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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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I am a bit of a womble.  My Studio is a layering of things that have been found, things that have been saved, things that have been given to me - I like to be surrounded by a bit of history. ⁠⠀
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I am known as an avid skip diver so people kindly keep me things.  This weekend I am off to pick up 13 sash windows rescued from a skip.⁠⠀
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This is my dye cupboard - the mordants and other powders, the piles of fabrics and yarns, my newly started record book and the glue to paste the swatches in.⁠⠀
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It has had a hard life - the back is patched with hinges as plates, there are many, many layers of paint and a door has gone missing along the way.  It is perfect.⁠⠀
Back when I grew flowers commercially the area that is now ‘the orchardy bit’ was rows and rows of spring bulbs.⁠ In the years where the deer didn’t eat the tulips they looked magnificent, stripe upon stripe of pure pigment. ⠀
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When I turned my back on growing for money, we simply took out the beds and levelled it, turning it back to grass.⁠⠀
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The tulips quickly gave up - never brilliantly perennial here anyway, they took the opportunity to fade out fast.⁠ Well if you don’t want us . . . ⠀
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The narcissi loved it though and every year appeared back in their serried rows through the grass. ⁠There was something disturbingly grave like about them.
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My planting  ever since has all been an attempt to disguise that - feathering the edges, making little islands, trying to make it all look haphazard.⁠⠀
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Gradually it is working - this is the edge of what would have been a bed of Narcissi geranium (best vase life, along with best scent) - now happily interspersed with a pheasants eye and a little lemon coloured one I have lost the name of.
Abundance.⁠⠀
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And the hedges beginning to vibrate with that gloriously specific spring green.
This week has been about experimenting.⁠⠀
Experimenting with all the ways to dye with daffodils, experimenting with the new e-course part of my website, experimenting with shooting and editing videos on my phone.⁠⠀
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My business hero is @sethgodin and his mantra is 'ship it' - a way of saying that the best way to learn is to make things and get them out in front of people before they are polished and 'perfect'.⁠⠀
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So I took his advice and combined all three experiments. Today's newsletters will have links to a free e-course all about dyeing wool with daffodils.⁠⠀
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I have been absolutely amazed by the colour you get from faded daffodil flowers (see the second photo). It is a bright, yet somehow soft, golden yellow which is now adding an amazing zing to my pile of plant dyed fabrics.⁠⠀
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I am prone to obsessions.  My brain hones in on topics and rabbit holes away, a constant background chatter to my life.⁠⠀
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It annoys the people I live with as my world shrinks to one topic. ⠀
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My camera roll shows me it is three years ago this week that I returned to natural dyeing with plants, concentrating on using only the plants growing within a couple of miles.⁠⠀
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Three years of experimenting with plant after plant, three years of googling and reading obscure articles and piling up samples. ⁠three years of conversation about mordants and modifiers. ⠀
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Three years is a short time in such a slow craft. A blink of an eye. ⁠⠀
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But already I can see a difference in my skill.⁠⠀
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This is a corner of the cupboard where I stash my fabrics and yarns building up enough for a project.  These have all been dyed this year - with barks and cones. ⁠⠀
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This week I am dyeing with bright deadheaded daffodils and the golden yellows will join these soft terracottas and pinks while I dream up something to make.
I grow very few white flowers. ⁠⠀
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White summer flowers tend to mark in the rain - white roses look like discarded tissues, white dahlias spot brown.  Even cosmos purity - which I do grow - goes droopy and grey in a way that the coloured versions don't.⁠⠀
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The petals of spring bulbs however seem rain resistant - so I can indulge my love of white flowers and enjoy them backlit by the morning sun on the Studio window shelf.
Bright and light and pretty.
I am spending a lot of time in the greenhouse at the moment - playing an endless game of jenga with my seed trays.⁠⠀
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Many of the seedlings are for the community gardens - being planted out gradually under fleece. We are biding time, taking the cautious route so that we minimise the risk of everything being wiped out by a very cold night.⁠⠀
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We still have a full month of frosts to go here - little ones of -2 or 3 are manageable, an extra covering of fleece, some bricks to act like a storage heater.  Most hardy seedlings will recover from getting their tips nipped a bit.⁠⠀
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Last year though we had a really cold night in mid May, when growth was going well and sappily. It blasted the blossom and killed many of my hardy veg too. Slightly too late to resow.⁠⠀
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Speak to the older generation of gardeners and they all sowed and planted out much later than is the fashion today.  They perhaps had a point.
I wrote in my Friday letter this week about the sudden lifting of the uncertainty and inertia that had been dogging me for a few months.⁠⠀
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It's always easier to write about these things once they are resolved - do you find that?  Once I am unstuck and lolloping along happily again, I can look at it all and not get sucked down.⁠⠀
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Of course all this talk of getting going again, of new plans and exciting things . . . . it all actually means hard work. ⁠⠀
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Head down, working through an actual written plan kind of hard work.  Not always my natural strength.⁠⠀
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So yesterday I rearranged the studio window shelves and cleared the working table, ready for an uninterrupted start today. ⁠⠀
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An attempt to keep momentum.
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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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