Valentine card with an unusual message…!

It’s nearly Valentine’s Day and for inspiration I turned to the Jayne Netley Mayhew decoupage collections. This particular design is part of her Summer collection but doubles brilliantly as a Valentine card.

The design is pretty simple to cut out with very few difficult details and red roses always appeal! The backing paper can be picked from any CD you have handy or ready printed papers. The shaped card is made using a Nestability set – but if you want to take a short cut you could perhaps use a shaped corner punch on the four corners of the card instead.

The embellishments are all from the collection that Pam, who made this card, has collected over the years but there are loads of little charms to be found online.

How about making your other half a card and then inside adding an IOU for a little treat once the weather gets a bit warmer, like a picnic or a day at the zoo!?

 

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A tale of tulips, Monty Don & my Dad!

Tulip Black Parrot.While Joanna is at the Hobby Craft Exhibition at the NEC, she’s let me, Julia Wherrell, her hen pal and partner in crime (writing), loose on her blog – very exciting!

Joanna was very strict and said I’m not allowed to write about making things out of willow (already done that), or my chickens (ditto), so I thought I’d tell you about my bulb planting scheme for pots, partly inspired by my 89-year old Father, and the lovely TV gardener, Monty Don. 

I know Joanna talked about spring bulbs last week, but I’m afraid you’ve got them again as, if we don’t get them planted out now, it is going to be too late.

While I love the idea of tulips I am always disappointed as they seem to collapse easily and get rather messy but, when I was visiting a garden in Cornwall earlier this year, I saw them in a different light. The garden featured same-coloured tulips closely planted in urns and other pots – and they looked stunning. 

The marvellous Monty Don… and my Dad!While Joanna gets all swoony over Pierce Brosnan, I go weak at knees over Monty Don, so I am always glued to Gardeners’ World every week. Recently, Monty was showing us how to plant up containers with tulips. Not only was he planting them much deeper than I had done (probably why mine fell over – poor things!) but he also layered them, so you get a succession of blooms coming up through each other. Jolly clever, I thought.

I was recounting this to my Father on Skype (he may be 89, but he’s no slouch!) and he said “Ah yes, I used to plant tulips deep in tubs like that, but then I’d also plant a layer of daffodils at the top. So the daffodils flowered first, then when they were over, up came the tulips.” Thanks Dad – another brilliant idea!

So, last weekend, I got into the garden and planted up various tubs – some with two layers of tulips, other with tulips and then daffs. Provided you check which bulbs will flower when, so you get a progression over the months, I am sure you could ‘layer’ other bulbs in this way too.

Tulip Burgundy.I love the parrot-type tulips you see now with their pretty frilled edges, and I also like the more pointed petal varieties. As for colours, I adore the darker shades, such as Black Parrot or Tulip Burgundy. I don’t care for the variegated ones and I rarely have yellow or orange in my garden, it is always a very pink and purple palette as I find it more relaxing – a riot of colour can be rather exhausting!

And so, I will trot off now to chat to my chickens and plan another willow sculpture, but don’t tell Joanna…!

 

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Thoughts of spring…

As we enter November my garden is looking a little drab. There’s lots to do to ‘put it to bed’ for the winter but it’s all somewhat uninspiring. So, to cheer myself up I am already thinking about next spring when the first green shoots start to push their way up through the soil.

I always buy far too many spring bulbs and end up running around like a demented squirrel trying to find empty patches of soil to plant them in. I just can’t resist the thought of all those delicate, pretty early bulbs announcing the arrival of another growing year.

As I was planning this blog, I sat and thought about my favourite spring bulbs. Of course the list is huge, but narrowing it down, I came up with the following top five:

  1. Snowdrops (Galanthus) in a drift are just gorgeous. The moment I see their delicate little flower heads pushing up, even through snow, I know that spring is on its way!
  2. Tiny daffodils, or narcissi (Poeticus recurvus) – so delicate and more subtle than the rather lumbering yellow trumpet daffs we get later on.
  3. Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) I am a sucker for bluebells. Loved them as a child and still do. A Devon wood carpeted in bluebells is a sight to behold.
  4. Runuculus – great for cutting and bringing indoors, these pretty bright blooms are guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
  5. Aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) This little plant is only about 10cm (4in) tall and looks best grown in a group, preferably somewhere that gets the morning sun.

It’s a bit soggy in the garden just at the moment, but the bulbs need planting. The worst thing that can happen is to not get on with it and then find the ground is frozen – disaster! Here are a few tips to help you get a lovely display this spring.

  • Always plant bulbs in ‘informal’ groups, or drifts – don’t plant ones or twos or in regimented lines! Actually throwing a handful of bulbs across the ground and planting them where they land is a simple way of doing it.
  • When buying bulbs, reject any that are soft or showing signs of mould. Small bulbs may not flower in their first year.
  • Bulbs should be planted in holes three to four times as deep as the bulb itself. So, for example, a 1in crocus bulb needs to be planted in a hole 3-4in deep.
  • Fill large plastic pots with your favourite bulbs and, just before they are about to flower, use them to plug holes in the border. Plastic pots can also be slipped inside more elegant terracotta ones and whipped out when the bulbs are over. Clever! 
  • Finally, do read the packaging on your bulbs to ensure you plant them at the right time. Lots of garden centres sell them from July onwards and they want them sold and out the way before the stock up on Christmas baubles, but July is way too early to plant spring bulbs.

 

Good luck!

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The Forager’s Kitchen

Hedgerows are always a source of fascination, they are so full of flora and fauna. At the moment, they are dotted with glossy blackberries, and I can never resist picking them as I pass. My mother, the queen of preserves in our family, is already making jam and there has been talk of a blackberry and apple crumble coming our way too…!

My level of hedgerow foraging is fairly basic, but there is lots of ‘free’ food out there if you only know what to look for. My friend Julia Horton-Powdrill is a great forager and it was through her excellent Facebook page that I came across ‘The Forager’s Kitchen’ a truly fascinating cookery book that contains over 100 easy recipes from savoury to sweet, written by a Scots lady called Fiona Bird.

Don’t be put off by the title – this book is absolutely fascinating just to sit and read even if you have no intention of going and collecting any of the ingredients yourself. Not only does Fiona provide lovely (and easy) recipes, she gives lots of additional information about wildflowers, herbs, fruits and berries and more. Should you feel inspired, she also tells you how to forage, essential ground rules (how to avoid misidentification!) and a range of lovely little ‘wild notes’ with really useful hints and tips.

The book is divided up into sections – Flowers & Blossom, Woodland & Hedgerow, Fruits & Berries, Herbs and Sea & Shore. There’s a huge range of recipes – from Christmas Tree Cookies (using Douglas fir needs) through Carrot & Clover Cake to the most gorgeous looking Violet Macarons with Primrose Cream. Fiona writes very well and, whether you live in a city, the countryside or by the coast, if you follow her advice, you will find more ingredients growing in the wild than you could imagine!

Our ancestors knew what to pick and I do think it’s a shame that most people today are so ‘disconnected’ from the countryside and, indeed, wary of it. There is so much beauty in nature and such bounty out there if we only know what to do with it.

Fiona Bird is a mother of six children. She is a self-taught cook and past Masterchef finalist who has always had a passion for cooking and her approach to food is based on her knowledge of tight budgets and limited time. You can follow Fiona on her Facebook page. 

 

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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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