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One late July evening I saw countryside drama unfold as the gigantic combine harvester rumbled relentlessly across the fields annihilating everything in its path. Poised for unsuspecting game was a gunman at the ready. The tension of him waiting and me watching while the harvester ground towards us was stretched to breaking point. At the last possible moment, three muntjac deer flew out but they were reprieved – this time they were not the quarry. The harvester broke through the final barrier with no shot being fired and the hunters exchanged a few rueful words against the gleaming dust. I was the only one shooting that evening.

About this post: I plan to have a countryside photo session once a month during 2015.

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April vegetable preparations

April vegetable preparations

May vegetable preparation

May vegetable preparation

May vegetable preparation

May vegetable preparation

June vegetable patch

June vegetable patch

July vegetable patch

July vegetable patch

July vegetable patch - looking up and looking down

July vegetable patch – looking up and looking down

Along with the greenhouse, I also inherited a vegetable patch which is the perfect beginner size. After studying my book The Veg Grower’s Almanac, and considering my (small) crop rotation (beans/peas/fruiting vegetable and brassicas and root vegetables), I chose from each category and began. Every morning I visited the seeds and it was exciting to see them bud and unwind until the day arrived on the 11 May when it was time to plant them out. I tried to space them out as requested armed with my metal ruler (the pedantic designer in me likes to measure) but it was hard to believe they needed as much space as my almanac proclaimed. So I cheated and planted a little extra. I planted 11 runner beans, 6 courgettes, 4 pumpkins and 8 potatoes plants. The kale isn’t doing a thing, so it doesn’t count. July is here, and I have a glorious unruly jungle. Beans and orange flowers burst forth while courgettes and pumpkins are at fisty cuffs for space. And it is such fun especially eating the courgettes thinly sliced and fried with butter. The pumpkins are still dark green and I look forward to their orange autumn glow.

Meet my unsupervised sunflower

Meet my unsupervised sunflower

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I inherited a greenhouse with my new garden and was not quite sure what to put in it. This dilemma was removed when the UNSUPERVISED poppies took over. Before I knew it I had glorious poppies growing and as my daughter pointed out, they were unsupervised and unplanned. They gave me such a thrill, the flower lasting but a day before disintegrating into floating petals and leaving a very stylised seed head. I now have an unsupervised sunflower taking up residence – the only one that survived is the one I didn’t plant.

Inspired by my own greenhouse, I wandered over to the village allotments where I very much enjoyed taking surreptitious photos of other people’s sheds. One is even rumoured to be a salvaged Nissan hut. I love studying allotments which appear chaotic and confusing but as you walk within, you can see each has its own order. We garden differently just as we file papers differently. I also love the joy that allotments bring: growing vegetables from seed is deeply satisfying.

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About this post: I plan to have a countryside photo session once a month during 2015.

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We have a new house sign and finally after three months in our new home we can consign our nasty old sign to the bin. I wanted a hand-painted sign (but not hand-painted by me – too wobbly) and found Osbourne Signs by doing an internet search. I gave him a brief including size, colour and an example of the type of sign I was looking for. I was very unhappy with the first result as the spaces between the letters was awkward and the serifs too thick. It is always hard to express disappointment to a supplier, but I did so as diplomatically as possible and I also created a full size printout using font and spacing that I preferred. His hand is remarkably steady and the final sign is painted beautifully. I was delighted with Take Two. The old sign and in fact the even earlier sign which was still lurking in the garage can now be relegated for good – too niche to ebay! Old sign2 lr

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The countryside is frothing with Queen Anne’s Lace as it skirts the borders of the fields softening the edges with its filmy flowers. I love cycling through them and seeing them glitter in the sun. This flower is known less prosaicly as ‘Cow’s Parsley’ which developed into an interesting conversation with a young friend of mine. We decided that as it is on the edge of the fields, just as parsley may decorate our meal, it garnishes the grass for the cows. I very much enjoyed my mini photo shoot this month and rushed out early one morning when I had ten spare minutes as the light was perfect and the grass was dew-dropped. There wasn’t time to go further afield so later in the week I cycled off in the early evening for another session. It is quite challenging to capture their impact as the delicate flowers create a diffused texture which becomes flattened in photos. Although cow’s parsley can be eaten and has a fresh spicy flavour, don’t confuse it with its sinister cousin hemlock, which did for Socrates. I personally don’t take this risk of misidentification!

About this post: I plan to have a countryside photo session once a month during 2015.

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Visiting the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford is always a treat, and this was no exception. It holds one of the world’s finest collections of anthropology from around the world and I always spot something new in this treasure trove of the unusual, interesting and macabre (think shrunken heads). This time I spotted a ‘witch’s ladder’ which was a twisted rope pierced with cockerel’s feathers and was used as a spell to sour milk or kill old folk. It was found in the wardrobe of an old woman in 1911 – was she the victim or the perpetrator? There was also a delicate little flea trap made of bamboo that was worn in clothing to catch itchy fleas.

We caught our breath in the gallery cafe of the Natural History Museum adjoining the Pitt Rivers. The lighting and recently restored neo-Gothic architecture was fabulous and I was frustrated not to have my camera with me. I did what I could with my i-Phone and am rather pleased with the result above.


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In April, the fields around where I live turn violently yellow which is eye-wateringly bright as the oilseed rape blooms. I love the sensation of being surrounded by yellow, yellow, yellow. When my children were very little it was a wonderful way to introduce colour as we got sucked into yellow contrasting with brilliant blue almost like being engulfed by a Van Gogh.

About this post: I plan to have a countryside photo session once a month during 2015.


As part of Mike’s farewell gift, I gave him a personalised art piece which I created using names of places that he has visited. I ordered a frame from eFrame who create customised frames at reasonable prices. Once the frame arrived and I could check the internal measurements, I cut a mount for the artwork.

1. To cut a mount you need mount board, a metal ruler, a cutting mat, pencil, scalpel and most importantly, a mount cutter. A mount cutter cuts the board at 45° angle so you get a professional finish.

Items required for cutting a mount

Equipment required

2. Measure and draw a line on the back of the mount board where you will be cutting. Remember to keep margins generous.


Draw lines in pencil

3. Using the mount cutter cut along the line with a metal ruler. Don’t try to cut the entire depth of board in one go, rather do lots of gentle cuts slowly increasing the pressure. Ensure you are using a cutting mat unless you wish to gouge your table!

Cutting with a mount cutter

Cutting with a mount cutter

4. Once the mount board is cut you will see the 45° degree angle.

The 45 degree cut exposes the white core to give a professional finish.

The 45 degree cut exposes the white core to give a professional finish.

5. Position your artwork carefully to the back of the mount board with a strip of masking tape, turn it the correct way and check it is straight. Once you are satisfied use masking tape to attach the artwork to the back of the mount board. Masking tape is gentler to artworks than sellotape.

The artwork attached to the mount board with masking tape.

The artwork attached to the mount board with masking tape.

6. Place the mounted artwork in the frame and your work is done.

I have created a number of personalised artworks for clients, and if you would like to discuss a commission, please contact me.

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I was recently involved in arranging a farewell party for our pastor who was retiring. With approximately 100 guests, a school hall to decorate and a shoe string budget, I had to be very creative and innovative. But challenges like this are fun and it is amazing what can be achieved.

It is always easier to create an atmosphere if you hang it on a theme so I decided to choose red as it is a warm cheerful colour on a cold day. Mike likes France and speaks excellent  French so it was to be a Red French Café. The fact that I could borrow loads of red checked table cloths sealed it!

We decorated the hall with bunting and red balloons. The décor on the table was glass bottles from my collection with sticks, red tulips, fairy lights and hundreds of tea lights. Message tags were hung from the sticks so friends could write a message or a memory for Mike and Liz. We had red napkins and the cutlery was placed in silver tins. French café music played in the background and everyone was asked to wear a touch of red in their clothing whether it was a tie, a rose, shoes, handbag, hat or even a waistcoat.

As Mike has travelled far and wide during his time in ministry, we decided to give him a hamper of ‘Food from Around the World’. Everyone chose one of the 20 countries from Argentina to Zimbabwe and brought an item for the hamper.

Laughter, memories and a few tears were shed as we celebrated Mike’s retirement and sent him and Liz on their way. What an inspiring couple they are and it is a privilege to have them as part of our lives.

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My countryside photo shoot this month was a walk to the beach. I spent an Easter week in Cornwall in a rambling country farmhouse five minutes from Millook beach and felt refreshed wandering in the wild wind, enjoying salty air and wide horizons. The clunk of seaside pebbles and gleam of daffodils and primroses makes Cornwall a very special place.

About this post: I plan to have a countryside photo session once a month during 2015.

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We had snow in February which transformed the countryside; the familiar is viewed afresh and everything becomes monochromatic. This is a view from my bedroom window which has become quite poignant as we have recently moved away from this home after 10 very happy years. I have memories of walking down the road with my son aged two who would stop to throw pebbles down the grates, snail-paced walks with baby girls to visit the ducks at the stream, cycling to school in all weathers and more recently walking up the hill in the dark to meet my son’s school bus.

About this post: I plan to have a countryside photo session once a month for 2015

The bleak midwinter is the season for Seville oranges and there is nothing more satisfying on an icy day than working in a steamy kitchen making marmalade to be eaten on hot buttered toast. My sister has a blog which she ‘overshares’ her cooking tips so I thought I’d take leaf from her book and overshare how to make marmalade which I’m tempted to say is fool-proof.

Seville orange marmalade: makes about 2kgs (or 8 jars)

1 kg Seville oranges
1 lemon
2 litres water
2 kg preserving sugar
200 g dark muscovado sugar
75 ml whisky


Removing the mebranes and juices.


If you feel lazy, cut the peels coarsely (but it doesn’t taste as good).

•    Wash and dry the fruit, and cut in halves or quarters.
•    Set a sieve over a bowl and line it with muslin. Over the sieve, juice the fruit, scouring the peels as you go, and dropping the pips, squeezed flesh and membranes into the cloth. Use a teaspoon to pick up a strip of membrane large enough to grip,then tear out the rest with your fingers.
•    Reserve the juice squeezed from the fruit.
•    Tie all the residue into a loose bag and put it into the preserving pan with the water.
•    Shred the skin as finely as you like and add the peel to the pan.


I chop in the evening and can then continue the next day once it has soaked overnight.

•    Leave it to soak overnight.


You can see how much liquid has evaporated.

•    Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the peel is tender and the liquid has reduced by half – about 2 hours. Cover the pan if too much evaporation is occurring before the peel is tender. If you need to stop at this stage, you can let the liquid cool down completely and continue much later in the day.
•    Remove the bag of pips and squeeze the liquid out and into the pan. Discard the residue.


Lots of sugar!


You can see the granules of sugar on the side – every single one needs to melt.

•    Add the sugar to the pan, plus the reserved juice.


The sugar has finally all melted which takes about 20 minutes of continual stirring on a low heat.

•    Bring slowly to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved completely.


It should boil hard for 10 minutes before testing for setting point.

•   Raise the heat and boil hard until setting point is reached.


Whisky is not an essential ingredient – but gives it a fabulous flavour.

•    Skim off any froth, allow it to cool and thicken a little, then stir to redistribute the peel, before potting.
•    Add the whisky just before potting to increase the flavour but don’t worry about consuming spirits at breakfast time – the heat of the marmalade evaporates the alcohol, leaving the flavour.


Pot up once it has cooled a little.

A bit of technique
•    When the sugar goes in, stir the mixture over a low heat until every grain has melted before turning up the heat. Take your time – undissolved sugar means crystallizing marmalade.
•    If you don’t have a preserving pan, use a very big, deep saucepan instead.
•    NEVER leave the pan once you have added the sugar especially if you have children – hot sticky jam is lethal.


This batch needed an extra 6 minutes after its initial 10 minutes.

•    Judging setting point takes attention and skill so don’t hurry. Chill a stack of plates in the freezer and heat a tray of scrupulously clean jars in a low oven. Bring the marmalade to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Let it boil for about 10 minutes then take the pan off the heat and drop a teaspoon of the marmalade on a chilled plate. Leave it for a minute then push it with your finger. If it wrinkles, it will set. If it stays runny, return the pan to the boil for another two minutes then test again. It should not be more than 20 minutes in total.


Only add lids once the jam is completely cold.

•    Ladle the cooled marmalade into the warm jars and cover with wax paper discs. Add lids only once completely cold to avoid condensation which encourages mould to form.
•    Enjoy your marmalade for the year and bask in compliments!

Recipe originally from Country Living, February 2009

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It is slightly late to review last year, but it is still January. My creative goals for 2014 were to increase my freelance graphic design business, to use my camera more often and to do a refresher camera course. I also aimed to visit an art gallery or ‘creative place’ once a month.

I had a bumper freelance design job with Landmark and also moved jobs to a different design agency. These were both excellent developments but it did affect how much time I had for photography – not a lot – however I managed a refresher camera course in February. It was sometimes challenging to ensure I visited a gallery on a monthly basis but it was so inspiring, especially seeing Cézanne in March, David in August, the light exhibition in December and few other surprise treasures in between.

This year I plan to have a countryside photo session once a month – and learn to crochet. I hope to continue doing freelance design as well as working as a senior designer. Crochet – well why not? Everyone says it is much easier than knitting, so we will see.

This month’s photos were taken on a bitter cold January morning very near my home when the fields and trees are stripped of all peripherals.

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Feel like you would love to declutter your house? My first item would be the half-a-bird in the photo above. A glittery decoration which lost its other half somewhere over Christmas. Here is a fab way to detox your home that I heard about from a friend. On the first day of the month, you throw away one item, on the second day you throw away two items, on the third day you throw away three items so on the last day you will throw away thirty items. By the end of the month you will have thrown away about 400 items! They can be recycled, given to charity shops, sold on eBay or chucked. You may choose to sort out a shed, a sock drawer, a stationery box or a nightmare cupboard in the kitchen.

There is also the 20 – 20 rule which you use to decide about an item. If you haven’t used the item for about 6 months and don’t know if you ever use it again, and it costs under £20 and can be bought in under 20 minutes then throw it out.

We’ve got so excited about the idea that we have a ‘detox box’ with items ready to throw away from the 1st February. The half-a-bird will be rehomed to a tree on our route to school so we can still wave hello to it. Let me know if you plan to declutter with me this February.

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The final word

It was with great excitement that a parcel arrived at my door containing the printed Landmark Trust handbook and I could page through it. They are now for sale through Landmark if you wish to buy one whether it is to plan a holiday or to learn a little more about historical and quirky buildings, go to www.landmarktrust.org.uk to place your order which also includes a free calendar.

The cherry on the top was the email from Dr Anna Keay, Director of The Landmark Trust: “The new handbook looks absolutely wonderful, huge congratulations to Helen, Tessa and all who worked with you on such a terrific achievement. I defy anyone not to love it. Bravo! Anna.


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