I love hydrangeas!


hydraniasI have to give a huge shout out for my hydrangea bushes – they give such amazing service all summer long with their flowers. Then they start changing with the coming of autumn and the colours are amazing and jewel-like. Now is the time to harvest some to bring into the house.

So having served us all summer on the bushes, you can then get months (or years) more service from their beautiful blooms indoors. Cut them off the bushes either on a long stem or just the heads depending on how you plan to use them.

I personally cut longish stems making sure I cut near a new pair of buds. This cutting, or pruning, alters the size and shape of the hydrangea bush but, to be honest, mine are so huge I am grateful to prune a bit in any direction! I am sure this is not the correct way to re-shape your hydrangeas (So sorry Monty Don) but it has always worked for me and never caused any harm to my bushes.

So, I cut longish stems and then arrange them loose in a vase or in a basket with dry Oasis. No need for water – just leave them to it and they will dry out.

You can enjoy them for months and, if you any of the hydrangea heads that go too brownish or mottled, there’s nothing like a can of gold spray paint for a glorious display at Christmas!


Spruce up your garden on a budget!

I am forever sighing over garden makeovers in magazines or on TV. The trouble is, it can all be so expensive! Don’t despair, though, there are lots of things you can do to spruce up your garden, big or small, at little or no cost.

PaintedShedAs pretty as paint

Wood stain and paint for sheds used to come in dark brown or, if you were really racy, green! But not any more, now there are fabulous colours available and, if you choose ‘own brand’ options, rather than some of the posher paints, a litre of paint can cost as little as £12 and will cover about 12 m². Sheds can look shabby and garden furniture frumpy but if you give them a lick of paint in an exciting colour, it will cheer you, and your garden, up no end. Do make sure you use proper exterior wood paint or stain, though, as interior or gloss paint won’t work.

A friend of mine who didn’t feel up to wielding a paintbrush outside bought a very cost-effective pump-action sprayer and covered a fence and a trellis in no time. Provided you clean it out properly after use, you can re-use the sprayer again and again.

Shaping up

CircularLawnOne of the easiest and cheapest ways to transform your garden is to cut the lawn into a clearly defined shape such as a square or a circle or even a heart. It’s important to plan it out first, so mark out the shape with string and use a spade to cut away the excess grass. It’s not a difficult job and shouldn’t take more than an afternoon. But if digging is a bit much… perhaps a teenage offspring could be persuaded to help for a small bribe?!

Stack the cut turf green side down and stack in an out-of-the-way corner. Leave it for a year and you’ll have beautiful stuff that makes great seed compost!

Divide and thrive

GeumsA really cost-effective way to fill flower beds with great colour is to buy perennials that can be divided. This works really well with any clump-forming perennials such as astrantia, geums (love them!) and hardy geraniums. Tip the plant out of its pot and carefully pull it apart into two or three bits, each with some stalks and root. Dig a hole and plant each bit in your flowerbed and water well. Next year when they’ve grown and established, simply do the same again…

See the light!

When I was a child, fairy lights were for Christmas and that was it! Now, you can buy an amazing array of colours and shapes to use outdoors. Fairy lights can be bought online all year around and they’re a quick, simple and cheap way to bring a pretty glow to your GardenLightsgarden. Drape them through tree or shrub branches or attach them to fences, they can be run from a plug inside the house, so you don’t need an electrician. Or, look out for solar powered lights for the easiest option possible.

Shop online and you can find all sorts of bargains… have fun!

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Only a few times in my life have I been lucky enough to spot a kingfisher – they are such beautiful things. They are shy spend most of their time hiding away from us loud and scary humans! I believe they are mainly spotted in southern England and, as we have such beautiful, wild rivers in this particular part of the world, your chances of seeing one in Devon better than most.

This lovely painting of a kingfisher comes from our Shirley Barber project book – it has lots of beautiful pictures for you to download and print and, of course, several ideas for cards. This particular card doesn’t have instructions though as the kingfisher panel (SD345) is so new it wasn’t available when we wrote the project book!

This stepper card is a more complex way of using the pictures and the die cut, you could of course use a far simpler route. That’s the thing I like best about having printed out sheets of toppers and accessories – there are so many ways you can choose to use them and put you individual stamp on them.

Here are some instructions from our project page on a stepper card to remind you how this particular card fold can work. 



A picture paints a thousand words…

The other day I was reading about a portrait being removed from the National Portrait Gallery because the person in the picture had ‘fallen from grace’. That set me thinking about who gets their portraits painted – the great and the good and the wealthy generally speaking. And then that set me thinking about what it must have been like before photography came along…

Imagine if you didn’t have your photo albums, or your pictures stored on your laptop, tablet or phone, would you feel lost? I know I would. I often look at the photos of my family (especially my gorgeous granddaughter Grace) and they are inspiring, comforting and often poignant when it is a photo of someone who is no longer with us.

So imagine life before the photograph. Unless you were wealthy enough to have had a portrait painted, or were lucky enough to know someone talented who could sketch a likeness… you would have no record of your loved one. I find that very hard to think about as we have all grown up with photographs creating ‘instant’ images and knowing we can look back and savour an event, or a person.

Photography really began in the first half of the 1800s, but didn’t become commonplace until the second half of that century. So, carrying around an image of your loved one is a relatively recent thing. I am guessing that is why people had locks of hair and other mementoes stored in lockets and the like – there was nothing else they could do.

And so, back to portraits… and of course one of the fascinating things about them is that they are the ‘likeness’ created by the painter and may not be all that accurate. I always smile when I see portraits from certain eras when it seems all women were endowed with incredibly sloping shoulders (sweaters would have simply slipped to the floor!), or swan-like long necks that would have looked ridiculous in real life.

We don’t really know what Jane Austen looked like, but there are enough portraits of people powerful or famous in their day – like Oliver Cromwell for example – to know that he really was a bit of a warty old thing! We know that King Henry VIII had red hair and was a pretty stout chap, but of course no-one who wanted to live a full life was going to portray him as fat and balding, now were they?!

So, we are lucky today in that the arrival of digital photography means we can pretty much take photos any time and any place we like. But are we that lucky? There is, of course, the issue that most of us do not print our photos out, just as we rarely write letters in ink on paper, trusting everything to technology. If disaster ever strikes and the internet fails or we run out of electricity, we would lose everything. The National Portrait Gallery will still be there and libraries and archives of letters will still exist. But perhaps after all, it is the memories we retain in our minds that really count as they stay with us for ever.


A passion for paint!

Top to bottom: The original chair, washed down with sugar soap. Painted. Distressed. Waxed. The finished product!Last September, that’s September 2014, not the one just gone, my partner in crime writing, Julia and myself, went to a wonderful paint effects class in Exeter. We learnt all sorts of exciting things from our excellent tutor, Lynn, at Pepperwhite Vintage and came away full of ideas of bits of furniture were going to upcycle and spruce up with our fabulous new skills! And so, it has only taken until now (14 months) for one of us Julia, not me, to finally put brush to paint and paint to piece of furniture. I hang my head in shame and claim pressure of work and writing and 101 other things… Here, she tells us what she has been up to…

Joanna and I left our paint course full of enthusiasm for our projects. I have some ugly and uncomfortable pine kitchen chairs that I longed to get rid of. So my plan was to source six chairs from junk shops that I could paint in different colours, distress and wax. I wanted ones with the pop-out seats that are easy to recover with nice fabric to match my décor. Easy! Not. 

First stumbling block – the chairs. I quite fancied the idea of different designs, so there was no need to worry about buying a matching set. Could I find any with the pop out seats? Could I heck! After months of searching, I found two for just £4 each at the local council tip – fantastic! Another month passed… and after much searching I found two more at a different council tip. Another bargain at £5 the pair! Then nothing. Zippo. Zilch. I could not find any more anywhere.

Eventually, I had to get help and a friendly antique dealer found me two very nice carvers (the ones with arms) and I had to grit my teeth and lay out £40, but to buy all six chairs for a total of £53 was still pretty good, I thought. 

Two of the chairs needed a bit of glue and one was missing one of the supports for the seat pad… Would my other half kindly fix them please? Months later and after cajoling, crying, pleading… they were finally finished two weeks ago! Playing on his guilt I even managed to get him to wash them all down with sugar soap, the only preparation these fabulous Autentico paints need. Result! And so, I finally made a start…

During all the months of messing about, I had bought my paints (three colours) and two different seat fabrics (all off cuts) and I already had two colours of Autentico waxes in my projects box. Luckily, four of the six seat pads were in good condition and I only needed to re-pad two of them. I had some unwanted seat pads, the sort you use on garden chairs, so I used the stuffing of those to pad the old seats

Aided hugely by my puppy, Moss, I began painting one of the carvers. This was slow work, but I was pleased with the end result. I then rubbed the chair down on corners and edges to give a ‘distressed’ look. Moss found this fascinating and kept pouncing on the sandpaper as I rubbed it back and forth and sneezing as the paint dust went up her nose. I then finished the chair off with some wax to give it a durable finish and make it look more aged.

The seat pad recovering was much simpler than I had thought. With the aid of a staple gun, I soon had it covered. I also covered the underside so it both looked neat and there were no ‘interesting’ bits left sticking out that would appeal to a naughty puppy. I am no expert, but I must say I am really quite pleased with the result. So there we are… one down, only FIVE more to go!! Wish me luck…