drying lavender

Lavender is deeply soothing, and tremendously functional stuff — not some frilly floral this! Lavender protects against wool moths and many other pests when used in sachets and potpourris in the house. Its properties are profoundly calming, so I make a room spray of its essential oils to gentle down my children when they cannot sleep, and rub it on my own wrists as a sleep remedy. In the garden, it conjures up the pathways of old gardens, with such quiet beauty in subdued greens, greys, and those hot bits of colour. Neither deer nor rabbits will touch the stuff, making it an excellent plant to line our front garden with. Preserving it for practical uses around the house takes very little trouble.

pruning lavender

Ideally, as in, hopefully next year, cut the flowers to dry them when they are just about to bloom. If you’ve missed this moment, as those of us who were busy putting a garden in in late summer (but caught lavender plants finishing, and on sale) there’s still great possibility. Lavender likes to be cut back hard in late summer, early autumn, taking off several inches of foliage along with the finished flower. Pruning lavender smells so glorious, I’m quite fond of it.

drying lavender flowers

Hang the flowers upside-down in a dim, dry place, til it is thoroughly dried out. Snapping dry. I’ve a design for a herb-drying rack in my head, another hopeful for drying lavender and other good things next year.

drying lavender foliage

I had so much lavender foliage, I pulled out my oven racks and leaned them up on a support, and laid it all out on that. After a few days in a dark corner it was all quite dry. I’ll be pulling off the green and using it in sachets in my little studio shop, and tossing anything else in baskets round the house. Oil infusions are another gorgeous possibility.

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p>Oh – do sign up for the postcards to hear when I’ll have open studio & shop days, drop-in crafting nights by the fire, and traditional workshops in the studio.

hand-tied bouquet

Would you like to learn to hand-tie a bouquet? I spent a beautiful day studying floristry at the Blooming Green flower farm, and made a little movie for you to see how it’s done. Jen showed us some very simple directions to follow, to stunning effect, using gorgeous flowers and extraordinary greenery, freshly picked on the farm.

You’d like some more detail? Let’s take it slowly:

hand-tied-bouquet

After cutting your plants and standing them in a bucket of water for a good soak, begin by conditioning the flowers. Simply strip the lower leaves off the flowers to keep them from decomposing in the water. Wear gloves if you like.

hand-tied-bouquet

Lay out your flowers and greens and have a sense of how many you have of each. Odd numbers are often the most pleasing to the eye.

hand-tied-bouquet

Begin with a fluffy, well-structured bit of greenery, to support the flowers that will surround it. Fennel is quite wonderful.

hand-tied-bouquet

Lay your first blossom at an angle to the green.

hand-tied-bouquet

If you have three blossoms to add, turn the bouquet a third, add another at the same angle, turn another third, and add the last blossom. Have a look at the movie to get a sense of how Jen turns the bouquet and adds more flowers.

hand-tied-bouquet

Continue to work in this way, choosing greens and flowers and paying attention to multiples, so if you have five lengths of weeping willow, turn the bouquet in fifths, always adding at that same angle to creating a tight, spiralling structure to the stems.

hand-tied-bouquet

Now and then turn the bouquet to have a look from the top to see if you’ve got a rounding, arching shape to the bouquet – though if there are longer sprigs that naturally want to spray up and out, Jen likes to let those have their way, too.

The tie Jen uses is quite wonderful. Simply fold a length of twine in half, loop it round your thumb as you hold the stems in place. Wrap the two ends around the stems and back to the loop, and slip them through it. Then you can pull the ends in opposite directions, wrapping as many times as you like around and tying a firm bow when they meet. I’ve forgotten the name of this tie, it’s charming!

hand-tied-bouquet

Snip the stems cleanly at the end, leaving enough length to support the flowers.

hand-tied-bouquet

A well-made hand-tied bouquet will have enough structure to stand alone! Let me know if you have a go. I’m so pleased to have had a lesson in hand-tying, such a satisfying thing to be able to do yourself. Thanks Jen! If you’re in England and looking for ecologically, locally grown flowers to buy online, or better yet, you’d like to pick your own for an event, visit Blooming Green in Kent. They are such a delight.

If you like studying traditional skills this way, have a look at the old school movies. They come with beautiful patterns, guides and materials, available in the appleturnovershop.

papermaking

Making paper is such simple pleasure. A little circle of friends made some together today. We began, like bread bakers, a day or two in advance, ripping a dozen sheets of paper into small pieces and leaving it to soak in a few cups of water. One family cooked theirs up and spun it through the food processor to get a fine pulp; the others just rubbed the soaked paper for a few minutes, til the fibres came apart, to make a rough, porridgey texture.

papermaking-screen

You’ll need a screen. We had ready-made screens and homemade screens. An embroidery hoop with a pair of fine tights stretched across it works surprisingly well. You’ll also need a tub wide enough to accomodate the screens, and for good measure, a bit of mesh and a sponge to help press the water out.

papermaking-flowers

The children ran round the garden collecting flowers and leaves to add to the paper;

papermaking © elisa rathje 2012

Plucked the petals from their stems and threw it all into the mixture in the tub, with a bit of extra water.

papermaking © elisa rathje 2012

Ready? Here we go. Slip the screen (screen-side-up) under the pulp, and lift it up to catch a layer of paper. If you don’t like the effect, tap it out and try again.

papermaking © elisa rathje 2012

If you choose to, lay the mesh over the pulp on your screen, and press gently with the sponge to release water, frequently squeezing out the sponge. I’m not sure it is necessary, but we admired the look of it after.

papermaking © elisa rathje 2012

Set the papermaking screen somewhere warm to dry for a few hours. It’s far too miserable to leave ours outside, sadly. We’ll pry up our homemade paper with a butter knife, and show you later!

flower press

A flower press arrived in the post, sent to us by a sweet old friend of the family. A flower press! How lovely! Such a delight, particularly as the little girls and I have been dreaming of one.

flower press © elisa rathje 2012

Simply a couple of boards with layers of cardboard and paper, sandwiched and screwed tight with wing nuts. Smart. This is a particularly cute one.

flower press © elisa rathje 2012

For our first try we plucked a few petals from the tulips we’d picked on the farm last week. May flowers from the garden are next. Thank you my friend!

flower farm

Not so far from our little cottage is a flower farm. We drove across Kentish countryside full of bluebells and blossoming orchards, to visit the land where Blooming Green grow row upon row of gorgeous flowers. We’ve something very special happening this week, and we wanted to pick flowers ourselves, ones that are in season, local, and grown with as much care as the organic food we eat.

flower-farm

flower-gatherers

flower-harvester

flowers-picked

One day I shall grow my own cutting garden, inspired by this gorgeous bit of England. If you have something special you’d like to pick your own flowers for, do visit Blooming Green Flowers, they are so wonderful. Thank you ever so much, Jen & Bek!

flower-buckets