Saturday, 31 July 2010

an unpretending house

Virginia Woolf described Monk's House as:

an unpretending house, long and low, a house of many doors; on one side fronting the street of Rodmell, and wood boarded on that side, though the street of Rodmell is at our end little more than a cart track running out onto the flat of the water meadows.

Here, in a little wooden summer house in the garden, she wrote many of her novels. From the writing room there is a view out over water meadows and the Downs.

Leonard Woolf was the gardener...

but Virginia's bedroom looked out onto it.

Bloomsbury in Sussex

From Vita yesterday to Vanessa (Bell) and Virginia (Woolf) today. I've had a day filled with bloomsbury characters, their richly decorated homes and their simple but beautiful gardens.

The garden at Charleston Farm was laid out by Roger Fry (founder of the Omega Workshop) to enable Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and whoever else was currently in residence to always be able to pick something to have in a vase in the house to paint.

It's relaxed, welcoming and full of colour.

Vita's ghost

Sisinghurst is apparently the most visited garden in England. The trouble with this fact is that it means there are a lot of other people trying to experience this wonderful place at the same time!

It is worthwhile, therefore, to wait until the majority of the coach parties and other hoards have moved on for their tea and then you can really relax into this romantic place.

Of course the ghost of Vita Sackville-West and her unconventional life pervades this garden and the fairytale tower, where Vita wrote, is ever-present in views across the garden. So tempting to lounge about the orchard reading some of the books that were written here or linked with the people who spent time here.

Such a contrast to the exuberance of Great Dixter: here the planting is harmonious and safe, but beautiful for it. The 'white garden is the most well known of the garden 'rooms'. My favourite, however, was the 'cottage garden' next to the South Cottage and filled with hot reds, oranges and yellows.

Towards the end of the day, after a cup of tea, we returned to the 'white garden' and found a shady place to sit and sketch. Finally the pen flowed as it should, un-hindered by the frustrations of earlier in the day.

The dominant colour in the 'white garden' is actually green, in all its different permutations and punctuated by the various white flowers. There is also a lot of grey. Many silver-leaved plants are used in amongst those with white flowers. It is all bound together by the strong lines of low box hedging and the faded red brick pathways.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

riotous Dixter

I'm on a bit of a garden indulgence in East Sussex. Today it was Great Dixter, home and garden of the late Christopher Lloyd.

Great Dixter is renowned for Christo's flamboyant colour combinations and general breaking of garden design 'rules'. The planting is certainly unexpected in places but as a result has a relaxed feel that sits well within the formality of the clipped yew hedging the Nathaniel Lloyd laid out within Edwin Lutyens' garden design.

Some of the vibrancy of earlier in the season is lost now but there is still a wonderful exuberance that keeps surprising you as you wonder round.

There are weeds here (it feels like a real garden!) as well as lots of things that self seed and are allowed to do so. The tall verbascum (featured at the top of the post) has been left to self seed all round the garden and works beautifully in amongst other tall plants such a verbena bonariensis, another favourite here.

It feels experimental and invigorating. There are places to sit in this garden, but they're few and far between. Quiet contemplation is not necessarily the order of the day here.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

paper snippets

I've spent a couple of mornings this week sitting on my study floor cutting out layers of paper for hanging decorations.

There are layers of tissue paper to make the shapes 3-dimensional and re-used papers on the outside, stitched to hold it all together.

I end up with this little pile of off-cuts, snippets of the different papers I've used. They're like rather angular confetti! It seems a shame to throw them away but however obsessed I am with keeping things 'just in case' I don't think I can find a use for these.

Some are from pages from an old book, some feature the insides of envelopes (I love those patterns: an interesting one is a prized find), some are old wrapping paper. This Indian wrapping paper is my current favourite, with lovely white and gold print.

This batch is for Magic Number Three in Saltaire, some to sell and some to hang in the shop.

I have some that flutter and twizzle from some dried fennel stems on the mantle piece in my bedroom. They make lovely shadows when the sun comes in.

flowers and flour

I'm feeling strangely chilled out, must be all the lavender...

Lavender biscuits

150g butter
90g caster sugar
225g plain flour
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon fresh lavender leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon lavender flowers, removed from spike

Oven: 160 C

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add flour, egg yolk, leaves and mix well. Turn out and kneed until soft smooth dough, then roll ball into cylinder. Cut into 10-12 sections and lay on greased baking tray, pressing flowers into each disc. Bake for 15-18 mins, until firm but not brown.Cool on trays then move after about 5 mins to cooling rack.

Recipe courtesy of Alys Fowler, The Edible Garden.

Current listening: Goldfrapp, Seventh Tree

Thursday, 22 July 2010

small red package

The other day I received a small package, a gift from a friend with a message.

A beautiful little bundle of scraps dyed in madder.

The different fibres have taken the dye differently and at different stages of the dye bath's life, revealing a range of shades.

Such a lovely bundle to receive... now just what to do with this lovely collection is the question...

Current listening: Kate Bush, The Red Shoes

Monday, 19 July 2010


I was in Cumbria on Saturday, the bit of Cumbria that mingles with the Yorkshire Dales. The weather changed by the minute almost - heavy rain showers, sunshine bringing warmth to the skin suddenly, dramatic, ever-changing clouds with glimpses of intense blue sky between.

I sketched a little by the Rawthey's madrigal...

Trying to capture something of the movement of the water

Why can't I sketch more at home? When I'm away on holiday I can get really engrossed in a sketchbook and drawing becomes part of my exploration of a place, part of immersing myself in a location. I've often thought I should be able to do that at home too and make drawing a part of my everyday routine. But there is just too much else to do, too many mundane distractions. It is the exception rather than the norm, but I'd like it to be more the norm...

Friday, 16 July 2010


This week I have mostly been doing things with blackcurrants (and goosberries . . . and raspberries . . . and tayberries!)

Raspberries and tayberries for breakfast, gooseberry crumble, goosberry fool, blackcurrant tart (that was last week), blackcurrant jam

and blackcurrant cupcakes . . . mmm

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

words of wisdom

Today I've been reading about creativity and approaches to a creative life. I'm finding it fascinating. There are all sorts of little gems I've found but in particular I've found some of Anni Albers' words really useful. And I mean useful in a broad, approach to life and approach to artistic practice kind of way (never mind the dissertation!). In her writing I keep coming across inspirational nuggets of wisdom that I could do with pinning up on my notice board, but of course the more you have of those the less you take notice of them.

Here are a couple that deal with the exploration of a material, from On Designing (1971):

Direct experience of a medium – taking it in the hand, learning by working it of its obedience and its resistance, its potency and weakness, its charm and dullness. The material itself is full of suggestions if we approach it unaggressively, receptively.

Freedom can be bewildering; but within set limits the imagination can find something to hold on to. There still remains a fullness of choice but one not as over-whelming as that offered by unlimited opportunities.

And this one is all about the importance of tactility in our relationship with materials, from On Weaving (1965):

We touch things to assure ourselves of reality. We touch the objects of our love
We touch the things we form. Our tactile experiences are elemental.

Current listening: Janacek Woodwind Sextet, Mladi (Youth)

Sunday, 11 July 2010

a langourous afternoon

The bleating of sheep (why do they always sound so desperate?) and incessant rush of water in the river, low with lack of rain, was the sound track to my Saturday afternoon.

This was the Ribble near Settle, in the Yorkshire Dales. A dipper in the river darted back and forth, alighting on rocks, doing as its name suggests. A baby great tit, surely too young to fly, sat helplessly in the grass, its mother shouting at us to go away from the riverside trees. Warm air; sun comes and goes amidst broken cloud and is then further interrupted by the ever moving leaves of a large ash tree.
The perfect place to spend a langourous afternoon.
Then suddenly the mood changes, cool breeze, spots of rain, dark clouds looming.

Walking back to the station there is all sorts of detail to be distracted by: A dock leaf like lace...

a purple cow parsley leaf...

spiky buttercup seed heads...

various umbellifers in seed...

delicate buds, tightly closed now the sun has gone in