Making a wreath

As requested, here is a description of how I go about making a wreath from willow, and  the results.  I’m not an expert, and the finished article will not last as well as some shop bought ones, since I used fresh rather than dried willow, so the shrinkage will be significant.  The shrinkage leads to loosening of the weave eventually.  I once went on a weaving workshop, and learnt a little of how difficult the craft actually is.  You may think it’s just a matter of bending a few twigs together, but the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know.  I could probably knock up a wonky basket now if I needed to, but it is hard work on the hands and fingers.  You really need the sensitivity of working with bare hands, but also quite a bit of strength in the fingers to prebend the willow stems.

cut stems
Cut lengths of willow

Anyhow, I was just making a simple wreath, which is much easier.  You need at least three long stems of bendy twigs like willow.  For a rustic wreath a little branching will be fine, but the more flexible the twigs are, the easier it is to weave.  I had about eight stems that I had cut a few days previously.  If you leave them too long they will dry and become brittle, so will need soaking overnight in water to make them flexible again (this is what ‘real’ willow weavers tend to do).

Take a nice long one and first pass it through your fingers bending it inch by inch in a long curve.  If you bend it too much it will kink, but by bending a little it loosens up the stem fibres, so that the twig becomes more flexible.  This I find the most difficult and hardest part.  Somehow you get the feeling for when the willow is about to overbend, but this does take practise.  For something like this the odd kink will probably not matter, but if a fine cosmetic finish is required, then it may be worth practising on a few spare stems before you start on the real ones.

first loop
First loop

When the whole length has been prebent (maybe more than once to get an evenly flexable stem) take the thickest part and tie it in a knot: a loop of the diameter you want your wreath to be.  This time I made the wreath a bit smaller than last year’s (which is still adorning the top of the failed pea’s wigwam in the front garden).  I found that the larger wreath was knocked quite a bit when people opened the shop door, although larger wreaths are probably easier to make.  Once you have a loop of the desired size close to the thick end of the willow, tuck the thick end round again if necessary, until there is no protruding end, and do the same with the thin end.  Wind it round and tuck it through until you have the first thin loop made up of one single stem.

To make a thicker wreath, so that there are more stems to hold the greenery in place, take another willow stem, prebend it and wind it round the loop parallel to the first.  Repeat until the wreath is the desired thickness.

adding holly
Finished willow wreath and holly waiting

You can use whatever greenery you want to fill in the wreath. The stems need to be quite stiff to push in between the willow, or you could use a neutral coloured jute twine to tie them in.  I used holly, which I have plenty of growing well in the front garden.  I have used spruce before, but found that actually more prickly to handle.

bit of red
a touch of red

I don’t have any holly berries yet (only male flowers this year) but the wild rose hips from the front garden are lasting well and make a good substitute.  I got complemented on my lovely big holly berries!  I have used baubles and ribbons in the past as well.

shop wreath
Wreath on Glendale Shop door


The final wreath is hung on the shop door, and I hope that the birds and sheep will leave the berries in place for a week or so till twelfth night.

An ill wind (off topic)

dougies grave
Dougie’s grave site

Well, we have a sad reason to plant a new tree now.  Our dog Douglas went downhill very quickly (he was diagnosed with lymphatic sarcoma about two months ago), and we asked the vet to put him down last Wednesday.  He is buried next to the pond he loved and has left a big dog sized hole in our lives.

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The soil there is pretty wet most of the time, so a willow or alder look the best contenders, although it is pretty sheltered, so there may be some other options.  Dyson seems to be taking it well and is now able to enjoy his soft toys without Douglas taking them off him and ripping the stuffing out.

dyson and piglet
Dyson and Piglet

Off topic : Sunshine Blogs


Much to my surprise, I received this award which is “peer recognition for bloggers who inspire positivity and joy” from Suzanne Craig-Whytock at mydangblog. I have followed her for a while, mainly because she makes me laugh and we all need a bit of happiness.  Also her dog looks a bit like Dougie.  So thank you Suzanne.

This means I have to answer questions she set and in the spirit of things pass it on, although I think she cheated, so since that must be in the spirit of the award, I’ll do that too! Some of the questions she left open for us to choose, so I’ll answer some of the ones I get asked in the shop (questions in colour).  Here goes:

1) What country do you come from?

I come from England but have emigrated to the Isle of Skye which is Scotland.  Before I came here I don’t think I appreciated that Scotland is a different country, now I realise how ignorant people can be south of the border, so much for United Kingdoms!

2) Which way is Neist Point?

For info. Neist Point is the most westerly point on Skye, and the reason that tourists are coming through the glen.  Due to the curvature of the earth, we are actually more westerly here than Cornwall, so I sometimes amuse people by telling them that we are the most westerly shop you can drive to in the UK without taking a ferry (Skye has a bridge).  I digress – take a left towards the sea, past the old school.  Don’t go straight on at the next bend, bear right which is the main road.  Take the second left signposted ‘light hoose’, and follow that to the end of the road and then stop (or you’ll end up over the cliff!).

3) What do people do here?

Generally tourists are interested in how people make a living on Skye.  The sad fact is that most people who live on Skye don’t need to make a living, they come here to retire.  Those children that are educated and brought up on Skye, often move away to university and never come back.  The main employer is the council, and the main industry is tourism.  Those that are left are mainly self employed, so we have a range of tradesmen, artists, archetects and webdesigners….most crofters have second or third incomes since sheep are more a way of life than a money earner.

4) Do you have a bathroom?

This is one of the examples of Britain and (particularly) the US being separated by a common language.  To a Brit a bathroom is a room with a bath, to an American a bathroom is a room with a toilet.  I have to grit my teeth at this one and keep on smiling, because to be frank it is a sore spot for me and the cafe over by.  The powers that be have promoted Scotland and Skye as a tourist destination which is great, however, they have attracted lots of people that are trying to ‘do Scotland’ rather than have a holiday here.  What I mean is they are rushing from place to place with a tight itinery not appreciating that the highlands are still quite a wild place (which is why we like it) and isn’t set up with toilets on every corner.  I’ll just say there are no public toilets in Glendale and the nearest toilets are at least 20 minutes drive down a single track road and stop there shall I?

5) What is your dream destination?

If I had one flight anywhere in the world I would love to visit New Zealand.  We did projects on the country several times at primary school and I have always fancied a trip there.  The scenery, the wildlife and the climate all are attractive, and it isn’t filled with bitey stingy things and people.  Never Australia, which is funny since I have ended up with two sisters there.  Now I don’t fly for moral reasons (see here) but I will be tested in 2020 when my younger sister wants to mark a special birthday with a family reunion in NZ (my mum’s choice rather than Oz too). Do I go or not……

6) Why did you burst out laughing in a meeting on Thursday?

This was one of mydangblog’s questions and I’m trying to think of a good answer.  I don’t go to meetings, so I could cheat and leave it at that.  However, I was in the shop in the morning.  It’s not really like working, because I consider most of our local customers my friends, they are all neighbours.  Usually Brian makes me laugh with stories of things he’s been getting up to (usually involving tourists in vehicles, or BT), although I don’t think he was in that morning so I may pass on that one, sorry!

7) What is your favourite movie?

We don’t go out to the cinema much (although they do show films at the Aros centre on Skye which is only a 50 minute drive away).   We also don’t watch TV and haven’t since we moved here ten years ago, so are not really up to date on any modern films!  We do (very occasionally) watch DVDs and S. has been trying ‘netflicks’ recently, although that is not likely to take off due to the internet locally really falling over….For relaxing I do like a good romantic comedy: anything with Meg Ryan.  Also Highlander: beautiful scenery (even if a lot of it was Ireland), Local Hero: we can really relate to that now! and Gregory’s Girl, no matter how many times we watch it it still makes me laugh (S. can recite whole passages at the right prompt words).  At Xmas we watch all the James Bond films.  Sometimes back to back, sometimes in random order (“tonight let’s have….bad girls” (usually Goldeneye))

8) What crazy thing did you do on Friday night?

Saturday is a working day, although in the summer we do allow ourselves an extra half hour in bed so the craziest I got was just having cheesecake for my dinner rather than a proper meal.  We have taken to eating earlier, because by the time I get home from the shop I can’t be bothered to cook and it’s a bit late for a big meal.  Also see Q 10.

9) Are you happy with your current life?

I am so happy 😃!  I love it on Skye, the peace, quiet and scenery.  I love being my own boss.  I like running a shop and meeting customers (most of them anyhow!) although it’s even better now we can afford to pay people to run the shop for us sometimes and give me a bit more time at home.  I love having a bit of land to play with and grow trees.  That’s not to say I don’t have plans….

10) Do you have any new and interesting bathroom stories?

See Q4?  On my recent trip to the west country I was able to use a couple of composting toilets.  I was visiting sites without mains sewerage and they had chosen to create facilities that enabled them to return nutrients in human waste to the soil.  Urine in particular is high in nitrogen and other minerals that gardeners often pay good money to give their plants the correct dose of.  At EDFG Sagara had a lovely composting loo with a urine separator.  It really looked like a very simple and effective system.  At the field (which I have not yet ‘blogged about yet) they have an equally effective but less conventional hole in the ground system.  They are trying to raise money to put in a more socially acceptable facility for visitors so as to be able to run more educational events and have more volunteers.  I also got really sidetracked on Friday with a thread on permies about why some women don’t like to urinate outside – well you did ask!

About sunshine blogger award

The Rules:

Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to their blogging sites.

Answer the questions.

Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.

Notify the nominees about it by commenting on one of their blog posts.

List the rules and display the sunshine blogger award logo on your site or on your  post.


So mydangblog has bent the rules, we only got ten questions.  I will nominate

The propagator






Anni Kelsey

Your questions are…..

1) what country do you come from?

2) Why did you start your blog?

3) What’s your earliest memory?

4) Who would you most like to meet?

5) What plant is your favourite?

6) What item (not people or animals) would you rescue first from your home in the case e.g. of fire or flood?

Add as many more questions as you like (try for 11).  If you don’t fancy doing it, don’t worry and thank you all for the inspiration you give anyhow!




BMW i3 electric car review

BMW i3 at EDFG

I’d never driven an electric car but have been thinking about converting my Range Rover, which has no engine at the moment, to run on electricity.  The costs of the batteries and motors are a bit prohibitive, bearing in mind how little I use a vehicle, so this has gone a bit on the back boiler.  However, when planning our holiday to the West Country, it seemed a reasonably sensible thing to try and hire an electric car while we were down there.  I try and consider my carbon footprint (see here if you would like a quick calculator for your carbon dioxide contribution. Other calculators are available online) so wasn’t driving all the way down or (perish the thought) flying.  Initially the idea was to hire a car in Bristol, but internet searches didn’t reveal any electric car hire there. I eventually found EVision who hire electric cars out of Diggerland Devon, which we decided was better anyhow, being closer to our destinations.  I first wanted a Renault Zoe since it was cheaper to hire and had more range, but it was not available on the days we wanted, so I decided to go with the BMW.

I’m not that keen on the styling of the BMW, but then most modern cars leave me pretty cold.  The passenger accommodation was spacious and comfortable for two, although the luggage space was a bit disappointing – I have since found out that there is space under the boot floor for a small generator as an optional ‘range extender’.  This compromises the package for the pure electric model like this one. We ended up putting our rucksacks on the back seat and strapping them in like additional passengers.  The handover was quite brief, but even if it had been twice as long it may not have helped.  I had a quick introduction to the controls and a little drive round the empty carpark.  Very quiet when moving, since there is no engine noise, it is uncanny to put your foot down and feel the silent acceleration push you back into your seat.  The initial range was 146 miles (a full charge) but we only had a short hop to the East Devon Forest Garden (EDFG) so we did not have to bother about charging for a couple of days.  The car was equipped with two leads for plugging in to roadside chargers or the mains.  Most roadside chargers seemed to include leads, but not all.  AC was worried that someone might steal the lead whilst we were gone (she’s lived too long in Birmingham – or I’ve been too long on Skye), but as it turned out the socket was locked by the car when you start charging.  Anyone who tried to cut through the cable when powered up would be sorry I suspect.  The leads were stored in a shoebox sized compartment under the bonnet along with some tools.

carbon fibre
Carbon Fibre bodywork visible in door shut area

I found the car easy and pleasant to drive.  It has far more acceleration than I would use – easily keeping up with other traffic.  I gather the car is limited to 94mph.  The instrument display was mainly taken up by an economy meter which I found a bit distracting.  A pale highlight floats on a blue curved scale.  To the right the car is using electricity and to the left it is generating it.  The car starts generating as you lift off the accelerator, using the braking effect of the generator to slow the car down.  By keeping the indicator in the centre of the scale the range is optimised.  This means you become one of those annoying drivers that accelerate down hill and decelerate uphill whilst trying to keep the floating point in the optimum position.  BMW have obviously worked hard to make this a light weight vehicle.  The body work is carbon fiber composite which is visible in the door shut areas.  The dash and other trim is naked to an educated eye, which I quite like, but may seem harsh to some.  I loved the really tight turning circle the car had – probably due to the rear wheel drive.  I don’t think I’ve experienced a better one since (don’t laugh!) the LDV Pilot vans which were also great.  The doors are a little odd with a small suicide door leaving a huge side opening if access to the rear seats is required.  Personally I think it might have been better to have tilting seats and a standard three door configuration, but it was quite cute.

suicide doors
Suicide rear doors

I rarely needed to use the actual brakes on the move (which would be wasted energy!).  The hand brake is a button down near the centre cubby box.  It is automatically released when the accelerator is pressed to pull away.  There is no need to change gear during forward motion – just like an automatic gearbox.  A gear selector on a hand control selects forward, reverse and neutral by twisting the end.  When we stopped at EDFG I couldn’t work out why the car would not turn off properly – it kept saying that the gearbox needed to be put in park.  This meant I couldn’t lock the car.  We left the car and came back to it later and it seemed to have reset itself, but then the same message came up.  Eventually through the handbook and the on board information system I worked out that there was an additional switch on top of the gear selector that selected a Park position.  All happy at last, I could lock the car and hence comply with the insurance requirements.  This was the only real niggle I had with the car – the teutonic arrogance of the controls!  BMW have this annoying rotary knob thing to navigate through the menus on the central computer display and let’s just say it’s not that intuitive.  I think if you drove a BMW for a few months you would get used to it, but it certainly takes more than a few days!

hidden at eden
Rapid charge point hidden away at Eden

Charging the car up was always going to be the most challenging part of the trip.  It actually turned out to be even less easy than I had thought.  Not the actual charging part – which in the main turned out to be pretty much as simple as plugging in an electric automatic kettle, but the access to information about charge points was even less easy than I had thought.  The BMW has a navigation system display which did indicate some (not all) charge points.  We didn’t have access to the manual on the computer system, so it may be that more information about the charge points was there, but certainly it was not obvious.  I don’t have a smart phone.  OK I don’t even have a mobile phone.  If I need one I sometimes borrow my husband’s, but on this occasion I decided not to.  My friend AC had loaded the zapmap app onto her phone, but it didn’t seem to have the same functionality as the website.  We could work out where the charge points were, but couldn’t seem to filter by public access and charging network.  Silly though it seems, you can’t just use any charge point to charge up your electric car. No.  First it has to have a compatable plug.  Then most don’t just take a credit card, some you need to join a club beforehand, some you need a smart phone (that’s me out for a start then!) some are free after you pay for parking, or for customers of the venue (like the slower charge ones at Eden project).  So assuming that you have found the charge point (none of the ones we found were signposted except once you’d found them) have mobile and/or internet access to activate them and pay for it, you simply plug the car in and magic happens.

plugged in
Plugged in to ‘fuel filler’

On the BMW a light surrounds the charging flap and bizarrely flashes different colours as it goes through the process.  We never did quite work out what the car was up to – it seemed to slow the charge rate down if we opened doors, and only displayed the charge state if it was on (and therefore slower charging?).  The other thing to bear in mind about charging is that not all charge points are created equal.  We charged up at three different public charge points and also a standard three pin mains outlet.  Different charge points have different charging rates and so will ‘fill up’ the battery more or less quickly.  For example the rapid charge facility at Eden, which was the fastest we used, put about 10kWh of energy in in one hours charge, although it was nominally a 43 kW charger (I think now we may have plugged in the wrong lead so getting a reduced rate) .  In contrast the three pin socket put about 25 miles equivalent in two hours (the BMW didn’t display electricity, only miles) this would equate to 5 kWh so appears to be only a quarter the speed of the most rapid charge available.  Also the mains outlet only charged the car upto 131 miles so couldn’t put the full range into the battery (maximum on rapid facility was 146 miles).  The speed will depend upon the state of charge of the car battery as well as the power of the charge point, and the charging controls on the car.  The costs for charging were all fairly reasonable (except the overstay fee at the Geniepoint rapid charge facility at Eden project which we hope AC will get back)  I worked it out to be about 5p a mile.

charging at dartington
Charging at Dartington

On the move it was amusing to watch the car’s range change.  Interestingly it didn’t just go down.  I was expecting the range to be optimistic and overstate the range available but this doesn’t seem to be the case.  Although we did not check the full range out (the lowest we got to was about 35 miles or so) often at the start of the journey the range would actually increase a bit.  We put this down to the batteries warming up – I have heard that you get reduced mileage in the winter when the weather is colder.  However this doesn’t explain why when we went to Heligan from Eden and back again (to use the rapid charger again), which is a round trip of 20 miles, we only used 10 miles of range!  On our final return journey which was about 100 miles we started off with about 30 miles to spare and ended up with about 60 miles left.  I guess I’m not as heavy footed as the average BMW driver!

In summary we drove about 320 miles on the holiday and would definitely recommend the BMW i3 as a practical small car if you can afford it and know where you can charge it up.  I wouldn’t recommend an electric hire unless you are prepared for a bit of additional ‘excitement’.  I would give the car about 8 out of 10 – losing points because of it’s odd BMW controls.  I would give the UK government about 2 out of 10.  If they really want to phase out the internal combustion engine they need to get the charging infrastructure sorted out.  We need more charge points, better signage and information about them (why is zapmap apparently the only universal online list of charging points?), information whilst charging and simpler payment methods.

charge point at Eden
Absolutely no info on this (free) charge point at Eden

Now about that electric Range Rover……