Archives for category: countryside
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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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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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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This year’s autumn lasagna ingredients

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Layer 1 – Tulip bulbs

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Layer 2 – Narcissus tete-a-tete bulbs

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Layer 3 – Crocus bulbs

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Top with winter flowering pansies

I have been working incredibly hard on various design projects and decided it was time to take a break and grow a lasagna. Inspired when off to buy chicken food at my local garden centre, I bought 3 different types of bulbs and wintering pansies.

A pot and compost
20 x crocus bulbs
12 x narcissus tete-a-tete bulbs
10 x tulips bulbs
6 x winter flowering pansies

Place gravel at the base of the pot
Fill the pot halfway with compost
Place the tulip bulbs on the surface and cover with compost
Place the tete-a-tete bulbs on the compost and cover
Place the crocus bulbs and cover over with compost
The final layer is the winter flowering pansies. In the past, I have also used ornamental cabbages which look fabulous and amusing although they can smell a bit… cabbagy.

The beauty of this lasagna is as each layer dies, the next will appear in a blaze of glory taking you all the way to April. And I feel very pleased as normally I’m shivering in November and trying to poke frozen soil forcing daffodil bulbs into the ground – too little too late. Go on… and cook your own floral lasagna.

First day of the holidays - 'suping' in Sweden (surf upright)

First day of the holidays – ‘SUP’ in Sweden (surf upright)

Early morning swims

Early morning swims

Canoeing, exploring and picnics

Canoeing, exploring and picnics

A dream treehouse with pulley system to kitchen

A dream treehouse with a pulley system to the kitchen



An arty sessions

An arty session with Granny Lin

We have recently returned from a fantastic visit to Sweden to see my brother, Anna and their children after three long years. It had been such a hectic and emotional time with the end of the school year and when we got there we could stop, breathe and unwind. When my children woke up early they crept out into the dappled sunlight to find a dream treehouse built by Andy for his girls. They climbed up and explored. Elva woke up and called out, “Papa, papa there are people in my treehouse.” “They are your cousins!” Nomi who is only three then asked plaintively, “Papa, papa where are MY cousins?” The children reunited and we all relaxed in beautiful Sweden enjoying the incredible sense of clear blue skies, open horizons, outdoor living and our wonderful family.

Asthall lr Asthall2 lr Asthall3 lr Asthall4 lrAsthall9 lrAsthall6 lrWe rushed in at 12:00 on the dot for my daughter to attend the children’s carving workshop and I was overwhelmed by the sculptures, the flowers and the manor house. Once Isabel was sorted out, I could slow down and celebrate the On Form exhibition. On Form is a top priority to visit in June and is a fabulous biennial exhibition of sculpture purely in stone. The glorious setting of the seventeenth century Asthall Manor and beautiful gardens surrounded by the Cotswolds set off the sculptures to perfection.

My favourite sculptor this year was Tom Stogdon who uses roughly cut stone pieces to create organic shapes. They remind me of stone walls where there is much thought and skill in using individual pieces to create a satisfying whole. I love the way his sculptures interact with their surroundings and especially Stone Overlap which frames the countryside, is reflected in the pool and draws people towards it. Tom Stogdon has also created abstracted cityscapes inspired by London and Oxford where we were able to identify landmarks from the simplest shapes. The repetition of forms and texture in his work create a sense of calmness. Another sculptor I appreciated was Aly Brown and her piece Parvati, a slender torso, whose sinuous curves continue as they reflect into a natural pool dotted with lily pads. Aly said that a recent comment she had overheard was, “How does she make stone bend?” When you look at her work it is hard to believe it is stone as it flows like liquid. Then there is Adrian Gray, a stone balancer, and David Worthington’s Experiment in Colour VII who dared to add colour to marble – perfect against the red poppies.

Not only is there sculpture, but ponds, wild flowers, a dramatic swing, a tree house to die for and the connection the manor holds with the Mitford Sisters who lived there between 1919 and 1926. There are many events to enjoy too: Aly Brown gave free carving workshops to children which Isabel loved and on the 18th June you can watch Adrian Gray balance rocks.

I can’t recommend On Form highly enough as a day out whether you are passionate about sculpture or see it as a backdrop for a social occasion – our friend Jon’s words not mine!Asthall7 lrAsthall5 lrAsthall10 lr

Asthall12 lrOn form is at Asthall Manor from June 8th to July 6th, 2014.
Opening hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 12 noon to 6pm

About this post: My 2014 resolution is to visit a creative place every month.
January – The Ashmolean: Malcolm Morley
February – Oxford School of Photography
March – The Ashmolean: Cézanne and the modern

April – The Jam Factory
May – Art in Ardington


There are so many free foods during spring that I want to introduce three of the most accessible and common ones. And here’s the challenge, if you have never foraged before, pick one and use it this month of May.

wild garlicWild Garlic: This is my favourite and the unmistakable garlic smell makes me think of Cornish holidays and woodland walks. Look for it in damp woods with its broad, spear-like leaves and white star-like flowers in a rounded umbel. It starts popping up in March and in April to June it is in flower. You can eat the leaves and the flowers, just chop them up and add to omelettes, risottos and salads or my favourite – wild garlic pesto. Click on this link for the wild garlic pesto recipe.

jackbyhedgeJack-by-the-hedge: This is a very unassuming little hedgeside plant which can be mistaken for a weed but it is perfect if you like garlic in moderation. It can grow up to 70cm in height and its leaves are bright green and slightly toothed. During April to June it has small white flowers. I like to eat it with cheese sandwiches or roughly chopped on a frittata. You can also throw it into a salad.

nettlesNettles: Easy to identify and very prickly! I love eating them as I can take revenge on all the times they have stung me. Wear gloves to pick them and to wash them and eat them early in the season as after June they don’t taste so good. Before cooking them, remove the rougher stems and then make nettle soup.

Nettle Soup from Hedgerow Harvest

  • 1/2 carrier bag of nettles – tops or young leaves
  • 2oz butter
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 1 crushed clove or garlic
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 pints of good stock – vegetable or chicken
  • 2 medium chopped potatoes
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons of cream or crème fraîche
  • Salt and Pepper

Wash the leaves thoroughly.
Melt the butter in a pan and sweat the chopped onion and garlic until soft but not brown (approx 10 minutes).
Add stock, potatoes and all leaves.
Bring to the boil and simmer until the potatoes are cooked.
Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and add the cream.
Put the mixture into the blender and blitz it.
Return to pan, reheat and serve.
Garnish with a swirl of cream and chopped herbs e.g. parsley or chives.

Let me know which green you tried this month. And if you are inspired, I can highly recommend the Hedgerow Harvest courses.

Please remember never to take plants from private gardens or communally owned areas and just take a few from woodlands. Never pick something you can’t identify and don’t pick wild foods from hedgerows near heavy traffic or if agricultural sprays have been applied to fields. It is sensible not to pick low-growing leaves along paths popular with dog walkers!

calendarsIt was heartening that so many people missed the mini desk calendars that I produce. They are back… so enjoy the 2014 calendar with (mostly) Oxfordshire countryside. They make good stocking fillers, thank you gifts or to enjoy on your desk depicting the beautiful local countryside. They are approximately 95mm square and you can buy them directly from me for £4.00 (plus p+p). They are also being sold at the Vale and Downland museum at the ‘Gift to Delight Exhibition’.

haworth1 haworth2 haworth3 haworth4This time last year we went to visit our friends in Leeds. With a special request from me, we caught the steam train from Keighley to Oxenhope with a stopover at Haworth to visit the stamping ground of the Brontës. There is no better time of year than a cold November day to visit their home and the church to understand the bleakness of their surroundings. A visitor in 1850 described the churchyard as ‘a dreary, dreary place, literally paved with rain-blackened tombstones‘ and 150 years later, not much has changed. Another biographer writes that the graves ‘crowd and bristle and conceal the turf; and when it rains, the slab surfaces appal the eye with their unbroken gleam‘. I have never been to a graveyard quite like this, it was so gloomy and menacing and didn’t have any of the gentle time-worn peace of other English churchyards. The other thing that struck me from reading the gravestones was that it wasn’t out of the ordinary for the Brontë sisters to die so tragically young – life was short and harsh in that cold, grim town. For an excellent read about the sisters, try ‘Eminent Victorian Women‘ by Elizabeth Longford.

It wasn’t all hard-core though – we also visited an old apothecary shop and a sweet shop!haworth5

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An autumn half-term jaunt with my three children turned into a delightful discovery in our backyard. We set off using a map to follow the Letcombe Brook and to enjoy the autumn season – and found a secretive little park called Betjeman Millennium Park. What a pleasure to discover the poetry trail of Sir John Betjeman who had lived in Wantage. I enjoyed the poem in blocks that can only be read if you are in the exact right position and yet the fragments are tantalising in themselves. Interestingly, I didn’t appreciate that it looked like a gravestone until I saw the photographs and wondered at the time why my daughter asked if someone had died there. The cherry on the top was seeing an enamel sign on The Sack House which reads ‘The West of England Sack Hiring Company Ltd’. The building dates back to the early 19th century and served as a depot for hiring sacks to farmers and corn merchants to transport goods. Old signs, graphics, history – and walking with my children bring me so much pleasure and what treasures to discover so unexpectedly. One day I will buy an enamel sign for my home!


Crossing the metal pipes – an added extra to our walk (not part of the recommended route!)

snells woodland4I was delighted to see that the Snells Woodland information sign is now mounted in location. It was good to work with such a great team on this project.

elderflower elderflower3In case you hadn’t noticed the elderflower was out late this year – very late. Normally cordial is a delight for June but this year we had to wait until July. I love this new recipe I’ve tried for Elderflower Cordial from the book The Thrifty Forager by Alys Fowler. It is surprisingly easy to make – so easy that I made it with the local pre-school.

Elderflower and Grapefruit Cordial

25 elderflower heads
1.8 litres water
1.35kg granualated sugar
4 oranges or 2 grapefruit sliced
1 lemon sliced
50g citric acid

  • Pick the elderflowers, shaking them gently to remove little insects who have made themselves at home.
  • Heat two-thirds of the water with the sugar, stirring until it is all dissolved and completely clear. Then allow it to cool.
  • In a large bowl, combine the cooled water with the rest of the water, the sliced fruit, the citric acid and the elderflowers.
  • Leave it for at least 24 hours and then strain through a muslin. (I allow my mixture to steep for 48 hours for lots of flavour).
  • Pour into clean, sterilised bottles and store somewhere cool and dark. It should keep for several months.

My Tips:
I buy super cheap still water from the supermarket and then use the bottles to contain my cordial. They are clean and sterile and I don’t have issues with mould which was a problem a few years ago when I was using ‘posh’ bottles that were very difficult to sterilise.
Don’t wash your elderflower before putting it into the water – you end up washing away the flavour.
You can buy citric acid online from Amazon.elderflower2

snells panelIt is signed sealed and delivered. After much time designing the board and fine tuning the details and text, the board is complete and has been printed. We hope to place it in situ in the near future. It is approx 60cm x 90cm.

Snells Woodland – a breathing space
This woodland is part of the Hendred Estate and is rented by East Hendred Parish Council. Hendreds Environment Group looks after the site in which you can see many ground plants, mature and newly planted trees, birds, insects and small animals. The woodland also has a boardwalk running through it which is a ‘Safer Route to School’ path.

Woodland Management
Hendreds Environment Group has drawn up a management plan to encourage a greater diversity of wildlife and looks after the site. The group has organised several working parties and along with members of the community have removed the invasive Himalayan balsam plant, planted a hazel coppice and coppiced some of the mature trees. They have attached bird and bat boxes to several trees and clean these boxes annually.

Coppicing is a traditional woodland management technique which involves cutting back British hardwood trees to within six inches of the ground at intervals of 7 to 20 years. The tree then grows back with several trunks called poles. The hazels planted in the  woodland and the sycamore trees will be coppiced when ready.

snells woodland3Illustrations… I was desperate for paintings of English woodland plants. After a discussions with the environmental group and my mum, she agreed to do the illustrations at a very low price as part of her contribution to the countryside, to help me and as part of her portfolio. Lin Kerr ( set to work and over the next four months produced eight stunning images. It was even more work that she had anticipated but fortunately the originals were also able to form part of her exhibition at Oxfordshire Art Weeks. Carole Findlay ( who is an avid amateur wildlife photographer was happy to allow use me to use her beautiful birds and beasties. I also had a photographic session down in the woods with my daughter posing on the wooden boardwalk. My 4-year old spotted Jelly Ear Fungi and it pleased me no end that she was able to correctly identify it so that got photographed too.snells woodland2