Autumn at Cloudberry Flowers

I was asked recently did I enjoy the time to sit back and watch daytime tv now the flowers were over for the season? This made me laugh as it couldn’t be further from the truth! Here’s a little insight into what I get up to when the flowers stop growing.

November this year was a month of very few flowers. Some years I am lucky and the season keeps going for longer. Early frosts in October this year brought the flowers to an abrupt end. Wouldn’t it be great to think the end of the flower season meant I could sit with my slippers on, feet up in front of the wood burning stove with a cup of tea browsing through seed catalogues and grand designs on in the background!

Back to reality  and it is jumpers, wellies, hat and waterproofs on and out into the garden for the muddy task of the day. Some days I find it really easy to go out and work if dressed in the right gear and other days its damp and cold and a bit of a boost is needed in the form of chocolate! It’s a physically demanding time of year and I am often working outside in cold muddy wet conditions. This week I was in the playground at pick up time to have streaks of mud on my face pointed out. I must start looking in a mirror more often! My birthday comes at just the right time and the girls get me stocked up with dairy milk for the digging and clearing to come. It might not sound much fun but I still get that buzz from clearing the perennials in the bed and finding the new growth for next year just peaking through the soil or the happy sense of peace that comes from digging in the garden with my friendly robin beside me.

 

I continue collecting seeds from the finished flower heads and press the last flowers that are still growing. The beds start to be cleared. All annuals need pulled up and perennials cut back. The annuals are then chopped into small pieces and wheelbarrowed down to the compost heap. Making good compost really helps mulch the beds next year. I never finish the job of clearing the beds before Christmas as I keep the plants in until the last flower has gone and I always start this job too late. It has also been hampered due to lack of access to the top flower patch while the building work in our back garden goes on. There will be plenty time in January as long as we are not under snow to finish the clearing and next year I will be more organised!

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The 215 dahlias I planted out in June need lifted, dried and wrapped for storage over the winter. This process takes me a few weeks as I only have enough space to lay them out to dry off in batches. I enjoyed the company of a curious robin who perched on my spade or the ground beside me singing whilst I dug. I have experimented with keeping a few dahlias in the ground over the winter but in our Scottish climate they rot. I have never lost any dahlias by lifting them and storing them.

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I have marked out my new beds in the front garden and they are ready for top soil. This involved me moving a lot of barrows of soil up and down the front garden hill. The chocolate is definitely needed here. I have got about 3/4 of the beds done now and hope to fence this new area and cover the paths with ground cover matting in January and February.

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This month I have spent some time giving talks to local groups. I spent a lovely afternoon with the Innerleithen Church Guild and then a morning with children at Priorsford primary school. I have done a few talks to adults about flower farming but it was my first time speaking with children. I was so keen to engage them with my love of flowers, nature, the outdoors and gardening. Without flowers growing I had to think of some new ideas to make my talk interesting. I took in some dahlia tubers, corms and seeds and showed the children that these very strange looking objects can grow into the most beautiful of flowers. I took with me lots of seed heads for the children to split open and find the seeds inside. They then collected these up to grow in the school poly tunnel in the spring. I love that the school has such an amazing facility to encourage a lifelong love of gardening and growing from an early age. I hope I can work more with children in the future.

Below is a picture of the dahlia tubers I brought in to show the children and a picture of what I showed them they turn into. I still find this an amazing process as they do look like a bunch of funny potatoes incapable of growing into anything.

 

Inside I have been successionally soaking and chitting my ranunculus and anemone corms. I then plant these up individually to grow on over the winter and provide early spring flowers. It is colder now so I don’t need to water as much but every week I must check and water my annual seedlings in the conservatory and also the bulbs I am forcing in the garage.

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Last week I finished the tulip planting. I have planted many of these in trenches outside in the flower patch and also some in crates. I have not tried this before but with spring weddings this year I need to make sure I have flowers in bloom. If I plant in crates and the weather is like it was this year with lots of snow and freezing temperatures I can take the tulips inside and bring them on there. Tulips are always one of the biggest financial investments of the year. The bulbs are very expensive and take a lot of work to plant. You then never have any guarantee they will bloom when you need them too. For example I did not have tulips blooming in April at all this year, they all came in May whether or not they were early or late varieties. So its head vs heart. My head says you don’t need many tulips, enough for your weddings and a few to sell as bunches as I don’t sell enough to warrant buying thousands. However the lure of the glossy catalogues dropping through my door more often than not makes my heart win. I just love tulips! I love the varieties that are different to what you might find in the supermarket, for example the beautiful fringed tulips. I can justify buying them by offering my customers tulips that are beautiful and different to what you would find anywhere else.

 

Its now Christmas at Cloudberry Flowers! I just love this time of year and I am looking forward to getting stuck into Christmas wreath making this week. There is still time to order your wreath this year, just get in touch anytime. I have been working on all my Christmas homegrown and handmade decorations to give you some ideas for something a little bit different this year. What do you get your granny, mum or auntie who have everything? I came up with making up bulb baskets as I know that plants flowering inside in January, February and March is something nice to cheer relatives up on dark winter days. My gift boxes of cards were for designed with the idea they would be great for someone who always likes to have a nice card to hand in the house to send throughout the year. What do you get for that work secret Santa present or to fill a hamper? My seed jars and mini hanging frames with pressed flowers are something small and a little bit different to give as a gift.

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Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas at Cloudberry Flowers without my sparkly alliums. I started growing this years ones this time last year when I planted the bulbs. They flowered in June and I cut them to dry in July and August. In October and November I spray them silver ready for Christmas. Great as a mixture in a vase or as a star at the top of your Christmas tree, they look fabulous.

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December will be a month of wreath making. I get the moss and all the foliage from the garden to make them.  This week I rake the moss out the ground and start mossing up the wreaths and next week I will start cutting the foliage and building the wreaths up into something beautiful.

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Last year I decorated my Christmas Day table with my wreaths with candles and it looked fantastic so I will be offering these for sale this year too. Wreath arrangements for your table dry out awfully easily in a heated house so make sure you keep them cool and give the foliage and moss a drink to prevent them drying out.

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In November I also bought a card machine so I can take card payments as well as cash. I know myself that I just do not use cash in the same way as I did years ago and if I was shopping I would prefer to use a card to pay. I hope this helps make visiting Cloudberry Flowers easier for my customers.

Looking ahead to next year I am excited by the weddings I have booked in and the growing has already started for these. It will be the start of Cloudberry Flowers 5th year and I am looking forward to having some lovely flowers back on the stall for my customers, where it all started in 2014. I have learnt so much and know the one thing missing from my job is sharing my love of growing with you. I would love to develop workshops for you here at Cloudberry Flowers. I had great intentions to start these this coming spring but building work at our house has revealed some major drainage issues that need to be fixed involving a lot of excavation of the back garden in the spring. Once I get my garden back I can focus on getting these off the ground and sharing my love of flowers and growing with you.

Have a fabulous festive season and I am looking forward to seeing you in the coming weeks if you pop into visit Cloudberry Flowers at its Christmas openings.

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Cloudberry Flowers Confetti

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Photography credit: Sansom Photography

The roses and cornflowers starting to bloom in the garden signals the start of a new confetti making season for me. Over the last couple of years, I have experimented with growing and drying different flower petals in my garden until I found my favourite, unique and special mixture to make my biodegradable confetti. Here is a bit of an insight into what I have been doing in the last two weeks to start making this year’s supply.

As soon as I spot the first roses and cornflowers blooming in the garden I get ready to make new confetti.

I wait for a good dry day and with a clean pair of snips go around my garden to find my flowers. I am fussy about the ones I use for my confetti. They must have newly opened up to reveal their petals and be completely dry when I cut them. Any petals starting to go over with mottled edges or wet marks are no good and rejected. Some roses work well to dry and others not. I know now which are my favourites in the garden to use for confetti and the others are left to enjoy. All my cornflowers in their varying colours make excellent confetti and I add larkspur, calendula and lavender to this if it is in season.

When I have cut my flowers they are laid out separately and checked again. If they are cornflowers, calendula or larkspur they are dried whole but if they are roses I separate out each petal, again checking for any marks and only keeping the perfect ones. These are then laid out to dry.

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If it is a hot dry day outside with no wind they can dry there or in trays in my conservatory where it is nice and warm. It normally takes a couple of days for the petals to become very dry and ready to be mixed.

The confetti is then kept in air tight jars in my airing cupboard. The dry dark environment of this storage space means that the confetti will keep well for months. It is a long time now since any towels or linen were in my airing cupboard!

When I receive an order for confetti I measure it into a jug to the 1 litre mark and then carefully pour it into a cellophane gift bag and tie it with twine, ready for an event or wedding. 1 litre of confetti is enough for 10-12 handfuls.

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I continue making confetti each year from June until October or November depending on the frosts. As it stores so well it is available all year round.

People have asked me before if the confetti has any scent. It actually loses the scent of the roses during the drying process and I don’t like to add any artificial scent into the confetti, preferring to keep it as natural as possible. If lavender has been in season and added to some of the bags it may have a faint scent from this.

What can you use biodegradable confetti for? Here are a few ideas…

  • Decorating tables at a wedding, party or event
  • Decorating an aisle to walk down when you get married
  • To be given to your guests to throw at your wedding.

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As well as 1 litre bags of confetti for weddings and events I also make smaller kraft boxes for guests to take which provides enough for 1-2 handfuls to throw over the bride and groom.

I have loved developing my recipe for confetti over the last few years, annually planning what to grow for it and then handpicking those flowers when they bloom. My confetti is colourful, eco friendly, biodegradable, handpicked, homegrown in Scotland and made with a lot of love.  I hope you like it and please just get in touch anytime if you would like more information or to order some for your event or wedding.

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Photography credit: Sansom Photography

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking back and looking forward

My blog is a bit like a diary to me and not a very well kept up one at that! It is two months since I last wrote anything so I know this piece is in danger of being very long. I have a tendency to write everything I am thinking down as if I was catching up with an old friend I hadn’t seen for a long time! Read on for a round up of Cloudberry Flowers past, present and future.

Here we are post Christmas. I have eaten far too many naughty but nice things, exercised far less than usual and spent more time indoors playing lots of new board games with the girls. I now have very itchy feet to be outside and getting going in the garden.

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December was amazing. I was so pleased people liked the Christmas homegrown items I had been making. Everyones favourites were jam jar posies with narcissus and foliage I had grown, wreaths made with garden moss and foliage, Christmas potpourri, hyacinth bulb baskets I had forced and the alliums I had grown, dried and sprayed. I have always loved Christmas and this year I was able to indulge myself in a whole month of being creative. I was so caught up in Cloudberry Flowers at Christmas it was the first time ever that I have not readjusted the decorations on the Christmas tree after the girls had gone to bed. I think I liked it better with several decorations to one branch anyway! By the end of the month I was happy but pretty tired!

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After a very hectic December I did want to have a proper rest over the Christmas holidays and it was time to put Cloudberry Flowers away for just a wee while. This I seem to find completely impossible to do. It is a part of me I can’t put down and quite often when I am least expecting it a new idea will pop into my head and I want to write it down before I forget. Or I see something in someone’s garden and I think I would like to grow that and have to go off and identify it! This year the schools went back much later than last year and once we were into January I definitely had given in completely to no more Cloudberry Flowers over the holidays. I was lured by the temptation of the seed catalogues and I even managed to persuade the girls it would be fun to be out in the flower patch with mum and collect seeds for a while. The novelty of wielding a pair of sharp garden scissors and seeing if you could collect a larger box of seeds than your sister held out for a wee while whilst I tackled a badly neglected patch overrun with weeds, with never ending roots. It felt so good to be outdoors digging!

I am very fortunate to live in a town full of inspirational woman and friends. These women manage to juggle family life with careers but also have a dedication to getting out in the great outdoors on their mountain bikes or running. I am in awe of this commitment to their sport no matter what the weather. It is fair to say that I do not have the same dedication to these popular sports in Peebles and instead I would best describe me as dabbling in them now and again!

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The one thing I need no motivation for though is my flower patch. No matter whether it is snowing, blowing a gale or pouring with rain I am happy to be out there gardening and I feel lucky to have found something that I love in life. When a job advert came out for a dietitian last year it made me question should I return to this for the job security, regular income and the pension it would provide? My feelings were I would take the uncertainty of my world in Cloudberry Flowers any day, just to keep doing a job I love in the great outdoors surrounded by the flowers I love to grow.

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New Year is a time to make a fresh start, make some resolutions and plans for the coming year. Once I get the decorations packed away and family and friends have gone home it really does feel like a fresh start for me with the start of a new growing season. I feel full of anticipation and excitement and the garden is full of new possibilities.

Just now I am spending time looking back over the last year for Cloudberry Flowers and what worked and what didn’t. I have started sowing sweet pea seeds and next week I will start getting the beds in the flower patch ready for when I plant seedlings out in the spring. Although the stall is not open at this time of year and there are no flowers to buy it is a busy time behind the scenes as there is so much digging, weeding, mulching, pruning, cleaning and sowing seeds to be done.

What an amazing year I have just had though. I cannot believe how far my wee business has come and I am so proud of Cloudberry Flowers.  The photo below shows the field back in 2014 before the beginning of cloudberry Flowers and now you can see the cutting garden it has become, where all your flowers are grown. So what is next for this coming year?

The garden gate stall will be back in March with my jam jar posies and small bunches. The most popular days that people buy flowers were Fridays and Saturdays last year, so I am going to keep the opening times for this Fridays-Sundays, March-November.

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I would love to do more garden bouquets to order and offer delivery in the local area. I loved making these last year as everyone I made was different depending on what was in bloom and they were a really lovely gift for a special occasion. Made to order bouquets and jam jar posies will be available 7 days a week.

My petal confetti sold really well for weddings and events last year particularly in the larger bags. I would like to continue making as much confetti as I can, even if I do take over the house with it! If you would like some for your wedding please just get in touch.

I was most proud of the flowers I grew and arranged for weddings last year. Every wedding was different and it was such a privilege to provide the flowers for a couples special day. This year I have more weddings booked and again these vary from providing DIY buckets of flowers to growing and arranging all the wedding flowers. If you or someone you know is getting married and would be interested in natural homegrown flowers please just get in touch as there are still some dates free this year. Look out for my blog in February which will be about all the amazing weddings I provided flowers for last season.

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I was so pleased that other people have liked my pressed flower cards as much as I have enjoyed making them. I still need to work on how to sell these, as the stall isn’t always practical if the weather is bad. They are available all year round even when the stall is shut so ideally I need to look into somewhere to sell them from. My Etsy shop was my way of being able to sell my cards to people that follow Cloudberry flowers, but who do not live locally. To begin with I was disappointed and thought it just wasn’t go to work. There were no sales and not many views. I thought there was just too much competition and my products were not being seen. I was on the verge of closing that outlet for my cards and confetti when I got my first sale and since then I have had a few more. I am hoping it will start getting easier for my products to be seen and I felt so proud that my cards were being ordered and sent throughout the UK and the USA.

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I have had two full flower seasons now and I am beginning to get a good idea of the flowers that are consistently good for me that I grow, the ones that are more of a challenge and the ones that I just can’t grow at all!

This year I am going to grow more of what I am good at, cornflowers, phacelia, ammi, cosmos, corncockle, eryngium, snapdragons and nigella.

I am going to stop growing some flowers all together such as stocks, they just don’t work for me!  Some flowers such as sweet peas, larkspur and dahlias I love but they were somewhat of a challenge last year.

In my first season my sweet peas were amazing and last year they were a disaster. I couldn’t work out why as I wasn’t doing anything differently. I could only put it down to the poor weather we had over the summer. I am not going to let them beat me as I love them too much and have just planted the first batch of 120 seeds today. Fingers crossed!

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Larkspur is one of my favourite flowers for bouquets and making my confetti but I just cannot seem to grow it in any volume. It really frustrates me and is one of my main challenges for this coming season.

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I have fallen in love with dahlias but not with the slugs and earwigs that plagued them last year. I would say half my flowers were badly eaten which I was so disappointed by. Like the sweet peas in my first season of growing them this had not been a problem. I am going to try again this year and use every trick in the book I know to keep them at bay!

I love my homegrown flowers and I would love it if they were more accessible to people and less reliance was put on foreign imports. As I start to increase the volume of flowers I grow over the next few years I have wondered if local florists would be interested in buying my homegrown flowers when they are available, as well as those from their wholesalers. I have had some interest from one local florist who does some amazing creations so this could be an exciting new opportunity.

A date for your diary for next year is the 6th of August. I will be opening my garden for charity as part of Scotland Gardens. It will be for one afternoon and my garden along with three others in Peebles will be open. It is a chance to see where I grow my flowers and also an opportunity to see some other hidden gems in Peebles, all beautifully kept by their owners and offering something different to see. There will be tea, cake, flowers and plants for sale too and more information will be available nearer the time.

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It is going to be an exciting and life changing year for me. Cloudberry Flowers I am hoping will continue to grow and my youngest daughter Erin will be off to school in August. It will be the first time in 11 years that I will not have had any of the girls at home with me during the day. I think you will know where to fine me though!

All my best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.

Catherine xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Behind the flowers

When you pass the garden gate at this time of year and see the stall empty of flowers it would be easy to think things have ground to a halt. There is not much sign of life and the garden looks like it has gone to sleep. However behind the scenes things are as busy as ever.

November is the time to put the garden to bed for winter. It has been towards the end of the month that I started this as it has been unusually mild. During the end of October and the beginning of November I was still surprised that a few flowers were continuing to pop up. I did wander whether I had shut the stall too early but I think it was the right decision as I have had flowers but not in any quantity to sell.

Gardening at this time of year has required a bit of chivying myself along. It’s warm inside. I could have the kettle on and could be staying dry tackling the never ending pile of washing with a nice cup of tea. Or I could tog myself up in waterproofs and wellies and get out in the flower patch. For me a morning in the wet and wild outside digging is much preferable to the dreaded ironing, so it’s not too difficult to choose! Once I am out its really not bad, there is the fresh air, the physical exercise, the satisfaction of planting and often a friendly robin sitting beside me for company. Spending all this time outside at this time of year has meant I have ended up looking some state by the time I run last minute to pick up my daughter from nursery. Looking down in the cloakroom the other day I realised I was covered in mud from the tops of my legs down! Another day I was heading out the nursery door when I felt the teacher touching my hair. I wondered what she was doing but she was just pulling twigs out of it! I find I lurch from intensive sessions in the garden during nursery hours to running to the pick up and spending time doing activities with my daughters in the afternoon. The evenings are dark now so I am no longer in the garden once the girls are in bed but I am busy pouring over books and catalogues learning and planning for next season. I find this bit exciting, what to grow, the favourites from last year of course but choosing lots of new and interesting varieties too.

So what am I doing in the mud and rain in the garden at this time of year? The first job is removing all the spent annuals. I have been doing this gradually as I kept holding on to the last few scabious and cosmos. It’s hard to let go when they are still beautiful!

The very last flowers from the garden this year

Now however we have had the first snow and ice and it is time for them to come out. This has been a harder job than I thought as some of the stems have become very thick and are well rooted in the ground. Lots of digging, a little muscle required and a lot of mud!

The weather has finally been cold enough to be the right time to dig up and store the dahlias. In milder climates you could mulch them and leave them in over winter but in Scotland I am doubtful they would survive. When I dug them up I washed the soil from the tubers, chopped the leaves off and left them upside down to dry for a few days before storing. Erin thinks they look like odd potatoes. I have to agree they do look very strange and it’s hard to believe they can produce such beautiful flowers.

Dahlia tubers or ‘strange potatoes’ as Erin calls them!

The weather has also been cold enough to plant the tulips now, bringing to an end all my bulb planting for this year. Last year I planted 300 bulbs in the garden. This year I have just finished planting 2200. I am hoping it means I can properly extend my season providing a good supply of flowers in April and May. It has also enabled me to try lots of new varieties of bulb and I am looking forward to seeing which become favourites.

Earlier in the year I planted anenomes and ranunculus for the first time. I loved these flowers and know that I could have them flowering earlier in the spring if I plant the corms now. How they will fare over the winter I am not sure so I have planted some indoors in the unheated conservatory and some outside in the raised bed which I have covered just now.

These ranunculus bulbs have been soaking overnight to rehydrate before planting.

Tulips getting planted. My husband says maybe I should aim for straighter rows. I didn’t think they were too bad until I saw the picture! 

Roses have always been a favourite of mine for years but not the kind you might buy in the supermarket which all look the same with no scent. Traditional garden roses are what I love full of rich scent and gorgeous blooms. November is my birthday month and also the perfect time to plant bare root roses so I was lucky enough to get a few more favourites! I have planted ‘The Generous Gardener’ and ‘A Shropshire Lad’ to be grown over two arches over the two entrances to my flower patch. Hopefully these will grow up over the next few years to make a nice welcome if you are visiting Cloudberry Flowers. I have also been increasing my stock of roses and peonies for my beds I started last year with the view to use them for cutting as they become established.

One success I have been proud of is the leaf mould we made. We collected lots of leaves last autumn and have been letting them rot down over the last year. It has produced a really good mulch which I have been spreading around my perennials to help protect them against the winter weather. It is an amazing free product you can make yourself in the garden with just a little effort and a small area to store the leaves. If you do not have much space just collect leaves up in black bin bags with a few holes in them. Dampen down the leaves a little if dry and leave in a shady spot for a year and you will end up with a great mulch. Leave it for a further year and you will end up with a much finer texture. Due to the success of this we have been back out this year collecting as many leaves as we could for next years batch.

Winter is also a good time for networking. Flower farming is a job you do on your own so I do not have the daily contact with worth colleagues I would get in an office. Previously working as a dietitian I had contact with colleagues and patients all day which I loved. My new career is very different in this aspect and meeting fellow flower growers has been especially important to me. November saw the annual meet up of Scottish Flower Growers and we are all members from Flowers from the Farm. It was a chance to discuss what had worked well and what hadn’t over the season, our plans as individuals for the following year and also plans for working together on projects in Scotland. It was a great day full of discussing what we all love ‘home grown flowers’.

So what will the next few winter months bring? I think I will realistically still be putting the garden to bed for the winter in January as there is just not enough child free time in the day to get it done, but slow and steady wins the race!

Winter also means Christmas. I have loved this time of year all my life and I am definitely not one to skimp on the decorations, size of tree or family traditions. I love the chance to do creative projects from baking with the children to last year making my first wreaths. This year I am looking forward to making some wreaths for customers at Cloudberry Flowers. My first task is to collect moss from the garden. I am sure my neighbours must think I am very odd scarifying small patches of my lawn before Christmas! I collect cones, berries and whatever material in the garden I think will look best and last well. The smells in the kitchen as I dry the orange slices for the wreaths put me right in the Christmas mood! Then it is time to put the wreaths together. This is very tough on the hands as you are using wire to bind the materials so I know I will be asking for handcream for Christmas!

I will finish making the wreaths the last weekend before Christmas. This is early I know but while my girls are still young and caught up in such a magical time I just want to hold on and cherish it. I will enjoy spending some precious days with them doing lots of Christmas activities and baking before the big day when we will enjoy time with my husband and both our families. It will then be time to look forward to a new year, growing in the garden and growing Cloudberry Flowers too!

Enjoy your festive season and Merry Christmas

Catherine x