Over on Pinterest: houseplant heaven

Houseplant heaven | Wolves in London
Helsinki botanical garden © Ukkonooa

Since joining in with Urban Jungle Bloggers these past few months, I’ve been seriously bitten with the houseplant bug.

I’ve got to confess, for a long time I thought houseplants were a bit 70s. A bit naff. A bit macramé pot holders (though they, of course, are now massively back in fashion…) And, most of all, a haven for endless dust.

These days, though, I’ve got a “more is more” philosophy on plants in houses. My collection of ferns in the bathroom has outgrown its spot and been moved to new positions throughout my home. A recently acquired hoard of succulents sits on the mantelpiece. And upstairs, I’ve got some lovely little tillandsia in glass baubles, waiting to be strung from an old branch.

Houseplant heaven | Wolves in London
© Decorating with Plants, Time Life Books 1978 via Supreme interiors
Houseplant heaven | Wolves in London
© Sunset ideas for Hanging Gardens, 1974 via The Secret Garden blog

But not enough! Not enough! I crave ever more interesting and new ways to introduce houseplants (the weirder, the better) to my relatively dark and small Victorian terrace.

I’ve been pinning away some of my favourite images for inspiration to a new board, Houseplant Heaven. Do go over and take a look if a green indoor oasis is your style too, you’ll find the photos in this post, plus many many more…

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Lovely dead crap

Dying flower | Wolves in LondonIt’s possible I’ve become a little bit too obsessed with dying flowers.

My housework abilities are a little on the lax side (I say, with some element of understatement) so it is pretty much guaranteed that if I have flowers in my house at any point, I will spend a good fortnight with dying flowers in my house.

In other words, at most points in time there is a little collection of decaying flowers sitting around somewhere.

Dying flower | Wolves in London

Luckily for me, I’m completely entranced by the process of watching a flower slowly decay and shrivel away to nothing. So much so that I couldn’t help get a few photos of this one, shedding petals and turning brown in my hallway.

Dying flower | Wolves in London

If you share this slightly odd penchant, check out the hashtag #lovelydeadcrap on Instagram. There are some beauties there to steal your heart right away from fresh living plantlife.

Release the frogs!

Frog | Wolves in LondonThese past few weekends we’ve been digging out the pond from the bottom of our garden to convert it to flower bed.

I’d been agonising about what to do with the pond (as is my wont) for a good few years. On the one hand, the pond isn’t very safe for the kids, is under three apple trees so spends a large portion of the year full of rotting apples, and leaves a huge swathe of bed behind it completely unreachable and, therefore, covered in bindweed and more rotting apples.

One the other hand, it’s the home of huge numbers of frogs, which we all love.

Finally, the first argument won over, and so — with plans to put a new, smaller pond in place somewhere that’s not under loads of trees — we’ve decided to dig this one out.

Job one: removing the water and re-housing the resident frogs. Which was wildly, vastly more fun than I could have possibly imagined.

We thought we had a few frogs in there. If pushed to pick a number I probably would have settled on five. But, slowly removing all the water in bucketloads, we discovered about 30, including a couple of soon-to-be Mums, their bellies fat with eggs.

The boys and I watched on, impressed, as my husband caught them all in his hands and put them into a bucket of pond water. And then we set off, the four of us, down to the lake in the local park to set them all free for a new home.

The littlest was especially impressed with the frogs, pointing at them and yelling “Rog! Rog! Touch! Touch!” so we soon developed the routine that the hubby would get a frog from the bucket, hand it to the littlest, who then set it free beyond the fence of the pond.

(Where they mostly sat around looking perplexed for an alarmingly long time and I worried that the heron was going to swoop down and eat them at any second.)

By the third trip, we had gathered a bit of a crowd to watch the frog-releasing exploits, and even the sproglet and I gathered up enough bravery to also hold and release a frog of our own. We made a few new friends, had some good frog banter, and my husband was even called “a modern David Attenborough” — which I think made his day week year as Attenborough is his number one hero.

All in all, the perfect way to spend a Sunday.

NB In all the excitement, I completely failed to take any photos of the frog-handling / frog-releasing so instead you’ve got an old photo from a few years back of the frogs in the pond as it used to be (you know, in case you’ve forgotten what a frog looks like while you’re reading this…)

Urban Jungle Bloggers: plant shelfie

Wolves in London plant shelfie

I’d written you a ridiculously whiney blog post to go with these pictures a week or so ago.

It was mostly complaining about the lack of light and how much I had to do at the moment.

“Oh I’m sooooooo busy right now.” “Oh the light is sooooo bad right now.” “Oh I’m soooooo stressed out right now.” Moan, moan, whinge, whinge etc etc.

Anyway, it made for terribly dull reading and besides, any reasons for moaning are all in the past now, for my garden design assignments were completed and handed in on Friday and the sun, the sun, the wonderful sun, has been back out in the sky these past few days (even if only for a few hours).

So I’ve hit delete on that and here I am instead with nothing much to say but just some photos for this month’s Urban Jungle Bloggers.

The topic this month is plant shelfie; a topic I read with glee when the email came round last month.

Wolves in London plant shelfie

My “shelf” (ahem, yes I know it is really my mantelpiece) is currently heaving with succulents. I bought all the plants a few weekends ago at the RHS Frost Fair, a fun-filled day of reindeer-feeding, Christmas wreath making and plant purchasing.

I’m not actually going to keep them all there, in one place, like a crazy succulent lady, but with the rather gloomy weather we’re having, it’s one of the few places in the house that still gets a decent amount of sunlight.

Aeonium | Wolves in London
Aeonium

Succulent | Wolves in London

Succulent | Wolves in London

So, for the next few months, I’ll be crazy succulent lady, gathering all my fat little treasures into a sun-drenched spot. In fact, since I took the photos, I’ve added a few more plants to the collection.

So that’s my shelfie. Do go and check out some others over at Urban Jungle Bloggers; I’m lusting for a seriously increased houseplant collection after reading some of these posts…

Three ways to plant a terrarium

You know the string of hearts plant that I bought last week for my sister’s birthday and then fell in love with so much I became reticent to give it away?

Well, I needn’t have worried, for she is a sister of excellent taste and – at our joint birthday celebration last weekend – she gave me this.

Copper terrarium planting ideas | Wolves in LondonA copper framed terrarium.

Isn’t it a beauty?

I’ve been lusting after a terrarium for some time now, and we both admired some excellent examples earlier this year at Grow London. Wonderful sister that she is, she remembered and bought me my very own.

But with such beauty comes great responsibility. I wanted to make sure I planted it up in a way that worked with its lovely exterior. And though I’ve been studying horticulture in one form or other for three years now, I am still fairly new to keeping houseplants. (Or at least, to keeping them alive…)

So as soon as I got home I jumped on Pinterest and started looking for the perfect planting choices to go inside this little gem.

Here are my three favourite options for terrarium plants:

  1. Succulents

Succulent terrarium
From Wit and Whistle
Succulent terrarium
From Floral Verde

Needless to say, succulents were the very first thing that sprang to mind. Most of the Pin-worthy terrariums that I’ve been lusting after have delicate little plantings of succulents on top.

This won’t work in a sealed terrarium (mine is an open version) as the succulents don’t like humidity and can start to rot, but with a bit of heat and a bit of air flow, they should stay pretty happy.

I absolutely love succulents at the moment (who doesn’t, right?), but after considering it for a while, I decided that my terrarium was too big for my favourite rosette-type  and it would be a bit of a waste of all the vertical space at the top, which could better be filled with a taller plant.

Still, I’ve been feasting on pictures of these fat-leaved delights.

  1. Tillandsia

Tillandisa terrarium
From Centro Garden
Air plant terrarium in a lightbulb
From The hipster home

AKA air plants. This is another great terrarium option, for the obvious reason that they don’t need soil to survive. And soil in a nice glass container can end up looking a bit… …mucky.

In the wild, air plants grow in jungles or deserts, the roots attached not to the soil below, but to the trunks of other trees or rocks. (This can allow them to grow high up in the tree’s canopy and get to sunlight that wouldn’t reach the jungle floor below.)

In terrariums, you can place them onto whatever looks attractive: a few pebbles, a piece of wood, sand: anything that won’t retain too much moisture and cause the plant to rot. Then you just need to spritz it with water every now and again to keep it moist.

Having read up a bit on tillandsia, I am definitely tempted to buy a few, but not, I think, for my terrarium. I think those copper edges might not work so well with the fine, feathery leaves that characterise lots of air plants. And so, on to…

  1. Pitcher plants.

Pitcher plant terrarium
From Apartment Therapy
Pitcher plant terrarium
From Lila B Design

When I came across the photos above I knew that I’d found my dream plant.

I’ve had a passion for pitchers since an old flatmate strung one from our kitchen window when I was in my early 20s, but, I have to say, I have never succeeded in growing one myself.

I bought a lovely hanging pitcher plant from Columbia Road flower market years ago, but killed it off in record time (probably because I didn’t bother to water it with rain water…) Then, when we were living in Hong Kong for six months, I strung our balcony with a variety of different pitchers, but killed them all off before we moved out (probably because I didn’t bother to water them at all, thinking they would get water as they were outside. Of course, as we were in a towerblock balcony, there was no way they were getting wet in the rain…)

Still, I’ve learnt loads more about plants in the intervening years, so, fingers crossed, I should be able to keep them alive this time round.

After a bit of internet research I’ve found the brilliant sounding Triffid Nurseries in Sussex (www.triffidnurseries.co.uk) who specialise in carnivorous plants. I shall be making a trip in the near future and then will get on with planting up the terrarium. Promise to let you show you pictures once it’s done…

(Oh, and, just so you know, I couldn’t resist that string of hearts either. I went back to the shop I bought my sister’s one and got another for me. It’s sitting on my bookshelves and looking rather wonderful right now.)

Urban Jungle Bloggers: plants and art

 

Urban Jungle Bloggers: plants and artI’m sure you’ve all come across Urban Jungle Bloggers, a monthly series about living with plants, organised by Igor and Judith, that aims to:

“highlight the beauty and benefits of houseplants and other greeneries in urban spaces.”

As you know, I’m something of a plant fanatic, so the only surprise is that it’s taken me so long to join in. *

This month, the topic is plants and art and I had planned to get my little bathroom plant crew (a few ferns and lovers of low-light) and photograph them with some of my old botanical illustrations.

But yesterday, I bought this little beauty as a birthday present for sister and just couldn’t resist photographing it before I hand it over to its new home.

String of hearts plantIt’s called string of hearts (Latin name: Ceropegia woodii) and, oh my goodness, it is an absolute stunner. I didn’t know it before (I’m not wildly up on houseplants, it has to be said) but it stopped me in my tracks when I went into the flower shop originally to try and buy a small succulent in a terracotta pot. I couldn’t resist.

The glorious little marbled heart-shaped leaves spaced out on a long string-like stem makes it just beg for an old pot and a position on a high shelf, where it can cascade down appealingly.

Ceropegia woodii leaf

I found an Alys Fowler piece about it on the Guardian which says it’s super easy to care for and not too fussy about light levels, fluctuating temperatures or high humidity. (So, potentially, good for a bathroom or kitchen.)

Pretty to look at and easy to care for: basically my idea of the perfect houseplant.

Maltese statue

As for the “art,” hem hem, this is a little replica statue I bought on holiday in Malta a few years back. I’m sure I’m showing my ignorance by no longer having any recollection of what exactly it is replicating. But I have always loved her tiny head and fat thighs. Beauty in all shapes and all that…

So, that’s my contribution. Do head over to Urban Jungle Bloggers to see more, or take a look at the #urbanjunglebloggers hashtag on instagram. I can already tell I will be enjoying taking part in this monthly challenge hugely.

But now, I think, I must run back to the flower shop and buy one of these string of hearts plants for myself. I think I’m just going to miss it too much once I give this one away.

*Actually, if you’re a regular reader, you probably won’t be in the slightest surprised, knowing that my To Do list is generally six pages longer than my “Done” list, ha ha.

 

Food collaging: my July harvest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come, take a closer look with me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Falling in love again

Of course we loved our house when we first bought it. You’ve got to really love a collection of bricks to hand over the best part of half a million pounds, after all.

I remember when we first viewed it: I was seven months pregnant, we were looking at 13 houses that weekend and we thought we’d found everything we ever wanted as we wandered through the cute little Victorian terrace in East Dulwich.

Pebble dash London house
Our house, the day we viewed it for the first time

It was perfectly preserved in the 1950s, a real home where we could imagine bringing up our imminent arrival.

And, best of all in our eyes, it was a doer-upper. “Oh yes!” we exclaimed when we heard there was no central heating. “Oh we’ll just extend this kitchen right out to the side and back” we panted with enthusiasm on discovering the long narrow galley kitchen with no natural light. “We’ll have that pebble dash off on the very first day” we grinned to each other, all the while thinking of the savings we were making on the purchase price by doing all these things ourselves.

And then we moved in. And the love affair came to a rather abrupt end.

That first winter was so fricking freezing. Without central heating, we shivered away. Ancient electrical heaters in the main rooms provided some warmth but left me with the constant fear of an electrical fire in the night. Heaven forbid if you had to walk out of one room to reach another, shivering all the way down the corridors.

Eventually, the builders moved in, 14 months after we first did. Four months later, structural work completed, we moved back. To a house of bare plaster and a need for endless decorating. Once again, I was seven months pregnant.

Our money long (long!) eaten up, the past 14 months have been spent painting, sanding, hole-filling, caulking and getting quotes for various things that cost a fortune.

But at last it feels as if the end is in sight, signalled by the momentous occasion of the pebble dash being removed. And you know what, I’m reminded for the first time that my house is actually a real little looker.

Under all that ugly brown and grey pebbledash are some beautiful London stock bricks, all now beautifully re-pointed and able to breathe the air for the first time in probably 40 years.

London terraced house
That brickwork! Who knew I could be so excited by a lovely brick?

Next steps: plant a climbing white rose up the front and replace the windows. Possibly in the opposite order. Ah, little house, you’ll be a proper beauty again before too long.

All quiet on the blogging front

I’ve been a little quieter than normal on the blog recently. But don’t worry, I’m not stuck in the same lethargic funk as I was all over the winter

In fact, quite the opposite. Chez Wolves in London has been a crazy hive of activity recently.

The littlest is going to be one in just over a week, which has meant (yet another) renewed effort to get the house finally finally finished before his birthday. (Spoiler alert: we won’t manage to get it finished before then. I’ve been setting deadlines for us for the past two years and we’re still trucking on…)

But there has been lots of wall and door-painting going on, and even a bit of, shock, putting-up-of-pictures on newly painted walls. This is a pretty huge step, I have to say, to actually have something hanging on the walls (instead of tatters of ancient wallpaper…)

Botanical wall artThat’s a pretty shabby photo, but I am very pleased with my botanical wall art in real life. The frames, of course, aren’t actually warped, as they seem in the photo. I used a Cavallini calendar and then framed my favourite pictures in some of Ikea’s bog standard (but rather nice) RIBBA white frames. They’re sitting on a chimney breast, but I couldn’t get far enough back with my camera to show you any more of the view…

Everywhere you turn, there are various parts of the house waiting for another coat of paint:

Doors being paintedThis morning, scaffolding was set up against the front of the house so the pebble dash can be removed (we’re not trying to do that ourselves) and a handyman has been in all day putting on door knobs, hanging doors in different directions and re-wiring our doorbell back into the mains, a mere 1.5 years after it was first unwired.

I’ve also been spending loads of time outside in the garden, sowing endless successions of seeds with the sproglet and admiring all the new growth.

Cherry blossomForget-me-notsApple blossom
Borlotti beanTulipsI’ve got carrots in pots, beans rearing their heads above the soil, apple and cherry blossom on the trees, a rather delightful bed of tulip bulbs and some lovely perennials and about 75 tomato plants, at last count. I’m not quite sure what I’ll be doing with 75 tomato plants, but at least it means I won’t worry too much if a few of them die.

I’ve also been thinning the radish and carrot seedlings and decided to eat the mini leaves as a salad, rather than throw them into the compost. Oh, I felt very Masterchef, I can tell you, eating my microgreens. (And also, rather amused by the whole concept of microgreens being a modern way of eating, having also recently grown loads of cress with the sprolgets, which I remember doing in my childhood and is, surely, the origin of the whole microgreen craze?)

Radish microgreensA great find from the weekend was a Birds of Britain book, left outside for collection on someone’s front wall. The sproglet adores bird watching, peering out from the kitchen and saying to me, “oh Mummy, yook, a robin! Yook a blackbird!” so a happy time has already been spent poring through the pages.

Bird bookbird book insidebird bookIt’s incredibly beautiful, I think, with a map in the front cover of the locations of various birds and some lovely illustrations.

Finally, I’ve been beavering away industriously at my garden design diploma. We had two major deadlines just before Easter. One was to design a border for a shady courtyard attached to a bookshop; thinking about year-round interest. Bliss. I loved doing this.

The other, was to draw five different plant associations (eg, groups of plants that look nice together…) Five different drawings! I am terrible at drawing, so this was some sort of special hell for me. Not only am I terrible at drawing, but I really ever so very desperately want to be good at drawing, so every time my pen makes things look weird and not how I imagine them, I get very frustrated and cross. Ah, the rage of a wannabe artist…

Anyway, these were the two I was most pleased with (or, rather, least displeased with). After weeks of getting fed up and stressed out and thinking I would be failed, I managed to pass the assignment. The main feedback from my teacher? “Interesting style.” I’m not entirely sure whether that’s a good thing or not, ha ha.

Plant associations

So, in all, just the right sort of fever of redecorating and gardening to perfectly accompany the Spring weather… As each last job gets completed, I’m starting to believe that at some point we might, we just might actually live in a house that is fully painted and fully functioning. Exciting stuff!

A few flowers

Magnolia stellata | Wolves in LondonChionodoxa | Wolves in LondonPrimrose | Wolves in LondonWe continued with Operation Sort-out-the-garden this weekend.

It’s an ongoing attempt, that’s been running for about, oooh, the 2.5 years we’ve lived in this house.

It’s not that I’m not crazy on gardening or that I’m not actually really quite desperate to have a garden that’s nice to sit in… it’s just that we’re also simultaneously running Operation Finish-decorating-the-darned-house and Operation Look-after-two-small-kids.

Anyway, I’m really starting to see progress now. I might even share some whole garden photos with you soon… (The suspense! I know!)

Yesterday was spent shoveling a big pile of soil into buckets to put onto a new bed. The soil pile has been sitting in front of the greenhouse for more than a year now (intended time of habitation in that location: about one month). There is something wildly satisfying about a bit of physical labour, especially the repetitive thrust of the spade into a big fat pile of earth.

On Saturday, with the sproglet’s help, I sowed a few more seeds, removed the duckweed from the pond and peered at a huge ball of frogspawn, did a bit of weeding around the rhubarb, checked on the new bed that’s been dug out for veg, and went on a snail hunt.

In between all the gardening, I spent lots of time admiring the new flowers that are appearing.

Oh and the hubby got in on the act too, cutting down the gigantic wooden post that was in front of our greenhouse (you can see it in the picture here) that once led a visitor to comment that it was always nice to have some gallows in the garden…

Next weekend, we’re putting up an arch in the same location, planting some honeysuckle and evergreen jasmine round the base, sowing the seeds into the veg bed and doing whatever else I can add to the list in the meantime.

Nowt like Spring, is there?