Friday, 18 August 2017

Garden Notes

I started working on this post about a month ago, when my garden was in full bloom and looking lovely - unfortunately, since then we've had about a gazillion hours worth of wind and rain, so everything is looking a bit bedraggled and sad. My hollyhocks have finished flowering, and got so top heavy that they're now lying on the grass, my sweetpeas have pretty much died off and the dianthus, which were flowering faster than I could pick them, are now only giving me one or two blooms a week. But I thought it would still make a nice post, as most garden planning happens over the winter months anyway - I've lost hours in the evening huddled under a blanket with the candles lit, surrounded by seed catalogues!

After five years of experimenting with different plants, I've finally figured out what I do well with - and what never, ever works. During my first year, I got so over excited that I tried to grow something of everything; I had runner beans, French beans, carrots, potatoes, radishes, herbs, salad leaves, beetroot, tomatoes... oh and the courgettes. How could I have forgotten the courgettes which sprung to life, then one by one, went black and fell off the plant?! I also distinctly remember not realising you had to stake sweetpeas, and ending up with this huge tangled mass of plants - funnily enough, the flowers were the best I've ever had!

These days, I tend to stick to the same plants every year (although I'll have a bigger garden, and also a large front garden when we move next month, so everything might go a bit Good Life!); if you're like me and don't want anything that needs too much work, runner beans, French beans, strawberries and tomatoes are brilliant. I never did get to grips with courgettes, and my carrots have never grown to anything more than about an inch - and lets not mention the radishes that were the size of pieces of horticultural grit! I've come to love certain flowers as well, so I've put a quick guide together full of what I think are the nicest smelling, most colourful, easiest to grow plants that will give you blooms for days.

Dianthus (Perennial)
If you like highly scented flowers, you need a few dianthus plants; they have this beautiful sweet, peppery smell that can fill a whole room in minutes. You want to make sure you find the long-stemmed plants though, rather than the shorter alpine versions, as you'd be hard pressed to make a bunch from anything with stems measuring less than 10cm!

Scabious (Perennial)
Scabious are actually short-lived perennials, but I treat them as annuals, and buy them new every single year (I've never managed to successfully overwinter one) - the bees and butterflies absolutely love them, and they flower for AGES. The plant that keeps on giving!

Hollyhocks and Verbena (Perennial)
I love both of these plants because of their height; neither are particularly good in bunches or vases, but they add a bit of variation to pots or borders - and bees adore them both. Hollyhocks come in so many different colours and styles - I've got one set of plants which give huge, open, tissue paper style flowers, and another set which produce tightly crinkled blooms, which almost look like Dahlias (you can see one of these in the first photo above, on the left).

Lavender (Perennial)
I've got four lavender bushes, and they each look and smell completely different; some give me long, pale flowers, and others have darker, more rounded buds. Either way, they smell amazing, and I honestly think everyone should have as many lavender plants as humanly possible in their garden - you can hang bunches up inside to dry, and then use the flowers to make simple lavender bags. Ideal for little Christmas gifts!

Veronica (Perennial)
I stumbled across a Veronica plant (also called Speedwell and Gypsyweed) accidentally in the garden centre, and picked it up because it seemed to be attracting loads of bees. The flowers are long, vibrantly coloured spires, and I love it for adding a bit of height to bunches of flowers - it's got a sort of wildflower look to it as well, which is always a winner in my eyes!

Hebes (Perennial Evergreen)
I bloody love hebes. They come in a huge variety of shapes, colours and sizes, and they're brilliant for adding to posies and bouquets. They flower for quite a while, but even after they've finished, they're evergreen - hurrah!

Sweetpeas (Annual)
I honestly don't know anyone who doesn't love that heady scent of sweetpeas; they're so pungent that the smell easily fills the house. They can be tricky to grow, and I always seem to end up with short, twisty stems, but I read somewhere that cutting the little tendrils can help to counteract this - something to try for next year!

Geraniums (Perennial)
Technically, geraniums are perennials, but they don't usually survive the frosts and cold weather - you can bring them inside to overwinter, but most people (me included) just grow them as annuals. I did have one in the lounge, but it's since gone to plant heaven as there just wasn't enough light - I do love geraniums, they look great in glass bottles as individual stems.

My Top Garden Tips
I'm not an expert (by any stretch of the imagination!), but I've picked up a few tips which seem to help me do alright every year.
  • When you buy plants, it's tempting to buy one with lots of open flowers - don't! Look for plants which have plenty of buds, because they'll be the ones with most flowers to come.
  • Don't be afraid to pick your flowers - it's a well known fact that doing this regularly encourages the plant to produce more flowers. The more you pick, the more you get!
  • Make sure you deadhead regularly. Not only does this get rid of the horrible old, dried up flowers, like picking it encourages the plant to bloom more. Can't be bad!
  • Learn how to cut stems - thick, woody stems should be cut on a diagonal, while thinner stems should be cut straight across (there's a bit of debate about this, but it's always worked out fine for me!) 
  • Use a good peat free compost. Peat is an environmental nightmare - just say no!
  • Try to feed your plants every now and then. I'm terrible at this, but when I do remember, I always use the Maxicrop products; they're organic, seaweed based and free from nasty chemicals. 
  • If you're new to gardening, try to suss out your soil and where the light is at what time before you invest in expensive perennial plants. There's lots of information on the RHS website about soil types, and Alys Fowler's wonderful book The Edible Garden has a section on improving your soil (as well as heaps of other great stuff!)
Great Resources, Gardeners and Instagram-Types
Over the last few years, I've discovered some brilliant online resources, gardeners and social media people who are a wealth of information and gardening advice.
  • Monty Don - no explanation required!
  • Alys Fowler - I've got two of her books, The Edible Garden and The Thrifty Gardener, and they're both packed full of helpful tips. The Edible Garden also had a TV series to accompany it, and I'm pretty sure you can still find some episodes on YouTube.
  • Carol Klein - I loved her Life in a Cottage Garden series.
  • Mark Ridsill Smith - his website Vertical Veg is a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to grow a lot with very little space. 
  • The RHS website - again, no explanation required!
  • Emma Mitchell - Naturalist, designer-maker and author Emma knows an insane amount about plants and gardening, and has the most beautiful Instagram feed. Find her website here and her Instagram here.
  • Seeds - I get all of my seeds from Real Seeds and Higgledy Garden. They've never failed me, and the plants have always been strong and abundant. 


Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Home Improvements

Those of you who follow me on Instagram will know that after months of searching, we finally found a new, bigger house to rent. In our usual haphazard style, we’ve taken on something that needs a bit of work - but this time the landlord is happy to chip in *squeeee*

The house itself is just what we wanted; three bedrooms, a lounge, a kitchen big enough to hold a big wooden table (my actual dream!), a separate room downstairs for me to use as an office-cross-craft-cross-photography space, and two decent sized gardens. But…. there are awful carpets, and some of the skirting boards are hanging off and the tiles need changing and there is SO. MUCH. ARTEX. I’ve spent a bit of time (to my husband’s horror) making a list of all the things we need to do - it pretty much unrolls like a scroll, but today I’m sharing my top five must-do’s.

Bring in the Light
Having a light, bright house is one of the most important things - our current house is so dark downstairs, that even on a dull day in the height of summer, you still need to put the lamp on. The new house is bigger, and more spacious, but creating extra light is still going to be on the top of my list. Obviously we can’t start knocking through walls and so on, but a few well positioned mirrors, some lighter carpets and crisp white paint should do the job - although I do quite fancy a skylight on the landing!

Organise a Work Space that Works
My approach to working for myself has always been a bit…. haphazard and laid back. I have no proper accounting system (I know, I KNOW!), no method of storing paperwork and everything is basically shoved in cupboards out of the way. When we move, I’m determined to have everything set up from the beginning; I’m aiming for storage for craft materials, a filing cabinet for paperwork, and with any luck, one desk to work at and one to shoot photographs on. 

Create an Inside-Outside Space
One thing I’ve loved in our current house is having a conservatory; although it’s absolutely FREEZING in Winter, it’s been such a lovely place to sit in the summer and watch thunderstorms, listen to the rain and just be that bit closer to the garden. The new house doesn’t have anything similar, so I’m thinking about getting a small shed at the bottom of the garden - nothing fancy, just some space to pot plants and sit with the radio or a book. Obviously in my head, I’d love a glorious plant-filled orangery, but we’ve all got to start somewhere!

Modernise the Kitchen
The bones of the kitchen are actually not too bad - white tiles, white cupboards…. but the rest is pretty dire. Think peeling lino, old worktops and artex walls, and you’d be pretty much there. The plan is to pretty much recreate what we did in the current house; replace the flooring (I’m hoping for proper, actual tiles this time!), swap the worktops for modern, solid wood ones and re-plaster the walls. What could be simpler?!

Increase Security
I know that the doors and windows in the new place are fairly modern, so I’ve got no worries about security from an external point of view - but one thing I worry about more than anything is the danger of the kiddos falling out of an upstairs window. They’ve been taught not to open them, and they know never to lean out, but…. they’re children, and they get overexcited about things that usually tend to happen on the other side of the window - like next doors cat, or a butterfly, or a bee, or the ice-cream man. Jackloc window locks have been designed specifically to prevent falls from windows, and we’re seriously considering having them fitted - they’re not hugely expensive, and I really think you can’t put a price on safety.

This is a collaborative post.

Monday, 17 July 2017

The Lavender Fields in Hampshire

Next up in the 'Photos I Took Last Summer But Never Got Round to Posting' series - The Lavender Fields in Hampshire. To be fair we drove past the other day, and they look pretty much exactly like this now, so if it weren't for all the growing those pesky kids have done, these could have been taken last week. 

The Lavender Fields is one of my favourite places to visit in the early summer months; apart from the endless rows of purple stems, there are also towering sunflowers - and then there are the wildflowers. A huge expanse has been dedicated to cornflowers and poppies, nigella, marguerite and scabious; Californian poppies nod in the breeze, their bright orange petals fluttering delicately. I grow wildflowers in our garden every year, not only because they look so glorious, but also because they're heaven for bees and butterflies - the bee population is in serious decline, and so if there's anything we can do to help, I think we kind of have to.

The kiddos love it every time we visit, and spend ages pottering up and down the rows of flowers, talking to the bees and spotting all the insects. Every five minutes, one of them will say, 'what's that one?' and I'll have to get my phone out and start googling insects. Great fun!

To get to the fields, you have to drive through the rest of Hartley Park Farm Business Park, and there is the most BEAUTIFUL shop that sells Kantha robes and woven rugs and all sorts of lovely goodies (I can't remember the name, sorry!). Far too expensive for us, but I always spend some time stroking the stock anyway!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Summer Inspiration - The Beach

Finally! A post! I've not blogged for a while; I've been busy with work, and my Dad had a stay in hospital, followed by a big move to a nursing home - he has Alzheimers, and although we know it's the best thing for him (he's receiving exceptional care; the food is amazing, and he spends his days in a sunny conservatory overlooking the huge garden. They also subscribe to the thinking that animals are beneficial to elderly people with mental health issues, and since he's been there they've had two doggy visits, and an afternoon with birds of prey. How cool is that?!), it's been a really difficult time. But things are starting to settle down now, so I've finally found the time to edit some photos and write a post - about our adventures last summer!

It was a long winter; it feels like a lifetime ago that we were spending days and nights on the beach, gathering around fires and leaping around in the dunes, building dens in the woods and picking veg out back in the garden. But the weather this week has been beautiful, the garden is flourishing and the long holidays are just seven weeks away - so I thought this would be a good time to start posting about last summer. Maybe think of it as an inspiration post?!

We spent a LOT of time at the beach; long, sticky days and balmy evenings spent building sandcastles, foraging for treasure (read: shells) and toasting marshmallows on sandy campfires. I like the beach in the winter, but I LOVE it in the summer; the roar of the ocean, the sand between your toes and that delicious feeling of being wrapped in a warm blanket when the sun appears from behind a cloud.

Seven weeks to go. I cannot WAIT.


Wednesday, 7 June 2017

A Grand Entrance

One of the worst things about living in a rental house is that there are real restrictions on what you can and can't do, decor-wise. We're really lucky with our landlords, in that they're pretty flexible, and let us make as many changes as we like - as long as we pay for it, and we don't, for example, paint the whole house black and knock any walls down.

We've done major things in the kitchen; we've retiled, and replaced worktops, changed flooring and ripped out cupboards in favour of open shelving. We've painted every room white, and plastered (Ali learned how to plaster from YouTube videos, and he's actually really good at it!) over horrendous artrex, ripped up old carpets and resealed the bath. The only thing we've not done anything to so far, is the front door - until now. The one we have is brown, has really big cracks in it, and just looks really old and tired; at the moment, we're trying to decide between painting it and replacing it.

Colour vs Neutrals

I used to be absolutely desperate for a yellow front door - mustard, to be exact - and came pretty close to just running down to B&Q and buying the cheapest exterior paint I could get my hands on. But as time has gone by, I've also hankered after one in teal, one in red and one in crisp white, so I'm pretty glad this is something I've never gotten round to! I mentioned in my lounge makeover post that my tastes have simplified, and I'm more drawn to calm neutrals and soft colours these days, so I think if we do reach for the paint, it will be a beautifully stony grey colour; think something Farrow-and-Ball-esque, but a bit more budget friendly.

Safety and Security 
I never thought there would be a day when I'd choose practicality over style, but apparently, it's here. Our current door has three bolts, a manual lock and a chain - but to be honest, the rest of it is so flimsy they're pretty pointless. If we owned the house, we'd probably invest in a more modern, hi-tech door, like the Spitfire doors from Team Frames Trade; fully customisable, they come in a wide range of colours and styles, and offer brilliant add-ons, such as spy-hole camera, built-in lighting and even fingerprint recognition. I'm a bit of a nervous nelly when I'm at home alone in the evenings, so the idea of having a front door that combines unbeatable security with style is one that appeals to me massively!

Plants and Greenery

Anyone who has been reading a while, or follows me on Instagram, will know that I've got a bit of a thing for plants. When we first moved into our house, I wanted a trellis with climbing roses, clematis and wisteria, window boxes, shrubs and hanging baskets. Our front garden is the size of a postage stamp, and after five years I've finally come to terms with the fact that it's never going to look like something from Country Living - so I'm opting for filling our little porch with little pots of greenery. Simple, effective, year-round colour!

This is a collaborative post.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Lounge Makeover with Comfort Works

Crikey, we're a week into February, and this is my first post of the year - shameful! I've been so busy with work, and little projects around the house that I've not really done anything blog-worthy for ages - we have finally finished giving our lounge it's little makeover though. At last!

Until the last couple of years, my interior style used to be 'more-is-more'. More patterns, more fabrics, more pictures, more lamps, more stuff - if you want to see our lounge from our previous flat, click here (seriously, those pictures make me twitch every time I look at them. So. Many. Things.) and from August last year in our current house, click here (still so much stuff!) I've done so many decluttering sessions, I've lost count - I've finally got to the point where I don't walk into the room and feel like my things are trying to suffocate me though, so I reckon we're done!

My favourite thing of all has to be the sofa covers; they were sent to us by the lovely folks at Comfort Works, a small company based in Australia who specialise in making covers for IKEA sofas. We've had our Karlstad sofa for about five years now, and it's wearing incredibly well, so I had no interest in buying a whole new one - by the time I got round to actually thinking about buying new slipcovers (I wanted some lighter ones, to help brighten up our dark lounge), IKEA had stopped selling the sofa, and obviously the replacement covers. So when Comfort Works got in touch and asked if I'd like to try out theirs, I jumped at the chance.

Firstly, I've got to comment on the absolute mind-blowing choice available on the Comfort Works website; eight fabric styles (everything from delicate light cotton to tough leather, and even luxurious velvet), with several shades in each category, options for everything from seams to ties and armrest protectors, and even the chance to add on some fancy new mid-century style legs (ours are the Bailey legs).

Secondly, they are the absolute perfect shade of grey - exactly what I was looking for - and they're remarkable resilient. Ours are the Heavy Duty covers in Kino Ash, and they definitely live up to their name; when I shot these pictures, they'd been on the sofa for about two months, and the covers had been dived on, dribbled on, sat on, laid on and spilt on. They'd been covered in chocolate, popcorn, squash and biscuit crumbs, and still they look perfect. Any marks or stains came away in seconds with a baby wipe, and the fabric dried back to it's original colour, leaving no trace of what had been there before. I honestly cannot rate them highly enough for durability - in fact, I think they're a better quality than the ones that came with the sofa!

I didn't realise before just how much difference changing the covers on a sofa could make; our whole lounge is brighter, lighter and seems much bigger than before. Plus, they're so much more stain resistant, which means less washing for me. Hurrah!

I'm also really in love with our coffee table; we found it for £25 on Gumtree, which is a brilliant bargain considering it's solid wood. It's got a tiny little drawer, which the kids love to stash things in, and the previous owner had already painted the legs in a dark blue-grey Farrow and Ball paint. Very kind of them!

We've added plants and a print, removed cushions and LOADS of books, and I made a wallhanging by adding fringing to a panel of moss stitch crochet - I did want to make a weaving to go in that space, but I've not got round to making the loom yet, so....!


Sofa Covers: Comfort Works
Blanket: The Future Kept
Cushion: eBay (try searching for 'Kilim cushion' or 'Aztec cushion'
Lantern: Wild Damson (now closed). Similar at IKEA.
Clay Plant Pots: Wilkinsons (painted myself)
Mountain Cup: The Future Kept
Enamel Candle Holder: Workshop Living
Cavallini & Co Botany Print: Willow and Stone
Small Plants: IKEA
Mug: Luke Arthur Wells (sold out)
Coffee Pot: Utility
Spoon: The Good Times Homestore
Large Plants: B&Q
Basket with Plant in: Closet and Botts
Coffee Table: Gumtree
Dining Table and Chairs: Gumtree
Table Runner: IKEA

Many thanks to Comfort Works for generously gifting us the sofa covers - which we would definitely have bought anyway! All words and opinions are, as usual, my own.

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