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.
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!
With my own work I find shape and colour gradually gets distilled from primary experiences that have been captured first in my photographs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Full of potential fat buds of wisteria floribunda in late April.
But even as the racemes become fully developed they start to shed a snow of petal confetti.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
Cardoon and Euphorbia contrasting leaf and bracts.
Close-up of printed silk voile embroidered with sequins and glass bugle beads, and trimmed with lace.
Inspirational, ephemeral yet transient nature.
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.
Silk chiffon with lilac clematis and salmon pink Oriental poppy.
Perennial Oriental Pink Poppy
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.
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.
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.