A few thoughts on sunshine

Plant in sunshine

I got up this morning with a spring in my step.

The sun was shining.

I took the kids to nursery. The houses looked beautiful. Rays of early morning winter sunshine made the streets golden. I stopped to photograph some window boxes on my way home.

Life was good.

Friday is my “day off.” The day when the kids are out, but I’m at home. A day to catch up on homework for my course, emails, blog stuff. Time to take photos. Drink tea. Watch the chickens from the window.

La la la la la. I pottered about the house, drinking my first cup of tea, looking at the sunlight on the vase of flowers on the landing.

I went outside to photograph the magnolia.

La la la la. It’s sunny, I can do anything I want with the day.

I set up my camera on the tripod to take a photo of myself reading for my February book post. The sun was starting to disappear behind the clouds.

I worked more quickly, keen to get a photo before the sunlight disappeared. The camera wouldn’t go onto the tripod. I had to go upstairs to get a different lens. I tried to set the shot up. The rug looked weird in the frame. The wires for the router wouldn’t stay hidden.

Quick, quick, quick, jump on the sofa, grab a book, set the timer. Snap.

Good god! I look so old! I look so jowly! I look so tired. No, no, no, no, this won’t do at all. I won’t take a photo of myself today, I am too exhausted and odd-looking today.

What shall I do instead? I gazed out of the window. The sun had completely vanished behind the clouds.

I made another cup of tea. I felt grumpy. The house felt cold.

I turned on the lights.

I turned on the heating.

I tried to write a blog post. It was boring; who wants to know what pictures I have on my walls?

I thought it was really time to settle down to work on my assignment for my garden design course.

I couldn’t quite be bothered.

I faffed around on Etsy looking for a nice poster to go on the wall above the sofa. Nothing was perfect.

I felt more grumpy. I made some more tea. I looked out of the window.

The clouds have completely covered the sky. There’s no blue left. The sun is MIA.

I made another cup of tea. I sat down and wrote this on the sofa.

I’m going to do my work for my assignment now. Honest.

A chunky, earthy toddler jumper

Handknit chunky boys jumper, free pattern
Breadstick: model’s own

Handknit toddler jumper, free pattern

Never has anything I’ve knit been met with such enthusiasm as this chunky green and mustard jumper.

Before I had even got the wool on the needles the sproglet was already endearingly excited about the prospect of a new jumper.

Me: “Sproglet, would you like it if I knitted you a new jumper this winter?”*

Sproglet: [face lights up with look of utter delight and disbelief] “A jumper?! For me?! Wot you would knit me?! Really?!”

Me: [slightly disarmed by enthusiasm] “Erm, yes, shall we choose a pattern together?”

Sproglet: [flings arms around me in joy] “Oh yes please Mummy, that would be brilliant!”

Handknit toddler jumper, free pattern

After such an unexpectedly amazing first response, I thought things could only possibly go downhill from there (you know, with a finished result of a jumper that was absolutely never taken out of the drawer) but every few mornings he would ask to check on my latest knitting and say endearing things like, “Oh Mummy, I love the back!” as I showed him each part.

The finished result was just as appreciated and after he tried it on for the first time (and told me how it was his favourite thing ever) he asked, “Am I really allowed to keep it and wear it?” as if I might have just given him something incredibly precious to touch for a few minutes before whisking it away back to a vault somewhere.

Handknit toddler jumper, free pattern

Now, whenever he is wearing it (which is most days) and someone compliments him on it, he always, but always replies, “My Mummy knitted it for me” with a big proud smile on his face.

Adorable. Unexpected. And utterly adorable.

Anyway, a few notes on the jumper itself for any other knitters out there.

I followed the Nantasket pattern by Berocco, which is free and available here on Ravelry. I’m also pretty pleased with the end result: the stitch pattern on the torso looks fabulous, it’s a (fairly) good fit and looks really lovely and like one of those handknits that you could have potentially bought from a very expensive shop (rather than the kind of handknits that you might have bought for 30p from a charity shop because someone’s Granny made it for them in the 80s, badly, and they never wanted to wear it. I have made a few of those in my early knitting days…)

However, though I was pleased with the jumper once finished, I did have a few issues with the pattern.

Firstly, it is by far the vaguest knitting pattern I have ever read. It includes such useful instructions as, for example, “purl the next row, decrease by 28 stitches”, with no indication of where to make the decreases. Which meant I spent ages trying to work out how frequently to purl stitches together in order to make an even decrease from 77 to 49 stitches.

Overall, I spent quite a lot of time figuring out exactly how obey the instructions in the pattern, when I would have much preferred everything to be written out properly for me. But then, that’s what you get with a free pattern I guess…

Handknit toddler jumper, free pattern

Handknit toddler jumper, free pattern

The arms also came up very skinny – I had to frog the first one and re-knit because it just looked like there was no way I could get them round a toddler’s actual arms, and a skinny toddler at that.

And the neckline is pretty tight, though that could well be a problem with my casting off too tightly.

Other than that, I followed the pattern pretty much exactly, though I made the ribbing at the waist, arms and neck a contrasting yellow, which looks rather brilliant (she says, humbly).

Back of a handknit jumper, free patternHandknit toddler jumper, free pattern

As for the yarn, that is absolutely stunning, soft and delicious. It’s Wendy Aspire Chunky, which is 80% pure wool and 20% alpaca and you can really feel it. It’s knitted up thick and soft and made the perfect cold weather jumper. The colours are rich and earthy (they haven’t come out as nicely in the photos as they actually look in real life). But it is very prone to pilling – most of these photos are from the second wear and you can see the little bobbles covering it already. Not the end of the world, but it does mean I spend a lot of time trying to get rid of them…

I’ve gone into even more detail about the exact changes I made to knit the jumper over on Ravelry, so if you want even more details then head over there: Nantasket jumper

Now, I have a hat to complete that I promised someone before Christmas and then I think I’m going to try out a blanket from We Are Knitters to go with our new sofa.

Knit, knit, knit, knit, knit, knit…

Are you working on anything nice at the moment?

* No, you’re right, I don’t actually call him that to his face…

Behind the scenes

Photographing leavesI was sorting through some of the gazillion photos on my laptop this morning and I thought it might amuse you to see some of the behind the scenes “help” I get from the older of my two eager assistants when I’m taking photos for this blog or instagram.

The younger assistant, actually, is always so very eager to help — in the form of grabbing my camera or playing with whatever I’m trying to photograph — that I tend to ensure any snapping takes place during his naptime…

The oldest sproglet, however, is absolutely fascinated by the weird things I sometimes do, like arrange leaves in a pattern and then take photos of them. He always wants to join in, so we have a deal that if he stays out of the way while I take a photo, then it’s his turn next.

Photographing leaves

He’s got what you might refer to as a “distinctive” style – he’s a big fan of using filters and likes to include a limb of his own in shot. Ideally a foot. Basically, he’s your perfect early instagram user…

Levels of patience, though, are possibly even worse than mine when things don’t go well. I’m often distracted from whatever I’m trying to photograph by him screaming in frustration because something has slightly moved position or won’t lay as flat as he wants. Ah the artistic temperament.

Photographing leaves

The only problem is if I’m in a rush and only have time to get a couple of shots. I really wanted to photograph the beautiful patterns on this feather from our chicken, Ginger. (Or “fleather” as the sproglet calls them, as in, “flowers and fleathers”…) But with only a minute to spare, this was the best I could manage:

Feather and finger

Actually, that’s pretty cute too, isn’t it?

A green, green Valentines: 5 DIY presents for plant lovers

5 Valentine's Day DIYs perfect for plant lovers | Wolves in LondonHoly moley, the year suddenly seems to be flying by and we’re into February already. And the start of Feb can mean but one thing: the imminent arrival of Valentine’s Day, that gigantic commercial event to make you part with lots of cash.

I’m not normally a big fan of celebrating Valentine’s (could you have already guessed that?!) but I do love a small, thoughtful, ideally handmade gesture and if there are plants involved, why, all the better!

So I bring you my five favourite plant-related tutorials / ideas for Valentine’s Day.

My hubby is not such a plant lover as I am (read: has no interest in plants whatsoever) but if you have a green-fingered lover in your life, these would go down a treat.

  1. Talking cacti, from Look What I Made

5 Valentine's DIYs for plant lovers
© Look What I Made

Long-term readers might recall my very own cactus saga, but these little cuties are almost enough to win me back round to the spiky beasts.

Because, you know, who wouldn’t want a talking plant? You can see a full tutorial here: DIY plant speech bubbles.

 2. A teacup sweetheart plant, by Joy of Plants

5 Valentine's DIYs for plant lovers
© thejoyofplants

I was first alerted to this adorable heart shaped plant by Gardenista about a year ago and I’ve since seen it popping up all over the place.

Hoya kerrii, to give it its proper Latin name, is festooned with heart-shaped leaves. As it’s easy to propagate, you can take an individual leaf and plant it wherever you want. In this case, on the joyofplants website, in a mug to go with your breakfast in bed.

3. String of hearts plant (model’s own)

5 Valentine's DIYs for plant loversOh, I know, I’m completely obsessed with my string of hearts plant, but… …just look at it!

I don’t think you’d need to do much more than tie a bow around a pot of one of these to make a really glorious present.

You can see a few more pictures of mine on my first Urban Jungle Bloggers article, plants and art.

4. A heart-shaped garden pond

5 DIY Valentine's for plant lovers
© Baron’s Palace Hotel

Lovely readers, if any of you have been burning with unrequited love for me recently and are looking for a way to show me that you care then may I eagerly suggest creating one of these amazing carved stone ponds?!

I suspect only a professional stonecarver could whip one of these up in time for the 14th but, my goodness, wouldn’t this just be amazing out in a garden? I love the idea of it filling up with rainwater after a heavy downpour.

I found this on Pinterest and spent ages trying to trace its original source. I *think* that it is from the Baron’s Palace Hotel in Oudtshoorn, South Africa. A place that was, according to its website, built by a wealthy “ostrich baron” at “the turn of the century” (by which, I assume, it means 19th to 20th and not just 16 years ago. Though I might be wrong…) Anyway, the image seems to come from this Facebook post. And I am now dreaming of taking a trip to the Karoo, a place I barely knew about before, and watching some kind of ostrich-based sport like this. The wonders of the internet, eh?!

5. My life would succ without you, by See Kate Sew

5 Valentine's DIYs for plant lovers
© See Kate Sew

Ah, succulents, what celebration would be complete without them? And I love a pun almost as much as I love a succulent, so this could well be the perfect gift in my eyes…

The tutorial comes with a free printable for the cute labels too, check it out here: See Kate Sew.

Now, tell me, do you have plans for Valentine’s Day this year? Oh, and if you’re in the mood for a non-plant-related DIY, then do check out my top 10 Valentine’s tutorials as well…

 

In the garden: January

What a weird weather January it’s been so far.

I have to admit, I was not one of those welcoming the cold snap a few weeks back with open arms. Nope, my arms were huddled inside three trillion layers of clothes, wearing gloves, sitting under a blanket, clutching a cup of hot chocolate in front of the fire.

I really hate being cold.

Magnolia flower bud

I was concerned that the garden might find it similarly hard to adjust after such an incredibly warm winter so far. Magnolia buds had appeared unseasonably early and started to unfurl a few weeks ago. I was sure they’d get frosted and drop off last week, but — lo and behold — they seem utterly nonplussed by the minus temperatures and instead the first flowers have come out. In January!

(A few years back I was seeing the magnolia tree come into flower in May, so this is five whole months in advance. A most bizarre winter…)

CrocusSnowdrop | Wolves in London

In the back garden, all of the Winter and Spring bulbs have put their heads above ground at once. A host of purple crocuses had appeared to greet me on my return from a weekend away.  (We were house-hunting in Wiltshire, about which I had a huge chat and lots of brilliant advice over on this instagram photo…) Crocuses normally appear significantly after the snowdrops, but both are out right now, as are my first Tete-a-tete daffodils, which are cheering up the window boxes in front of the house.

DaffodilsDaffodil window box

What will happen once March actually arrives, I’m not quite sure.

The alstromerias are seriously confused by the weather as well. They should be in flower in summer and autumn, yet buds have been appearing already. Are these late bloomers from last year or early bloomers from this year? I suspect they don’t know either.

Alstromeria | Wolves in London

Finally, I’m almost embarrassed to put in this photo but, yes, my wallflower (Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’) is, as ever, in flower… When I first bought this I wondered if it was going to live up to its RHS AGM (which stands for general merit award or some such, and not annual general meeting) but a plant that flowers pretty much non-stop the entire year has to be good in anyone’s books.

Wallflower | Wolves in London

Generally, though, there’s not a huge amount to show you this month, as the garden is mostly mud, mud, glorious (and sometimes frozen) mud, after we pulled the greenhouse down, and started to mark out new flower beds.

I’m getting properly excited about planting it all up next month or the month after. I keep vacillating on the colour palette I’m going to choose, veering between whites, pinks, blues and greys (basically, a bit restrained but good for making a smallish garden look bigger) or some amazing lime greens and deep reds, taking inspiration from the colours of the stunning Euphorbia martini in the photo below.

Euphorbia x martini
© Crocus

I suspect safe and boring will win out, especially as we might be looking to try and sell our house fairly soon anyway. Ah well, if we do buy somewhere with a big garden, I can test out exciting colour combos to my heart’s content!

Joining in with the ever lovely Annie of Fable & Folk and How Does Your Garden Grow. Incidentally, my plan for 2016 is to share a garden post with you every month and, hopefully, by the end of the year I’ll have a glorious garden worth photographing in full, rather than just these endless plant close-ups…

Experiment: growing succulents in water

1012 Terra
© 1012 Terra

I found this stunning photo on Pinterest (where else?) a little while ago.

It’s of a sort of terrarium-slash-vase called the 1012 Terra glass vessel (you can buy it here) and is made by a Japanese duo called Daisuke Tsumanuma and Kenichi Yamada. I have been lusting for such wondrousness in my house ever since seeing it.

At around £60 per single vase and factoring in the need to post it from Japan, my dream of having a row on the mantelpiece seems a little unlikely. But that’s not the only problem with this picture.

See all those plants? All those succulents and cacti? With their roots growing right in the water? Hmmm, exactly. Succulents and cacti thrive in desert conditions with hardly any watering at all, so I was a bit surprised to see them sitting there, apparently healthy, in permanent deep water.

After a bit of Googling, I came to the conclusion (as had many others, it seemed) that the photo was simply that, a nice photo to sell the terrariums, rather than a serving suggestion for succulent growing.

But then I found one tiny little internet discussion thread that seemed to suggest you could, in fact, propagate succulents straight into water and they would then grow special “water roots” which would be different to normal roots and they could stay in the water forever. Could such a thing be true?

I plan to take some cuttings from my succulent collection and give it a go. The plan is just to suspend a leaf slightly above a glass of water and see if the roots happily go down and grow there. Nothing more complicated than that!

If it does work, then I shall move the water-grown succulents into my lovely new Monti by Monti vases, a present from my husband for Christmas. They’re gorgeous (see below!) and just waiting for the perfect inhabitant.

Monti by Monti vases
© Monti by Monti

I’ll let you know how I get on…

The fruit preservation society

Preserves and cordials | Wolves in LondonI’m a chronic over-caterer. I’d far rather have leftovers for weeks than the thought of – good god! the horror! – a guest leaving the house after a meal still feeling a little bit peckish.

This urge to feed someone more food in one day than they could reasonably eat in a week really comes to the fore at Christmas time.

And so it was this year.

Our turkey (bought from William Rose in East Dulwich, incidentally, and absolutely by far the nicest turkey I’ve ever eaten) had half still left by the end of the Christmas lunch. The following week we had turkey curry, turkey risotto and turkey burgers (all completely delicious…)

We ate red cabbage with pomegranates and dill for a fortnight, and there’s another Tupperware dish of it in the freezer.

And there’s still a little corner of the gingerbread house (seen here) waiting to be eaten.

As far as I’m concerned, bountiful leftovers are all part of the fun of Christmas.

But when it came to fruit, I went so overboard that there was no possible way we could eat it all before it went off.

We had oranges, clementines, quinces and apples stacked up in huge piles across the kitchen, and every morning I kept finding at least one mouldy piece of fruit that had to be thrown away.

So, last week, I decided it was time to use them all up in one fell swoop and, with the “assistance” of the sproglet and the littlest, we spent a day of somewhat manic preserving, our clothes reeking of vinegar and melted sugar by the end of it.

Come, take a closer look at the finished delights.

Homemade St Clements cordial | Wolves in London

Using the River Cottage recipe from my well-thumbed Preserves book, I made a batch of St Clements cordial. I chucked in the juice of oranges, lemons and a few stray grapefruit I found hanging out in the fruit bowl. Basically, you juice them all and then boil them up with a vat-full of sugar.

The end result was nice but for someone who never really drinks squashes, I found it exceedingly sweet. Actually, the kids had a glass each and then hared round the house on a crazed sugar high for about an hour afterwards, before collapsing into tears and tantrums. I won’t be giving it to them again.

Still, it looks beautiful in this old lemonade bottle, no?!

Clementines in sugar syrup | Wolves in London

Then a slightly odd enterprise: whole clementines which have essentially been tinned in a sugar syrup (and some kaffir lime leaves) in these jam jars.

I’m not really sure why I made this, since I’m not a fan of tinned fruit and I can’t quite imagine when I will ever be eating these, but if such a day comes to pass, I will let you know…

Homemade apple and sage jelly | Wolves in London

Finally, my favourites: a couple of fruit jellies. I made my trusty apple and sage jelly recipe, which I just adore and always get through incredibly quickly. It’s perfect with sausages if you fancy making up a few jars.

And then, using the same recipe, but without herbs, I made up some quince jelly too. I’ve tried this once before, and my top tip is that the quince pieces you discard in order to keep the flavoured juice are still perfectly usable. Last time round, I made them into a quince tarte tatin, which was delicious.

And so we’re left with enough orange-coloured preserves and cordials to see us through until next year, I suspect. And the fruit preservation society will continue next week as it is, of course, seville orange season which can mean but one thing: a flurry of marmalade making by bloggers up and down the country. I will, indeed, be joining in…

In recent weeks…

Knitting in progress | Wolves in LondonThe transition from December to January has had me in a flurry of planning, organising and new starts, in a way it doesn’t normally.

Typically, the start of January sees me sitting in a post-Christmas fug, depressed about the lack of availability (or acceptability) of a Bucks Fizz for breakfast and wine at lunch and feeling too cold, bleak and depressed to leave the house.

But for some reason, this year, I am full of verve and vigour and (dare I say it) resolution.

I’ve been knitting up a storm in the evenings, capitalising on the pre-Christmas bobble hat knitting with a jumper for the sproglet that has been all but completed in a fortnight. Actually, though I say this, it has been sitting in a little neglected slump for the past few nights, waiting for me to sew the side seams together – the solitary remaining task before it’s ready to wear. Why oh why is sewing up the seams and knitting in the ends such a dreary end task to the joy of knitting an item?!

Homeknitted bobble hats | Wolves in London
I don’t think I ever showed you these hats – the last ones I knit for cash just before Christmas

After that, I have just one more bobble hat to make for a friend and then I think a pair of mittens for the littlest will be the next thing on the needles. Anyone happen to know of any good patterns for toddler mittens?

In non-knitting news, I have been planning all the plants for our garden, ready to head out and buy them as soon as spring arrives. Meanwhile, I’ve been very very very busy directing, hem hem, my poor old workhorse of a husband for what shape the beds should be and where he should lay the huge slabs of stone that he is moving round the garden on his own…

Oh, and that our oft-maligned (in this blog, at least) greenhouse was removed yesterday so it’s crunch time for making the decision about what will go at the bottom of the garden. Despite the support for option three, (the micro pig option) I am pretty sure I’m going to be sensible and stick with option one: a small shed-slash-greenhouse, along with some raised veg beds. And perhaps a cute (twee?) white picket fence and gate to separate off the far end of the garden from the rest.

Thursday saw me up in Regents Park, back at my garden design course again; the second week of the year and we were set our first assignment. I am chomping at the bit with excitement about everything we’re doing this year. Our final project is to design a show garden and our tutor told us about a student from a few years ago who submitted his show garden from the assignment to Hampton Court Flower Show, was accepted, and won a gold.

So, yup, that’s the dream now. Aim high, right?!

Anyway, happy Monday to you all, I hope there is a good week in store…

The bottom of the garden

What will go at the bottom of the garden? Endless hours, days and possibly even weeks have been spent pondering this dilemma in the three years we’ve lived in this house.

Our house renovations / remodeling / decorating / re-decorating where the kids have drawn on the walls are almost finished. (Yes, I know I’ve been promising pictures for the best part of three years and just as soon as I manage to have a single room tidy enough to photograph I will grab my camera and snap away…)

So now we’ve moved onto the garden. After similar pontifications on the fate on the pond, we finally decided to get rid of it, and the biggest two-thirds of the garden are in the process of being dug out and re-planted in time for next spring.

But the bottom third currently still has my old greenhouse in it and I am still, still undecided about what do with it.

Let me tell you the options in the hope it helps me come to a decision.

Option one: replace the greenhouse with another, smaller greenhouse and surround the greenhouse with raised veg beds.

Allitex greenhouse at Hampton Court show | Wolves in London

Aka, the sensible option.

I love my giant greenhouse but it is too big and too dangerous to keep (I found that one of the shelves is made of asbestos the other day and the glass panes have a tendency to drop out of the sides and smash). Plus, I don’t really use all of the space for growing plants, but a lot of it for storage.

So, obvious answer: replace it with a small greenhouse and a small shed (even better: a combination of the two) and then surround the area with raised veg beds and I can keep on with all my vegetable and fruit growing. Which I also really love.

Cons: erm, none really.

(Okay, I know that the greenhouse above, which I photographed at Hampton Court Flower Show a few years back is surrounded by flowers, not veg, but imagine artichokes in place of the blooms and that’s basically what I’m aiming for…)

Option two: install a cool pod-style studio.

Ecospace studio

At the moment, the kids are in one of our three bedrooms, we’re in the other and the final one is a spare room slash study. Which means, in practice, a double bed that hardly ever gets slept in is surrounded by endless bits of paper and books and all the other dross that I need for my garden design course or that won’t fit anywhere else in the house.

I have my eye on one of these awesome studios by ecospace (website: www.ecospacestudios.com), which would look really cool at the end of the garden, and I could use for working on all my assignments and into the future if I start my own garden design business. Perhaps we could even put a small daybed / sofa in there for people to sleep on if they come to stay.

Cons: The expense is by far the biggest one. I am finding the website a bit hard to read properly, but it looks like it would cost around £20k for a studio the right size for our garden. Which, sadly, I don’t have sloshing around a bank account at the moment. Also, the fact that it might be a bit lonely working at the end of my garden. It might not be the most fun for people sleeping over in the winter months to have to use the bathroom in the house and then walk down the path in their PJs and slippers in the freezing cold / drizzling rain to go to bed.

Option three: pigs. Of course!

Micropig
© Petpiggies

So, erm, I just discovered that the minimum amount of space you need for a micropig is 36m2. And, guess what, the space at the bottom of the garden is… …36m2.

A match made in heaven?

Oink oink, I think he’s just snorting, “Buy me Sabrina, buy me!”

Cons: the husband is not convinved this is a “sensible option.” He just might have a point.

Well, written out like that it’s clear what the winner is. Anyone have any last ditch arguments to swing it over to the pigs side?!

Urban Jungle Bloggers: planty wishes for 2016

Ladder of plants | Wolves in LondonHouseplants | Wolves in LondonJade | Wolves in LondonI’m a bit late with the December post for Urban Jungle Bloggers. As the eagle-eyed among you will have spotted, it’s not actually December anymore.

But the theme for the month is planty wishes for 2016 and I love it so much that I can’t miss the chance to join in, even if it’s nearly two weeks belatedly.

My planty wishes for this year are very simple: I just want more plants!

Lots and lots more plants.

Houseplant ladder | Wolves in LondonHouseplants | Wolves in London

To represent my plantopia, I’ve gathered together every single plant I have in my house and put them all into one place. (That place being a rather lovely old wooden ladder…)

Essentially, this is the look I want in every single room of the house by the end of the year. Ha ha, does that sound a little bit crazed?!

I need to work out positions for the plants where they can’t be too destroyed by the children, as well as simply buying quite a few more plants in the next few months, but that’s just the practicalities to figure out before I can achieve the dream!

Watch this space, friends, 2016 is set to be the year of the houseplant chez Wolves in London.