28 August 2011

Just in case, there's always "The Rose Bowl"

If I don't win a place in today's Flower Competition, I'll take comfort in my recent win in the W.I. Corsage Competition at the coveted silver Rose Bowl, which will remain in my possession for the coming year!

Here's a picture from that competition...

The Rose Bowl and the winning Corsage!

p.s. Wished we lived in time wherein we had more excuses/reasons to wear corsages...*SIGH*

A Day of Reckoning

Yesterday, The DEB and I rushed home from a fantastic holiday in Snowdonia/North Wales, so that I could meet the submission deadline for the Village Show Flower, Fruit and Veg Competition.
When we arrived home, I held my breath as I opened the patio doors hoping that my roses had flourished.
Sadly, my favourite, cherished cream coloured, David Austin antique rose had a really rough season, and failed to blossom in time. I was crestfallen as I had placed all my hopes that this rose would be as prolific and beautiful this year, as it had been last year.
However, to my great surprise, my pink, David Austin antique rose -- the shrub that has been my greatest gardening challenge, the one that seemed always, always to struggle to survive, and quite frankly, very nearly got the chop last season (!) beamed proudly with a staggering array of beautiful blooms in shades of apricoty, soft pink. Amazing.
(There's a lesson in there, somewhere!)
I was quite literally spoilt for choice with enough blooms to enter into three separate Flower Competition categories:
a.) Single specimen in water b.) garden flower display in vase, and, c.) Three scented flowers, of any variety in water.
I'm most proud of my "garden flower display" which was a lovely (if I may say so myself) arrangement of lilac gladioli, surrounded by hot pink shrub roses (Rosa Complicata) -- another plant in the garden I'd nearly given up on! -- pink wildflowers, pink and red fuschisas, pink antique rose, lavender and sprigs of baby-blue forget-me-nots.
I'm a little worried now that I may have done myself a disservice by placing this arrangement in the "garden flowers in a vase" category and not the "Floral arrangement" category. Well, the competition will be stiff in either so, it probably doesn't matter which one I entered!
At the very least, I think I deserve a ribbon for my dedication. The DEB (bless him!) and I trudged across the village, through the allotments, in the rain, gingerly carrying the arrangements to the Scout Hut, where the competition is being held.
I think we've made a strong showing as a family with my three floral displays, and a display of herbs the DEB has been faithfully growing this summer. I entered a display of his sage, oregano, parsley, mint, rosemary and thyme on his behalf. (What a good little Wifey I am!)
So -- today is the day. The Show just opened at 11:00 AM, and the results are out.
You'd've thought I'd be there, beating down the door. But, alas, no. I'm feeling rather shy...
I'd prefer to sneak in when no one's around to see. Quite unlikely, I think.
Of course, I'd love to place, but really, I'm just proud that I found the courage to actually have a go this year. The phenomenon of the "Village Show" has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.
I'm a real "Jilly Come Lately" to all of this, and there are some very keen gardeners who dedicate themselves to this competition every year.
There's a scene in ITV's wonderful, wonderful drama Downton Abbey -- which thankfully will be returning to our television screens this Autumn!!! And, not a moment too soon!! -- where Maggie Smith's formidable Duchess without question expects to win the annual village rose competition, as she has done every year for as long as anyone could recall! Thankfully, our Village Show is not as fierce as that!

Everything's coming up Roses

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” – Romeo & Juliet

If procrastination were an art form, my level of genius would rival Mozart. These days, my preferred method of whiling away an hour or two is that most serious, most wonderful, and most British form of procrastination of them all: Gardening.

Of course, pride of place in any English garden belongs irrefutably to the Rose. And, at the moment it seems I do very little else beyond fretting about my roses. With good reason – I am aiming to win a ribbon in this year’s Village Show Flower competition. I was too timid to enter last year, fearing that a novice such as myself would stand no chance in the fray. More fool me, as the blooms in last season’s yield were profuse and of such lovely quality they earned even the praise of my chum and rose expert, Paul Smith, at Charlecote Park.

That lesson being learned, I ‘screwed my courage to the sticking place’, and was determined not to allow the floral opportunity to elude me twice. I tested the waters by entering an arrangement in this year’s W.I. Corsage Competition. The Corsage competition, though smaller in scale than the Village Show, is just as friendly and just as fierce. Perhaps, even a little more so as the coveted Barford W.I. Rose Bowl is at stake. The Rose Bowl remains in the possession of the winner for 12 months - a sterling reminder of the victor’s horticultural achievement. I yelped with glee when I was declared this year’s winner, feeling truly a champion amongst champions.

After such a remarkable success, I felt ready for an even bigger challenge: the Barford Village Show Flower, Fruit, and Vegetable Competition. I was ready, but what about the roses? To my utter dismay, the darling buds of May, June and July had all disappeared without a trace by early August. The prolific flourishes of last year, had given way to a meagre struggle for any colour at all.

I was beside myself, but not alone. Outside the Village Shop, I chanced upon my friend Kate, a stalwart of the annual Flower, Fruit and Veg competition. She and husband, Ian, were off to Scotland, she said. “But, you’ll miss the Village Show!” I gasped in disbelief. She looked forlorn, and replied sadly: “Nothing’s growing like it should.” I knew exactly how she felt. My own holiday plans (or lack of them) have been shaped and altered by many things, but I can honestly say, that roses have never been one of them. Until now.

Since ancient times, roses have enthralled poets and writers (there are at least seventy references to roses in Shakespeare’s works), as well as artists, monarchs, apothecaries, lovers, and, of course, gardeners. The queen of flowers and national emblem of England, roses are as temperamental as they are beautiful. When they are ‘happy’, all is right in the world, and they offer an abundance of flower and fragrance; when they are ‘discontented’ there seems no remedy, and their bare, yellowy, spiky and skeletal appearance seems a harbinger of impending doom. Without a doubt there are few joys more sublime than that of being the possessor and cultivator of a healthy, ‘happy’ rose.

Noting of the hazards of the invasive Wickwar rose (Rosa ‘Wickwar’), Sir Roy Strong once admonished gardeners to “Beware the Rose that will Engulf your Garden”, I think he may have gone one better, and offered would-be green-thumbers more apt advice: “Beware the Rose that will Engulf your Life”!

06 August 2011

Post-Script to 'Now Panic and Freak Out'

As requested, here's a bit more info about HF Holidays. 
The official stuff: Voted Best Large Tour Operator - The Guardian Travel Awards 2010.
My two cents/pence: "If I didn't work for them, would I choose to travel with them?" - Yes! In fact, I'm hoping to save up my pennies for a surprise trip for the DEB next year! 
I haven't started working with them yet, but so far, HF Holidays seem like a really super company, and I will say they strive to give guests truly remarkable experiences. That is undeniably of utmost importance.
At our training and assessment sessions it was all about 'service, service, service', and making sure everyone on the holiday is happy, comfortable and enjoying their time.
They are also very much about creating a positive environment for 'solo travelers', so that traveling alone doesn't mean 'being alone'. I think that's really, really important. And, very inspired in this day and age.
The holidays are centred on activities, tons of activities, anything you can think of really! Walking, singing, painting, cooking, yoga, tai chi, arts and crafts of every form, music - performing and appreciation, and of course, literary festivals and theatre visits! 
Really, you name it, HF Holidays offer it, and if they don't offer it already, they are open to suggestions, if there's enough interest.
What HF Holidays isn't is an 18-30 binge fest in Marjorca! Nothing wrong with that, by the way, for those who are after that sort of thing, of course! Just wanted to be clear about it.
HF Holidays - better altogether
But, saying that, for a certain type of girl, it could be just the ticket, ... and yes, as one reader shared, I have heard the joke/rumour that the 'HF' in HF Holidays stands for "Husband Finding"...  

p.p.s. If you do decide to book a holiday with them, please be sure and mention my reference #3076! 

Website: HF Holiday - better altogether

05 August 2011

No Panic and Freak Out

My British Red Cross First Aid Certificate has just arrived in the post! I am so very proud! I just hope I never, ever have to make use of the skills and techniques I learned...
I was required to take a day-long course "Emergency First Aid at Work" before I begin my appointment as a Leader with the holiday/tour company HF Holidays.
HF Holidays is a leading holiday company specializing in activities holidays in the UK and abroad. I will be leading on their Shakespeare and other literary tours. It’s a very, very part-time post (read=not a great deal of money), but it’s a super opportunity, with a great organisation, and keeps those teaching muscles toned!
I dreaded the First Aid requirement, as I am utterly squeamish! It’s the thought of puke, more than blood, that makes me anxious. But, our wonderful instructor, Rhiannon, reassured us that if, and when, the time came, our training and sense of duty would kick in! 
And, thankfully, of the critical earlier steps in the First Aid process is: “Shout for Help”  -- I’ve got that covered!

A few interesting facts I learned while on the course…

6 million days of work are lost in Britain each year due to injury
229 workers were killed at work in the UK in 2007-2008
8 people per day die on British roads
4% of the UK population suffers from Diabetes
Every 6 minutes someone dies of a heart attack in the UK
150,000 people suffer from a stroke in the UK each year
200,000 lives are claimed each year in the UK by heart and circulatory disease
4 people per day die of asthma in the UK
5 million people suffer from asthma in the UK

I must add that a few of my responses during the training were distinctly “American”. When Rhiannon asked if there were any questions, I posed the following: “What happens if you offer someone First Aid, and then months later they try to sue you for hurting them, or for something you didn’t get quite right?”
My question was met with a healthy dose of disbelief and amazement from my fellow trainees (“Who would do that?”); and Rhiannon reassured me by stating that there are rules in place in the UK that protect First Aiders and their attempts to help, since ultimately, we are there trying save someone’s life.

03 August 2011

Patchwork passions

“Anything that’s mended is but patch’d.” – Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
Recently, I finished a patchwork quilt I have been hand-sewing for years. It has been so long, I honestly cannot recall when I first started the project. 2005? 2003? Goodness knows! One thing’s certain - I did not quilt while living in NYC. There are, of course, quilters and knitters in Manhattan; I lived around the corner from a noted “knitting cafĂ©”. However, NYC failed to inspire the right ‘mood’. I need peace and quiet to spur me on. 
Jane Austen is the literary patron saint of quilters.  In 1811, she wrote to her sister: "My dear Cassandra, have you remembered to collect pieces for the Patchwork? -- We are now at a standstill." Fortunately, the quilt mentioned was completed, and is now on display at Chawton House, Hampshire. As a fellow needlewoman, I am just as impressed by this creation, as I am by Austen’s literary ones. Jane’s quilt is a complex, diamond-shaped maze of 64 different fabrics. Completed all by hand, without electricity! 
By comparison, my efforts seem modest indeed: a simple, two fabric, block patchwork. 
Nonetheless, like Austen, I found myself at a standstill. With my D.E.B.’s rellies coming to be our first houseguests, I was desperate for my quilt to be finished in time for their visit. Thankfully, Warwickshire is a craft-lover’s haven, and help was close at hand. Local artisan, Joanna Smith-Ryland came to my rescue, saved my quilt from disaster, and shared with me the story of her passion for patchwork: 

How did you come to your art?

JSR: As a child, I was fortunate enough to have a nanny who was a brilliantly creative seamstress. I was always amazed at how she would take bits of fabric and turn them into something that people loved. At boarding school, I found a wonderful tradition of creative sewing in the Art Department. I loved the embroidery techniques we were taught. At 12, I was introduced to Patchwork - herein lay my academic down fall! I became obsessed with creating Patchwork designs on graph paper, carefully cutting each little shape out, tacking the fabric onto the shape and sewing the pieces together. Slowly, this wonderful rainbow of colours and textures would evolve into a new piece of fabric, cushions and quilts appeared at an alarming rate as my schoolwork regressed at an equally alarming rate!
What inspires you?
JSR: My inspiration has always been the beauty of the world around me, so my first three collections reflect nature. “The Garden Collection” is designed in soft pastel colours embroidered with flowers and butterflies, while “The Jewel Collection” has strong, rich colours and semi-precious stones. “The Big Cat Collection” uses silk and soft fur - Tigers and leopards abound!!  
What is the greatest challenge in your art?
JSR: My challenge is to let people share my passion by making Patchwork that will become a family treasure and passed on to future generations. Whether it's a cushion, quilt, or tablecloth each piece is bespoke and made in my own workshop - a treasure for you to keep and enjoy.

Passionate about Patchwork, Joanna Smith-Ryland