lavender sachets

Extraordinarily practical, the lavender sachet is quite misunderstood. Relegated to the spinster and her old wives tales, much like potpourri and various folk remedies. No, the lavender sachet is worthy of attention. Let us give it due respect.

sachet

Unlike the vile-smelling mothball, a known carcinogen, and your run-of-the-mill chemical-laden air freshener, lavender is both potent and benign. Like the best remedies, it has multiple purposes, and does no harm. Creatures that would seek to damage linens, yarns, good wool socks and sweaters and your favourite old books alike are repelled from the territory by a bit of dried lavender. We have had our battles with silverfish and wool moths, and lavender fended them off with elegance.

I like to sew a handful of local lavender, dreamily intoxicated as I stitch, into pretty bits of rough linen, with a touch of wool from a friend’s sheep, to make the hearts and stars loftier. I loop a ribbon through so they can be hung off door handles, drawer handles, or tucked between items on shelves, into laundry baskets or my knitting bag. Little guardians of our precious yarns and woollens. A lavender heart under a restless child’s pillow is an instant sleep remedy, too. Functional, beautiful old fashioned solutions, these lavender sachets. Send me a note if you’d like a few of your own – or if you’re in Vancouver look for them at Second Nature..

plant-dyed eggs

Happy equinox! Spring is blooming on the Pacific coast, and Easter is going to arrive earlier than I’d expected. We refine our plant-dyeing a little more every year in pursuit of some brightly coloured eggs, last spring’s quarterly featured this story. The new quarterly will be out soon to celebrate the equinox, don’t miss it!

bowl of white eggs

Gather together white eggs, emptied; white vinegar, a saucepan, a few heatproof jars, spoons, and a few plants from the kitchen and garden. For orange: yellow onion skins. For blue: outter leaves of a red cabbage. For yellow: rosemary, red onion skins, turmeric. Overdye blue & yellow for green, though powdered chlorophyll or raw spinach is reputed to work. For pink: frozen berries, cranberries or raspberries work well, we had none, nor even a beet!

plant-dyed easter eggs

Boil a handful of the dyestuff in enough water to immerse an egg in the jar, until it releases deep colour into the water and reduces somewhat. Add a splash of white vinegar, stir, and pour into the jar. Slip the egg in and turn now and then til it deepens to a shade you like. The cabbage-blue egg took easily a half hour’s bathing. The plant materials can be composted. Beeswax is just fine for drawing with in advance, we’d like to do that this year. We might try paper cutouts on our plant-dyed eggs, in the traditional German scherenschritte mode.

beekeeping

Early in October, when autumn was convinced it was summer, we visited my dear friend Sarah and her children in the city. In her beautiful kitchen I stumbled upon the most beautiful and unexpected object.

honey frame

A frame from their beehive, thoroughly sculpted with honeycomb, heavy with honey. I had no idea Sarah kept a hive in the garden! I fell over. Such an astonishing, amazing thing. How much would I love to do this! Like keeping chickens, beekeeping takes some studying, a well-designed structure, a good spot in the garden and a bit of bravery – and learning from watching someone else helps so much. Now I have a beekeeping friend to watch, with keen interest.

honeycomb

I’ve admired the hives on Old Plawhatch Farm near our old cottage in Sussex, and listened to a fascinating talk there by the Natural Beekeeping Trust. Sarah and I talked about how she’s caring for the bees, instinctively following principles I’ve become so interested in. What if the hive isn’t opened often, so it stays warmer, the way the bees need it? What if honey is only taken when the hive is particularly heavy, so the bees have their natural food through winter?

<beehive

The hive strikes me as an unimaginable treasure. The intoxicating scent of beeswax, and so many wonderful uses for the beautiful stuff; the exquisite particularity of flavours of a local honey, and its extraordinary healing benefits; the tremendous contribution a beehive imparts to the health of the neighbourhood’s flora; the utter delight of watching the grace and beauty of bees at work. I love it, I am completely inspired. Thank you, Sarah.

glass juicer

Glass is one of the materials I trust to touch my food. I try to store my food in glass, I refrigerate it in glass, or in glazed ceramic. Kitchen tools made of glass are a bit more unusual – glass rolling pins? Glass jelly moulds, gorgeous! But the everyday glass utensil I love most is my glass juicer. It’s a modest, simple thing.

lemon squeezer

The pressed glass juicer has its roots in the early 18th century ceramic presses, used in Constantinople to extract citrus juices from imported lemons. In the dark of November, I’m quite happy with imported lemons myself, though naturally I’d prefer to grow them in a glasshouse, a Victorian orangerie. As it is, well-traveled oranges and lemons are still just the thing for short, cold grey days.

(Now, I often mix a bit of our freshly squeezed juice with cod liver oil, or rather, the other way round, to mask the flavour, in hope of surviving the northern darkness with a bit more natural vitamin C & D induced health, joy and contentment than one might experience after a solid three months of rain. Endless rain.)

glass juicer

I’m fond of the juicer not only for its simplicity of materials, and its wonderful, fluted shape, with a trough designed to catch the liquid – some even have shapes to collect the seeds! But what I like is that there’s just very little to go wrong with it. Well designed, and nothing more to worry about. I lived for a while without one, in London I had almost convinced myself that a fork was quite sufficient, until that fork got through a lemon into my palm. A most unfortunate combination. In Canada I was reunited with this, my grandmother’s glass juicer, and I am glad of it.

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.