Granny’s bonnets

It’s high time I showcased some of nature’s beautiful creations, like granny’s bonnets, aka columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris).

These distinctive flowers have funnel -shaped blooms in numerous colours, often two-toned, sometimes frilly, with the more ruffled varieties supposedly looking like old-fashioned bonnets.

They appear in the garden in spring, the stems reaching 40-60cm high, and they have a vase life of 3-5 days.

Seeds are typically sown in autumn because they need a period of cold to germinate. You can sow them direct if you’re confident they won’t get lost in the garden, or sow in small pots and place in a greenhouse or cold frame to grow on. Otherwise, grab some flowering plants from your local garden centre now and plant out.

If you’re lucky, your granny’s bonnets will self-sow, but they probably won’t be the same as their parent plant. If you’d rather collect the seeds, wait for the flower to transform into a papery seed head, then snip it off and place the head in a paper bag and shake until the seeds fall out. Let the seeds dry completely then store in an envelope for sowing next autumn.

Summer inspiration

How do you like your summer flowers? I love an informal display, with blousy blooms and colourful vases. Most of my vases come from charity shops. I have hundreds of them – I don’t know where to put them all. Every time I go into an op shop, I come out with some kind of glass, ceramic, pottery, metal or china vessel of sorts. What’s your weakness, flower or otherwise?

Come hear me speak

What are you doing on Sunday 13th December?

Come hear me talk about herbs at Alberton Market Day in Auckland. I’ll be waxing lyrical about all things herbs – how to grow them and how to use them for medicinal purposes.

And because it’s Market Day, you can also shop for your Christmas gifts -– there will be plenty of handmade items, seasonal and homemade produce, plants and vintage gems. Click here for more details.

See you there!

Can you guess these flowers?

Here’s a bit of fun. Who can tell me what these flowers are? Leave a comment if you know.

Flowers I’m craving


It’s winter downunder, and I’m really craving some freshly cut roses or hydrangeas. I do wish November would hurry up so I can pick some for the vase again.

Though, what will be flowering for me very shortly are ranunculus. I love, love, love these plants. They flower for several weeks, even months, in the garden (they’ll stop flowering when temperatures start to remain above 15degC/60degF) and they last well in the vase too (7-10 days in cool rooms). The flowers are not shy, provided they don’t experience extremes of temperatures – hot then cold or cold then hot. Plenty of winter rains can rot the tubers too (yep, we get a lot of rain in New Zealand over winter), so they are best planted afresh each year. Though you may have some popping up again the following year if you leave the tubers where they are.

I’d give these plants some flower food every 2-3 weeks and pick them regularly to promote continuous blooms.

I can’t wait until they flower!

Top two images by the brilliant creatives at Aesme Studio.

Online Herb Workshop



Join my online herb workshop. This 6-week online course has 6 modules. Learn in your own time.

You’ll learn about:

  • Herbs for stress and sleep (which herbs work and which don’t)
  • Herbs for beauty (make your own face and body creams, lip balms, deodorants, perfumes, etc)
  • Herbs for common ailments (make salves, tinctures, oils, tonics, etc)
  • Herbs for cleaning (make your own natural cleaners for around the home)
  • Cooking with herbs – how many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are lost through cooking (plus making herb mixes, and preserving your herbs)
  • How to grow and propagate your own herbs

Read more about the course and see previous participants’ comments, here.


Book Giveaway


Your chance to win A Women’s Health and Wellbeing Kete: A DIY Guide by medical herbalists Isla Burgess and Mary Allan. 

Go to my sister website Sweet Living to enter the draw. Click here.


This book is packed full of DIY herbal recipes, covering vinegars, teas, decoctions, tinctures, ointments, creams and poultices. It outlines the active constituents and therapeutic properties of each herb and goes into detail on how to process your own home treatments. It’s written in jargon-free text, with interesting anecdotes and recipes developed by Isla over her many years’ experience. This is Isla Burgess’ third book; her insightful writing and recipes continue to bring wise yet practical guidance to many, and Mary Allan’s photos, formatting and editing brings life to the pages.

A Women’s Health and Wellbeing Kete deserves a space on the shelves of gardeners and budding plant medicine makers alike.

This book can be purchased from Mary Allan’s website, Solstice Herbs, Isla Burgess’ website, or in North America from Linda Conroy’s website, Moonwise Herbs.

Go to my sister website Sweet Living to enter the draw. Click here.

Proteas for winter


I do love proteas, even if some find them a little old-fashioned. I think they’re fascinating, with their enormous heads, fluffy petals (actually bracts) and soft hues. They’re a great winter bloomer, typically flowering from autumn to spring, and most are cold hardy – although young plants do require protection from heavy frosts. Plant them in full sun in free-draining soil. If your soil is on the heavy side, plant on a mound or slope. Don’t feed them – they don’t like phosphates or nitrates. They do best in an acid soil with a very low nutrient value. If mature plants look like they need a pick-me-up, you can give them some sheep pellets that are low in NPK.

The top image is a simple but gorgeous wedding display (via Style Me Pretty).

The following image showcases the very pretty Protea serruria (arrangement by Floriea Design). Also known as blushing bride, its papery bracts, which are surrounded by feathery tufts of white to pinkish flowers, appear from June to September (in the southern hemisphere). But it’s not just its blushing nature that makes the serrurias so irresistible. Its flowers and buds last for weeks in a vase. And once dried they’re everlasting.

The third image from the top is Protea neriifolia ‘Alba’, which I snapped at a garden centre somewhere. It’s an upright rounded shrub with medium-size, yellowy-cream flowers from autumn to spring.

The red protea, fifth from the top, is ‘Tasman Ruby’; it has deep red bracts lower down and a silvery tinge at the top. This protea flowers from winter to spring.

Protea cynaroides ‘Arctic Ice’ (second from bottom) is a white selection of the massive king protea (you can see the king protea in the image above and the image below).

Single protea images by me; the three bouquet images from Martha Stewart Weddings.

Iceland poppies and citrus


My garden is producing a ton of citrus right now, so I think I’ll give these gorgeous arrangements, by McKenzie Powell, a go. 

McKenzie uses Iceland poppies, gardenias, white lilies, blood oranges and kumquat – more of an end-of-winter/spring arrangement.


Images via Snippet & Ink.

Get your craft on


Like to sew? Like to upcycle? Want to save the planet?

You might like the latest issue of Sweet Living magazine – the upcycling issue. This special edition is all about upcycling clothes (repurposing, refashioning, recycling). Make a handbag from an old leather jacket, make a coat from a wool blanket, upcycle shirts, scarves, jeans, and more.