Sunday, 23 June 2013

Basket Makeovers - More Planting Up

Old flower pots seem to re-produce in our garden. There are times I think they do better at reproducing than the plants that were bought contained in them. Put a discreet stack of half a dozen or so behind the garden shed and within a season or two you are knee-deep in plastic pots. They are just one of the kinds of clutter I am trying to get under control. I was about to say you can't even give them away around here but I think I have come up with a way;  raise cuttings, plant them up in the proliferating pots and give them to the plant stall at the local charity garden fete. All I have to do is to make sure I buy fewer plants from said stall than those I donate.It is a rather insignificant drop in the tide however and apparently it is not helped by my habit of re-using other things as planters. And I have been doing just that again. I was trying to sort out the pile of  pots behind the shed when I happened to find a pair of aged baskets near the bottom of the stack.
Considering they had spent at least one winter exposed to the elements they were in fairly good shape I thought. May be they could give another season of use. I quite like the vintage look, even if it might owe more to artifice than age. Some things wear the patina of age with a certain charm but with these I thought there was far too much "shabby" and not enough "chic". Perhaps a light coat of paint would help, there was some not-quite-white matte left from redecorating the dining room.
Not bad, I thought. In fact the lower heart-shaped one  turned out so well it nearly got a fabric lining for something or other indoors but I had an idea for what I wanted to plant in that.
This campanula with its pretty starry blue flowers provides ground cover in several corners of the garden. I liked the idea of the blue with the white of the basket and the way that the heart-shaped leaves  would echo the shape of the container.
I lined it with weed suppressant sheeting.
I traced around the base of the basket onto the sheeting, added a border as wide as the basket was deep, cut it out and then cut through the border to the base shape as needed on the curves and the point so that the liner would sit smoothly inside the basket. You just never know when the skills for  cake tin lining and dress- making pattern cutting will come in handy, do you?
I have planted it up but it will need a while for the plants to take hold, fill out the gaps and flower.
As for the other basket with the handles, it was already lined in plastic. It most probably had some plants in it when it was given to me. This kind of planting is quite popular in supermarkets and garden centres but it is  not very plant friendly as the compost doesn't drain and it is difficult to judge how to water the plants properly without them either drying out or sitting in soggy compost. Yes, it means the container can be placed on furniture indoors without a tray or pot saucer underneath but I'm giving priority to plant welfare. This is why I used the weed suppressant membrane for the first basket..With that in mind, I poked some holes in the plastic lining the second basket to let it drain.
What could be more cheerful than a little basket of alpine strawberries?
They have been in the basket for a few weeks now and obviously like the conditions. Actually these might make good novelties for the plant stall - I will decide if I am prepared to part with them nearer the time. Meanwhile there is that stack behind the shed that hasn't been completely dealt with. I wonder if there is something else interesting in there.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Daisy Chain Approach to Getting Things Done

I'm not greatly given to compiling To-Do lists, even though I know that ticking off the achieved tasks can be so gratifying. What happens to all those little things that need to be done but hardly warrant a place on a list? If I zealously write all of them down, the list becomes quite daunting, if not completely overwhelming. I find a less regimented approach works better for me - well, most of the time it does.
Each day has its priorities due to habit, occasion or the acceptance that procrastination has gone on for way too long. I suppose those priorities would be the backbone of a To-Do list if I was making one and then there are other things that I hope to fit in as opportunities arise. How does the list-free daisy chain work?

Imagine this:

Having established that the rest of the house is in order, you head into the kitchen. It is rather early to be making lunch but you know that there are lots of things that would make it all run much more smoothly later on, so you empty the dishwasher and clear all the work surfaces.
You notice that a banana peel has been set aside from breakfast. You know that snipping it to shreds and scattering under a rose bush is such a good idea because in the few years since you have been doing this, the roses have never flowered so abundantly. It is such a little job that won't take long.
 As you are scattering the shreds, you remember seeing some rather pernicious weeds around another rose and if you were to whip those out right now they could be put in the garden waste which is being collected today.
On your way back from the waste sack by  front gate you notice that there is enough rhubarb to harvest. The leaves can go in the compost bin so you track up the back garden to do that.
You notice on the way that the box bushes are overdue their annual 'haircut'. It has been  left until later this year waiting for the chance of an overnight frost to be past. Just then you notice a blackbird with a beakful of potential baby chick food. You have suspected they are nesting in the garden and you settle down to watch where the bird is heading as it may mean that an occupied box bush will have to wait until the baby birds have fledged before being trimmed. It takes a few food runs to establish which bush it is as the parent doesn't fly straight to the nest but cunningly diverts through other shrubs.

You then notice that some tulips in a tub should be dead-headed and that the tub is rather dry - in fact all the outdoor pots and tubs need water on what is set to be a warm sunny day. Several watering can runs later you then think that the cuttings that have been sheltering on the conservatory window sill could be outdoors now so you go to bring them out.

You look up and notice the clock on the conservatory wall seems to be very fast. Now that really will need adjusting as you rely on that when you are pottering about outside. Just then a voice at your elbow says "Ahem. You haven't forgotten that we have someone coming to lunch, have you? You know he will be right on time." (Oh, so that really is the time!)
"Of course not." Your voice trails over your shoulder as you try to make a hasty sprint to the kitchen look like a nonchalant stroll.

So what is really going on here? A butterfly brain at play, displacement behaviour or serial distraction? In this instance it was probably nothing more complicated than finding excuses reasons for staying in the garden on the warmest day of the year so far. Drawn as a diagram would it be a mind map or a flow chart? I like to think of it as a daisy chain.
And yes, lunch worked out just fine with everything on the table on time.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Garden Flowers for the House

Looking out of the windows this morning and seeing so much colour starting to emerge amongst all the fresh green, it just took my fancy to go out and cut some flowers to bring into the house. I picked up the secateurs ready to wander out to see what might do.
Even before I left the back door, I noticed the rose scented pelargonium cuttings I took last autumn were flowering.

All the tulips look ready to drop petals but there were plenty of other options.



A posy of violas? Certainly appealing.

The starry white flowers of ramsons are very pretty but the smell would probably mean they would be confined to the kitchen. There's a very good reason they are also known as bears' garlic!


This chaenomeles is a lovely colour but I think I should leave them to bear fruit. Even if I don't get around to harvesting them to make jelly in the autumn, the birds will appreciate them in winter. The only time I have seen fieldfares in the garden was during one snowy spell when they came in to eat the fruit left on this shrub.

I'm pleased to have bluebells at all this year. The bitten off leaf to the right of the flowers bears witness to the visit of a family of roe deer just when the leaves of the bluebells and day lilies were starting to emerge. Overnight the plants were grazed to within an inch of their lives but thankfully the deer have been absent for several weeks now so things have recovered and are coming along nicely.

Centaurea is one of those plants which seems to have it all. The leaves, the buds and the flowers are all pretty and they just get on with what they do best with very little work on my part.


This is another such plant. Its name is one of those things which skips capriciously in and out of mind (currently absent, unfortunately) - such dainty and pristine little daisy like flowers with feathery verdigris foliage.

Good old self-seeding, cottage garden granny's bonnets. If you can imagine pink doves, you can see why these flowers are also named columbines after the word 'columba' meaning dove.
 Eventually I picked none of these but I did end up with flowers in a vase on the dining room mantel piece. No delicate posy but a large container filled as a result of some necessary tasks, although I like to think it wasn't entirely devoid of some aesthetic considerations. It certainly has a delicate perfume.

 There is some of the blossom from Our Own apple. I mentioned in a previous post that it leans over the front fence and I accept that not everyone using the footpath outside wishes to be all that intimately acquainted with its charms so I tend to prune back the intruding branches while it is flowering. It is the earliest apple I know of and it has the most fragrant blossom of any of the apples we have in the garden.

The green umbellifer is alexanders. This is a herb I like to have in the garden however that is not to say I am happy to see it everywhere. The first year it flowered I let it get on with it and, as the seed heads ripened,  I admired the ochre yellow stems and black seeds it produced - until the following spring when I found it coming up all over the place. Just like ramsons really - let them set seed at your peril. It's almost enough for each of them to be classified as weeds, I suppose.  I have learned to make sure that both of them have their immature flowers chopped off and sent to the green waste collection which composts at a far higher heat than our own bins do, so ensuring that next spring these two wonderful plants only come back where they are welcome.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Pottering in the garden

Now it's not as if I haven't got enough flower pots lying about to use for this season's planting plans but a bout of kitchen de-cluttering had left a little stack of kitchen pots and pans to be got rid of and I started seeing another use for them. This is far from the first time I have seen odd items  in terms of garden uses. (Remember this and this?)

Can't you just see them as planters? The old wok and the base of the steamer set (sadly the victim of a boil dry incident which totally wrecked the enamel on the inside) would need drainage holes. HeWhoOwnsTheTools said I should use a special metal drill bit and the electric drill.

Please tell me you will wear safety goggles if you are going to do this. The thought of all those little metal filings being flung about, possibly in the direction of  something as precious and vulnerable as your eyes just doesn't bear thinking about.
With the holes in, I then filled the wok with seed compost, gave it a good drenching with water and let it drain before scattering on the seeds.

A light covering of vermiculite, misted over with a spray bottle to stop it blowing around and I was ready to sit back and wait for my salad leaves to grow.

I find this way of planting a scattering of small seeds works well and stops the seeds from getting washed around.

The top two tiers of the steamer already had a lot of holes.

So many, in fact, that I put in three circles of newspaper to stop the compost being washed out.

I quite like these seed mats, in this case, for basil. A lazy way of ensuring the seeds are well-spaced.

I love basil as a herb. Like parsley and chives, it is something that I never seem to have too much of. However I can never plant up a pot or even buy a pot of basil from the supermarket without being reminded of William Holman Hunt's picture of  Isabella and the Pot of Basil and the rather grisly story behind it in Keats's poem.
The salad leaves are doing well and haven't let the low temperatures over night put them off germinating.

The copper band is that stuff which slugs and snails are supposed not to be able to cross. So far so good - ours are not the only mouths expecting to feed from our garden.
And what has gone into the steamer pot? Why, calendula - otherwise know as pot marigolds, of course.

Monday, 29 April 2013

A Weekend with Wildflowers, Quilts and Cake

Having established that spring may be a little late this year but has never-the-less sprung, it is good to get out and see it coming into its glory in the countryside. A spell between April showers tempted us to put on our walking boots and take a stroll along the lanes. Many of the  country lanes around here are narrow and bordered by steep banks topped by hedges. For walkers, the drawback is that should motorists using the road overlook the fact that they are  on a road with  not even a B classification, mistake the conditions for those on the M3 and come hurtling around the bend behind you at an wildly inappropriate speed, you may have little choice but to throw yourself on the scant mercy of a bed of nettles. Fortunately this very seldom happens and walkers  enjoy the shelter and peace of the road,  able to get a good view of  the wildflowers on the banks without having to stoop. Primroses and violets were making the most of the sunshine before the taller cow parsley and jack-by-the-hedge overshadow them.
And wood anemones seem to have found this year's weather has been ideal for them.
This weekend was also the date for the Meon Valley Quilters' Exhibition. Having missed it several times in the past I was determined to go along this year. Held in a local church it was stunningly staged. The combination of stained glass windows and glorious patchwork was quite inspiring. Small quilted panels were hung on the ends of many of the pews, large quilts hung from the ceiling and  smaller items  were displayed on window sills; there was just so much to see, so many quilting styles, designs and colour combinations. Most items were labelled with the creator's name and something of the source of the materials and designs. One of the most appealing to me was a star pattern made with pieces from the quilter's son's old shirts, lots of fine stripes and checks in blues and greys set against plain white as a background. I loved the idea of re-using material and reminded me of the fabrics I have used for Rag Baskets.
So come on, you may well be thinking, where are the pictures of all this creative magnificence? As I entered, I had sought and been given permission to take photos. Standing in front of the first exhibit I wanted to 'snap' I reached into my bag for my 'point and shoot' only to have an instant mental image of it still on the side table where I had left it after our walk.Not to worry I thought,  I have a camera in my mobile phone. I discovered that learning to use an application you have never used before is not best done in public when there are others who would like to stand where you're standing or have to walk around you. Stifling annoyance with myself, I thought I would just make the most of looking at what was there, breathing in the almost palpable creativity.
I left remembering the last time I had seen an exhibition of quilts. It was in my hometown in South Australia, eight years ago. Several months earlier there had been devastating bush fires in the area with lives lost and people rendered homeless with little besides the clothes they had escaped in. Almost before the fires were out, the people of the state rallied donating all kinds of things to replace what had been lost.It was the local quilting group who recognised that so much was irreplaceable,  unique, sentimentally valued, heirlooms and family items and decided that they would appeal to quilters across the country to help them to provide a special handmade quilt for every family who had lost their home. The response was fantastic and I found the  consideration and generosity of those craftswomen (and men!) very moving.
So here are my mementos of last weekend's exhibition. ( The background is an hexagonal patchwork stitched by my mother-in-law.)
 Check this site for other Quilting Exhibitions. Was I inspired to start patchworking or quilting? Much as I was so impressed by what I saw, I don't really think so. Several years ago I tried cathedral window patchwork and made a cushion.
I enjoyed making it and made another as a Christmas present for a friend. I have thought that it might be a way of using some of my Hapa-Zome samples but it called for a lot of 'precision ironing', I remember, and as neither precision work or ironing are particular strengths as far as I am concerned that is likely to stay nothing more than an idea. But there is so much value beyond the introduction to the specific skills in any exhibition like this. Julia Cameron in her book The Artist's Way talks of going on artist's dates to feed curiosity and creativity. This would be an example of just that for me.

And as for the cake?

  That would be a slice of Chocolate Lumpy Bumpy from the Tenth Hole Tearooms in Southsea.

Monday, 22 April 2013

The Arrival of Spring - 2013

Last year spring arrived early and I had decided to use April 22nd, Earth Day and the anniversary of my grandmother's birth to record how things were coming along in the garden. I wasn't all that sure that doing this year on year would prove to be very interesting but at least I would have a record of what an early spring looked like in our garden. How wrong I was! This year's very cold and gloomy March and early April has made a significant difference. Last night as I was looking through last year's shots to see what to photograph today, I had a feeling there would be rather a lot of bare twig photography. This is what I found.
The 'Freckle Face' violets that were flowering so well have only just managed the first bud - on the upper right, in case you have missed it.
The plum blossom was finished this time last year but up until about ten days ago the branches were quite bare and now there are just the beginnings of buds.
That's more than can be said for the apple trees. No glorious blossom, just a few green shoots and a lot of brown fence to see here.
The auricula has buds - closely bunched down there at the base of the leaves.
The clematis still has flowers with little sign yet of the silky seed tassels.
Not even the babiest of rose buds! Some of the first foliage to break through was frost bitten by the March snow, so understandably it has been held back.
The rhubarb is only just pushing up out of the soil. Admittedly I have seen rhubarb in other people's gardens which is more advanced than ours - no idea why. Perhaps it is the variety.
About the only thing that is at pretty much the same stage as it was this time last year is the little wild violet.
But lifting my spirits are the cowslips I planted last year. So pretty, I hope they make themselves well and truly at home here.
No matter how cold and gloomy winter has been, there always comes that day when you step outside to work in the garden and you realise you won't really need a fleecy jacket. The sky is clear and the still bare branches make soft vein shadows on the grass. The breeze is just enough to make the yellow and white flowers shimmer. Your eye is caught by the gently erratic flight of brimstone wings and you try to identify the bird song around you as you work. Then from the distant wood comes a call that makes you stop and strain to hear it again. Is that the first cuckoo?
The wonders of that day are  so very welcome no matter what date the calendar shows.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Pleasures of Pinning

I suspect it was one of the bloggers I follow who led me to discover Pinterest a couple of years ago. I don't really remember just how it happened that I got started; I was so taken with the idea of 'curating' my own boards. "Yes, but how is it different from bookmarking favourite sites?" I was asked by a friend when I first tried to explain this (at that time) new enthusiasm. "Well for a start there are thumbnails which I find easier to scan through than URLs or phrases and I can follow other users' boards based on the same interests as mine and I find that leads me to sites in ways that Google doesn't." Pinterest has come a long way since then and the little red P button pops up on websites all over the 'net.
I suppose I could have easily entitled this post The Problems of Pinning and talked about the copyright issues - I have had images from this blog pinned and the first I have realised this is when I notice a spike in views of a particular post and pinterest shows on the list of traffic sources.
It is all too easy to keep pinning stuff to read later without checking the original web source, so it doesn't always encourage in depth reading. I am only just getting my magazine clipping habit under control and I seem to have acquired a digital version. Like any other diet, a steady diet of inspiration does you good only if you digest it.
With this in mind, I decided to put some of my pins to  practical use and review or edit my boards. Three bananas in the fruit bowl were getting blacker by the day, challenging me to do something wonderful with them, when I remembered pinning a recipe for Banana Bread.
Even though reading through the ingredients, at first it seemed undo-able with such a US bias, after reading on through the comments and applying a little culinary commonsense, I decided to carry on. The results were great. It turned out to be one of those 'disappearing' cakes though to be honest, most cakes are around here.
I made the following substitions/adjustments
  • For the applesauce I simply added the same quantity of sunflower oil (which I was using for the oil ingredient anyway)
  • For the buttermilk I used half milk, half natural yoghurt
  • For the lemon juice, which I didn't have, I used nothing. As it is mainly to stop the bananas from going brown I got everything else ready first and then mashed the bananas. As they are in a cake batter to be baked would it really matter if they discoloured a little before being cooked?
  • The oven temperature would be 175 deg C.
  • I used 2 small loaf tins 12 X 22 cm and it took 45 minutes before the cakes passed the "skewer comes out clean" test.
  • I stuck to the cup measures as most of my measuring jugs have cup markings at 8 fl oz. Even if US cup measures were any different, because all the ingredients are measured in cups, the important ratio would be maintained.
  • I added half a teaspoon of cardamom powder simply because I have had a bit of a thing for cardamom ever since I had  wonderful Turkish coffee last time I was in Adelaide. I could have used a little more.
Is it the best banana bread ever? Can't say as I haven't made it very often before but I will be checking out the local farmshop to see if they have any age-ing bananas so I don't have to wait too long for them to go brown/black and soft.
Does it keep well? Who knows!

I'm also grateful to Pinterest for helping me to wear my favourite jeans again. (This is in no way related to the cake recipes of course.)
Firstly for the idea of sewing elastic into the back of the waistband to stop them gaping. This is a problem I often find with jeans and trousers so I was glad to give this a try.
And it works and is very comfortable. I made sure not to stitch over the centre back belt loop so I can still wear a belt if I want to. At least now I don't have to.
The other problem was the zip not staying up. This was a problem right from the start and had I not bought them and then gone to Oz for two months I would have returned them to the store. By the time I got back, the return-by date had gone and I had resigned myself to wearing thigh length shirts and sweaters. Then I found this idea of using the ring from a keyring through the slider so that it could be slipped over the button and stay up. I suppose you could also use a loop of  strong yarn for this.
Both of them are "why didn't I think of that" ideas and I am very glad that somebody else did and passed them on.
So thanks Pinterest, for the help and the fun.