It’s been so warm this past week I was determined to set foot on the beach at least once! I adore beachcombing – it’s relaxing, therapeutic, invigorating and just plain old fun!
Finding pretty shells is an obvious attraction, but some of the plant life is fascinating. Sea holly, beloved of many flower arrangers, looks stunning in its natural setting, alongside grasses and samphire and other weird and wonderful looking things that I don’t even know the name of.
Thrift is another favourite – such a cheerful little plant – I really look forward to seeing it every year – but goodness knows how it manages to grow in such barren rocky areas.
I love the colour palette of the seashore, and I’ve used it for inspiration when decorating – restful and cool blues and greeny-greys alongside pale blonde sand. But there can be vibrancy too, as in the thrift and in startling yellow/orange lichens. We are blessed with turquoise blue seas down here and that is a wonderful colour to use as a starting point for any water-themed project.
On my recent beachcomb, I picked up a spider crab shell. The detail in both colour and texture is extraordinary. I’ve no idea what I’ll do with it, but I’ll store it away for future use!
The flavour of elderflower has become popular once again. Historically, the cordial has a strong Victorian heritage, however versions of an elderflower cordial recipe can be traced back as far as Roman times.
Elderflower is just starting to come out now and the flowerheads are best collected fresh and new when the tiny buds have just opened and come to bloom before the fragrance is tainted with bitterness. Make sure you shake the elderflowers to expel any lingering insects before you use them!
This recipe produces one of the most delicious drinks ever concocted. Many people prefer it to French champagne because of its light and refreshing taste. Lovely for a warm summer’s evening…
To make about 5 litres, or 8.5 pints
You will need:
750g/1¾ lb caster sugar
475ml/16fl oz hot water
4 large fresh elderflower heads
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
Juice and pared rind of a lemon
4 litres/7 pints water
1. Mix the sugar with the hot water. Pour the mixture into a large glass or plastic container. Add all the remaining ingredients. Stir well, cover and leave for about 5 days.
2. Strain off the liquid into sterilized screw-top bottles (glass or plastic). Leave for a further week or so. Serve very cold with slivers of lemon rind.
Buying an old property often means you get rather more than you bargained for… and I don’t just mean dry rot, woodworm and a leaky roof – I mean resident wildlife!
I hadn’t been living at Victoria Farm long when a chap knocked on the front door and politely told me I had bats! A bat enthusiast who lived in the village, he had seen bats going in and out of an attic in one the old farm buildings we have here.
So, he came along one evening with his bat detector/counter, sat in the dusk watching a hole up in the gable end of the building and then, having checked up in the attic, told us we were the proud ‘owners’ of a lesser horseshoe bat nursery roost! I know, not the sort of thing you get told every day, but there you are, that’s rural living!
The bat gets its name from its horseshoe-shaped nose. It is one of the world’s smallest bats, weighing only about 8 grams, with a wingspan up to 25 cm and a body length of about 4cm – so less than 2 inches – really tiny!
Bats are protected and cannot be disturbed. Luckily for us, the attic has always been unused and their roost is no inconvenience at all. We respect their space, keep the access free of vegetation, and they get on and do what mummy bats do.
Contrary to what you might think, they don’t make a lot of mess. As they eat only insects their droppings are fine and powdery – we call it ‘bat dust’.
Over the 27-odd years I’ve lived here now, the colony has grown and, at the last count, had around 140 little bats in it. If we sit outside on a warm summer’s evening, you can see them flitting about and flying off down the valley but, other than that, we are not aware of them.
The colony is made up of breeding mothers and their young. Females give birth to one pup weighing less than 2 grams at birth. The bats are only with us for three months each year – June, July and August – so I expect any day now, they will start arriving, finding their place in the roof and settling down to give birth and rear their young. The mothers, and their daughters, will then return to the roost next year and so the cycle continues…
Sadly, lesser horseshoe bats are in decline due things such as the disturbance of roosts, changes in agricultural practices and the loss of suitable foraging habitats. Well, be assured – no-one is going to disturb our bats – long may they thrive!
Stamping has had a real surge of interest over the past couple of years – and quite rightly so. It is a craft that is relatively inexpensive once you have a collection of rubber stamps.
Unmounted stamps are a great way to go for so many reasons, saves space, saves money all that good stuff! You can choose to use EZ Mount (my choice) or Rock-a-blocks, glues and various other ways of attaching the stamps to clear acrylic blocks.
This card has a pretty background created with the Inkylicious brushes or the Inkssentials Ink Blending Tool and the Tim Holtz distress ink pads. Just build the layers of colour – taking care to overlap and gently keep adding depth of hue. You can make every card completely unique to you as you choose the colour, the depth of hue and the ‘look’ of the background. Then stamp the willow tree – in this case from my countryside stamps “Garden of Dreams”.
The artist Michelle Radford actually sat and drew the tree looking at the willow in our garden that was a collective present from all the staff at JS Limited when Richard and I got married (ahhhh!).
There are so many fun techniques you can do with a silhouette style stamp such as this – it works really well if you stamp and emboss – for example a white embossed or silver embossed tree on a black background. Another look I like is using a sepia coloured ink pad on a cream background – the options are endless – have fun!
Spring is wonderful and, as I’ve said before, my favourite time of year! All the obvious things like baby birds, lambs and flowers bursting into life are lovely… but one of the most gorgeous things to me is the emergence of beech leaves. I know, a bit weird, but there we are!
One day, the hedge seems dull and uninteresting, speckled with narrow brown pointed buds – the next, it is smothered in delicate lime green tissue paper fluttering in the breeze. Beech leaves are so delicate and so fine and tissue-thin when they emerge, they are just breathtaking.
Goodness knows what my neighbours think as the arrival of beech leaves is yet another reason for me to be spotted rummaging around in the hedgerow, but rummage I must!
Fresh from the tree, beech leaves are a fine salad vegetable, as sweet as a mild cabbage, though much softer in texture.
My friend, Julia Horton-Powdrill – she of the food foraging in Pembrokeshire, uses beech leaves to make a potent liqueur called Beech Leaf Noyau.
Julia says: “Pack a glass jar about nine tenths full of the very young, delicate, clean leaves. Pour gin into the jar, pressing the leaves down all the time, until they are just covered. Leave it to steep for about two weeks.
Strain off the gin which should now be green in colour (although mine is quite often more brown!). To every 500ml of gin add 300g sugar dissolved in 250ml of boiling water. You can add an optional splash of brandy if you fancy it! Mix the warm syrup with the gin and bottle when cold.”
Sounds great to me – cheers!