Rohana Darlington

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JUNE & JULY 2017

I’ve been enjoying the beautiful summer weather here in Hampshire, going out and about with my sketchbook and camera capturing images that inspire me for future artworks.

At present the fields are full of interesting patterns made by tractors in the ripening wheat and I plan to use these for a new series of pastels that I’m continuing to develop. Thick oil pastel crayons are fun as you can scrape through them to create interesting textures layering them with different colours underneath. I like using oil pastel pencils with them when I need to make more clearly defined marks.

But I do also like the pure pigments that you get from chalky pastels and have been working with these to create other kinds of pastel paintings. Some of these feature chalky pathways that are so different from the paths of the northern Peak district landscapes that are more familiar to me. I’m also slowly developing a collection of works inspired by the theme of bridges and gateways, with pathways leading from them. When all these works are complete I shall show them on this website.

In addition I’ve discovered I live in a village full of ancient buildings which cry out to be made into ink and wash drawings. I include a photograph of one that shows the interesting patterns made by its bricks and traditional timber frames. The challenge of these is to avoid clichéd chocolate box images…

Finally I include two photographs of local wild flower meadows that will feature in my next two embroidered wall hangings. Bees and butterflies abound where I now live and I shall include them suspended from threads as I usually do in my wall-hangings. I’ve almost completed a large wall hanging of a field of grasses in late summer and this will be decorated with images of the local bright yellow Brimstone butterflies. I’ll photograph it in my next Blog.

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MAY 2017

I’ve been making the most of the beautiful weather to visit one of my favourite places: West Green House Gardens in Thackham’s Lane, near Hartley Wintney, Hook, Hampshire, RG27 8JB. In April the tulips and bluebells were blooming, and in May I returned to see the iris water gardens where irises, ferns and willows were a wonderful sight planted informally by the banks of a stream. A selection of photographs of the apple blossom, roses, allium and amaryllis and pansies in the conservatory are inspiring some of my latest paintings, including a new watercolour still life of tulips.

Other recent paintings continue my interest in seascapes. I include an aerial view of sailing boats, and a new seascape featuring seabirds, a huge sky, lagoons and wave-sculpted sand patterns. Another new acrylic shows the tidal salt marshes at Pagham in West Sussex in early spring.

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust is now offering opportunities to apply for its 2018 categories of Travelling Fellowships. My own Fellowship journeys to Ireland and Norway were a brilliant chance to research traditional folk art and textiles in these countries which led to the publication of book of my designs – IRISH KNITTING - and a lasting interest in Scandinavian arts and crafts. I do encourage anyone wishing to develop their own interests by travelling and later sharing their skills to visit their site at wcmt@org.uk. Travel to Learn – return to inspire! Travelling Fellowships are open to all British citizens to investigate inspiring practice in other countries to return with innovative ideas for the benefit of people across the UK.

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MARCH & APRIL 2017

These past two months I’ve been busy exploring the countryside in spring, sketching and photographing for future inspiration for my artwork.

A fascinating visit to the Weald & Downland Living Museum in Sussex was well worth the journey from Hampshire. (Weald & Downland Living Museum, Singleton, Chichester, West Sussex. PO18 OEU).

This collection of ancient buildings dating from the mid-eleventh century, saved from demolition and reconstructed on the 40 acre open air site contains a wealth of interesting examples of architectural styles, including wattle and daub Saxon homesteads,  oak-beamed Tudor houses and Victorian Railway cottages. Inside a Tudor farmhouse we sampled some vegetable pottage made from plants grown in the adjoining traditional kitchen garden, saw bee skeps and the nearby fields were grazed by Southdown sheep and lambs. Apple orchards were in full bloom and heavy horses and oxen pulled carts and ploughs.

And at Little Frensham Pond in nearby Surrey I saw the bright yellow gorse in full bloom near the reed-fringed water. In my own cottage garden, muscari and snakeshead fritillaries compliment my own little orchard of small apple, cherry, pear and plum trees flowering for the first time.

This month I’ve continued to experiment with new materials and have been focusing on a series of new seascapes, inspired by the Hampshire coastline. Previously we lived in the Pennine foothills of Cheshire, and although I miss that wonderful rugged Moreland landscape, being able to visit the sea so easily is a great new source of inspiration for my paintings and prints. I’ve also begun a new large embroidered wall-hanging featuring wild bleached grasses and flowers in late summer, but this will take me many weeks to complete before I can display it.

 

 

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FEBRUARY 2017

At last Spring’s no longer just around the corner. At a recent visit to Winkworth Arboretum in Surrey early flowering trees were in exuberant bloom, the various yellows of spidery hazel catkins contrasting with the delicate pinks of sorbus and the striking white bark of silver birch.

Near my home in Hampshire I photographed banks of snowdrops and in my own garden snowdrops, purple iris reticulata, striped crocus, hellebore and tiny tête-à-tête narcissi are all out now and lifting our spirits. In fact I was so inspired by hellebores that I made a small hand-dyed silk embroidery wall-hanging celebrating the intricate patterning of their stamens and splashes of contrasting colour on their petals.

We’ve had a little snow recently though, a surprising sight down here in the south of England, which for a short time covered the hills near where I now live. I was inspired to make a little pastel drawing of the scene which contrasted with the vivid red stems of one of my favourite winter shrubs, dogwood. And a winter walk among more dogwood and silver birches inspired another pastel drawing.

I like to keep experimenting with different media, and two books from Batsford that have just now been very influential in my work are: Experimental Landscapes by Ann Blockley and Painting Light in Oils by Peter Wileman. Both wonderful artists and I’m learning such a lot from both of them.

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JANUARY 2017

A Happy New Year to everyone! During November and December I became very busy with various projects, but now it’s the quiet time of the year again I have a chance to write my blog, to review my recent work and plan for busier times ahead.

I enjoyed displaying and selling my candles, handmade cards and paintings at the Winter Art Fair at the Granary Arts & Crafts Centre and later had an interesting trip to London to visit the Tate Modern and the adjoining Bankside Gallery where work by members of the Royal Watercolour Society was on show. Walking by the nearby river Thames opposite St Pauls Cathedral at dusk was a magical experience as the lights were just coming out reflecting in the water and a Christmas Market offering goods from all over Europe was a real delight.

At Tate Modern I took a photo of Ink Splash II, a fascinating mosaic by the artist El Anatsui made of flattened metal bottle tops which took recycling to a new level. At home, I began designs for two new wall hangings which I plan to submit to the SICAbritain website where they’ve made a gallery especially for my growing collection of textiles. These are inspired by the speckled Hellebore and the strange flamboyant petals of the Whirligig Osteospermum.

As January’s the time for new year resolutions, I took time to see how far I’d managed to achieve the ones I’d set myself this time last year. I’m glad to say I did make a series of paintings based on the theme of Heaven and Earth, with work exploring light reflected in water and the abundance of the earth. One of these is Autumn Mists, a new autumn-themed acrylic of a horse grazing by a lake with mists and fallen leaves. Others on this theme are already displayed in my website Gallery. But here I feature four new watercolours on the same theme: reeds reflected in Frensham Pond in Surrey, salt marshes at Sidlesham in West Sussex, the lake at The Vyne, a beautiful National Trust property in Hampshire, a fleeting glimpse of woodsmoke in a nearby forest and a harvest scene with swifts flying overhead at dusk.

Plans for other new projects this month include beginning a painting of a large woodland scene, and work on drawings for some colourful still life paintings with flowers, textiles and ceramics.

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OCTOBER 2016

What is Hygge?

This month I’ve been busy preparing for the Winter Exhibition: Affordable Art from November 11 – February 1st at the Granary Creative Arts Centre near Arlesford in Hampshire. The address for this charming rural venue is Granary Creative Arts Centre, Brockwood Farmyard, Brockwood, Brandean, Hampshire, SO24 OLQ, and you can contact the manager Kezia Hoffman at granaryartsinfo@gmailcom for more details.

I’ve been making candles and greetings cards decorated with pressed flowers from my cottage garden, on the theme of Hygge: the Danish word for ‘to give comfort and joy’. The idea conveys the art of living well as opposed to Scandinavian Noir, conjuring up images of convivial cosy candle-lit dinners and sitting by the fire with warm drinks as soothing balm for the traumas of the closing year. In this blog I feature a festive card I made using a hellebore on brilliant reds and pinks, and another card using a mauve flower on yellow marbled paper to remind me of summer days now long gone.  And I include pictures of a group of decorated dinner candles and also little stubby ones that could make a bright focal point to cheer up a dull corner of a room.

Other preoccupations have been my recurring interest in reflections of light on water. This time I include two new paintings on this theme: One of the Blue Pool in Dorset with ghostly white trees reflected in the deep water, and another called Sea Breezes of the sea also in Dorset of waves crashing on the pebbled beach. And I’ve been photographing the tide coming in at the salt marshes at Sidlesham in West Sussex, and at Waggoners Wells in Surrey the reflections of autumn leaves on water have been so beautiful this autumn.

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SEPTEMBER 2016

I recently visited The Granary Creative Arts Centre to see the Celebrating the Vernacular event, part of the Hampshire Open Studios annual show. This fascinating and unique collection of items by local artists and artisans was especially appealing to me as someone whose creativity is inspired by the local countryside and landscape.

Displayed in an ancient barn in a wonderfully wooded setting I loved the installations of woven coppiced wood, the hand-made kites using plant material and beautiful papers, the hand-crafted furniture, the exquisitely woven wall hangings and shawls made from plant based fibres. I coaxed Kezia Hoffman, the director of this exciting enterprise for a photograph, into posing next to some of her own exotic ceramic creations.

The Granary offers a wide range of creative activities with youth art workshops, willow weaving classes, life drawing and a special Winter Exhibition from November 11 to February 1 with affordable art, festive workshops and a mid-winter chocolate feast on December 21. To book in advance or to learn more contact granaryartsinfo@gmail.com

Another interesting recent visit was to Mill Farm Organic, (www.millfarmorganic.com), a local Hampshire organic farm which is almost self-sufficient in growing crops for its carefully reared beef, sheep and pigs. Encouraged by the Soil Association, great care is taken in conserving and improving the land and local habitats so that wildlife can thrive. My attention was drawn by the structured swoops and curves of the landscape where hundreds of trees have been planted alongside miles of new hedgerows with six metre wide margins which I photographed, inspired by these images for future paintings.  The season’s turning now and I also photographed hawthorn berries and the hips of wild roses escaping from the hedgerows on the farm.

Other illustrations this month include a little watercolour I made of swifts flying over the wheat fields, a black and white lino print of two swallows flying over the reeds at nearby Frensham Ponds in Surrey, and a watercolour of the wave-patterns made by sprats stranded on the beach in Dorset. I’m currently working on a new collection of seascapes made while on holiday there. Three in acrylics are shown here: a painting of grasses and wild flowers overlooking the sea at Burton Bradstock, a painting of seabirds over a silver sea, and another painting of the headland at dusk. More to follow next month!

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JULY & AUGUST 2016

During these summer months I’ve been developing images of light and fertile growth for my latest collection of work on the themes of Heaven and Earth. At the beginning of the year I set myself this goal and I’ve been experimenting with prints from lino cuts as part of the project. I include one in ink and oil pastels featuring the harvest scenes now all around me and have five other different lino cuts all ready for printing now.

Other images exploring the abundance of nature were inspired by the banks of daisies that covered nearby hills in early summer. I include a picture of these taken in July and another photograph taken at The Vyne, a nearby National Trust garden. Here I photographed a vivid riot of blue cornflowers and orange marigolds. I contrast these with the more delicate wild flowers I saw at Burton Bradstock in Dorset where we spent magical days at Chesil Beach and which inspired a new painting I’m currently working on.

Images of light are captured in the watery reflections at the Blue Pool in Dorset I visited on holiday and in the many photographs I took of summer skies over the sea at the Dorset coast. And I’ve just completed a painting entitled Dawn over the Downs shown below which shows the light just breaking over the chalky ridged hills.

Other images of light are displayed in my latest wall hanging Starry Skies featured below. Made from hand-painted gauze it’s embroidered with starry sequins and decorated with appliquéd sea-birds flying over the ocean created from various delicately textured fabrics and threads.

This new piece follows on from Wild Flower Meadow and my other landscape-inspired wall hangings which can currently be seen in the on-line gallery SICABRITAIN at www.sicabritain.co.uk

Currently I’m working on a new collection of seascapes and my lino prints which I hope to feature next month.

 

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JUNE 2016

At the beginning of this year I planned to make the theme for my art works HEAVEN AND EARTH. The idea was to portray the beauty of the skies and of light on water and the abundance of nature. This month the garden and countryside are overflowing with exuberant fertility, so much so it was hard to choose which of my photographs and textiles to show here.

I thought people who visit my website who live overseas might like to see pictures of my own English country garden and then contrast these with scenes from the nearby surrounding countryside. So to start with I feature photographs of poppies and lupins from my garden borders, now planted up as a typical cottage garden and contrast these with a picture of the famous creamy Old Glory Rose (Gloire de Dijon) so beloved by cottagers of the past, now growing up a trellis at the front of my house.

Then I include a view of a lane very near the village where I now live completely smothered by lacy Cow Parsley and in the field opposite local nature enthusiasts have planted a Wild Flower Meadow and created an Insect Hotel for bees to live and pollinate the lovely plants.

These wonders have resulted in my now completed Wild Flower Meadow embroidered wall hanging, with an Orange Tip butterfly hovering over it. As I was wondering how to exactly portray these beautiful creatures one obligingly fluttered over the flowers as if offering itself for inspection! Go to the Craft Section of my Gallery to see this work in closer detail.

I’m also taking advantage of the abundant plant material to create cards made from pressed plants from my own garden and nearby waysides. Here I show a card made from a Buttercup and another made from pressed Cow Parsley. Many more are awaiting new creations as they slowly squash down in my flower presses.

And I’ve now completed making a series of 6 lino-cuts of local scenes and have just begun to experiment with making prints from them which I’ll feature in next month’s blog.

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APRIL 2016 BLOG

Spring’s really here at last and on a recent visit to the National Trust run country estate of Hinton Ampner in Hampshire it was inspiring to see the bluebells out in the woods amongst the unfurling acid green beech leaves. Lambs were everywhere and the tulips just beginning to replace the daffodils of earlier days. In this blog I feature photographs I took at Hinton Amnper as well as a little ink and watercolour drawing I made of Cheshire bluebells.

Near Hinton Ampner is the pretty town of Alresford, which hosts the Alresford Watercress Festival on 15 May 2016. Alresford’s an ancient centre for watercress growing and this promises to be an exciting day out with the Hampshire Farmers Market showcasing the best produce in the area, with a street cavalcade, jazz bands, arts and crafts stalls, Morris dancing and watercress goodies from far and wide. To join in the celebrations I created my own recipe for Watercress and Gruyere scones which you can see on my Recipe page.

The Granary Creative Arts Centre at Brockwood Park, Bramdean, also near Alresfood and Hinton Ampner and is going from strength to strength. From 27th April Life Drawing classes start there on Wednesdays, and starting on 10th May an interesting series of basket-making classes begin, featuring how to make Catalonian tension trays, frame baskets, stake and strand baskets and willow sculpture experimental techniques. For more information and bookings email granaryartinfo@gmail.com.

This month I’ve been busy with my paintings and lino-cut prints. Here I show my completed painting Allotment Patterns. I find the repetition of shapes in allotments fascinating so this is what inspired me to make this work with its neat rows of lettuces, leeks and colourful dahlias. I’ll include this in the collection I planned earlier this year on the theme of HEAVEN AND EARTH, and this will feature in the EARTH section.

The other painting I’ve now finished is called Early March Sunset. Going home one cold March evening I caught a glimpse of the sun setting with mackerel clouds patterning the brilliant apricot and gold sky. Against this amazing light display were houses made of the local flint and terracotta bricks sheltered by the tangled lacy branches of leafless trees. They seemed like havens against the fierce equinoctial March winds and in the distance there was a ploughed field with the promise of a later harvest to come. It’s taken me until April to complete this one and it will go into the HEAVEN  section of my collection.

   
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MARCH 2016 BLOG

March has been the usual mix of brilliant sunshine and dark blustery days, but the season’s provided me with some interesting photographs. Climbing up the zig-zag path at Selbourne created by the famous naturalist Gilbert White revealed the most amazing views of the Hampshire countryside spreading below. In the sunshine an orange comma butterfly rested on blackthorn blossom and a lively yellow brimstone butterfly fluttered past too quickly to capture on camera.  Celandines and a single wood anemone were blooming though and I saw a solitary violet just starting to flower in the sunshine.

Some of the views of the landscape provided inspiration for a series of lino-cuts I’m making and the bare-branched trees silhouetted against a brilliant blue sky reminded me of the work of English Ruralist artist Annie Ovenden, a Cornwall-based painter whose landscapes I much admire.

On 26 March I visited the opening event of a new country gallery, the Granary Creative Arts Centre at Brockwood Park in Hampshire. Artist Kezia Hoffman presented an Easter Willow Weaving workshop offering people the chance to create willow spiral hanging baskets and pirate ships all in the beautiful setting of an ancient barn. Kezia plans a varied programme of arts opportunities and later in the year I plan to show there some hand-made greeting cards made from the pressed flowers and plants from my lovely garden and grasses from the local fields. I’ve been pressing plants and making cards from them for years and it’s only now I’m more settled here feel able to take up this peaceful and satisfying country pursuit once more.


Other work in progress is my wall-hanging of a wild flower meadow and a painting of an allotment full of an abundance of vegetables, fruit and colourful dahlias.

 

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FEBRUARY 2016 BLOG

I’m writing this on the last day of February, a month that can be dismal, but I like to go walking in the countryside to enjoy what nature can offer on quiet days of bright winter sunshine. This year we visited the Queen Elizabeth Country Park in Hampshire, although this walk was certainly not quiet, as a group of soldiers loaded down with heavy kit bags were training, noisily slithering down steep ravines in the muddy forest. Nevertheless we enjoyed exploring the winding pathways among the leafless trees.

A later visit was to Frensham Pond in Surrey where water and reeds inspired me, as I plan to develop a series of art works of light on water and in the skies this year as part of my collection of twelve contrasting paintings called Heaven and Earth. Here I’m displaying the first of these featuring the abundance of the Earth with Lavender Fields, a landscape of the local lavender farm that we visited last summer. Other work is in progress, including a separate series of lino-cut prints on the same theme of the earth and light, water and skies, and my embroidery of local Wild Flower Meadows which is steadily encroaching up its stretched muslin ground.

Another trip to Mottesfont’s Winter Garden in Hampshire lifted our spirits. Here we admired the careful planting of dogwood, cyclamen and daffodils below the mossy trunks of ancient trees. Some years ago I made a little ink and wash drawing of snowdrops, dogwood and silver birches which I include here. At home I like to cut and bring into the house branches of red-stemmed dogwood and arrange them in vases. I love to watch their buds develop into bright green foliage, reminding me of the green and red Chinese colour contrasts that I grew up with in my childhood in Hong Kong. And I photographed the early blue flowers of the Grape Hyacinths that are already blooming in my gravel garden.

Despite February being rather a gloomy month I created an orange and almond cake to cheer us up, reminding me of a lovely holiday in Sicily in a sunnier season. Visit my recipe pages for details on how to make it. Enjoy!

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JANUARY 2016 BLOG

A very belated Happy New Year to everyone. Due to a hectic time over the Christmas season this is the first chance I’ve had to get blogging and painting again, and now I’m planning my art work programme for the year ahead. And making plenty of New Year’s resolutions... These include completing and mounting the many unfinished art works that lie waiting for their moment in some of my neglected portfolios. And trying out my new walking boots! A lovely Christmas present from my family to aid my treks around the Hampshire countryside as I sketch and photograph inspiring local rural scenes.

I really enjoyed seeing my art exhibition What Happens in Hampshire (England) displayed internationally for the last 5 weeks of 2015 on The Green Chair Gallery and include some of the pieces shown there in case you missed the show. These capture some of my impressions of Hampshire and I plan to continue this theme further in 2016. Three paintings depicted here feature scenes from last summer: Summer Garden, Graceful Grasses and Chalky Furrows, and three celebrate last autumn with Harvest Patterns at Dusk, Tunnel of Light and Poplars in October.

I aim to make 12 new paintings this coming year: 6 on the theme of light on sea and sky and 6 on the abundance of the earth so will call this collection Heaven and Earth. Presently I’m working on a new landscape of Hampshire lavender fields; it was exciting for me to see lavender being cultivated in large fields down here in the south as the climate in Cheshire did not suit such a tender shrub. As I complete them I’ll show them on my website.

I’m also continuing with my collection of seasonal textile designs. A new three dimensional wall-hanging based on my painting Wild Flower Meadows is going well with hand embroidered grasses and embossed and appliquéd hand painted silk wild flowers swinging in a summer breeze. After such an amazingly mild winter here, many spring flowers are already out in my own garden – primroses, hellibores, snowdrops and the delicate flowers on the witch hazel I planted last year – all wonderful sources of inspiration for new works in the year ahead.

 

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NOVEMBER 2015 BLOG

I’ve been busy working on paintings for my solo exhibition with the Green Chair Gallery and on 21st November it goes out internationally for 5 weeks. The title is WHAT HAPPENS IN HAMPSHIRE (ENGLAND) and features 14 new paintings that show my response to the beautiful landscapes, gardens and coast of my new environment.

I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with a variety of techniques and materials to stretch my creativity and in this show I’ve produced work in acrylics on canvas as well as using oil pastels and watercolours on textured watercolour papers. As the result of this series of paintings I’ve decided to continue with this theme in 2016 by focussing on two themes: light on sky and water, and in contrast, a more earthy approach exploring the fields and wild flowers of the local landscape.

As I write in my artist statement at the beginning of this show ‘I often begin with quite literal interpretations of what I see to help me absorb, appreciate and form an emotional connection with new images before taking them further with a more stylised or abstract approach.’
If you visit www.greenchair-gallery.co.uk you can see my latest work!

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SEPTEMBER BLOG 2015

The first signs of autumn are appearing, and it’s been fascinating watching the patterns on the fields as the harvest is gathered in, they’re inspiring several new paintings I’m working on. I’m delighted to have been invited to show a collection of my landscapes in The Green Chair Gallery, an online art gallery based in Canterbury but presenting art works to an international audience.

Last year two of my landscapes were displayed online in Mexico in the SICArte International show resulting in an invitation by Solihin Garrard, owner of The Green Chair Gallery to display more of my work. So I’ve been busy painting around the Hampshire countryside and coastline, preparing for my exhibition this November 2015 at: greenchair-gallery.co.uk. Watch this space!

It’s also been intriguing watching a Civil War Re-enactment entitled The Battle of Alton in the Hampshire town near where now live. I’ve always been interested in 17th Century history, so much so that my history mystery first novel Lady of the Ascendant was set in Chester during the English Civil war. This is still available in paperback from Amazon. Although sadly rain prevented a re-enactment of the actual 1643 battle in the Flood Meadows, we enjoyed demonstrations of soldiers in period costume marching with pikes and shooting with their muskets in the Market Square.

Nearby in the grounds of St Lawrence Church where Royalist soldiers led by Colonel Bolles were massacred by Lord Crawford’s Parliamentarian forces, the English Civil War Society had erected marquees where we could see 17th century pottery, basket weaving, a forge and an apothecary stall. This genteel display contrasted oddly with the devastating events that led to Alton falling into Parliamentarian hands and Oliver Cromwell taking up residence in the town.

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JULY 2015 BLOG

After fasting in Ramadan and living like a recluse for a month now the fast is over life has suddenly exploded into a sequence of inspiring events.

One of our daughters held a big family Eid party in London for us and it was great to all get together again. One outcome of this was my granddaughter asked me for help with her school project involving her cats. These are two beautiful Siberian Forest cats which have the loveliest markings and I’m having fun pattern cutting to help her make life-sized models of them. There seems little time for crafts in the busy school curriculum these days and I really value being able to pass on sewing skills to a younger generation, having descended from a long line of dressmakers.

Another amazing afternoon was spent at Farnborough in Surrey at the Air Accident Investigation Branch Family Open Day where we were invited to a celebration of 100 years of the work of this important organisation. Our son Afandi works there as a senior Aircraft Accident Investigation Engineer and he and his colleagues fascinated us all with a series of presentations showing how their work has developed over the years to make flying safer for everyone.
We saw a collection of early versions of the famous black boxes which record what happened in an aircraft which had crashed, and the more modern orange boxes which work using the latest technology to help discover the cause of accidents ranging from micro-lights to events such as the mysterious crash of the Boeing 777 MH17 in Ukraine last year where Afandi travelled to this war zone to help with the investigation. Later we were taken on a tour of the hangar where the wreckage from past accidents is stored while experts analyse why each crash happened. It was a sobering sight but one which gave confidence in the future of air travel because of the thoroughness and dedication of all those involved in trying to make flying safer. On a lighter note afterwards we enjoyed tea and cakes in the shape of aeroplanes that the staff had kindly prepared for us.

Back home in Hampshire I’ve been working in my new garden having planted it out in traditional cottage garden style. Already our first harvest of gooseberries has been picked and little apples are starting to swell on the James Greave tree, and the garden’s alive with buzzing bees and a wide variety of butterflies including Commas, Red Admirals, Peacocks, Cabbage Whites and Painted Ladies. Visits to a local Lavender Farm and to Mottisfont Abbey’s famous rose garden are inspiring me to work on a series of new paintings and wall-hangings.

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JUNE 2015 BLOG

May was such a busy time for me this is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and write my blog.
The highlight of the month was Churchill Fellows’ Day on 27 May 2015 held at Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Sir Winston. This was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, established as a lasting memorial in honour of everything he had done to save this country in the war. As a living legacy to his memory and his belief in the power of potential, the Trust provides Travelling Fellowships to enable people who wish ‘to travel abroad to learn... to return to inspire.’

British citizens who are selected are funded to investigate groundbreaking practice in other countries and return with innovative ideas for the benefit of themselves and their communities. This year, 150 Fellowships in a variety of fields, (including an Open category for people to make their own proposals) are available, so do visit the website at wcmt.org.uk to learn more to see if you’d like to apply for one. In this way, people can attempt to put into practice Sir Winston’s own ideals which he stated in 1908:

‘What is the use of living if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we have gone?’

On Fellows’ Day, hundreds of people from all over the UK who, over five decades had been awarded Travelling Fellowships met together to see and be seen and to hear presentations from over 45 Fellows ranging from subjects as various as Hindustani drumming; CSI: Crime Scene Insects, and From Medicinal Plants to personalised medicine (my favourite!).

I was honoured to have the poster featuring my achievements in textile design entitled The Origins of Aran Knitting selected to be displayed in the Colonnades Gallery where I had the satisfaction of seeing many people enjoying reading it...

At the end of the day we were entertained by the daring acrobatics of a Spitfire flying upside down and by the music of the British Imperial Military Band all wearing splendid scarlet uniforms and antique white spiked helmets. Altogether, a really wonderful event.

Another really interesting day was a visit was to Dulwich Picture Gallery where I saw a retrospective show of over 80 of Eric Revilious’ watercolours. Eric Revilious, who died at the early age of only 39 when his aircraft disappeared off the Icelandic coast during an air-sea rescue mission in the war, is largely responsible for the revival of English watercolour painting. His career spans peace and war. He was a celebrated war artist; many of his paintings evoke disturbing and ghostly dream-like images of this time. But it was the distortion of perspective in his landscapes and the patina of the meticulous marks he uses to convey texture that captured my attention. He’s been called the Seurat of Sussex, but his use of glimmering light and dark and a lyrical other-worldliness in some of his landscapes reminded me of the work of William Blake and Samuel Palmer. The show is on until 31 August – catch it if you can. www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

In my own work, I’m beginning a new series of paintings of summer gardens and continuing developing my sequence of wall-hangings inspired by these and the Hampshire countryside. My own garden’s also stimulating my visual sensitivity with new images for these creations, as was a visit to the National Trust gardens at Nymans where I photographed these amazing tulips.

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APRIL 2015 BLOG

It’s been a very busy time this spring, with a family wedding in a Somerset. The occasion was absolutely wonderful, a lovely get together for the families and all 120 guests, many of whom had travelled from far and wide to attend.

One of the high points was the Welsh bridegroom’s brother’s speech, a beautiful poem in a very obscure form of Welsh, which sounded as if it would have gone down well in an Eisteddfod. As no translation was offered, we all had to take the contents on trust! As he and his wife had travelled all the way from Canada we were touched he’d gone to so much trouble to prepare it.

The cake cutting ceremony shows how happy the bride, our eldest daughter, and her husband were. The accompanying picture showing her high, glittery silver shoes were the subject of much fascinated comment. We held our breath as she slowly descended the fairy-light-decorated steep stairs wearing them. How she kept her balance as she made her dramatic entrance amazed us all.

Afterwards we spent the night in nearby Bowlish House in Shepton Mallet, a very interesting experience for me as I’ve discovered in my family history research that my maternal-great-great-grandfather Moses Stone lived there with his wife Rebecca Garton and their family when he managed the Anglo-Bavarian Brewery in the mid-nineteenth century. We spent the night overlooking the lovely garden in the same room he would have slept in. Bowlish House is now in the process of being redecorated after the TV series Broadchurch was filmed there and the building had to be restored to make it suitable for guests again. The restoration is being really beautifully done, as my photos show, and the food and kind welcome we received there were really special. I would certainly recommend it to other people. What was really astonishing was to discover that my ancestor Moses Stone had married his second wife Rebecca, a member of the well-known brewing family in the same village Abbotts Leigh where our daughter had just been married. None of us knew of his existence until recently!

Other family events have kept us busy; one of the most fun was a visit to Bird World in Hampshire with two of our grandchildren. Photos of the flamingos, avocets and penguins illustrate our trip and again I can recommend Bird World for family trips; I have another one planned for next month!

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FEBRUARY 2015

I’ve been busy painting my grandchildren’s portraits in time for meeting them again for an exciting half-term trip to the big city where they live. We met at the Shard hotel for the amazing views where you can see the whole of London below in a 360 degree panorama. Since moving south it’s been much easier to get together. The children are both teenagers now so I wanted to depict them at the threshold of their lives while they’re still young enough not to be blasé about being painted in watercolours by their grandma....

Another connection I’ve made recently is with the Southern branch of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellows - formerly I was a member of the North West branch. We met in Hampshire where I was asked to give a presentation of my Travelling Fellowship. I showed them my book IRISH KNITTING which describes my journey to Ireland and Norway, and also brought in some of the garments which my research trip inspired. In May I shall attend the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Trust at Blenheim Palace where a poster describing my Fellowship and its long-term consequences will be on display; a great honour to have been selected, among many others.

These Travelling Fellowships are a wonderful opportunity to develop any dreams you might have; if selected you’ll be funded to travel anywhere in the world to do original research in many different categories. Your project should show how you’ll be able to benefit your community on your return. To learn more visit www.wcmt.org.uk.  Any British citizen is eligible to apply.

Now spring’s in sight I’ve been busy working in my new garden on dry days. At the moment hellebores, primroses, crocuses, snowdrops and a single tiny iris reticulata are already in flower; also a larger purple winter-flowering iris has just opened, not sure what kind. For a treat we recently visited the nearby Hillier Gardens in not far from Winchester where the most beautifully scented Daphnes were in bloom in their Winter Garden. Visit www.info@hilliergardens.org.uk for more information.

 

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DECEMBER 2014

A last blog for 2014 as I’ve been so busy getting ready for Christmas with our many family members and working on our house I haven’t had a chance to write it until now, Christmas Eve.
I did manage to complete the embroidery of some Hampshire sand dunes that inspired me earlier in the summer. It took several months to finish but now it’s ready and part of the set of three I’ve made to record the seasons in our new location here in the South. It hangs between the one I did of harvest hares and of tulips with the beautiful blue downland butterflies that are so numerous here.

Also featured in this blog are some pictures of our Christmas decorations all ready for a visit from two of our grandchildren. One of our friends makes amazing gingerbread houses for sale at this time of the year and our grandchildren absolutely loved theirs. Everyone else in the family wanted one too so I’ll have to place my orders for next year early – their maker says her kitchen’s transformed into a gingerbread housing estate throughout the whole of December before she decamps abroad to a skiing holiday to recover!

 

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SEPTEMBER 2014

After rather a long interval I’m now able to contribute to my website once more. The builders have left at last and we’re settling into our newly refurbished house and attempting to tame the garden which went rampant during the five weeks we had to leave it to its own devices.

During this period we made the most of exploring more of the area and the photographs I’ve added show some of the places we visited. We saw ponies in the New Forest nibbling the wayside grasses against a backdrop of a cricket match, an archetypal English scene. At Farnham Park we strolled down an ancient tree-lined avenue and at Polesden Lacey we saw rings of delicate autumn crocus just coming into bloom around single specimen trees.

At Selsey Bill on the coast we visited the Lifeboat station and were threatened by an approaching storm which produced some amazing colours in the sky. At West Itchenor near Chichester we watched the sailing boats and at Pagham we spent a lovely quiet afternoon in a RSPB bird reserve where seagulls flew over marshy pools and sand dunes.

This last venue has proved the inspiration of a new wall hanging I’m making now the hanging that I began in the spring featuring tulips and forget-me-nots has finally been completed. I made the Tulips and Forget-me-Not hanging in silk using batik, silk painting techniques, appliqué and embroidery sewn onto a sponged cotton reverse backing.  It features little blue butterflies floating over the flowers, dangling on semi-invisible strings. The colours of the fronts and backs of the butterflies are taken from the Common Blue seen all over the chalky Hampshire South Downs.

During the time when the builders were transforming our house I heard the good news that two of my paintings had been selected for showing at a prestigious international exhibition in Mexico: SICArte 2014: A Show in Mexico from 1 August – 5 September. They can be seen online at www.greenchair-gallery.co.uk

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MAY 2014

In between recruiting builders and selecting fittings and fixtures to renovate our house we’ve found time to explore Hampshire a little more. On one of the most beautiful days this spring we discovered Mottisfont.  This National Trust-owned country house created from a medieval priory has been a centre for the arts since 1934 when Maud and Gilbert Russell moved here.

Home to paintings by Edgar Degas, Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and John Piper acquired by painter Derek Hill, Mottisfont also contains five large new gallery spaces where the work of more contemporary artists is displayed. There’s a changing programme of illustrations, photographs, sculpture and ceramics as well as installations by various artists in residence. A mosaic angel created by Boris Anrep in honour of Maud (reputed to be his lover), decorates a niche near the 13th century cellarium.

Mottisfont also houses the national collection of old roses chosen by Graham Stuart Thomas that flower in the walled garden. I took plenty of photographs of this part of the garden in spring when the irises were looking their best as I intend to use them as a basis of future paintings. Mottisfont is also home to an ancient spring – the original font in the name - that flows into a quiet contemplative pool leading to a stream garden winding down to a river.

This month I include some photographs of chalky Hampshire fields with the new crops just showing through making amazing geometric patterns which have also inspired me to begin a new series of landscape paintings. I hope to show some of my recent work next month but in 2 weeks a team of builders will descend for 6 weeks to completely transform our house. Ceilings and walls will be removed, new windows put in to make more light for my studio area and the place will be in utter chaos. If I can’t manage a June blog, I do hope to have comprehensive blog featuring all the places in Hampshire (including the coast!) I plan to visit ready by July.

 

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APRIL 2014

Here we are at long last in beautiful Hampshire after many vicissitudes produced by the moving house process. The property we’ve just bought needs a great deal doing to it, not least having extra windows installed to let more light into my new studio. But we’re balancing the hard work of decorating with exploring the local area and last week we visited Winchester and marvelled at the amazing carved stonework in the ancient cathedral.

In addition we’ve been walking in the Ashford Hangers, hillside woodland beloved by the poet Edward Thomas. Watered by clear streams bubbling over the chalky stony ground, violets, celandines and primroses thrive on the stream banks. In the old days, wild watercress grew profusely in the fast-flowing and often flooded Hampshire rivers and I shall experiment with developing recipes using this locally grown plant once I can get my cooker installed and working properly again.

Meanwhile I’ve now completed the embroidered wall hanging I started last autumn of hares escaping over ploughed fields from the stubble of the wheat harvest and its now hanging in our new home. The embroidered hares are suspended on invisible threads so if you flick them they can swing as you move past. Already I’ve begun another landscape of the Hampshire fields in spring and another silk wall hanging celebrating the tulips and forget-me-nots I found growing in my new cottage garden. Also in the garden I found several lovely Auriculas growing in a gravel bed. These gave me the idea of creating an Auricula theatre staging a collection of Auriculas in pots. I shall begin to collect them to display on the rather dull shed we inherited with the new property which we plan to extend and cover in rambling roses and clematis.

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FEBRUARY 2014

At last we’re about to move! Packing up all our possessions from the past forty years + hasn’t been easy, and as I write we’re surrounded by boxes of all shapes and sizes ready for the long journey south. At present the weather’s absolutely dreadful but whatever gales and blizzards we may have to face we’re all set to go.

Of some concern to me is my lovely china, which I’m taking great care to swathe in soft cloths, cushions and bubble-wrap to transport it safely to our new abode. One particular item I’d be very sad to lose is a Chinese tea-set I inherited from my mother. When we lived in Hong Kong she taught English to the wife of a wealthy Chinese businessman, and when our family was about to return to England this lady gave my mother the beautiful tea-set as a thank-you gift for the lessons she had much appreciated.

I decided to paint the tea-pot and matching cup and saucer with spring tulips to remind me of what they look like before we leave just in case they break on our long journey. I used watercolours for this painting, a medium I often return to as I love its delicacy. The cup is so fragile when you hold it up to the light it’s quite translucent, so I felt it would suit watercolours. One book I particularly recommend for people who want to push their painting skills further in this medium is TAKING RISKS WITH WATERCOLOUR by Shirley Trevena published by Collins. ISBN 0-00-713326 – x. Shirley Trevena is a council member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour; I find her work always inspires me.

Next month no doubt I’ll have more to tell you about Hampshire, but there will be a bit of delay until we get our computer up and running again in the new house. Sad as I am to be leaving the Peak District behind I look forward to discovering the Downs, the New Forest and the South Coast.

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JANUARY 2014

Happy New Year! I did think I could write that we’ve now moved into our new home but we’re still delayed by legal matters. However, we should be able to move by the end of this month and so we’re hoping the winter gales floods and blizzards won’t impede our journey south to beautiful Hampshire.

This year we spent Christmas with our family in a Hampshire hamlet during a terrible storm. Rain poured in through the flashings that adjoined the windows and there was a power cut for 24 hours. However we all gathered round a blazing log fire and read by candlelight until my son was ingenious with his generator and we soon had warmth and light in time for Christmas Day.

Now we’re back in Cheshire, getting ready to pack up and I’m using the extra time to get more of my art work framed. I’m also working on a very colourful still life and on the second of a series of twelve embroidered textile wall hangings inspired by the countryside. Although it will be a wrench to leave the Peak District I’m looking forward to exploring Hampshire which has the advantage of sea, the Downs and the New Forest.

The pictures below are of three landscape-inspired pastels I completed last month. I made them using rigid mounting board and created a textured background of thick Plaster of Paris mixed with acrylic paint using the pastels freely on top of this once this ground had dried thoroughly for several days. Working in this way with pastels is rather messy and requires old newspapers to be spread below which immediately get covered with fine pastel dust afterwards so if you want to try this method make sure your workroom is well ventilated! However it was a change from working on the specially prepared pastel papers that I usually use with soft pastels and I plan to develop this style further in the future.

Please note that my February 2014 Blog might be a little late as I don’t yet know how long it will take to get my computer links up and running in our new abode.

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DECEMBER 2013

The last month of 2013 and still we haven’t moved house. We’ve sold our house and had our offer for another one accepted and are gradually working our way through all the legal complications as we progress along the housing chain.

Meanwhile I feel in a liminal state on the borderlines of an old way of life before the new phase can begin. A lot of my art equipment is already packed so I’m limiting myself to painting, experimenting with pastels and have recently begun some preparatory drawings for a series of landscape-inspired wall-hangings. I’ll create these in handmade textiles using a variety of embroidery, dyeing and appliqué techniques and so far the collection is steadily developing, my own therapeutic response to the present unresolved situation.

I’m also using this time preparing for the move to sort out, review and pack up my art work which dates back many years to my school days. Wading through bulging portfolios I’m finding this a very worthwhile retrospective process, getting rid of a lot of old material but also valuing and getting mounted and framed some work I’d completely forgotten I’d done. It’s become a metaphor for how I feel about the changes to come. Below is the painting I did after a recent autumn walk in the Peak district in which I tried to convey the feeling of airy spaciousness of this beautiful countryside.

Meanwhile, regarding the Remedy section of my October 2013 healthy lifestyle suggestions where I featured some of the benefits of cider vinegar I’d like to offer a word of warning. Always keen to try new health products I decided to follow the advice of Dr Jarvis in his book Folk Medicine and drank two teaspoons of cider vinegar in a little warm water with a teaspoon of honey for several days.  Like many people no longer in the first flush of youth I thought this might help my early morning stiffness that has recently begun to appear. It seems I’m constitutionally unsuited to this remedy, as after only six days I began to develop painful arthritic symptoms. Luckily, after discontinuing it and increasing my gentle yoga and ballet inspired stretching exercises I’m now back to normal. Although many people have benefited by taking cider vinegar as advised by this doctor it seems I’m not one of them, so do take care if you try this remedy!

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NOVEMBER 2013 BLOG

A lot’s been happening this month. I launched a paperback version of my history mystery novel LADY OF THE ASCENDANT on Lulu and include a picture to the left of the cover spread. Many thanks to my brilliant technical adviser Hani Armstrong who helped me through this challenging process...

There have been other changes in my life too, the main one being we’re moving house! As we’ve lived in our present house for over forty years this is a really big change but the move is necessary family reasons. Because of all the comings and goings with estate agents, prospective buyers and sellers and as much of my equipment is already packed up for the move I simply have not had time to offer my usual recipes, remedies and crafts this month. However, do scroll back to my previous material over the past year which covers projects featuring topical and seasonal ideas. I hope when everything settles down again I can continue with more of these but for the time being everything here is uncertain as to when we’ll be able to move as at present we’re in the middle of a chain.

Meanwhile I’m concentrating on my landscape painting and renewing my life-long interest in pastels. When these works are complete I’ll post them onto the Gallery page of my website. I can recommend an excellent book on working in pastels by Mark Leach. I find his book RAW COLOUR WITH PASTELS by Batsford really inspirational.  

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OCTOBER 2013

Autumn’s really here now. The change of season sent me up to Windgather Rocks and to the Longshore estate in Derbyshire once again to experience the wild beauty of the Peaks where the wind tangled my hair and the purple heather was still flowering beside emerald mosses, late bilberries and the pale sun-bleached grasses. Of course I took my camera and I show some of the photos I took below. But I also took my sketch book and am currently working on a large painting to remind me of that magical day. When it’s finished I’ll display the picture in the Gallery section of my website.

In this landscape I noticed lots of tiny butterflies I’d never seen before: small brown creatures fluttering around the heather. And in my own garden the other day I noticed a Clouded Yellow butterfly which has never been here before, although this year we’ve had many more butterflies than usual – too many Cabbage Whites which decimated my nasturtiums as well as some beautiful Peacock butterflies which loved basking in the sun on our patio.

Other autumnal activities have included gathering blackberries from the hedgerows and preparing them for my recipe of Blackberry and Apple Strudel featured in my November recipe page. And of course I’m busy with all the apples in my little orchard in the garden. Apples are so health-giving I feature the virtues of cider vinegar in my Remedy page this month.

For my craft-of-the-month I present Cup Cake - a little felt purse made in the shape of a cup cake that was made from odds and ends of fabric from my work box. This design is taken from my book Beautiful Bags from Bits & Bobs which I hope to publish soon. You can see the cover on the book page of my website which features the Cup Cake design. Meanwhile the paperback version of my history murder-mystery novel Lady of the Ascendant set in 17th Chester is now available from Lulu as well as the ebook versions from Amazon and Smashwords. Why not visit these websites for ideas for Christmas presents?

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SEPTEMBER 2013

One of the most fascinating buildings in the Peak District is Hardwick Hall, famous for its huge expanses of window glass that inspired the rhyme: ‘Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall.’  Designed by Robert Smythson for the Countess of Shrewsbury, better known as Bess of Hardwick, it was architecturally extraordinarily innovative for its time.

Bess was loyal to Queen Elizabeth I and when the queen ordered Bess’s fourth and last husband George, the Sixth Earl of Shrewsbury to take custody of Mary, Queen of Scots who was plotting to seize the English throne there was no avoiding the dangerous and expensive assignment. Mary’s treasonous scheming to try to replace the Protestant Elizabeth as queen by declaring her illegitimate and restoring her own Catholicism as the state religion was the cause of great tension between Bess and George. The cost of maintaining Mary’s large entourage nearly ruined them financially and eventually destroyed their marriage as George became increasingly entranced by the aristocratic Mary. Mary was kept under house arrest in several of the Peak District’s famous houses, including Chatsworth and the Lodge at Buxton until her death.

Although their marriage collapsed and they lived separate lives, when George died Bess inherited her widow’s jointure and became one the wealthiest women in the country. She poured all her energies into building Hardwick Hall where she lived until her old age, developing the estate until her own death at the age of 71.

Today Hardwick Hall is filled with beautiful furniture, paintings and textiles and the gardens are still delightful even in September. Well worth a visit to Derbyshire!

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AUGUST 2013 BLOG

At last after such a dismal first half of the year the garden is looking wonderful and the sunny weather amazing. Now it’s the hottest summer for seven years!

Roses in the garden are blooming, the Rosa Mundi striped rose intermingling with a maroon-leaved Berberis hedge looks particularly fine. Annuals such as the first sweet peas of the season have appeared; they smell wonderful even though the flowers are purple instead of the pale blue on the packet. This month I include silk painting of a blue poppy in my craft page as I was so inspired by the Meconopsis featured in my July blog.

In the fruit and vegetable garden I’ve begun harvesting blackcurrants, redcurrants and gooseberries. Everything’s very late this year, but there are quite good crops. Because of the dry weather the strawberries have come out looking like alpine strawberries but smell really fragrant and taste deliciously sweet. See how I use them in my August recipe.

Courgettes are in flower now and tiny pods are forming on my Petit Pois plants. I’ve been cutting and freezing parsley and mint for the winter. How all these flowers and fruit contrast from the Date Palms and Aloe Vera in the gardens of Sicily where we went this July to escape the dreadful British weather.  Visit my remedy page for my solution to dry skin caused by too much swimming under a Sicilian sun...

While in Sicily I was fascinated to see lizards darting about among the cacti and climbing up the olive tree that overhung our balcony!  What a change from the local visitors to my own little Cheshire garden: neighbour’s cats, tits, pigeons, blackbirds and even a raven last week.

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JULY 2013

At last we’ve been having some proper summer weather, so we decided on a trip to nearby Lyme Park. (Lyme Park, House and Garden, Disley, Stockport, Cheshire, SK12 2NR). This lovely building, featured as Pemberly in the TV series of Pride and Prejudice, surrounded by wonderful grounds, lakes and sweeping moorland is always a delight to visit. Due to the delayed spring the herbaceous borders were not yet really looking their best, but the views of some of the formal gardens seen from above were stunning.

As we drove up the hill towards the house we spotted a herd of the famous deer sheltering under the leafy branches of an enormous beech tree. I wanted to get out and photograph them but knew from past experience this would disturb them and make them immediately disappear from view. Instead, while walking through one of the wooded areas where flocks of sheep were grazing I managed to get some pictures of the pastoral scene.

At home in our own garden I saw a beautiful brown and burnt orange Comma butterfly feasting on nettles last week, unusual for this time of year. There have been plenty of Cabbage Whites and a pair of Speckled Wood butterflies dancing crazily together in the sunshine. Birds have been plentiful, with a new pair of Collared Doves making an appearance in the orchard area taking advantage of our feeders. Tits of all kinds – yellow, coal and blue tits – and larger birds such as wood Pigeons, magpies, and what looked like a rook or raven are attracted to the feeders as well as more beautiful birds such as goldfinches.

The roses are looking beautiful and the peonies overwhelming in their raised beds. Next to their extravagant blooms the Allium seed heads are exploding; my granddaughter calls them firework plants and I use the dried seed heads as indoor floral decoration. They look lovely sprayed gold.

This year the heavenly blue Meconopsis poppy did indeed look heavenly next to the contrasting mauve blue of the Diana‘s Delight clematis. Both have to be grown in pots due to our unforgiving clay soil. Other poppies we grow are Oriental reds, Californian poppies in mixed colours and some wild red flowers that look as if they’ve escaped from a cornfield. Again, all are grown in terracotta pots on our terrace otherwise they would never survive.

Do visit this month’s craft, remedy and recipe sections for seasonal activities.

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JUNE 13

This month should be filled with the scent of roses but because of the unusually late spring (five weeks behind schedule) with intermittent sunshine, hail and cold rainy spells all the plants are suddenly blooming together although so far no roses have come out. Bluebells are flowering in my garden and in the woods while daffodils are still in bloom under the fruit trees and azaleas, iris and clematis flowers have started to appear when the apple and pear blossom are still being visited by the bees.

Nevertheless , as the month progresses and the Summer Solstice on 21 June this year brings us the longest day with all that wonderful light let’s hope things improve. Already on milder days I’ve spotted a few butterflies – cabbage white and brown speckled woodland heath – and soon it will be time to listen for the cuckoo up in the High Peaks.

One wonderful garden to visit at this time of the year is Hare Hill in Over Alderley, Macclesfield, Cheshire, SK10 4PY which offers a hare sculpture trail.  The National Trust, who manage it describe it in this way:

‘This woodland garden provides the ideal habitat for a wide variety of native wildlife while also boasting of ornamental ponds, impressive collections of rhododendrons, azaleas, and other fine specimen shrubs and waterside plantings. At its heart is a delightful walled garden – a tranquil place to reflect and relax.’ My photographs on this page show actual reflections of the rhododendrons in the water at Hare Hill.

In the hope that the roses will finally blossom later in the month I’ve made some rose-inspired hair bobbles in my craft page this time. And at least all the rain has brought on the wonderfully fresh spring greens which prompted my latest recipe Derby Cheese and Sage Summer Pasties using locally produced Derby cheese with sage, baby spinach, watercress and rocket leaves served with minty new potatoes. And for those of us who long for some sunshine and have booked holidays abroad but are now getting anxiety symptoms about flying I offer a remedy of calming Chamomile tea which is also very good for insomnia.

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MAY 2013

This month the weather has been so variable we succumbed to a nasty chest-based virus infection and spent a lot of time recovering indoors. See my remedy and recipe sections this month for reviving broths and soups we survived on.

When at last we felt well enough to get some fresh air I was amazed how fast the new green leaves on the willows had unfurled during the time we were laid low. We didn’t feel up to our usual long country hikes in the Peaks yet so decided to visit a local nearby beauty spot instead: Poynton Pool. This mini-lake is a refuge for birds of all kinds and in the summer sheep graze there although dog-walkers have to keep their animals on leads. Overhead we noticed flocks of gulls and Canada geese on the wing and below on the water swans, cygnets, Mallards and ducklings paddled and dived.

Despite the frosts and bitter east winds it was surprising how many beautiful wild flowers had managed to thrive. Large patches of Celandines were golden in the spring sunshine, and clumps of brilliant yellow water-loving Marsh Marigolds bloomed by the edge of the pool. In my own garden scarlet Tulips are out at last and the red spikes of our Peonies are just beginning to open, showing green and maroon in the raised beds where they are companion planted with purple Allium, white Saxifriga and mauve Aubretia. The blossom on our plum tree has just opened and been visited by a fat bumble bee, so we hope some pollination will take place despite the risk of frosts. Last year we had no plums at all due to the unseasonable weather but we hope for a bumper crop this year, as plums are notorious for biennial bearing.

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APRIL 2013

After such bleak and snowy weather at last the sun came out at Easter and a trip to the countryside beckoned. This time we decided to visit Little Moreton Hall, the iconic black and white beamed Tudor Hall in Cheshire. The impressive quirky wooden gallery upstairs with creaking uneven floors always gives me the feeling of being in an old galleon. Surrounded by a moat the hall also has a beautiful knot garden and a small orchard filled with rare species of apple and pear trees. I always recommend it to visiting family and friends, who enjoy the new indoor tea room there as well as tea outside in the garden in warmer months. The day we visited a cold east wind was blowing but this didn’t deter the many children who had come to hunt for Easter Eggs hidden around the house and garden.

At home in our own garden I’ve been busy pruning all the dead wood from our shrubs and gathering in armfuls of red-lacquered stems of dogwood which make such a beautiful indoor display when its contrasting fresh green leaves open. White crocus are blooming underneath our fourteen foot high black bamboo now and the tiny blue spears of scilla and bright yellow miniature Tete a Tete daffodils are just starting to appear. Best of all, we discovered a family of wrens have decided to set up home in our cotoneaster!

Well Dressings Bakewell

Well Dressings Bakewell

Well Dressings Bakewell

Well Dressings Bakewell

MARCH 2103

At last Spring is here! Even though here in Cheshire the weather has been five degrees colder than usual the first signs of the spidery golden catkins of Hamamelis Mollis, the delicately patterned blue and yellow flowers of the early iris reticulata Katherine Hodgkin and even a few early Camellia buds bring their promise of more floral delights to come. Soon it will be the Vernal Equinox – on 20 March this year – and then the hours of daylight will be longer than those of night.

I’ve been busy in my garden preparing the soil for planting. My veg bed now has a fine tilth thanks to my trusty hoe and the frosts breaking down the lumps of clay; I’m enjoying leafing through the catalogues mulling over what to plant. The birds are getting into full nesting kilter and so far in  my garden this Spring I’ve seen a variety of tits: blue tits, coal tits, long-tailed tits, as well as thrushes, robins, wood pigeons, sparrows, blackbirds and magpies with their long iridescent green tails all engaged in procreation.

If the weather does turn nasty again I recommend a visit to Lyme Park in Cheshire to cheer you up. These beautiful gardens looked after by the National Trust have a splendid orangery where you can shelter from the wild March winds and see their two hundred year old pink Camellia about to bloom. Visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk  to read about what more Lyme Park has to offer.

In my recipe section this month I’m featuring a warming dish my youngest daughter asked me for as she remembers it as one of her favourites from her childhood days at home. Now she’s about to get married and has her own recipe blog. Do visit to read more about it at http://irmanisfavouriterecipes.blogspot.co.uk  as it has some really lovely suggestions to try. My maternal  grandfather whose family in Austria had Viennese coffee houses came to London to train in the Savoy Hotel and never left after marrying my English grandmother. Love of cooking seems to be in our family genes.

With Easter just around the corner, see the how to make a sparkly bird in my Craft section and for suggestions of how to ward off hay fever with preventative medicines before the pollen season lies you low, see my Remedy section and start now!

 

Well Dressings Bakewell

Well Dressings Bakewell

Well Dressings Bakewell

 

FEBRUARY 2013

For bleak midwinter beauty, this is the perfect month to visit Dunham Massey in Altrincham, Cheshire, WA14 4SJ. (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dunhammassey).  Containing the largest Winter Garden in Europe, it features a wonderful collection of plants, trees and shrubs that look at their best at this time of the year. Although the cold weather has delayed flowering in many species this year, when we visited at the beginning of February golden aconites, snowdrops, purple-berried Callicarpa Profusion, spidery Hamamelis Pallida, scarlet-stemmed dogwood and elephant-eared Bergenia all looked amazing. The groves of Himalayan silver birch under-planted with snowdrops and cerise-coloured cyclamen were really spectacular now they are becoming more established in this the fourth year of the Winter Garden.

Gardens of this quality are so inspiring on my return I walked round my own little plot to see what was beginning to emerge. Hellebore, winter jasmine and the first red stalks of rhubarb are just starting to appear, and a few snowdrops, but all that can be seen so far of the many narcissi under my apple trees are the spiky leaf spears thrusting up.

If you feel too stiff for gardening, look at the Remedy section this month which features various suggestions to help with this symptom. And as this is the month of Valentine’s Day, why not try my Chocolate Valentine Hearts recipe in the Recipe section or consider making a Valentine card for someone special –see the Craft section.

 

Well Dressings Bakewell

Well Dressings Bakewell

JANUARY 2013

Happy New Year! This month, January, was named after the god Janus, who looks backwards and forwards at the same time. It’s a time for reflecting on the past and for making plans for the future and that’s why I enjoyed my winter visit to the Tittesworth Reservoir at Meerbrook, near Leek in Staffordshire so much. The still water of the reservoir, fed by the River Churnet, is a wonderful aid to quiet reflection, and an antidote to the busy Christmas period now behind us.

The weather at the moment may be damp, but the reservoir is still beautiful with the bare branches of the trees and bleached reeds that edge it reflected in the wide stretches of its water.  The reservoir is also home to many species of birds which can be seen from hides, and a variety of wooded trails to discover the resident wildlife. Nearby, the looming hills of The Roaches make an inviting backdrop; they always suggest the outline of a sleeping dinosaur or dragon to me, but this is not the month for climbing, I think. Better to have lunch at the Tittesworth Visitor centre managed by Severn Trent Water and enjoy a traditional Staffordshire warmed cheese and onion filled oat cake.

Later this month there may be the first signs of snowdrops. Although they mostly flower in February you may just be able to see some and they are so heartening at this time of the year. For a more slimming yet still filling recipe, have a look at my Recipe page to see how to make warming Oriental Crab & Noodle soup. And try my Ginger Tea remedy, a brilliant immune system booster, invaluable at this time of winter colds. And for something new to explore in the new year, visit my craft page where you can learn a new skill: decorating with traditional Narrow Boat painting designs.

 

 

Well Dressings Bakewell

Well Dressings Bakewell

Well Dressings Bakewell

DECEMBER 2012

During the run up to Christmas I like to get away from all the commercial hype and visit our local woodland for some tranquillity.  This time we went to Macclesfield forest on a lovely frosty morning and the air was amazing, so cold, clean and refreshing. I took my camera as I wanted to photograph some landscapes for a series of paintings I’m working on, and couldn’t resist snapping this one of frosty pine trees in the forest. The only sound we heard was that of our boots crunching on the icy pathways and the gurgling of water in the brooks that run underneath and around the trees.

Later I was inspired to decorate some candles using some fallen pinecones and foliage I’d collected on our walk. Each winter I always buy a beautiful Amaryllis hoping it will bloom in time for Christmas; this year it flowered early so I’ve taken its picture and will now have to get another one for later in the month.

At this time of the year there’s always a need for recipes to use up turkey left-overs so do click here for my December recipe for one that’s different but quick and easy to make. If you have time you could make some hand-made felt decorations for the tree, click here to visit my Christmas Crafts page. Finally, for anyone feeling decidedly frazzled but who has no chance of going to visit a nearby peaceful frosty forest I can recommend a dose or two of Avena Sativa tincture to soothe shattered nerves - click here for my December remedy suggestion.

Well Dressings Bakewell

Well Dressings Bakewell

Well Dressings Bakewell

NOVEMBER 2012

November’s often a dreary month but it can have magic moments. Yesterday I was planting bulbs in the garden to brighten the early days of next spring when I noticed a Greater Spotted woodpecker pecking away at a fat ball we had hung from a branch of one of our apple trees. Woodpeckers are unusual visitors although we sometimes get fieldfares and even jays during the colder weather. We try to look after the birds who visit our garden as so many species are declining because of lack of appropriate habitat.

The bulbs I planted under my dogwood bush were Scilla Sibericus – a beautiful blue which look amazing contrasting with the deep lacquered red of the dogwood stems. Smoke drifted over from someone’s bonfire and overhead flocks of migrating birds speckled the cloudy sky; the season is definitely changing. Later we visited Alderley Edge woods to collect leaves to press for their autumn colour and to photograph and sketch the trees for some paintings I’m developing. The woods were full of different varieties of fungi climbing up damp tree stumps or poking through the fallen leaf-appliquéd forest floor.

This month click here for the Craft section where I’ve included instructions to make a sparkly hair bobble. I made one for my little granddaughter to wear on bonfire night – she likes her bling! Visit my recipe page where there’s warming orange and ginger parkin recipe, and as an antidote for the season’s crop of autumn coughs click here for my favourite cough remedy you can make at home: thyme tea.

As Christmas is fast approaching I’d like to recommend a wonderful little book of poetry: Songs from an Armchair compiled by Stephanie Smith which would make an inspiring gift for anyone interested in creative activities for older people. Stephanie has introduced a poetry group at Wisma Mulia, a residential retirement community in Gloucestershire and this book records the development of the group, their poetry and some of the fascinating life stories of everyone who participated. As someone who worked as a hospital-based creative therapist with older people for many years I can really recommend this book. It is £7.99 + £2 postage within the UK and can be ordered from www.songsfromanarmchair.co.uk

Well Dressings Bakewell

Well Dressings Bakewell

Well Dressings Bakewell

 

OCTOBER 2012

Knowing that the time for dahlias is fading fast, this month we took a trip to Biddulph Grange Garden in Staffordshire to see them in all their glory in the dahlia walk before the frosts arrive. The day we visited the bees were buzzing all over them and I managed to take a photo of a bee-embellished red and yellow flower before these industrious insects buzzed off.  The dahlias also attracted Peacock butterflies in large numbers, so it was heartening to know that the efforts the National Trust makes to encourage wildlife is so successful here. Find out more about this amazing restored Victorian garden at Grange Road, Biddulph, Staffordshire, ST8 7SD, 01782 517999.

The dahlias inspired me to design a brooch to brighten up autumn outfits this month: click here to see how to make it. It matches the astonishing reds and golds that can be seen all around now the autumn leaves are beginning to turn.

On the way home to Cheshire I was astonished to notice a llama in a field at Overlands, Llama Land, in Cherry Lane, Congleton. I learned that Barbara McGarry breeds them and has some to sell. She can be contacted at 01260 281002. It was extraordinary to see them grazing in a Cheshire field in the autumn sunlight rather than the usual herd of black and white cattle.

Well Dressings Bakewell

Well Dressings Bakewell

SEPTEMBER 2012


September is the time for the beginning of the apple harvest, and this year my three apple trees are laden. However, there are no fruit at all on my plum and pear tree although earlier in the year their blossom and the bees were plentiful. This is apparently due to the cold wet weather; after they had been pollinated it seems it was too cold for the fruit to set.

I console myself that this is also the time of the year to gather fruits from the hedgerow and here at least elderberries and blackberries abound. We collect them from the banks of canals where there is no pollution so the fruit cannot be spoiled by petrol fumes from passing cars. See how I use them this month in my September recipe and remedy. Remember to gather blackberries before September 10th when according to country lore the Devil is reputed to spit on them! Certainly mildew can appear on them later in the month so they are best collected on a warm early September day. I freeze those I’m not using immediately.

During the last days of their summer holidays two of my grandchildren came to stay and were vastly entertained to hear of the existence of the Derbyshire Peak Cavern in Castleton named The Devil’s Arse! In the end we decided to visit nearby Speedwell Cavern allured by the attraction of an underground journey by boat to visit an old lead mine and a deep cave called The Bottomless Pit. I would certainly recommend both venues as fascinating places to take children to, as even if the weather is rainy this doesn’t matter underground. Visit www.speedwellcavern.co.uk to learn more.

Well Dressings Bakewell

Well Dressings Bakewell

AUGUST 2012

In the hot weather I love walking by canals, watching the narrowboats glide leisurely by on the cool water. When my children were small we used to occupy them in the long summer holidays by exploring the tow paths and watching the local wild life.  Today at Poynton Canal we saw a heron flapping its elegant wings at a flock of squawking Canada geese as it rose high in the cloudless early morning sky. Along the canal banks white trumpets of convolvulus, purple thistles, pink geraniums, blue vetch and spires of rose bay willow herb were framed by feathery fronds of flowering grasses. They reminded me to begin pressing some of the lovely plants in my own garden in preparation for my September craft-of-the-month when I’ll be showing you how to decorate candles as gifts, reminders of summer in the darker nights to come.

The inland waterways have recently been handed over to safekeeping of the new charity the Canal and River Trust: www.canalrivertrust.org.uk Visit this site to learn more about their plans. My own friend Chris Leah has spent years of his life working for The Wooden Canal Boat Society dedicated to rescuing and restoring historic canal boats to save them from disintegration at the bottom of silted up waterways. You can learn more about this valuable contribution to preserving our rural heritage at www.wcbs.org.uk who are always on the look-out for new volunteers.

This month click here to see my recipe to use up any gluts of tomatoes and courgettes you may be wondering what to do with, and click here for a remedy for indigestion using apple-mint. Click here to view my craft-of- the-month which features an appliquéd sunflower-decorated little purse made from left-over odds and ends of fabric and beading.

Rohana

Well Dressings Bakewell

JULY 2012

This month I visited Bakewell in the Derbyshire Peaks to see their decorated wells.The custom of Well Dressing, adorning them with intricate designs made from thousands of flower petals embedded into clay has survived since ancient times. It’s a beautiful and delicate folk-art unique to the Peak District and the surrounding areas of South Yorkshire and East Staffordshire. The practice, to seek blessings on the wells, may date back to prehistoric spring fertility festivals. It was certainly known in the days of the Black Death in 1348 when clean water was essential to keep infection at bay.

Well Dressing continues in a succession of different Peak District limestone villages throughout the summer until September. Visit www.peakdistrictinformation.com for more details.

The picture of Jesus in a boat calming stormy waters was made by Bakewell C of E Infant School at All Saint’s Church Explorers Well. Dramatic weather is not unknown to Peak District dwellers and although the damp atmosphere on the day we visited kept the petals looking fresh, we were glad to decamp to one of Bakewell’s many restaurants for shelter and a splendid lunch. Nor could we resist buying one of the famous Bakewell Puddings.

Our journey home through the hills featured acrobatic swifts swooping on tumultuous gusts of air just above our windscreen and reckless lambs perched over precipices seeking the choicest tufts of grass. It was a relief to return to the peace of my garden where the lavender is now at its best. Click here to see my Recipe of the Month to make Lavender Shortbread Biscuits or click here for the Craft of the Month - Heart-shaped Lavender Sachets to make good use of their flowers. And click here for Remedy of the Month to learn how to make a soothing Marigold Lotion, invaluable for sultry weather or midge bites.

Have you any thoughts about recipes, remedies or craft items you’d like to see in my future monthly blog pages? If so, do Contact Us to let me know.

Rohana

   
   
Rohana Darlington