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.

Monday 31 March 2014

Neapolitan interlude


Last week Cliff and I popped over to Italy to explore some places around the Bay of Naples . . .

. . . and enjoy some local cuisine 

we explored the ancient streets of Pompeii . . .

were blown away by the frecoes at Oplontis and Herculaneum . . .

the skilful decorative brushwork . . .

the observations from nature . . .

as lively as the finches that twitter and flutter over the ruins today 

we walked on 2000 year old floors that would look great in an interior today

the brooding presence of Versuvius was always within sight . . . a violent thunder storm raged around us as we stood where Pliny had watched the eruption in AD79 

we ventured into Naples – down narrow streets like deep gorges surging with a mix of sharp modernity, decaying grandeur and an undercurrent of menace

and there in Naples I discovered the delight of a crispy, custardy, lemony sweet Sfogliatella

a place for tired feet at the end of each day

and almost next door to the best Gelataria we've ever found . . . the flavours we tried (six!) were superb, this one is quite possibly the best pistachio ice-cream in the whole world – it may not green (because it doesn't contain any artificial colourings) but it tastes sublime!

six days was enough to recharge the batteries


Wednesday 19 March 2014

The last post

A sad sign of tough times in rural England . . .

For the past 15 years, when I needed to send a parcel, buy stamps, get some cash or pick up a prescription, I have driven to the next small village – just over the gently rolling hills and down into the next valley – to this shop and Post Office.

Over that time there have been three owners – the first I remember was a gently spoken gentleman who eventually went to follow his love of music as an organist/choirmaster after a particularly horrid armed raid (who can blame him); then a sweet lady and her eccentric husband complete with collections of wartime memorabilia, vintage biscuit tins and the train set that was displayed in the window; and finally a young woman who really really wanted to make a success of her local shop. She dusted down the shelves and changed things around, introduced grocery deliveries and veg boxes; but she kept the stools near the counter for elderly residents to sit down and have a gossip or drink a mug of tea.

Sadly it just wasn't enough. I could tell she'd lost heart after Christmas, the through-road had been closed for 10 weeks for the water main to be replaced - no-one could just drop in on their way to or from work, it was the final nail in the coffin.

Today I posted a package to a customer in the US, for me it was probably my final visit – on Friday the post-mistress will lock the door for the very last time.

So next time I need to post a parcel, I will drive in the opposite direction down to the town. In truth the distance from my studio may just be slightly shorter, but I will miss the chatter and local gossip – the two part time shop assistants had been serving in the Post Office for all the years I have used it, so I know them quite well. It was the sort of place where you could ask advice if you had a bee swarm (true story) or go in wearing your messiest gardening clothes and not look out of place. Now I'll have to park in the supermarket car park, walk down to the High Street to the big main Post Office and join the queue for "cashier number ..." 

. . . and I'll have to check I haven't got ink or mud smudges on my face before I go!


Monday 17 March 2014

100 Flowers : #017 Victorian Polyanthus

Probably my favourite  . . .

#017 Primula x Polyantha hybrids


I have memories of the tall stemmed Polyanthus, in wonderful rich shades like a Persian carpet, that carpeted an area of my Gran's garden. The same plants had been split up and planted in my parents garden too.

They weren't the short stemmed, bright bedding Polyanthus you see for sale in pots or planted on pathside municipal bedding, they were beautifully scented and had subtle silky petals.

The only clue I had was that my Gran may have been sent her Polyanthus seeds from America, then I discovered Barnhaven Primroses, these were probably from the same varieties! I bought lots of packets of seeds and the little plantlets were planted along the back of our garden wall – my plan was to move the best colours to borders seen from the house.

This was just before the drought years – remember them?! – the plants I moved didn't survive. But those I left behind the wall have thrived!

Others I planted in a bed shaded by a Blackberry Briar at the end of the vegetable garden, these get more sun and so the flower stalks are shorter.

But among these are some lovely blue shades.

And together they make a pretty carpet of colour.

The plants are getting congested, with many seedlings jostling for space. I really should dig them out and move them back to behind the wall where they were obviously very happy. I should have realise that . . . these are hybrids between wild species of Primroses, Cowslips and Oxlips and where do these grow tallest and best . . . in shady woodland and damp grassy banks shaded by hedges.

They make lovely cut flowers, just a few stems making a beautiful posy.

Writing the #100Flowers blog posts is dangerous! I have revisited the Barnhaven web page, I now feel a need to grow some more different colours!



Sunday 16 March 2014

Oh my ears and whiskers!

"If we get up now we could go hare spotting"

We drove to our favourite 'hare spotting' location and started walking, it took a little while before we saw one . . .  two, three, four! (And five! - one just out of shot.)

You have to know what to look for, a hare at rest looks very like a clod of earth.

Until they move to graze on the winter wheat shoots . . . then you can seen the ears.

No boxing this morning, they seem settled in pairs. 

Ears pricked. Whiskers twitching. We've been spotted!

Showing us a clean pair of heels as they race to the far end of the field.

A lovely morning to be out in the fresh air . . . a bright blue sky and white Cherry-Plum blossom.

Golden Kingcups on the pond edges.

Bright lime-green leaves breaking on the Weeping Willows.

'Bread and cheese' – Hawthorn hedges greening.

The Badgers have been busy cleaning and extending their sett.

9 a.m. beginning to cloud over.

Time to head off home . . . yes this is a footpath, the farmer has recently rolled the field to sow Spring Barley and will re-instate the track when the crop starts to grow. We are heading straight across to a small marker post on the wood edge.

Back home before 10 a.m. and sitting on the sofa in the sunshine, with a cup of tea and slice and toasted and buttered Barmbrack that we bought yesterday as a treat.


Wednesday 12 March 2014

100 Flowers : #016 Daffodil

The sun is out and so are the daffs!

#016 Narcissus pseudonarcissus


Suddenly, there they were! The buds burst and the clump of Daffodils planted in our patio, were all in full flower. Two different varieties of petite Daffodils, I don't have records of the exact names, but I love these smaller varieties with long narrow trumpets and turned back petals.

Perfect, clean, bright sunshine yellow – the epitome of Spring. Narcissus is greek for . . . 'narcissus', and no-one knows if the mythical beautiful youth, Narcissus – who gazed at his beautiful reflection in a pool until he swooned and fell into the water and drowned – is named after the flower or gave his name to the flower that sprang up after he died.

The name 'Daffodil' was originally 'Affodell' (a confusion with the name of another bulbous plant, the Asphodel) and in Holland where the flowers were, and are, very popular, it is 'De Affodil' or in England that got changed to 'Daffodown Dilly'  . . .

Daffodowndilly by A A Milne

She wore her yellow sun-bonnet, She wore her greenest gown; She turned to the south wind And curtsied up and down. She turned to the sunlight And shook her yellow head, And whispered to her neighbour: "Winter is dead."

Except this one just talks to herself . . . or to the violets!

Last weekend we re-visted Myddleton House Gardens, the little valley leading to the rock garden was a carpet of nodding daffodils. We came home and looked at the handful of daffs in our garden and made a mental note to plant lots more later this year. In fact a 'mental note' won't do, I'll put a large post-it note in my desk diary 'PLANT LOTS OF DAFFODILS'.


Friday 7 March 2014

100 Flowers : #015 Primrose

It really feels like Spring now . . .

#015 Primula vulgaris


The name says it all, these aren't winter flowers - these are the first flowers of Spring. Prima Rosa, Old French for 'the first rose' and the botanical name, Primula is the feminine diminutive of 'first'. There are dozens of Primula species, but this is wild Primrose of the hedgerows and woodland edges – vulgaris means common.

When we moved here, I was pleased to see a few clumps of wild primroses on the edges of the garden. We have done nothing but let them self seed, now the edge of our gravel front yard is a carpet of pale yellow Primroses.

In the vegetable plot under the apple trees we've allowed them to spread into the grass, only mowing when the seeds have ripened. These plants are near to the area where I grow Victorian style Polyanthus (hybrids between Primroses and Cowslips) so inevitable the plants have cross pollinated. Only a mad horticultural dictator would weed out the coloured Primroses . . . I'm celebrating the diversity. 

I've picked one flower from each plant . . . every single one is different! Unique in its pastel shade and petal shape. 

The soft scent is beautiful too, they smell of a beautiful sunny Spring day!

In the photo below, you can clearly see the two different forms of flower – 'thrum eyed' on the left and 'pin eyed' on the right. This is very clearly explained here.

Each year the mix of colours changes, I look for my favourites and hunt for new ones. They are unique to our garden.

And today I spotted the first Brimstone butterfly of the year . . . always a special sight!


Wednesday 5 March 2014

100 Flowers : #014 Sweet Violet

An English country garden isn't complete without . . .

#014 Viola odorata

Sweet Violet

Viola is the colour of violets . . . a blue-mauve, the most common colour of wild violets. And of course odorata means 'scented' – in the case of Sweet Violets a beautiful but fleeting scent that teases the nose with a chemical, ionine, that deadens the scent receptors, making the scent disappear almost at the moment it is detected.

Of course Sweet Violets aren't always violet in colour, in old cottage gardens and churchyards it isn't unusual to come across patches of white Violets – I wonder if they have been encouraged to grow because they are different from the usual?

I've found that Sweet Violets choose where they prefer to grow, the violet colour ones grow in sunny patches at the base of our garden wall, the white ones have colonised a spot beneath the box hedge and among the Bearded Iris roots. My mother gave me some beautiful bright red-purple Violets that she'd been given by my piano teacher, we call them 'Paul's Violets'. I planted them at the base of the wall where the sun shines on them in the afternoon - they disappeared. But this year look what's appeared in the lawn!

Bright little open flowers with an enticing scent -  you'd expect them to be pollinated by insects, but they flower very early in the year and there aren't many insects about – but Sweet Violets have a cunning Plan B . . .

. . . later in the year the plant will produce curious small flowers at the base of the plant just above the roots, these are known as 'cleistogamous' flowers - 'kleistos' = closed, 'gamous' = marriage. These weird little insignificant buds are self-fertile and produce seeds which are clones of the parent. I find that quite amazing and had no idea that this was going on, I'll be crawling round with a magnifying glass later in the year!

Sweet Violet leaves and flowers are edible, not only are they prized for the scent and flavour of the flowers but the leaves have been used in medicines for centuries and cultivation of Sweet Violets has been an important business for over 2000 years - the leaves have been found to contain high levels of Vitamin C, A and salicylic acid.

Stratford-upon-Avon was once famed for its Sweet Violets which grew wild in the woods around the town and were cultivated for medicines and perfume. This may explain William Shakespeare's many mentions of Violets in his plays and sonnets

SONNET 99 by William Shakespeare c. 1599

The forward violet thus did I chide:
Sweet thief, whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells,
If not from my love's breath? The purple pride
Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells
In my love's veins thou hast too grossly dyed.
The lily I condemned for thy hand,
And buds of marjoram had stol'n thy hair:
The roses fearfully on thorns did stand,
One blushing shame, another white despair;
A third, nor red nor white, had stol'n of both
And to his robbery had annex'd thy breath;
But, for his theft, in pride of all his growth
A vengeful canker eat him up to death.
   More flowers I noted, yet I none could see
   But sweet or colour it had stol'n from thee.