Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Selfish Giant Maze in Brighton

What a genius idea! A pop-up maze outside the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, based on the short story by Oscar Wilde. I read The Selfish Giant as a child, but this refreshed my memory, with text from the story dotted around the maze. 

There were visual treats to be found in the maze, in the form of seasonal flowers and leaves, riddles and giant gardening tools, as well as aural treats.

It was the first time my little sister had been to a maze and I’m happy to say I didn’t get us too lost! She smiled and seemed to enjoy it, which is the main point of my days out with her.

But hurry - the maze is only there until Tuesday.

Garlic and Sapphire

This is just a quick post to point you in the direction of Sarah Raven’s blog, which I’ve just written a post for (on the subject of flower meanings…quelle surprise), and her Pinterest page, which I only discovered this week. Both are full of beautiful inspiration for florists, gardeners, cooks and bakers.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Sarah Raven’s gardens at Perch Hill

After several calendar clashes, I went to the Perch Hill open day at the end of July. I’ve been dreaming about seeing Sarah Raven’s dedicated cutting garden since I read her book The Cutting Garden when I first got into floristry a few years ago.  She got me into gardening the same way that Jane Packer got me into floristry. The book, which I’ve talked about before, is a delight to read or to flick through as you please. There are arrangements for every season, from a big, bright summer urn of eremurus, agapanthus, delphiniums and marigolds to a winter collection of glass bottles with aconites, witch hazel and crocuses. There is a mini encyclopaedia of cutting flowers and foliage, organised by season and colour, with suggestions for particular cultivars for colour or scent. There are also plans for cutting gardens with recommendations for what goes where – this inspired me to make three pyramids in huge pots to grow sweet peas. And although they didn’t do well this year because of the cold and my late planting of them, last year all three pyramids did magnificently and gave me sweet peas all summer long.

So, Perch Hill. You can’t see much from outside, because of hedges that have been planted to break the wind and create some shade. But when you go through an opening in the hedge, all of a sudden there are gardens all ahead of you, either side, and sweet peas growing up a beautiful arch (with seats in the middle). There are different-themed gardens, including a vegetable garden with cosmos scattered around it, a dedicated cutting garden stuffed with dahlias and nicotiana, and a Venetian-inspired garden full of jewel-like colours. There are zinnias (including the stunning lime-green and appropriately-named ‘Envy’), alliums, bright blue 'Black Knight' delphiniums, three varieties of tall and stately artichokes, lots of dill, and sweet peas aplenty, as well as dainty heartsease and borage.

The glasshouse is on top of a slope; the shop, cafĂ© and a greenhouse full of vegetables are all inside. There is clever planting all down the slope, so that plants such as lavender and rosemary, which don’t like to sit in soggy soil, can enjoy the rain but the water will run off.

Sarah gave a guided tour of Perch Hill, which was such a treat! I was especially interested in hearing about how they get their seeds to germinate and how they deal with rain, as their soil there is heavy and clay, as is ours, so I was keen to hear tactics for this problematic soil. When it was still cold and it was pouring with rain for days on end in the late spring, our garden was like a swimming pool, direct-grown seeds didn’t germinate and several shrubs died. The visit to Sarah Raven’s gardens gave me hope that next year will be a better one for me, flower-wise.

I took all of the photos in this post on the open day in July, from the cut flowers in glass bottles to the hanging poppy seed heads to the exciting label for trial dahlias.The next open day is this Saturday, so if you want to go somewhere flower-filled and inspiring this bank holiday weekend, this is it!

Friday, 9 August 2013

The children’s library

Last month I went to the RHS Lindley Library for the first time and now I can’t wait to go back; the talk about the language of flowers by Brent Elliott was wonderful, and the library itself is a beautiful space.

I’ve had a thing about libraries ever since I first went to my local library in Welling in Kent. I even remember the name of the librarian in the children’s section (which was a big room on the first floor) – she was called Miss Frost and she was not frosty at all! She was tall and had a brown perm and I think she wore glasses, I’m not sure, but she smiled most of the time. If you’d been to the library a couple of times, she would remember your name and chat to you when you came in, which was so sweet. I think perhaps it was the first time that I remember someone going out of their way to be nice to me, not because they were my family or a teacher or a school friend, but because they were just that sort of person. It was a few years before Matilda by Roald Dahl was published, but Miss Frost was a bit like a cross between the librarian and Miss Honey.

There was a scheme to encourage children to read every summer. You were given a little card that had different genres of books and a space to write down the name of the book. Once you’d read a book, Miss Frost would write it down in your card. Then you’d choose another from another genre. I remember the genres included adventure, romance, non-fiction, poetry and animal stories. Maybe horror, too. Once you’d read six different types of book, you got a badge, and then you got a new card to go away and fill with new books that you’d read. There was a small ceremony at the end of each summer, when you got a certificate for reading so much. I’m trying to remember the books I read as part of the scheme. I’m sure Treasure Island was ‘adventure’, The Voyage of QV66 was an ‘animal story’, The Hypnotiser by Michael Rosen was ‘poetry’ and either The Reluctant Vampire or the sequel, The Vampire’s Revenge, by Eric Morecambe was ‘horror’. Yes, that’s right - Eric Morecambe of Morecambe and Wise wrote a children’s book about vampires decades before Twilight.

I really hope they still have schemes like this for children. I have a friend who is a librarian and I know that many local libraries are either shutting or facing terrible cutbacks. Not only are good children’s libraries great for children, I suspect they are also a blessing for parents during school holidays. I used to spend my holidays playing with the kids on my street on the road (something I imagine people don’t do much now because of fears of safety), watching cartoons, or reading book after book, and I didn’t complain about being bored when I was at home. Not to say I didn’t whine about plenty of other kid problems!

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Feeling blue

My sweet peas and my 'Blue Dress' linum (flax) finally flowered this week. I'm so pleased! They are so dainty and pretty.

I made a small jam jar posy with them for my ex-mentor's birthday. I added some Mayfield Lavender, 'Pink Mist' scabious, verbena, chocolate mint and blackcurrant sage. I love all this blue and purple - such wild and mysterious colours.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Kent pop up shop for Bromley Mind

I first heard about the Depressed Cake Shop through Twitter. Once I knew there was one in the neighbouring town, in the village where I had lived for six months last year, I knew I wanted to get involved. Elisabeth Shrimpton, who runs the Lillyput Bakery, organised the Kent pop up shop after she heard about the intriguing idea to approach mental health awareness with a visual, edible representation of depression. My first reaction was: that sounds like a great idea for an artistic project, but no one’s going to want to buy grey cakes. They will look too gross to eat.

I was wrong. I looked at the Pinterest board for the Depressed Cake Shop and day by day more photos of trial grey cakes (and biscuits and sweets) appeared. They didn’t look gross. Most of them looked delicious. Some of them looked too beautiful to eat (see the incredible chocolate sculpture of an unhappy man’s head in his hand). So I joined in. I thought I would just make grey iced biscuits, but then I felt more inspired, and as the DCS seemed to rise in popularity and more cakes were needed, I decided to make grey and black jam tarts and grey fondant fancies as well.

I chose elephants because I have a tin full of random biscuit cutters that I have acquired over the years: a train, duck, elephant, man, rabbit, heart, and lots of Christmas shapes. Of all of these shapes, elephants are the things that are grey in real life, so I thought they would look quite appropriate! The butterfly shape I chose because they are usually pretty and colourful and are associated as a symbol for girls and women more than boys and men, so I liked the idea of making them grey and gender-neutral. I got a small dog cutter to represent the black dog (the symbol of depression), but as I only had grey ready-rolled icing, this didn’t entirely work! They looked more like the icon of a famous handbag company than a metaphor for depression. Oh well; the intention was there.

I used Peggy Porschen’s recipe for fondant fancies as inspiration, but changed them. I just made vanilla sponges in mini loaf tins, dyed in different colours, halved them and filled them with buttercream and strawberries from Hugh Lowe's farm in Kent. I did try to dip them in the pastel grey fondant icing, but I just ended up with lots of cake and jam in the icing and not much icing on the cake! So I put the cakes on a tray and poured the icing over. I did it three times, each time using darker icing. The end result still looked translucent, but when we put them out on the day they were sold out within an hour – so they must have looked ok! I attempted to make grey sweet shortcrust pastry for the rosewater jam tarts, but once baked they lost the grey colour and just looked a dirty beige. I made some with blackcurrant jam, and topped these with blackcurrants from Hewitt’s Farm (a pick-your-own farm on the edge of Bromley borough) and white chocolate that I had melted, dyed grey, squiggled onto baking paper and left to chill. I also made some grey pastry dog toppers and some strawberry tarts.

My mum made marshmallows with a white bottom layer, a pale grey top layer, and black sugar sprinkles. After two days of baking, I didn’t feel like eating any of the things I made, but I couldn’t have eaten the marshmallows as they have gelatine. I am hoping that one day she will make them with vegetarian fake gelatine so I can enjoy them too!

The event itself was a fantastic success. I was amazed by the kind donations we received of ingredients and sundries from the Co-op on DownhamWay, the Waitrose on Burnt Ash Lane, Baker and Maker and Cake Craft Shop. As all of the people making the cakes had volunteered their time and resources, and the money raised from the sale was all going to Bromley Mind, it was much appreciated. The bakers were great – they made colourful cupcakes topped with grey icing, black butterflies and a brain design, there were gluten-free family cakes, and the organiser Elisabeth made themed cake pops. I asked her how she made them; I assumed there was a special baking tray. She cuts and shapes hers by hand – what a painstaking job! There were also sweets and chocolates which were kindly donated by local chocolate company Cocoapod. Cinnamon Culture restaurant let us use their wonderful restaurant and lovely garden to set up the shop and an area with leaflets from Bromley Mind, and local company Plumbline Direct spent the morning blowing up 100 grey and black balloons.

People came because they had heard of the shop and were intrigued by the prospect of grey cakes. Since we were lucky enough to be in a restaurant with a garden (which we moved into once the rain had cleared up), many people got a cake from us and a drink from the restaurant and sat in outside, enjoying the sunshine and the scent of the lavender. A representative from Bromley Mind was on hand to speak to people, and gave us an insight into the amazing work that the charity does.

By the end of the afternoon, cakes were eaten, tea was drunk, conversations were had, smiles were exchanged, and £305 was raised for Bromley Mind. Not bad for a day that started with a thunderstorm. A huge thank you to the organiser, Elisabeth, and the many people who took part in the event, including our wonderful customers. It was a joy to work with you or serve you cake!