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Talking Shop | Illyria Pottery, Oxford

Talking Shop | Illyria Pottery, Oxford

In my ‘Talking Shop’ series, I introduce you to some of my favourite independent shops around the UK….

Illyria Pottery, Oxford

After finishing our lunch at Gee’s, Mum and I set off to Illyria Pottery, only a 10 minute walk away in Oxford’s vibrant Jericho. I’d been keen to visit the shop ever since discovering Illyria’s instagram feed many months ago.

Illyria Pottery was first established by Katie Coston in South Carolina in 2008. In 2013, Katie moved to Oxford, where her beautiful ceramics made a welcome addition to the interesting mix of independent businesses in Jericho.

Talking Shop | Illyria Pottery, Oxford

I am always fascinated by pottery; I like to think it’s because my Grandfather worked as a potter for Poole Pottery in Dorset after WW2. Although I have no talent for the art myself, I can certainly appreciate the finished product, and beautiful ceramics have always been a weakness of mine.

Pottery Inspired by Nature

Talking Shop | Illyria Pottery, Oxford

Apparently, Katie draws inspiration from the natural world when creating her ceramics, and she often implements elements of nature into her work, such as pressing shells into clay to create dainty, whimsical little dishes.

Every piece sold in Illyria is created by Katie in her studio, just below the shop. There are also a few items available from other makers that are handmade in the UK: I picked up a lovely bar of soap as part of a hostess gift for a friend.

Talking Shop | Illyria Pottery, OxfordTalking Shop | Illyria Pottery, OxfordTalking Shop | Illyria Pottery, Oxford

We had such a wonderful time browsing Illyria on a sleepy afternoon at the start of September. The atmosphere was peaceful, and we were encouraged to take our time by the very helpful shop assistant, who was happy to tell me more about Illyria Pottery.

I had a lot of trouble deciding what to purchase, especially as I didn’t have much room at all in my suitcase! In the end I settled for a tiny, slate-grey bud vase and a streamlined cup the colour of sea-foam. I so appreciate that Katie puts on emphasis on creating products that are beautiful, but also functional. I can’t wait to have a cup of tea out of my beautiful new mug, and I know the bud vase will be perfect for my desk.

Lucie Maud, the Prettiest Shop Cat

Talking Shop | Illyria Pottery, Oxford

As I was wandering around the shop, I suddenly noticed Illyria’s elegant shop cat, Lucie Maud (I like to think the name is a nod to one of my favourite authors, Lucy Maud Montgomery). With those wide green eyes and pearly white paws, she’s an utter charmer (unsurprisingly, she has her own hashtag)!

Lucie Maud  has a habit of dozing off in the biggest ceramic bowls, which I think is equal parts hilarious and adorable!

Talking Shop | Illyria Pottery, Oxford

I spent such a lovely time shopping at Illyria Pottery, and if you’re ever in Oxford, I definitely recommend paying a visit! There are also lots of fun looking cafes and bars in Jericho, should you fancy a pick-me-up after shopping. I’m already planning a return trip to Oxford so I can explore the Jericho area further.

~

Illyria Pottery
104 Walton Street
Oxford, UK
OX2 6EB

illyriapottery.co.uk

Online Shop

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like to read another in my ‘Talking Shop’ series, about a tastefully curated homeware shop in Penzance, Cornwall.

 

A Relaxation Hamper and Evening Routines to Reduce Stress

A Relaxation Hamper and Evening Routines to Reduce Stress

Please note: I was sent a ‘relaxation hamper’ from The Grand Hotel and Spa, York to enjoy and photograph for this post. All opinions expressed are my own.

As September approaches, I’ve been taking pleasure in noticing the first signs of Autumn (my favourite season!). The other morning, for the first time in months, I woke up to a nip in the early morning air that held the promise of crunchy leaves underfoot and pumpkin lattes from Starbucks. The blackberries that push through a broken fence further down my road are turning purple-black, and the shops are full of berry coloured dresses and mustard-yellow jumpers.

A Reflective Mood

A Relaxation Hamper and Evening Routines to Reduce Stress

‘Back-to-school’ season always inspires a reflective mood in me, and I’ve been thinking about some of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt over the past year, which was filled with plenty of ups and downs. With my Mum being diagnosed with and also recovering from breast cancer over the winter and spring, the paramount importance of good health has been on my mind a lot this year. I’ve realised how much stress affects my own health; as a classic type A personality, I can become overly anxious and give in to my perfectionist tendencies all too easily. Over the next few months, I’m keen to implement strategies that help me to effectively manage and reduce my stress levels.

I often find that I get most stressed in the evenings – a mental habit that’s likely leftover from when I was working a job I hated and would dread going in to work the following day. I feel so lucky to no longer be in that situation, but sometimes that lurking sense of dread will still creep over me in the evenings.  I’ve started implementing an evening routine that allows me to stay grounded and content and keeps me away from my other bad habit – too much screen time!

Relaxation Hamper from The Grand York

A Relaxation Hamper and Evening Routines to Reduce Stress

I was lucky enough to be sent a ‘relaxation hamper’ as a gift from The Grand York a couple of weeks ago. I was so delighted with the box, which was stuffed full of goodies to celebrate the pleasures of relaxing and rejuvenating from the comfort of my own home: soft, blush pink pyjamas from Victoria’s Secret; a fluffy white dressing gown, slippers and sleeping mask from the hotel; Lush bath and body products; a book about finding calm and a gorgeous ‘Autumn’ scented candle from The White Company.

My relaxation hamper has certainly prompted me to take more time for my physical and mental wellbeing, and I’m using everything I’ve been sent in my newly inspired evening routines to unwind and reduce stress:

My Evening Routines to Relax and Reduce Stress

A Relaxation Hamper and Evening Routines to Reduce Stress

1// Change into your comfiest loungewear 

I love changing into my comfiest clothes when I get home in the evenings. Whether I reach for my yoga pants or my pjs, I like to wear something that’s soft, loose and comfy and that helps me make the transition from ‘work’ to ‘home’ mode. I also remove all my makeup and spend time over my skincare regime, rather than wait until later in the evening when I might feel too tired to do a proper job. After this, I make myself a cup of herbal tea and generally take a seat in my tiny office/library, where I relax and look at my books. It may sound bizarre, but I always find browsing through my bookshelves incredibly soothing!

A Relaxation Hamper and Evening Routines to Reduce Stress

2// Spend some time on personal grooming

One of my favourite things to do in the evenings is to paint my nails, as then they’re ready for the next day, and I find it quite a calming activity – it at least makes me sit still and do nothing for 10 minutes! The evenings are also a good time to top up your self-tan (I use this gradual tanning cream on my legs).

I can get a little impatient whilst I wait for my nails to dry, so I often listen to an audiobook at the same time. I particularly like listening to a book that makes me laugh in the evenings, and my number one choice is any P.G. Wodehouse book read by Jonathan Cecil on Audible. Other favourite funny audiobooks of mine  are the Darling Buds of May series by H.E. Bates, The Diary of Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield and My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell.

3// Run a bath

The older I get, the more I appreciate a long, hot soak in the tub in the evenings. Lush bath bombs always add an element of fun, and I either read a magazine or continue listening to my audiobook as I feel my muscles relax after a long day.

4// Choose some light reading material

I can never go to sleep without reading at least a sentence or two, no matter how late it is, and I find that the more I read in the evenings, the better I sleep. Nothing beats lighting a candle and curling up with a good book!

I don’t choose any reading material that’s particularly heavy or needs too much concentration at night; instead I reach for books that I can dip in and out of easily, like short story collections or poetry anthologies. A light novel is always a good choice too, and I like gentle memoirs (at the moment I’m particularly enjoying collecting Beverley Nichols‘s books, which focus on his experience living in a small village and the gardens he cultivated over his lifetime).

5// Meditate and/or do some restorative yoga

Nothing helps me regain perspective more after a bad day than taking 10 minutes for some meditation or restorative yoga in the evenings. This 7 Minute Bedtime Yoga Routine from Yoga with Adriene is a favourite of mine.

~

Thanks so much again to The Grand York for sending me such a lovely relaxation hamper and inspiring this post!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, you may also like to listen to Episode 76 of Tea & Tattle Podcast, where Sophie and I chat more about our evening routines.

T&T 53 | A Chat With Rosebie Morton

T&T 53 | A Chat With Rosebie Morton

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle podcast here or on iTunes.

This week on Tea & Tattle podcast, I’m in conversation with the charming Rosebie Morton, horticulturalist and founder of The Real Flower Company. In this episode, Rosebie tells me about the farm that she runs in Hampshire with her husband, and how she went from raising sheep to getting an idea to grow a few scented roses….

Rosebie Morton at her flower farm in Hampshire

It was so inspiring to learn how Rosebie’s idea of growing some roses gradually grew into what The Real Flower Company is today. Now with flowers grown on farms in the UK, as well as in Kenya during the off-season, The Real Flower Company delivers award-winning, luxurious blooms, with a focus on scented flowers. I love popping by their pretty shop in West London.

T&T 53 | A Chat With Rosebie Morton

On the podcast, Rosebie tells me more about her company’s ethos in growing flowers as sustainably and ethically as possible. She also gives advice to anyone thinking of becoming a florist, or starting their own business, and explains how she found the courage to keeping going with her dream, even though the odds seemed very much against her.

T&T 53 | A Chat With Rosebie Morton T&T 53 | A Chat With Rosebie Morton

I also questioned Rosebie about her favourite ways to use flowers to decorate the home, particularly for a winter dinner party, and she gave me some fantastic ideas.

Listen to learn about building a successful flower business and ideas for decorating your winter holiday table. 

All images provided by The Real Flower Company.

Talking Shop | Carole Elsworth of No.56, Penzance

Talking Shop | Carole Elsworth of No.56 Penzance, CornwallCarole Elsworth at her shop, No.56 in Penzance, Cornwall. Photo courtesy Natalie Coe.

With this post, I’m introducing a new series on Miranda’s Notebook, ‘Talking Shop,’ where I share interviews with owners of my most-loved independent shops, in London and beyond.

One of my very favourite shops in Penzance is No.56 on Chapel Street. Founded by Carole Elsworth, No.56 is a shopper’s haven filled with all manner of useful and beautiful items. I love the shop for its notebooks, handmade soaps, pretty linens and stylish enamelware, and I definitely blame No.56 for a much heavier suitcase whenever I return to London from Cornwall!

I was so pleased when Carole agreed to answer my questions about her tasteful and elegant shop.

Talking Shop | Carole Elsworth of No.56 Penzance, CornwallTalking Shop | Carole Elsworth of No.56 Penzance, Cornwall

***

MN: Would you tell me a little about yourself? What did you do before opening No.56?

CE: My training and background is in mens and womenswear design – but immediately before opening No.56 I ran a very small artisan bakery. I enjoy the making process so this isn’t as odd as it seems!

MN: What made you want to run your own shop, and what first brought you to Penzance?

CE: Since moving to Cornwall, I have been steadily moving further west – more by accident than design really – eventually arriving in Penzance which I really love.

I opened No.56 four years ago – I felt there was a gap in Penzance for the type of products I like to use and decided creating such a store would bring together all the elements I really enjoy – design, presentation etc.

Talking Shop | Carole Elsworth of No.56 Penzance, Cornwall Talking Shop | Carole Elsworth of No.56 Penzance, Cornwall

MN: What do you love most about living in Cornwall?

CE: I lived by the sea until I went away to college, and always feel a sense of belonging by the coast. Cornwall itself is just beautiful – I love it here.

MN: How would you sum up the ethos behind No.56?

CE: Simply that well designed, beautiful objects can add pleasure to the everyday.

Talking Shop | Carole Elsworth of No.56 Penzance, CornwallTalking Shop | Carole Elsworth of No.56 Penzance, Cornwall

MN: How do you pick the products that feature in your shop?

CE: It is a very personal choice. On the whole items need to serve a purpose rather than being purely decorative (with occasional exceptions that I can’t resist!), and then I ask the question “does it make my heart sing ?” and go with that…

MN: Would you share one of your favourite pieces for autumn?

CE: All items are favourites of course, but I’m particularly pleased with the mohair throws from Ireland at the moment. Lovely colours and so cosy. (see all throws available from the No. 56 online shop here)

Talking Shop | Carole Elsworth of No.56 Penzance, Cornwall Talking Shop | Carole Elsworth of No.56 Penzance, Cornwall

MN: What does a typical day look like for you?

CE: I do try to get off to an early start – I design and produce a small range of womenswear for the store under the HANDWORKED label, so I like to work on that first thing.
Then, I’m usually in the shop serving customers, placing orders etc – all the usual shopkeeping duties.

MN: Finally, what’s next for No. 56?

CE: Having moved to larger shop premises last year, it feels as if we are just settling in here, making small adjustments and constantly working to keep things fresh. We are now adding more products to the website and have plans to collaborate on a few items exclusive to No.56 – can’t say more than that …

***

Talking Shop | Carole Elsworth of No.56 Penzance, Cornwall Talking Shop | Carole Elsworth of No.56 Penzance, Cornwall Talking Shop | Carole Elsworth of No.56 Penzance, Cornwall

I’m definitely intrigued by those upcoming collaborations! Thank you so much to Carole for taking the time to answer my questions. Isn’t her shop delightful? I always want to buy everything in it whenever I visit! Fortunately, there is an online shop for No.56, so you don’t have to be in Penzance to get your hands on much of Carole’s gorgeous stock.

Follow No.56 on: instagram, facebook, pinterest.

Which shops in the UK would you like to see me visit?

Where I Write: My Office Tour

My Office Tour: see how I transformed a tiny box room into a cosy workplace, using basic furniture and the odd luxe detail - perfect office inspiration!

{This post is written as part of September’s theme word of ‘work’ on Miranda’s Notebook.}

A woman must have…a room of her own if she is to write fiction. – Virginia Woolf

Last weekend, I did my first Instagram live chat (so much fun!), showing how I’d recently made a few changes to a tiny box room in my flat to transform it into a snug, pleasant little office where I love to work. I had so many messages from people after the chat saying how much they’d enjoyed getting a glimpse of my workplace, that I thought I would share a bit more detail about my office on Miranda’s Notebook.

My Office Tour: see how I transformed a tiny box room into a cosy workplace, using basic furniture and the odd luxe detail - perfect office inspiration!

Although I’d been using this room as a work space for a while, I was dissatisfied with how I’d initially set up the space, and the few shelves I had were full to bursting with books, spilling onto piles on the floor, stacked up by my radiator. As someone who prefers a tidy, calm environment in which to work, the messy piles of books were getting on my nerves, and I didn’t feel my office, sparsely furnished and somewhat haphazardly decorated as it was, best reflected my personality. It was time for a change!

Here are the steps and shopping lists I used to transform my workspace:

Making the Most of a Small Budget

My Office Tour: see how I transformed a tiny box room into a cosy workplace, using basic furniture and the odd luxe detail - perfect office inspiration!

Having a very small budget with which to work, IKEA was my destination of choice for picking up bookcases and a few other key pieces. The only furniture I already had was my desk, a pretty old-fashioned writing table I’d picked up at a closing down sale a few years ago when I was living in Kingston, as well as a matching chair. I knew I wanted a small armchair to fit by the window, a cosy rug and a few other things to make the room more attractive.

My Office Tour: see how I transformed a tiny box room into a cosy workplace, using basic furniture and the odd luxe detail - perfect office inspiration!

Here’s my shopping list with everything I bought from IKEA:

  • Billy Bookcases. I chose white ones, as I like to keep everything light and bright in a small space.
  • Small Rattan Chair. This was the smallest chair in IKEA, and fit perfectly in the space.
  • Cushion Cover. I liked the very pale pink
  • Sheepskin Rug. So cosy!
  • Stool. This works perfectly as a little side-table.
  • Rubbish Bin (actually a plant pot, but works well as a little bin!).
  • Net Curtains. I’m lucky to have a large window, but the view is far from attractive, so some white net curtains added a welcome dainty touch.
  • Curtain Rod. Happily very easy to put up!
Luxurious Details

My Office Tour: see how I transformed a tiny box room into a cosy workplace, using basic furniture and the odd luxe detail - perfect office inspiration!

Rather than spending much money on furnishing the room, instead I wanted to invest in a few small luxury pieces that would make my workplace more cosy and inviting. My office has now become my favourite room in the flat, despite its diminutive size, and this is partly because I’ve placed some of the things I love best in it and have taken care over details.

My Office Tour: see how I transformed a tiny box room into a cosy workplace, using basic furniture and the odd luxe detail - perfect office inspiration! My Office Tour: see how I transformed a tiny box room into a cosy workplace, using basic furniture and the odd luxe detail - perfect office inspiration! My Office Tour: see how I transformed a tiny box room into a cosy workplace, using basic furniture and the odd luxe detail - perfect office inspiration!My Office Tour: see how I transformed a tiny box room into a cosy workplace, using basic furniture and the odd luxe detail - perfect office inspiration!My Office Tour: see how I transformed a tiny box room into a cosy workplace, using basic furniture and the odd luxe detail - perfect office inspiration!

A gorgeous scented candle, fresh flowers, a snuggly shawl: these were the little details that elevated the space and made it my own. Here’s my list:

  • Diptyque Londres Candle (sadly only available in shops, but they have a lovely range of other candles you can view online). I also have this stunning Rifle Paper Co candle on my desk (and think it will be make a lovely vase or pen pot once I’ve finished the candle).
  • Emma Lacey everyday mugs – my favourite to use whilst drinking tea at my desk!
  • Bloom & Wild bouquets (mine is Woodland Walk). I love Bloom & Wild flowers because they get delivered in a box that fits through your mailbox, so you don’t have to worry about being in when they arrive.
  • Storage Basket (currently sold out, but I like these ones a lot) for keeping current magazines.
  • Ceramic Magpie’s pretty range – perfect for small plants or for storing trinkets and jewellery (her shop is updated with new things often, so keep an eye out!).
  • Brora cashmere poncho. I have mine on hand, hung on a peg on the wall, and I reach for it whenever it gets a little chilly.
  • Liberty bias binding (the pink one I got isn’t left online, but there are a couple other pretty ones), used for tying back my white net curtains.
  • Mini pom-pom baskets by Bohemia Design (so pretty that make a nice display on top of my bookcases).
Showcasing My Personality

My Office Tour: see how I transformed a tiny box room into a cosy workplace, using basic furniture and the odd luxe detail - perfect office inspiration!

Whenever I go to someone’s house, I make a beeline for their bookcases, as I always find the books people keep offer such a fascinating insight into their personality. I thought hard about the types of books I wanted to have to hand in my office, and finally settled on the following categories: classic fiction in my most attractive editions, childhood favourites and reference.

My Office Tour: see how I transformed a tiny box room into a cosy workplace, using basic furniture and the odd luxe detail - perfect office inspiration!

‘Reference’ encompasses a good deal, as I get the majority of my inspiration from books and magazines. Generally, it includes my favourite poetry books, writings on the natural world, memoir, biography and back issues of magazines. I also keep to hand any books I’m reading at the moment for upcoming interviews on Tea & Tattle Podcast or Miranda’s Notebook.

My Office Tour: see how I transformed a tiny box room into a cosy workplace, using basic furniture and the odd luxe detail - perfect office inspiration!

Besides lining my walls with books, my other favourite way to showcase my personality is to hang artwork on any leftover wall space. Even when decorating an exceedingly small space, don’t feel you can’t hang a statement art piece. I have a large Emily Sutton print hanging over my desk, and far from dwarfing the room, it adds some very welcome colour and beauty.

I also put up some favourite photographs: one of Grace Kelly, a heroine of mine, and another of a dancer leaping into the air. All you see are her extremely muscular legs taking flight and the skirts of her tutu flying out, but I love this picture because it reminds me that in order to jump for the stars, you have to have built the strength and technique that only comes from hours and hours of hard work and a disciplined, focused mind. This is the photo I look at when I’m at my desk, feeling overwhelmed or disheartened.

***

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of my office, and I’d love to know how you decorate your own workspace.

P.S. I’ll be doing live Instagram chats about various topics regularly from now on (next in line are my favourite stationery staples and a behind-the-scenes of how I run Tea & Tattle Podcast). If you’d like to receive advance notice of when these chats will be, as well as follow up notes with links and details about everything I’ve mentioned, you can sign up here.

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My Office Tour: see how I transformed a tiny box room into a cosy workplace, using basic furniture and the odd luxe detail - perfect office inspiration!

T&T 35 | Gardening in a Small Space With Laetitia Maklouf

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle here or on iTunes.

In today’s Tea & Tattle episode, I’m continuing the botanical theme from last week and am chatting with Laetitia Maklouf, an expert in horticulture and author of The Virgin Gardenerand Sweet Peas for Summer. In the interview, Laetitia talks about how she discovered her passion for gardening in her late 20s, which led her to quit her job and enrol in a horticulture course at The Chelsea Physic Garden, London. She never looked back!

Only having a small balcony and some windowsills to work with, Laetitia quickly became an expert at gardening in a small space. Her first book, The Virgin Gardener, is full of tips and accessible projects for the beginner gardener who may not have much ground to work with, or who prefers to start small. Sweet Peas for Summer describes Laetitia’s move to a home with a proper garden and is a great resource for larger-scale gardeners (see the show notes for some photos of what Laetitia’s garden looks like today!).

In my discussion with Laetitia, I asked her advice on growing my own house-plants and what to do with a small patio. Laetitia also explained her 5 Minute Gardening instagram project and shared some of her favourite London gardens and nurseries (we bonded over a mutual love for Petersham Nurseries!).

Listen to hear some fabulous tips for growing plants in a small space.

 

T&T 34 | Botanical Inspiration

Tea and Tattle Podcast | Botanical Inspiration for the Home

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

This week, Sophie and I are chatting about botanical inspiration for the home, as well as how flowers inspire our creative processes. Botanicals are huge at the moment, and we chat about why their timeless style is so appealing, as well as how flowers and foliage feature in our homes.

In today’s episode, we also make two important announcements: the first involves our plans for the podcast over the summer, and the second is a new PDF downloadable document (like our Hygge guide) that I’m currently working on, and which I hope you’ll find useful for the summer (listen to the episode to hear all the details on both these announcements).

Sophie also shares a particularly exciting Jump for Joy this week (many congratulations to her again), and as usual we exchange a favourite cultural recommendation in our Culture Corner section. It really is all go in this episode, so be sure to tune in to catch up on the latest news!

Listen to hear our ideas for botanical style in the home and how flowers feed creativity.

Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

Last week, I joined a group of bloggers at the Artist Residence hotel in London for tea and croissants in the morning, before being bundled into Land Rovers and whisked to the new Artist Residence sister hotel in Oxfordshire, for lunch in the garden and a Dutch flower workshop with Bloom and Wild.

It was the perfect day for an outing, with bright blue skies and a pleasant breeze. The car journey seemed to take no time at all as I chatted with Milly (you may remember her from my Cornwall interview). We arrived just before lunch and were offered a glass of rosé and the chance to explore the hotel, which only opened in May.

I was charmed by the decor, especially the floral House of Hackney wallpaper that was such a striking feature. Some lovely ladies from Bloom and Wild, who were giving us a flower workshop in the afternoon, had set up a gorgeous display of blooms that made my flower loving heart very happy.

Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, OxfordshireBloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

I also got to peep into one of the bedrooms, which was gorgeous and looked extremely comfortable. I would have enjoyed lingering in the tub in the light, airy bathroom and writing postcards at the vintage desk.

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

After having a look around and taking a million photos between us, we headed out into the garden for lunch, our appetites whetted by the fantastic sounding menu that had been emailed round the day before.

Al Fresco Dining

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

Doesn’t that look a delightful table? I felt summer had truly arrived as I took my seat and was offered some more rosé. The outdoor dining area overlooked the hotel’s lawn and vegetable garden, and I was delighted to learn that many of the vegetables and salad leaves served for our lunch were freshly picked from the garden.

The hotel had cooked up a fabulous feast for us. To start, we were given sharing platters of crispy whitebait with garlic sauce; mozzarella, pea, broad bean and mint salad; heritage tomato salad with ewes curd and olives; and scotch eggs served alongside homemade brown sauce.

The main course was lamb wellington, with buttered Cornish potatoes, a green salad (from the garden!), barbecued radishes (also from the garden) and violet artichokes. I was beginning to seriously doubt whether I could manage dessert (strawberries with toasted marshmallows, lime curd and strawberry sorbet), but when it arrived it looked so delicious I couldn’t resist.

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

The food was all absolutely incredible, and it was glorious to enjoy it outside on a lovely day in excellent company.

Dutch Flower Workshop

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

After our meal, we went back into the cool, shady interior of the hotel for our Dutch flower painting inspired workshop. I was particularly excited for this workshop, as I love Dutch floral still life pictures, and there was a glorious selection of flowers awaiting us to help feed our inspiration.

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, OxfordshireBloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

Rowan, pictured above, talked us through the process of arranging our flowers, making it look incredibly easy as she finished her lovely floral display in about 10 minutes flat.

I settled down with a cup of chamomile tea and set to work, choosing a selection of blooms I liked best, and trying to create a loose, tumbling arrangement, featuring the striking colours that I often admire in my favourite Dutch floral artworks.

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

I sat next to the charming Briony from A Girl A Style, and we bonded over our mutual love for books, flowers and pretty teacups.

After a hair-raising moment when my display threatened to topple over, and I had to pop in a few dahlias to balance it out, I pronounced mine finished.

Bloom and Wild Dutch Flower Workshop at Artist Residence, Oxfordshire

I don’t think I’ll be setting up as a florist any time soon, but I was still pleased with my result.

On being told it was time to leave, we were kindly showered with leftover blooms to take back home with us (I got some funny looks later on the tube as I maneuvered my way along platforms, weighted down by my spoils!).

It really was the most perfect English summer day, and I’m now contemplating buying some florist foam so I can have a go at some more flower arranging – practice makes perfect, as they say!

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

One of my favourite things about June is the abundance of peonies. Evoking romance and early summer, these beautiful, billowy blooms are often sweetly scented and come in a variety of charming colours: white, pink, red, yellow and coral. Understandably, peonies are enormously popular on Instagram, as it’s hard to resist liking a snapshot of fluffy pink petals, and they’re a delightful flower to photograph.

Unfortunately, though, peonies are notoriously pricey, so whenever I buy a bunch, I like to think I can make the most out of my money. I work hard on photographing a variety of different shots to showcase my blooms, without (hopefully!) boring my audience, and I also take care of my peonies so that they last as long as possible.

In celebration of June’s theme word, bloom, on Miranda’s Notebook, I thought I’d share my tips and ideas for getting the most photos out of your peonies.

1/ SOURCE YOUR PEONIES

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

++ June is the height of peony season and is the best month for buying them. I especially like to buy my blooms from flower markets, where good deals are offered. Columbia Road Flower Market generally sell three bunches of peonies for £20 – just make sure to get there early to avoid the overwhelming crowds! It’s also a good idea to check your local farmers’ market; I recently picked up four bunches of peonies that were going for a great price at my market in West Hampstead.

++ An important tip to remember when buying peonies is to go for bunches where the buds are already starting to open slightly. Peonies should be harvested when the buds are at the ‘marshmallow’ stage – they should feel soft and spongy to the touch. I’ve learnt that very tight, hard buds often never open, which is a disappointing waste of my flower budget. When I know that I want to photograph my peonies very quickly, I’ll go for ones that are, for the most part, fully opened. These blooms won’t have such a long vase life, but they’re great for when I’m in a rush to get photographs.

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook || Scarlet and Violet Florist, London

++ If you’d like to treat yourself to more unusual peonies in a wider variety of colours, then it’s sensible to fork out for special ones at a good quality florist. So far, I’ve found that the standard pink and red varieties are easily found at markets, but for more unusual blooms, I head to my nearest first-rate florist: Scarlet & Violet. Some gorgeous varieties to look out for are: Coral Charm, Raspberry Sundae, Bowl of Beauty, Fairy’s Petticoat and Duchesse de Nemours (aren’t the names delightful?!).

2/ TAKE CARE OF YOUR BLOOMS

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

++ Peonies have a good vase life and – if well cared for – should last a week or two. On returning home with your flowers, cut their stems straight away, as this helps them to take up the water. Remove excess leaves and any below the water line. Regularly (every other day) recut the stems and add fresh water. You shouldn’t put too much water in your vase, as you should be replenishing with fresh often anyway.

++ If you don’t want to use your peonies straight away, then it is supposedly possible to store your buds for 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator. Simply remove all leaves and put your stems into a plastic bag, lined with paper towel to absorb excess moisture. Check every few days and discard any that show signs of mould. When you’re ready to use them, pop them into warm water with some flower food. I’m keen to try out this method myself sometime! I’ve also heard that you can preserve any heads of flowers you snip off in tupperware in the fridge for a few weeks, so I want to give that a try too.

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

++If your peonies are taking a while to fully open, then try holding them over hot, steaming water (I’ve had mixed success with this, but it’s worth a try if you’ve got some very stubborn ones!).

++ Apparently a splash of lemonade mixed in with water encourages flowers to bloom quicker (I’ve yet to try this and am keen to find out if it works!).

++ It’s always a good idea to keep some flower food to hand, but if you run out, then ½ a teaspoon of sugar and a drop of bleach in the water will do the trick.

3/ PLAN YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

++ Planning is arguably the most important step in my photography process. I have a strict weekly budget on flowers (I don’t usually spend more than £10 on average), and yet I use blooms in every single flat lay I photograph, so I need to make sure that I get a range of images from every bouquet I buy. Whenever I buy peonies, which are a more expensive purchase, I’m especially careful about the planning stage in my photography.

++ Most weekends, I set aside a photography morning or afternoon and snap the majority of my indoor shots featuring flowers. I generally buy my flowers the evening before or on the same day, so I photograph them at their freshest, although I’ll also take the odd picture during the rest of the week too.

++ Although I’m often inspired by the flowers I buy each week and the props I have at home, I’ll also research possible shots by spending time browsing Pinterest or the books I collect that feature exceptional floral photography. Taking time to seek inspiration helps feed my own creativity and keeps my ideas feeling fresh.

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

++ I also take time to think about upcoming blog posts I have planned, or products that I want to feature, and what types of floral photographs I’ll need for them. For instance, I knew I wanted to get a photograph of the lovely book, Paris in Bloom, alongside a bunch of peonies, as I thought the matching pinks would look lovely. Also, I regularly use floral backgrounds that I photograph myself for the imagery on Tea & Tattle, so I try as often as possible to get suitable photos for the podcast, especially when I buy peonies, as they look particularly pretty as backdrops (like this one).

4/ TAKE A VARIETY OF PICTURES

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

++ A great way to get the most out of your peonies is to tell the whole story of your purchase. Photograph the market stand or shop where you bought your flowers; the peonies at your feet in an attractive market basket (perhaps with some other market purchases too); you walking along a pretty street with a big bouquet over your shoulder; the peonies laid out on a table at home, as you trim the stems; and finally arranged in a beautiful vase. Even if you don’t use all of these images on your instagram grid, they’re perfect to share on stories.

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

++Try to photograph each stage of your peonies too: first in bud; then as they blossom and  colours change and fade; and finally the petals dropping from the vase.

++ Take photos from different angles and focus in on details or zoom out. You can photograph the bouquet as a whole, but  also zoom in to snap individual flowers.

++ If you’ve bought a bouquet featuring lots of different kinds of flowers, then after photographing the bouquet as a whole, separate out the flowers and photograph them  individually, or as smaller posies.

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

++ Finally, once your flowers start to fade a little, snip the heads off to use as a pretty feature in your flat lays.

5/ KEEP IT FUN 

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

++ As they’re so popular, peony shots can occasionally border on the cliché. There’s nothing wrong with the familiar, but try not to just snap your bouquet next to some macarons and Love X Style X Life by Garance Dore. Instead, get creative and think of ways to add an element of fun and surprise to your images. Thinking a little more outside of the box is a skill I’m trying to develop in my own photography at the moment, and I had fun playing around with the above peony ‘ice-cream’ shot last weekend.

5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

I hope you find these tips helpful! If you’re inspired by this post to photograph some peonies, then do please let me know – I’d love to see what you come up with.

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5 Helpful Tips for Photographing Peonies || How to Photograph Peonies Guide on Miranda's Notebook

T&T 20 | Marie Kondo and Dominique Loreau

Listen to the latest episode of Tea & Tattle here or on iTunes.

This Tuesday, Sophie and I are in conversation about the best-selling books, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo and L’Art de la Simplicité : How to Live More With Less  by Dominique Loreau. Both books have had phenomenal success and developed a cult following, and Sophie and I were curious to read them to see how much we agreed with their principles and to what extent we found them applicable to our own lives.

In this episode, we’re having a frank discussion about our initial reactions to both books, what we found useful and thought-provoking about Kondo and Loreau’s ideas, and also what we did not enjoy.  We round up our chat with some actionable steps we’re already putting into practice from both books.

Marie Kondo and Dominique Loreau | Tea & Tattle Podcast

As always, too, Sophie and I are sharing what happy moments have made us ‘Jump for Joy’ lately, as well as some of the comments, useful suggestions and feedback from you, our listeners. Don’t miss my book suggestion in this week’s ‘Culture Corner’ section, as well as Sophie’s tip for if you happen to find yourself in the King’s Cross (London) area.

Listen to hear our thoughts on the internationally best-selling books, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo and L’Art de la Simplicité: How to Live More With Less by Dominique Loreau.