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 May 2010

Rain, beautiful rain

It has been over a month since we had the tiniest drop of rain – far too long even in this corner of Suffolk which is probably one of the driest spots in the UK. I know that when the heavens open day after day in July, we'll all be moaning and wishing for dry weather! But the past weeks have shown me that without rain we cannot have lush and green garden, seeds won't grow and newly planted out vegetables suffer and wilt.

Last night it rained. Walking through the garden this morning, I could hear dozens of honey bees buzzing in the wisteria blossoms on our garden wall and all around the plants were singing 'Thank you for the rain'.

Rain, Rain Beautiful Rain
sung by Ladysmith Black Mambazo

There is one garden resident who is slightly disappointed by the arrival of rain and cooler temperatures . . . Tarragon. He has spent the dry weeks working on a new landscaping UGP* – a cool shady dust-bath for his ladies. I'm sure he'll soon start work on his next project!

*UGP = Unauthorised Gardening Project

Monday 24 May 2010

Sunny South Suffolk

This morning I had to drive over to The Jessica Muir Gallery in Long Melford to collect one of my framed prints for a customer. I found Jean, the owner, unpacking a box of the most wonderful quirky little hen, cockerel and cat ceramic and wire sculptures – if you would like to see them dash over to the gallery, I'm sure they'll be selling fast.

As you can see it's a glorious sunny day here in south-west Suffolk, my route between Long Melford and my studio follows the Stour Valley and the lovely villages which nestle in the gently sloping wide river valley. I needed to do some shopping, so decided to take the opportunity to stop at the small town of Clare and call in to some of the many small shops in the streets around the square and churchyard.

This unpretentious shop is the bakers, it uses Marriages flour to make its dough – and that means the bread is extra flavoursome (just ask my under-gardeners – they eat Marriages mixed corn and Layers Pellets).

After filling my big shopping bag with vegetables and fruit from the little open fronted Greengrocers, I headed around the corner to the ironmongers. I love this shop! It's much bigger than you expect as it extends on and on at the back. It's the sort of shop where you wouldn't be surprised to see Ronnie Corbett behind the counter. I bought one of the brushes you can see in the photo and a big ball of garden string, the sort that smells of garden sheds.

Suddenly we're here in the season and sunny days and fetes on the village greens, tourists in camper vans and on bikes . . . the Chelsea Flower Show is about to open and summer has begun – Hurrah!

PS: My garden desperately needs some rain, but I don't want to spoil the party atmosphere!

Friday 21 May 2010

New web site... coming soon!

Earlier this year I made lots of improvements to my studio's computer system and the intention has been to give my website, online gallery and blog a makeover.

The blog's new look as quick and easy, the website makeover has been the tricky part – the old files couldn't be updated on the new system, so I really needed to start with a clean sheet (and new software). Today I decided that the only way to test whether my new look for the site is going to work is to publish it . . . and then make corrections and additions over the weeks ahead.

The online gallery is in transition and will become a portfolio of work on the new website and my etsy shop will be re-launched.

I pressed the publish button a few minutes ago (eek!) and it's not working smoothly yet, so be patient until it all settles down. I'm sure it's going to make my life easier as soon as the teething problems have passed.

Have a lovely weekend – looks like it's going to be a scorcher here in Suffolk!


Thursday 20 May 2010

On the edge of The Wild Wood

A few weeks ago I noticed some unusual leaves unfurling in The Wild Wood. The plant grew bigger and bigger, buds appeared near the top, this week delicate custard yellow flowers opened . . .

The plant is Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus), readers in North American may know it by the old English name the first settlers brought with them: Swallow Wort. Confusingly Greater Celandine is in no way related to the Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) which flowers much earlier in the year and is a member of the Buttercup family and has small narrow shiny golden petals like this . . .

Look closely and you can see that the Greater Celandine is in fact a kind of wild poppy, and like other poppies it has a sticky poisonous sap in its stems. The sap of the Greater Celandine is yellowy orange and is very toxic – in fact it burns! So best to look and not touch! In the past it was used to burn away warts and rather alarmingly for burning away cataracts from the eye! It is associated with old walls and stony pathsides in places that have been inhabited for centuries – maybe a relic from an ancient physic garden.

Yesterday lunchtime I took my lunch over to the opposite bank of the stream behind our Wild Wood and sat in the corner of the field beyond, there is a wide uncultivated field margin which hopefully helps biodiversity and the local wildlife.

As I wandered through the garden on my way to The Wild Wood I'd picked herbs and salad leaves a and added them to my lunch – you can't get a much fresher salad . . .

It wasn't long before the ginger studio assistant sniffed out the aroma of paté and tracked me down!

"Have you left some for me?!"

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Saffron Walden Open Studios

This summer, Essex will be buzzing with art festivals, exhibitions and trails – all part of Essex Summer of Art. Essex is a diverse county, it has an image of being on London's fringe inhabited by Jamie and Essex Girls, but there are seaside resorts, marshes, market towns and tranquil picturesque valleys too.

Artists in and around Saffron Walden have joined forces to put together a weekend of Open Studios on 19th and 20th June, this will follow on from the Saffron Walden Arts Festival taking place the previous weekend. Yesterday evening there was a launch party in The Riverslade Gallery, to unveil the smart new brochures.

My studio is just a little too far away from Saffron Walden and it's just over the border in Suffolk, but I had a very kind invitation from one of the Riverslade Gallery exhibitors, Annette Jacob – she suggested that I join her in the newly refurbished garden studio at her cottage in Duddenhoe End. So, on 19th and 20th June you can call in to see Annette's beautiful rag rugs, knitting and stitching alongside my linoprints and cards, in the lovely relaxed setting behind a traditional Essex thatched cottage. I'll tell you more about our plans for the weekend nearer the day, but it would be wonderful to see some of you in this beautiful north-west corner of Essex.

Our excitement about the Arts Festival was slightly dampened by the sight of the bandstand which is the centrepiece of the newly refurbished Jubilee Gardens – its lovely curved roof has been vandalised by metal thieves who have stripped off most of the lead. The little garden shelter in the opposite corner of the gardens suffered the same fate. What a sad reality of life, but I'm sure all the events planned to take place in Jubilee Gardens this summer will go ahead as planned and the bandstand and shelter will soon be repaired.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Yay! Summer toes at last!

The sandal-wearing season has started and the only 'Grey Skies' to be seen is the colour of my toenails!

Friday 14 May 2010

I've won a prize!

A few weeks ago Matron celebrated her 600th blogpost by teaming up with The RHS for a competition to promote biodiversity in the garden. She asked her blog readers to write just 100 words on what you are doing in your garden to promote biodiversity. She said that she didn't want doom and gloom, neither did she want a political rant – just a nice, gentle, uplifting, innovative, clever, creative, inspiring 100 words.

Matron's blog Down on the Allotment is one of my favourites, it is down to earth with a good dollop of humour and her faithful dog Buddy is never far from the action. I hesitated for a week or so, then one evening I sat down and jotted down a few thoughts . . . 100 words isn't very many to describe my garden and all the plants, insects, birds and animals that live there. In the end, this is what I wrote:

"A newt doesn’t just need water – it needs bugs to feeds on; a water forget-me-not leaf to fold around its egg; and logs and stones to hide under in the winter.

So here’s my pact:

No weed-killers and pesticides;
Nectar rich flowering plants;

A half buried log pile and bundles of dry hollow stems;

Seed-heads left on the plants through the winter;

A small pond surrounded by log piles and a bog garden;

Wild-flowers mingling in the borders and lawn.

And the wildlife has moved in… hundreds of inter-connected life-cycles; we’re relying on each other to thrive."

To my utter amazement my entry was selected as the winner! Thank you Matron and thank you to The RHS . . . look at all the exciting things that fell out of the package that arrived in the post this morning! As well as a full year's membership of The RHS (which includes a free pass to all the RHS gardens and subscription to The Garden magazine) there were postcards, vouchers to spend in the RHS shops and at Thompson and Morgan and two packets of seeds. What a lovely way to start the day :-)

Wednesday 12 May 2010

Zimni Ogrodnicy (Chilly Gardeners)

Last night at 9.15pm, saying goodbye to friends after the Pilates class, we remarked how chilly it was . . . "There's going to be proper frost tonight!" one friend called as I got into my car to drive home. On the way back along the dark country lanes joining Cambridgeshire to Suffolk, I could hear my Dad saying "Have you earthed up your potatoes and covered the strawberry flowers?" – for years I always checked with my Dad when I should sow seeds or plant things out; I didn't bother to remember for myself. Then one day he was no longer there to ask . . . over the past 10 years the wise gardening advice he gave has gradually re-surfaced in my memory.

I parked my car and remembered that months ago I'd bought a roll of protective fleece for a very cheap price at QD in Newmarket, it was in my office. In the dark I went out to the vegetable garden, after making sure I'd zipped up the cloche covering the courgettes, I unrolled the fleece and anchored it in place over the flowering strawberry plants.

I grabbed a handy trowel and flicked soil over any newly emerged potato leaves (the ginger studio assistant arrived and tried to help!). It felt cruel to cover lovely soft leaves with dirt – but without protection the leaves would be black and crinkled by morning.

I also moved our rather scruffy looking lemon tree into the greenhouse – there are lots of new tender leaves and flower buds appearing. One of the heated propogators is still plugged in, warming the germinating Achocha seeds, and giving just enough heat to the greenhouse to keep night-time temperatures well above freezing.

Early this morning I read in yesterday's Times about the 'Ice Saints' or "Eismänner": Saints Mamertus, Pancras, Servatius and Boniface whose feast days traditionally bring frost from May 11 to May 14. Farmers in Germany and Northern Europe knew that it was not safe to plant crops until the saints had done their work. I'd never heard of them before, although it fits with our proverb "Ne'er cast a clout 'til May be out" – don't take your vest off until the Hawthorn blossom (May) is blooming.

A search on the web unearthed the Chilly Gardeners or Zimni Ogrodnicy in Polish. Zimni Ogrodnicy, even the sound make you shiver! Four saints of the catholic church in Poland: St Pancras, (Pankracy 12 May), St Servatus (Serwacy 13 May), St Boniface (Bonifacy 14 May) and St Sophia (Zofia 15 May). Traditionally in Poland these four days are usually accompanied by a sudden cold snap after the first few weeks of beautiful spring weather.

I think I've got the message, I'll be out there tonight, rolling out the fleece and earthing up the spuds again. Zimni Ogrodnicy . . . the Icemen cometh!

Monday 10 May 2010

The Romans were here

Yesterday afternoon, after a morning trying to catch up with overdue tasks in the vegetable patch (at long last the Purple Podded Peas have been planted out) I joined Cliff and the local walking group for the second half of their Sunday walk. Along the way we stopped to admire probably the most overlooked Roman landmark in England.

Bartlow Hills. Heard of them? Anyone?

These are Roman burial mounds. Not just any old piles of dirt, they were originally the largest group of Roman barrows in northern Europe – I wrote 'were' because 150 years ago, when the railway was built from Cambridge to London, some of the 1,750 year old mounds were flattened. There had been excavations of the main burial chambers in the early 1800s and beautiful treasures were found – jars of perfume, lamps which had been left burning after the tombs were closed and even a swanky folding chair. All of these antiquities were in a private collection and were destroyed in a house fire in 1847.

The remaining hills became hidden in the dense undergrowth but now in the care of Cambridgeshire Archaeology* the scrub has been cleared and an information board installed. Bartlow Hills are tucked away in woodland behind the 11th century round towered village church, it is still a secretive place, you're unlikely to find crowds of tourists and you can climb to the top of the largest mound.

Our walk also went past the lovingly restored windmill high on the ridge above Ashdon. This post mill dates from 1756 and over the past few years we've seen it transformed from a sad derelict pile to an (almost) working mill once again. Although it isn't yet in full working order, the whole mill can now be turned by one (or two) people with strong legs and backs. If some of the Friends of Ashdon Mill are around, you can have a guided tour right up inside the mill mechanism.

And over the wide rolling landscape of fields and woods along the Essex-Cambridgeshire border – click on the picture to enlarge and look at the narrow yellow strip of rape flowers . . . there are four hares in a high-speed, hormone-fueled chase over the furrows.

* If you live in the area and want to know more about Bartlow Hills there will be a free guided walk led by Cambridge Archaeology of the Roman barrows, and surrounding area, on Wednesday 19th May, meet outside the church at 7pm.

Wednesday 5 May 2010

You can't hurry an egg

This is a short public information film about egg production . . .

Cast in order of appearance:
Phoebe, Saffron Spice, Silvie, Nutmeg Spice, Tarragon and Ginger Spice.