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Journal

The Studio Meadow

The Studio Meadow was created from necessity. When the studio was built, tucked down the slope out of sight of our neighbours, the spoil that was excavated was graded to make a curving path down from the orchard.

The spoil was a mish mash of soil – our soil is pretty random at the best of times with seams of clay and gravel, large boulders and rocks - but a few generations of farm dumping meant that there were bits of rusted machinery, blocks of compost, tangled fencing, bottles and all manner of things buried deep in the earth. We chose to keep and cover.

It gave us a space that could not be used to grow produce because of potential contamination, but which was on the daily commute from home to work.

It felt like it should be ‘something’. It felt like a potential experiment. At the same time, I was scaling back my cut flower business, clearing out the perennial cut flower beds. I moved all the unwanted plants and bulbs into the slope, scattered a bag of perennial ‘damp meadow’ seed and waited to see what would happen. What has happened has been a lesson in letting go.

The rules were that plants had to thrive or die – there would be no cossetting along – and that there would be as little maintenance as possible. The only weeds that would be controlled would be nettles, brambles and docks which we have in profusion elsewhere, and I would stop it from returning to woodland by taking out broom and willow seedlings.

Apart from that it would be left to its own devices. As meadow spaces go it really wasn’t promising – the soil was technically too fertile for a meadow, the seed bank was full of strong grasses – I thought that it might end up just grass flopping in the rain, squeezing everything else out.

To begin with that seemed to be what would happen – the first year the cutting flowers bloomed half-heartedly amongst wispy grass, it looked very patchy, bald, raw. But the second-year wildflowers began to appear amongst the steadily bulking grasses – some were ones I had sown, mallow tansy, ox eye daisies, but others, cow parsley, fox and cubs, harebells, plantain, yarrow were locals – blown in from the verges or buried deep I don’t know. Now – several years on – it is my favourite space, the most alive and inspirational part of the garden.

Every season is different. In the Winter the teasels stand tall above the bleached grass, goldfinches fluttering as I walk down to work, voles hiding in the thatch. In Spring cut flower bulbs appear, allium seem happiest but bizarrely flamboyant parrot tulips seem to be more settled here than in the main garden beds. Summer sees wave after wave of colour seen through the haze of grass – with spreading patches of flowers passing the torch around, bees and butterflies following the rhythm. Autumn is for seed heads, layer on layer of browns and greys, chattering birds feeding themselves up against the cold, a collapsing in.

In maintenance I have a light touch. Nettles and docks are dug out, as is broom. The chickens are fed here on Autumn and Spring afternoons – scratching up the grass thatch so that plants can seed into earth. If it all gets a little too lush in the future I might strim and rake the grass but so far we haven’t had to and I like that the collapsed stems give small creatures a cosy winter space.

As a gardener it has taught me that nature is the best plantswoman. No well-thought-out matrix planting has quite the same texture as one where plants self-seed and gently creep, no deliberately planned nature garden has quite the same consideration for insects. I now appreciate grass – there are 17 distinct types of grass, from tiny soft tufts a few inches tall, to towering plumes that are high above my head – and the way it is constantly in motion, the way it brings life.

It has also given me a much better understanding of plants, of which plants from my borders are happy in the hugger mugger competition of a strongly growing meadow – some are to be expected, astrantia, thalictrum and sanguisorba thrive there, a throw back to their grassland roots – but others are more surprising.

The stars of the meadow in May and June are great blowsy Oriental Poppies – reds and pinks amongst the grass flowers – and they are beginning to seed themselves down the slope, new colours springing up as they go.

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Flowers picked, stripped and plonked in a jug. ⁠⁠
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I was planning to do a fancy arrangement but then they looked so light and pretty as they are.⁠⁠
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Simple so often the best.
The tansy is about to flower in the Studio Meadow.⁠⁠
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When I arranged flowers for weddings I always thought that the best thing about having properly seasonal flowers was that you would remember every year as plants came into bloom. ⁠⁠
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I got very involved with weddings, couples became good friends and I still associate plants in my garden with specific people. ⁠⁠
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Tansy would not be a good plant for a wedding though really - its history is a dark one, tied up with abortion and despair - but it is the plant I associate with my first attempt to dye fabric with plants.  Every year it blooms I realise how far I have come.⁠⁠
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For that first attempt was was a failure - too big a piece of fabric, not enough scouring and then a hissy fit at the lack of colour, which ended up with chucking too much ferrous sulphate into the pan and ruining it further into a blotchy grey.⁠⁠
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This weekend I go to Gartur Stitch Farm @katgoldin to learn more about dyeing with local plants and indigo with Julia @woollenflower . ⁠⁠
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Then, after that, I shall harvest this year's tansy . . . .⁠⁠ 
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A sunny evening in the studio.⁠⁠
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The fabrics I have been dyeing over the weekend rinsed and drying on the clothes horse.⁠⁠
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Maybe it is the heat, maybe its the perfect ripeness of the plants - I don't know - but this batch of foraged colour is particularly mouthwatering. Lush and soft and perfectly balanced.⁠⁠
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This is the last lengths that I am dyeing for the summer sampler sets of plant dyed fabrics, ribbons and threads that will go into the Studio Members shop at the end of the week.  I will email out the link when they are live.⁠⁠
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Making things like this is small scale and slow - so much love and care goes into these sampler sets, from the picking of the plants to the hand drawing of the gift cards.  I wouldn't have it any other way.⁠⁠

If you aren’t already a member of the Studio Club and would like to join -  to see behind the scenes, get the monthly journal and access all the members only blogs, courses and shop - the link is in my bio.
'You have to be fast to get the sweet peas'.⁠⁠
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This is what I was told last Sunday at Drymen Community  Garden Open Day. ⁠⁠
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They were talking about the dozen or so bunches I've been taking down to the Crop Swap outside the Village shop on Drymen Main Street each Saturday morning for the past couple of months.⁠⁠
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They are first things to be snapped up from the table.  I was delighted to find that many were being taken to neighbours, dropped off with the newspaper on the way home.⁠⁠
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If feels right for this most generous of flowers.
Did you have a spirograph as a child?⁠⁠
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The dahlias have started blooming and I'm thinking I could use one to draw them.
This is my Studio - where everything happens. ⁠⁠
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At the moment it is surrounded by a bright and jazzy mix of loosestrife and buttercups and poppies - teasels, tansy and sanguisorba rising up, ready to carry on the next act of the show.⁠⁠
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This little patch of land - really just a bank of spoil from building the studio - is different every day, an ever changing inspiration.⁠⁠ A reminder that things ebb and flow, bright and muted, high and low. 
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The heart of the Studio Club.
This was a new thing for me. ⁠⁠
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Mass rather than lines.⁠⁠
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An applique cushion made from pieces of my natural dyed fabrics, a still life of shapes - some hand quilted, some machine embroidered.⁠⁠
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Strawberry moon and vases.⁠⁠
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I'm currently spending time sitting in the shade most days, working on more pieces a little like this, aiming to put together a little collection for the Studio Club shop in the next couple of weeks.⁠⁠
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There will also be some more sampler boxes of plant dyed fabrics as the last ones sold out so fast!⁠⁠
A close up of the Studio shelf. ⁠⁠
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The white allium is from a garlic bulb in the poly tunnel - stressed and desperate to seed - snipped from the spread of drying bulbs that scent the hot air.
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About Snapdragon Life

At Snapdragon Life I gently guide you through bringing the changing seasons into your daily life, helping you slow down, so that you can experience increased well being, calm and creativity.

 

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