Tag Archives: lavender field

A Year to Remember

There’s always an ending and a beginning as the twinkly lights of Christmas are packed away once more.  Lists of things left undone, things achieved and dreams and hopes for the year to come.  Then January sets in and I’ve forgotten all about what it was I wanted to do, what I’m supposed to be doing and the things I should have done by now……including writing this message to you, dear Reader.  You know what they say though.  Better late than never.

2017 was a year of beginnings for us.  We met and fell in love with a farmhouse, decided to undertake the biggest project we’d ever tackled, turned a tired lavender field back into production and generally everyone we knew thought that we had finally lost all our marbles.  Move to a derelict farmhouse you say?  Why ever not?  Now our first Christmas here has been and gone, it’s hard to imagine that just a few weeks ago the farmhouse was still rather more of a shell than a home.  No clean drinking water, no heating, no functioning plumbing….the list is endless.  There wasn’t much of a kitchen either as it had been stripped bare before building work could start.  The steel skeleton was still firmly in place around us and our view of fields also included a few builders’ bottoms.  Not forgetting a bloody great Bake Off tent in the back garden that served as our makeshift kitchen for three months when the mouldy old kitchen was removed and the oak flooring went down.  Disappointingly, it was minus a chirpy Mel and Sue or even Sandi and Noel and it was completely devoid of showstoppers.  Well of the baking kind at any rate.  I’ve never been on safari, dear Reader but I am pretty sure tents in the bush are distinctly more glamourous and less functional.

As the weather closed in and the list of disasters from crumbling chimneys to water pouring through the kitchen ceiling (not once but twice) grew, Jerry and I lost faith in our ability to tackle everything that the old girl needed to bring her back to life.  I can’t tell you the waves of tears wept and a long list of expletives grew as for the millionth time I forgot to shut the curtains before venturing to the loo and remembered that I was visible to all on the scaffolding.  Nothing seemed to be going right.  My poor Pa who is in charge of all our electrics almost had kittens at how unsafe the wiring was (and in some parts still is) in the house.  Then there was the time we had been using the open fire to keep warm whilst we were without any form of central heating and the lovely chap who came to check the chimneys told me that I had been effectively poisoning us all as smoke and fumes were being channelled into Primrose’s bedroom.  Every day became a diary entry of disasters.  Working from home has some serious disadvantages when renovating a house.  Each little detail becomes a mountain to climb so that by the time you reach decisions about door handles or paint colours or whether or not you need a Hobnob biscuit or a Jaffa cake to get through the next hour, you are beyond being given any form of choice.  None of these things are the end of the world but after months of effectively camping in your own home, there’s nothing like a deadline to force you towards getting things done.  What better deadline is there than hosting Christmas and Boxing Day, dear Reader?!

All good things come to those who wait, dear Reader.  There is drinking water coming from the tap once more, there is heating, there is an Everhot, the builders have moved out and we can finally say goodbye to the Bake Off tent in the garden.  Getting the kitchen finished has meant no more cooking on a camping stove (a massive thank you to Alresford Interiors for all their hard work, beautiful carpentry and coping with a complete redesign at the last minute – for all the little extras and more we couldn’t be more grateful) and life at the farmhouse is becoming more and more ordinary again.  Whilst upstairs, bedrooms and bathrooms remain wholly untouched, downstairs is beginning to look complete.  Distressed oak floors in the hallway, kitchen and boot room sit alongside the original parquet flooring everywhere else.  Arts and Crafts colours reign supreme as you might expect – olive walls in the dining room, library red in the study.  The only room that has escaped something darker is the kitchen and that’s because limewash was needed it for its light reflective qualities.

Thank you to Quirky Interiors for our beautiful bespoke brass splashback too – the pictures don’t do it justice.

We haven’t finished by any stretch of the imagination.  The kitchen walls are still a bit bare.  Bathrooms will have to wait so washing hair with the aid of Tupperware boxes remains de rigueur for 2018.  The hallway still has its 1968 Laura Ashley wallpaper and I can’t wait to rip off the carpet on the stairs but perhaps not just yet, Jerry tells me.  We’ve already had more than one disastrous afternoon where we lost a cat under the upstairs’ floorboards.  Window panes in our leaded light windows have been replaced and new guttering and replacement roof tiles have seen us finally dry inside the house.  A shiny new boiler now heats the house after almost a decade without heating and cosy woodburners have ensured that even on the coldest days of winter, our little farmhouse has stayed toasty and warm.  I’ve also realised that I am far more resourceful than I ever thought I was.  Being able to bake bread and make pizza in a gas barbecue is a skill I may one day need in an emergency.  I’m not sure what sort of emergency….but you never know, dear Reader.  I think that Jerry is breathing a sigh of relief that my Ebay and salvage yard addiction is having a little break too.

Our clutter is at home here.  It belongs.  The furniture fits and as I wander through each room switching on lamps in the early evening, I feel as though at long last that I belong too.  Something which makes me very happy indeed, dear Reader.  We needed this house as much as it needed us.

A lot of amazing things wouldn’t have been possible without the help of lovely friends and our amazing farming neighbours who have given up time to help with fencing and much more besides.  They have rescued me from drowning under the weight of many a practical catastrophe and made us feel extremely welcome.  There is no doubt in my mind that they think me completely mad almost every day of the week and that they may well regret inviting me into their WhatsApp group dear Reader, but I’m ever so glad that they live on the doorstep and hope they don’t mind too much when they get a distress call from the mad lady at the bottom of the lane.  I’m glad too that in my own small way, I’ve been able to help them with their some of their plans for the future too.  Their festive farmers’ market before Christmas was one of most marvellous things I’ve been involved in organising in a long time – a huge thank you to all the lovely producers, suppliers and farmers I called on to come and make the day so special.  I can’t wait to see what new ventures are afoot for all of us.

So what does 2018 hold for us you might ask, dear Reader?  Well I think that we may have already hit the ground running….  We’ve started to resurrect the old pond which silted up years ago.  It will be given a new lease of life with our latest arrivals at the farmhouse.  It’s amazing how quickly the monsoon weather of late has helped it fill up again and although it looks more like the Somme than idyllic wildlife pool now, we have hopes that it will soon be rather more picture perfect.  However, I digress.  The mention of new arrivals will not have escaped you.  Well, you know how things always seem to happen to us by accident, dear Reader.  I promise they really do.  I’ll prove it.

One minute I am talking to our local log man commenting on his lovely geese and the next, I am receiving texts not about our log delivery but about ducks that need rehoming.  To cut a long story short, we are now the proud owners of 2 Runner duck drakes (Ferdie and Francis) and 4 Khaki Campbell ladies (names still being debated).  See what did I tell you?  A complete accident.  We won’t even mention the fact that I may have discussed goslings as well but mercifully, it isn’t spring yet and Jerry has a little more time to get used to the idea of those.  To be honest, he really didn’t take a lot of convincing when it came to the ducks and they have proven to be the best farmhouse addition yet as far as we’re all concerned.  They are definitely Jerry’s favourite.  Walking wine bottles – what could be more apt for our household?  The four of us can be found pressed up against the kitchen window most mornings just watching their ridiculous duck antics.  The perfect antidote to anyone’s January blues I can assure you.  So with ducks on the pond, some news ideas involving the lavender field, the gentle baa of some sheep on the horizon, a kitchen garden to plant up and a finish line to cross at the writing desk, it would seem that 2018 is shaping up to be a busy one already.  Oh it’s a quacking start, one might say……  I just hope you’ll still enjoy following us on our country living journey.  I hate to say it, dear Reader, but it seems that these days Jerry and I are much more Tom and Barbara that we ever imagined we’d be.  A belated Happy New Year to you all.

 

 

 

Bee Happy

With whisps of autumn in the air and summer sun now a distant memory (oh the irony when we had a mostly wet August, dear Reader…..), I can’t help but miss the heady scent of our lavender.  After what felt like a lifetime of picking, we still didn’t quite manage to harvest the whole field before the rain set in for the rest of summer.  However, the hard work was worth it and early mornings picking are now a distant memory until the purple spires appear again next year.  I did get the chance to daydream about the field looking like we had stepped into Provence one last time though when the lovely new quarterly journal Creative Countryside asked me to write a little something on lavender and its folklore before I begin to pen all things autumnal.

From the spoils of our harvest, we’ve managed to keep a fair bit in the shed where it’s been left hung out to dry.  Its soothing powers will last a little longer in the form of the homemade lavender wreaths we sold to friends and family as well as lavender bags to hang in our moth-ridden cupboards.  There’s even a batch of my very bath salts to enjoy once hot baths are back on the agenda following the instalment of the new boiler, not forgetting the leftover flowers we’ve reserved for lavender tea.

You won’t be surprised to hear that I’m already planning a few other little lavender strings to my bow for next year.  Our first harvest from the field also got me thinking about getting started on a long held smallholding ambition of mine too, dear Reader.  Keeping bees.

One of the best things about walking through the field was listening to the hum of the huge numbers of bees that visited our garden daily.  Everything I read of late seems to point towards encouraging more bees into the garden – whether it’s planting bee borders or sowing wild flower meadows, installing nest boxes for solitary species of bees or rescuing thirsty and hungry bees with sugar syrup.  Since bees do so much for us, it only seems fair that we return the favour, dear Reader.  My father was an amateur beekeeper in his youth and Poppy and Primrose love hearing the stories he tells of how he used to take his friend’s bees for a holiday to the heather moorland on the roof rack of his car.  I think they were even stopped by the police, on one occasion, who quickly got back into their Panda when they realised the potentially angry cargo being transported.  Travelling bees aside, his beekeeping tales have always made me wish for my own hive and moving to our own little farmhouse has given us a great opportunity to expand our smallholding repertoire, dear Reader.

Enter Sara Ward from Hen Corner, all round lover of the good life, keeper of bees and hens, vegetable grower and urban farmer.  Sara and I have known each other through the powers of Twitter and Instagram since I began my blog properly in….gulp…2013 and after rather a lot of tweets, advice on hens, growing veg and a good deal of mutual blog post sharing, it has taken us nearly 4 years to meet in person!  So imagine my joy when Sara sent us an invitation to come to one of her Bees for Children courses in the summer.

Sara’s urban smallholding at Hen Corner is a marvel.  With 20 hens, 2 colonies of bees, a plentiful vegetable and fruit garden and micro-bakery producing bread for sale in her local community, Sara and her family make the good life look easy from their Victorian terrace in West London.  You really wouldn’t think sitting in Sara’s back garden that you were in London at all.  It’s a real testament to just how much you can achieve in a small urban outdoor space.

So whether you want to learn the art of wood carving, to make your own preserves, bake bread, keep hens or learn to charm bees, Sara runs a whole host of courses and workshops helping to encourage others to give smallholding life a go regardless of how large or small their plot is.  What I love most about her is her determination and commitment to encouraging the younger generation to think ‘big’ when it comes to urban farming and she spends a lot of her time as a regular feature in local school programmes.

Brilliantly hands-on, Sara’s Bees for Children course aims to get children up, close and personal with nature’s buzzy little friends.  Sara explains how the bees live and work, their importance when it comes to our own food, how honey is made and how to handle bees as well as how to spot the queen.

Fully kitted out in mini beekeeping suits and rubber gloves, Poppy and Primrose were encouraged to hold a frame and check it over with Sara’s help but if you don’t want to get that close, there are plenty of other bee activities to keep your children entertained as well as the all important honey taste testing.  Now who wouldn’t want the chance to scoff a load of award-winning honey, dear Reader?!

We all thoroughly enjoyed it and got to try some of Just Bees’ new deliciously infused spring water drinks too – all made with, yes you guessed it dear Reader, a drop of honey.  If you’re looking for a way to encourage bees in your garden, then the wonderful people at Just Bee Drinks have started a campaign to help save Britain’s bees with a free bee-friendly planting guide for your garden and free bee friendly wild flower seeds to sow – all you have to do is fill in a simple form online and they’ll send you all you need to claim your free seeds.  Quick, easy and so good for all those bees out there – they need more of us to do it, it would seem.  So get buzzy, dear Reader!

With bees on the brain all the way home, we are determined to get some of our own bees next year.  I’ve been looking into local beekeeping courses already so I can learn more of the nitty gritty I’ll need to start out on my own.  Do look Hen Corner up if you are looking for a fun day out with the children, dear Reader.  The girls loved it and I shall definitely be popping back to visit Sara again soon.  Hive fives all round I’d say….

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thyme for action

Every since we moved in, Jerry and I have been chomping at the bit to get started in the garden. Unable to really tackle much inside the house by ourselves until the bigger works have been done, the jungle surrounding our flint and brick beauty seemed a good place to start, especially as we were beginning to lose the children amongst the foliage.  The first job – tackling knee high grass.  Typically, as soon as we started using the sit on mower we inherited, it proved to be beyond repair and so with 3.5 acres of grass to mow, it was time to bite a rather expensive bullet.  Jerry fell in love with a green and yellow number in two seconds flat when he heard the word ‘mulch’, having only just finished professing undying love for an old Massey Ferguson which belongs to a neighbour.  Honestly, he’ll be coveting their combine next, dear Reader!

First step, turning the paddocks back into….well….paddocks.  Our lovely farming neighbours helped out with that one since we didn’t have any clue as to how and when to bale.  It was a race against time to get it all topped, dried and then baled before the rains came and we were hugely grateful for all their help.  “Bale in June…silver spoon”.  With a rather long list of repair jobs to be done inside and out, we could do with it raining a bit of silver.  Answers on a postcard as to how long you’re supposed to wait until that happens, dear Reader…..

We bid a sad farewell to the giant 100 year old willow tree that was growing into the water course, burrowing under the house and blocking out all the light.  Never easy to make the decision to fell a beautiful tree but the damage it would continue to do if allowed would mean that our poor little house might not stay upright for very long.

Fret not dear Reader, we will be planting more trees elsewhere to honour its passing and the hundreds of logs we now have as a result will keep us warm and cosy for years to come, once seasoned.  All part of the countryside cycle.

Raspberries were found in the undergrowth and quickly gobbled up by Poppy and Primrose, alongside literally baskets full of gooseberries – traces of a long lost fruit cage.

Squirrels moved in shortly after this discovery and stripped all the apples, plums and one lonely pear from the elderly fruit trees.  I asked neighbours what to do about them, thinking they’d have some ancient country wisdom to impart such as burying hair at the base of each trunk which features in a battered countryside almanac I found in an old bookshop.  The resounding answer to dealing the squirrel issue?  An air rifle.  It seems that that may well be next on the list, dear Reader.

Then there was the small matter of a whole field of lavender just outside the back door.  At first glance, the mounds buried under large patches of grass looked altogether done in.  Cue, Margot’s new toy.  A shiny strimmer.  Well Jerry can’t have all the fun, dear Reader!  Two weeks of daily strimming later and the lavender finally started to look more like a lavender field again. I can’t tell you the joy of seeing it all turn varying hues of purple and blue.  I’d better not mention the fact that not a lot else got done in those two weeks….including all the work I was supposed to be doing.  Let’s not dwell on that too much, dear Reader, or the fact that I very nearly strimmed my legs off at several points as the soporific heady scent in the midday sun reduced me to what I am now calling ‘strimmer’s coma’.  I did however perfect a new summer look…..farmer’s arms.  It’s all about the swings and roundabouts, isn’t it, dear Reader?

So with the lavender now well on its way to becoming a slice of Provence in Hampshire, we’ve taken to picnicking in the rows at tea time.  Heavenly hours spent in the sunshine with bees buzzing and butterflies wafting around us.  I am trying not to think about the harvest, dear Reader.  It would be fair to say that so far lavender bags will be featuring heavily under the Christmas tree this year.

A timely day out from the slog of the garden work at the launch of the Hampshire Food Festival with Hampshire Fare saw Jerry and I green with envy at the marvellous kitchen garden at Chewton Glen.

With a month of events to enjoy, producers and suppliers to go and visit and tours of vineyards, breweries orchards and farms on the menu, make sure if you’re in Hampshire that you get out and about to enjoy our county’s fabulous bounty.  With canapés with Masterchef’s Jane Devonshire and Juanita Hennessey on offer as well as Gin masterclasses at Berry Bros & Rudd or four courses in a Riverside Yurt, there’s something for everyone.  Still to come and top of my list?

Vineyards of Hampshire 5th Annual Wine Festival

Pop up Picture House with Rick Stein

Cherry Orchard Tours and Cherry Market at Blackmoor Estate

‘Sausage and Mash’ at  Parsonage Farm Charcuterie  and  

Hampshire Summer Fizz at Gilbert White

With the last two weeks of the Festival left, get your diary out and book away, dear Reader!

Inspired by Chewton Glen’s marvellous veg patch, I now have even grander plans for our own.  I seem to have spent half my life recently trawling through Pinterest thinking of ways to create a pretty allotment patch for our new smallholding life!  You can imagine Jerry rolling his eyes already, can’t you dear Reader? Grand schemes afoot, the hens are doing a sterling job of preparing the land for us already.   Scratching up moss and laying the foundations of good soil with their manure.  I would like to say that we’ll be digging the soil pretty soon, ready for planting up with some autumn and winter vegetable seedlings but Jerry tells me that this is wishful thinking.  To be honest, getting the earth moving will be a much needed distraction in the next month as the scaffolding goes up and roof repair work begins.  Jerry and I won’t have any hair or nails left at this rate.  The last few days of monsoon weather have had us reaching for the buckets and umbrellas inside again.

To keep up with our five-a-day habit in the meantime, a lovely local supplier Brimfields have been impressing us with stunning veg boxes full to bursting with deliciously fresh fruit and vegetables. Such a plentiful box for £12 had me whooping with delight when Ross from Brimfields delivered it to our front door for the first time – seasonal, fresh, local and the perfect amount for the week without the need to top up as I’ve often found with veg box schemes in the past.  I’m not sure Ross was quite as delighted to encounter a Margot with no makeup and a towel on my head having just stepped out of the shower though!

Brimfields deliver in and around Winchester but if you’re not on their delivery route, then pop down to their Veg Shed in Kings Worthy, at the King Charles pub just off Lovedon Lane, to stock up.

They are open two days a week – Wednesdays from 08:30 until 12:30pm and Fridays from the same times.  There you’ll find fresh local free-range eggs, fresh bread as well as lots of lovely local produce like Hill Farm Apple Juice and The Tomato Company passata, ketchup, chutney, relish and juice, alongside local jam, honey and cakes.  Well worth a visit.

Summer holidays in full swing, I shall have Poppy and Primrose joining the ground force team at HQ – that’s if I can tear them away from their latest den building expedition.  It looks like I shall have to bribe them with a few more of these if I’m ever going to get them to help me pick the lavender, dear Reader.

As for my motivation?  I’m already plotting something altogether more Margot, dear Reader….. Anyone for lavender gin?