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Saturday, 20 May 2017

An arty afternoon at an open studio

I was up early last Saturday. Shopping - tick. Washing and ironing - tick. Gardening -tick.

By three o clock, I was feeling virtuous, the afternoon was bathed in glorious sunshine, and a friend was opening her art studio as part of the Harborough Artists Cluster trail which took place all weekend. So off I pootled....

I've known Lisa Timmerman since our boys were small, in the years when she didn't paint. Although she'd trained at Loughborough and Bristol College of Art, it was at the age of 48 that she decided she would make up for lost time and produce 50 paintings in the two years before she hit the big 50.....

Such an inviting door beckoning me into the coach house where she and four other artists were exhibiting.

Immediately, there was an award winning combination of beautiful paintings and cake, including a rather good lemon drizzle cake, which I couldn't resist a slice of.

Lisa paints in acrylics and oils  - still life, portraits, the English countryside and chickens. I think it's fair to say , she loves painting those.

 I do like her use of colour and shadows

Janet Alderson Smith was also exhibiting ...she likes to paint in acrylic ink.

Also exhibiting downstairs in the coach house was fused glass artist Sarah Jane Luke. I was very attracted by the shapes and colour in this piece

Someone else I knew was exhibiting here. Barbara Hatton, who used to live in the next village to me. We don't see each other all that often, but when we do, we don't stop talking.

Chattering away, Barbara led me up the spiral staircase to her work was being shown. Whether her paintings are in oils, acrylic or watercolour, they are as vivid and vivacious as she is.
Catching up on her news, I learnt Barbara has had cancer twice ( two different types) and her husband died within the space of the last  fifteen months or so. Yet she is as dynamic and funny as always, without an ounce of self pity, and still producing such interesting work. She's incredible.

Outside, Livvy King was exhibiting her contemporary ink works. I was particularly taken with this one, the sheer physicality and emotion shone out.

I saved my favourite part of a visit to any Open Studio until last. It's one thing to see what an artist produces but I can find out so much more about the artist in the space where they actually work.

I love Lisa's space ...with glimpses of current and future projects,

with other paintings stacked ready for sale,

and the portraits of her husband and boys.

Her husband Paul was home by now, so we went for a quick chat and a walk around the newish, small lake in the garden,

and by the time we got back, miraculously it was wine o clock. Janet, Barbara, plus Lisa on the right had their glasses full, and everyone was chatting animatedly. My glass was filled too, and what a lovely end to such an interesting afternoon.

There was just time to admire the huge pots filled with tulips, before driving home, wishing that if only, I could have the tiniest ounce of artistic flair.


Tuesday, 16 May 2017

A day at RHS Malvern Spring Festival

It was a very early start on Thursday - I was off to Worcestershire for the RHS Malvern Spring Festival. As I sped down the M6 and M5, the sun was shining, I was singing along to songs on the radio, and there was that delightful sensation of anticipation.

What gardens would I fall in love with? Which plants would knock my socks off?  And what would my overall impression of the festival be?

The Malvern Hills are a wonderful setting, and it's such a spacious and well laid out festival .Wide paths too and flat grass.....bliss, as it was my first week of walking without crutches after fracturing my ankle.

First stop was a meet up with other members of the Garden Media Guild just inside the Floral Marquee  in the Plant Finder Parlour. Just past ten o clock  in the morning and quite a few were standing happily chatting with a glass of ice cold prosecco in their hands. How wonderful I thought, so promptly took a glass and joined them.

It was good to catch up with a rather formidable looking Matthew Biggs again .

He was dressed for his role as plant hunter Ernest Wilson who brought such an eclectic collection of beautiful and rare specimens back to the UK at the beginning of the twentieth century. I knew of how he'd found the ghost tree or handkerchief tree, ...see here

but Matthew really brought his work to life in a dynamic and humorous way which the audience loved. Unfortunately though, I didn't have time to watch his interpretation of the life of George Forrest in the afternoon.

I loved Jekka McVicar's garden at last year's Chelsea Flower Show so was rather keen to see the Health and Wellbeing Garden she's designed which will be a permanent feature at the Three Counties Showground.

A circular garden protected by a dry stone wall, there was lots to look at. I always love lavender edging and there's so many herbs planted here in the raised beds by Woodblocx, I lost count.  Tashkent mint is a new one to me which I liked. But this isn't just a calming garden for reflection, it's a working one too a learning space for Pathways, a day service working with adults with learning disabilities

I made my way to the Grow Zone where gardening charities and organisations were showcasing their edible beds. I  was keen to see Sara Venn and her team from Incredible Edible Bristol. They've created 35 food community gardens in the last three years. It's a wonderful achievement -  Sarah is so passionate about her project, she's a real dynamo.

 But this venture isn't just about plants, it's about people too. Luke, one of the volunteers , was telling me how he joined within a few hours of coming to live in Bristol. He's found a great bunch of friends who share his love of gardening and he's an enthusiastic advocate  for what they're trying to achieve.

The raised bed from  Rush Farm Biodynamic in Worcestershire was a picture of vitality and health. Sebastian Parsons who farms there and who is Chief Exec of the Biodynamic Land Trust was just as perky as his plants, eagerly explaining how he and his sisters have transformed Rush Farm.

Hotfooting it back to the Floral Marquee, before it got too hot, there was almost sensory overload from the sight and scents of so many plants and people. So much to admire, but if I had to choose three plants which I coveted...two of them were paeonies from Primrose Hall...the beautiful "Sarah Bernhardt" 

And the elegant "Mothers Choice"


And thirdly , this pretty as a picture Phlox...."Clouds of Perfume" from Hardy's Plants.

Wandering outside, the first show garden I looked around was this...The "At one with ...a meditation garden from Howle Hill Nursery. With Japanese maples, three springs, statement pieces and a cooling pool harmonising so well, I'm not surprised that this garden won best in show. There was such a sense of timelessness and serenity here...


But it was the Villaggio Verde garden "The Retreat "that I wanted to sit in. A hot saltwater spa, the clean lines of the terrace, the large olive trees, leading into a Mediterranean  planting of olives and lavender, were so evocative, so delicious, I could have set up camp there with a picnic of prosecco, olives and nuts.

Itching as I am to be near the coast at this time of year, I liked the vibrancy of "The Ocean "spa garden designed by Michel Damien

There was a queue to walk around the Buckfast Abbey Millennium Garden. This detail intrigued me as I waited but time was pressing, I became aware of everything I hadn't yet I moved on....

Other visitors however were relaxing and tucking into street food and picnics by the bandstand....

That's something I like about Malvern...plenty of benches and places to sit down and take the weight of your feet, and just watch the world go by.

Joe Swift found the perfect place to sit a while, but he wasn't relaxing , he had some pieces to camera  to do for Gardeners World.

As for the shopping at Malvern.....there's so much to tempt you into spending far more than you should. Plants, clothes, paintings, food, and of course the bigger items too. Now my old ash tree no longer stands centre stage in my garden due to Storm Doris, there's no shade.  I was very impressed with these huge parasols from Instashade which use Australian fabrics which know how to withstand the searing sun . One day, one of these shall be mine!

So, a rather successful festival ......and I 'm looking forward to the RHS Malvern Autumn Show, which takes place on the 23rd to 24th September.
See you there....


Monday, 1 May 2017

Sunny days now the ash has gone...

When I last wrote about my lovely old ash tree in the garden, I was upset....

Yes, this 142 year old tree had been part of the history of out cottage since 1875, and in the years we've lived here, we've appreciated it so much. Looking back through photographs though, you can see just how much shade the tree cast over our garden, especially when you can see how close our neighbour's oak is.

I didn't realise it at the time when I took that photo how sunny it was that day, especially in the fields beyond.

Back to a grey March day, and the ash tree finally came down, after a mauling by Storm Doris.

The majority of the tree was sawn up making lots of logs - let's put it this way, we won't have to buy any for a few years.

There was one part of the ash tree which stayed for a while, part of the trunk. The tree surgeons were cutting it and suddenly the chainsaw struck metal inside the wood. They tried to cut further but couldn't as there was a metal rod in the trunk, placed there to support the ash in its early years of growth.


Some of our  friends said it would make a feature in the garden, but they weren't going to have to find somewhere to put it, and besides, it was oh so heavy. 
Boo and Eric, our two terriers are rather put out though, they used it as a look out post, as they defended the south west perimeter.
We shall be doing something with what remains of the tree - we just haven't decided what the hell it will be yet. Possibly a table.


In the meantime, I can't believe how much light there now is the garden .Everything in the long narrow raised bed seems to be revelling in the light.

The red and white currants in particular have thrived,

 and the bees are buzzing in the sunshine all day in the middle of the rosemary...
Back to where the wood is stored though, this was originally where the 12 foot high box were ....they had been taken down last year (straggly, past their best, and under threat of box blight) and I had been planning (in a rather slow and dilatory way) what plants I should grow in their place.
I'd been looking at plants for dry shade obviously, but I'm so pleased that I hadn't been gung ho and planted straight away.
Now, there are so many possibilities  for this border. Yes, a whole border to plant against the backdrop of my neighbour's laurels . I've never had to plan a whole border before and the new possibilities are endless. I've always loved the thought of paeonies, I could have them  now. I really want lots of dahlias ( my late father's favourites), perhaps a philadelphus,, and to be honest I'm slightly overwhelmed with the choice..
Our cottage faces south west, so the border is south facing, but there will still be shade at the top of the garden from the oak. So, decisions, decisions...I'm reminded of the old joke "I used to be indecisive, but now I'm not so sure."