Homemade Christmas decorations: 7 of the best

25 Nov

The best homemade Christmas decorations | Wolves in LondonThere’s something about Christmas that never fails to bring out my inner crafting obsessive.

Perhaps it’s memories of endless paper chains and papier mache bells and baubles as a child (the latter usually too heavy to actually be strung up anywhere in the house, for fear of head injuries if they pulled down the bit of string, or perhaps even the bit of plaster, to which they were attached…)

Whatever the reason, the minute I start thinking about Christmas, I start thinking about what I can make. Presents, food, wrapping paper, decorations… …someone stop me because I just want to make it all!

Sanity usually (usually!) prevails and I realise that – short of sending the kids down the mine for a few weeks to give myself a bit of peace and quiet – there’s no way I will find the time to make everything I would like to.

This year, rather than homemade presents, I think I’m going to focus on homemade decorations.

Here’s a round up of seven of my favourites from the wonderful world of the web (really, truth be told, the wonderful world of Pinterest…)

1. Snowflake garland

Homemade Christmas decorations | Wolves in London

© Martha Stewart

First of all, let’s revisit some childhood memories with a paper chain display. Not having an amazing clapboard porch, like this house in the Martha Stewart photo, I won’t need to make these snowflakes out of weatherproof paper as suggested, but some bog standard normal printer paper would do the trick, I’ll warrant, just as well.

I’ll also hang these horizontally, rather than vertically, and festoon them across my entire house I suspect…

Full tutorial here: Martha Stewart’s frosty banners

2. Christmas village window display

Homemade Christmas decorations round-up | Wolves in London

Okay, this isn’t a tutorial at all, but a set of stickers you can buy from Cox and Cox. However, I don’t think it would take a genius to make these from scratch. (I have yet to actually *try* and make these from scratch, so I may be later eating my words…)

Some stiff cardboard, a knife and a pencil is surely enough to get the same effect? (Though, I do wonder about combatting condensation on the window. Hmmm. Perhaps a white plastic bag would work better?)

At any rate, I had to include these because I definitely intend to replicate this on my window this year in some form or other.

3. Fabric baubles

Fabric baubles DIYI made these last year and was really very delighted with them. Now packed in a box somewhere, exact location unknown, I think I’d better whip up a few more before December strikes. Find more info on last year’s post: Liberty fabric baubles.

4. Paper baubles

Homemade Christmas decorations round-up | Wolves in London

© The Guardian

Last year, I also made a lovely collection of paper concertina baubles, following this tutorial in the Guardian.

I printed off lots of vintage sheet music (from the Graphics Fairy, of course) and then cut it all into circles and assembled into lots of lovely, pretty baubles. (I’m now trying to wonder why on earth I didn’t photograph them at the time…)

However, by the end of the festivities, they had got pretty crumpled and dirty and didn’t look very nice at all. I chucked them all in the bin.

This year, when I make them again, I will print the images out onto card and hope that they last a little better. Yes, I love making stuff, but I love it even more if it can actually last a year or two…

5. Snow village

Homemade Christmas decorations; a round-up | Wolves in London

© My Tiny Plot

I’ve been eyeing up this adorable winter snow village from My Tiny Plot for three years now. This year will be the one I finally make it!

I love the houses, the lights shining out from the windows, the idea of adding to the village, slowly, year-by-year, a house at a time and – most of all – the knowledge that this couldn’t fail to be something remembered by the kids as a pretty cool Christmas tradition.

You can read all about it on My Tiny Plot here: expanding snow village.

6. Snow globe

Homemade Christmas decorations round up | Wolves in London

© Allparenting.com

At Christmas, there is one thing that is absolutely essential. Yup, that’s the one, fake snow…

And this idea especially appeals to me. Fake snow inside a glass bauble with a teeny tiny tree. Ha! What’s not to love?

I was going to link you directly to the tutorial (from Allparenting.com), but the website has got a super annoying automatic pop-up showing some Marvel superheroes cartoon, which just took so long to load up it slowed down my entire laptop for about five minutes. Instead, here is the link to my Pin, and you can click through from there if you choose and have a few minutes to spare while you wait for the pop-up to appear and be closed again: DIY snow globe.

7. Cross-stitch crochet stocking

Homemade Christmas decorations | Wolves in LondonAbout once a week, I see something on Pinterest that makes me wish I could crochet. This is that project…

Okay, in order to make this I would not only have to learn how to crochet, but also develop considerably more patience in order to do the cross stitching nicely too (weirdly, I love to knit, but hate to hand sew) so the chances of this getting made, by me, this year, are really quite slim.

But then again; look at the glorious stocking! I would really, really like to have four of these hanging from my mantelpiece on December 24th. So perhaps I could give it a go…

The pattern, which is free, is available from Yarnspirations here: Cross stitch Christmas stockings.

Do you usually make your own decorations? Have you seen anything else equally amazing I should consider? Do leave me a comment and let me know…

Grow, forage, cook: a Christmas hamper

19 Nov

If there’s a better present in the world than a hamper at Christmas, I’ve yet to come across it.

Oh, wait, I do know of a better one: a homemade hamper, stuffed to bursting with delicious goodies made over the previous 12 months. (Note to readers: please do feel free to read this as a hint, if you’ve been umming and ahhing about what to get me for Christmas, ha ha…)

This year, as you may have seen, I’ve been busy with a new series, Grow, forage, cook, with my lovely friend Laura (of Circle of Pine Trees). We’ve been sharing recipes, ideas and inspiration for homegrown, foraged and seasonal food.

So, for the middle of November, it seemed like a pretty good idea to put together a Christmas hamper using some of our favourite makes.

Homemade Christmas hamper from Wolves in London

The perfect Christmas present? A homemade hamper, stuffed with homegrown goodness…

Come, take a look and see what’s inside…

Well, marmalade is a staple for any hamper, in my opinion. Laura and I, both being bloggers, are naturally Seville Orange marmalade makers (yes, they actually make you sign a contract when you get a blog: you have to promise to make some marmalade and some elderflower cordial before you’re allowed to publish your first post…)

I usually follow a recipe in my ancient Good Housekeeping cookbook. Laura goes by the Riverford recipe to make her equally delicious looking batches.

Homemade jams in a Christmas hamper | Wolves in London

I only have small jars of marmalade to give away, because I’ve already scoffed the rest…

But preserving doesn’t stop there in a hamper, for me. Oh no! I think I am possibly a little addicted to making jams and chutneys, so I’ll be putting in a jar of each of the following:

Spicy plum chutney

Apple and sage jelly (this is my favourite, favourite ever preserve…)

Pumpkin chutney

Blackberry and apple jam

Homemade apple and sage jelly in a Christmas hamper | Wolves in London

Apple and sage jelly: the king of all preserves.

Then you’ll need something to eat with all those chutneys and jams. A few homemade biscuits is a good start. I’ve included some absolutely amazing ginger biscuits, following Laura’s recipe for ginger snaps.

These were unbelievably tasty, and I had a hard time keeping these six biscuits out of ravening maws for long enough to photograph them…

Homemade ginger biscuits in a Christmas hamper | Wolves in London

A little parcel of delicious biccies

Homemade ginger biscuits

A few seconds later, there was just a little pile of crumbs…

If ginger’s not your thing, you could also try the even more festive white chocolate and cranberry cookies.

And then on to the cabbage:

Pickled red cabbage

Cabbage haters, look away now

Now, I know what you’re going to say about my inclusion of pickled cabbage. Cabbage? For a present? For Christmas? My sole rejoinder: if you’re friends with someone who wouldn’t, secretly, love to consume a jar of pickled red cabbage on a winter’s evening, then you should probably stop being friends with them.

I haven’t actually posted a recipe for this on the blog (yet!) but I shall get on the case forthwith. ‘Til then, you can find plenty of different versions with a quick Google.

Homemade cherry vodka in a Christmas hamper

I never get over how much I love the colour of this stuff

Then for the booze. I’ve made some morello cherry vodka, this year, which will certainly be going in, along with some of last year’s blackberry and apple vodka.

Sadly, my haul of damsons from my Dad’s garden was left in the footwell of a hot car, but had they survived I would definitely be adding a bottle of Laura’s amazing damson gin.

Food and drink complete, a few little festive touches to adorn the hamper. I’ve followed Laura’s tutorials for some pinecone firelighters and this lovely orange peel garland to adorn the wicker basket.

Pine cone firelighters in a Christmas hamper

I dried these out in the oven and they smelt amazing…

Homemade orange peel star garland in a Christmas hamper

String this across the lid, or just along the front of the hamper for a suitably festive added extra…

Oh; a word on presentation. It is absolutely key in my opinion when giving homemade presents.

I spent a ridiculously long time once making some chocolate truffles, only to give them away in a Tupperware box. In fact, an old Indian takeaway box at that. I don’t think the recipient can have had any idea that I had lovingly concocted them over the course of a few days.

Homemade looks caring and loving if it’s dressed up prettily. Otherwise, it can just look a bit slapdash and unthinking. (“Oh, shucks, I forgot I was seeing so-and-so today and I haven’t got them a present. Let’s just bung them a jar of this year’s marmalade from the larder, still sticky on the sides and with a scrawl of identification on a peeling old label…”)

The labels I’ve used here are downloaded from the World Label website (free, fillable templates designed by Cathe Holden are available here: Apothecary labels). For the text, I’ve used a free font called Jane Austen. (Available from Da Font here: Jane Austen font.) And I’ve got to say, I’m pretty happy with the way it all looks!

Actually, I should have really covered all those mismatched lids with a nice circle of pretty fabric but, hey, hindsight is a wonderful thing…

So there you have it! A very first Grow, forage, cook Christmas hamper, full of delectable treats (in my humble opinion).

Will you be making any foodie presents this year? Is there anything I’ve missed out that really deserves a place in its wicker belly? Do leave me a comment and let me know: I’m always on the hunt for lovely new recipes and lovely new ideas!

And, finally, don’t forget to keep tagging your makes with #growforagecook on instagram and twitter. This month will be the last round-up we’re sharing until the Spring time, as Grow, forage, cook goes into hibernation for the winter months, so please do share anything before then! We’ve loved the little glimpse we’ve had so far into your winter / Christmas preparations…

Make your own Christmas

8 Nov

So Halloween has been and gone, bonfire night is over, hmmm, I have a feeling something else is coming up? But just what is it? *Scratches head*

Ha ha, just kidding, of course. Christmas looms large on the horizon from about September, usually with the result that I feel super-Christmassy in November and completely over it by the middle of December. And yes, so it is once again, I am feeling all merry and bright right now.

So apologies to those who want to hold onto the festive cheer til December, but I thought I might just do a little round up for the more organised people who’d like to get started making Christmas bits and bobs in good time. (I am not a very organised person and therefore have a tendency to post things like advent calendar DIYs on December 3rd, so forgive me for the repetition but corralling a few past posts together in reasonable time this year seemed wise.)

If you missed them the first time around, here are a few of my past Christmas makes that you might like to try out…

Vintage pictures advent calendar

DIY advent calendar tutorial from Wolves in London

I think this is my very favourite Christmas thing I’ve ever made. Of course I do! It combines vintage images, iron on fabric transfer paper and chocolate. What, my friends, is not to love?!

Full tutorial with free printables here: Wolves in London advent calendar

Air dry clay Christmas tree ornaments

Homemade Christmas decorationsIf your Christmas tree is lacking in polar bears, squirrels and moose (meece?) this is the place to visit. Unbelievably easy to make and you can use any biscuit cutters you have to make whatever shapes your heart (or tree) desires.

Full tutorial here: Christmas tree ornaments

Liberty fabric baubles

Fabric baubles DIY

Liberty fabric looks nice on just about everything. Christmas tree baubles are no exception. No need to say more.

More info here: fabric baubles

Carrot and rhubarb jam

carrot rhubarb jamA jam that tastes like Christmas! I’m not sure if I have ever succeeded in converting anyone to this idea ever, but I shall keep on singing the praises of a sweet carrot jam full of Christmassy spices. One day in the future someone might actually give this recipe a go and find that it’s really pretty good. If you do, please let me know!

Recipe here: carrot and rhubarb jam

Homemade presents

And if it’s inspiration for homemade Christmas presents you’re after, I’ve got a couple of posts that might help there too.

Top 20 tutorials for homemade Christmas presents

Firstly, ever popular on Pinterest despite the really clunky photo that I used when I’d first started this blog and didn’t know much about photography or design, my Top 20 tutorials for homemade Christmas presents.

Okay, the photo is ugly and the actual post is seriously long, but I did go ahead and make most of these presents and I can recommend all of the tutorials wholeheartedly.

17 tutorials for homemade Christmas presentsSecondly, and not at all popular on Pinterest, despite my attempt to make a nice Pinnable image for it, 17 more tutorials for presents. The difference? These are all from my own makes. The lobster necklace is my favourite. I still love that.

And I’d love you even more if you go and pin that image for me, ha ha.

So, there you have it. If you’re feeling festive too and starting to get ready, I hope there is some inspiration here.

And what else are you thinking of making this year? Drop me a comment below, I’d love to hear all your plans…

On the mantel: October

30 Oct

October for me is usually a month to stay at home, tucked up warm with my slippers on, or out and about in wellies, tramping through the fallen leaves.

Wolves in London October mantelpiece

Flowers, pumpkins, books and invitations: what more could you want from a mantelpiece?!

This month, though, has been one of celebrations and parties; with two invitations up on the mantelpiece.

First, my Mum’s “second 50th” (eg, she’s not letting on her actual age) – a lovely afternoon spent lounging on the balcony of Court Gardens House in Marlow, looking across to the river and enjoying the unseasonally summery weather. After I gave a speech (slightly nerve-wracking) we all sang happy birthday and then members of my Mum’s ukulele group played a few songs, while I got a rare chance to dance with the hubby as the kids romped around with their extended family. The 50 50 card on the mantelpiece was our invitation.

Then last weekend, we were down to Somerset to celebrate my sister-in-law’s wedding. She was married in the utterly stunning and ancient church in Shepton Mallet (I’m not religious, myself, but I do love a good church) and then a fantastic reception in a nearby local hall.

Hand-stitched wedding invitation | Wolves in London

This was the hand-stitched front of the invitations.

She’s as fond of a crafting opportunity as I am and everything was handmade, from the invitation that you can see here, to the table displays, order of services, cakes, food, decorations… I was chuffed to have a part to play too: advising on and collecting the flowers from Covent Garden flower market. These blue monkshood and white lizzies in the vase were some I bought when I went to check them all out.

Blue monkshood | Wolves in London

Just utterly beguiling, I think…

monkshood veins

I love the amazing veins on the flower heads

White lisianthus | Wolves in London

I has these in my bouquet too, last year

I just adore going to the flower market. Firstly, there are just loads and loads of flowers, for extremely cheap prices. Secondly, you feel like you’re someone in the flower industry, which is real dream job stuff for me…

The bouquet was made up with these two, along with some purple lizzies, white astrantias (my favourites, actually), thistles, wax flowers, viburnum berries and rosemary and eucalyptus leaves from her garden. Just heavenly. (I think it ended up even more beautiful than the one I did last year for my own bouquet, actually…)

Portuguese bag | Wolves in London

Isn’t this a fabulous bit of packaging?

The glorious Aloma bag was brought back by the hubby from Portugal, after he spent four days there for work one weekend. It was filled with egg custard tarts. They may be one of my favourite, but it’s not enough of a sweetener to make up for the horrors of solo parenting (even with my Mum’s help)…

Underneath, a James Baldwin book that I have been meaning to read forever, but which is finally making its way to the top of the list: Go tell it on the mountain. I read the utterly mesmerising and haunting Giovanni’s Room many years ago now, which must rank as one of my top books ever. I have high hopes for this one.

Pumpkins | Wolves in London

The obligatory October pumpkins

The pumpkins, well, they’re self-explanatory, aren’t they? Actually, I am a bit sick of seeing pumpkins all over instagram now, so I apologise for adding to the pumpkin spam. I roasted these after I took the photo and added them to a really delicious beef shin stew. Now that is a good winter feed…

Of course, I haven’t managed to paint the mantelpiece still, despite my plans to do so last month. Nor have I switched round the painting, but hey ho, the days pass by and somehow nothing manages to ever get done in the way I’d like it to.

Next month, though, there will be great changes to come and witness! For, we are the proud new owners of a mantelpiece mirror. I’ll show you more in November, though I have a feeling it might make the photography a little more complicated…

Joining in with a few other lovely blogs who have been showing their monthly mantelpiece decorations: Tales from a Happy House and A Quiet Corner.

Grow, forage, cook: planning a kitchen garden (part two)

22 Oct

More musings on things to plan now for the kitchen garden of your dreams next year. If you missed the first part, check it out here: Planning a kitchen garden, part one.

Planning a kitchen garden | Wolves in London

Veg and scaffolding planks: two fine ingredients for a kitchen garden…

Positioning your plot

If you’re in the enviable position of having a selection as to where you grow your veg, fruit and herbs, I’m pretty jealous!

In my garden, there is one suitable space only, a bed at the back, on the south side, which used to be full of rhododendrons, but is now empty. My kitchen garden will go there. End of story.

But if you’ve got a choice, either because you’re re-planning your whole garden, or you’ve got a selection of different places you could give over to food, then there are a few things to think about first.

Veg and fruit (generally) requires a lot of sunlight to ripen fully. So pick a sunny spot. This is especially true for fruits like grapes, which need sunlight to produce the sugars that make them taste so nice in the first place. You also want to avoid winds, which could damage the young plants, put off pollinating insects or blow the fruits right off the plants. Frost pockets (areas that are colder than the rest of your garden, for example because they’re in a small dip where cold air settles) should also be avoided. But that’s pretty obvious.

Speaking of pollinating insects, these are pretty essential for anything that produces fruits (this includes beans, peas and so on), which makes sunny sheltered spots the best.

Finally, think about the amenities you’ll need. One of the reasons my watering schedule was so crappy this past year was that the builders pulled out our water pipes that fed the tap at the bottom of the garden. (I only realised this once they’d left and it was a bit late to sort out…) This means I need to fill up the watering can from the tap at the other end of the garden and schlep it down to all the veg. Okay, this is literally a journey of 20ft or so, but it makes a surprisingly huge difference. This year, a water butt is going in to collect rainwater off the greenhouse roof and provide me with a much easier tap to use.

Of course, you don’t have to actually put aside a dedicated bed if you don’t have the space or inclination. Lots of plants can just be grown in regular flower beds, along with your other blooms, and many can look pretty attractive too. Purple kale or rainbow chard makes a good border plant; asparagus tips can pop up in a border before the rest of the plants really get started and a close proximity of flowers and veg helps all those lovely bees come and pollinate for you.

Making a planting plan

Oooh, this is the bit I just love! The expectation, the hopes, the dreams. Yes, I think I’ll put some lovely borlotti beans in there, oooh, let’s have some low growing strawberries there etc etc, as you drool from the mouth in anticipation of the next year’s bounty and imagine how you’ll need to phone your veg box delivery company and cancel the box because you just have so much food to eat…

I tend to draw up a rough plan on the back of envelope before I order my seeds, working out what will go there and how much I can realistically fit in. This (theoretically) prevents you massively over-ordering on the seeds, though I still manage it every year.

Put the tallest plants in the middle of the beds (or the side furthest from the sun) so they don’t overshadow the others. Check the distances needed between the plants (all seed packet info should have this) so you can figure out how many plants per row and how many rows you can fit in.

Think about planting certain things in succession – lettuce can be replanted throughout the year so you always have fresh crops, radishes can be planted in between slower growing crops like cabbage. Maximise your space, but don’t over-ram it. On the whole, plants spaced closer together will grow smaller but potentially more uniformly. This can actually be desirable, if you’re after tiny little baby carrots, for example, but try and make it intentional, rather than a by product of over-planting. (Ha! She says optimistically. I am a terrible one for overplanting because I just want one more little delicious plant in there please…)

Buying seeds

Sure, you could pop down to your local DIY shop and pick up any number of veg seeds these days, but the real specialities tend to be online or in garden centres. I tend to buy a lot from the James Wong selection at Suttons seeds, because I just can’t resist the allure of weird things like cucamelons; a fair bit from Sarah Raven because I just can’t resist the allure of such delightfully styled aspirational gardening and then some heritage seeds from Crocus, which is the online gardening shop I tend to buy most of my plants from. (It’s definitely not the cheapest, but I have never had a duff plant from them and they have some amazing free planting plans for inspiration too…)

There are lots more specialist providers of weird and wonderful things as well, or of course you can use seed you’ve saved yourself (I wrote more about that a few weeks ago: saving seeds) or have blagged from friends.

So, I think that pretty much concludes most of my pearls of wisdom on Autumn planning for a kitchen garden: choose a plot, prep your soil, pore over the seed catalogues, order some things and then feet up until the start of next year when you can begin to stick them in the ground / pots.

I’ve really been enjoying writing some of these gardening posts for the Grow, forage, cook series with Laura. I do hope you’ve been enjoying reading them too! I’d love it if you felt like leaving me a comment and letting me know what you think. It’s a bit of a departure from my usual craft / general life waffle…

Next week, Laura will be rounding up our favourite pics / recipes / blog posts that have been tagged #growforagecook on Twitter or instagram, so do keep on sharing your bakes, makes, preserves, or anything else you’re up to. As the colder weather settles in, my thoughts are turning towards pickling and preserving. But more on that, perhaps, another time…

Grow, forage, cook: planning a kitchen garden

20 Oct

When I took my first horticulture course last year, one of the modules I was looking forward to the least was called “Growing fruit and veg”…

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m not interested in doing just that. It’s that I was already doing just that. Really, I thought, what more could I need to know?

Of course, the answer turned out to be, a helluva lot.

I’d always thought of myself as a “treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen” kind of a gardener. Fertilise the plants? Pfft, what pansies. Plants don’t get fertilised in nature! Water them in a dry spell? C’mon, what nonsense, just use your roots and wait for the next rain!

These ideas can cut it, of course, in a dry garden or low-maintenance garden, planted especially for such principles. But not, it turns out, in a veg patch.

A veg patch, or kitchen garden, even on the smallest scale, is essentially intensive planting. You want every single one of those tomato plants to produce tomatoes, you want each runner bean to grow to the top of the pole and put out a great array of beans. So, you need to give your plants a little help…

(Incidentally, “help” – in the form of watering, fertilising, weeding and pest control – was exactly what I didn’t have any time for this year and is the reason I had such a very disappointing harvest…)

So, for next year, I’m planning myself a mini kitchen garden of my dreams, and I’m planning to do everything by the book (eg, actually try to remember to water my plants this time and save them from the rascal slugs…)

I’ve designated an old flower bed to become a metre squared veg bed and I’m busy drawing diagrams and working out how it will all fit together. As Autumn is the perfect time for advance preparation, I thought I might share some tips and things I’ve learnt in case they’re handy for you too!

Planning a kitchen garden

Cuppa tea and a leek. That’s about all you need for some garden planning…

Planning a veg or kitchen garden:

Raised beds

Raised beds are a great way of growing veg. You can plant closer together as you don’t need to leave space between the plants for weeding or walking. They drain easily, avoiding veg getting water-logged. Heck, if you’ve got rubbish soil in your garden you can even import something completely different to put in raised beds.

The ideal size for a bed is 1m x 4m (or smaller) – that way you can reach into the middle for picking crops or weeding, without trampling on the soil.

Just bear in mind that raised beds will need more watering than a normal ground-level bed, as they do drain more easily. Other than that, there’s not really a good reason not to use them!

You can buy (rather expensive) kits that slot together, or just make some yourself from any timber you can find. Scaffolding planks are ideal as they’re almost the perfect height and you can pick them up pretty cheap…

Preparing the soil

It’s worth planning ahead (eg now!) for what you hope to grow next year. Even though you’re unlikely to plant much until February or so, certain crops need the soil prepared in certain ways. Carrots, for example don’t grow well in freshly manured soil (they’ll split if they hit fresh organic matter) so you’d want to dig that in now, to give it a chance to break down.

Check what conditions your chosen crops like now and you’ve got a good start on getting the plot ready for them: digging out stones, adding manure, perhaps grit if you’ve got heavy soils etc. You could then plant some green manure for the winter, which you’d just dig in to the ground before you sow your seeds next spring.

Choosing what to grow

So, how do you choose what you want to grow? This is especially important if, like me, you’ve only got a small growing area. The best piece of advice I was given was to only grow things you like to eat. It sounds so bleeding obvious, but it was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me… I think there is often a temptation in gardening to feel as if you should be growing the things other people are growing. Oh yes, any gardener worth their salt grows courgettes, so you slave away on a courgette plant, completely forgetting that you’re not massively keen on the taste of them.

This year, I’m going to focus on growing things that are either expensive to buy in shops, or difficult to buy in shops. So asparagus, artichokes, raspberries, blueberries along with some interesting varieties of potatoes and tomatoes.

It’s also wise, at this planning point, to take a look at your soil. Some plants grow less well in certain soils. Cabbages and all brassicas, for example, are prone to a disease called club root in acidic soils. Though you can lime the soil to remove the acidity, this is quite frankly (in my opinion) a massive waste of time and energy. Instead, why not grow things that thrive in an acidic soil, like blueberries. (Okay, if you’ve got your heart set on making your own sauerkraut, blueberries ain’t gonna cut it, so this would probably be a time when a raised veg bed and imported top soil is the way to go…)

Right, good lord, I’ve written a complete tome already, so I’ll break this up into two parts. Check back on Wednesday for more (Edit: Read the second part here about Positioning your plot, Making a planting plan and buying seeds: part two). To be continued…

Do what you love

17 Oct

Phew, what a week! The blog’s been a little quieter than normal as I’ve been otherwise occupied soothing toddlers, solo parenting, thinkin’ reeel deep about what makes me happy and drawing my own hand. Yup.

Drawing of a hand

It looks oddly masculine, doesn’t it?

The sprog was taken down with a bug last week, which he’s yet to recover from, poor little pickle. And if there’s one thing in the world worse to nurse than man flu, it’s toddler illnesses. Goodness that boy has firm ideas of what he wants and what he doesn’t want when he’s under the weather. (What he doesn’t want can generally be summed up as: anything that involves Mummy not paying attention solely to him for a single second…)

Anyway, the poor little thing is back in nursery today, hopefully almost fully recovered and I have a teeny bit of headspace back again.

The illness coincided with a work trip to Portugal for the hubby (not jealous, no, definitely not jealous, no, would definitely not like three whole nights sleeping in a hotel bed the whole night through…) though my lovely Mum came up to help out too, so that was great.

On a more exciting note, I also began a few new courses. I’ve been back at Capel Manor College (where I took my horticulture course last year) to start a short six-week course in Graphics and drawing, the first step to a garden design qualification I’m hoping to do later on.

Drawing of secateurs

Secateurs. Drawn my me. (Copying another drawing, I have to say…)

It’s been rather eye-opening so far. I had expected that we would just be learning about how to draw garden designs (straight lines for the paving, scale plans of patios, nice big swirly circles for bushes and so on), but in fact we spend every afternoon just drawing. Anything! Like chairs, or our hand or a sphere… Our teacher follows the methods in the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which, in brief, posits that everyone can draw, but that we need to let go of our logical parts of the brain (that tells us, for example, that a table is a rectangle) to allow our more creative parts of the brain to actually just look at what’s in front of us and draw it.

Cross hatching

This is just me trying out cross hatching, but I kind of love it the most…

As I’ve always thought that I “can’t do art” (to my endless disappointment, I have to say), I find it really interesting. Each week we break drawing down into small elements, in order to try and help us access this creative, right side of the brain. I drew my hand (above) in the first week, and though I’m certainly still no great artist, I’m quite impressed with the results!

NB, I realise that illustrating this post with my drawings from the course makes me look a bit like a 14-year-old doing a GCSE in art (or perhaps I am being too kind to myself? Maybe art GCSE is a little more progressed than this. I never did one…) And it’s not that I am so proud of my work I just had to show it to you, it’s just that the drawings were to hand and, like I said, time has been tight, so photos of drawings were easily achievable in a short space of time…

Shading spheres

Trying out different ways of shading. Bottom right is in charcoal, wot wot. That’s like the stuff that proper artists use, y’know…

On Monday I also started a month-long online course called Do what you love for life. I’ve mentioned here before that I sometimes struggle trying to hit on one specific focus for this blog, so perhaps it won’t be a surprise to regular readers to hear that the same is true for my life as well…

Though I’m still very happy being a stay at home Mum right now, the finances are starting to pinch very tight, and I’m thinking about what I can do as my next step.

It’s not that I’m short of ideas. Quite the opposite. I have about a million gazillion different ideas of all sorts of things I love doing, and I’m hoping this course will help me focus in a little bit and settle on a specific direction for where to go next with my life.

(Failing that, if anyone has a great idea how I could combine garden design, writing, blogging, making stuff, having a smallholding, owning alpacas and the ever nebulous fabric empire into a well-paid job in which I choose my own hours and always manage to do nursery / school pick ups, then please let me know in the comments, ha ha ha…)

I’ve not actually had time to do more on the course so far than the first few days’ assignments, so I’ll have to do a bit of catching up this weekend, but so far I’m really liking the clarity it’s brought to my many and generally very varied thoughts about what’s important to me.

Finally, if you’ve come here this week looking for my latest Grow, forage, cook post, then my apologies. (What? You haven’t recorded my posting schedule in your calendar?!) My next post will be up, a week late, next week; it’s all about planning a kitchen garden…

In the meantime, if you’ve not seen it already, do head over to Laura’s blog to check out her interview with Rachel from Fore/Adventure to hear all about foraging and the good life in Dorset. I tell you, my friends, at Fore/Adventure they’re already doing what they love for life…

 

In the garden: October

10 Oct

Surrounded by cobwebs, the last of the flowers are just clinging on out in the garden at the moment.

Garden cobweb | Wolves in London

A teeny tiny feather caught in a cobweb

Elated by the sunshine, I took a trip out this morning to photograph the few remaining splashes of colour, to try and hold onto them for as long as possible before the garden takes on its winter coat of unbroken green.

Actually, I love all the different shades of green you can find in a verdant garden, but I would like to add a little more colour as well.

I’m currently agonising over whether to cut down a rather large, browning, overgrown conifer that’s moping about next to our pond and planting some dogwood in its place: Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ (you can see some in my post about trees / shrubs with winter colour from the start of the year). The idea is, the bright red stems in the winter would reflect in the pond and bring a bit of cheer (and contrast) to the otherwise green vistas. (Ha! I’m not sure you can actually use the word “vista” if the total distance you can see is probably about 20ft…)

I had just started to write a lengthy essay explaining to you the pros and cons of the decision, but have deleted the six paragraphs on the grounds that it’s not wildly exciting reading.

Anyway, back to what’s actually there at the moment…

The two pink rose bushes continue to bloom: they deserve an award for outstanding longevity as I think they’ve both been in flower for around six months now.

Pink rose | Wolves in London

This rose must surely be one of the last?

Rose | Wolves in London

I prefer these, less formal, roses…

Meanwhile, my new Rosa rugosa hedge has been making the most glorious red hips.

Rosehip | Wolves in London

Peekaboo

In an equally impressive display, my perennial sweetpea is still (still!) putting out flowers. For the last month or so, I’ve been thinking every bloom I see is the last, only for another to appear a few days later…

Sweet pea | Wolves in London

Incidentally, if anyone knows by looking what type of sweet pea this is, do let me know. I no longer remember what I sowed…

In the back garden, there are lots of bright Hesperantha coccinea by the pond. (More usual name? Not a clue, I’m afraid…) I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of red flowers in the garden, but somehow, once the main summer has passed and we’re into autumn, my opinion changes completely and I am delighted to see such rich colours.

Hesperantha coccinea | Wolves in London

So cheerful

Behind them, my Japanese maple is still looking a little unhealthy, but has managed to put out lots of lovely purpley/red seed pods. What glorious colours!

Acer | Wolves in London

Ignore the brown, curling leaves and just look at the seeds…

And my lovely pink daisies have just put out a second bloom…

Erigeron | Wolves in London

I thought these were over, but some more just appeared

Finally, I just can’t resist sharing this photo of my little photographic assistant. He’s been given use of Daddy’s old camera and has spent much of the past few weeks in poses fairly similar to this one.

I asked him, “Are you taking a photo of Mummy?” and he looked at me quizzically, as if that would be a very odd thing to do, and said, “No! Taking photo of dis plant…” The apples don’t fall far from the tree, eh…

Toddler photographing | Wolves in London

Gardener, cleaner, photographer extraordinaire…

Back on the needles…

7 Oct

My knitting has taken a bit of a back seat these past five months.

After the knitting-nesting frenzy before sproglet mark II was born, my needles have been consigned to the needle holder, evenings these days not given over to knitting a gorgeous blanket, so much as slumping, weary, in front of the TV, too tired to even change the channel if the remote control happens to be out of hand’s reach.

 

Vintage knitting needle roll | Wolves in London

Not in use, but at least resting in nice surroundings…

But no longer, my pretty needles! Autumn is truly here, the days are shorter and colder and knitwear is needed in this house. The elder sprog has outgrown most of his jumpers from last winter so I spent a particularly wonderful 10 minutes last week going through saved cardigan patterns on Ravelry with him, asking him which ones he liked best.

(At two years and two months, he had some pretty firm ideas about which ones he did and didn’t like, which I found particularly endearing. I’m sure in six months or so, it will drive me round the bend when he dismisses clothes out of hand, but for now, his firm, “no like dat colour” makes me want to hug him very tight…)

And so it was the wonder years cardigan by Elizabeth Smith was selected. The sprog liked the stripes, I liked the comfy Grandpa look of it and the leather buttons.

By amazing good fortune, I was lucky enough to win tickets to the Knitting and Stitching Show, taking place later this week at Ally Pally, from the very lovely This Blog is Not For You. What better place to choose some lovely squishy wool?

So, with a bit of luck, evenings from now on will be taken up with hot chocolate, knitting, oh, and still a bit of telly too. I’m all talked out by about 7pm nowadays, so vegging and staring is the only option.

Vintage knitting needles | Wolves in London

A glorious array of plastic!

I’ll let you know how I get on…

P.S. My knitting needle case is rather lovely, isn’t it? It was my Granny’s, acquired when she went into a home, at the same time as the bronze urn on my mantelpiece. I assume that she made it herself — I think the outer fabric was probably from some curtains she had, and the inner one is, I believe, Liberty print. Most of the needles inside were hers as well; I love their fabulous rainbow colours.

Knitting needle roll | Wolves in London

Liberty fabric?

P.P.S. I’ve just realised it’s wool week this week! What a fortuitous post this proves to be. (Well, it would be even more fortuitous if I had actually *knitted* something already, but, still, the thought counts too, right?!)

Related articles:

A few things that have already been actually finished and created fully by the wonders of my needles:

 

Photographing trees

2 Oct

Earlier this year I resolved to spend lots of time this summer photographing (and identifying) trees for my Instagram feed. (See A love of trees for more.)

Now, if you follow me on instagram you can’t fail to have been struck by a simple fact: you haven’t remotely been spammed with hundreds and hundreds of tree pictures.

Why not? It turns out it’s really tough to photograph a tree; decent camera on your phone or not.

Myoung Ho Lee trees

© Myoung Ho Lee

Recently, I came across a wonderful South Korean photographer called Myoung Ho Lee who manages exactly what I couldn’t succeed in doing and I had to share these images with you.

He takes the most awe-inspiring photos, each tree with a simple white sheet hung behind it.

Myoung Ho Lee trees

© Myoung Ho Lee

I never fail to be impressed by trees. Of course, flowers are really great too. They’re pretty and you can arrange them in a vase and suddenly even the dingiest most hovel-like room in your house is transformed into a place of beauty. But there’s something about the immense majesty of trees – their sturdy immovability, great age and refusal to be brought indoors – that makes them my plant of choice every time.

Myoung Ho Lee trees

© Myoung Ho Lee

If ever I’m feeling glum, or bored, or just out-of-sorts for whatever reason, a short walk to the park and a stroll under the canopy of ancient trees always, but always, brings a spring back to my step.

I think that’s why I love these photos so very much. They seem to say: Here it is,  just a tree, on a white background.

Who needs more than that?

All photographs copyright Myoung Ho Lee. See the website of the Yossi Milo Gallery in New York for more photos from the series.

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