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.

Friday 28 February 2014

100 Flowers : #012 Cornelian Cherry

Yikes! two months gone and only on #012! I'll have to get cracking to fit in 100 flowers over the year!

Here's another early flowering shrub – and this one is definitely my favourite . . . 

#012 : Cornus mas

Cornelian Cherry

If, like me, your garden is in a (relatively) dry area with alkaline soil and the brash yellow of Forsythia doesn't float your boat – then Cornelian Cherry may be the shrub for you. I first spotted the starry flowers on the angular green stems on a very large specimen in a field corner in Hertfordshire, at the time I didn't know what it was – but I wanted one so I found out its name and tracked one down. When we moved to Suffolk I bought a rather pot-bound Cornelian Cherry, it took a few years to get going and to flower but now I have to prune it to keep it in check . . . once settled in it can become a small copse!

The flowers are quite sparse this year, in previous years the twigs have been covered with fat buds that split into four green sepals to reveal a cluster of tiny yellow buds on cream stalks – these also open with four petals, four stamens and a central style. Each tiny cluster is like a miniature bouquet.

The past 18 months have been much wetter than usual and this winter unusually mild, not the best conditions for Cornelian Cherries which are native to the South-east Europe and South-west Asia, think Iran, Armenia . . . stony well-drained hillsides, hot in summer and bitterly cold in winter. They are valued for their small red fleshy fruits, the colour of the gemstone Cornelian (or Carnelian) – I made fruit-leather with some one year, it was rather good. Cornelian Cherries used to be a popular fruit in England (maybe the large specimen I first saw was once in an orchard, they can be very long-lived) the fruits are still used in Turkey to make 'serbet' a sweet fruit drink and in Ukraine it is an important commercial fruit with many named varieties. 

If you are familiar with botanical latin names, you will have spotted that the Cornus mas isn't a Cherry (prunus) but a Dogwood (cornus).

So, what does Cornus mas mean? 
Cornus means 'hard' like horn, and it refers to the wood. Cornus wood is hard and heavy – it sinks in water - and was traditionally used for spears and tool handles which needed to be tough and not split and bend when used.
Mas means 'male' as in 'masculine', this eludes to the Cornelian Cherry's robustness.

Look out for Cornelian Cherries in parks and gardens – they are easy to spot at this time of year when covered with the starbursts of distinctive pale citrus-yellow flowers. One of my favourites is in Cambridge, on the corner of the University Botanic Gardens at the junction of Brooklands Avenue with Trumpington Road – an uplifting sight as you wait for the traffic lights to change.


Wednesday 26 February 2014

100 Flowers : #011 Wild Cherry-Plum

The sun is out, the sky is blue and look! Blossom!

#011 : Prunus cerasifera

Wild Cherry Plum

The first fruit tree blossom to spangle the hedgerows is that of the Wild Cherry Plum, an extremely common shrubby tree in East Anglia – every hedge, scrubby corner and woodland edge will have a few Cherry Plums . . . and our boundary hedge and Wild Wood are no exception. So it was a joyful sight to see the white blossom against a deep blue sky this morning.

The botanical name is Prunus cerasifera . . .
Prunus is Latin for 'plum'. Cerasum means 'cherry' and ferens means 'bearing' – Plum which bears cherries!

If you get to know your local hedgerows (and I can recommend that you do) you will get to know each Cherry Plum . . . they will all be different, or rather the fruits will all be different. The small round fruit (about 2 to 3 cm in diameter) might be yellow, greeny-yellow, pinky-yellow, pinky-red, orangey-red . . . and the flavour and texture will vary too - juicy or dry, sharp or sweet. You will find your favourites and return year after year to gather the fruits in summer.

The RHS has a useful guide to hedgerow fruit, to help you tell your Sloes from your Bullaces and Cherries from Damsoms.

Of course, the stage between pretty white blossom and ripening fruit needs some help . . . so it was lovely to see these Honey Bees enjoying the warmth of the sun and stopping for a drink on this mossy tray of stones near our greenhouse door.

Of course, you can't count your Cherry Plums before the late frosts and the 'June drop', but the bees have sown a seed of hope for a fruitful summer.


Sunday 23 February 2014

100 Flowers : #010 Hellebore or Lenten Rose

It comes in so many variations . . .

#010 : Helleborus orientalis (and relations)

Hellebore or Lenten Rose

When we moved here 15 years ago I planted lots of Hellebores, seedlings from friends & families' gardens and purchases from specialist nurseries. I thought Hellebores would thrive in the shrubby borders . . . they did OK for a while and I grew more from the seeds they produced - but, the North facing border was too dark, damp and chilly and the East facing border was too dry during the drought years (remember them?) so there are very few plants remaining. 

Happily the past two years of wet weather and this mild Winter has brought the Hellebores we still have into flower early and I'm reminded how lovely they are.

Helleborus orientalis (a species originating from the Orient or East) is what most people think of as 'the' Hellebore, the flowers hang their heads down, so the only way to appreciate their individual colours and markings is to crawl on the ground or pick the flowers and float them on water in a shallow dish . . . or as I did, lay my iPad under the plant and do a botanical-selfie. I know this is a Helleborus Orientalis, it's one of the original plants I bought from a nursery, but the one below is a seedling I grew and it's a bit different - the petals (or to be correct, sepals - the actual petals are the rosette of little lime green tubes at the centre of the flower) are stiff and more rounded and the flower head doesn't droop over. This is a cross between H. Orientalis and another species, maybe the native British 'Stinking Hellebore', H. Foetidus which we also have growing nearby. Hellebores aren't choosy, so if you let them self-seed you can get all sorts of interesting variations, and if you're very lucky, you may get something very very special . . . like these!

What does Hellebore mean? Good question! One theory is that it is from Greek 'hellos' meaning a fawn and 'bora' meaning food, but as the plants are smelly and toxic this seems a bit strange! Alternatively it could be from 'hele' which means to take away/remove - to remove food, to make sick . . . nice! All Hellebores are very poisonous if digested, so I wouldn't recommend feeding them to your pet fawn, or anybody else for that matter.

I rather like the common name for Helleborus orientalis, Lenten Rose. Just as Christmas Rose is used as the common name for H. niger, it describes when the flowers appear. Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter, the exact dates vary from year to year, but roughly it's from late February to Early April. This year Lent starts on 5th March (get ready for Pancake Day next week!)

To add to the Hellebore genetic soup in our borders, I couldn't resist buying two new plants the other day, they are new hybrids H. nigercors (crosses between Christmas Rose (H. niger) and the Corsican Hellebore which has stout stalks baring many flowers) and another H. ericsmithii, which also has genes from H. lividus. I'd seen variations of these new hybrid Hellebores in plantings around the Cambridge University Sidgewick site, and they look stunning over many weeks - even when the flowers fade the sturdy creamy-green of the sepals remain above the the dark almost metalic blue-green leaves.

I chose a beautiful cream one (above) which is tinged with pink as the flowers age, this is H. nigercors 'Emma', and the other is H. ericsmithii 'Pirouette' which has deep pink flowers which fade to very pale pink. There are dozens of buds, so they should flower for many weeks.

I wonder if I'll get some interesting seedlings from these?

BTW, I had some assistance with taking the photos for this post . . .


I'll add some of the photos to my #100Flowers Pinterest board.

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Allegorical knitting

Knitting has become my favoured way to unwind during long dark winter evenings;  slowly transforming beautiful yarns, from special places and people, into something wearable. 

I've just completed this shawl, the yarn was a swap with one of the other designer-makers at Made & Found last autumn – Debbie Orr, aka the Skein Queen, who dyes the most beautiful yarns in colours that have amazing depth and complexity. I searched Ravelry for a pattern, a shawl that would show off the silky camel and silk yarn, in grey the colour of faded driftwood and a wonderful sea-blue; the pattern I chose was Queen of the Underworld by Magdalena Kubatek.

I then realised the motifs included beadwork. Special yarn deserved special beads, so I enlisted the help of Emma (she knows a thing or two about gems) who took me to The Beaderie in Cambridge, where I selected Labradorite faceted beads. We also had a delicious lunch and went to lots of other little shops along Bridge Street – more lovely memories to knit into my shawl.

I was intrigued that the pattern starts with a paragraph about Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld, so as I knitted I read more about the myth . . .

Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, she lived with her mother in a land of perpetual spring-time, surrounded by beautiful flowers. Her uncle, Hades the King of the Underworld, fancied Persephone and wanted her to be his wife; one day he thundered out of the Underworld in his chariot and abducted Persephone as she was picking flowers. It happened so swiftly that no-one knew where Persephone had gone, she'd just disappeared. Her mother, Demeter, was grief-stricken and angry; she roamed the earth in search of her daughter, destroying crops and and felling trees.

The Sun God, Helios, had seen what had happened and told Demeter that the King of the Underworld had taken Persephone to be his bride, this made Demeter even more angry and she forbade all plants to grow ever again – the earth would remain barren unless her daughter returned.

After a while, Zeus realised that mankind would die of starvation if this went on, so he sent his messenger Hermes down to the Underworld to find Persephone and bring her back. 

Persephone had refused to become Hades wife and had been on hunger-strike since arriving in the Underworld. When Hermes arrived to collect her, the King of the Underworld agreed to let her go home, then as a parting gesture Hades offered Persephone a pomegranate as a snack to give her strength for the journey home, she couldn't resist eating some of the juicy seeds . . . but it was a trick . . . anyone who eats the food of the Underworld can never leave! 

Persephone was stuck in the Underworld, the Earth was cold and dead – climate change of the most extreme kind!

Granny to the rescue . . . Rhea, Persephone's grandmother, came up with a sensible compromise - Persephone should return to the World and Demeter should allow the plants and crops to flourish, BUT each year for three months Persephone must go back down to the Underworld. Each time her daughter was absent, Demeter made the earth cold and the plants died – but when Persephone returned she made them grow again. Seasonal change restored.

Millennia ago, people needed to explain the seasons and give themselves hope that Spring would return and their food crops would grow. They needed someone to blame for the destructive power of nature – the cold weather and the dying plants. Without long-range weather forecasts and satellite images tracking the jet-stream, they needed hope that Persephone would return and that Demeter would allow the plants to grow again.

As I knitted and watched the evening news reports of the destructive power of storm after winter storm lashing Britain and floods destroying crops and threatening livestock with starvation, I thought about our confusion and need to blame something or someone.  

We are too educated to blame Hades abducting Persephone, too knowledgeable about weather patterns and anticyclones. But frightened by the realisation that there are powers of nature beyond our control. The stories of the great winter storms of 2013/14 are intertwined into my shawl.

The reverse side has a texture like an ancient woven kilim and the colours look faded by time.

My new shawl has the feel of an old treasured fabric.

I'll wear it in winter and know that Spring will come.


Sunday 16 February 2014

100 Flowers : #009 Golden Crocus

Is the sun shining? Today really feels like the calm after the storms, wonderful blue sky and bright light, warm in a sheltered spot – a taster of Spring! So, although I had other ideas planned for flower #9, I knew when I saw the glowing golden flowers under the Silver Birch tree, it had to be . . .

#009 : Crocus chrysanthus

Golden Crocus

It wasn't until I started doing some reading before writing this blogpost, that I realised quite how many Crocus species there are and all the variations and hybrids too. The ones that have flourished in our lawn were from a bag of mixed 'Species Crocus', small dainty crocuses, less showy than the big goblet shaped 

Dutch Crocus (Crocus vernus)I think that these are Crocus chysanthus – you can see the beautiful dark markings on the outside of the buds before the golden flowers open when the sun warms them. 

The name 'Crocus' is derived from an ancient Aramaic or Hebrew name meaning 'saffron' (the Saffron Crocus is Crocus sativus, a different but related species). 'Chrysanthus' means 'golden flower'.

And that's just what these little flowers become as the sun warms them and they open and glow like golden flames in the grass. 

Last year I visited Myddleton House in North London and saw the E A Bowles collection of Crocuses neatly lined up in pots in a cold frame. I expect they are coming into bloom now . . . worth a visit if you are in the area. E A Bowles 'The Crocus King' was a fan of these delicate little Spring flowers and the subtle variations in markings and colours on the outer petals. Today, kneeling on the grass taking these photos, I could see the attraction.

Thank you for the comments on the previous 100 Flowers blogposts  . . . I very much enjoy reading all of them.


Monday 10 February 2014

A song in my heart and a skip in my step

In early January I spotted a hare racing along a field edge which was at my eye-level as I drove along one of the sunken lanes which are common in Suffolk; the hare seemed to keep pace with my car and I could see clearly how she stretched out airborn for a second between bounds – a perfect image for a new linocut . . .

. . . you can follow the making of the second print, 'A song in my heart', here on the emc design blog, an idea that sprung from Sophie and Mike virtually bumping into me on Instagram at New Year.

'A skip in my step' and 'A song in my heart' add to my series of small prints perfect for Valentine's Day. Both prints are available unframed from my website; the framed prints have already found their way to Cambridge Contemporary Art, the Jessica Muir Gallery in Long Melford and the Church Street Gallery in Saffron Walden.

Cards based on the new linocuts are available from my etsy shop. These cards cost £3 each, which includes postage to the UK* and a donation to a UK wildlife charity – 'A song in my heart' supports the RSPB and 'A skip in my step' supports the Hare Preservation Trust


Saturday 8 February 2014

100 Flowers : #008 Hazel

A sure sign of Spring . . .

#008 : Corylus avellana


Probably one of the most common trees in England, found in almost every hedgerow and wood; once every village would have had access to a woodland of coppiced Hazel to provide essential, flexible, renewable poles and rods for countless craftsmen to make into useful everyday things.

The botanist and great namer of plants, Linneaus, named the Hazel Corylus avellana which means Tree from Avella (in Italy) he was referring to Leonhart Fuchs, in his book 'De historia stirpium commentarii insignes' written in 1542, described the species as "Avellana nux sylvestris" (‘Wild nuts of Avella’).

Of course it's the Hazel catkins we look for as a sure sign that Spring is on its way.

Lot of catkins, shaking like lambs' tails in the hedges means lots of nuts in autumn . . . well maybe but not necessarily . . .

The long dangly catkins are the male flowers, they shake and puffs of yellow pollen can be seen . . . hopefully some pollen will land on the female flowers

– those tiny red stars on the end of fat little buds.

Looking like a sea-urchin and such an unexpected vivid colour to find on the olive green, furry twigs.

But, remember . . . don't count your nuts before they're ripe, especially if you have squirrels visiting the garden.


Friday 7 February 2014

100 Flowers : #007 Witch Hazel

At last it's flowered! . . .

#007 : Hamamelis mollis

Chinese Witch Hazel

A few years ago I bought Cliff a Witch Hazel as a Christmas present, we'd admired them in the beautiful Winter Garden at Anglesey Abbey. It was in flower in flower when I bought it, but apart from the odd petal it hadn't flowered again until this year – and it's putting on a good show for us.

The fragrance is only really noticeable when the flower is warmed by the sun (or when you breath on it before sniffing).

The botanical name is a bit of a muddle, I've read two meanings for Hamamelis, either it's the Greek name for the Medlar tree or it means the the fruit and flowers are on the plant at the same time . . . perhaps someone can expand on this?
Mollis means soft, and refers to the leaves which feel furry, like felt.

Close up you can see the four deep burgundy red sepals of each little flower and the long yellow petals unfurl like golden silk streamers.

The medicinal Witch Hazel apparently comes from the bark of the North American Witch Hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, which flowers in the Autumn. "Witch" derives from the Old English word "wice" meaning bendable, the early settlers found that the North American shrub could be put to similar uses as the Hazel they were familiar with back in England . . . for weaving into fences, baskets and wattle for building wall; and also for making dowsing rods – this use seemed to give Hazel rods magical powers and this may have given the name "Witch Hazel" a deeper meaning.

I haven't tried dowsing with Witch Hazel rods . . . a bent wire coat hanger works just fine for me.


Monday 3 February 2014

100 Flowers : #006 Snowdrop

It had to come along sooner or later . . .

#006 : Galanthus nivalis


The mild weather has meant a relatively early flowering for the Snowdrops in our garden. I wanted to write this post in January, but last week was very busy, I realise now that the perfect day for a blogpost about Snowdrops or Candlemas Bells was yesterday, the 2nd February, Candlemas Day.

The botanical name's meaning is beautifully straightforward –
Galanthus : is from the greek 'gala' meaning 'milk' and 'anthos' which means flower.
nivalis : means 'of the snow'
. . . milk-white flowers that appear in the snow

For some the allure of this diminutive white flower, that appears in the coldest time of the year for a few weeks, is irresistible; it is the tiniest of variations of petal markings that sends them into raptures of delight. If you happen to spot a group of people squatting down, peering at the ground in a shady wooded garden, they may be Galanthophiles. There are specialist nurseries such as this one that I regularly drive past on the edge of the Fens, selling named varieties and some people will pay high sums to obtain the rarest of Snowdrops.

I don't consider myself to be a Galanthophile, but I can appreciate the beauty of the flowers and their subtle perfume. I actually prefer the single blooms, we have a few different ones in our garden but I've lost their labels. There are far more of the double ones (Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus 'Flora Pleno'), I suppose that because they have been in the garden for longer they have self-seeded and spread. Taking close-up photos of the flowers is very tricky, they like to grow in shady spots and the slightest breeze makes them quiver. I picked two Snowdrops to photograph indoors, both were doubles . . .

These are flowers from two different clumps of Snowdrops, you can see a slight difference between them . . . that's what Galanthophiles get shivers of excitement about . . . tiny variations in the little green mark on the inner petals and the size and shape of the ovary behind the flower.

Because the flower hangs downward you have to turn them over to appreciate the pretty rosette of white and green petals and the yellow anthers tucked inbetween.

TO A SNOWDROP by William Wordsworth 
Written in 1819

Lone Flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they 
But hardier far, once more I see thee bend
Thy forehead, as if fearful to offend,
Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day,
Storms, sallying from the mountain-tops, waylay
The rising sun, and on the plains descend;
Yet art thou welcome, welcome as a friend
Whose zeal outruns his promise! Blue-eyed May
Shall soon behold this border thickly set
With bright jonquils, their odours lavishing
On the soft west-wind and his frolic peers;
Nor will I then thy modest grace forget,
Chaste Snowdrop, venturous harbinger of Spring,
And pensive monitor of fleeting years!

Maybe that's the attraction for a Galanthophile . . . a once a year fix! Miss your chance and you'll have a wait a whole year to see your precious blooms again.


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