Cut flowers – one of summer’s many pleasures

Wandering around the garden with a pair of scissors, snipping here and snipping there, is a bit of an August treat for me.

While some people are expert flower arrangers, or just have a natural flair, others just plonk flowers in a vase. But it doesn’t matter what level of skill you have, truly, as decorating the house with flowers from your own garden is one of summer’s many pleasures.

How and when to pick your flowers

  • Don’t pick flowers in the heat of the day, as they will quickly wilt. Pick last thing at night or first thing in the morning.
  • Don’t try to arrange your flowers straight way. Instead, stick them into a bucket of tepid water and allow them to recover for a few hours or overnight. This will prolong their vase life.
  • Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the stem – you don’t want any leaves left below the water level, as they will rot. If there are fewer leaves there is less demand on the stem and the flower is less likely to flop.
  • When picking annuals and biennials take out the leading shoot by cutting just above a side branch with a bud. This will encourage more flowers.
  • The more you cut some annuals, such as sweet peas (one of my absolute favourites!), the more flowers the plant will produce.
  • Take care with lilies – I think we probably all know this, but I’ll say it again – the pollen can stain hands, clothing and upholstery and is poisonous to pets.

Even a very simple arrangement can look stunning. I remember going to a very ‘laid back’ wedding reception that was held in a barn. They had two long tables covered with gingham cloths and the only table decoration were rows of jam jars filled with hedgerow flowers barely arranged, just left to tumble and froth as nature intended – and the effect was enchanting!

Here, I’ve used a plain glass vase – but it could just as well be a large jar, and a zinc bucket, for a more rustic look. To start off, place the flowers in your vase stem by stem and vary the heights. You will need some tall – two or three times the height of your vase – and some shorter stems for support. Don’t be tempted to overfill the vase as this can make the arrangement look cramped. Add foliage such as a favourite grass or leaf stem to give an interesting contrast. 

The important thing is not to worry too much about creating the perfect arrangement. Too neat is not a good look, go for ‘natural’. A pretty vase and plenty of colour are really all that is needed. And if the flowers are fragrant that’s an added bonus.

Have fun!


Edam: much more than just a cheese!

Richard and I have had a lovely long weekend this summer visiting Amsterdam and the surrounding area with our American pals Cheryl and Randy. Wow it was so much fun!

Amsterdam is great with lots to see, river cruises, loads of walking (and I mean eight miles a day walking) but all counteracted by wonderful food! As Richard and I had been to Amsterdam before we concentrated on the surrounding areas and just had the best time.

We booked a private tour of Edam and a couple of other towns and this entailed just the four of us and a very nice guide, escorting us on trains, buses and by foot around several little towns. But for me the crowning glory of the entire trip was Edam.

Now we have all heard of Edam cheese and indeed we did find some exciting cheese tastings and attractive cheese shops – see the picture for an example – isn’t it pretty? But more importantly the canal in Edam is lined by the most gorgeous houses, oh goodness I loved them. The feature that captured my imagination the most were the little buildings at the bottom of the garden, close to the canal that were called tea houses (see the round house in the picture). These were like little summerhouses where the ladies drank tea in the afternoon in times gone by (and even now for all I know!) and they just grabbed my heart.

I have a round summerhouse in the garden but it’s very tiny and very full – so no tea drinking happening in there. Maybe in the future, or in another house, I could have a pretty painted summerhouse where we all drink tea? Talking of drinking tea – we did stop later that day and have a great cappuccino and yummy cake at the cafe in the picture surrounded by flowers – gorgeous!

The Netherlands are relatively quick and easy for us all to access, we managed some really cheap flights and I highly recommend the countryside around Amsterdam – pretty, interesting and we had just the best weekend away ever!


Putting on a bit of a show…

July and August are busy times down here in Devon. Of course, the tourism industry is huge in this area – we are blessed with beautiful countryside and a dramatic coastline – but it’s the strong sense of community and tradition in the countryside that also come to the fore at this time of year.

The rural community is still closely aligned with the farming world and country shows, town carnivals and village fetes are all still important (and popular) events on the social calendar.

Growing giant vegetables, showing your best breeding ram or entering your dog in the agility class are all part of the fun,­ although some people take it very seriously indeed! People go to enormous lengths to build carnival floats, groom and polish their ponies and traps and produce flower arrangements of great ingenuity. It is heartening to see such ‘traditional’ ways of life still carrying on so strongly in this technological age.

My partner in crime writing, Julia Wherrell, took the afternoon off to wander around a show local to her up on Dartmoor, the Chagford Show, and took some fun photos to give you a real feel for what goes on. She spent quite a lot of her afternoon in the produce and craft tents and when not in there, she was admiring the prize sheep and cattle, oh, and chickens of course. She says she most definitely did not go near the beer tent(!), but might have swung by the cream teas!

They always say ‘write about what you know’, so if you happen to be a fan of our Swaddlecome Mysteries series, this sort of rural entertainment will be well known to you! 


Hot off the press!

Well, strictly speaking, it’s hot ON the press! My second novel ‘A Violet Death’, co-written with my friend Julia Wherrell, was being printed yesterday. It will be available a week from today – Friday 15th August.

I wasn’t able to go to our printers, Maslands up in Tiverton today, but Julia went along to watch the covers and text coming off the presses. I found it absolutely fascinating when I went last year to see the first book in the series ‘A Sticky End’, being produced. All that whirring machinery is fascinating and watching a cover, then another cover and oh look, there’s another cover whizzing out the end of the machine is great fun!

A Violet Death is the second in our Swaddlecombe series and is set in the summer, following on from A Sticky End, that took place in springtime. Here’s a quick synopsis to whet your appetite:

‘After inheriting a cottage from her aunt, Victoria West is starting to settle into her rural life in Devon.

As Victoria and farmer Albert Moreton’s relationship blossoms, summer heats up and preparations for the Swaddlecombe Show are underway when a ferocious flash flood shakes up the rural idyll and a mysterious death is discovered. 

Meanwhile, as she researches her latest article on Devon violets, Victoria meets the Ansome brothers who, in their very different ways, have a major impact on her future happiness.

Is Victoria and Albert’s romance doomed? Will the vicar ever dry out his cassock and will Moss the pup win his obedience class at the Swaddlecombe Show?’

So there you have it! As ever, it’s got plenty of humour as well as a few unpleasant incidents… and there’s yet more cake to add into the mix!

We do hope you enjoy it!


Create a real ‘storm’ in a teacup!

Gosh, I am excited about this blog! Yes, I know I quite often say ‘This is my favourite…’ or ’I just love this or that…’ but, really, honestly, I do absolutely adore this flower arranging idea!

I love old-fashioned china and I think teacups and saucers are just so pretty and decorative but, sadly, we rarely use them these days… but never mind, they make the most beautiful vases! If you don’t have any, you can pick them up for very little cost at car boots and charity shops and you only need one, not a whole set, or a few different designs to suit your mood.

A tea cup arrangement looks lovely on a coffee table, dressing table or on a bedside cabinet in a guest room – so pretty, and so feminine. If you are having a posh dinner party, and you happen to own a complete set, they’d also make the most lovely individual place decorations.

It’s important you choose flowers that fit the scale of the arrangement and also that complement the design on your tea cup. The secret to this whole flower arrangement is every florists’ friend – Oasis! Cut a chunk and check that it fits snugly into your cup, then remove it, put some water into the cup and then put the Oasis back in, so it can soak up the water – then start designing.

There are plenty of little ‘how to’ videos online if you want some help with how to do it, but, as long as you don’t choose flowers that are too big, or that have huge stems, you will be fine. 

For a lovely present for a keen gardening friend, you could buy a packet of flower seeds, some oasis and a pretty tea cup – and present them with it! Sutton Seeds (whose Facebook page is well worth ‘liking’) actually sell seeds specifically for such a project.