All too often you slave away in the garden or allotment and feel that the ongoing chores are endless – digging, weeding, sowing, thinning, protecting from predators, and of course – continual maintenance. Often it pays to sit back, look hard at what you are doing, and then take time out to re-charge the batteries. It works, as I have found this last week after being advised on doctor’s orders to ‘take it easy’ – impossible for me – I’m not that sort of person. But for once I did as I was told and instead of worrying at all there is to do outside, I walked right around our acre and delighted in so much of what I saw.
Courgettes and squash are romping away in the potato tubs into which they are planted – taking advantage of gaps between the long-established herbs, which will soon be flowering. Runner beans at last looking as if they were glad to be alive! Allium bulgaricum, which I had forgotten I had planted, flowering in the wild flower patch under the plum trees. The new hens flourishing and laying lovely deep brown eggs earlier than anticipated – perfect for a herb omelette on a hot day. Shrub roses already scenting the enclosed potager – they thrive here in the north Cotswolds where hybrid teas will not. My newly acquired lemon tree is sitting pretty in a pot by the back door, whilst the Dobies peach on the workshop wall is putting forth lush new growth. We have Spring wallflowers in flower, in June! The tiny plug plants transplanted last Autumn have suddenly shot up and, joy of joys, will be left to become shrubby perennials which I far prefer to rooting them out each year.
I thought back to the very different scenario of a Welsh allotment and community orchard on the side of a steep hill that I visit every time we stay with friends near Knighton in Powys. What a location – I photographed it from a sheep track near Offa’s Dyke on the other side of the valley. Only the day before, I had noted that the allotment was set out in such a way as to allow a central mown lawn where gardeners could gather for a chat over coffee (out of a thermos); a village camaraderie that is so often missing in this day and age. Being a wide-spread farming community, there is never any shortage of equipment to erect the sturdiest of fencing, and copious quantities of manure.
Last weekend, I was working at the Malvern Royal Three Counties Show, from which I would normally have ‘blogged’. WiFi in the lee of the Malvern Hills is not at its best (we were not in the usual press room), but during the three days there it was a great pleasure to see that gardening and plants are creeping into this Show which is essentially connected with farming. There was time to chat to exhibitors – and to enjoy the rare breeds of farm animals that were there in great numbers. Interesting because I learned of breeds that will forage in weedy ground, and keep the grass short under orchard trees. Now, if I were years younger, maybe a few sheep would not come amiss.
There were other aspects of the Show that inspired me – and particularly to see so much encouragement given to children, and a huge variety of activities in which they could participate. A highlight for me was the School who micro-propagated orchids with great success; their award-winning display was spectacular. Other inspiration came from the occasional show garden, stalls selling baskets and other containers that could be used as planters – it wasn’t a case of seeing them used in this way, but of realising the possibilities without any prompting. My only purchase was a beautiful chamois skin with which I intend to experiment; making stitched and painted book covers – at least that is the plan.
Visits to shows and gardens, the countryside through which we drive, and even more, my own mini-plots, provide a continual source of themes for my creative work. I am never short of ideas and recycle old books, dried plants, paper napkins, hessian sacking, and whatever falls to hand, in an ever-increasing range of journal-keeping and book-making techniques. Parked in our yard is my caravan – which becomes part-studio when we are away, and over the next three weekends, it will be open to visitors. Though small, it will be crammed with paper and fabric journals incorporating words, stitch and sketching; and I will be demonstrating some of the ways in which my garden acts as a creative trigger. Details here (the map on the Open Studio website is incorrect, so please leave me a comment if you have a query about visiting.)