Welcome to my Country Days Blog!

I’ve lived in Devon for over 20 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, while taking our dog Welly for a walk, 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 start sharing 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!

Friday
Apr182014

The best blooms for saying ‘thank you’!

Dianthus - so pretty and such a gorgeous scent too.Goodness, don’t flowers make us feel good? As you know, I love having cut flowers in the house, and I love giving them as a gift too – just watch someone’s face light up when you hand them a bouquet!

So, I’ve been thinking about what would be my top flowers for creating bouquets and posies - some you can easily grow, others you’d probably go out and buy and then assemble your arrangement. I’ve also included a guide to how long they will last, if well-cared for. I’ve blogged about looking after your cut flowers previously too, so have a look back to make sure you make the most of them!

Sweet pea (Vase life: 3-7 days)

The ultimate ‘cut and come again’ cut flower! There are plenty of colours to choose from, but a good mix of shades makes the prettiest posies. Old fashioned Grandiflora types often have the best scent. If I could have a bunch of these in my house every day of the year - I would! 

Lily (Vase life: 8-10 days)

You only need a few lily stems to make a dramatic and exotic-looking cut flower display. There are lots of different lily species that you can grow as a cut flower, but oriental Lilies are the most popular for their fragrance and glamorous trumpet shaped blooms. 

Sunflower (Vase life: 7-10 days)

Sunflowers make the cheeriest cut flowers and always raise a smile. They’re very easy to grow and won’t Sunflowers - surely the cheeriest flowers?require any special attention - simply sow them directly into the ground where you want them to flower. For cutting it’s best to choose multi-headed varieties to give you lots of blooms.

Tulip (Vase life: Up to 7 days)

Tulips are among the earliest flowers for cutting in the garden. They come in such a range of colours that you’ll be spoiled for choice. Tulips are thirsty cut flowers so you’ll need to keep their water topped up on a daily basis.

Gladiolus (Vase life: 7-10 days)

The flamboyant, tall stems of Gladioli are superb for adding height and drama to flower arrangements. Cut gladiolus flowers just as the lowest two or three florets begin to open, but try to leave as many leaves as possible to feed the bulb for next year.

Dianthus (Vase life: 14-21 days)

Dianthus (including Carnations, Pinks and Sweet Williams) are some of the best known of all cut flowers. And don’t forget the lovely fragrance you get with Pinks, making superb posies.

Eucalyptus (Vase life: More than 21 days)

The silvery-blue foliage of eucalyptus gunnii makes fantastic filler for vases, bouquets and larger flower arrangements. Its attractive rounded leaves provide shape and texture that blends well with both formal and more relaxed displays. Eucalyptus has an amazing vase life, easily lasting more than 3 weeks.

Gypsophila (Vase life: Up to 7 days)

Gypsophila makes particularly useful filler for softening bouquets and adding a frothy haze of tiny flowers to your cut flower arrangements.

 

Tuesday
Apr152014

Sylvie Ashton’s Cardmaking Pad

We have a new cardmaking pad on the website with pictures by an artist that you may or may not be familiar with.

Sylvie Ashton has been designing with us for some time, you’ll find numerous stamp sets she has drawn for us and now she has moved up a gear and done some beautiful paintings that we have turned into a cardmaking pad. Go Sylvie I say! She started just as a crafter and look how her talent is blossoming! You can talk to Sylvie on our forum as she has been a long-time member.

This card uses one of the sheets in the pad. Remember with 24 sheets in the pad and the whole thing only costing £4.99, each sheet for a card is only 20p ... can’t be bad! I love this particular image as hydrangeas are a firm favourite of mine. I must have ten or twelve hydrangea bushes in the garden at least. No, I just remembered there are three more at the front of the house – I am definitely a serious hydrangea addict!

I feel this shows how even the simplest card can look wonderful with beautifully toning colours and some great artwork! Here’s a link so you can have a browse and see what else is in Sylvie’s pad.

Friday
Apr112014

The natural beauty of seashells  

I think I’ve been in love with seashells ever since I first sat on a beach as a toddler and was fascinated by their endless shapes and colours, so lovely to hold and explore with little fingers.

I still love shells now and have lots spread around the house, singly and in wreaths and little arrangements. Plentiful and beautiful, shells have been used as jewellery and for decorating homes and as inspiration for patterns and designs for thousands of year.

Over the last few hundred years, various eccentric individuals have created grottos and caves or, as in the case of A La Ronde, a National Trust property near my home in Devon, a shell-encrusted gallery, said to contain nearly 25,000 shells. It is stunningly beautiful and now, very fragile, but well worth a look if you are down this way. (As it’s so fragile, visitors aren’t actually allowed into the gallery any more but you can view it in its entirety using a touch screen 360-degree virtual tour). The whole house is The shell gallery at A La Ronde.eccentric, having 16-sides and also a feather frieze, gathered from game birds and chickens, all laboriously stuck down with isinglass. But back to shells…

Decorating with shells is great fun! Whether you cover a jewellery box, or frame a mirror, it’s hard not to create something attractive. Whenever I walk on the beach, I always come back with a few shells in my pocket as I just find them irresistible. If you don’t live near the sea, there are always shops where you can buy shells and, of course, they are easy to find online now too.

As we all know, a glue gun is a wonderful thing and it is an excellent way to stick shells firmly and invisibly in place. As with anything crafty, you need to think about your design in advance and plan which larger shells to stick down first, and then fill in with smaller ones, but it’s really easy and very satisfying.

You can either be quite ‘freestyle’ and naturalistic, or go for more of a mosaic effect – I featured a small shell box in a blog last year, where you have lots of similar sized shells and create an intricate pattern. What I haven’t tried yet, but plan to do, is create something rather more ‘monumental’ that might involve using plaster of paris and actually setting shells into a structure.

I once visited a very grand house that had a folly in the garden, complete with a wonderfully whacky fireplace that had been covered entirely in shells in plaster of paris. It looked like a mad wedding cake, but at the same time, it was absolutely stunning. As we don’t have a folly in our garden (I know, but…) I might just shut myself in the shed one weekend and get creative – but don’t tell Richard, or I think he might just have something to say about it!

Tuesday
Apr082014

Meringue cake and matching cupcakes!

It’s a fact – whenever you make meringue there will always be leftover egg yolks. My favourite use of the egg yolks is to make home made mayonnaise, which is really delicious, or of course you could just add them to egg recipes. But here’s another suggestion that I think you might find handy!

Raspberry and Hazelnut Meringue Cake

Serves about 6

  • 140g (4 ½ oz) roasted hazelnuts (no skins)
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 250g (9 oz) caster sugar
  • A few drops of vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • 300ml (1/2 pint) double cream
  • 225g (8 oz) raspberries

Pre-heat the oven to 190ºC/Gas 5/170ºC fan. Prepare two 20cm (8”) baking trays for the meringue, brush them lightly with oil and then line with baking parchment. Grind the hazelnuts in a processor.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Add the sugar a teaspoonful at a time and whisk well between additions. Whisk until all sugar has been added and there are stiff peaks. Whisk in the vanilla and vinegar and the processed nuts. Divide the mixture between the two prepared tins – shape and smooth with a palette knife.

Bake for 30-40 minutes – but no longer. The top of the meringue should be crisp and the inside soft. Turn out of the tins onto a wire rack to cool.

Whisk the cream until thick and use about two thirds to sandwich the meringues together, then use the remaining third on the top. Scatter with raspberries and, if you like, sift some icing sugar over them.

Egg Yolk Cupcakes 

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 225g (8oz) caster sugar
  • 150g (5oz) self raising flour
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons milk 

Pre-heat the oven to approx 170ºC/Gas 4/150ºC fan. Place cupcake cases in some muffin/cupcake tins.

Beat the egg yolks and hot water until creamy and then gradually add sugar, beating until thick and pale. Add the salt and vanilla.

Fold in the flour and milk alternately until combined. Spoon into cupcake cases and bake for about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Decorate with jam and raspberries or any other decoration you have handy!

Friday
Apr042014

How to keep your house full of flowers!

Stocks - pretty, long lasting and with a glorious scent!Home made or home grown is so much nicer in so many ways, and growing your own flowers is a really rewarding thing to do. I always feel shop-bought flowers are a bit of an indulgence and tend to think of them just for special occasions, but I love having flowers in the house... so what to do? Grow your own flowers specifically for cutting!

A dedicated spot
You could dot your cut-flower plants throughout your garden so they form part of an overall planting scheme but, if you have the space, it’s best to having a dedicated patch, however small. It is much easier to organise than to slot your cut-flower plants in among existing shrubs and perennials, and many annuals need some support, which is easier in a special patch.

Pretty much all cut flowers need a good amount of sunshine, so there’s no point in planning your patch in a shady spot. Shelter is also important as strong, gusty winds can do a lot of damage and they also dry everything out.

CosmosSmall is beautiful too!
Don’t be put off if you have limited space. You can still grown wonderful flowers for cutting in a few pots. Sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) climbing on a wigwam are a perfect example - beautiful blooms with stunning scent! Cut them regularly and they’ll keep going for ages.

Let’s get shopping…
Here’s a suggested shopping list that would be ideal for a flowerbed about 8ft (2.5m) x 4ft (1.25m). These flowers are easy to germinate from seedand you can buy some as plug plants from garden centres or by mail order. This mix of plants will give you, from late spring to mid-autumn, enough flowers to make posies and fill small vases. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? 

I have suggested the number of plants you would ideally have, but you don’t need to stick rigidly to this, it’s only a guide. Any new planting will look a bit ‘regimented’ to start with, but as the plants develop they will fill out, creating a patchwork of glorious colour.

  • Sweetpeas - a heavenly scent and easy to grow in tubs for anyone with limited space.Dahlia ‘Karma Choc’ x 1
  • Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Candy Stripe’ x 2
  • Ammi visnaga x 2
  • Biennial stocks (Matthiola) x 6 – replace with dahlias in early summer.
  • Sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus) x 12
  • Daucus carota ‘Black Knight’ x 2
  • Dianthus barbatus x 4
  • Scabiosa atropurpurea ‘Black Cat’ x 2
  • Narcissus ‘Tête-à-tête’ x 30 – plant these around the edge of the bed