Gardening jargon buster: biological control

28 Jan

Biological control: why birds beat bug sprays

“Biological control” is one of those gardening phrases that sounds really off-putting and overly-scientific for something that’s actually nice and cuddly and environmentally friendly and green and, frankly, just the kind of thing I am all about when it comes to gardening.

(It’s also, quite arguably, a lazy way of gardening, which gets my vote every time.)

For, biological control simply means that rather than using chemicals to kill any pests in your garden (eg bug sprays, slug pellets or any other sort of poison that can be employed to wipe out little critters that are harming your plants) you arrange for the pests to fall foul to a predator instead.

In one of the simplest examples of biological control, rather than killing slugs with slug pellets (that poison the slugs along with any other animals who might happen to eat them), you can just encourage birds and frogs into your garden so they eat the slugs instead.

Everyone’s a winner, right?!

Well, except the slugs, who are being taken out either way.

Frog | Wolves in London

Ribbit, ribbit, I’m just about to hop off and eat hundreds of slugs…

Encouraging natural predators is the most straightforward version of biological control (and the one I like the best).

You can use it to control pests such as slugs (which are eaten by frogs, hedgehogs or birds) or caterpillars (eaten by birds).

Controlling pests with biological control

Basically, create an environment that is pleasing to your chosen predator (a pond for frogs, for example) and wait for them to move in and start munching on their favourite foods.

A similar principle applies for other pests such as aphids, which are a tasty treat for ladybirds. It’s slightly harder to encourage ladybirds to arrive (despite those lovely wooden ladybird houses you see for sale) – so in this instance, you could actually buy some ladybirds and bring them into your garden. I kid you not, pet ladybirds are available to buy. Even better, you can buy them online.

Websites like GreenGardener (my personal fave) sell ladybirds and ladybird larvae. You order them online, wait for them to arrive by post and then release them onto the plants in the evening time, so that they don’t fly away but make a home for the night and then, with a bit of luck, have a good breakfast in the morning once they’ve got over their jet lag.

Apart from the normal kinds of predators, that you might expect to see in your garden anyway, you can also find a huge range of weird and wonderful things that are all ready to wipe out your pest problem. I have to confess, at this end of the scale, biological control is, perhaps, as odd and scientific as the name implies.

One of the more popular are nematodes, micro-organisms that live in the soil. Different types of these eat different things. Though, I use the word “eat” rather loosely, since what they really do is enter the body of the prey and destroy it from the inside out. Charming.

You can get nematodes to control a range of pests, from slugs to vine weevils. For all of them, it’s important to apply them to the soil in the right conditions (which includes both water levels and temperature) in order for them to be effective.

Then there are parasitic wasps that feed on whitefly, predatory mites for the red-spotted spider mite, midges and lacewing larvae for aphids (along with ladybirds)… …plus various others, I’m sure, that I’ve not heard of yet.

Does it work?

Does this all sound too good to be true? Well, in all honesty, that’s because it is.

The problem with biological control is that it’s not as effective as a pesticide at destroying the problem for you. Where a bug spray will probably kill every single last bug on your plant (and likely lots of bugs around your plant and other perfectly nice bugs that weren’t causing problems on your plant in the first place and perhaps a few passing honeybees too), biological controls will most likely only help to keep the problem in check. The poor old ladybird can’t eat all the aphids. And, in fact, if the predators did eat every single last one of the pests, well, they would then die out themselves as they’d have nothing to feed on. This is particularly true for pests in greenhouses.

But, my lovely gardening friends, my mantra for this (if not always in life) is moderation in all things.

Yes, there may be some pests left in your garden and, yes, you might sacrifice a few plants to them, or nibbled edges of leaves, or maybe even, shock, the odd vegetable or two. But surely, surely, it’s worth it to grow in a nice biodiverse environment, where the food chain works as it should and you know you’re not responsible for killing the lovely honeymaking bees?

And so, in summary, biological control: not the best way of eradicating pests, but definitely the nicest. And besides, who wouldn’t want a bunch of ladybirds being posted through their letterbox?

Have you tried any of these yourself? I’d love to know how you’ve got on with them, do leave me a comment and share any tips or hints.

Myself, I have a pond with some frogs that don’t seem terribly keen on eating slugs, but perhaps eat a few. I tried releasing ladybird larvae last year, and found that the ones in the greenhouse were very happy and stayed a long time, plus another little colony that set up on one of my rose bushes, but there were some plants they obviously left straight away, where the aphids remained. And I used nematodes for slugs a few years back and they certainly worked, but I am slightly unsure whether I’m okay with the side effects of lots of snails dying too…

This is the third in my garden jargon buster series. Every fortnight I work my way through the alphabet chatting about a gardening expression. Come back in two weeks to hear all about calcifuges, or check out the rest of the series here: Gardening jargon buster.

PS, I have to just point out, I didn’t take that lovely photo of the robin up at the top of the post. It’s from a free stock photo website, free images, here: robin in snow.

Grow, forage, cook: the smallholding dream, in books

21 Jan

The start of a new year never fails to prompt my (already fairly impressive) desire to dream endlessly about new ways to live my life.

The current frontrunner in future plans, sitting pretty in pole position for a good few years now, is the dream of having a little smallholding somewhere in the countryside.

We’d have a kitchen garden, some chickens, a herd of alpacas, goats, woodland, a few pigs, ideally a little stream somewhere on the land with a watermill. We’d aim for self-sufficiency (but not beat ourselves up too much when we head off to a grocers because the veg ran out…)

It’s grow, forage, cook writ large, if you will.

Goat

Goats and fields: this my friends, is the dream…

I’m not the first, I know, to feel increasingly disillusioned with the whole capitalist / consumerist urban lifestyle we live. A quaint farm and entirely homegrown vegetables seems a pleasing antidote to the rat race. (Whether the reality would live up to my expectation is yet to be seen…)

At any rate, I’ve been reading up a lot on smallholding and self-sufficiency recently and thought I might recommend any books I’ve found particularly interesting.

I was originally planning on putting lots into this one post, but I’ve written so much about my first book (because I flipping love it!) that I’ll be back in a week or two with some more. So, first up:

How to be free by Tom Hodgkinson

I’m not one for hyperbole (wry understatement being more my modus operandi) but I can’t help but proclaim: this book changed my life!

Encompassing far more than mere dreams of self-sufficiency or smallholdings, this book discusses how to escape the omnipresent anxiety caused my modern day living, or, as the author quotes William Blake, the “mind forg’d manacles” of existence.

In essence: ways to get off the consumerist rat race and live for yourself again. (The answers, incidentally, are all pretty pleasing: cycle more, drink with friends, laugh, stop buying so much shit and don’t work in tedious boring jobs.)

The author’s politics are certainly more extreme than mine, but I am completely won over by this book, thanks largely to the intelligence and wit with which Hodgkinson (editor of the The Idler www.idler.co.uk) puts forward his (sometimes rather radical) ideas.

But it’s the philosophy at the heart of the book that really spoke out to me: don’t get stuck on an endless hamster wheel of trying to achieve what seems important (progressing up the career ladder, rushing to fit hundreds of things into your day, working all hours to feed your beast of a mortgage…) Instead, reassess what you need and what you want in your life and simply step away from all the other nonsense and focus on the small, important things instead (family, friends, being creative, drinking and eating well…)

Don’t start a revolution; just live in a more community-minded way, with some land to tend and a ukulele to play.

Honestly, as a way of life, I can’t think of a much more appealing proposition.

Alkalinity to acidity and everything in between

14 Jan

…or, why soil pH is so important

Alkaline or acid soils: a quick guide to understanding soil pH levels

Before I really started to get into gardening, I have to admit, I thought the whole soil pH thing was a bit of a nonsense.

Sure, I was aware that such things as soil tests existed and that every intro to every gardening book I looked at recommended you go and test your soil but, honestly, I thought, what’s the point? It seemed a little bit earnest and overly-diligent to head out there, digging up a sample, and checking to see if the liquid turned red or green. (This much I could remember from chemistry lessons at school red = acid, green = alkaline.)

I had the soil I had, there was not much I could do about it, and I just went ahead and planted whatever plants I wanted in whatever spot in the garden I thought would look nice. Of course, with this approach, quite a few of them died really rather quickly indeed.

I also thought (very vaguely, if I thought about it at all, which wasn’t really much) that acid soil would surely be bad for plants (who wants acid, right?) and alkaline probably better and neutral best of all.

Well, needless to say, everything I had assumed turned out to be wrong when I was forced to actually pay attention to soil pH in one of my horticulture classes last year.

The pH scale

As I – very vaguely – remembered from Chemistry GCSE, the pH scale goes from 1-14. 1 is the most acidic and 14 the most alkaline. Neutral is right there in the middle at 7.

Most soils, though, tend to be slightly on the acidic side, around 6.5 in pH if you’re interested in the numbers. And, in fact, a broader range of plants prefer to be in slightly acidic soil.

When it comes to plants, the pH scale to look at is between (approximately) 4.5 and 7.5, very few plants able to survive outside those two extremes. The majority of plant species tend to thrive in soils between 6 and 7.

Interestingly, soil also tends to get more acidic over time. (Due to a number of reasons, but broadly because the alkaline nutrients are leached from the soil and because rainfall itself is slightly acidic…)

So, if you’re gardening a plot for a long time, you’ll probably want to re-check the soil pH after a few years and see if it’s altered at all.

Different plants for different places

But the most important thing I learnt was that some plants really do need to be in the right acidity / alkalinity of soil in order to survive.

Certain plants really dislike being planted in soil that’s too alkaline as it means they’re unable to take up the nutrients they need to survive. These are called calcifuges (which translates as lime haters. Lime = alkaline soil.) The most common examples are rhododendrons. If they’re planted in soil conditions that aren’t right, they will grow more slowly, perhaps become stunted, may not flower well, and often will have yellowing leaves, and ultimately will just give up the ghost and die.

There’s a whole lot to say about calcifuges, actually, so I’m going to be coming back to them in their own article in a few weeks, once we get to letter C.

Other plants may grow okay in alkaline soil but become more likely to get diseases, such as potatoes which tend to get potato scab if the soil they’re in isn’t acidic enough.

At the other end of the scale, some plants fare badly if the soil is too acidic. Plants such as saxifrages are a great example. Clematis and viburnums are other commonly-grown plants that prefer alkaline soils.

And then there are certain veg that are more prone to get diseases in heavily acid soils. Brassicas (that’s your cabbages, Brussel sprouts and so on) tend to get a disease called club root if they’re in soil that’s too acidic.

 What to do

So, bearing all this in mind, what can you do?

Firstly, go out and do a soil test. Honestly. I finally did one and found that my soil is basically slightly on the acidic side, which is great.

Once you know what your soil type is (and do check in different places as it might vary across your garden) then you can assess plants before you buy them to see if they’re likely to flourish.

The RHS plant finder online is a great resource for finding out info on plants and I always check here before buying anything.

There is such a huge variety of plants out there, that you should be able to find ones that you love which will thrive in the soil conditions you have. And this, by far, is the easiest way to go about things, rather than spending lots of money and time trying to alter the soil that you’ve got…

Altering soil pH

That said, what if your soil is really at an extreme end of the scale and you long for a greater choice of plants? Or you’re growing veg and you don’t want your cabbages to succumb to club root and your potatoes to scab.

Fret not! It is possible to alter soil pH, but is something of a faff. (That’s the technical gardening term for it, of course…)

My first option would be to grow plants in containers if I wanted a plant that needed a different soil type. For veg, you could add top soil into raised beds, or grow fruit bushes in pots to cater to their diverse but exacting needs.

Blueberries are a classic example of a plant that needs specific soil (very acidic in this case), and therefore grows perfectly well in pots if your soil isn’t suitable.

Just buy the right compost, fill up the containers and grow in your new (perfect!) conditions.

If you desperately want to change whole flowerbeds, though, or your soil is so very acidic / alkaline that it’s not feasible to grow many plants in it, you can change the pH by adding either lime or sulphur to make it more alkaline / acidic respectively.

This takes time, so you’ll need to work on the soil over a period of months, adding whichever you’re using at the rate recommended on the packet, and then keep on carrying out a soil test until you get the desired result.

But, even then, it’s not possible to sit back and enjoy it forever – soil will naturally try and return to the state it wants to be in: its make up determined by the bedrock underneath it, which will continue to break down and deposit the same minerals back into the soil. So if you live above a huge section of chalk, any attempt to make your soil more acidic will be an ongoing one.

So, an overall recap on soil pH would be: life is so very much easier if you learn to love what you’ve got. Perfect advice for almost everything really.

Phew, this post ended up far longer than I expected and I feel as if I’ve only scratched the surface of everything I could say on soil pH! If you’ve any questions, do drop me a comment below and I’ll do what I can to answer it.

Otherwise, do come back again in a fortnight when I’ll be wittering at length talking intelligently about biological control (and why ladybirds are so awesome)…

Related articles:

  • This is the first post in my new fortnightly series, a gardening jargon buster, where I’ll be going through an A to Z of gardening terms.

Gardening jargon buster

13 Jan

Gardening jargon buster | Wolves in LondonI’m a fairly recent convert to gardening. In my teens and early 20s, I had no appreciation of the joys to be found digging and watering, planting bulbs and pulling weeds and generally pootling around with a cup of tea in hand, looking at what’s going on in your little patch of land.

When I bought my first flat with a garden, about a decade ago, a little spark of interest was born. I bought a few plants online chosen for their attractive-looking flowers (almost certainly completely unsuitable for where I lived) and stuck them in the ground and forgot about them. Then wondered why almost everything died and anything that was alive didn’t flower as it was supposed to.

From then on, I started to pay proper attention and slowly, slowly, bit by bit, have started to understand how and why things grow.

In the early finding-things-out-myself days, it seemed as if there was some special code language attached to gardening; odd-sounding jargon abounding whenever I had a problem to solve or read a gardening book or magazine.

In all honesty, it wasn’t until I took a course in horticulture a few years ago, that I really started to understand what some of these phrases were all about.

As I’m just starting out on another course in 2015 (this time in garden design, about which I am supersupersuper excited) I thought it might be a nice time to run a little series on the blog.

Now, I wouldn’t in the slightest like you to think that I think I’m any sort of gardening expert. (Nor would I like you to see my actual garden, right now, which is a pretty ugly mess of half-planted beds, grass that needed a decent mow back in the summertime, and the world’s biggest and ugliest greenhouse…)

However, as I’m learning new things every week, I thought it might be quite fun to share a gardening jargon buster. Once a fortnight throughout the year, I’ll be working my way through the alphabet, sharing a few thoughts and tips on various gardening terms.

I’m picking the ones I hadn’t heard of before, or ones that always confused me, or, sometimes, just things I find especially interesting. (It’s possible I am the only person in the country who is so utterly fascinated by the concept of dehiscent seeds.)

So, if you’re interested in that sort of thing, then please do check in here on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month and I will (hopefully!) get all the way from A to Z by the time 2016 swings around.

I’m kicking off the alphabet tomorrow with an A for alkalinity and acidity (aka soil pH). Something that is actually quite weirdly fascinating once you dig into it a little (‘arf ‘arf, pun intended…)

I’ll keep this page as a contents page, adding links to each article as I publish them, so do bookmark this if you just want to come back in a few months and see a bunch of articles all at once.

So, then, til tomorrow!

The jargon buster index:

A: Alkalinity to acidity; understanding soil pH levels

B: Biological control: why birds beat bug sprays

Defining your Signature Style: a few photos

8 Jan

When I first moved from print to online journalism about, oooh, 15 years ago now, everyone was abuzz with the “immediacy of the web.”

Print is dead, they raved. (Okay, I might have raved a little bit as well…) Gone are the days of waiting to hear the news the day after it happens in the newspapers. We can read stuff now immediately on the shiny new internet.

Well, here I am today to show you the complete opposite; writing not about something that happened this very morning, but, erm, almost three months ago.

Hydrangea | Wolves in London

Yes, the not-so-shiny-new internet is still as fast as anything, but this old human dolt can still move as slow as can be.

Back at the start of November, I went on a photography and moodboarding weekend workshop, with Emily Quinton (of Makelight) and Gudy Herder (of Eclectic Trends).

The course was all about defining your signature style visually – through your photos and through moodboards.

It’s something I’ve thought about quite a lot when it comes to this blog. My photography is slowly starting to improve but I’d love to get to a point where you could look at a photo taken by me and think, “oh yes, that’s a Wolves in London photo”…

bowl and ribbon | Wolves in London

The first day of the course was focused on photography. We looked at three distinct photographic styles (minimalism, moody, and bright/colourful) and talked about how to take that sort of photo.

I was drawn most to minimalism: all white backgrounds, clean lines, simple arrangements and so forth. (I’ve got a few newly-discovered instagram accounts to share with you another time as well, for some gorgeous inspiration…)

vase | Wolves in London

So, off I went to practise and took a few nice minimalist(ish) photos and then, with the sun going behind the clouds, I took a few moody ones as well just for good measure.

Some of the pics I was more happy with are scattered through this post for your delectation.

Rosemary | Wolves in London

The following day was all about moodboarding with Gudy, which was really fascinating to me, since I didn’t – if I’m totally honest – even really understand what moodboarding was before. (Well, you know, it’s that thing they do in the Great Interior Design Challenge, of course, but I hadn’t thought of it in a wider context than that…)

Gudy showed us lots of examples of different types of moodboard, which I discovered needn’t just be the obvious such as pictures stuck to a background, but could also be collections of objects arranged on the floor, or even 3D moodboards including bits of furniture / paintings / vases of flowers and so on. I got loads of inspiration for things I might try and incorporate on the blog at some point in the future.

Then, in the afternoon, we made our own moodboard for our blog (or website, brand, whatever). For some reason, I completely neglected to photograph mine, but you can see it — along with everyone else’s — over on Gudy’s blog here: a workshop review.

Shells | Wolves in London

All-in-all, a really fun weekend, where, as is so often the case I find, one of the most enjoyable parts was meeting all the other people on the course and seeing the really creative things everyone else got up to.

If you fancy going yourself, Emily and Gudy are running another day next summer. You can find out more info as well as reading a (much more detailed) overview of the day on Emily’s blog here: Moodboarding and photography.

7 uses for old socks

5 Jan

Happy 2015 all!

Well, I’ve not written any resolutions yet (or my yearly ideas of things I could…), I’ve not cleaned the house for the new year, or put away the Christmas decorations or even written a list (and I am a big list writer)…

But I did clear out the sock drawer this morning. Whoop whoop.

I freed about 20 old pair-less or holey socks from the confines of the chest of drawers and then wondered what on earth to do with them all.

A quick Google later and I have some great suggestions.

7 great uses for old socks: a round-up of some of the best recycling ideas for socks from Wolves in London

For once I haven’t rushed out to start a Pinterest board (it felt like a slightly esoteric topic, even for my great love of Pinteresting absolutely everything) but I thought I’d share a few of my faves with you. Because, surely, clearing out a sock drawer is everyone’s idea of a good new year habit, isn’t it?

1. A sock puppet

Sock puppet giraffe

© Craft Jr

Oh yes, you hardly need me to tell you this, I know, it’s so blinking obvious that you can make a puppet. But I just had to share this adorable giraffe with you from Craft Jr. Because, really, this isn’t any ordinary sock puppet, is it, this is more of a work of genius… Check out the full tutorial.

The thing I love best about this (well, apart from the extreme cuteness of the giraffe) is that it uses a pretty boring sock to start with. And, believe you me, with a lawyer husband, we have a lot of pretty boring socks in the house.

2. Sock monkey

Sock Monkey

© Craft Passion

Of course, there’s the good old sock monkey. You couldn’t do this with a sock with holes in, but it could be a good plan for a sock whose partner has been swallowed by the washing machine…

There’s a free tutorial and pattern on Craftpassion.com

 3. Sock hobbyhorse

Hobbyhorse made of a sock | Wolves in London

© Mummo

If you’ve got a particularly large, woolly holeless sock, then take inspiration from these amazing sock hobbyhorses, found (via Pinterest) on Mummo.

I think these are actually for sale, so there’s no tutorial, but with a bit of wool, a stick and some basic sewing skills, I think I could probably figure out my own version of this.

4. Sock sloths

Sock sloth | Wolves in London

© Lauren at Cut Out + Keep

Need I say more?! Sock sloths. Oh my goodness, just look at him!

There’s something of a sloth obsession in our house; we spend a lot of time watching Youtube videos of squeaking sloths. (Search for “sloth squeak” if that sounds like your cup of tea…) But my, oh my, it never in a million years occurred to me to try and craft one from an old sock.

I’m adding this one to the list of things to make for the sproglet’s next birthday. (It’s in July so there is plenty of time still to make one forget all about it…)

Full instructions at Cut Out + Keep by Lauren.

5. Sock snakes

snake

© Craft Foxes

To be honest, I could go on forever with cute stuffed animals made from socks, but I’m going to resist adding any more after showing you this last one. Surely the easiest sock creature ever to make: a stuffed snake.

There’s a full tutorial over on Craft Foxes, which claims it’s so easy a four-year-old can do it. Not having a four-year-old myself, I can’t verify this information, but I can say it certainly looks easy enough that I could make it even when weary and bleary-eyed with sleep deprivation after a night of combined baby teething and toddler nightmares. (Which is basically most of my days, at the moment.)

So this one is going straight to the top of the sock recycling to do list.

6. A “hard to reach places cleaner”

Sock cleaner | Wolves in London

© Wikihow

I nicked this idea from the insanely long list of ways to recycle socks on wikihow.

Tape the sock onto a long stick (or ruler) and use it to clean under sofas, cupboards and so on. Now, let’s face it, this is by far the least cute and attractive idea I’ve included here, but it is also, without doubt, the only one that I am sure I will definitely, definitely actually get round to doing.

7. Sock blanket

Sock blanket | Wolves in London

The greatest thing ever made from socks?!

This is perhaps my favourite idea of all: a sock blanket (or quilt, really…) Head over to the Flickr picture to find out all the details of how it is made, but apparently these argyle socks were first turned into scarves, which were then all knitted together to make this amazing-looking blanket.

This, my friends, is “upcycling” at its finest!

If my socks make it into some impressive new form, I will be sure to share some pics and info with you. (Well, not of the sock cleaner, I’m not convinced I could spin a bit of cleaning hard-to-reach-places into a fascinating blog post with scintillating photos, no matter how hard I tried…) And if you’ve seen or made anything else with old socks that I need to know about, please do drop me a comment below…

A snowflake bedroom

30 Dec

Hello hello! Happy Tuesday-in-that-odd-bit-between-Christmas-and-New-Year. I hope you had wonderful Christmases and are ready for amazing 2015s.

I’d meant to post this in the run-up to Christmas but, of course, what with everything else, I got a bit sidetracked and it never managed to make it out of draft mode. Still, it’s not specifically about Christmas, just winter, I suppose, so hopefully still of some small interest in these last few breaths of December…

Paper snowflakes | Wolves in London

Scuse the graininess, there’s no blinking light at all up by the ceiling in the middle of winter…

Because my Mum lives 90 minutes away from us, whenever she looks after one of the boys for the day, she spends the night beforehand in our guest room.

The term “guest room” is a bit of a misnomer. It’s more like a “dump the junk that won’t fit anywhere else room,” stuffed full with car seats, concertinaed spare prams and teetering piles of craft supplies.

Ever since we renovated the house about a year ago (and then ran out of money before finishing the decorating, just like in every TV property show ever broadcast) it’s had some curtains tacked in place across the window, not able to open or close. It used to be the bathroom, before the big house reshuffle, and the window has been specifically designed to be permanently open a crack, an icy breeze filtering through at this time of year.

So my poor old Mum has spent many a night picking her way to a bed through a floor full of detritus, sleeping overlooked by stacks of boxes and, though mostly cosy under our warmest, thickest duvet, she has confessed to me that she sometimes puts a pillow over her head to try and keep her face warm from the draught.

As she spent Christmas with us this year she had five whole nights to enjoy the delights of our spare room. And, it being Christmas’n’all, I wanted to actually make it a pleasant experience for her.

The boxes and spare prams were banished to a desultory corner of our bedroom, the car seats stashed in her car on arrival and, most exciting of all, we actually put a curtain pole up, so the curtains could be opened in the morning, woohoo.

And then I thought, oh wouldn’t it be fun to make it like a proper white Christmas in there?

So, one evening, the hubby and I (well, mostly the hubby, really) made hundreds of snowflakes to hang from the ceiling.

Now she’s gone back home, I’ve brought them all down into the sitting room, where they sway endlessly in the breeze from the window and the heat from the radiator. What do you think? Quite festive, no?!

Paper snowflakes | Wolves in London

The one on the top right of this picture is my fave

I think the overall effect is actually quite classy.

Okay, maybe only a little bit classy and a lot kitschy.

I followed various different templates and patterns I found on Pinterest (obvs) — but mostly just hacked out little shapes from folded triangles of paper to see how they would end up. If you feel like brightening up your room in January, you can find all the patterns saved in my Pinterest board Homemade Christmas.

But, even better than this veritable paper wonderland for my poor old Mum, I also made a draught excluder from an old pair of pyjamas to lie across the gaping hole in the window. Otherwise, she may well have woken on Christmas day, a glacial breeze wafting across her face and — yet to put her glasses on — glanced up to the ceiling and thought she had woken to a genuine white Christmas.

So on that icy note, happy 2015 to you all! I hope you’ve got something lovely planned for New Year’s Eve. Me, I’ll be digging something out of the freezer to eat, scoffing the odd mouthful, inbetween the wake up calls of my two never-great-sleeping children who have entered all manner of horrendous sleep regressions over the Christmas week, downing as much wine as I can manage when free to do so and possibly watching an episode of Modern Family before, most likely, flaking out on the sofa at about 10pm. I know, I know, I’ll stop now for fear of making whatever plans you’ve got seem completely anticlimactic in comparison.

xxx

On the mantel: December

23 Dec

Ahhh, the Christmas mantelpiece.

It’s the one I remember most fondly from my childhood. Hundreds of cards jostling for space. An ever-growing nativity scene, ultimately boasting four baby Jesuses made out of clay, the child/sculptor’s name scrawled into the bottom and the constant pestering to my Mum to decide which of us had made the “best Jesus.” An advent calendar and advent candle hiding in there somewhere, the candle lit ceremoniously in the evening – though we’d frequently forget it for days on end, or leave it burning for longer than we should, so it rarely showed the right date.

Christmas is really all about creating traditions for kids, isn’t it? It’s something I look forward to with more excitement each year as the sproglets get older and more able to understand what’s going on.

December mantelpiece | Wolves in London

Oh so hard to take photos in these dark days!

My mantelpiece now is nowhere near as full, riotous or jolly as those we used to have when I was little, but I’ve got a nod to some of the same elements.

On the right, perhaps my favourite Christmas decoration of all time: an angel candle holder. The angels spin round and round when the tea light is lit… I’ve had it for four years now, but it was only when examining in closely with the sprog, that I realised each angel is carrying a different offering.

Angel candle holder

I could watch these spin round for hours…

The beautiful poppy illustration to the left is an RHS 2014 calendar that I discovered in the attic just last week… I must have put it away when we moved out last Autumn for the building work and then forgotten about it once we moved back in. It is absolutely stunning, so I’m pleased to be enjoying it for the last few weeks of the year, anyhow, ha ha.

All is not lost, however, as I plan to cut out some of the illustrations and frame them, so they can have a more permanent position in the room.

RHS calendar | Wolves in London

This is a poppy illustration in festive Christmas colours…

Of course, we don’t only have one Christmas card, the rest are on the bookshelves in the alcoves surrounding the mantelpiece. But I am quite fond of this little polar bear in his woolly hat…

Polar bear card

It must get cold in the Arctic. I’d want a woolly hat too…

On the far left, a fabulously kitsch Mary, Joseph and Jesus, nestle next to an offcut of our Christmas tree and some pinecones. The little nativity trio were sent to me by one of my oldest friends a few Christmases ago when we were out in Hong Kong, as part of a fabulous Christmas bundle to bring a bit of the classic British Chrimbo to our little patch in China. (Also included, The Muppet’s Christmas Carol, a CD of Christmas songs and some Christmas tree hairclips.) It might well be the favourite parcel I’ve ever received.

Nativity | Wolves in London

Shiny shiny

In a slight aside, I’ve been pondering a lot this year how to explain the whole Christmas thing to the sproglet. I was raised (very loosely) CofE, but am not religious at all anymore.

(For anyone interested, the nutshell version of what I believe is that this short life we have here on Earth is all there is, so let’s all be nice to each other and try and make it as enjoyable and as much fun as we can. )

I’m not quite sure, though, what line to take with the sproglet when explaining various (mainly Christian) religious things. Obviously, we are actually celebrating Christmas, so do I just give him the story of Jesus, or do I preface everything with “some people believe that…”?

It seems like there’s quite a fine line to tread in there somewhere, explaining about all religious festivals, but why we only celebrate certain ones of them if we’re not, ourselves, actually of that religion. And why other people, such as friends or relatives, believe things different to what we (or rather I) do.

Anyway, he’s only two still, so perhaps I can worry about all that another year.

On a much lighter note, the ginkgo garland below is still hanging since last month (missing on a central leaf). I had planned to take it down and replace it with something more Christmassy, but I just love it so much, it’s stayed up there. I’ll leave it til Christmas Eve and then put some stockings up.

The fireplace remains unlit, again something for Christmas Eve, I think. Meanwhile, the wicker basket is full of blankets, for snuggling up under in these dark cold nights.

Candlelight, blankets and kitsch ornaments: I need nothing more from Christmas!

I’ve been showing you my mantelpiece each month since September, but have decided not to carry on in 2015. I’ve become aware that there are lots (and lots and lots!) of other bloggers out there showing beautifully styled, beautifully photographed vignettes from around their houses. Now, I’m not a stylist, nor an especially proficient photographer (see my struggle to get these images in gloomy winter weather) so I started to think I’m not really adding anything especially interesting to the mix…

I’m planning on sticking a bit more to what I’m good at: crafting, gardening and a lot of wittering, ha ha.

I’ll be popping back in tomorrow (Christmas preps all going well, at any rate) to show you a little crafty / papery project I made for my guest room and then it’s off to the mulled wine and mince pies and duck that we’ve got planned. Hope you’re all settling down to enjoy festivities…

Print your own Christmas wrapping paper {and free printable}

22 Dec
Home printed Christmas wrapping paper

My wrapping paper this year

I have to confess to suffering a little from blogger’s fatigue around Christmas time.

Scrolling through my feed on Bloglovin is a bit of a groundhog day experience. It starts sometime in November. Ah, a homemade advent calendar, another homemade advent calendar, oooh, that’s interesting, a homemade advent calendar.

And so on, through the month. Homemade wreath for the door. Mince pies. Christmas wish list. Homemade gift tags. Homemade baubles. Homemade wrapping paper.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that everyone isn’t making lovely homemade wotnots (nor that I’m not joining in myself, I too have shared most of these ideas/tutorials) it’s just that it ends up a little… …samey.

Anyway, all of this is perhaps the oddest intro in the world to say: hey, look at my homemade wrapping paper!

Home printed reindeer wrapping paper

This reindeer is my fave of the three

If you’re not bored stiff with people telling you how they’ve gone about Christmas this year, then I’ve got my latest contribution to add to the pile: home printed wrapping paper.

I tried out the idea of printing my own paper a while ago, and was pretty pleased with the results, with the (rather large) caveat that it only works if you’re wrapping something small that fits inside A4 paper.

Home printed penguin Christmas wrapping paper

Perhaps I should have added a ribbon or something here…

This Christmas I’ve added a few more designs, one with a rather wonderful reindeer, one with a little Christmas tree of birds and one with some penguins.

Home printed Christmas wrapping paper

Christmas tree birds…

Home printed Christmas wrapping paper

…and the close up

The file is attached here, with all three designs, if you like them and fancy using them yourselves:

Download Christmas wrapping paper file

And if you prefer to make your own, there is a more detailed tutorial on my older post: print your own wrapping paper. (But basically: get a design. Copy across the page. Print.)

The illustrations are found, as usual, from the wonderful Graphics Fairy website.

So, advent calendar made, baubles made, decorations up (more on that tomorrow…) and now the presents are wrapped. Well, the three small presents that fit inside the A4 paper, anyway.

Pretty much the perfect time to sink into a mulled wine haze, isn’t it?

Three free Christmas wrapping paper downloads, including these reindeer | Wolves in London

5 free Christmas gift tag printables

12 Dec

Well, I might not have got round to actually buying any Christmas presents yet, but, let me tell you, I am all over my plans for wrapping them up…

I’m on an eco bent this year once again, and intend to make all my wrapping paper this weekend (more on that next week, assuming it actually looks nice enough to photograph). Meanwhile, I’ve been building up a collection of really beautiful free downloadable gift tags for a few years now and though that – hey, with the Christmas spirit of sharing’n’all – you might like to see them as well.

Of course, if you just print these on normal printer paper, it’s not much more environmentally friendly than just buying gift tags (though still cheaper, which is always a bonus round this time of year). But if you use some of the endless (endless!) pieces of paper that come into the house and normally go straight out to recycling, this is not only a great money-saving idea, but a good ol’ planet saving (well, tree saving) idea too.

I’m cutting up the estate agent letters (no, thanks, I don’t want a free valuation on my home), the weekly special offers from Virgin Media, even the blank bits on the side of our veg box contents list and turning the scrap pieces of paper and card into my gift tags.

But, without further ado, here are the lovely tags themselves:

1. Graphics Fairy vintage images

Graphics Fairy vintage gift tags

Lovely Graphics Fairy tags

From the Graphics Fairy, these fabulous vintage image tags. Of course I love these, I even used some of the same images for my advent calendar last year. The Graphics Fairy site has hundreds (probably thousands) of amazing vintage Christmas images, but these tags use some of the nicest…

Find them here: Graphics Fairy

 2. Decorator’s Notebook flora and fauna

Gift tags from Decorator's Notebook

Grouse, deer, the full range!

Last year’s gift tag from Decorator’s Notebook combined vintage with flora and fauna… Be still my beating heart! Not only are these utterly beautiful but the subjects are oh-so-very up my street right now as I am completely fixated with old horticultural drawings.

Find them here: Decorator’s Notebook.

3. Fellow Fellow’s acorns and leaves

Fellow Fellow gift tags

Heaven, no?

More on the nature theme; of course, but of course, I love these acorns, leaves and pine cones.

Find them here: Fellow Fellow.

4. We Lived Happily Ever After’s hand drawn tags

 

We Lived Happily Ever After gift tags

Beautiful hand drawn vibes

I love the simplicity of these tags, which look stunning printed on brown craft paper. I’m hoping to make lots of my wrapping paper out of brown recycled (Amazon packaging) paper, so these would work a treat alongside…

Find them here: We Lived Happily Ever After

5. Sweet Paul’s animals

Sweet Paul gift tags

A safari of presents

One for the kids (perhaps?!) – I used these for the sproglet’s tags last year and he was absolutely delighted to have a lion and elephant give him presents…

Find them here: Sweet Paul.

Please do let me know if you’ve come across any other amazing printables. And for more of this sort of thing, plus everything homemade for Chrimbo, check out my Pinterest board Homemade Christmas.

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