An Italian roadside

It’s a week or so since we got back from a week in the Umbrian hills. We rented somewhere that had it’s own private road. Whilst this conjures the sound of the crunch of gravel it was the kind of private road that makes you glad that it is a hire car that you are trying to force up it in 1st gear rather than your own – very steep, deeply rutted and both done dry and muddy alternately. The kind of road that never fills one with confidence, one where you ponder foregoing the stress of navigating it and existing for a week on foraged strawberries and cherries. During the heat of the mid afternoon it did however provide great cover for a walk, being carved out of thick holm oak forest, and on the side of this road grew an abundance of wild flowers. The views and flora that being designated driver I was unaware of when behind the wheel were pretty good.

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A week away from the garden

We’re just back from a week away in Italy. Part of my reading for the week was Mirabel Osler’s A Gentle Plea For Chaos, a book in which, amongst other things she expresses the joy that gardeners’ might feel on returning to their own patch having been away and discovering what has grown/died/flourished in their absence. A slightly damp underfoot walk around our garden was duly taken this morning.

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The bearded iris was only just in bud a week ago and the uncut grass in the meadow area was mid calf with camassias still staunchly above the sea of green . . . no more, it needs a chop but then I’ll have to bear the week or two of it looking very ungainly. Alliums are already going to seed and the persicaria has grown into a monster.

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Monsta – Messiah

This is an unashamed plug for our friend Rufio’s band – I know, us, friends with a dubstep DJ, wonders will never cease.

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The Woodlanders

There’s a lovely line by Dan Pearson in today’s Observer.

“I make a mental note of plants to greet the bees. Like them I want to feel that the spell of winter is broken, to know that growth is on our side.”

Having woken to another covering of snow this morning the spell of winter could certainly do with being shattered. Dan’s piece is illustrated by photographs of hamamelis, primrose and celandine, all of them that single tone of yellow that has to serve as substitute sunlight in the garden. It’s a shade of yellow that might seem vulgar at other times of the year; there are subtler tones of yellow and indeed the white narcissi, Thalia being a particular favourite, but the classic daffodil yellow hits the mark like no other.

Before the onset of bluebell blue there is an interim period of woodland white to seek out, with both wood anemone and wood sorrel filling that gap and the richest purple of wild violets to scrabble around under hedges in the course of seeking out.

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Brickett Davda

 

This lovely new film by Mark Bader is about Brickett Davda, one of the ceramicists that we stock at Black Bough. Jo talks about starting out making ceramics on her kitchen table; it almost feels as if I have known her since those days . . . but by the time I first met her (17 years ago) she was already a force to be reckoned with and stocking the Conran shop amongst others. The form of her work and method of production can still be traced back to those days but the decorative form has become more and more pure.

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Charankattu Coir Mats

I spent a day this week going around the multifarious antiques emporiums of Leominster – why Leominster is a hot bed of antiques trade is beyond my ken – to little avail. Only in the last centre, on a final trail of the final aisle did I find something that I wanted.

As per the photos, presented to Mr Ian Smith on the occasion of his tour of the Charankattu Coir Mat co. factory almost 56 years to the day, an album of hand painted samples of the different mats that the company made.

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I’m a non-believer

For a fairly devout non-believer I’ve spent a relatively large amount of time in churches over the past month. Firstly for my inaugural enrolment as a godfather (fingers crossed at appropriate times) and then twice in 12 hours over the cusp of December 24th & 25th – midnight mass in St Laurence’s in Ludlow and the Christmas morning service in our village church. Feeling non-festive at the close of the shop on the 24th I thought that midnight mass might engender some spirit of the season in me.

Today, on a rare day trip away from both work and home, we had 2 rural churches in the Herefordshire and Gloucestershire border lands in our sights. There was also the additional impetus of a visit to the wonderful Butcher’s Arms in Woolhope for lunch.

All Saint’s in Brockhampton is that rare beast, an Arts & Crafts church. Completed in 1902 and designed by William Lethaby it’s a complicated piece of architecture; making use of thatch, stone and timber, but all executed to such a high standard and sitting so neatly next to each other.

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The craftsmanship and attention to detail continues inside: beautiful light fittings (both electric and candle), altar tapestries by Burne-Jones and these amazing hand stitched covers to the prayer books.

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The second church on the list was St Mary’s at Kempley was more ancient; boasting the oldest roof of any building in Britain and the most complete set of Romanesque frescoes in Northern Europe. Sadly . . . . those that are habitually programmed to not look for opening hours for churches will find that it is closed until March. So both frescoes and roof will require a re-visit; but the Norman exterior (with add ons) was enough on a sunny January day.

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