Keep What You Love

Keep What You Love

Farm track in March

Spring has arrived. The violets and primroses are in flower, tiny buds are forming on the hedgerows and the fields are drying out. Best of all, today the sun is shining. (Heavy rain and overnight frosts are forecast for the rest of the week but I’m ignoring that.)

With the advent of spring there was a need to clear the decks and set about a little spring cleaning.

Every room in the house was cleared. No room escaped. No cupboard left untouched.

My aim was “Keep What You Love”. Not in a Marie Kondo type purge that I may later regret (though I do like her clothes folding technique) but more of a Jane Goldney @LempobeeI’ve done a big ol’ purge of china dishes and nicknack-y things and it feels good.

We cleared out broken items beyond repair like the kitchen chair which had two dodgy legs, despite previous and copious applications of wood glue and screws.

We scrapped all those things that had been kept ‘just in case’ but in fact had either been forgotten or proved not to be as useful as we’d thought. Out went scraps of fabric left from clothes made over thirty years ago that had been saved for a quilt that will never be made or cables from computers long since gone.

I got rid of things that I didn’t like. Even if they were a wedding present. Or made by the children when they were small. Or I’d spent weeks and months hand knitting them. I may have muttered Keep What You Love a few times just to remind myself. There are a few things that could more truthfully be described as It’s Not That Bad Really.

There was ethical disposal (recycling and charity shops), less ethical disposal (forcing ‘useful’ things into the arms of family members) and fun disposal (smashing broken crockery) and it was all rather liberating. No more guilt now when I move that ugly jug to reach the loved ones; no subtle manoeuvring larger guests away from rickety chairs.

Hand sewn patchwork quilt

Everything that we’ve kept is there to be used and to be enjoyed, so no more saving for ‘best’ or shutting away to keep safe. I’m applying the same philosophy as I did to the knives that used to belong to Gran. I was told they had to be hand washed, but with four small children I ignored the advice and after more than twenty years of everyday use and dishwasher abuse, the knives are (mostly) fine.

Possessions sorted and still in full spring fervour, furniture was moved so that an alarming quantity of cobwebs and dust could be swept away, along with various pieces of Lego, pens and other detritus that had fallen behind and below it and the whole house was dusted, swept or washed. I fear that some corners hadn’t been this clean for years.

The reason for all this hustle and bustle was not just because it’s spring or that I’ve suddenly changed into a happy homemaker, complete with floral pinny and a duster always in my hand, but because we moved house. Just next door. Into a barn.

This barn, though rather more habitable now.

Exterior view of Essex Barn conversion to house
With scope for developing the garden. On a Keep What You Love basis, the container will have to go as will the farm machinery you can see through the doors and a proper doorstep might be better than using that old pallet.
We’ve only been in a couple of weeks so I’m still at the stage of wondering where I’ve put things. Or whether I kept them or threw them away.


Are you a hoarder or a chucker? Nostalgic keeper of the less than lovely or do you only keep what you love?

Snowy flashpost

Snow drifted into ditch and hedge

We have snow. And a chilling wind that makes it feel like -11C. The sort of day that you tuck your shirt into your knickers so there’s no gaps for the wind to whistle in.

The wind is whistling around the house and the sky is grey and leaden with more snow forecast today. On the plus side, I don’t have to commute to work or go out to buy food. A day to stay inside. Who knows, I may even turn on the heating.


When should you buy a Christmas tree?

When should you buy a Christmas tree?

When should you buy your fresh Christmas tree? That rather depends where you’re buying it.

Is November too early to buy a Christmas tree?

Some garden centres are urging you to rush out this weekend (25th November) to buy your tree from them; their trees are already in store and they argue that it’s better to buy one this weekend and keep it at home rather than buy one in December that’s been drying out in the garden centre for weeks. If you follow their advice, make sure you have somewhere cool and safe to store your tree.

Wait until December to buy your Christmas tree

We back the British Christmas Tree Growers Association whose advice is to wait until  December to get a fresher tree. Many large-scale growers cut and despatch the trees for their biggest wholesale customers first and then cut for smaller wholesale orders and their own shops. Small scale growers, like us, continue to cut throughout December and at some Christmas tree farms you can even go into the field and select a tree that will be cut down while you wait.

Buying a Christmas tree from your local Christmas tree farm
Knowledgeable staff at Slamseys will help you find the best tree for your home.

If you want a standard five to six feet high tree, hang on until 9th or 10th December, particularly if you plan to take it inside straight away. If you’re buying from a Christmas tree farm, you may be able to get a fresher tree by leaving it even later. We cut trees to replenish our stock throughout December, so you might get a very fresh tree if you turn up the Saturday before Christmas.

Read our Six Tips for Choosing a Wonderful Christmas Tree

How to look after your Christmas Tree

No matter when or where you buy your Christmas tree, you should cut a slice from the bottom of the tree (so it can take up water), remove the netting and stand the tree outside in a bucket of water overnight before you take it inside. Once inside, the tree should be put into a stand that holds water and kept regularly watered to stop it drying out.

how to keep your Christmas tree looking wonderful

However, not everybody has a saw or a safe place to stand a Christmas tree outside and our customers regularly tell us that when they get the tree home, everyone is so excited that they take it inside straight away, don’t take off the bottom of the trunk and quite often forget to water it. You’re pushing your luck to do that with a tree bought in November if you’re expecting it to look good on Christmas Day but you’ll get away with it if you buy your tree in mid-December.

When is the best time to take the Christmas tree inside?

The longer you can leave your Christmas tree outside in the cold, standing in a bucket of water, the better it will look on Christmas Day. A Christmas tree that has been kept in a hot room since the end of November will look tired and jaded on Christmas Day, whereas one that is taken in on Christmas Eve will look fresh and glossy. Most people settle for a compromise and take their tree inside in the middle of December.

And then the fun of decorating begins …

Christmas decorations trend 2017  The best day to buy your Christmas Tree | Advice from a Christmas Tree grower

Christmas Decorating Trends 2017

How to Decorate your Christmas Tree

Is it too early to mention Christmas?

Is it too early to mention Christmas?

It does seem premature to mention Christmas at the beginning of November but Christmas celebrations seem to get earlier every year. Fifteen years ago, our best-selling day for Christmas trees was a mid-December Saturday but that’s moved forward to the first weekend of December. Similarly, our commercial customers now want their trees delivered in the third week of November, which seems incredibly early. The world of Christmas decorations is even worse. This morning, an invitation popped through the door to visit the showrooms of one of our suppliers at the beginning of December. To view the Christmas 2018 range of decorations. Yes, 2018. Before we’ve even had Christmas 2017.

Father Christmas and caravan decoration

Our Christmas decorations shop opens on Friday, so over the past couple of weeks, The Barley Barn has been transformed from spartan printmaking classroom to a sparkling Christmassy barn. Consequently, I’m quite glittered out. We ordered our stock back in January, so as we’ve worked our way through the pallet loads of cardboard boxes, we’ve sometimes been surprised by the contents. Usually, it’s a good surprise, though occasionally we wonder what possessed us to order such vast quantities of a product. Mainly we wonder why we’re so attracted to snow globes.

engraved metal Christmas baubles
My favourite Christmas 2017 decorating trend is the modern take on metallic. The popularity of the traditional Christmas mix of red, green and yellow gold has declined over the years, overtaken by cool whites and bright silvers with a splash of red, perhaps influenced by hygge and Scandi style interiors. But this year, metallic colours are back with a vengeance.

copper Christmas baubles with dark blue baubles

Rose gold, copper, pewter and bronze are bigger than ever this year, perhaps fuelled by the fact they’re popping up in interiors everywhere. Did you see Nigella’s copper coloured mixer on her latest TV show? Apparently, John Lewis sold out of copper Kitchen Aid mixers online within ten minutes of the show finishing.

Christmas 2017 metallic decorations are textured and glittery, ranging from dull to super shiny. I love them mixed with deep blues and greys. This may be because we’ve been picking sloes to make sloe gin and the dusky blue of the sloes have been imprinted on my mind. It’s certainly a welcome relief from the minimalistic white of past trends.

Hand-picked sloes for Slamseys Sloe Gin

Have you even started to think about your Christmas decorations? What influences your colour scheme?

These Autumn Days

These Autumn Days

winter wheat crop emerging in field Essex UK

The brown fields of early October are slowly changing colour. Walk the fields with a farmer and you’ll watch them search the field for the first signs of germination, scrabbling around with their hands to see if there’s still a seed there and if it’s starting to shoot.  Soon there’s a slight green tinge to the field as the first green shoots appear and then the rows of tiny wheat plants become clear as you look across the field. This is next year’s harvest.

sloes growing on blackthorn bush
We’re sloe picking. It’s been a fantastic year for plums of every description and the sloes, forerunners of our modern plums, are no exception. The sloes are picked from the blackthorn hedges on the farm and used for making sloe gin, which seems appropriate as the first record of our farm appears in the Domesday Book, where it’s listed as Slamondesheia, which is thought to originate from the Old English meaning enclosure of the sloe tree hill. We still have plenty of sloe bearing blackthorn on the farm and every new hedge that’s planted here includes a good proportion of blackthorn to keep Slamseys Gin well supplied.

sloes on blackthorn hedge showing sharp thorns
Look at the thorns that we reach across to pick the sloes. They’re vicious and always seem to be right in front of the juiciest looking sloes. Sometimes we prune the blackthorn and pick the sloes from the cuttings. It’s certainly easier for Beth to take a pile of blackthorn branches back to the garden and pick off the sloes while one of her boys sleeps in the pram beside her and the other plays in the sandpit. The two year old is adept at raspberry picking but I think it will be a few years before he can pick sloes.

Rustic measuring stick leaning on Christmas tree

A high tech measuring stick in the Christmas trees. Orders for large trees are coming in from local churches, businesses and parish councils so the trees are chosen, measured and marked ready for cutting down next month. We sold our first Christmas tree of the year in the middle of September and will cut down several this month; all for photo shoots rather than super-excited house decorating. Well, that’s what they told us.

Notley Yoga at Slamseys
The sign outside the Yoga Studio in the yard. In the build up to December, it might be an idea if we all took heed of the advice and stepped inside the door. Instead, we hurry past averting our eyes from the bodies within.

circle using sloes, hips, haws, ivy flowers and leaves
There’s also been a little faffing around with berries and leaves. A calming and meditative pastime. Or a useless waste of time. Depending on your point of view.