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!

Hedgehogs, frogs and (non) barking dogs!

I think we’d all agree that, in weather terms, it’s been a bit of an odd year. This in turn has made a big impact on the flora and fauna in our gardens.

I’d just been listening to a friend bemoaning her lack of peas and broad beans this year – almost all eaten by Jays, something she had never witnessed before – and I suddenly thought (as you do!) – hedgehogs!

Hedgehogs have always been regular visitors in our garden – I’d spot them toddling across the lawn just at it turned dimpsy, as we say in Devon – or dusk to the rest of you.  But this year I haven’t seen any.

Predictably, Wellington, our slightly mad cocker spaniel, would always enjoy a good bark at any passing hedgehog, but not this year. And that seems very strange as we’ve had so many slugs and snails which hedgehogs adore.

And so, I started thinking about all the other things that have been strange in 2012…

I haven’t noticed many frogs or toads. These usually make their way into the garden via the stream. Despite the months of rain from April onwards, and the generous supply of slugs to feed on I haven’t seen a single one. Perhaps the hedgehogs and frogs have more food than they know what to do with closer to home, so haven’t needed to look further afield. Have others gardeners among you noticed this, or is it just me?

On the other hand, we seem to be inundated with woodpigeons, squirrels and magpies all of which are hugely destructive in different ways. Jays being members of the crow family, as are magpies, have been much more prevalent probably accounting for my friend’s vegetable losses.

If you feel like helping out some of our smaller garden inhabitants, you could try building piles of sticks and leaves at the back of borders for them to use for winter shelter. Nothing complex, just welcoming homes made from natural materials, something a hedgehog would find very cosy.

And, finally, as Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ Night loom, if you are having a bonfire do please restack the heap on the day of the bonfire on a fresh site to ensure no wildlife has crawled in and taken up residence.

 

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Mushroom and Madeira bake

This is a delicious vegetarian dish that seems to be as popular with meat eaters as it is with veggies! An excellent warming supper dish for this gloomy time of year…

You will need:

  • 100g 4oz cashew nuts
  • 100g 4oz walnuts
  • 100g 4oz unsalted butter
  • 30ml (2 tbsp) sunflower oil
  • 2 large onions
  • 450g (1lb) mushrooms
  • 450g (1lb) granary breadcrumbs
  • 450g (1lb) fresh tomatoes
  • 60ml (4 tbsp) Madeira
  • Salt and black pepper

Serves 8

Chop or process the nuts and mix them with the breadcrumbs. Melt the butter in the frying pan and gently fry the breadcrumb and nut mixture until it is pale gold in colour. Remove from the pan and set aside. Chop the onions, mushrooms and tomatoes coarsely and fry in the pan with the oil. Once they have softened a little, stir in the Madeira and continue to cook gently. Add plenty of freshly ground black pepper and a little salt to taste.

Lightly grease an ovenproof dish and put a thin layer of breadcrumb mix on the bottom. Carefully pile the vegetable mixture over the top and level it out. Then put the remaining breadcrumb mix on top. Sprinkle the top of the mix with a little extra Madeira and bake in a pre-heated oven at 200ºC (400ºF), Gas Mark 6 for about 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

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Did you know…?

Care of my writing and foraging pal, Julia horton-Powdrill, here’s a quick list of fascinating flora and fauna facts for you! Julia’s website ‘Wild About Pemrokeshire’ is full of interesting things…

Did you know…

  • The world’s oldest known recipe is for beer.
  • Examples of countryside foods that were being eaten in 1917 include blackbirds, sparrows, starlings, hedgehogs, brown rats, grasshoppers, caterpillars and bees!
  • Samuel Pepys liked nettle porridge for breakfast.
  • Daffodil bulbs contain a substance called galanthine that scientists are developing for use in the treatment of Alzheimer’s.
  • Primrose and daisy flowers can be put into salads.
  • The Acer (maple) was used by the Romans to make arrows. Acer means ‘sharp’ in Latin.
  • Human urine is a great source of nitrogen for plants and can be used on compost heaps to accelerate the decomposition process. No, really…!
  • A single dandelion flower has about 180 seeds, but a mature three year old plant can produce up to 5,000 seeds!
  • Water travels up tree trunks at roughly 150 feet per hour.
  • There are more than 375 micro-species of blackberry in Britain, providing a wide range in shape, size, fruiting time, sweetness and flavour.

And on that note… here’s a really quick and easy blackberry recipe:

Place 300g blackberries in a blender with 75g icing sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice. Whizz to a purée, then pass it through a sieve into a large bowl. Stir in 300ml double cream and use an electric whisk to whip into a fluffy mousse.

Spoon into four dishes, or you could put it into a large serving bowl (glass is good as the colour is so lovely!) and decorate with a few extra blackberries. Eat straight away, or cover and chill – you can make it a day in advance if you need to.

 

 

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Pretty cards with pressed flowers

Pressed flowers can look so pretty when used as a simple decoration on a card that I feel you don’t always need a picture as well – here the words and embellishments are enough.

If you have never tried pressing flowers then it’s worth a go as it’s so rewarding. There are instructions on pressing flowers on the tuition section of our website. However if you want to get started right away, or experiment with flowers on cards instantly, then you can buy packs of ready pressed flowers from the website too.

Start by deciding which die you would like to use and the words. This will obviously depend on what stamps you have (this is from our Wordy stamps) and which dies. The labels series from Spellbinders is very handy and any one of those may be perfect, depending on the shape of the words you are going to stamp. Create several layers under the words as shown in the photo.

The base is cream and the layers are an olive green, then some more cream that has been embossed with a folder (Cuttlebug’s Swiss dots is a perennial favourite) and the edge punched with border punch. So, layer some green card, then a piece of tonight backing paper, add the cream embossed card and then wrap some dotty ribbon around this stack. Attach this to the blank card.

Add some flourishes and a rose, rosebud and touch of gypsophila to each corner. Then cut a sheet of acetate to the size of the card blank and hold down in each corner with a pretty brad. This covers and protects the pressed flowers as people simply cannot resist rubbing them (and destroying the card) when they receive it!

Finally add the layered words on top of the acetate.

 

 

 

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Get down and dirty this autumn!

This week, my hen pal, Julia, reports back on a recent willow hurdle making course as a guest blog and gives some interesting alternatives to your usual pruning… whether I have the strength and enthusiasm to follow suit I’m not sure but it makes interesting reading!

I‘ve been at it again – tackling willow that is! After my success at making willow sculptures I set off full, of confidence, on a course to make willow hurdles. I think they are lovely – so aesthetically pleasing and great as fences, screens or edges. I’ve always wanted some in my garden but was put off by the prices. “Easy, I’ll just make my own!” I thought… wrong!

To start – sturdy, straight hazel poles were stuck at 6” intervals into a sleeper, to give the uprights to then weave around. Despite having a very good tutor, the initial ’tie’ that makes the free-standing hurdle secure at its base is really complex and is an utterly exhausting process! Despite being shown twice, I’m not sure any of us actually ‘got it’.

The first few hours of the day were spent on my knees shuffling side to side across by 6ft hurdle’s length, weaving the willow. Then, as the hurdle grew in height I was able to stand but had to maintain a very uncomfortable bent stance and my hands and thumbs became increasingly sore and tired.

At the end of the day, I came home with a respectable looking hurdle. My other half did say ‘It looked like a proper one’, so it wasn’t a complete disaster – but wow, was I shattered! I now appreciate the work involved and why they are so expensive!

However, talking to the tutor, and others on the course, I realised that you don’t have to weave structures in such a structured way. You can ‘have a go’ with all sorts of off cuts and whippy bits of shrubs and trees. If you fancy weaving a little bit of fencing – perhaps to edge a flower bed, or to form a small retaining fence on a slope, you can simply stick some sturdy off-cuts of hazel, or a thick stemmed shrub (all leaves removed) into the ground where you want the structure to be – and start weaving. As your structure is fixed and isn’t free-standing, the initial ‘tie’ isn’t essential. You can weave with long whips cut from pretty much anything. Dogwood, for example, is lovely, as the stems are a wonderful red colour.

It just so happens that it’s a bit of a bumper year for growth – with all the rain we’ve had, I’ve got shrubs 12 to 15ft high in my garden. So, rather than trimming with hedge clippers as I would normally, I am going to get down and dirty and get in underneath the shrubs and prune some of the really long stems at the base so I end up with long whips that I can then use to weave my mini hurdles. Don’t get carried away though – make sure you prune things at the right time.

What have you got to lose? If it goes wrong, pull it out and have another go. It will cut down on the clippings that you’ll need to burn or shred, the leaves you strip off can all go into leaf mulch and, if it works, you’ll get some really pretty and useful structures in your garden. There’s lots of information on the internet – go on, have a go!

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