Welcome to my Country Days Blog!

I’ve lived in Devon for over 30 years and while I spend most of my time working in my studio, or in front of a TV camera or on an exhibition stand, country living does give me some time and space… to think about my next project!

A crafter in the country is never bored – nature is a huge treasure trove! Beachcombing, walking on Dartmoor, or rummaging about in hedgerows (while Richard pretends not to notice) produces all sorts of goodies. Shells, feathers, wildflowers, leaves – natural things are so often the ‘light bulb moment’ that gives me an idea for something new!

I have hundreds – actually, make that thousands ­– of ideas and projects from crafts to cookery to flowers that I thought I could share with you through a weekly country-inspired blog.

I love hearing from fellow crafters and swapping ideas and useful hints and tips, so do please feedback your comments on my blog, I’m sure it will be a lot of fun!

It’s personal!

We all know how difficult it can be finding suitable shop-bought cards for special people and special occasions – with this card design, your problems are solved! Whether it’s a golden wedding celebration, a 21st birthday or a funny card to cheer someone up this photo card design is perfect for every event.

I’ve used an old sepia photo – but you could use a black and white or even a colour one instead. The flowers have all been produced using my pressed flower stamps and then coloured using Promarker pens.

The prettily shaped aperture is created with a diecutting machine and then the photo placed behind the cutout. The leaves and flowers are attached using Pinflair glue gel.

For a golden wedding card – you could use a picture of the bride and groom on their big day 50 years before, for a 21st birthday card – a photo of the subject as a baby or toothy toddler, or just a funny photo from a day out with a happy message to cheer someone up when they are poorly or have got the blues! What could be more personal and thoughtful than that?

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Pots of fun!

We’ve enjoyed some lovely spring days this week down here in Devon and, ever keen to get into the garden, I’ve been spring cleaning my garden pots and planters.

As I sorted through them I thought I’d like to ring the changes a bit but, as we are all watching the pennies these days, I thought rather than buy new, I’d spruce up what I’ve got with some stencilling.

Terracotta is a lovely, warm material and I do love having a selection of pots in different shapes and sizes. Oil-based stencil paints show up very well on unglazed terracotta. The only drawback is the depth of colour in terracotta that will show through the paint colour – but you can use that to your advantage and allow for it in your design. You’ll end up with a more natural, earthy look, which is very attractive, rather than something too bright and vibrant.

Large terracotta planters and containers that you want to use outside will need some all weather protection. Because painting varnish directly on to a design with a brush could cause smudges, I recommend using two coats of a spray varnish over the stencilled design first, before covering the whole pot with yacht varnish or another finish suitable for outdoor use.

You will need:

  • Plain terracotta pots
  • Stencil templates – I’ve used a heart-shaped one
  • Oil-based stencilling sticks in colours of your choice – go for fairly strong colours to show up against the terracotta
  • Size 2 and 4 stencilling brushes
  • Glass palette
  • Satin or matt aerosol spray varnish
  1. Using your first colour and holding the stencil firmly with your non-painting hand, stencil a few hearts randomly on the flowerpot.
  2. With your second colour, using the same heart stencil, add some more hearts to you pot, overlapping slightly. Or, you could keep them separate, or perhaps create a band of hearts around the top and bottom of the pot – the choice is yours.
  3. Taking your third colour, continue stencilling and add some more hearts. Gold and silver paints give a lovely effect.
  4. Give the flowerpot a good coat of spray varnish. If you want to make it weatherproof for outdoor use, give it another coat of spray varnish once the first has dried and then finish off with several coats of thicker out door varnish.

Of course you can use all sorts of stencils to create very different effects, it’s great fun and easy to do. Decorated flowerpots make a very attractive gift too.

And you don’t have to stop at pots, you can decorate other terracotta objects, such as kitchen storage jars and crockery in just the same way If the objects are to be used in the kitchen, they should be varnished to protect the design against the damaging effects of grease and dust.

Have fun!

 

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Container herb gardens

What’s not to love about growing your own herbs? They look lovely, they taste terrific, they smell super – and you will save a fortune!

Not everyone has space for a herb garden, or knees young enough to bend down to pick fragrant sprigs, so growing herbs in containers works brilliantly. Herbs are ideal subjects not only for conventional pots, but also containers of all kinds – wall pots, troughs, window boxes and anything you have handy. Containers have advantages of their own: they can be used to confine invasive herbs, such as mint, or filled with ericaceous compost for lime-hating plants.

Window boxes

Let’s start with a window box. This makes an ideal herb garden, accessible at all times and changing with the seasons if a supply of potted plants is kept in reserve. Make sure brackets are strong enough to support the weight of moist soil and use a box about 25-30cm/10-12in deep to allow a good root run for the plants.

Provide ample drainage in the same way for other containers, and then fill with a moist, soil-based potting mixture. Either plant young herbs directly into this or grow them in 10-12cm/4-5in pots, burying them just below surface level in the box and replacing them as they are exhausted.

Small herbs, especially ornamental varieties, are best but space can be made for taller kinds such as bay and rosemary, started as cuttings and grown in the box until they are too large, when you can transfer them to the garden, or to larger pots to stand alone on a balcony or patio.

Here’s my list of herbs for a sunny window box:

  • Calendula
  • Chives
  • Dill
  • Lemon thyme
  • Lemon verbena (summer)
  • Marjoram
  • Nasturtium (summer)
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Scented-leaved geraniums (summer)
  • Tarragon
  • Winter savory

There are so many recipes you can use these herbs in and, being fresh, you’ll notice a huge difference from using dried.

 

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An egg-citing post…?

Did you know chickens lay blue eggs? No, neither did I until my Hen Pal presented me with a lovely eggy selection last summer which included a blue one.

I love hens, but don’t have time to keep them myself. Hen Pal currently has eight chickens and we are lucky in that we get a regular supply of gorgeous, totally free-range eggs. The yolks are a rich orange, not like anything you can buy, and they taste amazing.

The blue egg layer is a pretty chicken called Hetty and, just to confuse things further, she is a Cream Leg Bar! The blue eggs taste no different to the other eggs, but they just look so lovely…

Eggs are wonderful things – delicious to eat of course, but also fun to be creative with. Blowing eggs is not that difficult and you can still eat the egg so it’s not at all wasteful.

As a child, I loved blowing eggs and decorating them, why not have a go this Easter, it’s great fun!

How to blow an egg:

You need to ‘get the feel’ of your egg, grip it firmly enough, but not too hard so it breaks. If you always work over a bowl even if you break one you can still use the contents once you’ve picked any shell out!

First, grasp your egg! Insert a long needle into the large end of the egg to make a small hole. Work the needle around a bit to enlarge the hole slightly.

Then, do the same on the other end, but this time wiggle the needle more to make a bigger hole – this is the end the egg will come out from.

Push the needle into the centre of the egg and move it around to break up the yolk.

Now, place your mouth over the end with the smaller hole, the other end over a bowl and gently blow into the egg. It might take a few puffs before it starts to come out, but once going it will all come out with a few blows. If any of the egg gets stuck, shake the egg and give it a few more prods with the needle.

Rinse out the egg by running a thin stream of water into the larger hole, then blow out the water the same way that you blew out the egg. Leave to dry and then they’re ready to decorate.

And now – it’s up to you! Paint them, stick on sequins, draw on them with Promarkers or any other alcohol-based ink like the Spectrum Noir range. Great Easter gifts for old and young alike.

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Bread – the stuff of life

What could be more wonderful than the smell of freshly baked bread? It seems to be an aroma that automatically makes us feel good. The kneading process is very therapeutic and then there’s the eating… well it’s the perfect comfort food all ways round!

As you’ve probably gathered I am very keen on herbs in all forms – and this recipe is so delicious! Rosemary is an evergreen perennial so it’s hard to kill off. Even in the depths of winter, I can scurry outside and snip off an aromatic sprig to use in lots of different dishes. Just bruise the leaves slightly and that wonderful scent fills the air…

Rosemary Bread

Sliced thinly, this herb bread is delicious with cheese or soup for a light meal.

Makes one loaf

You will need:

1 packet (7g/¼ oz) dried fast action yeast

170g/6oz wholemeal flour

170g/6oz self-raising flour

2 tbsp butter, plus more to grease bowl and tin

60ml/2fl oz warm water (45ºC/110ºF)

250ml/8fl oz milk (room temperature)

1 tbsp sugar

1tsp salt

1 tbsp sesame seeds

1 tbsp dried chopped onion

1 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves, plus more to decorate

115g/4oz cubed Cheddar cheese

Coarse salt to decorate

 1. Mix the fast-action yeast with the flours in a large mixing bowl. Melt the butter. Stir in the warm water, milk, sugar, butter, salt, sesame seeds, onion and rosemary. Knead thoroughly until quite smooth.

2. Flatten the dough, then add the cheese cubes. Quickly knead them in until they have been well combined.

3. Place the dough in a clean bowl, greased with a little butter, turning it so that it becomes greased on all sides. Cover with a clean, dry cloth. Put the greased bowl and dough in a warm place for about 1½ hours, or until the dough has risen and doubled in size.

4. Grease a 23 x 13cm (9 x 5 in) loaf tin with the remaining butter. Knock down the dough to remove some of the air and shape it into a loaf. Put the loaf into the tin, cover with the clean cloth used earlier and leave for about 1 hour until doubled in size onece again. Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/gas 5.

5. Bake for 30 minutes. During the last 5-10 minutes of baking, cover the loaf with silver foil to prevent it from becoming too dark. Remove from the loaf tin and leave to cool on a wire rack. Decorate with rosemary leaves and coarse salt scattered on top.

PS. Rosemary is another one of my ‘essential’ herbs that I’d put alongside bay, parsley and mint, as already mentioned. I’m plan to be blogging quite a bit about growing herbs over the coming months…

 

 

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