bird bath

Bird baths in a garden are such beautiful, useful things. I’d love to have an old ornate one, in a spot where birds can bathe safely, where we can entice birds into the garden to observe and sustain them, and contribute a little to a balanced ecosystem.

bird bath © elisa rathje 2012

We visited a friend’s garden that provided clean, clear pools of water in a pair of bird baths by a fishpond. Tiny birds would swoop in to clean their feathers, drink, and nip off into a tree to preen. They feed on bugs and pest in the garden. Supporting wild creatures by planting varieties of flowers that honeybees love, building beehouses and bat boxes, leaving old wood for hedgehogs, I like these ideas. Instead of trying to get rid of pests, attracting creatures to balance the others. Nosing just a tiny way into permaculture.

bird bath © elisa rathje 2012

(Of course, now I’m thinking about making one, but that’s a project for another day!) Like a pet’s drinking bowl, bird baths need to be cleaned and filled now and then. I love that they’re such peaceful things to sit by, as spring appears. Spring! Catch great seasonal things you’ll love in the appleturnover postcards.

thumb-sprinkler

Not so long ago I came across a beautiful Victorian garden tool, simply constructed out of terra cotta. A thumb sprinkler, fascinating object. Like a closed bell, with perforations on the base and a hole at the top, the thumb sprinkler is plunged into a bucket of water to fill, then the thumb-hole is covered. Held over a batch of delicate seedlings, the sprinkler releases droplets just perfect for wetting the earth whilst leaving growing plants undisturbed. An antiquated spray bottle. Not unlike my droplet decanter in design. Clever! I told my dear pottery teacher Katrina about it, and being amazingly wonderful, she made one for me, and one for you. Would you like to see her throw a Victorian thumb-sprinkler on the wheel?

Settling the clay on the wheel; bringing the clay up and down twice over; centering; widening; opening up; compressing; bringing the wall up; compressing the rim; pulling up; compressing; pulling; collaring; soaking up water; wetting with slurry; closing in; refining the shape; coning in; clearing the slurry; cutting in; wiring off.

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The finished, perforated, glazed and fired sprinkler. I’m using it to care for lettuces & seeds in my greenhouse.

Katrina Pechal makes absolutely gorgeous, textured work with volcanic glazes, completely unlike the beautiful Victorian sprinklers she made for us. She also teaches, with astonishing clarity and delight, wheel-throwing in her Forest Row, Sussex studio to adults and children. I love studying with Katrina.

galvanised bucket

Having grown up in one rainy village and moved across the world to another, I’m quite fond of any object that can emerge with grace from a wet winter. The patina on a galvanised steel bucket only improves with weathering and age. The ones I’ve found around this old cottage, and picked up for a fiver at markets nearby, are thick with stories. I guiltlessly leave them out in the wet, forgotten between the compost and the greenhouse when we’ve headed out for a walk in the hills. A couple of them are understated in such an appealing manner, they’ve been invited inside. I keep one next to my treadle to catch threads and snippets, and another stands upstairs beside the tub. Their dull, perfect grey inspired the resolution of a long-considered project, which I hope to show you tomorrow.

the old bucket © elisa rathje 2012

There aren’t many materials that age so beautifully. The stone chimney pot looks better and better, and the deck chairs are growing a distinguished grey, the terracotta pots are patterned with lichen, but most other objects acquire a distressing coat of slippery green in this climate, or worse, they sport mushrooms.

In 1742, French chemist Paul Jacques Malouin described a method of coating iron by dipping it in molten zinc in a presentation to the French Royal Academy. In 1836, French chemist Stanislas Sorel obtained a patent for a method of coating iron with zinc, after first cleaning it with 9% sulfuric acid (H2SO4) and fluxing it with ammonium chloride (NH4Cl).

Zinc-coated. Endlessly useful object, the galvanised bucket, the sort one might comfortably have around for generations without really noticing.

netting

We’re moving out of the cottage for the summer, leaving in just a couple of weeks. It is hard to leave, especially just as the garden is becoming so beautiful. I’ve got some plants growing which should give us autumn and winter crops. A few have been feeding us this spring, amongst them, the snap peas. Those peas needed a place to climb, so I made them one.

netting © elisa rathje 2011

Like many objects I use, I was thrilled to discover how to make netting myself. I made this one last year, and brought it with me from London. Useful stuff, netting. I need to make a few nets to keep the rabbits and deer out of the vegetables while we’re away, just simple little ones strung over low supports, is my plan, so that the kale and the purple sprouting broccoli can grow without being browsed to death. I usually use nets for climbing plants like squash, beans, cucumbers, peas. Sweet peas were very pretty on this net last year.

netting © elisa rathje 2011

As you might expect, making netting is very simple, though slow at first, like knitting. Get out some snips and string. I used jute twine. Tie a length of string to a couple of supportive things, as wide as you’d like your net, either just where you’ll use it, or somewhere you have space to work.

© elisa rathje 2011

Cut several lengths of string triple the length you’d like the net, and fold once. I experiment with how wide apart I’d like the holes of the net. To keep out little rabbits I’ll have to go quite small.

netting © elisa rathje 2011

You’re going to slip the loop of the fold you’ve made over that string you’ve tied up, then pull the double strings through the loop, to make a loose knot. Slide the knotted string over a little if you need to rearrange. Continue tying on more doubled lengths of string until you have as many as you want, hanging in a row.

netting © elisa rathje 2011

Here’s the part I love. The first string, and the last, will form the outside border of the net. Everything else will form full diamonds, in the following way. Take a piece of string from one pair, and another from the pair beside it, and tie them together, adjusting the size of the gap you’d like to maintain across the net. Try to keep the length of each side the same. Move along the row, tying them together. Go back to the beginning, and tie along the row again so that you form a diamond shape (excepting the first and the last, which will form a half-diamond.) That’s it! Keep going. More. You’ll be done soon. Stop for a cup of tea, good idea!

Happy netting!

sussex trug

One of my best finds from the antiques market is a handmade wooden Sussex trug. I’ve been searching for one for some time, as the shape of a trug is ideal for harvesting food from the kitchen garden and foraging in the hedges. It rests on your arm just so, with room underneath to slip things in; it sits comfortably without tipping over, and is light and sturdy. It’s an ancient design, using coppiced wood.

trug

Having moved to the countryside in the darkening days of Winter, we’re eager for spring to turn the hills around our house into a feast. We’ve no idea what’s out there, but we’ll begin consulting our beloved copy of Hedgerow now and not leave off til the days are bleak again. In London we were able to find lots of nettles and elderflower, awkwardly stuffed into cloth bags, and in Vancouver we’ve always gathered lots of salmonberries, huckleberries, and wild blackberries, usually into buckets, though the weight of the top berries in a bucket can squish the ones below. The trug should handle a variety of things very well, kindling or greens or berries. The children and I would love to learn to recognise all kinds of wild plants. So we can eat them. When in Sussex…

copper trowel

Today’s River Cottage tried & true is from Head Gardener Mark Diacono, who led us in a delicious study of vegetables at the cookery course. He’s the author of the Veg Patch handbook, which I plan to spend the winter poring over in anticipation of spring. Mark nominated his copper trowel.

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copper trowel. photograph: mark diacono

Exquisite object! Mark says it cuts the earth effortlessly, doesn’t rust, and has such a striking colour that it isn’t easily lost in the garden. (Especially as it is such a delight to use, and not inexpensive, you do take care not to lose the thing.) He guesses it will easily outlast him. I read a little about copper tools in the garden, there are some fascinating ideas about copper’s qualities. Of course I openly admit to having a weakness for shiny things.

Thank you Mark, I’m wracked with envy.

You might like to follow Mark and his copper trowel over to Otter Farm for a visit.