When it rains

We’ve had the most beautiful weather this past week, perfect for pottering round the patio with a watering can,

visiting the pergola in the evening light,

and even enjoying a rest under its blooms at the weekend.

At no point have I had the time to get stuck into any really big jobs – it’s all just watering and weeding at the moment – but little seedlings are popping up left, right and centre, and sometimes it’s enough just to have a look while I give them all a good long drink.

Before last week, though, we had some truly miserable weather – for May, that is – with low temperatures and seemingly interminable rain. In truth, I didn’t get into the garden at all. Instead, I caught up with a little stitching.

You might remember my starting a new embroidered holiday diary while we were in the Lakes this Easter. From sketchy beginnings on a sun-drenched shore,

that first motif is now complete.

It won’t be framed until the year is out, and of course I haven’t pressed it as there will be more sections to add. In fact, you can still see the purple disappearing pen in places, but it will fade.

In the end I decided to add to my meagre selection of colours and now have this pile of beauties to choose from:

which made the pebbled shore,

woodpiles,

bluebell woods,

and hilltop stream so much more fun to do.

In fact, it was so much fun that I started retrospectively stitching a view of Pale Hall, where I spent my 40th birthday in January, before the sun reappeared. It’s good to know that I have something on the go, given our unpredictable British weather. Garden on good days, craft on bad. At least, that’s usually the summer plan around here.

I do have plans to launch another dress pattern later this year – it’s all ready to go, apart from the tutorial – but for now I’m just enjoying doing smaller bits of stitching in the smaller pockets of time available. I’m a great admirer of those who can whip out a sketch book and capture a moment on a page – and perhaps one day I’ll learn to draw – but for now I’ll keep doing something similar in linen and thread. And it’s the simplest thing in the world to throw a little inexpensive embroidery kit in my bag when I go away, and enjoy revisiting the scenes of our holidays as I stitch away at them when it rains.

Madeleine

Do you keep a holiday diary of any sort?

Away and back again

I often choose Easter as the time when one set of projects will end and another begins. Gardening, of course, begins in earnest around this time, as does the washing and spinning of a fleece. Because of this, I like to have my cold-weather knitting and sewing wrapped up, leaving me free to focus on the plants and some outdoor carding and spinning (raw fleeces are just too dirty for me to want to work indoors).

Of course, Easter is a moveable feast, which makes it an odd date to start the gardening year. It’s good to know I’m not alone in my madness: folk wisdom dictates that potatoes should always be planted on the equally moveable Good Friday. For me, though, Easter has two constants that makes it the perfect time for this changing of the guard. First, I always have a two week holiday in which to finish off lingering tasks and really get the garden started. Second, we always go away, if only for a couple of nights. I suspect that it’s this change of scene that has the greater influence on me, because we almost always go somewhere dominated by nature, which makes me almost ache to be in the garden when we get home.

This year we went back to the Lake District bothy that we hired three Easters ago. I think that it might be one of my very favourite places for an off-grid, switch-off and reconnect-with-one-another holiday. I love it there. I love that fact that there is no electricity, let alone wi-fi. I love the fact that there’s nothing to do on the candlelit evenings but play a game together, or snuggle into your sleeping bag with a torch and a good book.

Most of all, though, I love that fact that there’s nowhere else to stay on that side of Loweswater and in the mornings you have all this to yourself.

As everyone in the UK knows, the weather over the Easter weekend was sublime. It was perfect for early morning walks in the woods around Loweswater, admiring the gnarled trees and patches of bluebells.

I liked to finish my walks by approaching ‘our’ bothy via this green lane. Can you see it, nestled in the trees?

If you timed it right, there might be some breakfast or a cup of tea to enjoy on a log bench whilst watching the children play endlessly on the rope swing. We were very relieved to find it still there, three years later.

Despite the fact that I have done a reasonable amount of walking the in Lakes, and John has done a vast amount more, neither of us had ever been to Ennerdale, so we made that the object of our Easter Sunday walk. If you don’t know, Ennerdale is the dale which is being rewilded, which means that there are no cars beyond the car parks, no boats or bouys on the lake, and far, far fewer people than in other parts of the Lakes. We climbed the fell on one side before dropping down to walk through the most wonderful woodland, full of twisted roots and natural stepping stones, before stopping to have our lunch on a little pebbled beach. On the far side of the water was an Easter egg hunt which felt madly busy after the peace and tranquility of the first half of our walk, but we quickly left that behind and followed the curve of the shore full circle.

I completed what was to be my final yarn project of the season while we were there – far quicker than I would have done at home, as Ilse and I spent the first afternoon of our stay crocheting, reading and dozing on a hillside in the sun while the others did a Via Ferratta climb. Luckily I’d brought some materials with me to start an embroidered 2019 holidays diary, and set about sketching my idea whilst admiring Loweswater one evening.

I didn’t get terribly far with it before we came home, but I’ve been enjoying working on it since and it is coming along at its own pace. The plan is to add a stitched sketch of our lovely stay at Pale Hall in January, and then take it on holiday with me all year.

As you’ll probably have guessed, this was entirely inspired by Gillian’s holiday embroideries. I made one a couple of years ago, when we went to Greece with family for a couple of weeks, and never shared it on the blog. It hangs in our guest room and I love it in all its imperfection. There are many happy memories stitched into that bit of linen. (I do intend to share it here, but it is fiendishly difficult to photograph. One day I’ll surprise you with it.)

On the way home, we had to stop in on of my favourite spots to let some sheep meander across the road, and I took a final couple of photos to remind me of quite how big the world really is when I’m sitting at home in York.

There’s nothing quite like a mountain to put you in your place.

Home again, the children helped me in the garden for a couple of days. The vegetable patch was less than manicured. I like to tell myself that I was letting all those weed seeds germinate so that we could get them all in one go…

Whatever the justification, a couple of overcast days later all four beds were weeded and compost spread on the parts that had missed out in the autumn. Two more days saw them all the seeds that could be sown, sown, and the potatoes planted too. I can look at the next two photos much more happily.

I think the Easter holidays might be my favourite of all, coming as they do just as the world is waking up around us. With a short stay away, somewhere simple, to refocus my mind on the world around me and force me to look up from whatever might be in my hands. I love the forcefulness of spring: the way in which is bursts upon you, ready or not. And I’d like to think that I am, usually, ready, although this year I fear that I am not. But more on that next time.

Madeleine

Did you have a lovely Easter? Go anywhere or do anything special? Does Easter inspire you to make seasonal changes in the way you spend your time?

Gardening again

The sun came out yesterday and it was just the ticket to get me going in the garden.

Oh my goodness, how I’ve missed it. The fresh air, the worms in our homemade compost, the tucking in of little plants to new homes. It was the happiest afternoon I’ve enjoyed in a long while. I blame the sunshine, mostly. It was so good that I had a little nap in the hammock between planting up the pots and arranging them on the patio.

I’m not sure which I enjoy more: transplanting new purchases (there was a trip to the garden centre in the morning) or watching old ones reawaken. My hosta, which I thought might have died, is putting on new growth almost daily:

My fern has had babies while I wasn’t looking:

But best of all, my £1 supermarket ‘cut flower’ hydrangea is still going strong one year later, as are two cuttings I took from it last autumn:

I also enjoyed moving these enormous and beautiful bulb lasagnas to a new location. Planted last autumn, we’ve enjoyed crocuses, daffodils and one lot of tulips so far, with a second nearly ready to come into bloom. I will be planting these again every year, as they have brought me so much pleasure over the past several weeks.

Ilse helped me sow four trays of flowers for the cutting bed, and as well as some cosmos and nigella direct. The lilies are reappearing, and the aquilegia are sending up their flower spikes. In fact, they’re self-seeded and I can’t wait to see what the new flowers look like, as they cross like nobody’s business. I was careful to avoid them in all my weeding. The peony is on the move, and we’re already on our second type of tulip for the house. What with the ever-steady alstroemeria, and the still-slumbering gladioli and freesias, there should be flowers for months, but I’ve put in some sweet peas and anemones because I love them.

If you peer very closely at the top picture, you might spot our willow fedges, planted about a fortnight ago. We have been watering them carefully and are crossing our fingers until they sprout. They are probably the best thing we’ve done to the garden for years. It’s amazing what a load of flimsy willow rods do to a space. Suddenly, I have three different gardens to tend, and it feels very liberating. Having spent the last two days on the flower part of the garden, I’m looking forward to getting going in the vegetable garden next week. But while the weeds and general air of dilapidation would normally frustrate me, the willow allows me to completely compartmentalise it. For some reason I am perfectly happy to ignore it for the time being. Fancy that.

I know that not everyone is as mad about their garden as I am every spring, so if you’ve read all the way to the end of this post then thank you! But if you haven’t gone outside and stuck your hands in some soil yet this year, I urge you to do so. Apparently it has some feel-good bacteria or something, but whatever the reason it cheers me up no end. Pick a sunny day and repot a geranium or something. It’s as simple as that. Happiness as nature intended.

Wishing you a very happy Easter, if you are that way inclined.

Madeleine

Do you love the start of the gardening season? Does it cheer you up too?

Still not gardening (sort of)

Having announced that I wasn’t going to be starting work in the garden before Easter, I have to confess that I did head out and do a little pottering on both days of last weekend, and have some more planned for today. Nothing major. But it would be a shame to let the tulips in my cutting garden bloom unseen:

or for the cuttings under the poly tunnel to go unwatered. I also have plans to plant two willow fedges before it’s too late, so Seb and I constructed three rather rustic-looking gates to keep the hens in the right part of the garden.

They aren’t finished – the willow ends need weaving back in on themselves, and the sticks need sawing off at the edges – but I’m glad to have them made and almost ready to hang. The plan is to add more and more willow to them over the years as the fence/hedges grow, and thus make them sturdier over time, although they are easily sturdy enough for now as it is. Our hens might be determined, but they are only hens.

The plan is to divide the garden into three: a civilised patio/ lawn/ flower area near the house, the rest of the lawn and the hen house, and the vegetable garden/ fruit patch/ compost heaps/ children’s dens tucked away at the back. Several of our neighbours have similarly divided gardens and it works well when they’re as big as ours.

For once, though, there is absolutely no wishing away of time until that project is complete, because in the meantime the garden is bursting into life in the most exuberant way. This is the view from the kitchen window:

and above the compost heaps the new buds of the cherry are fat and red against the rusty old keys of the ash tree beyond.

The hawthorn hedges are greening up nicely:

and there’s purple sprouting broccoli to accompany our Sunday roast.

Still, despite not really getting stuck into work out there just yet, I do have one goal for every day that I’m not at work, which is to enjoy at least one cup of tea al fresco. Which is why I’m going to log off and get straight out there to enjoy the sunshine while it lingers. In fact, I might even give the outdoor chairs a bit of a clean, and an airing. After all, that doesn’t really count as gardening, does it?

Madeleine

I hope your garden is bringing you as much pleasure as mine is bringing me – what are you particularly enjoying, just now?

Colours, inside and out

Normally I’d be in the garden at the very first signs of spring, but not this year. This year, for sanity’s sake, I decided that gardening would commence at Easter, and not before. So apart from watering the odd seedling on a sunny windowsill, I have no jobs to do.

Instead, I pop into the garden whenever I get the chance, and just wander about. I rugged up on Sunday and had a cup of tea in our lopsided pergola, surveying the emptying vegetable beds. We’ve been enjoying the last of the leeks and the parsnips, and the first of the perpetual spinach and PSB. Mostly, though, I just wander around, looking at what’s coming back to life. The most urgent garden-related job is eating our way through the bags of soft fruit in the freezer from last year and even the year before that. We need to make room, you see.

It is surprisingly liberating. On my way into mass last week I heard an older man comment to his wife that it was time to get the lawnmower out, gesturing to the lush new growth in the church grounds, and I just thought oh, there’ll be time enough for that. One of my neighbours was out dealing with the first dandelions of the season, and for once I thought that ours could wait. I’ve not lost interest in the garden. Quite the opposite, in fact. I am very excited about my plans for the new season. But I’ll start them when I’m ready.

In the meantime, I am quite happy polishing off my wool supplies. I finished a second little bonnet at the weekend and have tucked it away in my handmade gift drawer, ready for a teeny-weeny head. It’s even smaller than the last – more of a newborn size than 3-6 months, and used up the end of a ball of sock yarn. Since then, I’ve been crocheting a simple snood using up the odds and ends from all this winter’s colourwork knitting. I added a ball of vaguely mustardy yellow to the mix and am enjoying playing with the colours, just choosing the next stripe. It’s brighter than my usual makes, but I do like it. I’m not sure whether this will be for me, or another ready-to-hand present.

All things considered, I am quite pleased with my new approach to spring, even though it is really a response to the fact that I don’t have the time at home to do everything I want to all at once. I’m even beginning to think that might be a good thing. It certainly feels like it, from my vantage point in a sunny bay window. I might do a little final planning by the fire this weekend, and check my supply of seeds so that I’m all ready to go when the wool runs out. But that’s as far as the gardening is going to get, for now at least, and for once I’m okay with that.

Madeleine

Do you hit the ground running in spring or sit back and watch it instead? I actually think I might be enjoying it even more than usual this year, by just paying attention instead of making mental to-do lists. What’s your favourite approach?


Sleepy sewing

This was supposed to be a post about the start I’ve made on my 5″ square scrap quilt. Last weekend saw me dragging myself through the days, worn out by about six different factors, but determined to enjoy the days off. I managed a swim, some knitting, tidying the house (with lots of help from everyone, as usual), and a couple of hours in my little studio, sewing.

The quilt blocks themselves are easy enough to make. It’s going to be a randomised drunkard’s path quilt, meaning that all the curves will go off in different directions – you might remember me dying and cutting the pieces during the Christmas holidays. I made a highly technical template from a cardboard tea box, cut the first patterned squares into pieces and paired them with their grey counterparts to make quick, simple squares. Then I had the fun of arranging them into bigger, four block arrangements, like so:

Finally, all I needed to do was trim each little block down to the right size, and it was done. I merrily cut all 16 of the blocks I’d cut down to 4″ squares, before remembering (just as I was falling asleep one night) that 4″ was meant to be the finished block size. I told you I was tired.

No matter. Our potholders have been looking beyond shabby for some time now, so 16 squares will be perfect for two double-sided replacements. Worse things happen at sea.

Which means that I still have all 484 blocks to make. In truth, I have no intention of making that many this spring – I only have enough patterned squares to make half that number anyway. This is meant to be a long term project, using up scraps over the next two or three years. There’s really no rush, and the first 16 blocks were good practice anyway.

In other, more successful news, may I introduce you to the first seedling of the season? It’s a Grandpa Admire lettuce, and I can’t wait to eat it.

But today is going to include neither sewing nor gardening, because I’ve a little woolly bonnet to finish, and a sunny seat by the window to enjoy while I do so. It’s been a week of early nights and as much rest as possible so far, and I fully intend to finish it the way we started. And besides, the next set of squares are ready and waiting for a more successful sew next weekend.

Madeleine

Any silly sewing mishaps lately? Or other foolish errors? I for one find it hard to mind with all this spring sunshine and new growth around.

Welcome, rain

On Friday afternoon, the sun shone and the air grew so thick that I abandoned all thoughts of cooking. Indoors, the couch and my knitting were beckoning, but instead I stayed on the patio, picking my way through another batch of fleece before carding it, ready for spinning. The thing is, you never know whether this will be the last day of sunshine for a long, cold while. So while the sun shone, I carried on with the dirty, outside tasks, like pulling the mucky tips off the wool and watching the dust fly as it moved from carder to carder.

Over tea – thank goodness for ready-roast chickens and shops within an easy cycle – I doled out jobs for today. Not a lot, just a little help from everyone, please. Strimming for Ben. Tying up the peas and beans for Seb while Fliss staked the fast-blooming alstroemerias and my new freesias. Ilse was to help me water and plant out the cucumbers and courgettes – the very last things to go into this spring’s veg patch – while I weeded it all and John made his usual rounds at the butcher and greengrocer’s on the market. A typical late spring Saturday morning.

And then on Saturday it rained, on and off all day, so that instead we found ourselves in the kitchen. A kettle on the Rayburn for endless mugs of tea, and more buttery crumpets smeared with Marmite as each new sleepy head emerged. Fliss stitched away at her old ballet skirt, embroidering it with golden swirls for a fancy dress costume. Seb appeared from the garage with a big stick and his knife, as well as the promise to work over a spread of newspapers. Ilse was colouring, and Ben rummaged through the spice drawer as he and John planned our meals for the week ahead. It’s the first time in ages that we’ve been in just one space, together, for so long. In the spring our house doubles in size as we spread out, away from the fires, into bedrooms and right down to the end of the garden to make much-needed repairs to winter-ravaged dens. But yesterday we all stayed together, held no doubt by the gentle warmth of the cooker and all five episodes of Death on the Nile, one after another, on the radio.

As for me, I worked on the knitting I’d been so keen to get to the previous day, which is a pattern I’m developing for the autumn. I got through all the counting and onto the easy stretch before Poirot solved the murder, which was satisfying. The rain let up, just a little, after lunch, so that I could run out and plant the freesias that my dad had bought me on Friday, staking them against the weather. And then, later, there was Paddington to watch again and, best of all, a pile of rolags ready to spin from that sultry afternoon the day before. There’s a time and a place for everything, you see. Tasks for sunshine and tasks for rain. That way, whatever the weather, there’s a way to make it welcome.

Madeleine

Through the wardrobe

Mid May seems terribly late to be going through the children’s wardrobes, but this spring has felt too cold to do so any sooner. At least, that’s what I think. Ilse has been bouncing around in her romper since she spied it in the cupboard when I dug out a couple of her gingham dresses for school. Whatever the weather, spring classrooms are invariably stuffy.

Sunday dawned wet and grey, to be honest, but by the time we got home from Mass the sun was streaming from the heavens and the hens lay basking in it, wings akimbo. I dragged Seb upstairs to go through his things with him, and after the first couple of reluctant changes he was quite pleased to be reunited with some of his more summery things. Of course he’s grown, but with a move to a new school in just a few months’ time I think we’ll embrace the almost cropped look and let him choose some new things next spring instead. At twelve he won’t want to be wearing clothes he chose at the naive and tender age of eleven. This I know from experience. And after all that rationalisation I softened and promised him one new top, just to ring the changes. Needless to say he chose another animal one.

Ilse’s turn began with a look through Seb’s old things, picking out what would be useful for summer camping and the like. Although we agree that you can do absolutely anything in a dress that you could do in trousers, she quite likes wearing her big brother’s clothes when she’s adventuring, and I like to see her a little warmer when she doesn’t realise that it’s turned cold and grey. That said, Seb’s old things couldn’t match the thrill of being reacquainted with a trio of pretty cotton frocks, and she happily tried each one in turn. Two, a little big last year, fit perfectly now. One of those was mine when I was little, and although Mother wasn’t one to save clothes once they were outgrown by the smallest of us, this frock turned up in a box of books a few years ago and has since been worn by Ilse’s cousin, and Fliss, and now her. Add Meg and I, and that’s five of us, which is quite nice, although I’m not entirely sure why. It’s just a dress. Most importantly, she thinks it’s beautiful.

We both gasped a little when she put on the frock I made for her last summerWell Mummy, aren’t you glad you put such a big hem in it? she beamed. It was down here last year! And so it was, right down below her knees, and now it is almost halfway up her thigh. So yes, I am glad I put such a big hem in that and all her dresses. I’ve learned that trick through experience too. It wasn’t such a surprise to me as it was to her, to see how much she’s grown – I’ve been watching her grow out of her winter dresses for months – but she was absolutely thrilled. I remember that feeling of going through my wardrobe as a child: suddenly things which had always fitted were too small, and I’d grown while playing and learning and doing other things. How wonderful. How odd. Best of all, though, was the little stack of new-to-you things to wear, and Ilse is no less pleased with her pile. Cotton, flowers, and more cotton please – jumpers were most severely sent off to the big cupboard to sit the summer out.

Later, though, once she’d skipped off downstairs in nothing warmer than her romper, I pulled a couple of hand-knits from the cupboard and added them to her pile. Emergency cardigans: the sort of thinking that makes me realise that I’ve gone and grown up while I was playing and learning and doing other things.

Bound

What a lazy Sunday – not at all the sort I would expect in May. A morning spent knitting a quick and chunky snood in peacock hues, ends woven in and blocked by lunchtime: the fruits of one of my very first attempts at spinning. A spot more spinning while it soaked. And then an afternoon in front of the fire, hand sewing the back of the binding onto Ilse’s quilt while outside continued windy and cold and grey and someone else took care of the supper.

The pace of crafting in this house tells me that it isn’t quite as warm as it ought to be, for May, and we would like a little more sunshine, please. We are still wearing our coats when we go into the garden, only shedding them once this task or that has warmed us up. Mrs. Drummer and I went for an evening of knitting in the pub on Saturday and there was no chance of our sitting outside. She finished a lovely moss stitch scarf and I cast on for my snood, and it didn’t feel unseasonable at all. Very pleasant, in fact, if somewhat oddly autumnal.

So, rather than spending hours in the garden and just enough to keep the quilt ticking over, my time is being spent the other way around, and I don’t think it’ll take me until the end of May after all. There’s been a change of plan, too, which will speed things along just as soon as I unpick what I’ve already done. Having quilted nine of the sixty-three white squares I don’t like the effect at all. They break up the chain effect and make the pattern revert to one of nine-patches and white blocks. Instead, the centre square of each nine-patch will be quilted, emphasising the intersections between the horizontal and vertical rows of diamonds – much more in keeping with the trompe l’oeil. There’s no need to stick slavishly to an original plan and anyway, it’s a good excuse to unpick those wobbly first lines of quilting stitches.

Hopefully it won’t be done by the end of May because that will mean that the weather has turned gorgeously warm and bright and I’ve been unable to resist the charms of the great outdoors. It won’t matter anyway, because Ilse will be far too hot at night to want such a thick and heavy quilt draped over her. But if things stay the same I shan’t mind too much, having something warm and interesting to look at spread over my lap as I stitch.  Either way, it’s bound to by finished by autumn.

Outside: Potting on

It’s official: I have run out of space on the kitchen windowsills. All the way around are pots full of seedlings: marigolds, lettuces, cauliflowers, sweet peas… I ran out of trays weeks ago and so they stand on a motley assortment of old plates and the like. Each burst of germination sends me hunting round the house and shed for something – anything! – to put the next lot in, and that something is always found. Tin cans, toilet roll inners, things the children have fashioned out of newspaper – it all works well enough. But more space is not something we can magic up that easily. And I’ll be needing more next week.

I don’t remember ever having such an abundance of seedlings all at once before. Partly it’s because I’ve taken a leaf out of my friend Mr. White’s book and started my brassicas inside this year. Partly it’s because spring seemed late and cold and nothing went in until April. And partly it’s because by the time you’ve found a new source of ‘pots’ and ‘trays’ you may as well pot on every last seedling, as someone will surely want it.

Thankfully while it all seems to be coming up thick and fast, things are about to start moving on quite quickly too. I suppose that’s the beauty of sowing in April: May is only just around the corner and I think the tomatoes will be happy in the greenhouse soon. I’ve earmarked some plants to go out into the soil under large-jars-as-cloches, and another lot to pass on to other gardeners.

It’s a constant shuffle, this potting on business, a funny sort of dance involving pots and trays and rather a lot of compost, but an elegant one all the same. Somehow, at the end of each day spent making such moves, everything ends up in the right place, and there is just enough room for it all.