Devon violets: a symbol of modesty or a little flirt?

I was peering in a junk shop window the other day – it was closed so no time for a rummage sadly – when I spotted a little pottery perfume bottle with ‘Sweet Devon Violets’ on it… and I remembered an elderly aunt (who was probably not that elderly at all) who always had handkerchiefs scented with sweet Devon violets.

Devon is a wonderful place for wildflowers and violets seem to grow particularly well in the climate here and are usually plentiful in the springtime. Beautiful and delicate, the pungent perfume of the variety Viola Odorata is used as a source for scents in the perfume industry.

Violet is known as a ‘flirty’ scent as its fragrance comes and goes. Ionone (a chemical substance) is present in the flowers, which turns off the ability for humans to smell the fragrant compound for moments at a time – isn’t that clever?

The Viola Odorata was one of the first flowering plants to be grown commercially and there are records showing they were for sale in Athens 400BC and being grown in specialist nurseries in Attica. Throughout the centuries violets have been a favourite flower, either for their perfume that scented the rooms and floors or their medicinal qualities that are still being researched today.

Dawlish in Devon was the most important centre for the cultivation of violets in 1916 and a special train ran from Cornwall to London carrying all the flowers on their way to Covent Garden Market on a daily basis. By 1936 there was a flourishing trade from this area and flowers were sent regularly to the Queen and ladies at the Court. During the war years, the land was requisitioned for growing much needed food, and violets went out of fashion, sadly never to return.

As a result, nowadays we tend to associate the perfume with elderly ladies and as being rather old-fashioned. As a flower, the violet represents modesty–hence the phrase ‘a shrinking violet’–so perhaps that has something to do with it being regarded as rather shy and retiring and old hat! Yet the sweet violet is really the true flower of Valentine’s Day as legend has it that, while in prison, St Valentine wrote a letter to his lover with ink made from violets.

Sweet Devon Violet products are still popular today with Devon violet soaps, bath bombs, perfume, essential oils, candles and much more, all being widely available on line. Look into any Devon gift shop and you are sure to find some products too! So perhaps the popularity of this lovely fragrance won’t fade away like our aged aunts and does still have a place in modern life, albeit a slightly shy and retiring one!

 

 

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Summers like they used to be!

Well, what a summer we are having here in the UK! It seems only a few weeks ago that the weather forecasters were telling us we had 10 years of wet cold summers to look forward to, and then suddenly 30ºc for almost two weeks, extraordinary. 

I haven’t really had time to sit out and enjoy the sunshine, but gazing out onto my (parched!) garden through a heat haze, my mind has wandered back to the summer holidays of my childhood. I don’t think you ever forget that wonderful feeling at the end of the school year when you knew you had six weeks of summer holidays stretching ahead of you with nothing more taxing than which game to play, ice lolly to choose or summer frock to put on. Hey ho, how wonderful it was to be young and carefree…

We used to have proper ‘bucket and spade’ British holidays – I think everyone did back then –  this was before the advent of package holidays. So it was donkey rides, with your skirt tucked into your knickers, ice cream cornets (usually with sand in them) and peppermint rock (I broke a tooth on some once). Why did we all clamour for it so much – I suppose it looked fun and the writing through the middle was definitely the best bit. 

Particular aromas always transport me back to the seaside of my childhood in an instant. The smell of Ambre Solaire suntan cream is so evocative, oh and candyfloss – marvellous! But I guess the smell of the sea has to be the overlying one. Some people hate it, I know, but I love that salty, tangy air, so healthy and bracing, it instantly makes me think of rock pools, beach huts and egg and cress sandwiches – and getting changed in that oh so British ritual, under your beach towel. I am sure people aren’t as modest now but on pain of death would an unnecessary square inch of flesh appear from under that towel!

Did any of you have a Ladybird brand ruched nylon bathing costume? I thought I was the bees knees in mine with a white bathing hat on! And then there were all the fathers wearing a shirt and tie on the beach –what’s that all about? Definitely no T–shirt or shorts for my father or grandfather!

Well, I won’t be on the beach much myself this summer but for all those of you that are, do enjoy it and remember to slap on the sunscreen!

So what are your childhood memories of summer holidays…? Do share, it’s always so lovely when I get to hear all your own memories!

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My Top 10 days out in the West Country

The West Country is a wonderful area to visit, it combines stunning natural beauty with lots and lots of attractions and interesting places to visit. I have picked just ten of some of the thousands of possibilities – seriously I could have done my top 100 and not run out of ideas! – some are days out that I have done with my family over the years, and there’s one I plan to try this year too!

Morwellham Quay1.  Paignton Zoo 
If you enjoy zoos, I think Paignton tries really hard and has some excellent exhibits – my favourites being the red panda, giraffes and the meerkats!

2. Buckfast Abbey
There’s a monastery shop here that sells products entirely from other monasteries – great Belgian beer and lovely perfumes etc. There’s also the most amazing stained glass window and a great cream tea!

3. Morwellham Quay
Both my girls loved visits here, it really brings history to life – it was a great copper ore port in Victorian times and there’s so much to see.

Cornwall’s Eden Project4. Eden Project
Interesting plant displays and environments, it’s internationally famous for its groundbreaking exhibits and even has concerts down there now!

5. House of Marbles, Bovey Tracey
I am somewhat biased here as this is run by friends of mine, but the glass blowing is fascinating to watch, the restaurant does a great lunch and the shop is very tempting – the marble displays were adored by my daughters and nephews alike!

6. Miniature Pony Centre, Dartmoor  
I just love this place, the ponies are adorable and make you want to take them home and I think I remember Pippa crying just because she couldn’t! Nice picnic area too.

Steaming through the countryside…7. Steam Trains from Buckfastleigh
Travel back in time… and rekindle your memories of steam trains! A lovely few hours reminiscing as you travel close to the River Dart from Buckfastleigh to Totnes – huge thumbs up from me. Have a browse round Totnes while you are there too – a lovely town.

8. Kent’s Cavern, Torquay
I have been here many times with visiting family and the stalactites and stalagmites are always fascinating and the cream tea is fun too!

9. Babbacombe Model Village
The detail in the work is great to see and when the village is illuminated at night it looks very pretty – lots to see including a fire breathing dragon on the model castle!

Kent’s Cavern10. Greenway House
Agatha Christie is one of my heroines and there’s a new trip for 2013 – departing from either Torquay or Brixham and travel on a river boat to her former home Greenway House and then return on Barnaby, a vintage bus. The garden is amazing and I have bought many plants from the nursery section in the past – so I am definitely planning this as a day out this year!

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My life in colour…

I was in Exeter recently in a pretty area on the outskirts of the town where there is a small parade of shops. There’s a couple of cafés, a jewellers, a clothes shop and more – all of them independent and slightly quirky – just my sort of place for a browse among lots of pretty bits and pieces! None of them sold ‘essentials’ but hey – you never know what you might discover for use in a project or to spark some creative idea… so I felt justified having a good rummage!

I spotted some lovely old buttons in one shop window and went inside where they had an amazing collection of old ‘recycled’ buttons of every shape, colour and design you could imagine! They also had a small selection of dress fabrics hanging up. Now I am no dressmaker, but these were lovely and reminded me of frocks my mother had worn. They even had dress patterns – remember the ‘Simplicity’ and ‘Butterick’ brands? – with shirt-waisters and 1960s shift dresses.

Everything seemed terribly familiar and ‘comfortable’ and I started chatting to the shop owner. It was then I discovered I was in a ‘retro’ shop! It seems my childhood era is now on the verge of being ‘antique’ and is classed as retro and therefore very ‘on trend’!

I have to say this didn’t do much for my ego, but rather than feel huffy about it, I just found it fascinating. Looking round this little shop was like stepping back in time and I felt about 12 again, and it was really rather lovely and comforting.

They had games and puzzles that I hadn’t seen for years. Remember how we all used to do jigsaws or play Ludo in the days before playstations and ipads? They also had lots of old cream and pale blue enamel kitchen bits and pieces – now called ‘kitchenalia’ apparently – and all carrying impressive price tags despite being chipped! 

What struck me most of all was how the colours then were so different from now. Not exactly more muted, just different shades. One big change is in the quality of print and packaging. Today we can print photos and patterns and pretty much anything on our home printers – look at all the lovely things we print out everyday for our card and craft projects – but back in the 1950s and 60s, most designs were drawn illustrations involving little photography, and the colours were much less ‘natural’ that we expect today.

While I wouldn’t swap our multicoloured hi-tech modern world for the 1960s, it was wonderfully nostalgic, and a little bit sad, to feel I was back in time to an era when life seemed slower and more innocent and it brought back lots of happy memories.

So tell us… What iconic images bring your childhood back to life?

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