Tag Archives: logs

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?

Stick ’em up

Mrs Smug’s fire!

So with the children and I spending more time at home during the day and the evenings drawing in, our thoughts have turned to keeping warm.  Primrose had already reached for her fluffy slippers and Poppy and I had resorted to a cosy blanket on the sofa, all of us moaning about how cold the cottage has got all of a sudden.  Ever practical and frugal, Jerry suggested wearing another jumper but this was very quickly dismissed out of hand.  Surely, Mr R Lauren’s jumpers are worn to be seen, not to be hidden under a layer of inferior wool and before the frugal among you suggest it, ‘Fagin’-style fingerless gloves will not be making their fashion debut in this little corner of suburbia any time soon either.  Thankfully, the log burner (which we installed as a pseudo-country ‘feature’) is coming into its own now.  Only one problem.  It eats logs voraciously and I have no woodland handy to go and chop some of my own.  Not unsurprisingly as this is SW London and not the country.  I did breathe a huge sigh of relief over the lack of forest on the doorstep.  Jerry is not to be let loose with an axe.  He might not return with his limbs intact.  The building of the log shed was enough of a warning sign.  Jerry’s DIY efforts, although valiant, were somewhat lacking and we now have, what can only be described as, a down and out shack to rival any under Waterloo Bridge at the bottom of the garden.  Affectionately known as the ‘Jesus’ shed, Primrose and I did joke last year, as Christmas Eve was fast approaching, that if I did not make it to the hospital in time, I could always give birth to Poppy in our very own Bethlehem style stable.  I am sure that you will be grateful to hear, dear Reader, that the shed remained fit for purpose (in its loosest terms) and instead, Poppy’s first view of the world was of HMP Wormwood Scrubs.

Whilst I deliberated about log suppliers, I turned to a new book I had bought in the hope of learning a new ‘country’ skill to impress Primrose and Poppy.  Ever since our last woodland walk when I ended up carrying Primrose’s bike for at least a mile, Jerry and I have been trying to come up with ways to keep Primrose occupied on long walks.  This seemed perfect: The Stick Book by Jo Schofield and Fiona Danks


This book is THE ‘must-have’ if you have outdoorsy children or if you think that they need a bit of encouragement to become outdoorsy!  Primrose is, without doubt, in the latter camp!  It has everything from den building, making camp fires and impromptu fishing rods to creating woodland fairy houses, pooh sticks and the ultimate stick creating, a bow and arrow.  I think that I was more excited by the prospect of the bow and arrow than Primrose was!  Knowing that it was definitely beyond my stick-making abilities, I set to work on creating another stick masterpiece.  Collecting the right sticks was the first hurdle.  Speaking as someone who has no idea of the difference between hazel and hawthorn or can tell my ash from my willow, this was not easy.  I did manage to gather some sticks though with Primrose’s help.  (Primrose’s main incentive was my outlandish claim that I could make her a witch’s broom for a party she was going to).  Not sure if they were the right ones after an hour, I wasn’t going to spend another minute freezing my bottom off in the park, whilst we looked for the perfect stick to complete our challenge.  Returning home, I attempted the witch’s broom and failed miserably.  Apparently, I had left the sticks too long and they had dried out, making them useless for bending into the right shape.  Harrumphing, I went to make a cup of tea.  Meanwhile, Poppy managed to put most of the sticks in her mouth and then crawled with them into the sitting room, almost gauging out one of the cat’s eyes…… Witch’s broomstick maker was not going to be added to my list of skills this week.  Witch with one-eyed black cat – mmmm – might just be able to recreate that, with Poppy’s help.

At the very last hour before the party, I managed to convince Primrose to go as Bo Peep and I rustled up a shepherdess’ crook out of some bamboo sticks in the garden!  Clearly a little improvisation (and some stick knowledge) can go a long way.  That and a lot of brown tape!  Turning back to The Stick Book, I reckon that with a bit more practice and some further acquaintance with which sticks are best, I might just work out how to make that bow and arrow.  No chance Primrose will have that one if I do manage to make it!

By hook or by crook….sorry couldn’t help myself!

Party prop crisis averted, I turned my attention back to the business of keeping warm.  Trusty Country Life produced a top tips list this week on preparing one’s house for winter.  My favourites being: checking the gutters for trapped tennis balls (if only the cottage had a tennis court…) and making sure that one has the game larder disinfected ready for restocking.  Deliciously brilliant advice I thought!  Logs ordered on the interweb and finally delivered, the weather warmed up…..Typical.  Come on winter!  Hit us with some very cold days so that I can remain Mrs Smug of Suburbia, boast kiln-dried logs rather than moan about gas price fixing and retreat to my cosy, warm cottage to drink mulled wine!  Now, where to find that game larder?………..

Someone has been reading The Stick Book! Amazing what the humble stick can be turned into!