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 31 July 2008

Garden report - July

July in the garden – between the fresh growth and abundant blooms of June and the fruitfulness of late summer – here it's often a time of heavy rain. Abundant rain sodden foliage collapses and weeds grow rampantly. There are lots of distractions from gardening at this time of year and seemingly overnight the garden looks less than pretty. What a month to have visitors to my studio open days expecting to see a lovely English walled garden in full bloom. I've made a effort to grow some blowsy blooms to detract from the rampaging undergrowth, splashes of bright colour against the backdrop of green . . .

here's the July jamboree . . .

Green wigwams of beans tower over a jungle of vegetables. The peas are now finished; the cavolo nero goes on and on; there's a constant supply of courgettes; the vine has dozens of developing bunches of grapes; there are still artichokes to pick even though we've eaten more than ever before.

In the morning the cucurbit flowers open and attract the pollinating insects – so exotic like flowers from a tropical eden. This one is on a squash plant in the 'Three Sisters' mound – look at those frilled and textured petals and molten gold colour!

We're growing tomatoes in large pots this year, I planted nasturtiums in the edges of the pots and now they tumble and scramble around the edge of the courtyard, the blue green foliage dotted with orange and yellow flowers of complex beauty.

I've noticed cabbage white butterflies idling around the courtyard, a check under nibbled nasturtium leaves reveal their caterpillars. I thought the under-gardeners would find these an irresistible treat – but no! Maybe the caterpillars taste like the peppery leaves they've feasted on?

And finally here are some self-sown or half-forgotten plants that have come into their own this month with fiery flowers that catch the eye and say "this is summer!"

Hollyhocks – my mission to introduce the quintessential Suffolk village flower into the garden is paying off this year, the flowers are enormous dishes of shimmering colour in every shade from white and pale primrose, soft salmon pink, deep pinks and reds to the darkest burgundy.
Verbascum – once introduced they stay and plant themselves were they are happiest, then put up spires of golden flowers.
Dahlias – spiky blooms on a plant left in the garden over winter, a reminder to grow more next year.
Roses – so abundant this year, this beautiful relaxed apricot bloom reflects the sun between the storms.

Wednesday 30 July 2008

Discovery of the day

Out of habit I take a quick look at the River Cottage forums before I have my breakfast. I usually just look at the 'Fruit and Vegetables' and 'Poultry' sections, but this morning I also had a quick scan through the 'Chat' forum and my eye was caught by one contributer's sign off line "Join me watching grass grow and nailing jelly to a tree" – and yes I clicked on the link and learnt from Atomic Shrimp how to nail jelly to a tree!

Atomic Shrimp may be an English eccentric but he's one who likes to bake – he's even made a cute little instructional film demonstrating just how easy it is to bake bread
. After watching it I realised I had all the right ingredients (even the exact same large jug with a plastic lid!) so I put Atomic Shrimp's challenge to the test.


Home baked plaited loaf and a garlic and herb focaccia. My slight variation was that I used organic 'light brown' flour (that's sort of in between white and wholemeal) produced by one of our local flour mills, Marriage's, who are also the suppliers of excellent layers pellets and mixed corn for our hens.

By the way, the bread tastes as good as it looks!

Monday 28 July 2008

Pickle factory

Yes the gallery was turned into a Pickle Factory. But what was being pickled? Thank you for all the suggestions, which included
• some sort of heritage tomato
• plums
• plum or greengage
• those funky 1,000 year old eggs from Chinese cuisine
• Italian prunes
• tomatillos
• stone eggs
All way off the mark!

Threadspider said "as for the green things – I wondered if they might be walnuts at first, but in the interests of being different I'm guessing a variety of plum!"

Oooooooo – you should have stuck with you first instinct there!

Gina suggested "some type of giant seed or nut – do walnuts look like that?"

Yes absolutely, they certainly do Gina, but you didn't guess what was going on.

Silverpebble said "Unshelled walnuts ready for pickling?? Do they have to be washed and dried first?"

And Dottycookie said "They look a bit like fresh walnuts to me - are you pickling?

Well done those two! I think you should share the accolade – I'll send you a pack of my cards and some of the lovely badges I received from Terry, that clever cook and author of The Hen Cam blog. And Gina, as you were the first to guess and were so so close to getting the top prize, I'm sending you some badges too!

Yes, Cliff has been pickling walnuts. They have to be picked green and before the shell inside begin to harden (test by sticking a darning needle or skewer through the green walnut). Early July is the perfect time in our part of the world. The process is a long one as the green nuts need to be pierced (a messy procedure as walnut juice stains brown everything it touches!) before being soaked in strong brine for three days then rinsed and soaked again and again. After this the nuts are dried for three days – and this is what's happening here. Over this time they turn a deep bronze-black colour.

Then they are packed in jars and a strong hot pickling vinegar is poured over them and the jars are sealed. After storing in a cool dark place for three months they will be ready. "Ready for what?" you may ask if you are unfamiliar with this delicacy. Pickled walnuts are perfect with a slice of ham or boiled bacon, or some good strong mature cheddar cheese. Something to look forward to at Christmas.

Friday 25 July 2008

A dream summer's evening

The weather forecast predicted a perfect warm sunny and dry evening – we had to put our plan into action, now or never!

A few years ago we discovered the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival, and although tickets can be booked we realised that if you arrive early with a picnic there's are always enough tickets available on the gate. This year we had been waiting for the perfect evening and last night it looked like this was it, so I cooked some picnic food – home-made pasties (feta, cavolo nero and pine nut, and curried squash, green bean and pea); ham; gherkins; tomatoes; some nice bread; home-made banana, raisin and pecan muffins; cold beers and lemonade – and packed it all in a basket. I also found the picnic rug (a Christmas present yet to be used!). We grabbed a shawl, thick jumpers and socks for later when the temperatures would fall.

It's difficult to choose which play to go to, our system is to eliminate the plays we've seen performed before, and then eliminate the venues we've been to. So last night we plumped for 'The Taming of the Shrew' in the gardens of Robinson College. Many years ago it was possible to wander in and out of Cambridge college gardens and quads and use them as short-cuts to cross the town, now in days of more vigilant security they are mostly closed to visitors) so to spend an evening in one of the beautiful college gardens and have high quality entertainment too is a dream treat.

The play was performed on the stage of the open air theatre, the surrounding trees and grassy paths providing the backdrop and entrances. The Shrew has been a deeply unfashionable play to be performed and one to be avoided by any company not wanting to to be embroiled in a heated debate. But this performance brought out the feistiness of Kate and although she was tamed, I think she had also tamed Petruchio, and there was some great slap-stick and verbal banter to keep young and old in the audience happy. "Don't you get any ideas!" the lady behind us whispered to her husband as the actors took their final bow.

The performances continue until 6th September – check the forecast, grab a picnic, select a garden – have a dream evening!

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Annual trip in the car

This morning I had to take the studio assistants for the annual trip in the car (to see the vet and to have their vaccination booster injections), we locked the cat-flap when they came in for their breakfast and then it was into cat carriers and into the car. They behaved very well when they saw the vet – she remembers them being brought in as tiny foundlings so always makes a big fuss of them and tells them how pleased she is they have a lovely home.

"I'm so pleased to get back to work in the studio! My sister's gone out for a walk, she says there's some magic leaves in the garden which turn her into a tiger! Girls – always making stuff up!"

The Ginger One


The Tabby One

Monday 21 July 2008

The gallery is now a . . .

At the weekend the sun shone and lots of people visited and chatted and walked round the garden and studio. So thank you everyone for visiting, I know that on Saturday afternoon the main road to Cambridge was closed because of a very serious road accident – so I hope your journeys home weren't too difficult.

Once again I met some familiar bloggers – on Saturday Sarah and Jon of For what is Chatteris called in after a day exploring Suffolk. They are both enthusiastic printmakers and like me they sell some of the work on Etsy and belong to Printsy: Printmakers of Etsy. And on Sunday Fiona, The Cottage Smallholder herself, drove over from her cottage – I love following her recipes and tales of her beloved 'min-pins' and the ducks hatched by Mrs Boss the bantam. All weekend the hens had attempted to accompany visitors into my vegetable garden, I warned people NOT to let the hens through the green door in the wall! But with two weekends hatching a plan, the under-gardeners spotted that Fiona was easily distracted and side-stepped her into the vegetable garden and headed straight for the lettuce and sorrel! It took some well practiced manoeuvring with the aid of a long curved stick to herd them back!

Today things are returning to normal – or are they? This morning Cliff asked me if he could move my display baskets of unframed prints and cards so that he could replace them with these . . .

. . . what are the green things on the table and what's going on? I'll put correct answers into a hat at the end of the week and the lucky winner will receive a pack of assorted cards.

Saturday 19 July 2008

Cambridge Open Studios 2008 – weekend 3

The studio is open again this weekend. After a huge deluge of rain early this morning, the sun is out and it's a bright but breezy summer's day.

You'll have to imagine the sound and movement in this image - the miscanthus grass makes a fantastic rustling sound in the wind and the shadows cast on the patio are constantly moving. The tabby studio assistant is watching goings on, she'll disappear when a stranger arrives – but will be watching!

It's on sunny days like this that I love working in this room – with the studio door open I can hear the rustly grass and the hens quietly chatting to each other. The large frames on the walls display some examples of my digital illustration work – commissioned house 'portraits; one of my current projects, illustrations and diagrams for a GCSE Geography course; and some examples of work for a series of history books.

Friday 18 July 2008

Identity crisis – help!

Last Sunday we found two cunningly camouflaged caterpillars on our small shrubby willow. They've been there all week, in the morning we wander down to the end of the lawn to see if they are still there, how many more leaves they've chomped through amd how much bigger they've grown.

This evening the smaller of the two looks like this . . .

I was chuffed when Dean of Mostly Macro confirmed my ID of these as Sallow Kitten Moth caterpillars.

Well, now I'm not so sure – this is what the larger caterpillar now looks like . . .

Has the kitten grown up? Is it a Puss Moth caterpillar after all? Any moth experts out there – help!

Saturday 19th July pm . . . BREAKING NEWS . . .
Now I know why even Dean was fooled! Those clever little blighters are wearing 'Sallow Kitten Moth look-alike' costumes and then they shed them to reveal the scary-monster Puss Moth caterpillar outfit complete with false eyes and whirly twirly pink whips which protrude from their back legs – yes, the twin tails are adapted back legs - how wicked is that!!!!

Here is the younger caterpillar doing his quick costume change . . .

Thursday 17 July 2008

A walk along the boring bit

The last visitors to my studio last Sunday evening were a couple from a nearby village, I remembered them visiting last year – keen walkers, we swapped notes about the local Roman Road footpath. This year they asked if I had sketched the Pasque Flower from a wild plant, I hadn't - it was a plant in my own garden. The Pasque Flower or Wild Anemone is the County Flower of Cambridgeshire but I have never found it growing wild although I know it grows on The Devil's Dyke, I asked if they knew where it grew – they did!

We often walk along The Devil's Dyke – in winter the deep ditches are eerie and mysterious, on summer evenings the views across the fields towards a spectacular sunset are wonderful. We know the western end well, deep open ditches managed by grazing traditional breeds of sheep, eventually plunge down into the flat fen (originally this is where the defensive banks met the impassable fen wetlands). We also regularly walk the eastern end which is in places densely wooded and gives a taste of the ancient impenetrable forests to the east of the Saxon's frontier ditch 1400 years ago. The 'bit in the middle' has always looked boring when we study the Ordnance Survey map, with a main road at either end, a railway line bisecting it and a golf course to the north we dubbed it "the boring bit" and have never walked along it.

Now I know that "the boring bit" is where all the rare wildflowers grow! I'll have to wait until next Easter to search for wild Pasque Flowers, but I couldn't wait to see what other treasures were growing there. Yesterday evening after an early supper we put on our walking boots and drove to a lay-by at a point where our route to Newmarket crosses the dyke. Instead of crossing the road and walking east, this time we headed west towards the railway tracks. Dozens of bunnies skipped and scattered into their burrows under the railways banks, we cautiously stepped down onto the crossing and walked over the tracks – these unmarked footpath crossing places always make me slightly nervous, how fast are the trains going to be traveling if they appear as we're crossing?

We climbed up onto the dyke and in front was a patchwork of yellow Rock Roses, Helianthemum nummularium and deep pink Wild Thyme, Thymus polytrichus with the white chalk pathway leading onwards along the dyke. Deep steep ditches fell away on either side, the left side was the deepest, plunging into a ditch dense with Elder bushes, brambles and nettles. A Fallow doe was bounding through the wheat in the field beyond, we stood and watched as she crossed the field into the wooded field boundary.

Here are just some of the beautiful flowers I had time to photograph. There were many, many more – but Cliff reminded me that we were supposed to be going for a brisk evening walk and not crawling round looking at flowers!

Bloody Cranesbill, Geranium sanguineum
among white Hedge Bedstraw and yellow Lady's Bedstraw,
Galium mollugo and Galium verum

Dropwort, Filipendula vulgaris

Sainfoin, Onobrychis viciifolia

Musk or Nodding Thistle, Cardus nutans
the yellow flowers in the background are Wild Parsnip, Pastinaca sativa

Definitely NOT the boring bit!

It's arrived!

This morning the postman rang the bell on our gate post and waited patiently . . .

As he has been the village postman for many years he knows all the houses in the village – which 'Rose Cottage' is which, 'The Old Bakery' from 'The Old Bakehouse', knows where all the letterboxes are situated and where to leave letters at those houses which have no letterbox, and most importantly he knows that it may take me some time to run from my studio or the garden to collect the mail.

We had a chat about the amazing efficiency of Amazon and the clever system they have at the Post Office for scanning the bar code on the cardboard packing which allows Amazon to track every delivery.

In my studio, I settled down with a mug of tea
and opened the package . . .

. . . congratulations Charlotte, Freddie and Alex!!!!!
Your book looks fabulous!

For those who may not know Charlotte's blog, The Great Big Vegetable Challenge charts the journey of Freddie as he conquers he fear of the unknown (vegetables) and emerges triumphant! I first came across Charlotte on a forum where she was requesting interesting recipes for vegetables beginning with 'c'. The Great Big Vegetable Challenge was one of the first blogs I read and like dozens of other bloggers we've accompanied Freddie every step of the way - and we're soooooooo proud of him and of his mum Charlotte for devising such a cunning plan to get him to eat peas.

I'm looking forward to reliving their adventures and cooking some of Freddie's favourite vegetable recipes.

I've been reliably informed that although they have reached the end of the vegetable alphabet this is not the end of Charlotte and Freddie's blogging and a new exciting challenge will begin soon.

Tuesday 15 July 2008

Inspiration for lunch

When Silver Pebble visited my studio on Sunday I gave her and Miss P2 a tour of the vegetable garden. It was hard to ignore the Tuscan Black Kale with leaves like blue-green ostrich plumes; she recommended that I try a River Café recipe and this morning I received an email with a link to the recipe. I know, it's one of those 'in' veg, you can't go into an book store or supermarket without seeing a certain much hyped chef peeping coyly through a bunch of Cavolo Nero. It's usually grown as an autumn and winter vegetable and some books say it's better harvested after the first frosts, but my packet of Italian seeds said sow any time from February through to July and harvest all year. Does Tuscany get much frost? Maybe. Anyway, I've been picking the beautiful green leaves for weeks now and think they're a great early summer addition to the vegetable garden. It's also very good for you: high in vitamins A, B and C, high levels of beta carotene as well as calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, niacin, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine and zinc.

A quick search in the kitchen cupboard found some slow dried trofie pasta, too little for two portions but just enough for my lunch. While the pasta was cooking I ran out to the veg garden and picked a handful of Cavolo Nero (and I must say they looked a lot healthier and more beautiful than the rather small and manky leaves on that book jacket). I called an under-gardener over and she obligingly removed a large caterpillar from one of the leaves.

I didn't follow the recipe exactly, neither did I measure out the oil. My version included a handful of freshly shelled peas (Victorian Purple Podded and Salmon Flowered) cooked with the cavolo nero leaves and garlic. A quick whizz in the food processer and the addition of a glug of olive oil transformed the ingredients into a vivid green sauce.

With the addition of a sprinkle of pine nuts, some cherry tomatoes (not grown by me) and some shavings of Manchego cheese (weekend party leftovers) this looked like a dish fit to be served at River Café or Moro or whichever lunchtime eatery is fashionable this week.

Before I sat down to lunch I snapped a quick photo . . .

. . . thank you Silver Pebble – well worth trying!

Sunday 13 July 2008

WHAT is that . . . ?!!!

While gardening early this morning my eye focussed on a leaf as I was trimming plants back along the lawn edge. It looked a bit peculiar, was it diseased? or was it a leaf gall? It was on the leaf of a species of willow grown for the rather gorgeous furry silver catkins. It moved! What is that?!!!!

On closer inspection we found it had a bigger and fatter friend . . .

A search on Google and a check through The Reader's Digest Field Guide to the Butterflies and othe insects of Britain has identified these masters of camouflage as Sallow Kitten moth caterpillars. Sallow Kitten – weren't they a girl group in the 90s?

Cambridge Open Studios 2008 – weekend 2

It's the second weekend of Cambridge Open Studios 2008 and my studio door is open to welcome visitors . . .

The display in the wall explains the sequence of printing the blocks for the Fieldfare and Deer prints – for those unfamiliar with block printing this shows how the colours and textures are built up and the work involved to producing a finished print.

After a slow start and some very chilly weather and showers, I've had a steady stream of visitors, including some familiar bloggers – yesterday Rhiannon of alloment blog Green Patch dropped by accompanied by her husband and sons, they ventured through the green door in the wall to inspect the Purple Podded Peas and 'The Three Sisters'

Today the sun shone and it hasn't rained – I also had time for an early morning 'garden work-out' before visitors arrived. Among today's visitors were Silver Pebble, who introduced me to the adorable Miss P2, they brought me this beautiful posy of flowers from their garden.

Printmaker Tracy of Foul Bite called in with her husband and her son who's interested in experimenting with digital artwork; and later it was lovely to meet Canadian textile artist Smarcoux of Dangling by a Thread, amazingly she lives only a couple of villages away!

Thank you everyone for finding your way down the winding lanes to our corner of Suffolk, it's fun to share my studio with visitors, those who have been before and those who came along for the first time. My studio is open again next weekend, 19th and 20th July 11am to 6pm.

Wednesday 9 July 2008

Busy getting the studio ready for visitors

It's rained and rained all day today. She's been busy putting pictures in frames and writing list and things – we offered to help but she said she could manage without us (yesterday we helped by pulling strings and tearing paper) so this is what we did all day.

The Ginger Studio Assistant and the Tabby One

Tuesday 8 July 2008

Growing 'The Three Sisters' – part 3

At the end of May I wrote about planting out the sweetcorn, squash and climbing beans into the 'Three Sisters' bed. I promised to show you how I train the plants as they grow, it's about time I posted an update . . .

Here is part 3 of Magic Cochin's method of growing The Three Sisters . . .

(Continuing from part 2)

This photo was taken exactly four weeks after planting out, after the initial watering in no further watering has been necessary and the roots have found their way down into the rich, moist compost mound. We have had a fair amount of rain, but we've also had warmth – so far this year conditions have been good for 'The Three Sisters'. You can see how the beans are climbing up the wigwam poles, I had to tie a few of them to the sticks to help them hold tight, but now they are winding themselves upwards. The sweetcorn is growing rapidly and looks extremely healthy and strong – very promising! As you can see, squash 'Marina di Chioggia' has put out a long shoot, this needs to be trained around the outside of the mound.

One of the squash plants looks different from the others; all squash have slightly different leaf shape, texture and colour but this one has silver splashed leaves and bushier growth - suspiciously like the 'Gold Rush' courgettes! Mmmm . . . looks like I got some of the pots muddled up when I rearranged the greenhouse shelves! Oh well, it's still a cucurbita after all!

The other two squash are definitely squash! The strange warty green Marina di Chioggia and this – an un-named dark orange football sized one . . .

This is how 'The Three Sisters' look today. Five weeks after planting out the Ukrainian climbing beans 'Poletschka' are heading up to the top of the wigwam and have large bright green leaves. The sweetcorn 'Honey Bantam' is making a lush clump of shiny foliage and strong stems. The squash are starting to make long trailing shoots (I push sticks into the ground to hold these in position and head them in the right direction) the first flowers are opening and tiny embryo fruit are visible.

Part 4 will show the sweetcorn and beans in flower.

Monday 7 July 2008

Cambridge Open Studios 2008 – weekend 1

On Sunday I took a break from preparations for my Open Studio next weekend and Cliff and I headed off into the fens to see Andy English in his studio. I've been following Andy's preparations for his open days on his blog, I also wanted to buy one his his beautiful wood engravings. We found Andy and his son printing bookplates on a small antique press in a tiny neat studio, wood engraving is a craft that requires precision and great skill – awesome detail! We were also introduced to two enthusiastic and friendly hens who are enjoying a happy life in the back garden.

Heading back towards Ely cathedral's tower rising in the distance, we stopped at Heather Maunders' studio. Heather's work is all about observing the subtle details and colours in nature – pebbles, animals and beautiful flowers from her own garden, it's no surprise that she trained as a scientist. Heather is opening her studio for the first time this year, I'm sure everyone who visits will enjoy seeing her watercolour paintings and seeing her garden and studio.

On the way home we took a short detour to Lyz Gardner's self-build home perched on the edge of a vast fen field. As you know if you watched the clash of the titans at Wimbledon, the English weather yesterday was "changeable" – a fen-blow lashed rain on the wall of glass but in the open plan living area it was warm, quiet and cosy. Lyz is intrigued with using different techniques to make lines and subtle colours, her new work combines colours created in batik with delicate sinewy drawn lines drawn with pen and dye to depict light dappling through leaves and branches. Cliff bought a pen drawing he'd seen when we visited last year - it's of Upper Langdale in the Lake District, a present for a friend who loves hill walking.

I came home with two cards of Heather's wonderful flower studies and one of Andy English's tiny wood engravings, 'Lettuce & Rhubarb, Felbrigg Hall'. When I opened the package this morning I discovered a book plate depicting Ely cathedral in winter – thank you Andy, what a lovely surprise!

Friday 4 July 2008

Cambridge Open Studios 2008

This weekend sees the start of Cambridge Open Studios 2008, the guide this year lists 169 studios which you can visit for free over the next four weekends. My studio will be open on weekends 2 and 3, that's 12/13th and 19/20th July (number 160 in the guide and on the web site) so as well as doing some dusting and hanging pictures I hope to visit some of the other studios this Saturday or Sunday.

The room next to my studio will become a mini gallery for a fortnight, I've already started to tidy up and hang pictures. Here are three digital illustrations of some of my favourite vegetables from the garden, they are printed on 100% cotton, acid free, fine art paper, and I'm really pleased with the results from my new inkjet printer. However, most of my pictures are hand-printed limited edition block prints, the landscape above the mantlepiece is a woodcut printed on Japanese paper and is inspired by memories of the dramatic seaweed covered rocks on Eriskay in the Western Isles.

There's a feeling of anticipation with a tinge of panic preceding opening your studio to the public – so good luck everyone taking part this year!

Thursday 3 July 2008

. . . two more today!

I couldn't resist posting another dragonfly photo today – two more beautiful new-born Southern Hawkers. We enlarged and redesigned our pond five years ago, the intention was to make a home for newts, frogs, toads and other water-loving wildlife. It immediately attracted dragonflies who laid their eggs. We're thrilled our Dragonfly Pond is such a great success, now we're seeing the results of the makeover – the dragonfly nymphs spend at least a year (sometimes two or three) as monsters of the deep, voraciously hunting in the underwater forest of water plants. When conditions are just right they will crawl out of the water and up a plant stem to emerge transformed into an exquisite flying machine!

Another day to witness a miracle!

Wednesday 2 July 2008

Out of the swamp came . . .


Early this morning Cliff spotted these two newly emerged dragonflies drying their wings as they sat on plants near the edge of the shallow Dragonfly Pond. I think they are Southern Hawkers, Aeshna cynea (perhaps Dean of that amazing showcase of insects Mostly Macro will confirm this for us).

This one is still sitting on its nymph case or exuvia to use the correct term – look at the transparent shields that covered the eyes when it lived under water (click on the pictures to enlarge). I have a collection of these fragile cases in my studio, they are like miniature models for a sci-fi horror movie!