From then to now

It’s late May and the irises are in full bloom. Irises are definitely in my top ten favourite garden flowers along with roses, foxgloves, poppies, lilies, hellebores, tulips, clematis, dahlias, and, those great favourites of the medieval illuminators, columbines. Each May when the aquilegias flower I think of illuminated manuscripts and the unnamed artisans who spent hours in their workshops decorating religious texts.

Columbines (aquilegia vulgaris) decorate this page from the Isabella Breviary, 1497, Flemish. MS18851, f.124

And, it wasn’t just aquilegias that filled the margins, for illuminators included images of the different flowers found growing in their own local districts. From about 1300 onwards there is a wonderful variety of illustrations including daisies, honeysuckle, clover, cornflowers, the dog rose along with the blossom of fruit trees and the blooms of flowering herbs.

Irises decorating the Bourdichon Hours, early 16th century, French.. MS 18855, f.33

Gradually, during the course of the 14th and 15th centuries, the making of illuminated texts became a specialist business with the production of breviaries, prayer books, psalters and books of hours from workshops across Europe. Stylised and simple motifs of flowers gave way to more naturalistic representations such as the irises seen in the Bourdichon Hours (above) and the almost ‘impressionistic’ iris seen in the Huth Hours (below).

Iris from illuminated page of The Huth Book of Hours. 1485-1490 Flemish. MS 38216, f130v

I haven’t got any irises in my backyard as yet, and I’m still wondering if there would be enough hours of direct sunshine for them to bloom, but, fortunately, halfway down my road I spotted some in the little community plot.

Irises bringing some colour to the raised vegetable beds at the local community plot.

This plot was one of those small, unloved areas which didn’t belong to anyone and has now been turned into a shared space, a community veg plot with a handful of raised beds and some seasonal flowers to brighten the whole affair. A number of local people who live in neighbouring flats or homes without gardens, spend their spare time planting, weeding and harvesting. This attractive project was instigated by one of my neighbours who’s also the Green Party candidate for our ward.

There is something heartening and positive about the continuing existence of a genus of flowers, admired and illustrated, that way we can track through the centuries. It would be nice to think that humans will be around for the next 700 years to enjoy the iris and the rest of the natural world, but that requires the present generation of world leaders to put their own personal ambitions aside, take a longterm view and start to deal with the climate crisis – seriously.

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Lady Drury’s Melancholy Pines

Of all the 61 painted panels that originally covered the wall of Lady Drury’s closet at Hawstead House, only one panel was painted without an emblem or a motto. This ’empty’ panel, consisting of a hilly background and two Scots pines, offers a melancholy scene.

The Reverend Sir John Cullum did not discuss this particular panel at all in his eighteenth-century account. Perhaps he simply considered it an unfinished section. However, the twenty-first century scholar, H L Meakin, suggests the ‘blank’ panel may have been deliberately left empty to encourage spontaneous meditation.

It is also possible to read the two, stark, thin pine trees as visual metaphors for Lady Drury and her husband. They’re standing mature, living apart from each other within a dark and hilly landscape. After all they had existed in a world of challenges and grief following the loss of their young daughters.

Bottom panels painted with herbs and flowers.

More generally, in her summary of Lady Drury’s closet, Meakin offers ideas from Seneca and Montaigne as well as current research considering the lives of early modern women. She suggests there was not a simple division between the public and private spheres, and proposes this tiny, private room offered a space to both think about as well as retreat from the wider world.

Despite the gloomy appearance of the ‘pines’ panel, I find the silhouetted trees make a compelling composition.

Scarlet pimpernel and wild pansy

And, I also admire the painted herb and flower decorative panels displayed at the bottom of the panel collection.

Deadly nightshade and dandelion

These panels show bugle, corn marigold, speedwell, dandelion, deadly nightshade, honeysuckle, scarlet pimpernel, wild pansy and a wild strawberry plant.

Wild strawberry
Bird’s eye speedwell, corn marigold, bugle
Honeysuckle

Overall, the panelled room is both intriguing and inspirational. So inspirational I decided to paint a series of neckerchiefs using the two pines, the scarlet pimpernel and the corn marigold. Here’s the first of the series showing how the scarlet pimpernel rapidly morphed into a larger, less delicate flower to balance the composition.

Painting finished and now ready for steaming.

Come on more spring flowers please!

Last month we had strange weather. February had days feeling like spring and I saw people walking around in T-shirts! In climate terms a week of warm weather in February is disturbing.

However, March, so far, is turning out to be more like a usual March. It has been very, very windy, but that hasn’t affected these British grown tulips. They come from some of the extensive glass houses in Lincolnshire. Growing under glass has enabled British tulip growers to compete with imports from overseas and there are no air or sea miles. Growing under the protection of glass also lengthens the season for growing all kinds of cut flowers. Have you noticed how stocks (Matthiola incana) have joined the buckets of roses and lilies commonly available? However, for us domestic gardeners in East Anglia it will be another month before even the tulips are blooming in full force.

This bunch of tulips lasted well over a week before fading away.

This year I resisted the temptation to plant seeds in February. I am holding my nerve even with the indoor sowings. I am trying to avoid weak, leggy seedlings as I don’t have a greenhouse to provide consistent good daylight.

It is early days in the ‘new’ old backyard and too dreary to photograph with piles of rubble left behind by previous owners. Although it is a small space, it’s going to be a long old haul to sort out, but some pots of pelargoniums and dahlias, and a mini swathe of hardy annuals should at least add some colour for this summer.

Looking forward to having bunches of cosmos and dahlias – hopefully.

Expecting the best, I have already had a poke around in the pots of the overwintered dahlias and, fingers crossed, so far they’ve come through the winter. From now on I just have to watch out for early slug damage to the tender new shoots.

At last I have a rough plan, you could, at a stretch, call it a design for the backyard. It has been just over a year since I moved in and I have been observing the sunlight and shade patterns and I can see I have my work cutout to achieve any kind of flower garden. Disappointingly, there’s more shade than I had expected, not least from the enormous eucalyptus tree three gardens down.

It is a long-established tree and is easily 10 feet or so taller than the surrounding three-storey houses. As I write, its upper branches are violently whipping around, bending this way and that in the strong winds. It is really quite inappropriate for a Victorian terrace backyard and it overhangs six gardens. I am guessing it was originally planted to screen out the neighbours at the bottom of the garden and has just been left to grow and grow by a series of non-gardening homeowners.

Finishing on a more optimistic note I am looking forward to more of this

and many more of these!

My daylily potted up in Norwich, transported and transplanted and forming a healthy, vibrant clump with shoots already over three inches tall.

At last a few blooms

Sweet-peas-dahlias-1As we are almost into September the temperatures have finally dropped enough for my sweet peas to bloom. They were an impulse purchase, reduced to clear at the DIY superstore when I was buying yet more paint. In all honesty they were planted too late, in too small pots and then were unfortunately hit with the heatwave we experienced this summer.

Mantlepiece-basementApparently, high temperatures cause sweet peas to pause their flower production, they prefer cool nights and cool days, so that would be a normal English summer! But finally, yes, they are blooming.

Sweet-peasAnother impulse purchase of desperation back in May were some random dahlia tubers. They too have eventually begun to bloom displaying ‘surprise’ colours mostly neither colour combinations nor shades I would choose if picking from a dahlia catalogue.

The very dark red ones are fine and can stay, but I have been busy in the backyard ticketing the rest, yellow, messy yellows and muddled pinks as ones for the compost at the end of the season. Somehow they just made the dreary backyard (not even a work in progress as yet) look even more of a dump. However, when I chopped off all the flowers and brought them in (any flowers indoors are better than no flowers at all) I was genuinely surprised that they made a passable arrangement.

Dark-red-dahliasNow I have the dilemma of whether to keep them or not. Mmm, actually that will be probably not. If I had more space or an allotment where I could grow flowers just for cutting I would, but in such a small backyard all plants will have to work hard for their space and fit into my overall scheme.

Yellow-dahlias-bunchOh yes, there will be an overall scheme, but, deep sigh, it is all going to have to wait at least another year.

 

 

 

Where are the flowers?

Garden-poseyWhere are the flowers? Well, certainly not in my backyard. Disappointingly, this is the second summer for me in my 20 plus years of gardening that I have not had a patch of earth yielding some floral delights. The fencing was only erected last week so at least now I can begin to see ‘defined space’ (or lack of it) to plan some planting. As a stop gap I have stuck a few pelargonium and sweet pea plugs into pots, but they went in rather late and show no signs of blooming yet.

Feeling flower starved I trotted down to the local florist. I think like many small businesses old fashioned florists have had their casual, walk-in trade almost obliterated by the big supermarkets undercutting them. It seems to have left florists with the traditional wedding and funeral business plus the odd corporate event. The consequence of this change in retail habits has resulted in some florists, understandably, reducing the range of flowers being stocked in their shops. I was disappointed with what was on offer especially considering that we are in high summer. Dispiritingly this is the best I could manage

florist-flowers.jpgand the arrangement includes stealing a blousy hydrangea bloom from the single surviving shrub at the front of the house.

The local park has offered more treats for the florally deprived with swathes of English lavender contrasting with clumps of achillea.Park-lavenderAnd, last month there were field poppies blooming cheerfully in the unexpected heatwave.Hairy-stemsHowever, back home it was a disappointing and scentless flower situation until a visiting friend came to the rescue with a gorgeous scented posey of flowers from her garden.Sweet-Peas-daisiesSweet peas and cheerful daisies. I really don’t think you can beat homegrown flowers. In this case there are no air miles, very few road miles and no excessive irrigation and/or glasshouse heating costs. There is just a delicate, visual treat and an intoxicating, seasonal scent filling my workroom.Cheerful-daisies

The Romantic Rose for Valentine’s

Romantic-rosesWhen folk consider flowers for Valentine’s Day, the perennial favourite is the red rose. I think there is something intensely romantic about a single, velvety, dark red rose, but if I were to be receiving a bouquet of roses, I think I would prefer pink roses.Romantic-roses-2The bonus with giving or receiving roses is many are fragrant too, with most of the old fashioned varieties perfuming a whole room with their beautiful, rich scent.

Of course, as you may have already guessed, I don’t just love old fashioned pink roses, but pink blooms in general and find them a great source of inspiration for my flowery silk scarf designs. And with that in mind, here’s a jug of last summer’s dahlias providing just such stimulus!

Stealing from other people’s gardens

OsteospermumAs you may already know earlier this year I left behind my Norfolk home and garden of 12 years and moved south to Suffolk. In actual fact it is a return to Suffolk after 21 years away, but, as yet, I am still in temporary accommodation and it’s a flat with no garden.

Sea-kale-Crambe-MaritimaAs suggested by fellow bloggers I’ve been out and about stealing from other people’s gardens, local parks and even from the shoreline on the Shotley Peninsula. No, not digging up precious specimens in the dead of night, but stealing shots of all the different blooms I’ve spotted on my wanderings. Braving the salty breeze, along with the naturally adapted sea kale (above), I found these petunias and osteospermums surviving at the bottom of a local garden close to the estuary shore.

It has been good for me as I’ve had to identify all kinds of plants that have been new to me rather than just relying on the old favourites. The flora in the local park has moved on from the early to the late flowering plants with this sweep full of bee favourites.

September-park-flowers-for-beesThe bees have introduced me to new wildflowers such as the Devil’s Bit scabious (Succisa pratensis) as well as reminding me that some standard garden shrubs, for example this purple hebe, are also a good source of nectar.

The drifts of perennial and annual flowers were truly buzzing in the September sunshine.

Bee-friendly
Drifts of blue cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus), corn chamomile (Anthemis arvensis) and corn marigold (Glebionis segetum).

Busy-Bee

High summer, really?

Pink-hollyhocks

Well, before all the rain and unseasonal drops in temperature, it was that time of year where many gardens across the towns and villages of East Suffolk had plenty of flowering plants in their grounds and many front gardens were adorned by the splendid hollyhock.

Summer-hollyhocksYou couldn’t miss cottage gardens decorated with these colourful beauties, often self-seeded, thriving in the local free-draining soil.  This very blousy, double pink hollyhock was attracting plenty of busy bees in the sun between the recent showers. And, then the torrential downpours arrived bringing hard times for both bees and butterflies. Apparently, the jet stream is in the wrong place again!!

Bee-double-hollyhock

So, this is today’s weather .  .  .  .  .

Today-more-rain

The Unconscious Influence of Taking Photographs

Getting-the-shot
Photographer concentrating on getting the shot, oblivious of me who had just missed the shot!!!

I use photographs a lot for my work. I am always looking for inspiration from the world around me and use my camera to capture these moments. Recently, when reviewing and rearranging my current online shop collections, I recognised subtle influences from my photography. I had been searching through my various memory sticks of stored images to freshen up my product listings. It was clear from comparing dates on the files that after a few sessions of photographing some summer garden flowers, shades of peach started to appear in the pink scarf I was painting at the time. Although I was not directly using the flowers photos as source material their influence was quite obvious with hindsight – up until then peach was not included in my work.

Influences-colourful-flowers

I also opened my Bury St Edmunds memory stick.  There were plenty of photographs of the glorious stained glass in the cathedral, both motifs and colours from the glass I have since featured directly in my silk scarf designs. However, after working in the cooler tones of the glass for a few months I can see I gradually moved to a palette of warm, rich colours. This was not the conscious process as before but I think the beautiful rich red windows had left their mark. Looking at the dates on these files I think the autumn weather was also a factor.

Influential-reds

It hasn’t only been colourful images that have unconsciously influenced my work. When you are looking for a good shot you examine your surroundings with more attention and details so often overlooked are literally brought into focus. Shapes I hadn’t thought I had noticed at the time have been added to my stock of motifs such as the details on these sculptures.

Cemetery-shapes

In the end though sometimes there is no obvious inspiration for the colours of a scarf. With one of my favourites, this blue and green scarf below (long sold), I worked up the design layer on layer adapting my choice of dyes after each layer was steamed. A less controlled more serendipitous process.  .   .   .   .   .   .   but I had been recently photographing seascapes!!!

Petrol-blues

I may be temporarily gardenless but . . .

Bouquet-kitchenFor 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 . . .

26-April-2016And, here is my last photo of the garden taken on 27 February 2017 before the pots were loaded onto the lorry.

Back-garden-27-Feb-2017B&W

So it is thank goodness for the odd bunch of seasonal flowers.

seasonal-flowersFor me certain colour combinations are simply crying out to be tweaked and developed into some form of textile work .  .  .

sp2watercoourHere, 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.

sp2-sketchAfter 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!

A-moment-of-whimsey

Tell them summer is over

october-dahlia-arrangementIt 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.arrangementThis 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.

dahlias-it-is-autumn2And, 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.

yellow-dahlia