A Tale of Beatrix Potter

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‘Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were – Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter...’

There can’t be a soul alive who hasn’t heard the tale of a plucky little rabbit named Peter caught nibbling the vegetables in grumpy Mr MacGregor’s garden.  With plenty of cheeky bunnies, hardworking mice, ditsy ducks and laundry washing hedgehogs inhabiting the world of Beatrix Potter, it is not hard to see how her beloved tales and illustrations have worked their way into the very fabric of childhood.  Well certainly in our house at any rate, dear Reader.  With celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter in full swing, Poppy, Primrose and I popped down to the National Trust’s Mottisfont for a special afternoon of picnics, trails and open air theatre in honour of the lady herself.

FullSizeRenderExploring round every nook and cranny and even into the dusty corners of the Cellarium, the trail took us round and about the gardens exploring, solving riddles, singing songs and peeking behind tiny yellow doors.  I wonder if you can guess which of Beatrix Potter’s characters we found, dear Reader.

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Venture into the house and climb the stairs to the gallery for a treat too.  There you’ll find yet more Beatrix Potter treasures, with an exhibition of 30 original artworks alongside a selection of dolls and figurines, rarely seen outside of their permanent home in the Lake District due to light sensitivity.  This particular Beatrix Potter exhibition at Mottisfont is an unique opportunity to see a rather special collection of illustrations which are an utter delight to young and old and show much of Potter’s own playful and mischievous nature as well as her sense of childish fun.  We really loved finding out abut the stories behind the drawings, inspiration taken from Potter’s daily life and rural adventures at her Cumbrian home, Hill Top Farm.

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Lashing of cucumber sandwiches and picnic rugs all laid out, we sat down to enjoy an open air performance of Quantum Theatre’s production Once Upon a Time there were Four Little Rabbits.  Poppy and Primrose thoroughly enjoyed watching Peter Rabbit being chased round the garden by Mr MacGregor!  Bliss in the sunshine – honestly, dear Reader, you really couldn’t have asked for a more picture perfect location.

IMG_2613With so much to see and do, sadly an afternoon just wasn’t long enough.  So, we will most certainly be back to revisit the gallery and take part in all the other fabulous activities and birthday celebrations planned as Mottisfont’s Beatrix Potter: Play and Childhood exhibition will be running from now until 18th September.  Here’s a taster of what’s in store for the rest of the summer holidays.

Thursday 28th July – Beatrix Potter’s birthday

Mottisfont will be hosting a rather special picnic in her honour between 3 and 4:30pm (normal admission charges apply).  Visitors are encouraged to bring blankets, picnics and birthday buns to join in the celebrations on the lawn with storytelling and party games.  Perhaps a few cuddly Peter Rabbit toys might make an appearance too!

Beatrix Potter activity weekends
30th & 31st July, 13th & 14th and 27th & 28th August between 10am and 5pm –
Mottisfont will be running storytelling sessions and drop-in craft activities plus plenty more Beatrix Potter-themed fun.

Stopping for a delicious cream tea is pretty high up on our to-do list for our next visit to Mottisfont.  Exploring is hungry work!  I’m sure Peter would agree.  Don’t you think, dear Reader?

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Midsummer blooms

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The rose.  Silky velvet to the touch, passionate and pure, its elegant beauty a symbol of endurance and strength yet hopelessly transient. All that earthy worldliness and heady scent caught up in ribbon soft petals.  To me there is no other flower in the garden that offers as much pleasure to the senses nor epitomises an English garden more than the rose.  It’s the perfect bloom for Midsummer and one definitely worth celebrating as part of British Flowers Week.

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Under a canopy inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I found myself immersed in the beauty of British grown flowers with the air thick with the perfume of English roses from the Real Flower Company.  Transformed by the incredible floral design talent of Jay Archer, River Cottage Canteen in Winchester was barely recognisable – moss and roses tumbling from the ceiling, peonies, uplifting mint, lavender and joyous sweet peas, the room awash with the sweetness of Midsummer’s best blooms.  Not an oasis in sight.  It’s worth noting dear Reader, that should you wish to learn the art of creating such stunning floral displays, Jay also runs a Flower School .

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Christened with floral crowns, assembled guests were treated to a little of Puck’s mischief too with the imbibing of sumptuous floral-inspired cocktails brought to us by the charming Cabinet Rooms gents.  Aptly named ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, it proved the perfect tonic for any Midsummer’s eve.

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Enthused by all the flowery delights of British Flowers Week, I unearthed an old Rose Cordial recipe of mine from last year, made when the sun was blazing.  Keen to make the most of the roses here in our very own cottage garden, I shall be gathering up the leftover scented blooms which haven’t been blown or washed away in flaming June’s latest weather front to enjoy a little taste of my own midsummer when the sun decides to grace us with his presence again.  Bottom’s Up, dear Reader.

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Be More Margo

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“Come and judge the Best Dressed Margo and Barbara”, she said.  How could I resist such an honour, dear Reader?  Especially when the fabulous talent that is Viv Groskop was in town to preview her new Edinburgh show, Be More Margo.  I whooped at the invitation when the delightful Donna of Sulky Doll stylist fame tweeted me.  As you know well dear Reader, I never need an excuse to don a floral kaftan and spend an evening drinking Prosecco accessorised with obligatory maraschino cherry.

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In a sneaky charity preview of her new Edinburgh Festival show, the rather masterly writer (Sunday TimesThe Independent, Independent on Sunday, The Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Financial Times (Weekend), the Observer, the Guardian, the Spectator, the London Evening Standard, Red, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, High Life and The Pool ), comedian, presenter and all-round amazingly talented woman, Viv Groskop, brings to life all that is brilliantly middle class about The Good Life’s Mrs Margo Leadbetter.  Wafting about in floral maxis and keeping up with the Jones (or should that be, the Goods?), Viv highlights the virtues of Margo as middle class role model.  I fear she may have hit the jackpot as the audience offered their best in tales akin to those shared on ‘Overheard in Waitrose’ from performing yoga in orchards to bringing Ayah from the Far East to nanny in the UK.  Who knew that Winchester could be as much of a spiritual home for Margo as her beloved Surbiton?!!  I’m not sure when I have laughed so much at the mere mention of quinoa.

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With my judging duties over, plenty of knicker-wetting laughter and lots of cash raised for the marvellous Kos Kindness – Winchester and Andover Collection run by the wonderful Roshi and her team, the evening was a huge success.  HUGE thanks to Sulky Doll for organising and inviting me, to Viv for putting up with my gushing over meeting her and to my fabulous friend Siobhan who told me she was simply going to throw on a kaftan when I asked her to come along and ended up greeting me in a floor-length silk number from India which totally trumped my chiffon flowers and turban!  If you are up in Edinburgh for the Fringe then DO get tickets for Viv’s show – if she’s half as funny as she was at her preview, I promise you’re in for a brilliant night out.  I intend to take her advice and channel more of my inner Margo.  If that’s possible, dear Reader.  Got to dash, I’m in the middle of arguing with the Ocado man.  He’s substituted a bottle of Prosecco for my Bolly……….

"After 3, let's repeat after Margo......Awful"

“After 3, let’s repeat after Margo……Awful”

(On a rather more serious note, Roshi and her team coordinate refugee donations at Kos Kindness.  The work they do sees that essential items are shipped to Kos, Samos, Chios and Lesvos for direct distribution to the refugees arriving there daily.  If you can help by donating items, time or a bit of cash, then please get in touch with Roshi at roshihudson@yahoo.co.uk This is such an important cause – what Roshi and her team do really does help those in desperate need).

 

Land girl

You’ll be pleased to hear that I’ve been swotting up on the good life this month, dear Reader.  As most of you will know, when we first moved here in summer 2013, it marked the beginning of a new life for the four of us – turning our back on the urban sprawl and learning the ways of the countryside.  In fact it was the view above of one of the cottage’s neighbouring fields which convinced us to move.  For a couple of beginners like Jerry and I, the prospect of living the good life was more than a little daunting.  Yet here we are, nearly three years down the line and we’ve raised orphan lambs, adopted a Large Black called Cumberland and an elderly pony named Willow, taken on hens and now have a share in three little piglets, Huff, Puff and Snuff.  We never intended to grow such a menagerie – it just sort of happened.  I often wonder if our friends ever thought that we would turn out to be this animal mad when we left the Big Smoke.

I suppose you could say that it was all Country Living’s fault.  Almost as soon as we had moved in, I stumbled on a series the magazine had commissioned on Walnuts Farm and its owners Nick and Bella Ivins.  Charting life as a family run smallholding, it gave an insight into how the bucolic pastoral idyll we had always dreamed of could be achieved.  I say we, dear  Reader.  Anyone who knows us well will certainly agree that Jerry never pictured washing down a sheep’s backside in his idyllic rural scene.  Country Living’s series on Walnuts Farm shared Nick and Bella’s growing your own tips, how-tos for those brave enough to give livestock a go and many a delicious recipe using hedgerow fodder.  Nick and Bella painted a wonderful portrait of smallholder life and made it seem somehow achievable on a small scale for a pair of Londoners seriously lacking in green fingers.

Imagine my joy, dear Reader, when Nick and Bella announced that there was to be a book to follow the series.  The New Homesteader was an eagerly awaited parcel – thank you to Nick and Bella for the fabulous gift and for the invaluable tweets and replies on caring for lambs, pigs etc when we got a bit stuck.  I very nearly bit the postman’s hand off to rip open the jiffy bag and devour the contents!

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The book doesn’t disappoint.  It is a wonderfully put together tome of self-sufficiency and learning to live the good life.  Leaving the city behind and relocating to Walnuts Farm ten years ago, Nick and Bella have embraced becoming smallholders with their daughters Flora and Peggy, making it work for them and fit in with family life, rather than being slaves to the land.

Their book offers practical advice on a plethora of ‘good lifer’ topics (accompanied by Nick’s beautiful photography) from yoghurt and butter making… Homesteader to the benefits of planting wild flower meadows…

Homesteader2keeping pigs and hens, planning an orchard and getting started in the kitchen garden.  Nick and Bella’s aim with The New Homesteader is to inspire others to give modern homesteading a go whether it’s in the countryside, city or suburbs.  You might not be able to keep pigs in a courtyard garden in South West London but you can grow fruit and veg in pots or try your hand at making your own butter (not as difficult as you may think).  Honestly, dear Reader, even if you have no desire to up sticks for a rural living, I challenge you not to fall in love with the wonderful pictures and story which Nick and Bell tell in The New Homesteader.  It’s a rare treat and the perfect read for those who yearn for a slice of the good life.  The pictures of their delightful home will have you on Pinterest seeking to recreate their country chic in a jiffy!

Taking yet another leaf out of Nick and Bella’s book, Jerry and I have turned all land girl on our little plot (I’ve been channelling victory rolls and khaki cropped dungarees) this spring.  Jerry looks wonderful in a head scarf and pinny…..  He’ll kill me for telling such fibs.  With our veg patch sowings underway, we’ve planted our own wildflower meadow in a patch of long grass bordering the driveway and taken to some guerrilla sowing on our verges too.  We used seeds from a fab little company called Seedball  – thank you so much chaps for sending us a selection of your marvellous seed tins.  We’ve already ordered a few more tins!  The Seedball seeds couldn’t be easier to sow.  Each Seedball tin comes with seeds, compost and a little chilli to put off the birds all rolled in together so that the seeds have the best chance of growing.

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Growing your own wildflower patch is as simple as throwing the seedballs onto the area which you’d like the wildflowers to grow, watering a little and then waiting for them to pop up.  Perfect for the more erratic gardener like me…..  I can’t wait to try the Herb and Tea seed mixes.  Not blessed with acres of kitchen garden, I shall be popping those in a container near the kitchen window.  Now’s the perfect time to sow and you don’t need a huge garden to scatter a few seeds.  The bees will love you forever and you never know, it could be the start of your very own smallholding, dear Reader.

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Hats off

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It’s not often that  I get completely obsessed by all things crafty as I am usually utterly hopeless at making anything look more than haphazardly homemade.  However, a couple of weeks ago, I delved into the art of millinery with the most spectacular lady, Rachel Drewer.  I can tell you, dear  Reader, I am already hooked on hat making.

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Secreted away amidst Hampshire farmland, Rachel has a wonderful little studio with oodles and oodles of fabrics, mannequins wearing glamourous creations and enough feathers to fashion her own aviary of birds!  Heaven.  A veritable sweetie shop for all you crafting folk.  With Rachel’s work featuring in British Vogue and Country Life no less, her creations are regular features on the racing circuit.  So it is not surprising that ladies are queuing up the farm track and beyond to have one of her bespoke designs and couture numbers.  Leaving behind a career in the city, Rachel studied millinery with some of the world’s finest designers, including those who have worked for Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel and the Duchess of Cambridge.

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When Rachel is not designing and creating the most stunning headpieces and hats, she also teaches millinery workshops.  So when she invited me to come and have a lesson, I made sure I was there with bells on, dear Reader!  Not only was there tea and cake, fabulous chat from the delightful Rachel (she is one of the most twinkly smiley people I have interviewed) but she also indulged my love of all things green and feathery.  A blissful morning spent in the company of a true artist.

Together (well I say together, I mostly scoffed cake), we created a headband with some feathers I had acquired.  Those of you who have seen my homemade roadkill pheasant fascinator, I promise I didn’t come by these green ones by running over anything exotic…..

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From creating a good shape to offset the feathers, sticking them in place…

IMG_2122to finally sewing the feathered piece on to a bespoke hairband and finishing with netting.

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The results were staggeringly good and with Rachel’s wonderful patience and teaching skills, I was thoroughly surprised at my efforts.  In fact, my new fascinator will be having its first outing for a family wedding in June.

Rachel runs a whole host of millinery workshops which teach feather techniques, millinery upcycling, introductions to hat making with sinamay, parasisal and silk flowers as well as specific focus on particular hat designs.  For those looking for their own personal workshop session, Rachel offers bespoke tuition which includes a one-to-one day with Rachel in her studio, tailored worksheet on methods, materials, and design tips, follow-up support and more.  I rather liked the sound of her millinery parties – the perfect hen weekend idea alongside a glass of fizz or two.

I am truly delighted with my beautiful bespoke headpiece, dear Reader and entirely indebted to Rachel and her guiding hand.  I am already chomping at the bit to pop back for more tea and cake as well as a chance to play with all the various hats in the studio – the stuff of dressing up dreams, dear Reader.  Not only is Rachel such a talent but I feel I have made a rather lovely and supremely talented new friend right on my doorstep too!  I can’t thank her enough for such a lovely morning, especially as she even let me dress her dear Frank in one of her stunning couture numbers.  Hats off all round, dear Reader!

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Peeking into the Secret Garden

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Image courtesy of Rock & Roam

Indulge me for a moment, dear Reader.  Picture a beautiful sunset falling into the water at the end of the jetty, wild ponies grazing in the distance, a winding pathway lit with candles and lanterns.  We are met by a lady who hands us a small key.  A key that will lead us into the Secret Garden.

Jerry and I have had some wonderful invitations to events in the past but when Emma Forsyth of Rock & Roam, a new style social club for New Forest residents and weekenders, invited us to her launch party at Gins Barn, near Beaulieu (one of New Forest Escapes’ luxury lets) I jumped at the chance to attend.

A Secret Garden supper crafted by Emma’s team and the fair hands of critically acclaimed London chefs and designers, Edible Stories – just the sound of it was enough to take me back to reading Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s classic for the first time as a little girl.

Image courtesy of Rock & Roam

Image courtesy of Rock & Roam

What a garden it was too, dear Reader.  With such a stunning venue styled with flowers tumbling from the rafters, branches and leaves strewn across tables, candlelight, superb theatre created with sumptuous course after course and even a singing canary in the corner too, the story of little Mary Lennox and the magic of the Secret Garden unfolded.

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From Mary’s days of the Raj with a taste of India served in tiffins, followed by a Bitter Mary to depict orphan Mary, sour and rude, leaving her home to come to England….

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to the loneliness Mary experiences at Lord Craven’s Misselthwaite Manor where she meets a robin, as she explores the grounds, who will lead her to an overgrown doorway

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to reveal the untouched beauty of the deserted garden behind the walls as Mary turns the key

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and the final joy of making the garden bloom with her own hands, bringing her uncle and cousin together again.

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Image courtesy of Rock & Roam

I’m still hoping that every supper I go to is as beautiful as this was.  Judging by the oohs and aahs in the room coming from Emma’s other guests, I imagine that I am not the only one!  Truly a magical evening – a feast for all the senses.  Wonder if the team from Edible Stories would like to set up camp in my kitchen, dear Reader?

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Rock & Roam’s aim is to host pop up events, tastings and experiences that are imaginative, informative, fun and unique so that members and their guests can enjoy the best of New Forest with like-minded locals.  From beekeeping to field photography, gin masterclasses or wild sea swimming, Emma works with a varied team of specialists to put together a calendar full of workshops throughout the year too.  To be honest, dear Reader, if Rock & Roam’s Secret Garden launch supper is anything to go by, then the club’s members are in for a real treat.  This is one for the black book list of Margot loves.

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Spring has sprung

In the midst of the wet miserable winter with water coming through the ceiling, trampling through the endless muddy quagmire of a garden and carting wood into the house on a daily basis to keep warm, I wasn’t sure that spring would ever come to us.  Yet, here it is and I am so very glad to see it, dear Reader.  Such a tonic for the soul – birds singing, walking about without coats, blossom appearing in the hedgerows and the garden coming back to life.  Not to mention catching a glimpse of one of nature’s truly awesome sights – hares boxing in the field.  The perfect reward for our epic early morning school run.

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Filled with the joys of spring and buoyed by wondrous blue skies and a sunny day in the offing, we packed the car to the rafters and headed for the beach.  I haven’t seen Poppy and Primrose frolic about together so happily or heard them laugh so much in ages.  Bliss.

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Dora loved her first trip to the seaside too – splashing about in the sea, digging in the sand and managing to photobomb every photo I tried to take of the girls.

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Lovely to have a day of doing absolutely nothing as things have been rather busy at Margot and Jerry HQ.  From our first Point to Point as a family which saw Poppy completely hooked on the horses (she is currently planning her rise to riding fame when she tackles the Grand National whilst Primrose has developed rather too much of an interest in betting)…..

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….to learning the piggy ropes on a pig course for a new smallholding project with lovely friend and fellow Good Lifer, The Townie Farmer and discovering rather too much information about breeding……

I’m still sniggering like a schoolgirl about this little gem, dear Reader.  Definitely not Dior.

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Then of course there was the excitement of Lady Agatha, our Cream Legbar, FINALLY giving us an egg…..

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and the arrival of some wee Easter chicks.  4 little ones, a few days old, which a lovely neighbour in the village has installed in her shed with a heat lamp.  I am not sure who was more thrilled, me or the children.  One of these tiny fluffsters is destined to join our flock after a bit of growing time but for now, the girls and I are enjoying peeping into the box in the shed and giving them a cuddle, whenever we can.

Best of all that spring has brought with it so far though was a little something I’ve been waiting to arrive on the doormat.  The May 2016 issue of Country Living Magazine with my feature on the wonderful charcuterie made at Parsonage Farm by John and Sarah Mills.

I feel honoured to have had my work commissioned by Country Living but to see it through  to the shelves, married up with stunning photos taken by the HUGELY talented Simon Wheeler (his work can be seen in River Cottage books and so much more), has had me bouncing like a bonny spring lamb.  I am so delighted to have been able to tell John and Sarah’s story and share it with readers all over the country.  They are wonderful people, have taught me heaps and changed the way I think about farming forever.  This feature means a great deal to me, not least because I’ve also ticked off No.1 of 3 on a wish list I made when I started writing nearly three years ago, dear Reader, when we moved from town to country.  To be honest, if this wonderful start is a sign of things yet to come, then we’re in for a good one and I, for one, intend to walk with maybe just a little bit more of a spring in my step.  I do hope you’ll join me, dear Reader.

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