Right on Kew

Last weekend I visited Kew gardens for the first time in over 30 years. It’s a place that I’ve been intending to return to for ages. It’s amazing, with iconic glasshouses and rare plants, as well as some artwork that I particularly wanted to see again. As an unexpected bonus, there was also an impressive exhibition of the work of Dale Chihuly, who creates huge glass sculptures, many inspired by natural forms.

It was a hot day, so spending any time in the tropical house was beyond us, but we did manage to enjoy some of the glasshouses. Mostly, however, we wandered the extensive outdoor spaces, enjoying the sculptures dotted around the garden as well as the beautiful plants.

I particularly wanted to revisit the Marianne North gallery – it’s a wonderful space, completely filled with her paintings. She paid for its construction, but was prevented from implementing her original idea that it be a tea room… such a shame because it would be a perfect place to relax with afternoon tea.

I’m not going to leave it another 30 years before going back.


Yes, I know there’s all sorts of huge things going on it the political world today (we had a general election here in the UK yesterday, in case you didn’t know), but I’m going to distract you with my first bash at a soil-themed inky doodle. It came out more blue than I expected and the addition of silver did not really work, but this is what I created to begin with, just using drops of alcohol ink on yupo paper:

not sure it looks as much like soil particles as I had hoped

And then I started drawing bugs… completely randomly and just to play around with. I got a bit over excited and didn’t allow the ink to dry completely, so some of them are smudgy, however, this is starting to resemble what I had in mind.

My next attempt may involve a base wash and a felt applicator…. and allowing the inks to dry overnight before I doodle. Eventually these are going to be used to make cards, I hope.

And before I go, just a quick reminder about the give-away. If you want a chance of winning the ‘ditch the plastic bag’ bag that I made for the Manchester craftivism exhibition, check out the post here.

Three Things Thursday: 8 June 2017

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog [or Twitter account or Facebook page or diary or life in general] with the happy*

Emily of Nerd in the Brain originally created Three Things Thursday, but it’s now being hosted by Natalie of There She Goes. Anyway, here are my three things this week…

First, letter-writing. I mentioned in my  recent post Small Calm Things, that I had made a start on some letter-writing and over the past few days I’ve written quite a few. Sitting in the limery as the rain hammers down in our British summer, it’s rather nice to put pen to paper and know that I will be raising some smiles as a result of my efforts.

Second, new inks. I have a project in mind that involves alcohol inks in muted colours. Until now I only had bright colours, but this morning’s post brought me the earth tones I need, so I’m now all set for getting arty.

a new art project is on the horizon

Third, pitchers. The pitcher plants and the monkey cup in the limery are growing like mad and it does make me very happy to see them doing their job and looking so fabulous.

And if you want to see lovely pictures of some of these plants in their native habitat, check out this post from Nerd in the Brain, who recently went to visit the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden.

So, those are three things making me smile and that I am grateful for this week. What is making you happy?

Three Things Thursday: 20 April 2017

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog [or Twitter account or Facebook page or diary or life in general] with the happy*

Inspired by Emily of Nerd in the Brain here are my Three Things Thursday.

First, fantastic flowers. The carnivores are growing great guns in the limery – some are busy producing new leaves or pitchers, but the Sarracenia leucophylla is concentrating on flowering, The deep red blooms are each atop a very long stem, towering above all the other carnivores.

Second, back to blankets. I need a bit of mindless crochet for a while to take my mind off politics, so I have got out the squares and yarn that Wild Daffodil sent me and have started creating a new charity blanket.


The colourful ones were donated and the brown ones are mine

Third, getting arty. After being inspired by some of Pauline’s doodling, I bought myself some yupo paper and alcohol inks to play with. I haven’t had much time yet, but I had fun splashing some ink about to see what it did. Since I made these, I’ve bought a few new colours and some thinner, which should allow me to get some more interesting effects…. and I haven’t even started doodling over them yet, which is the plan

So, those are three things making me smile and for which I am grateful this week. What has made you happy this week?

Grow where you are planted… and other lovely things

Blanket #1

Still loving the masterpiece blanket

I loved putting together my masterpiece blanket… the joy of creating an object with contributions from friends around the world. I sit on it every day as it adorns the chair where I do my editing work and where I write. The trouble is, I’m sitting on it, so I don’t get to see it much. Even so, I feel cocooned in the love and creativity that went into making it. Over the months, I have continued to receive more squares which will eventually be put into another friendship blanket for the ‘latecomers’… do let me know if you’d like to contribute a square.

However, I have recently developed the desire to enjoy seeing more of the work of my talented creative friends and so I have decided to decorate my work room with their (your) art. I already have Dani’s snowflake bunting adorning my bookshelves, although I might move it to show it off better.

A while ago, Kerry (Love those hands at home) sent me an antique piece of crochet ad recently I bought one of Anne Lawson‘s beautiful feather pictures. And, most recently, I received a wonderful, original mixed media piece from Pauline (The Contented Crafter) entitled Grow where you are planted. The latter is a swap – I admired this picture when she wrote about it on her blog, saying I would hang it on my wall in a heartbeat. Apparently this is the greatest compliment any artist can be given and so she offered to swap the picture for a crochet dragon. The latter is a work in progress, but her picture arrived here last week.

Whilst I was thinking about displaying these works of art, a framer who has recently started a business in the area happened to put a flier through the door. Serendipity! So, let the adornment of my room commence…



Light as a feather

Thanks to everyone who has sent virtual hugs and kind thoughts this week – I’ve made the changes that I needed to make and I’m moving on with my life now. I’ll tell you all about it when I’ve had a bit of time to mull things over.

My week is, however, ending on a high note – I’m having a day of baking and crochet and I’ve just received the most wonderful parcel from Australia.

For months now I have been visiting Anne Lawson’s virtual shop and trying to choose a painting to buy. I really wanted one of her feathers, but I dithered and couldn’t decide which one. And then a couple of weeks ago she offered to make any of her blog readers who asked a little sketch book – how could I resist? Sending something all the way from Australia seemed a big ask, but then I realised that if I bought a painting, I could pay for the painting  and for the postage for it and cover the cost of sending the sketch book.

So, after much more dithering a I chose a fabulous feather: toffee-coloured and created with a combination of watercolour paint and coloured pencils. And this morning this arrived:

My parcel

My parcel

As you can see, I even managed to curb my excitement long enough to photograph it before it was unwrapped!

The little bundle made me smile so much. The feather picture is beautiful and simple and will be on its way to be framed in the next day or two (I have plans to decorate my work room with art and crafts from my friends from around the world), there was a lovely card with a message from Anne and there was the sketch book – hand-stitched and made from watercolour paper with some of Anne’s work already on it (including more feathers). But what about the cover? A fabulous rooster adorns the outside. What a special gift. Thank you Anne… now I just need to decide what is going to go in my very special book.

and so my spirits are lifted… light as a feather and ready for the next journey…

Naturally artistic


Joanna: a happy teacher!

Regular readers of this blog will know that, whilst I’m very creative, mostly I make things that are useful. It may come as a surprise, therefore, to read a second post from me this week about creating something just for the sake of it. Over the years, I have been to a variety of courses that have taught me creative skills: crochet, wet felting (both of which I love) and basketry (which, it turns out, I really don’t like; it being simply fighting with twigs for me). However, a few weeks ago I went on a course to do something that I would describe as pure art. It was entitled Nature into Art – Porcelain Paper Clay Micro-Sculptures.

Now this was something completely new for me. I don’t think I’ve touched anything resembling clay for about 15 years and I’ve certainly not ever attempted sculpture with it. The thing that appealed was that this course took small natural objects for inspiration: seeds, flowers, fungi. Also, I’d met Joanna Bond, the tutor, on another course that we both attended as participants and her description of these sculptures really intrigued me. So, I booked a place.

One of my unglazed creations

One of my unglazed creations

I forgot to take my camera for the first session when we did the sculpting (hence no blog post, but you can read Joanna’s description of the day here – the photo opposite comes from that post). We made some forms inspired by nature – like my interpretation of star anise that you see pictured – plus we also made small ‘plaques’ into which we pressed grasses, to produce impressions. Today we were colouring and glazing our creations and I did take my camera. Firing had transformed the grey objects that we made, into beautiful white sculptures that already looked like works of art:

Some of our fired work

Some of our fired work

The first step was to add some colour, using various pigments:

And then to dip each object into the glaze… at which point all the colour disappeared. The glaze will become transparent when fired again and the beauty of each object revealed once more. One final embellishment for one of my sculptures was to put some tiny pieces of glass into the cavities; this will melt when fired and add pools of colour in the hollows.

Packed up and ready to be taken to be fired

Packed up and ready to be taken to be fired

So, fingers crossed it will work and I’ll have some lovely sculptures and pendants inspired by nature.

Exotic trees

There is not a huge amount to be done in our garden at present apart from tidying. This is fortunate because the weather is currently not pleasant… wind and rain.

Earlier on in the week, however, we had some lovely clear, sunny days, with frost. We live less than a mile from the sea, so it’s rare to get really cold weather here, but we did get down to about -4.5°C overnight. The surface of the ground was frozen, but this was only to a depth of a couple of inches. And I know this because I had to dig some holes. After several months of waiting, my order from the Agroforestry Research Trust (ART) arrived. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining – the plants are produced to order and there are only limited numbers, so you have to order in the summer for delivery in late autumn/winter.

I am delighted to tell you that I am now the proud owner of three rather exotic (well, exotic for west Wales) plants: a Siberian Pea Shrub (Caragana arborescens); a Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa); and a Szechuan pepper (Zanthoxylum schinifolium). Having just checked the ART website, I see all three are now out of stock, so I’m very glad that I ordered well in advance. But, why, you are probably asking, did I want these three particular plants? Why did I want them so much that I was prepared to order (and pay) for them so many months ago? First, I must say, that the Agroforestry Research Trust has a great reputation. Located on land on the Dartington Estate in Devon (not far from Totnes), it is run by the astonishingly knowledgeable Martin Crawford, and has an enviable reputation for the range and quality of plants available. Apart from anything else, I really wanted to support this brilliant organisation, but also, I wanted to buy good quality plants.

As for the three species I selected, well my motivations were based around producing crops to replace things that I currently ‘buy in’.

Siberian Pea Shrub may be the most talked about plant in permaculture and so I wanted to have a go at growing it. This is what the ART website has to say about it:

Siberian pea shrub. A large leguminous shrub from Siberia, reaching 6 m (20 ft) high and growing some 40 cm per year. The seeds, produced in numerous pods following yellow flowers, are edible when cooked (having a pea flavour), as are the young pods. A fibre is obtained from the bark. Bees visit the flowers and the species is a good fixer of nitrogen. A very hardy hedging and windbreak tree, hardy to -40°C.

It certainly sounds very versatile, but really my interest in it is for the ‘peas’, which I am hoping will make a valuable home-grown addition to the diet of my chickens. Of course, I will be delighted to see it fulfilling its role as a nitrogen-fixer, and perhaps adding a component to the diet of myself and Mr Snail-of-happiness, but it’s the chickens that I hope will get most out of it.

Similarly, I hope that Chokeberries will add an extra dimension to the diet of our chickens. Some months ago, I read an article that mentioned chickens’  love of Chokeberries. I now no longer have any recollection of where the article is to be found, but the information has stuck and so I thought it was worth giving it a go. Again, it may also be a useful addition to the human diet. The variety that I selected was ‘Nero’, about which ART says the following:

Black chokeberry. A shrub from North America, growing to 2.5 m (8 ft) high. It grows in any soil, in sun or part shade. It bears lots of black fruits, 7 mm across, which are edible with a good flavour when cooked in pies etc. Hardy to -25ºC. ‘Nero’ is a cultivar bred for large fruits with a high vitamin C content, and bears heavy yields.

The final addition is not destined for chicken consumption, but for humans. I am aware that the food miles associated with spices can certainly mount up. Admittedly, we only use them in small amounts, but I would like to do something to improve my self-sufficiency in this respect. We already grow our own chilli peppers, coriander and various herbs, but we use quite a lot of pepper and it would be satisfying to supply this need from the garden. A little research suggests that Piper nigrum, the standard source of peppercorns, is a native of India, grows to 10m and is not really suited to our climate. The best peppery alternatives are members of the genus Zanthoxylum :

Szechuan pepper. A very aromatic shrub from China and Japan growing 2 m (6 ft) or more high. The leaves can be used as a flavouring, but the main use is the peppercorn-like black seeds, which are used a spice (peppery and fragrant) – grown commercially as a spice crop in Asia. Grows well in any reasonable soil in sun or light shade; hardy to -20ºC.

And so, on a frosty day earlier this week I planted my three specimens. They don’t look like much at the moment (hence the absence of photographs), but with any luck they will settle in well and we (and the chickens) will be enjoying peas, pepper and chokeberries in the next few years.

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