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.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Garden report - June

There has been an abundant growth of vegetation this year – when we walk along the local footpaths the grasses wave high above my head (and no, I am not a midget, just average British female height). In the garden it's the same, lush green leaves and towering stems. But as well as some classic English balmy sunny days we've been buffeted by strong winds, anything not anchored to a stout support with strong twine has keeled over like tipsy floral-frocked ladies who have consumed much too much Pimms . . .

here are some of the joys of June . . .

Around our wildlife pond we have allowed native plants to self seed, this summer we have a miniature English lea.

One day growth is just starting and summer seems a long way off, then one June morning you glance ouside and see that the garden has filled out and is in full swing. This is the view from my studio door.

Last night I wallked around the garden and took photos of my favourite June flowers.

Sweetpeas from home-saved seeds, at first I was disappointed that they are mostly white flowered, but seeing them in the evening light they were magical.

The crambe cordifolia may have collapsed onto the lawn but it fills the air with a honey scent. I planted a tall scabiosa next to it – the flowers merge, creamy suns in a starry crambe flower sky.

Either side of a garden seat which gets the evening sun, we have look-a-like lead containers planted with a dark leaved trailing sedum and allium christophii – a summer firework display.

For exotic flashes of colour you can't beat hemerocallis. This was probably a plant rescued from the leftovers of a garden fete plant stall – the petals are like rich red taffeta here today gone tomorrow.

The vegetable garden is now a maze of paths between towering greeness. Here are some of the heritage peas, 'Victorian Purple Podded' and the wonderfully eccentric 'Salmon Flowered'.

We're enjoying the fruits of our labour, this was the harvest for Sunday dinner a week ago:
Cavalo Nero (Tuscan Black Kale) has been a huge success – it looks wonderful, matures early and tastes great (and it's very very good for you!!!); purple podded peas – 'Victorian' firm long slim pods on elegant long stems, and my trusty PPPs; 'Bunyards Exhibition' broad beans harvested from two metre tall plants; and 'Cambridge Favourite' strawberries, as many as we can eat for week after week . Not bad at all!!! This is my contribution for a cornucopia of home harvests – Matron's Trugblog over on Down on the Allotment.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Remembering Dawn

Some sad news today . . .

One of our under-gardeners died this morning, Dawn had been unwell for a few weeks after a sudden 'funny turn', to use a very English term, when she spent a day swaying her head like a metronome. From that day she stopped laying and had a different posture. My hunch is that she had a stroke of some kind, since then she found it increasingly difficult to process food in her crop, so rapidly lost weight and strength.

I'll remember her happier days – Dawn was the perkiest little hen I've ever met, her party trick was to fly up onto my hand and perch there, falcon-like, as we inspected the garden.

I'm pleased to report her fellow under-gardeners are all fit and well, they love strawberries even more that me (well, maybe not quite as much!); we lob the slug-nibbled fruits over the garden wall from the vegetable garden to the lawn where the under-gardeners await, poised like fielders at Lords to catch the flying fruit.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Live on air

Look what I found in the BBC Radio Suffolk car park . . .

And here I am on 'the sofa' in Studio 1B (or cubicle, as it says on the webcam) . . .

There were two big stories dominating the headlines in Suffolk today, the ongoing problems of the Bascule Bridge in Lowestoft (was it now shut and the road open, or open and and the road still shut?) and a tragic accident off the coast of neighbouring county Norfolk over the weekend and subsequent search for a missing teenager. But in between serious traffic updates and interviews with the Norfolk coastguard there was time for some light-hearted chat – Michael, a prize winning Airedale Terrier, had 'personally' sent in a supply of Digestive and Custard Cream biscuits for his favourite radio presenter and her guests! And there was time for me to chat about working as an illustrator and my passion for growing heritage vegetables; and I got to advertise our village garden fete which is on Saturday and my Open Studio days in July.

I forgot to be nervous, somehow I forgot that there might be others outside the room who were listening, and I actually enjoyed the experience! Not that I want to change careers! I'm sure Lesley's mind was in top gear taking in everything on all the screens in front of her and listening to voices I couldn't hear, while staying calm and smiling throughout!

Thank you to Peter Cook for inviting me to be a 'sofa guest', and to Darren for organising a bollard with my name on it and making me a cup of tea. And thank you to Michael the Airedale Terrier for the Custard Cream biscuits!

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Magic Cochin on BBC Radio Suffolk

BBC Radio Suffolk have invited me to be 'the sofa guest' on Lesley Dolphin's Lunchtime Show* on Monday 23 June, 12-2pm. So if there isn't a major local incident (such as a sheep grazing perilously close to the A12) Lesley may have time to interview me about life as a freelance illustrator and grower of heritage veg in a small corner of south-west Suffolk.

* if you click on this link you'll find the 'listen live' and 'listen again' buttons in the bottom right corner of the page

Cambridge Open Studios Taster Exhibitions

Each year in June Cambridge Open Studios organises a series of 'Taster' and 'Preview' exhibitions to publicise members work and encourage people to visit artists' studios in July.

This year's events are well under way, and today sees the opening of the second Taster Fortnight at Williams Art & Antiques which is in that architectural gem, Dales Brewery in Gwydir Street just off Mill Road in Cambridge. If you live in or near Cambridge do call in and have a look (there's a little car park opposite and you can explore the diversity of Mill Road's shops and eating places – the multi cultural Cambridge that visitors hardly ever see). Two of my recent prints are in the exhibition – one from the new 'Hares' series and The Arrival of Fieldfares/Running Deer diptych.

Tonight is the preview evening where you can meet all the artists and enjoy a glass of wine.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Two days in Jutland

It's fun to visit somewhere that's not renowned as a tourist hotspot and just wander around for a day or two finding out what the place is all about. So when we had the opportunty to hop over the North Sea to Aahus in Denmark we grabbed it, we didn't know anything about what to expect but after a bit of research about this university city which is expanding and going-places in the 21st century, it looked as though there'd be plenty to keep us amused.

This was the view from our window yesterday morning – when we booked our hotel room we had the option of a 'harbour view' – well, we definitely got one! It's almost midsummer so Scaninavian nights are short, I woke briefly at 3am to see the horizon glowing orange and gold. I remember thinking 'if I stay awake I'll take a photo of sunrise', needless to say I fell sleep until past 6am and the sun was high in the blue sky!

Aahus is a wonderful mix of traditional Jutland architecture and traditions, and shiny confident modern design and architecture. This is Vadestedet, the Aarhus River has new terraced banks and is criss-crossed with pedestrian bridges leading to the numerous bars and cafés. I took this picture when all was peaceful and quiet on Monday afternoon; yesterday evening, when we had a delicious meal at Cafe Ziggy, throngs of people were sitting on the steps and at the café tables enjoying the sunshine.

There was one place we knew we mustn't miss seeing – Den Gamle By (The Old Town). This is the oldest and the original museum of urban life, it was started in 1909 and is the forerunner of all the historcal re-creation, real-life museums which have sprung up over the past century to preserve lifestyles that are disappearing each decade. Historic houses and the contents of workshops and shops from all over Denmark have been moved to a large site adjacent to the Botanic Gardens in Aarhus. The buildings occupy streets and the river bank and walking around is like being in a village 'in olden days'.

Some of the shops are open for business, like this wonderful hardware store – what's Danish for "fork'andles"?

Gardens have been re-created too, this is a medical herb garden behind the Apothecary's house.

Buildings are still being reconstructed and decorated using traditional methods, and the restorers have painstakingly uncovered layer upon layer of paintwork revealing how the decor changed over the centuries. In the Mintmaster's house the paintwork and wallcoverings are being carefully recreated, in this room wall paper was being printed by hand using wooden blocks.

Den Gamle By is also the home of the Poster Museum and one of the special exhibitions this summer is dedicated to the work of the Danish artist Bjorn Wiinblad who died in 2006. There are some examples of his exuberant art here as well as many more pictures of the buildings and interiors.

After exploring Den Gamle By for most of Monday afternoon we wandered back into the town centre, sheltering from the odd shower, and explored the Latin Quarter which is full of tempting quirky shops full of bright funky designs and fashionable retro and vintage clothes. Floral crimpeline frocks, like my aunties used to wear in the early 1970s, are edgy fashion in the boutiques of Aarhus this summer!

We had booked a table at a renowned restaurant which serves traditional Danish food, Raddhuus Kaféen is a popular place to eat near the Town Hall. Bravely we ordered the 'Deluxe Platter' of local dishes, this consisted of five separate courses:

• Pickled Herrings with capers, onions and curry sauce served with rye bread
• Fish in breadcrumbs with onion and mustard sauce
• Eel with scrambled egg and chives, prawns and grav lax with toasted white bread
I couldn't eat all of this as there were two more courses to go, but the eel was delicious.
At this point the waitress asked if we would like a rest before course four!

• A small beef steak with onions and tomato
• Two local cheeses served with crackers, grapes and starfruit
I know starfruit aren't Danish but it went nicely with the Danish Blue
All washed down with large glasses of the local lager!

This was more of a marathon than we'd bargained for, we waddled back to the hotel to collapse on the bed and watch the twinkling harbour lghts and the late evening ferries setting off across the bay.

Yesterday morning we explored Aarhus cathedral, its stern and dark exterior hides a splendid bright interior which is decorated with amazing wall art - these have been uncovered and restored. As well as the walls there is a beautiful carved and painted altarpiece. When this was restored recently the brown paint on the reverse side was removed revealing the most amazing medieval painted decorations. It's like William Morris wallpaper, birds and animals in swirls and red and green foliage. We had spotted a magpie in the wallpaintings and here was another on the back of the altar – two for joy! What did the magpie symbolise to the medieval Danish mind?

Just across the square from the cathedral is the Aarhus Theatre, a riot of decoration and pattern designed by Hack Kampermann in 1900. Just look at these doors!

In the afternoon we explored the newest buildings in Aarhus. We began by walking through the vast vaulted atrium of the Scandinavian Centre, then past the new Music Halls to Aros, the new art museum. The clean white spaces of the gallery floor are linked by a dramatic spiralling stairway. The Danish artists' works were new to me, my favourites were Janus la Cour (1837-1909); Julius Paulson (1860-1940); Valdemar Irminger (1850-1938); Laurits Andersen Ring (1954-1933) and Edvard Weie (1879-1943). There was far too much to take in during a short visit. The views from the roof terrace are spectacular, here is the Scandinavian Centre's glass wall reflecting the traditional red tiled roofs of the nearby houses, the ridged roof in front of it is one of the new concert halls and in the foreground is the roof terrace of the Music Hall with it's surrounding sedum planted roof.

A couple of streets away from these amazing new buildings we turned a corner into Mollestein, probably one of the most photographed streets in Aarhus. Right in the centre of up-to-the-minute Aarhus you can dawdle down a quiet village lane!

There are lots of sculptured fountains in the town including an amazing cascading river outside the cathedral; a larger than life sow and piglets under an avenue of linden trees near the Town Hall and in one of the pedestrianised shopping streets is this quant little woman with a hen (I'm not sure of the story behind this one, but I'm reminded of reading the chapter about sourcrop in a poultry ailments book).

Well there was masses of shopping opportunities and it would have been so easy to spend, spend, spend! I was fairly restrained and limited myself to things that could easily fit in my hand luggage. I couldn't resist something bright and modern from the Art Museum shop, and chose these plastic table mats printed with birch leaves to brighten up our kitchen table. Walking down to the delightful Frederiksbjerg district south of the railway station I spotted some funky socks displayed outside a knitting yarn shop, they had been knitted using some clever yarn that produces instant designer jacquard stripes in the latest colourways – can't wait to get the sock needles out and have a go – this winter my toes will be cosy in their Danish strompe!

Sunday, 15 June 2008

A parcel of delights!

I'm intrigued how some people happen upon my blog, occasionally I check the hit-counter and check to see how recent visitors have found Purple Podded Peas. Often it's a google search for "peas purple pods", the other week it was a search for "looking after hens". What caught my eye was the website listed after my blog, it was www.hencam.com, a message on the screen read 'The chickens are in bed for the night. Please try again in the morning.' The hencam is part of the website of Terry Golson a talented chef and author who lives near Boston in the USA, and like me, she has a shop on Etsy.com. I spent a happy tea break reading Terry's blog and smiling a the witty retro pin badges she makes from vintage book and magazine pages.

It wasn't long before Terry had spotted I'd listed The Store at Little Pond Farm as one of my favourite Etsy shops and after a chat via email we decided to swap some goodies. Terry selected a print of my much loved (and missed) Black Cochin hen picking blackberries, she was named Queen Victoria (who else would wear such stately black crinoline!). I chose Terry's latest book The Farmstead Egg Cookbook and a few badges.

The parcels obviously passed in mid-Atlantic and both arrived yesterday! The cookbook is beautifully designed and illustrated with gorgeous photos (including some of Terry's hens) and they are just the sort of recipes that are useful for using fresh eggs and home grown vegetables and fruit.

The badges are fab! Which one shall I wear today?

that's a perfect thought for the day!

Friday, 13 June 2008

Birds of a feather . . .

. . . lay eggs together!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

So, am I a 'Vegetable Luddite' ?

In the Gardening section of the Telegraph last Saturday there was an article written by one of my gardening heroes, Noel Kingsbury. His books have been a huge inspiration to me, so when I saw the column entitled Heritage vegetables aren't necessarily the best, I grabbed the paper and settled down to see what he had to say.

Mmmm?!! lots to think about there Noel. So, am I a 'Vegetable Luddite' ? I suppose that if my aim was to grow enough food for us to be self sufficient all year round I would organise my plot in a very different way and yes Noel, probably I would grow modern varieties. So my motivation must be something other than putting food on my plate – I like the fact that by growing old and almost forgotten varieties of vegetables my garden is full of surprises (some good, some not so good). I have also happened upon varieties of veg that suit my garden and my taste – I've never tasted a better runner bean that 'Salford Black' or seen bean plants grow so abundantly with so little effort. And Noel, the 'Nero de Toscana' kale in my garden is tender and delicious.

Have a read and see what you think. Meanwhile here's a roundup of some of the unusual and distinctive heritage peas in my vegetable plot . . .

Old varieties of peas often have two-tone mauve/magenta flowers, and not just the purple podded varieties. Here's 'Carouby de Maussane', a large and delicious mange tout originally from near Avignon in France . . .

The pea I selected from the Heritage Seed Library catalogue this year was 'Victorian Purple Podded', and over the past few weeks it has been the star of the vegetable garden – tall (2.5 metres) and as statuesque as a Victorian duchess in a tightly laced corset, its sweet-pea lookalike flowers will have centre stage in the borders next year.
The long purple pods are looking good too, so I can't wait to taste those peas . . .

Here's 'Golden Sweet' glowing in the sun beams. This is not only noted for it's delicious flavour but has great historic pedigree - it was one of the pea varieties grown by Gregor Mendel for his experiments in genetic inheritence. 'Golden Sweet' is also one of the parent plants for the amazing red podded pea bred by Daughter of the Soil .

Another amazing pea variety from the Heritage Seed Library that Daughter of the Soil grew last year and kindly sent me some seeds. The vertically ridged stems are thick and strong, like no other pea, this is a real curiosity . . .

and here are the flowers of pea 'Salmon Flowered', aren't they gorgeous! Now, I wonder what the pods and peas will be like?

So am I a 'Vegetable Luddite' ? Or just infatuated with curious and beautiful edible plants!

Monday, 9 June 2008

The carnelian project - Part 2

In April I wrote about our project to transform a nodule of carnelian into something really special. A few days ago I picked up three stylish black boxes from Abi of Silverspirals . . .

and this is what's inside the boxes . . .

I hadn't considered having one of the stones set into a ring – thank you Abi, I love it! She also suggested that the large pendant should have one of my leaf motifs on the reverse . . .

. . . perfect!

I've already worn the little square pendant almost every day since it was finished!

Friday, 6 June 2008

Ripe and ready to eat!

Yesterday we picked the first two ripe strawberries from the strawberry patch. The first was picked early in the morning, a slug had started to nibble one side, but I ate the rest cut up on my breakfast oats. Late in the evening I checked the strawberry patch and spotted this perfect strawberry ripe and ready to eat - by us and not the slugs during the night. I picked it at once and cut it in half so we could have half each – 'Gariguette' – the most perfect, intense, strawberry-flavour ever!

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

My website makeover

I have just given my web site a makeover, it's cleaner and brighter and now includes an 'About Me' page and on the 'Gallery & Shop' page there's a link to my Etsy shop. In the 'News' section of the 'Home' page there's info about the Cambridge Open Studios 'Taster' exhibition and my studio's open days in July.