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.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

UGPs and tolerance

FAQ: Do your hens damage your garden?

The short answer is 'YES'

The longer answer is 'You have to adjust your tolerance level and balance the joy of allowing the hens to roam free over the lawn and among the flower beds with your standards of garden neatness'

About a month ago the under-gardeners' unauthorised gardening project (UGP) had exceeded our tolerance level. We had to do something to stop a quarter of our lawn being totally stripped of grass and we had to do it fast and without spending loads of money. At the local builders' merchant we found the answer – a 50 metre roll of orange netting suitable for road works and detering determined hens. This has had the desired affect (although the under-gardeners have demonstrated their ability to cross over, under and around the barrier), but does make the garden look like the inside lane of the A14. And the studio assistants think it's a squirrel enclosure constructed for their entertainment.

Meanwhile the under-gardeners have started a number of small scale UGPs . . .

UGP No:1 Scattering paved areas with stones raked from the borders . . .

UGP No:2 Digging out the gravel surrounding the pond . . .

and last but not least

UGP No:3 Shredding the large patch of white bluebells . . .

Do they look guilty?

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Garden report - April

Two weeks ago heavy icy showers were a regular occurance. Not until April 22nd was there any real sign of spring warmth, then overnight leaf, bud and shoot really started growing . . .

It's April – all systems go! . . .

The wall-trained greengages, red and black currants and gooseberries are all in flower. It's easy to look at the abundance of blossom and think of baskets laden with fruit. Never count your fruit before it's picked! We need sunny warm days for pollintation and netting to protect the crops from birds (blackbirds love unripe redcurrants!). Sadly the red gooseberry Whinhams Industry is just a twiggy skeleton – was last year too damp, was it the late frosts, or some sort of fungal attack?

Plants in the vegetable beds are growing fast. These are the Crimson Flowered broad beans, in the background are chicory and red mustard which overwintered outside and the large grey feathery artichoke leaves. You can see a detailed list of what has been planted in the vegetable garden and green house here.

The young tomato plants in the greenhouse have been potted up and will soon be ready to plant into large tubs for outside and growbags for the greenhouse.

Fresh green leaves and shoots are filling the borders with neat hummocks of foliage. Here are four favourites which are signs that spring is really on its way . . . thalictrum glaucum – a giant blue-green leaved, yellow flowered rue; my favourite herb - lovage; crambe cordifolia – which will become a real show stopper in a few months time; and beautiful fat shoots of Solomon's Seal, polygonatum biflorum.

Already there are some splashes of intense colour in the garden, both these plants remind me of where I bought them . . .

This Fuchsia-flowered Gooseberry, ribes speciosum was from East Ruston Old Vicarage where you can see it growing in the Sunk Garden.

And this fabulous coloured spring pea, lathyrus vernum was from Hidcote.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Magical hares

I feel lucky to live in an area where hares are a common sight racing across the fields. Unlike the bunnies that congregate on the grass verges of the local roads at dusk, the brown hare is an ancient inhabitant of England and magical legends about hares are part of our folk history.

Some doodles with a purple pen on a scrap on paper have inspired my latest printmaking project – four magical hare prints. I worked up the doodles as pencil roughs in my sketch book before sizing and tweaking the designs in Photoshop.

The designs have just been transferred onto the lino blocks ready for my favourite part of the process – cutting :-)

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

St George's Day

We're a bit squeamish when it comes to flying the flag, unless it's to support our cricket, rugby or footie team. So on St George's Day most people will go about their work uninterupted by riotous celebrations or even the jingle of a morris dancers bell! According to this morning's news the English are more likely to celebrate Bonfire Night (fireworks, jacket potatoes, toffee) or St Patrick's Day (Irish Stew and Colcannon on the specials board and pint of Guiness at the local) than to celebrate St George's Day.

So I went in search of St George and found him, a short stroll from my studio, on a carved bench end in the village church. This 15th century St George is dressed in his best jousting gear and has overturned a large fat dragon who writhes with its tail tied in a knot – it was probably once painted in vivid colours with the jousting shield displaying the red cross of St George and the dragon a lizardy green.

When it was carved the battle of Agincourt, after which St George became England's patron saint, was within living memory. Over a hundred year's later Shakespeare (Happy Birthday, Will!) wrote Henry V's battle cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'. On January 6th 1643 this St George witnessed William Dowsing, the 'Commissioner for the Destruction of Monuments of Idolatry and Superstition', and his men enter the building and smash statues and stained glass windows. What else has it witnessed? weddings; funerals; countless long sermons; harvest festivals; Christmas carols; village gossip; quiet thoughts . . .

I wonder who carved this St George? I hope they enjoyed carving the details on the armour and that wonderful dragon.

This year, to honour St George's Day, English Heritage commissioned a new poem from Brian Patten who is proudly from Liverpool – European Capital of Culture 2008. (Probably best imagined read in Brian's Merseyside accent.)

The True Dragon

St George was out walking
He met a dragon on a hill,
It was wise and wonderful
Too glorious to kill

It slept amongst the wild thyme
Where the oxlips and violets grow
Its skin was a luminous fire
That made the English landscape glow

Its tears were England’s crystal rivers
Its breath the mist on England’s moors
Its larder was England’s orchards,
Its house was without doors

St George was in awe of it
It was a thing apart
He hid the sleeping dragon
Inside every English heart

So on this day let’s celebrate
England’s valleys full of light,
The green fire of the landscape
Lakes shivering with delight

Let’s celebrate St George’s Day,
The dragon in repose;
The brilliant lark ascending,
The yew, the oak, the rose

Tuesday, 22 April 2008


Flowers . . .

Hyacinth; Victorian Polyanthus; Periwinkle; Pulmonaria 'Blue Ensign'; Forget-me-not; Viola.

Sashiko . . .

A new stitching project recycling some favourite indigo linen shirts and a dress.

Mosaic . . .

Made from this . . .

. . . the garden soil in full of broken pottery from hundreds of years of kitchen breakages tossed onto the garbage heap, it's time to make some more mosaic pots.

One of the first blogs I stumbled upon was Musings of a Textile Itinerant, so I was deeply honored when Dijanne nominated me for an
Arte Y Pico award for creativity, design, interesting material and contributing to the blogging community

If I nominate you these are the rules:
1. You have to pick 5 blogs that you consider deserve this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and also contributes to the blogging community, no matter what language.
2. Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his/her blog to be visited by everyone.
3. Each award winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her/him the award itself.
4. The award winner and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of Arte y Pico
5. To show these rules in your
blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award.

I nominate the following people as being individual and creative bloggers – all great blogs to dip into . . .

Jude @ Spirit Cloth
Judith @ Threadspider's weblog
Joy @ Jamjar
Val @ The Illustrated Garden
Gina @ Fan My Flame

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Broody cat?

Five reasons why the brindled studio assistant is being very sensible . . .

1/ it's overcast and there's a cold easterly blowing off the North Sea

2/ the hen-house is dry and clean and quiet

3/ straw mattresses are soft and smell lovely

4/ the ginger studio assistant is occupying the cosy chair in the house

5/ the studio door was closed

She has decided to stay there for the afternoon – I have let her keep the eggs to cuddle. I wonder what will happen if an under-gardener wants to lay an egg!

Friday, 18 April 2008

The carnelian project - Part 1

In 2004, while on holiday on the Pacific Coast of Washington State USA, we went for a walk on Agate Beach in Westport and Cliff picked up this nodule of what we assumed might be agate.

When we got home we put it on the bedroom window sill and occasionally picked it up and wondered if it was worth getting sliced and polished. Would it have concentric bands of colour and crystals in the centre?

Just before Christmas 2007 we were in Bury St Edmunds and noticed a new Rock and Gem shop, I went in and asked the helpful man behind the counter if he new anyone who would cut and polish our rock – he gave us a leaflet about Rock and Gem Fairs, and advised us to check out the list of exhibitors. This led us to Derek, and in January this year we posted our 'agate' to him. He promptly emailed me "it's not an agate" . . . we were disappointed . . . "but it is a very fine carnelian" . . . that sounds exciting!

A few days ago I received a small padded packet in the post, it contained these . . .

. . . they are even more beautiful when back-lit on my light box . . .

. . . and earlier today I took the carnelians to Abi of Silver Spirals who is going to work on Part 2 of our carnelian project . . . I'm really excited about what she's going to make for me!

Saturday, 12 April 2008

A lonely meadow

This morning we went to Mickfield Meadow, the oldest nature reserve in Suffolk. This hay meadow has never been sprayed with agrochemicals or fertilized, consequently the turf is a fantastic mix of wildflowers and grasses and it is one of only four remaining sites in Suffolk where you can see wild Snake's Head Fritillaries. This small damp grassy field surrounded by high hedges and trees is an island in a vast modern agricultural landscape of large pristine fields of arable crops with hardly a field weed to be seen. Like a tiny scrap of ancient beautifully embroidered fabric on a clean museum shelf.

We were a couple of weeks too early to see the Fritillaries in all their splendour, one or two flowers were just opening but the Cowslips and Wild Anemones were a taster of the beautiful milleflora carpet which will continue throughout the summer.

Our treat was lunch at Harveys Garden Plants – the Orchard Room serves delicious food made with local produce (the eggs are from the hens that live in the orchard). The covered plant display area featured some unusual spring plants for woodland and shady areas . . .

. . . you wouldn't expect anything less than perfection from a Chelsea Gold Medal winner!

Oh, did I buy anything? Silly question! After admiring the fantastic dried seed-heads decorating the Orchard Room, we decided to buy two plants each of allium giganteum and allium christophii.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Is it warm enough?

Driving back to my studio earlier today, the sun was shining (I was pleased that I had my sunglasses with me), it was 12˚C. BBC Radio Cambridgeshire were discussing the advice given by gardening-expert Bunny Guiness . . . to test whether the soil is warm enough to sow seed outside, lower one's pants and sit one's bottom on the soil. The following weather report said some 'April showers' could be expected later and it was rumoured that it was actually raining in Huntington.

As I skirted the northern edge of Cambridge, the sky darkened ominously and vehicles on the A14 switched on their headlights. Crossing the border into Suffolk sleet started to splash onto the windscreen, the temperature steadily fell, lightening flashed and thunder rumbled. I followed a river of melt-water cascading down the hill into our village and parked the car in our front yard . . .

I decided to stay in the car until the
'April Shower' had passed . . .

2˚C !

still hailing . . .

my car turned into an igloo . . .

warm enough?
no, I'm not going to test the soil!

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

The Guinea-hen flower

"The checkered Daffodill or Ginny hen flower . . . checkered most strangely : wherein nature or rather the Creator of all things hath kept a very woonderfull order, surpassing (as in all other things) the curiest painting that Art can set down . . . in so much that euery leafe seemeth to be the feather of a Ginnie hen.
. . . Of the faculties of these pleasant flowers there is nothing set downe in ancient or later writers, but are greatly esteemed for the beautifieng of our gardens, and the bosomes of the beautifull."

John Gerard, gardener and surgeon
in his Generall Historie of Plantes (1597)

A few years ago we made a shallow gravel-lined extension to our garden pond and surrounded it with a bog garden border where we could grow plants that like damp conditions. This is a wildlife pond and is a haven for newts, toads, frogs and dragonflies. We decided to introduce Snake's Head Fritillaries (fritillaria meleagris) to the grass around the pond and encourage them to seed and spread. All was going to plan until the under-gardeners decided that their 'project' was to redevelop the shallow gravel pond. I wasn't consulted and I wasn't impressed by the result!!!!! After I cleared up the mess I constructed a fence around the wildlife pond and garden, just high enough to discourage the under-gardeners from further un-authorised gardening projects. Needless to say they have worked out how to sneak into the forbidden zone to sip water from the pond, and I have found one or two fritillary stems snapped off and raked into the gravel! It's a compromise – but the fritillaries with their guinea-hen-feather petals are flourishing.

As we have learnt, a hen's foot can be a destructive tool, but unfortunately sometimes hens are so enthusiastic about digging in stony ground that they fail to notice their feet are getting sore! We noticed Phoebe was not herself, then we noticed she was limping. A quick check revealed a suspicious dark spot on the underside of each foot-pad – Bumblefoot! No, not a character from Harry Potter, but a nasty ulcer caused by bruising of the foot pad which then gets infected – ow! Luckily Phoebe is a very docile hen and model patient, she lay very still as we cleaned and distinfected her feet, removed the dark scabs, washed out the wounds and applied micro-pore bandages. She then spent four days in 'hospital' (a rabbit hutch with deep wood shavings on the floor).

Happily, Phoebe is now back with her fellow under-gardeners and doing what hens do . . . including scratching in the garden! Please, look after your feet!!!

Tuesday, 1 April 2008


Reach Arts Fair
Saturday 5th April 10am – 4pm

in Reach Village Centre
between Cambridge and Newmaket
near Anglesey Abbey (NT)

On Saturday I will have a stall at the Reach Arts Fair, previous fairs in this small village on the edge of the Cambridgeshire Fens have been a great success. The stalls are bursting with beautifully hand crafted things - pots, jewellery, basketry, prints, photographs and much more – not to mention the teas (the cakes alone are worth the trip!). Before, after or during the Grand National, the doors will be open! The cards pictured above will all be available from my stall, along with original framed and unframed limited edition linocut prints.

The "to do" white board in my studio office is full of lists and dates and the occasional red tick! The downside of being freelance is that sometimes work is slow to come in and then when it does there is so much the only realistic thing to do is to share the work with someone else or turn it down. This morning was one of those moments - I weighed things up and realised that with working on Saturday (Reach Arts Fair) and Sunday (Cambridge Open Studios proof-reading day) not an option, I had to say "no". I had to keep the existing projects on schedule. In the old days I might have worked through the night – these days a work-life balance is more important . . . which means that on Sunday evening I should have time to curl up on the sofa and loose myself in The Seeds of Kokopelli – a manual for the production of seeds in the family garden – a directory of Heritage Seeds. As Rebsie predicted (see previous post) the book didn't drop through the letter box - it's way too big! Derek the Postman rang the doorbell early this morning and handed over a large padded envelope. Inside was not only the book (440 pages!) but also three packets of tomato seeds, which I'll save to plant next year.