Saving seeds for spring

Saving seed from your garden plants is easy to do and will provide you with plenty to sow next season. It will also save you a great deal of money and, personally, I find it very therapeutic…

This is a perfect job to do on a day when it is too horrid to be outside in the garden. It has been lovely and mild down here in Devon so far, but the past few days have been dank and gloomy, so this weekend may well be when I tackle my seeds

Some seeds need frost to help germination, and are best sown fresh in autumn. But many seeds don’t need a period of cold and need light, warmth and water instead. These seeds are better sown in spring or, for the tender varieties, in early summer when all threat of frost has passed. So, collect the seed now and then store in a cool, dark spot until you’re ready to sow them.

It’s a good idea to ‘clean’ the seeds before you store them. This involves removing the chaff, which may contain pests and diseases and could turn mouldy or rot. It can take a bit of time, but I use it as an excuse to listen to the Afternoon Play on Radio 4, or an audiobook and it then becomes a bit of a treat, and not a chore at all.

So, arm yourself with some paper envelopes (why not recycle old ones?), a pen and a sieve. Write the seed name on the envelope before you start – otherwise you can end up with a surprise when something completely different comes up! Put the seed heads in a sieve (a kitchen one is fine) and, holding it over some paper, simply sieve the seeds through it. Most of the chaff and rubbish will be left in the sieve. If you have a finer sieve, carry out the same process again to get an even better ‘cleaner’ result. Then, using a funnel, pour your seeds in the envelope, suitably labelled and dated. 

A great place to store envelopes of seed is in a sealed sandwich box along with a few sachets of dried silica gel stored in the bottom of the fridge to keep cool until you’re ready to sow them.

I have already cut some seed heads and they are drying in the shed, but others I will go around and snip off now. If you haven’t cut any yet, don’t worry, do it now, then let them dry and follow my instructions later.

I know gazing at seed catalogues is lovely, but it can get expensive. This way, you get the pleasure of propagating your own seeds from your existing plants and I think you’ll find you get a real sense of achievement when they flower next spring.


The myth of the magpie

I was watching a magpie in the garden yesterday, a big bold bird, its black and white feathers pristine, with iridescent blue among the black, and thinking how handsome it was. Its eyes were bright and fierce and it was watching me with what looked like real intelligence. But these belligerent birds stir strong emotions among people, and are widely hated, so I fell to wondering why,..

When anyone mentions magpies I think we tend to think or three things: The rhyme “One for sorrow, two for joy…” the hip and trendy kid’s TV programme of that name, popular when I was a teenager, and the fact that magpies are thieves. Seeing a magpie when I was a child was quite rare. Now it is one of the most common birds in the UK. They are described as challenging and arrogant and, love them or hate them, you can’t miss them. Their numbers have increased by 112% over the last 30 years. They are scavengers and collect objects and ‘cache’ food just in case there’s a shortage later on. They are also seen as predators, eating other birds’ eggs and their young, as well as plants

Where suspicion of the bird exists it often goes back to folklore and myth where magpies were thought to be bearers of bad omens and associated with the devil. You can even find negative comments as far back as Shakespeare’s time, when their “chattering” was complained about.

Of all birds it is probably the poor old magpie that is most associated with superstitions. However, most superstitions regarding magpies are based around just a single bird. Throughout Britain it is thought to be unlucky to see a lone magpie and there are a number of beliefs about what you should do to prevent bad luck.

In most parts of the UK people will salute a single magpie and say “Good morning Mr Magpie. How is your lady wife today?” By acknowledging the magpie in this way you are showing him proper respect in the hope that he will not pass bad fortune on to you. By referring to the magpie’s wife you are also implying that there are two magpies, which bring joy rather than sorrow according to the popular rhyme.

Other things you can do to prevent the bad luck a lone magpie may bring include doffing your hat, spitting three times over your shoulder or even flapping your arms like wings and cawing to imitate the magpie’s missing mate! Fortunately, as we are now pretty much overrun with the things, I don’t think I shall need to do much spitting and flapping! 

As the well known rhyme “One for sorrow, Two for joy, Three for a girl, Four for a boy, Five for silver, Six for gold, Seven for a secret never to be told,” shows it is only seeing a lone magpie that brings bad luck and groups of magpies are said to predict the future. There are many different versions of this rhyme with some counting as high as 20 birds.  Like many other birds, magpies mate for life and this may be the inspiration for this rhyme.

Here are a few magpie facts, rather than myths and superstitions: 

  • It takes a pair of magpies around 40 days to build their large, domed nest.
  • A typical magpie clutch is six eggs.
  • Only the female magpie incubates the eggs – it takes 24 days for them to hatch.
  • Young magpies leave the nest around 27 days after hatching.
  • Magpies are omnivorous, eating a wide variety of food, ranging from grain and fruit to carrion.
  • Magpies have been recorded catching and killing frogs, lizards, snakes, bats, mice, voles and even rabbits, as well as small birds.
  • Magpies will cache surplus food during times of plenty.
  • They are extremely intelligent and have been shown to mourn their dead.
  • Magpies can recognise themselves in a mirror – the only non-mammal to do so.
  • They can talk (imitate) as well as mynah birds and jackdaws – in fact most birds can be taught to talk… but that’s another blog altogether! 

Dad’s Shed!

Sheds are wonderful things – you can make a little craft haven, leave a pile of junk in them, turn them into private pubs or just keep nice organised gardening tools in them. There was a great programme on recently called “Shed of the Year” and I watched it avidly, such a diverse collection of eccentric shed owners that loved their sheds and had a passion in their lives.

This plaque was made as a sample for us by Jo Channon and has a great combination of techniques. The plain MDF plaque is from our website. Then it was crackle finished (again from the website) and the pansies were added by doing some napkin decoupage, peel the top tissue layer from 3 ply napkins and it’s amazing what you can create.

Then lots of antiquing – you can use inkpads or coloured wax, the choice is yours. Finally add some 3D decoupage from the Jane Shasky decoupage pack and some bakers twine and garden string. The letters can be die cut and varnished – bought as stickers/peeloffs or whatever appeals to you most

This makes a fabulous man’s present – but by altering the words you could easily create a super gift for a gardener, or something equally lovely for a crafter.


Happy hydrangeas!

One of my favourite plants is the hydrangea. All summer long they give wonderful shape and colour to the garden, but the lovely extra gift they give is in the autumn when the flowers take on that dusky soft look and best of all they last and last!

Before the frost gets them and causes nasty discolouration, choose a dry day (or should that be a dry moment in the day!) and pick the flowers with nice long stems. Then either hang them upside down in small bunches tied with elastic bands (if you use string the shrinking stems can fall onto the floor) or what I tend to do is arrange the stems in a jug or basket and just leave them to dry.

I have had a lovely big basket filled with hydrangeas on my fireplace for a year and now I can replace them with this year’s new crop. The old ones I will attack with a sparkly gold aerosol and do something pretty for Christmas.

As you can see from the photo, hydrangeas come in many different varieties. They almost all dry well, perhaps the lace cap hydrangeas are the least successful, but have a go at any of the others…. Have fun!

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Good Luck!

We all have friends and family that could really do with a good luck wish at some point. Whether it’s a driving test, moving into a new home, passing an exam or starting a new job – good luck cards and wishes are always welcome. Sometimes I think we don’t realise just how daunted people are by the project in front of them and a pretty card with some supportive words lets them know you are thinking of them and can make all the difference!

This card is made from some artwork by Barbara Mock and is on our One Summer’s Day CD – there are lots of lovely things to work with on that one. This is a simple but effective card that won’t take you too long to make.

The three toppers are all on the sheet you print out and if you mat and layer them onto cream and then black it gives them a smart little frame. The card blank measures 210mm x 140mm and some more cream card then backing paper and then black card are layered up as per the picture to create the base.

Add all the toppers with some foam tape or glue gel and embellish the corners with a little self adhesive pearl and you’re away!