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 30 March 2011

Easter hen

Even with today's chilly rain, you can't deny that spring is here at long last; the hedges are bright with blossom and the hens are busy, busy, busy – when you're producing a whole new egg every 25 hours, you've got to peck, peck, peck for all you're worth!

Wouldn't it be wonderful to hatch some baby chicks! I know lots of hen-keepers whose hens are doing just that right now – or failing that they're got eggs in an incubator or they've ordered little chicks from a breeder. Each time I see one of the Spice Girls hunkering down in the nest box and snuggling some eggs under her feathers I cross my fingers and hope she'll go broody (they did in their first year, before Tarragon came on the scene) but sadly so far this year they aren't interested. However I have a back up plan . . . and if it comes about I'll let you know ;-)

All these thoughts of hens and chicks and spring-time made an image pop into my head, so I set to with my carving tools . . .

then I mixed some ink – a colour that reminded me of Japanese powdered green tea (I love the flavour of green tea - cakes, ice-cream, milk-shake – mmmmm!)

the prints are hanging up in my studio on the little hen clothes-pegs . . .

These original limited edition unframed prints can be ordered by emailing studio@celiahart.co.uk
This is a small edition of 20 prints on Japanese Kikuchi Haini Kozo Koban, (a beautiful paper made from the fibre of the Paper Mulberry). The image size is 15 x 15cm, the same size and paper as used for the 'Love in the air' print. Each print is named, signed and numbered in pencil by me.
An unframed print costs £48 (and as a special for Easter the price includes p&p to addresses in the UK mainland).

Cards are now for sale in Magic Cochin's Emporium click here for details


Monday 28 March 2011

"I would I had some Flowres o'th Spring . . ."

". . . that come before the swallow dares,
and take the windes of March with beauty

from "The Winter's Tale" by William Shakespeare

The clocks have sprung forward and it's now officially British Summer Time; after a dull and particularly chilly Saturday, the wind dropped and the sun came out yesterday afternoon; so we decided to walk one of our 'hare-watching' routes.

Sure enough, after walking quite a long way along the un-seasonably dry and dusty lanes, we spotted the hares – their whiskers shimmering in the slighty misty sunshine. We had to share a pair of binoculars and our digital camera doesn't zoom in that far, so sadly no photos. (Making a note to treat myself to a good DSLR this year so I can take photos of hares.)

The Pussy-Willows in on the field edges are going over, the catkins reminded me of hares' tails.

One thing I didn't expect to find, but was very excited to spot, were Oxlips, Primula elatior – these are the iconic flower of Suffolk (except these particular ones are in a wood just outside the county on the Essex/Cambridgeshire border).

'Perdita' by Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys

Oxlips were one of the 'Flowres o'th Spring' listed by Perdita in 'The Winter's Tale', they are now a rare in the wild in England, their distribution now confined to isolated woods in Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire.

When Shakespeare mentioned Oxlips they were not known as a distinct species from all the various hybrids between Primroses and Cowslips, which botanists today refer to as 'false Oxlips'. In 1842 Henry Doubleday (yes, the same chap who founded what is now known as Garden Organic) studied Oxlips and decided that they were a distinct species in their own right. To get a second opinion, he asked his friend Charles Darwin to check his findings – who came to the same conclusion.

Luckily the camera is very good at close-ups, so I got a few nice shots. The first patch was in a ditch at a deer-crossing and near a small pond – deer love to nibble Oxlips and have a huge negative impact on the numbers of flowers. Maybe these have been spared because the deer are concentrating on crossing the ditch to the pond and not looking for snacks on the near-vertical bank.

A little further away I came across a much large area of Oxlips, these are in an open cleared ride through a large wood; the ground is usually waterlogged here – Oxlips love damp and shady conditions. I noticed that in open ground the flower stalks had been nibbled back, except for where the rosettes of leaves were protected by tangles of Dewberry briars, which obviously prevent close cropping by the deer's muzzles! However, due to lack of recent rain, these plants were dehydrated and therefore smaller and the leaves and flower heads were becoming limp in the sunshine.

By far the best plants were under a thorny hedge – difficult for deer (and me) to get close, but I managed to crawl near enough to get these photos. You can see the pale-yellow rounded petals and how the flowers hang their heads down to one side of the tall furry stalk.

On the way back from our walk we passed a pond and I decided to check it out for frogspawn . . .

. . . so, did you spot what I did? Do you see there's frogsawn AND toadspawn mingled together in the weeds?

Unlike frogspawn which is a blobby cloud-like mass of eggs; toadspawn is in ribbons, all laced and wound around the water plants. (Newt eggs are completely different – I'll tell you more about the amazing newt and how she lays her eggs, another day)


Saturday 26 March 2011

Labour of the month: March

My Labour of the Month for PPPs in March is a ritual that for me marks the beginning of Spring and the season when I can walk out into the garden and harvest ingredients for lunch; and what's even nicer is that these ingredients reappear each year without any hard labour on my part.

Picking Hop Shoots
For a lunch-time omelette served with
a chive and bitter-cress side salad.

An established hop plant will send up
an abundant quantity of new shoots;
leave 5 or 6 strong shoots to grow up
the pole or support and snip off the others.

– don't waste them! they are as prized
as the first cut of English Asparagus;
the flavour of hop shoots isn't strong
but they have a slightly astringent bitterness
which is pleasantly refreshing.

Fresh green chives make pretty edging to
the vegetable beds – and there's more than
enough to use in the kitchen every day.

Here's a pesky little weed – Hairy Bitter-Cress,
pull it out before it fires its seeds all over the plot!
However it's not all bad, those young green leaves have
a great peppery kick to them, so they make a
lovely side salad to wake up the taste-buds.

Fry some sliced mushrooms;
add the washed hop-shoots to the pan
and cover until they wilt;
pour in lightly beaten eggs;
gently cook and stir until the egg sets.

Sprinkle with crumbled Wensleydale cheese,
season with ground mixed pepper and
finish off under a hot grill.

Wash the Bitter-Cress and chop the chives,
mingle them together.

When the top of the omelette is browned and bubbling
serve with the salad and some wholemeal bread.


I'm Magic Cochin and I'm a seedaholic


In front of witnesses (you lot)

I hereby promise not to
buy any packets of seeds this year . . .

really, I really won't

I promise


Wednesday 23 March 2011

Flower viewing

Today was a day for looking in wonder
at the hundreds of white blossoms
against the beautiful blue sky.

In Japan there's a word for it


flower viewing

If you would like to help the children of Japan
who have lost their homes and family in
the earthquake and tsunami
Save the Children have set up an emergency appeal
please make a donation, however small


Sunday 20 March 2011

On the road again . . .

A lot has happened in the past week and a bit . . . earthquakes, tsunamis, radiation leaks, revolutions and goodness knows what else!

But not a lot has been going on in my studio because Cliff and I snuck away to chill out somewhere slightly warmer than Suffolk in mid-March . . .

. . . er well, we thought was going to be warmer!

We should have known that choosing the north coast of Tenerife was a dodgy choice for this time of year – anyhow, between the rain showers (and hail storms) we ventured out to see some wonderful views . . .

and some lovely wild flowers . . .

We strolled up and down some very very steep streets – blimey! I'm so pleased I don't have to do hill-starts like that every day :-O and admired the balconies.

The scenery was big – VERY BIG – with teeny tiny flowing plants; giant cacti; vertiginous (our book of walks used that word so often, it became our word-of-the-week) slopes; and vast volcanic rock outcrops.

On the very last day the sun came out while we were on the far north-west tip of the island – and the Atlantic waves put on a crashing, splashing show!

The rainy days were OK too (but a bit rubbish for taking photos); we found some very good restaurants and ate fish every day.

And wooo-hooo! there was a carnival . . . loads of colour and drums and Latin rhythms; marching bands and amazing costumes and floats; vehicles of all descriptions and crowds of people wearing all sorts of wacky disguises!

After four hours of wild and rumba-ing procession you can imagine the streets were a right mess – nope! the tail of the parade dealt with all that :-) A formation of road-sweepers, complete with leaf-blower wielding municipal street cleaners, salsa'd away every last bit of confetti!

So on Friday night we got back home and I had all sorts of plans to hit the ground running – then fate slammed on the breaks during the night by laying me out with a tummy bug/virus/whatever I don't know the cause – but I spent yesterday wrapped in a duvet, shivering on the sofa. Thankfully I felt much perkier this morning, in fact I was well enough to potter around in the veg patch and get the show on the road – it's good to be back :-)


Monday 7 March 2011

Auctions . . . not just about buying stuff

Last Friday I went along to my favourite auction house to view the lots coming up for sale on Saturday; it was probably the best collection of lots I've seen for a long time and the rooms were crowded with people talking excitedly and making notes.

I'd spotted five things in the on-line catalogue, that I wanted to look at and maybe to leave commission bids for – once again I wasn't able to go to the auction and to bid in person, but this focuses the mind and prevents snap purchases so it's no bad thing!

The five lots were:
• A wooden framed over-mantle mirror
• Five woodblock prints by Hiroshige from the "100 views of Edo" series
• An oil painting of two ceramic jugs by Manuel Blesa
• A silver bracelet by Georg Jensen
• An oil painting of a farmyard by Roger Nicholson

I quickly crossed off the mirror – it was the wrong size for our fireplace. On to the Hiroshige prints, the estimate of £80 seemed too low and I smelled a rat, so I'd done some homework and checked the size of the original prints – these prints were slightly smaller, looked brand new but were printed from woodblocks . . . mmmm? The labels on the back of the frames said they were purchased at the Kyoto Arts Centre – I've been there and they sell reproduction copy prints, skillfully done but not original Hiroshiges. I was tempted, but crossed them off my list (they went for £85).

Now I was down to the final three . . . the Manuel Blesa painting was delightful, serene and beautifully painted, framed in a very Spanish heavy black frame it would look perfect in our dining room once I get the walls repainted . . . I checked with the auctioneer – there was a reserve of £250, I wouldn't be getting a bargain but the painting was worth at least that. I crossed it off my list. (It sold for £340, there's no way I'd have gone that high but I could see why someone paid that much.)

I asked the auctioneer to open one of the secure cabinets so I could look at the bracelet, I'm not an expert on Jensen but I really like his designs and want to learn more. I wish I'd done more homework before I looked at this . . . the lovely 'Seed and Pod' design was much more attractive in real life than in the catalogue photo, the workmanship was top quality – I loved the clever little lock on the catch. I was only going to bid if the reserve was low – at £250 it wasn't. As I walked away I overheard a confident dealer list the things he wanted to check out including the bracelet . . . I wasn't alone in spotting a quality piece (the Jensen 'Seed and Pod' bracelet sold for £440!)

I had one lot left on my list . . . the painting by Roger Nicholson; I usually only consider buying original prints but this painting really caught my eye – there was something special about it.

Before I went to the auction rooms I did a bit of research about the painter – Roger Nicholson was a highly skilled artist and designer. He is better known for his textile designs in the 1950s and the V&A Museum has a large collection of his designs. I wanted this painting but I was in a cautious mood, the estimate was only £50. I wrote down a very modest commission bid, handed it into the auctioneer and drove home.

The Roger Nicholson painting sold for £240.

I didn't get the painting (but I learned a lot).


Friday 4 March 2011

Normal service has resumed

In answer to your queries about Ginger Spice's miniature egg . . .

. . . it was indeed small but perfectly in proportion! It is now in a panettone bread and butter pudding which is baking in the oven as I type this.

And here's a reason to be cheerful – when I returned from viewing the lots at Willingham Auctions (more about that after tomorrow!) This is what was in the nest box . . .

. . . one full size egg from each of my hens – I bet Tarragon was exhausted with all that "she's laid and egg" announcing he had to do today!


Thursday 3 March 2011

In assorted colours and sizes

This morning there were three eggs in the nest-box . . . a pastel teal-blue egg from Saffron Spice, a rich terracotta-brown egg from my lovely senior under-gardener Sylvie and a teeny weeny miniature egg laid by Ginger Spice (sigh – what's she up to now?!)


Tuesday 1 March 2011

Ipswich 'n' chips

This morning I volunteered to drive Cliff to a meeting in Ipswich – an excuse for me to take my new wheels for a longer journey than just pootling to the next village and back. We parked near the Waterfront and while Cliff headed into the town centre I wandered down to the marina; on a chilly grey day I didn't want to hang around outside so I settled down in a cosy cafĂ© – pot of tea, pain au chocolat, view of the yachts, the daily papers and wi-fi . . . that was pretty much all I needed to keep me happy for a while :-)

I then walked back along the harbour, past the trendy bistros towards the old Customs House; down a narrow alley in an old harbour warehouse is the John Russell Gallery – the current exhibition is of Michael Coulter's recent watercolours.

I like Michael Coulter's cards of East Anglian wildlife and landscape, especially the designs he produces for the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, so I was looking forward to seeing the original watercolour paintings. To be honest I'm not sure I liked most of the pictures; two I did like were "Swallows and Martins" swirling round in the sky and another called "Three Gates" – both of these had a limited colour palette and strong repeated patterns.

However, I did buy the 2011 Michael Coulter Calendar and some other lovely art cards; and I very much enjoyed the other work in the gallery.

When Cliff returned, we headed off to Pin Mill on the Orwell estuary for lunch at the Butt & Oyster pub – it had been recommended to me and I was building up hopes of delicious local seafood. Sad to say lunch failed to live up to expectations – OK fish spoiled by being served with underdone chips (and don't get me started on what was served up for Cliff as 'toad in the hole').

Is the sun going to shine tomorrow . . . I hope so!