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Heather and gorse – moorland beauties

From a distance, Dartmoor can seem rather gloomy and forbidding as Autumn draws in, but pause to look closer, and you’ll see that it is carpeted in the most lovely shades of purple, pink and yellow as heather and gorse combine to create a stunning patchwork.

Heather is also known as ‘Ling’ and you’ll find it on heathland, moorland, bogs and even woodland with acidic or peat soils. Its delicate pink flowers appear from August to October with the plants growing tightly packed together. Surprisingly, given the tough areas they seem to thrive in, heathers can live for up to 40 years or more!

Historically, heather has been used for many purposes, such as fuel, fodder, building materials, thatch, packing and ropes. It was also used to make brooms, which is how it got its Latin name – Callunais derived from the Greek word meaning ‘to brush’.

People have lived and worked on Dartmoor for thousands of years and managed the vegetation to produce what they need. Swaling (or burning) has been carried out by farmers from earliest times, as a way to clear scrub and improve grazing for sheep, cattle and ponies. Today, laws and regulations stipulate the time of year and even the time of day that swaling can take place – so very different from times gone by. An old farmer friend of mine recalls being sent out with a box of matches to swale nearby moorland with three friends, the oldest being 12 and the farmer himself 5! He said they did it every year without mishap and their parents trusted them to get on with the job, it wasn’t a game, and they all knew how to manage the burn – quite extraordinary!

The other star of the moorland landscape is gorse. Its vivid yellow flowers create a real splash of colour and, although I wouldn’t normally think to put pink and yellow together, in nature they look stunning against the dark green foliage. Gorse is a prickly character and can leave you with scratched legs should you walk through it, even in thick walking trousers!

Common Gorse can be seen in all kinds of habitats, from heaths and coastal grasslands to towns and gardens. Western Gorse, which is abundant on Dartmoor, flowers from July to November. Gorse provides shelter and food for many insects and birds, it’s spiky leaves creating an effective deterrent for even the nosiest dogs!

Traditionally, gorse was regularly collected from common land and, like heather, had all sorts of uses – including fuel for firing bread ovens, fodder for livestock and was used as a dye for painting Easter Eggs.

Common Gorse flowers a little in late autumn and through the winter, coming into flower most strongly in spring, while Western Gorse and Dwarf Gorse flower in Autumn. Between the different species, some gorse is almost always in flower, hence the old country phrase: “When gorse is out of blossom, kissing’s out of fashion”!

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Goodbye summer – hello gloom?

The end of summer, when the children go back to school and the days start to shorten, can seem a rather depressing time. You’ve had a lovely summer, you possibly enjoyed a holiday and felt relaxed… so how do you try and hang on to some of those positive feelings rather than slumping into an Autumnal gloom?

Holidays are good for us. Research has shown that taking time off, be it a holiday away, or just relaxing at home, reduce your stress levels and increases your life expectancy. Now is the time to think about how you can make the most of your post-holiday feel-good factor as immediately after a holiday is the perfect time to make changes to your routine. After your holiday, your brain will be freshly stimulated by a combination of novel experience and physical activity (well, for some of us!) and ready for the idea of positive change. So, with that in mind, here are 5 ways to keep the holiday spirit alive.

Beautiful Dartmoor – I’m lucky enough to have this on my doorstep!

1 Be a home tourist

When did you last appreciate the place where you live? Look at it afresh, as if you were a visitor researching a trip… Put your postcode into TripAdvisor or any other travel site and see what comes up –you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised!

2 Savour the small things

I think this is so important and yet we so rarely do it – and I am as guilty as the next person! When we’re on holiday, we slow down and we use all our senses. We may sit and people watch, or be fascinated by the local bird life or just take time to smell the flowers. Perhaps you could find ways to savour your routine in a way that makes it feel less routine? You could savour your shower – treat yourself to

Get to know your garden bird life… Robins are incredibly bold and friendly characters!

a new shower gel, or you could notice the changing seasons on your way to work, or when you walk the dog or collect the grandkids from school. It doesn’t really matter what you savour, just hang onto your holiday habit of savouring a little bit more.

3 Re-evaluate your routine

On holiday, in a different environment, we behave differently. When you come back from holiday, think about the things you didn’t do when you were away. Obviously, these will include doing the washing, cooking and possibly dropping off and collecting children from various places. But what else freed up your time? Be honest… did you watch less TV? Use your phone less? Have a good think and you’ll probably find ways to free up some time to do other things that you

Try putting it down more!

usually say you haven’t got time for!

4 Plan day trips

This isn’t as daft as it sounds. Years ago, I booked a lovely sounding holiday cottage that turned out to be a dive – pokey cottage in horrible setting – ugh! We left early and came home and, so as not to waste our previous week off, we thought about all the things we wanted to visit locally but had never got around to, and went off every day to attractions, or to nearby towns we’d never seen. It was lovely and still felt like a holiday!

Perhaps try more of a Mediterranean diet?

5 Cook with a new ingredient

Bringing home exotic foods or ingredients from holidays abroad (in the days when you were still allowed to!) was nearly always disappointing in the cold light of your own kitchen. But think laterally… if you can’t find a particular spice of pickle in this country to replicate your delicious Greek feast, why not tone it down a bit and simply try to pick one new ingredient to use each week? If you’re stuck for ideas, supermarkets own magazines are always full of new seasonal ideas you can try.

 

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Cards I have loved…

Do you ever have cards you have made that you just can’t bear to give away? I make so many dozens of cards, I often make one that I really like, but as they are destined for magazine articles or TV shows, I can’t just hide them away and not part with them!

I thought I would do a couple of blogs just showing cards I have particularly loved this year and both of these cards were an easy choice.

Beautiful Bruges – well worth a visit.

The pretty watery scene is from the pad featuring Evgeny (pronounced Eugeny) Lushpin’s artwork. I love his choices of subject and the way he paints. This particular scene is in Bruges I believe and is so beautiful (as is all of Bruges if you get a chance to go for a visit). The backing paper behind also comes from the pad as does the border and sentiment – so convenient!

The butterflies and leaves are from the Signature Die range – Butterfly Cloud and Trailing Leaves.

The gorgeous little bird card uses an image from the Jane Shasky Birds in the Garden pad alongside our Signature Dies Pumpkin Patch – ideal for autumn too!

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A fountain for the birds!

With the heat we are having this summer, I have noticed lots of birds (and I don’t blame them) searching out water to bathe in or just cool off!

We don’t have a fountain as classic or splendiferous as the one on the card on the left, but they have been sploshing about in our far less elegant birdbath and flying around the shallow part of the stream that runs through our garden.

The fountain card is deceptively simple, as it’s just a folded little card placed horizontally and then the oval shape is attached to stick over the top – no clever folds or tricky bits. The corner die cuts look beautiful and take only moments to cut out – they are Signature Dies – Art Nouveau Mirrored Pair SD615. The Classic Fountain die is SD618.

The second card is again a quick and easy, “Oh My Goodness!” card. I always have a variety of these designs in my head for the times when I forget a card or when I need a card instantly. The background is created from the Signature Dies – Hydrangea Frame SD606 and then you just pop an oval and a couple of tails over the top – and hey presto!

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Egged on!

Whenever I am thinking about writing a blog, certain topics leap into my mind because they interest me (new craft ideas, gardens, cakes etc.) while others occur just because I’ve written about them before and found them so interesting I have to revisit them! Tea is one such topic, as are chickens and eggs.

Whenever I write about chickens or eggs, the blogs are always popular. Sadly, since she moved house, my partner in crime writing Julia no longer keeps hens, but I do love eggs and manage to buy lovely free range eggs locally. We eat more than 12 billion eggs a year in this country (amazing!), but when you look at how versatile eggs are, I suppose it’s not that surprising.

An egg is just such a wonderful thing – nature at her most clever it seems to me. The design of an egg is so perfect – their asymmetric tapered oval shape means that if you nudge them, they’ll come back to you. They’ll sweep out in a circle around the pointed end, and come to a stop with the pointed end facing uphill – pretty essential if you nest on a cliff edge! In fact, the eggs of birds that have their nests in precarious places are more oval than the eggs of birds that nest on the ground.

Another reason for eggs to be egg-shaped is that they fit together snugly in the nest, with only small air spaces between them so they help keep each other warm. And let’s not forget another reason that eggs are tapered – so that they can get pushed out of the hen more easily – ouch!

An egg contains every vitamin, except C, as well as calcium, magnesium, zinc and selenium, plus lots of other micronutrients. As you may know, all of the fat is in the yolk, but so is most of the goodness. Some terribly serious diet gurus want us to feast(!) on whipped egg white omelettes and, while I’m sure that’s terribly healthy… it’s also rather dull to my mind.

Eggs are so versatile, just think of all the things you can make with them… cakes (now why did that come into my mind first?!), omelettes, meringues and mayonnaise. They can be boiled and used in sandwiches, on picnics and for soldiers at breakfast. Great for glazing baked items and for thickening and lovely when scrambled and served with smoked salmon as a treat! And then, of course, the shells themselves – lovely to decorate, perfect for growing seedlings in and the best packaging ever for a ‘ready meal’!

However, the poor old egg has been through some crises in this country. There was the big salmonella scare in the late 1980s when everyone seemed terrified of eating them. Then we were told their cholesterol content is bad for your heart – it’s not. The egg is also often stated as a cause of constipation but that again, isn’t true, it’s just that they have absolutely no dietary fibre, so you shouldn’t fill up on eggs instead of high-fibre foods. How different from my childhood when I can remember those funny TV adverts with comedians Tony Hancock and Patricia Hayes telling us to ‘Go to work on an egg’ as they were supposed to be so good for you!

 

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