in a book – despite it being one of my greatest loves! However, this Christmas, Richard and I are having a relatively quiet time, so I am optimistic that I will get a chance to get my nose in a book… but it’s just as likely that book might be the second novel I am busy writing with my partner in crime Julia!

But anyway, let’s suppose I do get a chance to read – here are my top five recommended reads for this festive season:

Recipe for Life – Mary Berry

Gosh, I do admire Mary Berry! She built a successful career and raised a family at a time when it was still a very unusual thing for a woman to do. She’s suffered tragedy and ill-health and come through it all with the support of her husband and family. Now, aged 78, when most people are putting their feet up, she’s possibly more famous than ever through her part in the ‘Great British Bake Off’! I’m really looking forward to reading all about her

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith (AKA JK Rowling!)

Like many people, I hadn’t heard of this book until it emerged that the author was J K Rowling, so I decided to give it a go – and very good it was! Rowling is a wonderfully talented author and, although this is a million miles away from Harry Potter, all her dash, style and storytelling skills are in evidence. It’s quite gritty, a bit quirky but the lead characters are endearing. As a bit of a detective fiction fan, I hope she writes more novels featuring Cormoran Strike… which, surely is a bit of a Potterish-name for a character!

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells – Sebastian Faulks

I have always been a Bertie Wooster fan (I adored the TV series with Fry & Laurie too!) and I just love the gentle and utterly ‘silly’ old-fashioned humour. So I was somewhat shocked when I read that Sebastian Faulks had been commissioned to write a ‘new’ Jeeves and Wooster story. But the reviews of this book have all been so positive that I have hinted (unsubtly – how unlike me!) to Richard that I would really like a copy for Christmas! 

Preserves: River Cottage Handbook no. 2 – Pam Corbin

As you know, I love preserving and I really liked this little book. It has a lovely ‘feel to it’ (yes I know I like Kindles, but there is something very tactile about books!) and the recipes are straightforward and delicious. There’s also lots of really useful practical advice like sterilising, filling and sealing tables. If you’ve never preserved anything before – this book will give you an excellent grounding. Pam Corbin is a friend of Julia’s and used to run a jam company. Hmmm… jam company now I wonder why that sounds familiar…?

A Sticky End – Joanna Sheen & Julia Wherrell

Oh come on! You didn’t really think I would leave my own novel off the list, did you? It’s the perfect Christmas read, light and funny and, we have been told, hard to put down! The reviews on Kindle, and the lovely emails and letters we have received from readers of the paperback have been truly heartening. If you haven’t already bought a copy… go on!

It’s available on Kindle or through the website.

Happy reading!

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