Monday, 15 February 2016

The Secret Garden and an Ancient Rath

The crisp sunny morning tempted us outside despite the bitter north-easterly wind. There was a tantalising hint of Spring in the air. 

A visit to a nearby walled garden beckoned – an opportunity to witness the first signs of growth and to view the aged plants in their weathered skeletal forms before lush new leaves softened them and cloaked the gnarled lichened covered branches.

The gate in the wall leading into the garden was open, and I visualised how it would look covered and hidden behind strands of thick ivy, concealing the magic behind it, just as when Mary found the old door leading into the magical and mysterious Secret Garden.

“Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden - in all the places.”

I looked around for the robin, but although I heard him chirping and twittering and caught a flash of his redbreast, he was too busy to wait around for a photo opportunity. 

“Nothing in the world is quite as adorably lovely as a robin when he shows off and they are nearly always doing it.”

A magnificent Magnolia Stellata

was central to the dormant herb beds

  surrounded by box borders.

In the winter sunlight, tall trees sent long shadows across the enclosed garden to the glasshouse,

 while knotted stems of wisteria leaned against the old stone walls.

Clumps of Snowdrops were sprinkled about the ground

 beneath the shaded canopy of ancient trees and shrubs.

Moss covered stones edged the bare earth beside the gravel paths.

A bell-tower above the stables looked over the walls of the inner and outer gardens.

Outside the walls of the garden - amongst the trees, a stray Hellebore seed had germinated in the carpet of decaying leaves on the forest floor.

We left the shelter of the walled garden and the protection of the huge trees outside the perimeter walls; 

climbing over a stile we emerged into bright sunlight and rolling grassy fields.

After we passed through three stone pillars, a herd of Bullocks noisily expressed a greeting; running rather unnervingly towards us at an alarming speed as we headed uphill 

towards the Ancient Rath, that once long ago (between 500 – 1100 AD)

 had been a defensible enclosure

 that provided protection for families and their livestock.

The threatened stampede halted abruptly as I turned to look at them and while the others watched, the leading bullock posed majestically for his photograph.

The panoramic views from the Rath looked across three town lands,

 surrounding drumlins and towards the Mountains in the distance.

Muddy and with our cheeks and noses rosy with the icy wind, we returned back down the hill, over the stile again and through the woods to the little tearoom for a welcoming hot drink.

There was a beautiful photograph of the gardens under a blanket of snow, but today’s sunshine has made me long for warmer days.

The promise of Spring and the time spent in the walled garden have fuelled my impatience to be back at the allotment and in my own garden at La Petite Maison; although admittedly the young plants that I planted last year have a very long way to go before they reach the magical splendour of the specimens I have seen today.


 (Quotes taken from the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, “The Secret Garden”)

Monday, 1 February 2016

Hearts and Flowers

I started 2016 in a positive frame of mind; determined not to let the January Blues set in. A surprise contact from a soap making magazine wanting to feature a picture of my handmade soaps for their front cover got the year off to a good start (more on this later), and my thoughts turned towards plans for soaping and growing my herbs and flowers.

Unfortunately an annoying injury that had been nagging me at the end of last year flared up with a vengeance and halted almost any activity that required movement of my left arm. This included lifting, dressing, vacuuming, typing, driving, gardening and basically most day to day activities. An hour spent gingerly pottering in the garden left me writhing in agony on the floor trying to ease the searing red-hot poker-like pain from my neck and down my arm. My prospective plans for gardening and creating in the year ahead were in jeopardy.
Happily a trip to the back clinic, vast quantities of pain relief rubs and a conscious attempt to rest and gently exercise my arm are lessening the pain, though it has by no means disappeared!
Although seriously limited in what I have been able to do, (such a nightmare for an active person) I have discovered that if I rest my arm and have support behind my neck and back, I can still indulge my creativity and engage in a non-energetic activity that I had begun experimenting with a little while ago.

I have a passion for flowers; not only growing and working with them, 

but also capturing images of them. 

While I would love to portray them on canvas, my painting skills are mediocre, and to be fair I don’t experiment enough with a paintbrush (unless it is the decorating form of paintbrush; after several years of renovating La Petite Maison I am undeniably proficient with that type of painting!).

However I love needlework and the idea of “painting with my needle” inspires me. Using the idea of the key fobs that I stitched some time ago, I began to scribble little sketches of flower formations from the garden, allotment and my excursions. On scraps of old linen I transposed my design and with tiny stitches the flowers began to form and grow.

My little needlework pictures are more Impressionistic than exact; the image of the flowers transferring from what I visualise in my mind - through to my fingers and then my needle; evolving on the linen as I colour it in with thread.

The first design emerged from the wild daisies I snapped whilst in Guernsey.

The little hearts are filled with lavender and herbs harvested from the garden and then dried.

I used the same design for a larger natural linen heart.

The second design was based on the flowers that grow profusely in the garden;

Verbena Bonariensis and Knautia Macedonia.

The third heart was a larger striking design inspired by the dark coloured poppies

 that grow at the allotment.

The last key fob heart (and so far my favourite) was embroidered with Foxgloves and Cow Parsley also found scattered around at the allotment.

My most recent creation was taken from a picture from Caroline Zoobs Handstitched Home book that had prompted me to take an interest in embroidery to start with.

Wildflower Meadow

I am still hopeful of attending one of her workshops to develop my embroidery skills, but until then I will keep practicing and I have actually found that transferring the images of flowers by means of stitches onto fabric to be quite addictive. 

So as I sit back on the sofa (with my arm supported) and listen to the theme tune to Dances with Wolves on Classic FM while rain dances on the window panes, I am surprisingly content as I quietly stitch my Hearts and Flowers.