Meet the Dartmoor Flower Shed!

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Gnarled hands, cracked thumbs and a crinkly smile reveal how much of my life I have spent tilling the soil. Toiling in all weathers, digging, weeding and planting might sound arduous, but for those of us who love gardening it is a short cut to serenity and bliss. It starts as I pull on my wellington boots and stomp out into the garden. For wrestling with deep-rooted, pernicious weeds seems to help with the de-tangling of troublesome thoughts and worries. And the scattering of seeds in the soil and seeing them sprout and grow has an effect which is positively transformational.

I too have gone through a bit of a metamorphosis and have slowly, over the past few years changed my way of life and garden. I am now a small scale Flower Farmer. And I sell bunches of cut flowers at my garden gate. I have called this little venture

The Dartmoor Flower Shed.

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I sell the flowers from a little blue shed with a zinc roof which is attached to a vintage cart. The shed helps protect the precious blooms from the wind, rain and hot sun. The red mailbox is my ‘honesty box’ where customers place their payment. In addition to the flowers I sell plants, homemade chutney and cards.

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Villagers, passers by and people of all ages have been united in their love of the shed and its flowers. It is becoming a little land mark and a place where people find cheer in an unexpected place. It has brought me closer still to my community, helped me to meet new friends and has engaged me in doing something I love. I feel that I am one of the luckiest people on Dartmoor. I may be the only one with a shed full of flowers on wheels. I am certainly the only one who can’t steer it!

I would like to share with you some of my flowers….here…please take a bunch x x

 

 

Two Little Cats …….

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Daisy-Mae and Dora-Bella

I have loved (and lost) so many cats. My last cat, Josef, died in 2015 only a short time after the death of his brother, Ossie and my beloved cat, Otto. Josef’s leaving was just one loss too many and I stopped writing on my blog. This is the story of the two rescue cats who I gave a home to soon after Josef died.

Dora and Daisy had been homeless and had known very hard times. They only survived at all because of the work of The Cats Action Trust. This charity rescues and saves feral cats  which other charities will not take. Dora was completely feral. It is said that her exquisite beauty came about by chance when a top breeder of Rag Doll cats moved away from Cornwall leaving the male cat behind to breed with all the stray cats in the area! Her striking blue eyes and pretty markings helped to save her life the first time when a farmers wife saw that some one had kicked her eye, took pity on her and took her to the vets.  Dora’s life was saved a second time at the surgery when the vet there decided she was not worth operating on and had the syringe ready to put her to sleep, but his conscience stopped him at the last moment. Heathcliff, who works for the charity happened to be in the waiting room and when asked he said at  once,” I will take her’.

I can only guess at Daisy’s experiences. Found emaciated and half starved she must have felt so frightened to be suddenly fending for herself on the street. For Daisy had been a domestic pet and had once had a home. Dora and Daisy bonded in their foster home and became inseparable as Daisy helped to care for Dora after the surgery to remove her eye.

But  still no one would take them on because they were totally traumatised and timid.

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For Dora and Daisy coming to me in April 2016 was just another upheaval which they had to endure. These terrified cats hid for weeks in my house and could not feel the love I had for them. It was a very difficult for months and I really was not getting anywhere. They both needed medical attention for various issues and I could not touch, catch or hold them with out damaging their relationship with me even further. Then, just when it seemed nothing could get harder, Daisy then started to scratch and scratch and scratch herself. It started in a tiny area above her eyes. She needed treatment immediately. So she had to be cornered and trapped and taken in the car to the vets. But she responded to none of the treatment they gave her. She got worse and worse and scratched herself with her claws until the fur was gone and nothing but raw, bloody skin was left. When the medicine did not work, the vets suggested that Daisy was unhappy with being at my house and should be re-homed. It was a tough time for us all.Version 2

She could not sleep or rest and  eventually ripped almost all the fur off her back as well. then she began to give up hope and slept in her litter tray. I contacted Heathcliff at the Cats Action Trust in tears. He asked for a photo and acted upon it immediately. He said “Daisy is giving up”. and he set about making an appointment for Daisy to see the top Veterinary Dermatologist in the next city. Daisy, the expert concluded, had allergies and this caused itching so bad that she was driven to tear herself to bits. He said she was the worst case he had ever seen in 25 years of practice. He suggested giving her Piriton, a antihistamine and special food and biscuits incase she was allergic to something she was eating. Watching her suffer was unbearably painful. Meantime Dora seemed very fragile and thin as well. Was I going to be able to help these two dear little cats?

Yet by Christmas 2016 they were both sitting on my knee every evening. It was such a blessed gift to me. I still could not pick them up but they chose night after night to spend time with me whilst being totally intertwined with each other. I was in heaven.

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But tragically, just as I was getting somewhere with them both. Dora suddenly died of heart failure on Mothers Day, Sunday 26th March last year. She had not even been with me for a year.

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She was the most beautiful cat and one who lit up every room she came into. And sadly, the only time that I was able to pick her up was the night before she died when she was feeling so poorly.

Daisy is much better now, for I found a vet to help her. She has to have a steroid injection every few months which helps to control her desire to scratch and her fur has grown back. But it is impossible to know what she is allergic to.

The day before Dora died Daisy ‘spoke’ to me with a meow as I passed her by and this was the beginning of her interacting with me and allowing me to stroke her. Something in her altered when Dora died. She became quite kitten like, as though a burden had been lifted from her shoulders. For it was always Daisy who groomed and cared for Dora, never the other way around.

It has been such a time of heartache and yet great achievement. Many people who saw Daisy when she was so poorly commented that I should have had her put to sleep. Well I did not and look at her now!

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Daisy has many favourite pastimes and hobbies including sleeping on my best duvet, sitting on my knee in front of the fire. But her very favourite thing is…..pony riding!

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Has anyone seen Karen?

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Friends and neighbours fear that I am being held hostage or have been kidnapped! No one has seen or heard from me for months. But the truckloads of wood, sand, cement, picket fencing and old Victorian ridge tiles piling up in my drive all tell another story and the real reason for my absence; I have been building a new garden 🙂

This is my first year of opening my garden for the National Gardens Scheme.

The National Gardens Scheme (NGS) is the Country’s biggest charitable benefactor to the nursing and caring sectors including, amongst others, The Queen’s Nursing Institute, We Are Macmillan Cancer Support and  Marie Curie. Founded in 1927, when 60 gardens opened for nursing and caring charities and raised a total of £8,000, to 2015 when 3,800 gardens raised more than £3 million, the NGS is a constant and vital source of support for the nominated Charities.  All this is only made possible by gardeners who volunteer  their time and effort to open their private gardens for visitors to enjoy.

Each garden must reach a high standard of content and design to be accepted into the NGS. Mine was inspected by a professional garden designer and I was proud to join a charitable organisation which boasts many large and famous gardens, as well as smaller ones in its iconic yellow book. And with H.R.H The Prince of Wales as the patron and Mary Berry as the President, who would not be a little bit thrilled to have earned NGS status?

Now my garden was deemed good enough a year ago when I was welcomed to the NGS. But It was so, so hard not to want to try a little bit harder to make it even more special for my open days. Especially when people are travelling some distance to visit and are paying an entrance fee.

So  I have made a new garden. A Cutting Garden to add to the Kitchen, Cottage and Meadow Gardens .It is quite small, but with its picket fencing and Bishop’s and bird finials, rows of flowers for cutting, an old wrought iron gate and a sweet painted arbour, it is such a special and safe place to be.

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Inside it has a zinc- topped table for bunching the cut flowers which I sell at my gate.

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So if it stops raining and the Powdery Mildew goes away together with the Black Fly and the wind and then the sun comes out to make my flowers bloom…. then everything will be fine 🙂 And when that happens, I will take some better photos of the flowers for you to see.

But until then….why not take a moments rest in the Cutting Garden arbour?

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Goodbye dear, Gentle Josef….

Janet's fabulous Easter gift and Josef in a sunbeam 2016 009 (2)On Good Friday, Josef, my cat was in the studio, sitting in a sunbeam; he had never looked better. Yet on Easter Sunday morning, as if to remind me that nothing in life is certain, he took sick and then later died at the Veterinary Hospital in the afternoon.

Josef  had needed special care since his brother, Ossie died. He would not sleep alone without his Brother to cuddle up to and he developed a deeper connection and a special language to communicate with me to make up for the loss. Happy to be described as a cliché; the lady living alone with her cat, I tried to compensate as best I could for the absence of his brother so that the bond which  Josef had lost would not affect his health.

He was such a little bundle of joy, a gentle cat who loved to be on my knee. A sweet companion throughout the hours, but especially at the end of each day. He was a little sunbeam, my support team on a bad day and my animal family.

I listen for his little bell on his collar, for his cry at 5 a.m for his breakfast or for the company and affection, for the confirmation that we are both loved. But all I hear is silence.

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Candied Flowers for Easter….

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Happiest when I am about to tackle a new challenge and happier still if the job involves flowers, I set off into the frozen wastes of the Cottage Garden to see what I can pick. This wasteland of dried stems with the odd pernicious and very hardy weed is hardly an oasis of verdant growth and colour. And it is hat and gloves cold.  I am looking for something special and I am in luck because despite the low temperatures, the Heartsease is flowering in perfect miniature style with each little face a total miracle of colour and detail. Petals as dark as thunder clouds set against daffodil yellow make me chirpy and glad, which is helpful because my hat just blew off and fell in the pond. But still the flower hunt continues. I find some big Pansies and then some dainty Primroses which I add to my collection. These pale lemon flowers which  grow wild in my garden  will be perfect for crystallising and for decorating my Easter cakes.Devon Primroses March 2016 004 (2)Indoors I cosy up in my kitchen with my flowers. Getting close to these darling, dainty blooms must be the most perfect way to spend a cold afternoon in March. With my little paintbrush and pasteurised egg white at the ready, I get to work, painting each petal then coating it with sugar. But surely, crystallising edible flowers can’t be this easy?  But actually, it is!  And once they are fully dried, I pop them into a special little box. This little collection of fragile, fragrant, sugary delights, must surely be the sweetest way to mark the arrival of spring; a most welcome symbol of all the hope and promise which the garden has in store for us this coming year.

These little flowers travel across the miles from my garden to yours as a little gift of love,

Happy Easter x

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HOW TO CRYSTALLISE EDIBLE FLOWERS

You will need

A small artist’s paintbrush

1 sachet of dried egg white powder

Caster sugar

Edible flowers

Tweezers

A plate

A small bowl

 

  1. First of all, please make sure that all the flowers you choose are edible, for a helpful list please go to the RHS website. Never pick wild flowers unless they grow in your own garden.
  2. Pick your flowers when they are just at their peak, not when they are beginning to go over. Always pick when the bright sun is not shining on the flowers. You need the petals to be firm, not floppy and limp
  3. Pick just a few at a time. Remove all but a very tiny bit of stem to hold on to with tweezers. Remove tiny leaves with a small pair of scissors.
  4. Using dried pasteurised egg white, reconstitute using the manufactures instructions
  5. Holding the flower with tweezers, gently brush each petal with egg white. You can rest the flower on the plate to do this. Turn the flower over and paint the other side.
  6. Hold the flower over the bowl of sugar and either press in gently into it to cover, or sprinkle sugar over it using a teaspoon
  7. Make sure you cover all the petals with sugar. Tap the tweezers with the teaspoon to remove any excess sugar.
  8. Place the sugared flower on the plate to dry. Moving I them gently as the drying begins to happen so that it does not stick to the plate.
  9. Leave in a warm place overnight and when totally dry place very carefully in a lidded box and keep in a dry place.

The Cosy Cake Club….

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I am in a baking frenzy. There is a flour tornado in my kitchen as I open up self-raising, plain and gluten free flour and bag after bag of sugar. The KitchenAid mixer is maxed out and I am juggling four recipes whilst desperately channeling Bree Van de Kamp and trying to remind myself that I used to be a pastry chef in a country house hotel. Where did all this anxiety come from? In my stressed state I have already cleaned my teeth with Savlon not toothpaste and had a run-in with the oven door. What is there to fret about? After all, all I have to do is bake a few cakes for the launch of my Cosy Cake Club.

I think it’s the Red Velvet Cake which tips me over the edge. This is a serious cake, big enough to go catastrophically wrong. A rich and divinely decadent cake which requires 4 perfect layers of dense, luxurious chocolate sponge, topped and filled with cream cheese frosting heaven. The kind of cake big enough to knock out a burglar!

And what if no one turns up?

But come 11 a.m on the 25th February the door bell just kept ringing, until eventually I have 20 sassy, bright, excited ladies in my studio; all of them fired up with joy and enthusiasm for this new social group. And wonder of wonders, everyone just loves the cakes, the chat and the company. I stand back and hear the buzz of excitement which resounds through the house and I realise that these women feel empowered today. They are ready for anything, up to starting something new, happy to be in a space which is dedicated to them.

I brush the flour from my face and start to plan the next months Cosy Cake Club date which is just before Easter…..it just has to be soft, doughy hot cross buns, fragrant with spices. It’s going to ok 🙂