Taking a sabbatical

I will be taking a sabbatical for this year – there will be no workshops in 2017!

Chard (2)

Busy year – busy workshops

I haven’t been able to post any blogs in the last few months, it’s been a busy year and a busy workshop season!

With work going mad on the design front, as well as a busy family life which has taken all our free time, I have come to realise, that I am unable to do everything I set out to do, even with the best intentions in the world, time is fleeting.

The last workshop before the summer

The last workshop before the summer

The workshops have been immense fun, I made new friends, welcomed back many of the past workshop attendees who were keen to try out new experiences . Running the workshops has been a  life saver in so many ways – keeping me focused on delivering a great day full of interesting ideas, tips and knowledge for people to take away with them.

Managing time and work as well as a number of other responsibilities is always a tiny bit stressful and usually I manage, but perhaps it is a sign of old age creeping up on me (?) or that perhaps I have taken on more than I can cope, has meant that I have had to scale work right back.  I will take a hiatus until February 2017 before resuming a full work schedule and workshop.

Meanwhile, I will keep updating the site with interesting horticultural info that I find 🙂

Making apple cider vinegar

Making apple cider vinegar has been on my radar for years and somehow I just don’t know why (oh why?!) I have never made any until this year. Well I did start last year but on a small scale, so that doesn’t count. Our apples start in early September and go all the way through to early November so we are very lucky with a very long harvest.

Apples that are not perfect looking but oh so tasty

Apples that are not perfect looking but oh so tasty

It is so easy and so satisfying as well as being super healthy and I just followed my friend Carl Legge’s recipe with some added components, I can’t help tinkering! In one batch I added, the last strawberries along with the apples, in another batch I added the latest nettle tops before the winter and in another I added hyssop.

Laden with apples

I plan to make another 5 litre batch with my Kombucha (again Carl supplied me with this nearly 2 years ago and I drink this everyday and it is also possible to make vinegar with Kombucha so am going to try that.

Apple vinegar home made in batches of 5 litres with strawberries and nettle tops

Apple vinegar home made in batches of 5 litres with strawberries and nettle tops

I use a lot of vinegar in my cooking, as well as my preserving so it just made total sense to use the apples in our orchards to supply us through the year. We garden organically and so it makes even more sense. I also drink 20ml everyday in warm water with some of my honey, super good for joints.

Strawberries will hopefully impart a delicate note to the vinegar

Strawberries will hopefully impart a delicate note to the vinegar

 

Nettle tops

Nettle tops

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Tubs of water, sugar and apples, strawberries and nettle getting filled up to leave in a warm place to ferment over 7-10 days.

 

 

Harvesting herbs for the kitchen

Harvesting herbs for the kitchen has to be one of the most enjoyable gardening activity to take part in. This year the herb garden has been phenomenal and I have been able to harvest so much  that I had to be a little bit more inventive in my cooking experimentation.

Drying bay leaves for the kitchen and to make firelighters for friends

Drying bay leaves for the kitchen and to make firelighters for friends

 

Basil pesto an other herbs and garlic

Basil pesto an other herbs and garlic

So aside from drying my herbs by the bag full for teas and potions and lotions (health and skin care) as well as first aid balms and syrups, I also made lots of condiments, some in dry powder form and others suspended in olive oil and put into ice-cubes and frozen so that I have cooking basics to hand.

Sunflowers - the seeds are harvested and used fresh for baking or dried and used as next year's seeds few course, as well as dried to munch on.

Sunflowers – the seeds are harvested and used fresh for baking or dried and used as next year’s seeds few course, as well as dried to munch on.

I made garlic and mint for my meat dishes, fennel seeds and fennel herb salt rubs, sage butter, basil and pumpkin/sunflower nut pesto, salsa of every kind and I then threw in every seed, nut and herb I had that was left over to make base sauces for gratins, pasta and vegetable soups.

Herb garden in summer

Herb garden in summer

Phew! Having more time in the kitchen since I have been ill means that I really got going on the preserving in every which way possible.

Fennel seeds - they are used fresh to incorporate into smoothies, dried as seasoning for vegetables and breads

Fennel seeds – they are used fresh to incorporate into smoothies, dried as seasoning for vegetables and breads

 

Bentley going through herb garden, here smelling some thyme

Bentley going through herb garden, here smelling some thyme

Bountiful Autumn and help in the garden

So far Autumn has truly been bountiful in the garden and if the apple harvest is anything to go by it will keep on coming! This past month we have been very lucky to finally find some help too, for the heavy work and the gardening.

Beech tree on first day of Autumn

Beech tree on first day of Autumn

I have started to puree the apples and in one week some friends who also have orchards, will arrive to make juice and cider. All on a home made basis of course and with more help from neighbours and friends as I still can’t do much physically. The bounty is vast!

Thank goodness for Peter, the new gardener and Aggi the tree felling and general muscle man. We now have help in the garden. After a few false starts; people turning up but not working, people not turning up, people coming for one week and then not turning up for 3 weeks …. you get the jist. Anyway, in the end I took on someone with horticultural and years of experience. Peter started last week and has saved my bacon as the potager was getting so bad. It was making me ill just looking at it.

Basil and tomatoes in the greenhouse

Basil and tomatoes in the greenhouse

The heavy works was done by Aggi who valiantly worked through the rain (unheard of I know, reliable and polite to boot)  to chop to a feasible height the laurel hedge in the potager that had outgrown itself and was depriving my garden of light.  He also pruned ash & oak trees, cleared old apples trees and trimmed and tidied the potager hedges. We have a huge pile of wood to burn for November! The old branches went to neighbours and friends who have wood burning stoves.

Tomatoes of every colour this year

Tomatoes of every colour this year

I now feel relief, excitement at the new planting plans Peter and I will start to plot and grateful that in the end karma comes round.

Fig leaf coco ice-cream

So I have had more time to cook and experiment with my fruit & vegetables. A new one for me, fig leaf ice-cream.

Autumn has been bountiful for us, and not just in what the garden is giving up, but also sending good people to help us. Can’t ask for more than that, except better health! 🙂

Chocolate cake experimenting with raw food

Chocolate cake experimenting with raw food was another enjoyable bake :)

 

Busy year and taking a break

It’s been such a busy year with the workshops and also family stuff. I haven’t had a minute to myself with my normal landscape and interior design work as well as running the workshops up to the summer break.

Unfortunately I have had to cancel all the new workshops for September and October now, due to my Dad passing away as well as me having a run of rather bad health. I am not able to do much at the moment and so have had to stop working . I am hoping that my health with improve and that I can do more “outdoor” activities very soon.

Dahlia Bilbao lemon love

I am so sorry for all the people who booked – it would have been our most successful year so far, with totally sold out workshops. Such a shame, but something totally out of my control!

I hope to be able to run the workshops next year but I will know more around November and so will post new workshops for 2016 if I can.

I have kept the 2 half day workshops open for the moment, The What to do in November and December in  the garden as well the What fruit to plant. These are not so heavy going for me and I will have some help.

Meanwhile I leave you with some Autumn flower colour 🙂Perfect Dahlia New Baby

Busy Spring days with gardening and weeds and herbs

It’s been an awful long time since I posted anything but there have been been busy Spring days with gardening … and other things.  A mix of design clients all wanting their garden done for Spring, busy  spring workshops for Herbs and Topiary and keeping up with the weed invasion that is taking over the garden!

Apple flowers in the orchard  were magnificent this year!

Apple flowers in the orchard were magnificent this year!

Spring has been busy. I have been trying to keep up with the weather and it certainly  has been a challenge:  so hot plants wilt, so cold things take a chill and so wet vegies get drowned. The weeds have been been growing like I have never seen them grow, at least I will be able to do my weed theatre (as opposed to an Auricula theatre), and Bryan and I have been working hard to make sure they don’t invade the fruit and wild borders.

The Herb garden is lushing up and looking rather beautiful - even I do say so myself :)

The Herb garden is lushing up and looking rather beautiful – even if I do say so myself :)

The workshops I ran in April and May were dry…ish. At least dry at all the right times I needed them to be dry for people to go out in the garden and pick herbs or prune topiary shapes! Here are some pictures – we were full for both of them so it was busy on the teaching, cooking, prepping front 🙂

Amanda and Helen busy making Herb products in the afternoon

Amanda and Helen busy making Herb products in the afternoon for our Design a Herb garden for health, beauty and food

Herbs and lemons - the best flavour...ever!

Herbs and lemons – the best flavour…ever!

Helen picking her Orange Thyme

Helen picking her Orange Thyme in the Herb garden

The gang after a fun busy day

The gang after a fun busy day

Hedgerow basket making announces Spring

Our hedgerow basket making truly announced the Spring to come for me. It was a beautiful day and we were able to weave our baskets outside very comfortably.

Making the border of our hedgerow baskets

Making the border of our hedgerow baskets

I had invited willow artist and basket maker Judith Needham whom I had met the previous year – I took several of her workshops and loved her easy flowing manner and positivity as well as her effortless talent. Judith is coming back in June to do a Willow Sculptures for the Garden workshop – I only have 1 place left so hurry if you want to take part!

Hedgerow basket making

Basket base – this is the hardest part – as you need to think about the colours, weaving tightly and folding the uprights

I had cut some of the willow from the back garden – yellow, buff, lime green and red coloured as well as some black one I have been trialing. Judith came along with a stash of hers as well – this one had been dipped in water to make it pliable and was good to start of the baskets.

The sun was with us and we stayed outdoors basket making with hedgerow materials

The sun was with us and we stayed outdoors basket making with hedgerow materials

Basket colours made form Hedgerow materials

Basket colours made form Hedgerow materials

I actually made a bird’s nest as opposed to a basket – I had already made a few at Judith’s other workshops and also I was in charge of cooking lunch so I didn’t have that much time!

Bird's Nest

Bird’s Nest

We had a great day and the baskets made were stunning with so many beautiful colours woven through. Amazing ladies too 🙂

Hedgerow basket making

Anna deep in thought

How to grow a flower garden for beginners

This workshop marks the start of exciting things to come for me – how to grow a flower garden for beginners is always so much fun, to see people going away with their seed trays full of lovely flowers that will soon make an appearance, puts a smile on your face.

The cutting garden workshop

Juliet sowing in root trainers at the last workshop

My first cutting garden - I made it for my mother who was very sick in 2013

My first cutting garden with lots of Cosmos- I made it for my mother who was very sick in 2013

This year I have made and will keep up, a concerted effort to grow a large number of flower,. I want to trial some new combinations in the garden to apply in my design business, so it’s all hands on deck, or perhaps I should say all hands to the soil.

I also decided that since I was going to grow a larger number of flowers than usual and  since I live in the UK, I should get acquainted with the quintessential British art of flower arranging.  So sowing began in late February with Sweet peas and has kept on going and will do so until the end of April and I started my flower arranging classes 3 weeks ago with a super lady in Hambledon called Heather Kille, a master of flower arranging.

Card flower arrangement

Card arrangement – difficult to do, in a small receptable to put lots of flowers in. It was a disaster but I liked my colours!

This is not a straightforward art to learn – it involves design, form, texture, balance and so many other design principles as well as the mechanics of building the arrangement. It is something I have always wanted to do, since I first came to the UK many years ago and went to my first Chelsea Flower Show. The horticultural bit is not a problem for me but doing a vase of flowers is another kettle of …flowers ? altogether.

 

Cutting garden workshop  watering the trays of seeds

Elaine watering the trays of seeds

So far I have made a card with an arrangement coming through an opening (shockingly bad 1st attempt), a table arrangement with branches and leaves and daffodils (better) in an old bread tin I purchased from Vintage Trading and this week I we made a nest arrangement (wonky) – with a circle of foraged branches and foliage from Heather’s garden.

Japanese pin flower arrangement

Japanese pin arrangement in an old bread tin I purchased from Vintage Trading.

I bought some soft pink tulips as my garden tulips haven’t peeked through yet.  The tulip heads will apparently stand up to light and raise themselves above the twined circle nesting my Easter eggs (hard boiled). Mine is a bit wonky but I am pleased with my efforts (haven’t taken pictures yet!) even if it looks amateurish.

Heather also showed us how to make a modern arrangement with coloured wire and broken glass with tulips intertwined within a glass bowl, which looked effortless and beautiful.

Sowing is relatively easy – Sweet peas are special – you can either sow them in the Autumn or early Spring, I sow mine in mid-February in a cold greenhouse in special modules which are elongated and that are re-usable, this is my 3rd year using them. Sweet peas look after themselves, you water once in a while and watch them grow. I pinch out the tips if I see them getting away too early before I can put them out, but otherwise, I leave them be.

Cutting garden borders

Cutting garden borders – there are Raspberries amidst the fluffiness!

Then you have your hardy annuals, in my book I annotate my sowing with HA. Flowers that are hardy and from sowing to full on blooms live for 1 year (or thereabouts). This includes setting seeds – busy plants! They don’t mind the cold or having wet feet and you can sow the seeds from April until early Autumn (for flowering the year after) straight into the soil, pretty much any soil, as long as they get sun for most of the day. I start some of mine early (March) in a cold greenhouse.

The wild carrot - a new find I first saw at Yeo Valley gardens in 2013

The wild carrot – a new find I first saw at Yeo Valley gardens in 2013 – amazing  combination with Dill or Fennel

Half hardy flowers are just that, half as hardy as the hardy ones. They don’t like the cold, wet feet or any chills. I start them in the greenhouse, covered or otherwise – packets are excellent sources of information these days – but don’t sow too early, I start mine from the 17th March onwards, around Spring Equinox when light levels are better. If you sow early you get leggy girls so don’t be too hasty. These can go out at the end of Spring once all frost has passed.

Cutting garden - Dahlias are a big love!

Cutting garden – Dahlias are a big love!

Then we come to biennials – these require a a more thoughtful planning regime, you sow them this year, they grow roots then leaves but the flowers come through the year after. So you do need to think where you are going to plant them/sow them. I sow mine mid-May onwards all the way up to August. Some can be sown straight into the ground, others need warm germination, by then my greenhouse is cooking with heat, so it’s easy. Once all risks of frost is over I plant out in the garden. To begin with in a trial area if I don’t know where I am going to put it.

Tulips are great cutting garden flowers for Easter

Tulips are great cutting garden flowers for Easter

Lastly I sow perennial seeds, the ones that are sown once and come back year after year. This year I have lots of grasses to fill in as some got ripped out by a marauding cat! I have also sowed Verbena and many other herbaceous ones. Again I plant them out once all risk of frost has passed.

Cleome - a stunning flower in the beginner's cutting garden

Cleome – a stunning flower in the beginner’s cutting garden

Not all but many of the flowers will need staking (again check your packet instructions or a good book) – this year I will use the abundance of willow branches that I have started to harvest to make plant stakes and domes. Be careful with willow as if planted straight from cuttings it will re-root!

Lemon and Pink Dahlia - who would have thought these two colours would go so well together?!

Lemon and Pink Dahlia – who would have thought these two colours would go so well together?!

This year I hope to have an even more floriferous garden but I also hope to bring some of my cut flowers inside to make my home a smiley and scented place thanks to Heather’s tutelage. Here’s to a flowery year!

I adore Cerinthe - a purple to blue foliage plant( flower really) whcih is adored by bees and also almost glows at dusk!

I adore Cerinthe – a purple to blue foliage plant( flower really) whcih is adored by bees and also almost glows at dusk!

The books, the cooking and the collection

The books, the cooking and the collection that has grown over the years threatens to overcome our wall space and is getting potentially out of hand. Mind you that is not hard to do in a house that has very little wall space anyway due to the its Edwardian design,  which makes for a home flooded with light due to the numerous windows, but very short on wall to hang anything on or put up shelves!

Cooking books.....

Cooking books…..

Bookcase in the office

Bookcase in the office

I have always been an avid reader, not just cooking books, anything that interests me, and there are lots of things that interest me, hence a growing collection. From science to astronomy, art to music, interiors, architecture, English literature to French & Italian literature, crafts, rural skills and gardening. It doesn’t just stop at books however, in the office we have a room that has filling cabinets that are filled with torn out magazine articles. All of these help with my workshops too – of course.

In the cupboards too....

In the cupboards too….

.... then there is more....

…. then there is more….

The hanging files are like a library of all the things that can inform my design practice in Landscape and Interiors when I am doing research or need more info on a particular subject. In the garden design section I have anything from building bug hotels to bonding resin for garden paths and in the interiors section we go from Alabaster as a material to plumbing. I do like to hover on functional or even more esoteric subjects but in esssence I think I have an insatiable apetite to learn about most things and cooking books have been a later addition to my collection. I started late, in my twenties, due to the constant traveling I was doing at the time for work but made up for the lost time in a big way and especially when I moved in with my husband and gave up on international business.

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Oh and then there is the fondness for all books on fermenting, canning, jam making, preserving….

 

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The newest arrivals, finally figured out that to get better I need to start with a totally healthy nutrition…..

 

A few months ago I bought a book by Diana Henry, A change of Appetite and as I was reading through it I could hear that insatiable tone, that curiosity about different foods, accompanying medley of tastes, spices and pairings. I visited her website and read about how her collection of cooking books threatened her marriage, well she ditched the chap anyway, not because of the books I am sure, but she said she would choose her books over a man. I might not go that far, (ok I might go absolutely berserk if he said get rid!)  but I do have an almost visceral attachment to my books. And I like cooking form my cooking books too – the experimenting is endless.

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I remember a few years ago I decided to finally get rid of my medicine reference books, the ones a medical student might want through their training and that I had used for mine, after 4 hours I finally made a pile of 6 books to sell on ebay. I still remember that feeling of sending them through the post, it was like I had lost a family member! Totally silly I realise but real nevertheless.

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I am not into acquiring many things, never have done, even when I was working for companies in my 20s and 30s, I went clothes shopping once a year, bought a whole year’s worth of work clothes and that was that, then every year I gave them to a charity that helps getting women back to work and dressed accordingly to tackle corporate business. The only thing I kept? The shoes! Bags, coats, scarves, etc… it all went to charity. I gave furniture away when I moved countries, I gave electronic equipment, everything. But the books, well that’s another deal all together!

The filing cabinets..... for Interior Design and Landscape Design.....

The filing cabinets….. for Interior Design and Landscape Design…..

I was very sick from 2009 to 2011 and the only way to keep sane and keep a smile on my face so that no-one would notice the pain I was in was to read, and read I did, to the point of it becoming my anchor almost. I am now better and slowly getting back to normal and so is my book reading . Things have become more balanced and I might actually consider giving away some of my books and this time with a restful heart. I might just… keep…. and keep buying some of the cooking, interiors, gardening and design books…. just a few….