A couple of weeks ago my sister and I took a stroll in the local park.
We arrived at the gates of Christchurch Park just after 4 o’clock and the shadows were already beginning to lengthen, but nevertheless there was plenty of blue sky and puffy clouds for a ‘Constable Suffolk sky’.
Most of the trees near the Round Pond were still wearing the heavy green of late summer although just at their extremities some leaves were turning dry and brittle with hints of the orange and brown to come.
As we leisurely made a rough circuit of the park the low sun began to set and those first oranges of autumn glowed in the dappled light.
Not everybody was having a relaxing time. The park’s squirrels were very busy with the horse chestnuts. And, clearly being used to humans they did not bother to scamper away as we walked along the path towards them. In fact some came up to us expecting food, obviously somebody must be regularly feeding them. I can’t complain as it made taking photos of this industrious chap very easy.
Last weekend I took my camera with me on a walk round the local park to photograph the seasonal changes.
Surprisingly, autumn has been slow to arrive. I am used to living further inland, but here in Ipswich, on a clear day from the ninth floor, you can see Felixstowe down on the coast 11 miles away.
I have concluded that being closer to the sea has kept temperatures slightly warmer in the local park and hence without a run of adequately cool nights the leaves are still to significantly change colour.
So far the most noticeable change is seen in the horse chestnuts. The leaves have turned crispy and brown, and many have dropped already. Sadly, I suspect the trees are suffering from bleeding canker disease caused by Pseudomonas syringae pv aesculi.
On a more positive note there’s still plenty of colour in the wildflower meadow drifts.
And, self-seeded here and there, the umbels of wild angelica brighten up the shady areas edging the bottom lake.
I wasn’t the only industrious individual stalking the park, the squirrels and jays were busy collecting autumn berries and acorns.
The work of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their later followers has become more popular since the 1960s. Brought in from the cold after spending over half a century shunned by the art world. The Pre-Raphaelites had originally challenged the order of their day, then gradually their work was accepted and paintings such as Cherry Ripe by Millais and The Light of the World by Holman Hunt became incredibly popular – until the arrival of Modernism.
Victorian British Art is not for everyone, but I am a fan of some of the works by the Pre-Raphaelites. However, if I see more than a handful of their pictures at one viewing then I find the experience a little too cloying for my taste. The paintings are, after all, very richly coloured and dense with detail.
I vaguely remember going to the 1984 Pre-Raphaelites exhibition at the Tate Gallery. I went with my mother and remember standing with her as she gazed at ‘The Lady of Shalott’ by Waterhouse. Even then I preferred some of the more stylised works by Rossetti.
Let’s now scroll forwards a couple of decades to 2003 and my interest was still keen enough to visit the Royal Academy when they displayed the Andrew Lloyd Webber Collection – ‘Pre-Raphaelite and Other Masters’. However, far too much real life had happened to me and changed my way of seeing the world, and, also by then I had completed my Master’s in Art History. Wandering through room after room (over 250 works were on display) of sentimental, contrived images was all too much and my lasting memory of the exhibition was rushing through the last two galleries trying to get out as fast as possible.
Lizzie Siddal as Beatrice. ‘Beata Beatrix’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Created 1864-1870. Oil on canvas. 864 x 660mm.
Jane Burden Morris as ‘Bruna Brunelleschi’ by Gabriel Dante Rossetti. 1878 Watercolour. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
Despite that experience I still admire the work of Rossetti and as the autumn takes full grip and the leaves turn to every shade of orange and brown, images of Lizzie Siddal, Jane Morris and Fanny Cornforth posing for his paintings softly float into my mind’s eye. And, then, once in a while a contemporary photograph captures the essence of another century.
The English autumn has yet to turn chilly and most of my garden is still verdant with the heavy, dark green leaves of late summer, but autumn it is and the light is changing. Last week’s photoshoot certainly underscored this change for me. The full sunlight was less harsh than summer sunshine and it cast longer shadows. Happily, I have bagged some interesting modelled product photos for my new Fenella series.
And, additionally, a couple of photographs have been featured in this month’s UKHandmade Autumn Showcase pages 18 and 19 (not the ones shown above).
Now, it’s time to get working on a new design. Lines and shapes first then paint the initial background wash.
It’s been an odd few weeks. The weather here in East Anglia as with the rest of the UK has been incredibly mild for December. There’s talk it will be the warmest December for over 70 years! Needless to say the garden has a few plants still blooming and some bursting forth completely at the wrong time of year – an early summer hardy geranium is coming into flower.
I’m currently working on a couple of long silk twill scarves and belatedly noticed that I had chosen a palette that was a reflection of the colours outside my studio/office window.
I hadn’t actively looked for inspiration from the garden. I simply felt I wanted to work with rich browns and muddy greens and soft muted pinks.
It is the first of December and still we haven’t had a severe frost. Usually by now all the dahlias have been blackened and the garden reduced to its winter skeleton of leafless shrubs and trees punctuated by a few structural evergreens. This autumn has been very wet for East Anglia and even the sunflower seed heads have rotted into an unattractive slimy state. On Saturday morning I’d waited long enough for the frost and decided to tidy up my front garden clearing it of all the soggy, green mess.
The upside of these weather conditions is that as I work my view of the back garden is still very green, even on a grey day like today, which is probably why my latest scarf is featuring parsley greens and wheatsheaf golds.
It’s November and the hardy chrysanthemums have just come into flower, but as we still haven’t had a frost (unusual for my part of the world), the cosmos remain upright and blooming. I’m certainly not complaining and there’s even enough with the addition of some viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’ to bulk out a half decent flower arrangement for the mantlepiece. Ordinary flowers, but all naturally flowering together resulting in a slightly odd combination.
Okay with just a tiny bit of extra help. I bought a 10 bloom bunch of supermarket salmon pink carnations that looked so awful they’d been reduced to half-price. Strong salmon pink is not a favourite colour of mine, but with plenty of the dark, evergreen viburnum foliage and the rich magenta cosmos they made a passable display.
Here’s a little thought ‘I don’t think that this looks inviting, but hey, I’m not the intended resident’. My garden isn’t formal by any stretch of the imagination, and a large pile of leaves heaped up behind the potted yew topiary, I admit, does look messy. However, firsthand experience has informed me that a sheltered pile of leaves is the des res for a hedgehog.
This home for a hibernating hedgehog needs to be in a sheltered position, but not in a frost pocket. I’ve lined the base with a mixed mulch of recent shreddings and created a timber frame from chopped down branches.
Then I’ve simply filled the whole space with autumn leaves pushing them in between the branch structure so they won’t be blown away. Don’t worry about packing the leaves in as a hedgehog will simply push its way into the cosy centre. As this hedgehog home is situated in a very sheltered part of the garden (barring a 1987-style hurricane) most of the leaf pile will remain in place until next spring.
Harvest festival time in East Anglia and time to reflect on the successes and failures of this year’s fruit and veg gardening efforts. Usually I garden at the weekend and the occasional mid-summer weekday evening. I only have five raised beds and a few fruit trees, but coupled with working the flower garden, I don’t have enough time to do either justice. Still, we’ll ignore the low yields, bird-ravaged apples and pears, and instead celebrate the tomatoes and various cucurbita – courgettes, butternut squash and ornamental gourds.
Oh, I’d better come clean – I had a total failure with my butternut squash this year and so this beautiful gourd (above photo) was bought from a supermarket. It looked so tempting I couldn’t resist and it was very tasty roasted with butter.
Sometimes as the quality of our northern light cools rapidly into the blue-greys of autumn, bright coloured dahlias can look strangely out of place, but if there’s enough dark green still in the garden their vibrant presence makes a welcome cheery picture.
And, the dark red of dahlia Arabian Night appears particularly rich in the late-afternoon autumn sunlight.