Inside the Ivy Cottage on Bertie

Living creatively in an old house

Garden Inspiration

Until last weekend, it has been perfect spring for plants growing and thriving in our garden. With the continuous cooler temperatures and moist grounds, the flowers have never looked better nor held onto their blooms as long as they have this year. The cooperative weather motivated me to be outside puttering in my flower beds and herb garden.

Regretfully, I do not have the proverbial green thumb but I have found inspiration by visiting some  famous gardens including Butchart Gardens in British Columbia,  the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario and the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture near Niagara Falls Ontario. However, the one garden I found most inspiring was a not-so-famous garden outside Waterford City, Ireland.

Abbey Road Gardens is only open to the public by appointment, but in my naivety, I wandered through the open gate leading off Abbey Road. I was greeted by a friendly ginger cat who encouraged me to further explore the delightfully arranged gardens. Shortly, the owner came from her house to explain that the garden wasn’t open to the public for another month. I apologized and explained to her that I couldn’t visit then. We talked for quite awhile about gardening and her plants. Several times she apologized that the garden needed straightening up and several times stooped to pluck out an errant weed. (The sign of a true gardener.) I asked about the soil, which looked so easy to work with. Apparently it was clay soil that had been enriched with decades, even centuries of sheep manure. The property had been the site of a monastery where sheep had been kept.  After seeing how interested I was in her gardens she graciously invited me to take as much time as I needed to browse around.

While, my pictures do not do Abbey Road Gardens justice, I hope you’ll have an idea of its charm:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A Rite of Spring

Way back, when those lovely spring days seemed to last forever, one simple pleasure in our garden was to pull out a stalk or two of this beautiful vegetable, called rhubarb. We’d dip its end in a handful of sugar and munch away enjoying the lovely combination of tart, sweet and crunch.

I suppose it is this nostalgic fondness for rhubarb that made me delighted when a DC offered to dig up a few crowns from his patch so that I could grow my own. Now my rhubarb has been in place for  three years and is well established and vigorous. This past weekend I pulled a large bundle of stalks, discarded the noxious leaves and proceeded to prepare my version of Rhubarb-Strawberry Crumble.rhubarb-1

The Recipe:

6-8 rhubarb stalks

1 quart strawberries, sliced (I used frozen ones)

1/3 cup cornstarch

1 cup sour cream

1 cup granulated stevia (for baking)

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Trim  the root ends (the white-ish part) from the rhubarb stalks, and discard.  Chop the stalks into 1/2 inch pieces. Combine the rhubarb pieces with the strawberries in a greased 1 1/2 quart ovenproof casserole dish. Mix together the cornstarch, sweetener, cinnamon and sour cream and pour over the fruit mixture.

Crumble together 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (or gluten free all-purpose flour), 1/4 cup Demerara sugar, 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon with 1/4 cup softened butter ( or coconut oil), until the mixture is well blended. Distribute evenly over the fruit – sour cream mixture.

Bake for 45 minutes. Cool completely before serving.


This makes about 6 generous servings. Enjoy!

Tip: When using a stoneware or pyrex-type baker, place it on a metal baking sheet before putting in a pre-heated oven to avoid thermal shock.

What childhood memories do you have, if any, about enjoying the spring garden?

Auction Action

Last week during coffee conversation with a DF, I learned that there was going to be an auction sale where she was volunteered to be a “spotter”.  On Saturday,  I dragged another DF along with me to what I think of as “an old-time-country auction”. We arrived early  at the rural location to have a good look around. The organization was impressive. Household contents were displayed under a tent in the front yard. Other items were set out on two hay wagons and on the ground further away from the house, under a canopy of magnificent oak and shagbark hickory trees.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


The auction began promptly at 10:00 a.m. at the barn area. The auctioneer moved the sale along quickly and one had to be careful not to move one’s hand and inadvertently make a bid.                                                auction-17


I had never seen a cradle like this iron one. Its canopy was missing, but otherwise it was in good shape:


Old wooden crates, tins, and old windows were popular with the patrons:



There was a van selling food and beverages:


And, as my DF calls it, a “little blue house” for relief.

More than an opportunity to bid, and if lucky, acquire rare and beautiful items, an old time country auction is a social event. It is fun to meet old friends and make new acquaintances.

From old wooden boxes,

to antique china ware, I was pleased with my purchases.

This pre-1891 china set belonged to the proprietor’s grandmother’s great-grandmother!

As a bonus, it was a “Goldilocks” spring day: not too hot, not too cold, and no rain!

My auction sale tips: Arrive early enough to  preview the sale. Set a spending limit for what you want to bid on, and stick to it. Dress comfortably. Most important, plan to have fun.


Spring Decorating

We have had record amounts of rainfall so far this spring, and cool temperatures. Together these have given us the most beautiful burst of spring flowers ever. Scilla and wild violets were first, followed a few weeks ago by daffodils. I took photos of some over a week ago:

spring flowers-3

The daffodils are mostly done but not before a profusion of forget-me-nots appeared in the background! (I wonder where those came from since we didn’t plant them!) The tulips which began to flower a week later are still looking lovely, thanks to daily temperatures around 10 degrees celsius.:spring flowers-1-2

It was surprising to see the flowers on our two ancient lilac bushes come into bloom  last week , as it seems a bit earlier than usual. It might be my imagination, but there appears to be many more blooms than in other years, too. Their fragrance is so sweet, I love burying my nose into a bunch of them to take it all in.

spring flowers-1
Not the best picture, but I wanted to include the chickadee.

There are so many lilacs this year, I don’t mind cutting a few:spring flowers-5

Our old apple trees are just beginning to blossom now, but I worry  with the  lack of bees whether they will be pollinated:

spring flowers-2
The birds have found this tree, but will the bees?

I have placed a “spring wreath” on the front door:spring flowers-4

I guess I can do my part to help Mother Nature with the spring decorating.

Faded, Tattered and Stained*

Blue denim jeans have a long life. Brand new, they get worn about town.  After awhile, showing some fading and fraying, those jeans don’t feel quite presentable enough to wear in public. However they are so comfortable they get worn around the house to do chores such as gardening,  painting, or binge-watching television. Eventually rips and tears happen. Those beloved jeans have become so decrepit that even the local charity shops won’t accept them. DH had a pair of jeans that were torn and stained and nobody could possibly want. (Except maybe Nordstrom shoppers. See * below) Instead of pitching those jeans, I decided to challenge myself to re-purpose them in as many ways as possible.

The first way:

A Shabby Vintage -Style Cuff


The first thing I did was remove the zipper using a seam ripper. Then I cut below the waistband all the way around leaving at least an  inch (2cm) of the jean attached to the waistband.

After measuring around my wrist and adding an inch (2.5cm), I cut that length from the waistband making sure to include the button/buttonhole, and a belt loop.


Next I undid the stitches at the bottom of the belt loop and then trimmed the attached jean part to even it up to just about 1 inch (2.5 cm):recycle,reduce,reuse-3

After undoing the button, the two cut ends were pinned together :


and then stitched with my sewing machine using a denim needle and 40 wt. black thread. It is important to use a denim needle, other ones will break. Of course this could be hand sewn.

I cut a scrap of  cotton fabric and a scrap of cotton lace twice the length of the denim cuff. Using a long machine stitch I first sewed the fabric to the jean part of the cuff gathering it as I went. Next, I did the same thing with the lace, layering it on top of the cotton.recycle,reduce,reuse-5

Using a crewel needle and ecru pearl cotton, I re-attached the bottom of the belt loop. (This was too thick for my machine to handle.) I decided to add a running stitch around the cuff with some of the pearl cotton as well.

Finally, the fun part! I rummaged through my craft stash and pulled out three safety pins (Tim Holtz collection) I threaded  a few odd charms and beads salvaged from old jewellery before pinning to the belt loop.


That’s it.

To be continued, at some point.

*I had to smile this morning hearing the news that Nordstrom is offering brand new mud stained jeans for $425 (US).


Every Day…

should be “Earth Day”.IMG_0774-globe

However, since there are those who don’t seem to agree, I make it the day to gather the litter that has been tossed into the ditches along our road.  For this “Earth Day” project, I got out the “grabber” tool and  the wheel barrow , and put on my rubberized garden gloves and waterproof boots. The road from Ivy Cottage to the end is approximately one kilometre long and it took the better part of the afternoon to pick up all the litter. (It was a beautiful day to be outside).

This is what I picked up: (not pretty!)recycle,reduce,reuse-8

I suppose the most discouraging thing is that most of the debris is recyclable or “returnable for refund”. We sorted those items from the garbage and filled two blue boxes:


Did you have a special “Earth Day” project?


Easter bunny-1

I don’t often dress up my furry children but I couldn’t resist this cute bunny costume for my little one. As you can see, she is not really impressed. I also photographed a broken shell from one of our hen’s eggs, then through the magic of Photoshop and OnOne software, created a vintage-style Easter card just for you.



Simply Scones


It appears that March is going out “like a lion”. This morning has begun with a downpour, further drenching our already saturated yard. What a great reason to bake up a batch of these simply superb scones!


Just for you, the recipe:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour*

1/4 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon grated orange rind

6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces

1/2 cup milk which has been “soured” with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice


Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 425℉.

Stir the dry ingredients and orange peel together in a large bowl.

Use your fingers (or a pastry blender) to combine the butter with the flour mixture until it looks like coarse crumbs. Then stir in the soured milk with a fork until combined. Form the dough into a ball and place onto the baking sheet.

Flatten the dough into an 8 inch (20cm) round**. Cut the dough into eight wedges and spread them out onto the baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, brush a small amount of milk onto the scone tops and sprinkle with a little bit of sugar.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until lightly browned.

This makes eight scones. Serve warm or cold, with or without butter. (The orange rind gives  a lovely fresh flavour to them.)

*I use gluten free all-purpose flour when I bake for our home. My favourite all-purpose flour is one made for the “Presidents Choice” brand, because it doesn’t contain rice flour.

** Tip: If you spread your hand open, the span from thumb tip to baby finger tip is close to 8 inches. No need to get out the ruler. 🙂



Mixing It Up

A few days before leaving for Ireland, DS dropped in for a cup of tea and conversation. At the time, I was in  the middle of preparing the canvas for my St. Patrick’s Day mixed media effort. DS expressed a strong interest in learning this art form, so I eagerly volunteered to teach her some techniques – once I returned from Ireland.

On Wednesday,  we were finally able to get together for a day of mixed media fun and mayhem. Early in the day I brought out various materials and tools that could be useful in the process. These were spread out on the kitchen island that was covered with a plastic sheet.

We began the process by applying gesso to the canvases. While they were drying, selected photos were manually altered using sandpaper and  watercolour paint. Then layers of colour and texture were applied to the canvases using acrylic paints, Gelatos, inks, stencils, rubber stamps, tissue paper and cheese cloth. Once the photos and other ephemera were glued in place, the finishing touches were added.

Seven hours, and many laughs, later DS had completed two canvases, one to keep and one to give as a birthday gift.

Mixed Media on canvas 17.5 X 12.5 cm
Mixed media on canvas 26.5 X 20 cm

It was such a pleasure for me to work with an enthusiastic and very creative person that DS is.

Guess what? We are going to have another session this week!

(Incidentally, I didn’t complete either of my canvases until a day later. :-))



Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: