Monday 11 December 2017

What to Make for Gifts this Chrismas

One of the many challenges Christmas offers is gift giving, and in particular trying to find suitable gifts for over twenty relatives that you'll be seeing over the holidays. Most years about thirty guests have Christmas dinner with us and since I can remember my family has been providing them all with homemade presents. It even reached the stage where we considered creating our own brand, "Pathetic Homemade's". So far we have created bath crayons, jars of layered cookie ingredients, candles and much more. This year after my near-obsessive plant growing, we decided that a terrarium in a mug was a nice idea. A similar Hyacinth plant is currently available at M&S for £28 so, this is really a great way to save money whilst maintaining quality. So if you need inspiration or are considering a similar idea, here's how to do it!

You will need:
A medium/large container
The correct Soil depending on your choice of plant
Sphagnum Moss
Hyacinth Bulbs or other plants suitable for a terrarium
(The above products are available at UK garden centres or online)

The first thing to do is to decide on a suitable container for your plants to grow in. I have chosen a large mug for mine because of its plant pot colour, its sufficient room and also because the mug itself is an extra gift. I'd suggest washing the container before you begin to grow anything in it. Traditional terrariums are made of glass which allows you to see the various layers it consists off. If you prefer that idea or wish to save money you could use old jars for an equally successful and beautiful outcome.

Gravel should be the first layer you add at the bottom of your container. Because the terrarium doesn't have a drainage system, this is important in ensuring plants don't drown. I would say that the gravel should make up a little less than a third of all your layers. Ideally a thin layer of activated charcoal should then be added to keep everything healthy.

Next comes the soil. If your terrarium is made of glass, it is normal that the plants you choose will not protrude above the top of the container. You should be able to see them as if your jar is a little aquarium for plants. The level that the soil goes up to depends on preference. As mine is not transparent, I filled it nearly to the top. 

Often succulents are used because they need very little water. You can choose plants easily by googling which are suitable for a terrarium and picking the whatever takes your fancy. For this I used Hyacinth bulbs as they are able to grow in quite close proximity and produce fragrant flowers.

If replanting partially grown plants, simply dig a little space in the soil to plant them in. If using bulbs like myself, bury one third of the bulb in the soil, ensuring each is the correct way up.

Many people choose to put a moss layer beneath the soil to soak up excess water however I quite like the look moss creates as a top layer; it seems far more interesting to me. Two layers of moss could also be an option, there's no real strict rules here. Finally a little extra gravel has been used as an extra decorative feature.

The last thing to do before giving this away as a present, is to create a label/tag with instructions as to how to care for the plant. Make sure recipients of this gift are also advised against overwatering to prevent the plant from drowning. Good luck! I found creating this a really fun way to spent afternoon so I hope you do too. If anyone creates something similar, tag me on Instagram or Twitter so I'm able to see and I'll share it!

Since posting this I have been asking three of my friends to update me on the progress of their plants, here are the results so far:

Guy Fischman:

Clare Atherton:

My Own:


(click on images to enlarge)

Sunday 10 December 2017

Books to Read December ǀ 2017

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult 

When I read this it reflected so many of the issues of today's society; the research and thought Picoult has exerted into this book is clearly evident when reading. Essentially it is a story about Racism. Exploring not just the obvious, swastika-waving racism, but also the less identifiable everyday things that contribute to an imbalance in society. It includes the names of real victims within the book which consolidates its relevance and shows just how real the issue she writes about is. I think it is extremely ambitious for a white person to write about themes like this (how could we ever understand it on the same level and produce anywhere near authentic literature on it?) however I believe it to have been executed fairly effectively and definitely with good intent. Some of the perspectives written from are a black nurse, a white lawyer defending a black woman, and a white supremacist. It is meant to be disturbing and that is what makes it effective. As a reader you shouldn't read about racism and be comfortable. This is my personal opinion on 'Small Great Things'. A lot of people probably read it and rolled their eyes at the slightly unrealistic storyline and at the inaccuracies that are inevitable when trying to write from another races' perspective. I'd be interested to know what other people think of it. 

My Name Is... by Alastair Campbell

I have read this at least three times and still love it the way I did when I read it the first time. On a basic level it is about a girl named Hannah who becomes an alcoholic. Through the voices of twenty five people we gain knowledge of he life and how it rapidly spiralled out of control. We learn about her parents, her boyfriends, her friends, her sister and all of the terribly shocking things Hannah has done. Providing such background allows us to see motive and understand the psychological problems Hannah faces; we do not become judgemental of her and can sympathise in a way in which we would not be able to, had there been just one continuous narrative. Alistair Campbell is a former alcoholic and it is clear his mission is to really drill in the dangers of alcohol. I admire Campbell's ability to create that lack of judgement and level of understanding, it teaches not to be dismissing of those who struggle with their drink. It is never just that simple. It is a talent to create so many different, yet believable characters who you actually care to learn more about. 'My Name Is...' is an interesting, meaningful, yet fairly easy read which I would recommend this holiday.

This Must Be The Place by Maggie O'Farrell

Again this is a book with multiple narrators and again they each become people with their own problems you wish to learn more about. The writing is good from beginning to end and you become close to the main characters despite it's narrative style. It is a story of love and of pain, evoking emotions in a reader as they are felt by the characters. One thing emphasised is the intricacy and complicated nature of relationships and decisions. They are never presented as simple, rather as tangled and complex, as they are in reality. It is a book filled to the brim with love but also with the difficult accompanying emotions. You become to love the flawed and complex characters as your understanding of them is heightened with each chapter. O'Farrell creates a thought-provoking and page turning story.