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Marlay Park Fairy Tree

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Marlay Park Fairy Tree This is my first ‘Out and About’ post of the year on Curiously Creatively, though the activity does hark back to last year. I have been meaning to write about one of my favourite features of the south Dublin parkscape for some time, but it has taken me a while to get around to it. I am, as you might perhaps have guessed from the photograph here, talking about the Fairy Tree in Marlay Park. All of these photographs date back to a walk in the park during the Easter holidays last year, when we decided to pay another visit to the Fairy Tree (it is a truth universally acknowledged that nobody is ever too old for a Fairy Tree). This blog post and the photos have been lurking in the ether ever since.

We discovered the wonderful Fairy Tree a few years ago, suddenly coming across it during one of our rambles in our early Dublin days. It seemed so amazing, almost a magical moment, to find the customised tree near the stream in the middle of the woodland. I always intended to try to find out something about it, the who, why and when of this fantasy creation in the woodland. I hazarded a guess that it was not actually constructed by the fairies, but then again, you never can tell what goes on in the woods when nobody is watching. The top of the tree resembles a castle from a fairy story, with several turrets now pointing skyward in the place of tree branches. It was a lovely find for us that day, as we had no idea it existed and its charm certainly added to (and continues to add) to the appeal of Marlay Park. 

After asking the ever-helpful Google a few questions I came across a 2014 post on the HSE EVE Estuary Centre website where I discovered that an art teacher called Paul O’Hare created the Fairy Tree. He works with adults with learning difficulties at St Michael’s House in Templeogue and began the tree project in 2010. Several years later, the tree looks to be thriving so I assume that work and maintenance continue. The base of the fairy tree is an old beech tree stump (about twenty feet tall) the remains of a 300 year old storm damaged woodland veteran. It is nice to see something so delightful created from the remains of a once leafy tree, giving it a new lease of life. Judging from various blog entries and TripAdvisor contributor posts, Paul O’Hare and his students have created their very own five-star rated Dublin tourist attraction (and of course it is free to visit). As one person commented, ‘Beautiful piece of art and the fun of the fairies’.

The tree has been fitted out with enough windows and doors to accommodate the most discerning of fairy folk. I tried to get some good shots of the details of the construction for those of you who have yet to discover this woodland feature. You can see a couple of different styles of window and a very sturdy looking wooden door. For somebody like me (as also does Verity) who has always loved dolls houses and all things miniature, it is wonderful to take in the attention to detail here. The interesting thing about looking at all of the tiny features on this exclusive tree house is just how easy it is to suspend your disbelief (or maybe that’s just me). I know that there are no fairies (or other woodland folk for that matter), behind the façade yet nevertheless I am lured into the fantasy as I walk around the tree seeking every little feature. Perhaps that is because the idea of trees being houses and safe havens is a theme that crops up in so many children’s stories.

 

 The Fairy Tree in Marlay Park combines very effectively a beautifully crafted fairy palace with audience participation in the traditional form of leaving gifts for the fairies. Young visitors have made their own contributions to the tree, leaving notes and gifts for the fairy community. As you can see, somebody has even left a gift of some Easter eggs on a windowsill. At some point, the tradition of leaving babies’ soothers for the fairies seems to have started and then become a regular feature of the Marlay Park Fairy Tree. I noticed on the parenting website Rollercoaster that one piece of advice to a mother asking about ways to persuade her child to give up the soother included taking it for the fairies at Marlay. This has obviously become a regular practice judging by the offerings that we saw left at the tree, so I can only assume it works! I also spotted a pretty triangular decoration made of twigs, though I don’t know whether this was made by a visitor or one of Paul O’Hare’s team.

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If you haven’t been to Marlay Park and visited the fairies, do go and drop in on them sometime. There’s also plenty more activities to do in the park, including strolling around the lovely walled garden.

I would love to hear from any other Fairy Tree fans out there!

 

 

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Making fat cake bird feeders

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This post will be my first garden post of the year, although it does involve preparatory work in the kitchen. As you will see from the title, I have been busy making bird feeders to put in the garden. I have been meaning to have a go at making some sort of feeder for a while, as I would like to have some addition to the bird table that Verity made from driftwood some years ago (an activity with the OWLS group). This works well for the larger birds but I wanted to try making something especially for the smaller birds. We do actually have a small wooden feeder box with a wire grill on one side that hangs on the lilac tree, but the blue tits don’t often seem very interested.Cover of The Secret Life of Cows

The immediate prompt for making a feeder however (and choosing to make a fat-based feeder) was reading a book that I was given for Hogmanay, The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young (Faber 2017, Farming Books & Videos Ltd, 2003). In amongst all of the cow, sheep and pig stories was an episode about wild bird feeding. The Youngs make winter bird feeders by melting fat, stirring in breadcrumbs and moulding the mixture in small plastic cups. I was very taken with their method of fixing the feeders onto canes and putting them in the ground instead of stringing them to hang. This, I felt I had to attempt for myself.

In a further bit of research before beginning my wildlife task, I consulted Gardenersworld.com and discovered a couple of useful articles. Here is my version of a fat cake, adapting the ideas from the website and the Life of Cows instructions. Gardeners’ World advise putting out fat balls from November to March, so I am just about in time for this season. The writer suggests fillings which include oats, cake or bread crumbs, peanuts, dried fruit and cheese in melted lard or suet. I used a couple of left over disposable cups to mould the feed mixture as my book suggests, although you could use yoghurt pots as the instructions in the Gardeners’ World recipe. The guide proportions are a ratio of one part of fat to two parts of filling.

My recipe

I used a basic lard from the supermarket and reckoned that trying 100g would give me about the correct amount to fill my two cups. For my mixture I had a root around the kitchen and came up with porridge oats, desiccated coconut, a dried fruit and cashew mix, mixed seeds (pumpkin and sunflower seeds) and some brown soda bread. I didn’t have any cheese in, but I figured that if you have a fat base then you don’t really need the fat in the cheese. I used a blend of these ingredients to make up 200g, crumbling up one slice of bread and crushing up the cashews a little before mixing with my melted lard. My mixture just nicely filled the two containers. For the one cup, I made a hole and put string through as per Gardeners’ World and as you can see, I fixed a wooden spoon in the other to make it easier to fix the cake onto a cane when set. I popped both in the fridge for an hour to set firm.

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The final stage was to fix the fat cakes in place in a good spot in the garden. I hung my strung feeder onto the lilac tree, near the old wooden feeder as that spot is familiar to regular bird visitors. In one of last season’s tomato pots I stuck a long cane and fixed the other cake on to it (after removing wooden spoon!). I did push a bit too hard and the cane came through the end slightly, so I fixed some wooden pegs underneath so the cake wouldn’t slide down the cane. As you will see from my photographs, one of our ever-curious resident robin pair came to have a close look at what was going on, while the mate kept a watch from a distance. Then, I retreated to the house to watch for my first proper customers. Perhaps not surprisingly, the blue tits were the first to sample new tuck shop, though the robins were not too far behind. Both these birds managed to get the hang of the feeders very quickly and perched or clung on to feed. These birds have managed to feed from both types of feeder quite easily.

Rosamund Young describes in her book the antics of various species of birds when confronted with a delicious new food source on a stick. Similar to my experience mentioned above, she comments that the blue tits ‘learn how to feed from them within minutes, hanging upside-down with ease’. Where we differ is in the case of robins, as she notes that it took the robin some time to achieve success. She writes, ‘The best the robin could ever manage was to screw himself into a tight ball on the ground directly under the cup and leap vertically’ until eventually one bird learned to shimmy up the bean pole to feast. Apparently, chaffinches became quite angry with the feeders, but so far, I haven’t spotted any in our garden so I am unable to make a comparison. What we do have are greedy starlings however, arriving en masse to hog the food and scare away smaller feeders.

So far, my experiment has proved a success and I will hope to make another couple of feeders to see the birds through March. If anyone out there has had a go at bird feeders, do let me know what you have tried.

Crochet Waistcoat: A Blast from the Past

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Multi-coloured crochet waistcoat

That pink was a mistake!

While tidying out a cupboard during last summer’s holiday activities, we unearthed one of my handicraft items from the late 1970s. As you can see from the illustrations it is a waistcoat made up of multi-coloured crochet motifs. I have never been a real whizz at crochet but I did manage to teach myself a few stitches all those years ago. After mastering some of the basic stitches, I looked around for an idea for a practical project to give my endeavours a focus. There are only so many coasters and tablemats that you can usefully crochet without running out of (willing?) recipients. But what next to crochet? A toilet roll cover perhaps? The idea of making squares for a larger project appealed to me, as I had previously had a go at patchwork with scraps of fabric quite successfully. I’m not sure how I ended up making a waistcoat, rather than a cushion cover or a throw for instance, but a waistcoat I did make (and subsequently frequently wore I might add).

Close-up of teh crochet motifs

Colours Galore…

When I began compiling squares, I didn’t really have a pattern or a colour scheme in mind so I simply used up whatever wool I had to hand. Then I worked out a very basic layout to create the shape of a waistcoat. I made all of the motifs from double knitting wool and I think I probably used a 3.5mm crochet hook. I really enjoyed making the squares, as it was satisfyingly quick to produce a reasonable quantity of pieces. Once I had sewed them all together, I took another colour (I do now regret the choice of pink!) and crocheted an edging of double crochet stitch all around and made strips of chain stitch for ties. I am almost sure that no two squares are identical in colour, though that wasn’t intentional. I later went on to make a sleeveless top with square motifs, but this time in planned set of (I think) three colours. This garment failed to stand the test of time, it was just too ordered and uniform. I always preferred the exuberance of the random colour mixes in my waistcoat.

This nostalgic delve into past craft activities prompted us to have a go at some crochet practice during the summer. Having done all of this crochet so long ago, when I came to look at the squares again, I had to consult Verity’s book, The Knitting and Crochet Bible to remind myself of how to do the stitches. I found it difficult to get back into the swing of it at first and to remember my double and treble stitches. However, once the little grey cells started to work, I found that the stitches began to come back to me. I started to show Verity how to make the basic stitches (double and treble) and we practiced with a few odd balls of wool. You can see from the illustration that the book is well laid out with stage by stage diagrams for the stitches. Book pages showing instructions for basic stitches

That was as far as we got last summer, so I would like to pick up a hook again and make some more of the square motifs. Ideally this would be a stepping stone to taking the crochet a stage further than I have managed previously. I don’t think I am ever going to become expert at crochet but I would like to develop more of a skill than I have now.

Watch this space for an update! Any crochet lovers out there?

Curious and Creative: A Fresh Start for 2018

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Three jars of rowanberry jellyAs we edge further into 2018, the question of what to do with Curiously Creatively becomes a matter of urgency. Well, OK, not exactly urgent, it’s not a matter of life and death (or even football come to that). However, the fact remains that our blog has been in the doldrums for a while and we haven’t been able to decide what to do with it. To push on with it, or to pull the plug? After much thought our decision has been that we should keep it going. We have enjoyed blogging about our crafting, gardening, baking etc and it seems a shame to delete all of those posts that we have put effort into writing and illustrating.

Both of us have been distracted by other activities, but in the short term Verity will be taking a break from CC to concentrate on her studies. That means that it will be my craft and gardening efforts enlivening these pages for the foreseeable future. I am hoping to arrange the occasional guest appearance to provide a change of voice. I also want to feature a few more ‘out and about’ posts as well to add a little variety. The last post, when I had a go at tackling the ‘Beat the Street’ initiative was one such expedition.

Hawker Hurricane model

To start as I mean to go on, I have added in a couple of photos from recent activities that never made it into proper blog posts. I have made lemon curd, Rowanberry jelly and we have decorated our Christmas cake. During the summer Verity finished her wooden Hawker Hurricane model from a craft kit, which is now proudly displayed and also tested out a candle making kit. In addition, we had a good year in the garden, particularly with our runner beans and courgettes. We had  a first this year in trying out making stuffed courgette flowers. This was something we were particularly pleased to have tried, having been meaning to make them for a while. They were rather tasty too! I hope to make more next season if the courgette crop does well again.

Six stuffed courgette flowers

A culinary First!

I shall be turning my attention to the garden again soon and I have (as usual) several recipes that I would like to try out. The autumn foraging has filled the top drawer of our freezer with wild fruit, so at some point I will be preserving gain. And that’s without all of those walks and activities that I aim to do, so there’s no shortage of things to do and to write up. I just need to get my fingers twinkling on the keyboard.

So, watch this space and I hope to see you again soon with another curious or creative activity to share with you!

 

Out and about: Beating the Street in Dublin

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I am going to gloss over the fact that the Curiously Creatively premises have been rather quiet for the summer months (as indeed has its sister blog Tales from the Landing Bookshelves) and simply push on with a little creative activity to get us back on track before the winter. It is merely a question of finding inspiration, getting curious and getting back on track creatively. So, what better way for getting back on track than getting out and doing a bit of walking? I shall explain…

While browsing in Rathmines Library recently, I came across a leaflet advertising a Dublin City Council initiative called Beat the Street. In true Curiously Creatively fashion, I stopped and read the leaflet and the idea instantly hooked me. I like challenges, especially walking challenges. And this one had a neat little smart card that you could ‘tag on’ to record your progress. That way, you really feel that you are achieving a target on your walk. The only problem was that I was late coming to the challenge  (which ran from 13 September – 1 November), so I couldn’t really hope to rack up much distance. I only had a few days to pound the streets of Dublin. I tried to remember to take pictures on a couple of the routes, to make a mini Beat the Street gallery.

The whole Beat the Street system was beautifully simple and it worked very well. Having said that, I found it a bit frustrating at times if I didn’t immediately spot the Beat Box, usually attached to a lamppost or similar. I realise that this was partly because of using the fold out paper map as opposed to using a map online where you can get details that are more precise. I also have to confess to the occasional map reading error (it does help to be looking at it the right way round I find) which hinders the finding of the nearest Beat Box.

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I was pleased to discover that Beat Boxes were to be found along two of my favourite walking routes, the river Dodder and the Grand Canal. It was particularly nice to do a canal walk as I picked a lovely golden-y typical autumn day for it. Highlights of that walk were managing to get a couple of photographs of swans (including one beautiful youngster not yet in full white) and spotting that Patrick Kavanagh had acquired a second hat from some thoughtful person. On the downside I spotted a bench along the Mespil Road stretch that had obviously played host to a party of drinkers who were too lazy/thoughtless/anti-social to gather up the empties and find a bin. It spoils such a lovely situation and yet these people clearly don’t give a damn for that.

It wasn’t all walking for pleasure as I learnt from the map that I could Beat the Street on my way to work too. In the end, I went slightly off my normal route to hop from box to box but that was probably a good thing. It made a change of scenery and was a little longer than usual so I gained some more exercise. I enjoy walking in an urban/suburban landscape as much as in the countryside as there is so much small detail to see if you take the time to look around as you walk. Now, I admit that I am probably guilty of merely strolling sometimes as I surreptitiously study someone’s garden planting, a dubious extension or browse a shop window, but I do pick up the pace afterwards.

Now, I am hoping that the walking and the thinking done while walking will encourage the creative activity and the regular blog posts. I just have to keep remembering that all I need to do is to hop from box to box and I’ll get there, sooner or later.

If you tried Dublin’s Beat the Street challenge, do let me know how you got on!

https://www.beatthestreet.me/dublin

Window Boxes from Upcycled Fruit Boxes

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I have been busily brandishing a paintbrush for the first time in many months, returning to an idea that I blogged about on Curiously Creatively last year. You might recall that I wrote about picking up discarded wooden fruit boxes from Lidl in the spring, with various ideas for transforming them into something useful. Well, the months went by and nothing happened to the boxes, which meanwhile, were getting dustier and dustier out in the shed. Recently on a shopping trip to Lidl I noticed an abandoned orange box left in the bagging area by the checkouts and I had to force myself not to pick it up, aware that I had four at home already. It was time to take action and get painting! Only then, I told myself, I could allow myself to go collecting more…

My plan is to paint and decorate a couple of the boxes ready to contain some herbs or salad leaves for the summer. I will probably locate them on the windowsills at either the front or the back of the house. The house is roughly east west oriented so there are advantages to either side for sunlight. We were toying with the idea of building some window boxes anyway, so up-cycling these boxes should be a good alternative. They are slightly wider than the outside sill, but I don’t think the overhang will be enough to cause a problem (they won’t be either heavy or high enough to land on an unwary head). The dream of being able to open the kitchen window and snip some basil leaves as I cook is carrying me away! Let us see whether my fantasy can be made to meet reality.

The box painting process has had a somewhat piecemeal quality to it (not only because of it having taken so long to get started) because I have been using up left over match pots to clear out a cupboard. I began with two boxes and covered the outsides with a basic coat of some stone coloured matt emulsion paint. Amongst the odds and ends of mini paint pots, I found two green ones (left over from Verity’s pallets and from my kitchen shelf project) and a sunny yellow shade that was once used on a dolls’ shop front. Not all of the paints are robust enough for outdoor use, but a) I am in a using up and de-cluttering mood, b) I will coat the boxes in yacht varnish anyway and c) the paint would end up being thrown away if I didn’t use it up on a small project of some sort.

So, to report on the painting stages:

I have done at least two base coats of paints on the outside and two coats on the inner sides. I did not have enough paint to cover the inside of the base, but that doesn’t really matter. My plan is to use a lining cut from an old compost bag for the base and sides, so that will help to protect the wood on the base. As you can see from my photographs, I have used up the green paint on the shorter sides and corners, while the rest is covered in the ‘Sunshine Yellow’. I decided to have a bash at stencilling some garden themed shapes on the sides after discovering some leftover red paint, which I also used to edge and top the corner pieces. The final stage was to give the boxes a couple of coats of yacht varnish to make them more weather proofed. Ideally, I will have more than merely one season of use from them.

My stencilling efforts were not wholly satisfactory; the thickened paint and my lack of experience of using stencils with anything other than felt pens on paper both contributed to a less than perfect finish. However, I am pleased with the general effect and I think the decorated boxes will look well on the windowsills. I am looking forward to getting them planted up soon, I just need some more of our seeds to sprout so I have something to plant!

Now, all I need to do is to decide what to do with my remaining orange boxes! Any suggestions from the floor?

April Garden Activity

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In this long-delayed Curiously Creatively update, I will be telling you about this year’s spring preparations in the garden. Over the autumn and winter months, I have been trying to continue doing odd jobs and not to let the garden become a bleak no-man’s land. It is all too easy on cold days to ignore the garden, except for fetching in another bale of peat or tipping the vegetable peelings in the compost bin. During the last couple of years, I have tried hard to be less of a fair weather gardener; I cannot say that I have completely succeeded, but I think there have been improvements. As we never entirely stopped gardening after the summer activity, it has been easier to pick up the work again in the spring.

So where does all this industry leave us then? Well, I am forced to say that we are never as far forward with various jobs as I would like to be at this time of the year. However, many seeds are a–sprouting and we have plenty of spring colours on the ground. Much of the colour comes from the very productive self-seeding forget me nots which have scattered themselves liberally around the garden. We have blue ones, but I do want to add some different colours to the mix this year. These little flowers are so useful for brightening up odd corners and filling in gaps. We have plenty of nasturtiums self-seeding again and this year I am determined to try to use them in the kitchen as we usually have a plentiful supply. Cheerful yellow Welsh poppies are also poking their heads up all over the place.

I am delighted to report that it looks as though we will have some lily of the valley this year, on the third attempt at raising them. I paid a visit to Homebase recently and succumbed to the temptation of having one more go at these lovely flowers. The shoots looked healthy, so I was optimistic of success, though the roots were imperilled when some nocturnal creature decided to dig in my newly planted patch. Fortunately, the roots survived being dug up (by said strange creature) and then being roughly stuffed back in the soil (by me). I have long wanted to have some lily of the valley plants because I remember them fondly from my grandparents’ garden, growing under the hedge. Fingers crossed that I will have flowers in a few weeks time.

While in Homebase, I had a rummage in the marked down section and bought seed potatoes in two varieties. As you might imagine, they were already considerably chitted. I have five each of Kestrel and Nicola, which have sat around in the shed awaiting my attentions (and becoming even more chitted into the bargain). Finally, I am pleased to say that my seed potatoes now nestle snugly in my new Dealz potato bags (€1.50 each). We have been able to use our own compost for some of our planting so far; with careful attention, I am hoping that our compost bin will yield a good supply this season. I do however have the perennial problem of an over abundance of eggshells in the mixture. Still, I suppose there are worse horticultural problems to have.

Look out for a further garden update soon, and do let us know how your garden grows…

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