Thursday, 2 July 2015


Well, June finally came through for us in the end.  After a gloomy start, it has been pretty glorious here in the West Country.  We are surrounded by farming land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall and we are lucky to have views to-die-for.  I love watching the view change with the seasons.

June is probably my favourite month of the year.  The English garden is at its peak, the days are long and there is no place better to be.

I have planted some new roses since we moved to The Old Vicarage but I was pleased to find a very pretty pink one flowering away in one of the borders.  I think it is probably a David Austin variety, it is of the type; I cannot find a tag but there are a couple of others nearby which do have David Austin tags on.  I love picking little posies of flowers for the bedside from the garden of a morning.

Recently, I have also been able to pick the first sweet peas.  Their scent is heavenly.  Like roses, no point growing sweet peas unless they are a scented variety.

We've fitted in quite a few trips here and there, too.  The good folks over on Instagram have been enjoying my snaps of all the cute old cottages which are plentiful in the villages around us. 

We went to visit a friend for the first time who lives over the border in Dorset, near Bridport.  She lives in this sweet thatched cottage in a very tucked away spot.  The peace was a joy and the views vying for poll position with our own!  She has worked such magic on her garden and has some gorgeous classic cottage garden borders.  She also has a wonderful chubby ginger cat called Marmalade!

A neighbouring village is getting ready for its annual fete and the bunting is out.  Like our own home (and our cottage), the houses there are built from local ham stone which is mined at nearby Ham Hill.

Talking of cottages, you haven't forgotten good old Lilac Cottage, have you?  Gertie the rose is blooming again on the front wall and looking pretty spectacular.  This rose, Gertrude Jekyll, also has a wonderful quintessential rose fragrance.  More news on Lilac Cottage soon.  Exciting!

Also in June, our thoughts turned to a new project here at home.  We've been enjoying letting the grass in the two acre meadow grow but we also started to think of other ways we might use this space.

Finally, we are going to be able to realise a long-held dream.  

It might have something to do with these ladies...

Something like this maybe?

Perhaps a bit less exotic!

Yes, we are really going to give meaning to the words hen and house as never before and have one of our very own.  

First off, we needed to learn about hens, then.  We are lucky in that there is a breeder in a local village so off we set to meet her hybrid hens (that's the photo of them up there).  Decisions, decisions.  Cuckoo Maran, Bluebell, Colombian Blacktail, Light Sussex. Yes, yes, yes!  We need to know how to look after our girls (although Mr HenHouse also wants a boy) so I turned to some sage advice from chicken expert Suzie Baldwin and her most excellent book.

As it so happened, the weekend of Mr HenHouse's birthday, we found ourselves in Hampshire and what do you know, Suzie happens to live in the very same county.  She runs chicken keeping courses from her home on a Sunday morning.  Yes please!

Hollywater Hens is situated in a pretty and peaceful little backwater.  Susie has a field behind her house with various chicken, duck and goose enclosures.  All her flocks looked so happy, especially the adorable fluffy Buff Orpington and her chicks, and we got lots of great and practical ideas for setting up our own henhouse, looking after the chickens and keeping them happy, healthy and amused.

We also went over to her adjacent paddock to see lots more chickens, right through from little chicks to pullets.  It seems we had some company for our trip; I got the shock of my life when I turned round to find this trio behind us.  They followed us all round the field until we left some time later!

I was very taken with the two beautiful lambs Suzie also had.  Oh my!  They were just the sweetest, I did not realise they could be so friendly.  They came running up to as we entered the paddock and followed us round, happy to be stroked and petted for as long as we liked.  They felt so lovely, too.  Oh, I'm in love!

We weren't there just to ogle all Suzie's feathered and furry friends but to get hands on with the chickens too, and learn how to handle them and care for them.  As I knew he would, the Mr proved a dab hand with the ladies!

Feeling thoroughly inspired and a lot more confident, last week we ventured back into Dorset to collect a very special item (I am not referring to Mr HenHouse's much longed-for trailer, very handy though it is!)  I do, of course, mean the precious cargo.  

Yes, the henhouse is finally home.

It seems I am obsessed with all things chicken, it has even spilled over into my making.

I'm loving Lori Holt's new book Farmgirl Vintage.  I don't seem to have much sewing time at the moment but I'm enjoying fitting the odd block in here and there.  The first just had to be Mama Hen, of course!  So, that is where we are up to with our chickeny story so far.  July will see us finally realise this little dream and of course, I'll be back to introduce you to the flock.

I'll leave you with a few shots of the fabulous sunsets we've been enjoying of late.

Ain't life great. Xxx

Friday, 26 June 2015

An English Rose Garden

Today truly couldn't be much more different from a week ago.  There I was earlier on, happily weeding in the Beehive Garden (well, as happily as you can weed) when along came the rain.  So I was forced indoors into my Den (what a chore) and I thought, let's chase this gloom away by remembering last Friday.

I had been doing a little undercover sneaky organising as last weekend it was Mr HenHouse's birthday so I decided to whisk him away.  I managed to organise outings for each of the three days and on the way to our main destination and bed for the night, we happened to be passing near to somewhere I had long wanted to visit.  Through Hampshire's green and rolling lanes we travelled until we found ourselves at Mottisfont.  

Mottisfont is a village but it's also the way people tend to refer to the infamous house there, now owned by the National Trust, which is renowned the world over for its walled rose garden.  As a die-hard rose lover, I had longed to go there; it being June and almost the longest day, it was the perfect occasion upon which to visit.  We were shocked to see how many cars there were in the car park and I mean the overflow car park. Mottisfont's secret is well and truly out.  We got in quickly though, we are members of the National Trust anyway, and headed straight for the main attraction (for me, at least).  There's something about a walled garden which is inherently romantic I think, so when paired with roses, it's a dreamy combination.  Roses are really set off against old brick and stone walls.

There is a large area for rose sales when you first enter.  I wonder how many people do not go home with a rose.  I know we did, in fact the very first one we saw, which will enhance The Beehive Garden here at home.  There was a large selection of potted David Austin English Roses (of which I am an ardent fan) as well as lots of beautiful older varieties.

It was difficult to know where to look first.  What I wasn't to realise was that the space we first entered was only the beginning and there were further rooms to the walled rose garden.

There were traditional box-edged borders along the edges, with climbing roses trained against the walls underplanted with more shrub roses and pretty herbaceous perennials.  Now was the perfect time to see the peonies and catmint and there was a lot of lavender ready to flower.

There were areas of classic English lawn, green and stripy, and many places to sit and enjoy the views.

As you may imagine, the scent in the air was pretty heavenly.  I couldn't resist a sniff and lots of people were doing the same.  I find it impossible to buy roses for my own garden which don't have a fragrance because on seeing a rose, I think your first instinct is to smell it.  It's always a disappointment when there isn't at least some perfume.

Onwards, there was a whole other large area of the walled rose garden to admire.

The planting combinations were really beautiful with lots of old cottage garden favourites: love-in-a-mist, foxgloves, lupins and so on.  All plants I adore.

We were further rewarded when spotting this little chap; a baby robin who was very vocal, no doubt calling for his mum who was not too far away.

A sweet little garden shed had been filled with ephemera relating to the walled rose garden and a voice recording was playing of Graham Thomas who planned the rose garden back in the 1970s.

We decided it was time for a rest and a spot of lunch.  We had taken a picnic with us so we set it out on the lawn in front of the house.  It was a fine spot and good to use the picnic quilt I made when I first started quilting.  There was a river running to the side of the lawn with a beautiful rose growing over the bridge.  A duck and her family of ducklings were splashing along on the water.  Glorious.

We set off to explore the house which was once a medieval abbey, in fact elements of it remain at the core of what is now largely a Georgian house.  You can look round many of the rooms on the main floor.  The house was bought by a wealthy banker and his wife back in the 1930s and the identity of the house was a mix of all eras inside.  There were still hints of the Georgian grandeur, many of the walls were covered with Victorian marbled paint effects (a bit dark and oppressive for my liking) and the main drawing room was in a decadent '30s art deco style with the original furniture.

I was more interested in the top floor which is where the housemaids' quarters were.  Up a steep and narrow wooden winding staircase a series of small rooms opened out.  There was a little scullery (I do love one of those!) complete with its carpet beater, enamelled pots and carbolic soap.

Several bedrooms were open on display.  They were simply furnished but contained the old metal bed frames, patchwork quilts and ragrugs that I love.

The house shut at 5pm and we just about managed to scamper round in time.  I am glad we managed to see inside even though the rose garden was my real passion.

Ah Mottisfont, I wasn't sure you would be able to live up to the hype but in fact you surpassed it.  Places like this make me really proud to be British.  I shall return.

Monday, 8 June 2015

The Bee Hive Garden

In my last post, I mentioned that very inspiring garden I had fallen in love with at The Squash Court in Wimborne, Dorset.

That beehive!   Those foxgloves!  That dove cote!  That little gravel path! The galvanised dolly tub!  Need I go on?  I've been dreaming of this sort of pretty-meets-utilitarian garden for a long time.

It just so happens that we are not short of garden here at The Old Vic.  This little patch you can see below, is outside Mr HenHouse's workshop and we had decided it was surplus to requirements and we were going to hoof everything out and gravel it over to blend in with the drive.  We did not need this bed.

However, a trip to The Squash Court and the grey matter was whirring.  I had plans for this little area after all!  It had very few plants in it and the only ones I wanted to save were the rhubarb and the gooseberry bush, in fact they helped shape the idea for this garden.  What I had in mind for this space was an old-fashioned almost 1940's style garden. So there would be flowers and there would also be fruit and veg.  The soil is pretty bad here.  It's heavy clay underneath yet on the surface it's very dry and it's rock hard because we haven't really had much rain this past year (not that I am complaining).  Not a lot really seems to be flourishing.

Luckily, down at the bottom of the paddock, we have inherited a massive dung heap as our predecessors kept horses.  So off set the Mr in his swanky tractor mower complete with trailer on the back and he returned with lots of well-rotted muck!  He has worked very hard for several weeks, turning over the earth, weeding and hoofing out things we didn't want and digging in all that precious manure to improve the soil.

I meanwhile, had caught a train and headed back to my old stomping ground to find inspiration in the form of Chelsea Flower Show.  Bit further to travel now but still easily do-able in a day.  These days, I find Chelsea far too busy.  It's virtually impossible to get near many of the large show gardens without much persistence and elbowing!  As I really can't be bothered with that sort of thing, I did my best to see what I could and otherwise concentrated on the small artisan gardens and the floral marquee (not to mention the shopping, of course), which are my favourite parts, anyway.  Somehow, the smaller gardens seem a lot more attainable and therefore, for me, inspiring.  This time, the gardens which struck a chord with me were this one...

and this one...

There was some very nice planting in the large show gardens and I took a few ideas away from there, too.  Pinks, blues, lavenders and white are my favourite shades for a border.

The train home was packed, not only was it the Friday of the Bank Holiday weekend but also the start of half-term.  I shoe-horned myself into a corner and stayed there with my spiky plant supports!

The next week, we were blessed with some lovely weather and we set off for a family day out at the County Show at the Bath and West Showground.  We've never made it to this before so I was very excited!  It was a really great day out, something for all of us, not too busy, not too expensive and lots to see and do.  I was pleased to see a few more old-fashioned gardens on display which made my little heart sing.

This one was really super, that mix of veggies and flowers, a garden which was pretty yet purposeful as they were back in wartime 1940's.

Back home, Mr HenHouse had worked his magic on the little garden and I was allowed to get in there with my spade and pretty it up.  I had been stockpiling plants, mainly from Bridport, particularly the WI Market, which always has fantastic cottage garden plants at super reasonable prices.  I had also picked up some bargains from the big supermarkets and DIY stores.  They seem incapable of watering their plants and then sell them off looking half-alive (when they usually just need a good water) at rock bottom prices.  Pot of alliums reduced from £4 to £1 anyone (with an extra 15% off on the Bank Holiday weekend)?  Yes please, all four pots, at 85p each, thank you!

Something else I had long hankered after had also come our way.  I sat there one day pondering that I really really wanted a beehive.  I had a mooch on that well-known auction site but there were very very few "real" beehives, even fewer old ones and none within a reasonable distance.   I was not to be defeated though and through the power of t'internet, that very same morning I tracked down not one but two beehives to a farm relatively nearby.  An email and a 'phone call later, we piled into Delilah Disco and headed off to relieve an old lady of not one but two of her beehives as she was downsizing her bee keeping habit.  Oh happy days!  "Will we keep bees" is the oft heard question ever since?  Well never say never.  Apparently, they may find us first!

In the courtyard, I have two mini greenhouses fit-to-bursting with little plants and seeds I have been raising.  It's been a hard task this year as the weather has been pretty cold.  However, some things were ready to plant out, in particular, the sweet peas.  I wanted an old-fashioned wooden wigwam of sticks to grow them up so off we set down the meadow to find some.

We've allowed the paddock behind the house to go over and do its own thing.  The horse we had staying for a while has moved on and so we're enjoying returning things back to nature and the buttercups, clover and ox-eye daisies are romping away.  We have mowed a section at the top as we have VERY exciting plans for that (more soon).

We soon found our poles and Mr HenHouse was tasked with making the wigwams.

There you have it, the birth of our little beehive garden, created with an old-fashioned cottage utility garden in mind.  It is not quite finished yet and of course, the plants have a lot of growing to do.  I've divided and transplanted some plants from elsewhere in the gardens, including the cat mint and it didn't take a certain furry someone very long to track it down.  The rhubarb forcer is another item I have been hankering after for a long time and what do you know, there it was on the street market a few weeks ago.

In a junk shop on Saturday, I picked up this old deckchair which is ripe for a makeover.  It's lucky that I was planing to make a new (flowery, of course) sling for it as it has failed to take even the Munchkin's weight!

I'll be sharing you our little garden in the future when we've finished working our magic.