The leaves are beginning to drift downwards from the trees, the days are shortening and the light settles into that familiar golden glow typical of October. As the season shifts, I like to bring a little of that autumn feeling into the cottage. I feel best surrounded by a natural, understated look, a few bits here and there rather than a big change of decor – I don’t have that many items, and I like to keep the same things year to year, switching them around as the months go by. Using natural autumn decor is kind of like free shopping – most of these items can be found in woodlands, hedgerows and in your own garden.
When I say items, I mostly mean the collection of twigs, cones, seeds and so on I seem to have wombled from my ramblings through the year. To bring a few of these indoors is comforting, keeping the cottage in tune with the changing energy of the season, keeping the heartbeat of the house in time with that of the earth. The faded browns of dried flowers and seed-heads mirror the colours of the leaves outside. I add a candle or two and my decoration change is done.
For an instant autumn feel, there are many natural things that are easy to collect. Conkers, of course, but also fir and pine cones, grasses, different coloured leaves to hang on thread from the windows, pebbles, twigs, seasonal veg, logs, the last of the flowers. This year I have Allium seed heads – most are two years old now and are still going strong. We left them to go to seed after flowering, then brought them in to dry out properly.
I also have a large pine cone from a reservoir walk over 5 years ago, and some honesty seed heads which have turned out brilliantly. Again, the Honesty has been a small labour of love – it takes two years to flower, grown from seed (I love the seeds from Higgeldy Garden), but this year was flowering year! After flowering, the seed-heads have dried well and look beautiful, shining ghostly white in the light. We had purple and white flowers and the stems reflect those colours. The purple makes an especially beautiful contrast against the translucent seed heads.
On recent walks I’ve collected some grasses to make small ‘pieces of places’ and a small posy of bog cotton and dried grass reminds me of a trip to the moors as the colours were just starting to change in early September. Collecting natural bits and bobs makes me feel more connected to the place in which I live, bringing evidence of the changing seasons into my home.
As well as this, you could collect twigs with seasonal berries (check they’re not poisonous first!) to make a display, or consider hanging ornaments from windfall branches. Filling glass jars with acorns or conkers makes a lovely display, and settling into the season by making jams, syrups, pies and more with the abundance that can be found in hedgerows this season. Always be mindful of who or what else is relying on the free decorations and food available – only take what you can use, leave enough for the local wildlife and for other foragers, too.
I hope there have been some useful tips here, I’d love to hear your seasonal decorating ideas too. Have you collected decoration from outdoors before?
Have a lovely, autumnal week (or spring week if you’re in the Southern hemisphere!)
What else does a day need when you have coffee cake? Here’s my favourite recipe, from the no-longer-there/now something else Cegin Llynnon tea rooms in Anglesey.
My little recipe book advises it was created by the proprietor Dilys Hughes, so thank you Dilys for many years of amazing coffee cakes. All in old school ounces, so you may need your conversion heads on. An ounce is 28 grams, apparently.
6 oz sieved self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
6 oz soft margarine
6 oz caster sugar
2 oz walnuts
1 tbsp instant coffee
1 dessertspoon hot water
2 oz butter
4 oz icing sugar
1 tsp instant coffee
1 tsp hot water
2 oz icing sugar
1 tsp instant coffee
1 tbsp hot water
Walnut halves to decorate
Pre-heat your oven to Gas 3, 170C. Lightly grease two 7″ sandwich tins and line the base with greaseproof (I use cake release and don’t bother with the lining!)
Dissolve the instant coffee in the hot water, then place all ingredients in a mixing bowl, including coffee mixture. Beat well to creamy dropping consistency. Divide between the tins and bake for 25-35 mins until spongy. Leave to cool a moment in the tins, then turn out onto a rack to cool properly.
Buttercream – again, dissolve the coffee in the hot water. Cream butter until soft, then gradually beat in sugar and add coffee liquid. Beat well then use to sandwich cake layers together.
Topping – you guessed it, dissolve coffee in the water. Place icing sugar in a bowl then gradually add coffee mixture until the consistency of thick cream. Spread over cake and sprinkle your walnut halves on top.
Notes: I usually make 1.5 times the topping as the original is a bit stingy with the quantity! I also put more instant coffee into pretty much all of the stages as I love a strong coffee taste. Definitely remember to sieve the flour, it makes a big difference. Cake also freezes pretty well, if there’s any left…! Coffee beans in photos for hashtag aesthetic purposes only. Although you can munch on them whilst making the cake, of course 😉
I watch the bright flames crackle and dance in the soft early morning gloom and fight the urge to take a photograph. To document somehow this feeling of warmth, this primal fire in an 1800’s house, the otherworldly in the mundane. But for who? To sit with experience just for myself is increasingly hard.
This fire and me, we regard each other. Ancient connection, speaking to a part of me long forgotten, cells and sparks of millennia that I cannot put a name to. It is safety and danger, food and destruction. And mesmerising, always.
New flames settle with me, the fire burning well, and I struggle to write as my eyes are drawn to flame. The space between each flickering tongue. The dark charred wood a case of shadow. As flames die down the fire whispers “feed me”, and I do, entranced, as we are one, the house fading as soul and flame dance together somewhere deep in memory.
A cat slinks in and by fire she is tiny panther, orange reflected infinitely in huge dark eyes, and this panther flops down and melts into the floor, those wide eyes now closed in dreams of last night’s mouse hunt. The fire shifts in the grate and flames lick over a new surface, flaring and settling again. There is ebb and flow even in this.
The flames sing to me, to slow, to let go, to remember truths greater than myself. Orange glow, not harsh blue light. To peel away the layers of this world and let the flames devour them, leaving us as one, small fire, small human, and something bigger than us both.