Parched

Hot-at-Shingle-StreetEnd of July, hottest day of the year so far (35 degrees C) and there’s still no sign of significant rain for the eastern side of England. We are used to low rainfall as the norm here in East Anglia, but this heatwave is taking its toll even in our region where we tend to plant for dry conditions. The main barley crop has been harvested two weeks earlier than usual and there is concern that wheat yields may be down as much as 50% from their normal average for some Suffolk farms.

Green-but-not-grassWalking around Ipswich the grass is bone dry and the colour and crispness of ancient mummy bandages. Let’s pause and think for a moment who would spend hours irrigating with drinking water to keep grass green? Surely no-one as the grass will quickly recover when the rain returns and it is such a waste of clean water. Oh and, don’t be fooled by the ‘green’ photograph from Ipswich Cemetery (above), in fact that is fallen blossom from the Pride of India/Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata) dusting the path. The grass is the same as everywhere else, parched.Parched-grass-cemeteryIt is pretty much the same about 15 miles away on the Suffolk coast at Shingle Street. Here the grass is dried out too, but it is dotted with colour from the wild thistles and mullein (Verbascum) enjoying the hot, dry weather and free draining coastal soil.

Interestingly more green vegetation and floral colour has been achieved by some judicious planting at the back of the Coastguards Cottages. Still hot and dry conditions for the plants, but here they are protected the rest of the year from the east wind coming off the sea.

Back-of-Coastguard-Cottages-Shingle-StreetNaturally, on the beach side of the cottages it is tough Mother Nature doing her thing as clumps of sea kale (Crambe maritima) survive on the windswept pebble shore.

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Old hands and newbies

BB-OneLast weekend and again this coming weekend I will be selling my work at ‘British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn’. The venue is a fantastic, timber-framed Suffolk barn dating from about 1550. Over its long history the Barn was used for threshing and storing grain. Indeed, the Barn was still used as a grain store up until 1985. It is a beautiful airy space with the massive timbers supporting a 30 metre long, thatched roof.silk-scarves.jpgDuring the course of the weekend it was a pleasure to meet so many people, especially some very talented crafting folk not least my neighbours, Karen, of Karen Risby Ceramics, and, Kerry, Kerry Richardson Designer Jeweller.Karen-and-KerryA big thank you to these experienced and accomplished designer makers for their warm welcome to this newbie to ‘British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn’.

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Ipswich Maritime Festival

Ipswich-Maritime-Festival

Every two years the Ipswich Waterfront hosts a Maritime Festival. Held over a weekend the event is a nautical celebration featuring boats, international street food and a temporary fun fair.

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Visiting boats line up along the quayside and the largest visitor this year was the Earl of Pembroke (1945) all the way from Bristol. Originally a schooner, the Earl of Pembroke was restored between 1985-1994 and commissioned as a three masted eighteenth century barque. You may have spotted her in Tim Burton’s film ‘Alice in Wonderland’ or in the TV series ‘Longitude’.

Another sailing beauty, the slender Essex smack Pioneer CK18 (built 1864), was moored up at the Waterfront joining some of the Old Thames barges (Victor, Thistle and Centaur) recently returned to the quayside for the Festival.

It wasn’t just sailing boats that were flaunting their nautical credentials. One of the last surviving steam inshore craft, Vic 96 (built 1945) was tied up alongside the tugboat Motor Tug Kent (1948).

This year’s theme was the recapture of Ipswich from the Vikings in 917AD and we did eventually spot a small group of folk with their historically accurate helmets and mail vests sitting at the back of the fun fair area. I am not sure authentic Anglo Saxon or Viking food would have been big sellers, but there were wild boar burgers, venison sausages, and a full hog roast available for hungry visitors.

Many of the ships and boats around the marina were decked out with colourful flags, but the best part of the weekend was the closing firework display. My photos were all shot through the rigging of the Earl of Pembroke.

I think the firework finale (below) flashing and banging over the ship gave a hint of what it might have been like in the past in the midst of a naval skirmish.

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PS – Newsflash – July 2018 –

As of this year the Ipswich Maritime Festival is to take place annually. Perhaps this August I will get better firework photos!

 

 

 

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

Park life – planting for bees

Chicory-succoryThink of a traditional civic park in the UK and regularly mown grass criss-crossed with paths and dotted with formal bedding schemes springs to mind. A vision surviving from our community minded forebears, the Victorians.

Wilding-the-parkBut in the 21st century planted civic spaces in many towns have moved away from this formal interpretation. Perhaps this is partly due to the labour intensive nature of seasonal bedding schemes and therefore the greater expense.

Nowadays we find hole areas of parks have become very informal with a move to include the introduction of more natural, conservation areas.  Plants are being chosen to support the indigenous wildlife and there’s even a hint of re-wilding some areas and a hands off approach to weeding.

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Meadow wildflowers. Bee friendly clump of wild chicory, upright hedge-parsley, teasel and common thistle.

Of course, look closely and there is a fine balance between allowing nature to flourish yet not become entirely overrun with the more thuggish weeds. Weed or not, the bees are only too pleased for the odd flowering thistle and the butterflies such as Painted Ladies, Commas, Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshells and Red Admirals all love a healthy patch of nettles. (Sadly, when I was in the park I only spotted a couple of Commas, it doesn’t seem to be a particularly good year for butterflies, possibly due to the recent heavy downpours.)
Busy-beeIt isn’t just the annual and biennial wild flowers that are important for bees, as in the autumn, when there are fewer blooms around, ivy flowers provide a very important source of nectar. And, this is where the large, venerable park trees supporting their heavy old cloaks of ivy are so important as only established, mature (arborescent) ivy flowers.

Woodland-cool-Holywells
Large old tree clad in arborescent ivy in the woodland area of Holywells Park, Ipswich, Suffolk.

Finding some floral magic

Local-park-flowersSo far it’s four months since I packed up my home and said good-bye to the flower garden and I am most definitely missing some summer floral interaction! These photos were taken in the local park, Holywells Park, a five minute walk from my temporary home.Park-terracesIt isn’t a huge park, but it is a most welcome sanctuary of green only five minutes from the very busy Ipswich Waterfront and less than a 20 minute walk from the city centre.

The Winerack from Holywells Park Ipswich
Through the trees, just visible, is ‘The Winerack’ the skeletal structure of a half-finished tower block located on the Ipswich Waterfront.

The park is spread across 67 acres and features a variety of wildlife habitats including ponds, woodland and meadow areas as well as more than enough space for humans to walk their dogs.

For a gardenless person like me, there are also more formal plantings. Borders full of flowers, mostly lavender and alchemilla mollis, that soften the edges of the terraces between the old buildings. visiting-beeWe have had some hot weather during the last month and only a couple days of any rain, and I think that the phlox has bolted and is running to seed, but it is still providing plenty of food for the bees.

It was a very pleasant space to spend a quiet half hour during the early morning and I couldn’t believe the noise and pollution that hit me as soon as I ventured back out into the morning rush hour! At least these beautiful lilies bring the scent of a summer garden into the flat.
Lilies

Down the rabbit hole with John Tenniel

alice-in-wonderland-and-through-the-looking-glassIt’s just over one month into the New Year and the world of politics is thrashing from one extraordinary tweet to another and here in the UK a notable Member of Parliament has even suggested some of our politicians are living in Wonderland.

mad-hatters-tea-party
Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Chapter VII, A Mad Tea Party, ‘Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll. 1898 Illustration by John Tenniel (from my grandmother’s 1905 edition)

In last week’s parliamentary debate on Brexit, former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ken Clarke, expressed his views on the hopes of his Pro-Brexit colleagues saying,

“Apparently you follow the rabbit down the hole and you emerge in a wonderland where suddenly countries around the world are queuing up to give us trading advantages and access to their markets that previously we had never been able to achieve as part of the European Union,” he said. “Nice men like President Trump and President Erdoğan are just impatient to abandon their normal protectionism and give us access. No doubt there is somewhere a Hatter holding a tea party with a dormouse.”

Flicking through my Grandmother’s copy of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, to find the famous John Tenniel illustration of the Hatter’s Tea Party, I spotted a few more delightfully grotesque images I’d forgotten.

Interestingly, there is a tradition hailing from Suffolk, that a medieval stained glass, representation of Elizabeth Talbot, wife of John de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, is the inspiration for the Duchess in John Tenniel’s illustrations found in ‘Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland’.

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This splendid painted glass is part of the spectacular, medieval stained glass windows of Holy Trinity, Long Melford in Suffolk. However, when digging around for further information I read that some commentators have suggested Elizabeth Talbot looks more like the Queen of Hearts. I’m not sure whether it is the headdress styles or the facial expressions depicted that have prompted such comparisons.

Of course, either way it’s a nice idea, but I think, in truth, I am more in agreement with Marilyn Roberts who, writing in ‘The Mowbray Legacy’, suggests that the well-known painting, ‘Grotesque Old Woman/The Ugly Duchess’ by Quentin Massys in the National Gallery, was more likely Tenniel’s inspiration.

ugly duchess
‘The Ugly Duchess’ or ‘Grotesque Old Woman’ by Quentin Massys. Oil on oak panel 62.4 by 45.5 cm. circa 1513 National Gallery, London.

A quintessentially English weather drama

Clouds-bringing-rain

Suffolk is well-known for big, open skies. These skies of cool blue with puffs of white cloud were made famous in the paintings of Suffolk-born, John Constable, from Dedham Vale on the Suffolk/Essex border.

Flatford-Mill-John-Constable
Flatford Mill (Scene on a Navigable River) by John Constable   1816
Oil on canvas. 52.4 in × 6.4 in × 62.3
Tate Britain, London

However, it’s not always sunny in Suffolk and recently there have been spells of speedily arriving storm clouds and heavy summer showers.

rainbow over sea
Dark skies, heavy showers and bright rainbows over the North Sea at Aldeburgh.

These conditions, combined with the evening sunlight, have resulted in some spectacular, brilliant rainbows. Sadly, I didn’t get the best shot as it was gone by the time I’d run back indoors to get my camera, but one rainbow looked like it was dipping into a pot of gold in the depths of the sea. It was the brightest, most vibrant rainbow I’ve ever seen.

The next morning following the stormy showers it was the return of blue skies and white clouds complementing the painted houses bright along the seafront – a very English view.

Next-morning-sunny

Still, what’s to do on a stony, shingle beach with a very calm sea, ah yes, skim stones.

Pebble-Beach-Aldeburgh

Shopping globally, inspired locally

UKHandmade-showcase-front-pageDon’t you just love our flexible outlook on life? Most of us have that strange ability to hold two totally opposing views at the same time. Here on Planet Earth we happily buy and sell to each other all round the globe, but at the same time we applaud the idea of ‘buying locally’. Luckily for me my scarves when boxed up are small and light so earlier this year shipping to Singapore was as easy as shipping down the road to the next county. On Monday of this week my work was chosen to appear in the current UKHandmade Showcase ‘Textiles’.

double page spread silk scarves UK handmade showcase
Inside double-page spread.
(Mildred pink uses motifs from the medieval rood screen at St Helen’s Church, Ranworth, Norfolk.)

I guess we like the idea of shopping locally as we feel connected to our town, region or even broadly our country. Sometimes, and I think this is particularly so with handmade craft pieces, there is often a reflection or essence of place in an artisan made object. Designer-makers, along with fine artists frequently cite their environment as a major source of inspiration. There can’t be a finer example of the importance of place as inspiration than the magnificent Maggi Hambling work ‘Scallop’ a tribute to Suffolk composer Benjamin Britten. The Suffolk coast was, of course, the inspiration for Britten’s ‘Sea Interludes’ and Suffolk born Hambling says of her work

“An important part of my concept is that at the centre of the sculpture, where the sound of the waves and the winds are focused, a visitor may sit and contemplate the mysterious power of the sea.”

scallop aldeburgh Maggi Hambling
‘Scallop’ Maggi Hambling
2003, Aldeburgh beach, Suffolk.
This 4 metres tall, steel sculpture is a tribute to Benjamin Britten.
The words “I hear those voices that will not be drowned” from Peter Grimes are cut into the steel.
Made by Aldeburgh craftsmen Sam & Dennis Pegg.

Hetty blue, green and peach

green silk scarf
Hetty green. Hand painted silk scarf.

Earlier this year I visited Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, where some of my work had been displayed as part of an exhibition at Smiths Row. Whilst there I took the opportunity to photograph some of the outstanding stained glass that fills the windows of St Edmundsbury Cathedral. It was the Tudor bows detail decorating part of the ‘Susannah and the Elders’ window that caught my eye.

Tudor bows – a blue version, Hetty blue.

A green and pink version.

And, the double steamed blue and peach – which I think in the end has turned out the best.

Agnes-Ashe-hand-painted-silk-twill-scarf-Hetty-peach-clupWP

Hetty-peach-model-3WP

Inspirational heritage – bows embellish Tudor stained glass

Tudor-painted-glass-Bury-St-EdmundsStained glass is more than just beautiful jewel-like windows flooding interiors with shimmering dappled patches of colour. Many stained glass windows particularly those found in churches are a combination of pieces of coloured glass cut and leaded together to form an image, and parts of the window lights where sections of the glass have been painted. In addition to painting people and animals often vegetal motifs and ornate architectural designs were painted into the backgrounds and borders of the main images.

I noticed an interesting bow motif used by the makers of ‘The Susannah and the Elders’ window in St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds. The artisans who painted this window lived during the first half of the sixteenth century and were either Flemish or French.

In one of the lights you can see the style of dress worn by the Elders and it is typical of the first half of the sixteenth century as compared with oil paintings such as the 1520 painting ‘Portrait of a Man’ by the Flemish artist Quintin Massys. These images immediately made me think of Thomas Cromwell in his legal guise flexing his power and working his charm round Henry VIII’s court. Although, I can’t imagine he wore any flamboyant bows himself!

Currently, I’m working the ‘Tudor bow’ motif with a blue palette.