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

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.

Inspirational autumnal garden – The Old Vicarage, East Ruston, Norfolk

Heleniums--East-Ruston-Old-Vicarage-NorfolkGarden visiting is a popular pastime and the beauty of garden visiting is gardens are an ever changing canvas. Traditionally, in the autumn people go to admire autumnal tree colour, but in a thoughtfully designed garden there are still plenty of colourful shrubs and flowers to see.

At the beginning of October my own garden was looking rather dull and when my sister came to visit it was the perfect opportunity to get out and soak up some inspiration from a nationally renowned garden, The Old Vicarage, East Ruston in Norfolk. It was a very bright, sunny afternoon, really too bright for exciting photos, but I think you’ll get some idea of what a special and unusual garden this is.

I’ve been before, but this was my first visit so late in the season and there was plenty to admire, not least all the super-sized containers planted with large tender specimens,

the dutch garden
The Dutch Garden with the beautiful yellow Brugmansia flowers drooping into the shot.
(Grown as tree-like specimens in very, very large terracotta pots.)

and gravel areas brimming with striking succulents such as these rich Aeonium arboreum Schwarzkopf.

courtyard aeoniums
The Entrance Drive and Courtyard area is planted up with the dramatic Aeonium arboreum Schwartzkopf.

The Old Vicarage, East Ruston is only about a mile and a half from Happisburgh (pronounced haze..bra, of course) on the coast and as such, together with plenty of shelter/windbreak planting, has a microclimate with very little frost. The result of this means a greater, diverse range of plants can survive and the owners have developed a less traditional, innovative set of garden plantings and garden rooms such as the captivating Tree Fern Garden.

tree ferns east ruston
The Tree Fern Garden
Dicksonia antarctica underplanted with the late flowering aconitum and a river of acers.

There’s also one of my favourite design combinations informally, romantically planted beds restrained and ordered by neat formal box hedging accented with geometric topiary.

Floating, soft flowers and formal topiary.
Floating, soft flowers and formal topiary.

The sun was bright, but low enough in the sky to create some drama looking across the King’s Walk catching the yew topiary in all its disciplined stature.

And, at this time of year it’s sunflowers, dahlias, heleniums in formal beds and, of course, in the cutting garden.

Even at this late time of the gardening year there was still plenty to see and I’ve only shown you a glimpse. There is more information and photos at The Old Vicarage, East Ruston


And, finally, I’m not usually a fan of contemporary art in gardens, but I thought this discrete, nervous-looking but welcoming family of deer just on the wooded boundary between the car park and the garden entrance didn’t look out of place.


Inspirational tulips plus two arrangements

white tulip arrangement

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.

pink flower arrangement tulips
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.


The 18th century, the 1960s and Anna Wintour

Ophelia-gold-finished-straightPainted silk may be a framed work of textile art hanging on a wall, or a floaty scarf draped across your shoulders, but it might also be an elaborately constructed 18th-century gown such as this beautiful example below. This stunning museum piece has been carefully restored¬†providing quite a challenge for the conservators at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

The silk of this sack back gown was woven and painted in China and then shipped to England where it was made into the dress. The silk was painted with paint which sat on the surface of the weave. A process that allowed for free form decoration, but not the colour fastness associated with dyeing as the surface paint could wear away.

Painting with dyes that soaked into the cloth dyeing the silk fibres became possible following the 19th-century Industrial Revolution and the discovery of dyes that could be fixed with steam and not just using dye baths thus allowing for the fixing of dyed patterns printed or painted.¬†Below left, the 1960s George Halley dress has been hand painted with silk dyes, and the painterly silk of Anna Wintour’s dress is dyed even though it looks like painted brushstrokes. I thought it was interesting to see American Vogue’s Editor, Anna Wintour, wearing such a striking and glamorous dress that has a couture appearance yet a definite ‘arty’ feel.

I have just finished a commission for painted silk that will be made into a Prom dress. Of course, no photographs allowed until after the event so here are some shots of work in progress and the finished scarves painted with dyes!