Saturday, 26 April 2014

A wander down to the dell

The garden, or at least select bits of it, is full of spring at the moment. Understand that I am careful to edit out the weedy bits, the unruly bits and the bits that are just soggy mud! However, I'd like to take you for a walk down to the dell where the badgers dwell, as there has been a bit of a change there over the last several months

We'll start at the top though, with the lovely pots that my dear soul keeps refreshed and colourful, to greet us as we step out of the conservatory, they are looking so pretty just now and I wouldn't want you to miss them. There are a lot of bluebells in our flower beds, in fact there isn't a bed that doesn't have some, but they look so lovely at this time of year that I couldn't think of pulling them out, as I'm sure some more fussy gardeners would do. 

I'll skip the middle bits, you've seen the highlights in the last two posts, and what I really want to show you is this, our very first apple blossom. We've planted a dual fruit apple, with two stems grafted onto one rootstock; a cooker and an eater. And here is the lovely cluster of flowers on one of them, a delicious ruffle of pink and white that promises much pleasure to come. I'm thinking arching sprays of blossom, alive with dancing butterflys; mind you this will require the tree to grow above the level of my kneecaps - it is rather wee at the moment but give it time, this is its first year. If these lovely blooms result in fruit, be sure I'll let you know. We also planted a plum, called Herman. I failed to get pictures of its starry white flowers, but it also promises good things, including a fine crop of fruit this year, so again, I will report! I suspect they will also be popular with the badgers once we have more fruit than we can use - perhaps fermented windfalls will result in drunken badger parties!

And here is the other thing I want to show you. We had some rugged steps installed in the Autumn. They look at bit raw now, but getting to the bottom was a bit of an obstacle course before, as the badgers create an ankle breaking muddle of holes and clumps in their foraging for worms. We are both aware that we are significantly past the first flush of youth, and want to keep this part of the garden accessible once we get old, frail and wobbly!

You can see one lone daffodil at the moment, but earlier in the season there was a lovely trail of them all along this side of the steps. On the right hand side, as well as the plum and apple, we are nestling some wild flowers against the steps (to avoid those enthusiastic badgers) and have scattered liberal handfuls of wild flower seed all about to, encourage more variety in this little bit of urban wild space. At the very bottom is the path that the foxes and badgers use in their nightly explorations. It winds it's way between Hogweed, Queen Anne's Lace and nettles (a very good host plant for caterpillars)

and looking back, you can see how satisfied Rum and Raisin are with their new viewing platforms. In another few weeks the steps will almost disappear in a froth of umbellifers and whatever else comes up this year

On the way back up, we should  pause in the vegetable garden to admire the beans - aren't these flowers delightful?

Then we stop again to see that the lilac blossom are starting to open - this tree seems to flower every other year, though a quick bit of Googling suggests this may be because I've not cut back the flower heads so will try that this year.

A little further and we find ourselves back at the top of the garden, just in time to catch the sunlight making the bluebells glow. Who could resist them?

Friday, 18 April 2014

Morning view

I love this view just outside my indoor sitting place. It is the path that was invisible, unknown when we first moved in. It has been cleared and made proper with salvaged wood edging, from the yew tree, and salvaged pavers from the muddle that has become our courtyard. The little Japanese lady tilts her head invitingly, nestled amongst the froth of euphorbia.
The path is lined by delicate heart leaves and flowers of epimedium 
and the white of the "bluebells" which shine in the morning air. 
It is always full of movement, as the big green laurel and the spiky tree stump hold bird feeders with all sorts of goodness. There are fat balls and cylinders, peanuts, which the squirrel hangs upside down to steal, a seed feeder which the fat pigeons set swaying as they land awkwardly on its platform and a tray with meal worms for the little chicks that must be hatching sometime soon
Towards the end of the path is the deep red of the Japanese maple, bought for me by Mum many years ago. It lived in a pot until I knew I'd found the place where I would stop. Now it's delicate leaves are sensitive to every drift if air that ripples through them; they fill the space with fluttering movement
Near the house there are the outrageous, blowsy flowers of the ranunculus that were my Mother's Day gift this year and, if you look very carefully, in the shade of the dark laurel leaves, you will see the soft oval of a blue tit's body, wings made invisible by their speed, arrowing straight for the food that waits for him on the spiky stump that was once an unruly conifer gown past its space.
See, here he is.
A pleasing view to greet to greet me each day.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

A little bit of stitch in progress

One of my hand dyed pieces, not from my recent foray, but from Christine's classes. Not finished by any means, but coming along

A feather on the breath of God

Friday, 4 April 2014

Nearly home again

I'm at the end of a three week break, my final week being spent with my Aunt Cecil in rural Oxfordshire. Those who pop by here regularly will have met her before, but here she is sitting by the river Thames, about to tuck into coffee and chocolate tiffin. This image, I hope, captures her sweet smile and marvellous sense of fun, quite undiminished by dementia.

I take pictures so that, when we get back home, she can see where we've been and what we've done, her memory being truly absent. It was she and my grandmother who inspired me to stitching many years ago, both being fine needlewomen. The skill has been passed down the family from my Great Grandmother Nanya's generation (and no doubt those who came before her), and Cecil talks of Aunt Annie and her exquisite smocking. I wish some of it had survived, but would guess it was needed to earn money. Aunt Annie lived with Nanya, who had been widowed in 1914, with three daughters in their teens to support and no means of income beyond their wits and feminine skills. They moved from Ireland to England in 1921'ish; their location chosen by the legendary pin placed in the map with eyes closed.

Coming from a family who have condensed into just me, Cecil and my daughter Jen this side of the water, I treasure those family tales and the opportunity to spend time with Cecil and share our joint past. On this visit I took a collection of old photos to show her. They have all come to me, as Nanya lived with my grandmother at the end of her life; I also have, and treasure, the letters she and my Great Grandfather wrote to one another through their courting days (a project for my retirement). Cecil was very anxious that I label all those images so "those that come after" know who they are. It got me thinking about the values we place on things. I know who those precious few blurred faces belong to; some of them I met, some I know because of our shared family tales, to me they are real people with lives and loves and interesting characters. Yet if Jen has children and brings "grandmotherhood" back into this diminishing family, these dear souls might be of little or no interest - just dated images in sepia and black and white. This is true of so many things that get handed down, their value is simply to those who know the who and why. Once those people have gone, what is to be done with them? I don't know the answer, but do recall collections of Victorian photos that we hold in the reference library I used to work in. We kept them without knowing anything of who they were, simply because they were old. I often wondered what was the point, but couldn't countenance throwing away images that were a window on somebody's past, albeit anonymous. What think you?

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Natural Dyeing Workshop

I can't begin to tell you what fun I had last week, but I'll try. I went to a workshop being held at the Potters Farm Studio belonging to Claire Benn of Committed to Cloth. The workshop was run by Michel Garcia who's research into sustainable and benign methods of dyeing using natural dyes and mordants, I'd come across before from a various mentions in blog land and on YouTube. 

I had no idea what to expect, being pretty new to the whole process of dyeing fabrics. What I got was a week of fascinating experiments, made all the more fun by Michel's warm personality and quirky humour. He is an expert in the subject, having a background in both chemistry and botany, and took the group through the process step by step, to show us how different mordants react with different dyestuffs. We had three days of experimenting with fabrics, dyes, mordants and as many variations on those three things as we had time for and materials to work with, including going out into the lovely surrounding landscape and collecting fresh plant material to see what happened. His teaching process takes you step by step in a very methodical way, creating swatches of fabric with patches of each of the mordants and dyes so you can see exactly what you will get. The magic comes from placing a piece of plain fabric with splotches of mordant into the pot, and pulling out a multicoloured sample to use as reference. In the final two days we were introduced to the indigo dyevat (also known as the donkey), using resists and multiple dips in the to create a range from deep blue to white. We then applied mordants and dyes to get a full range of colours on one piece of fabric. It really was inspiring, and Claire's studio is a wonderful place to learn, especially as she generously gave us time after the formal teaching to finish off, or prepare for the next day. We were also treated to delicious meals each day to give us energy for our experiments. 

The rest of the class were all experienced textile artists of one sort or another so I felt very much the amateur, but the opportunity to spend a week with this group of creative people was a genuine pleasure and I learned a great deal both from Michel and Claire, and from watching the the way the rest of the group worked. It taught me that we are all different, and that there isn't necessarily a "right" way to be creative, just the way that works for you. 

I would love to say that I'm now going to put into practice all that I learned, so it sticks in my mind. However, life doesn't usually work this way. This week I am looking after my beloved Aunt Cecil while her carer is away and next week it will be straight back to work which, over the past several months, has been full on and left me coming home each evening with not an ounce of energy to spare. I'll store all the learning (and samples) up until such time as life settles down and I can give myself some down time to have another go, 

Here are a few images - just to give you an idea of what we did, rather than because I think I achieved anything wonderful!

The dye swatches - my reference charts

some experiments with screens various

some happy fishes

and a few bits of indigo shibori 

If you have the chance to attend either a workshop by Michel, or one run at Potters Farm, I'd really recommend it.