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Jane’s Journal

Collecting acorns at Loch Lomond

Collecting acorns at Loch Lomond



This is a video taken on a trip to the Eastern shore of Loch Lomond where I collected acorns to dye some wool to make socks. The full tutorial is in the Exploring Trees course which is also available as part of Studio Club membership.

The transcript is below and you can also set the video to show subtitles

"I live in the middle of Scotland within the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, around about five minutes drive from the Eastern Shore of Loch Lomond.

It is a glorious place to live, there are sheltering hills that surround us and rolling green fields of sheep, and right in the middle there is this great body of water, and Loch Lomond is immense, it is fringed by these very beautiful oak woods that I think are at their best in October and November.

I have lived here about 21/22 years and this stretch is my favourite place to come if I just need to connect back into the natural world, have some peaceful time, this is where I come.

And incorporating this idea of place and connection into my creativity is really important to me. And acorns, which fall from these trees are one of my favourite things to dye wool with.

There is just something about collecting and spending that time, and then taking the acorns back to my studio and pulverising those acorns, really pulverising them, it's all part of the process - and making what is actually just a very strong tea to put the mordanted wool in.

And then letting time play its part, for time is very important when you are dyeing things. You get such a beautiful rich brown colour from the acorns - which is very colour fast as it is full of tannins - and you can make things.

These hanks here are destined to be socks and that idea of wearing something that is just part of the natural scenery and world that surrounds me.

That's what I really love."

Can a sense of belonging save the world?

Can a sense of belonging make us more ecological

A couple of weeks ago I was down in London to see my eldest daughter perform in a piece of experimental theatre. It was the end of the heatwave, the point just before the heavy rains, and the city was completely parched.
In the parks the tall plane trees were shedding their leaves, it looked like October rather than August. Sitting outside a cafe with a cup of coffee, I watched the leaves whirl down to cover the dust where the grass used to be, thin squirrels pawing through them.

I am sure that the big trees will be fine, their roots reaching down - the drought becoming a memory, a thinner ring at their core.

But elsewhere smaller trees were leafless, fruitless, withered, often dead - some had dropped branches in an attempt to survive.

Planters of shrivelled box balls lined the pavements outside restaurants and office buildings. The contracted care was falling far short and they were being left to suffer and die.

Miss Willmott's Ghosts

Miss Willmott's ghost

This week I have been listening to the audiobook of Miss Willmott’s Ghosts by Sandra Lawrence. The book is a biography of Ellen Ann Willmott who created amazing naturalistic gardens in the early twentieth century. In the way of these things where women are rare in a particular setting, she was seen as the ‘other’ female gardener by the media, deliberately made into a counterpoint to Gertrude Jeykll. Over the years Ellen acquired a reputation as a bitter, cantakerous and miserly old woman, carrying a revolver in her bag and laying mines amongst her expensive daffodil bulbs. This book is an attempt to overturn that and give her back the reputation that she deserves.

Miss Willmott was born into wealth, astounding wealth where as a small child she would be given thousands of pounds in cash with her birthday breakfast, but she had no sense of money. She simply knew how to spend lavishly to fund her various interests, to give her access to the kinds of intellectual, artistic and learned people that she wanted to mix with.

Getting the Best from your Sweetpeas

sweet peas on tunnel

Once your sweet peas are blooming there are a few simple things you can do to prolong the season, get the most flowers and stop the stems from shortening too much.

Cut the flowers every day or so.

Sweet peas are one of the most generous flowers of summer. Cut them and you will get more and more flowers, leave them on the plant and they will inevitably form seed pods that you miss. Making seeds is all that the plant wants to do, the flowers are a byproduct, so once the seeds are safely ripening the plants, reproduction in sight, will lose interest in flowering.

Snip off tendrils and old leaves.

Tendrils are the way that sweet peas climb - curling like a baby’s fist around a proffered finger. However they are just as happy to curl around a flower stem as they are around a support so they can end up bending stems over an twisting them. Cutting them off means more tying in though - so its up to you how much effort those extra flower stems are worth.

Sweet peas are hungry and thirsty plants and a lot of that demand comes from the large leaves.

If you cut off any large leaves that have gone matte and slightly dusty looking, you allow the nutrients and water to get to the new growth and flowers.

Friday feed.

Sweet peas are one of the plants that really benefit from regular feeding - It isn’t really surprising as we are asking a lot of them. In the wild they would produce one flush of flowers that would form seeds and then they would die back - we demand week after week after week of flowers.

I find that keeping feeding to a particular day of the week makes me more likely to remember. A watering can with some diluted seaweed or comfrey in it is perfect - just give them a good soak.

Or you can also use the same mix as a foliar feed and spray it onto the leaves with one of those plant spray bottles (or a well washed cleaning spray bottle).

Cut more of the plant.

No matter what you do, stems will get shorter and shorter as the season goes on - it is the plant economising on making stem tissue and concentrating on the flower instead as it panics that it may not produce seeds in time for them to ripen. At that point of the year I cut whole lengths of stem - leaves and tendrils as well as flowers and simply have wilder, greener bunches.

Why we keep the edges wild . . .

Peacock butterfly

Listen to me read this here

The edges of our garden are wild.

The garden in our deeds is big - about four acres in total - but I deliberately only cultivate a quarter of that and let the rest pretty much do as it will. There is a gravel path that curves down from the end of the vegetable garden to the Studio, and everything beyond that has been left to the plants and animals who were here before us.

The land falls away, through rough, matted nettles, docks and willow herb, through self sown willows and field maple down to a bog of reeds, willow herb and marsh marigolds, to a bluebell wood and burn. I try and resist going down into this part too much - though obviously peak bluebell time is an exception - for it is home to herons and hares, deer and otters, buzzards and voles, newts and frogs.

Over time I can see it gradually returning to forest - the brambles are now protecting seedling trees from the grazing deer and I can see oak, hazel and alder growing up alongside some apple trees I planted when we moved here 18 years ago.

Down the side of the studio path is a big patch of nettles. In the Spring I harvest the nettle leaves to eat or to dye textiles with or to treat my Raynauds . Then I leave them to flower.

Last month the tops of the tallest nettles were swathed in a web - a communal cocoon for clutches of very special eggs - the eggs of the peacock butterfly. The butterflies lay hundreds of eggs on the underside of the nettle leaves, then, when they hatch, the tiny caterpillars spin a communal web that brings the leaves together, giving them a safe place to grow.

This week the cocoons are gone and the nettle stands are mounded instead with tassels of jet black caterpillars.

peacock butterfly caterpillars

In another week they will venture off and pupate. In August the garden will be full of bright wings as they feed before hibernating until the Spring.

Sometimes, rushing, bare legged, I curse at the nettles that wave over onto the paths. But then, if they weren't there so close to where I walk each day, I would not get to see these amazing creatures, crawling and eating their way down the plants. For me the magic of seeing a cycle of life emerge is worth so much more than a designed, decorative, managed bed would be.

I'm not saying that we should all fill our gardens with nettles and I'm very aware that we have a lot of space here, but this is a call for some relaxation around the edges. It doesn't take much.

In the spring my friend Simon made a pond in his London garden. The pond was so small that he got a lot of teasing from his family. It is a beautiful, if admittedly tiny, pond - surrounded by plants, a peaceful spot. On 18th May his wife, delightedly eating her words, messaged me a photo of the first frog that moved in with the caption "How did the frog know the pond was here?". A month later her text read "Massive frog convention" with a photo of 5 pairs of eyes crammed in around the water lily.

It doesn't take much.

Just a little wildness around the edge.