Archive for October, 2011

My second week taking part in the photo scavenger hunt on Ashley Sisk’s blog and the second week that I’m posting on the last day. I actually had all the photos taken on time but real life got in the way of me posting. Anyway, without further ado, here’s my set for this week:

This is from a dish belonging to some friends of mine – it’s calligraphy on wood, and I covet it, not just because it’s a beautiful thing, but also because it’s from one of my favourite bits of the bible.

(For those unfamiliar with both Latin and the bible, it translates as ‘I am black but comely O ye daughters of Jerusalem. Therefore the king delights in me’, and it’s from the Song of Solomon, which I think is some of the most beautiful love poetry ever.)


Yeah, I wasn’t sure what to do with this one. I was clearing out the living room over the weekend – this is the collection of stuff I hauled out from under the sofa. (The little slippers, by the way, belong to the Little Boy, and were crocheted by my neighbour. We all have a pair – they’re toasty and have leather soles. She takes commissions!)

The presence of an Easter chick possibly indicates I should excavate under there more often…


It had to be the autumn colour for this – the rhus in the garden is ahead of the game when it comes to orange, and it’s looking glorious.

I had an idea for this one but didn’t have the time to do the necessary preparation. Part of the reason for this was the Little Girl’s birthday celebrations. She requested a butterfly cake, so from three cupcakes, a circular sponge, imperial quantities of cream cheese buttercream and glitter and sweeties aplenty, I fashioned this:

The only flying it did was into the tummies of small children (and their parents) but butterflies are flying insects, right?

Always look on the bright side

Te tum, te-tum-te-tum-te-tum… Does everyone think of Life of Brian, or is it just me?

Well, with the garden in upheaval and the wet and cold of autumn upon us, our garden is looking pretty sad apart from the orange rhus (above). But nestled by the back door in their pots are the last of the fuchsias, bravely providing a splash of colour and brightness:

Pop along to Ashley’s to see the other participants!

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Weekword: Want

Here’s this week’s word, which I hope people will be inspired by. Please let other bloggers know – and perhaps point them towards my earlier post about Weekword. I’d love WW to be as vibrant again as it has been.

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Weekword: The Next Generation

Weekword has been limping on a bit lately – we seem to have rather lost our momentum. We’ve lost a lot of the old regulars and our new faces don’t stay long.

I don’t know if this is because people are finding other things to prompt their blogging and so don’t need Weekword any more, or if they’re taking a break intending to come back, or if the timetable (posting on a Friday) is a problem, or what.

I love Weekword and I loved the camaraderie of the Weekword bloggers and I’d be sad if it died. So I suppose I’m wanting to know whether there’s still an appetite for it – if you stopped, is there anything that could tempt you to start again? If you’d like to join in, is there anything stopping you? Please comment if you feel so moved.

I’ll start the ball rolling with a new word on Monday – please check back then.

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I know, I’m dragging this out, but I can’t miss showing you my pictures of the Eden Project, now can I? I’d heard a lot about the Eden Project and had a feeling that it was somewhere I’d enjoy. So, can I just say, if you’re in the St Austell area and you wonder, ‘Is it going to be worth £20-odd quid to see some plants?’ then the answer is yes. Yes it is. (Although you can get discounts if you book in advance, and we got a 25% off voucher at Heligan). Because this is simultaneously all about plants and about so much more. I had high expectations of Eden, and I was blown away.

The scope of the project is astonishing. The creators wanted to make a site which would showcase the amazing influence of plants on our lives – their very centrality to all life. And that’s what they’ve done. It brings home the importance of conservation, but at no point is it preachy. They also wanted to do it in an environmentally sensitive way, both in terms of the ‘green-ness’ and in terms of respect for the local people and local economy. So they found a disused chalk quarry and made a garden. They didn’t import soil, they made it, from local ingredients. And they carried on from there. You can find out more about it here.

You come through the entrance and step out to the lip of the quarry and you see this:

Well, you see more than that, but my camera couldnn’t do the whole panorama. To get the the bottom, you walk down zig-zaggy paths, past some truly gorgeous planting.

In one of several very imaginative touches, they have little cut-throughs for kids, which are not only fun, but mean they don’t have to walk as far, so less whingeing:

In fact, there are lots of touches that are great for kids. A building where you can enter via a door or a slide. Hidey holes and climbing frames and things that have signs saying ‘Yes, you can play in here’. Lovely.

The outside areas at the bottom of the site are filled with gorgeous planting – herbaceous borders, willow hedges, and when we were there, roses, dahlias, sweet peas – I’d love to see what was planted at other times of the year. I took dozens of pictures, but here’s a taster:

Inspiration for ‘hot’ planting…

… and ‘cool’.

Another apple arch – I love these.

A wall built to encourage insects.

Lovely – I love the willow planters.

Dahlias (I always thought I didn’t like dahlias, but I saw some terrific ones in Cornwall – I think I’m being won over.

Dahlia with bee.

So, into the biomes. The first is the rainforest biome and it gets hot. Wear layers, take water – that’s all I’m sayin’. It’s incredible. Obviously, there are plants, wonderful plants – but also some witty, informative touches, and lots of information about what the plants are and how they’ve impacted on us. Again, lots of pictures, but here’s a small sample to give an idea of the scale:

Obviously, me being me, I took lots of pictures of flowers, too.

See that bottom one? That’s the Madagascan periwinkle. It’s endangered in its natural habitat, but is widely cultivated elsewhere. Why? Because it’s saved thousands of lives as a treatment for childhood leukemia. That little plant right there is the most powerful argument I’ve seen for habitat conservation. It’s not altruism, it’s self-interest.

And of course, we saw rice and tea and coffee and cocoa and rubber and spices and, most exciting for the kids:

This is just a fraction of a sample of what’s there.

So, then, after losing the Little Boy and finding him again, we went to the Mediterranean biome. Lots of more temperate plants, and vines and herbs and tomatoes and olive trees and chilis… (and a wonderful Spanish guitarist, which was a bonus).

There was more outside – plants for brewing, plants for dyeing, plants for … pretty much everything.

I loved this veg bed:

and this giant bee:

We had brought our own lunches, because we weren’t sure what the catering was like, but Mr S&S couldn’t resist one of the Biggest Scones In The World.

So, a tiny taster of the wonders of Eden. But to end, in one of the exhibition spaces, we saw this:

And it’s pretty mindblowing. These are the first architect’s sketch of the big biomes, done on pub napkins. It gave me a bit of a shiver to realise that it was the sheer force of human will that turned a pub-napkin pipe dream into huge, real, growing, flowering reality.

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Well, compared to last year’s flurry of preserving, we’re very quiet this year. Our apple trees seem to take one year on, one year off, and this is an off year. My polytunnel was invaded by red spider mite, so I have no tomatoes or courgettes. But through the wonders of Freecycle, I got hold of some damsons. Well, lots of damsons.

I wanted to make some jam. Last time I made damson jam, I believed the recipe when it said blithely that you didn’t need to stone them, just scrape the stones off as it cooked. Well, that might work for a small batch but not for a big one. By the time I got the blinking stones out, the jam had overboiled and set like a rock. So this year, I decided to stone them. I don’t have a cherry stoner. I did have several kilos of plums. Stoning them with a knife was going to take ages and, I realised, waste half the fruit because the stones weren’t coming away cleanly.

So I cheated. Damsons onto baking trays, like this:

and into the oven (at about 150C) for 10 minutes or so, so they look more like this:

This made them much easier to destone. I made the jam, which is stashed away in the larder. It’s not my year for perfect damson jam – the damsons were quite tanniny (they were all windfalls, so they were ripe – maybe it’s the variety?) so the jam is probably one to have with cheese rather than on toast. Still, onwards and upwards!

The good thing about the tannins is that I also made some damson gin. I imagine the tannins will be very effective there. Damson gin is lovely – not as popular as the ubiquitous sloe gin, but I like it just as much. Recipes vary – I use about half the weight of sugar to damsons. My proportions are something like: one pound fruit to half a pound sugar to just over a pint of gin (not very scientific, but that’s what my jars hold). I don’t stone the damsons, just prick them all over and put them in the jars, followed by the sugar, then top up with gin. I give it a good shake, and shake a couple of times a day until all the sugar’s dissolved. It won’t be ready for a good while, but it’s already looking promising:

Yum yum!

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I decided to join in with this scavenger hunt on Ashley Sisk’s blog. I have been nosing at the photos for a while and thought it would encourage me to sharpen up my picture taking a bit. I’m right up against the deadline and some of my pictures were taken at the last minute, but here I am anyway. You can see the other participants here and mine are below…

Picture 1: Abstract (from the archives).
This isn’t ‘abstract’ as such, but it’s not the usual flower picture, either.

Picture 2: Round
I saw this collection of jars on my counter liked the circles – I arranged them into a circle for the picture.

Picture 3: Fire
A very small-scale fire in my kitchen. It’s a cook’s candle that’s had more lives than a cat – it’s been in numerous containers that have been broken, but it burns on!

Picture 4: Faces in unexpected places
I had no idea what to do about this one – until I was tidying the children’s bath toys and saw this friendly little fella – he appears to have lost an ear to a shark, but is cheerful nonetheless.

Picture 5: Stars
This is some sari fabric that a dear friend bought for me in India. I love the shades and patterns – and the way the stars from the layer below show through faintly.

Now I’m going to try to give myself a bit more time for next week’s!

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This is lovely. I admit, I cried.

Treasure each day.

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My new obsession…

Is Pinterest. It’s a cross between an internet pinboard and a social network and I think it’s one of those things that is easier to show than explain. I had heard of it a while ago but didn’t really see the point and then suddenly, I did.

In essence, Pinterest enables you to take any picture you see on the web, and pin it to a virtual pinboard. This means that it’s much easier to find that marvellous pattern/recipe/picture/dress again – I used to star things in my Google Reader or bookmark them, but now, I have all my links in one place, and it’s so much easier to find things again, and to compare them side by side. I have a board to plan my new bathroom, as well as general boards for house things, knitting and crochet, baking and things like that. I even have a board simply to collect owls. Because I love owls.

The second thing, though, is the ability to see what other people pin on their boards – and this is where it gets dangerous. Because all over the world, people are pinning brilliant things you’d never have found – recipes, tips, craft ideas, book reviews, shopping finds – and they’re right there, ready for you to discover.

Pinterest has me absolutely fizzing with ideas – it’s been totally inspiring. Of course, I haven’t actually done anything from any of my boards yet, but just give me time…

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If I were to get married again, I’d choose the same man, but I would choose Hannah Millard as the photographer. I’ve been following Hannah’s work for a while, and I love her style, which is both classic/vintage and fresh. She captures the emotions and individuality behind every wedding but is never saccharine.

I won’t post any of her pictures without permission, but you can see her work here on her blog:

If you like what you see, can I encourage you to vote for Hannah in the Hitched breakthrough wedding awards?
Click here

And, of course, if you’re planning a wedding, I’ll point out that her rates are very reasonable…

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The first place on my Cornwall hit list was the Lost Gardens of Heligan. The gardens were part of the seat of the Tremayne family, and in the late 19th century, they were at the height of their beauty. But not long after (partly because the men who tended them went off to war in 1914) the gardens became overgrown, and were finally ‘lost’. In 1990, a team of gardeners and garden historians and general good eggs set about restoring the gardens – and they are wonderful. When you arrive, you’re given a sepia-coloured map and a wee compass, which does set the tone for some serious exploring!

The gardens have been restored in a manner that is sympathetic to the original, but in no way does it feel like a period piece – it’s very much a contemporary garden. I suppose what they’ve done is created the garden to be as it would have been if it had never been lost, so rather than create an Edwardian garden in aspic, they’ve just skipped the intervening years as though all the 20th century head gardeners had been there, making their changes and following their fashions. It’s very clever. We couldn’t see the ‘Jungle’ and wild bits as we had wheel- and pushchairs in the party – so we’ll just have to go again! In any event, I’d love to see it in spring. And in high summer. And in deep autumn, too…

Would you like to see some pictures? I do hope so, because I took lots.

I love hydrangeas, and the Heligan ones were almost obscenely healthy and vigorous.

Some of the tree and grass planting in the ‘wilderness’ area.

The walled garden – this was magnificent. It was so productive – flowers, herbs, fruit, vegetables – and not at all sanitised. It was a working garden with compost heaps and the odd area that you could see was next to be weeded.

A lovely mixture of fruit and flowers.

A longer shot of the walled garden – you can see how huge it is!

One of the beautiful glasshouses.

These are the niches where the bee skeps were kept – and they’ve retained the skeps over the more modern hives.

I loved the orchard – or ‘poultry orchard’ as they called it – with the hens and ducks and geese as big a feature as the beautiful trees. I dream of one day restoring the derelict orchard here, and having my chickens pecking around underneath. One day – probably in time for the great-great-granddaughters of our current hens…

A traditional herbaceous border – it was just starting to go over, but it’s easy to see how brilliant it must have looked when the red hot pokers were at their hottest and the whites at their crispest.

There are lots of little nooks and niches – this is the Italian garden, complete with sunken pond. The children were most taken with the fish.

Then it was into the main walled produce garden, which was fantastic. Here’s a beautifully espaliered pear tree…

… and a lovely arch of apple trees. I imagine this is stunning at blossom time.

Some beautiful beans.

The long serried rows of beautiful veg – here some salad leaves – with the gardener off in the distance.

I loved this companion planting of flowers with the veg – I must remember this. It apparently cuts down on pests, but also means you can cut the flowers for the house without spoiling your borders, in a veg and cutting garden combined.

Finally, how’s this for planting? I love the mix of colours, tone and texture. Gorgeous.

This is a fraction of the pictures I took, and we saw a fraction of the garden. I can’t wait to go back.

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