Category Archives: Botany

String Theory

Last Sunday I spent an exhausting (but productive) 4 hours with the Middle Earth Weavers, laying out the rows and planting 600 willow cuttings in our new coppice! Five of us were joined by Sam from Walsall Council on what turned out to be a gorgeous day.

The first job was to start laying out rows using garden string. The willow cuttings needed to be planted 1m apart, and we also needed to be able to access the rows to harvest them when next winter comes, so we ended up with pairs of rows 1m apart, with a 2m gap between each pair to allow us access. Cuttings were placed every 1m along the rows (staggered so that in each pair there was a plant every 50cm).

The hope is that two things will happen: Thing 1 is that we will get lots of willow withies from year 2/3 onwards – Year 1 will just be establishing the trees, which we will coppice in October. The established trees will then send up multiple shoots in year 2, each of which will be cut in the 2nd winter, and by year 3 we should have a decent crop. Thing 2 is that the drainage problems they’ve been having in the area will be alleviated by the thirsty willow trees! Everyone’s a winner!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We planted three varieties of willow:   Salix purpurea – fine, delicate basketry willow, Salix triandra “Noire de Villaine” – Black Vanilla – which produces rich brown willow rods, and Dickie Meadows – a variety of Salix purpurea that is famed for producing waxy, flexible rods perfect for basketry. We hope to add a few more, and we’re also coppicing an area of hazel in the same plot of land, so we should be all set in a year or two!

 

The End of an Era

Okay, that’s a bit on the narcissistic side, but it really is a huge thing for me – after nearly six years at Walsall Council working as Senior Countryside Ranger, I’m moving on to pastures new. It is very difficult to take the decision to leave a job that you love, but I had my reasons, not least that I need to push myself.

Yesterday I cleared out my desk. I had envisioned leaving my job to be like one of those films where people walk out holding a cardboard box with a picture frame and a couple of books – what it was actually like was roughly 6 trips to the car, loaded down with hessian bags-for-life full of field guides, tupperware, entomological display cases, microscope and more. I was well and truly embedded in my work. Part of my ‘exit interview’ was asking me if I had achieved work-life balance, and I had to say ‘no’. The problem with doing something that you love for a living is that it’s very hard to leave at the door. In fact, the job has been very hard to leave at all.

I spent a good couple of weeks talking myself into it. Budget cuts and staff redundancies had made the job increasingly stressful in the last couple of years, and there is no end in sight to those pressures. I’m very lucky – I have a lot of those “I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this!” days, for which I’m extremely grateful, and I think that gratitude is crucial in life. So, as a swan song to Walsall Countryside Services, and in the grand tradition of Nick Hornby a-la High Fidelity, I thought I’d to a ‘Top 5’ of those:

My Top 5 ‘Pinch-yourself’ moments from the last 6 years are:

#5: Total Solar Eclipse on Barr Beacon – I’ve loved all of the astronomy events that have happened on Barr Beacon, and I’m really proud that we achieved Dark Sky Discovery status. 5 years of eclipse-watching, MeteorWatch, Stargazing Live, the Transit of Venus, solar observations, ISS-passes and more really culminated for me at the Solar Eclipse, in which over 600 people gathered on Barr Beacon for the event. The atmosphere was tangible and it was a real privilege to share the day with so many other people.

#4: Botanical Surveys – Mostly because it has been a baptism of fire. To me, for most of my ecological career, plants have been simply Things That Bees Sit On. The last two years of summer botanical surveys have taught me loads, and I have a new appreciation for an entirely different taxonomic area of interest.

#3: Bat Box Scheme – The one thing that I feel has only just begun, as I will continue to supervise the bat box scheme in Walsall (but with my bat group hat on instead of my ranger hat). We’ve made some real progress with recording the bats of the borough, and we have two new bat box areas to add to the scheme!

#2: Ringing Peregrine Chicks – Really, not many people get to do this, do they? I know what a lucky cow I am – and I’m not rubbing it in, but just being there to see our baby peregrines, and to hold their hot little fluffy bodies, and then to see all four chicks fledge the nest had been a long time coming, and after 5 years of Peregrine Watch, it really was a moment I’ll treasure.

#1: Walsall Amphibian Survey – this really has to be my number one, not only because it was my first big survey for Walsall Council, but also because I met so many wonderful people through recruiting volunteers for this survey, which took place way back in 2011. Not only did we get to record amphibians (including Great Crested Newts) across the borough, but it was the starting point for the Black Country and Staffordshire Naturalists, whom I still spend almost all of my spare time with! It’s brilliant to have started something worth while and to see it grow and blossom. I can’t wait to see what the future holds. (p.s. because NEWTS!)

So, it’s been a really tough decision to leave, but I’m so very excited about the next step in my career/life/etc. I’d like to say a huge thanks to all of my colleagues over the years including the twitterables: @DanSlee, @Corporal_Kleg, @AbesOddWorld and in particular to my boss @CountrysideKev for being just so awesome.

Deep breath…. here I go!

Pine Resin (Part 2: Salve)

As you’ll know from Friday’s blog post about pine resin and rosin, I’m currently exploring foraging potential of pine trees. I’ve been collecting pine resin (this is not the same as tapping for sap as in the blog post I did this time last year about birch tapping) – resin is a fluid produced by pine trees to heal and protect wounds in the tree, whereas sap is a mix of sugars and water found in the xylem and phloem tubes of a tree. Sap is a sugary water, and flows readily, while resin is usually super sticky!

I’ve been reading about a variety of uses for pine resin, which is fat soluble and, as such, will infuse into oils really well. Pine resin salve is a traditional herbal remedy, particularly in the Americas.

20160213_100840

This post on the Mountain Rose Blog says:

“Here in southwestern New Mexico, many people think of Pine resin salve primarily as a treatment for pulling out splinters, embedded glass, drawing out boils, and for general first aid. It’s so common that it’s often sold in gas stations, and most any local logger or farm worker knows about it.”

Heralded to increase circulation to stiff, sore muscles and joints, help to treat psoriasis, eczema, scabies, heal cracked heels and dry skin on elbows, this herbal salve is surely worth a go?

To make it, you simply take a container/jar and pack it with pine resin and include some chunks of beeswax. I used about 100g of beeswax for two jars of wax (filled to about 2/3) and then covered with olive oil. The traditional method at this point is to place your sealed jars in a warm, dark place for a few weeks, but you guys know me – I don’t have the patience for that kind of waiting unless sloe gin is involved! I decided to render down the sap using a bain marie (called a double boiler in the USA).

I balanced the two jars inside my slow cooker on some tiny flan rings (you could use any type of trivet – just to keep the base of the jars off the bottom of the pot). I just PLACED the jam jar lids on – I didn’t seal them as I didn’t want to risk a pressure-induced explosion, but likewise didn’t want any condensation dripping in. I then poured hot water around the jars up to the level of the top of the resin, switched the slow cooker onto low and went to bed! In the morning the debris and gubbins had sunk to the bottom of the jars, and it was easy to pour off the infused (and lush-smelling) oil into clean jars. Stir as it cools, and you end up with a soft pine-scented salve for use on cuts, scratches and insect bites.

20160213_100822

 

*I want to pop a disclaimer here – many people are actually allergic to pine resin, which can be an irritant to sensitive skin, so you should test your exposure if you’re not sure if you’re one of them, and obviously, if you are, avoid exposure to pine resin, salve or rosin.

I’m still working on a few uses for the rest of my pine resin stash – I’m quite keen on trying pine resin honey (good for sore throats and coughs) and even pine resin tincture (which you have to infuse into overproof alcohol as resin is hydrophobic and ‘normal’ alcohol has too much water for it to infuse properly. I’ll let you know how I get on!

Pine Resin (Part 1: Rosin)

I’ve been playing about with pine resin this week – there’s like a million uses for the stuff, but I was mainly interested in its fire lighting properties. It burns really well, and is particularly useful if you’re trying to get a fire going with damp or green wood. I managed to get so much of the stuff that I thought I’d have a go at a few other traditional uses for it – ergo a two-part blog post. To harvest the hardened pine sap, you just need to gently pry it off with a knife. Look for natural wounds, rather than trying to make your own and tapping. (There is no shortage of sap in pine forests, especially at this time of year, and no need to go carving up trees!)

First, I thought I’d have a go at making rosin. Basically, pine resin can be split into two substances: turpentine and rosin. Turpentine (yes, this is the turps in your shed!) is usually made by distillation from resin, leaving rosin as a by-product.

So, if you trawl the internet, you’ll see several videos and websites showing a variety of methods, most of which involve setting the sap alight in a sieve of sorts, and letting the rosin fall through into a receptacle. Simple, right? I thought so… My first attempt utilised a stainless steel egg strainer, above a shallow dish of tin foil formed over the top of an enamel mug. This worked a charm, until burning drops of rosin dropped from the strainer and set the rosin in the collector on fire! I blew it out, and poured the rosin onto foil to cool and harden, and set about starting again. Take two…

Rather than trying to be a smart arse and reinvent the wheel, I just did what I’d seen in this awesome video – using just a mug and tin foil. You basically line a mug or container with foil, then make a shallow receptacle out of another piece of foil, into which you poke some drainage holes (I used a split match to do this!). It worked a treat – seriously, remind me not to think I’m my own kind of genius and just do what works in future. :-S

So, basically, the gloopy fluid that falls into your receptacle is rosin. It takes a while to cool, so if you wanted to, at this point you could add ground charcoal and mix to a paste, allow to harden, and then use as ‘pitch’ – pine resin glue. This is the type of glue that is traditionally used in things like birch bark canoes, etc. The ratio is 1/4 charcoal to 3/4 rosin.

Alternatively, give the rosin to your favourite violinist – it is used for string instruments:

“Johnny, rosin up your bow and play your fiddle hard.
‘Cause Hell’s broke loose in Georgia and the Devil deals the cards. And if you win you get this shiny fiddle made of gold,
But if you lose the devil gets your soul.”

Part 2 tomorrow – let’s just say that this involves my slow cooker!

Tasting the Wild in 2015

My year in review. (In photos!) I’ve had another amazing year – looking back, I’m not entirely sure how I’ve fit it all in!

Wild Encounters

From Chasing Violet Carpenter Bees in Andalucia, hunting for Eyed Ladybirds on Barr Beacon and moth trapping on heathlands around Walsall to mist netting for bats in woodlands, ringing birds (including our Peregrines which fledged four chicks!) and monitoring our amazing badgers, I’ve had another amazing year of wild encounters.

Wild in the Woods

I’ve also done lots of playing in the woods this year, and have concentrated on working on my fire craft skills (from just practicing lighting fires to experimenting with different tinders and kindlings). I’ve made a willow crayfish trap and learned some new basketry techniques, honed my corn dolly skills and bashed the heck out of some plants to make hapa zome flags. Culinary foraging has been limited to hedgerow berries and birch sap tapping this year, but I’m still reaping the benefits of my hedgerow vodka!

Travel

Kind of spent a ridiculous amount of my pocket money on travel this year, with a trip to Andalusia in March, followed by Edinburgh in May, the 5th annual Girls’ Birdwatching Trip (Norfolk), camping in the Derbyshire Dales and hiking from Ft William to Inverness. And I wonder why I have no money now that December is here! Highlights were definitely the seals at Blakeney Point and my first ever glimpse of the Aurora Borealis whilst camped on Loch Ness – amazing! (You can read the blog and see the videos of the hike across scotland here.) I’m planning on Florida, Cornwall and lots more camping in 2016!

Bats

Oh, the bats this year! I’ve been involved for a few years with the Herefordshire Mammal Group, doing mist netting and harp trapping surveys, and this year their project organisers helped BrumBats to undertake some woodland surveys of our own. With help from the Shropshire Bat Group, we surveyed Cuckoos Nook & the Dingle, Merrions Wood and Sutton Park. At BrumBats HQ we are very excited to get stuck into another season of study!  We also had a crazily busy year of bat care, and with this mild weather, are anticipating some winter grounded bats and (most likely) a very busy (and early) bat maternity season in 2016!

Space

The sun and the moon had amazing things in store this year – a total lunar eclipse, and a near-total solar eclipse. Both events had (uncharacteristically) clear skies. Over 600 people turned out on Barr Beacon for the solar eclipse. Amazing that so many people value natural phenomenon enough to come out and experience them together. The atmosphere was just incredible! I’m hoping to be in the USA for the total solar eclipse in August 2017.

Botanising

I had a fantastic summer, spending most of it undertaking botanical surveys of grasslands. I think we’re going to get a few new nature reserves out of it, and certainly some relaxed mowing regimes.

Becoming an Auntie again…

In January I became an auntie again – this time to a little girl – the enchanting Eleanor Hughes, whom I’ve got to spend time with twice this year (which is pretty good going seeing as she lives 3,500 miles away!). Can’t wait to see you in March, Elley!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I hope that everyone has had a merry Christmas full of comfort and Joy, and I’m sending you wish-grenades for a prosperous, healthy and bright new year!

Thanks, as always, for reading. If there’s anything you’d like to see me cover in 2016, please let me know!

Morgan x

Guest Blog: Ethnobotany

I’ve got a treat for you this week – my good friend Yoke has agreed to guest blog for me about her interest in Ethnobotany – the relationship between humans and plants throughout human history. Yoke is a botanist from the Netherlands, and we’ve been cooking up a few projects lately, including a planted willow coppice for basketry and a Dyer’s Garden in a local allotment – more on those in coming months! 

Yoke examining heathland plants on Barr Beacon, 2013
Yoke examining heathland plants on Barr Beacon, 2013

Ethnobotany – by Yoke Van Der Meer

I have been in love with plants (and nature as a whole) all my life and have also been professionally involved with plants since 1980. I started as a florist in the Netherlands and then progressed into Horticulture when I came to England in 1983.

The more I work with all kinds of plant life the more I like it and this even includes ‘WEEDS’ or our native plants as I prefer to call them or even wild flowers as many are pretty as well as useful…. Or ‘PRETTY USEFUL’!!

A plant in the right habitat looks good and often has a purpose to fulfil either to provide shelter or food for creatures such as our bees or slugs but often to improve or stabilize the soil and make it better for themselves or follow-up plants in succession.

Plants are interesting when you start learning about them and it is good seeing them close-up with a lens with their tiniest details in how they are beautifully and skilfully designed.

Ever since I helped out in 2008 at the ‘Jardin Etnobotanico de Oaxaca’, in Mexico, [Check them out of Facebook – Ed.] I’ve had a desire to create something similar in England. It is more obvious to have such a garden in a country or even just a region when the biodiversity of plants and creatures is enormous. There is also a great tradition in Mexico of using their plants for all sorts of uses. Our plants are often not as glamorous looking….

Anyway; I searched google to see whether there was something similar but all we have in the Western World seem to be ‘Physic Gardens’ and some Botanical Gardens have small areas devoted to various native plants for use to Mankind. But I did come across an Ethnobotanical Garden at the University of Kent. It has useful plants from all over the world and not just England or Britain!

ethnobotany

So maybe it’s not so interesting to start such a garden here with just our natives? In the ethnobotanical gardens of Oaxaxa they celebrate their plants by showing them off and giving guided tours to explain about their use as food, medicinal, building-material as well as more pleasurable uses such as in art, dyes, teas, etc. The director does not like having labels and interpretation boards messing up his garden as it is also a beautiful designed, ornamental garden. Here the knowledge of our plants is limited in books and the knowledge of a few, ‘crazy’/eccentric people.

There is a desire to be more close to nature but at the same time our busy, material lives don’t allow us to…

We do like to buy ‘British’ and even local produce. But, how do we encourage people to love our natives as well as learn about them? Our wild plants grow in many habitats and it is possible to condense this into a small area as how it has been done for many decades in the Netherlands, who have made heemtuinen (Translated: native gardens / A botanical garden, heembos or Heempark is an artificial, often fenced landscape element, aimed at the indigenous, wild flora and fauna show. The concept was introduced by Jac. Thijsse (1865-1945).)

The original idea of Thijsse was that of an educational park close to the people. The emphasis was not on kind of knowledge but on the understanding of communities. Thijsse received for his 60th birthday in 1925, the little areaThijsse’s Court in Bloemendaal. He founded this together with Leonard Springer with diverse plant communities in Kennemerland. Thijsse’s Court is the oldest botanical garden in Western Europe.

Here in the western world we are losing natural habitats all the time because of pressure for people to live and work and also because of ignorance about the value of plants in the first place! I therefore feel there should be some sort of renaissance for the native plants if not for real somewhere, then maybe in the form of a blog; informing people about some of the uses many of our plants have had in the past.

I am very grateful to Morgan who wants to introduce me as a guest on her lovely site and hoping that this introduction will be followed up by a series of blogs including pictures taken by my partner Matt Summers for many years on numerous walks.

-Yoke Van Der Meer, September 2015

*You can keep up to date with Yoke’s adventures here at Yoke’s Magic Garden

Getting Down and Dingy

I have a load of blog posts stock-piling, but I’ve been away the last two weekends, so this is a bit belated, but here you go…

One of the many awesome things I get to do is to work with local farmers, advising them on suitable projects and schemes to improve their farmland for biodiversity. This is John Adams, who owns College Farm and Lime Pits Farm (the fields that surround Park Lime Pits LNR in Walsall), and he takes part in Natural England’s Environmental Stewardship Scheme.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As part of the stewardship agreement, certain parts of his fields are left for wildlife. This means wide, uncultivated margins for invertebrates, winter crops to provide seed for birds, and awesome special projects like this one – a Dingy Skipper habitat!

Dingy Skipper is a widespread but declining (and it has to be said, decidedly UN-dingy) butterfly, which relies on large areas of its larval foodplant, Bird’s Foot Trefoil. I was asked to head over to Lime Pits Farm to see how John’s two Trefoil plots are doing, and to search for any signs of Dingy Skippers (caterpillars, eggs, etc).

We are planning on rotational cuts to the area and the introduction of Yellow Rattle to compete with the dominant grasses. Alas, we found no sign of Dingy Skippers (yet!) but did find this moth caterpillar – any ID would be greatly appreciated!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Gluten Free Apocalypse

*I’m fully aware that this is not a food blog, but I can tentatively claim that this is actually a botany blog post, because it is about grass.

Wheat is a grass. So are rice, barley, corn, oats, rye and millet. The world is pretty dependent on it.  There is actually a book by John Christopher called ‘The Death of Grass‘. (TDOG is, by the way, the second best Post-Apocalypse book set in the UK after ‘The End of the Word Running Club‘ by the lovely Adrian J. Walker, which has nothing to do with grass and lots to do with asteroids – think ‘The Road’ meets ‘The Full Monty’, but you should read both of them because they are awesome sauce.) The premise of TDOG is that the apocalypse is caused by rice crops getting a virus, which then spreads to all other grass species on the earth. There is no bread, rice, oats, etc, at first, but then there is no meat, as there is nothing for livestock to eat.  Ergo apocalpyse ensues (I usually refer to this book as the Poshocalypse because if you can imagine an end of the world movie starring Hugh Grant and Ben Fogle, you are coming very close to TDOG.)

Anyway, I digress. I don’t eat wheat, barley or rye (or anything with those ingredients in) because those particular grasses contain gluten. If you want to know how gluten promotes inflammation, alters your blood sugar and stimulates your appetite, check out this video on youtube or read Wheat Belly. If you want to know about how gluten is massively destructive to your immune system watch this video by Joe Rignola. (If you or anyone you know has Lupus, sarcoidosis, fibromyalgia, rosacea, IBS, Crohns disease, arthritis, MS, diabetes, psoraiasis or ANY other condition related to your immune system, you NEED to watch Joe Rignola’s video.) In the 6 months since going gluten free, my rosacea and IBS have completely disappeared. Because I have sarcoidosis, anything that I can do to calm down my crazily dysfunctional immune system is important.

The point of this post is not to tell you why gluten is bad. As someone who’s recently spent their first 6 months gluten free, I want to tell you that it’s both easier and harder than you think, and I think I can help you, with a few simple links and lists:

Getting started:  Stop eating bread, rolls, pizza, pasta and cereal right now. Then start reading labels. Almost all labels list all allergens in bold, so you can really quickly see if there are any allergens (gluten, soya, milk, nuts) by just looking for bold words. You can avoid most gluten by not eating anything that comes from a box. Stick to fresh fish, meat, fruit and vegetables, rice, etc.  Make your own sauces, cook fresh, and you’re half way there.

Things with gluten in you didn’t think had gluten in: Branston Pickle, anything malted (like malt vinegar), pre-marinated BBQ meats, burgers, sausages, soy sauce (and any chinese food with soy sauce in – buy TAMARI instead), some pestos, some soups, lots of packaged meat (like sliced chicken or chicken chunks). Just about every cereal – there are some nice gluten free versions but I usually stick to home made granola on yogurt or a smoothie of banana, coconut milk and oats (get gluten free oats as they can be contaminated with gluten, although technically oat is a gluten-free grain) for breakfast.

How to get around this: Make your own damn burgers. It’s not hard. Ground meat, finely chopped onion, salt, pepper. Squish it together. Awesome. You can buy Black Farmer gluten free sausages in Morrisons and they’re delicious.  Or bacon. Everyone loves bacon. Even vegetarians.

Things you think have gluten in but don’t: Beer, Whiskey, Vodka. Gluten does not (allegedly) survive the distillery process, so unless you are properly allergic to gluten you should be fine, no need to buy expensive gluten free beer, or to avoid grain-based liquor. But if you want to be absolutely sure, stick to wine, tequila and rum (Mojito or Margarita, anyone??)

Gluten free breads: Okay, in a pinch, you can try these and they’re actually pretty good tasting (Newburn are the best) and you can get bread, rolls or wraps. They can be a touch on the dry side, and I find them a bit hard to swallow as they are a bit, well, gloopy. In the end I have given up on gluten free breads, and have gotten used to eating meats, vegetables, fruits, etc.

Cookies and cakes: By FAR the best gluten free cookies are Tesco Finest. My hubby eats these readily and can’t even tell the difference. Also, try this amazing one-bowl gluten-free chocolate brownie recipe by Nigella Lawson. But don’t blame me if you make them every weekend and put on a stone in a month. (They really are THAT good!)

Crackers, etc: Nairns (lovely, lovely people!) make gluten free oatcakes and gluten free crackers which are both awesome!  So my lunches usually consist of one of these with cheese, ham, apples, etc – like a ploughman’s. Get them at Tesco or Sainsbury’s.

Free From Sections in Supermarkets:
Sainsbury’s are pretty good – they carry quite a few different brands, but can vary from store to store.
Morrisons mostly only carry their own brand Free From items, so the selection is poor – but they do those lovely sausages, which are in the normal sausage section.
Tesco – also really good, but it’s worth going to the big Tesco Superstores as they have better selections (if you’re local, the one in Dudley is worth a trip to stock up).
Waitrose. Obviously.

Don’t forget you can eat all of these…
Rice, oats (porridge, make your own meusli!), potatoes, sweet potatoes, chips, mash, corn, cornbread, prawn crackers, doritos, crisps (check the flavourings list though!) gram flour (pakora, etc), falafel (make your own at home as store mixes have wheat flour in), hummus,  quinoa, cheese, rice noodles (Try these with bolognese – works surprisingly well), soba noodles (these are made from buckwheat, but you have to get the posh ones from waitrose to avoid a wheat flour mix) – loads of asian noodles.

Fast Food / Eating Out: You basically can forget about KFC. The only thing you can eat there is coke. McDonalds you’d have to go for grilled chicken salad, and no fries, as they are cooked in the same oil as the breaded stuff. And no hashbrowns (flour!). Restaraunts are pretty good usually, and lots of menus say which choices are gluten free.  Safest bets are fish with vegetables or rice, grilled chicken, jacket potatoes, that kind of thing. Simple is best.  Watch out for soups and gravies as they are often thickened with flour.  Pizza Hut do the best gluten free pizza (dominos do one but it tastes like cardboard), but it’s pricey – instead I keep a jar of sun dried tomato paste and some gluten free pizza bases in at all times, which saves me loads. If you’re stuck at lunch for something gluten free – keep a few of these Itsu or Kabuto pot rice noodles in your desk drawer! They are AMAZING!

Anyway, hope this helps you avoid eating grasses, and also prepare you for the apocalypse. x

Hapa Zome Happiness

Let me warn you right now. If you read this blog post you may become addicted to flower pounding. Hapa Zome is the ancient Japanese art of beating natural dyes into cloth.  My friend Helen and I had a go this morning, and I must confess I’m feeling pretty evangelical about it…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You will need a rubber mallet (I got mine from Go Outdoors for £2), some material (A cheap, cream-coloured fitted sheet will cost you about £3 from Sainsbury, Morrisons or Dunelm – just cut it into the size you want), and some flowers and leaves – this is where you can go wild – we used a combination of garden flower petals (rose of sharon, lavender, carnations, etc) and fresh herbs from the supermarket (mint and thyme), as well as some roadside plants (fennel works wonderfully) – but you can just experiment and find your own favourites!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lay out your plants and flower petals in the design of your choosing, on top of one piece of the fabric. (Do this on a flat, smooth surface that can take a pounding – we used some birch logs.)

Cover your design with a second sheet of fabric and smooth it down so it is as flat as possible…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now, section by section, take your rubber mallet and bash the heck out of it. Make sure you don’t move your sheets or dislodge the material – go around the edges and middles of all of your leaves and flowers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You will see that the colours become immediately visible.  When you’ve finished, peel apart the two pieces of fabric and remove the remaining leaves and petals, and voila! You have two fabulous little Hapa Zome creations!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I can think of no better time and place for doing this than whilst camping – make Hapa Zome using your tent peg mallet, and then use your creations to make bunting for your campsite!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One last thing – as with any natural plant dye – if you want your creation to last, you will need to have treated your fabric with a mordant – in this case, Alum is the best one. Rather than order alum directly from chemical suppliers or dye shops, you can pop to your local garden centre and pick up some hydrangea food – it’s exactly the same thing! Simply spray your material using a 10% alum-water mixture until it is wet and allow to dry before you do the Hapa Zome! – Please send me photos of your creations! Spread the addiction!