Very berry good!

It looks like a great year for blackberries.

The hedgerows are thick with blackberries already this year, I assume as a result of the rather extreme weather we’ve had of late. There are lots of berries that grow wild in this country – strawberries, sloes and elder to name just a few – and it’s a reflection on our modern lives that the vast majority of us wouldn’t be able to identify them, and certainly not feel confident to pick them! We all got terribly excited about ‘superfoods’ a few years ago and berries are top of the list being high in antioxidants, fibre, vitamin C and flavonoids.

The world-conquering strawberry.

As ever, ancient man (and woman of course!) knew all this and berries have been a valuable food source for humans since before the start of agriculture. They were a seasonal staple for early hunter-gatherers for thousands of years. In time, humans learned to store berries so that they could be used in the winter.

Berries began to be cultivated in Europe and other countries. Some species of blackberries and raspberries have been cultivated since the 17th century. The most widely cultivated berry of modern times, you won’t be surprised to hear, is the strawberry, which is produced globally at twice the amount of all other berry crops combined.

Rowanberries – impossible to miss even by the most shortsighted bird!

As ever, Mother Nature has got it all cleverly worked out and when ripened, berries are typically of a contrasting colour to their background (usually green leaves), making them visible and attractive to animals and birds. This is essential as it’s how the plants’ seeds get dispersed to produce new plants and so keep the growing cycle going…

As well as the old favourites – strawberry, raspberry and blackberry – there are plenty more berries out there! Here are a few more:

  • White and Golden Raspberry
  • Dewberry
  • Elderberry
  • Lingonberry
  • Cloudberry
  • Gooseberry
  • Cape Gooseberry
  • Mulberry
  • Loganberry
  • Tayberry

Fresh raspberries – so delicious!

What a gorgeous sounding list! The last two are especially interesting as they are ‘hybrid’ berries – hybrids of other berries, created by planting fruit cross-pollinated by two different plants. In the late 19th and early 20th century, botanists went on a bit of a hybridizing craze, crossing berries in the Rosacea family (like raspberries and blackberries) to try to come up with berries that had the best qualities of both parents.

Loganberry
Legend has it that the loganberry was accidentally created in the late 1800s in California by Judge J.H. Logan. Judge Logan planted an heirloom blackberry and a European raspberry next to each other. The plants seemed to grow well together, and with a little help from the birds and the bees, they cross-pollinated. Loganberries have a deep red raspberry colour and the size and texture of a blackberry. The vines, which lack the substantial thorns of a blackberry, have dark green fuzzy leaves. Unsurprisingly, the loganberry taste a little like a raspberry and a little like a blackberry!

Tayberry
Tayberries are a more recent cross between raspberries and blackberries, developed by the Scottish Horticultural Society in the late 1970s and named after the river Tay in Scotland. The Tayberry also tastes of a cross between raspberries and blackberries, but it is larger and sweeter than Loganberries. Tayberries have a naturally high level of pectin, so they’re perfect for jam and pie filling. Yum!

Elderberries – lovely when ripe… posionous when not!

Fruity facts:

  • If you feel you’re lacking in vitamin C, reach for the strawberries. Just nine provide you with your whole recommended daily allowance!
  • Did you know strawberries are powerful teeth whiteners? They contain Vitamin C which helps fight plaque.
  • Strawberries were regarded as an aphrodisiac in medieval times and a soup with the berries, borage and soured cream was traditionally served to newlyweds at their wedding breakfast. I don’t think I’ll be trying that recipe anytime soon!
  • Blackberries, raspberries and strawberries are all part of the rose family. So next Valentine’s Day, consider giving a bunch of berries instead.
  • Everyone knows blueberries are great for humans, but did you know you can freeze them and give them to dogs as a crunchy, healthy treat?
  • While many berries are edible, some are poisonous to humans, such as deadly nightshade. Others, such as the white mulberry, red mulberry, and elderberry, are poisonous when unripe, but are edible when ripe
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Roses, roses all the way

I have read that, in many surveys, roses come out top as the nation’s favourite flower. It would certainly be in my top five but I suspect a few others might creep ahead of it in contention for the number one spot. Funnily enough, many of my favourite flowers are out in the Spring. Hellebores (Christmas Roses), snowdrops, violets, lily of the valley – perhaps it’s that I am so grateful for some flowers once Winter has begun to disappear!

Both these cards use our Tied Bunch of Roses die (SD624) and both have been hand coloured after cutting them out in white, well actually cream in this instance. But it really is pretty quick and simple to paper piece and diecut in two different coloured pieces of card – red for the roses and green for the leaves for example.

The other notable thing on both these cards is the use of our pretty corner dies. I think the more elaborate corner dies can make some wonderful additions to a card. I have made some great photo frames by using four dies close together and they really do add a bit of style to a card.

The corner die used with the cream roses is our Bordeaux Corner die SD636 and the peach roses card uses Marseille Corner SD642.

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Several ideas from one set of dies

It’s important to be able to use any die you buy in several different ways. Flexibility makes dies so much better value and this little trio of cards gives some inspiration on quick and easy cards with our recent flower dies.

The bunch of roses uses Tied Bunch of Roses SD624, together with the Harriet Lace Edger SD191. I love the versatility of the lacy edger dies – well I like most things lacy I guess! On this card, the diecuts have been coloured with Promarkers, but you could easily diecut in a green and then pale lilac card and paper piece the design.

The orchid card looks so stylish, yet can be made up in a very short time once you have your diecuts. Again you could paper piece and cut in various colours but you can achieve such lovely subtle colours using a marker. The die for the vase and flowers is Orchid Trio SD634– the little banner with the forked ends you can just cut by hand.

Finally, the ‘Just for You’ card uses a combination of Tied Bunch of Roses SD624 and the vase from Vase of Flowers SD641. I think it’s important to be able to mix and match dies from any range of dies I buy.

The best value way to have all the dies used in these cards is to buy our special offer Floral Bouquets Multibuy!

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Helping children to grow – get them gardening!

Grace, dressed for a little watering!!

With the school summer holidays upon us, I’m sure parents and grandparents alike are racking our collective brains on how to keep youngsters occupied and, preferably, not just glued to their tablets and phones! Getting children outside can be a bit of a challenge, but if you can get them interested in gardening that has to be a bonus – on so many levels.

Granddaughter Grace is still too young for gadgets and, thanks to Grandpa Richard’s veg growing skills, she has already shown a lot of interest in the garden. There are ways to encourage youngsters outside and, if you can drag them away from their screens, it’s a fun family activity and is good for mind and body. The rise of technology has given us many great things, but nothing beats getting outside and working with your hands, growing your own fruit and vegetables, and learning a bit about life!

A child’s eye view

To spark their interest you need to think about what appeals to a child, which might mean coming at it from a different angle. If they are interested in butterflies or beetles of other bugs (what little one doesn’t find worms and caterpillars fascinating?), that can be a good starting point.

A bit of a plot

If you have space, it is always a good idea to offer a child its own patch to work in. A sunny spot with good soil is good, then things should grow quickly. A small raised bed would be ideal but failing that, or if space is an issue, a large tub or planter can work perfectly well. I can remember growing mustard and cress in a saucer on the windowsill as a child and being fascinated!

Ideal for little hands

Small children will love having their own gardening tools. Not only are they designed specifically for small hands, but children love feeling they are joining in with an adult and doing something ‘properly’. You can find sets of children’s gardening tools online at reasonable prices. These would make a good birthday or Christmas present ready for next year if they are still a bit young. Here are a few I found on Amazon, but there are loads to choose from! 

Patience, patience…

One of the many things gardening can teach is patience! However, it’s still a good idea to start them off on seeds that will give quick results like salad leaves or rocket, or something like nasturtiums. When sowing the seeds, try shapes – a circle, or a star – rather than boring old straight rows. Or what about sowing the shape of a child’s initial? If you want even quicker results, then why not buy a few plants that are just about to flower or fruit?

You can find seed growing kits especially for children online, but I’m sure buying a few seed packets yourself will work just as well. Click on the photos to go to the link.

What about the water?

This summer has been so hot, I know water is at a premium and it seems hosepipe bans are imminent. But all is not lost! Wastewater from the kitchen, baths, basins and showers is suitable to water plants and containers. It’s also a good way of encouraging children to think about resources and not wasting precious water.

Happy gardening!

 

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The magic of butterflies…

The Peacock’s spectacular pattern of eyespots evolved to startle or confuse predators, make it one of our most easily recognised and best-known species.

As a child, the very name ‘butterfly’ sounded magical, while the beautiful insects themselves seemed too bright and too delicate to be real. I can remember standing in our garden and being mesmerised by their fluttery flight and marvelling at how many there were flitting around on a big purple bush, the colours all so vivid. With hindsight, I think I was probably looking at a buddleia, which, as we all know, is a real magnet for butterflies.

I can remember looking for Red Admirals, Peacocks and Painted Ladies, these were the three types that loomed large in my childhood repertoire… those plus the dreaded Cabbage White that my Mother was not at all keen to see near her vegetables! This year, I haven’t seen many butterflies around and I assume it’s due to the late wet Spring followed by this amazingly hot Summer. Sadly, like bees, butterflies are struggling.

Butterflies are the equivalent of the ‘canary in a coal mine’, an indicator of the health

The Painted Lady – a long-distance migrant, which causes the most spectacular butterfly migrations observed in Britain and Ireland.

of our environment. The most familiar British butterflies such as the Small Tortoiseshell are becoming increasingly uncommon. Sadly, this is as a result of habitat loss and many other species are declining at an alarming rate as well. None of this bodes well for other wildlife as butterflies are part of a complex food chain upon which we humans ultimately rely for our own survival.

But all is not lost and there’s plenty we can do to help butterflies and there are some excellent informative websites giving advice on how to garden for butterflies. The Butterfly Conservation website is particularly good. Butterflies will visit any garden, however small if they can feed on suitable nectar plants and a well thought out garden can attract many species of butterfly. Nectar provides butterflies and moths with energy to fly and find a mate. In spring, it helps butterflies refuel after winter hibernation or a gruelling journey to Britain from southern Europe or Africa. In autumn nectar helps them to build up their energy reserves so they have the best chance of surviving hibernation or the journey back to warmer climes. Another way to help butterflies is to allow them to breed in your garden – only with the right food plants can they lay the eggs of the next generation.

Tips on how to attract butterflies:

Swallowtail butterfly – today, it flies only in the major river valleys of the Norfolk Broads, where it breeds on milk parsley, a scarce wetland plant.

  • Butterflies like warmth so choose sunny, sheltered spots when planting nectar plants.
  • Choose different plants to attract a wider variety of species. Place the same types of plant together in blocks.
  • Try to provide flowers right through the butterfly season.
  • Prolong flowering by deadheading flowers and mulching with organic compost
  • Don’t use insecticides and pesticides – they kill butterflies and many pollinating insects as well as ladybirds, ground beetles and spiders.

I wrote a blog a couple of months ago extolling the virtues of butterflies in crafting – so useful for covering up any little slips – and stunning in their own right taking centre stage on a card, especially when used in 3D. Just type ‘butterfly’ into the search box on my craft website and you’ll see lots and lots of gorgeous butterfly dies and papers to inspire you!

Butterfly facts:

  • The pretty frilly edged Comma is the ‘come back kid’ of butterflies. In severe decline in the twentieth century, it is now widespread in southern Britain and its range is expanding northwards.

    Where does the name ‘butterfly come from? The Oxford English Dictionary says it is from Old English butorflēoge, butter-fly. Another possible source of the name is the bright yellow male of the Brimstone, another is that butterflies were on the wing in meadows during the spring and summer butter season while the grass was growing. I think I like the last one best!

  • Butterfly or moth? Nearly all butterflies fly during the daytime, have relatively bright colours, and hold their wings vertically above their bodies when at rest. The majority of moths fly by night, are often well camouflaged and either hold their wings flat or fold them closely over their bodies.
  • You will find butterflies right across the world – except Antarctica – and there are some 18,500 species.
  • Many butterflies migrate for long distances. It has recently been shown that the British Painted Lady undertakes a 9,000-mile round trip in a series of steps by up to six successive generations, from tropical Africa to the Arctic Circle.
  • Butterflies navigate using a time-compensated sun compass. They can see polarized light and can navigate even in cloudy conditions.
  • Butterflies in their adult stage can live from a week to nearly a year depending on the species.
  • Adult butterflies consume only liquids, ingested through the proboscis. They sip water from damp patches for hydration and feed on nectar from flowers, from which they obtain sugars for energy, and sodium and other minerals vital for reproduction. Several species of butterflies need more sodium than that provided by nectar and are attracted by sodium in salt and that’s why they sometimes land on people, attracted by the salt in human sweat.

Top image: Adonis Blue – this beautiful species of butterfly is found on southern chalk downland.

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