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!

Fennel Cleanser for some clean living

Fennel is a herb that self-seeds all over the garden, so once you have planted it, supplies will be no problem. The plant has an aniseed aroma. This mixture gently, but thoroughly, cleanses the day’s grime away.

You will need:

  • 1 tbsp fennel seed
  • 250ml/8 fl oz boiling water
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 tbsp buttermilk 
  1. Lightly crush the fennel seeds, pour on the boiling water and allow to infuse for about 30 mins.
  2. Strain the cooled liquid into a small bowl and add the honey and buttermilk. Transfer to a clean bottle and keep the mixture refrigerated.

Fennel Seeds

The tall graceful heads of fennel seed add height to a cottage herb garden. The seeds are valued for their distinctive aroma.

Fennel bulb

Surprisingly easy to grow, fennel is a versatile vegetable and its aniseed flavour is unusual and adds a twist to any meal. The fennel bulb can be used raw, thinly sliced and added to salad, braised or roasted. The fronds of the plant, before the seeds develop, also make a very pretty garnish.

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Spring lambs

I love Spring – the garden bursts into life, baby birds start appearing as do the lovely bouncing lambs – they are just the cutest things!

We are lucky in that there’s plenty of farmland around us here in Devon and now is the time to see the lambs at their best. They are about two months old now and getting very bold. I love catching glimpses of them as I drive along our winding country roads – while being careful not to end up in the hedge!

What makes them jump and spring? Just youthful energy and the joy of life I suppose. A Dartmoor farming friend of ours says that all young animals do it, including the calves he used to have. He reckoned that at around tea time every day, they’d start running in a group, circling the field, and then just start jumping and springing! This would go on for about 20 minutes, then they’d stop and go back to grazing as if nothing had happened.

I’ve sat and watched lambs do it too. They often jump onto things, like trees stumps or mounds of earth, and then spring off trying to outdo each other. It always makes me laugh as they look quite surprised, as if they don’t know why they are doing it either!

I tried looking up ‘gambolling lambs’ online and was surprised to find there was no scientific explanation… it seems no-one really knows why they do it.

Me, I just reckon they are having fun!

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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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