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.

Friday, 31 August 2007

Salford Black runner beans

Salford Black runner beans were one of the first heritage seeds I received after I joined the Heritage Seed Library, since then I have saved my own seeds. The long green pods are deeply textured and develope a sooty purple/black tinge as they mature (probably not a selling feature if you're auditioning veg for the supermarket shelf!) but they remain stringless until the seeds become large, and have a beautiful flavour - both key qualities if you're choosing a bean for the kitchen garden. Each year they outgrow their wigwam, my husband likes to give them room to reach for the sky - last year they were given a strong string from their wigwam to the high brick garden wall. This year they got a giant rustic archway, the jet black seeds were pushed hurriedly into the soil in mid-May, once they got started there was no stopping them and they have covered the archway in a cloak of huge green leaves, vivid orange-red flowers and long green pods.

One plant has some interesting patterned leaves which are very attractive - I wonder if I can continue this variegated variation?.

The name Salford Black conjured up images of scenes by L S Lowry, was the colouring on the pods reminiscent of the sooty industrial town? For some reason this annoyingly set off a memory of that irritating song which popped into my head everytime I neared the bean arch. Aaaaaaagh..... go away!!!!! But the other day I was leafing through the Heritage Seed Library catalogue and came across this:

"Salford Black
Grown by Mrs P A Woodward's family for about 40 years, this variety is known to come from Salford, a village in the Cotswolds."

The Cotswolds!!! not Lancashire after all, I was immediately freed from the haunting song (please note: I have nothing against Salford, Lancashire or the paintings of L S Lowry, but I just don't like that song, you might, I don't).

This is the picking from the vegetable garden last night - lots of rather large courgettes and beautiful Salford Black runner beans. Surplus beans can easily be blanched and cooled then bagged for the freezer - lots of green beans for the winter months.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Contemporary Woodcuts

I spent the Summer Bank Holiday weekend at a printmaking workshop at Gainsborough's House in Sudbury. The three day course, 'Contemporary Woodcuts' led by illustrator and printmaker Mark Hudson, was held in the Print Workshop in the walled garden behind Gainsborough House. Inspired by an introductory talk on Friday evening we arrived on Saturday keen to learn as many techniques as possible.

After "warm-up exercises" making marks on a balsa wood block using only our finger nails (and teeth), we experimented in making marks using nails, hacksaw blades, wire, hammers, in fact anything we had to hand. Then it was on to inking techniques and the use of paper masks on the blocks. We had been asked to bring in a photograph of a landscape, in the afternoon Mark described his technique for interpreting a landscape and distilling it into a two colour print design. This is my design based on the standing stones at Langass Loch on the isle of North Uist in the Hebrides, with Ben Eavel in the distance.

On Sunday we started work on a second, larger design and we experimented with making marks on the blocks using power tools. A bench was set up in the garden and we attacked our wooden blocks with an electric drill fitted with various grinding wheels and wire brushes - great fun! My design is based on a photograph of the seaweed covered rocks on the southern tip of South Uist.

Monday saw everyone in the Print Workshop an hour before the official start of the course - it was a frantic race to get as much work done as possible on both of our designs. Mark threw in lots of extra ideas and possiblilities as he went round to see what we were up to. There was so much to do and we had to start packing up at 3pm!!! The drying racks were crammed full of prints and we eagerly used each others' ink mixes to make one last impression on our prints.

When every last smear of ink had been wiped up and all the tools cleaned and put back in the correct place (under the watchful eye of the fantastic Print Workshop technician Sue Molineux) we laid our favourite prints out on the grass in the shade of the 400 year old mulberry tree, and sat down with a welcome mug of tea to discuss printmaking suppliers and chisel sharpening, and to admire each others work. It was amazing that given the same brief and materials we each created completely different styles of work - which showed just how versatile woodcut printmaking can be. These are my favourite prints from my two designs - very much works in progress, I'm looking forward to working on them over the weeks ahead.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Organic gardens in the sunshine!

Yesterday my husband had to attend a seminar in Coventry, it didn't take me long to realise that he would be driving past the Garden Organic head quarters at Ryton, the home of the Heritage Seed Library. It also occurred to me that the Midlands were enjoying some glorious sunny weather - it was a no brainer, I got a lift to Coventry.

The Heritage Seed Library has it's own show garden, including this beautiful greenhouse, the gardens are planted with some of the heritage vegetables. The Yellow Beefsteak tomatoes looked particularly spectacular as did the okra and a wigwam of eastern european climbing bean varieties.

Outside the Vegetable Kingdom exhibition there were beautiful displays of companion planting including yellow chard with tagetes.

The most recent display garden is the The Elysia Biodynamic Garden. The vegetables looked particularly large and healthy and the modern sculptural design looked fantastic in the sunshine.

My favourite area was the Naturalistic Planting around the award winning restaurant. Fresh vegetables and salad leaves are picked from the gardens early in the morning for the restaurant - the food was excellent.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

It's summer time!

The under-gardeners seem rather envious of the studio assistants today - and who can blame them! This is supposed to be summer - and this weekend is the Summer Bank Holiday, traditionally a weekend for a trip to the seaside or a picnic in the country, but it's cold and very, very wet!

This morning I was emailed by Charlotte of The Great Big Vegetable Challenge who has invented a creative way to beat the wet and miserable summer time blues: Make a Vegetable Face.

Before I chopped up the veg for tonight's dinner I created this rogue. For more vegetable face fun visit The Great Big Vegetable Challenge or why not join in and create your own vegie phisog.

A greengage summer

I love greengages - I could eat buckets of them! Straight from the tree, I like to judge which one is going to be the best - just right, ripe but not too ripe, juicy but with a slight crunch, the flesh breaks open and the stone can be taken out easily leaving the glistening juicy honey-sweet golden-green flesh. I've had years of practise! I was brought up in the Cambridgeshire village of Willingham, the fruit and flower growing industries were already in decline (now almost gone completely) but there were still orchards full of old varieties and apples, pears, plums, damsons and greengages. These were so special - Cambridge Gages - the best flavoured of all English gages, a descendant of a fruit tree brought to England from France by Sir William Gage of Hengrave Hall near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. The labels had been lost so the fruit was called Gage's Green Plum, from these trees various seedlings were cultivated.

We have five Cambridge Gage trees in our garden, two free standing trees and three trained against the red-brick wall, they are all 'suckers' (basal shoots) of trees in my parents' garden which in turn came from my grandparents' orchard - Cambridge Gages grow true from the rootstock. Having my own trees has brought back memories of my grandparents anxiously checking the weather forecasts - would there be a frost when the greengages were in flower? would there be sun to ripen and sweeten the fruit? would there be a heavy rainstorm just before harvest and make the greengage skins split and spoil? The income of the market gardeners, packers and fruit carriers depended on such vagaries of the English weather. This year was good for the blossom (the earliest plum to come into flower) April was warm and sunny, the fruit set - it was looking good! June was mild and damp, there was no 'June drop' the branches stayed laden with fruit - as the fruit ripened one branch snapped under the weight of the fruit - I shouldn't have been so greedy, the fruit should have been thinned!

A couple of warm and occasionally sunny weeks at the end of July and the beginning of August and the greengages were almost ripe, I gently tested the most likely to be ready first - a little too firm - maybe tomorrow. The first were eaten secretly straight from the tree, in the sunny garden - perfection. More ripened, it was looking good, a real greengage summer this year. Greengages for breakfast, as a snack when I walked through the garden, made into a delicious crumble after Sunday dinner. Then it rained - hard torrrential rain, thundering down. The greengage trees quenched on the unseasonal drenching - the fruit swelled, the flavour changed - diluted with the water the flesh became wet and too juicy. More than half the crop was still on the trees, yesterday between rain storms I went into the garden - the greengages had split - the golden flesh bursting from the green skin. How unfair - my beautiful fruits all spoilt - I could only imagine how it would feel if I was my grandmother looking at her orchard and the seasons crop destined for Covent Garden market ruined. I grabbed a stool and reached into the sodden branches salvaging as much as I could of the exploded fruits - they would be good enough for jam. Eight jars! Enough to keep me happy through the winter.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Meme: Fantastic Four

Fiona, The Cottage Smallholder, tagged me (again!) this time for my 'Fantastic Four' - five (shouldn't it be four?) areas of my life, four points for each. I've recently discovered that a meme (pronounced like theme) was a term coined by Richard Dawkins in his book 'The Selfish Gene' he says "Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leading from body to body via sperm or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation." So now you know.

I've come across some excellent blogs via the links in memes, so I'll swiftly whizz through the 20 fab facts and try to tag four bloggers (who can ignore my request or join in - it's a free world).

4 jobs I’ve had in my life (Having been freelance for most of my life I haven't really "changed" jobs for many years, but here goes)

1 Cambridge Examination Syndicate exam mark checker - the traditional holiday job for Cambridge students - improved my mental arithmatic no end and some of the exam papers were a good read!!!

2 Designer and Art Buyer for a major educational publisher - working on a joint project with the Australian branch of the company - endless meetings; long lunches with authors and editors; and reams of faxes mainly about the size of Fred Pig's bottom and changing speech bubble text from "Let me have a turn, please" (UK version) to "Give us a go, mate!" (Aus version). And sadly I didn't get a trip to Aus.

3 There is life after redundancy (I saw it coming and had always wanted to work freelance eventually). I shared a studio first in Harlow, Essex then in Stanstead Abbotts, Hertfordshire. Work ranged from GCSE French text books to producing maps for a book about Malt Whisky. And sadly we didn't get a bottle to sample.

4 I now work in a studio joined to our house in a tiny village in the south-west corner of Suffolk, where I create digital illustrations for books and also work on my own linocut designs. I am also the editor (and page designer) for the monthly village magazine.

4 places I have lived

1 Willingham on the edge of the Cambridgeshire Fens. Most of my family have lived here for generatiions.

2 Brighton. I lived here as an art student, for the first year in a hall of residence right on the seafront, and then in the basement of a Georgian crescent shaped terrace - my room had been a chapel, and I used a lectern as a bed-side table!

3 Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire where I rented a room when I got my first job, then bought my first flat and then a little terraced cottage with a garden measuring 4 metres by 150 metres!

4 Enfield, North London. When we got engaged, the OH and I put our houses up for sale and planned to buy our dream house (hopefully with a walled garden). My cottage sold in two weeks. I lived in his house for 2 years! Five houses later we got the walled garden.

4 places I have been on holiday

1 Haviroz, Czechoslovakia (before it became the Czech Republic) - I was part of a "twin town" exchange trip and had to help back stage for a dance group - the highlight was a tour of the local coal mine on a working shift, we had to wear miner's clothes (even underwear) and were allowed to crawl right up to the coal face with the workers!

2 New Zealand - highlight was tramping in the Abel Tasman National Park and the stars at Haast.

3 Churchill on Hudson Bay, Canada - close encounters with polar bears!

4 Western Australia - we drove along the coast from Perth to Broome – highlight was watching a turtle lay her eggs on a beach near Exmouth.

4 of my favourite foods

1 Greengages - fresh from the tree, or in pies and crumbles, or jam in sponge cakes - just lots and lots!!!!

2 Asparagus - English asparagus when in season is the vegie highlight of the year.

3 Maple Syrup - I used to say I didn't like maple syrup, then I went to New England! Now winter mornings aren't the same without porridge and maple syrup!

4 Suffolk Black Cure bacon - this is bacon cured using the local beer and black treacle. Just One rasher chopped up transforms a pasta sauce or risotto into a gourmet dish!

4 places I would rather be right now

1 Gardening and listening to Radio 4 on my little pocket radio. I only use one earphone so I can hear the birds in the garden as well. I have been known to cut the earphone wire with the secateurs!

2 Walking on a North Norfolk beach and then having Cromer crab for lunch.

3 Sitting in front of a real fire with a cup of tea and a piece of fruit cake.

4 Working in my studio (and that's exactly what I will be doing when I finish typing this).

I have chosen these four great blogs to tag, in no order of preference,
A Wee Bit of Cooking
adekun's japan blog
Woodblock Dreams
Articles and Texticles

Friday, 17 August 2007

Flowers and Animals

When I was sorting through a pile of books in my studio I came across this – it's a was one of my favourite books when I was learning the alphabet before I went to school. I think it must have been put together by my mother from pages supplied with the magazine 'Child Education' and it had been well used in her infant school classroom by the time it was given to me.

Looking through the pages again I realised that every image was familiar to me - the heraldic lions wearing raffish top-hats swaggering around a Dandelion plant; the white-whiskered wizard hold a wand of Enchanter's Nighshade; the playing-card style kings toasting each other with cups of wine while sitting in the golden Kingcup flowers . . .

On the reverse of each colour illustration is a beautiful black line drawing and facts about the plant - it's very informative. I can't remember reading the text, maybe it was read to me. The illustrator was Doris Meyer, I'll have to look out for other books she illustrated. I hope she enjoyed working on this one.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Hens and holidays

"Oh I'd love to keep hens!" this statement is usually followed by questions about henhouses and feed and poultry breeders. Then "What do you do when you go on holiday?". The answer is to find another henkeeper and swap holiday henkeeping duties. Hens like routine, and so long as their daily habits aren't disrupted they are happy.

So in return for the under-gardeners (and studio assistants) being kept clean and well provided for when we are away it's our duty to do the same for this grand gentleman and his seven wifelets!

Over the past few weeks I've enjoyed being waitress and house-maid for a neighbour's Black Cochin cockerel and his harem. He purrs in a deep Barry White voice. "Look! Look!" he makes sure they know I've put the corn feeder out for their supper. "Look! Look! Look!" he picks up the chicory leaves I've brought them and sees that each wifelet is pecking contentedly. They've been confined to a shady hen-run beneath a plum tree, but I could see them longingly gazing at the green lawn - so I let them take a stroll before bedtime. He struts as if he's wearing high heels, billowing trousers and shiny tail-coat - he's escorting his girls on an evening promenade. Then the wifelets are ushered back to the henhouse and he sits in the doorway, red wattles resting on his shimmering mane of feathers, surrounded by his adouring ladies. It's been a pleasure sir!

Monday, 13 August 2007

Lot 283 – A Victorian book press

I love looking round auction showrooms, there's a list of things to look out for tucked in the back of my mind. So I was very excited to spot 'Lot 283 – A Victorian book press' at Willingham Auctions last Friday. It screamed "BID FOR ME!!!!!!".

So I returned to the auction rooms on Saturday and waited for Lot 283. The range of items for sale is huge: garden furniture, wind-up gramophones, furniture, paintings, medals, jewels, teddy bears, top hats . . . At some other auctions the auctioneers are very serious and the saleroom can be hushed and solemn; not here - there are always a few jokes, giggles about spelling errors in the catalogue, amusement when someone buys something unusual "a top hat sir? - that will go nicely with the spear!". I have to pretend not to be paticularly interested in a specific item, just generally interested and casually alert (the card with my bidding number is tucked into my bag).

We get to 'Lot 239 - Three Victorian shaped copper jelly moulds', I fancy those too especially after hearing a fantastic radio programme a few days ago about the art of making posh jellies. Maybe I'll bid. "There's been a lot of interest in these . . . a couple of close commission bidders . . . we start at £150" Oh heck! better save my money for Lot 283 - my card stayed in my bag. The auction whizzes along - almost a hundred lots per hour, and I soon hear "Sold 'BANG!!' . . . your number . . . thank you . . . Lot 283 . . . " the adrenalin kicks in. I musn't look interested, stay calm, let others start then come in third or fourth, make sure I can catch the auctioneer's eye just before everyone thinks it's about to be sold. There's someone round the corner by the door bidding against me, I can't see them, the bidding ping-pongs back and forth between us "It's the lady's bid . . . any more . . . £95 any body . . . still with the lady . . . SOLD 'BANG!!' sold for £90 . . . your number . . . thank you . . . Lot 284 A collection of lace making tools . . ." Got it!! It's mine! Hurray!!

So the 'Victorian book press' is now sitting in my studio. It will take a sheet of paper just bigger than A4, perfect for using as a mini block printing press, or pressing folded cards and booklets. I was curious to find out a bit more about my new gadget - there isn't a makers mark visible (probaly painted over when it was restored by a previous owner - the leaf decoration isn't original). In fact it should be called a 'Copy Press' and was the must-have piece of office equipment in the 19th century, an early forerunner of the photocopier it's an antique copying machine. When office correspondence was hand written in pen and ink a copy was taken by laying a sheet of very thin slightly damp paper over the original document and pressing it in the Copy Press. An image of the document was transferred to the damp paper and could be read through the reverse side. Of course with the introduction of the typewriter and carbon paper the Copy Press became obsolete, and they gathered dust in office cupboards before being taken to the local junk shop. It's now my latest piece of studio equipment - in these days when a new gadget is out of date in a month it's very pleasing to use a machine that's been around for 150 years.

Friday, 10 August 2007

The under-gardeners

This week I've been clearing some of the beds in the vegetable garden in readiness to plant some late summer/autumn salad and vegetable crops. Of course the under-gardeners, our four Maran hybrid hens, wanted to help; we've been relaxed about them rummaging in the vegetable beds as they did little damage to mature pea plants and there were no tiny seedlings to peck - they have loved this treat like schoolgirls on a picnic in the country!
The tomato plants in large pots have been devastated by blight (usually by growing them in pots filled with growbag soil prevents blight) apparently there are airborne strains of the disease and ideal conditions this year. So the tomato plants had to go! The under-gardeners looked at the pots of dry soil and saw four individual bath tubs in the sunshine - at least it kept them out of my way for a while.

Of course there is a downside to letting the under-gardeners free-range among the veg, they have a knack of finding the most tasty leaves - this was our sorrel patch! Jane Grigson in her 'Vegetable Book' writes of the French love of sorrel, ". . . one of the best flavourings for an omelette. Its sharpness goes beautifully with eggs." Sorrel is a rich source of vitamin C and and has a sharp fresh flavour not unlike lemon juice. I can't remember where I heard this, but apparently if you eat a sorrel leaf dipped in sugar it tastes just like the very best champagne! Now, who says hens have no sense of taste!

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Ukrainian beans from the HSL

As a member of the Heritage Seed Library, each year I can select six packets of vegetable seed from the catalogue. There are so many varieties to choose from - especially beans – one of this year's selection is 'Poletschka', the description in the catalogue is:

Named after donor Irma Jacyna's family as these pretty seeds originated in their native village of Kostilnyky in Western Ukraine. This stringless bean crops over a very long period and is very prolific. A 'taste team' assembled by HSL member Margaret Ramsden pronounced them "absolutely delish in every repect - melt in the mouth". The beans can be eaten fresh when small, and later used as a dry bean. 20 seeds"

As you can see I have nine seed beans left - they look like polished indigo coloured pebbles. - I think I will sow them this week to see how they do as a late crop.

'Poletschka' are climbing beans and they have made a neat wigwam of bright green foliage in the vegetable garden. The flowers are cream, maturing to pale mauve. The green pods are tender and sweet so they are destined to be a regular on my plot, I'm looking forward to cooking the mature beans.

Monday, 6 August 2007

On a grand scale

OK, I'll be honest, this isn't my garden. It's a walled garden on a rather grander scale than ours at Audley End just over the county boundary in Essex which is a showcase garden for Garden Organic and the Heritage Seed Library (members of Garden Organic can visit the garden free of charge). Last week we visited to check out the figs and peaches in the little Thomas Rivers Orchard House and to enjoy strolling round the wide paths between the trained apple and pear trees.

Artichokes, seakale (with forcing pots) and cardoons in the vegetable borders, plum trees are fan trained around the outer walls.

The 21st Century garden has beautiful borders planted to attract butterflies, moths and beneficial insects There is a clover lawn in the centre surrounded by a lavender hedge.

In the entrance to the Vine House there is a stunning display of Victorian style geraniums, many with scented leaves - peppermint, chocolate, orange, lemon, rose, and cedar.

We bought ice creams and spotted this little book for sale . . .

. . . how could we resist buying it, recipes include 'A Pudding made of Small Birds', 'How to Make Toast Water' and 'How to Prepare a Large Quantity of Good Soup for the Poor'. Among the more familiar dishes are the Christmas favourites - 'Bread Sauce for Roast Fowl', 'Bubble and Squeak' and 'Mince Pie'.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Seven random garden facts

Recently both Christa of Calendula and Concrete and Fiona of The Cottage Smallholder tagged me for seven random facts about me and my garden and then "tag" seven other garden blogs – I feel like the new kid in the playground where everyone has already been "It"!

So here goes with my seven random facts:

1) I like big, tall plants - Giant Golden Oat (stipa gigantea); Colewort (crambe cordifolia); Angelica; Lovage; Hollyhocks . . .

2) My gardening heroes are Joy Larkcom because when I read her books on vegetables, salad crops, oriental vegies and potagers I always learn something new and Piet Oudolf who orchestrates plants like no other garden designer - awesome!

3) The garden I'd most like to swap with mine is at Sooke Harbour House on Vancouver Island - it has everything I like a garden to have - unusual edible plants, wildlife (sea otters play in the borders near the beach!) and sublime views (the Olympic Mountains across the Juan de Fuca Strait).

4) If decorative plants need special soil or extra water to survive in my garden I don't grow them.

5) Picking vegetables, fruit and herbs from the garden, cooking them, then sitting in the garden in the sun and eating them is my idea of heaven.

6) I learnt the names of wildflowers before I went to school.

7) I like weeding.

And here, in no particular order, are my choice of blogs:

i'm over broccoli for the moment. it's all about the rainbow chard, baby! a cool name for Princess Veggie's blog

mostlymacro insects are beautiful too!

Mustardplaster beekeeper and heritage veg grower Miss Hathorn's blog

Musings of a textile itinerant an artist and gardener in Australia

Cherrapeno yummy recipes

Nourish Me more yummy recipes - veg gardeners always need new ideas to deal with a glut of courgettes!

shirls gardenwatch wildlife in a Scottish garden

The rules:
Each player starts with 7 random facts/habits about themselves. People who are tagged need to then report this on their own blog with their 7 random facts as well as these rules. They then need to tag 7 other garden blogs and list their names on their blog. They are also asked to leave a comment for each of the tagged, letting them know they have been tagged and to read the blog.