Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Country pursuits

The other week I stopped to admire the knapped flint tower of a local country church. 

From where I stood between a row of craggy tree trunks I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to hear the hollow drumbeat of a woodpecker echoing around the churchyard. 

In fact, as I circled the church I felt sure I could detect a rhythmic tap. But it had an unusual muffled quality, which ruled out the woodpecker, and anyway it appeared to be seeping out of an inauspicious village hall across the road.

Mystery solved as I pressed my nose to the window. I had stumbled across a weekly Wednesday morning orchestra rehearsal. The players were chomping their way through Beethoven’s ninth with palpable application, and due consideration for arthritic fingers. 

The tap I had heard earlier was from the resonating skins of a pair of shiny kettle drums.
The timpanist stored her spare drumsticks in a vast wicker basket…. now that’s very country!  

And I've a sneaking suspicion there was room in that basket for some foraged wild garlic on her way home too!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Early morning Yoga

Best hour of the day? 

Early morning, the sun just rising and I slip into the greenhouse to see how my seedlings are doing. 
Only today I mistimed it and caught them in the middle of a Yoga class!

Sun salutation

Bridge pose

Half moon pose

Forward fold

Tree pose

Hero pose

Scorpion pose

Riotous naked Yogis drawn by my daughter, Saskia Martindale…. 
art student at large, currently studying in Japan… always up for commissions!

I challenge you not to have a chuckle next time you water your own seedlings!

Friday, May 6, 2016


“A flower blossoms for its own joy” Oscar Wilde

May, prime time for fussing and fiddling in the greenhouse. 
Maize peeping through, too early to plant out the beans, tomato side shoots need pinching out. 
Not to mention a good deal of primping and propping in the garden, sweet peas need wigwams, peonies.. supports, dahlias.. stakes. 

Regardless of my efforts the wild flowers are just quietly getting on with it. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

'Travels With My Aunt'

"I have never planned anything illegal in my life," Aunt Augusta said.
Graham Greene 1904-1991

Neither of my parents had siblings so as a small child I sometimes used to wonder what it must be like to have ‘real’ aunts and uncles. Having said that, we did manage to accrue an engaging array of substitutes.

We visited ageless Jewish spinsters in lofty north London bedsits, that had the magical allure of squeaky polished floors, colourful cushions lined up on the divan, and carved wooden camels marching across the mantlepiece.

There were soft cheeked Aunties that moved gently in a haze of talcum powder, wore slippers and silky stockings, and gave us embroidered cotton handkerchiefs on our birthday. 

And then there was Aunty Ethel. 

She was a country-woman at heart but lived in the local town. When calling on her unannounced, we knew to circumnavigate the house, wander straight into the back garden and listen for her melodic voice rising from the bushes. Spotting us she would straighten up from her reverie and smile. I remember a spider gently letting itself down from the rim of her straw hat as she excused herself for soliloquising in the rose-bed.

I mention Ethel because whenever we took her out on garden visits she came with a commodious handbag, complete with secateurs. We would invariably lose her as she strayed from the path to scrutinise an unusual plant. With her back covering her actions she would be busy taking cuttings and stuffing them into her handbag. 
If she were ever apprehended we had prepared our retort... she was not related to us!

It was with her in mind, that on a trip to the magnificent Cambridge Botanic Garden last autumn, shhhhh, I snapped off a seed head from a Lychnis coronaria ‘Alba’ and popped it into my pocket.
So immaculately tended were the beds, I felt sure that if the gardener had got there before me he would have simply tossed the unsightly straggling stem straight into his wheelbarrow; I was simply doing him a favour. 

Back home I sowed my booty straight away, a couple of weeks later tiny green leaves appeared and now I have nice sturdy little plants ready for the white garden. 

Just think, if I’d slung my jeans in the washing machine without checking the pockets first it could all have been in vain!

P.S. I’ve taken to writing on my pots rather than using labels... too oft’ did one get separated from t’other.

Monday, April 25, 2016

We are still not amused.

Last weekend we visited friends who have just made the move from city to country. It was lovely to share in their excitement, to oooh and ahhh about drifts of daffodils and clumps of hellebores, fruit trees in blossom, clipped yew hedges.... slippery paths, crumbling entrance gates, ivy covered walls and neglected woodland.

Their emotions will fluctuate.

An owl hoot at dusk takes your breath away. But, trying to contact plumbers, tree surgeons, telephone engineers and bricklayers whilst still waiting to be connected to the internet leaves one struggling for air.

We should know.

Having moved here over a decade ago we thought we were old hands. Except, since a dramatic hailstorm ten days ago we have had no internet nor phone connection. We are blue in the face, and can empathise completely with newly arrived Jane and Ben.

Welcome to country life, inhale slowly and focus on the horizon.

“I found poems in the fields
And only wrote them down”
John Clare (1793-1864)

I'm delighted that "Rapeseed Ripple" (above) will be for sale over the Bank Holiday weekend at Art for Cure with all the proceeds going to the very well deserved charity. Lots going on at a wonderful venue... definitely a date for your diary.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"We are not amused"

My Queen Victoria mug plays host to jolly primulas,
who are not amused, by frequent April showers.

Now just suppose you find yourself in Herefordshire, and too, are displeased with the rain, you will be very welcome to seek shelter at the Old Chapel Gallery where you can see some more of my watercolours alongside lots more beautiful contemporary artwork!

Monday, April 4, 2016


What a heady couple of days! 
A real burst of spring sunshine. Perfect conditions for gardening and bread making; which should never go hand in hand of course. I have lost count of the number of times this weekend I have interrupted my weeding, to unlace muddy boots, scrub my nails, then shape a ciabatta or check the plumpness of a hot cross bun. 

I have sown seeds, grubbed out brambles and divided perennials to the repetitive warble, whoop and twitter of happy bird song. Fat bumble bees have been flying loop the loop in the sunlight. Fingers crossed they found the broad beans that have been in flower since February and the plum blossom in the orchard.
My son tackled the jobs I have been trembling at for years. Those requiring a pickaxe, a drill and the energy of a teenager. 

For all the ebullience of spring, however, I am going to miss the criss-cross outlines of winter which have become so familiar. The generous outstretched arms of the oak, the clatter of poplar branches in the wind, and the matronly willow stripped down to her crinoline. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

My new toy, or how not to plan a rose bed

This weekend I have done the work of a small mechanical digger.
And now I have a new rose border.

My husband ‘bought’ me some rose bushes for my birthday in November.
Winter is the perfect time for planting bare root roses. 
Bingo, this could have been a text book enterprise.

Way back last June our good intentions were firmly intact. 
We visited some gardens with splendid roses. We inhaled their unrivalled perfume, made notes, took photos. 
We searched the internet when we got home... and were overwhelmed by a thousand choices.

But first things first, there was the ground to prepare. Perennials to move, weeds to eradicate, mulch to spread. 
Well, that’s a breeze to postpone!
My birthday came and went and still we looked out on a tangle of seed heads and choking tendrils.   

Fast forward to March and I’m in a spin.
Not wanting to let the year pass without my roses materialising I contacted a lovely garden designer friend Kate.

“Please tell us we’re not too late to order some bare root roses?”

Her supplier had a limited choice in our preferred colours and types. Perfect. That made choosing so much easier. 

And the border?

I ripped through it in a weekend with ‘my’ amazing new toy, a long handled grubbing hoe, or azada that I bought my husband for ‘his’ birthday. 
With the correct relaxed arm swing, the blade slices deftly into the soil. So much easier than the back bending, wrist jarring action of a conventional fork or spade. 
I might have tackled the job much sooner if I’d known about such things. 
Go on, put one on your birthday wish list.

Oh, the banana skins? 
Sloppy couldn’t-care-less labourer?

Kate’s tip of the week... pop one in the planting hole of each rose, they’ll love the potassium.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


There’s no plan that can handle the vagaries of March
Sicilian proverb

One day the sun is bright, the air is brisk and I can be tempted into the garden. The velvet grey pussy willow buds are dusted with yellow pollen and the birds are frantic in their song.

Then it rains again. The pond level rises, the drive is more puddle than gravel, I have to make the dash from studio to the house with an old towel draped over my head and the front door won’t open without a forceful jab from the hip. Gardening is reduced to cosseting tomato and cucumber seedlings on the windowsill. They cheer me up.

When the sky clears it’s a different story altogether. The hedges glisten with swollen rosy buds and the occasional burst of spring green. Wispy blades of winter wheat and barley shimmer to the horizon and I can hear the skylarks high over head.

And if it rains again at the weekend? 
I’ll be content to stay indoors, I’ve got 4 kilos of oranges to turn into marmalade. 
Carpe diem.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

To every thing there is a season

Last summer’s berry harvest was perfectly timed for illustrating a series of juice labels with the highly creative team at Stromme Throndsen Design.
And that was when I resolved to take better care of our fruit bushes. 

A few years ago we planted black and red currants, gooseberries and raspberries. They always bear fruit but somehow their maintenance had slipped out of focus. I thought they came under my husband’s domain and my husband thought I had commandeered their upkeep!

I chose a mild day in January to do some restorative pruning. It was a joy to lavish attention on the bushes, cutting out old stems and trimming side shoots. This year’s buds were already pink and swollen, bearing promise.

And I promise I'll have my paintbrushes at the ready, come the summer.