The Wreath Lectures, 2016

We are definitely into the post-Xmas slump, it’s New Years bloody Eve after all, but the decorations are still up, just about, so it’s time for another wreath round-up.

I did worry, again, that I would struggle to find new and interesting wreaths this year, but as with 2015 I tried out a few new roads on my walks and I struck lucky. 

There are definitely a few common trends I spotted this year; last year was all about heart shapes, and while there are still plenty of your classic holly, ivy, evergreen and red ribbon wreaths out there, I just didn’t take so many photos of those traditional types this time round. As ever, the pictures are a bit wonky but I have tried to crop out house numbers where possible.


This year, everything seemed to have gone silver, white and sparkling. The spiky one above was a rather dramatic example, and after spotting that one it seemed everything I saw was sharp-edged, metallic, glittering and monochrome. 


And rather than holly or ivy, what I saw on wreath after wreath was mistletoe. It was definitely a bumper year for mistletoe (if only the artificial kind).


The wreath above on the yellow door with fake pearls for mistletoe berries I thought was particularly glamorous. That one is a favourite, I think.

 

The silver theme continued with these two, one with tinsel and bells and another livened up with a large pink bow.


Another spiky leafy wreath, all cream this time.


And to prove there was some colour out there, a spangly rainbow wreath to cheer things up a bit. (Stop press: I actually had this same wreath on last year’s round up, but it was too good not to include again).

If I was trying to be clever, I might say all these sharp, glittery edges and artificial textures over nature is indicative of the strange modern times we find ourselves in this year. Or maybe it’s adding a bit of sparkle and fun in the face of humdrum harsh reality. 

As I said at the beginning, there were still a lot of natural wreaths, I just didn’t photograph so many of them, but I couldn’t resist a few, as I love a good wreath/ painted door contrast.


Smoky blue door (how I love that colour!) with bright orange accents on the wreath, and pink door with a white and pine cone wreath. 

Finally, from Hatchlands Park just outside Guildford, a natural wreath with a bit more than just plain holly and ivy – look at that old man’s beard, and a gorgeous pine cone detail. Really special.


That brings another year of blogging to an end, and I hope a good 2017 awaits you all. It may not have been a memorable year for all the right reasons, but 2016 has taught me to be grateful for all the good stuff as well as weathering the less good, and I’ll try and make sure the good stuff is what I take with me into 2017.

Advertisements

A Christmassy day at Standen House

We got into the Christmas spirit a bit early this year, and we had a good excuse for it – on the first weekend in December we had been given the grave responsibility of looking after the Class Bear. 

We had to find something suitably exciting and festive to do: a country house with a display of Christmas trees through the ages was just the ticket.

It would be fair to say I loved Standen House from first sight – I knew it was an Arts and Crafts era house, but it was far more higgledy piggledy than I expected – the house was extended from a much earlier farmhouse, so with that house, the courtyard, stables and other outbuildings, plus a couple of farm cottages down the lane, it had the feeling of being a tiny hamlet in its own right. 

The sight of so many huge chimneys, gables, archways leading to intriguing places with steps up and down and round corners, was pure catnip to me, so I knew I was going to like it, even without the extra sheen of Christmas.

Our first hint that Standen was somewhere really special, though, was the tree in the courtyard outside the house. Not your typical red and gold baubles and tinsel – 

This day-glo colour scheme with pom-poms and tassels was so incongruous: such a glorious bright sight on a winter day – well, I applaud whoevers’ idea it was.

When we got inside the house, the first few rooms contained more conventional country house trees, but what was really special was the atmosphere of the place. Every room lit by flickering (fake, but good fake) candles, and that unmistakeable feel of a real home lived in by real people.

I particularly liked this huge tree in a stairwell with a vaguely Victorian theme – tassels and paper tartan fans, who knew fans would make such perfect tree decorations?

There was a very tasteful tree all in silver and white, but the last room had the best tree of all, one from the era taste forgot: drenched in the shiny, too-easily-shattered baubles of my childhood, snowflakes and lametta.

There were more delights upstairs as there was an exhibition of work by the textile designer Kaffe Fassett – my idea of patchwork heaven.

All of that without mentioning the Arts & Crafts interior, the artworks and lovely William Morris decor: no time to look at it all properly but there were certainly works by Burne-Jones among others. (Just room to squeeze in a pic of this turquoise pot). 

Outside, it was just as delightful. There was a tiny outbuilding which had been a playroom upstairs for the children, (still kitted out with a nice range of toys – some antique and some that could actually be played with), and downstairs was a little nook with a bench, clad in Dutch tiles.

Then we walked on a footbridge which crossed a ravine (yes, really) and took a path along the edge of the valley until we got a spectacular view across Ashdown Forest in the last of the afternoon sun. The gardens themselves are probably better seen in a return visit in spring, but the walk for this view alone was worth the trip.

 

The class bear was treated to a good day out, and the spirit of adventure he brought out in the children helped – we don’t tend to take favourite toys on days out, in case of disaster, so the bear being with us was a proper novelty.

I could write about Standen House for a LOT longer, and I am delighted that there is more of it to explore another time, but what stayed with me was the unity of the place: not just lovely gardens (usually my main criteria) but an interesting house filled with beautiful things and a magical setting. Top marks all round.

‘Tis the season to be glittery…

It’s been a peculiar start to Christmas – windy, but not remotely cold, everywhere still green and fresh but not sunny or cheerful; we were in short sleeve t-shirts yesterday which felt very odd. Then, just as we were hanging the decorations, we were hit by the unwelcome arrival of the infant tummy bug. 

Nothing like a wave of baby vomit to dampen the festive spirit, and to throw into relief the contrast between the Instagram-filtered ideal Christmas and the slightly more rough-and-ready reality – although Christmas scented candles and home made pomanders do help cover the smell of Dettol and sick quite well. (The pomanders were courtesy of the Christmas festival at Morden Hall Park – a craft activity supposedly for children, but I enjoyed it so much I made a second one when I got home).
  
Luckily the sickness has receded and we can start to feel a little more cheery now. There has been no great effort at creativity from me this year (pomanders excepted) – hands are quite full enough, frankly, but a few decorations needed a bit of mending and tinkering with, so that has made me feel like I’m doing something constructive.

We have a smaller tree this year, after last year’s effort ended with an unfortunate fall, and I’ve even been so restrained as to hold back some of the larger decorations for reasons of space. I have allowed a few new favourites to creep in, though….

  
This jolly reindeer was a bargain from the local Cancer Research shop.

  

  
These lovely baubles were a gift from a friend who went to Mexico – if other people are going to start getting me decorations, well, next year we could be here all day….

  
Then these red-hatted and jumpered figures I bought because they reminded me fondly of the Danish tree decorations my grandparents gave us when I was little, although these ones I’m afraid came from IKEA. 

And it does feel slightly, now that the tree has Mexican baubles on it, plus Viennese rocking horses and Canadian puffins, as if it is becoming gradually more eclectic and less exclusively Scandi-themed. And that, I think, is OK. 

In any case, I think this year will be the last one where I get any sway over the tree – the big girl already moves things around to her preferred locations: ‘not THAT branch Mummy!’ – and of course everything she’s bought home from preschool has been liberally coated in glitter. 

We have glitter on the sofa, glitter on the floor, glitter on the baby and glitter on every inch of the table, despite endless rounds of wiping. 

It can only be a matter of time before glitter rises up to overwhelm us all – in the mean time, I will enjoy tinkering with my tree, whilst the small humans still let me.

Christmas blog part two – my round up of my favourite wreaths – is being fine tuned as I type. (There are some real good’uns on it this year). Until then, here is the slightly smaller, slightly chaotic, but still resplendent 2015 tree.

  
(I know it looks like there’s a big bare patch at the bottom. It bothers me too, more than I like to admit – but these branches are actually much flatter and smaller than they look in the picture and no good for hanging anything on. Would be ideal for tinsel, but I don’t do tinsel).

 

Wreathed in glory – the 2014 reboot

Our Christmas spirit came to a rather abrupt end today when we came home from the New Year’s Day trudge round the park & lunch to find our tree had fallen over! Either a draught coming in from somewhere (it has been very windy) or our tree stand is not going to last us another year.

Still, no decorations were broken and it would have been coming down in 2 days anyway, but I’m keeping all the other decorations up for a few more days to compensate for the loss of tree. And we had spent the morning hanging pictures which had been stashed away since before The Builders, so the house was already looking a bit less bare, luckily.

To make the last bit of Christmas cheer last into 2015, though, I’ll share with you some of the lovely wreaths I’ve seen around our local streets lately. Lots of interesting colours and decorations beyond the usual holly and red ribbons, I’m pleased to report!

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d01/35258312/files/2015/01/img_1549.jpg

A very bright red berried wreath against a pale blue door in winter sun – this was the first one I spotted and I loved it!

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d01/35258312/files/2015/01/img_1557.jpg

A simple but pleasing wicker/straw and ribbon affair.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d01/35258312/files/2015/01/img_1562.jpg

What a beauty – pine cones and dried orange chillies against a royal blue door. Gorgeous colours!

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d01/35258312/files/2015/01/img_1580.jpg

All in shades of green, against a grey door. Classy.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d01/35258312/files/2015/01/img_1588-0.jpg

Possibly my favourite of the year, a lovely natural wreath incorporating dried hydrangea heads.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d01/35258312/files/2015/01/img_1651.jpg

Another natural wreath, this one in autumnal colours against *another* pale blue door, and this one has an unusual shape with the sprays of leaves spiralling out.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d01/35258312/files/2015/01/img_1865.jpg

A wreath entirely of gold leaves and berries, a bit reminiscent of the laurel wreaths given to ancient Olympians (I think I’m remembering a gold laurel wreath which features in ‘Asterix at the Olympics’.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d01/35258312/files/2015/01/img_1873.jpg

Jingle bell wreath, pure and simple. We have some similar jingle bell stars hanging up in the windows which the toddler is very fond of, and whilst it wouldn’t be the sort of thing I’d have bought a few years ago, I want there to be a few decorations she feels are especially ‘hers’ and which she’ll get excited about them coming out every year – exactly how I remember feeling at Christmas.

/home/wpcom/public_html/-content/blogs.dir/d01/35258312/files/2015/01/img_1882.jpg

Finally, a vision of pine cones in purple against a dark door.

Those are all the wreaths – but I have one more thing to share, a picture of the handmade decorations I sent to friends and family over Christmas.

It all started with a kit for decorations (mainly felt & buttons) I bought in Oxfam, and have supplemented with other ribbons, my own button collection and Christmas fabric which was a very well-timed birthday present. Most had cloves inside so they smelt Christmassy too.

I had so much fun making them I now feel a bit bereft without a craft project on the go – my fingers are itching to start something new.

/home/wpcom/public_html/-content/blogs.dir/d01/35258312/files/2015/01/img_1618.jpg

In any case, it feels good to start the new year with a reminder of something creative I achieved in 2014 and something which also brought a great deal of enjoyment. If I feel really inspired for next Christmas, I might make enough to sell at a craft fair, but I doubt the hours spent hand-sewing and what I spent on materials would result in a very good return on investment – still, if I enjoy the work, that’s what counts, I hope.

The year in retrospect was dominated by the stress of the building project, but also a lot of good stuff too – our summer holiday in France gave me the chance to tick 2 things off my adult ‘life list’, the Bayeux Tapestry and the Normandy landing beaches (I’d visited both as a child but had few memories of either).

Both matched up to my expectations, and this time round will be remembered for many years, I hope – and it leaves me excited about what 2015 might bring, probably not any travel abroad but a chance to explore a corner or two of Britain we haven’t seen so much of lately. The main priority will be finding a good family-friendly venue for our main holiday, now that the toddler is old enough to really ‘get’ what holidays are about, we have to make sure it’s as fun as possible for her, whilst still keeping entertainment for adults in mind (even if it’s just remembering to bring board games this time…).

The other big joy of 2014 was seeing the toddler change from a baby, this time last year, to a fully functioning, chattering child. The growth in her language after she started at nursery in May has been phenomenal, and as her nursery is a co-operative run by the parents, I’ve been privileged to see a lot of her development and interaction with other children up close myself.

She will be ready to move to preschool and towards school itself before we know it, so this time spent with her at nursery has been precious indeed, and I know she has loved it too.

There is not likely to be any gardening happening soon unless the weather gets markedly better – so the next proper, meaty blog on that topic may be some way off…and there is still plenty to occupy us inside the house, too. So for now, a Happy New Year and hope that 2015 brings good and joyful things to you all!

Our new room, inside & out

We are about 2 weeks in to having a fully functional kitchen – hurrah! – and the honeymoon period is still definitely on.

True, there have been a few bumps and scrapes on paintwork already, and the ‘fun’ of learning my way round a new oven, washing machine and dishwasher, but there is no mistaking we have a proper, workable family room at last.

Getting used to a large kitchen is an interesting challenge – room for two adults to prepare food without getting in each other’s way is a plus, but a looong walk to get to a tea towel or open the fridge door is something to get used to!

Other big improvements are a proper recycling bin rather than an overflowing bag, and finally enough deep drawers for all the saucepans.

Here’s a picture of the kitchen as it looked at the weekend: not at its tidiest, but looking well-used, I hope (we have thrown ourselves back into proper cooking with a vengeance: veg soup, roast dinner, shepherd’s pie AND veggie mushroom version, macaroni cheese, lemon pudding…I am rediscovering the joys of having enough leftovers to make Monday night dinner!)

IMG_1239.JPG
The dining area we all love already – table, light, and awesome fitted shelves and cupboards which we haven’t even filled…yet. Just being able to sit round the table properly to eat after months of eating on our laps is a joy.

IMG_1243.JPG

The bit that doesn’t feel quite finished yet is the sitting area overlooking the garden – currently occupied by my old red sofa, soon to be home to a bigger new sofa, but still awaiting storage for toys and a coffee table and whatever else we think might be missing.

The one thing I knew I would love is being able to sit down there and look at the garden – finally it doesn’t feel like the garden is separate from the house, it has become an integral part of the home.

The amount of light coming into the room is even better than I could have imagined, and even on a wet day, with rain pouring down the Veluxes, it’s a pleasure to be there just taking it all in.

IMG_1246.JPG

Finally, here’s some pictures of the odd little nooks and corners:

What used to be our funny inside-outside corridor, now mostly an outdoor side return, which may eventually house some kind of storage unit for garden things: it looks so much bigger than when it was ‘indoors’ it feels like a waste not to use it for something!

IMG_1234.JPG

Next is the teeny tiny utility cubby hole, what was going to be an actual utility room. Just big enough now for the washing machine and boiler, but it is also somewhere to leave muddy boots and gives us that little bit of extra space between us & the outside world. (And we also have, not photographed, the holy grail of the downstairs loo, and some proper hall storage for shoes & coats courtesy of a trip to Ikea this weekend).

IMG_1237.JPG

After a severe drenching at the weekend, the lawn we are trying to reseed is looking pretty dreadful, but we did get an hour of work done tidying up the garden on Saturday morning, before the serious rain set in.

Flower pots have been returned to the patio and overgrown shrubs hacked back, and it’s all looking a lot smarter than it has for the last few months.

IMG_1232.JPG

And there is always the view of the house, plus the new patio and path which I’m still in love with, to stop and admire while I’m working.

It has been a long, stressful four months of having strangers in our house 6 days a week, noise, dust and chaos, but we have gained a very happy house – now to get on with the job of living in it, and planning for Christmas. Other projects and plans can wait now for 2015 and beyond!

And we’re back in the room!

Just one week on from my last blog (this is getting a bit much, can I really keep up this regular blogging lark?) and we have come a LONG way.

We have a floor, and a working oven, and paintwork nearly all finished. We plugged in the kettle and toaster in the kitchen today, after 3 months of them being in the living room, and we had dinner cooked in the oven last night.

And here is the room as it looks today:

IMG_0855.JPG

A temporary sink and worktop have been put in, but we’ll still be without a hob for another 3 weeks until the proper worktop is fitted. Trying to work out what we can cook in the oven *without* needing a hob too is an interesting challenge – we can roast veg, but not if it needs parboiling first.

No bechamel sauce, no sautéing onions…but it did occur to me I could make rice pudding if I wanted to – and that would tick one of my ‘autumn comfort food’ boxes, too, though what I really crave is a big home-made vat of winter veg soup, preferably with carrot, butternut squash and lots of cumin in it.

We’ve also had a big success with the finishing work in the garden this week – a new patio and garden path have been laid, a huge improvement on what we had before.

IMG_0860.JPG

The lawn has taken a bit of a battering, but a bit of lawn seed and we hope to get it looking better soon (though I have my doubts it will recover much over winter).

I was a little bit aghast when I saw how much lawn had disappeared under the new garden path, but I knew I would love it once I got used to it – and already the trip down the path to the compost bin is much less of a hassle than it used to be. And a good wide, flat path makes a great surface for toddler scooting and bike riding practice.

Also here’s a view of our funny little side return and new back door –

IMG_0857.JPG

Actually a lot bigger than I was expecting, I’m hoping we’ll find room for some useful garden storage if I can find something very slimline or compact. At the very least, somewhere to stash a watering can or two.

We also have a downstairs loo taking shape – no door yet, and the loo has not been plumbed in yet, but the sink went in today.

We found a really compact corner sink which still had space for a cupboard below, (somewhere to stash the loo rolls!); I think it’s a really efficient use of space, but we failed to consider whether the wall we were fixing it to was strong enough to bear the load of a wall-hanging sink! Whoops!

Luckily the plumber managed to install it to his satisfaction, so I think it will be OK, but children will have to learn not to hang off it or try to climb it – a lesson there for anyone installing a cloakroom or downstairs loo, I think.

IMG_0862.JPG

The plumber also plumbed in the dishwasher for us, and having given it a spin tonight, I am lost in admiration at the shininess of our cutlery (I’m easily pleased…) – just goes to show that our old dishwasher, which I thought of as a reliable old workhorse, was actually ready for the glue factory. (It did have a good innings, though, it was at least 20 years old, if not more!)

What’s on next week? Washing machine arrives (woo hoo!), decorators should be finished, and the patio will be sealed, which I hope will mean we avoid the very annoying flaking off and crumbling that ruined the poor patio in the old garden. Then nothing, until the worktop is ready and the final finish of the kitchen units can begin.

And in the mean time? I’m going to spend a lot of time standing in my kitchen, staring at the lovely view of my garden, enjoying the afternoon light and the sunsets. And maybe knock up the odd rice pudding…

Almost there…and yet not quite

This week was the big one. Our kitchen units started to be assembled on Monday, and on Wednesday, the kitchen window and door finally went in. This was the moment I’d been waiting for – finally the room starts to look like a proper room, and finally we can get back into the garden.

That first view of the back of the house was an exciting one…I am still amazed at how smart it looks, with all the render painted white instead of murky cream, it feels really fresh and clean. I hope it keeps that look for as long as possible!

IMG_0714.JPG

Then we had a chance to examine the garden itself and see what had survived and what might be on its last legs…the raised flower bed has been swamped by marigolds, unsurprisingly, and the new heuchera I planted there seems to have vanished, but my other two heuchera are doing very well.

IMG_0718.JPG

The herb bed has gone to seed and needs a serious overhaul, and my window box which used to house the herbs I used most often, near the house, has completely given up the ghost, as it didn’t get enough water. I need all-new Herb Solution – to me, there’s no point growing them if they aren’t used regularly in cooking, (except for lavender which I love anyway and would always grow for the scent alone) and for that reason they should be convenient and near the house. The plastic window box is a bit of a shabby solution, though, I’d rather have something that looks a bit nicer.

Coming up next on the garden agenda is a new patio and path, as what was there before is now beyond repair. We thought this was worth doing before winter sets in, and is a relatively small add-on to the general chaos we’re living with. Still to be fixed is where the washing line will go, and if we have room for a water butt. Oh and a new back gate….

In the mean time, we’ve done the first bit of garden tidying in nearly three months today, slightly hampered by the fact I couldn’t find *any* of my secateurs (and I own at least three pairs!) – they have disappeared somewhere in the garage out of sight. But we could get hold of my loppers, so I could do a bit more of the heavy-duty chopping back – although using loppers to dead-head a rose feels a bit like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut!

Then we come to the inside. Besides the kitchen units going in, the walls are being painted, downstairs loo tiled, and floors going down any day now. We can really begin to see what a nice room it’s going to be.

IMG_0736.JPG

What’s the snag? The snag is that once the carcasses of our units had gone in, only then could the kitchen fitters make the final measurements for the worktop, which could finally be ordered. The people doing the job of measuring up were booked in for Friday…but they didn’t show up, and it turned out that although the appointment had been confirmed to us, it had never been confirmed with *them*. So, no worktop means no hob or sink for at least another month, the earliest they can put it in.

Several cross words with the kitchen fitters later, we are hoping they will either speed up their delivery time with the worktop or put in a temporary sink for us. We’ll wait to find out what they say on Monday. In the meantime, all the other finishing-off work continues as planned and fingers crossed, we’ll have a room we can actually start using soon, even if it’s missing the kitchen sink.

Here, anyway, is the kitchen as it looks right now (with fridge temporarily plugged in in the middle).

IMG_0739.JPG

And here is the finest looking thing in the garden right now, a creeper which has wound itself around the olive tree and turns an amazing shade of red in the autumn. Dear old garden, it’s nice to have you back in my life.

IMG_0726.JPG