Back in September I had a good selection of homegrown flowers that made a large and colourful flower arrangement. You may have seen the arrangement in my Blog post ‘Light or Dark‘. I liked them so much I decided to have a go at painting them. It is some years since I last had my paints out and I’d forgotten how different it is to working with dyes on silk.
It turned out to be an interesting lesson and a reminder to me to look and observe more carefully. Of course, I couldn’t let such an arrangement not feature in my silk work as well. And, it was revealing to see how the essence and not the detail ended up in the silk design.
As you might be able to guess this isn’t a full-sized scarf. I thought I would start with a bandana/small square scarf to see if the translation from gouache on paper to dye on cloth was worth pursuing. The jury is out on that at the moment. I have just started drawing out a 90 x 90 cm twill scarf to eventually include the arrangement, but probably as a repeat motif rather than a central ‘picture’.
For the time being this bandana is finished and steamed and on the shop.
Back in early spring I sowed twenty sunflower seeds in a tray indoors and about six weeks later I considered planting them out.
April was unusually cold with quite a few frosts that would certainly have killed off the seedlings – so no planting out in April. I waited for the arrival of May. It began cold and then turned extremely wet, but eventually the temperatures warmed up. I thought now is the moment to plant our my sunflower seedlings.
It looked at first as though I had timed it perfectly as May became June and the temperatures began to rise towards a little summer heat. And then it poured. It rained and rained and in my part of the world the rainfall was almost double the average for the time of year. And, as I blogged in ‘climate, rain, snails‘ earlier this year my backyard offered the ideal conditions for a population explosion of slugs and snails.
The upshot of all the rain was only one of the original twenty sunflower seedlings made it to flowering maturity. Not only did just a single plant survive, but it has flowered so late it has provided the feature blooms for the ‘last flowers of summer 2021’ arrangement.
I thought the one stem with its five blooms would look balanced and in proportion placed in my grandmother’s old, blue and white vase. Of course, I had forgotten that I’d never seen fresh flowers in this vase and soon discovered why. Somewhere it has a fine, hairline crack. First I grabbed a plate to collect the slowly pooling water, but no.
I think you’ll agree the plate doesn’t look right, too bright and white. So thinking a bowl would also be more practical for the slow leak, I tried a gold bowl and plate set up. That all just looked weird.
Knowing when you are beaten is a strength – apparently. Though only mildly irritated I pulled apart the arrangement, chopped stems, ditched the leaking vase and stuffed the flowers into a trusted leak-free milk jug. Finally, the last bouquet of this year’s homegrown flowers for my kitchen table. A touch dumpy, but very colourful and cheery.
Across the UK we are all now living in a lockdown of one kind or another, again. As the winter weather makes outside experiences more challenging, I am guessing that there is going to be more online content featuring interior images.
And, who doesn’t love some flowers in winter, especially when they are grown in the UK.
This beautiful bunch of the scented ‘Paper White’ narcissi was a Christmas gift from my sister and they were grown by the folk of ‘Blue Box’ based in the Isles of Scilly. The flowers arrived tightly furled, they slowly unwound and released a gorgeous perfume. They have lasted remarkably well and are only just going over.
Scent, perfume, fragrance is part of our lived experience. Humans in the techie world have done so well digitising the visual and the auditory, but the olfactory . . . iSmell (I kid you not, ask Mr Google) so far, has not been a success.
On Tuesday I saw that the weather forecasters were telling us to expect the arrival of autumn proper. This was code for prepare for a noticeable drop in temperatures accompanied by wind and rain.
Just as the light was fading, I grabbed my secateurs and nipped out into the backyard to cut any blooms that still looked half decent.
I cut dahlias, cosmos and sunflowers. It was more in error than by design I had planted three sunflower seedlings six weeks later than the main sowing and they only started blooming last week.
And, the dark pink cosmos has been very late this year getting into its stride. With the bright yellow sunflowers and the deep fuchsia pink of the cosmos I didn’t think I’d be able to make a tolerable arrangement, but it turned out that the dark red dahlias saved the day.
What a difference a backdrop makes? I prefer the black to the more contemporary choice for floral images which, I have recently noticed, is grey.
For the first time in 22 years I am not spending spring weekends both coaxing and at the same time taming a garden from its winter state. It is a strange sensation to be without even a windowsill of outdoor plant space. Dare I say it, for the moment it makes me feel rootless!
Here is my old garden last year on the 26th April 2016 . . .
And, here is my last photo of the garden taken on 27 February 2017 before the pots were loaded onto the lorry.
So it is thank goodness for the odd bunch of seasonal flowers.
For me certain colour combinations are simply crying out to be tweaked and developed into some form of textile work . . .
Here, above and below, are a couple of ways I have manipulated the images to emphasise the colours and the shapes in preparation for possibly a silk scarf or a hand hooked cushion cover.
After working on these photos saving some and deleting others, I pondered my gardenless state. Reminiscing I scrolled back through hundreds of old photos featuring the gone garden when I came upon this strange picture. If you were wondering just how odd some people can get here’s proof. No, it wasn’t April Fool’s Day either when I concocted this visual yarn!
It is October, but the dahlias just keep on blooming. Some flowers are a little windblown and tatty, and the big blooms of dahlia ‘Crazy Love’ have been nibbled by earwigs, but they are still worth cutting and bringing indoors to cheer up a gloomy week.This is the second week of October and that’s three small fresh flower arrangements with no heated greenhouse or air miles involved. Flowers grown with the addition of homemade garden compost and watered with recycled bath water. I am rather pleased about that although it has been a battle with the slugs this year.
And, as I cleared away last week’s dying flowers I thought they still had a charm and grace in their faded condition worth photographing and perhaps using as the starting point for a scarf or two.
Finally, even the zingy lemony yellow dahlia (a potluck purchase as an unidentified tuber) has earned its keep as I have realised it’s acceptable in a blue and white vase on the kitchen window sill.
Recently I’ve spied quite a few photographs of flowers and flower arrangements featuring very dark or black backgrounds. This is not new in the depiction of flowers, but it is a swerve away from the de rigueur of the ‘computer white’ backgrounds so prevalent across the online world.
Pale colours are contrasted and highlighted by a dark background and interestingly the foliage greens appear more striking.
Naturally, this has all been explored before during the Dutch Golden Age. Inventive Dutch 17th-century artists created beautiful, dramatic flower paintings against dark or black backgrounds. Currently, there’s an extremely gifted contemporary photographer, Paulette Tavormina also working in this area producing some fascinating images – well worth a look.
Suburbia gets a mixed press, and ‘suburban’ (at least in the UK) is frequently thrown around as an insult. It can mean average, boring, pedestrian to restrained, uptight and limited. In gardening terms the heyday of the suburban garden was surely the fifties and sixties where neat rectangular lawns were edged with three flower-filled boundary borders. Hybrid tea and floribunda roses were popular for the summer along with bright vivid dahlias and then in the autumn chrysanthemums took over to bring some uplifting colour.
Of course, plants are plants and not in themselves suburban, and who cannot fail to love a classic pink rose or a blue mophead hydrangea. And, I’ve even found a style of flower arrangement that I like which works with the standard supermarket/garage forecourt spray chrysanthemums.
. . . so much so that I’ve used the palette for some scarves.
Oh yes, and finally, through the ether I’m informed by email and adverts that a festival called Christmas is on the horizon – UKHandmade has just published their Christmas Showcase featuring all kinds of handmade work including a stunning Christmas stocking embroidered by a lady who used to work at Buckingham Palace!
It’s Chelsea this week and it’s pouring with rain, so English! And thinking of flowers I see that the tulips are just finishing their annual contribution to the garden. They provide beautiful strong intense colours,
but also delicate shades for the spring garden.
And, then there is the drama of using tulips in a restricted palette for the odd flower arrangement or two.
But it has been white, at least in my garden this spring, that has been the most eye-catching accent colour against the fresh green.
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.
One of the best aspects of our global inter-connectedness is the broader sharing of cultural differences. Traditional ‘History of Art’ in the last century had to be prized open and away from the predictable canon of white Western males. The ‘new’ art history along with contemporary art criticism is more inclusive than exclusive. It encourages us to not only look at art from beyond the bounds of the Western tradition, but to try and engage with different aesthetics.
Wabi sabi is a centuries old Japanese aesthetic that arises from the spiritual work undertaken by Zen monks not to explain life’s mysteries, but to reach a state of enlightenment. It is not easy to define, but Andrew Juniper has written a small book – ‘Wabi sabi – the japanese art of impermanence’ in which he writes this moving explanation.
“Zen monks lead a simple and austere life constantly aware of their mortality. Wabi sabi art is a distillation of their humble efforts to try and express, in a physical form, their love of life balanced against the sense of serene sadness that is life’s inevitable passing.
Wabi sabi art challenges us to unlearn our views of beauty and to rediscover the intimate beauty to be found in the smallest details of nature’s artistry.”
In our hectic modern lives, pausing and consciously, actively looking at the often overlooked tiny details of our everyday existence could be very beneficial. A form of peaceful contemplation.