Born on the 16th December 1902 – Happy Birthday Daddy – always in my thoughts – constantly feeling proud to be able to call you my father. After the death of his father in 1921 Arthur worked first as a nursery boy for Isaac House & Sons, he then became a propagator, moving on to become their chief salesman.
Isaac’s son James specialised in herbaceous perennials and alpine plants. Arthur and he developed the Causican scabious, introducing several new cultivars, one of which Scabiosa caucasia ‘Clive Greaves is still widely available today.
With that thought in mind I painted a picture of Clive Greaves to honour my father’s birthday.
My previous post on Pressed Flower Work was drafted but not published several years ago…now my work has evolved and merged with my art work. My tutor artist Mark Fisher mounts some of his work on wooden panels (often of some age)…I took this idea but made a triptych of artwork, painting abstract acrylic backgrounds onto card, adding pressed flowers to create an image and then mounting three on a plaque of oak, fashioned by my husband Philip before a final varnish to preserve both the wood and the flowers. The works are vibrant and exciting – I have sold several this year already.
I have always had a fascination and passion for all things floral, so when I met Joyce Fenton at an RHS show at Vincent Square, London, in the early 1980s, exhibiting her pressed flower pictures, I was hooked.
I went to one of her seminars, held in her little cottage in Charlwood, in Surrey. It was a day to remember. I don’t remember how many ‘students’ attended but her tiny dining room was full, the table littered with the paraphernalia required for this craft. I came away with my first two pictures, which still hang in my house.
As a retired teacher, Joyce took up the craft of pressing wild and cultivated flowers, leaves and grasses, after one of her sons gave her with a collage of Australian seeds. To have exhibited at the RHS then was I believe a first for her craft.
In 1983 Joyce established the Pressed Flower Guild along with a gentleman called Bill Edwardes, who had devised a method of framing the finished picture, to give the specimens some depth. It is a method when making framed pictures that I still use today.
Joyce’s method was to glue the flowers, leaves or grasses onto a piece of material. I used a polyester lining material most of the time as this was much less expensive than silk. But I have read that lots of different materials could be used, cotton, silk, taffeta, to name but a few. Behind this Joyce used a piece of softish foam, so that when the backing was fixed, the flowers indented into the material. This method adds an entirely different dimension to the overall effect.
In the late 1980s, the craft was still very popular, I took commissions and sold my pictures at local craft fairs. But now it seems to have lost its appeal. Recently I took several of my cards to local shops in the arty town in which I live, to be told that they were old-fashioned and outdated, though pretty.
This poem is featured in my third poetry collection ‘Non-Specific’ due to be published in early 2022. It is inspired by an elderly friend from the early 1990s, a friendship that continued until her passing. So often in my life I have found inspiration from more elderly ladies – their wisdom and stoicism and inspiration for a then middle-aged woman.
Though frail and in need of a new hip, she continued to garden, whist using her walking stick and undertook most chores in her small cottage garden. Her easel stood near the French doors which led from her sitting room to the garden in her ancient characterful cottage – always with an unfinished painting, which changed almost daily. Even with her advancing years she was never idle – and counselled me to be the same…that was the inspiration for my poem.
The Passing of the Hour,
Never waste them,
the minutes never come back again
even relaxing could be precious moments lost,
unless you’re planning…
Your next story, picture,
a special trip to some unexplored place
but never overlook the importance of them
the hours are too precious a commododity.
Observe, note, drink in all around you.
Smile and reflect on happy memories
or think of the memories that could be made.
Take each minute that passes and make it count in a special way.
This is one of the last photographs of my mother Gay, before her untimely death on the 11th February 1977.
Gay was born today 9th March 1907 – and will always be remembered with love and great affection. Having researched her life for my book The Haphazard Gardener, it was only as an adult that I understood fully her many achievements. She was a solid, down-to-earth person – who said it as it was! Not always welcome it has to be said but at least you knew where you were. Not overly tactile, she was a great educator. A teacher both before her marriage to Arthur and after the adoption of their three children, it was she who taught me most about the observation of both the garden and nature in general. She was a great encourager too. Her grandchildren adored her, though they knew her all too briefly.
From the early days after their marriage when they bought the land at Rowfant in Sussex which was to become their home Orchards for the rest of their lives, they worked tirelessly together. It was Gay who drew up the plans for the two up/two down wooden house, roofed with cedar shingle, extended in brick in 1949 to enable my adoption. They worked at weekends to build the original structure finished in 1939, built with their own hands, and with the help of friends. They worked the land together, Gay kept goats as well as chickens, ducks and a cow. They planted orchards of apple, pear and cherry, a nuttery, and a huge vegetable/fruit garden. Hundreds of daffodils were planted, all destined for the local shops.
I think of you daily, feel inspired by your presence and miss you still. Happy Birthday Mummy.
This picture of Gay – possibly taken pre-marriage to Arthur, when she taught at Sutton-in-Ashfield County Secondary School in Nottingham. Prior to her appointment biology had not been taught at the school. Her first task was to completely reorganize the science department, bringing it up to date. The course she taught included field work, gardening and the academic work needed for the School Certificate and Higher Certificate examinations. The girls were stimulated by her teaching methods and took an enthusiastic interest in the subject. In 1932, she left the school to marry Arthur. In 1936 the course she initiated was still being used.
During and after the war she worked alongside Arthur on the piece of land they had bought in Sussex, drawing plans and assisting with the building of their house. Working the land during the war alongside the land girls, planning the orchards, helping with the animals at their home The Orchards.
She returned to teaching in 1949, where she taught Zoology, Botany, and Biology until 1963. She was an educator, it was she who taught me to study nature as closely as I still do now.
She passed away on 11 February 1977 – 41 years ago today. So much of nature reminds me of her, Viburnum fragrans, snowdrops and tiny iris, rugged barks, and fat buds.
When the garden at Orchards was open to the public, we would, as a New Year tradition, garden on the 1st of January, even if it was too cold to do anything else we would clear leaves or pick up winter debris. And, whenever possible I would continue gardening every day until a couple of weeks before Christmas when I’d be making Christmas wreaths to sell to customers and to the local farm shop.
Now I no longer garden in January, unless we have some very warm sunny days, and this year I only experienced those when I went to Malta. February the first will see me out there providing the weather is kind.
Following a quick walk around the garden today, the first signs of spring are with us once more and the garden is definitely calling, not too much weeding to do, but lots of leaves to gather and forget-me-not and love-in-the-mist to cull, before it chokes the iris reticulata that are thrusting their way through. Several of the Hayloft double hellebores have been flowering with us since the beginning December last year.
Today the 28th January 2018 is the 25th anniversary of Arthur’s passing. I had the privilege along with an old friend of his (Iris Baker) to be at his bedside when he took his final breath at 14.20.
Where has that quarter century gone? What would he think of my journey in life since his passing?
The first question I can answer easily. Following his death, Philip and I worked tirelessly to restore the neglect, rejuvenate and replant his garden. When two years after his passing in 1993, his son sold the bungalow in which Arthur lived, we fenced a decent garden around the property and took responsibility for the remaining land…approximately eight acres.
The property was edged on three sides by woodland in varying depths (the north and west originally planted as a shelterbelt), the southern boundary encompassed a bluebell wood and a bog garden – later developed into a pond.
When Arthur and his wife Grace (Gay) first came to Orchards, it was scrubland that hadn’t been cultivated for five decades or more. Here, whilst building their own wooden house (two up/two down), with cedar shingle roof, they began to plant a garden. Apple, pear and cherry orchards were planted (hence the name – originally called The Orchards), along with a vast vegetable garden and a fruit garden. However, in those early days, pre-war and after, the planting of ornamental trees and shrubs, was already taking place. Thousands of daffodils were planted, throughout the front garden and along the western and northern sides. Many I know disappeared beneath the ever-expanding conifers over the years.
What visions they had for the garden, went unspoken. It has been written that Arthur, on seeing the plot and standing on the cusp of the south-facing slope said ‘If you think I am making a garden here you’ve another think coming’. But make a garden he did. Wooden sheds were built on the west boundary parallel to the house, where goats were kept and milked; and apples and vegetables were stored in the winter months. Hens and ducks were also housed in triangle-shaped arks nearby. At one point Gay bred rabbits for meat and I remember as a child seeing the skins stretched on wooden boards, pinned and left drying in the sun.
We took on a garden with fewer orchards, and they were only apple orchards, no vegetable garden or fruit garden and two solitary pear trees, which despite the years of neglect and further inaction on our part, still bore fruit. I worked fulltime in the garden and continued with the nursery that I had opened just a few months before Arthur’s death, closing as soon as the doctor had told me the severity of his symptoms. Looking after him in those final months, though stressful was a privilege. I wrote a poem about that experience in my first collection of poetry called Where My Heart Is.
We continued with our work and following a meeting with the local organizer of the National Gardens Scheme, we opened the garden the following year. Within a few years, the garden had been recommended and accepted for The Good Gardens Guide, where it remained up until we sold up and moved away.
So what would Arthur have thought about my journey? I was assured by several of his colleagues, that he was immensely proud of my endeavours when I first opened my nursery on the east boundary of the garden.
I spoke to Robin Lane Fox on the evening of the 28th January, and it was he who first asked if we were going to open the garden to the public. He had made a pact with Arthur that neither would visit each other’s garden whilst they worked together. Robin was the gardening columnist for the Saturday Financial Times, as well as being a contributor to other magazines and an author. He has over the years been a staunch supporter of Arthur and his books. When I published The Haphazard Gardener Robin was kind enough to give it a review in the Saturday Financial Times. I think that Arthur would have been enormously proud of that.
Both of my parents would have understood the necessity for us to sell up once the garden became too much for me. They knew only too well what an onerous task it was.
Trawling through some scanned photos on an external hard drive I came across a nostalgic shot of a little girl, running through the long grass at Orchards, my home at the time. It must have been in the early 1990s but I’m not certain.
It was the only time, whilst gardening at Orchards with Philip, that I managed to persuade him to leave the grass uncut, long after the daffodils had finished flowering. The front vista was awash with thousands of daffodils, in clumps of different varieties, and in my parents day, the grass was often left long, but only in the form of the clumps, being cut with an Alan scythe machine six weeks after the last clump had died back.
But this particular year we cut wide swathes through the otherwise long grass. I was in heaven, so many different varieties of grass and other wildflowers thrived and this little girl (the daughter of a friend of ours) spent hours playing in the grass, searching for the different grasses and wildflowers.
However, when late summer came and we had to hand scythe the now long and matted grass Philip was less than impressed with my romantic notion. It was the one and only time, he ‘allowed’ wildness in the grass as well as in my borders!
This tree growing in ‘The Valley Garden’ in Cernobbio, was my friend informed me used in the making of silk; the leaves being fed to silk worms. To my knowledge silk worms only eat mulberry leaves!
However, the fruits of Broussonetia papyrifera – The Paper mulberry – are, I now discover, edible as are the young leaves, if they are steamed. Also, the bark, fruit and leaves are used traditionally for medicinal purposes. In China silkworms are fed with the leaves.