Summer flowers

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In July, the garden is at its peak, and if you want to grow your own cut flowers this is the month when you’ll have the most choice about what to cut and bring inside. I always feel like I should leave the vast majority of the flowers outside for all the insects to enjoy, but quite a few snapped off in a recent storm, so I’ve put them in vases, including this Russian giant sunflower and Dahlia. Maybe one year I’ll grow so many flowers I won’t feel bad about cutting a few on purpose!

In the garden – an abundance of flowers!

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Last year I grew miniature sunflowers,¬†and this time I tried giant ones. As you can see above they haven’t all been successful, but I’ve got two still standing at over 8ft tall! I’m hoping they’ll survive so that I can collect the edible seeds. You can see the casualty that ended up in the vase on the right in this picture… But a bit of bad luck not withstanding, they were actually pretty easy to grow from seed, and grew incredibly quickly. I had to invest in some taller bamboo canes!

I’ve also successfully grown lots of smaller favourites from seed in containers this year, including cosmos, zinnia and poppy.

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Some of the flowers have finished, but some, like poppy and love-in-a-mist, leave behind their attractive seed pods, which add a different decorative effect to the garden (or cut flower arrangements). On this photo, you can see both the flowers and seed pods of love-in-a-mist.

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I have six surviving pumpkin plants this year – I’m trying to grow the Jack O’Lantern variety for the first time. I’ve only had two female flowers so far, so they’re definitely nowhere near as easy and reliable as the miniature pumpkins I tried last year. The first female flower wasn’t pollinated, but I have high hopes for the second one as its opening coincided with the opening of many of the male flowers. Fingers crossed!

In the craft room – paper and pom pom flowers

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As well as enjoying all the real flowers, you can create some of your own to brighten up inside the house, if like me you prefer to leave the real ones in the garden!

To make these pom pom flowers, fold a piece of craft foam in half and draw out half of a flower template, then cut round it.

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Then just make an X-shaped incision in the middle of the foam flower and push a pom pom inside.

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Paper flowers are also fun to make, and you can even make your own vase to put them in. For the vase, find a recycled glass bottle, and gradually pour acrylic paint into it, swirling it around so that it sticks to the edges of the bottle. One colour is easiest, but you can use different colours and swirl them together for a nice effect. Centsational Girl has a great tutorial.

The paper flowers look pretty effective given how simple they are to make! Instructables has a full tutorial. The great thing about these is that you can make them in whatever combination of colours you like to match the room or occasion. And no guilt about depriving the bees of their pollen! ūüôā

 

 

Lavender

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Lavender is one of my favourite plants to grow in the garden, because it ticks so many boxes! It’s very easy to grow from seed (although you have to be patient!), it seems able to withstand a lot of neglect, it grows well in containers, bees love it, it smells amazing, and the flowers can be harvested, dried and used for all sorts of crafty creations!

To dry lavender for crafts, harvest when the buds have formed but have not fully opened. This way they’ll retain their colour and fragrance for longer. Find out more from Garden Therapy.

In the bathroom – homemade lavender body care gift set

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The calming fragrance of lavender makes it an excellent choice for homemade body care. For this gift set, I made lavender sugar scrub, lavender bath salts and a lavender bath melt, which is hidden away inside the homemade miniature box! I then put them all into a basket with some purple shredded paper and a few sprigs of dried lavender.

Sugar scrub: White sugar, sweet almond oil, lavender essential oil

Bath salts: epsom salts, dried lavender buds, lavender essential oil

Bath melt: 2:1 ratio of cocoa/shea butter and sweet almond oil (the ratio very much depends on your climate – go for a higher proportion of cocoa butter if it’s warm!), lavender essential oil and dried lavender buds

Lavender is also an excellent choice for the herbal bath teas and soaps I shared last month.

In the craft room – reed diffuser

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This is a perfect craft project for me! It uses natural and recycled materials, is exceptionally cheap to make, and yet looks really effective and would make a nice handmade gift. Find a nice, colourless recycled glass bottle and fill part way with a carrier oil – I used sweet almond oil as above – with lavender essential oil mixed into it. Adding a little rubbing alcohol can also help the oil to travel up the reeds. Push some dried lavender sprigs into the bottle, and then add the reeds (I harvested mine from our local wetlands). If you don’t have access to reeds, apparently bamboo skewers work too.

To give as a gift, leave the reeds out and put the lid back on the bottle to keep the oil from leaking! You could give the gift with the reeds tied around the bottle with a pretty purple bow.

Herbs

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The meteorological summer is about to begin, and the garden is looking amazing! Flower buds are bursting open and there are butterflies and bees everywhere! It’s amazing how green everything looks compared with a few months ago. In this month’s creations, I’m focusing on herbs.

In the garden – growing herbs

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Herbs are among the easiest plants to grow from seed, and as well as being useful for cooking and natural medicine, when they flower the bees love them! Herbs are so cheap and easy to grow, they are definite money savers compared to buying them fresh. They grow well in containers so don’t need to take up a lot of space, and can be easily dried for use all year round.¬†The Royal Horticultural Society has plenty of information on growing your own herbs.

Below are some ideas on how to use some of your homegrown dried and fresh herbs.

In the bathroom – herbal and floral soaps and bath tea

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Normally I make soaps in interesting shapes using silicone moulds, but for this project I wanted something simpler and more traditional, and made them in a muffin tin. Into each soap I’ve incorporated some dried plant material and essential oils. You can find out how to dry herbs here. I used melt and pour soap base containing aloe vera, and the following combinations:

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Dried orange slice + sweet orange oil

Dried lemon slice + lemon oil

Dried lavender buds + lavender oil

Dried jasmine flowers + ylang ylang

Dried Calendula petals + patchouli oil

Dried rose bud + rose oil

Getting soaps out of a muffin tin is definitely harder than getting them out of a silicone mould, but I followed a tip that worked well. Place the tin in the freezer for at least half an hour before you try to remove them – they come out much easier!

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Infuse your bath water with herbs without having to clean up lots of little bits of plants after by placing a bath tea bag under the running water. You may have seen herbal bath tea bags for sale, but it’s easy to make your own and that way you can save money and create whatever blends you like. You can buy the bags, or if you’re better than me at¬†sewing you can make your own using muslin.

You Grow Girl has a great tutorial on how to make them and also suggests some blends. My own favourite blend is lavender, chamomile, rolled oats and epsom salt, which is a great nighttime blend for relaxation. Lavender and chamomile are easy to grow yourself from seed, and are also easy to dry.

In the craft room – mini herb tins

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This is such a simple and cheap craft but really effective. Wash out three recycled tins and fill with compost. Plant a seed in each or transfer a small herb plant from a seed germinated elsewhere. I’ve only just transferred in these plants, they should grow quite a lot bigger. I wrapped each tin with burlap to make them more attractive, and wrote the name of each herb on a lollipop stick to identify them. These would make a great gift, or just put them on your kitchen windowsill for easy access to small quantities of fresh herbs.

In the kitchen – herb roast vegetables

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And of course, no post about herbs would be complete without using them for cooking, and for this you can choose whatever herbs and vegetables you like best or whatever’s in season. I used red onion, bell pepper, carrot and potato. Rosemary and thyme work really well with vegetables, with a little oil and salt and pepper. Mix everything together and roast in the oven for about 30-40 minutes. Delicious!

Fur and Feathers

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Happy Easter! Now is the time to celebrate all things cute and fluffy, like my amazing guinea pigs Merlin and Hermes! Here they are feasting on one of their favourites – lettuce!

Now that it’s warm enough, they can run around in the conservatory as well as in their usual run, which looks like this:

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Here’s Merlin:

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And here’s Hermes, modelling one of their favourite toys that I made by recycling an old pair of jogging bottoms that had holes in them!

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In the garden – guinea pig treats and nesting material for birds

A lot of my growing decisions this year have been influenced by what the guinea pigs like to eat. They get through an amazing amount of salad for such small animals… I’m growing them carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, courgettes, tomatoes, peppers and parsley!

If you want to see what’s safe for guinea pigs to eat and how often they can have each type of food during the week for optimum health, this website, the Happy Cavy safe food list, is brilliant.

Dandelions aren’t many gardeners’ friends, although I’ve always let some of them survive for the benefit of the bees. But now they are very much my friend, as the guinea pigs absolutely love to eat the leaves as a treat!

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You need to be careful as there are lots of common plants that are toxic to guinea pigs – daisies for instance – so if you can’t let them run safely in the garden, you can always grow your own grass and other treats for them in trays indoors. Galen’s Garden¬†makes it easy to order seeds to grow things especially for your furry friends! Merlin and Hermes love the oat and barley grass. I’m also growing them some yarrow to try this year.

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The grass was much taller than this, but it’s been significantly and enthusiastically grazed since then!

The guinea pigs are doing their part to help the garden grow too, with the hundreds of poo pellets they manage to produce every day! As guinea pig poo rots down and releases nutrients slowly, it can be applied directly around plants without burning the roots. Alternatively, you can mix it with some water and create your very own liquid fertiliser – this is next on my list of projects!

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Also in the garden this month I’ve been hanging out some alpaca fibre in fat square cages for the birds to take for their nests. I’ve been amazed at how quickly it’s been going down – some chicks somewhere are going to hatch out into a very warm, cosy nest! It’s a great way to watch your garden birds in action, and so funny to watch them flying away with their beaks absolutely stuffed with fluff!

In the bathroom – Easter egg soap

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I found some silicone egg moulds in a pound shop so I couldn’t resist making Easter egg soap. I added a small amount of yellow colouring to melt and pour soap, and poured it into two of the moulds, as each mould creates half an egg. Once they had solidified, I melted another small amount of soap , poured it on top of one of them, and then pushed the other half down on top of it so they stuck together.¬†I paired the egg soap with a pom pom chick in part of an egg box with a ribbon as an Easter gift.

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It’s been a busy day eating for the guinea pigs, so it must be time for a nap…

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Fun things to do in early spring

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There’s something about the arrival of spring that motivates me to do and make things myself from scratch!

In the garden

Cut some flowers for the house

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Now that we’ve passed peak daffodil season, the next easy-to-grow flowers to bring into the house are hellebores. It’s best to wait until the seed pods have started to form, not only does this mean you’re not depriving bees and other pollinators of the pollen, but the stems become sturdier and the flowers will last longer in a vase.

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Hellebores can still have a habit of drooping quite quickly though, so an alternative is to just snip the flowers off and float them in a bowl of water. I’ve added a rhododendron flower for some extra colour. You can see the seed pods on these flowers, compared with the stamens you can see on the photo at the top.

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Make a natural hanging basket liner

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This is something I’ve wanted to try for a long time, and the early spring sunshine helped to motivate me! This is a bit of an experiment, so I’ll have to wait and see how it turns out. I wet felted (or more accurately, attempted to wet felt…) some alpaca fibre, hoping to cut out a piece to use as a hanging basket liner. There’s a great video on how to wet felt alpaca fibre¬†here. I think I used too much wool, too much soap and too much water, so my first attempt wasn’t brilliant, but I’ve ended up with a few pieces of fluffy felt, so I’ll see how they perform when I’m ready to plant up the basket! I think the liner might be at risk from jackdaws looking for nesting material, but if they end up raiding it too much I’ll save this project as something to do for my hanging baskets of tomatoes in the greenhouse!

In the craft room

Make an Easter basket

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I wanted to do something different than just giving my nephews chocolates for Easter, so I put together this Easter gift basket. It does of course include chocolate, but mainly lots of Easter craft supplies to inspire them to be creative, and a cute and cuddly bunny for the youngest.

In the kitchen

Make butter and buttermilk from cream

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This was so much easier than I thought it would be! It won’t save you any money, but you’ll get delicious fresh butter and buttermilk, and making it is really fun – it’s so exciting when the butter suddenly forms! You need double cream and an electric whisk. Just whisk the cream, and you will see it first go thick (whipping cream), and then very suddenly it will separate into butter and buttermilk!

Winter Wonderland part 2

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By the end of February it can start to feel like it’s been winter forever! And a lot of the winter crafts and activities I love are Christmas-themed, which is a shame given that most of winter is after Christmas! But here are some general winter-themed things to make to help brighten up the days as we wait for spring!

In the bathroom – snowflake shimmer lotion

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This is incredibly easy to make and perfect for adding a soft opalescent glow to winter skin. I melted shea butter in the microwave and then added sweet almond oil in a 1:1 ratio. I used shea butter because it’s so soft, but other butters would work too. A hard butter (like cocoa) and some beeswax would be good if you wanted to create a shimmer bar instead of a lotion.

Once the oil and butter were mixed together I added pearl mica, which creates the wintry shimmer effect. Micas are mineral pigments, and there are lots of colours available. I’ll probably try making one of these using bronze or gold mica for a summery alternative! You can add as much or as little mica as you like, depending on how shimmery you want the final product to be – just make sure it’s all well mixed in! Then leave the mixture to cool down (or put in the fridge to speed things up), and it’s ready to use!

In the craft room – snowflakes and pom pom snowmen

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I’ve loved quilling snowflakes ever since my friend Sammy-jo (@SammyRedBird) gave me this one to hang on my Christmas tree.¬†I don’t have Sammy-jo’s skill and patience, but I still enjoy having a go! This one ended up looking a bit more like a flower than a snowflake, but it’s a nice embellishment for a winter gift tag, which you could use as a label for the shimmer lotion if you were making some as a gift!

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I’ve already shared how much I love pom poms, and what could be better in winter than a pom pom snowman? Make a small white pom pom for the head and a larger one for the body, and stitch together using white thread. Then you can decorate them! I used black buttons for eyes on the big one and black felt on the small one, and made them both hats out of black card. The noses are made from orange felt, and the scarves from scraps of old material. You could also add black buttons down the front.

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In the garden – early flowers and germination

At least by this stage of the winter we’re starting to see some signs of life in the garden, and can get on with sowing seeds ready for the new season! Hellebores and daffodils are adding colour to the garden, and can also be cut and brought in to brighten up the home. Daffodils are best not mixed with other flowers in a vase, as they exude a sap that makes other flowers not last as long.

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If cutting hellebores, it’s best to wait until the seed pods have formed, as the flowers will last much longer. None of my hellebore flowers are at that stage yet, so I’m leaving them in the garden for now!

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In the greenhouse, my tray of cauliflower seeds planted a few weeks ago have germinated, and also the first of my radishes!

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The overwintering onions are coming along well, and amazingly I’m still harvesting Christmas potatoes, despite everything I’ve read saying you’ll be lucky for them to last until January. I’ve also still got plenty of cabbages and leeks in the ground too.

I suppose despite my snowy¬†crafts it’s generally been a¬†warm winter, as evidenced by this pot marigold that has stayed alive and flowering since last summer! Any time now I can start sowing the seeds for its successors! ūüôā

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Citrus

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Although January can be a bleak month, it can be brightened up by the fact that citrus fruits are now in season!

In the kitchen – dried orange and lemon slices

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You can buy dried orange and lemon slices, but it’s much cheaper to make your own, and it’s easy to do. Slice your fruits quite thinly and spread them on a baking tray, then put them in the oven on a very low heat for a couple of hours. You could use them to flavour drinks when it’s not practical to cut a fresh slice, but I use them as decorations for gifts and craft projects.

In the bathroom – lemon poppy seed salt scrub

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An invigorating body scrub perfect for this time of year, simply mix poppy seeds, salt, sweet almond oil and a splash of lemon oil. If you’re making it as a gift, you could tie a dried lemon slice around the jar for decoration.

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In the craft room – orange slice decorations

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I actually made this to go on the Christmas tree, by attaching a button, cinnamon stick and dried orange slice to a pine cone using florist’s wire, and then attaching some natural twine to hang it up.

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In the garden – grow your own citrus fruits

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Citrus fruits aren’t that easy to grow in the UK. You can’t plant them in the ground as they wouldn’t be able to survive our freezing winters. But that doesn’t mean you can’t grow them at all. Plant your trees in containers and put them outside between May and October, when there’s no risk of frost. For the rest of the year, you’ll need to bring them inside into a conservatory or greenhouse. Keep moving them into bigger pots as they grow, just make sure the pot doesn’t get too heavy for you to carry in and out! It takes about 3 to 5 years before the trees will produce fruit. I only got mine last year, so I’ll have to wait and see how they get on!

I’m also thinking of planting a seed from inside the lemon and orange I cut to make the slices to see if I can grow a mini tree from scratch!