Away

I’m going to be away from the keyboard for a while. I am having trouble with my intestines again, caused by adhesions from the cancer surgery.

I’m just looking after me and hoping to see the good surgeon who will put me right, as soon as possible, given the current situation.

Back soon, I hope.

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A view of a room.

I am faffing around, as is my wont, sadly.  Just like everyone on the planet who is sitting the pandemic out I have reached lethargy and beyond.  I am still trying to get rooms sorted out, in the execution of which tedious task I encountered two room boxes which have not seen the light of day since they were returned from photography for a magazine.

One was for an article I wrote for an edition of the magazine about Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  This extremely famous designer arrived on the scene around about the same time as electric lighting.  He revolutionised the appearance of the domestic home which had previously been suffering from all things Victorian and coal powered.  Dingy gas lighting, thick woven curtains, huge heavy furniture and everything in practical shades of dark brown, were swept away to make room for light, space, air, pastel colours and a general feeling of out with the old.  He built Hill House for the publisher, Walter Blackie, finishing in 1904.  Researching the article I visited the house, which is in Helensburgh, Scotland, while I was exhibiting at the Scottish Miniatura. I did a bit of drawing and measuring and finally produced this 12th scale room box of a corner of the bedroom.

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I have put the sign on the corner of it to hide a blot. When I was showing the room at Miniatura, a lady visitor brought me a clock which she had made after reading the article.  She produced it and stuck it on the corner.  Unfortunately she had coloured it with charcoal.  She was just joining in, really.  When I got home I put the room in a carboard box and stuck it on a shelf.  This is a pity, it’s quite authentic.  It took ages to measure and draw the fireplace.

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The chairs were a ‘how to’ made of plastic canvas.

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Another famous commission for Mackintosh was the Interior of the Willow Tea Rooms in Glasgow, which he designed for Mrs Cranston in 1903.  Here the chairs were along similar lines but massively tall. I spoke to locals who remembered the original.  They all said everything was about the looks, and the actual build quality was rubbish.  By the 1970s the rooms were dropping to bits. If you had known which rubbish skip to stand beside in the Seventies, you could have salvaged a fortune, with a bit of skip diving and a lorry.  The tea rooms reopened in the Eighties, however, echoing the fate of the Mackintoshes which was never to be in the right place at the right time.  They were not given the reception in their own country that they were abroad, where they were dragged through the streets in procession and generally given a pop star welcome.

They never had a family, either, though they loved children. Margaret Mackintoshes needlework is full of images of ladies and babies.  Their later lives were marred by loneliness and ill health. I spoke to a miniaturist who knew them when they were old and she was a little girl.  She recalled playing at their house, how much they enjoyed her visits and what a fuss they made of her.

The legacy of the designer lives in our homes today.  He was the first modern designer to consider white walls a viable option.  How many have you got?

I have retrieved this room box and put it on top of my cupboards, which I designed to display my houses.  It’s only made of poster board and it’s only a corner of a room but I think it coveys the reality of this architectural movement that buried Victorian width, opulence and acres of velvet and ushered in the verticality and lightness that we still enjoy today.

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The accumulation of junk.

One would imagine that having a purpose-built craft room added to the house would be a wellspring of endless joy.

Wouldn’t one?

Well, this one did, erroneously, as it turns out.

One had fondly imagined all the junk shut away in the purpose-built cupboards, designed by one to be not taller than one so one could put all one’s dolls’ houses on the top, decoratively, and one thought it would be tidy and all the junk would be out of sight.

What one forgot was that one’s…………let us call it creativity……had filled two downstairs rooms, a spare bedroom, a shed, the space under the stairs and the garage. In some places the creativity, let us name it that, reached the ceiling in piles.  Creative piles.

One does porcelain, sculpting, papercraft, cardmaking, dolls’ housering, quilting, dressmaking, writing, scrapbooking and gardening and one expected all of that to fit in one room?

One is a bit deranged, one surmises.

One also wanted one’s craft room to be perfectly organised prior to moving in.

A perfectionist clutter creator. No wonder I’m a bit conflicted.

Also, since the builders left I have spent three straight weeks tidying up.  It was so bad I had to stop in the middle and make thirty cards in the spare bedroom.

I have in the past known folk who lived in a castle.  It had many, many rooms on numerous floors and in turrets and extensive cellars.  Ancestors had developed the interesting habit of closing a room that was full and moving to a room that was empty.  In a hundred years they reopened the closed room.  For lo!  The contents had become valuable antiques, which, despatched to a sale room, funded the building of  a new wing, full of empty rooms.

I would follow this model were I in the same league of aristocratic spending.  What, alas, I am buying are lumps of clay that go mouldy, endless packs of paper (I have sooooooooooooooo much paper), acres of little bits of fabric just this big and a block of stone that’s going to take three strong man to lift it on to the reinforced table thingy so I can beat it up with a chisel and mallet.

Lock that lot away for a hundred years and you could clear it easily with a bulldozer without losing as much as a penny of value.

There were some friends of my parents, long gone, teachers both.  Two active minds in the same house had collected everything, tried everything and had artefacts pertaining to photography, (still, film and antique) books and bookbinding, ancient (place the name of any civilisation here), husbandry of livestock, bees, every type of art and print making, publishing and an aviary full of interestingly bred birds.  Naturally I loved them and found them fascinating.  Their house was a massive Regency mansion, it needed to be.

I could, of course just give or throw everything away. I could have no possessions and no worries.  Australian Zen.

The S&H will find a note upon my demise.

It will say: Get a bulldozer, clear the rooms, sell the house.

I will never get to space, the final frontier.  I think too much.

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Reader’s queries.

In these dark days (though to be fair, really sunny here for a long time.  I think it’s the absence of pollution.  Maybe that’s why all those Edwardian childhoods, celebrated in children’s novels, had much better weather.  You know, before traffic and aeroplanes.)

Anyway, in these potentially dark days (the nights are a lot lighter too, have you noticed?  It’s starlight, wonderful, and the moon – huge!)

In these theoretically darkish, rain later, days and nights, readers have written asking for advice. In fact I have been inundated with a couple of emails definitely for me and some that seem to have got misdirected.

Well, you know me (and if you don’t, hello!). I am never shy about giving unwarranted advice.

A reader writes.

At the moment I am unable to visit my nail technician, my hairdresser and my dental hygienist, and my personal trainer and life coach cannot visit me.  I look in the mirror and see someone else look back at me.  Are you having the same problem and what can I do about it and can you give life coaching tips and have you any idea what I can do about my roots and the back of my thighs?

Dear reader,

We are all having the same problem, it’s a dose of unimpaired reality.  Have you had a good laugh at television stars lately? I have always hacked at my own hair with the kitchen scissors, so it doesn’t look much different.  I found a photograph of myself thirty years ago, before I had style or any idea how to dress; I appear to have anti-aged.  This is partly because I watched the OH settle down in front of the TV every night, with interruptions only to go and fetch a new snack, because he had eaten the previous one, and I determined not to do that.  So I have lost weight a little and my clothes are slack.  Also I have been out of doors as much as possible and I have a bit of a tan.  And, particularly in my case, the builders have departed, so I am no longer covered in a layer of brick dust. I strongly recommend enjoying yourself as you are.  Turn off the TV.  Read a book, preferably a heavy one that takes two hands to hold so that the capacity for snacking is limited.  You can get powder to spray on your roots and the back of your thighs can be improved by getting up occasionally.  Then sitting down, nearly, then getting up, then sitting down, nearly.  Do this for half an hour every evening just as you are about to have dinner.  Keep it up until your dinner has got so cold you no longer fancy it and the thigh problem will cure itself in a month or two.

Another reader writes

My boyfriend moved in with me at the start of lockdown.  We didn’t have time to get the WiFi connected, or get a router and we are both on furlough and couldn’t find anything much to do.  We haven’t been sitting in the evenings eating, yet I am still putting on weight, so much that I am having difficulty doing up any waistbands.  Also I keep licking the iron balcony railings, I have no idea why.  Can you help?

Dear reader

Now is the time to take up a new hobby.  Try knitting baby bootees.

Another reader writes

I am having a struggle with my grub screws, due to being unable to access new driver ends. Any tips?

Dear reader

Try them by hand with the end of a nail file.  Or, look online, our local DIY has a click and collect going on, it’s quite fast.

Yet another reader writes

Hi Geoff, have you any tips on pruning for Black Spot?  My roses are bad this year and the garden centres are shut and I have nothing to spray on them.

Dear reader, possibly of a different blog altogether;

Yes. prune back to a healthy side shoot as usual.  The weather has been unseasonably hot and dry, make sure all plants are well hydrated.  I am expecting very early greenfly, which can be remedied with a spray of very dilute washing-up water.  Squirt close up and aim to knock the blighters off, as well as saturate them.  Soon ladybird larvae, which are black and yellow bugs like small deformed caterpillars, will be plentiful and you will be saved because they eat greenfly.

Another, other, reader writes

We was hot and hard at it on top of the washing machine, when it suddenly went into stained linens rinse and spin and my partner fell off into the mop bucket, grazing an ankle, should we

Dear reader, definitely of some other blog,

Sorry to interrupt, but have you never heard of social distancing?

Dear regular reader,

I’m just off to check my blog settings, I’ll be back when the security is tightened right up.

Right up and a belt round it and a thick corset and hand-knitted, coarse, scratchy knee-high football socks……

Hoho!  So!  I knew you was

Absolutely not.  Back soon regular reader.

Sorry.

No, really, very sorry.  Go back to enjoying the moon and what-have-you.

As I was saying, in these dark days people make their own entertainment.  Paper crafting, flower arranging and reverse glass painting on old jam jars are recommended.*

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*Nothing else.**

**Except making models of Blackpool Tower out of paperclips.  That’s OK.***

And walking.

Up and down a bit.  Primly****

****(Gvmt. approved recreation.)

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Faffing around.

Do you faff?  Faffez vouz?

The OH constantly accuses me of faffing around.  I ask him if he wants a cup of tea and three hours later he might get it because on the way to the kettle I cleaned the garage, did a load of washing, emptied the bins and cleaned my shoes.

I do it with everything.

I faff around particularly if it’s something I want to do and won’t allow myself the time to do it.

The Lockdown Dolls’ house is a case in point.

Why is this? Why do we faff?

It’s not just that  procrastination is the thief of time, though it is, it’s stolen my entire life one way and another; the likelihood of me being an Olympic thingumajig, whatsit?  That race where you run up to someone with a stick and they grab it off you, already running and rush off and give it to someone else and you flop forward and do some heavy breathing, holding your knees.  My chances of being in that, vanishingly small, I should have started years ago, though I can breathe heavily and hold my knees, I’ve got that off pat.  I don’t suit the vests at all, not with my bingo wings, and I would want Bermuda shorts and those in a generous size (we can’t stand it when they ride up your bum, us athletes.)

It might be something to do with creativity.  All the creativity happens on the last four inches of the table.  It takes a couple of hours minimum of sticking, sanding, chiselling, sewing, painting, whatever, for the creative bit of the brain to wake up and suddenly start having good ideas.  This is why yer actual artist is up all night – inspiration struck exactly at bedtime and that was that.  Until the muse awakes you’re just faffing. Must be tricky if you’re a dancer, having to kick a football round the stage, or paint the scenery until Terpsichore awakens.

I think it might have a lot to do with the difficult childhood thing.  Constant criticism feeds the fear that you simply aren’t good enough.  Wondering why I have the nerve to imagine I can sculpt when I’ve been doing it for thirty years, is deep seated lack of confidence. On the other hand I have interviewed people who thought, mistakenly, that they were wonderful, and I would far rather be the other way round.  I have also interviewed many artists working in all disciplines and trying harder because of childhood difficulties and they were amazing.

There is also a possibility that the better you are, the more self-critical you are. I have destroyed a lot of stuff that anyone else would happily put on a table and sell, I have occasionally put on a table stuff I think should not have been there.  One of the hardest tasks is to see yourself as you really are. In any way at all.  The bloke blowing kisses at himself in the mirror simply cannot see the bald spot, it is not available to view, by him.

It is also guilt.  I love doing all the creative things, so naturally I won’t allow myself to do them.  Hence all the shoe cleaning (tricky for sandals with your bare feet in them, if anyone has a cure for black instep, I’d be interested.)  I feel I don’t deserve it.  I will always look after everyone else first.  This of course is the effect of having difficult and demanding people in your life.  If it happens long enough you adopt a servant mentality.  Chains in your head, dangerous and limiting.  Quite a few famous people were, famously, horribly selfish and very focussed and also, not very nice.

Which is better, to be a nice person who faffs or a selfish person who achieves?

Perhaps it is the lack of realisation that we are not invincible or going to last forever.  You would think under the current circumstances that we would all be achingly aware of that, yet more people than ever are faffing around, fiddling, unable to settle.  Given all the time in the world to do nothing, choosing most of all to sleep and eat.

All we all have in common is time. We all have the time of our lives and the choice, once the hand to mouth basics are sorted, of how to spend it.

I appear to have chosen to spend my life faffing about.

I was, given that my Olympic career is on hold, going to be a famous authoress but I’m faffing around with the next novel instead of sending the first one off to a million publishers in a confident manner.  Either I can’t see the bald spot, have no idea why some others which are not that good, got published, or I secretly believe I don’t deserve it.

I think that afflicts a lot of miniaturists.  Believing in yourself may well lead to decisive action, until then I’m off to organise the books, tallest on the left.  I will then polish my instep and may make a cup of tea for lunch around four o clock, once the kettle is descaled.  Though first I have a couple of folk to look after – a thing to deliver – a letter to cheer someone up – a phone call to a lockdown – and then,

and then it will be bedtime.

Honestly!  Where do the days go?

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Lockdown scrap albums.

Another, other, other of my hobbies, many, many of which there are (let alone those I might do when I get the time, climbing Mount Everest isn’t one of which, not even to get to the ice cream parlour at the top) is scrapbooking.

I was alarmed (and I am not easily frit) to see on the television news that the Museum of the Home are asking for honest photographs of lockdown houses.

Horrors!

Allow me to show you my lockdown album.

And here, on this page which I have decorated with 3D roses and a nice paper with a pattern of flower buds, is a photograph of the dustbin, last emptied three weeks ago.

On this page with the clever pop-out balloons, look, close the page, no balloon, open the page, balloon! Close the page, no balloon, open the page, balloons round a photo of an unmade bed, five socks and a fallen over not-completely-finished cocoa mug.  I know. cocoa, how wartime is that?  You can’t get drinking chocolate, desperate people are cooking with it, desperately.

On this page with the seaside scene and the cut out whale, very droll, a photo of a million plastic toys strewn across the carpet, the thick plastic sandals necessary to venture in the direction of the curtains, never closed (have you seen what they are doing at number five?  What not from your house? Really, well you can come round, oh no you can’t, well…………..actually I’ll ring you later.)

Kitchen, lovely page with cut-out pans, Welsh dresser, antique cook, round a photo of bacon rinds draped over the post which no one can open for another thirty hours, orange peel because the bin is full, mixed up with the cleaning cloth which wouldn’t get the cocoa off the bed and some fish skin which I will worry about until the next postal delivery of clothing catalogues for Your Summer Look – same as Your Spring Look but with worse hair – goes on the pile.

I will no longer be nostalgic for student life because the realistic photos of the toilet are realistic.  I will swap five fish skins for a bottle of disinfectant, easily and throw in an orange peel.  (You could make fish marmalade, I’m sure someone is.)

Against a faded page of a stately home, a photo of what may be the sofa.  If the sofa is under there.  Oh hang on, is that a leg?  Has anyone seen George lately?

And these are the traditional five pages blank at the end of the book because I ran out of printer ink.

You know what to do with awful scrapbook albums don’t you?  (The clue is in the title and it isn’t book or album).

I did read in the paper today of a domestic service agency inundated with requests from the posh, wanting to know how to operate the washing machine.

Now their albums I would like to see.

‘This is a photo of Geoffrey, Lord Avelot, trying to feed the lions in the park………………….’

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Sunshine

Thank you so much to everyone who emailed, concerned for my health.  In the avoidance of hospitals, whilst having copious problems at either end of my digestive tract, due to two year old post surgical adhesions, I have just been taking my time to recuperate.  Thank goodness for energy drinks.

Pottering around, I have finally been putting the garage back together. The OH was helping but keeps getting dizzy spells, so I am carrying one gallon of porcelain slip at a time from my shed into the garage.  This carries with it the promise of proper activity in the near future.  Well, fairly nearish future.

We still have decorating to do in massive amounts.  The hall stairs and landing is still bare plaster, the dining room is still a tip, the lounge looks like the set off Steptoe and Son, there are still holes I fall into every time I come out of a door and there is still a skip on the drive.

BUT

The day before yesterday I managed to clear the kitchen floor.  What a joy it is to have a kitchen floor.

For six months we have had an obstacle course made up of mountains of paint tins, boxes full of implements, boxes full of cleaning stuff and mops, boxes full of shopping bags, bags being disinfected and so on and so forth and buckets and bags full of builder’s biscuits.  Finally I cleared them and saw the floor.*

It was filthy, never mind corona, it was amazing we didn’t get plague.

So, regardless of the fact that I just have, I am not going to do a posting, or the room box until the rain begins (Tuesday) because the sun is shining and I have a shed to empty and in there, if memory serves, is all my gardening stuff and my moulds, which are all the things that make life worthwhile.

I want to do big fairies.

Actually I have to do big fairies, I just need to.  All this creativity has been stuck behind my fingernails while I paid other people to make stuff.  Now, like a force of the universe, regardless of intestines, or double vision, it is bursting to get out.

So, I’m off in the sunshine to empty my shed.

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*Of course, if you never collected stuff you would never have these problems.  But then, if you never collected stuff, you probably wouldn’t be reading this.

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Away recuperating

I’m away from the computer for a while.  I have had the second illness in a week caused by post surgical adhesions.  I’ve just got out of bed for the first time in a couple of days and I’m just heading right back there. Usually this lands me in hospital……………..

See you soon.

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Monday

I’m quite surprised to be having a bad attack of Monday.

It’s not a thing I normally suffer from.

I just can’t be bothered.

It might be because there are so many things I ought to be doing.

But I’m not.

I think it might be because my days are so busy and crammed with stuff.  There are several I ring.  There’s the library at the end of the drive.  There’s all the decorating and currently the garage.  All of which are so pressing there’s no time to construct the lockdown house (I’ve been collecting the bits to do it, have you?)  because really I need to make more cards, I’m going through my collection at speed.

I seem to have got this majorly wrong.

A lot of people on the news and various other places seem to be complaining of boredom.

Boredom?  What’s that then?

Also terror. Sitting at home? Well I know the TV programming is slowly disintegrating…………….

Perhaps it’s just me, swimming upstream again.

My mother (how glad I am daily that she is not in a home, during this) used to say that I was different.  She used to look at me thoughtfully and say, in tones of puzzlement, ‘You’re different,’ which was how you could tell, really.  Frequently after she had done something appalling and I hadn’t reacted.  I found some photographic slides of me and my cousin and parents from the fifties and very early sixties.  You cannot tell about my mother from looking at her,  I have quite a few slides of her, in a lime green hot pants suit, posed with a basket of flowers and a trowel, quite convincing if you don’t recall that the trowel was for the photo and a cup of tea and the newspaper, sitting down, was much more her style.

You cannot tell from looking at the outside of people what is inside their heads.

Except that now, locked in with themselves, the inside of people’s heads are beginning to leak out of their ears.

The OH, for example, has always looked wonderfully healthy, even propping up a bar he looked like an advert for it.  Now his stomach is out where he can keep an eye on it.

Then there are all the folk who were always in the news being stunningly good looking. Take away the make-up artists and hairdressers and they look just like anyone, but with differently coloured roots.

As I have always cut my own hair I look much the same as always.  I use that shampoo that lasts three washes, which still does.  My skincare routine is that I wash it.  I don’t go to a gym, I could never afford it, I have my gym behind the door (I bought a bit of equipment from shopping channels every time they did new year, new you.  I still have the first one which is a pair of wheels on elastic that you roll out along the floor, still use it, still makes me squeak.)

It might be the garage getting me down.

You would never think the garage was the key to the house, would you?

I don’t mean the kind of garage that very rich people have, that have motor cars in them.

I mean the kind of garage that the vast mass in the middle have, i.e. you and me, that have everything in them that is not in the house.  The useful stuff, you know, maybe a freezer, maybe outgrown children’s stuff  (we had a sledge for years, until we gave it to the neighbours).  I have, usually, two kilns, lots of porcelain slip, gardening tools, DIY tools, decorating stuff, pots and pots of plastic gardening pots, compost, plaster of Paris moulds and loads of ladders, cardboard and packaging and more tools.

It’s the stuff you cannot function without, which is not very decorative.  I cannot imagine life without a kiln, or my favourite spade (which, incidentally I cannot find at present, I don’t suppose you know where it is?).  I utterly need my bats (kiln shelves to you) and I value all my moulds so much.

But none of these things that keep my world turning are pretty, and currently all of them are all over the house under tarpaulins, while we finish decorating the garage.

Decorating the garage might seem like overkill, verging on rich people having mood lighting and motor cars in there.  We had to do it because we had a new garage door.  The new garage door would not shut unless the floor was level and no one knew the floor sloped until someone put a level on it, all over.  As the OH remarked, ‘Let’s keep this floor nice’ and I agreed because the old floor was disintegrating.  There were only so many spots you could stand a kiln on without it wandering off. (An undesirable trait in an electric kiln on at 1200 degrees).  So we decided to paint the new floor, the OH got floor paint, but sadly not enough and now everywhere that sells floor paint is shut.  So the OH has ordered more online and we have decided to get the first, watered down sealing coat, on today.  We had to decorate one wall and the ceiling because they were plastered.  The wall was plastered because it had to be lined with thermally insulating plaster board because the room above was like a fridge, and the ceiling the same, and to provide a place to mount the light.

We’ve done the walls and ceiling and are fed up with wading through all the junk, which should be in the garage, being out where you can see it and trip over it.

You see?  It’s all the real stuff, normally tucked away out of sight, currently on display and very obvious.

There’s a metaphor there somewhere.

Anyway, God Speed the Plough, also the Floor Paint Distribution Centre, (working in a colleague responsible manner), naturally, and ditto in the post office.

Meanwhile I am off to do a work out, which always sorts me out and then I shall get on with the list.

The OH has appeared ready to paint, which is great, we will heft the wood store, cupboard and some step ladders out into the sunshine and he will paint the floor. Hooray.  And when the new paint arrives (within 21 days.  Three weeks to send paint?  There is a queue for floor paint?) He’ll paint that, he says, and then we can arrange the garage and then………….

We’ll be able to get started on the dining room.

What idiot decided to have an entire house makeover, life makeover, major lifetime refurb just before a global pandemic?

Me, and there was you reading this because you thought it might contain words of value.

Roots, that’s what it is, and a carefully mascaraed ear (but not a sledge, you’ll have to go next door for that.)

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Boinggg!

Spring has absolutely no idea that Covid 19 exists.  Oblivious to all difficulties it has been doing its thing.  Accordingly I spent yesterday in the garden and saw this:

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my tree and the council’s tree flowering away.  You can see the community library at the end of my drive.

That, by the way, demonstrates how an article of faith works.  I didn’t know if anyone would join in when I put the books out, and when the table got stolen, I thought all the books might just disappear too.  But people have joined in.  When I was gardening a young couple passed by, chatting.  ‘What,’ asked the young man, pointing at the books, ‘is that?’  ‘That’s the community library,’ replied the young lady, just as if it was a real thing and not something I’d made up.  And they strolled off up the street past the community library, which is a thing.

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The tree is extremely real too.  Turn the other way and you can see the camellia.

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setting off the new wall tiles and roof of the extension a treat.

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It started off as one twig and a leaf and a label ‘This bargain 34p’  What an investment.  As you can see I got the builders to place a grating in front of the new garage door.  All the water flowing down the sloping drive now waters the camellia, which is obviously very happy about it.

Behind the camellia I have managed for the first time ever to grow crown imperials.

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These spectacular bulbs are the largest variant of the fritillaria family, all of which I have grown over the years but never managed the big ones, because they are subject to rot, although they grew wild abundantly on bomb sites after the second world war.  This autumn instead of just planting them, I researched them and discovered that they like rubbish soil and in good loam will hold water in the central depression of the bulb until the rot sets in.  The answer, on soil worked as much as mine has been, is to plant them on their sides.  I did and there they are.  Now I know the secret I will plant a lot more this autumn.

In the midst of misery you cannot have too many flowers, like rainbows they are a promise of better things to come.

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