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.

Saturday 31 May 2008

Growing 'The Three Sisters' – part 2

All of last years compost has been transferred to the 'Three Sisters' mound, the recent rain has given it a good soaking and the rich mix is warm and ready for planting.

The 'Three Sisters' – corn, squash and climbing beans – have been grown in pots and now it is warm enough for them to be planted out.

So it's time for part 2 of Magic Cochin's method of growing The Three Sisters . . .

(Continuing from part 1)

The climbing beans are supposed to be supported by the stems of the corn, but I think that this is only feasible if the corn is the sort that grows 'as high as an elephant's eye', so my beans will have a teepee frame of three tall willow poles with some extra smaller sticks for supports. The bushy plants on the edge of the mound are self-seeded clumps of lemon balm and oregano, both of which have flowers which will attract bees and other pollinating insects, so they have been allowed to stay!

Sweetcorn: Germination was excellent this year, so as I have masses of corn plants I'm planting more than in previous years. Sweetcorn is wind pollinated and needs to grow in a block in the centre of the mound, I've planted 17 plants of 'Honey Bantam' spaced about 20cm apart.

I had to be sensible and choose just one plant of the three varieties of squash – 'Winter Festival', 'Marina di Chioggia' and an un-named dark orange variety. This year all have been grown from home-saved seed, and as squash freely cross-pollinate these may not be like the parent plants. So it will be a case of wait and see! The three plants are planted between the block of sweetcorn and the edge of the mound and inbetween the bean poles.

These have been grown from home saved seed of the Ukrainian climbing beans 'Poletschka' which did so well in the garden last year. I've planted 2 plants either side of the main poles and a plant next to each supporting stick – that's 12 plants altogether. These will be encouraged to climb up to the apex of the teepee, as they start to grow they may need tying in with string to point them in the right direction.

Part 3 will show how to train the beans and squash shoots as they grow

Friday 30 May 2008

Garden report - May

Yes we've had some glorious sunny weather during May and we've also had rain. The mix has been perfect for plants and except for having to be vigilant about late frosts this has been a fantastic month . . .

gardens are made in May . . .

There have been so many beautiful sights in the garden over the past four weeks – apple blossom, a waterfall of wisteria on the wall, the Crimson Flowered broad beans in the vegetable garden and our harvests of asparagus. However, this week we have had storms and a deluge of rain so the garden is a mass of lush growth heavy with rain drops.

The vegetable garden is bursting with growth – the greengage crop may be meagre but it looks as though we'll have a bumper crop of strawberries!

And here are the first purple pods of the 2008 season. These are Pea 'Purple Podded' grown from my home-saved seeds from last year.

The other peas are showing their individual characteristics – on the left 'Victorian Purple Podded', tall and elegant with distinctive blue-green foliage and on the right is 'Salmon Flowered', the stalks are thickening and a mass of bushy growth is appearing quite unlike any other pea I've grown before. I like to think that the walls around my garden have seen some of these heritage varieties before.
On the far left planted around a large wigwam are climbing bean 'Mrs Fortune's'. In the forground you can see the lovely neon green leaves of lettuce 'Black Seeded Samara' and dwarf bean 'Negritos'.

The plants around the wildlife pond are now dense and lush, a perfect home for frogs, toads and newts. The flowering of these gorgeous tall irises usually coincides with the emergence of the first dragonflies.

We've moved the little lemon tree from our bedroom and it's now on the patio, the scent from the flowers is unbelievably exotic!

I usually prefer to leave the flowers outside and walk among them to enjoy the colours and textures, but I have picked a branch of my favourite single red rose, rosa moyesii 'Geranium', some softly scented Dame's Violet, hesperis matronalis, and Ox-eye Daisies to put in the Dudson jug on the kitchen table (it celebrates the fact we have de-junked the table and have vowed to keep it that way!). From here we can sit and watch the Blackbird fly back and forth to her nest on the roof of the bird box among the Boston Ivy leaves on the wall.

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Take the boat to the party!

In the grand tradition of the British Bank Holiday our weekend was dominated by lashing wind and rain. To top that for much of Sunday and Monday we were without electricity!

So it was lucky that on Saturday we had decided to take advantage of OK weather and headed down to London in the hope of finding something exciting to do. We missed the turn to our planned parking place and found ourselves heading down the Blackwall Tunnel under the Thames. Cliff's quick thinking salvaged the situation by taking the turn for the O2 Arena (the futuristic circular pod formerly known as The Dome) where we found all day parking for £3 – now that is a bargain! It was just past 10am so the box office was open at The Globe, a quick phone call and we had booked tickets for the matinee.

We walked down to the Thames path and the QE2 Pier to buy a day pass for the Thames Clippers. These slick catamarans provide a regular passenger service up and down the river and we were looking forward to seeing London from the river as we sped into the city.

We sat on the open deck at the back and enjoyed a thrilling ride past Greenwich Naval College and the sparkling new buildings of Docklands and Canary Wharf. When we reached Tower Bridge it was open for a restored Thames barge to pass through. Our stop was London Bridge, we wanted to look around Burough Market and buy something tasty for lunch. The market stalls were piled high with all sorts of gourmet produce, we chose two chunky Pieminster pies and fresh juices for our picnic near Tate Modern, which was buzzing with freeriding fans watching the Nissan QASHQAI Challenge.

The afternoon performance at The Globe was Shakespeare Party, a frollicking fantasy of the 'best bits' by the bard performed by the multi-talented performers of The Footsbarn Theatre Company. The players inhabited the Globe's space and transported us to a 'Brughelesque' world of travelling players, peasants, millers, bawdy carnival and grotesque medieval beasts.

Juliet did indeed walk a tightrope (she even repeated the performance while playing a violin!); Ophelia tumbled down lengths of blue silk as she drowned in a waterfall; the witches hurled offal into a steaming pit; a motley collection of peasants performed a slap-stick version of Pyramis and Thisbe; and the performance ended in a wild gipsy dance. Great fun! Footsbarn are soon on tour with A Midsummer Night's Dream – sure to be a treat!

We're weren't going to waste the last sunshine of the weekend, so after the show we caught a Thames Clipper up to Waterloo before returning to O2 for a complete round-trip of the Thames. It was party-time for many of the passengers with champagne corks popping and plenty of laughter – avoid London's congested streets and take the boat to the party!

Thursday 22 May 2008

Hung up to dry

My mind is full of new ideas for colourful prints, but before getting distracted by new work I had to print the four 'Hare' blocks that I have just finished cutting. So yesterday I had an intensive printing session and managed to print ten of each design. Of course not all are good prints and some will just be ditched (I'll use them for sketching or scrap books) but seeing them all hung up to dry was a satisfying sight.

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Magic Cochin unplugged – day 4

The final morning of the printmaking workshop was a frenzy of block cutting and ink rolling , the small press was in constant use with a queue of people waiting with inked blocks and paper at the ready. My prints in this final session fell into the category "learning from mistakes", but I'm sure that when I go through them in the quiet of my studio I'll find some techniques I'll want to use again. The most inspiring thing was working and talking with Richard Bawden and the other printmakers on the course – we all learnt from each other.

Broadland Arts Centre is in the little village of Dilham, it's only a few miles from the coast – so with the sun shining I decided to head east down winding lanes to the sea before heading home.

I found myself on the road to Happisburgh (pronounced haze-ber-rer – now that's a place name that sorts the tourists from the locals!) a charming coastal village with a red and white striped lighthouse and church with a tall tower which look out to the North Sea. Happisburgh is now well known as the village that is disappearing into the North Sea . . .

A few miles inland is East Ruston Old Vicarage and there was no way I was going to drive past the gate without going in! This has become one of Britain's 'must see' gardens – the owners, Alan Gray and Graham Robeson have created a wonderful pleasure ground of a garden from the flat exposed coastal fields. Over the years the garden has evolved and expanded, local landmarks – church towers and Happisburgh lighthouse – are glimpsed through craftily cut openings in hedges and sheltered from the on shore winds they have created micro-climates which allow tender plants to flourish. There are 'Wow' views at every turn, here are just three . . .

The Entrance Court gravel garden planted with tender succulents, the beautiful dark leaved ones are Aeonium arboreum 'Zwartkop'.

The elegant Dutch Garden near the house, with box topiary and geometric beds.

The star of the Mediterranean Garden is Echium pininana, from the Canary Islands and planting the mauve flowered thyme at the base is pure genius!

Monday 19 May 2008

Magic Cochin unplugged - days 2 & 3

I wasn't in Norfolk for a holiday, I was there for a three day printmaking workshop at the Broadland Arts Centre. The tutor was Richard Bawden, one of Britains most experienced printmakers and an undoubted expert in linocuts.

Richard brought along a portfolio of some of his recent work, this one of his cat and a pink amarylis is a tour de force!

I wanted to experiment with using more colour in my prints – I tend to play safe and use one or two colours. I used a watercolour sketch of purple podded peas and my Japanese fish brush rest as my inspiration for a series of multi-layered prints.

I was pleased with my pea pod design but the layers of colour need much more work. It has sparked off a whole series of ideas for vegetable and plants based designs which are a mix of stylised foliage and more formal images.

There was a great bunch of people on the course and we all worked incredibly hard to make the most of having Richard there to give us help, advice and encouragement. We felt so lucky that he still generously passes on his wealth of knowledge, and does so with such wit and charm. No wonder many students return year after year!

Magic Cochin unplugged – day 1

I've spent four days unplugged – sans internet, sans computer, sans everything teckie (and for most of the time sans a signal on my mobile phone!) I've been in North-east Norfolk, leaving the under-gardeners in charge of the garden and studio assistants in charge of Cliff.

And I left the rain behind too – in Norfolk it was still sunny! My first stop was the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia to see the Cloth and Culture NOW exhibition. The exhibits by 35 artists from six countries are extraordinary – knitting, felt making, patchwork, embroidery, tapestry – but executed in such exciting ways and using all sorts of materials.

My second stop was Blickling Hall – the stunning mansion once owned by the Boleyn family and by legend, the birth place of Anne Boleyn and the home of her headless ghost! As the weather was so glorious I spent the afternoon in the gardens where the wisteria was in exuberant bloom . . .

and the yew topiary, like giant green eggs in egg cups, shimmered in the hazy heat . . .

I sat and sketched in my favourite spot – the cool shade of the vast spreading plane tree, with its serpent-like limbs writhing out of a pool of bluebells and wild flowers.

My final stop was Bramble House B & B at Cats Common, Smallburgh in Broadland near Wroxham, where I had a comfy room with this beautiful view.

Wednesday 14 May 2008

Growing 'The Three Sisters' - part 1

We grow squash, sweetcorn and climbing beans together in a circular bed. These three vegetables are The Three Sisters – the basic food crops grown by the native American tribes. Traditionally they are grown together – the squash leaves shade and protect the soil; the bean roots fix nitrogen in the soil; the corn stalks provide support for the climbing beans; and after harvest the corn cobs, squash and dried beans provide food for the winter months.

The sweetcorn that we grow isn't strong enough to support vigorous climbing beans, so a teepee of sticks is needed – but this ancient crop trio makes a dramatic display in our garden each year. And there's a bonus – we grow The Three Sisters on a mound of part rotted garden compost, after the crops are harvested (or the next spring) we dig out the contents of the mound and spread it onto the vegetable beds. The two year old compost, enriched with nitrogen from the beans, is dark and crumbly – perfect for conditioning the soil.

Here's part 1 of Magic Cochin's method of growing The Three Sisters . . .

Create a pit (it doesn't have to be circular, but this does have
advantages later).
If you're starting from scratch this will be hard work but worth it! In
the second year this will mean digging out the beautiful well rotted
compost, and the sense of achievement will out-weigh the hard graft!

Fill the pit with the contents of your garden compost bin, including grass cuttings, hen muck, straw and wood shavings. Mix it well – hens are very good at this – do you know the Scottish reel
'Hens March on the Midden' ? I came across it when my hero was the fiddler Aly Bain (rather than Donny Osmond like my peers) – I never mastered the fiddle but could just about play it up to speed on the tin whistle. Here's another great fiddle player Dave Swarbrick playing Hens March on the Midden with Simon Nicol on Guitar – a wonderful musical description of the under-gardeners compost turning technique.
(It's best if you can listen to the music and watch the under-gardeners 'on the midden' at the same time!!!)


Pile up the contents of the pit to make a low mound and cover with a layer of soil. Place a glass cloche (or a plastic sheet) on the top to help to get the mound to heat up.

Meanwhile, plant seeds of squash, sweetcorn and climbing beans so they are ready to plant out, I usually aim to do this at the end of May.

Part 2 to follow soon . . .
Planting out The Three Sisters

Monday 12 May 2008

Variations on a theme of crimson

A comment from Rebsie on the previous post has prompted me to record the colour variations among the Crimson Flowered Broad Beans. The first year I saved my own seed I made sure I only used the beans from the deepest crimson flowered plants, I noticed that the dried beans retained their green colour unlike other broad bean varieties I have grown which have buff/brown seed beans.

Last year there were a couple of white flowered plants among the 50 or so plants. Some of the beans I saved for seed were brown and may have come from these plants (I wasn't specific about which plants I collected seed from) and I decided to plant these beans as well as the small green seed beans. The 'rogue' seeds were probably planted together in the same block of cells – I should have marked which were which, but didn't!

This year I have about 60 plants of Crimson Flowered Broad Beans, most have deep crimson flowers with dark burgundy lower petals, as in the photo above. But there are variations among the plants at one end of the bean patch – which makes me think they are the plants from the 'rogue' seeds.

One plant has flowers which are almost pure white with a black blotch on the lower petal . . .

Four plants have white and black flowers with pink at the base . . .

One plant has beautiful two tone pink flowers with a burgundy blotch on the lower petal . . .

And two plants have these gorgeous flowers, pink with green veins above and a dark pink and black lower petal . . .

This year I've labelled the plants which don't have crimson flowers and will save seeds from the pink flowered plants separately. I am also growing another variety, Bunyards Exhibition (photo on previous post), so I wonder is this will cross with the Crimson Flowered beans?

Thursday 8 May 2008


This is what we've been waiting for . . . Sunshine!!!!!

It's amazing how England and the English are transformed by a few days of perfect blue skies and sunshine. Everyone's so much more relaxed, we smile, work doesn't seem a chore if we can feel the warmth of the sun when we go outside. We have impromptu picnics; congregate at the waters edge - river, lake and sea; and everyone's inner gardener wants to plant things in the soil!

I love hand weeding at any time of year (weird, I know!) but this week it's a real chance to get up close to the plants without getting wet knees and muddy fingers. In the vegetable garden the Broad Beans are in flower, with metalic grey-green leaves and stunning flowers preceding the pods they have it all. 'Bunyards Exhibition' is an old favourite – the dramatic white and black flowers have a heady scent.

The 'Crimson Flowered' Broad Beans are show-stoppers – the depth of colour of the flowers is gorgeous!

You know summer is one its way when the cricket season has started and the Strawberry plants are in flower. We have two varieties, this one is 'Gariguette', the flowers are held above the leaves on long stalks – and they smell of marzipan!

'Cambridge Favourite' is a lower growing plant with darker blue-green leaves. The unscented flowers are in dense clusters below the leaves.

Temperatures have soared this week, the greenhouse thermometer has peaked at 41˚C. The Tomato plants spend the day outside, but I put them back in the greenhouse at night, just in case temperatures drop.

When the weather's like this everyone thinks gardening is fun!

Saturday 3 May 2008

A perfect lunch

There's a landmark moment each spring when we pick fresh ingredients straight from the garden, cook them straight away and eat them sitting outside in the sunshine. Today was the day for the first 'perfect lunch' of 2008.

From the garden – the first cut of asparagus, and salad leaves: lettuce Rouge l'Hiver and Winter Density and chicory (all of which over wintered)

With the addition of new potatoes, Cromer crab and Pan Gallego, all purchased this morning from Linton Farmers' Market

And homemade mayonnaise made with egg yolks from the under-gardeners' eggs

We had a gourmet feast . . .

Thursday 1 May 2008

May Day

Instead of working through the puzzles (crossword, codewords and two sudoku grids) on the back page of The Times each evening, I decided to put my evening relaxing time to more productive use – stitching. The new sashiko throw has been completed in next to no time - I'm really pleased with it. The roundels are family crests of famous Kabuki actors (don't ask me which, I just like the motifs), the designs are geometric representations of plants and flowers and they were used on costumes and accessories. But it was much more complex than that – the names of the plants in Japanese are puns describing the actor, and these phrases were shouted by the audience as a way of applauding.

I let the studio assistants sit on the new sashiko – this was a bribe to get them to pose for a portrait for their second birthday. May Day is their approximate birthday, as they were found abandoned in a cardboard box in May 2006 nobody knows exactly where or when they were born. Thank you to the kind volunteers at Haverhill and Stour Valley Cats Protection who took them in and allowed us to adopt them.

Cue the cute video . . .