Saturday, 31 May 2014

Liebster Award - First Part

Wow! Thank you to the lovely Jill at Emerald Cottage who has nominated me for the Liebster award.

 This is an on-line award given by bloggers to new bloggers. There are several things for me to do as a nominee:

1. Post 11 random facts about myself.
2. Answer 11 questions posed by my nominator.
3. Nominate 11 blogs with less than 200 followers for the award.
4. List 11 questions of my own for them to answer.

Ok, here goes! I'll do part 1 today. Hmmm ... 11 random facts about me:

1. I am a poetry addict.
There - I've admitted it. I have been mad about poetry for as long as I can remember, and back when I did English at university it featured heavily in my studies. The concentrated language and ideas are amazing. My favourite poets are Ted Hughes, Robert Burns, W.B.Yeats, Dylan Thomas and Byron, to name but a few.

2. I am a vegetarian.
I became one over 20 years ago, and don't eat meat or fish. I never liked the taste of meat as child, but have always loved vegetables and veggie food. When I was about 13 my parents let me eat a cheese and tomato pizza for Christmas lunch! The rest of my family are vegetarian too.

3. I play the violin.
After giving up learning at school when I was 9, I took lessons when I was 39 and got to Grade 3 level before starting work again after being at home when my children were young. Doing my Grades 1 and 2 were a bit scary, but it was great learning and my favourite things to play are jigs, reels and hornpipes. 

4. I have a weakness for buying candles, lanterns and baskets.
My husband and children hurry me through any shop which contains these items, telling me 'You've already got lots!' It's hard to resist - they come in so many varieties...

5. Colour is very important to me.
I love playing with colour combinations. I have very definite ideas about what goes together and what doesn't and have to remind myself to loosen up a bit and go with the flow.

6. I love Cornwall.
We have a holiday there most summers and I just love the fresh coastal scenery and relaxed holiday vibe. No wonder so many artists and crafts-people settle there -  it's so inspiring!

7. My favourite animals are hares and red squirrels. 
I have never seen either of them in real life but live in hope. Hares are wild and enigmatic, and squirrels are beautiful and their movements so fluid.

8. I love to discover new words.
I recently discovered the word 'petrichor' which means 'the scent of rain on dry earth, or the scent of dust after rain'. I was so excited - who knew there was a word for that?

9. My favourite foods are cheese and crisps.
Oh dear, they're not exactly low in fat, so I do have to ration myself. I love blue cheeses, like Dorset Blue Vinney and I pretty much like crisps in general, so I try not to have them in the house!

10. I can't watch tv without crocheting/sewing/knitting at the same time.
Sitting just watching feels weird - I need to make something as well.

11. I am a cloud-spotter.
It's so easy to miss what's going on in the sky above our heads when we're dashing around living our busy lives, but once you start to notice it becomes a habit. I am constantly amazed at how beautiful clouds are and am fascinated by their varieties and what they signify, weather-wise.

Right, that's some random facts about me - time for a cup of tea.
See you soon x

This week

It's been half term here this week and it's been a busy one. The weather's been grey and drizzly for most of the week so there hasn't been a lot of gardening going on. I have been out to admire the roses and poppies which are blooming at the moment.

Those colours do stand out, even on a dingy day.

 However, there have been times when I've been able to squeeze in a bit of creativity.The blooming of the roses means that it's time for me to make rose petal shortbread, so I went out on a dryish day and collected some scented blooms. The darker colours tend to have a stronger perfume, and therefore taste better when cooked. They do look pretty together.

Once picked, I discarded the damaged petals and checked for any bugs which may be hiding in them. Before cooking you need to take out the bitter 'heel' of the petals. It's the lighter bit where they join the flower base. This bit can be quite time-consuming!

I then chopped them quite finely in a mini-chopper so that they look like this.

After trying several recipes, I always use this one. I add a teaspoon or two of rose water, but it depends on how strong you like the taste to be. You can buy it in most large supermarkets.

I roll the dough out and cut it into flowery shapes.

 Once baked, they don't last long in our house!

I also managed to have a creative afternoon with my friend Jane. We've known each other a long time, as well as working together. Now that our children are growing up, we take it in turns to go to each other's houses in the school holidays to spend an afternoon being creative, chatting and eating coffee and cake. It's very relaxing and we both come away feeling inspired. 

I've started a summery patchwork, and Jane's been making machine embroideries, below. You can see what she makes here and here

 It's been good to find moments to be creative and to stop and enjoy the season. Hope you've found time to do the same x

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

A Country Garden

Back in March we visited the Walled Garden at Mells. Set in a pretty village full of stone cottages and sweet gardens, the 17th century garden is very beautiful with views over the nearby rolling hills. It's a popular place, especially at weekends.

There was some very pretty early spring planting, like this wheelbarrow.

It was one of those days that surprise you with their sudden warmth at the end of a long winter. There wasn't a lot happening in the beds, but the structure of the garden was easy to see.

Lots of hellebores and primroses were out, but most of the perennials hadn't got going yet.

These white periwinkles were very striking in a shady hedge.

I went again last weekend with a friend, and we spent a warm, sunny afternoon there. Just look at the difference! The perennials had filled out the garden in a flurry of colour.

There were the most gorgeous ruby red oriental poppies, translucent and glowing in the sunlight.

The fruit trees were in full leaf, and plants spilled pleasingly over beds, creating a lovely patchwork of flowers and leaves.

This single peony was gloriously blowsy, eye-catchingly pink in the sun.

The beds had swathes of purple alliums running through them.

The flowers are globes made up of lots of little stars.

Dotted here and there were features such as bird feeders and wrought iron ornaments and screens.

There was also a plant sales area where you can buy the varieties of plants grown in the garden.

We sat at a table in the shade of a tree and had coffee and cake. I was so busy enjoying myself I forgot to take a photo! This is how the cafe area looked in March.

 After that we wandered and looked at the flowers some more. This wonderful blue iris stood out so well in the mixed borders.

 And this peachy-orange rock rose had lovely crinkly petals.

I looked at a centaurea closely. Those long lavender-blue florets are like a lot of long twirly trumpets.

You can't beat a country garden in the summertime, and although we're not yet officially in the summer, it certainly felt like it that day. 

Henry James put it perfectly: 'Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language'.

Think I'm inclined to agree x.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Painting Flowers

I've always been fascinated by the forms and differing shapes of flowers, and especially their colours. When I was a child I would lie on the grass to look at them from different angles, and I also used to take them apart gently to look closely at them and see how they are made, and imagine the view that bees and other insects get when they climb inside them.

In the absence of Google, these were my favourite reference books and I used to sit and pore over the pictures (they cost me 65p each in the late 1970s - that dates me!)

 I loved the illustrations.

 My favourite pages were the pages with diagrams and labels.

 I'm no scientist but I remember a biology lesson in which we used scalpels and tweezers to take buttercups apart, and then draw and label them. I so enjoyed that lesson! At school and college I usually managed to incorporate flowers into my O and A Level Art compositions.

 A few years ago I decided to try my hand at painting and drawing my favourite subject, and signed myself onto a couple of short Botanical Illustration courses at my local college. Botanical Illustration is the art of making a watercolour picture of a plant which depicts its species in great detail and is usually accompanied by a scientific description . The paintings have featured in herbals for centuries, and despite the advent of photography they are still beautiful and useful in their own right.Our teacher was fantastic, and I had the best time looking closely at plants and their construction, as well as learning new painting techniques, learning how to mix colours

and fill in shapes

as well as trickier stuff like layering tones. 

We looked at how plants are put together

and then at the myriad of colours found in each petal. This is my attempt at breaking down the colours found in a wild bluebell.

Here's the finished picture. These photographs are much bigger than my original paintings.

We didn't forget roots and bulbs. Here's my snowdrop from top to bottom.

We had a go at leaves too. This laurel leaf took me a day to do, and it's a long way from finished.

Finally I was ready to have a go at some of my favourite flowers. Here's a very quick painting of a sweet pea.

Feeling a bit more confident, I tried a nasturtium. I really enjoyed mixing that delicious orange colour.

Last summer I painted a fuchsia. This one took me an afternoon. I really enjoyed painting the stamens with a very thin brush. 

Having only scraped the surface of this art I am in awe of the professional botanical artists who produce exquisitely detailed, pain-staking paintings that take weeks to complete. The attention to detail is breath-taking and the patience required amazing. Imagine how long it must take to paint a rose, peony or passion flower! You can see some wonderful botanical illustrations here. Now that I'm feeling inspired, perhaps I'll pick up my paintbrushes and paint some more of my favourite flowers this summer.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Granny's Bonnets

Our garden is taken over every May by delightful invaders ... granny's bonnets, also known as aquilegias or columbines. They self-seed everywhere, given the chance, and have spread into all corners of the garden. I don't mind, and am always very happy to see them as they are a very pretty perennial and come in a gorgeous selection of colours.

They are violet

white with pink edges

rose pink


dark purple

palest pink

deep pink

and purple with green-tipped petals.

The name aquilegia comes from the Latin word 'aquila' which means 'eagle' and this is because their flowers were thought to look like an eagle's claw. I like the name granny's bonnets because they do look like pretty little hats nodding on their long slender stems. However, another name, columbine, comes from the Latin 'columba' which means 'dove'. This is because the flower is said to resemble a group of five doves. If you look closely at one segment of the flower you can see the little dove. The spur above the petal looks like a curved neck and head. Look ...

Here are some granny's bonnets which I saw when visiting another garden. These are pale green veined with lilac and are quite frilly.

These are a perfect double rosette shape.

And these are pure white with very long spurs.

When the flowers are over the seed-heads are beautiful too. They look like graceful fluted goblets, and pop open when the seeds are ripe.

Nurseries sell striking bi-coloured versions which are gorgeous too, but I like my 'common' ones the best. When they cross-pollinate you never know what colour you'll get...

...or where they'll pop up next. These soft pink ones thoughtfully positioned themselves in front of a deep green fern.

Our garden would be so much the worse without our lovely granny's bonnets. I allow them all to stay, rarely thinning them out, and always look forward to their flowering. I couldn't imagine May without them!