Sunday, 11 December 2011

Creating Christmas Garlands at Bristol Zoo

We were at Bristol Zoo yesterday with the Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project running a workshop on Creating Christmas Garlands.  Mandy Leivers, the education officer, kindly hosted this event , and we spent a lovely day making some really beautiful fireplace and staircase swags and walking on the Downs learning about the history and folklore that surrounds the foliage we use at Christmas.l   This is the first time we have run this swag workshop and it was a great success with everyone taking home beautiful work.  It really was a good day.   

This is the third year that greengarland have worked with the Project and we are very proud to be associated with them. The Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project is in its tenth year and is a collaboration funded  by Bristol City Council, Bristol Zoo Gardens, Natural England, University of Bristol, Society of Merchant Venturers, the Downs Committee and the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation, and work in partnership with the National Trust (phew). Their work celebrates the outstanding wildlife interests of the Avon Gorge and Downs and works to secure its future.

Mandy has inspired almost a whole generation of children (including mine who are now in their mid-teens) to appreciate and enjoy the diversity and uniqueness of the Downs.  My garden is full of insect hides and bird boxes that my boys have made on some of Mandy's courses when they were younger, and we have as a family spent many happy hours listening for birds, hugging trees, hunting for rare moths and identifying some of the unique species that grow there on the wide range of walks, talks and courses that they run all year round.


It really was a lovely day.  Thanks again to Mandy..... I even got to pay a visit to my very favourite tree. Here it is..(the snow is from 2010....)  It was merely very chilly yesterday and I did not take the camera.

We are currently looking at dates for 2012 to run this event again at the Zoo, so hopefully some of the folk that we could not fit onto this year's workshop can come next year.  We will put the date on the Events page as soon as we can.   

Monday, 5 December 2011

Blue spruce swags on English handmade rope

English handmade rope
In preparation for the workshop that The Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project are hosting for us at Bristol Zoo on Saturday 10th I bought some really beautiful handmade Manila rope from Neil at the Traditional Rope Company in Norfolk.    Having ordered a whole coil, then had a sleepless night wondering quite how big 220m of rope would be and where quite I would store it.  Never mind.  It is so beautiful that it is currently stored in my sitting room - it is such a lovely thing - if you put a glass top on it it would make a good coffee table.

I am going to take the coil whole to the workshop and we can then cut exact lengths to make our staircase and  fireplace swags.  Will try to get some photos on the day.  This workshop is now fully booked but I am still taking orders for swags for local delivery in North and North West Bristol (until I use up all the rope.. .)  Details are on the website.   

Really looking forward to the day which includes a walk with Mandy Leivers on the Downs.  Just to get a taste for what we are aiming for, here is one I made earlier....

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Getting ready for the workshops

Just limbering up for the workshop season.  Really looking forward to all of the sessions that we are doing this year with both the University of Bristol Botanic Gardens and the Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project.  

We are doing two sessions on Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th in the Potting Shed at the Botanic Gardens making fresh traditional Christmas Wreaths.   If ever there was a perfect place to spend an afternoon making something lovely that is it.  And its warm....

New this year is a day at Bristol Zoo making traditional blue spruce swags to decorate fireplaces and staircases on Saturday 10th December.  We are going to make a day of it with a walk on the Downs after lunch with Mandy Leivers, the Education Officer at the Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project talking about the history and folklore of the foiliage used for Christmas decoration.  Last year we did that walk after a heavy snowfall the day before and the temperature was well below zero even in the afternoon, so we were very happy to get back for tea and cake after..
More details are on the website.  There are a few places left so come and join us if you can....

Friday, 11 November 2011

a warm welcome to our Clifton Life readers

been a great week.  About to take delivery of our first batch of Welsh blue pine to start working on samples and our first order of wreaths  for delivery to The Better Food Company in Clifton later in the month.  The rope for our swags is on order from Neil in Norfolk too so its really starting to feel a lot like Christmas.

The Clifton Life article is out. Jamie Oliver on the cover and greengarland on page 11 with an interview for their regular GreenLife feature, all good stuff.

We are coming to the end of the hydrangea season and they have been selling very quickly. Hopefully we should have a few left for the markets in December but if the frost comes that will be all the hydrangeas until next year.

  the secateurs are being sharpened and we are nearly ready for the season.  Come join us..  

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Orange and Cinnamon Wreath

Orange and Cinnamon Wreath
 Been making bases for this year's wreaths with some good willow from my mother's garden.  Its very easy to work with right now and doesn't need soaking.  It really is starting to feel like Christmas is coming.  
This Orange and Cinnamon Wreath was a big seller in 2010.  With the cold and the snow last Christmas season we decided that we should leave most of the holly berries to the birds and made these instead.  These smell gorgeous with Welsh Blue Spruce, perhaps Juniper or Bay depending on what is cut  and good on the day, and decorated with Orange slices and Cinnamon sticks.          

These we send in beautiful red gift boxes by post all over the UK.  They make lovely presents for family and friends with handwritten messages on greengarland gift cards.  Those first two weeks of December are going to be very busy.....  

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Hydrangea Wreaths

Yes - its that time of year again.  Been all day making heart hydrangea wreaths and some round ones too.  There are not so many good coloured hydrangeas this year.  I could go into detail but probably not for here.  Anyhow, the ones that we do have are good.  Really dark red ones and lovely raspberry pink.   They wont be in stock for long as they do sell out fast.  All made on willow and dogwood bases and hand tied with jute.
All the ladybirds carefully removed and taken back into the garden.....

All this has been distracting me slightly from the imminent arrival of the new greengarland website.  Have seen one sneak preview and J has done a great job.   Can't wait....

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Coming over all autumnal....

harvest herb wreath

Got up early this morning to cut materials for this harvest wreath, commissioned by a customer in Westbury Park having a big celebration this evening, and looking for a statement piece for their kitchen wall, the table being too full of party food to take a decoration.  We incorporated some materials from their garden (lavender, fennel, rosemary) and made this harvest celebration wreath using all edible flowers and herbs.  The borage, calendula and sunflower buds all good at the moment, and, having done the Chelsea Chop to the herb bed, so was the lemon balm and oregano - all added to a base of bay leaves and dill.

There really was an autumnal feel about the garden;  the spiders weaving webs between the artichokes on one side of the path and the hop shed on the other, so walking through to the cutting patch a slightly edgy experience. The winds this week have given the garden a bit of a battering - the Horse Chestnut trees on the Downs are raining conkers and their leaves turning from green to red.  I like this time of year. After all, Christmas is coming....

This afternoon is the Westbury on Trym Flower Show  and we are exhibiting in the XXL categories with our marrows and pumpkins from the allotment at Canford.  Also have fingers crossed for some glory in the jam and marmalade classes with some Summer Berry Jam and Kumquat Marmalade, made from the left overs from the last year' s wreath making workshops at the Botanic Gardens.    Never was there so little at stake....  Will take the camera....

Monday, 29 August 2011

Running out of room...

Drying Nigella pomanders and poppies at Crockbarton

This weekend we went to the country and took some of the poppies and nigella that have been picked recently.  Our fireplaces are now full so thought I would dry some at Catherine's  -  She lives in a 16th Century weavers cottage in Timsbury with huge inglenook fireplaces.  I have dried flowers everywhere and am busy wondering where I am going to put all the hydrangeas when we start cutting them shortly..

Wendy Paul of Organic Blooms
Organic Blooms have now cut all the nigella  they have been growing for us and have it hanging from the rafters of  their flower shed ready for collection.  They have an open day on the 4th September so if you want to see Wendy Paul, their florist, with hundreds of nigella seeds in her hair go and check them out.  Its the most amazing place.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Update from Canford E (or A new enemy at the allotment)

Been a while but busy, busy with the growing season in full swing.  Have been growing big patches of poppies  to collect seed heads for the heart willow wreaths we will be making for the Christmas season.  Also growing  Cyperus glaber for the first time which should give us something new to take to the workshops we are running this year - Saturday 10th December with Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project at Bristol Zoo making fireplace and staircase garlands - with a walk and talk about the history and folklore of Christmas foliage, and two over the weekend of the 3rd and 4th December in the Potting Shed at The University of Bristol Botanic Garden.  Booking details are on the greengarland website.  Really looking forward to those.

Canford E July 2011

All that talk of a summer like the one in 1976 seems like a very distant memory now.  We did have a very, very dry spring (like 2010) and, like 2010, it looks like its going to be followed by a wet summer.  The Canford gardeners are now standing around just WAITING for the blight to arrive - the conditions are just perfect.  We have been distracted slightly from worrying over our potatoes and tomatoes tho' by a new enemy - not seen around these allotments certainly since we took our first half  plot some five years ago.  Rabbits!  So we are busy building rabbit defences in order that we can grow the carrots to a size where if the carrot fly doesn't get them, bugs bunny doesn't eat all the top growth, the badgers will dig them up, eat a few and toss the rest around, munching all our sweetcorn on the way back to the sett nearby. Pah.

Hard to stay grumpy there for long.  It's light at 4.30 and still light at 10 so if you can bear the  biting insects at those times of the day it is a lovely place to hang out, do a bit of weeding, more planting of beetroot carrots and lettuces, and come back with baskets loads of lovely fresh berries for jam making, boxes of fresh veg for the kitchen and loads and loads of lovely flowers for the house.   Is all that hard work worth it ? You bet. Love it, love it, love it.....

Monday, 23 May 2011

Summer is coming.....


Been up and down to the allotment a lot recently due to the very dry weather.  Its just coming out of that phase where the winter veg is over, there is lots to do and nothing to harvest.  Until this week.  The autumn sown broad beans are good, the rocket and lettuces are ready to be picked (and about to bolt...) and we harvested the the first strawberries and gooseberries this week too. Early, we think.  The nets are on the blackcurrants and blueberries so  that we might just keep ahead of the wood pigeons that nest in the old Oaks that line the paths there.   When we arrive they  fly up into the trees.  They are a bit like Brabazons -  they are so fat and full of our soft fruit that they flap away and we wonder whether they are ever going to get off the ground.  

The herbs are doing well, as are the patches of poppies and nigella which will be cut and dried to use on the summer wreaths I am working on for the events we are doing this summer.   We are going to be at the Clifton Garden Party at Emmaus House on Saturday 11th June, The Stoke Bishop Community Fair at Cedar Park on Saturday 18th and will be joining in the Bristol Zoo's 175 year celebration at their Big Village Fete on Saturday 16th July.
Canford E Allotments Bristol May 2011
We have the allotment equivalent of the water cooler at Canford - the communal trough.We stand around comparing blackfly and sooty mould, muttering darkly about the lack of rain whilst filling up the watering cans, talking of  the  hot summer of 1976 and how this coming one, this time, could be another one of those.  Anyone else would welcome  the prospect of a long hot summer (especially anyone organising any of the events we will be at), but for the Canford gardeners who are not allowed to use hoses, it is a bad, bad thing.  We do little rain dances and curse the inaccurate weather forecasts....However, summer is coming whether it rains or not. Bring it on

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Summer Herb Wreath

Summer herb wreath
Been busy planting, sowing, weeding and generally fussing around at the allotment.  Add to that hardly any rain for about six weeks so irrigation is a major issue.  Never mind.  

Here is a fresh herb wreath made for a customer today who has a foodie co-worker retiring.  Totally edible with bay and rosemary as a base and all the lovely things that are currently good in the garden.  It has lots of verigated oregano, lemon balm, mint, purple and green sage leaves, chive flowers and a bit of purple sprouting broccoli, a few artichoke and bronze fennel leaves.  It has a wet oasis base so should last  for some time. I have one on my kitchen table with a candle in it.  

The first ones which were done for the Mothers Day Market at Whiteladies Road had bay and flowering rosemary, verigated lemon balm and  purple sage and broccoli and they have been changing every week as the new growth has been coming through.  Will be taking lots of cuttings and extending the herb garden this year as they are going well.. 

 I still need to update the website with the new summer products -  so here is a sneak preview of some others that are being commissioned...
Nigella pomander

These are really neat.  I am working with a bride to make some of these pomanders and heart decorations to go onto all the guests chairs at her wedding this summer.  There will be gift boxes under the chairs at the reception with a message from the bride and groom for them to take these little handmade treats home at the end of the celebrations to remember their lovely day.     
wedding chair decoration

I just have to make them all now....  

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Spring at Bishops Knoll

I was at Bishops Knoll Nature Reserve yesterday (hurrah for light evenings...!) collecting pine cones in preparation for the swag making course I am running at the Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project on the 10th December this year.  Anyhow, took the camera and got this picture of the bottom of the steps.  Primroses and wild garlic.  Lovely.

I know it seems really early to be preparing for the courses but the cones there are nice, plus it is a good excuse to be ferreting around in the woods amongst the rabbit holes and badger diggings watching the spring do its thing....

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Whose garden is it anyway ?

I spent the day in the garden today doing some sowing, planting and weeding.    Lily, our Tabby always livens things up by repeatedly attacking me when I am least expecting it.  She does this occasionally in the house but really goes for it in the back garden.  I can be digging away quite happily and suddenly she will pounce on me open jawed and claws out. I cant quite make it out - but I think it could be something along the same lines as dog-walkers' attitude to public parks.  As she is sinking her teeth into my arm (she draws blood..) she has this expression on her face like "well, some of us are committed to shitting in these flower beds 365 days a year, we are not just out here when the weather is good". Or maybe not.  Anyhow, its really annoying.  

The sweet peas are hardening off outside and the leeks are up and will need pricking out shortly.  I planted out about a dozen Verbascum Southern Charm which were sown last year and have been in the cold frame all winter.  They look quite good.  Also direct sowed some poppies and rocket so the slugs will no doubt have all those.  In pots inside are some courgettes, several types of sunflowers and something I found in an envelope marked "weird tall Kiftsgate thingy" which was a seed pod from when we visited Kiftsgate Court last year.  Lets see what comes up and then I can try to identify it.  Lots more to do.  The Pulmonaria and Primroses are out and the Forget-me-nots are just coming into flower.

The Camellia by the front door is is full flower. Invasive weed of the week - bindweed.  It's like the enemy below. Not up yet but every forkful FULL of bindweed root.  Pah.  

Monday, 21 March 2011

Limbering up for Mothers Day

I've been busy with the lovely willow I got last month making heart bases in different sizes (some really small that will fit in a 15cm box) and getting some dried flowers together to make some Mother's Day and Easter treats in preparation for the Whiteladies Road Farmers Markets on the 2nd and 16th April in Bristol.

I'm getting there.  Really pleased with them now.  Here is the small heart wreath (above) which will be boxed with gift cards, and below is the regular size heart wreath.  These have nigella but some will have dried roses - all of them slightly different.

I now need to update the website but want to get these finished before I do.

Also sowing nigella, poppies and shortly going to make some more lavender cuttings in order that I have lots of new materials to work with during the summer.

Have fed all the soft fruit (the tays, blackcurrants and raspberries are beginning to bud) and dug out this week's weed of the week... the buttercup - well, as much as I could.  There are a million gardening jobs also to be done and other things to sow.  Its the spring equinox today and it feels good. I am list making like mad and scurrying around... need to take some more photos but these will do for now....

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Starlings at Shapwick Heath

This weekend we were down on the Somerset Levels visiting  Musgrove Willows in Westonzoyland to buy some cut Willow (Flanders Red for me - beautiful, waxy, straight 4' withies) and new basketmaking tools to start work on some decorated hearts for Mothers Day and Easter for the Farmers Market at Whiteladies in April.   Westonzoyland is where the Battle of Sedgemoor was fought in 1685, the last battle of the Monmouth Rebellion.  All quiet there tho' this weekend.  This is low marshland with drainage ditches around the place and pumping stations. It feels slightly surreal, not helped much by the farmer at MW loading a wicker coffin into the back of a vehicle as we arrived (empty, we think).


We then headed off to Shapwick Heath to watch the starling murmurations.  As dusk fell hundreds of thousands of starlings flew into the Heath from every direction and settled in the reed beds to roost for the evening a couple of fields away from where we were watching.  Brilliant.   This used to be a regular feature of city life in Bristol where they would come to roost under the bridges making the most amazing patterns in the evening sky over the City Centre where I worked. I would watch them out of my office window during the winter months during the late 1980 and 1990s thinking that this happened in every city.  Sadly, there are very few starlings in Bristol and no evening spectacle any more.  Maybe something to do with the declining starling population - but today, at least, I was happy to think that they had all got fed up with doing battle with the seagulls and pigeons and had decided to head for a better life here in the wild, wet Somerset countryside.

I am now weaving this lovely willow and snipping away with my new sharp, sharp little basketmaking snips.  Will post some pics once I am happy with the prototypes.  Not quite there yet.. :)     


Sunday, 6 February 2011

Cornus cutting...

or - Down where the Dogwood grows.  This weekend, despite the foul forecast, was spent in the Cornus patch where we harvest to make the bases for our wreaths.  Here is Garlandgirl looking a bit chilly, cutting last year's growth in preparation.  Photo courtesy of Liz of who not only took the snap, but also got  the secateurs out, AND cooked lunch for us all after.

  The frost stopped any cutting in January so it was good to get out there now before the plants start to put on growth again.    We cut and made bases as we were going along,  all the time rumbling around the normal topics of life, love, family and the delights of errant teenage children.  It stayed dry too, which was a real bonus.  Once all the bases are finished over the course of the next week or so (hopefully), they will be stored away ready for the 2011 Christmas season.

Other weekend jobs off the list included getting the potatoes chitting in the (unheated) greenhouse.  We are going to try some new (to us) varieties this year including Pink Fir Apple, Kestrel, Picasso Arran Pilot and Anya which will go in on Good Friday - weather permitting,  and hopefully will see us right through the season from June until February.  The new potato bed has been dug and is just waiting, perhaps needs liming before we plant, but otherwise ready...  This is a bit of good cheer in what otherwise could be a gloomy, typical February.  The wormcasts are out in force on the lawn and the terracotta pots are all breaking up due to the severe cold in December and January.  Pish.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Signs of Spring

Today, at least in this house, was the start of the gardening season.  Tom turned thirteen on Friday and I always try to sow some seeds around his birthday so am writing this post with compost under my nails for the first time this year. On the windowsill upstairs are the Nicotiana Sensation in a tray, some Sweet Peas (parentage unknown, seed gathered from the allotment last year), and in the cold frame are a tray of Leek Musselburgh, soon to be taken over to the greenhouse at Mums for her to keep an eye on.  I also pruned the autumn fruiting raspberries and gave them a bit of a mulch with some leaf mould from a couple of years ago.

It was a very cold (freezing) day but blue skies, and I went down to the allotment to see what was happening down there.  No one around but really nice to be out there.  We have summer raspberries there, blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries, a big, big strawberry bed,  and we planted four blueberry bushes last autumn  with some ericaceous compost (but will probably have to do battle with the wood pigeons for them come the summer).

Also in is the Purple Sprouting Broccoli, which is looking okay despite the freezing weather (fingers crossed, lost the lot in the bad weather last year), garlic, onion sets planted in the autumn, some artichokes, rhubarb,  and some broad beans under cloches doing nothing at the moment due to the cold.

So it feels good to be starting again.  This is one of the oak trees
that line the path of the allotments.  I would really love to know how old these trees are (about 3 1/2 hugs around if anyone can work it out)....  We have promised ourselves a petrol strimmer this season so we dont spend so much time on maintenance and can spend more time actually growing things, ruminating and generally making it up as we go along.  Welcome to my world.   

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Seville Orange Marmalade

Seville Orange Marmalade. That's what I made today.   Making marmalade makes jam making look like fast food.  I got all excited and ordered 5kgs of Seville Oranges from Phil at Westbury Veg.  I was a bit disappointed as 5 kg didn't look like a lot of oranges and was even at that stage thinking of ordering some more.  Madness.   Really pleased with it but not for anyone that doesnt have about six hours on their hands..

Anyway, for the record....  Seville Orange Marmalade

1.5 kgs of Seville Oranges, scrubbed

1 lemon, scrubbed

3 kgs granulated sugar

3.75 litres water

Also need:-  large preserving pan, muslin square about 25cm, jam funnel, dozen or so jars (clean and sterlised - more later),   wax discs, endless patience, juicer.

1.  Put muslin over a shallow bowl and cut oranges in half, removing pips into muslin.  Squeeze oranges into perserving pan.  Save all the inner bits of the orange from the juicer and put in the muslin.  Put the orange halves to one side.

2.  Juice lemon into perserving pan. Discard peel, put pips in muslin.

3. Pick all the nice bits of orange peel and slice thinly - added this to perserving pan.  Put any other bits into the muslin.  Tie the muslin and put the juice from bowl into perserving pan. Fish out any stray pips from the perserving pan and put in the muslin. This is about when I had serious misgivings about the whole thing.  Add water to pan.  Tie the muslin tight with kitchen string (or in my case garden twine, but not the green stuff). Put the muslin in the perserving pan and tie to handle.

4. Gently simmer perserving pan with juice and water etc for two hours or until the peel is soft. Fish out the muslin and put in a bowl and leave to cool a bit.

5. Add warmed sugar making sure all the crystals are dissolved.  This is a good time also to put your jars and lids into the oven at about 100c and put some saucers in the freezer for use later.  Squeeze the muslin hard to get all the pectin out and mix into the perserving pan.  Discard the muslin.  Cry a bit.

6. Bring to a rolling boil and test for set after about 15 mins.  To test for set take saucer out of freezer put tsp of marmalade on and put to one side for about 5 mins.  Look for a wrinkle.  If no wrinkle, continue boiling and testing about every five or ten mins. Cry a bit more.

7. When you have set, take the pan off the hob and leave for about 20 mins before putting into clean jars using jam funnel. Make seal with wax disc and screw lids on straight away.  Dry eyes.  Its nearly over.

8. Label and store in cool dark place. Have large drink.  At this point I couldn't quite work out how I was feeling but then realised it was smug.  Not becoming on a lady.

I think I may learn to juggle with the other 3.5 kgs I have in the fridge as I am not sure whether I could do all that again for a while.   I think you can freeze these oranges but I don't have much room. But....  thinking of making some Seville Orange Jelly which would mean I wouldn't have to cut all the peel up... hmmm...

Credit, apart from to me, of course, should go to St. Delia and Thursday's G2 in the Guardian.  The techniques were all Delia's but the quantities were taken from G2.  Delia always makes me cry...

Saturday, 8 January 2011

garlandgirl goes on location.....

all the way to Westbury Park (!), to borrow  Jo's fab fireplace which is just perfect to photograph the Christmas greengarland swag, even in January.  Its a lovely stone Minster fireplace which is well loved and used, in her pretty late Victorian house, in a beautiful light sitting room with a window that gets all the afternoon sun.  We even got some of that sun, which at this time of year is a bonus ...
This is a job that I should have done during the season, but as always, the business  got in the way, and I was too busy with my order book and customers (hurrah!)  to take the time to take proper photos.  I always think that I will find the time to do this sort of thing, but I never do.    So I did today.  It  was good.  This is a plain fresh blue pine swag on a grapevine decorated with ribbons and cones gathered from Stoke Lodge. It really smelled great and looked fantastic.  My demo swag was made in the middle of November and is still going strong on the table outside the kitchen door... That may have something to do with the fabulously cold weather we had in December, and the snow, and the frost, and more snow, and more frost....   
Also have some proto-types of spring candle rings that Jo ordered to replace her Christmas candle rings, but will leave that for a another posting.
Thanks to Jo, Duncan, Hannah, Rory  and Rex for indulging me.     Good tea...