Crystallized flowers – what little gems!

This week, I’ve asked Julia Horton-Powdrill to write a guest blog. I met Julia on a creative writing course a few years ago, and was impressed by her great writing, humour and enthusiasm.

When not writing, she keeps extremely busy running a number of ‘wild’ businesses including the Really Wild Food Festival and Wild about Pembrokeshire!

Wild about Pembrokeshire is all about foraging and runs wild food foraging walks and day courses and, as Julia says, encourages you to ‘Discover your Inner Forager’!!

Julia’s mission is to encourage people to have a fun day in the countryside or on the coast and help them to identify and make the most of what is available from Mother Nature! She also advises on the legal side of foraging from the wild and how to collect sustainably and responsibly.

To find out more, visit: www.wildaboutpembrokeshire.co.uk

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As everything is fresh and young in the countryside (apart from me!) now is the time to try out a few recipes. One I mean to do each spring but always forget is to crystallize flowers. Gorse, primrose, sweet cicely, wild violets, apple blossom and rose petals can be used, but experiment yourself as long as you know what you are using isn’t poisonous.

Beat an egg white lightly with a fork, paint each petal, immerse or sprinkle over, some caster sugar then leave overnight on a lined tray. Use to decorate puds or cakes or just to eat on their own. Mothers used to crystallize flowers on the stem where they grew then let their children loose into the meadow to hunt for them and eat them… great idea!

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Marvellously marbled

Marbled paper is one of my favourite things – I love the blends of colours, especially if it has a bit of gold in it. When I went to Venice for the weekend, it was the stationery shops I couldn’t keep away from – oh well and the lace shops. Never mind the amazing scenery, give me craft ideas!!

You can buy real hand-marbled paper as I have got here – or you can get printed marble paper – which can look just as nice and can be easier to find. The sheets used to cover this chest of drawers are wrapping paper-sized which means no joins but you could use something smaller.

You can also do much easier projects like covering notebooks to make a really special present. I use PVA glue or you could try Pinflair bookbinding glue.

There’s something really tactile and special about covering things in pretty papers, I suppose it’s making them ‘yours’, putting your stamp on something…. I remember covering my exercise books at school – didn’t help the content much, but they looked good!

There are oh so many places you can pick up books, box files, little chests, tiny cupboards etc. Try Ikea, for example, and have a search online.

Another idea I have used successfully is covering papier mache shapes – heart shaped boxes, frames – the choices are endless, so just get Googling!

The other thing you could try if you were feeling really ambitious is to marble some paper yourself. I am a bit cautious about it and would rather skip to the covering stage – but hey I bet it might be fun to experiment!

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The glorious British bluebell… or is it?

Bluebells are with us early this year, the mild weather brought them into bloom at the end of
 March in this part of the world.

The delicate bell-shaped blooms are definitely something to be enjoyed en masse – a carpet of bluebells in woodland is a gorgeous thing to behold – and wonderfully British.

Sadly our native bluebell is under threat from an aggressive hybrid. Apparently, these invaders are spreading rapidly and are appearing in woodlands rather than just urban areas.

Bluebells are protected and it is illegal to dig them up from the wild. However, there are various nurseries that grow them for sale. They are best planted around this time of year ‘in the green’, which means that they appear with leaves rather than as dried bulbs. You don’t need a huge woodland to grow bluebells as they will grow happily under deciduous shrubs, or along the bottom of a hedge.

Can you tell a native bluebell from an interloper? Nope – well here’s a quick guide – you too can become an instant Bluebell expert!

Native bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

  • Flowers have a strong, sweet scent
  • Pollen is creamy-white
  • Flower stems nod to one side
  • Deep violet-blue in colour
  • Often found in woodlands or shady areas

Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica)

  • Native to Portugal and western Spain
  • Pollen is deep blue
  • More upright than native plants
  • Flowers can be pale to mid blue, white or pink
  • Grown in gardens and found in the countryside

Hybrid bluebell (Hyacinthoides x massartiana)

  • Flowers range from dark to pale blue, pink and white
  • A hybrid of native and Spanish bluebells
  • Can show characteristics of both parent plants
  • Widespread in urban areas; has been recorded broad leaf woodland
  • Thought to be more common than the Spanish variety

In the meantime just enjoy that blue haze of little flowers anywhere you can – the bluebell native or interloper is a beautiful sign of Spring!

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Shellcraft

We are so lucky to live near the coast and beachcombing is great fun. Sadly, I don’t have as much time to do this as I’d like but, whenever I do, I always keep my eyes open for pretty shells and interesting shaped bits of driftwood and pieces of dried seaweed as you never know when they might come in handy…

I wonder how many of you have tried using shells? The finished results can range from really rather yukky seaside ornaments (that aren’t even made in the UK!) to works of complete and utter beauty that can be found in museums and art galleries.

My Mum’s work comes somewhere in the middle – I would say they are definitely of complete beauty but I do realise I am utterly and forever biased – so I am trying to seem fair!

I have used shells many, many times in craft work and you can get the most amazing results. Here are a few tips to help you get the best results when working with shells:

If you are doing something small – as these boxes are – scale down the size of shells that you use.

A detailed little mosaic of miniscule treasures is going to look amazing – clunky lumps of big shells just don’t do it.

I have used shells mainly for mirror frame decoration – so I upgrade the size slightly but again try and go for a more complex intertwining shell look. I usually mix with preserved ivy or something soft and feathery like silk foliage to fill the gaps and balance the strength and angles of the shells. You really can create some beautiful effects.

Experiment with several glues before you make your definitive masterpiece.

Nothing is more infuriating than shells dropping off or not standing the test of time. I have used a dozen different glues over the years but I would say the most useful ones have been pinflair glue gel, hot glue and tacky PVA. In all cases I would ensure you have a fine nozzle rather than gloops of glue – it’s never a good look!

There are lots of places online that sell shells and the little ones look fab on cards – the huge ones are a work of art in themselves – why not have a play? And next time you are on a beach, make sure you keep your eyes peeled!

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Happy Easter!

Happy Easter! As I am sure you are all dutifully saving your Easter eggs for Easter Sunday (!) Good Friday is the day for tucking into hot cross buns!

They are delicious toasted and served warm with lashings of butter ­– I love the cinnamon spiciness and the fruity currants!

There are lots of superstitions surrounding hot cross buns. One is that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or become mouldy during the subsequent year –don’t think I’ll be trying that somehow! They are also supposed to have medicinal properties and if you give a piece of a hot cross bun to someone who is ill it is said to help them recover.

Sharing a hot cross bun with another is supposed to ensure friendship throughout the coming year, particularly if “Half for you and half for me, Between us two shall goodwill be” is said at the time. Because of the cross on the buns, some say they should be kissed before being eaten. Not sure about that either…

Even more strangely, it’s said that if taken on a sea voyage, hot cross buns will protect against shipwreck. If hung in the kitchen, they are said to protect against fires and ensure that all breads turn out perfectly. The hanging bun is replaced each year… which is a relief I suppose!

Do you remember the childhood rhyme? It goes:

“Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns!
One a penny two a penny – Hot cross buns
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons
One a penny two a penny – Hot cross buns”

Considering it’s an ancient rhyme it’s unusual to show a preference for the female of the family! So let’s embrace the Hot Cross Bun as an early example of feminism… Or better still, let’s just toast them and enjoy! Smiles, Joanna.

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