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!

My little flower garden

I love giving people flower arrangements, or just a bunch of flowers as a present. This was a different idea I came up with when I saw some pretty flowering pots of bits and pieces at the garden centre.

I like this basket idea as it’s pretty, but practical too. You can give it to people to enjoy in the house for a while, then they can plant the pots out in the garden and they’ll live on for years.

You can either line the basket with plastic, then plant the pots in earth almost as if they are in a real flower bed, or you can cluster the plants in the basket still in their little pots. I have added a bunch of pussy willow, some moss and some pebbles and polished marble lumps that I have collected – but ordinary gravel would be fine!

It’s simple to do, even if you aren’t a keen flower arranger and makes a lovely and different present. It would work well with masses of different ingredients – there’s always something in flower amongst the little pots at the garden centre – pansies come to mind!

 

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My life in colour…

I was in Exeter recently in a pretty area on the outskirts of the town where there is a small parade of shops. There’s a couple of cafés, a jewellers, a clothes shop and more – all of them independent and slightly quirky – just my sort of place for a browse among lots of pretty bits and pieces! None of them sold ‘essentials’ but hey – you never know what you might discover for use in a project or to spark some creative idea… so I felt justified having a good rummage!

I spotted some lovely old buttons in one shop window and went inside where they had an amazing collection of old ‘recycled’ buttons of every shape, colour and design you could imagine! They also had a small selection of dress fabrics hanging up. Now I am no dressmaker, but these were lovely and reminded me of frocks my mother had worn. They even had dress patterns – remember the ‘Simplicity’ and ‘Butterick’ brands? – with shirt-waisters and 1960s shift dresses.

Everything seemed terribly familiar and ‘comfortable’ and I started chatting to the shop owner. It was then I discovered I was in a ‘retro’ shop! It seems my childhood era is now on the verge of being ‘antique’ and is classed as retro and therefore very ‘on trend’!

I have to say this didn’t do much for my ego, but rather than feel huffy about it, I just found it fascinating. Looking round this little shop was like stepping back in time and I felt about 12 again, and it was really rather lovely and comforting.

They had games and puzzles that I hadn’t seen for years. Remember how we all used to do jigsaws or play Ludo in the days before playstations and ipads? They also had lots of old cream and pale blue enamel kitchen bits and pieces – now called ‘kitchenalia’ apparently – and all carrying impressive price tags despite being chipped! 

What struck me most of all was how the colours then were so different from now. Not exactly more muted, just different shades. One big change is in the quality of print and packaging. Today we can print photos and patterns and pretty much anything on our home printers – look at all the lovely things we print out everyday for our card and craft projects – but back in the 1950s and 60s, most designs were drawn illustrations involving little photography, and the colours were much less ‘natural’ that we expect today.

While I wouldn’t swap our multicoloured hi-tech modern world for the 1960s, it was wonderfully nostalgic, and a little bit sad, to feel I was back in time to an era when life seemed slower and more innocent and it brought back lots of happy memories.

So tell us… What iconic images bring your childhood back to life?

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Special Holly Pond Hill Notes

This is such a pretty present to give someone and apart from your time (that is priceless obviously) it is really inexpensive and would be oh so treasured!

The base and lid are made using a Grand Nestabilities die – Grand Labels One, but remember you can tweak the project to use any suitable die that you have. Layered onto the cream 300gsm card used on the base are some smaller sized labels one – these are made from backing papers from the Holly Pond Hill CD that have been stuck onto plain grey board that you would get on the back of pads of paper or in your orders if you order card or paper from us!

The little topper is made from the CD too and layered onto some cream card that has been embossed with a Swiss Dots embossing folder – but again it could be any that you own.

Assemble the ‘box’ by taking the base and the lid – cut a long strip of card about an inch deep and score it so that it makes a square shape. Decorate (and disguise the overlap where you sealed it) with swiss dot embossed paper. Glue this onto the base allowing two pieces of ribbon to stick under this square, they will be the hinges.

Remember to add the loop of ribbon between the cream lid and the smaller backing paper piece of the lid and hide the ends of the ribbon hinges between these layers too.

Finally cut a stack of paper/thin card to fill the box and add a ribbon and a pen or pencil.

 

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My Favourite Flowers

I have been a massive fan of flowers all my life. From big gardens to tiny bunches, huge floristsHellebore arrangements to eggcups with a child’s posy in – I love all flowers, any flowers. Over the weekend, sitting looking at everything finally starting to turn green in the garden, I was reflecting on which flowers would be in my all time top ten if I was asked. Well, here are my top ten… what are your favourites – and why?

Number One – Hellebores
Hellebores (or Christmas Roses) in all colours there are dozens of varieties both single and double in my garden – I just love them!

Number Two – Hydrangeas
Hydrangeas, pink, blue or white! I love the possibilities of hydrangeas, you can press them, dry them, preserve them – all sorts of things and hung up in the spare room and then sprayed gold for Christmas – gorgeous!Classic English roses

Number Three – Old Fashioned English Roses
Old fashioned English roses – beautiful, beautiful flowers to look at and I love them whether they are on a bush in the garden or in an arrangement in the house.

Number Four – Snowdrops
Snowdrops – they are so pretty to look at but they cheer me up the minute any appear in the garden.

Number Five – Cherry Blossom
Cherry Blossom  – I know this is a tree and not a plant but I hope it counts – we have a huge cherry tree just outside my bathroom window and I just love the mass of white blossom in the spring.

Number Six – Lily of the Valley
Lily of the valley – oh that perfume, so wonderful and such a delicate pretty little flower.Violets

Number Seven – Common Daisies
Happy memories of daisy chains and lovely lawns, picnics and sunshine – it was sunny during the summer months then, wasn’t it?

Number Eight – Water Lilies
Water lilies – because my dream would be to have a large pond in the garden with stunning water lilies – they are just magnificent.

Number Nine – Violets
These flowers always remind me of my Mother, as we were given little posies of violets in church when I was a child to take home to our mothers… and they are a favourite of hers!

Number Ten – Agapanthus
This one sneaks in at number ten because whenever I see them,Agapanthus it reminds me of my sister and seeing them grow wild in the Channel Islands where she lives.

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Infusing oil with herbs and spices

Oils infused with herbs and flavours are very handy to have in the kitchen. They can alter a salad from yawn to yum in a flash. I particularly like basil oil and use rosemary oil when I am roasting lamb. You can infuse any variety of oil, I use a mild olive oil for infusions destined for salad and then any mild vegetable oil if you plan to use it for roasting etc.

It is important to use dried ingredients, if you use wet basil or fresh garlic, it contains a large percentage of water and this can cause bacteria to grow in the oil and give you botulism, which is not worth the risk.

So choose your dried ingredient (or dry them by hanging in a dark place for a week or so) and an attractive bottle. I try and remember that any old bottle produces oil that tastes just as nice but I do love pretty bottles! You can buy bottles that would make lovely gifts filled with oils from Lakeland the kitchen company.

Insert dried ingredients into your bottle and then fill up with oil. Leave on a sunny windowsill for a couple of weeks before using – there see that doesn’t stretch anyone’s cooking abilities! I recommend keeping the infused oil in the fridge just to be safe and I usually err on the side of making it little and often rather than vast quantities that will take forever to finish.

My suggestions for things to flavour the oils would be dried lemon/orange peel, basil, rosemary, garlic, chilli and so many more that I am sure you can think of… they make a lovely nibble before a meal as a dip with chunks of a really good or unusual bread too!

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