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.

Wednesday 27 August 2008

Stripy strømpe

My Grandma's heavy steel sock needles have been put to work,
they've not met funky Danish sock yarn before,
just sensible 'green lovat fingering'!

Sunday 24 August 2008

Monster munch

While my back was turned . . .
munch munch munch munch munch munch munch
caterpillars ate the Cavolo Nero for lunch!

Tuesday 19 August 2008

Zingy Zinnias

Zinnias – my favourite summer cut flowers,
in a little green glazed pot from Languedoc.

Monday 18 August 2008

The best thing . . .

The best thing that I did today was to walk to my vegetable garden in the sunshine and to pick three ripe Cambridge Gages for my lunch.

Tuesday 12 August 2008

Magic Cochin takes it easy

Purple Podded Peas is about 'what's going on in and around my studio'. That includes my garden and the heritage vegetables that I love to grow, I also include adventures that give me inspiration for projects in both my studio and my garden. The studio assistants and under-gardeners make an occasional appearance.

After next week activities in my studio and garden will be restricted to light duties only, that's because I will be recovering from a major operation. Purple Podded Peas will not become a medical drama, it will stay 'on topic' but you may notice a change of style . . .

. . . normal service will resume when I've fully recovered.

In praise of pea pods

I remember an art college summer holiday design project where we were asked by the tutor to write and illustrate a brochure to promote an animal or plant. The example they showed us was for an egg, so we had to choose something different. I selected a horse (goodness knows why I did that, talk about biting off more than I could chew!), I still remember one of the other students amazing diagrams of a horse chestnut case splitting open to reveal the conker inside.

Now I'm a lot older and a little bit wiser I would choose a pea pod. What a genius design solution – a little purse, available not only in shades of green but in fashionable purple too; which neatly pops open to reveal a neat row of peas, each a potential new pea plant.

The peas that I am saving for seed for next year's crop (and for seed swaps – let me know if you're interested) have now been harvested, so here is a round up of their attributes, good and bad . . .

Marks are out of a maximum score of 10

Purple Podded (home saved seeds, originally from Heritage Seed Library member Chris Knight)
Looks: 7 – tall, attractive flowers and pods
Flavour: 6 – very slightly bitter after taste when eaten raw, good cooked pea
This was my first 'purple podded pea' and for sentimental reasons I'll always continue to grow it.

Victorian Purple Podded (Heritage Seed Library selection 2008)
Looks: 9.5 – very tall, flowers and pods carried on long strong stems; pods long and pointed
Flavour: 3 – bitter and mealy textured, OK when cooked
This is a stunning plant, I'll continue to grow it in the decorative borders. I will have to try cooking the dried peas – who knows? it may be a great mushy pea!

Clarke's Beltony Blue (seed swap with Rebsie of Daughter of the Soil)
Looks: 7 – the plant itself wasn't vigorous and pods are fairly small, but they are a rich deep dark purple
Flavour: 6 – nice flavour, slightly sweeter than 'Purple Podded'
I'm interested to see if the plants grow stronger next year, snails were a problem at their end of the bed this year but they started to put up a second flush of shoots which did well.

Carruthers' Purple Podded (seed swap with Rebsie of Daughter of the Soil)
Looks: 8 – fairly long stems carry the lovely bi-colour purple flowers followed by the purple pods; a vigorous and productive plant
Flavour: 9 – beautiful sweet peas, definitely the best flavoured of all the purple podded varieties I grew this year
Rebsie selected this pea for some of her pea breeding experiments because of its sweet flavour and I know why - it's delicious!

Golden Sweet (home saved seeds, originally from the Heritage Seed Library 2006)
Looks: 6 – this pea plant wasn't very strong and tended to flop and straggle about, however the young pods are a lovely golden colour
Flavour: 8.5 – a good sweet flavoured pea, and good cooked when mature
This is reputedly one of the varieties grown by Gregor Mendle for his peoneering experiments in genetics, so I'll keep a little corner of the veg patch for this historic pea. The snails seemed to love it – so there weren't many left for me! As with 'Clarke's Beltony Blue' it had a second flush of growth so I have some seed after all.

Salmon Flowered (seed swap with Rebsie of Daughter of the Soil)
Looks: 9.5 – this is an amazing pea like nothing else I've grown; the structure is like a pantomime set tree which bursts into a bouquet of salmon pink flowers followed by dozens of tiny fat pods packed tight with peas
Flavour: 7 – good flavour but mealy texture, maybe another candidate for mushy pea stardom!
I'm definitely growing this again, it would look amazing in a decorative border and it's surprisingly productive and easy to harvest as all the pods are clustered at the top of the plant.

Sunday 10 August 2008

Growing 'The Three Sisters' – part 4

In early July I showed photos of the sweetcorn, squash and climbing beans in the 'Three Sisters' bed and wrote about how they were growing rapidly. I promised to show you the beans and sweetcorn in flower – sun, heat and rain have resulted in massive growth over the past month . . .

Here is part 4 of Magic Cochin's method of growing The Three Sisters . . .

(Continuing from part 3)

This is what 'The Three Sisters' look like today – the climbing beans 'Poletschka' have reached the top of the wigwam and some are using the sweetcorn stems for support, the
'Honey Bantam' sweetcorn plants have grown tall and strong and the squash plants are spreading out across the grass surrounding the mound. Apart from watering the plants when they were first planted out we haven't needed to water them since. I know we are having a rainy summer, but here in West Suffolk we have had at least a week of temperatures around 30C and strong drying winds, 'The Three Sisters' have thrived and even when the squash leaves wilt slightly in the afternoon sun they soon recover in the evening.

Sweetcorn 'Honey Bantam' – the flower spikes at the top of the plants are the male flowers, the wind shakes the pollen out and it sprinkles down onto the female flower tassels which are on the top of embryo corn cobs in the leaf axles below. You can see that some of the beans climbing up through the strong stems of the corn.

Here is one of the embryo corn cobs with the silky female tassels emerging from the top.

Climbing Bean 'Poletschka' – these Ukrainian heritage beans can be eaten as green beans but I think that the mature beans are so beautiful that it's worth holding off until they are mature. They have grown extremely fast, I took this photograph of one of the pretty mauve flowers a few weeks ago.

When I searched under the large green bean leaves this morning there were bunches of long pale green pods swelling with the maturing beans.

Squash 'Winter Festival' x courgette
– Last month I was convinced that I had mistakenly planted a yellow courgette in 'The Three Sisters' mound. But now I'm not so sure, here are two 'Gold Rush' courgettes on the right and one from 'The Three Sisters' on the left. After some research in the Seeds of Kokopelli manual I realise that 'Winter Festival' squash and courgettes are both varieties of Cucurbita pepo and could easily cross pollinate.

I've left the remaining friuts to mature – Squaurgette or Coursh 'Magic Cochin'! You can see how I slip a tile under the fruit so it isn't sitting directly on the damp grass, this keeps the fruit dry and relatively unblemished. Sometimes a root grows from the underside of the node on the stem where the leaf and fruit stem emerge, allow this to grow down into the soil so the plant can gain extra water and nutrients.

The other two squash are varieties of Curcurbita maxima and were grown from seeds collected from last years crop, these are likely to be hybrids too. This is the un-named large dark orange variety, it is developing a lovely stripy central boss.

This is the plant grown from seed saved from last year's 'Marina di Chioggia' squash. Not quite as warty and reptilian as she should be and with a stripy centre like the orange one. There are more smaller fruits on all the plants, so it looks like we'll have a good crop this autumn.

And here's an added bonus – a breakfast bouquet of honey perfumed squash flowers and freshly picked chives to chop finely and add to our scrambled eggs for breakfast.

Part 5 will show our harvest of sweetcorn.

Wednesday 6 August 2008

Country house pursuits

A few weeks ago I suggested to The Cottage Smallholder that we should give ourselves a well deserved 'day off' and visit a garden or country house for lunch. We selected Audley End, a large country estate owned by English Heritage; recently the Victorian Service Wing of the house has been opened up to show the 'real life below stairs' as it would have been in 1880.

We looked around the kitchens, actors play the part of the kitchen maids and cooks making elaborate pies and pastries. The shelves are stacked high with gleaming copper pots and pans, we loved reading the handwitten recipes and menus. Next door was the scullery and the laundry, where a clever projected film of two laundry maids chatting as they worked set the scene as we looked at wash boards, dollies, irons and mangles.

Outside in the back yard the authenticity continued, wooded crates from deliveries of produce were stacked by the door, mops were propped up to dry, a huge meat safe complete with amazingly realistic pig carcasses has been reconstructed as has the game larder . . .

We then walked through landscaped gardens to the Walled Kitchen Garden, a showcase for Garden Organic's heritage vegetables. We both loved the Vinehouse built along the length of one side of the walled garden, it dates from 1804 and is one of the oldest in the country. It is divided into sections, this one contained dozens of different varieties of tomatoes . . .

And further along in the Vinehouse are vines which are over 200 years old! Meticulously trained inside the roof the bunches of grapes hang down among the sunlit leaves . . .

We had packed a picnic to share and we timed our lunch to coincide with a falconry display in the park – smoked salmon sandwiches, courgette frittata, olive and herb focaccia and strawberries and cream – yummy! We hadn't expected to be completely captivated by the falconry demonstration showing some different styles of hunting game birds, but the 'Master of Falcons' and 'His Lady' were engaging speakers and the stunning birds put on fantastic aerial displays – this was an unexpected treat.

Thank you Cottage Smallholder for joining me for a day away from the studio and garden, with so many inspiring things to see I think Audley End was a great choice for our 'Bloggers Day Out'.

Friday 1 August 2008


Partial solar eclipse

10.15am in the garden.

Viewing the partial solar eclipse in a dish of water.
The little glowing blue shape is a reversed image of
the crescent sun reflected from the base of the dish.