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…

 

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…

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.

Currently reading: The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency

Currently reading John Seymour

Regular readers will know of the intention / dream of the Wolves in London household to eventually sell our London pad and move to a big old house in the country.

A house where we will keep a flock of chickens for eggs, a couple of cows for milk, some alpacas for wool (yup, that is also one of the essentials, you know), some micropigs because, well, why would you not?, and a couple of dogs for company.

We’ll have a huge veg patch and an orchard and some fruit cages and probably some very beautiful ancient greenhouses, full of tomatoes and aubergines.

Our days will be spent in a blissful haze of tending our herds and rearing our crops (or should that be the other way round?) and wearing our chunky, home-knitted alpaca jumpers.

This plan has been on the cards for a few years now, always for some point in the as-yet-undefined-but-probably-quite-near future. But a few events over Christmas made the dream seem a little bit closer to a reality.

Firstly, we found the perfect house for sale in the country.

It’s an old 16th Century farmhouse, surrounded by an acre of gardens (veg beds, greenhouses and espaliered fruit trees already in situ) with the possibility of renting the surrounding nine acres of farmland from the adjacent farm, is close to a lovely market town and is even in the catchment area of a great primary school.

We found it a mere week after deciding that we were absolutely definitely going to stay in London for three more years and stop house-hunting in the country. It’s also really quite a bit over our budget.

So, I’m not quite sure how it will all pan out, but after two years of off-and-on house-hunting, this is the first place we’ve seen that has everything we were looking for and which also had such a great feel that I could really imagine living there.

We’re going for a second viewing at the weekend. I’ll keep you posted!

Secondly, and possibly even more excitingly, we bought the boys three chickens for their Christmas present. (And a very fox-proof chicken hutch and run, the not-terribly-photogenic but very practical Eglu.)

I’ll save up all the chicken chat for a dedicated chicken post, once we’ve plucked up the courage to let the chickens out in the real garden for a bit of free range living and I’ve had a chance to photograph them away from their plastic house…

But the combination of these two events has seen a spark reignited in my self-sufficiency dreams and led me back to the wonderful Complete book of self-sufficiency by John Seymour.

It was a present from a perceptive friend a few years back (a friend who has similar life ambitions, and from whom I got all my chicken purchasing advice in the run-up to Christmas) and I’ve found myself dipping into it over and again in the past couple of years.

The book was first published in the 1970s and the title really says it all; it’s a complete guide to becoming entirely self-sufficient –as the strapline says, “for realists and dreamers.” (Ha, that always makes me chuckle, I love the awareness that lots of people, just like me, will just read the book dreaming of the lifestyle…)

It covers everything from the basics, like veg gardening and chickens, to keeping bees for honey, sheep-shearing, how to salt pig meat, how to spin wool and even which crops to grow to make your own oil.

My favourite bit of the book is a section with pictures that maps out how you might plan your land if you had an urban garden, an allotment, an acre or five acres.

Bee hives rest in perimeters of London gardens, lovely farmhouses sit in the middle of well-tended fields of crops, and the odd animal wanders across their (perfectly green) fields. It is the stuff of every wannabe Good Life dreamer and I can spend hours staring at the pages and debating about whether or not I would keep a cow in half an (imaginary) acre or give it to some pigs and goats instead.

How useful all the theory in the book would prove were we to actually go ahead and live the life, I’m not entirely sure. I’m pretty certain that there are all sorts of things with raising animals (and certainly with growing veg) that you can only learn by actually doing it.

But until then, reading the book and daydreaming about all our future plans is one of my favourite way to pass some time on a January day with the sun peering through the window.

Tell me, what are you reading at the moment?

PS If you read my recent New Year’s post you will see that, hurrah, I have already gone ahead and taken my first self-portrait! My plan is to share a post like this once a month, accompanied by a pic, and also to join in with Laura’s monthly #theyearinbooks chat, which I have been meaning to get more involved in for yonks now. Anyway, a monthly shot of me reading a book in my reading chair is my intention for 2016, so we’ll see how that goes. This was about the only usable photo from a batch of around 15 – I really need to buy a remote switch for my camera, because I had to get up after every photo, check what I’d taken and press the timer button on my camera again. It took quite a long time!

2016: a year with my camera

Puddle reflection | Wolves in LondonJust dropping by to tell you about an awesome new project I am doing in 2016: taking part in a (free!) online photography course for the whole of the year, called A Year with my Camera and run by Emma Davies.

Every Thursday, the participants get an email from Emma with some tips and advice and a project to complete over the course of the week.

There’s a Facebook group and an Instagram hashtag (#ayearwithmycamera) to showcase your pics and, seemingly, thousands of participants to give you feedback!

grass

I love this idea because I’m hoping it will give me the shove I need to get out there and take photos (with my proper camera) far more often than I manage at the moment. I plan to carve an hour a week to go and take a few snaps and just focus on improving one thing each time.

The first project this week is to choose something to “collect” over the year – an item you will photograph frequently to create a collection by the end of December.

I’m torn between a few different thoughts. The dilemma boils down to whether I stick with something I already do and try to improve that or whether I pick something new that I would like to do more of?

In the first camp: all things botanical, probably with the macro lens, which I already do quite a bit but would like to improve more. (I dream of creating beautiful images like this by @zuzu365 – whose whole feed is full of stunning botanical photography – and this by @thislittlecorner which uses the branches in the foreground to give extra interest to that stunning background…)

In the second camp, I have seen quite a few awesome puddle reflection photos recently on Instagram (@camerashymomma is my absolute favourite for this with her #creatingliquidlandscapes series) and I’d love to try and get some great shots of my parts of London reflected in puddles.

Hawthorn | Wolves in LondonPuddles | Wolves in London

The problem with trying something completely new with the puddle shots is that I simply might not get the opportunity to keep that up regularly (if it’s not raining, or if I don’t go anywhere new with interesting reflections in that week). But then just sticking to botanicals isn’t really stretching me to try out anything new and surely it’s a good idea to take the opportunity to stretch myself?!

I went out this morning to get started and decided that, for now, I will photograph both of them and see how it pans out over the course of the year.

January sky | Wolves in London

I will mostly be taking part over on Instagram, I think, so do follow along there if you’d like: @wolvesinlondon. (The Facebook group is terrifying me at the moment, as it seems to be full of “blippers” a term I had never come across before, but have discovered is someone who posts a photo every single day on a website called blipfoto, and who seem – to me – to be essentially as good as professional photographers already and keep sharing these utterly amazing and technically perfect shots, so I am feeling a bit intimidated of putting up my own distinctly more amateur take…)

Anyway, if you also fancy joining in, then you can sign up here: A Year with my Camera.

And do drop me a comment to let me know if you’re taking part (and especially if you’re on that terrifying Facebook group too, ha ha, I’d love to see some friendly names out there!)

Cabbage flower, deconstructed

Cabbage flower head | Wolves in LondonCabbage flower dying | Wolves in LondonCabbage flower stalk | Wolves in LondonDead leaf tip | Wolves in LondonDeconstructed cabbage flowerNo, not the name of the winning dish in a Masterchef final, but rather my growing obsession with endlessly photographing lovely dead crap.

There is a new market stall at the end of our road selling flowers on Saturdays and Sundays for pretty bargainous prices and I just can’t resist when I walk by.

I bought a nice bouquet a few weeks ago, including a single stem of a purple cabbage flower. I’m a big fan of the cabbage flower (I had one in my homemade wedding bouquet even) and I can never resist buying one if I see them.

This one lasted for a week or so, and then the leaves started to turn brown, shrivel up and drop off. But still, I couldn’t contemplate parting with it, because it became even more beautiful than before. Just look at these amazing veined patterns! The transition from purple to brown! The way the leaves have curled up as they’ve dehydrated!

I told myself I might as well hold onto the leaves until I had taken a photo, but now that I’ve done that, where will they go? Currently, there is just a big pile of brown dead leaves sitting in front of the TV. Not, it must be said, displaying them to their best purposes.

The hubby keeps trying to put them in the bin, but I feel sure I could use them for something. Something. But just what?!

On the blog: plans for 2016

String of pearls plantI didn’t go to the inaugural Blogtacular in 2014 (I was busy pushing a baby out of my lady parts at the time) but I saw one quote from it repeated time and again:

“You will always have more ideas than time… …and that’s alright.”

It resonated with me as much as it clearly resonated with everyone else too. Phew! I thought. It’s not just me…

But 2015 on the blog was the year where I had lots of ideas but so little time that, actually, it didn’t really feel alright.

I started the year bursting with plans: ideas for new blog series, thoughts for fascinating articles, inspiration for stunning photos and oh, y’know, hundreds of amazing genre-busting things I was going to do with my blog. (Okay, that last part is a slight overstatement, but you get the drift.)

But my time felt more pinched than ever before and the huge majority of plans fell by the wayside.

So 2016, I hope, will be the year to resurrect some old ideas and start some new ones too. What can you hope to see on Wolves in London if you drop by in the next 12 months?

Gardening

I started my Gardening A-Z last January, full of excitement and with the intention of writing a fortnightly article explaining something about gardening. I got as far as, erm, the letter D. Not, I hasten to add, for lack of ideas or things to write about, but simply because I was finding it really hard to take a photo I could use for my article on “earthing up”…

I plan to resurrect (and hopefully finish!) the series this year, which I still feel as excited by 12 months later from the original plans.

Also, in a few days time, I am starting the second year of my garden design diploma. Last year was all about plants, this year is all about the “principles and practice” of design itself. I’m thinking of running a series about designing your own garden (in fact, I have had the first few articles written for a few months now) so if you’re hoping to overhaul your garden in 2016, look out for my thoughts on inspiration, designing, planning and planting your space.

Craft

Well, 2015 was not a year of great crafting, it must be said. But my recent reacquaintance with my knitting needles led to a flurry of hats knitted up before Christmas and a jumper for the sproglet is currently in process.

Friends, I must share both photos and chats about such things with you far more often!

But not just knitting; I finally have a permanent desk in our spare room where I can work and sew. The sewing machine is out of the attic and I am determined to get back in the sewing vibe again in 2016.

Wolves in London at home

We’ve been in our little Victorian terrace in SE London for more than three years now and have been almost permanently renovating that whole time. And yes, it’s true, we’re still not finished (I must get round to painting that hallway still) but the majority of the rooms are more or less there. And long-term readers will know that I’ve been meaning to share some room tours for a while now, so that is definitely on the cards for the springtime, once there is actually a bit of light back in the house again.

And the last one is definitely the hardest to achieve…

A bit more Sabrina

I realised a while ago that all of my favourite bloggers regularly include such amazing things as… ….photos of themselves!  I know, who would have thought it? Imagine reading a blog and actually have more than a vague awareness of what the blogger writing it looks like. Some people I have seen, the revolutionaries we might call them, even have photos of themselves in their sidebar! Futuristic or what?!

I mock, of course, because I think I have only three photos of myself on this blog anywhere*, and it’s something I have been meaning to address for a while now. When I’m reading other blogs I like to know who is talking to me, rather than just a faceless collection of words, so it’s only fair to assume others might want the same from me.

Why so few photos here so far (an average of one for every year I’ve been writing the blog, ha ha)?

It’s not just that I never think I look nice in any photo ever, but also because there is nobody around who ever takes a photo of me. I am always the one with the camera.

So this year, I am determined to have a crack with some self-portraits using my tripod and the self-timer on my camera. Cue much awkward posing and discomfort, I am sure.

Sooo, them’s the plans. We’ll see how many I manage to follow through with, but if any of that sounds like your cuppa, then please do visit back again. And of course, finally, a big thanks for checking in here and reading my frequently overly-long thoughts on life, the universe and everything. May 2016 be a wonderful year for you!

*Fact-finders, there is one on my About page (which is taken from my wedding), one with me wearing my homemade maxi skirt, and one of me pootling about in Hong Kong which is now more than four years old.