30 September 2011

Mushroom Madness + Post Of The Month Club

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

In England, we are definitely having an 'Indian Summer' right now - a welcome warm spell

I was surprised to hear the English use the term 'Indian Summer',
for I always assumed the phrase was a Native American reference

But maybe they are referring to the country of India where it is hotter?
Living here often tests what I think to be true...

So I 'wiki-ed' it, and sure enough, 
'Indian Summer' is an American colloquialism that jumped across the Atlantic

Not only am I doing the 'happy dance' about the sunny warm weather
but also for the annual autumn return of

{ the magical Fly Agaric Toadstool }

I had assumed these only existed in fairy tales, until last year when
I nearly peed in my pants when I stumbled upon my first ones!

As large as saucers, these toadstools are as poisonous as they are beautiful
Traditionally, pieces of the mushroom were floated in milk to attract & kill flies

Not that you would eat one, but if you did
you'd find yourself with stomach cramps, hallucinations, or worse
{oh my}

Here is how the Fly Agaric peeks its head as it emerges

As it ages, its top becomes concave and serves as a bowl for catching rain water
Don't you just love nature and all the multi-layers it offers throughout the year?!

Here is another beauty I spied in the woods
(I won't use the word 'forest' for it is actually a legal term - who knew?)

I had to lift my camera up to capture these lovelies

This ancient beech tree reminds me of the tree from the film 'Avatar'
To be honest, I don't have a sufficient wide-angle lens to capture its grandeur

Thanks for tromping through heath and woods with me :)

- all photos by me -

Welcome to our September Post Of The Month Club!
I am pleased as punch you are here :)

Time for our meet & greet

* Bloggers, just link up your best post of the month *
And see, you've already done the work

* Share the love by dropping by a few other blogs and say 'hi',
if you can *

* Would my nifty button be a nice addition to your lovely sidebar or post? *


Yep, we'll do this the last day of each month

* Don't forget to become a follower here too *

Don't be shy
Jump in :)

Happy October Blogging, you ray of autumn sunshine, you

P.S. I have family in town, so I may be delayed in reading your post
but I will drop by in the next few days :)


28 September 2011

Obscure Gardens: World Garden Of Plants & Tom Hart Dyke

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

I first learned of Tom Hart Dyke when I happened to pick up a book at a book fair,

In this fascinating book (and quick read), 
Tom tells of a problem he shares with other families 
who have been bequeathed castles and manors in England-
they are incredibly expensive to maintain

To my absolute delight, 
I met Tom this week
and toured the World Garden of Plants at his home in Kent

Lullingstone Castle Estate, Kent

Let me just say his excitement and enthusiasm 
for life and plants was infectious! 

Think of a 'Steve Irwin' about plants

Tom holds his discovery from SW Tasmania, 'Varnished Gum' (Eucalyptus vernicosa),
the smallest eucalyptus species known to mankind

While on an orchid hunting expedition in 2000 in the Darien Gap, Columbia, 
Tom was kidnapped and held for 9 months by guerrillas
and miraculously released for Christmas without an explanation as to why 
(Although he wrote a ransom note home, it never arrived)

Incredibly, as the first gun was thrust at his temple 
Tom was hit with the idea of creating a World Garden 
as a way to blend his botanical passion
with a potential tourist attraction to save his Lullingstone Castle

Plants you may have in your garden that originated from Africa

Six years and 10,000 plants later,
the World Garden has flower beds roughly in the shape of the continents
with plant species, cultivars, and hybrids planted in their country of origin

It is an educational botanical map within a 2 acre walled garden
and a nod to the Victorian and Edwardian plant hunters of the past

{did you know almost 80% of plants in England are non-native?}

When Tom is plant hunting,
he brings back just seeds and grows them once home

{he generously welcomed us to take any seeds we saw in the garden}

And although most of his seeds were destroyed by his kidnappers in Columbia
he did keep a few, such as this Banana Passionflower

This week is the first time Tom's Banana Passionflower has ever bloomed
from seed collected during his fateful trip to Columbia eleven years ago!

As Tom 'hunts', he collects seeds from plants he thinks have a high ornamental value
- simply for the love of it, not for the fortune or fame -

In fact, he has buckets of plants that he has not yet named,
for naming them doesn't really interest him
He just enjoys collecting them :)

But such a magnetic aura cannot go unnoticed:
so far he has been featured in KEO films, BBC, and PBS documentaries
And THE Kew Gardens just paid him a visit and were 'wowed' by his collection

As you can imagine, nature is creating new varieties of plants in Tom's garden
as pollinators span 'the continents'

All sunflowers originated in North America - who knew?!

A family affair, his mother and sister served our group tea and biscuits
I felt I already knew them from the book; it was such a pleasure to meet these lovely people!

Tom's next plant expedition may take him to Cape Verde, off the west coast of Africa
He is crazy passionate about cacti at the moment

Being a Plant Hunter his hardly an extinct profession in England
There are still quite a few that will risk life and limb in pursuit of plants

Don't you just love the possible story behind each flower we see in the garden?
Tom Hart Dyke certainly has a doozy :)

More information :: Lullingstone Castle
Tom's books :: The Cloud Garden, An Englishman's Home: The Adventures of an Eccentric Gardener

More 'Obscure Gardens' Posts
Kew at Wakehurst


Time for another Post Of The Month Club day - yea! 

It is a great way for bloggers promote their best work
and a place to meet & greet

Join me Friday, September 30th

Yep, right here :)


(more details here)

24 September 2011

Obscure Gardens: Kew At Wakehurst

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

Call me crazy
but I had been DYING to visit 
the Wakehurst Millennium Seed Bank for over a year,
located near Gatwick Airport in West Sussex

It is a joint venture with Kew Royal Botanic Gardens (their 'country garden')
and National Trust's most visited property, Wakehurst Place

I had no idea what to expect
but I was a happy little bee with what I saw 
(and I only had time to see half of it)

- woodlands, heath, bogs, lakes, walled gardens, Elizabethan house, and 'THE' Seed Bank -

Yep, that's cyclamen

Wakehurst is home to an EXTRAORDINARY collection of flora
from the remotest corners of the world

I have never seen such an extensive living collection of rare and endangered species
and so beautifully landscaped

It was a FEAST for my little floral heart
{ pitter patter }

Such a revolutionary idea:

The Millennium Seed Bank safeguards almost 2 billion seeds
from more than 30,000 species of wild plants from 140 countries -
often bearers of the world's food supply, medicine, shelter, and livelihoods

So far, they have successfully collected 10 percent of the world's plant species
They target to conserve a quarter of the world's plant species by 2020

After local collection and transportation to the MSB,
seeds are classified, dried, and then x-rayed to make sure they have the most viable seeds

Storage may be in freezer vaults of -20 degrees Celsius
or cryogenically preserved in liquid nitrogen at a mere -196 degrees Celsius

Germination experiments determine the best way to store and bring seeds to life
And seeds are often stored in their local country as well for safekeeping

You can actually see in the windowed labs

This is definitely a working garden and laboratory with people busy working in front and behind the scenes

Wakehurst not only stores seeds but also cultivates & plants them on the grounds

Visitors can browse one of the nurseries

And like a plant explorer, I had my own dangers...

I had to cover my head while taking this photograph,
for the old oak tree above me was 'raining' acorns like hail
(it happened earlier while driving too, in fear of breaking a windshield)

A working garden

Not surprisingly, they also conduct honeybee research here

Can you see the beehive behind the beautiful, living willow screen? 


As there are reminders of WWII dotted throughout England,
this sign shows a wartime subterranean communication room under my feet

The tree has an odd looking line in it - 
this is a wire from the communication center

WWII 'Wartime Secret'

And I just had to throw in a few photos of the Elizabethan Home

Benches are strategically placed throughout Wakehurst for reading, resting, and bored husbands :)

Nothing more to say but
Ahhh... Total Gardening Bliss

More information: National Trust, Kew Wakehurst

More 'Obscure Garden' posts: The World Garden Of Plants & Tom Hart Dyke

Linking with: Sweet Shot Tuesday

- all photos by me -


21 September 2011

Mission Complete: The Cleanse of 2011

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

Here's the deal

When I visited home over the summer,
my friend looked so healthy, so glowing
and so much smaller (dropped 10 lbs)

I had to ask, 'What's your secret?'

'The Clean cleanse', she replied

'oh...Darn it!...', I thought,
grasping for a different explanation

Knowing an annual detoxification has been part of many cultures,
I was 'on board' with a cleanse as a way to be kind to my body

But about 15 years ago I did a dreadful cleanse
Just vegetable broth with supplements, 
leaving me weak, shaky, grumpy, & just generally horrible
I quit in 5 days with no remorse and a trail of thankful coworkers in my wake

So you can understand why I hesitated to do another cleanse

But the curiousness got the better of me,
put its tendrils in my mind,
so I surrendered and bought the book
Clean by Dr Junger

{ Plus I needed a kick in the pants to start eating healthy after the summer }

Endorsed by Gwenyth Paltrow, Outside Magazine, & other famous ones,
the book contained reasonable, sound advice

Try to eat organically
Eat more fruits, veggies, fish, and nuts
{ Doable }

But then, oh no, no...

Processed sugar

This made my dairy-loving body hide under the sheets
with a pillow over my head
yelling 'Noooo!'
at about the time I was due to pour that glass of wine
at the end of a long day

Let's face it, there is never a good 21 day period to put your culinary life on hold

But like an explorer, I grabbed three suckers friends for this food expedition
And they seem to agree with my assessment of the cleanse too:

What I feared would be almost a month of fun-free food,
actually was a 21 day opportunity to figure out how to eat in a new way
with the help of the delicious recipes in the back of the book,
packed with flavor
{ garlic, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon }

One of the most important things to say
is I was never hungry
or grumpy
( well at times, sure, but not due to the cleanse )

I felt so nutritionally fed,
I rarely craved the foods I was to avoid

It was actually easy-peasy
( a little more complicated when away from home )

Now I confess I did have a few meals of 'vacay'
An oreo-and-beer day with a friend {super naughty}
A pizza and beer day with family 
But let's just call that part of the experiment :)

The way I felt the next day ( bloated, awful )
got me to jump right back on the cleanse

Smoothie for breakfast
Real meal for lunch
Smoothie or soup for dinner
Snack on nuts and berries when hungry

The idea is to have liquid meals for dinner and breakfast
so your body can detoxify while you sleep

So here's a peek of what I've taken from it

  • Water is tasty and quenching with lemon in it
  • Breakfast smoothies are now a morning routine, forever
  • The secret ingredient for a perfect smoothie consistency is avocado
  • Quinoa tabbouleh and lemon marinaded kale are new favs
  • Dates, currents, coconut, flaxseed, almond milk, and miso are new additions to the grocery list

Although my kids were not on the cleanse, 
I sneaked in wheat & dairy alternatives when I could
- coconut milk drizzled in their porridge & rice noodles with tamari sauce-

How do I feel?
A lot lighter and certainly healthier
 We all lost weight ( I lost six lbs ) - that's always happy

Most of all, I learned a heaping handful of new scrumptious recipes
 that gave my body a rest from the things I typically consume
( and we were already eating organically and very 'Whole Foodsy' before the cleanse )

I'm totally hooked
and will continue to eat 'clean'
for breakfast and lunch
( back to solid meal dinners with the family again )

Now let's get all personal here
How do you know if you're the perfect candidate?

Look at your poo, my friends
According to the book, it should be daily, odorless,
and the consistency and color of peanut butter
Gross, I know
And yes, I went there :)

Would I recommend eating 'clean'? Absolutely

P.S. 'Clean' also sells supplements and shakes, which feels gimmicky to me. I would not recommend using these, as one would miss how to make the smoothies and soups, which for me was the most worthwhile part. I followed the book, not the website :)

Note: I received nothing from 'Clean' for this post
- all photos by me -

17 September 2011

Happy Hedgerows

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

One thing I adore about rural England is the hedgerows that crisscross the countryside

Just recently I grasped the importance of them

I could just blabber on and on about them

Hedges have been an important part of the British landscape since Roman times, and some of these hedges still survive. In the ancient countryside of Devon and Kent, the majority of existing hedges are medieval. They were a valuable part of the rural economy - marking boundaries, providing shelter, food, and timber.

If you drive in the English countryside, try using ‘Hooper’s Rule’: count the number of tree and shrub species in a 30 yard stretch of hedge. This number will roughly equal the age of the hedge in centuries. They say this works back to 1,100 years ago. (Of course recent planted mixed hedges would be an exception.)

From 1947 to 1990, approximately 35% of hedgerows were destroyed to enable larger machinery to be used on farms. However, legislation was introduced in 1997 to protect hedgerows, which has led many hedges to be replanted or restored.

Hedgerows act as wildlife highways for many species, including cutie-pie hedgehogs, mice, voles, bats, and foxes. Of course, flowers are wonderful for the bees, butterflies, and other insects. Wildlife nibble on berries; birds nest in branches. It is quite a remarkable vibrant ecosystem. Yep, just one long nature reserve traversing the countryside!

Not only do hedges create great scenic value, they fence in livestock, clean the air next to roads, and act as a wind barrier and 'soundproofer'. As icing on the cake, they are a living wall that change color during the seasons. Makes me sing 'Laaaaa'!

An old English native hedge would have included a large variety of plantings. Hornbeam, beech, hawthorn, blackthorn, sweet briar rose, dogwood, hazel, and field maple still are used today. Throw in some holly, pyracantha, privet, viburnum, current, laurel, crabapple and/or spindleberry for a berry smorgasbord. Then dig in another ‘understory’ of plants and ferns to fill in at the bottom for a beautiful garden and animal refuge. Maintain it regularly to keep it healthy and thick (ooh, those are smoothie adjectives).

There are more than 30 styles of hedge-laying in different parts of the UK, depending on the climate of the area, local farming practices, soil condition, and types of trees and shrubs that grow well in the area. A few styles of hedge-laying are named ‘Midland Bullock’, ‘Welch Border’, and ‘Derbyshire’. And those names are not from Detroit, my friends.

Have I infected you with 'hedge-love' yet?!

Funny thing is, I thought I wouldn't have any photos for this post
Turns out, I've been clicking away at hedgerows since we moved here

Therefore, I can say...

all photos by me


13 September 2011

Baby Face: Names & Such

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

Babies are such a nice way to start people
-Don Herrold

[Adorable monkey hat available via Cite Fuzz]

A few observations I've made recently...

* In the UK, I see fewer sets of twins and triplets than in the US *

I suspect this could be due to the NHS not widely covering fertility treatments
(and fertility issues are talked about in a whisper)

* International adoptions are very complicated and uncommon in the UK *

Therefore, when I see a child of a different descent than his/her parent,
I assume the other parent is of the same descent as the child

Whereas in the US, I would guess the child was adopted internationally

* Neither cesareans nor inductions are common in the UK *

* Pap smears ('smear tests') & mammograms are not performed annually here *
(every three years, depending on age)


I thought you might enjoy seeing the ten most popular baby names :)

BTW, I'm not pregnant,
just have baby on the mind
since I met our newest little neighbor next door

Just 5 weeks old


Thank you for all the well-wishes about Hurricane Katia blowing this way
She arrived with some wind and rain, but thankfully not much 'whoop'

As for my cleanse, I am in my last week
It has been great and can't wait to tell you all about it when I'm 'done'

As for your thoughts, prayers, and support,
you are truly appreciated :)

You're the best!


11 September 2011

Hurricanes in the UK

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

I've never lived near the ocean,
so hurricanes are new to me

Miss Hurricane Katia will be my first introduction,
sailing across the Atlantic from the Caribbean
to pay us a visit

She is expected to drop by tonight and may stay a few days

It will be interesting to see what kind of house guest she will be...

Fierce like Gordon in 2006?
Disruptive like Bill & Grace in 2009?
Or a quieter guest leaving just a few puddles in her wake

Hurricane Katia from the International Space Shuttle
Image: The Independent

Once a Category 4, Miss Katia will most likely be downgraded 
to a strong post-tropical storm
by the time she hits land

Ireland and Scotland are predicted to be the hardest hit,
however, all of Great Britain risks minor flooding, falling trees, 
structural damage, & transportation disruptions
from possible gale force winds and torrential rain

To me 'transportation disruptions' is not a minor thing,
for my husband takes the train home each day

And by car, there can be only one way to get to a location
as a detour can be impractical

Roads here are not in a grid-like pattern,
but rather like spokes of a wheel radiating from towns
Sort of

The Great Storm of 1987 was the last legendary storm 
in which 18 people died and 15 million trees were downed, 
including historic trees in famous Kew Gardens
and six of the seven famous old oak trees of Sevenoaks, Kent

It was the worst storm since The Great Storm of 1703
(don't you love the storm titles?)

People have referenced the Great Storm of 1987 in passing to me over the last year,
so it has not been forgotten

Image: Kew Gardens

However, one thing this country does handle really well is
{ rain }

As it magically disappears on roads,
puddles rarely form

Katia is coming,
but she isn't on the front page of most newspapers

Having just come off the coolest summer in a decade,
the UK is not exactly known for stellar weather
and no one seems to be batting an eye at this storm

So at this point, I'm not worried,
just curious

Just another tale of living on an island :)

10 September 2011

By The Wey...

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

So a group of girlfriends and I loaded up our picnic & wine
{ well, I actually brought my cleanse lunch }
and boarded the Josias Jessop to take us down the 
Wey & Arun Canal in West Sussex

The canal was originally built in the 19th Century to connect 
London to the south coast of England for commercial trade
Yet due to the railroad, the inland waterway was abandoned in 1871

Since 1970, volunteers have worked tirelessly to reopen the canal
by digging it out themselves and installing lochs to use recreationally
Amazing dedication

Isn't the scenery stunning?

This beauty, the Himalayan Balsam, is actually an invasive weed

Introduced to the UK in 1839 (those Victorians loved plants), 
this baby can grow up to 6-10 feet and produce 800 seeds
You can hear their pods 'pop' when they explosively disperse their seeds 

Right now, they are blooming everywhere

It may not look like it, but it is in the impatiens family :)

Two swans with their adolescent cygnets
So England :)

Due to the canal's narrowness
boats must register their usage,
for no more than one boat uses a section at any given time

Due to its shallowness
I didn't feel the need to wear the life jacket
and snorkeling bits I brought just in case
one of my friends 'accidentally' threw me overboard

Inside one of the lochs

We had beautiful weather and a lovely time
And I stayed dry :)

For more information: WeyandArun.co.uk

- all photos by me -

My photos of the Wey in Springtime here

Sources: Wey & Arun Canal, Royal Horticultural Society

(I received no compensation for writing this post)

04 September 2011

An English Garden at Althorp House

Posted by Happy Homemaker UK

Another photo from my day visiting Althorp House,
the Spencer family home
and Princess Diana's final resting place

Sweet peas abound on teepees
Ah... the English Garden

photo by me