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Winter garden inspiration

My partner in crime writing, Julia, moved house last autumn and is planning how she is going to design and plant up her new garden. I’ll let Julia tell you what she’s been up to…

One of the many Cornus to be seen at Rosemoor.

I am fortunate enough to live about half an hour away from RHS Garden Rosemoor, where they run talks and courses about all aspects of gardening. My new (new to me, anyway) garden is large, relatively empty, on a very slight incline and south facing… almost the complete opposite of my previous garden that was steep, terraced half in shade, and a frost pocket! My new house is also about 700ft above sea level so I am keen to try and ensure I buy the right plants for the garden.

As well as the right plants for the setting, I also want to try and ensure I have interest throughout the year. My old garden used to be at its best from May to July and pretty uninteresting the remainder of the time. So, my first session at Rosemoor was called ‘Winter colour for your garden’.

The amazing Acer griseum, the aptly named paper bark maple.

Their course brochure says: “Winter is often considered to be a closed season in the garden, but this definitely need not be the case. Colourful and fragrant flowers, striking barks and stems and a wide variety of evergreen plants all help to brighten up the garden and provide a wealth of interest throughout the winter. On this walk we will look at a good selection of plants, all of which are star performers during the winter months, and also discuss how to care for them.”

Luckily for me, the mid-February day was sunny and not too chilly. Rosemoor has a specific winter garden, and it was wonderful to see just how much colour and interest you can create. The thing that struck me most was the scent! I had no idea a winter garden could smell so wonderful. As the air was crisp, the mix of winter sun, birdsong and floral fragrance was just wonderful. Sarcococca is not a shrub I had encountered before, but I will definitely be buying some. Compact, evergreen shrubs with simple, leathery leaves and tiny, fragrant creamy-white flowers in winter or spring, followed by red, purple or black berries they smell divine. While I am familiar with Daphne, it’s another winter flowering plant whose fragrance I had not really appreciated.

Dramatic Camelia.

As well as scent, you need colour. While Camelias are a good bet for dramatic flowers, I was drawn more towards the coloured stems of Cornus, or dogwood as I have always called it, their bright red and yellow stems looking wonderful against a dark hedge or fence in deepest winter. Dogwoods is pretty wonderful all ways around, having blossoms, berries and, when you prune back the stems, providing beautifully coloured whips that you can use to make woven shapes and decorations.

I am lucky enough to have space to plant some trees. Witch hazels, or Hamamelis to use the proper name, are a delight with their fuzzy brightly coloured flowers and attractive scent. They also tend not to grow too large so they are definitely on my list. A tree that I fell instantly in love with at Rosemoor was a paper bark maple, Acer griseum, a beautiful tree with cinnamon-coloured peeling bark. I don’t think I’d ever seen anything quite like it.

Sarcococca confusa… I think!

At the end of our walk and talk, we were given a comprehensive plant list… this is, of course, fatal, as you feel you want to rush out and buy everything on it! I didn’t and am instead trying to draw out a proper plan of what to plant where as I won’t be able to do much in the garden until late summer anyway due building work going on. As an RHS member, I receive discounted rates on any walks or courses I go on. If you live near an RHS garden, it really is worth becoming a member… or get to know someone who is as they can also get you the discounted rate!

In lieu of a holiday this year, I have booked myself on a series of these events looking at what to grow throughout the seasons and, as I am now the proud owner of a greenhouse, how to manage cuttings and collecting seeds. Planting a new garden can be terribly expensive, but if you can grow from seed and take cuttings you can keep the cost down. If you don’t live near an RHS garden, there are hundreds of videos online and hints and tips to refer to. The RHS website, as Joanna has said before, is always worth looking at, as are the BBC Gardening sites. And apart from anything else, gardening is just so good for you!

 

 

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There’s nothing like a hottie!!

It must be my age, but I seem to be increasingly aware of the cold. Even though this winter has been mild, a fleece throw or a plump duvet is never a bad thing to have to hand for snuggling purposes.

Before central heating, electric blankets and the duvet (how well I remember my mother buying our first ‘continental quilt’ or duvet which seemed terribly racy at the time!) beds were usually warmed by the good old hot water bottle! Smelling of rubber and occasionally given to springing a leak they were, nonetheless, immensely comforting.
hottiesold

As a child, I remember seeing an old copper warming pan hanging on someone’s wall and asking what it was. Being told it was used to ‘warm the bed’ in olden days, I spent a lot of time puzzling how you managed to not spill the hot water in such a weird, long-handled thing… not realising they used hot coals rather than water!

Warming pans were in use as early as the 16th century when life was an altogether chillier affair and such warmth must have been very welcome. Soon, containers using hot water were introduced, with the advantage that not only could you keep it in the bed with you, you also were also less likely to set fire to your bedding! As the discovery of rubber was still a long way off, these early hot water bottles were made of various materials such as zinc, copper, glass, earthenware or wood. To prevent burning, the metal hot water flasks were wrapped in a soft cloth bag.

‘India rubber’ hot water bottles were in use in Britain as early as 1875. The hot water bottle, as we know it today, was patented in 1903 and is manufactured in natural rubber or PVC. Not surprisingly, by the late 20th century, the use of hot water bottles had declined around most of the world. Not only were homes better heated, but newer items such as electric blankets were competing with hot water bottles as a source of night-time heat. However, there has been a recent surge in popularity in Japan where it is seen as an ecologically friendly and thrifty way to keep warm, and very sensible too!

There are all sorts of bed heaters on the market now and some of them function like the older bottles but use a polymer gel or wax in a heat pad. The pads can be heated in a microwave oven, and they are generally viewed as safer than liquid-filled bottles or electrically-heated devices. Some newer bottles use a silicone-based material instead of rubber, which resists very hot water better, and does not deteriorate as much as rubber.

Today, hot water bottles come in all shapes, sizes and colours and you can get lovely chunky knitted or prettily patterned fleece covers. They are cheap to buy, quick to prepare and easy to use so perhaps, as the Japanese have discovered, it’s time they made a bit of a comeback!

hottiesmodern

 

 

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DIY bird feeding station

I’ve just been watching a dear little robin through the window, head cocked, eyes bright – that’s the robin, not me! I always start to fret about the garden birds at this time of year as it gets colder.

I don’t know if it is significant, but I have never seen so many rowan berries as there have been this year, and also lots of holly berries… does that foretell of a bad winter or a mild one? Anyway, forearmed is forewarned and I recently saw this lovely idea for winter bird feeding, so I thought I’d share it with you…

The pine cone, beloved of crafters and flower arrangers everywhere, makes an excellent natural base for a bird feeder. Its open structure is just asking to be stuffed full of titbits for our feathered friends.

  1. Begin by collecting some medium to large pine cones. Don’t worry if they are tightly closed as, once you bring them indoors, they will open. If they are bit reluctant, give them a short warm in the oven.
  1. Attach string to the top of the cone ready to hang it up.
  1. Now, the world is your oyster, or indeed your pine cone! You may want to put rubber gloves on at this point as it gets messy… Spread suet, fat or even peanut butter over the cone, making sure you get it into the gaps between the scales and cover the whole thing.
  1. Place a mix of birdseed on a tray and roll your sticky pine cone until well coated. If you go for a general bird mix, you’ll attract a variety of birds. You could make several pine cone feeding stations and roll others in specific seeds, such as niger for example and you should attract that beautiful, colourful little bird, the goldfinch.
  1. Put your bird feeders in the fridge for an hour or so to make everything set.
  1. Finally, hang your masterpiece in a secluded area of your garden close enough to a hedge or shrub to give a safe haven for the birds if need be, but not somewhere that is likely to help any passing cats get at the birds!
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Heart-warming hygge

jo4sm

I have to say, this is my idea of hygge! Hidden away in a corner of the lounge in a nice warm wooly jumper, a comfy chair and a book!

I keep seeing the word ‘hygge’ and wondering not only what it is, but also how on earth you say it!

Apparently, it is pronounced “hoo-ga” and is a Danish word that is a feeling that comes from taking genuine pleasure in making ordinary, every day things more meaningful, beautiful or special. I think as crafters, we can probably all identify with that sentiment!

Hygge is usually translated into English as ‘cosiness’. But it’s much more than that, apparently, and is an entire attitude to life that helps Denmark to vie with Switzerland and Iceland to be the world’s happiest country.

With up to 17 hours of darkness per day in the depths of winter, and average temperatures hovering around zero ºC, Danes spend a great deal of time indoors and, as a result, there’s greater focus on home entertaining. The idea is to relax and feel as at-home as possible, forgetting life’s worries. Sounds jolly good!

From what I have read, hygge seems to be about being kind to yourself – indulging, having a nice time, not punishing or denying yourself anything. All very useful come January when in the UK everyone’s on diets or manically exercising or abstaining from alcohol!

Apparently, the Danes are kinder to themselves and to each other. They don’t binge then purge and there’s not much yo-yo dieting in Denmark. No wonder they’re happier than we are back in dear old Blighty!

Certainly, everyone seems to be talking about hygge in the UK even though there isn’t an English word that means the same. It sounds a little like the English word ‘hug’, for which the Oxford English Dictionary lists no origins. You could argue that the effect of hygge and a hug is similar – comforting and secure. An obsolete meaning of hug is ‘to cherish oneself, to keep or make oneself snug”, according to the OED.

Hygge comes from a Norwegian word meaning ‘wellbeing’ and it first appeared in Danish writing in the 19th Century and has since evolved into the cultural idea known in Denmark today. Some older Danes feel that hygge isn’t what it used to be, as the stress on socialising has lessened. It’s now generally considered hyggeligt to watch TV alone or watching a DVD set, perhaps while eating crisps. Oh dear, a sign of the times even for the cosy Danes then…

And so, perhaps it’s safest to say that hygge was never meant to be translated – it was meant to be felt. I shall be attempting to feel some hygge this weekend – enjoy!

 

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Beautiful Pansies

pansiesEveryone loves pansies (don’t they?) and I am sure this card will go down a storm with so many people. I am just pondering planting a batch of winter pansies in a hollow cavity wall that surrounds my patio. It has geraniums in it all summer – I just hesitate about how much 40ft worth of pansy plants might cost from the garden centre! My precious geraniums have been upgraded to pots in a nice warm summerhouse to help them last through the winter and smile again come the spring – and save a small fortune in buying new plants. Hmmm, maybe I should invest in a greenhouse…

This image is from one of my favourite CDs “One Summer’s Day” – a real must have for your collection, it’s one of a very small bundle that I keep out on my desk at all times as I use it so often. The pansy die is from the Signature Garden Flowers set and the border is the Signature Diana Lace Ribbon. All easy to use and in the case of the pansies, fun to colour.

The most effective thing on the card is the quick layer of crystal lacquer (or glossy accents or whatever you have) on the ceramic pot that holds the pansies. It really catches the eye and adds some important texture.

Right, I shall go back to my thinking … should I buy loads of pansy plants – go without and wait for spring – or buy a few and have a meagre filling in the wall?

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