Friday, July 9, 2021

A Time of Raucous Chaos

 It is. It really is - a time of raucous chaos. My garden has, quite simply, out-manoeuvred me on every front. It is a jungle. Which is not an entirely bad thing, especially given the current re-wilding trend. And I sort-of like it...

It has been a different kind of year in most gardens, with garden legend Monty Don  and the National Trust putting their weight behind No Mow May (and beyond). No Mow May is the idea of Plantlife, an environmental charity. The big idea is that, by not mowing the lawn as the growing season begins, a range of pollinating insects (which are in steady decline in the UK) get the chance to boost their numbers. In fact, a neatly mown lawn is often compared to a desert  in environmental terms, with no places for insect populations to thrive. No Mow May has shown positive results since its inception in 2019 and this year, perhaps because Covid has forced us to rethink our environment, the no-mowing has spread in popularity. My personal garden-guru, Margaret has embraced no-mow as have many others (I see these lawns on my walks) - and I have too. Weirdly, I've never had so much fun with a mower.

It is now July and I have been playing games with my lawn since May. Unwilling to entirely give up on a mown lawn, I have compromised, initially mowing about half. This compromise has changed slightly as my most un-mown bits of garden now have paths mown through them and my most mown bits of lawn have unmown patches. It really is great fun - I'm working on a giant heart-shape in the back garden and there is a teardrop in the front. I think my new neighbours (who like a VERY neat lawn) think I'm some sort of reprobate, or have a weird visual complaint...


So the jungle starts on the lawn. My daughter's medicinal garden (I call it hers because it was her idea, but really she barely sets foot in it) has become a wildlife garden. Yes, I call it that because its overgrown. Every now and then I go in and weed around the plants that we have put in, but I almost always disturb a creature. The last time I pulled out a chunk of vegetation, a little frog jumped out! It is a hive of life, with insects all over and the rich soil full of earthworms. No wonder the frog has taken up residence.

In fact the garden as a whole, unkempt as it is, is bursting with life. After raising a brood in my shed, the blackbirds (maybe the same pair) have built a nest in the Virginia Creeper and, judging by the activity, are raising another clutch. I have seen a goldfinch in my garden for the first time and the dawn chorus is so loud that it wakes us up. Most exciting of all, my neighbour reported seeing a hedgehog on the edge of the hedge that borders our properties. How amazing is that! If not mowing and not weeding results in a hedgehog taking up residency, then a manicured garden is something I am only too happy to give up.

In the veg patch, I have harvested my first onions, currently laid out on a rack in the greenhouse as per RHS website instructions. I have eaten some beetroot and the ones left are growing well (I planted them in a planter this year following my defeat by the pigeons two years ago). The mangetout have outdone themselves in jungling over  - growing with great gusto, making a show of lovely white blooms and delivering a huge supply of pods. The strawberries have also done particularly well this year. Although many have rotted in the humid wet conditions, I still pick a large bowl's worth every day. And the raspberries are just beginning. I even have blueberries this year. Technically, I always have blueberries, but the birds usually get to them before I do. This year, they don't seem so keen. Maybe because I have encouraged insects and so they have more to eat?

Much to the dog's delight, the apples are swelling on my little apple tree, transforming it into what the dog clearly thinks is a thing of miracles - a ball tree. Once again, our house is dotted with windfall apples in various states of chewed.

Cucumbers are doing well and I have a glut of tomato plants - many of which I think are too late to fruit- but hey-ho, the fun is in the growing. As an aside, 
I am experimenting with growing upside-down tomatoes, planting cherry tomatoes in old containers and hanging them up. So far so good, but we will see what happens when (if) they bear fruit.

As for the cauliflowers. Well, I think I can safely consign them to the disaster heap. After being warned to protect them at all cost from butterflies, I built them a tent of enviromesh, which quickly became a slug safe-zone. So I removed the enviromesh. Those that have actually formed a `flower' are very un-cauliflower-y and so I have begun to pull them out. (I need space for tomatoes!) It is an experiment I don't think I will repeat.

The door of my office is open as I write. I can see the daisies in my heart-patch and the abundant green of my overgrown garden. There are birds on the lawn and a bee is buzzing around the sweetpeas just outside. Someone is mowing in some place that is not my garden. 

I feel enormously lucky.  



Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Grow, grow, grow

 I cannot believe the change since last I wrote! With astronomical summer still a week away, Mother Nature has roared back to vibrant life and all of England's green and pleasant land is transformed into lush and verdant fruitfulness. Every year, I am newly amazed at how quickly the land transforms - one minute is seems all mud and cold and the next it is all heat and colour!

Here in my garden, everything seems to have grown a foot overnight and what took weeks to sprout a mere month ago, is now doing all that germinating and growing in just days. In the last day or so, the mangetout have flowered and formed pods, the beans have finally taken and the beetroot are beginning to look promising. The mixed leaves have already gone to seed and I find myself in the awkward position of thinking about pulling them out (it is, after all, only June!). And that's just the edible stuff. All along the hedgerows, flowers are in bloom. Low down, the lovely delicate stitchwort have given way to buttercups and higher up, the dog roses dot the road-side with pink and white. Even the nettles are flowering and the grass is tall and heavy with pollen (pity the hay-fever sufferers!)

In the garden, my astonishing poppies are even more astounding than last year. With blooms the size of saucers, their rich dark pollen is a magnet for bees. After the early warm snap followed by more cold in April/May, I feared for the bees. They seemed to have woken up too early and I wondered how many had died off. This seemed justified with very few bees out at the end of May, but they are back! And loving the floral banquet set out for them. They
particularly seem to enjoy the poppies, rolling around in the purple pollen, making delighted buzzy sounds. (I am sure my neighbours think I'm slightly unhinged as I stand staring at poppies and giggling at the bees' antics...)

It is all a bit Disney out there with the proliferation of life. Not only are the bees out in force, but a clutch of blackbird chicks have just fledged in the garden shed. I love blackbirds and usually have a fairly good idea of which ones are about, so when I heard their alarm call in early May and saw a magpie close to their nest, I feared for them. Sadly, the magpie did, indeed plunder their nest (along with that of the pigeons nesting in a creeper) and I watched the brown female blackbird hopping around on the lawn with a definite sense of loss. Fortunately, nature is resilient and it wasn't that long after that I spotted her (and I'm convinced it was the same one) sitting on a nest tucked into the corner of my garden shed. The nest itself was a work of wonder - very round and crafted out of grass, apparently glued together with mud. When and how they built it is a mystery - but there she was!

It was all a bit inconvenient for a while as I had to vacate the shed for the bird. And then I though the nest had been abandoned because she seemed to leave it for long periods. So imagine my utter surprise to see four little heads sticking out of it! Astonishingly, the  babies didn't seem to make any noise at all. I have had nest of blue tits and sparrows about before, and the chicks are very vocal, but I never once heard the blackbird babies make a sound - almost as if they knew they were hiding.


 They grew quickly and last weekend I peeked in to find them gone. With no feathers or evidence of pillage, I have to assume that they fledged successfully - and my neighbour rescued a young bird from his greenhouse , which seems to support this idea. What an absolute joy and privilege to have seen these little birds grow.

And so, the sun is out and the world is great and good! I hope all is well wherever you are.


Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Come on Spring!!!

 I've been holding out for Spring since...well, a long time! And Spring seems slow in coming this year. Last year at this time, we were in the full throes of the first pandemic lockdown. The weather was glorious and the garden was in full bloom. This year - not so much. Here we are at the end of April and I have had to haul out a sheet of garden mesh to protect my newly planted seedlings against yet another late frost. It's sunny out, but the North wind is up, the nights are nippy and the blackthorn is still the dominant bloom. 

All quite frustrating given that I am raring to go, fired up by all those months of wistful, waiting lockdown. (And I suspect that there are many others like me as we emerge from lockdown number three). Admittedly, in my eagerness, I probably started the season too early. If the seed packet said `sow March to April' I sowed in early March. Which means that I now have lots of seedlings that need to get into the ground - hence the enviro-mesh and frustration. I have never been very good at patience.

On the experimental side, I have given up the quest to grow sweet potatoes and have re-purposed two rubble-tubs into potato planters instead. Lots of gardeners don't bother with potatoes as they are cheap to buy, but a potato straight out the garden is a very tasty thing indeed. I have tried to grow them on and off since I have had my veggie patch. The rubble-tubs in question are recycled laundry tubs whose handles broke. Fortunately, potato planters have no need of handles and so, with a couple of holes drilled in them - voila! So far, so good: the potatoes are sprouting and the tubs are holding up. All the literature promises loads of lovely potatoes in an easy-to-harvest format. Hmmm - I will keep you posted.

While the garden is taking its time to burst into life, the local fauna are having a field day. We appear to have a ratty resident under our decking once again. The dog told us it was there long before we saw it, but I know it to be a rat, because I opened the curtains one early morning, so see it sitting out in full view. To be fair, it is quite a good-looking rat and  I do have a soft-spot for rodents, but we are not so na├»ve as to think that it can set up home. Getting it to move on has, however, become a dilemma. When we had a rat a couple of years ago, we set traps, but kept catching mice (we are in the countryside). Now we have a humane trap, but despite baiting it every night and finding the bait gone every morning, Ratty has eluded us and our only catch has been a traumatised blackbird. Many years ago, when we lived in Messina, South Africa, the standard way of discouraging unwanted visitors (from rats to scorpions) was to wash down the area with Jeyes Fluid. Presumably the potent smell is too much for them. So I have a tin of Jeyes fluid which will be the next experiment in getting the rat to move.

And the rat has not been the only visitor. The husband arrived home one afternoon to report that he had had to drive around a dove on the driveway. Further inspection found it to be a juvenile ring neck that seemed to have become too cold. It was unresponsive, but alive, so we took it inside and let it overnight in a box by the radiator. The next morning I let it out and was pleased to see a parent bird appear almost immediately. The youngster, with a lot on encouragement from its parent, flapped onto the hedge and away across the neighbours garden.

Then there was the juvenile blackbird that suddenly appeared at the sliding doors. Confused, it kept flapping into the glass. It had to be caught (a case of walking up to it and enclosing it in my hands) and turned around so that it could fly away, chirping loudly at the indignation.

 And then there was the bat. I was raking the garden early last week when I heard a high-pitched screaming. There, quite disguised against the soil, was a little bat, shrieking away. I was convinced that I had raked it although there was no sign of injury. I put it in a box and called the Essex Bat Group who have been absolutely fantastic. The bat is a pipistrelle and after collecting it, bat rescuer, Steve found that it was covered in glue. Apparently the glue from fly papers sticks to these little bats and can ground them, making them easy prey to cats. Where I thought the bat had lost an ear, it turned out that his ear was glued down, as well as one eye being completely covered in glue. Happily, my little bat turned out to be quite determined to live and was eating almost as soon as the glue was removed. He was brought back by Steve and his partner at the end of the week and released, well-recovered - a magical micro-second of a tiny bat against the full moon. I only hope that he is successful at avoiding any other glue!

And finally, over the weekend morning, an amazing bloom of spiders happened in my green house. I was astonished to see a hammock of tiny little yellow spiderlings spun between an old container and a seedling where I hadn't noticed a web before. They appear to be garden spiders and mass hatchings are common at this time of year, but I have never seen one before. The little spiders seem to have spent much of their time sleeping, but blowing on the hammock results in much movement - like skittering gold dust. Now, a couple of days in, the hammock is emptying out - presumably as the little spiders go off to find their own areas of the garden to populate. They were hard to capture in a picture - they look like little grains of dirt on the left.

So maybe Spring is here after all - and hopefully the warmth and great growing are just around the corner!

Thursday, February 18, 2021

It's February and we're....frazzled!

 

We're heading into the last week of February and I have to admit to a degree of ,erm, grumpiness. Lockdown seems endless, winter seems endless and endless just seems endless. Bah Humbug!



So I will get the gripes over with first: Fly tipping and casual littering. Why? When the world is out of control, why not at least take ownership of that which you can control?

Travel the little lanes around my village and you
will find a ditch full of carpet off-cuts (they've been there since Christmas Day. I know, because I reported it), a pile of used tyres on the edge of a field and a mattress in a small lay-by. Not only that, but on one particular lane, there is a trail of Isla Negra Sauvignon Blanc bottles (there are so many that I could identify the brand!), accompanied by the occasional beer can. On another corner, McDonalds wrappers and cups vie for space with energy drink cans.

Why? What makes someone so disrespectful of the countryside and the people who live there, that they would dump their waste in a ditch or on a corner? When someone throws out their Maccie Dee's wrapper, what on earth makes them think that it is better thrown on the side of the road than kept in their car until they find a bin? And as for the wine bottles....well, I can only think that there is a teenager somewhere who is tapping away at a parental supply, or someone has a very guilty drinking problem. The point is - don't dump it! It would take just as much effort to find a bin or take your bigger rubbish to a commercial dump. I would have taken on some tyres (for raised beds) if someone was happy to deliver them (they were happy to dump them....) AND if you're thinking that there's an excuse not to use the municipal tip because it is closed - most are not. AND if you need to get rid of a mattress, councils will remove bulky items for not very much cost.

Why leave your mess for someone else? I don't get it. Especially now that the countryside and open places have become so important and precious.

Rant over (for now...)

As lockdown drags on for what must certainly be the 99th month, I have reflected on how my priorities have changed. With holidays and travel out of the question, I have found that I think very carefully about where I spend my money.

Historically, I am very middle class in my shopping habits. Waitrose, when I had a local, saw a lot of my footfall and then I did the discrete move to Ocado. However, all of that changed in March 2020 when delivery slots suddenly became like hen's teeth. It was then that I discovered more local alternatives such as Ashlyns (http://www.ashlynsorganics.co.uk), a company that used to supply the hospitality industry, but were forced to move into home delivery to keep afloat. There are dozens of such companies across the country. And there are good reasons to use them : their prices tend to be reasonable and their produce tends to be locally sourced. I don't eat meat, but my husband does and it is important to me that I know where the meat he eats comes from. If you use a local company, they should be able to tell you (try tracing the source of meat in your Tesco shop - not so easy!) By buying from a local company I am also supporting local farmers.

And here I must also mention our fantastic local pub, The Fox. A family-run business, they have done everything to support our little community, including opening a shop to supply essentials, on top of regular takeaways. During the worst days of panic buying, they were, literally, a lifeline for many. Now that things are not quite so dire, they still provide a non-supermarket option (and give my pre-teen a chance to go off by herself to buy a muffin once a week - a very precious outing in a time of no outings!)

Of course, the panic buying and lack of delivery slots of early 2020 have now faded into the past. I never did go back to Ocado. By the time I found a slot, it cost £6.50 for a delivery and that just seemed outrageous. So I tried Iceland. Yes, really. A definite departure from my middle class habits. What I did find was that slots are regularly available and that their fresh produce (albeit a bit limited in variety) is of really good quality. Their frozen veg is fab and they also sell a good bottle of wine. What's not to like? They also deliver free for orders over £35. And their customer service, at least in my neck of the woods, has been great. 

The other solid alternative is Tesco click and collect. You pay a small packing charge, but it is super convenient and it saves going into a store for those things that you cannot get anywhere else but a supermarket.

 I now buy cleaning products in bulk.  I prefer to use eco-friendly products and have found that this is cheaper (and less wasteful) when bought in bigger packs. I like Big Green Smile (https://www.biggreensmile.com) because they have a good range and their delivery is quite quick. Bigger packs mean less plastic, mean less waste. I regularly buy laundry liquid (Ecover), dishwashing soap (Ecover) and hand wash (Bio D) in 5l containers. They also stock a good range of eco-friendly and paraben free personal care products.

And then there's good 'ole Milk and More who have been consistently reliable over the last year. There is something very lovely about opening your door to find a pint of milk on your doorstep.

Going forward, I wonder how much my - and the collective `our' - habits will change. I would hope that we all try to support local (eat local, buy local). Our world has become small over the last year. While that isn't always a good thing, it has been useful to pause and think about what we have and how we can make it better. It is a more profound question than simply where we buy our cauliflower, but I would hope we consider carefully where we put our hard-earned cash and which companies we reward with our business.

Meanwhile, outside, the snowdrops are in bloom and the daffodils are poking through the water-logged grass. Hang in there, everyone, at least Spring is on the way!



Thursday, December 31, 2020

So long, 2020...


 So here we are - December 31st, 2020.

What a year. No exclamation mark, just the statement. Because that is what is has been  - a year of whats and what-ifs and unbelievable possibilities amongst the madness.

What a year.

The pandemic has been an unmistakable water-mark across 2020. Who could have, would have imagined when, way back in January, we heard about a new disease in China. Nobody dreamed a lockdown would ever happen - let alone lockdown two and three. Suddenly flour and cooking oil became impossible to find (and lets not even talk about toilet roll!) Everything we took for granted, from the casual hugging of friends, to the ability to nip into London on a train, disappeared overnight. For a while, we all froze. Afraid. And the first wave in the Spring of 2020 seemed to bring with it wave after wave of bad news.

But this is the curious thing - looking back at the last 12 months, it hasn't all been bad. And I say this with the greatest respect and sympathy to those who have lost loved ones and their livelihoods in the course of this year. I know I have been unbelievably lucky when so many others have suffered and are still suffering. And that's part of what has made this year good - a renewed sense of how fortunate I am. How lucky I am to live in a country where medical care is free. How lucky to live in a country where there are enough other lucky people to help those who need it. 

This year, I have learnt to value my friendships. I'm not necessarily the best friend. Socialising isn't top of my favourite list, but this year I have learnt the value of checking in. The casual chat, whether over messenger or wattsapp or the more organised Zoom. All the small gestures that remind us that there are other people out there who care about us. 

This year, I have learnt to value my garden and nature in a more profound way than I have before. This from someone who has always loved the outdoors. In the long ironic summer, we walked footpaths we hadn't walked before, discovering again how beautiful the world is. This year I have watched each new growth as its own little miracle. I have planned and planted and got to know the birds. I have never been more excited for the coming Spring!

This year, I have learnt again how wonderful and terrible human beings are. I'll leave out the terrible for now (unfortunately, just plain stupid falls into that category!)and let's think about the wonderful. The wonderful people who have stepped up to help friends and neighbours. In our village, the wonderful people of our pub, The Fox Inn, who got up when they kept being hammered down, to open a village shop, to deliver takeaways, to innovate and create, no matter how many times they were battered. The sense of community that came out of supporting the pub. My neighbour, who started the pandemic year alone, having lost his wife in 2019, who was isolated from a family that worked in the care sector for many long lonely months, who persevered. Who hung in there, chatting to neighbours across the hedge, so that, at the close of 2020 he has met someone new and life is again, looking good. And to the almost-miracle which means that we are ending the year with several vaccines at play across the world - an unprecedented medical feat. Proof of how tenacious we are as a species. How we are able to survive.

Which makes us all wonder what the new year will bring.

Have we learned the lessons we should have about our planet? I fear not. The huge amount of litter strewn around the country the moment we ended our first lockdown is testament to a wholescale attitude of `don't care.'

Have we learnt the lesson we should have about animal welfare? I fear not. My news feed reports that the biggest pig farm in the world is opening in China. And who knew how many mink were being farmed in Europe until the shock of hearing about how many million were destroyed?

Have we learnt to be less consumerist?  I don't know. Sales of clothing are down, but the huge piles of packaging left out for recycling after Christmas point to a continued appetite for `stuff'. The television still advertises swathes of rubbish we don't need.

But I am hopeful.

Conspiracy theorists go on about a `global reset'. I'm not an expert, but as far as I know, it boils down to the idea that the current economy of the world is being `reset' to make way for a new one. In the worst of the theories, this is a 1984 doomsday scenario, a Pol Pot version of reducing civilisation.. But I have to admit that I hope for some sort of `reset'. Not a radical wiping out of ideas and innovation, but a rethinking of where happiness and wealth come from.

Here, in my little corner of the edge of Essex, I'm really looking forward to the new year. The hope of new beginnings, new innovations. I look forward to seeing my cherry trees and June berries bud and bloom for the first time. I look forward to being able to visit my daughter in her new home. I look forward to all the many wonderful things that can happen.

Wishing you all a very happy start to 2021 - may the coming year be filled with wonder.





Thursday, December 10, 2020

Countdown...

The Christmas Tree is now up in all it's dishevelled glory, as though some evil fairy has spewed glitter in the corner of the room. 

A few years ago, my eldest daughter tried to colour-coordinate the tree, buying gorgeous blue and silver baubles and matching tinsel. Problem is, I am too tight (erm, sensibly frugal...) to throw out any bauble/tinsel/ bit of glittery stuff in favour of a colour scheme on what is, essentially, a decoration. So our tree is a mish-mash of shiny things bought and made through the years. (The oldest decorations were bought via mail-order catalogue when we lived on a farm in the North of South Africa, 27 years ago!)

Our tree is an aging fake - about 12 years old now - that, in a bid to be a real tree, manages to shed bits of needle-shaped green all over the carpet with alarming zeal. It is already (almost 5 days in) beginning to irk me...

However, despite the massive blob of tree messing with the feng shui, I actually find that I am surprisingly chipper heading into Festive Season 2020. It might be that I have a valid reason to avoid the shops - the Hermes delivery guy now stops for a brief (socially distanced) chat. I also have a VERY good reason not to plan Christmas dinner (what's a girl to do - can't get to the shops!)  and (sorry relatives and lovely friends) a really good reason not to have to fake Christmas cheer through compulsory Christmas visits. Not that I dislike visiting people, but not under the artifice of Christmas. I can also eat as many mince pies as I like in the comfort of my own home and blame my pie-like appearance on lockdown...

Any-way, Christmas is what you make it (like anything). And, after making Christmas wreaths and salt-dough decorations, we have now made our annual gingerbread cookies. We began making gingerbread when we lived in Mozambique. Unable to find chocolate baubles, we made gingerbread cookies to hang on the tree - and our `tradition' has stuck. I have to admit that I am the bringer of ideas and often not the actioner of ideas - so my elder daughters have always made the gingerbread. It has always been great gingerbread! This is actually the first year that I've made it myself....and it wasn't quite as good. Any-way, this is the recipe we use:

350g plain flour

1tsp bicarb of soda

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

125g butter

175g brown sugar

1 egg

4 tbsp golden syrup

1. Sift (on in my case - throw together) flour, bicarb & spices

2. Add butter and mix until like breadcrumbs

3. Stir in sugar

4. Beat egg and syrup together (sounds impossible - but it actually works)

5. Add egg-syrup mixture to other ingredients and knead until smooth.

6. Rest for 15 minutes.

7. Roll, cut-out & bake at 180 C for 15 mins

8. Ice when cool.

Voila!

A very tasty, fun way to liven up non-Christmas!

Oh - and do you know that Christmas is now just two weeks away....

And then the Christmas tree can come down!

Whoooo!




Sunday, November 29, 2020

Brightening bleak mid-Winter


 

In truth, it's not quite mid-Winter, but with only three weeks to go until the shortest day here in the Northern hemisphere, it has begun to feel a bit bleak. Not only has Covid done a dirty on family gatherings, but the weather itself has descended into that grey nothingness that so often characterises December (and is only alleviated by fires, mulled wine and the occasional magnificently fierce frosty day)

There are, of course, ups to the season of dormancy. Bare root trees and shrubs can be bought for a fraction of the price of their potted warm weather cousins. I have acquired two cherry trees and two June berries (amelanchier lamarckii). I read about the latter in an article and am really excited to see what happens in the Spring. While my specimens are quite small and twiggy, I am promised a show of white flowers and berries which are like blue berries. It makes the wait for Spring all the more exciting - watch this space!

Bare-root acquisitions are one way to make this time of the year interesting, but there are other ways too, which, while they require some shopping, do more than supermarket offerings to warm the cockles of our hearts. As many of you will know, I am no fan of the festive season. I dislike the rampant consumerism that characterises a UK Christmas and have forged a reputation as a Grinch. But I also have children and, as my Christmas-loving husband keeps reminding me, I shouldn't `spoil it for them' - or him, I suspect. And, while my Grinch-ish nature is inclined to call it ` a dose of reality', the mum in me acknowledges his point. And so, following on the traditions of Grandma Whyman who used to make our Christmas cake and my friend Margaret, who makes preserves as gifts, over the last several years we have begun our own `making' traditions.  

The first of these is making gingerbread biscuits. We began this `tradition' while living in Mozambique. Unable to find chocolate baubles to hang on the tree (too hot), we decided to make gingerbread decorations to hang instead. It was such fun, that the tradition has stuck. So now we get together to bake and decorate gingerbread on one of the first weekends of December. We make a huge batch and take some round to the neighbours. My middle daughter is now living in Wales, but she assures me that she will also be making gingerbread this year. (I have to be honest, there is a fair amount of gingerbread eating that goes on - not a lot lands up on the tree any more).

The second `tradition' is a new one. Last year, we were lucky enough to be invited along to a wreath making session with a bunch of friends. My youngest daughter and I each made a wreath, and enjoyed it so much, that we decided to do it again this year. 

Our 2019 wreaths were moss based and this year we wanted to make wreaths for friends and family, but the Grinch in me baulked at the idea of all those wire frames which would, inevitably, end up chucked out. (Besides, they would be heavy to post). Inspiration struck while cutting back the Virginia Creeper: it occurred to me that the vines were pliable enough to weave. So I did - making the bases for several wreaths quite easily. This last week, my daughters (eldest and youngest) and I transformed them from woody rounds to festive decorations. I am lucky to have a huge rosemary bush and so we used rosemary sprigs as the basic greenery, attached with easily available floristry wire. My eldest daughter visited Wilko (eek! - but she enjoys the shops at this time of the year) and came back with a trove of wreath decorations, from the natural (pinecones with twine attachments) to the tacky (plastic berries and frosted apples).  
(As an aside: as all the tat - and the pinecones - are reusable, I have to admit that I don't mind it too much.)


There is actually a lot of natural decoration out there. I scoured my rose bushes for rosehips (make sure they haven't gone mushy) and raided the edges of the playing field for berries. Left-over ribbon also comes in handy. And - tarra! We made wreaths which we packaged in recycled cardboard boxes and sent off to Wales, Kent , Hertfordshire and a different spot of Essex!

For our own wreaths, we re-used the moss wreaths from last year. just soaking the moss in water to rejuvenate it. Berried ivy is plentiful along most country lanes, but we actually have our own in the garden, and this formed the basic `greenery' of the wreaths. We recycled many of the decorations from last year and I risked life and limb to gather as many rosehips as possible to add the required red ( I really did - still picking thorns out!) We (my youngest daughter and I ) are really quite pleased with the results and the grey of almost-December seems a little less bleak.

Next stop: hauling out the tree and making gingerbread. But that can all wait a week or two. This grinch needs festive cheer in small doses...


PS: if you want a more comprehensive guide, and loads of ideas, to making your own wreath, have a look at this page:

How to make a Christmas wreath - Gardens Illustrated



A Time of Raucous Chaos

 It is. It really is - a time of raucous chaos. My garden has, quite simply, out-manoeuvred me on every front. It is a jungle. Which is not ...