Thinking about Easter

It’s not long now until Easter – it must be about as late as it can be this year – with Easter Sunday falling on April 20th. I have so many possibilities for making Easter cards but I think Jayne Netley Mayhew’s animals will be my inspiration for cards this year.  Both of these designs use the decoupage in her spring collection and they make wonderful Easter cards.

The little row of ducklings always makes me smile, the decoupage is quite easy to cut out and you can put a plain card around it or something a little more decorative as we have here. The Grand Nestability die makes a good card shape and with some simple embellishments it’s a simple card to make.

The Easter bunny card is a little more complex but still easy for a beginner. The decoupage is simple and the backing paper has just been pleated which, once you have got into a rhythm, is quite quick and very effective.

These two decoupage designs come with Easter greetings on the sheet if you wish to use them, but there’s plenty more inspiration in the rest of the Spring decoupage pack – you can have a look through them here.

Happy spring cardmaking! 

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Self-confessed Hellebore fanatic!

I know you must be fed up with me extolling the virtues of the Hellebore – but it is my favourite flower… It’s my blog, so I get to talk about Hellebores!

I thought you might like to see this pretty double specimen that has just come out in the garden. I must have 20 or more different varieties now and as you can see by the pictures, box loads of new ones have just arrived… oops did I buy that many?

It’s amazing the range of colours, shapes and sizes that they come in – from brilliant white through palest pink to dark purple that’s almost black. I even have a plant that sports creamy, verging on yellow, flowers so there really is a huge range from which to choose.

They are well-behaved perennials that just sit in the flowerbed and need no special treatment and I am always so thrilled to see a big display of flowers at this time of year when the rest of the garden is looking so bleak. You can even cut some of the ones on longer stems and enjoy them in the kitchen or around the house too.

And, if you want to make a really pretty table decoration for a special occasion or a dinner party, take an attractive, shallow bowl, fill with water and then cut the blooms off with no stem and float them face up, on the water, so that they float like tiny water lilies – very attractive! 

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Valentine Cupcakes

If you fancy making your Valentine a treat – or just want to make a treat, Valentine or not – these are heavenly cupcakes. They are rich and smooth and oh so yummy, you’ll love them!

Valentine Cakes:

  • 5oz/140g plain flour
  • 1oz/30g unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon of bicarb of soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 ¼ oz/60g unsalted butter
  • 8oz/225g granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon Baileys liqueur (or use strong black coffee)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 ½ fl oz/160ml buttermilk

For the filling and frosting:

  • 300g dark chocolate
  • 300ml double cream

 Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 1680C/350F/Gas 4 and pop some paper cases in a muffin/fairy cake tray
  2. Sift the flour, cocoa, bicarb and salt into a bowl and set aside
  3. Use an electric mixer and beat the butter and sugar until blended then add the eggs, one at a time until all is blended.
  4. Add the Baileys (or coffee) and vanilla and beat for another couple of minutes. On a low speed incorporate half the flour mix. Now add the buttermilk. Finally add the other half of the flour and blend till smooth.
  5. Using an ice-cream scoop or a tablespoon fill each paper case and then bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove and place on a wire rack until cool.
  6. Melt the chocolate for the frosting/filling over a pan of hot water. Do not overheat. Mix with the double cream gently but thoroughly. Then using scissors snip a cross in the top of the cupcake and open the cake slightly and fill with some of the chocolate ganache. Then using a spatula spread more ganache on top swirling it slightly. Decorate with a couple of hearts as in the picture or perhaps a slivered almond or any other decoration that you have to hand!

 

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Jobs to do in the garden..

Chitting potatoes in egg boxesI’m really in the mood for getting back into the garden and I’m thinking of all the jobs I need to get done while everything is still relatively dormant. 

I don’t have time to grow veg myself, but if you do, or want to start, now is the time to ‘chit’ seed potatoes. Chitting means getting the eyes in the potatoes to sprout and its easiest done in old egg boxes, placed eye or sprouting side up in a cool, light frost-free place for six weeks or so before planting outside. Choose ones the size of a hen’s egg, or cut larger tubers to fit. Potatoes can be planted directly into the ground, but this simple procedure really does increase yield. My partner in crime Julia’s conservatory is currently so crammed with chitting potatoes there’s hardly any room to sit in it!

You don’t need lots of space and you can even grow potatoes in a tub, or barrel and they’re great for introducing children to the simple joy of growing your own food.

While the grass is dormant, take your lawn mower for a service so it will be in fine fettle come spring. It’s also a great time to oil your secateurs and sharpen blades on shears. There’s nothing worse (and a chronic waste of effort) than hacking away at something with a blunt instrument – sounds a bit like a murder plot!

Avoid blunt instruments – keep your secateurs sharp!I do adore roses and now is the time to plant them. Make sure the hole is large enough for the roots to spread, and use a cane to check that the base of the plant is at soil level. Incorporate plenty of well-rotted manure and garden compost, and add some slow-release fertilizer such as blood, fish and bone. Fill in the hole, treading around the plant to firm it in and topping up the soil level as necessary. 

You can find lots of useful information on line about growing roses and all sorts of other really useful gardening advice. Here’s a list of ones I use:

 

 

 

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A bit of cheer in the garden

Snowdrops and aconitesMy goodness, a bit of cheer in the garden can be hard to find in winter, especially one as wet as this, and I’m often poking about in search of snowdrops, or the first signs of aconites.

At this time of year, it’s the pots by the back doors that give me most pleasure.

The wonderful thing about containers is that all but the largest are easy to move and can be used to create an ever-changing scene throughout the year, including the winter months. Different containers can take on different roles – some providing a dark or neutral backdrop while others take centre stage for their moment of floral glory.

Starring roles at this time of year will, of course, go to plants whose leaves, stems or flowers are especially attractive in winter. This might mean hauling a potted camellia out of the wings so you can watch its tight spherical buds burst into bloom, or bringing some smaller tubs of crocus and other early spring bulbs you planted in autumn to the front.

I have been known to root around in hidden corners of the garden for clumps of snowdrops and primroses that are blooming unseen and unappreciated, dig them up and give them a temporary home in a pot pretty enough to bring inside.

Such evacuees can also be snuck in at the base of larger potted plants outside, with trailing ivy woven in among them to hide that ‘just-dug-up’ look, and can be returned to the garden – perhaps in a place where they’ll be more visible – when the flowers have died down. I do this regularly and the plants never seem to resent the disturbance. In fact, if you want to move snowdrops and aconites now, when they are ‘in the green, is the best time to do it.

It can be great fun to plant a winter container from scratch. If you choose the plants with care, it can give pleasure well into spring. As a centrepiece, I’d choose a winter-flowering shrub – such as witch hazel or a deciduous daphne whose flowers, on the bare branches, are best set off by a backdrop of dark evergreens.

Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ Skimmia japonica and Viburnum tinus both work well – with the surrounding planting chosen to complement the colours of the buds. Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ has the darkest red, which looks dramatic with purple-leafed heucheras and pretty white cyclamen; while the greenish yellow buds of others such as ‘Fragrant Cloud’ would be lovely with white and yellow crocus or violas. All open to pure white flowers in spring, when brighter bulbs or early bedding can fill any gaps around the edges.

Water in, raising the pot on small feet to ensure good drainage, sit back, and enjoy the show.

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