Saturday, 29 December 2012

Rain, rain, go away

It's been a fairly miserable holiday so far, hasn't it? Rain, rain and more rain leave the to-do list growing ever longer and me suffering a severe case of cabin fever wanting to get outside and do stuff. Not to mention the garden starting to resemble a giant puddle. It doesn't help that both of us here at Cooks Lane has been struck down by the lurgy for more than a week, so there's only a few days left to start work on projects before it's back to work! Still, on the bright side that's lots of time for plans and schemes for 2013 and we've got a few ideas up our sleeves for making Cooks Lane better than ever. It's all very exciting in a slightly scary way... In the meantime, here's a sunny picture to cheer us all up from the rain:

Sunday, 2 December 2012

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Who knew there were so many versions of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? Spend any time at craft fairs in the run-up to Christmas, and you'll be AMAZED. It may be only December 2, but we are pretty near the end of the Christmas fair run for this year, believe it or not. Which is good in a way, I always end up spending more than I intend to because there's so much lovely crafts around! Our Christmas soaps have been going well this year, which I'm really pleased about, and we are just about to get the appalling website sorted, thanks to the very lovely Alex. New year, new look! Here's a glimpse of a couple of our new soaps - our next fair is at Stamford Christmas Market on Sunday, December 9, and then we'll be at Ashby Farmers' Market on Saturday, December 15. Come and say hi! And if you can't make it, then just send us an email at and we'll get back to you.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

St Swithin's Day

The sun came out! hurrah.
Cheers, St Swithin. Now, we just need to get rid of all the snails and slugs...

Saturday, 14 July 2012

mud glorious mud

If someone says, "there's no such thing as the wrong weather, just inappropriate clothes" once more I will have to resist the urge to swear loudly. There is such a thing as the wrong weather. It's called days and days of rain when it's supposed to be summer. July? Pah, I want my money back. We're back from a few days in the south west where the three-day Healing Festival - our first time there, lots of tarot reading, cool stalls and very nice people - turned into a bit of a mudbath, as you can see:
This is the ground outside the main marquee on the third day:
Despite all this, our stall - complete with new cabinet which Richard made, doesn't it look good? - was looking packed and we had lots of compliments about the soaps (sooo relieved!) and the herbs, too. They weren't minding the rain a bit and the meadowsweet, for one, was in its element.
Although the miserable mud did, quite understandably, put some people off visiting it was a lovely event and there were even a few brave souls camping in the field/swimming pool next door. I met the brilliant Lynn Round of Twisted Willows and saw these cheeky chaps from the wildlife rescue next door:
We spent the next couple of days after the festival visiting Glastonbury nearby - the Chalice Well Gardens had the most amazing relaxing feel to them, so much so I almost drifted off while there, and the view from the windswept Tor was worth the wobbly legs on the climb up: The tower:
The view:
At Chalice Well:
Another favourite was Lyte Carey Manor, which once belonged to a herbalist and is now preserved by the National Trust. I'm not usually a fan of the super-formal gardens but this approach worked a treat. The sun even came out:
Inside, there were a series of 'rooms' most of which were sadly closed that day owing to flooding. We did, however, see the borders and this magnificent clary sage:
It's St Swithin's Day tomorrow. According to legend if it rains tomorrow, it'll rain for the next 40 days. Seeing as we've already had that, would it be all right for some sunshine? Please?

Thursday, 21 June 2012

meetings with remarkable trees

One of the nicest things about doing craft fairs is that you get to visit places that you'd normally never go. Castle Ashby, in neighbouring Northamptonshire, was one - a stately home (not open to the public) and a garden (which is, hurrah). The craft fair was in huge marquees in what was the walled garden, now just a massive lawn. It was enormous, so goodness knows how many mouths it had to feed once upon a time! The gardens themselves were formal affairs: lots of clipped box and yew, long, blooming borders peppered with heavily scented roses. But my favourites were the trees. Enormous, gnarled and genuinely awe-inspiring. Fab fact: It's home to the UK's largest weeping beech tree which is so large it has chains holding it up, which you can't see on this picture. And I just loved the horse chestnut with its branches reaching to the ground:

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Spring is sprung

Can you feel it? That almost imperceptible shift in the atmosphere? Even the sunlight seems different and there's a more optimistic vibe in the air. Spring arrived on Tuesday morning, although far too early for me - at 5am I was still in the land of nod. But it's amazing how much has just burst into life in the garden. There's the primrose...
The damson has burst into bud, on Tuesday
The bees are out...
And the frog spawn is back in the pond! Hurrah

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Seedy Sunday

As you can probably tell, the obsession with seeds is not likely to go away any time soon. We already have seeds everywhere in trays in the house and our little polytunnel, and now there's going to be a whole lot more! The reason? We were at our first sale of the year, a seed swap at Foxton Village Hall, near Market Harborough, today. It was the first time I'd been to a seed swap but we made sure to bring along plenty of herb seeds like angelica, hyssop, camphor, fennel to name but a few. The seed packets were all sorted and put into alphabetical order - which turned out to be a good idea, as once the doors opened there was a bit of a scrum as everyone headed straight for the boxes of seeds. There were packets people had got free with magazines, the heritage seed experts from Ryton, Coventry, and envelopes of seeds labelled with neat, fountain-pen copperplate handwriting from elderly gardeners. We had a great time, talking about herbs and wildflowers with people who came along. It was great to see so many people interested in herb gardens. Richard's a big fan of Harry Dodson, star of the 1980s BBC series The Victorian Kitchen Garden, and this year he wants to try to grow as many heritage varieties as we can. And look at this little haul!
Cardoon from 1885
Cabbage from 1821
Salsify from 1860 Hopefully we can add these to the vegetable seedlings we'll be selling from the market stall alongside the herbs and soaps. I love the descriptions of the old varieties, too. "A newer variety which is positively the largest Tomato ever produced," sys the 'Oxheart Giant' label. "The skin is purplish scarlet. The individual Tomatoes weigh as much as a pound and a half each. Although not a heavy yielder - excellent flavour." Can't wait!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Couch grass

A weed, goes the popular convention, is any plant growing in the wrong place. Personally, I can’t think of a right place for couch grass to grow. Having pretty much eradicated it from part of the garden where I was putting our raised beds a couple of years ago (and nearly doing my back in in the process) I’d forgotten about its pervasive, snaking habit and how you find the stuff EVERY BLOODY WHERE you dig. You can’t leave on tiny bit of it in the ground without knowing that it’s there, laughing at you ready to grow as soon as your back is turned. So imagine my delight at discovering it had set up home precisely where we’ve been planning to overhaul what I laughingly call our borders. The truth is we’ve kind of neglected them over the past couple of years as we have concentrated on growing the herbs in our poly tunnel further up the garden. Digging in one spadeful looked like I’d just pulled up a load of evil albino spaghetti from the ground. Richard, who reads up on these things, has discovered it is edible and has turned up recipes. He's on his own with that one. Three hours later, we’d got this little lot out:
I’m sure we have missed bits…..

Friday, 6 January 2012

Twelfth Night

"Down with the rosemary, and so Down with the bays and mistletoe; Down with the holly, ivy, all, Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas Hall" "Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve" Robert Herrick (1591–1674)
Twelfth Night (January 5) is upon us and it’s time to take down the decorations. There’s lots of wonderful history attached to decorations dating back to Pagan times. I’ve always been fascinated by old customs and decided to look a few of them up, and it’s amazing what you find out. People would bring in greenery – including live trees or strings of ivy – into their homes because they believed the plants were inhabited by spirits who needed somewhere warm to stay during the cold winter. Bells would be hung in the trees (when one rang, you knew a spirit was there) along with food and treats for them to eat. Good spirits were also associated with the holly plant, and ivy – despite associations with Bacchus, the Roman god of living it up – was thought to be able to protect against plague and evil. But if you left the greenery in your home after Twelfth Night – and therefore, by default, the spirits – then they would cause trouble in the home until they were released. Others thought that if the greenery was not returned to the countryside spring would not appear, and neither would the crops. This year we put some of our stacks of ivy climbing the fence to good use, cutting it down and hanging it in bright swags around the front room. Far, far, better than tinsel. Dried rosemary sticks were threaded with chillies, orange slices and bay leaves and hung around, giving off a fabulous scent when the fire was in full flow and they heated up. And the scent got even stronger when we put it on the fire last night to burn the last of the decorations. Bonus. Twelfth Night is also associated with the draining of wassail bowls of a drink called “Lamb’s wool” made of sugar, ginger, nutmeg and beer. It would be drunk by wassailers. Looks good, too. That's my weekend project sorted... Lambswool Recipe Recipe Ingredients: • 1.5 Litres (3 x 500ml bottles) of traditional real ale – or traditional cider • 6 small cooking apples, cored (Bramley apples) • 1 nutmeg freshly grated • 1 tsp ground ginger • 150g brown sugar (demerara) Recipe Method: Preheat the oven 120C Core the apples and get rid of the pips. Cook at 120c for an hour. In a big saucepan, add the sugar and pour enough booze in to cover. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add spices and stir, adding in the rest of the alcohol Leave on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, scoop out the flesh of the appeals and mash it up, adding it into the saucepan. Heat through for 30 minutes then whisk quickly until everything froths up. The idea is that it looks like lamb’s wool

Sunday, 1 January 2012


It’s difficult to believe that wonderful plants come from such tiny things as seeds. They are full of promise, a whisper of spring and summer to come, another year exciting and new and unseen.
We’ve already done one sowing of seeds such as chamomile, elecampane and sweet cicley in the autumn, and they are starting to come up. But we’ve got much, much more to do.
Here’s just some of the 20+ packets we’ve got. Much of it we collected from our garden this last year, but others like Mandrake (from the wonderful Nicky’s Nursery) we are trying out.

This week, we’re continuing to sow seeds that need stratification - that is, a period of cold weather before they start to sprout. I know it’s been a mild winter so far, but you can bet that colder temperatures are round the corner.
Angelica, Calendula, Viper’s Bugloss, sweet woodruff, sweet cicely, self heal and wood sage, together with vervain and soapwort will all be sown in trays, covered with vermiculite and a sheet of glass, and left outside in all weathers.

Viper's Bugloss

Others, like toadflax (Linaria vulgaris), Meadowsweet, St John’s Wort and Agrimony, we’ll sow and leave in a cold frame to get a bit of extra protection.


There’s just one thing…. Anyone know where I can borrow a greenhouse?


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