Having bent towards the beating sun in recent weeks, I can almost hear the plants breathing a sigh of relief as they soak up significant rainfall today. Several of our roses have flopped to the ground, their petals scattered all over the surrounding earth, but it’s nothing a little sunlight or staking won’t remedy.
I’ve not been in the garden much this past couple of weeks due to a maintenance issue with a neighbouring property, but now that’s fixed I’m making up for it big time. The sheer number of weeds, including rapeseed from a field behind us, has made recovering the garden quite a challenge this week – but it’s one I’m so pleased to take on. (To give you a sense of just how willing I am: a couple of times I’ve almost fallen over in my enthusiasm to pull the weeds up).
Isn’t June a beautiful month? Everything is burgeoning, vibrant and soaking up the warmth of the sun. Our roses have made an appearance now, and the strong myrrh scent of one in particular – ‘Scepter’d Isle’ – is just gorgeous.
I hope your weekend is restful and that you’re enjoying June as much as I am.
Our first May with a garden is drawing to a close, so it’s a good time to reflect on what’s been blooming, and where. Noticing gaps in the flowerbeds and patterns of colour will be helpful for next springtime. For example, aside from wallflowers and bulbs, the garden has predominantly been dotted with pink, red and white flowers so far this year; and one bed has had practically no flowers at all, so I’ll know to put some geums and other smaller plants there for next year.
And that’s the round-up! I hope you’re enjoying this time of year, too.
I visited Great Thurlow Hall in Suffolk this weekend, and took a few quick phone snaps of things which stood out as especially beautiful and fascinating…
Beyond this, the abundance of cow parsley and established trees in the arboretum – which follows the line of the river – guarantee a peaceful and inspirational visit, no matter the weather.
I highly recommend exploring this wonderful garden when it is next open within the National Garden Scheme. I’d love to return in summertime when the peonies are blooming; and earlier in spring for the daffodils.
Meet Clare Halifax – a London-based botanical artist who recently exhibited with Cambridge Contemporary Art. I spotted Clare’s work and was instantly intrigued to learn about her influences and upcoming projects
Stylistically my work is considered illustrative, incorporating intense detail of drawing. Often the word ‘intricate’ is used to describe the end result of the subject depicted and the drawing process used. Over the years I have developed my work into more challenging, larger-scale architectural settings and dense botanical settings, while recently including more elements of colour as I became more confident as a printmaker.
I’ve always had a great love of nature, finding it has a relaxing property. My initial botanical pieces were created as a work reset after I completed a series of complicated architectural pieces; I wanted to do something lighter. I’d recently visited the Barbican Centre Conservatory in London – a beautiful tropical oasis in the middle of the city – and found it inspiring to see the elements of nature juxtaposed against the brutal architecture. This led to my first botanical series.
I have a fondness for the monstera deliciosa… it is very satisfying to draw and the leaf shapes are so unique and instantly identifiable. But nature comes in many forms and plants are all enjoyable to interpret, from the houseplant, to those in a garden bed or in a palm house.
A recent Cambridge exhibition focused on my botanical work. Nathalie Staples from Cambridge Contemporary Art curated a beautiful window display that celebrated nature through the use of my work, hanging amongst houseplants and ceramics. It was a wonderful antidote to all that has been happening.
I found alternative ways of working from home throughout the first lockdown. I was able to develop my drawings into an original series of studies of the houseplants in my home. In general, I gravitated towards drawing nature scenes as this felt more inspirational to me and, living in a flat in London with no outdoor space, I became focused on bringing the outside in through my work.
On the negative side of lockdown, my concentration levels came and went. As was likely the case for so many of us, I was not as productive as I initially set out to be with all the time we suddenly had on our hands.
I am participating in the Art Car Boot Fair this month, with Smithson Gallery. The theme is ‘Flora and Fauna’. I think many people have realised how restorative nature can be, and it definitely seems to be the mood of the moment.
One thing few people know about me…? I can sign the alphabet!
It’s been pretty rainy here in Cambridge this fortnight, and the gardens have loved it! Looking around each day it is as though the plants have grown substantially overnight. I wandered around the garden during a break in the rainfall earlier and took some slightly hazy photographs of things which have changed this week…
I’m writing this on a Friday evening as I’m aiming to have a digital break this weekend. It’s been a very busy work week and, despite attending a couple of great mindfulness sessions and doing plenty of yoga, I’m worn out 😴
In the coming days I’m looking forward to publishing a story on the work of botanical artist Clare Halifax, and also sharing some thoughts on awe-walking in nature.
I’ll happily admit I’ve become obsessed with gardening this past few months. We moved here in summertime and I immediately set about creating flowerbeds, sourcing plants, and planning where we’d sit to enjoy it all the following spring.
Spring has arrived, but it’s often only on rainy days like today that I really pause and take time to reflect on any progress so far. Usually on a Saturday morning I’m pottering around in the garden: weeding, planting, plotting…! So the arrival of solid rainfall can be a real gift for someone like me, in that it teaches me a little about the art of stopping and being indoors for a time. And look what it brought me this morning…
I ordered some red geranium seedlings from a supermarket and had no idea how tiny they’d be when they arrived. A few weeks ago I planted three of them in this little pot, and in the past couple of days they’ve begun flowering. I’ve been amazed by quite how vivid the colour is, and how quickly they’re growing. Something about the rainy daylight today makes them stand out all the brighter on the windowsill and, while I look forward to planting them in a bigger pot outdoors, it’s worth stopping to enjoy how they look right now, just as they are. Soaking in that awe is surely what gardening is all about.
‘By taking care of the present you are doing all you can to assure a good future,’ said Thich Nhat Hanh in his book Work: How to find joy and meaning in each hour of the day. I’ve been reading this lately and am finding it a helpful reminder to slow down, take each moment and situation as it comes, and to breathe…so on that note, off I go back to the kitchen table to watch the rain and look at the geraniums in more detail 💓
Wishing you a restful weekend.
Until next time,
P.S. later in the day I walked around the garden and took some quick snaps…I couldn’t resist getting out there and seeing what’s changed.
This spring, our wonderful local Fitzwilliam Museum is presenting an exhibition with a focus firmly on flowers. Titled Scent from Nature: Beauty’s Botanical Origins,the show is an exploration of plants utilised by the beauty and fragrance industry, showcasing the Museum’s dazzling collection of botanical watercolours, alongside ancient and more recent perfume vessels.
Having been given a sneak peek of what is included in the show, I’m especially drawn to the watercolours depicting roses…they are just stunning.
The Museum shares: “In the sixteenth century the Rosa gallica ‘versicolour’ appeared, also known as the Rosa mundi, which is distinguished by its striped petals. This is seen in the seventeenth-century watercolour by Pieter Withoos (above) in which he has faithfully recorded the gently curled petals and the insect-damaged leaf.”
I planted a Rosa mundi a few months back having seen it on an old Carol Klein show from the BBC, and can’t wait to see it bloom this summertime 🌹
Another of the old roses in the exhibition was painted by an unknown artist called C. M. Bucher. Rosa damascena, or the damask rose (above) is a hybrid of the Rosa gallica and Rosa moschata. The damask rose is much celebrated for its numerous petals and intense scent.
The above watercolour is fascinating in the way it beautifully presents the inflorescence of the two roses, including their stems, thorns, leaves, flower heads and fruit. It makes us think about all the different components of a rose and the many ways each specimen differs.
Hettie Ward, Assistant Keeper of Paintings, Drawings and Prints at the Fitzwilliam Museum, shares: “Our fascination with capturing plants’ smells and our determination to extract their oils for medicinal or cosmetic purposes has been a common practice since ancient times. It has been wonderful to select works from our outstanding botanical collection that reveal these stories and histories whilst also learning more about where certain ingredients in our perfume or in our moisturisers come from. This includes the enormous amounts (tonnes in fact!) of damask roses that are grown and harvested in Syria and elsewhere to create the essential rose oil that can be found in rose-scented perfumes, or the eight million flowers required to create just 1kg of jasmine oil. But nothing of course beats breathing in the smell of the plants themselves and I cannot wait until they all flower this spring and summer!“
This is just the tip of the iceberg in the fascinating selection of work that’s set to be on display. Check the Fitzwilliam’s website and social media for further details as they’re announced; the exhibition is set to open on 18 May 2021.
Do let me know if you visit and what your favourite pieces are!
Warren Forsyth, Operations Director at Eddington – a new neighbourhood in northwest Cambridge – shares how his team strives for abundant wildlife and biodiversity across the site
Nature is at the heart of our strategy. There is one overarching strategy for the entire Eddington site, including any future development, which is to ensure wildlife and biodiversity are encouraged across the development. This has been carefully planned, alongside many other sustainability measures, which are integrated in every aspect of Eddington to encourage residents and visitors to lead more sustainable lives. Creating an environment for people and nature includes a range of integrated features and open space to help creatures flourish. These include enhancements (such as nesting and roosting sites) for birds, bats, and amphibians, as well as meadow-flower and wetlands.
You’ll find an abundance of trees and wildflowers at Eddington. A significant part of our broader sustainability strategy is focused on planting. This includes planting approximately 2,400 trees in Eddington’s public realm to date (including field maple, alder, birch, hornbeam, sweet chestnut, hazel, hawthorn, Scots pine, cherry, plum, apple, pear, English oak, willow, rowan, lime, and elm).
The priority for the Eddington wildflower meadows is the development of a species-rich sward of native species. Selection of the individual species has been based on the soil type, and include viper’s bugloss, oxeye daisy and tufted vetch. Elsewhere at Eddington, some existing grassland areas were previously regularly cut, or heavily grazed when the land was farmed. The priority with these has been to develop a more diverse sward and encourage some structural diversity, by reducing the frequency of cutting.
This work is already making a significant impact. Our strategy has been successful. Based on monitoring surveys and engagement with local residents, the ecology team at Eddington know that the number of great crested newts, water voles, reed buntings and other wetland birds have increased in various habitats across Eddington. In addition, birds and bats have been using the installed nest and roost boxes. One particularly notable finding from recent monitoring has been the establishment of pyramidal orchid plants in an area of grassland at Eddington. These results are in response to where the landscape, habitat and horticultural management was changed to provide biodiversity benefits, therefore as a direct result of the measures.
In addition to the green spaces open to the general public, there is also a significant amount of planting in and around the buildings, including residential courtyards and gardens. These have all been designed by various landscape architects to provide communal and private outdoor spaces for residents to enjoy.
City residents are warmly encouraged to get involved. The University of Cambridge is keen to help people engage in promoting and enhancing biodiversity and has created an engagement pack for anyone keen to do so. Part of the pack includes an initiative to establish a ‘Biodiversity in your Back Garden’. This initiative aims to create an ecological network across the built environment of Cambridge, connecting areas of higher ecological value by extending outside the University estate, to create stepping stones for nature across the city.
Looking to the future at Eddington, planning is underway for the next phase of development. This includes extensions to the existing Brook Leys parkland landscape to provide informal areas for play, walking and cycling. It will include more woodland and meadow trails, featuring wet and dry meadows and species rich grassland.
Want to learn more? A full description of the biodiversity measures at Eddington is set out in this Biodiversity Strategy.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look into the fascinating wildlife and natural planting at Eddington! From personal experience I must say it is a beautiful place to be, especially at the height of summertime when the crickets are chirping and many of the wildflowers are at their tallest.
It’s wonderful to watch plants grow in springtime. This is my first spring with a garden, so everything is extra exciting!
The first bed I made here has really started to fill out this week, with plants like hosta, viburnum and geum unfurling and blooming in the daylight. I wasn’t expecting the latter (pictured below) to be so orange in tone, as initially this bed was going to be all reds, purples, pinks and splashes of yellow and white. I’m happy to go with the flow – it’s lovely.
Soon the plants will be soaring into any warmer, longer periods of sunshine we’re gifted with. I’ve noticed quite a few alliums looking ready to do just that.
If you’re on Instagram, you can find me there at @camflowerjourn. I don’t share updates much as marketing is my day job, so in my spare time I try to avoid spending too much time on social media…! but I do love seeing other gardeners’ progress there, and finding new inspiration and wisdom.