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.

5 lovely Letterpress Christmas cards

5 Dec

5 Letterpress Christmas cards | Wolves in London

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might remember that my sister set up her own Letterpress card business a year or so ago.

She’s super talented (and I don’t say that just because I’m her big sister) and her wedding invitations and cards are always beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that one of her Christmas cards was just featured in Elle Deco magazine. She’s going places that one…

Anyway, it got me thinking how nice it is to receive (and send) really special, unique, original, handmade cards. So I’ve done a little research and come up with five of my favourite Letterpress Christmas cards, and here they are, my lovely readers, just for you.

I’m a big fan of supporting independent makers, so this year I’m doing my best to avoid Amazon and to shop, instead with the likes of Etsy, Folksy, Not on the High Street, et al. And the cards are the perfect place to start, no?!

1. Penguins by Wolf & Ink

Wolf & Ink penguin Christmas card

Wolf & Ink penguin card

Of course, sis must have number one spot. She’s got a great selection of cards (and wedding invitations if you’re getting hitched and feeling classy!), but this amazing penguin tree is my personal favourite.

Available from Not on the High Street.

 2. Tree by SteelPetalPress

Christmas card by SteelPetalPress

Tree by SteelPetalPress

I love trees, you know that, right? I’d put a tree on every card if I could, so this Christmas one is hugely appealing.

Available from Etsy

 3. White Christmas card from dittodittoworks

Christmas card from dittodittoworks

I love this gorgeous reflection of a row of trees (oh goodness, I just realised the first three I’ve selected are all some form of tree!) with the stamped forms above and the green shadows below…

Available from Etsy

4. Happy Holidays by Artcadia

Christmas card by Artcadia

It doesn’t get more jolly than red stockings and snowflakes. I’m a sucker for the red-and-white Christmas colour combo (brings out the green of the tree, y’know) so this is close to my ideal card for the mantelpiece.

Available from Not on the High Street

5. Father Christmas by Rococo Rose

Rococo Rose Christmas card

What’s that, you say? I’m ever predictable? Well, yes, I know, but I just can’t resist a good old vintage image at any time of year and at Christmas those old fashioned pictures just call to me even more strongly. This wonderful Father Christmas is from Rococo Rose made from a vintage engraving.

Available from Not on the High Street

Related articles:

Grow, forage, cook: November round up and a winter break

1 Dec

And so it’s December.

The latter half of this year has truly flown by for me. (But time has a habit of doing that these days, doesn’t it?) It seems but a week ago that we were out in the garden playing in the paddling pool in the July sunshine.

Still, the Autumn has been a marvelous one, not least because I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing these Grow, forage, cook posts, along with the lovely Laura, and seeing all the magnificent seasonal cooking going on out there.

For the next few months, we’ll be putting #growforagecook into hibernation for the winter. We’ll still be adding the odd post, but not our regular fortnightly slots, and we won’t be featuring the monthly round-ups.

Fret not, though, for we’ll be back again in the Springtime ready for asparagus and new potato season.

Before then, though, a round-up of some of our favourite snaps from the past month.

Grow, forage, cook November round-up | Wolves in London

November’s grow, forage, cook

From left to right, top to bottom:

@circleofpines: Laura and I don’t normally include our own photos in the round up, but this mince pie shot of Laura’s was so deliciously beautiful and made my mouth water so much, I couldn’t resist including it. (Plus, look at the serious apple peeling skills on show here!)

@nimblefingered: Annie has been busy foraging (/stealing?!) flowers over in Washington DC. This little jar was one of my favourites

@tomodachiwendymac: onions fresh from Australia… …and don’t you just love the weathered white backdrop?

@hannahseedsandstitches: I love this shot of Hannah from the wonderful Seeds and Stitches blog peering out through some rosehips. Check out a new series on the blog too, all about foraging from Fore/Adventure, who Laura chatted to last month…

@katgoldin: Is it edible, is it not? Whichever way, of course Kat Goldin’s photo is truly stunning.

@amelie_and_richard: Amelie and Richard always share loads of amazing #growforagecook pictures: if you’ve not investigated their feed already do go and take a look now. This was my favourite, though, for the understated simplicity.

@thelinencloud: Lovely Bee at the Linen Cloud joined in with us this month with a post on her blog with some weird and wonderful mushrooms. Go see: fungi.

@foreadventure: And here is the wonderful looking nettle pesto from Fore/Adventure.

@aquietcorner: Leek and potato soup is one of my absolute favourites for winter. Freshly picked from the garden, it can only taste incredible.

And a huge thanks to everyone else who has joined in these past few months. It’s been great seeing what you’re up to. Please come and join us again in 2015!

On the mantel: November

30 Nov

Phew, I’m posting this in time by the skin of my teeth.

But, yes, though my thoughts have been to that big event towards the end of December for a good few weeks now, my diary tells me that it is still (just!) November, and here I am with my November mantel…

November mantelpiece | Wolves in London

What November’s like round my mantelpiece…

Of course, I’m far from the first blogger to tell you that there’s nothing like a bit of naychur on your mantelpiece to cheer up a gloomy and rainy day. I adore the good old ginkgo tree (Ginkgo biloba) – it’s amazing history, weird biology (the only tree in the world to have motile sperm, doncha know) and most of all the beautiful fan-shaped leaves, a stunning yellow at this time of year.

I collected a handful of leaves from a tree that I like to visit (and photograph) in my local park and – ever at the vanguard of blogging trends – decided to make a little garland with them.

I used some red thread and just stuck a needle through the very end of the leaf stalk. I have to say, it was really rather a fiddly and irritating way of making the garland; leading to lots of swearing and pricked fingers. But still, the end result is rather beautiful (if highly fragile)…

Ginkgo garland | Wolves in London

Lovely, lovely ginkgo leaves

Not content to stop there, but ever a fan of overkill, I’ve also got some rosehips from the front garden (the roses themselves only stopped blooming in the past few weeks) and some pine cones from the park that I made into firelighters for my Christmas hamper. The fire is yet to be lit, so they’re just cheerfully sitting there for the time being.

Rosehips on the mantelpiece | Wolves in London

Sitting in one of my favourite Hong Kong Trappist milk bottles

It was the hubby’s birthday a few weeks back and the amazing rhino illustration was his present from the sproglets. (Bought from Mrs Robinson on Lordship Lane in East Dulwich, along with an elephant and hippo.) Haven’t they got good taste?!

It’s just resting here for now, waiting for the hallway to be painted so it can assume its final position.

Rhino illustration on the mantelpiece | Wolves in London

Love this rhino…

The Letterpress card is really a beaut, sent by my cousin in thanks for some garden design advice I gave her last weekend. Tea and coffee mugs, what could be nicer?

Letterpress card | Wolves in London

Coffee or tea?

If you’ve seen my previous mantelpiece posts (September and October) then you may be relieved to note I have finally got round to painting it. Hurrah for small jobs completed.

So that’s November. Next month, ah, now that’s the biggie. I might actually try and get that sorted in good time for once…

Homemade Christmas decorations: 7 of the best

25 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Snowflake garland

Homemade Christmas decorations | Wolves in London

© Martha Stewart

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

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

Full tutorial here: Martha Stewart’s frosty banners

2. Christmas village window display

Homemade Christmas decorations round-up | Wolves in London

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

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

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

3. Fabric baubles

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

4. Paper baubles

Homemade Christmas decorations round-up | Wolves in London

© The Guardian

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

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

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

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

5. Snow village

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

© My Tiny Plot

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

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

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

6. Snow globe

Homemade Christmas decorations round up | Wolves in London

© Allparenting.com

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

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

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

7. Cross-stitch crochet stocking

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

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

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

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

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

Grow, forage, cook: a Christmas hamper

19 Nov

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

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

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

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

Homemade Christmas hamper from Wolves in London

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

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

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

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

Homemade jams in a Christmas hamper | Wolves in London

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

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

Spicy plum chutney

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

Pumpkin chutney

Blackberry and apple jam

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

Apple and sage jelly: the king of all preserves.

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

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

Homemade ginger biscuits in a Christmas hamper | Wolves in London

A little parcel of delicious biccies

Homemade ginger biscuits

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

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

And then on to the cabbage:

Pickled red cabbage

Cabbage haters, look away now

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

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

Homemade cherry vodka in a Christmas hamper

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

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

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

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

Pine cone firelighters in a Christmas hamper

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

Homemade orange peel star garland in a Christmas hamper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make your own Christmas

8 Nov

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

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

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

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

Vintage pictures advent calendar

DIY advent calendar tutorial from Wolves in London

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

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

Air dry clay Christmas tree ornaments

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

Full tutorial here: Christmas tree ornaments

Liberty fabric baubles

Fabric baubles DIY

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

More info here: fabric baubles

Carrot and rhubarb jam

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

Recipe here: carrot and rhubarb jam

Homemade presents

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

Top 20 tutorials for homemade Christmas presents

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the mantel: October

30 Oct

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

Wolves in London October mantelpiece

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

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

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

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

Hand-stitched wedding invitation | Wolves in London

This was the hand-stitched front of the invitations.

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

Blue monkshood | Wolves in London

Just utterly beguiling, I think…

monkshood veins

I love the amazing veins on the flower heads

White lisianthus | Wolves in London

I has these in my bouquet too, last year

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

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

Portuguese bag | Wolves in London

Isn’t this a fabulous bit of packaging?

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

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

Pumpkins | Wolves in London

The obligatory October pumpkins

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

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

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

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

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

22 Oct

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

Planning a kitchen garden | Wolves in London

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

Positioning your plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making a planting plan

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

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

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

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

Buying seeds

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

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

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

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

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

Grow, forage, cook: planning a kitchen garden

20 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planning a kitchen garden

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

Planning a veg or kitchen garden:

Raised beds

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

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

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

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

Preparing the soil

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

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

Choosing what to grow

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

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

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

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

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