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.

Thursday 27 March 2008

Garden report - March

What a diverse month it's been - a premature spring, high winds, a deluge of rain and a snowy Easter!

Here is a round-up of garden highlights at the end of 'mercurial-March' . . .

In the greenhouse the rocket which was sown on 12 February, has been a huge success – it's been great to have home grown leaves in sandwiches and salads.

The mixed Italian salad leaves (Lattughino da taglio misto) are also nearly big enough to use.

When the Easter snow had melted I moved the peas which were sown on 26 February, out of the frost free greenhouse into the new plastic cloche on one of the vegetable beds. Now they've had a few days to get used to cooler temperatures they are ready to be planted out. I noticed that the growth of the peas planted in the cardboard tubes wasn't as good as those in the pots – I heard Bob Flowerdew on Gardeners' Question Time mention that he no longer uses cardboard tubes as the fungicide in the cardboard inhibits seedling growth – interesting!

I left the cardboard tube seedlings in the cloche and planted out the ones in the pots – they had fantastic root systems and individual plants were easy to tease out from the clump.

Here are 'Purple Podded' peas (left) and 'Carouby de Mausanne' mange touts (right) planted round the base of rustic wigwams in the new vegetable bed along the garden wall. This area was previously a nursery bed for perennials but as this year I'm growing seven varieties of pea and at least as many climbing beans I needed to use this area which is opposite my greenhouse for productive crops!

The reason gardeners today can enjoy growing and eating beautiful vegetables, such as Purple Podded Peas, is the existence of the Heritage Seed Library and other similar schemes to protect the rich diversity of vegetables from being lost forever – because only registered seed can be sold the unusual, non-commercial, local varieties are only available via 'seed swaps'. So this news on Daughter of the Soil's blog made me splutter expletives! The Association Kokopelli has a catalogue of thousands of unique heirloom vegetables, and apparently this gives them and "unfair trading advantage" over a big commercial seed company like Baumaux, so Kokopelli have just been fined €35,000 .

Let's hope that the Association Kokopelli survives this latest crisis and continue to save and distribute the thousands of vegetable varieties in their collection. I'm looking forward to my copy of Dominique Guillet's book Seeds of Kokopelli dropping through the letter box – I know it's a drop in the ocean, but if you're interested why not treat yourself to a copy and give them your support.

Near the wildlife pond vivid bursts of yellow have pushed up through the mud – Coltsfoot (tussilago farfara) flowers. Now, I know someone's going to tell me I'm mad to allow this plant into the garden as it's underground roots will run amock! I have pulled out quite a few clumps that appeared too near to some choice plants but the flowers are so cheerful I just had to leave some to flower.

So, after that lunch time garden work-out, what does a gardener have for lunch? Carouby de Mausanne pea-shoots (I had a few spares) and hop shoots with scrambled fresh eggs and crumbled Wensleydale cheese served on toast!

Monday 24 March 2008

Snow and (lemon) drizzle!

Not quite the traditional Easter image . . . but the forecast was spot on! This was the under-gardeners house seen through a blizzard on Easter Sunday morning!!!

Safely protected from the English spring weather (in our bedroom) we have a small lemon tree.
On Saturday we harvested our first ripe lemon . . .

. . . and used it to make a Lemon Drizzle Cake for Easter Sunday tea time.


Thursday 20 March 2008

Happy Easter!

A posy of spring flowers and eggs from our four hens - perfect for Easter.

I usually like to enjoy spring flowers by walking around the garden in the sunshine – this Easter weekend the forecast is for cold wind and sleet and snow! So I braved the chill wind and rain and hunted round the garden for flowers to pick for the house. This posy vase is just right for displaying tiny spring flowers, it's one of my auction buys (I love bidding at auctions) and was made by Poole Pottery in the mid-1930s. The decoration on it is by Truda Carter, who deserves to be more widely known for her vibrant designs for Poole Pottery.

Sunday 16 March 2008

Who rules the roost?

A year ago we collected our new hens from Hens4Homes, we selected four lovely 'point-of-lay' birds with slightly different feather colouring and drove home with them in a cardboard box on the back seat of the car. Since then they have supplied us (and family, friends and neighbours) with the most delicious eggs – in return they collect donations for EACH.

Kirsty at Hens4Homes correctly predicted that the darker of the Maran Cuivre birds would be 'head girl' because she was tallest and would have the largest comb. This would make her most resemble a cockerel and in the absence of a man to take charge, one of the hens would take on this role. Hens in large commercial flocks don't form heirachial groups –- they keep their heads down, avoid eye-contact with others and get on with what they have to do (a bit like commuters on the London Underground). But hens are still jungle fowl at heart, so when they are in a small group and allowed to behave naturally they instinctively sort out the 'pecking order' – and that's exactly what it is . . .

It's a bit like that classic comedy gem The Class Sketch from The Frost Report. But as long as they stick to the rules no-one gets hurt and a token peck is all that's needed for Ruby to remind the others that she is in charge. I'll let the under-gardeners demonstrate . . .

Friday 14 March 2008

One year of blogging!

A year ago I wrote the first posting on my new blog Purple Podded Peas. I had no preconceptions, I was just curious about how blogs worked and as I like the idea of a diary but have never kept one going for more than a week, maybe this would be good way of recording work in progress in my studio and garden.

I didn't realise how enjoyable it was going to be! I love reading all your comments, thank you for taking the time. The most stylish Oscar acceptance speeches are short – so I'll just say "Here's to the next year of blogging!" . . .

In the greenhouse the Purple Podded Peas are growing. This year not only the home saved seeds of Pea 'Purple Podded', but three other purple podded varieties: 'Victorian Purple Podded', my choice from this year's Heritage Seed Library catalogue. 'Carruthers' Purple Podded', an Irish pea with beautiful flowers was a seed swap from Rebsie of Daughter of the Soil who also sent me another Irish purple podded pea, 'Clarke's Belthony Blue'. I was thrilled when Rebsie offered to swap some her her amazing pea varieties, the one I had my eye on was the 'Salmon Flowered Pea', I sowed them yesterday in a pot in the greenhouse. Yes there's more (for those who thought peas came in three varieties – frozen, tinned and mushy – this obsession with peas will seem close to madness) 'Golden Sweet' is alleged to be one of the peas used by the pioneer of plant genetics Gregor Mendal, I grew it in 2006 and it didn't do well, in 2007 I found one little plant growing among the Broad Beans, the seeds I sowed yesterday were from that plant. And – 'Carouby de Mausanne', if you only grow one pea try this French mange tout, definely the best I've ever grown.

This is the first of a new series of digital illustrations that I'm working on, The Heritage Vegetable Collection from Magic Cochin, cards and prints will be for sale on my stall at the Reach Arts & Crafts Fair on Saturday 5th April.

Pea 'Purple Podded'
© Celia Hart

Wednesday 12 March 2008

Capturing memories

In the days before I owned a digital camera, I enjoyed collecting my holiday photos and spending a few evenings sticking them in an album along with tickets, menus and maps. But now my photos are digital I sometimes burn a DVD or save a selection onto a memory stick to show a slide show on a digital photo-frame, but I missed sorting through all the ephemeral bits and pieces and telling the story of our adventures.

After our recent weekend in Carcassonne I decided to make a miniature album using this beautifully hand-bound journal that I bought from Gina of Fan My Flame. I printed contact sheets of all the holiday photos and chopped up tickets and leaflets.

Two happy evening cutting and sticking . . .

. . . a miniature book of memories.

Sunday 9 March 2008

Inspiring interlude

The other day I checked to see if there were any special exhibitions at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, as I'd have time to visit on Sunday afternoon. This is what I found . . .

French Tapestry and Illustration
For this exhibition, a highly significant bequest of eight French 20th century Aubusson tapestries is linked with a gift from the Walter Strachan Archive. Strachan (1903-1994) was a teacher, translator, poet, Francophile and promoter of the arts, known especially as the "defender in England of the livre d’artiste".

Now, I think the person who wrote that isn't gifted at marketing. In fact it's not exactly clear what the exhibition is of! But this photo looked intriguing so this afternoon I went along . . .

The exhibition is tucked away in the Octagon, a little gallery upstairs in the museum and it's a real gem! There was no catalogue, so I scribbled notes in the back of my diary . . . Walter Strachan (1903-1994) was a teacher of modern languages at Bishop's Stortford College from 1928 to 1947. He was also a gifted translator of European poetry. In 1945 he saw an exhibition in Paris of Livres d'Artistes and began a collection of limited edition artist's books created by some of Europe's most talented comtemporary artists. He became a friend to many of the artists and his collection includes hand printed New Year cards, letters and menus.

In 2007 Walter Strachan's archive was donated to the Fitzwilliam Museum, and this little exhibition shows a selection of the Livres d'Artistes and other illustrated items accompanied by letters and notes between the artists and Walter Strachan. Many of the artists also designed tapestries woven in Aubusson, France, and this exhibition shows eight beautiful tapestry panels. It's frustrating that I can't find more images to link to, but these were my favourites . . .

Jean Lurcat (1892-1966)
Herbe Bleue is his beautiful butterfly design I've shown above. His illustrations depict an array of wild and fanciful beasts! If I'm ever near Angers I'll definitely find time to visit the Musee Jean Lurcat.

Simon Chaye (b. 1930)
Eclosion is a design of birds in the branches of a pussy willow in shades of yellow ochre reds and black – I think this was my favourite in the exhibition. I loved how the areas between the branches were woven in different shades of ochre, giving the the design depth.

Marc Saint-Saens (1903-1973)
A pair of tapestries depicting night and day, the Le Jour design includes a little bird perched on one of the rays from the sun! (A larger more complex example of Saint-Saens work can be seen here)

Dom Robert (1907-1997)
Coq une de mai is a joyful design of a beady eyed black cockerel in a field of wild flowers. (I've found a very similar image here)

What an unexpected inspiring interlude! I celebrated by popping into Fitzbillies to buy a Chelsea bun. While I was waiting in the queue I read the framed 'thank you' letters in the window . . .

"thank you from my tummy" Stephen Fry

"I'll have three of everything" Professor Stephen Hawkings

(It's is a very very special cake shop!)

. . . and a new pair of Think! shoes from that lovely shoe shop – Sundaes in Green Street.


Tuesday 4 March 2008

A weekend in Languedoc


Standing on the skyline above the town of Carcassonne in south-west France is La Cité – 52 towers and 3km of battlements surround a castle, a basilica and a maze of narrow streets. This is where we've spent the weekend (our treat to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary).

Between the two concentric walls are the Lists, where knights once rehearsed for battle!

High up on the ramparts we looked out over the vinyards of Languedoc to the Montagne Noire in the distance. If you've read Labyrinth by Kate Mosse you can pretend to be Alais, daughter of Raymond-Roger Trencavel the lord of the Château Comtal in the 12th century.

. . . we couldn't resist buying fruit jelly and nougat from this exquisite shop near the Basilica St-Nazaire!

On Saturday we took the train to Limoux, a small town on the River Aude south of Carcassonne. Limoux's claim to fame is a carnival which takes place on the thirteen weekends leading up to Easter, an uninterupted tradition since medieval times! We weren't quite sure what to expect and when we walked into town across the 400 year old bridge over the Aude all seemed quiet. Nearing the town centre we could hear music, and in the the small market square the morning session of the carnival was getting underway.

Two bands and their accompanying performers, depicting scenes from local and international news, were making their way around the arcades round the square visiting each café and bar in turn. The repetitive folk music and simple dance was infectious, onlookers jigged along with the rythm and rushed too and fro across the square as the bands took turns to perform.

The whole performance lasted over two hours! Afterwards everyone dispersed as if nothing had happened! We followed a sign to La Goutine, a small vegetarian restaurant (the only one in the Languedoc!) and had a delicious selection of vegetable dishes for lunch. After a walk along the river and looking round an exhibition about the Fecas, we returned to the square for the late afternoon performance - there was a building sense of excitement as the locals gathered with children in costume holding long wands and bags of confetti. Apparently the Fecas was a carnival of the millers of the area and they threw flour everywhere - today confetti is thrown instead.

The musicians started up and the dancers dressed as pierrots swayed and waved their long wands, in a correographed movement they dipped into their sacks of confetti and showered the crowd in white and yellow paper! The carnival party-goers and children ran to join the performers as they emerged from each café and continued round the square.

We had to rush to catch the train back to Carcassone so left the crowds dancing, but soon found that the train times had somehow got lost in translation and we'd failed to notice that the SNCF 'train' was in fact a bus and we'd missed it!! Back in the town the bands and pierrots and carnival revellers were still progressing from café to café. We decided to have an early dinner and hopefully get a later bus so we chose one of the bars in the market square, the floor was covered with white confetti, and had Fricassee de Limoux, white beans with pork and kidneys slow cooked in the local wine Blanquette de Limoux. Trudging back to the railway station we found that unfortunately the late bus only ran on Sundays! So we had a choice of staying in town for the late night carnival session (with no way of getting back to Carcassonne) or to try to get a taxi before everyone in the town got completely carried away! Thank you to the very nice barman at the Hotel Arcades who called a cab for us when our mobiles refused to work.

On Sunday afternoon we went by train to Castelnaudary. The line followed parallel with the Canal du Midi, an amazing example of 17th century civil engineering which joins the Atlantic coast to the Mediterranean Sea. The deep oval locks and elegant bridges are marvels of construction and between them the tree lined canal snakes between the vinyards.

This is the flight of four locks leading up to Castelnaudary . . .

. . . and at the top the canal opens into the Grand Basin, a reservoir which feeds the locks. I once went with friends on a boating holiday on the Canal du Midi and remembered the thrill of the boat rising out of the last lock and this scene revealing itself in the dazzling sunshine – on Sunday the view was a just as I remembered.