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 26 May 2014

Muck sweat and gardening

I am going to attempt to write this blog post on my iPad from the garden bench where I'm resting after a few hours of hard labour...

I have cut down all the neck high nettles and comfrey from along the side of the garden wall

I have dug out the oldest of our two compost heaps that's more than a year's worth of hen muck and bedding from the hen house, lawn mowings and weeds - it hasn't been touched for over a year and was very well rotted down.

First the nettles and comfrey where tipped into the pit I'd dug out from the old Three Sisters mound (the soil from here has been used to pot up tomatoes) and then I covered them with the well rotted compost and raked it into a smooth mound.

We will be relocating the compost heaps to the far end of the garden, on the edge of The Wild Wood, so the other compost heap will also be dug out this summer.

Next I will make huge structure for the Runner Beans to climb up and put it in the centre of the mound before planting the pot grown Runner Beans around it and Courgettes and Cucumbers around the edge. By 'next' I mean 'another day'. I think I'll now have a shower, have some lunch and put my feet up!


Sunday 25 May 2014

The Winner of the Chelsea-themed Give-away is . . .

Thank you for all the comments after my Chelsea Flower Show blog post.
Anonymous and spam comments do not qualify.

The remaining 46 are being put through Cliff's random selection process (he has not looked at the comments list before making up the rules)

You are the winner if . . .

The 3rd letter of your blogging name is a vowel

There is an even number of characters in your blogging name

1st letter of the 3rd word in your comment is earliest in the alphabet

(The tie breaker wasn't needed)

It's Pookledo!

Please email me your address to studio at celiahart dot co dot uk
and your prize will be in the post soon xx

Wishing you all a happy and relaxing Bank Holiday


Tuesday 20 May 2014

RHS Chelsea 2014 - who am my to judge? ... and a giveaway!

Some you you may remember that last year I entered the RHS Gardening Blogs 2013 competition and to my astonishment I was shortlisted for the public vote for the winner. I didn't come first but I did receive a runners-up prize which arrived just the other week . . . a Press Pass and official wrist band for the Preview Day of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014!

As I'm wearing my Press badge I thought I ought to write a report – and as a reward for reading it and making a comment, you can enter into the draw for a Chelsea themed prize, Yay!
Entries to the draw now closed - but you may still comment if you wish.

Before setting off for Chelsea I looked at the twitterings on Twitter I discovered other bloggers who would also be there, so we arranged a 'Tweet-up', here are my Twitter/Blogging friends in real life . . .

Alison, Helen, David, Mark & Gaz, Harriet and Sarah

David had won First Prize in the RHS Gardening Blog competition and like me was new to the experience of Press-Day, the others are seasoned Chelsea Press Day bloggers, so I'll leave it to them to do proper reviews of the show gardens and displays. You can hop over to their blogs from here . . .
Mark & Gaz - Alternative Eden
and Sarah aka Matron - Down on the Allotment

So, as you can find any number of beautiful images of all the show gardens and displays on the offical RHS web site or the BBC Chelsea pages, I'll give you a more personal view from the side lines . . .

After picking up my free Show Catalogue from the Press Office and threading my way through the TV camera crews and wandering celebrities along Main Avenue, I headed around the corner to find the Fresh Gardens "innovative, informative and sometimes challenging". I was looking out for Janey Auchincloss who lives not far from me in SW Suffolk and who has co-designed and built the Himalayan Rock Garden – I found her making last minute checks to her garden . . . 

Janey explained that all the plants chosen for the garden either originate in the Himalayas or have cultural links to the area – I particularly liked the use of the Marigolds threading through the more natural planting like garlands that are seen placed on the mountain shrines. 

This may 'just' look like some plants growing on a stoney mountain path - but remember it's all been put together in a few weeks on a show stand, every pebble carefully placed by hand. Talking with Janey made me appreciate all the care and thought and hard work that goes into all the exhibits.

At lunch time the Tweet-up ajourned to a shady table in one of the Food areas for liquid refreshments and some rather nice pulled-pork and apple sauce buns. With Helen, Alison, David, Gaz & Mark and Harriet (sorry Mark and Harriet didn't fit into the photo) we discussed which gardens we liked best and the ones some of us weren't that struck by (apologies to Mr T

I don't pretend to be qualified to criticise a Chelsea Show Garden and it's over 10 years since I visited the show (on a hot and crowded public day) but I noticed a certain 'look' common to many – the space divided into rectangles, some paved, some with water, a patch of 'naturalistic planting' under a multi-trunked tree and a rectangle of white stone breaking up the hedge at the back.

The medals and winners were announced this morning and this was the overall Best in Show - so what do I know! The RHS now judge gardens on Design, Delivery, Atmosphere, Planting and Construction and points are awarded in each section then added up and . . . points mean prizes!

Points or whatever, I did like the yellow lupins in the 'planting' and how they show up in the shadows under the tree.

Yesterday before the prize winners were announced, the buzz was all about the new blood that had been injected into Chelsea, young designers making their debut with Show Gardens on Main Avenue . . .

Would Hugo scoop the top accolade with his Waterscape Garden? This was one of my favourites and I loved the blue irises!

Or would Matthew take the prize with the The Brewin Dolphin Garden which included some beautiful plant combinations, like the blue irises growing through the lovely yellowy-orangy ferns.

And then there's the Rich brothers Vital Earth the Night Sky Garden with its muted rusty, palette spangled with white starry flowers.

It gave everyone something to discuss and there was fresh young talent to interview - which I think is a good thing, as Chelsea was on the verge of becoming a stuffy old institution.

This morning I thought about why Hugo, Matthew and the Rich brothers may have missed the top prize . . . did they try to put too much in their gardens? More plants and more different surfaces and elements to be a teeny bit below par and bring the marks down? I found each of their gardens full of interest and they were "gardens" I would have been very happy to spend time in. I'll leave my opinions there.

My favourite Show Garden was Cleve West's Paradise Garden . . . here it is graced with a panoply of BBC celebrities.

The bright sunshine and heat yesterday perfectly showed off this garden's design – the foreground is the stony sandy desert with plants and shrubs suited to such a habitat. In the shade at the back is a formal garden planted around a stone fountain. The flowers in the shade where in cool shades of blue, mauve and white. Most of the plants used in Cleve's garden are perfectly suited to my dry Suffolk garden, so this was very inspiring.

The BBC were busy filming in all the gardens over the course of the day, here's Monty emphasising a point with his pointy stick and Joe looking a bit over-dressed in his suit.

The Great Pavilion is where are the plant displays are to be found, it is huge, I mean really really VAST! In fact it was overwhelming in scent and colour and sheer numbers of stands to see.

There were magical mountains of exotic orchids

Improbably immaculate vegetable gardens

Even Purple Podded Peas!

I loved this exuberant arrangement of flowers, fruit and vegetables all from British Growers . . . and yes, that is a Hairy Biker.

Like many of this year's exhibits, the inspiration for this display of Heucheras is the horror of the trenches and WWI for both men and horses.

I was lucky to be standing near to the No Man's Land garden when the War Horse puppet trotted past (my strategy of ushering the lady Chelsea Pensioners past me for a better look, meant I could take a photo before the media pack elbowed me out of the way).

At regular intervals through the day, signalled by a bugle call, various celebrities read war poems. Earlier I'd heard Rowan Atkinson do his reading (overheard... "he actually has rather a good voice", well he wasn't going to read it as Mr Bean or Blackadder!) and when I wandered past again, Jeremy Paxman was just taking the stage so I stopped and listened and he was rather good – introducing and reading The Soldier by Rupert Brooke and Dulce et Decorum est by Wilfred Owen. It was very moving and he got an appreciative round of applause. 

Oh gosh! I was running out of time and hadn't yet seen the Artisan Gardens! These are tiny plots on a raised bank along a shady pathway far from the jamboree of Main Avenue. It was a pleasure to be in the shade and the Artisan Gardens didn't disappoint.

My absolute favourite was Togenkyo - A Paradise on Earth by the Japanese designer Ishihara Kauyuki. And here's the man himself, with his interpreter, explaining to a TV crew the meaning of his garden . . . Togenkyo is a fabled beautiful landscape/garden that takes away one's troubles – but can only be visited once in your life time.

Ishihara's intricate and exquisite garden is designed to fix the image of Togenkyo into the your mind so it can be recalled to calm you in times of stress.

NOW! As a reward for reading my ramblings (or just for scrolling down to the end) I've put together a bag of goodies for one of you to win . . .

all you have to do is leave a comment after this post and next Sunday, 25th May I'll select a winner - by a random draw . . . what you will win is

An official RHS Chelsea Flower Show Bag and badge,
A packet of Tuscan Salad Mix seeds from the lovely generous Paolo of Franchi Seeds of Italy,
A spool of purple wool twine and a packet of purple podded pea seeds from the delightful Kim of Twool,

and five of my greetings cards.

(If you don't have a garden these seeds are also perfect for growing salad leaves and pea shoots on your kitchen window sill, and the twool can be used to tie up parcels.)

I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts about Chelsea


Monday 12 May 2014

100 Flowers : On the wall – Wisteria and Clematis #035 #036

When we moved here 15 years ago I was excited by the idea of gardening in an old walled garden and pictured fruit trees trained along the long West facing wall, replanting the varieties whose lead tags are still nailed to the bricks . . . BUT, yes there was a big 'but', that would have meant removing two mature climbers already in situ. They were unloved, strangled with orange binder twine and with a sterile lawn up to their toes. We made the decision to turn the garden inside out – the vegetables joined the small orchard in the triangular plot outside the walled garden and I set about giving the climbers some TLC and adding a border of flowers and herbs. 

It is in May that we are rewarded for letting them stay . . .

#035 Wisteria sinensis

Chinese Wisteria

It may be an oriental forest climbing plant, but now a Wisteria on the wall is as quintessentially English as tea and scones. Now I have seen the results of my efforts, the ritual of pruning the Wisteria is one of my favourite tasks in late Winter.

Then it's a waiting game, watching for the fat flower buds to form. And watching the weather forecasts for late frosts – a sharp frost around Easter will wipe out the flower buds and there will be no chance of flowers until the next year. Yes, there have been a few years like that.

This year conditions have been perfect (except for the the lack of blue skies and sun when I wanted to take the photographs!) and we have a waterfall of blue/mauve flowers tumbling down the "Suffolk Red" brick wall.

Look closely at the flowers, they are like thousands of tiny Sweet Peas – and they do have a subtle warm scent. Wisterias are a members of the pea family, the seeds are pods of beans, please don't eat them as they are poisonous. The name Wisteria was given to the plant by botanist Thomas Nuttall who said it was in memory of Dr Caspar Wistar, 1761-1818; though there is speculation he was secretly naming it after his friend Charles Jones Wistar of Grumblethorpe in Pennsylvania. 

#036 Clematis montana

Anemone or Mountain Clematis

Clematis literally means 'climbing plant' Clematis montana is a 'vigorous climber' from the mountainous (montana) regions of Asia - from Afghanistan to Taiwan. Our plant is a huge tangle of old stems, twined and layered like a massive bird's nest . . . in fact it is a tenement of bird's nests - Blackbirds, Dunnocks, Robins and Wrens - one year even a Mallard Duck (and she had 13 ducklings) – have all made their homes on our wall. So the tangle stays.

In Spring we notice the seemingly dead stems have signs of life, then as the days lengthen and temperatures rises, suddenly the little dangling buds appear and then one morning when we look out of the bedroom window and the wall is covered with soft pink four-petalled flowers.

Up close you can see each flower on its stiff wiry stem is angled to face the light so they don't touch or hardly overlap; the fluffy central boss of pale yellow stamens in the centres are waiting for visiting bees.

I must update the #100 Flowers Pinterest board, I'm really enjoying following the seasons by recording the flowers in our garden . . . but it's hard to keep up at this time of year, I think the next #100Flowers blog post with have to be a tour of the garden to catch up!


Friday 9 May 2014

Not the only way to Essex

Some of you may have tripped over me on Twitter, there may be corners of Twitter that are bitchy and nasty or rude and sweary – but there are other corners that are on the whole good natured and polite; where people who like making things and growing things, generously share their knowledge.

It was on Twitter early one morning (early mornings is a good time to stumble on Tweets from gardeners, before they put on their boots and head off to their plots) that I discovered @ultingwick aka Philippa, she lives in Essex and likes gardening, art, books, travel and horse racing. I gradually began to realise that Philappa's garden was a bit special!

As often happens on Twitter, virtual acquaintances become real life ones and today Cliff and I drove down to Essex to look around Philippa's garden at Ulting Wick – although officially it wasn't open to the public for the NGS until 2pm, we were allowed to look around in the morning . . . the only other visitors were another Twitter acquaintance @HarietRycroft and her husband – Harriet is head gardener and plant potter-upper extraordinary for Whichford Pottery.

Philippa is a self-confessed tidy gardener – you can see how beautiful the box hedging and lawns and paths are maintained in my top photo. There is a view that wildlife gardens need to be an untidy mess but Ulting Wick dispels that myth, it is a garden full of birds and insects as well as native wildflowers and trees –  while we looked around we heard a Cuckoo and saw Wagtails, Great tits, Blue tits and Swallows flitting to and fro . . . there are Kingfishers too but we didn't spot them.

The Spring highlights of Ulting Wick – tulips – have faded, so the next planned open days will be in late summer to show off the Dahlias. But I'm sure the gardens are beautiful all year, I particulary liked the large wildflower meadow which will be in full bloom in late May/early June – my tip is to follow @ultingwick on Twitter so you don't miss out.

After exploring the garden at Ulting Wick, we took Philippa's advice and headed for the quayside, or Hythe, in Maldon – yes, where the  sea salt comes from.

The town's long High Street flows downhill to the Blackwater Estuary and along the Hythe opposite old cottages, pubs and boatyards, are moored half a dozen old Thames barges – a forest of masts, rigging and furled sails against the blustery sky. The linen sails' traditional red-brown colour was from a waterproofing made from red-ochre earth, cod fish oil and sea water.

Thames barges were once the haulage trucks of the river estuaries and coast of South-East England, today the restored barges take on different roles.

We walked alongside the Blackwater estuary, the tide was at its lowest leaving boats high and dry on the mud. Rain clouds were blowing over fast as we looked back at Maldon Hythe from a distance – but luckily we didn't get wet. 

At the end of the path loomed a huge bronze statue of a Saxon warrior . . . this is Byrhtnoth, the Earldorman of Essex. Byrhtnoth (or Brithnoth, as it is sometimes written) was the leading military figure of Saxon England at the end of the 10th century. He rejected King Ethelred's policy of appeasement to Viking raiders, and at the age of 68 he led an army that confronted the Vikings as they made their way up the Blackwater and came ashore near Maldon on 10th August 991 AD.

What happened on that day would probably have been lost in the mists of time, like many other battles and skirmishes between Saxon militia and Viking raiders – what is different is that The Battle of Maldon was described in detail in an Anglo-Saxon poem, you can read the translation here.

The inscription near the statue tells us that Byrhtnoth "surrendered his life in defence of the people, religion and way of life".

After the battle Byrhtnoth's body was taken to Ely in Cambridgeshire and was buried in the abbey, his widow Aethelflaed, presented the abbey with "a curtain woven and depicted with the deeds of her husband as a memorial of his virtue" – which sounds very much like something that was made to commemorate a later more famous battle

We ended our visited by enjoying a 99 from the park cafe (and very nice ice-cream it was too). I hope you've enjoyed learning a little bit about the Essex that isn't 'the only way'.


Tuesday 6 May 2014

A day out to Calke Abbey

Did you enjoy the May Bank Holiday weekend? I hope you had lovely weather, we certainly did – weather that makes the fresh green leaves zing and bees and butterflies come out to enjoy the blossom and flowers.

We decided to visit Calke Abbey in Derbyshire, it's been on my list of places to visit for years. The house and estate of the eccentric and reclusive Harpur-Crewe family were gifted to the National Trust in 1985 in lieu of death duties – I remember the news coverage at the time. What was actually acquired was a house in desperately bad repair with rooms stuffed full of things that hadn't been touched for decades. With a grant from the nation to make the house sound and waterproof, the decision then had to be made about how to restore the mansion, stables, workers' cottages and gardens . . . and it was decided that the fascination of Calke Abbey was its state of decay – so that's how it has been conserved, an example of a great country house that no longer fitted with the times after WWI and has slid into a state of dishevelment.

Although the house itself is fascinating (especially the tunnel!), it was the gardens that we enjoyed the most. Imagine this vast area filled with vegetables, fruit and flowers for cutting and all the garden staff working – in fact my photo above shows barely half of the walled garden which has been left as a giant walled meadow over which the swallows were swooping low.

However the charming small Physic Garden is now planted with vegetables and fruit bushes . . . where you can meet some genteel scarecrows.

And pop into the gardener's workshop (probably my favourite room on the estate!)

There is something very very special in the garden at Calke Abbey that at this time of year is unmisable – it's the biggest, swankiest Auricula Theatre in the land! It is so special that the National Trust spent a long time carefully restoring it to its full glory . . .

And it's full of Auriculas in old terracotta flower pots, lined up on bright blue wooden shelves. In fact they are more like an audience sitting in a theatre waiting for you to walk onto the stage in front on them.

The Auricula Show will soon be over, but waiting in the wings to replace them are these Scented Leaf Pelargoniums.

The estate and surrounding countryside are beautiful, so we enjoyed a lovely stroll and sat on a grassy hill to eat the fruit cake we'd brought with us.

There was also a huge Craft Fair in the grounds, we had a look around but apart from a handful of stalls it was disappointing. However that wasn't the reason for our visit – we had a really enjoyable and relaxing day in the sunshine.

The plant stall at the National Trust shop didn't have any specialist Auriculas for sale, but I sniffed out a few pots of border Auriculas – they were all similar yellow flowered ones. I picked out one that seemed to have slightly larger flowers with green edges – I think with a little TLC it has potential, and it's a perfect souvenir of the day.