Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Misery of Gardening

Posy of the week in a pretty little cup and saucer, courtesy of my mum
When I announced to my friends that we were about to buy a cottage (less than two years ago), they all wanted to know what sort of garden I planned there.  I cheerfully asserted, “Oh no particular kind of garden style, it will just be so good to have a bit of earth to scratch around in.  I will grow anything which is not a weed and which helps to fill up the space because nature abhors a vacuum.  It will be mainly cuttings, anything I can lay my hands on.”


Well, how times have changed!  On Saturday we had the most lovely weather and I was outside bothering the weeds.  After a time it occurred to me that it was unfortunate that the Dutch irises seemed to be mainly the pale anaemic looking washed out ones, whereas I would have much preferred the darker and more vibrant ones, and I was sure I had planted a lot more of those darker bulbs. 
Good robust shades, not like most of them
On the other hand, the polyanthus all seemed to be the most lurid and strident shades – lolly pink and acid yellow - when the softer “antique” ones much more attractive. 
Much too bright
Almost eye-wateringly lurid
So much softer and easier on the eye!
Then there was the vexed question of the bulbs which refused to flower in symphony but all wanted their own time to star and consequently came out consecutively rather than all together. 

It seems that when we garden want to impose our will on our piece of earth according to our idea of a blossoming Eden.  We never are happy with what we have but always feel it could be improved on.  I suppose if that wasn’t the case people wouldn’t bother with gardening at all; we want to make order out of chaos and we all have our own definite ideas of what is pleasing to see. 

But what was the breeder of this daffodil thinking?  To me this looks as if it has been afflicted with some odd viral disease, the plainer and more simple “basic” daffodil is much more attractive.  But it  shows that we all have our own ideas of beauty and who is to say one thing is better than another?

The "new improved" version for those who want something "a bit different""

The common or garden variety, maybe a bit boring but at least it looks like a daffodil

I will be dividing the “nice” polyanthus and digging out the lurid ones, of that you can be sure.  Perhaps what I need to do is tie little bits of wool around the ones which are “good” so I know which ones to split up and divide later on in the year, and which ones to unceremoniously heave onto the compost heap.  Also with the Dutch irises and daffodils.  Gardening definitely isn’t the simple straightforward pastime it first seems, but what a great challenge and no matter how small our own little patch the garden is never complete.  I often look at the tempting sitting areas, garden benches and so on we scatter around our gardens and wonder why we bother – who has time for sitting down when there is so much to be done and so many plants to look after?  Not to mention the weeds, don’t get me started on them!


More lilies are emerging and I can take comfort in picturing what a flowery bower there will be when they all bloom (if they do bloom at the same time that is, and the slugs don't decimate them first).   The first of the blossom is on the venerable old plum tree and Mr Shoestring is looking at it thinking he should have given it a heavier pruning last season – it seems as if I am not alone in my desire to bend nature to my will!  The strawberries are already flowering too, let's hope the birds spare us a few when they ripen.
Time for a bit of spring cleaning and washing up the linens, always an agreeable job on a lovely spring morning.

Monday, August 20, 2012

White Out

At last the bedroom is painted white white white, and thank heavens we can draw a veil over that episode and never speak of it again!  There was yet more rain this weekend, and once more the paint was very slow to dry.  But now that it has finally dried (with a lot of help from a heater), it looks so much fresher and I think white may stealthily creep its way round the rest of Shoestring Cottage in time.  My beady eye has been roaming all over the furniture speculatively and wondering where the white paint brush may strike next and I have one or two likely candidates but I am not going to be too vocal about those plans as yet, because poor Mr Shoestring is still recovering from his tussle with the white paint. 

 Speaking of Mr Shoestring, once he could relax after his labours with the paint he was happily immersed in an apparently fascinating library book about the history of trams in New Zealand (is your jaw aching with the effort not to yawn yet?) and he regaled me with tales from it, which he read aloud at great length.  After the first few minutes I developed the strategy of making enthusiastic remarks from time to time, “My word, fancy that!  How interesting!” and so on, but he soon began to demand more constructive contributions (it was probably becoming obvious I wasn’t taking in a single word about the wretched trams and their perambulations).  We have agreed to differ about the history of trams in our fair land though I have gone down in his estimation after I confessed I had little knowledge and less interest where they are concerned.

 In celebration of the new paint we hung another set of old curtains to cover the “new” window.  We already had a donated wooden curtain pole (thank you so much Mrs Peaceable) and by a wonderful fluke found the wooden rings we needed for sale in the Sally Army shop, so it was achieved with the minimum expense, as is the Shoestring way.  The curtains we already had so a great result.  In celebration of the new paint I put my least durable quilt on the bed.  It is made from old silk pieces and old doyleys, and suits our optimistic spring mood (even if spring is not quite with us yet). 

A good way to use up all those bargain embroidered doyleys which are a bit damaged

I got some wonderful bargains from the op shops this weekend too.  Not least was this “leaf” dish ($1, thank you Sally Army). 

I have a terrible weakness for anything which masquerades as a fruit, vegetable or leaf, not sure what the attraction is but can’t seem to cure myself of it.  This dish would be very pretty in summer time with a simple basil/tomato/mozzarella salad in it, it really isn’t the right season but I will put the recipe up in case anybody wants it later on.  It is a good way of using an abundant crop of basil in the summer.    

Outside in the garden the lily bulbs are finally rewarding my constant anxious looks by starting to poke through the earth, this week I found a few more so all is not lost.  Actually it is just as well that they are beginning to poke through the earth, or I probably would have speared the last of them with my trowel in my investigations as to their whereabouts and health.  The cyclamens have been a real star and I never noticed before what a pleasant scent they have – light, lemony and citrusy but definitely detectable in sheltered corners of the garden. 

The first of the Dutch irises are blooming

but sadly in the area where I planned a veritable symphony of cream, white, yellow and blue (jonquils, snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells) all the different varieties have elected to flower at different times so we now have the jonquils starting, the daffodils finishing, the snowdrops well and truly over and no sign as yet of blooms from the bluebells. 

Mother Nature can be a cruel dame, she is determined to thwart us at every possible opportunity.  On the other hand she has rewarded me with a delicious crop of hyacinths, which I usually don’t have any luck with so I can’t complain too loudly.

Madame La Poste called round this weekend, bringing yet more treasures with her.  She introduced me to this poem which I found very touching – how immediate and “real” the author’s sentiments seem, though she lived and died hundreds of years ago. 

To Yu Sun-Chih

A friend who lives a thousand miles away from here
has sent me a gift of brocade
with flowers in dazzling purple.

When I open the roll
I think that I see
evening clouds, made golden by the sun
or glittering ripples
on the water of a fall torrent.

If a pillow was made from the cloth
some of the leaves could be damaged
If a coat was cut from it
the flowers would be divided.

It would be best to sew a large quilt from it
so I could both day and night
experience it, as if you were here.

Po chi-i 772 - 846 AD

Any stitcher who has been too frightened to cut into a precious and treasured piece of fabric will understand the sentiments expressed here, and I must admit I feel the same about some of the gorgeous kimono and obi silks Madame La Poste has added to my collection recently. 


Happy days for you during the spring, I hope the weather is kind to you and your gardens are flourishing

Friday, August 17, 2012

And One Thing Led To Another ...

When we were given an old window it seemed like a good idea to put it into our bedroom at Shoestring Cottage to let in more light – too good to pass up, really, for a pair of magpies such as ourselves.  Then there were a few problems with getting it into the right position, meaning some odd little holes in the wall and of course there was the damage to the plastering in a few places.  So the best thing seemed to be to repaint that wall.  But how to match the colour?  Looking closer, it was a most strange and extraordinary shade, sort of a mushroom/beige colour and not really what we would have chosen.  We suspected it had been concocted from leftover odds and ends of paint, because we once tried that trick and ended up with a similarly unappealing shade.  I am on a big white paint binge so rather than try to match a shade we were not fond of anyway we decided the best plan would be to paint the entire room a nice fresh white. 

Well, more easily said than done.  The preparations all went awry, Mr Shoestring said a rude word (or quite a few, and repeatedly), one of the kittens got into the room and stepped in the paint tray.  That was only the beginning.  The rain continued to be torrential and though it wasn’t cold it was extremely humid – the first coat would not dry.  Overnight with the heater going full blast it eventually dried but the second coat refused to and in the end we had to come home with all our bedroom furniture either wrapped in plastic or strewn around the other parts of the cottage, hoping that it will dry over the week.  And it hasn’t covered well so another coat will still be needed next weekend.  Sigh. 

I did get out into the garden in between showers of rain and took my frustrations out on the oxalis  – very easy to accomplish as it has flourished and was not difficult to find.  Also lots of those horrible variegated lilies had popped up all over the place.  It was heart warming to see that more of the “genuine” lilies have been popping their heads up though, what a relief.  I was dismayed to see that the slugs had been having a festival in the garden and were happily chomping their way through anything growing in their path – except weeds.  The poor new lily shoots were sadly decimated and I am hoping against hope that only leaves are affected and not any flower shoots. 

Such is life, some days are just not all you had hoped and these were definitely two of those!  I can't even show you any pictures because watching paint dry is no fun.  Especially white paint.   

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Day of Divine Deco-dence

Now there is no stone we deco devotees would leave unturned in our quest for the perfect costume or deco accessory, and Lady Raglan is no exception.  When she recently heard (via a friend who had been to an unrelated event) of the possibility of visiting a lady who apparently possessed a veritable treasure trove of deco clothing and paraphernalia, she kindly arranged a jaunt for all of us. 

What a wonderful outing!  We were astonished when we entered Jan’s home to find that not only did she have an enormous selection of garments and accessories, but that her house was an original deco gem and that her treasures were all displayed in the most sympathetic way.  We were gasping with admiration because all the kitchen shelves were arranged by colour.

Look at these beautiful tea cosies, somebody has put so much care into their creation.
This coffee set must have been "for best"
I would love to try to recreate the three dimensional felt applique on this bag.
 Likewise in the bathroom cupboards. 

It was inspirational and even the colours of the interior walls were in perfect deco shades.  (Primrose yellow and soft green for the kitchen for instance, I came away determined to somehow create my own corner of primrose yellow and soft spring green.  And I have to take my hat off to Madame La Poste after our discussion about the merits of different shades of green last weekend, the soft spring green looked just beautiful with primrose yellow.  Bliss.) 

Here are some more photos, I couldn’t stop photographing all the nooks and crannies and I hope you will be able to see some of the finer details.  In the bathroom for instance, there is still the original plaster work on the ceiling and there are whales swimming round the cornice! 

Also in the bathroom is this light fitting which reminded me of Prince of Wales feathers but I am not sure if it may just represent an abstract deco shape.  How fortunate that the detail hadn’t been removed when Jan bought the house three years ago.  She has done a lot of work on the property and still has plans as to how to perfect her gem. 

The selection of hats was very good and I am ashamed to say that I called Lady Raglan a nasty name when we got into a tussle over one.  Such is the passion that deco arouses in us!  All was settled amiably though, because Lady Raglan found the perfect crocheted gloves she was after and also found a perfect hat.  Mr Shoestring bought himself a coat and spotted handkerchief but Lord Raglan (ever careful with funds) managed to hold himself back. 

Jan puts on fashion shows of the vintage garments sometimes and many sets of clothes were set out on racks in preparation for the next show.  Jan let us peek into the cupboards where her most special dresses were kept and we admired the workmanship and beautiful fabrics used. 

This original 1930s dress was so cleverly constructed, the work on the pleating impressed and confounded us!

While we visited Jan we took the opportunity of visiting the op shops in her town and here I found my “best buy” of the weekend.  Since starting the pansy project to use up the donated wools I have been wanting to carry on with more of these canvas works but the canvas I need (double thread, 10 count, brown in colour so the canvas doesn’t show up) was fiendishly expensive.  In the opportunity shop I found a roll of it and was offered the whole roll for $50 (it costs $47 per metre).  Having dragged it back to my lair I was hoping I had a large amount on the roll so started to measure.  I stopped measuring at 10 metres because of cat attacks, but there were obviously a few more metres left to measure.  So I have enough canvas to last me for the rest of my life – I had better use up every skerrick of wool in my possession now, to make the most of it.  Perhaps I could cover my “new” lounge suite with tapestry?  All in the fullness of time!  This "chocolate box" representation of a cottage garden was crying out for a new home and we swept it up and put it in the gypsy room with similar sentimental scenes.

Coming home and turning over the green and yellow theme in my mind I couldn't leave my flowers in their original vase, I had to fossick around in the cupboards and get out the daffodil cup and plate and rearrange things a bit.  These minature daffodils are called "tête à tête" and if you are planning on planting any daffs next season I strongly recommend then.  Each bulb makes three strong stems of blossom so they are very prolific.

The camelias are all flourishing - the least troublesome of the winter flowers, they need no cossetting unlike these pansies which are suffering after slug attacks

The surrounding countryside is still flooded and the rain determinedly pelted down all weekend, resulting in even higher levels in the paddocks near town.  But there definitely is a feeling of spring in the air.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The First Signs Of Spring

This weekend I was able to pick a small bunch of flowers at Shoestring Cottage and  tried to convince myself that spring was on its way.  I adore the lime green coloured pelargonium plant leaves, it is one of my favourite "geraniums" and I am forever taking cuttings in case I lose the parent plant.  The bitter green/yellow colour is so "spring time" in my mind.

Sadly the signs outside were not in agreement with me; there was surface flooding all around and parts of the farmland more closely resembled lakes than paddocks.  In my posy there were two daffodils and a few jonquils, but I have high hopes that there will be more to come.  Mr Shoestring helpfully pointed out that considering I had planted literally hundreds of bulbs it wasn’t a very high yield and he didn’t follow my reasoning that it was just as well I had planted lots of bulbs, or else we wouldn’t have had a single bloom.  Hopefully the buds will fatten and in the next few weeks there will be a veritable floral festival in the garden at Shoestring to silence Mr Shoestring. 

The Canucks came to call, bearing gifts for Mr Shoestring.  He was thrilled to receive a copy of The Red Book for Boys, complete with its inscription from when it had been awarded to the diligent scholar George Neathe(?) in 1928 as first prize for arithmetic in Standard Six

Mr S was particularly pleased to see there was included an article about the last of the moas!  All in all a fascinating book.  The Splendid Book For Girls looks as if it was printed later although there is no date of publication in the front of the book.  I would very much like to try wearing a headscarf in the fetching way depicted on the front cover but I fear that rather than looking as if I was about to embark on a sporty adventure, I would look as if I was about to clean the toilet. 

While The Canucks were visiting Madame La Poste arrived and Mrs Canuck, Madame La Poste and I all shared a happy time going through my bag of green silk ties and assorted green silk scrap fabrics so that Madame La Poste could take some home to use in her crazy quilt.  Imagine my shame when I first of all could not find the bag (Mr Shoestring eventually located it for me), and then when it was revealed to all present that I store my fabrics not in an orderly or even tidy fashion, but screw them up into tortured balls and stuff as many as possible into old shopping bags, then jam said bags under my sewing table and attempt to cover all with a long tablecloth.  Madame La Poste helpfully folded some of the largest pieces and put them all back in an orderly fashion; I fear she despairs of my ever developing a system for storing all my craft perquisites but I hope to prove her wrong eventually, once Mr Shoestring has built floor to ceiling storage units in the sewing room and there will be a place for everything and everything in its place.  We had a lively discussion about the merits of different shades of green.  My taste runs to the greeny-yellow shades while Madame La Poste prefers cleaner, fresher spring greens.  No matter how often I shook my favourite pieces in front of her, she would not admit how attractive they were!  She insisted they made her shudder and that they were ghastly!  Huh!  Mrs Canuck wisely chose not to become involved and Mr Canuck was obviously perplexed and bemused as little by little the room began to resemble a place where a green snowstorm had taken place.  Happily this fabric inspection spurred me on and I finished piecing the last five blocks for my crazy quilt – now they just need to be embroidered, embellished and assembled, a minor detail. 

At The Peaceable Kingdom calving is in full swing and we visited the babies.  How lovely they were with their long eyelashes and lustrous coats.  The roosters were strutting proudly about

and the daffodils were looking magnificent - and putting on a far better show than my pathetic and spindly ones at Shoestring Cottage!

 Maybe spring is coming after all.  The lovely Floss has sadly passed away which has caused a lot of heartache for us all; but look at this adorable new addition to the menagerie, as yet unnamed but very appealing and already much loved by all who meet her.