A bit of a swagger!

As I think many of you know, I have spent a great many hours of my life cutting, drying and arranging flowers both for work projects and also for my own personal pleasure, especially at Christmas. It’s a hobby I love and never tire of. Those of you who have read my latest novel ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’ will know that this keen interest of mine has even crept into a murder mystery!

But anything I have ever produced as a Christmas decoration pales into insignificance next the utterly extraordinary giant swag that, every Christmas, graces the Great Hall in Cotehele in Cornwall. Although this National Trust property dates back to Tudor times, the yuletide tradition of decking the Great Hall with a garland is a relatively recent one. Begun in the 1950s, the Christmas flower garland is now firmly established as one of Cotehele’s annual highlights.

Every November, gardeners and volunteers at Cotehele create the 60ft long Christmas garland using thousands of flowers grown on the estate. The giant swag hangs in the Great Hall throughout the festive season and, if you are anywhere near Saltash on the Cornwall/Devon border between now and 6th January 2018… I urge you to go! You will need to book, so do have a look on the website before you set off.

Preparations for the garland begin almost a year earlier in February when the flower seeds are sown and planted in early spring in the Cut Flower Garden. The gardeners pick them daily during the summer, strip their leaves and carefully hang them in the potting shed to dry. Stripping the leaves from each individual stem is one of the most time-consuming elements in the garland-preparation process. Typically, the gardeners would like about 30,000 flowers in the garland – yes THIRTY THOUSAND!!

One of the things I love about this magical project is that, rather than following a standard design, each year the garland is different and depends on which of the specially grown flowers have done well. The garland often includes ornamental grasses, paper daisy, paper rose, statice and garden thrift.

Creating the garland is a task that involves Cotehele’s gardeners and volunteers using scaffolding to add flowers into the growing festive display. The results are spectacular, not only because of the stunning visual impact the garland makes but also because of the months of work, skill and care that has gone into creating it.

Photo:  The Christmas swag at Cotehele – photo copyright National Trust, go to their website for more information and photos

 

4 Comments

Simple pleasures…

As we get older, I think we become more aware of ‘simple’ pleasures’, well I know I do! The smell of coffee brewing, freshly cut grass or hearing an owl hoot – all simple things that give immense pleasure.

I read the other day that Vita Sackville-West (she of Sissinghurst Garden fame, amongst other things…) used the term ‘through leaves’ to describe simple pleasures enjoyed by her family. She coined the phrase after “the small but intense pleasure of kicking through leaves while out walking”, which I thought was rather lovely.

Another classic, that I expect almost all of us know, are the lyrics to the song ‘My favourite things’ from the Sound of Music, including whiskers on kittens, warm woollen mittens and brown paper packages tied up with string.

It’s so easy to think that pleasures have to be big and expensive, like holidays, or fancy clothes… but I think we start to appreciate the simple things the more we experience life. You often hear people who have survived cancer, or cheated death in an accident or natural disaster, say how they appreciate every day, every moment, and are more aware of what’s around them.

I had a think about my ‘through leaves’ moments, and came up with the following list:

  • The smell of baking bread (thanks to Richard and his bread maker!)
  • Little Grace running towards me with her arms open
  • A beautiful sunset (or dawn, but that’s rare!)
  • Hearing my daughters say a casual I love you
  • Finishing a card and sitting back and thinking – that’s a keeper!

My co-author Julia was here (we were busy having a book signing session!) and I asked her, for her ‘Through leaves’ moments and she said:

  • Standing in the middle of her runner bean arch(!)
  • Being greeted by her dog, Moss, in the morning
  • Watching beech leaves unfurl in spring
  • Walks on frosty mornings
  • Birdsong

So what are your ‘through leaves’ moments? Do let me know… smiles, Joanna

 

18 Comments

Have a Holly Pond Hill Christmas!

I wanted to share a couple of Holly Pond Hill Christmas cards with you today – hmm not that many weeks to Christmas, have you made all your cards yet?

Of course the first thing you are going to do is say “Have you?” and of course the answer you knew was coming is… nope nothing like all of them yet!

One year I promise I will be a super organised Christmas person, I will plan in advance not only what we are eating, who is coming and when, but also make my cards months in advance. I’m not succeeding very well on that list this year. Currently I have no clue if my girls are with me on Christmas Day or whether as we have done in the past we postpone the big day to December 26th.

It’s so much harder when children are grown up, they acquire other families (their in-laws) that have just as much right to Christmas Day as you do and, shock horror, they even occasionally want to go away for Christmas! I do wonder what the reaction would be if Richard and I went away for Christmas, not sure they would think that was right! No stockings, no-one to cook and clear away on Christmas Day – noooo!

But back to the cards – Christmas in Holly Pond Hill is a fabulous CD. If you haven’t got it already, then it’s definitely on my top 5 list for making Christmas cards and I can recommend it. I love the little characters and there are also some amazing images without furry bits too!

Both the cards use the matching backing papers that come with the toppers on the CD (easy to find!) and the little parcel on the right uses the (SD553) Small Box Envelope die and again a paper from the CD.

Maybe aim to have half your Christmas cards done by the middle of November Joanna? Hmm … maybe!

 

8 Comments

The Proof is in the Pudding

Drum roll… today sees the launch of the  final instalment of the Swaddlecombe Mysteries – ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’! 

Some of you sharp-eyed readers may notice that the cover is different to the one we showed you a few months ago. We just didn’t feel the initial design was quite right and, as this book is set in the winter, I really wanted to use one of Julia’s lovely atmospheric photos, so we managed to get it changed – phew! ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’ is available now in paperback from my website for £6.99 and it is also on Kindle for £3.99.

Here’s what it says on the book cover: “Victoria West’s first Christmas in sleepy Swaddlecombe looks like being a traditional country affair… but then, as the decorations go up, so does the body count. A Christmas wreath making course, liberally lubricated by local wines, comes to a tragic conclusion. Farmer Albert Moreton has things on his mind and the Reverend Ruminant has been busy plotting…

The whole village is getting festive with a ‘Caroloke’ in the pub and, of course, there’s the infamous old folks’ Christmas party to navigate.

Handsome men abound but are they really what they seem? Is the Lord of the Manor a philanderer? Is the gardener safe with his axe? Why would Tipple the pug’s owner abandon him, and how far would anyone go to get their hands on a fortune? Victoria and Albert have their work cut out to identify ‘who dunnit’ in this frenzied festive free-for-all.”

I do so hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did writing it.

I will be on Create & Craft today (13th October) from 12 noon and throughout the weekend for lots of lovely demonstrations… and you can be sure I will be waving the new book about at every opportunity too! Remember, all dates are subject to change so please check the TV schedules on the day.

 

14 Comments

Shelf life…

With the publication of our next novel imminent (next week!), I have been thinking rather a lot about books. It’s always so exciting when the courier delivers the batch of heavy boxes and I get to slit one open and actually take a copy of the paperback out and hold it. I find myself reading the cover (even though I obviously know EXACTLY what it says!) and flicking through the pages… then I take out another one and start reading that too – as if it’s going to be different – LOL! But there is just something so very tactile and wonderful about a printed book.

I love books and I have hundreds, actually, it’s possibly thousands. Looking at a bookcase with all the coloured spines and titles is, to me, like a visual memory bank. I remember where I was when I read a particular book, or can recall a specific character or event and remember why I enjoyed reading it so much.

All well and good, Joanna, but nowadays of course… we have the electronic book, most commonly, the Kindle. I probably have hundreds of Kindle books stored as well! It’s such a convenient way to read, especially if you are travelling and don’t want to lug heavy books about. But, somehow, it doesn’t have the same romance as reading a book and, of course, you lose the ‘visual’ delight.

If I walk into someone’s home and see a well-stocked bookcase, my heart does tend to lift and, given half a chance, I will take a sneaky peek and see what they read… and also how they store their books. Do they line them up alphabetically (that’s my co-author, Julia), group them by spine colour for visual effect (my designer friend Karen) or have a random selection with ‘current reads’ stashed closest to the sofa – me! How do you arrange your books, or do you now only have a Kindle so books no longer feature in your home?

I confess I find books comforting. When everything else in life might seem to be stressful or chaotic, my books will still be there, full of wonderful stories and characters just waiting for me to open one and restore order to my mind.

And so… as the copies of ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’ the fourth and final book in our Swaddlecombe series, are in the process of being printed and bound, I am already planning where I will be storing my copy! I should add that it will also be available on Kindle, if you prefer! Happy reading.

22 Comments