Starting from Scratch – Part Two

Now, today, I have returned to my mood boards and the world of Japanese woodblock prints.

Since I was a teenager I’ve been interested in Ukiyo-e prints. I remember accompanying my mother when she went to visit a German friend who had come to live in Suffolk. Whilst they chatted I looked through her art books and found one about the art of Japanese prints. The text was in German (I couldn’t understand), but the images caught my attention they were so refined and pared back to convey just the essentials. It is a very appealing aesthetic and, of course, in the West has inspired some of the great Impressionists and Post Impressionists. There were some interesting comparisons made in a 2009 exhibition about Monet which can still be viewed online. http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/exhibitions/monet/MonetsLife.JapaneseArt.aspx

Now that’s all a bit awkward – I’ve never been great at sketching and now I’ve got the ingenious ghosts of Monet, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh buzzing round my head. Must say bye to the thinking brain and rev up the creative brain.

Finished design for scarf.
Working up some ideas.

First Beans Friday

Runner beans
Runner Beans variety Moonlight.
Back in June I posted about growing your own fruit and veg, well the strawberries have just finished, but this morning I’ve picked my first runner beans.

Last summer the weather was so terrible here in East Anglia I had a very sorry crop of runner beans. So instead of saving a few bean seeds (White Lady) from last year I splashed out this spring and bought fresh seeds of a different variety. I chose a variety called Moonlight as apparently they’ve been bred to flower and set even in poor weather. And, success, I think this is the earliest I’ve had runner beans and they look like they are going to crop well. Also, I gave my father some seedlings to grow on in June and they are doing well and are about to crop too – so, at this stage Moonlight is looking good.


Now, just have to see what they taste like!

Ah yes, and this delicate beauty has come into flower. Isn’t nature just splendid sometimes?

Pink Alcea, Hollyhock
Very pale pink single hollyhock.

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,

An Abundance of Foliage

It’s very easy in the middle of summer to be blinded by all the flashiness and spectacle of an abundance of colourful blooms, yet it is also when the garden is in full leaf. Green foliage, green grasses, green buds, sometimes green flowers and even green seed heads as they gently fade to their natural bleached shells.

acanthus
Acanthus mollis leaves and new flower spike.

Some leaves have been inspiring artists and craftsmen for centuries and acanthus leaf motifs can be seen all over the ancient world of the Mediterranean.

Carved capital acanthus
Acanthus leaf detail.

And, of course, William Morris was inspired by acanthus leaves too.

Detail Morris wallpaper
Morris Acanthus Wallpaper

But, there are plenty of other plants with superb foliage to admire and get us designing.

Finally, it is only the second week of July, but all the aquilegias are setting their seed and providing another interesting, sculptural shape for our visual delight.

Aquilegia seed heads.
Aquilegia seed heads.

Strawberries & Cream – It must be Wimbledon

Strawberry plants
It’s late, but at last here come the strawberries and here comes summer.

Finally, finally, finally – the strawberries are beginning to ripen. I’ve been out picking, eating the odd berry as I go (as you do) and donating the slug attacked fruits to the mother blackbird trying to feed two fat babies.

I only have a small raised bed and if it’s not netted the birds eat the lot. I grow Elsanta and Sonata but, the best flavoured strawberries that suit my growing conditions here in East Anglia (neutral soil, fierce drainage, low rainfall) happen to be a Scottish variety called Red Gauntlet. It has an intense almost perfume-like flavour and is very sweet.

***

Oh look, what do we have here? Somebody is off to the tennis with her friends.

Hatted & dressed for Wimbledon
“Come on, hurry up – I need to catch the train”

Old muggins me isn’t going to Wimbledon, but no worries, I’ve got a consolation prize!

Bowls of strawberries and cream
An English summer treat – strawberries, cream and home-made shortbread.

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

Think, Eat, Save

Wednesday, 5th June is World Environment Day and the theme this year is ‘Think, Eat, Save’ as we are encouraged to consider how to reduce food waste by the United Nations Environment Programme http://www.unep.org/wed/. On my micro plot in East Anglia my slender contribution is growing some fruit and veg, and recycling kitchen and garden waste by composting.

Composting Bin
Brown & Green Waste In
Bottom of compost bin
Six months later compost out (needs sieving now)

Through trial and error I’ve discovered the obvious that for me it is only really worth growing what you and your friends and family like to eat. I have found that growing fruit has been less demanding than vegetables, more successful and we all love eating it. Also fruit trees in particular have beautiful blossom I can photograph and use for designs.

Of course I still grow easy veg like beans, courgettes and tomatoes from seed as homegrown often tastes better especially when freshly picked and no food miles.

My vegetables from seed this year have been very tricky as the germination rate has been poor due to the coldest spring in the UK in over 50 years. Even though I start most of my seeds indoors on the kitchen window sill, it has been so cold I’ve had to resow both the french beans and lettuce. And, still no signs of any courgette seedlings. But, at least, the fan-trained pear blossomed really beautifully.

Fan Pear 'Doyenne du Comice'
In its full glory, trained as a fan, the pear ‘Doyenne du Comice’

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