Top 10 Tips for Hosting Afternoon Tea

Anyone who has enjoyed an Afternoon Tea will know that sometimes  it is the attention to detail that makes it extra special. Of course the tea, sandwiches, cakes are the main focus of any Afternoon Tea but it is the finishing touches that make the difference.
Here are my Top 10 Tips to add that little extra sparkle to your Afternoon Tea. They are in no particular order and of course you may not want to include them all, but just one or two of them will add that little something special to your next Afternoon Tea.

Top 10 Tips for Hosting Afternoon Tea

1 - Antique Cutlery
Delicate silver spoons, cake forks, a jam spoon or tea strainer add that touch of sophistication. Many antique shops and online retailers sell a set of silver plate spoons from around £20+. 

2 Napkins 
Fabric napkins are so much more preferable to the paper ones, they sit easier on your lap without sliding off onto the floor. No one wants to be ducking under the table to retrieve a dropped napkin.

3 Loose Tea
For a formal afternoon tea absolutely no tea bags, loose tea only and that's not up for discussion. After all you also get to enjoy using a tea strainer.

4 Flowers
A small vase or posy of fresh flowers will add to the ambiance and fragrance of your afternoon tea. They will also act as a point of discussion, even nicer if they are from your own garden.
5 Tablecloth
A crisp clean white linen tablecloth is essential, perfectly ironed and not a single crease in sight. Or an antique lace tablecloth would be wonderful if you are lucky enough to have one in the family. This will really make a difference when you have laid the table, it will create the perfect landscape for your table setting. 
Tip 6 - China Cups and Saucers
If you are going to buy and enjoy a specially selected tea it needs to be served in a china cup and saucer. It is not necessary to have a full matching tea serve, mismatched fine china adds a vintage feel to an afternoon tea. Use small side plates for those dainty finger sandwiches and cakes, this will also help with room on the table.

Tip 7 - Ambiance 
If there is quiet a few of you gathered together to enjoy your afternoon tea, there is bound to be lots of chatter. But I find it nice to have a little background music, maybe something classical, after all we doesn't all have a harpist available to play live. Fresh flowers and maybe a scented candle also add to the ambiance. 
Top 10 Tips for Hosting Afternoon Tea8 Invitations
This may sound a little old fashioned, but everyone loves to receive an invitation to a party in the post. You can always request rsvp's by email.

9 Cake Stand 
There is nothing quite so inviting than to see tiers of cakes and scones sitting at your table. Allowing your eyes time to explore each tier whilst you try and decide what to eat first. Only to then realise you really ought to start with the savory finger sandwiches, but really it is all about the cakes!

10 Reservations
If you are not a baker or host, then enjoy an Afternoon Tea out with friends, make a reservation at a hotel/restaurant that specialise in Afternoon Tea. This way you get to enjoy all the fun and skip the washing up.
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I'm Learning How to Crochet with Making Beautiful

I am super excited, I am going to learn how to crochet via an online virtual course. I was so pleased when Claire Beautiful Things asked me to be part of there new online crochet course. The course is aimed at beginners and comes with everything you need to get you started. It includes access to professionally filmed tutorials and an online support forum where you can discuss and share with other crochet learners on the course. 
unboxing crochet craft video
Beginners Crochet Course with Making Beautiful
I received my welcome pack earlier this week and just for you I created a video unboxing, so why not join me as I open it on my YouTube channel. Come and take a peek inside at all the crochet goodies, and see the face behind the blog.
I am so looking forward to not stumbling my way with a hook and yarn, a chance to create something that I am proud to show off to everyone. Let the crocheting begin!
unboxing crochet craft video beautiful things
Watch my unboxing video to take a peek inside the bag
Disclosure: I received an online beginners crochet course from Making Beautiful for the purpose of this review.
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Affordable Garden Art for your Garden

contemporary garden art cherry
Recently I have added a contemporary garden ornament to my garden in Shropshire. Discovering intriguing and appealing art at large country gardens and historic properties properties is more popular now than ever. Just look at the success and emotion stirred by the poppies display at The Tower of London recently. It brings art and sculpture in a natural setting to many people. Over the years I have enjoyed inspiring sculpture trails at Hidcote Gardens, and a very modern take on art in the grounds of Ludlow Castle. Now with New Garden Style it is easier and affordable to add your own contemporary piece of art into your own garden, to enjoy every day.
Cherry art in garden
Having been given a choice of stylish garden ornaments from New Garden Style to choose from, I settled on a stylish quirky cherry. The over sized shiny cherry,  is made from premium poly resin and weighs 1 kg. It arrives in two separate pieces the stalk and cherry, which are simply attached by screwing the stalk into the cherry. It is weather and frost resistant, just as well here in the UK. There are four rubber studs at the base of the cherry to ensure it sits neatly in place, along with a small hole so that any rain water can drain away. You also only need a damp cloth to polish it up if it becomes a little dusty. 
contemporary garden art cherry
This quirky, shiny and fun piece of art has created much interest when family and friends have visited. I chose this particular design because I grow a lot of fruit in my garden, but I don't have room for a cherry tree so this is my way of including it. It moved around the garden at first until I settled on its final spot.
Apple and Cherry Tree
It catches the shadows of the sun through the day, particularly at dusk. It is know position on the edge of my top lawn just before the stone steps to the lower garden. It is view able from the garden room in the house, so no matter the weather I can sit and enjoy it. I am particularly looking forward the Winter when the cherry red will add some much needed colour and interest to the garden, how will it look after a frost or with a spiders web on it.  
Photo credit: New Garden Style
I was also really taken with the white snail design, which I think would look ideal if you have an area of the garden with mostly white flowers. If these are a little too contemporary for you there is a a wonderful rusted steel sphere that you can add a nightlight to. 
You can use your ornament to create a focal point or by cleverly positioning it draws the eye to an area of your garden.   Or for an element of surprise position it around a corner waiting to be discovered.
Photo credit: New Garden Style
From the contemporary to nature inspired creations, New Garden Style Ornaments have a wide range of garden art. From £25 to £120 there is something for all tastes and budget. The medium cherry costs £45. 

Do you have any art or ornaments in your garden?

Disclosure: I was sent the medium cherry ornament for the purposes of this review. 
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Claire Austin Plants Open Day

On the England, Wales border of the counties of Shropshire and Powys you will find the garden nursery of Claire Austin Perennials. The nursery has many plants but specialises in Peonies and Irises. Once a year Claire Austin opens the nursery to the public along with her private garden. You may already be familiar with the name Austin, Claire is the daughter of the world renown Rose specialist David Austin. I have blogged previously about David Austin Roses as the plant centre, garden and tea room are located close to where I live in Shropshire.
Claire Austin flowers Peonies
Location
The open day for 2016 was Saturday 4 June. Having missed last years open day my sister and I have had this in our calendar for some time. So I was somewhat annoyed with myself when I realised I had left my camera at home, so all photographs were taken on using my i-phone. Located not far from Montgomery town and Sarn village,  it is very well signposted along many single track high hedged country lanes. But with a one way route in and out of the nursery you should not encounter any problems. I should add that admission is free.

We were greeted by a large open storage barn when we arrived that was decked out with bunting and the location of the refreshments. The tea and cake was excellent, provided I think by the local Women's Institute they served a delicious Cherry Cake.  

Claire Austin Flowers open day tea cake
Always time for tea and cake even if the cherries did all sink to the bottom
Plants, Peonies and more
Just through the barn you find the plant sales area, there was an extensive selection of hardy plants for sale, with some nice unusual varieties too.  The very helpful plant guide we were given, contained detailed information on each plant for sale, its flowering period and soil type along with the price.
Claire Austin field of irises
A field of Irises
Moving on, there is a field with a huge selection of Irises in a range of colours and types some like the one in the photograph had huge blouse flowers. Moving next to the private gardens of Claire Austin.
Iris Queen Circle Claire Austin
Iris Queen Circle
The garden
I find visiting other peoples gardens always inspiring, there is always an idea or two you can take away with you. There were quite a few unusual plants that stood out as we walked around the garden. Some large good ground covering Cornflowers in both whites and purples, created a spectacular display.  It was a stunning rural location with the back drop of the Powys countryside. There were a number of Peonies too, with some just on the edge of flowering. 
Claire Austin Flowers open day

Centaurea Montanan 'Alba' - Perennial Cornflower
Centaurea Montanan 'Alba' - Perennial Cornflower
Back at the plant sales there was a huge range of Peonies to choose from. We had our eye on a deep red Peony Buckeye Belle which flowers early and a White Peony Elsa Sass, which flowers late. The Elsa Sass will help extend the flowering of the current Peonies in my garden as they both flower early and mid. Unfortunately there was no stock of the Elsa Sass, but the good news is that you can order online from the Claire Austin Perennials, Irises and Peonies website. 
Peony Buckeye Belle Claire Austin
Peony Buckeye Belle
Peony First Arrival Claire Austin
Peony First Arrival
Peony Coral Charm Claire Austin
Peony Coral Charm
I left with three plants a Red Knautia Macedonia, Achillea Conjuncta and Dicentra Formosa 'Bacchanal', the Peonies I will order online.

I hope you enjoyed my tour of Claire Austin nursery and garden. 
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Ideas for Handmade Wedding and Birthday Cards

I am sharing some recent craft makes with you today. Browsing Pinterest for Wedding Card and Birthday Card ideas I discovered lots of inspiration. I combined some of the ideas to come up with two rather lovely yet different cards. 
Handmade Tying the Knot Wedding Card
Handmade Tying the Knot Wedding Card
Both the cards I have made have a sewing slant to them, one a birthday card for my sister and the other a wedding card for a friend.

The handmade wedding card 'Tying the Knot' was much simpler to make. A few pieces of card and some spare embroidery threads tied in a symbolic knot. It made a lovely unique wedding card, which was very well received.

The birthday card was a simple mug of tea design made from fabric. The tricky part for me was I had decided to sew the fabrics using free motion stitching on my sewing machine. I had little clue as to what I was doing, I attached the cover to the feed dog of my sewing machine and somehow I managed to squeeze the hoop with my fabric in under the needle. As you can see from the stitching it is rather wild, I felt like I was in control of a runaway train! Clearly I have much to learn about free motion stitching. But my sister was more than impressed with the finished card.
free motion stitching handmade birthday card.
Free Motion Stitching Birthday Card
Free Motion Sewing - A Mug of Tea
I am joining in with Making Home linky this week at Mrs Crafty B. I am also joining in with Cooking and Crafting with J & J. See my sidebar for link badges.
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Garden Maintenance with Ryobi One+ Cordless Extended Reach Hedge Trimmer

Nothing makes a garden look cared for than a cut lawn or a perfectly sculptured hedge. Today I am reviewing the Ryobi 18v Cordless Extended Reach Hedge Trimmer, part of the Ryobi One+ system of tools. With far more hedge than an average garden, the task of cutting the garden hedge is usually a well organised event. Step ladders, several extension cables, several members of the family and emergency services on stand by (I watch 24 hours in A&E I see the number of people admitted because they fell off a ladder).   
This time cutting the hedge was different, no ladder! The Ryobi OHT1850X is a 18v cordless extended reach hedge trimmer, weighs 3.73g (with battery), with a 50cm blade length.

The hedge to be cut has been well established over a number of decades and is mostly made up of holly and ivy, with some other shrubs. It is over six feet tall. Yes I know I'm mixing up my metric and imperial measurements - we Brits are known for this, please don't hold it against me. 

Whilst using the cordless hedge trimmer we found the 4 position adjustable articulated head, enabled the blade to be angled to cut cleanly across the top of the hedge, or at any angle.  Even though this was above head height. My sister being taller than me did this task, I stood back letting her know if she missed anything! I think you will agree from the before and after photos above the hedge looks defined and much tidier. 
Using the adjusted head of the hedge trimmer for perfect angles
My father called by for a visit (he must of heard there was a new power tool in town)and of course he could not resist.
He was most impressed with how much had been completed without ladders. My father has used cordless hedge trimmers in the past, and commented on how light the Ryobi Hedge Trimmer was. In fact he has since borrowed it for his garden too. 


A few days earlier one of my neighbours was out using his petrol powered trimmer - what a racket unlike the Ryobi Cordless Hedge Trimmer which was significantly quieter and neighbour friendly. 
I love… 
  • the staying power. I was totally surprised by, firstly it only took just under 2 hours to charge the battery and secondly the hedge trimmer just kept on going. I have metres of hedge and shrubbery, it did it all, still with power left. There is no guess work to the battery life, you can see a light indicating how much power the battery has left.
Review Ryobi Cordless Extended Reach Hedge Trimmer
Could do better…
  • although it was reasonably straight forward to set up and use, as someone who has never used a cordless hedge trimmer both myself and my sister were reasonably apprehensive. 
  • Easier and clearer instructions would have helped. The pictorial guides in the manual are three quarters of the way in, after some general written maintenance and care instructions in multiple languages, with no reference made to refer to them. In my opinion the pictorial guides should of been first in the manual, or referred to. We are both risk averse when it comes to diy and gardening with power tools. That said once we had gotten used to it - all was well.
Perfect for…
  • for all gardeners even if you have less confidence with power tools this is manageable. Exceedingly useful to trim taller hedges and giving a crisp clean sculptured look to your hedges. 
  • The +One range of Ryobi cordless tools uses one battery pack that can be interchanged to power over 40 different power and garden tools. So you can add to you staple collection of diy and garden tools with never having to buy multiple battery packs and chargers. 
Ryobi Cordless Extended Reach Hedge Trimmer
The important stuff…
  • It took under 2 hours to charge the battery. 
  • Blade length 50cm 
  • Weight with battery 3.73kg
Where to buy from 
The Ryobi One+ Cordless Extended Reach Hedge Trimmer retails for approx £90 from Amazon. You will also need to buy the charger for approx £27 and the battery £60, but once you have these you will not need to purchase them again as they can be used with any subsequent Ryobi tools from the plus one range.    

As with all power tools ensure you use the necessary safety equipment recommended.

Disclosure: I received the Ryobi Cordless Extended Reach Hedge Trimmer, charger and battery for the purpose of this review.

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Rhubarb and Chocolate Pudding Recipe

Rhubarb Chocolate pudding is such a favourite Rhubarb recipe of mine, it gets baked several times a year once the Rhubarb is ready for picking in the garden.
Chocolate & Rhubarb Pudding
Usually this pudding is made in one large pudding dish and serves 10-12 people, great for a big family gathering. But I have found it cooks much more evenly if baked in two medium pudding dishes. You could even then place one baked pudding into the freezer for later.
If you want to make individual portions of this pudding using ramekins I have a separate recipe to follow - individual rhubarb & chocolate puddings.

Recipe - Rhubarb & Chocolate Pudding
makes 2 medium puddings enough to serve 10-12 people (half the ingredients to make one medium pudding to serve 5)

Equipment
  • large bowl
  • electric hand mix
  • scales  
  • wooden spoon  
  • measuring spoons
  • measuring jug
  • 2 x 8inch/20cms dish
Ingredients
Oven temperature 200C/180C fan or gas mark 6.
Fruit
600gr rhubarb - cleaned and chopped into pieces
125gr caster sugar (keep 2 tbsp to sprinkle on the top of your finished pudding)
Sponge
4 eggs
200g self raising flour
225g butter or margarine (softened)
200g caster sugar
25gr coco powder (sifted)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
100ml milk
50gr dark chocolate chips

makes 1 medium puddings enough to serve 10-12 people (half the ingredients to make one medium pudding to serve 5)
Rhubarb, Rhubarb, Rhubarb

Instructions
Oven temperature 200C/180C fan or gas mark 6.
Place the chopped rhubarb in the bottom of your dish, filling the dishes 3/4 full, sprinkle over the sugar (except 2 tablespoons of sugar for later).
Add all the sponge ingredients into a bowl, with the exception of the  chocolate chips. Whisk until well combined. Then add and stir in the chocolate chips. Spoon the mix over the rhubarb, and spread out evenly. Sprinkle a little sugar on the top, this will give you a lovely crunchy top.
Bake in the oven for 45-50 minutes. 
Recipe Rhubarb and Chocolate Pudding
Rhubarb & Chocolate Pudding ready to go into the oven
Other Rhubarb recipes you may like:-
Easy Rhubarb Turnovers
Rhubarb & Gooseberry Jam

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Saving Bees and their Habitat

Here in the UK it is time to count bees for the Great British Bee Count which runs between 19 May to 30 June. There has been a rapid decline in the bee population including the extinction of some species in the UK.  The Great British Bee Count helps Friends of the Earth to monitor the numbers and types of bees we find in our gardens and countryside. 
As gardeners there are things we can actively do to provide bee friendly gardens, providing bees with a habitat that may help them survive. Sutton Seeds have created the infographic below which highlights the decline in the honey and bumble bees, how our crops are dependent on bees and the volume of honey consumed by the UK. There is lots of helpful and intriguing information, who knew the process honey went through!
Some of the bee friendly plants growing in my garden include: Aquilegia, Bluebells, Foxgloves, Lavender, Roses and Fuchsias. 

Do you grow any bee friendly plants?
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.
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Adagio Teas a Refreshing Discovery

Adagio Tea and ingenuitea teapot review. I am often sent tea to review, who knew there was such a huge choice of brands available online. So it is quite unusual to find something that is a little bit different when it comes to tea. Let me introduce you to Adagio Tea, a brand I had never heard of before but I have been getting acquainted with for the past month or two.
Tea images cup and saucer
Along with tasting the tea I have been using Adagio Teas special ingenuiTEA teapot. Each blend of tea I was sent is contained in a good seal-able packet essential for storing. 

Adagio English Breakfast Tea
Not a typical tasting English Breakfast tea but I still enjoyed it, I brew my tea quite weak and enjoyed with milk.
Irish Breakfast Tea
I have never heard of this tea previously. It is a much stronger tea blend, with a deep flavour to it - I even tried brewing a weaker version but it was not to my taste. But if you enjoy a strong flavoured tea this will be perfect for you. I had mine with milk.
Earl Grey Moonlight Tea 
Wow, this tea really surprised me. I do drink Earl Grey occasionally though it is not my favourite blend. I was intrigued with the added Cornflowers and I found I thoroughly enjoyed it, it has a light, refreshing and subtle flavour. I was not on my own either, both my sister and a friend that was visiting both express who much they liked this. Our visitor enjoyed it so much he has since ordered a pack for himself. So don't just take my word for it. 
Blueberry White Tea  
I have never drank white tea before, I have purchased it in the past as I have an aunt that particularly enjoys it. A light and fragrant tea and a pleasure to drink. I was hoping to have a catch up with my aunt so I could share her views on this white tea, but time and decorating have prevented this.
Casablanca Twist Green Tea
Green tea is not something I tend to buy. In the past it was a drink I enjoyed immensely during a visit to Japan, a number of years ago. I still have a special Japanese green tea cup that was gifted to me. This green tea is blended with peppermint, and is a super refreshing cup of tea, enjoyed black. In fact I can imagine enjoying this as an iced tea too, roll on the Summer.
Loose tea selection Adagio Teas
I love… 
the amazing ingenuiTEA teapot. A plastic teapot suitable for brewing loose teas, holds 450ml water. You can watch as your tea is infusing and when it reaches your perfect brew. Place the teapot above your cup, gently sit it down onto the rim and see the tea flow in. As soon as you lift off the cup the tea stops flowing. Now what impressed me most about this is that when it stops it stops, no dripping at all. So no need to place it onto a saucer as I initially did, just place it down on the kitchen surface or tea tray.  
Each sachet of loose tea comes with instructions on how long it is recommended to brew the tea and also the best temperature for the water. 
Adagio tea ingenuiTea loose tea Teapot
Adagio tea ingenuiTea Teapot
Could do better…
  • No I can not think of a single thing, just wish I had discovered Adagio Teas sooner.
Perfect for…
  • Teas are available both loose and in teabags so no need to worry if you do not have a teapot, or if you just prefer the ease of tea bags. 
  • For those of you that like to enjoy a cup of loose tea at work, the ingenuiTEA teapot would be perfect.
The important stuff…
  • Teas and the amazing  ingenuiTEA teapot can be purchased from the Adagio Teas website. The Earl Grey Moonlight 85g costs £4 and the ingenuiTEA teapots start from £16.
  • Register for Adagio Teas newsletter and you will receive 20% off your first order.
Earl Grey Tea Moonlight
Earl Grey Moonlight Tea
 Watch my video below to see how the ingenuiTea teapot works.
Disclosure: I received tea samples from Adagio Teas for the purpose of this review.
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