Posts in Creative
Behind-the-Scenes: Honest Reflections on 2018
Image: Annie Spratt

Image: Annie Spratt


January feels so long ago. The first few days were spent preparing for the first Creative Countryside gathering in Edale, and I had no idea what to expect. Memories of the weekend include stargazing and watching shooting stars in the biting cold; frosty morning walks and diversions through farmyards; losing a sponge down the sink and flooding the kitchen(!); being pleasantly surprised that the cashew cheese I’d made was a hit; and most of all, meeting and chatting with the most incredible women and men, forging friendships that have lasted all year.


February was spent putting together the spring magazine (issue 3), and it was the month Monty started nursery, which meant I gained two whole mornings a week to work on the business. It made such a difference, and even though I was still working evenings – especially when one of my Masters assignments was due – it felt more manageable. Dan and I also managed to escape for a weekend away to The Welsh House, and we worked together on a piece for issue 3 that explored slow, simple living. It felt much needed after a busy start to the year.


March marked Monty’s first birthday and his Christening, so it was a busy month family-wise! Issue 3 – spring – was published, and it didn’t sell as well as I had hoped. This was made worse because I had ordered more copies based on sales of issue 2 and how I had expected the magazine to grow; I began to realise that changes were needed for issue 4. I also met Maddy from A Slow Adventure for the first time, and we immediately connected over a plate of pancakes and maple syrup!


Reflections: Hosting my first event was exhilarating because everything was new. I was nervous, but knew I had to do this. It broke even, which was my goal, and the magazine was selling slowly but steadily at this point. Really, my only hope during these first few months, was to make it through without sustaining a loss.

Image: Sarah Porteus

Image: Sarah Porteus

Image: Sarah Porteus

Image: Sarah Porteus

Image: Sarah Porteus

Image: Sarah Porteus


April was spent preparing for the summer gathering, and it was lovely to work with those who had attended the winter gathering to plan the workshops. We managed to escape to Northumberland for a few days for a family holiday, and the weather was glorious. This month flew by and it felt like we were on the cusp of summer.


In May we welcomed Rhiannon and Rebecca to the team, as Poetry Editor and Book Editor respectively. Getting to know and work with incredible creative folk such as these two has been the highlight of my year, without a doubt. I was also working on the next gathering, and preparing issue 4, complete with re-design, for print.


Our second gathering of the year took place in June, and it was hot. It was wonderful to spend an evening with Chelsea (Loving Life in Wellies) and Rik prior to everyone else arriving, and things felt much more relaxed than the winter gathering. Memories of the weekend include learning so much about wild plants and flowers from Heather; Elizabeth attempting to go barefoot at all times, even making it across the service station carpark on the way home!; all the sunflowers; battling with clouds of midges by the bonfire; and hugging trees in a shaded circle of earth. Issue 4 – summer – was also released, with a whole new design, and 40 more pages. I felt so much happier with how the magazine looked when this issue was released.


Reflections: Hosting an event in the summer means everything costs more.  Despite selling almost all the tickets (two were left), the event lost money, and financially was a failure. However, I was so pleased with the re-design for the magazine, and the feedback was also really positive.

Image: Annie Spratt

Image: Annie Spratt

Image: Annie Spratt

Image: Annie Spratt

Image: Annie Spratt

Image: Annie Spratt


In July I went to Timber Festival with a friend, and it was the first festival I’d been to where everyone sought the shade! It was lovely to have a couple of days to myself though, and the weekend itself was full of enlightening talks, nature-themed workshops, and relaxed music that we dipped in and out of during the day. This was the month where I felt creatively like I wanted to move forward, and in the final few days, I booked the venue for the autumn gathering and decided to launch the Creative Countryside Community. It was the first ‘oh let’s just go for it!’ decision I made of the year, and thankfully, it was the right one.


August was the month of community and connection. Supporters of the magazine right from the start and those who I’d never met before joined together to create the membership community that I’d been thinking about for a long time. It was a really exciting time, and I remember feeling so lucky that I was in a position to be able to bring people together in this way. I also began to write my final (15,000 word!) assignment for my Masters, though I didn’t get much done…


In September the first community e-book was sent out, and I spent a long time cultivating the Facebook group and thinking ahead to future resources. I finished my Masters (just in time!) and also ran my first workshop at Maddy’s harvest-themed gathering in the South Downs. It felt quite strange being on the other side of things, and sleeping in a tent reminded me so much of the year we lived in one at home. Issue 5 – autumn – was also released, and it was definitely my favourite one so far. We received the copies just before leaving for The Good Life Experience Festival with a stall, where Dan was my number two. It was busy and stressful, but we met some lovely people and I got some incredible feedback about the magazine. We sold just enough to make it worthwhile, and for our first stall I was pleased.


Reflections: Sometimes choosing to do something really quickly that you’ve been planning in your head for a while, is worth it.  The community launch was a success and is something I’ll be focusing much more on in 2019. However, choosing to take on so much in September meant I finished this part of the year burnt out and creatively exhausted.


Image: Eleanor McAlister-Dilks

Image: Eleanor McAlister-Dilks


After a hectic September, we spent a few days in the New Forest at Warborne Farm at the start of October. I was still a bit overwhelmed by everything going on over the previous couple of months, and I think it was only as we drove home that I felt like things had started to re-set themselves. I spent a lot of the month preparing for the autumn gathering, and towards the end we had the first community meet-up at Attenborough Nature Reserve. We crafted twig stars, drank cinnamon tea, walked and talked and basked in the autumn sunshine; it was my favourite part of the working month.


November was consumed with producing the winter issue of the magazine (issue 6) and preparing for the gathering. We travelled to Shropshire for a weekend in a rustic farmhouse, hung leaves from the beams and lit candles to guide us into the darkest part of the year. Feasts, leaf art, branch calendars and lots of laughter featured throughout the weekend, and I felt like this was our best event yet.


December arrived with all its festive cheer, but I spent the first week finalising orders for issue 6 and preparing for our solstice celebration in Hereford. The venue was beautiful, and the small group size was perfect for a quiet, reflective start to what can be a busy season. It was lovely to connect with everyone, and I caught up with Jenny, who began a sabbatical for Creative Countryside at the start of the month. Dan and Monty came with me as the venue was booked for a few days, and we were able to enjoy some much-needed time as a family. I also included a few ‘bundles’ in the shop for Christmas, and hand-picked a few products from makers who I really love.


Reflections: The autumn event was by far the most popular, and sold out in twelve hours. Marketing really does pay off. But deciding to book in two other events in close succession wasn’t a brilliant idea. The solstice celebration lost money and the first event for 2019 didn’t sell as many tickets as I had hoped. Selling bundles in the shop was also time-consuming and didn’t make me any money.


Image: Annie Spratt

Image: Annie Spratt

Image: Annie Spratt

Image: Annie Spratt


2018 in review

Now for some honesty and straightforward facts.

From January to December this year, Creative Countryside made £4,238. The autumn gathering was by far the most successful, making a profit which all three of the other events did not. Issue 2 continued to sell well throughout the year, and issue 5 was the most successful issue after the re-design. The community accounts for around half that profit, and we ended the year with around 50 paying members.

I’m sharing this number to give you some idea of what the first full year of running a part-time business alongside a toddler and a Masters degree can look like. Segmenting the profit equally evens out to just over £350 per month, not enough to sustain a business, but it covered Monty’s nursery bill, and helped a little towards household costs. But the magazine makes very little per issue, and for some issues make nothing at all. Money is not the reason I do this, but it has to play a part, and as such I’ve been thinking very carefully about how to move forward with the various elements of CC as we move into a new year. But more on that next week!

The biggest part of looking back over 2018 is an immense feeling of gratitude. That I’m in such a privileged position to be able to experiment with what works and what doesn’t. That I have such a wonderful support network around me. And most of all, that you’ve all stuck around.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. You make all of this possible.

Join me next week as I look ahead to what’s in store for 2019!

CreativeEleanor Cheetham
Lady Farmer Slow Living Retreat 2018
All images by Meaghan Clare Photography

All images by Meaghan Clare Photography

Lady Farmer is a sustainable apparel and lifestyle brand, striving to cultivate a community for those seeking independence from existing food and fashion systems that are harmful to the planet and its people. They offer functional, fashionable, sustainable clothing and products for the intentional lifestyle and a resource for the modern woman of all ages who yearns for a simpler way of life. 

The first Lady Farmer Slow Living Retreat was held in November at the beautifully restored Zigbone Farm in Sabillasville, MD, located just over an hour outside of  Washington D.C. and Baltimore, MD.  This gathering was a weekend exploration of a sustainable living, celebrating community, connection and self-care, designed for the modern woman seeking an inspired and healthful life through changes in energy management, consumer behaviour and daily rituals. A full weekend immersion in workshops, speakers and a supportive community, all taking place in a beautiful natural setting with exquisitely prepared farm-to-table meals,  this experience was intended to provide participants with the tools to create more slow and intentional living for themselves and their families. 

The retreat began on Friday evening with a reception welcoming approximately forty-five women arriving from locations far and wide, from local to international.  Many came from Washington, DC or nearby locations in Maryland and Virginia, but others came from distant states or from as far as Canada and France. A heavy rain meant that the planned bonfire was moved indoors to the living room of the cozy old farmhouse, where strangers soon became fast friends over wine and snacks around the woodstove. 

The weekend programming was launched on Saturday morning with opening remarks by Mother-Daughter team and Lady Farmer co-founders Mary and Emma Kingsley, followed by a presentation by keynote speaker Amy Dufault, a sustainable fashion and lifestyle writer.  Amy is the Director of Digital Content & Communications for the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator and a co-creator of the Food & Fibers Project,  a project that looks at the connections between what we eat and what we wear. Speaking on the problems in the fast fashion industry and conscious consumerism, she was the perfect spokesperson for the intersection of sustainability in food, clothing, and lifestyle.

The rest of the day unfolded as participants were given a selection of workshops to attend. Topics included slow gardening, affirmation journaling, exploring personal cycles and rhythms and gathering energy and power from nature.  Though there were numerous talks and workshops offered, scheduling allowed for attendees to take time to reflect, explore and get to know the rest of the Lady Farmer community gathered. 

The day culminated in a special meal on Saturday evening, a beautifully prepared farm-to-table dinner featuring delicious, locally sourced fare, including organic, biodynamic wine and a signature dessert. It was a highlight of a weekend celebrating the best of slow living-- community, sharing, learning, and nurturing. 

The retreat continued on Sunday with a full day of programming lead by environmental educator Shayn Gangidine, exploring the healing benefits of being outdoors. In an engaging talk,  Shayne discussed our historic connection to the land around us, as well as modern research in the effects of nature on brain patterning.  Workshop participants went outside to observe their surroundings, gather objects or meditate, mixing relaxation, mindfulness, and whimsy. These and other guided activities, such as nature art and prompted journaling, gave them the knowledge and tools for enhancing their lives and those of others through meaningful interaction with the natural world. 

Mary and Emma closed out the retreat that afternoon with a Q and A conversation wrapping up the weekend and a sneak peek at what’s next for Lady Farmer.  In addition to an abundance of learning opportunities, the weekend was a wonderful experience of friends old and new coming together to be nourished, restored and inspired by all things slow living.

So, you might ask,  who are these Lady Farmers who gathered for a weekend retreat in the country? What drew all of these women together? 

Whether she owns and cultivates country acreage, tends to a home garden or dwells in the city with a desire to create space in her life for more sustainable living, the Lady Farmer sows the seeds of slow living all around her.  She is any women who cares deeply about personal connection, cultivating meaningful relationships with the people in her life and the land under her feet. She chooses, uses and purchases thoughtfully, understanding her individual impact on the world and the future. She has a motherly instinct, whether for her own children or all children, embracing the idea of the world as a village and tending to the growth of her community. She brings an open heart and a conscious mind to living on the earth. These are the women who came together for the  Lady Farmer Slow Living Retreat 2018. 

Visit the Lady Farmer website to sign up for their newsletter and get more information on their sustainable apparel line, lifestyle products, blog and upcoming events.

Lifestyle, CreativeContributor
Gatherers - A Handmade Cornish Book

‘Gatherers’ is a handmade photographic and recipe book which celebrates and shares the stories of the modern hunter-gatherer. Photographed in Cornwall, it captures different subjects throughout the diverse ecosystems the county has to offer, using a combination of film photography, typewritten and handwritten text.

As a result of the fast growth of our society around material growth, we can too easily become detached from our connection to the resources we consume in our day by day. Even while living in the big city and being distracted by the hectic pace of the metropolis, this book leads us back to those playful moments of outdoor exploration and connection with nature we lived throughout our childhood. 

In addition to re-connecting us with the natural world by engaging with the gatherers, it also emphasises the importance of sustainability and challenges what it means to be sustainable. For the gatherers in the book, to be sustainable is to be aware of how the natural resources we use have been extracted and where they come from. For most of us, this knowledge is limited by what we are told on a label, even in local produce. Instead, the gatherers in the book show how the concept of sustainability goes beyond a piece of paper, by making an effort to knowingly search and forage these resources for themselves. Always being conscious of how much and how to extract them without breaking the fragile balance of their local environment.

Jaime Molina is a Colombian photographer based in the UK. Find out more about his book and how to get your copy here, where he is currently selling through a Kickstarter campaign that ends December 9th. You can also follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

Creative in the Countryside: Kate Luck Ceramics

On the journal today, we talk to Kate a ceramic artist. Watch our for her increbible conker masterpieces - a perfect seasonal orement.

CC: Tell us about Kate Luck Ceramics and the journey you took to starting your own business?


K: I studied Ceramic Design at Central St Martins and decided to specialise in mould making and slip casting. I graduated without a product I wanted to sell but certain that I was made to make. Graduating in 2009, I walked straight in to a recession. The arts had been severely cut back and there were no jobs.

I went on to do an amazing apprenticeship with a master mould maker. After my year as an apprentice and a further two years working as an assistant to a couple of ceramicists, I learned of an incubator ceramics studio in North London, near where I lived. With no plan I joined the studio in September 2011, within three years I became the studio manager for twenty five ceramicists.

I started up a Facebook page and blog advertising my mould making and batch production casting service and the commissions came rolling in. For six years I worked on a wide variety of amazing commissions from replicas for Hampton Court Palace to chandeliers and sculptures.

After getting married and moving to rural Bedfordshire, I knew that the time was right to leave production work behind and start making my own work. I have been working on my own collection of porcelain wall sculptures for the last year. My seasonal designs seek to capture childhood memories and family stories in nature, gently reminding us to celebrate the simple pleasures in life.

CC: I know your work is inspired by family stories, magic and nature. Can you tell us why nature is so important to you, and how it influences the way you live and work?

K:My maternal family comes from Anglesey, a small island off the north coast of Wales. Most of our school holidays would involve a trip to Anglesey. Our holidays there were centred on time outdoors no matter what the weather, whether that was beachcombing and skimming stones or climbing trees in woodland covered in lush wild garlic.

En route to Anglesey we would drive through Snowdonia National Park and I grew up in awe of those mountains. Even now every drive through the mountains replenishes my soul. There is something special about the magnitude of nature that heals, grounds and balances me. I turn to nature to remind me that I am just passing through and unlike the mountains I’m not permanent. Nature has a way of giving me perspective.


In 2012 I lost my paternal Grandmother and father to cancer in one week. When it was close to the end, the simple little pleasures we could find from each day became very important. I would bring my father blackberries picked from the garden and he would savour each one. One of my last memories is wheeling my father outside to breathe in the smell of summer rain on hot earth.

The power of these little simple pleasures has stayed with me ever since. When the world seems tough and problems seem to mount up around me, nature reminds me to take time to reflect and refocus on what it is that I truly need. There’s a quote that says it is impossible to walk in the woods and be in a bad mood at the same time, I find this to be true. Nature is my councilor.

CC:I’d love to know what has been the biggest challenge, and the best surprise in running your own business?

K:In the last year the biggest challenge has been switching from a service-based business to a product-based business. I’m still learning and navigating how to approach and gain new stockists and how to sell my work online.

I find that running a creative business is somewhat of an organic process; things do take time and evolve naturally. Despite the new challenges I am facing, it was certainly the right decision for my creativity and I am enjoying the transition.


I think the biggest surprise is probably how much resilience running your own business requires. You need to have so much inner strength to pursue your dreams, pushing onwards even when it seems impossible just because you know that is the route to your true happiness.

CC:Can you tell us about your home, your workspace, and what a typical day for you looks like?

K: I moved to Bedfordshire almost a year ago and it was one of the best decisions my husband and I have ever made. We love the country life and it’s been a real joy discovering our local area over the seasons. I’m very lucky that I have a studio in my garden, but that doesn’t mean I don’t walk to work!

A typical day starts with taking my fox red Labrador Rupert for a good walk over the fields and around the lakes near us. I find it’s a great way to set me up for the day, plan what I need to achieve as well as being a great source of inspiration. I usually always snap a picture of something that catches my eye. Once home it’s kettle on and time to head to the studio to start the working day.

In the studio it’s usually classical music on the radio that fuels my mornings as I get all my emails and social media done and then I flip to an audio book ready to crack on with making undisturbed for the rest of the day. Making days have their own natural rhythm and pattern that add up resulting in a finished piece, it’s a very fluid process of both planning and responding to what needs to be done.

The vast majority of success when working with clay, unlike many other organic materials, is timing. Certain things must be done at certain times, too wet and the shape could collapse, too dry and it can crack. It’s the most instinctual part of my job, working according to what feels right.

CC:When you aren’t working on your business, how do you enjoy spending your time?


K: Having adventures with my husband and our dog Rupert takes up a lot of my free time and takes us to some fantastic places. Some of the best times we share as a little family are weekend walks, no phones, just holding hands walking the dog, talking about everything and nothing, letting the surroundings wash over us. After a really muddy or crisply cold Autumn walk there’s nothing I like more than an afternoon snuggled up on the sofa watching films with a roaring fire going.  

Together, my husband and I are avid travellers and really enjoy exploring new and obscure places whenever we can. Instead of giving each other gifts we usually take each other away, as we feel memoires last longer than possessions. We usually choose somewhere near mountains where we can just hike and explore, the wonder of our beautiful planet never ceases to amaze me.


CC: And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?

In a world connected by social media, the pursuit of perfection, branding and creating an image, comparison is a toxic inevitability.  So my advice would be to believe in the validity of your dreams. Your dream is valid because of you, and that validity is not based on or determined by how many likes or shares you get.


Something I do to combat the toxic effects of comparing myself to others is to write down goals I want to achieve in my business at the start of each year. It helps give a focus to your work and a sense of achievement when you have fulfilled them.

The other exercise that I think is especially important is to define what success looks like for you, success doesn’t always need a financial focus. So define your success and go for it, reach for it and believe in it.

You can find Kate over on Instagram and Facebook

CreativeChelsea Louise Haden
Creative in the Countryside: Saskia's Flower Essences

Today we’re introducing you to Saskia Marjoram, who runs Saskia’s Flower Essences based in Somerset…

Eleanor: I’d love for you to start by telling us more about you and your business, who you are and what it is you do?

Saskia: Who I am feels like it changes on an almost daily basis so I find it hard to answer this one. The easy bit first: my name is Saskia Marjoram and I am one of the founders of a company called Saskia’s Flower Essences. We make flower essences in the same way as the Bach Flower Remedies which, if you’re unaware, are drops that you take under your tongue. They help to shift long held negative patterns and thought processes. These drops work on a vibrational level and contain the energy of the plant rather than its physical properties. Even now, 15 years later, I am completely amazed at how powerful and effective they are. It is as close to natural magic as I’ve gotten so far.

My background is in gardening and floristry. For a long time I was one of the florists for HRH Prince of Wales and I have been gardening professionally for over 30 years now. I find if I don’t have a chance to get my hands in the soil on a regular basis I lose the connection with the earth , which is absolutely vital for my health and well-being.

Eleanor: Can you tell me about where you find your inspiration?

Saskia: My inspiration comes from connecting with plants and the natural world. As a small child walking in the country I was always asking what the plants I saw were called. For me, being able to get deeper and deeper into knowing the plants growing around us and what they have to teach us is an absolute joy and privilege. Sitting with plants, observing them and how they grow and walking amongst them not only brings me inspiration but healing too.

Making flower essences isn’t a complex process but it does require an understanding and connection with plants, as well as a deep respect for them and their wisdom. Being able to collect their energy to bring healing to other people is what keeps me going. When I hear the stories of what our essences have done for people my heart sings and I know that’s what I’m here for.

Eleanor: I am also interested in knowing more about how you view creativity; is it something you can rely on every day, can you work at it, or do you have to wait for it to strike?

Saskia: For me the creative process is being able to open up to the universe and allow the messages to arrive freely. As a florist, especially when creating funeral tributes, I noticed that there was always a point of letting go, an opening up and trusting that divine wisdom flows through you. Although the work I do with essences, and more recently distilling plants to make hydrosols, isn’t considered by many to be a creative process I believe that, if we are open, we are constantly creating our own lives. When I am making up a specific combination for someone, as I do in consultations, I use a pendulum to help me decide which essences someone needs. Opening up to this energy feels very similar to open up to receive creativity.

There are certain flower essences that help with opening to our own creativity. Buttercup and Carrot spring to mind which are both in our Focus, Energise, Create combination which is great to take whenever you feel that your creativity isn’t flowing freely.

Eleanor: Can you tell me why nature and the seasons are important to you, and how they influence the work you do?

Saskia: Ah, that’s a much easier question and yet a very complex one too. I am a human and therefore part of nature and absolutely affected by the seasons as we all are. My connection to both is deep and as essential as breathing itself. Someone once pointed out that all the air we breathe has been exhaled by a plant at some time - I like that thought a lot - and of course without nature my ‘work’ wouldn’t exist. It feels that I am here to connect humans with plants so that we can learn the lessons they have to teach us.

Eleanor: And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?

Saskia: Do it. Whatever you are drawn to do, whether it means that you will be penniless and living in a shed on top of a hill, as I did for quite a while - do it. Listen to your dreams, remember why you are here and the gifts you have to bring to make this world a richer and more beautiful place and keep on keeping on. And if you get stuck remember that the plants will always help you, especially in the form of essences, to get you through the difficult parts. We are fed and supported on all levels by the plant kingdom so we can be as human as we are able. With all the resources that we are using as a species surely it is imperative that, whenever possible, we live our lives as fully and deeply as we can.

Saskia’s flower essences and essence sprays are made and bottled in Somerset and are available to buy here. You can also find information about her workshops on flower essences and distilling plants. Give Saskia an email if you wish to be kept informed about her upcoming events.

CreativeEleanor Cheetham
Creative in the Countryside: Mending Matters

On the journal today is Katrina Rodabaugh, a slow fashion and sustainability warrior. We talk to her about her latest book Mending Matters: Stitch, Patch, and Repair Your Favorite Denim & More. She kindly sent us a copy for a review which we’ll share with you soon!


CC: Tell us about Mending Matters and the journey you took to writing your own book?

K: Mending Matters was the result of launching a personal art project, Make Thrift Mend, in August 2013. I launched the project just months after the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Dhaka Bangladesh in April 2013 killing over 1,100 people. After the collapse I decided I wouldn’t buy new clothing for one year. Instead I’d focus on making simple garments by hand, supporting thrift stores and secondhand shops, and mending what I already owned.

Soon after mending my clothing a friend asked me to teach my first mending workshop at a fabric store where she worked. It sold out quickly, much to my surprise. I offered a second workshop and that sold out quickly too. That’s when I realized people were eager to learn repair work. That was five years ago and I’ve been focusing on sustainable fashion ever since. Mending Matters is the culmination of teaching mending to thousands of students and wanting to have a way to teach people all over the world. The book allows folks to learn my techniques from their homes instead of traveling to my workshops.


CC: I know you’re inspired by slow fashion. Can you tell us why this is so important to you, and how it influences the way you live and work?

K: Sustainability has always been central to my values. I was an Environmental Studies major in college and then went straight to work for nonprofit arts organizations like galleries, theaters, and art centers. Then I went to graduate school for creative writing and focused on poetry and book arts. So, I was working in arts offices by day, making fiber installations and poetry by night, and trying to live as sustainable as possible.

When the Rana Plaza factory collapsed I realized I had overlooked fashion in my attempts at sustainable living. I was recycling everything, keeping a compost bin in my urban apartment, and supporting my local organic farms but I was buying clothes from the sales racks of major fashion retailers. So, Slow Fashion really helped to deepen my commitment to sustainable living and also align my fiber arts, writing, and environmental concerns with my closet.

CC: I’d love to know what has been the biggest challenge, and the best surprise in writing your own book?


K: This is my second book so I really feel like I could be much more present and have more realistic expectations with this book. I think the biggest challenge is always editing—how to really focus the book on just one topic when there’s so much I want to share. And the best surprise is always the collaborators. The people that supported this book are truly incredible people. By the time the book publishes it’s not just my book anymore. It’s a book by my editor, agent, photographer, models, graphic designer, publicist, and all the folks at Abrams Books and then it’s the book of the reader too. I like thinking of the book as a community effort—it doesn’t exist in a vacuum but instead it’s a collaborative process that continues all the way to the reader mending her jeans.

CC: Can you tell us about your home, your workspace, and what a typical day looked like for you during the writing process?

K: Well, I’ve had to give up any idea of “typical” in the last few years. My husband and I are both working artists and self-employed so our daily schedules shift all the time. But in October 2015 we moved 3,000 miles from a small apartment in Oakland, CA to the rural area of the Hudson Valley in Upstate NY. We bought a 200-year-old farmhouse and immediately started DIY renovations. Our young sons were then just three-years-old and six-months-old. It was a wild time. In January 2016 I sent the book proposal for Mending Matters to a handful of agents and signed with my amazing agent in March. We signed with my publisher in November 2016 and the book was just officially published on October 16, 2018.

So, for the past three years, parenting two young children, DIY renovating an 1820s homestead, and writing this book while being self-employed was really an act in time management, diligent focus, fierce priorities, and a good dose of humor. I couldn’t do all the things I wanted to do in a given day or even a given month. So, I just had to really focus on the deadlines, prioritize the photo shoots, and trust my incredible team of colleagues at Abrams to carry the book to publication. Which they did so beautifully. It was a great reminder that many brains are better than one.

CC: When you aren’t mending, how do you enjoy spending your time?

K: If I’m not in my studio or at my computer I’m probably working on our farmhouse, barns, gardens, or caring for our sons—oftentimes these things overlap, of course. We’ve really leaned into creating the family homestead we dreamed. So, we’ve added chickens and bees and each summer we expand the garden or further renovate the barns into our studio spaces. There are very blurred lines between my work, my home, and my family life but I do try to leave the work behind sometimes and just go canoeing with the boys, have a bonfire in the backyard and roast marshmallows, or go take a family hike. Leisure time is very scarce as a working mom but I relish in the moments when we can really unwind as a family.

CC: And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?

K: Go for it! You’ll probably never feel ready. You’ll never know everything you need to know or perfectly calculate all the risks. But trust yourself that you’ll figure it out as you go. I think we confuse recklessness with risk-taking. You can be adventurous and take risks and still be very reasonable and responsible. In some ways, it might actually be more responsible to follow our dreams than let them wither. Especially if they’re persistent.


If there’s something you know in your heart you really want to create, build, or achieve, then let that be your guide. Nurture it. Honor it. Protect it. Work towards it like it truly matters. And then, at some point, lean into the not-knowing and start doing. I always think of it as the balance between my heart and my head. My head leads the way with calculating risk, researching, and devising a plan that seems reasonable. But then, at some point, my heart takes the lead and I move into action and just try to hold on for the journey.

Mending matters will be make lovely and practical sustainable gift don’t you think?

Follow Katirina over on Instagram

Creative in the Countryside: Elliot Channer

Today we’re introducing you to Elliot Channer, a wildlife sculptor and artist.

Eleanor: I’d love for you to start by telling us more about you and your business, who you are and what it is you do?

Elliot: I have been a wildlife sculptor for 4 years, exhibiting across the country with numerous galleries. I have now set about creating my own online gallery focusing solely on wildlife art. Avocet Fine Art represent some of the UK’s finest wildlife and equine artists and provides affordable, high quality originals, prints and sculpture.  

Eleanor: Can you tell me about where you find your inspiration?

Elliot: Inspiration for my sculpture comes from the natural world: from British garden birds and animals to exotic birds of paradise. I gather all the visual information I can and create a metal armature onto which I add clay slowing allowing the form to develop.

Eleanor: I am also interested in knowing more about how you view creativity; is it something you can rely on every day, can you work at it, or do you have to wait for it to strike?

Elliot: I find creativity to be quite unpredictable. It can take hold and I will work non-stop throughout the day but, at other times, when it simply isn’t happening, I ensure everything is working well with Avocet: uploading new works; contacting artists and clients and keeping social media up to date.

Eleanor: Where do you work? What’s important about your work space?

Elliot: I work from my studio in Staffordshire, both for sculpting and working with Avocet. The space reflects my interest in art, displaying my work and other pieces I have collected - from reclaimed carved pieces to a Violet Astor print (one of the artists represented by Avocet.)

Eleanor: Can you tell me why nature and wildlife are important to you, and how they influence the work you do?

Elliot: I have been interested in wildlife from an early age and find nature hugely inspiring. I enjoy the challenge of translating the life and dynamism of animals into solid bronze. I spend many hours outdoors looking for inspiration for my next sculpture. Through Avocet I now have the pleasure of being involved with other artists who share my inspiration of the natural world.   

Eleanor: And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?

Elliot: My advice would be to go for it. It’s important to listen to people who have been in your situation, and to be patient.  

Find out more about Elliot on his website, shop his pieces here, or follow him on instagram and twitter.

CreativeEleanor Cheetham
Creative in the Countryside: Izzi Rainey

Today we're introducing you to IzziRainey, a small textile business based on a family farm in Norfolk.


Nicola: I’d love for you to start by telling us the story behind how Izzi Rainey started, and what it is you do?

Lara: Hi. IzziRainey is a small textile business based on Izzi’s family’s farm in Norfolk. We design and manufacture high quality homewares, stationary, kitchenwares and small accessory products. Izzi takes all of her inspiration for her designs from farm life and the Norfolk countryside. All of our products are made in the UK, and most are made by Izzi here on the farm!

Izzi and I have been friends since we were 13; just before we graduated, she mentioned that she wanted to start her own textile business back in Norfolk. I jumped at the chance to work alongside my best friend, and had always loved her designs, so in the summer of 2014, IzziRainey began! 

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Nicola: Can you tell us about the different roles you both have in the business and why you think you work so well together?

Lara: Izzi is the sole designer for the business, she does all the marketing and makes a majority of the products that we sell here on the farm- she is the genius behind it all!  

I am more in charge of the day to day running of the business; managing our customer and trade customers, planning our fairs, the money side of things and general everyday tasks.


Nicola: Can you share with us how growing up on a farm in Norfolk has inspired the work you do today?

Lara: Izzi has lived here on the farm all her life; she has been showing her Highland cattle since she was six and has always been involved in the day to day running of the farm. This has been such a huge influence in her life and subsequently in her designs - all are inspired by her family’s farm, the surrounding Norfolk countryside and other local farmers' livestock. The farm is still very much part of everyday life here at IzziRainey.

Photo: Tom at  Gnowangerup Cottage

Photo: Tom at Gnowangerup Cottage

Nicola: What do you love most about what you do?

Izzi: I love being able to combine my passion for design and for farming by being able to design prints that have been inspired by my family’s home and our idyllic surroundings here in Norfolk. By having our studio here it means I can still play a big role in the farm but also able to run IzziRainey too!

Lara: I love working with someone who is so creative, as I’m not. I find it so interesting seeing something start as a simple pencil drawing and end up as a finished product- it is always amazing seeing the journey of a product. I also love being able to work with my best friend- there are always lots of laughs!


Nicola: I’d love to know more about the process of how your work develops from initial idea to the final piece.

Lara: Izzi starts by collecting imagery and doing drawing of different ideas, these ideas are then translated into prints through a wealth of hand stamped techniques, which form the basis of all the fabric designs. These are then sent off to be digitally printed into lengths of fabric here in the UK. Even though the fabric is digitally printed it still retains the textural quality of Izzi’s original hand stamped prints. 

The fabric then returns to us to be made into the products that you see in the shops and online. Many of the fabric products are made here on the farm, however over the last few years we have begun to outsource some of the production too- just so we can keep up with it all! But everything is still made in the UK - British design and manufacturing is at the heart of our business.


Nicola: Can you tell us more about where you live, your workspace, and what a typical day for you both is like?

Lara: We live in the heart of rural Norfolk, and our studio is based in a converted old dairy.  We are very much in the ‘farmyard’ with Monty the Highland Pony next door and chickens wandering around too. Our studio is a hub of activity - it is where all the designing happens, products get made, orders get packaged plus lots more. 

Day to day, Izzi arrives at the farm about 7 to feed and check on all her cattle before we both start in the studio. Izzi will generally be making products, designing new prints, getting inspiration from local farmers for new ideas and I will be sorting orders, finding new places for our products to be sold and generally making sure the quality of our service matches the high quality of our products! Days obviously vary dramatically as Izzi may be needed on the farm or we may be out and about at fairs or seeing shops- we take every day as it comes! 


Nicola: And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?

Lara: Just go for it - if you feel that you want to give it a go then you should. It is an invaluable process to go through and full of fun too. All I will say is never be afraid to ask questions and make mistakes. We have spent the last four years trying to learn as much as possible through talking to people and asking lots of questions- you learn so much from other people who have done it all already!


Visit the website, or follow IzziRainey on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.


CreativeNicola Judkins
Creative in the Countryside: Snapdragon
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Today we're introducing you to Jane, the owner of freelance embroidery business, Snapdragon. Find out more about her journey from cut flowers to building a community.


Nicola: Tell us about Snapdragon and the journey you took to starting your own business?  

Jane: My first proper job was curator of British Art at the University of Glasgow – it was a fabulous job but I worked in a basement office and in the winter I rarely seemed to see any daylight.  I gradually got more and more unhappy there until I took the plunge, left and retrained in horticulture.

The thing that I wanted most by this point was to be outside, so I started a cut flower business and named it Snapdragon, because that was one of the few flowers that escaped the slugs that first year.  I grew garden flowers and sold them from a green van from my garden gate and at markets.

Growing flowers in Scotland turned out to be a barmy idea – the climate is cold and wet, giving a very short growing season and, when I had masses of flowers, my regular customers tended to be away on holiday.

In 2005 I was asked to put together a show stand at the Country Living Magazine Christmas Fair in Glasgow and that gave me the opportunity to pivot the business and move into sewing.  I had been making things to bring in an income during the months that there were no flowers, but this moved my freehand machine embroidery onto a different level and formed the basis of the business as it exists today.

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Nicola: I know your work is inspired by nature. Can you tell us why nature is so important to you, and how it influences the way you live and work?

Jane: Being in nature is absolutely at the centre of my life.  I have an auto immune disease which becomes worse with stress and I find that time outside in nature, noticing the seasonal changes, getting muddy, is the way that I can manage stress most easily.  My garden and the amazing scenery around us are also the inspiration for most of my designs and I am fascinated by the way forms and colours change week to week.

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Nicola: I’d love to know what has been the biggest challenge, and the best surprise in running your own business?

Jane: The biggest challenge for me has been staying true to my style.  Over a period of about 8 years I gradually lost track of what was unique about Snapdragon.  I had begun to respond to what sold, what shops wanted more of, what was commercial.  Each little step, each compromise, took me a little bit further away from the core of my creativity until I became very bored with what I was making.  About 18 months ago I decided to completely change the business and go back to my design roots, changing not only the products that we sell but also the way we sell them.  I started a membership where people support the business with a monthly fee of £10 and in return get all the perks of ‘having shares in a studio’ – they can buy at cost price, there are members freebies, they get first dibs on limited editions.  

The biggest surprise has been how changing the way we sell has transformed the feel of the business – this isn’t just with members, it has completely changed the way other people interact with me on social media too.  Going for radical transparency on pricing and behind the scenes decisions seems to have changed the way people see us.  I was very worried that it could be an incredibly stupid act of self sabotage.

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Nicola: I know you moved to the countryside about fifteen years ago and now live in Loch Lomond National Park.  Can you tell us more about your home, your workspace, and what a typical day for you looks like? 

Jane: We bought our home because of a small bluebell wood.  We spent hours in the wood, about 15 minutes in the house.  The house itself is a 1980s bungalow – nothing special; when we bought it, it was fully of tiny rooms and we knocked 5 of these together to create a big open plan living space and put in big windows to give lots of light.  I work in a wooden cabin built in a field behind the house, and in a vintage Airstream Caravan (which we are restoring).  I have a team of helpers who print, pack and dispatch orders, allowing me to concentrate on designing and writing.

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A typical day starts slowly – I am not a morning person.  I have coffee in bed and catch up on Instagram or read.  I start work at about 9 and tend to work until 4. Two days a week I am in the workshop, two days I am designing/writing and, ideally, I walk to the nearest village to work in a coffee shop once a week – this is a way of getting the things I procrastinate about actually done and the exercise is balanced by the cake. I switch the Internet off at 6pm and, though I may work after that, it is analogue things – designing, reading, journaling.  I have found that has made a big difference to my daily stress and also made me more productive.

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Nicola: When you aren’t working on Snapdragon, how do you enjoy spending your time?

Jane: Gardening and walking.  When I stopped growing flowers commercially I had a few years where I didn’t really garden much – I think I was a bit burned out.  Now though I am back spending hours in the garden, growing flowers and vegetables.  I have big plans.

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Nicola: And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?

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Jane: Build a community of people who love your style.  This is the major advantage that the small creative business has now – there is the world of social media full of people who are interested in what you are doing.  

When I was starting out I wrote a blog, a terrible, ugly, embarrassing blog – but the people who read that 15 years ago still remembered me and, when I wanted to go back to the roots of the business last year, they were the people cheering me on.  Building that community was the best investment in the business I ever made.


Head over here to get Jane's free guide to getting the best from cut flowers, visit her website, or follow her progress on Instagram.

CreativeEleanor Holmes
A Wreath for All Seasons

Stuck in a rut and looking for a new challenge, Katie Smyth and Terri Chandler left their jobs to start a flower business together.  The result of their collaboration was WORM London which now sees them design flowers for weddings, supper clubs and parties as well as working as floral stylists for magazines, books and TV shoots.

With stunning photography from Kristin Peters, Katie and Terri’s book Wreaths (published by Quadrille, £14.99) brings together 20 beautiful floral designs which can be created at home with a little insider knowledge and tutelage.  As a lover of all things floral or foraged, for me Wreaths brought together the joys of foraging with a long held desire to learn how to create floral pieces at home beyond a few stems in a cherished vase. 


‘There is nothing better than seeing the first daffodils of spring; lush, giant, peonies in early summer; the beautiful orange leaves on beech branches in autumn and lichen-covered twigs in winter.  No matter what the time of year, fresh flowers and foliage can be used to creating something special.’

From making a basic wreath shape from a vine to summer chandeliers and stunning meadow balls, Katie and Terri bring a modern approach to floral statement pieces.  Not only are the creations in the book glorious to look out but the practical instructions are step by step and easy to follow, offering the beginner a good place to start.  With just a small handful of tools and tips, you’ll be able to create your own floral artworks with no previous experience required.  There are tricks abound too from how to keep fresh flowers looking lovely for as long as possible to encouraging others to open a little faster so that your finished creation looks full and rich with colour or blossom.  The all-important premise seems to be about encouraging others to capture something special whatever the season and celebrate nature’s beauty.

‘It is incredible what a morning spent in nature can do not only for your sense of wellbeing but also for your appreciation of the natural world.’


This isn’t a book that focuses on traditional floristry.  It’s more about being inspired by the blooms and branches around us and finding those which inspire us to make.  It’s about producing something personal to you.  As someone who never seems to be able to go on a walk without bringing something home, this really appealed to my inner magpie.  Whether you are looking to create a centrepiece that’s fresh, foraged or dried or perhaps a wreath or rustic floral wall hanging or maybe even a geometric wall shape, this gem of a book has so many beautiful ideas to help awaken your inner florist and encourage a little more of the natural world into our homes to be admired. 

For more inspiration, follow Katie and Terri on Instagram @wormlondon

CreativeRebecca Fletcher
Creative in the Countryside: Black Barn Farm

Today we hear from Jade and Charlie at Black Barn Farm, a place where fair food, farming and business collide to create something truly unique; prepare to be inspired.


Nicola: I’d love for you to start by telling us more about Black Barn Farm, who you are and what it is you do?

Jade: Our farming communities are decaying, threatening our nation’s food security. We have lower seed and soil biodiversity, higher suicide rates among farmers, longer paths to market, lower profits to growers, obesity/health issues, higher levels of food waste yet higher levels of food scarcity, and more disconnection from our food and to our rural communities than ever before. Yet we ALL eat and have the ability to consider food choices and how they impact our health, farmers and rural communities. By farming in a regenerative way we can have the most impact of all on the health of our soil, community and selves.

Both Charlie (my husband) and I were fortunate to enjoy country childhoods. We both grew up on small farms with parents who revelled in producing their own food. 

I was especially fortunate to live in a very rich fertile part of our State where both Winters and Summers are relatively mild. My parents grew virtually all their own food, used permaculture principles as their guide and bartered for things we couldn’t make or grow ourselves. They strived for intentional simplicity and while it made us feel like the ‘weird hippy kids’ it sowed deep seeds and  I yearned to have my hands in the dirt even in my teens. 

When Charlie and I planted our first real veggie garden, we watched as the small scale apple and pear growers bulldozed their three/four/five-generation apple farming heritage into the ground because there was no one to take over the farms, and no one wanted to buy the land with trees on it. This broke our heart and made us want to reinstate the growing practices in our own area. 

We spent ten years researching small scale farm models which incorporated direct paths to market, opportunities to connect with our eaters and were diverse enough to minimise the vagaries of mother nature. Those ten years allowed us to search for the right property and save enough money to buy it. We have been on our 20 acre property in Stanley, Black Barn Farm, for two and a half years and in that time have begun our educational workshop programme with open days, grafting days, community lunches, and educational lectures with schools and universities.

We have undertaken our irrigation infrastructure  and soil regeneration programme both of which are key to allowing us to plant the 1500, mixed variety, orchard trees  - grafted on site over the past two Septembers as well as the 2kms worth of cane berries, which are all lined up for planting this Winter.

Our plan is to open the orchard in January 2020 as a pick-your-own orchard which offers 6 months of harvest and workshops/events to really engage people with the excitement and delight of growing your own food. We want to bring celebration back into people's association with food and reignite their love for it. Unless you love something, you will not fight for it and unless you understand it, you cannot value it, and if you don’t value it you willingly waste it.


Our business has six diverse aims: 

EAT - cafe on site all supplied from the kitchen garden

LEARN - 12 annual workshops and open days

STAY -  on-farm accommodation 

GROW - nursery selling all varieties that we have in our pick your own orchard including the understory plantings (due to open in August)

PICK - pick-your-own seasonal fruit and vegetables available from late Nov - late May every year. (due to open in Jan 2020)

CONSULT  -  the banner under which we both undertake an enormous amount of community connection and education. 

We now share this story all over Australia so other community food enterprises can be inspired to have a go at creating their own community which values food.

We’ve also launched ‘co-op living’ – 12 events annually, teaching people to reconnect to their food and to each other.  We have movie screenings, community pot luck dinners, morning tea gatherings and workshops in things such as fermentation, grafting, compost creation, sourdough making and seed saving.

We have driven the collaboration of 14 government agencies to come together to create a local food strategy in our region.

And finally last year we launched "Greener Grass Camps", which is a school camp programme which connects kids to their food in a really fun, interactive, hands on way.


Nicola: Can you tell me about the Black Barn Farm Orchard philosophy and why it is so important to you?

Jade: We feel strongly that food is a sacred, celebrated wonder, not a low cost, easily wasted commodity. Because of this philosophy, we are determined to create a space which people are drawn to for connection, learning, belonging and respect for the people and place. Our Black Barn will be the physical building which connects people to place and place to food production.

From a food growing perspective, we believe healthy, nutrient dense food comes from trees and plants which are grown in super healthy soil and this takes time, biomass, biodiversity and carefully managed disturbance to the ground.

We are a permaculture based horticulture operation which emulates patterns in nature to holistically and sustainably integrates the physical and social needs of people and the ecosystem.


We use permaculture principles in all our growing which means we don't use synthetic chemicals ever, rather we use compost, mulch, worm juice and home made teas to encourage good microbial rich biodiverse soils which support healthy plant growth. We mimic the natural growing system wherever we can with lots of woodsy under-material, inter-plantings and never over-plant which allows the plants to breath and minimise fungus growth. We have a very diverse orchard and vegetable garden which minimises pest management and although its not a problem yet, we anticipate we will need to net our berries to protect against birds.


Nicola: I'd love to hear more about the nursery and your future plans?

Jade: Each year we have grafted and taken cuttings (and will continue to do so) for 600 mixed species trees (peaches, pears, cherries, persimmons, figs, currants, apples and crabbe apples). We have also grown 1000 understory plants each year (marjoram, coriander, garlic, tagasaste, marigold,  chilves, Cow-pea, Clover, Siberian Pea-shrub, Amarynth, Zinnia, Comfrey, Borage. These are for the orchard rows and mimic the natural eco-system but provide a diversity of attributes such as nitrogen for the soil, natural growing or decomposing mulch, insect attraction for pollination support.

We deliver a workshop around this (which has sold out within days for three years running so we will continue this until demand fades) and then we plant into our nursery area for 12 months. Because many of the varieties we are growing are hard to find heritage varieties, they are much sought after and because our growing practices are ethical, we have found there is a strong growing market to support this.


Nicola: I’d love to hear more about the workshops and events that you run?  Can you tell me more about whom they are for and what it is you wish to teach others?

Jade: The audience is very dependent on the particular workshop. But to generalise, those who are attracted to Black Barn Farm are those with a deep yearning desire to connect to other like minded, simple living folk. They are seeking skills to mimic our production approach, they are looking for ideas to build their own community, they are looking for support to grow their own food. 

In the coming 6 months we are offering a wider range of events including:

  • Introduction to Permaculture (in conjunction with a permaculture education expert)
  • Mid Winter Wassail Ceremony (invited guests)
  • Mid Winter Orchard planting (invited only)
  • Mid Winter Heritage Tree Sale and orchard tour

We love our events because it gives life to what can otherwise be a little lonely and isolating existence on the farm. Sharing our journey and our knowledge is something we both reap a great deal of satisfaction from. 



Nicola: Your work and life is obviously inspired by nature.  Can you tell me why nature is so important to you, and how it influences the work you do? 

Jade: Biofilia is a concept which is integral in each and every one of us, however I have a very high need for connection to the outside, natural world. I was fortunate to spend vast blocks of time as a child literally living in the elements. My dad was an artist and we spent a great deal of time on camp with him while he painted or locked outside the house during the day while he painted in the Studio. We also grew all our own food so our deep rhythmic understanding of the seasons, the influence of weather, the connection to the cyclical nature of each year was bedded down very early and both my brother and I have continued this pattern of living with our children now entrenched in annual growing, preparing/readying, eating, storing, valuing the food we grow as a direct descendant from the type of weather we have experienced that season. 

Our way of life is simple, predominantly outdoors and extends from the boundaries of our farm to the roadsides where foraged foods are found, the nearby bushland where we wander for bushwalks, the also nearby pine forests where we hunt for mushrooms, the not too far away mountains where we escape to on especially warm days, the abundant rivers we swim in weekly , our own dam which we frequent every day while its warm, the haybales we scramble on, the bird book which each of us reaches for even if we know the name of the bird we just spotted, the wood we grow and cut for our warmth,  the hay we grow to feed the stock and the remaining straw we use to mulch our vegetable beds. 

Our year here is very much defined but the distinct seasons, and our daily patterns are endlessly evolving so there is rarely time for any day to become mundane.


Charlie: Nature is the most important thing in everyone's life, it's just that most don't realise or appreciate it. Irrespective of who we are, the level of importance nature has for each of us is a matter of fact not personal interpretation. Nature provides the means for each of us to exist, it literally provides the air we breath, the water we drink, the food we eat and regulates the atmosphere we are dependent on. Modern society has been able to obscure this fact to our increasingly urban population, however each person sitting in an apartment is still reliant on each of those ecosystem services to deliver the means required for their existence, even if the urbanite can't see, smell, hear or taste the very ecosystem or piece of nature that provides those essential services.

Nature is the largest influencer of our work at Black Barn Farm,  we seek to understand the pattern of relationships that exists in a natural forest so we can design a similar package of processes and patterns within our orchard system.


Nicola: And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?

Jade: Start where you are, with what you've got and be willing to make mistakes - some of your most magnificent discoveries will be through adversity, trial and error. Further to this, don’t be afraid to follow your instinct...even if it differs from what your spoken ‘goal’ is.

We have had a very clear long term plan for more than 20 years and while the path has meandered here and there as I’ve followed my instinct, made mistakes and been surprised by outcomes, it has never wavered from the end goal which we are lucky enough to be united on.

In response to what your community needs: collaborative efforts are incredibly powerful and from little things big things grow, so do your research and just start!  Sow that seed and watch it grow.

Also, you can only move as fast as the community you are working within, so be sure to really understand their "WHY" so you can speak to it and bring more people on the journey with you.

You can find Black Barn Farm on their website or follow progress on Instagram.


CreativeNicola Judkins
Creative in the Countryside: Tea and Wildflowers

Today we're introducing you to Francey Bunn, beekeeper, creative, and the owner of Tea and Wildflowers.

Nicola: We’d love you to start by telling us about Tea and Wildflowers and your creative journey so far?

Francey: Tea and Wildflowers is the name of my small business selling honey and beeswax products with potential to include handmade and old things in the future.  I came up with the name to fit with the idea of plant based living and to conjure the magic of my everyday. Childhood memories of long sunny afternoons with tea and books in our South London garden have stayed with me. The garden was packed with fruit trees and we enjoyed its bounty throughout the year: open tarts and mousses in the summer and jams and jellies to take us through to the next harvest. 

One year our apricot tree broke under the weight of fruit and my mother made so much jam.  I'd been wanting to keep bees for ages; it's a craft I feel I'm suited to because I love the summer and enjoy new knowledge and skill sharing. Beekeeping is about so much more than honey. Hanging out by the hives watching these beautiful insects take flight and return home laden with pollen on a golden afternoon is so joyful.

I put back my plans when we adopted our first dog an unruly GSD who took a while to settle and then four years ago I joined the local beekeepers' association hived a swarm or two and now have six colonies. Each of my queen bees has a name from medieval literature; Guinevere, Aliénor and Isolde were the first three I kept in the apiary nearest home. Hopefully the colonies will expand again this year; I usually inspect the hives as soon as we get temperatures of about 10C, typically a nice sunny day in March. I'm nervous to see if the colonies have survived especially when we've had snow and freezing conditions. I try to inspect the frames without too much disruption and am praying for the biscuit coloured slab of brood that proves the queen bee is happily laying eggs. If all is well I'll just put the hive roof back on and make weekly inspections thereafter.

Sometimes a small intervention is needed to keep the colony happy. I never rush things and often go back the following day after I've had a long think about what to do for the best. There's a lot of lifting of wooden boxes and as I have my hives in three different locations I drive round quite a bit and I have to be organised with my kit. I don't normally take frames of honey from the hives until July when I feel confident about surplus levels. The honey I sell is raw, filtered once only and comes from a single hive; a truly artisan product. I talk to the bees quite a lot, telling them about what's going on in my life, encouraging them and thanking them for sharing and we toast the bees with honey cocktails at our family harvest supper in October to show our appreciation.


Nicola: From where do you draw your inspiration?

Francey: I draw inspiration first from the landscape around me: small farms, green pastures, hills, valleys and woodland are part of my DNA and I need this kind of setting to prosper. I'm inspired too by women and men who have gone before me, from my own family and others I know through their writing and creativity. As a child I loved to read about adventurers like Laura Ingalls, Amelia Earhart and Grey Owl. I didn't become an aviator but I do my own version of Little House on the Prairie and of all the road trips my husband and I have made, it's the great wildernesses of the Pacific Northwest that continue to nourish us.

Perhaps most influential of all is my French heritage, stories from way back about growing vegetables, making cheese and drinking tisanes are my personal treasure trove.
My creativity runs through a collection of projects, harvesting honey, candle making, dyeing cloth and using herbs for health and well being, and they all have plants as their starting point.


Nicola: Can you tell us about the process of your work, from initial idea to the finished product?

Francey: I could usefully tell you about my candle making here. As a beekeeper I have quite a bit of wax at the end of the season and as I love candles I thought I'd try making some. I started with hand dipping which is the most made by hand method but the results weren't pleasing so I started researching moulds. I found a pine cone mould I thought looked pretty realistic and then considered some of my vintage baking tins. The sweet floral aroma of the beeswax persuaded me to sell my candles online and locally and they've been a runaway success. I needed to source more beeswax which I was able to do locally as I know quite a few keepers so this make is sustainable; I have plans for pharmacy jar candles this year.


Nicola: Can you tell us about where you live, what your workspace looks like and what a day in your life is like?

Francey: We've lived in a small village just north of the Cotswold Edge for a long while now and I'm grateful for the warm Atlantic breeze that sweeps up the Severn and Avon valleys keeping us above freezing temperatures for most of the year. My garden isn't vast and I've planted it to echo the surrounding landscape, trees and hedges and grass at different levels. There is a woodland area under some mature birch trees which I look out to from my little studio or summer house as it's known. I'm very fond of the old brick wall which runs the length of the garden. It belonged to the farm buildings serving the Manor House across the road: a lovely antique next to our modern house. A few visitors have commented about the absence of flowers in my garden. I'm happy with shades of green and brown with a few white pelargoniums to dress the porch in the summer.


I'm not a morning person so my day doesn't really start till after 9 but I often stay up late. You might have guessed that I'm a tea drinker and I have a different brew according to my mood.  My favourites are verveine, mint and lemon balm, all from the same plant family. I try to have a window of creativity in the morning and one in the afternoon when I might pour some candles, visit my hives, go on foraging walks and style photos to use on my website or for Instagram. Fun admin tasks like planning, ordering supplies and catching up on IG tend to be an evening thing. If I have a longer piece to write I do that in my PJs as I eat my morning porridge.

Nicola: When you aren’t creating what do you enjoy doing?

Francey: I like to spend time with my children which these days often involves the internet. My son lives in Arizona and I love chatting to him on Sunday evenings, his Sunday morning.  My daughters are quite a bit closer in London and Oxford and it's lovely to exchange visits and texts with them so regularly. They tell me they like to read about what I'm up to on Instagram and we swap ideas and recommendations all the time.

Swimming is my first choice for exercise, the feeling of being in water is so restorative and mindful. I'm a regular at the Cheltenham Lido in spring and summer and in winter I use indoor pools. My favourite swims though are in the sea but I have to be on holiday for those as we live about as far away from the coast as is possible here in the UK.

Nicola: We’d love to hear more about your love of photography and all things hand-made, and how you incorporate both of these into your daily life?

Francey: I can't really separate photography from writing, both tell stories and I like to use them together. I guess Instagram has made me see it this way. I love photos that tell parts of stories which we then fill in. I have a new website coming online this summer. I want to extend my IG, make it bigger and deeper. Concept wise it's a kind of grimoire but more natural secrets than supernatural ones. My first posts are about foraging, teas and tisanes and a short story about a beekeeper. I write because I am but it can be hard sometimes when the words are heavy and I'm just not getting my ideas across. Light is everything for a good photo so I know the places in the house and garden and the times of day that are more promising.  As with writing I keep trying things out, make small changes and try again.

Handmade things make my heart sing and I buy from small producers like Winchcombe pottery or I browse Etsy, but to be honest I don't buy much, I just look after the things I already have and sometimes reinterpret them with paint or dye. I like a pared down aesthetic so clutter is not my friend.

Nicola: And lastly, if anyone reading this would love to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?


Francey: To anyone who's just started out on their creative journey and I'm not very far down that road, I would recommend a few things; scheduling short and long term goals, so last year it was setting up my shop on Etsy, finding local stockists and getting some kind of brand identity going, and this year, I've got some help with my Instagram and with my new website. It's so important to invest in yourself too because early success will give you the feeling of achievement you need. Working with others is also great for development. I've recently started a shared project with Heather, a herbalist I met on the Creative Countryside Winter Gathering in January (check her out on IG @northstarnomad); we are exchanging letters about dyeing cloth and growing honey plants like buckwheat, phacelia and quinoa to provide pollen and nectar for bees. I've made a start with dyeing linen using walnut shells and avocado skins. Seed sowing so I'll have some strong plugs to plant around the hives is next up. It was Heather's suggestion too, that we share some reading and we've chosen Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer to take us through the next few weeks.

I feel I need to say more about reading and how books including fiction are so important in the creative journey.  Whenever I have an idea, I develop it through reading and conversations with folk who have done something similar.  Only then can I start to work independently and make something of my own.

Follow Francey on Instagram, find her on Etsy or visit the website

CreativeNicola Judkins