Notes from a summer: London Wetland Centre

London Wetland CentreAhoy there! Hello! How are you? It’s been ages, I know. I fell off grid a bit, this August. Technology (such as this dear old laptop on which I write all my blog posts) becoming substantially less appealing than lying outside in the sun on a picnic blanket.

Anyway, such times have come to an end, it seems, with this utterly relentless and miserable rain of the last week, so I’ve finally remembered how to open up Word and plug my camera into the computer to take a look at some pictures I’ve taken over the past few months.

It’s been something of a pottering sort of summer. No big holidays, but the odd weekend away. Few exciting day trips, but lots of time poking around in our garden pond, or building soil castles in the flower beds, or mooching along to the local park.

Still, I have a couple of little gems of visits to share with you so, for the next couple of days, a few notes from summer 2015.

First up, the utterly wonderful London Wetlands Centre. We visited a fortnight ago, when the summer flowers were just reaching their end, and the first hints of autumn were coming in.

Summer planting at London Wetland Centre
Kniphofia, grasses and asters looking abundant
Wood sculpture at London Wetland Centre
I loved this wood sculpture
London Wetland Centre
I shared this pic on instagram, having been astounded at my wondrous photography prowess. Very few people liked it, ha ha. Just goes to show, you never can tell with instagram,

It’s a great spot for kids: acres and acres of lakes, surrounded by long winding paths, perfect for running down and exploring.

(Side note: last time we visited the littlest was still pram-bound only, and I found that a more peaceful experience than our most recent visit when he was off toddling away and I had to keep a close eye to ensure he wasn’t about to leap off into a huge body of water. So if your child is toddling age, perhaps wait six months or so until they really understand why it’s best not to run headfirst at a lake…)

Of course, there’s lots of wildlife to see, of the ducks, birds and otters variety, but I am always especially taken by the glorious plants. It’s naturalistic planting at its best, in my opinion, everything appearing to be growing just where it wants to but – I am sure – in fact carefully planned and designed.

London Wetland Centre
Paths for wandering
London Wetland Centre
All the reflections made me think a lot about what plants are best to sit next to water. There is something lovely about seeing the flickering mirror image upside down of a beautiful plant.

A high point of this trip was discovering three sleepy ducks sitting on a wooden bridge. As we approached, they opened their eyes to take a look at us, but made no attempt to actually move, so I got the chance to photograph them for some time, while the sprogs stared and asked various questions about their feathers, their legs and why they had chosen to go to sleep on a bridge.

Ducks at London Wetland Centre
Zzzzzzz
Duck feathers
Those amazing feathers!

And aren’t these just the sorts of conversations you want to be having on a day out?

Practical info:

  • The Wetland Centre is in Barnes and is run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT).
  • Entrance is £12.75 for an adult or £7 for a child. Various family, concession and membership options also available. I’ve just seen, while checking prices to write this, that you can save 10% by booking online. Doh, if only I realised that before we went.
  • Their website is here: London Wetland Centre
  • There’s a cafe (essential in my eyes) and various activities for children too.

Dresses for girls: homemade baby presents

A momentous event occurred a few weeks ago. My sister gave birth to a baby girl.

Of course, every birth is pretty momentous — a life is begun where before there wasn’t one — but this was especially astounding as the baby was the first of her generation to not be a boy

Homemade baby present, Liberty print dress and bloomers | Wolves in LondonBetween me and my siblings, we’ve so far produced five boys, so the arrival of a little girl into the mix is most exciting.

Also exciting for me was the chance to make some cute little dresses and bloomers. I love my boys (of course, it hardly needs saying) but if there is one thing I miss not having a girl, it’s the chance to sew tiny girl clothes with beautiful Liberty fabrics.

But that chance I now have!

The sewing machine was retrieved from the attic, dusted off and I got to work.

I made two matching sets, both from the same patterns and, sigh, just look, aren’t they sweet?

Homesewn Liberty baby dress and bloomers | Wolves in LondonThe dress is from the Purl Bee tiny triangle dress pattern. It’s a straightforward, though slightly fiddly sew, I found. Ironing 1/4 inch seams onto every edge was a little bit of a faff and I got a bit bored of trying to endlessly measure them to make sure they were straight, so, well, some of them ended up a tiny bit not straight.

Do any more regular sewers have any tips for good ways of going about that?

Liberty print Purl Bee tiny triangle dress | Wolves in LondonAnyway, other than that, it was very simple to put together and the end result looks lovely. I think my only criticism is that, in the wearing though not so much in the photos, the triangle shape is actually a little bit too extreme — it really does stick right out at the sides. This would probably be fine on a standing-up toddler, but on babies who spend their time lying or sitting, then there’s a little bit too much material in the way.

Liberty print bloomers | Wolves in LondonBloomer cuffThe bloomers are made from a free pattern by Sewing Mama RaeAnna on Craftsy and I was utterly, completely delighted with these. They look way more complicated than they were to make, just using some elastic round the waist and legs to get that cute gathering, and I sewed them up in no time. If I ever have another summer baby (boy or girl) I will definitely be making loads of these as nappy covers as they are seriously adorable.
Green Liberty bloomers | Wolves in LondonThe fabric for both is a Liberty tana lawn*. The designs are called Capel L (the green flowery one) and Lola Weisselberg (the purple, more ornate pattern). The first is available on the Liberty website, though I can’t find the second. I have to confess, I bought both from eBay.

To go with the dresses I had to – of course – make some personalised babygrows using my go-to fabric transfer paper method. I made her older brother a set of printed babygrows when he was born (you can see them here: a very important arrival) and I wanted her to have some of her own as well.

(Please excuse the rather crappy photos, I always have difficulty photographing these: invariably, parts of the babygrow are blown out, while the background looks grey and under-exposed. Three years of making these and I still can’t take a decent photo of them…)

Anteater babygrow homemade | Wolves in LondonTulip babygrow | Wolves in LondonA is for... babygrow | Wolves in LondonThe tulips are a Graphics Fairy image; I just couldn’t resist using some more flowers since I rarely have the chance to put lots of flowers onto my boys clothes. (Not that the sproglets don’t love them, actually, so maybe I should break away from all the gender stereotyping.) The As because her name starts with A. The anteater is from an amazing vintage alphabet I first found years ago, but use at every possible opportunity I get. The French A is from a new discovery: a partial vintage alphabet, also free from copyright.

And that’s the complete set: a load of teeny, tiny, flowery little girl clothes. I’m already planning what to make her for Christmas…

*I realised as I wrote this that I didn’t actually have a clue what “tana lawn” meant, so I have just Googled it to find out that the Tana is for Lake Tana in East Africa where the original cotton grew, and “lawn” is used to describe a fabric made with high count yarns; the Liberty tana lawn is made “without the use of crease-resisting chemicals or irritating allergens, the result is a famous masterpiece of fabric technology: fine, cool, comfortable and durable, with brilliant reproduction of colours and prints.” Which all sounds wonderful, but does explain why I found the fabric creased a lot as I sewed it and I had to constantly iron it out. Not really an ideal quality for an item of baby clothing it has to be said. I did also find, as a very amateur sewer, that the slightly silky quality to the fabric made it a little trickier to sew. But will no doubt be lovely to wear…

Food collaging: my July harvest

July harvest | Wolves in LondonI’m completely addicted to taking courses.

Photography, blogging, garden design, how to rear alpacas… …you name it, if I’m half interested and there’s a course I could possibly take, chances are I’m going to sign up.

(I often think that if I won the lottery, the best thing of all would just be to take endless courses, learning ever-more-esoteric things, until I pop my clogs and depart this earth. What a heavenly way that would be to spend my days.)

Anyway, when I discovered Skillshare recently, a repository of short (about 30 min) online classes I was immediately hooked. The first thing to catch my eye was a course on food collaging, by Julie Lee of Julie’s Kitchen. (The class is here, if you’re similarly inclined: styling food for instagram.)

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might recall that I used to do a monthly garden moodboard. I really loved it, but after 18 months or so I felt like I had already photographed every single plant in my garden so many times that I’d run out of ways to come up with anything new. So I stopped.

But I thought I’d resurrect these moodboards for the summer months this year, just to show off the highlights of my veg patch.

Following the tips and hints on the course, I put together my first moodboard: purples and greens from my garden in July. This is the pic I posted to my instagram account:

July food collage | Wolves in LondonI’ve got to say, I’m pretty happy with this photo. I mean, both with the photo and with the foodstuffs contained therein. Something that constantly amazes me is the absolute beauty of fruit and veg you’ve grown yourself. I’m sure it’s just the same as the way you think your own kids are the most gorgeous people ever to have walked this earth, but having sown, watered and cared for these little veggies for the past few months, I can’t help but marvel at their delicacy, the intricate patterns and beautiful colours.

Come, take a closer look with me.

Borlotti pod | Wolves in LondonBorlotti pod open | Wolves in LondonBorlotti beans | Wolves in LondonI’m a huge fan of the borlotti bean, despite the fact I fail, spectactularly, every single year to actually grow enough to make more than one single meal.

You could argue that one meal for months of tending a plant is really crappy pay off. And, I have to say, I’m inclined to agree with you. But no matter how many of these I think I’ve planted every year, I always lose hundreds of the plants to slugs and each plant only produces ten or so beans (at least the way I’m growing them…)

Every time I’ve planted them in the ground I’ve lost the entire crop to the voracious slimy beasts, so I keep them in pots now, with a line of copper tape at the top, but I still somehow managed to lose about a quarter of the crop. In fact, the beans in this photo make up the large majority of my entire yearly harvest.

Ah well, small numbers they might be, but just look at them! Surely the most beautiful bean ever to have been created?

Yin yang beans | Wolves in LondonA first for me this year was the yin yang bean (erm, you can see a pattern here, can’t you? Namely that I like a bean with a pattern…) Black and white mottling on the bean inside a green (turning to yellow) pod. It’s another glorious little thing.

Tomatillo | Wolves in LondonRipe tomatillo | Wolves in LondonTomatillo peeled | Wolves in LondonAlso new for me this year is the tomatillo. Basically, a tomato that grows inside its own casing, just like a Chinese gooseberry. Once the tomatillo inside fills the case and starts to burst out a little then you know it’s ready to eat. (Unlike a tomato, they don’t ever turn red.) You can peel back the papery case (which is covered in the most wonderful purpleish veins) and use the tomato inside. They need to be cooked before you eat them but other than that, they seem to taste pretty much the same as a tomato. Apparently, they’re a staple in Mexican cooking. I’ve got five plants growing and they seem to produce a lot of tomatillos each, so I should have a really decent harvest of these.

Garlic bulb | Wolves in LondonI’m not sure I’ve grown the garlic right — again the first year for me ever growing it. The leaves have gone yellow and started to wilt, which is the sign for pulling them up, but the garlic heads themselves are still very small. Still, I’ve been using the heads whole and they still seem to taste pretty good. I’ve been hugely fascinated by that light sheen of purple iridescence on the papery skins ever since I pulled them out of the ground last week, losing myself in the odd reverie, wondering at their beauty, in the middle of the kids’ tea, or when I’m meant to be making a sandwich. Beetroot | Wolves in London

Finally, and a little more prosaically, the humble beetroot. Root veg to end all root veg. The veg that some people claim tastes of nothing but dirt. Personally, I love it. Love, love, love the sweet taste of a roasted beetroot, the bright purple insides that bleed onto anything they touch and the green and purple veined leaves that taste a little bit overly “healthy” but bulk out a salad in times of need. Another mighty handsome vegetable in my opinion.

So there they, all photographed for posterity. A good thing, actually, since I’ve already devoured every last one: turned into a big ratatouille last week. Yum.

Next month I hope to have a huge selection of tomatoes to show you. The six different varieties I’m growing this year all seem to be coming along nicely and the first ones are turning red right now. Hoorah for homegrown.

Feasting on sour cherries: morello cherry compote recipe

It was a bumper harvest from our little morello cherry tree this year.

We planted it two years ago, in the front garden, and – until now – it had spectacularly failed to either grow a lot or produce very much fruit.

But, back in Spring, I was excited to see the branches weighted down with blossom and I had a good hope for enough fruit to do more with than my usual annual bottle of cherry vodka.

Cherry blossom
Photo taken from my instagram account, apologies to those who have seen it before…

I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, so low-slung were the branches from the mountains of cherries that I feared they might never regain their normal shape again.

Picking cherries
I couldn’t resist showing you the perfect match between my nails (in an extremely rare manicured moment) and the cherries…
Sproglet and cherries
“Take a photo of my hands and the cherries too please Mummy”

After a good cherry harvest (with excellent help from the littles) we were left with a giant bowl of cherries, ready to cook up and turn into something fabulous.

Morello cherry bowl
Our fruit bowl piled high with the bounty

Morello cherries, despite looking fabulously glossy, red and biteable, are actually quite sour and can’t be eaten without cooking and / or adding a large dollop of sugar.

I ummed and ahhed with the idea of cherry jam or a cherry pie, but in the end settled for a huge batch of compote since it can be added to so many other things.

Morello cherry compote
Such a spectacular coloured compote…

It’s hardly even a recipe, so simple is it to make, but here it is written down for anyone interested.

  1. Wash and halve cherries and remove pips.
  2. For every 300g of cherries, add 50g of sugar
  3. Place cherries and sugar in a pan, with a tablespoon of water for every 300g.
  4. Cook, over a gentle heat, for about 10 minutes, until the fruit is soft but hasn’t lost its shape.

You could eat the compote hot, with something like a chocolate or rice pudding, or let it cool and keep it in the fridge for a couple of weeks and turn it into any number of other wonderful things.

I used some of mine to make ice cream, by using our ice cream maker to churn a tub of natural yoghurt, then adding a bit more sugar and a few tablespoons of the cherry compote right at the end.

Most delicious though, was this layered pudding, made with a layer of the compote followed by a layer of crème fraiche and then repeated. I didn’t have ay amaretti biscuits, but some crumbled over the top would have made it even more toothsome.

Cherry compote and creme fraiche
Two minutes to make, but beautiful to look at…

And so, until next year, our morello cherry harvest is eaten up and I just have the odd snifter of cherry vodka to remind me of the tastes of early summer. I needn’t feel too sad though, for the plums and apples are ripening on the tree and I have the promise of an equally delicious plum and apple compote soon enough…

A bit of this and a bit of that

June in photos
Bits and pieces from June

These long, drowsy, lethargic days of summer tend to disappear in a bit of a haze, the weeks melding together. June is over before I’d hardly realised it had begun.

Emails back up in my inbox awaiting replies; text messages go unanswered for weeks; my laptop is checked perfunctorily in the evenings. Any spare moments I have are spent, instead, watering the thirsty plants in the greenhouse, trying to fix the puncture in the paddling pool or just gazing out of the window into the cloudless blue sky, daydreaming about this or that.

And so it is, a good few weeks have passed since I last wrote anything on this little blog. I thought it was high time to swing by and tell you a few of the things we’ve been up to since my last post.

The hubby and I spent a few childfree days in Wiltshire last week, while we did a little bit of house-hunting. We’ve long had ambitions to move to the country and start a smallholding, and – with the sproglet starting school next September – it seems like something we should probably try and sort out in the next year.

We checked out a few areas and are probably honing in towards somewhere close to Malmesbury. But I think we’ll return, with kids, in a few weeks to really check everything out en famille.

We also visited an alpaca breeding farm and found out all about the logistics of having alpacas, another dream of mine. I’ve got to say, they were outrageously fluffy and adorable and just so incredibly soft up close. Once we have a bit of space for them, a little family herd of alpacas will definitely be lolloping into our lives.

The sproglet, especially, is very excited about the prospect of having alpacas and pigs and goats in his garden, and I am planning a vegetable garden with glee. There’s really nothing like summer to make you yearn for a bit of country air.

We popped into Bath one afternoon too and I finally managed to get in a visit to the Foodie Bugle, where I mostly splurged on wooden-handled kitchen brushes. I think I could have quite happily bought up the entire shop though.

Back at home, the current “vegetable garden” (AKA small bed and part of the greenhouse) is prolific at the moment. I’ve been picking rondo carrots almost every day: a gorgeous fat little round carrot (as the name suggests), that’s perfect for growing in pots. This is my first year trying them. The verdict so far: simple to grow and they look gorgeous, but I have to say they don’t have the best ever carrot flavour that I’ve ever tasted. Anyone else tried them and have thoughts on that?

The borlotti beans are also starting to swell, but I lost a big collection of yin yang beans to slugs, so I’ve copper taped the top of the pots in the hope that might help.

The greenhouse is pretty much completely taken over with tomatoes; all five varieties going great guns now. I think I’ve probably got something like 50 individual plants. I have great plans for enough passata to last us through the winter…

And finally, a few weeks ago now, I made my way up to Hampstead to visit the Grow London fair. I somehow managed to win tickets from Gardens Illustrated, which was an unexpected pleasure, so I set off there for the charity preview on the Thursday evening.

It was good fun, but I was glad I hadn’t expected to spend an entire day there, since my sister and I had wandered the stalls within about an hour. Lots of aspirational / inspirational gardening items for sale. I was very taken with all of the teeny weeny succulents in tiny concrete pots. Very OTM as Grazia would say, no doubt.

Perhaps the most fun thing, though, was just chatting with all the stallholders and saying, “oh yes, I’m training to be a garden designer at the moment”… It made me feel, for the first time, as if I really might be about to properly change career and actually do it.

So, there we have it, a bit of this and a bit of that. Proper, structured, specific posts to follow again at some point soon, I promise. Just not until this glorious heat has passed.

PS photos above all from my instagram feed, so apologies if you’ve seen them before.

At Blogtacular

BlogtacularConferences don’t tend to be my cup of tea.

For a start, the cups of tea are always tiny. You have to drink at least three to equal a normal mug size.

But it’s not the tiny teas that are the worst thing. Not by a long shot. It’s all the bloody networking. It reminds me of the very first work party I ever attended in my first job after uni.

I was working for a newspaper and the work party happened to be taking place a fortnight after I had started. Nervous enough already (of being in an office; of being expected to know how to do things like filing and replying to emails and generally behaving like an adult), the thought of having to stand and sip champagne and make small talk with all these deeply intelligent journalists, whose photo bylines I had been looking at for years, was absolutely terrifying.

I arrived at the party, and stood at the back, clutching a glass of champagne and talking to the next most junior person in the office.

He filled me in on some gossip, we had a bit of a laugh and I started to unwind. And then after ten minutes he cheerfully declared, “Well, there’s no point standing here and talking to you, is there? I must go and network now and see what prospects I can get lined up.”

I swear, it honestly took me a good minute to realise he wasn’t joking.

But Blogtacular, the blogging conference I went to yesterday (of my own volition!) isn’t anything like that, of course.

Yes, there are the faces you recognise from the About pages, the bloggers you’ve followed for years and deeply admire, the same sense of trepidation on entering the room with everybody else chatting and laughing.

But Blogtacular is billed as a place of creativity where people can come together. And this year, 2015, the overriding theme was collaboration.

It was a packed day, almost overwhelmingly so, and there is really far too much to try and squeeze into one blog post. Plus, I know there are likely to be hundreds of posts popping up over the next few weeks with all sorts of information about the event.

So, rather than a full account of what I did, here is just a gathering of some of the things I found most inspiring.

  • In a completely fabulous talk about food styling and photography, Marte Marie Forsberg shared this poem, which I found so unbelievably beautiful as it popped up on the projector that I had to subtly brush away a tear. (Luckily, I was sitting in the front row, so I don’t think anyone noticed me blubbing…)

Tea for Two (A Tragedy)
For Richard Brautigan, who couldn’t be with us

It wasn’t until after
I poured the second cup
that I realized
I was alone.

Post-event Googling, I’ve discovered it is by Pamela August Russell. Beautiful, taut and haunting.

  • Grace Bonney’s opening talk about harnessing fear of change was filled with fabulous soundbites. Perhaps my favourite was her belief that a blog “isn’t just about more, more, more…” We shouldn’t be on a constant mission to increase the numbers; more readers, more likes, more shares. But instead, we should be searching for “an engaged reader” – someone who gets us, is interested in what we have to say, and wants to come back time and again.
  • I went to a second talk by Marte Marie Forsberg on creativity and inspiration. She told us that in her house when she was growing up there was a craft room, referred to by the family as The Blue Room, that was filled with everything you could need to be creative in any imaginable discipline. Every Monday evening, parents and children sat down together for a few hours of making. I was practically texting my husband to demand an extension to our house asap, so we can do the same.
  • And a final thought from Marte Marie: “Creativity is just about problem solving.”
  • Cate Sevilla from Buzzfeed took part in a panel discussion about growing your audience. She was fabulous and direct and had a brilliant point of view on just about everything that was discussed. Including: “You can’t grow an audience by doing the same thing over and over again.”
  • The closing keynote presentation was by Anthony Peters, who showed a trailer for his film, “Made you look”. It contained the most excellent quote:

“Twitter’s a bit like shouting into a cupboard, or talking into a cupboard… No-one hears you. No-one cares.”

Ha! My sentiment, exactly.

  • As well as the talks, I met lots of really lovely bloggers, some of whom I felt I already knew well having read their blog for ages, some of whom were new discoveries. But, I’m restricting myself to telling you about just one awesome person I met: Sarah from A Life Less Physical. I got chatting to Sarah at the very start of the day and she was witty, dry and refreshingly honest. After having a good read of her blog this morning, I can say she writes in the same way. Do check it out.

So, across the day, a huge great wallop in the face of inspiration, ideas and things to mull over for where I want this blog to go and what I can do to take it there. (Regular readers will know I’m already prone to somewhat constant blog navel gazing, so I’m hoping I don’t fall into a rabbit hole for too long and remember, instead, the main thing: just keep writing.)

And the best thing of all: every single person I spoke to seemed genuine and interested. And not a single one told me they needed to end a gossipy conversation in order to go and network with someone more important.

Links:

Blogtacular

Marte Marie Forsberg photography (If I happen to have a lottery win before October, I will be booking myself a place on this Venice food and photography course!)

Grace Bonney’s Design*Sponge

Cate Sevilla at Buzzfeed

The trailer for Made you look

A Life Less Physical

Bishop’s palace and gardens

Perhaps this is a terrible indictment on the state of education in the UK, but the extent of my knowledge about the bishop of Bath and Wells (of whom, presumably, there have been many) is his appearance in Blackadder.

You know the one, the “baby-eating Bishop of Bath and Wells” who turns up and demands money owed to him by Blackadder, but is instead painted in a compromising position with Percy. Ah classic Blackadder, how I used to love that show when I was younger.

Wells Cathedral | Wolves in London
No babies consumed here

Anyway, I’d love to tell you that my recent trip to the Bishop’s Palace and Gardens, right next to Wells Cathedral, gave me the chance to learn loads of factually accurate non baby-eating information, but actually I just spent a lovely morning there wandering round the gardens and looking at trees and plants.

Ah well, I’m clearly just not up for edukashun on a brilliantly sunny day.

We have lots of family in Wells, so we go down there fairly frequently, yet I’d never spent much time before wandering round the town. It’s a truly beautiful place; a lovely old market town with some glorious views and, of course, there’s the famous cathedral and the adjacent palace and gardens.

Bishops Palace | Wolves in London
Wall of the Great Hall

Parts of the palace are still intact and inhabited, though the Great Hall is just a rather picturesque wall. An enthusiastic guide told us, as we came in, that the Victorians pulled the hall down intentionally as they thought it would look better as a ruin. Gung-ho, to be sure, but I agree with them that it did look rather spectacular; the cathedral beyond framed in the windows…

Bishops Palace and Gardens | Wolves in London Bishops Palace WellsWe wandered round the gardens, the sproglet and his cousin having a lovely time examining the flowers and bees.

Wells cathedral | Wolves in LondonBishops Palace and Gardens | Wolves in LondonFlowers | Wolves in LondonThe planting was really lovely, and I’m rather regretting now that I didn’t take a few notes about some of the things that were there.

Oh but I could cheerfully spend every sunny day wandering round a garden and looking at flowers. Here’s to plenty more this summer, please.

Cotswold Wildlife Park: where garden design meets rhinos

Over the half term week we had a holiday – of sorts – down in Somerset.

Clanville Manor
The sproglet is rushing ahead to open the door and let us in to our holiday cottage

I say “of sorts” as the kids were both a little bit grouchy and clingy for much of the week and I returned home feeling somewhat exhausted.

We were staying in a wonderful, atmospheric holiday cottage with a huge, child-friendly garden (The Tallet at Clanville Manor, above, for anyone interested – not sponsored, just a genuinely lovely place). But the sproglets always take a little while to adjust to new surroundings and we really spent far too much time driving around in the car and trying to squeeze in naps ad hoc for their liking.

One of these days, I’m sure, we’ll crack that magic family holiday formula of doing just enough of the things to keep them happy and just enough of the (interesting) things to keep us happy…

Anyway, apart from the clinginess, we had a great time. As well as catching up with family and friends, we took a couple of day trips.

The first was to Cotswold Wildlife Park and, my goodness, if you are ever in the area I urge you to go, go, go!

Cotswold Wildlife Park
Oh yeah, that’s a rhino wandering across the front lawn
Cotswold Wildlife Park
The manor house

If you were to draw a Venn diagram of the interests of this family, then I think this place would sit firmly in the centre of it.

Loads of animals: tick. Beautiful planting and gardens: tick. A gigantic playground: tick. A stunning old manor house hosting brass rubbing: tick. An orangery where you can eat your lunch: tick. A miniature train: tick.

The layout of the place is fabulously quirky; lots of the animal enclosures bordered only by electric wires rather than solid fences. So it is that the rhinos appear to be simply grazing on the front lawn, surrounded by huge flower beds stuffed full of alliums.

Bedding at Cotswold Wildlife Park
I’m not usually a fan of bedding, but who can resist this riot of colour?
Tropical planting at Cotswold Wildlife Park
Yes, this really is in England…
Meerkat at Cotswold Wildlife Park
Strange little things…

In the walled garden, tropical planting was enjoying the microclimate, alongside some meerkats and the sloth enclosure. (And if you’re anything like me, the combination of the words “walled garden” and “sloth enclosure” would be enough to have you jumping into the car before finishing reading this paragraph, ha ha. But wait, wait, there’s more!)

Particular favourites of ours were the giraffes (such incredible, yet elegant creatures), some fabulously grumpy looking camels, their winter coats just starting to hang off them, and this lovely red panda hiding at the top of a tree…

Red panda at Cotswold Wildlife Park
Shy? Me?

We were only there for three hours or so in the morning, on the way down between Oxfordshire and Somerset, but we all wished we could have stayed the whole day. I think we may well be making a return trip as a treat for the sproglet’s birthday this summer…

Part two of our hol, featuring the wonderful Bishops Palace gardens in Wells, later in the week.

PS, Please excuse the slightly crappy nature of the photos. As you can see, it was a rather gloomy day and the light wasn’t great for taking pictures. But it was such a brilliant place, I just had to tell you all about it anyway…

You call this June?

June eh? I’ve got to confess, I’ve had the heating on these past two evenings. And looking out of the window, I can see that one of my tomato plants has been blown over in the winds. Sigh. Good old English summers…

Moaning aside, I dashed out of the back door the other evening, and took a few shots of the garden in between the showers. It’s been a while since I’ve taken any photos out there, but everything has been growing quite well recently, especially the veg. Anyway, come and see:

Flower bed
This is by far the worst photo in the post, so please keep reading. Why, in fact, am I even putting it at the top?!

Only one of my flower beds is even a little bit planted up. (We’re contemplating moving house this year (I know, I know! It seems a bit insane, but there we go…) and if not, then I plan to re-design the entire garden next year, once I’ve finished my garden design training. So, it seemed a bit silly to spend lots of time putting plants into beds only to either leave or have to dig them all out in a year.) This is that bed. On the left is the wallflower (Erysimum ‘Bowles mauve’) that I bought last year.

Allium christophii going to seed
The last of the flowers just clinging on

The alliums have been amazing (Allium giganteum) but by the time we got back from holiday, they were starting to go to seed. I do love the seed heads too, so they will stay in situ as long as they don’t get too windswept.

White allium
Can anyone identify?

And I think these are white allium, just about to bloom. I remember, vaguely, planting them last Autumn, but not exactly what they were.

Erigeron karvinskianus
Undoubtedly one of my all time favourite flowers

At the bottom, are lots of wonderful Mexican fleabane, aka daisies, aka Erigeron karvinskianus. I planted it all last year and it’s doing really well now. I just adore the way they turn pink as they get older.

Stachys byzantina and raindrop
Look at the amazing fine hairs

Also at the front of the bed, I procured some lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) on my recent trip to Painshill Park. I say “procured” which sounds as if I stole it, but I’m not that much of a rule-breaker and I just bought it from the shop. It’s one of my favourite plants ever (so very very very soft!) so I am pleased to finally have some in the garden. Of course, I will need to divide and increase the solitary plant I’ve put in and try to make a proper little clump of them at the front.

Pink geranium
I have the name of this kicking around somewhere, but it’s not to hand

Also recently purchased (from Eltham Palace, this time), this rather delicate looking pink geranium is currently in my window box, but I’m planning on moving it into this bed eventually too.

Campanula and forget-me-nots
You can leave this well alone and it will just keep on coming up, year after year, perfectly happy

There’s also a fair bit of campanula with the odd forget-me-not still going strong. Some say these are weeds, but as far as I am concerned, any plant that produces gorgeous flowers and is just happy looking after itself is very welcome in my garden.

Raindrop on sweet pea leaves
I wish now I had an even-more-macro lens

Elsewhere, I’m hardening my sweet peas off outside and found these little rain drops sitting in the leaves. Rather lovely.

Tomato Super Marmande
Just starting to unfurl…

The tomatoes are all just starting to flower. I can’t remember if I said before, but I’m growing many different varieties this year (Super Marmande, Gardener’s Delight, Tigerella, Tumbling Tom Yellow and some tomatilloes as well…) The one above is a Super Marmande, which I’ve not grown before. The flowers appear in the most amazing way: what seems to be a gigantic flower bud comes out at the very top of the stem, then slowly, it peels back and separates to reveal several individual flowers all on tiny stalks. Rather fascinating to watch.

Greenhouse
No longer such a beast

And finally, do you remember how, last year, I planned to spruce up my greenhouse? It’s not yet a finished result (I plan to artfully string some more bits and pieces from the outside, and hopefully give it a paint job as well) but here’s a little “in progress” shot for you. It’s definitely improving from the monstrosity it was before. Maybe next week I’ll take you a little tour inside…

Turning one

We’re just back from a lovely week in Somerset and I’ve got lots of photos I want to share with you of some of the beautiful places we visited. However, since I think I would need to change this blog’s name to Gardens wot I have visited if I were to follow on with yet another garden visit post, I’ll save them up for next week. This, instead, is something I found sitting in my drafts, written a month ago when it actually had just been the littlest’s birthday and then left as I had wanted to get some better pictures. I think it’s time to admit defeat on that front and just publish it…

Just popping in rather quickly to share a photo of the T-shirt I made for the littlest’s first birthday at the weekend.

 

Homemade birthday top
Oh glorious baby chubbiness!

I’m thinking of turning it into a bit of a tradition, this birthday T-shirt thing. Do you remember the top I made for the sproglet’s second birthday last July?

Needless to say, far less time, thought, planning and energy went into the making of this one for the poor old baby. Where the sproglet had a large, well-planned and well-cooked-for first birthday party, last Saturday’s affair was a family only, last-minute organised do, catered by a quick trip to Waitrose to pick up sausages, scotch eggs and the like. We managed to make him a cake, at least, but forgot to buy candles.

Homemade birthday t-shirt
Crumpled and creased, post-action

And as the first guest arrived – my Mum – I was still busy ironing the image onto the front of his birthday T-shirt, cobbled together in the last few minutes before the party officially started.

Ah well, I rather suspect this will be his lot for the rest of his childhood. Hand-me-downs and less fuss made over all the big milestones. I wonder if it might not be a much easier entrance to the world, though, always aware that you’re not actually at the very centre of it, making it all spin round. At some point in time, his elder brother, the sprog, might get a rather rude awakening to all that, after the constant adoration and amazement from his family.

Gorgeous boys, both, in their different ways. I’m very lucky.

PS, I should mention that the image I’ve used isn’t actually copyright free and good for reproduction, so, erm, don’t tell on me. In a bit of a rush, rather than use my normal vintage images sources, I just had a very quick Google.

PPS, If you’ve not already seen it and want to make your own T-shirts (or anything else at all), check out my tutorial for how to print on fabric.