Longer lasting lavender…

LavenderBiscuitsI adore lavender. I love the scent and the colour, I have it in dried arrangements around the house and I also use it in cooking – lavender shortbread is delicious. However, it can be a surprisingly tricky plant to grow successfully. When the plants are first established they look wonderful and give off their gorgeous smell as you brush past. But I always struggle to keep lavender for more than three or four years as it becomes woody, gappy and just plain tatty and I end up digging it up and replanting.

Early September is the time I usually give my lavender its summer trim. The flowers have lost their colour and the bees have lost interest. So I thought I’d look for advice on pruning English lavender (the French variety has the little tufty ears and needs different pruning), to ensure I was doing it correctly.

LavenderPruneI always prune my lavender rather timidly having been told that if you cut into the wood it won’t regrow. However, looking online, I have found that specialist lavender growers say that English lavender needs hard pruning and you should cut right down into the brown part, where little lavender shoots can just be seen. They suggest cutting back as much as 9” just after the plants finish flowering.

A neighbour (with enviable lavender plants!) says he cuts it right back to the brown, especially in particularly spindly areas of a plant, and it shapes up well again before Christmas. In fact, you can prune lavender into a sculptural shape for winter – it looks lovely in the frost. So, this year, I am taking the bit between my teeth and will be chopping back the lavender plants a good 6” and see what happens… if it’s a success I may be bolder next year!

Top Tip
The experts say you should use good secateurs for cutting lavender. This makes the job a lot longer than using shears, but it seems to give a tighter, more sculptural finish. And you need to not go mad and chop at it willy–nilly or you will kill it. Secateurs mean you can see what you’re doing. You need to be careful and cut just above the tiny shoots at the bottom of the stem – if you cut the lavender down below them, it won’t regenerate and it will die… So wear your reading glasses!


An Ocean Birthday


This was a sample made for my July TV show by Sylvie which I feel didn’t get enough airing – I just love it and the ideas used here are really worth showing you.

Start with an 8 x 8” white card blank and then layer some of the beautiful blue marble paper from our Joanna Sheen Backing Papers Volume One onto silver mirri.

Cut several pieces of the Louisa embellishment (Louisa Lace Border Signature Die). Try the 300gsm Elegance satin card on our website – it works brilliantly. Cut another piece of white card to about 5” square and colour it with distress inks. To get that wonderful bubble effect – flick tiny amounts of water at it once you have coloured it. Then draw round the splodge with a white gel pen to create bubbles.

Now cut several Ocean corner pieces (Signature Ocean Corner die) and 3 or 4 Sammy Seahorses (I chose that name – makes me smile every time!). Colour them all with Promarkers and assemble the seahorses one on top of the other and then apply a layer of crystal lacquer.

Now assemble the card. Add a layer of dark blue net/tulle between the middle panel and the back of the card and add the Louisa pieces to the back of your middle panel before you stick it down rather than trying to glue it afterwards. Add all the corners and then the seahorse and fish.

Add a final row of Louisa bits and a die cut Happy Birthday to finish the card.


It’s a tiring business…

Tablet“Goodness, I am tired!” I hear myself and my friends say this on a regular basis. While I tend to laugh and put it down to advancing years, today’s world is actually much busier than it used to be with technology sneakily eating into our leisure time making us more stressed and tired. Many of the things we think are pick me ups, or relaxers actually have the reverse effect! But don’t despair… there are all sort goods of small things we can do to help improve our energy levels.

TVs and tablets
I don’t think anyone will be surprised by this appearing at the top of the list as it’s had a lot of publicity of late. Both TVs and tablets give off blue wavelengths that suppress your brain’s production of melatonin (the chemical that makes you feel tired and helps you fall asleep), so you’re more likely to have shorter, disrupted sleep, causing you to be tired the next day. I, for one, am very naughty about putting my iPad down at bedtime – grr!

TiredMessySort it out
A messy unorganised environment means you expend mental energy on stress, which increases your exhaustion. I know when I have had a really good sort out in my craft room and got everything properly ordered and stored, I feel so much happier and my mind less muddled.

The coffee kick

Even though many people find the kick of coffee essential in the mornings, come the afternoon or evening it might be the reason you’re nodding off. While caffeine is a stimulant and increases your energy, the effect wears off over time and leaves you feeling worse later.

TiredCoffeeCheers – not!
While a nightcap might help you fall asleep faster, the quality of sleep you’ll get after a glass of red wine is not good. You can expect a restless night and to wake up more often, leaving you tired the next day.

Let in the light
A study of workers with offices with windows, verses those without, found that people who enjoyed natural light all day long on average slept 46 minutes more at night. The same goes for your home – the more natural light you have will help you sleep better at night and feel more rested the next day.

Feeling blue…
This is a bit of an odd one, but a study by Travelodge (the motel people) investigated bedroom colours in 2,000 homes and found that blue walls help slow down your heart rate, reduce your blood pressure, and make you feel sleepy. So while this is great news in your bedroom, it isn’t ideal anywhere else in your house!

Naughty snacks!
Foods loaded with simple carbs and sugars result in frequent blood sugar spikes, followed by sharp drops that will make you feel tired over time. This is something I can certainly identify with and I am feeling a great deal better following my healthy eating and veg growing regime! I’m not saying I never hanker after a handful of crisps, but…!

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Vintage Containers

CoffeeBeanSome call it clutter, hoarding or just plain rubbish. However, I love my collection of ‘useful’ pots. I save and buy quite randomly – I might see a basket in a charity shop, or a vase in a local gift shop or florist. But my squirreled away treasures also include things like Camembert boxes (come on, you can cover them or just use them as a ‘useful pot’) and, when I have seedlings in mind, even the yogurt pots are not immune to being well washed and stored away in a cupboard.

As a crafter I have worrying tendencies to clutter my life with things that will ‘come in useful’. But they bring me a lot of pleasure and when you find a brilliant use for something you had hidden away, it can feel really rewarding. If I have to defend myself I will play the eco card and talk loudly about recycling but …. the truth is I was obviously a hamster in a previous life and just like storing all sorts of goodies!

On the desk that I use for crafting I have several recycled items used for storage. I adore Jo Malone perfume and was given a set of their smellies for Christmas and the box – well, I was almost as thrilled with that as with the perfume! So that has all my ‘too small not to get lost’ in a drawer oddments. Then I have an old enamel pot that my Mum decorated with barge art when we were both going through ‘a phase’! That sorts my scissors and Japanese screw punches. I also have a pretty little handmade box that a crafter called Alice gave me one NEC that I treasure and also use for my stash of cocktail sticks.

So I understand only too well when my little toddler granddaughter holds tightly onto the box of an expensive toy and disappears off to play with that leaving whatever the present was languishing on the floor! Maybe my children can blame that on her Granny as an inherited trait!

This image caught my eye as I love the collection of vintage bits and pieces filled with flowers, I may even try and recreate something like it one day – if I do I’ll post it here on the blog!

Lily of the Valley card



  1. Start by trimming some of the paler hessian backing paper to 7 ¾”, then the darker coffee sack paper to 7 ½”. Layer these onto the card with double sided tape.
  2. Cut out the main image from the cardmaking sheet. Also cut the decoupage pieces.
  3. Attach the image to the card using tape and then build the decoupage with Pinflair glue gel.
  4. Make the embellishment of lilies of the valley by cutting the die multiple times in soft green, cream and white. Finish the bunch with a bow tied in bakers twine.

Thatch – much more than just picturesque

Victoria farm

Victoria Farm

I am fortunate enough to live in an old farmhouse with a thatched roof. Another house in the village here was being re-thatched recently, and it was fascinating watching the thatcher at work whenever we drove past… and it set me thinking about thatch and how, even in 2016, there are still so many thatched roofs around.

When I started investigating, the first thing I discovered is that although thatch is popular in Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, parts of France and Ireland, there are more thatched roofs in the United Kingdom than in any other European country. On top of that, I found that Devon has more thatched properties than any other English county, so no wonder they seem quite commonplace to my eye!

Thatching materials can include heather, gorse, broom, flax, reed, rye and wheat straw. These light, but incredibly durable, materials were particularly used in areas, such as Devon, where buildings were made of cob or clunch that are less able to carry the weight of stone, tile or slate.

North Bovey

North Bovey on Dartmoor, a pretty thatched village.

The materials used for thatching were local and cheap. As I so often discover in my research, this ancient tradition was also very efficient and, while today we rush around being ‘green’ and insulating everything, thatch was doing a great job and ticking all the ecologically sound boxes from the outset! It is naturally weather-resistant and is also a natural insulator, and air pockets within straw thatch insulate a building in both warm and cold weather, so a thatched roof ensures your house is cool in summer and warm in winter. Thatch also has very good resistance to wind damage, so no flying slates to worry about!

Good quality straw thatch can last for more than 30 years when created by a skilled thatcher. Traditionally, a new layer of straw was applied over the weathered surface, and this ‘spar coating’ tradition has created thatch over 7ft thick on some very old buildings! The straw is bundled into ‘yelms’ before it is taken up to the roof and attached using staples, known as ‘spars’, made from twisted hazel sticks.


Thatching, a highly skilled trade.

Technological change in the farming industry had a huge impact on the popularity of thatching. The availability of good quality thatching straw declined in England after the introduction of the combine harvester in the late 1930s and the switch to growing short-stemmed wheat varieties. Increasing use of nitrogen fertiliser in the 1960s–70s also weakened straw and reduced its longevity so thatched roofs became expensive to build. Since the 1980s, however, there has been a big increase in straw quality as specialist growers have returned to growing older, tall-stemmed, ‘heritage’ varieties of wheat… as ever, the original way is so often the best!

Thatchers themselves, highly skilled tradesmen and much in demand, all have individual ‘signatures’ that are often seen in the way they treat dormers, eaves and gables. If you have thatched properties in your area, you might be able to spot these fascinating little details! You will also often see little thatched figures, such as a pheasant, created on the ridge of a new thatch. I think these are charming and really add to the appearance of a property.


A modern eco-house… with thatched roof!

Today, with the enthusiasm for energy conservation and minimising one’s carbon footprint, eco houses are being built with thatched roofs and hay bale walls… rather like ‘going organic’ and growing your own veg, nothing is new in this world!