The Wolsey Garden in Autumn

Tucked behind the main buildings of Christchurch Mansion there is a small tranquil garden, the Wolsey Garden, and despite its formal structure it has beds planted in a loose, informal style. The main walkway is bordered with a hedge of clipped yew whilst the smaller beds of the garden are edged with lavender that spills over the paths softening the hard edges.

Entrance to The Wolsey Garden restored in 2006 by The Friends of Christchurch Park.

The garden is planted with a mixture of herbaceous perennials with evergreen domes of yew in the middle of the beds to provide yearlong interest and structure.

Soft, silvery planting.

At this time of the year it is the floriferous lilac asters that bring colour to the design and complement a delicate silvery sculpture that makes an elegant focal point for this small space.

Lilac asters with ‘Triple Mycomorph’ in the background. The sculpture was commissioned and donated by Tom Gondris in memory of his parents.

The sculpture, ‘Triple Mycomorph’ by Bernard Reynolds, was donated to the garden by local businessman and prominent member of The Ipswich Society, Tom Gondris, in memory of his parents Eugen and Else. Tom’s family were a Czechoslovakian Jewish family living in Sudetenland in 1938. When his parents recognised the imminent threat from Hitler they were able to arrange for their only child, Tom, to board the last Kindertransport to leave Czechoslovakia. Nine year old Tom left his home and, sadly never saw his parents again. More about his fascinating life story can be read here.

‘Triple Mycomorph’ by Bernard Reynolds (1915–1997). Aluminium alloy. 1992

When I visited the garden earlier this week it wasn’t only the asters still in flower, but a few semi-double white roses added both colour and a light scent to this quiet and peaceful space.

Before I wrap up this post I must draw your attention to the magnificent, mature cedar that stands on the western boundary of the Wolsey Garden.

Its striking evergreen form will become more and more prominent when its deciduous neighbours drop their leaves as the autumnal changes gather pace.

The delicately refined and the brutally honest

Sometimes a national event becomes a moment to note that nothing is fixed forever. The recent ten days of state mourning and a state funeral is one such example.

Visit any local parish church and you can see how the great and the good have been memorialised in stone or glass to be remembered to the end of time! Naturally, as with most aspects of human society the expression of commemoration is subject to the form of the times and the ability to pay for the memorial. The fine and elaborate tomb of Sir Robert Drury and his wife, Lady Anne, reflects the status they enjoyed whilst alive and the elite memorial fashion of the early sixteenth century.

The tomb of Sir Robert Drury (1456-1536) and his first wife, Lady Anne. Sir Robert was a Knight of the Body to Kings Henry VII and Henry VIII. St Mary’s Church, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

By the time of the eighteenth century more and more middle class professionals and their families were worthy enough and had means enough to be publicly remembered and were able to afford wall monuments.

18th century wall monuments for the great and the good of the locality. St Mary’s, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

But if we revisit the medieval period we find memorials which are less a decorous celebration of a life, but more a prompt to the onlooker to consider their own mortality. One expression of this sentiment is the Transi or Cadaver Tomb. There are over 40 medieval cadaver tombs extant in England and Wales and one of these is for John Baret (d.1467) and it can be found in St Mary’s Church, Bury St Edmunds. Baret was a wealthy cloth merchant and a gentleman of the household of the Abbot of Bury St Edmunds who had his memorial constructed in 1463, four years before his death.

The Cadaver Tomb of John Baret. Limestone. 1463

This particular cadaver tomb is unusual as traditionally the tomb had a clothed human effigy on the top of the tomb, and the naked emaciated corpse below. Baret reversed the convention and had his single-carved, three-quarter sized, naked corpse on the top with his miniature, clothed version below on one side of the tomb in bas-relief.

The miniature, clothed Baret in bas-relief.

Baret also had these words carved near his effigy’s head, “He that wil sadly beholde one with his ie, May se hys owyn merowr and lerne for to die“. (‘He that will sadly behold me with his eye, may see his own morrow and learn for to die’.)

These days it appears we have travelled a long way from the clear-eyed almost brutal memorials of the medieval dead to a time where youth is lauded to such an extent there is almost a denial that death exists at all. If there’s one positive to be taken from the ten days of national mourning, it is that it provided an opportunity for ordinary people to discuss their own experiences of loss and bereavement more openly.

A Small Blue Square

The beginning of autumn often brings a change in the general feel of everyday life. I am always surprised as although the days have been gradually shortening for the last couple of months, it seems as all of a sudden the mornings and evenings are darker.

With these seasonal changes I usually update my shop taking stock of the different colours available and adjust my homepage to reflect the new season. And, this time, I have also added my latest small, blue scarf – Jiann Ink.

Jiann Ink on the frame before steaming.

It is one of a series that I have recently finished. I guess this blue feels more like winter than autumn, but we won’t go down that route yet despite the fact that some of us have already been reminded by craft fairs etc. about C. Sorry I can’t bring myself to mention that festive occasion quite this early.

First Days at School

My sister and I. Left, her first day at primary school, middle, identically dressed as usual (but ?) and right, her first day at secondary school.

It’s the beginning of September and it’s that time of year again for some – the return to school. I have a vague recollection of being instructed by my mother to make sure my sister arrived at the correct classroom on her first day at primary school (picture above left).

Fast forward a generation and this is my daughter ready for her first day at school. The bunch of sunflowers was nearly bigger than her.

My daughter ready for her first day at school. She doesn’t look it, but she was very keen and excited.

Recalling another family photograph I dug out this old picture below. It seems flowers for the teacher was a tradition embraced by our family.

If you were wondering what the grotesque puppet I am holding is supposed to be, well, it was Queen Elizabeth I. A junior school papier-mâché project that took all term and was finished at home during the holidays – oh what fun!

Four Days of Angst

Well, this has been a week I wouldn’t want to repeat.

C O M P U T E R problems.

It’s now Friday and September and I feel I’ve been out of the loop for months not just a week. The problems started with my computer after I did the system ’emergency’ update. You might even have heard about it in the news. Apple issued a warning that required people to update their computers and their phones.

My updates went fine until I switched on the computer the next day and my security software starting informing me my computer was vulnerable and now unprotected. Oh the stress. And, it was particularly irritating as each time I thought I had followed the instructions to solve the problem and it had succeeded, 10-15 minutes later, it all kicked off again. To cut a long saga short, and with fingers crossed, I think it’s finally working properly again.

Now I know you’re all thinking these days we can post to our blogs from our phones and folks like me can also similarly access our online businesses too, BUT last weekend I dropped my phone. Now it isn’t working properly, and that’s an understatement! Along with a damaged screen half the functions have disappeared and you need the patience of a saint coaxing it into life.

Rather annoyingly it is going to mean buying a replacement, but the good news is I’ve written this post on my computer and all is operating normally. I am relieved as I have also been able to check the status of my online shop – looks okay, hooray.

In the end, all I can say is that the current hot orange of my shop’s homepage somewhat reflects how I have felt about modern technology this past week. Of course, I’ve been more hot and bothered than hot and orange although the security warnings did light up my screen with orange text.

Is this still summer?

It’s late August and across the local park it is looking more like late September. This situation is all down to the drought of course. The grass can be dried to a crispy brown and it will still regrow with the first serious rainfall, however not so for the trees. Some of the big ol’ mature trees in Christchurch Park have decided to cut their losses for this year and drop their leaves early.

A false autumn in Christchurch Park.

I think you can see from the photographs that some varieties are coping better than others. It is mostly the horse chestnuts, possibly weakened by disease, that are taking the biggest hit and are already standing amongst a carpet of dead leaves. I hope they are strong enough to make a full return next year.

Horse chestnuts giving up for this season.

Somethings that won’t be in the park next year are the decorated model owls of Ipswich’s art trail for summer 2022, ‘The Big Hoot‘. This owl might have been named ‘Skool’s Owt’, but with its questioning expression and smart uniform it now stands before an empty playground littered with fallen leaves, and instead appears to be heralding the arrival of autumn and the return to school.

‘Skool’s Owt’ created by Peter Poole is part of ‘The Big Hoot’ Ipswich’s Summer 2022 art trail.

August flowers – it’s dahlia time

It’s the middle of August and during the drought the slugs and snails fared badly which means the dahlias did well, with nearly all of them being healthy and strong enough to flower this year.

I grow all but a couple of my dahlia plants in pots. It is not really ideal for them by a long way and has meant regular watering and feeding. I always use a watering can so I can gauge how much water each pot receives. It is time-consuming and tiresome, but essential. Flowering has been better this year with all the sun, but it’s also the first dahlia season since the big ol’ eucalyptus in a neighbouring yard bit the dust.

Dahlia ‘Jowey Minnie’ on the kitchen table.

Of course, dahlias are for me a great source of colour inspiration, but new this year there’s been some interesting almost structural shapeliness with the arrival of dahlia ‘Jowey Minnie’. I think you can appreciate their form more easily in the black and white and muted photographs below than when you’re being distracted by all that colour.

Same flower arrangement. Black and white, muted colour and full colour.

A clear close up of the arrangement shows the fascinating form of ‘Jowey Minnie’. Interesting to us humans, but less so to the bees and butterflies as the complex, tight shape does not make for easy access to the nectar.

Dahlias ‘Jowey Minnie’, ‘Totally Tangerine’. ‘Blue Bayou’ and ‘Bishop of Canterbury’ with ammi visnaga.

Single-flowered dahlias are preferable for pollinators, but even better are the tiny, nectar-rich, easy access flowers of ammi visnaga.

Ammi visnaga, white cosmos and borage. Left fading, right faded and soon for the compost bin.

Yesterday, we finally had some proper rain showers here in Ipswich. The forecast had been for short, but heavy downpours and so on Tuesday evening I cut the few remaining roses that had coped with the recent high temperatures.

Re-reading this it does seem as though gardening is somewhat of a trial, but I enjoy being outside, the physical activity and the rewarding outcome -beautiful flowers. At the same time gardening has made me very, very aware of the precarious nature of food production.

This year it looks as if I will harvest plenty of pears, but have had only a single plum! It was unblemished, sweet and delicious. There were three sweet cherries (yes, that’s only three!) and the birds got all three. There are plenty of figlets, but I don’t expect these to mature and ripen unless we have a long Indian summer. These are a second crop of figs as the very early first crop mysteriously failed. If we hear folk complaining about ‘wonky’ fruit in the shops we should just be pleased there’s fruit at all.

Roses ‘Breath of Life’, ‘L’Aimant’ and ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ with sweet peas and borage.

The Doll’s Toy Bazaar

Last week I had to ring an information telephone number and when my call was connected I was informed the current waiting time was 60 minutes. Interestingly the voice didn’t say one hour, but 60 minutes. Maybe, they think you’ll mishear and be hoping it was only going to be a 16 minute wait. Eventually after 57 minutes of holding on, I spoke to a human who endeavoured to help, but when they attempted to put me through to another department the advisor inadvertently cut me off.

Momentarily I was stunned. Disbelief was rapidly followed by R A G E. My blood pressure must have rocketed into the stratosphere. I felt I needed to get out of the house as quickly as possible. Breathe some fresh air. Go for a walk. Visit somewhere soothing and peaceful.

I strolled over to Christchurch Mansion which is near to where I live and at 10.15 on an August weekday morning it was open and thankfully still quiet. Of course, I have visited the Mansion on a number of occasions since I moved to Ipswich, but as yet had never investigated the Toy Room. To my surprise, along with the usual faded dolls and well-cuddled teddy bears, there was this fascinating gem. It is a Victorian Glass Dome display called the Doll’s Toy Bazaar.

The Doll’s Toy Bazaar is roughly 22 inches tall by 18 inches wide by 12 inches deep.

It’s difficult to understand the scale of this piece from photographs even when estimated measurements are given so I thought I’d include a sequence of photographs with ‘normal sized’ reference points.

Left, dome on the middle shelf of the case next to a doorway. Centre, dome above the antique dolls. Right – a little hard to see, but me with my phone in the toy mirror.
An aerial view of the Doll’s Toy Bazaar show it’s not as cluttered as it first appears.

The Doll’s Toy Bazaar is packed with miniature versions of familiar homeware. It’s relatively easy to spot candlesticks, glasses, porcelain ornaments and a few crocheted doilies.

Candlesticks, bottles, ornaments and a couple of white egg cups.

But something I didn’t notice until I looked at my photographs was this grouping of three very tiny houses. I think you can tell how small they are by the brush behind which has a head of bristles the size of a modern toothbrush head.

A model of three tiny houses – a toy for a Doll’s house nursery perhaps?

Looking at the entirety of the Doll’s Toy Bazaar made me consider the nature of the person who had collected and selected and arranged this display. Her name was Henrietta Clarke and she died in 1869. I’ve not been able to find out anything else about this Victorian woman at all. There’s no indication of her marital status or age at the time of making the display nor even if she grew to adulthood.

Mind you examining her creation we might presume that she had had steady hands and a patient temperament although lurking beneath the Victorian etiquette of feminine passivity there might have been an inner core of turmoil and vexation.

Doll’s house drinking glasses. Each glass is the size of your little finger’s finger nail.

Unusual For Me

What is unusual for me? Answer – hot weather equals working with really hot colours. Yes, but that’s not the entire answer.

Photomontage of orange and pink dahlias for colour palette.

How about hot weather means being inspired by the rich colours of the seasonal flowers? Well, yes that’s sort of right again, but not the full answer.

Painting the same scarf design with the same colours twice? Yes, that is the precise answer. And actually, when I think about it is the first time I’ve done just that, although the two scarves have ended up the same(ish), they are different sizes.

In the past I have often painted the same basic design in different colour ways, but repeating the same design and with the same palette is new for me. And, of course, it is now very clear that accurately repeating my work simply isn’t possible.

I guess this unrepeatable quality is why handcrafted work is appreciated more than identical, laser printed copies or even screen-printed pieces.

A New (-ish) Organ for an Old Church

Last month I went to an organ and voice recital at St Bartholomew’s Church, Orford, on the Suffolk Coast. It was part of the 2022 Aldeburgh Festival and the recital was a sellout for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the youthful, passionate and exceedingly energetic organist, Anna Lapwood, was performing and, secondly, she was demonstrating her prodigious talent playing the Peter Collins organ newly installed in the church.

The Peter Collins Organ installed in 2019, in St Bartholomew’s Church, Orford, Suffolk.

Strictly speaking the organ is not a new organ, but new to this church. It was a gift from the University of Southampton. The organ was originally built in 1977 by Peter Collins for the Turner Sims Concert Hall in Southampton.

An organ such as this to be built from new for St Bartholomew’s would have cost £600,000. However, as a gift from the university together with some successful fundraising to acquire the £120,000 needed for the renovation and installation, St Bartholomew’s gained a magnificent instrument.

The organ lit by the late afternoon sun, 25th June, 2022.

Perhaps, you are wondering why a medieval church in a small, picturesque Suffolk village, essentially on the road to nowhere, at the edge of a county, on the North Sea coast, would warrant such a special organ. Well, the answer is Benjamin Britten. He lived for much of his life in Aldeburgh and Aldeburgh is only 11 miles along the Suffolk country lanes to Orford. Also, this Suffolk church has fine acoustics for recording and was chosen by Britten for the world premieres of his works the ‘Three Church Parables’ and ‘Noyes Fludde’.

‘Noah’, Liliane Yauner. 1997. Bronze. St Bartholomew’s Church, Orford.
Presented by The Britten-Pears Foundation to Orford Church where the Britten Church Operas were first performed to mark 50 years of the Aldeburgh Festival, June 1997.

It is a remarkable place for a concert or recital being both small enough for a sense of intimacy and yet large enough for the sound to fill the space in such a manner as to engulf the listener.

And, what of the recital? It was glorious. The programme devised by Anna Lapwood (by the way, the first woman in Oxford’s Magdalen College’s, 560-year history to be awarded an organ scholarship) was a series of plainchant pieces followed by an organ work inspired by or linked to the preceding chant.

The concert began with a beautiful solo voice (a Pembroke College, Cambridge, choir member) singing the plainchant ‘Magnificat Primi Toni’ followed by Bach’s ‘Fuga Sopra il Magnificat’ (BWV 733).

After the recital members of the audience chat to Anna Lapwood.

Of course, the programme wouldn’t have been complete without a piece or two by Britten. Anna Lapwood played Britten’s ‘Voluntary on Tallis’ Lamentation’ following the plainchant ‘Lamentation’ by Thomas Tallis. And, towards the end of the programme she played Britten’s ‘Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Vittoria’ following the singing of ‘Ecce Sacerdos Magnus’ by Vittoria.

Finally, and interestingly it turns out that Anna Lapwood has a personal connection through her father to both Benjamin Britten and St Bartholomew’s.

“As a child I spent many holidays walking through the wind and rain on Aldeburgh beach. My dad grew up in Suffolk and actually played the violin for Britten in Orford Parish Church as a child.”

Anna Lapwood

Hot Days in a Suffolk Backyard

Well, the British are known for their conversations about the weather so naturally this past week of record-breaking temperatures requires a comment – it was hot.

Not pleasantly, summer hols hot, but horrible hot. Here in Suffolk there was even a wildfire as grassland together with a field of wheat went up in flames not two miles from where I used to live in Tunstall.

According to the Fire & Rescue Service a wildfire is “Any uncontrolled vegetation fire which requires a decision, or action, regarding suppression” and this particular Suffolk wildfire required active suppression. The fire-fighting was captured for the East Anglian Daily Times by my next-door neighbour. She is a staff photographer on the local newspaper and just happened to be driving along the A12 (the main road up the eastern side of the county) when she spotted dark smoke filling the skyline. Diverting across country to Campsea Ashe she arrived at the scene as the first fire crew began tackling the blaze. You can see her amazing and frightening photographs here.

The seasonal bedding plants like direct sun, but potted up even they need watering twice a day in the recent high temperatures.

With 40 degrees Celsius being recorded for the first time in the UK more and more people are finally realising what we are facing with the Climate Crisis. If nothing else, this week’s heatwave has shown the UK’s housing stock to be poorly insulated. Good insulation not only means keeping homes warm in the winter, but it helps to keep indoor temperatures liveable in the high heat of summer. Unlike homes in tropical or even Mediterranean countries our housing is not built with the heat in mind and a solution of widely installing air conditioning is neither affordable nor environmentally sound. It’s time for some political leadership to get a national insulation scheme up and running – whoops, I forgot, we don’t have a leader. And, with the tragedy of short-termism in our political system, I can’t see either of the current candidates for Prime Minister making housing insulation a priority. In fact, despairingly, I can’t see either of them moving the green agenda forwards.

But what of my ‘concrete scarred’ backyard in the heat. The summer bedding is doing okay.

Pelargoniums enjoying the full sun.

Of course, with most of my plants in pots due to the concrete issue, there’s lots of regular watering to do.

The concrete issue – and there are layers too!

However, even with watering and positioned in partial shade, some flowers have gone over very quickly so I cut them for the house.

Lilies, rose ‘Breath of Life’ and a few sweet peas.
Orange canna and peach rose for colour inspiration.

This year is the first year that the climbing rose ‘Breath of Life’, on a south-facing fence, has flowered. However, before the blooms were scorched to crispy, dried flowers I cut them and took them indoors. I love both their scent and their colour.

Finally, there are some plants that have been lapping up the hot sun in the displays at the local park such as these tropical cannas. I have singled out a gorgeous orange canna and together with the peachy orange rose found some ‘hot’ inspiration for my work.