Summer Evenings

Breathing in a warm, relaxed summer evening despite being a romantic cliché, is hopefully available to everyone. A city version is pavement café tables, customers spilling out from the pub and a spot of evening window shopping.

Hampstead, London
Flask Walk, Hampstead, London – A fine summer’s evening.

(A brief aside, Flask Walk has often inspired those with a visual sensibility especially when decked out for a celebration – see http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/ginner-flask-walk-hampstead-on-coronation-day-n05276)

A summer evening home version is a garden terrace perfumed with lilies.

Trumpet lily, Pink Perfection
My favourite lily, the trumpet lily – lilium Pink Perfection.
Lilium regale
This summer’s white trumpet lilies.
Showy, but still beautifully scented.
Lilium regale

Meanwhile, back in the city, the sun has gone down on Hampstead Heath. Hey, let’s see if we can synchronize our mobile phones? How long are the summer holidays??

Mobile phone flash photo

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July Pinks and Patterns

July in the garden

Portrait of my mother
Valeria by Valeria
(my mother)
girl in garden photo
Photo taken by my mother in preparation for a portrait. (All these big hats. She was an old romantic at heart.)

Sometimes July can be a quiet time in a garden. My mother used to complain that once the delphiniums and the first flush of roses were going over you had to wait until August for any real colour interest. She had an on/off relationship with her garden as her real love was painting. She did appreciate flowers, but wanted easy plants with a long flowering season – don’t we all. She painted portraits, not flowers, but like many of us she often photographed subjects in the garden.

The pink flowers blooming in the middle of July in my garden are the stronger, brighter pinks moving into the fuchsia and magenta shades that are now taking over from the predominant pastels of June.

We can use nature’s graceful arrangements of blooms and foliage as our inspiration for colour and tonal combinations, and sometimes a quite messy shot can give rise to an interesting motif and pattern structure.

PS – If anyone recognises the ‘unknown floribunda’, the larger, dark pink photo, I’d like to know, please? I actually bought it believing it was ‘Blue Moon’ as that was the name on the label, but I know it certainly isn’t as I had ‘Blue Moon’ in another garden. Any guesses?

A Good Year for the Roses

This summer has been good for roses. Good displays as long as the roses are healthy bushes with established root runs. Within the UK East Anglia is a low rainfall region added to that I garden on a very light, sandy soil and, as you may know, not ideal for most roses.

Pink rose on pergola
Cascading down from the pergola Rosa Debutante

But I do love roses and as they really prefer heavier, rich soil I have to feed them well. I always mulch them generously using most of my garden compost to feed their greedy needs and retain moisture.

The white wisteria covering the pergola has now finished flowering, but continues to provide some welcome green shade. However, down the other end of the pergola the pink rambler rose, Debutante, has broken into a glamorous profusion of pink blooms.

Other roses flowering at the moment are the fully double pink Rosa Karlsruhe, the striped Rosa Ferdinand Pichard, the single white species rose Rosa fedtschenkoana and the single white rambler Rosa Francis E Lester . I grow both the white ramblers through mixed hedging to provide hips for the birds in the autumn.


Also clusters of white roses add highlights to a predominantly green hedge informally planted with hazel, hawthorn and deciduous viburnum.

In the evening the garden is awash with delicate perfumes as you pass under the various climbing and rambling roses. A gentle, uplifting pleasure.

Rose on pergola
The warm evening sun catches the roses and fills the air with sweet scent,

Roses – The Scent of an English Summer

peachy yellow rose
Rosa Gloire de Dijon
Being a bit of a smarty pants I have planted two heavily scented roses either side of my bedroom window so that their captivating fragrance could waft into my bedroom on warm summer evenings. But being merely human I have failed to keep them under control allowing them to thrust upwards and become top heavy.

Oh dear, during Saturday night we had unseasonal high winds here in East Anglia and both rose bushes were beaten up and the next morning I found them knocked to the ground in a thorny mess.

Roses in coffee pot
Salvaged from the unwelcome and unseasonal wind.
Following a rescue pruning I have retied them into position. It’s not been a total horticultural failure as they are well rooted and as a bonus I have several flower arrangements filling rooms with the scent of summer, and, I have some more lovely floral photos for my work.

Pale yellow & pink roses
Rosa Alister Stella Gray with pink Rosa Narrow Water.
White & pale yellow roses
Rosa Alister Stella Gray, Rosa Cécile Brunner and ox eye daisies.

roses & daisies
Floral inspiration.

Girl with a Pink Scarf

This photograph was snapped, opened on the computer and surprise – it just felt so familiar. My daughter looked over my shoulder and said “Looks like ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ to me”, and I said “Ah yes, it does, doesn’t it”. I had no intention of reconstructing a picture in the style of this famous portrait – it just happened.

Vermeer - Girl with a pearl earring
Girl with a Pearl Earring – Vermeer, c. 1665-67.
The Mauritshuis, the Hague, Holland
PInk scarf
Girl with a pink scarf – June, 2013.
Scarf by Agnes Ashe

It is fascinating how images get lodged in our visual memory and then become markers or signposts without our conscious effort. Thinking about it, I suppose when you view a fair number of photos some are bound to spark wider connections and as I prepare to launch my online shop (agnesashe.co.uk) I have looked at a lot of photographs!

Pale pink roses
Colour inspiration from a cluster of pale pink roses.
Rosa ‘Narrow Water’

With my own work I find shape and colour gradually gets distilled from primary experiences that have been captured first in my photographs.

pink clematis
The opening flower of Clematis Proteus.

This beautiful flower of clematis Proteus, saved from relentless slug attack by being dug up and replanted in a large pot near the house, is one of my favourites. Its intriguing shape has contributed to my work.

Flowers and foliage in the garden, architectural details I’ve spied and sometimes the inspirational works created by others, all goes into the melting pot during the design process.

clematis venus fly trap
Aliums, pomegranates, clematis and Venus fly traps have all contributed to this scarf.

Wisteria – A Lesson in Delayed Gratification

Winter gardening even in East Anglia can be a chilly affair, but the wisteria’s annual winter prune is an essential task I usually tackle in February. But last Boxing Day it felt quite balmy in my back garden so before I knew it I was up the ladder and cutting away.

Wisteria in bud
Full of potential – fat buds of wisteria floribunda in late April.

Now – I have been a bit nervous through this recent long, cold spring that I had cut too soon, but as our Victorian forebears insisted patience is a virtue and this time it has been rewarded with this glorious display.

White wisteria floribunda
View from my kitchen window.

A photograph only gives an approximation of the experience of sitting under this Japanese wisteria as on a warm evening its rich, velvety, slightly spicy fragrance hangs all around complementing the visual delight. Since the end of April I have tracked the development of this early summer show-off.

But even as the racemes become fully developed they start to shed a snow of petal confetti.

A delicate beauty gently fading.
A delicate beauty gently fading. 9th June 2013

Chelsea, Flowers and a late English Spring

This week in London it’s the Chelsea Flower Show. I’ve only been once in 1981 and that was before I had my first garden.  However, I’ve always appreciated flowers and floral displays.  What pleasure there is in the delightful diversity of colour and form often enhanced by a glorious scent.

Bellis perennis & myosotis
Daisies & Forget-me-nots

Interestingly, this year many of the show gardens at Chelsea seem to be all about green foliage, clipped box, yew hedges, and controlled spaces.  Perhaps these straitened economic times together with the long winter and unusually cold spring in the UK have combined to give us a flourish of densely green gardens, but gardens with few showy flowers.  For me, after viewing the photos on the RHS website, the most inspirational garden was the ‘Stop the Spread’ garden. http://www.rhs.org.uk/Shows-Events/RHS-Chelsea-Flower-Show/2013/Gardens/Garden-directory/The-Fera-Garden–Stop-the-Spread  This garden, sponsored by The Food and Environmental Research Agency and designed by Jo Thompson, combines both the capture of a naturalistic aesthetic restrained for an urban space with a message about the impact of the invasion of non-native species into our local environments. Superb.

Madame Isaac Pereire
Rose bud of rosa Madame Isaac Pereire

Green has come late to my garden this year in East Anglia and flowers that are normally in full bloom during Chelsea week are still only in bud.  Most notably I have the beautiful, strongly scented old rose, Rosa Madame Isaac Pereire, in a large pot under my bathroom window, normally the first rose to bloom in my garden, but a couple of weeks late this spring.

Dark pink rose bud
Rosa Madame Isaac Pereire about to bloom

Unfortunately and unusually for East Anglia at this time of year we are experiencing quite a bit of rain this week and all the full bursting buds of the old roses are very likely to ball. They will remain wet and tight and the buds will rot before they can open.  Still the frogs are enjoying the weather.

Pond in rain
Late spring garden in the rain, East Anglia

Partying at West Egg 1922

Callot Soeurs
Callot Soeurs dress from the Cecil Beaton Collection now at the V&A.

“When I was here last I tore my gown on a chair, and he asked me my name and address — inside of a week I got a package from Croirier’s with a new evening gown in it.”

From Chapter Three of ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The fashion house Croirier’s was Fitzgerald’s fictional creation, but in Paris in 1922, the year Gatsby’s guests danced away summer evenings, the Callot Soeurs maison de couture were busy designing stunning evening gowns. That year they created this party dress which was worn by Winifred, The Duchess of Portland.

The dress has since been given to the V&A Museum in London by Lady Victoria Wemyss.

Further information can be found here.

Through the centuries and across cultures nature has inspired human beings, and many people have endeavoured to catch and recreate its beauty.  It is unachievable, but every now and then a few artists come close and I think this enchanting dress comes very close.

Ninety years in a blink of an eye seems another world away and yet this Callot Soeurs dress could easily be a contemporary piece.  Below is a present-day, personal reinterpretation of the style in floral pink and lilac silk chiffon.

No doubt one of many Jazz Age dresses that will party through this Great Gatsby year thanks to the new Baz Luhrmann film and the enduring, mysterious Gatsby.

Lilac Clematis Textile
Silk chiffon inspiration clematis and poppies by Agnes Ashe.

Hellebores in Spring

After our somewhat extended winter this year in East Anglia it has been simply glorious to pause in the garden with the April sun warming my back. Enduring months under a relentless grey blanket drains the spirit so any signs of colour are gladly cherished.

Caught from the cusp of Winter to Spring.
Caught from the cusp of winter to spring.

Mostly I leave my flowers to grace the garden where their blooms will last longer, but yesterday I found a self-seeded hellebore in full magnificence hiding itself away behind a large terracotta pot. I couldn’t resist bringing a few stems into the house where I could continue to appreciate their subtle tones and pleasing structure. It’s easy to understand why flowers and foliage have provided such delightful sources of inspiration over the centuries.