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.

Sunday 31 May 2009

Sunny Sunday morning

. . . so, what are you doing?

I've been assembling The Three Sisters mound. It should have been completed weeks ago so it had time to settle down, but – hey ho! things don't happen perfectly in the real world. But, I see that exactly a year ago I posted about planting out The Three Sisters. So this year they will be planted out a few days later – it probably won't make a jot of difference :-)

The mound is not quite ready for planting yet – another layer of well rotted compost will be the finishing touch – but with the thermometer in the shade next to the kitchen door reading 27C, I've decided to retreat to a cooler spot! The robin is taking advantage of the worms I've dug out and is busily feeding his (her?) family – no chance for him to put his feet up.

Like this . . .

Mmmm? Cats are so very, very wise it's scary!

Tuesday 26 May 2009

Shy flowers are beautiful too

The Mourning Widow Geranium
Geranium phaeum variations from our garden

This is one of my favourite background plants for slightly shady corners of the garden – it will cross with other geraniums and self seed, planting itself where it's happiest so you don't have to decide where to put it. The leaves make attractive large cushions and are prettily marked with burgundy spots; the flowers tend to cast their faces down and refuse to meet your eye. They're worth a closer look.

Today My English Country Garden reminded me that there is a white variety, g. phaeum 'Album' – wouldn't that look beautiful in our Wild Wood! I'll put it on my wish list. She also mentioned a 'blue' variation called Langthorn’s Blue, which prompted me to look closer at the flowers on the self-sown plants in the garden. Here they are floating in a shallow dish of water – every one is different!

Seeing them drifting across the water I almost did a video instead of a still photo but the camera is low on power and uploading the file is a pain with a broadband signal that's delicate – so you'll just have to use your imagination. The picture can be enlarged if you click on it.

PS: If you're one of those who paid more attention in physics lessons than I did, perhaps you could explain to me why the shadows have those pretty edges.

Monday 25 May 2009

Two picnics and memorials

Wasn't the weather amazing this weekend! Forget jokes about wet Bank Holidays – this one was perfect, a two-picnic weekend can't be bad ;-)

Picnic Number One:
Marsham Heath in Norfolk. On our way between visiting Jon and Sarah's Open Studio in Norwich and John Jackson's studio in Briston.

Near to our picnic spot we came upon this memorial . . .

Politicians getting all in a lather about allegations against them – mmmmm sounds familiar! In 1689 Sir Henry Hobart of Blickling Hall and Oliver le Neve sorted out their quarrel by having a duel right here, where the stone urn now stands. You can read all about it here.

Picnic Number Two:
On the footpath to Wratting Common, a short walk from our house.

Where we were treated to a fly-past by the Lancaster from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight . . .

The line of trees marks the line of one of the runways of RAF Wratting Common, a WWII airfield. The two huts were bomb stores. On Sunday there was a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the memorial which commemorates the 3,000 men and women who served there during 18 months in 1943-45 and the 260 who lost their lives. We didn't go to the ceremony, but we took a picnic lunch and walked from our house along a footpath over the fields to a place adjoining the end of the wartime runways. The sky was a vivid clear blue and everything was so still – only the Yellowhammers singing in the hedge and the dozens of Painted Lady butterflies skimming the wheat disturbed the scene. Eventually we heard a low droning sound in the distance and the Lancaster appeared over the trees to circle around three or four times. It's hard to imagine what this tranquil spot was like 65 years ago.

Oh, by the way, the 'picnic' on both occasions was very simple:
Home made sourdough bread (my very first attempt, Jamie Oliver recipe)
A pork pie bought from the butchers at Highgate Country Store (made by DP Meats, Bury St Edmunds)
Chutney and tomatoes.

Saturday 23 May 2009

Through the new green gate

Continuing the garden tour . . .

Follow the hen through the hazel arch and around the dragonfly pond and what's this?!!!

A new green gate! That wasn't there before!

Over the past few weeks Cliff has been working very hard constructing a new fence and this new gate. It's all part of our exciting new garden project which started way back in August 2008 – in fact it was a couple of days after I came home from hospital after a serious operation. Since we moved here 10 years ago, I had always dreamed of extending the end of the garden to the field boundary the other side of a small wooded area; and then one afternoon we had one of those 'we could do it now or never' opportunities – we asked if we could buy the land and the owner said yes! Hurrah! well we then had to wait for all the paperwork and legal stuff to happen, which it did (but very, very slowly – so slowly that I postponed being excited). And now we are owners of . . .


As you can see it's not very big or particularly wild – but we have plans :-)

And we now have a view from our garden, out over the fields . . .

We also have 'stuff' buried in the ground – lots and lots of broken pieces of something which was very big and curved and got very, very hot. So hot that some of the bricks melted!

One piece has part of an inscription on it . . .

I think the last part may have read STOURBRIDGE, a town which was the main source of clay for fire bricks and kilns.

So what was it? Any ideas?

We have a two possible theories . . .

• It was the brick kiln used to make all the bricks for our garden wall. But that was over 250 years ago. Does it look that old?

• It was a furnace of some kind used by the local forge which was located on the opposite bank of the brook which runs alongside the land.

Any ideas?

Friday 22 May 2009

This month's colours are . . .

Crimson, Magenta and Lots of Green

I've briefly watched some of the TV highlights of this year's Chelsea Flower Show and from what I gathered, the "in" colours are deep reds, purple and lots of green. Well surprise, surprise! green is pretty dominant in my garden this month too and there are splashes of magenta, red and pink as well :-)

These are my favourites . . .

Geranium psilostemon • Paeony
Allium 'Globemaster' • Thalictrum aquilegifolium

And there's lots of gorgeous green – I think last year's wet summer must have set the plants up for an explosion of growth this spring. I love the lime green Cornelian Cherry against the deep burgundy Prunus in the background. I could say I designed it that way – but it just sort of happened.

In the courtyard the 'fountain that I condemned when I first laid eyes on it but is still here' is now dwarfed by my lovely humble umbels – angelica, lovage and sweet cicely – three of my favourite herbs. They disappear in the winter leaving the ivy false-topiary spheres and the fountain (mmmm – it's going one of these days); then in spring they erupt into growth, a green fountain :-)

This is the view from the back of my studio. I've not had time to preen and manicure and have left the hens to scratch and make dust baths where they will. Don't look too closely – you'll spot the nettles, ground elder and the grass dying because just under the soil is a ring of concrete. Yes, I thought it was something far more exciting, like the remains of a Tudor dovecot, but sadly not.

So, before this hummocky symphony of foliage becomes a cacophony in a month or so; stand back and admire . . .

. . . and follow the hen for the next instalment

The promise of rich pickings

The Vegetable Garden in May

I've not posted about the garden for a while – there's so much going on but I'm always gardening whether I write about here or not ;-)

Our garden always looks at it's best at the end of May, verdant and colourful in the sunshine. Yesterday I took lots of photos, far too many to show you all at once, so I'm spreading them over a few posts about different parts of the garden.

I've been busy working in the vegetable garden (leaving the senior under-gardeners and the Spice Girls to their own UGPs* in the flower/ground elder borders). Gardening is all about hope and I'm determined that this year will be a good one!

In the greenhouse there is now a queue of plants waiting to be potted on; here are some of the tomatoes, squash and blood-veined sorrel.

The broad beans are in full flower, their heady scent filling air. This year I've decided that I'm only growing the historic Crimson-flowered variety from my own saved seeds and the colour of the flowers seems particularly rich and beautiful. It's great to see a bumble bee enjoying them too.

Here you can see the patch of broad beans at the end of one of the raised beds, in the foreground is the strawberry patch. The taller plants are Gariguette, a wonderful early French variety the fruit has a sharp burst of intense strawberry flavour – I can't wait! This weekend we'll protect the plants from mud splashes with a mulch of straw and net them to stop the birds scoffing the lot.

At the end of the beds I've constructed an arcade of five rustic arches for the peas – 10 varieties this year: Purple Podded, Victorian Purple Podded, Clarke's Beltony Blue, Curruther's Purple Podded, Reuzensuiker, Carouby de Mausanne, Tutankamun, Carlin, Golden Sweet and Salmon Flowered. I'm dreaming of a pea adorned gothic arches in a vegetable cloister.

* UGP = unauthorised gardening project

more to follow soon :-)

Monday 18 May 2009

Mixed border

While she was away, we decided to make some improvements to her favourite border . . .

. . . much better, don't you think? It would get a Gold at Chelsea!

The senior under-gardeners and the Spice Girls (who helped a bit)

Friday 15 May 2009

Swedish rhapsody

Day 1: Parades and parks

Last Saturday we drove to the airport while normal people were still tucked up in their beds; and by mid-morning we had arrived in Stockholm. After stowing our luggage in the lockers at City Terminal we set off to explore.

In Gamla Stan the sound of military band music drifted through the narrow streets – they were changing the guard at the Palace.

Stockholm is built on a cluster of islands linked by bridges, which makes getting your bearings a bit tricky! We found ourselves in a bustling street with lively cafés, where we had a delicious lunch in relaxed and cosy Mocco.

Our hotel was near to a the beautiful Humlegården Park where there is this majestic statue of the great namer of the natural world Carl Linnaeus.

The restaurants were busy with Saturday evening crowds, what to choose? Mongolian Barbecue? Italian? We plumped for a traditional looking establishment, Restaurang Prinsen. I just had to try the meatballs with dill pickled cucumber, lingonberries and spicy mashed potatoes served in a glass jar. Cliff tucked into fish soup.

Day 2: Söder and Årsta

We'd obtained a small guide book of city walks, so after a satisfying breakfast we set off across the bridges to the large island south of Gamla Stan, to take a tour of Södermalm and the Årsta Forest. We headed towards Tantolunden Park, I wanted to see the colony of allotments, Tanto Norra Koloniträdgårdsförening. What an amazing place just a short walk from the city centre – all the plots were so lovingly tended and colourful. This is an allotment wonderland :-)

Our route continued past the new waterside developments at Liljeholmen where the residents can enjoy the sun on the waterfront . . .

and the builders obviously have a sense of humour . . .

It was a glorious sunny Sunday and it seemed as if everyone was walking / jogging / cycling along the Årsta Forest waterside path to Hammarbyhamnen. Where we bought a picnic at a corner shop and enjoyed people watching along the quayside.

We were determined to pack in as much as possible, so after eating delicious pasta at bright and lively Vapiano, we headed back through the narrow streets of Gamla Stan to Tyska Kyrkan to a concert of music played on the 400 year old golden organ.

Day 3: The Vasa

Monday was forecast to be rainy so we had decided this should be a 'museum day' (in fact the weather was pretty good!). We walked down to the beautiful island of Djurgarten and strolled around the waterside and then headed south across the centre via the delightful gardens of Rosendals Trädgård. The clouds threatened rain, so we hurried on to Vasamuseet, sure to be one of the highlights of the trip.

On Sunday 10 August 1626, the mighty warship Vasa set sail on her maiden voyage in front of cheering crowds. After a few minutes she keeled over and to the horror of everyone watching sank into the depths. In 1956 she was located and after 5 years of meticulous planning, a salvage team brought her to the surface. It took another 25 years to preserve and rebuild the huge warship; now the Vasa is the centrepiece in this amazing museum.

There has been incredibly detailed forensic research about the crew members and family who perished on board. The facial reconstructions of some of them are unsettlingly realistic and the preserved clothing and personal possessions are fascinating to see.

The best way to see Stockholm is from the water, so after a lovely lunch at Café Blå Porten we walked to the quayside to find a boat trip. We selected a commuter ferry which was taking a round trip of the islands to the east of the city centre – to Nacka Strand and Lidingö in the inner Stockholm archipelago. We'd had a long day and took advantage of the tokens for a light meal in the hotel restaurant.

Day 4: Drottningholm and Waldemarsudde

It was about time we tested the efficiency of the public transport – we bought our 24 hour passes and headed down into the underground. In no time we were whisked through leafy suburbs to Alvik where we stepped across the platform and boarded a tram which smoothly glided to Nockeby. Here it was a short walk to a bus stop and a minutes wait for the bus to Drottningholm, the grand official royal residence.

The magnificent gardens stretch back behind the palace, a mix of formal parterres and fountains, and informal woodland where we came across this amazing tent built for King Gustav's dragoons in 1781 . . .

And the Chinese Pavilions built in 1753 for Queen Lovisa Ulrika as a surprise birthday present from King Adolf Fredrik!

The steps of the main pavilion had a stunning rainbow display of pansies . . .

It was early afternoon, we grabbed a sandwich from the kiosk at the palace gates and sheltered from the rain as we waited for the steamboat to arrive.

It's an hour's trip back to the city centre meandering between the islands and past boatyards.

I'd spotted a poster on the lamp posts on the city advertising an exhibition which was not to be missed, so waving our bus passes we hopped onto the No 47 which took us to the south of Djurgarten and Waldemarsudde . . .

In the gallery this month is an exhibition of work by Carl Larsson, the setting was a perfect place to see the idyllic family scenes bathed in clear nordic light. The waterside mansion which was owned by Prins Eugen is also open to the public, with further exhibition spaces on the upper floors. I particularly liked the displays of flowering plants on the window sills – lots of inspiration here!

So where did we go to celebrate our last night in Stockholm? We returned to Restaurang Prinsen which was packed with business people enjoying a Tuesday evening in style; for a dinner of traditional Swedish flavours – five different marinated herring dishes served with chopped onions, new potatoes and sour cream, following that Cliff ordered the slow-cooked ox and I decided I had to try the reindeer fillet. Both, like Stockholm, were outstandingly good!

There are unexpected sights round every corner . . .

We'd go back again – Stockholm's a great city :-)

Thursday 14 May 2009

Normal service will be resumed shortly . . .

. . . in the meantime, here's a photo of where Cliff and I have been since last Saturday –

We arrived back last night and I discovered that turning off the power in my studio wasn't such a clever idea. It may have been a responsible green thing to do, BUT my ADSL Router had forgotten all its settings – WHY!!!!!!!

The good news is that very early this morning, a very nice guy on the ISP helpline answered the phone within seconds and sorted the problem in next to no time – so I'm back and connected to the world again. So as soon as I've got a couple of illustration projects under control and on schedule again, I'll share some of the adventures we've had.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Irresistible force meets immovable object

Occasionally the senior under-gardeners share a nest to lay their eggs, they sit cosily and quietly without making a fuss. The introduction of The Spice Girls into our small flock has resulted in what can only be described at all out nest-wars . . .

It's obvious something's afoot when Saffron puffs herself up and struts back and forth, this is accompanied by very loud regular clucks.

When I enquire "what's up" she indicates that the problem is "up there!"

And she's right – the preferred and only nest any of the hens will lay eggs in, is occupied by a growling sphere of feathers (aka Nutmeg).

But, nothings going to stop Saffron now her mind is made up . . .

It's best to just leave them to fight it out!

Monday 4 May 2009

Kew views

When it's May Bank Holiday Saturday and it's sunny and warm, the day deserves to be used for something special . . .

A walk through a beautiful bluebell wood perhaps?

But this isn't just any bluebell wood, it's the bluebell wood in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew – isn't it spectacular! The English wildflowers certainly put on a show to compete with all the exotic glories of Kew Gardens.

The main purpose of the visit was to see this – The Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop Walkway. The entrance first takes you underground into the Rhizotron, animated sculptures of creepy crawlies cover the walls and an illuminated coloured glass mosaic lights the floor – the display explains the complex relationships of organisms and tree roots. Back in the sunshine above ground it's time to climb the 118 steps to the Treetop Walkway.

The structure meanders through the branches 18 metres above the ground. I even forgot to be scared of walking over metal grids high up in the sky!

Through the branches panoramic views of the the Temperate House and London stretching out in the distance and looking amazingly green and leafy.

Look down over the handrail (yes, the walkway wobbles a tiny bit, but it's so fascinating you'll soon get used to it) and you'll see a tapestry of greens laid out below.

And then back down the zig-zag stairs to the woodland floor. It's worth every step.

LinkWe looked around Queen Charlotte's Cottage; sat by the Thames and enjoyed the view of Syon House across the river; admired the gorgeous scented flowers of the rhododendrons; visited the Japanese Minka in the bamboo garden and ate walnut cake at the White Peaks café.

I wanted to take the Queen's Garden behind Kew Palace, home with me :-) The laburnum arcades surround a rectangular sunken garden full of herbs and medicinal plants, and mix of formal clipped box and modest plants that would have been grown in 17th century garden.

It's Kew's 250th Birthday this year and to celebrate the power of seeds Tom Hare has been commissioned to weave these fantastic giant willow sculptures inspired by seed pods. Five are already in situ . . .


Horse Chestnut


Star Anise

and a further five, lotus, honesty, Sophora, sycamore and coco de mer, are being constructed over the summer – and you can actually help Tom to weave them at workshops over the next few months.