Monday 28 February 2011

Hyacinths and Daffodils

I was given this lovely planter with narcissi and hyacinths in it for my birthday a few weeks ago by my work colleagues. I thought it was a fantastic present as it meant I could have the garden inside despite the dull, drizzly weather.

It was really exciting to watch the plants grow (which they did remarkably quickly) and, as they were on the kitchen windowsill, I could admire them while cooking and washing up!

Even though it was raining today, the hyacinths started to open and the strange, sweet fragrance that they have has begun to pervade the kitchen and through to the sitting room. I have tried to grow hyacinths outside, but have never had any luck with them at all. However, this way has worked beautifully.

I'm really pleased that the flowers are white too (I do like the blue varieties but somehow the pink ones are just too pink!) The slightly green colour on the petals reminds me of snowdrops and this whole planter has been a wonderful reminder that the real Spring is just around the corner!

Saturday 26 February 2011

More baking (and my feelings on raisins, currants and sultanas)

As it was a bit of a dull, grey, drizzly February day, I decided to cheer myself up with a bit of baking. What should it be? A sort of cakey, biscuity type of thing? Of course, rock cakes! Actually, I don't like raisins, currants or sultanas, due to the texture which I find quite unpleasant and I'm not thrilled by the taste either although I love grapes! Weird, isn't it? So, I make my own version of rock cakes using dried apricots (which I do like).
Anyone who has ventured out with me to a house or garden where scones are served will know that I will assiduously pick out all the dried fruit (and make a huge mess with crumbs) much to my companions' embarrassment. I would just like to add here that I wish these places would offer both plain and fruit scones and then this would not be an issue at all!
So, back to the rock cakes. They have done the job of cheering me up and have provided a welcome treat at tea time. The only problem is that I do like home made cakes and biscuits rather too much, so will probably have to make something else this week. Hmm...what about some flapjack?

Tuesday 22 February 2011

Latest gardening reading

I am really looking forward to getting out into the garden and sorting out the winter damage, pruning roses, clematis, grasses etc. However, I can't really get started until March when hopefully the weather will be a little more co-operative. Until then, I am contenting myself with getting ready to sow seeds, planning the various jobs that need doing, ordering new plants and reading! The two books above are the latest additions to my library and are lovely books in their own right, as well as being full of information and encouragement. I really enjoyed Carol Klein's latest series from her own garden and her enthusiasm comes through whether on television or in a book or article. For some reason, various people I know have taken a dislike to her, but I don't have that problem at all. She seems to me to be exactly as she would be if you met her and I like people who are like that. The other book is taken from the author's gardening column and is thoughts and discussions about what is happening in the garden through the year. As you know, I loved her previous book, The Morville Hours, and this book adds to my enjoyment as it is much more focused on the garden and has some lovely photographs of the garden too. Of course, her prose is just as beautiful as always, so I am really looking forward to settling down and losing myself for a few hours.

Monday 21 February 2011

Almost Spring

Here is the proof that Spring is almost here (although judging from the temperature outside today, you could be forgiven for disagreeing with that statement). I was out in the garden, briefly it must be said, and noticed this primrose in flower. I think this is the earliest it has flowered for quite some time and although the leaves are past their best and the whole plant looks as though it has suffered during the winter, it is still a heartening sight. I shall probably divide it once the weather improves. I associate primroses more with Mothering Sunday or Easter, so it is a real joy to see this one now. It is not called 'prima rosa' (first rose) for nothing!

Thursday 17 February 2011

A new experiment

I was shown how to make felt beads by a work colleague who has recently started felt making but is concentrating more on jewellery. It is a therapeutic process which requires patience and can be done while watching the television.
To start, you need a small amount of wool which you make into a ball shape. You then wrap more wool around it and dip it in some hot water. The tricky bit is to gently roll it into a ball shape without allowing it to go flat. It only needs the slightest pressure (I was a bit heavy handed initially and my first bead took quite a while to get right!). You just add more wool, carefully wrapping it round and dipping it in the hot water. You also add a tiny bit of soap, to encourage the scales in the wool to starting sticking to each other. It is up to you how many layers you put on and how long you roll it for, but the idea is to make a firm bead.
The beads above are the ones I made in a couple of hours and I am really pleased with them. I am going to make enough for a bracelet and earrings but I haven't decided on the colours yet - probably shades of blue...

Wednesday 16 February 2011

A noble experiment

The above piece was my latest experiment which didn't really work out the way I had hoped it would. It was inspired by a small square of glass inlaid with small shapes of iridescent glass, like a mosaic, that I saw in the shop at the hub. I thought it might be just the vehicle for my angelina fusible fibres.
With much excitement, I tried making a piece of felt with the angelina shapes held in the top layer. This did not work and I dismantled it rapidly. Then I thought that I could applique the pieces using various exciting hand and machine stitching. I made a piece of felt and incorporated silk fibres into the top layer to add more interest.
I then stitched the angelina on. Even though I had tacked the shapes in place, they moved against the felt while I stitched, and ended up rather skewiff. My machine sewing skills obviously need a little work too as I managed to allow the needle to miss some parts of the shapes whilst zig-zagging.
I decided to add some hand stitching embellishments to some of the shapes, and whilst this did add to the top surface, the amount of work did not justify the end result.
So, all in all, a noble experiment, but not one with a very pleasing outcome. However, I have learned more about my machine stitching deficiencies and that angelina is best used as an applique material. So, I shall look on it as a learning experience and perhaps I can find a different project that will work more effectively.

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Trip to Hodsock

Last Sunday, I had my annual trip to Hodsock to look at the snowdrops with two good friends I used to work with. It was a showery day but once we arrived, the showers stayed away. The wood is a lot more open now and there has been a good deal of clearance and management, which I think must encourage the snowdrops as they receive more light.

The photo above shows the earliest narcissus I have seen in flower, with some of the larger snowdrops, possibly S Arnott or Elwesii.

The cyclamen coum were also flowering away happily, unlike the ones in my containers at home which have been sulking ever since the December snow.

I really liked the witch hazel in the photo above as it had a more lemon colour rather than the usual gold. I think it was 'Pallida' and the colour showed up beautifully, particularly from across the other side of the lawn. Unfortunately, tempted though I was to buy one, I really don't have room for it!
This trip always signals the start of the garden visiting season for me and I look forward to it every year. I was very pleased with the photos I took too, especially as it was cold and my fingers went numb several times!

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Grantham Gingerbreads

More food, but this time, home made biscuits called (as the title suggests) Grantham Gingerbreads. They are very crunchy with hollow spaces inside and are flavoured with ginger as you might expect. I thought that they were an old family recipe, closely guarded through the generations and only written down in the family recipe book, but I then discovered the recipe in a commercially printed biscuit book! All my romantic notions quickly crumbled away.
Despite this disappointment, it remains one of my favourite recipes as they are quick and easy to make and usually turn out very well. In fact, to be very pretentious, they are the closest thing I have to a 'signature dish'!

Monday 7 February 2011

Beautiful snowdrops

I love snowdrops for their bravery and persistence in flowering at this time of year. They look so delicate, but in fact have buds that can force themselves up through the most difficult of soils. The one in my hand, above, is one of a few gorgeous double flowers I have, both in pots and (a rather small clump) in the border.

This photo shows the clump I have in a pot and I featured them in a post in January. Here they are today, some in flower and most nearly ready to lift my spirits with the thought that Spring is on the way.

Sunday 6 February 2011

A treat for the senses

From a literature based post yesterday to a food based one today in which I am extolling the virtues of the humble egg and cress sandwich. I saw some cress in the supermarket which immediately led my brain to the thought of the egg sandwich and this thought embedded itself to the extent that I had to make one!
My version was wholemeal bread, proper butter spread (in this case, Country Life spreadable), Heinz Salad Cream, a free range, organic egg and the above mentioned cress.
Egg sandwiches remind me of my childhood because we only had them (as far as I can remember) when it was either a party or someone was coming to tea, in other words, special occasions. A part of me still considers them to be a real treat, but I think this just adds to my enjoyment of them.
Egg and cress sandwiches...Mmmmm...!

Saturday 5 February 2011

The Moonstone - my verdict!

Wilkie Collins (photo from Wikipedia)
Having finished The Moonstone, I am now in a position to deliver my verdict on it. (This will probably upset my sister, who still absolutely hates this book.) I absolutely loved it! It had me gripped, trying to work out what happened from the clues given and I have to say, being surprised by the outcome. My curiosity kept pulling me back to it at any spare moment and I finished it with a big sigh of satisfaction. The characters are beautifully drawn and their individual voices come through their retelling of the parts of the story they were involved in. Yes, opium/laudanum does have a part to play, but as Wilkie Collins himself was an addict, the descriptions of the hallucinations suffered by one of the characters are very believable, as well as the effects of withdrawal. He obviously knew what he was talking about. All the elements of a good story are there - humour in the writing, themes of love, betrayal, suicide, murder, theft, deftly woven together, with the odd red herring and twists and turns thrown in for good measure.
The characters are a joy and deserve a few words to themselves. The hero and heroine are, of course, central to the plot, but for me it is some of the others who deserve to take centre stage. Gabriel Betteredge, the stout old family steward, who has overcome many difficult situations in his life by turning to his pipe and tobacco and reading Robinson Crusoe (and judging people accordingly if they haven't read the book), Miss Drusilla Clack, who obligingly leaves improving Christian tracts in people's houses in the vain hope that the reader may be saved, and Ezra Jennings, a mysterious man with a mysterious past. I mustn't forget Sergeant Cuff, a dogged and intelligent man who almost solves the mystery and is certainly one jump ahead of most, although he would rather be tending and growing roses and even Gooseberry, a boy with protruding eyes, who proves to be a worthy detective himself and who Sergeant Cuff thinks could go far in the police force. How could the reader fail to be delighted with this cast list?
I think that my sister read the book when she was too young - reading reviews on amazon, some other people had similar problems. However, I thoroughly enjoyed it and was totally engrossed, just as I was with The Woman in White (one of my all time favourites). For these two books, the stories and the amazing characters he brought to life, I say, "Bravo and thank you, Mr Collins!"

Thursday 3 February 2011

Clematis seed heads

The title to this post doesn't in itself sound very interesting. However, when I went out in the garden this morning, I was amazed by the beautiful patterns and textures within the seed heads.

These are all from the same plant - Clematis Ice Blue, I think - and the swirling shapes that the seed makes really caught my attention.

The seed head above has the most wonderful feathery texture and looks completely different from the one above it.

This one falls somewhere between the two but still has its own beauty with curving lines and feathery texture. These seed heads have stayed on the plant throughout the winter so far and there is evidence of the plant beginning to bud further down the stem. On a bright and sunny albeit cold day, nature amazes me once again.