Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

100 Flower : #031 Auriculas

It is Easter Sunday, so how apt to celebrate with the Fabergé Egg of garden flowers . . .

#031 Primula Auricula


If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you will have noticed that I've been bitten by the Auricula bug! It all began last Spring (although I have been eyeing them from afar for many years) I bought two plants from a local 'open garden' plant stall. My excitement increased when I found one pot contained two different plants! I obtained more – just cheap seedling Border Auriculas from local nurseries. Then, at a plant fair I bought an Alpine Auricula named 'Sandra'. In the autumn another afflicted gardener gave me two of her plants . . .  you see, Auriculas are pretty easy to grow and the plants can be split to make more plants.

'Larry' a gift from Lisa
I'm eagerly awaiting the flowers to open!

I don't usually get excited about pot-plants or alpines, but Auriculas are small treasures, like heirloom jewels – and like the tulip, they have a long history as 'florist flowers'. There is a fascinating blog-post here about the Huguenot families of Spitalfields in London and their love for these precious flowers.

Traditionally, Auriculas are displayed in an 'Auricula Theatre', this can be an elaborate contruction or just a simple shelf with a roof to keep off the rain (they don't like to get too wet or too hot). The 'Theatre' also allows the plants to be admired . . . like a collection of beautiful painted ceramics.

My Auriculas are displayed in an old wardrobe that has been painted dark slate grey inside and marbled on the doors. Each plant is potted in an old terracotta plant pot . . . the plants can then be arrange and re-arranged as they come into flower. It's part of the fun . . . like playing with toys!

When the flowers have faded the plants need to be kept in a shaded corner of the garden until winter, I then move mine onto a low shelf in our greenhouse until Spring when the flower buds start to appear. So I knew which plant was which, I gave my Auriculas descriptive names . . .

 'Celia's Pinked Tudor Velvet'

'Celia's Damson Compote'

'Celia's Apricot Cream'
 – very close to the wild Auricula, but with a slight pink tint to the reverse of the petals.

Then, yesterday Cliff and I just happened to go out for the day to the coast – we went to Dunwich where we had excellent Fish & Chips at the Flora Tearooms on the beach followed by doing this lovely walk (which I can thoroughly recommend if you are in the area). Well, I couldn't not call in to the famous Woottens of Wenhasten plant nursery, where they were holding their annual Auricula Day (oooops!).

There were lots of Auriculas on show – about 400 different ones! And most were for sale . . . it was a little bit overwhelming.

Of course I bought some – 

just four . . .

'Sirbol' a gold centred Alpine Auricula

'Trafalgar Square' a silver edged Fancy Auricula

And these . . . the anticipation of waiting for the flowers to open, is all part of the fun 

'Cuddles' another gold centred Alpine Auricula

and last but not least, one of the weird and wonderful 'Edges' . . .


I'm delighted with my new Auriculas (did you notice, I chose plants with small off-shoots that will be perfect to eventually split off to make new plants) and they'll be putting on a show in the theatre until late May.

Happy Easter!


Thursday, 17 April 2014

100 Flowers : #030 Tulips

I'm a late convert to Tulips, maybe it was our holiday in Holland last summer that inspired me to plant pots of tulips to enjoy this Spring . . .

#030 Tulipa

Tulip ... various!

I like tulips mixed with other early bedding plants – violas and wallflowers – so they rise through a sea of colour. These were souvenir Tulip bulbs bought at the flower market in central Amsterdam, they are tall 'lily-flowered' and I think they may be called 'Claudia'. 

They have been flowering for ages! and I love how they open right out in the warm sunshine.

Here are some more 'lily-flowered' tulips, a present from Cliff a few years ago, they've been in the same planter all that time and grow up through blue-green grass.

Short stemmed, with beautiful blue-green and burgundy patterned leaves, these are 'Red Riding Hood'. The bulbs were thrown out 'past their sell by date' by a garden centre and we got a huge bag for free just before Christmas! I planted them in pots in the greenhouse and then transplanted them into large planters on our patio, over-planting them with self-seeded Forget-me-not plants. So this display cost absolutely nothing!

In the beautiful sunshine we've had this week, the flowers open wide revealing the black centre and golden stigmas and stamens.

Stray tulips that appear in overgrown corners, red made even brighter by the surrounding lush greens.

A row of orange tulips surrounded by self-seeded Forget-me-nots and Calendula. Among the blooms this year is one with flame patterns - is this the infamous 'Tulip Breaking Virus' that got the Dutch tulip fans so excited in the early 17th century? 

Even the the dying petals have a curious beauty, as if they are made from silk 

In a slightly shadier position these almost black 'Queen of the Night' tulips are yet to bloom

I like the contrast between our mostly natural and slightly wild garden and the artifice of tulips bred for their curious shapes and rich colours over centuries . . . first in Persia and then in Holland. They are among the earliest 'florist flowers', grown to be arranged and enjoyed, as ephemeral works of art.

You may have spotted, behind the Tulips in the above photo, some other 'florist flowers' . . . more of those in the next post.


Monday, 14 April 2014

100 Flowers : #026 #027 #028 #029 Cabbages and Kings

What wonderful sunny weather we're having and the flowers bursting open so fast I can't keep up!

In the vegetable garden, inside the pigeon proof pen, the brassicas are quickly running to seed but it's worth pausing and admiring the flowers before uprooting them to make room for wigwams of peas.

In fact the provide a valuable food source for insects and I could leave some to set seed to save for sowing for a fresh crop of Kale.

#026 Brassica oleracea

Kale var. Ragged Jack

This is probably the easiest of Kales to grow, sown in late Spring last year. There were leaves to pick through the late summer, then it looks a bit forlorn in Winter before erupting with tender new shoots in early spring.

With the warmer temperatures and longer days the flower spikes suddenly shoot up almost over night!

Put aside thoughts of a cabbage gone to seed and look at the elegant flower spike, the bronze stalks, pale blue-green buds and pretty four-petalled flowers.

Four petals – that's what you have to look for to find the Cabbage cousins, here's a British country cousin . . .

#027 Alliaria petiolata

Garlic Mustard or Jack-by-the-hedge

Please don't dismiss this as a weed and pull it up, there are very good reasons to allow it to stay in the flower borders . . .
1: it is edible, it tastes of garlic (Alliaria means 'like alliums') and mustard and peps up a ham sandwich very nicely.
2: it is the food plant of the Orange Tip Butterflies' caterpillars.
3: it has zingy bright olive/lime green leaves that perfectly set off Forget-me-nots and Bluebells!
4: if you find you have too much of a good thing, Garlic Mustard is very easy to pulls up.

#028 Lunaria annua


Honesty is a biennial, the little plants grow one year then flower, make those pretty silver moon-like (Lunaria = moon-like) seed pods and die the next year.

I just let the seeds scatter and plants find their favoured places to grow – this one is growing almost in a large Lupin plant, it's happy and is putting on a glorious display of purple flowers.

Up close you can see Honesty flowers are exactly like the Kale flowers except for being bright purple instead of yellow.

#029 Erysimum cheiri


More biennial brassicas, I bought these as bedding plants last Autumn but I could easily have grown them from seed if I'd remembered to sow them and grow them just like the Kale plants. The small plants are sold either in containers or bare rooted to plant out into containers or flower beds in Autumn. It feels like a bit of a palava until in early April when they start to flower . . . just like a cabbage running to seed but in a good way.

The colours are rich and intense – yellows, golds, orange, russet, red, crimson and burgundy. The four petals are large, soft and velvety in appearance, but it is the fragrance that sets these cabbage-cousins apart – a rich warm spicy 'ginger biscuits' perfume that fills the air around them. I've planted some of the Wallflowers in containers with violas and tulips outside our kitchen door where the perfume can be enjoyed as we come and go.

Erysimum is from a greek word meaning to help/save because the Wallflowers were used in medicines. They were also once a popular cut flower, especially for fragrant posies – cheir = hand and anthos = flower. 

Wouldn't it be wonderful to fill the flowerbeds with Wallflowers?! I'm making a note to sow lots in June! 


Tuesday, 8 April 2014

100 Flowers : #022 #023 #024 #025 dreaming of fruits to come

Before the blossom fades and is blown away in the stiff breeze, here are flowers that promise delicious fruits later in year . . .

#022 Prunus domestica

Greengage var: Cambridge Gage

Regular readers of PPPs will know how much I love Greengages, more specifically the best gage of all the very best fruit in the whole world* – the Cambridge Gage. This is a variation of the wild cherry plums that was found somewhere in a Cambridgeshire hedge, it reproduces by suckers which are of course identical to the parent tree. The blossom is one of the earliest top-fruit trees to flower so is vulnerable to late frost and cold dull weather when there will be no pollinating insects.

* my personal opinion

#023 Pyrus communis

Pear var: Beurre Hardy

Another fruit blossom vulnerable to a late frost or non-pollination because of inclement weather, a dessert pear. This one is Beurre Hardy, it's a young tree I'm attempting to train against our garden wall. So far we have only had 3 or 4 fruits . . . they where indeed delicious - sweet, juicy and butter-soft flesh.

#024 Ribes uva-crispa

Gooseberry var: Invicta

The warm spring weather means the flowers are fading fast and little fruits forming on the Gooseberry bushes, but I wanted to show the flowers because they are very pretty and quite unusual. Look at the little upturned rust coloured petals! When the fruit forms these will be the dry tuft or 'nub' on the bottom of the Gooseberry. 

And yes Gooseberries are a perfect accompaniment to rich Goose meat or with Mackerel, as the french name Groseille à Maquereau suggests.

#025 Ribes rubrum

Currant var: White Versailles

Surprisingly a White Currant is a Red Currant (Ribes rubrum) without the colour, and because it has no bitter red colour the flavour is slightly sweeter. As you can see, the flowers are similar to those of the Gooseberry to which it is closely related, but they grow along long dangling stalks. White Currants can be made into the most beautiful sophisticated jellies or water ices . . . but unless I protect the ripening fruit form the birds it will be but a dream.

One thing you learn from growing you own fruit, is not to count your fruits before they and ripe and ready to pick. Blossom may promise the delights of sweet juicy fruits . . . but promises are there to be broken.

Meanwhile, a girl can dream!