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20 A cutting patch

A hand tied posy of hellebores.

Our garden is tiny and mostly paved but I've finally squeezed in a cutting patch ... two 3'6" by 15' (north facing, darn it) beds that will double as my dye garden. With careful planning I'm hoping to grow flowers for the house all year round, beginning in late January with hellebores. Despite their contrary reputation they make great cut flowers.

See that ruffle of green at the base of the stamens? Those are the nectaries and for maximum vase life you should only pick your hellebores when both nectaries and stamens have been shed. I've picked immature blooms because I think they're prettier - and luckily I know a few tricks when it comes to conditioning them (see below) - but if I can find stems where just one flower has the beginnings of a seed pod I'll choose those.

Next up, the narcissi - the earliest varieties are already forming buds, the latest barely poking through the ground - and the tulips. And then ... well I'm hoping the gardeners among you might have some suggestions. We do have a spare bit of ground by the bins where we heel in bulbs to finish dying back, so when I've space in late spring what should I be planting? And what should I be sowing in my seed trays (apart from the sweet pea and cosmos seeds I already have, a lovely gift from Leanne)? What will give me maximum flowerage per square foot in a well drained if breezy spot? I'd really welcome your advice, because I may know plenty about floristry but gardening, not so much.

Hellebores as cut flowers

All flowers fare best if cut early in the day but in winter wait for any frost to thaw. Choose the blooms with the thickest stems, and remember that the shorter the stem the less likely it is to droop. And carry a bucket of cold water with you to pop your hellebores into, up to their necks, immediately they're cut.

Once indoors cut the stems again while they're underwater, using a sharp knife if you have one, and at a slight angle - this should prevent an airlock from forming and inhibiting water uptake - and remove any foliage that would fall below the waterline. (It's also useful to briefly sear the stem ends in boiling water but the steam can damage the flowers so I mostly don't bother.) Leave your hellebores standing in cold 'fortified' water - that's two tablespoons of rubbing alcohol (or vodka!) which acts as a biocide, a tablespoon of cider vinegar to lower pH, and a teaspoon of sugar to every litre - in a cool, dark place for a few hours before arranging them in fresh water containing both more alcohol (if you can spare it) and a good commercial flower food. Et voilĂ .

And on a completely different note ... the BBC's Wolf Hall, and particularly the awesome Mark Rylance - who I was lucky enough to see on stage as Olivia in Twelfth Night - bloomin' marvellous or what?!


83 Clearing the decks

A dye stained ceramic bowl containing a handful of small wooden clothes pegs.

"A place for everything and everything in it's place" ... I can hear my grandmother now. And as a child who craved order in her disordered life I paid close attention. But I guess I must have missed the double meaning ... "Don't acquire more 'everything' than you have 'a place' for." Oops!

I'm clearing the decks in the studio and rearranging things a bit. And wishin' and hopin' I had a sink in there, which isn't going to happen because the room's too small. And thinking that I'd settle for more storage space, which isn't going to happen either. With dyeing paraphernalia scattered about me I looked to Marie Kondo - of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying fame - for a solution, but such stuff as may never "spark joy" - stainless steel tongs, pH test strips, mini pegs - but will certainly be needed someday soon is apparently not on her radar. I've been forced to commandeer a cupboard in the guestroom.

A digression. Long before 'paraphernalia' meant "miscellaneous items associated with a particular activity" it apparently described those personal belongings that - prior to the Married Women's Property Acts of the late 1800s - were legally a husband's property but that his wife might freely use ... her clothes, jewels, personal linen, even her combs. Or that's what it meant in the rest of Great Britain. Here in Wales the 'goods and chattels' settled on a wife by her husband, her cowyll, were thereafter owned inalienably by her "and could not be forfeited even if her husband's desertion or dismissal of her was justified by her fault".* I mentioned this to the mister who said could he maybe have the Dire Strait's Brother's In Arms LP back, should it ever come to it.

Back to the deck clearing, and I've dealt with the jar of fermenting walnut hulls and the bags of red onion skins and dried avocado skins by 'boiling' them up - not together, she hastens to add, and in truth they were only simmered - and dyeing some yarn. I'll show you when it's dry. I know, I always say that and then I forget, but look, in true Blue Peter style, here's some I dyed (some months) earlier and was tidying away.

Skeins of naturally dyed yarn in a wire basket.

From top right left - you'd think I'd know my left from my right by now! - that's Herb Robert - Geranium robertianum - (first dip) on pure wool, Herb Robert (second dip) on a wool/alpaca blend, gorse flowers - Ulex europaeus - (first dip) on unbrushed mohair, and horsetail - Equisetum arvense - (second dip) on an alpaca/silk blend.

And why am I putting my dye house in order? Because new projects are being planned. It's all rather exciting!

* I'm quoting from Christine Peters, Women in Early Modern Britain, 1450-1640.


96 The Colour Collaborative: January: Home

A black and white photograph of opened paint cans, from above.

I'm leaving the colours in those paint cans to your imagination. What colours would they be if they were yours?

White, taupe, and neutral grey greens, that would be my answer. Or, more exotically, Dover Cliffs, Stony Ground, English Plaster, Swedish Grey, and English Pear*.

My first memory of a paint colour name is Magnolia. My mother wanted to paint the living room walls Magnolia and my father disagreed. I pitched in on my mother's side because I thought it sounded pretty. Until that day it simply hadn't occurred to me that the paint on the walls had a name.

At the time the entire house was being given 'a lick of something' and a few days later I was handed a paint chart and allowed to choose a colour for my bedroom. Almond Pink came into my life, and Lilac Mist, and I agonised for days over which of the two I should pick. And now I collect paint colour cards ... I have a drawer stuffed full of them. Take heed, dear reader, this is what happens to a child whose parents argue over matt emulsion*.

I attempted a paint card cull and found it unexpectedly hard to bin those bits of the history of our home. But I did keep the Dulux paint chart with the soft yellow circled in blue biro ... I was pregnant with our eldest when I scribbled 'Nursery' underneath. And I've kept everything from Farrow and Ball... F&B will mix archived colours for you, but in order to ask them to do that you first need to know what they were called.

If I'm honest the drawer's still fairly full, the culling fizzled out pronto, I got sidetracked by the colour names. Some of Fired Earth's are great fun ... Aunty Maud, Elizabeth's Parrot, Mad King George, Gin and Tonic. Please tell me I'm not alone in having paint names I could live with and paint names I most definitely could not. 'What colour did you paint the kitchen Annie?', 'Silt' ... that is absolutely not a conversation I am ever going to have. And Dead Salmon? No way Farrow & Ball!

What have the colours on the walls contributed to your memories of home I wonder, and do they influence your attachment to it? Do you have any paint colour stories to share?

As always, there are no sponsored links in this post.

*And whose paternal grandfather was a painter and decorator in his later years.

Don't forget to visit the other Colour Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts, just click on the links below ...

Sandra at Cherry Heart       Gillian at Tales from a Happy House

CJ at Above the River       Jennifer at Thistlebear     

And January's guest poster ...
Bee at The Linen Cloud

What is The Colour Collaborative?
All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways.

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