Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Water


Yesterday we visited Tittesworth Water in North Staffordshire, on the edge of the Peak District. It not only serves as a reservoir providing water for the local people, but is also an educational centre, haven for wildlife, scenic picnic and walking area and watersports venue.



From an educational point of view, there are lots of tips and advice on using and conserving water


Like this A - Z of eco friendly advice for water use


Some of my favourites:

- if a lawn is brown because the grass is dry, it's a waste of time, water and energy trying to water it because as soon as it rains it'll turn green again
- if you boil an egg, use the water afterwards to water house or garden plants as the nutrients released from the shell will be good for the plants
- only water plants at the cool part of the day (ie morning or evening ) to avoid evaporation

I would definitely recommend a visit to Tittesworth Water if you ever get the chance


Tuesday, 30 July 2013

A wealth of creativity


This week I'm not living Sussex lifestyle as I'm visiting family in the north west of England.  Yesterday we happened to visit the lovely market town of Nantwich which today still retains much of it's ancient character.

I was particularly impressed with saint Marys church - the towns oldest building and often referred to as the cathedral of South Cheshire. There were loads of interesting features both inside and outside - such as 'The Green Man ' (a pagan fertility symbol in a Christian church!) , and the representation of the Devil flying away with a woman with her hand stuck in a jar (the masons' way of getting revenge on their thieving landlady!).




On walking around the church it made me realise just how much skill and creativity had gone into making the church what it is today - from the stained glass to the oil paintings, from the tapestries to the metalwork, from the tiles to the stonework, from the wrought iron work to the hand crafted wooden furniture - I could go on, but it was all pretty amazing.

Some of the items were very old and some were a lot more recent as the parishioners continue to work together to decorate their church.  Some of the most recent work are the tapestry covered kneelers depicting local scenes, culture and industry. Could there be any other church where you could kneel and say your prayers on a picture of a Rolls Royce or a train built at Crewe?



Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Hedgehogs - Son of Hedgie


I mentioned last month that I had been hoping that Hedgie, the hedgehog frequently seen in our garden last year, had survived the winter.  Then on 6th June I thought I had picked up signs of "hedgehog life" in the garden although not actually seen one.  Well, yesterday evening, just as it was starting to get dark, we had a little visitor in the garden.  But it wasn't Hedgie because it looked quite young (that is, small).  However, it looked strong and healthy and was very lively.  It seemed to be quite confident in our presence - was it because it was already familiar with our voices, I wonder?


He spent quite a while exploring the area outside the workshop at the bottom of the garden



In this photo, his head is just a blur as he spins around to change direction - but take a look at those cute little paws!

Finally, he headed off towards the hedge (they're not called hedgehogs for nothing!) with a curious Sweet Pea in hot pursuit.




Unlike some parts of the country, we've not had any rain here for days and days and so the garden is very dry.  In weather like this, all wildlife needs water to survive and so leaving out a shallow dish of water (like the ones placed under plant pots) and remembering to top it up could perhaps help save the lives of some insects, birds and larger animals such as hedgehogs.













Monday, 22 July 2013

Seagulls' Delight

This afternoon and this evening, the sky above the house was full of seagulls, silently swirling in circles.  A strange sight to see so many in the same place at the same time, and even stranger that they were so quiet!  (Just the sound of a light aircraft passing by)


video

Seagulls swarming

I did a little research and was fascinated to find out that they are having a major feast day today on flying ants.  Apparently, all of the ants wait for a hot and humid day when the air is still and the winged ants then launch themselves up into the sky in order to mate.  After they mate, they fall to the ground where the males die and the females lose their wings and wander off to find somewhere to make a new nest.

However, the seagulls are wise to this situation and fly around on the thermals, feasting on the ants.  If the ants do manage to avoid being eaten, not all of them make it to the ground because due to the thermals, they can't control where they're going to fall and some of them end up in the sea.  It's a tough life being an ant!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

As Busy As A Bee



Another hot, scorching Sunday and did I take it easy like I should have?  No, I did not.

First of all it was a morning bike ride into town for a shopping trip - but the reward was an ice-cream on the beach on the way home ...




Back home and a quick shower and cool drink, before heading out into the garden to do major cleaning of the chicken run.  Followed by major cleaning of the chickens.  Well, not quite, but in the summer and if its a very hot day, I sometimes give them a warm "bubble bath" with Johnson's Baby Shampoo to clean up all of their feathers.  I towel them dry and then the sun quickly does the rest.  But the chickens do seem to enjoy their bath - they're just not very happy to have bedraggled feathers when they come out!


Raz looking a little annoyed with damp feathers


Whilst all of this was going on, I spotted next door's cat snoozing in the shade of the bamboo



And coming back to the title of this blog post, the busiest of all were the bees.  I am pleased to see that the bees are at last able to benefit from this prolonged period of dry weather and as we have a lot of lavender now in full bloom in our garden, the word is out among the local bee population that our lavender is the place to be - I'm amazed to see the number of different bee species that visit but, most of all, it is the honey bee - so glad we can be of service as the bees have had a tough time of it in recent years and to promote their survival, need all the help they can get from us urban gardens.





Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Cocopopia Cocktail

Yes - Cocopopia has its own cocktail...






 I've raided the drinks cabinet and the fridge to come up with the perfect cocktail for sunny summer days and, being a coconut liqueur based drink, the Cocopopia name suits perfectly.  Its really quick and easy to make.

Here's the recipe:


  • 1 (25ml) measure of coconut liqueur (or coconut syrup for an alcohol free version)
  • Carton of tropical fruit juice (I used a 100% concentrate mix of pineapple, orange (main ingredients), along with passion fruit, lime, lemon, banana, mandarin, mango, papaya and kiwi
  • bottle of orangeade (or Orangina is even better if you can get hold of it) to add a bit of fizz
  • ice cubes
Method

  • Drop some ice cubes into a tall glass.
  • Fill two thirds of the glass with the tropical fruit juice
  • Add coconut liqueur
  • Give it a quick stir - with a swizzle stick if you have one 
  • Top up the rest of the glass with the fizzy orange
  • Add a straw and cocktail umbrella - sit back and enjoy!



Sunday, 14 July 2013

Chilli Festival



This week-end it was the chilli festival in our town



and I wasn't the only one who had cycled there



and some people may have even arrived by boat


There were a huge variety of chilli related products available, including take-away food, pickles and preserves, chilli chocolate, chilli beer, chilli Pimms, chilli kitchen products, chilli plants and (my favourite) chilli ice-cream.  There's something about chilli ice-cream that has the wow factor - I think its due to the bizarre sensation that although you're eating something freezing cold, there's something hot biting at your throat at the same time.  I had some chocolate chilli ice-cream and it was amazing.

There was a also a chilli eating competition but there didn't seem to be too many people signing up for it - maybe they just didn't fancy it because it was such a hot day.

And there was also a band playing, strangely enough, Irish folk music.  Something a little more Latin influenced would have created a better vibe, I would have thought.

The Chilli Festival is now in its third year so hopefully it will become a regular annual event.  But I'm starting to love chillies more and more, so this won't be the last you'll hear of me talking about chillies!






Saturday, 13 July 2013

DIY Lavender Spray Mist


Recently I've had trouble sleeping, partly due to the hot weather and the fact that it starts to get light again by 4.00am and some of the birds are already starting to tweet and sing (apart from the seagulls who have already beaten them to it because they chatter away all night and don't seem to have the need to sleep at all at the moment!).

So, knowing that one of the properties of lavender is to promote sleep, I decided to make my own lavender pillow spray to aid sleep and relaxation.  I like it so much, I've been using it on the bed linen in general and as a natural air freshener - since using it, I have actually been sleeping better!

As an essential oil, lavender is so versatile and made into a spray it can be used as a natural air freshener, linen spray, stress-reducer, sleep-inducer, skin soother (particularly good on sunburn) and insect repellent.  It has antibacterial and antiviral properties and is one of the safest essential oils to use.  If going on holiday and you want to include an essential oil in your travel first aid kit, this is the one to take.

Here's how I made my lavender spray:-

  • small spray bottle (mine was 25ml size)
  • distilled water (you can also use ordinary water)
  • 8 - 10 drops pure lavender essential oil
Method:

Add water to bottle, then add 8 - 10 drops lavender essential oil, shake and spray


I used a small spray bottle as I prefer to make up small amounts at a time so that the mix stays fresh.  Always shake before using as the oil and water separates out if left to stand.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Circle of Wonder



As part of our original garden design, we decided to introduce a few curves into our very long and narrow rectangular garden.  We changed the path, so that instead of it cutting its way through the garden, straight down the middle, it now meanders on a journey of discovery from the top of the sloping garden to the bottom.  

We introduced the idea of the Circle of Wonder because we wanted a circular seating area towards the bottom of the garden - it can't be seen at all from the house and comes as a complete surprise when you reach it.  

We wanted an area for eating, drinking, reading, meditating or just somewhere for sitting with a nightcap and gazing at the stars at night. Hence the Circle of Wonder - an area where we could sit and wonder about all sorts of things.

After much hard work digging and leveling off the ground, we had a builder come in and construct a section of circular wall.  The rest of the circle is made up of railway sleepers and planting (mostly bamboo) - with a gap for getting in and out.

We put down a circular paved area.  But it has remained "incomplete" for several years until now, as Mr Cocopopia (very inspired by the work of Gaudi in Barcelona) has started the piece de resistance, which will be a circular area of mosaic around the edge of the seating area.

He has collected unwanted tiles and crockery from boot sales and spent last week-end smashing them up (I wonder what the neighbours were thinking?).

The design is now put into place and the next step will be to fix them down - can't wait to show you the finished result.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

An English Country Garden


This weekend I visited relatives in Staffordshire and sampled the delights of an English country style garden.  

Great to see that summer has arrived there too and the bees are out and about in full force gathering nectar from the variety of flowers now available to choose from.

I was jealous that they could grow a hosta without it being eaten up by slugs and snails - such plants don't stand much chance in our garden.


Friday, 5 July 2013

Berrylicious



Hooray!  The sun has now started to ripen up the fruit in the garden and this evening I started to pick some fresh fruit and predict that I should be able to pick a small bowlful about every other day.  This evening it was strawberries, raspberries and blackcurrants.  Lovely with ice cream (or frozen yogurt in my case), whizzed into smoothies or milk shakes or chopped into crushed meringue nests.  I'll also regularly be storing some in the freezer until I've got enough to make jam.

An added bonus is that strawberries, blueberries and raspberries can reduce your risk of heart attack because they are rich in anthocyanins, which are flavonoids thought to contribute to heart health by dilating arteries and preventing plaque build up.  Recent research suggests that women consuming at least 3 portions a week are 32% less likely to suffer a heart attack than those eating just one bowl a month - even if they eat lots of other fruit.  So, however you prefer them - at breakfast, for a snack or for dessert, berries are the way to go!

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Cool Aloe



Being the fair-skinned, English rose that I am, I try to use sunscreen whenever I can when I'm out and about at this time of year but sometimes I do get caught out and may get a little sunburnt from time to time.  

A good remedy for cooling the skin is aloe.  It can be bought over the counter in lots of preparations for cooling and healing sore skin and is an effective moisturiser used in beauty products.

However, if you keep an aloe plant at home, you have an instant first aid remedy available for whenever you need to tap into its benefits.

All you need to do to treat minor burns is to slice a leaf horizontally - clear gel will ooze out and just apply this directly onto the wound.

Aloe plants are tender succulents so need to be kept indoors if you live in the UK - a warm, sunny windowsill is ideal.

Aloe is such an fantastic little plant with so many uses - there's a great article here from Discovery Health on 40 Amazing Uses for Aloe Vera