Saturday, 23 November 2013

B is for Black Candles

During my recent Halloween Party, I had some black candles burning on the table.  And they just seemed to disappear as you looked across the table.

I thought it was the spirits (both types) playing tricks on my eyes.  But no! Apparently not...

In a recent article (which now typically I cannot find), the homeowner of a New York house designed by Markham Roberts agreed with me.  So am going to use them again.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

T is for Tulips

Ever keen to get ahead, now is the time that you need to think whether you want tulips on your table in Spring!  Unlike most spring bulbs, tulips should be planted now (after a few frosts) as the cold kills off any tulip blight in the soil.

I buy loads and so tend to buy them from J Parkers Wholesale, but if the bulb numbers freak you out then you can just buy from their regular site. There are also some extremely pretty and unusual varieties from Sarah Raven, but they are relatively expensive.

My soil is mostly claggy clay, so I dig a trench about 10"/25cm deep, and cover the base with a couple of inches of rinsed sharp sand.  If you have sandy / well draining soil then you can skip this step and dig to 8"/20cm deep.

This is relatively deep, but by doing so you (a) can plant summer annuals over them when they finish flowering (b) the flowers don't flop over and (c) they flower year-after-year as they don't develop 'daughters' i.e. side bulbs that will stop the bulb flowing that year.

I then place the tulip bulbs pointy-end up, about 3"/8cm apart and backfill with soil. Once you've covered up the bulbs with a layer of soil, you can always add in a second layer of bulbs. This works well if you've got both early and late flowering varieties as once the first lot fade, the others start to bloom. Note that the later flowering ones will be the ones that you plant first and deepest.

Tulips work well in pots and here to get the displays you see around in garden centers, at stately homes or on the telly, layer lots to create a bulb lasagna, where the pasta is a 2"/5cm blanket of soil and grit. Again the latest flowering bulbs go in deepest although you have to also make sure that the larger ones go in sooner to ensure they have enough soil, then plant the earliest and smaller ones at the top. Obviously the more multiple levels of bulbs you plant then the more space around the bottom ones is needed so they can come through.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

P is for Planning

There are 48 days to Christmas and while this may be to many a ridiculously long time ahead to start prepping for the festive season, experience has taught me that it's worth getting ahead a little so that December won't be too manic.

So this is what I'm doing this month (across the whole of it):
  • Set a budget; work out what you can afford to spend on presents, as well as food and drink
  • Start a master gift list
  • Draw up a Christmas card list, ensure you have enough cards and postage stamps
  • Buy any extra cards and postage stamps needed
  • Ensure you have everyone's (postal) addresses up-to-date
  • Get out the emulsion and paintbrush and touch-up any areas that have suffered over the year e.g. banisters, around the front door etc.
  • Plan the holiday menu; and set out an ingredient list
  • Try out any new recipes.  They may sound delicious on paper but be far too stodgy in reality
  • Go through your cupboards, freezer and pantry and make a list of what you need. Check cans and spices for sell-by dates; ditch any that are over the date by more than a couple of months
  • Make and bake the cake 
  • Make and steam the pudding
  • Draft a Christmas letter if sending
  • Begin shopping for gifts, collating gifts from suppliers where possible to save on P&P
  • Feed the cake with brandy by making holes over the cake with a large needle and (using a pastry brush) brushing the top and sides with the alcohol
  • Write your cards, stuff them in the envelops (but leave unsealed at this stage)
There...that wasn't too much...was it!?!