There’s no way around this. I’m showing off a bit about our narrow, over-stuffed strip of garden at the back of our old narrow end-of-terrace house in Whitstable. With words by Francine Raymond and photographs by Sarah Cuttle, our garden appeared this month on the cover of the Royal Horticultural Society’s The Garden magazine. The general gist of the accompanying article is ‘look how many plants you can cram into a small space!’. Just before putting this post together, I was outside chucking lots of fish, blood and bone about the garden before it started to rain. I smell a lot like cat food now. Oh, the glamour.
As the temperature continues to drop, I’m hankering after a blast of Summer heat and colour. Yesterday afternoon, the falling snow went from quick, dry powder to lilting goose feathers, and our small garden was transformed. I took the photograph below from our kitchen door, snowflakes settling on the toes of my woollen socks. Beautiful though it certainly was out there, I couldn’t help but fast-forward the scene before me. The snow has buried the snowdrops and the hellebores, but strange to think all that saturated summer colour is buried out there too, embers, already stirring under the frozen earth.
Whitstable garden, February 10th, 2021
What I enjoyed about the most recent Kick-About prompt was the way Leger’s painting encouraged immediacy and directness – a sort of ‘first pass, job done’ flourish that meant lingering too long on any subject wasn’t quite the ticket. I also appreciated a chance to occupy a more domestic space – nothing metaphysical to see here, ladies and gents! Our kitchen is stuffed full of house plants – I look at them many times a day, every day. They are as part of the fixtures and fittings of our kitchen as the cutlery and plates. With this in mind, I wanted to make them the subject of my offering this week, and also to try a new technique first brought to my attention by fellow kick-abouter, Charly Skilling – drawing onto ceramic tiles with Sharpie markers, and then spritzing the drawings with alcohol to encourage them to bleed and soften to pleasingly impressionist effect. To be honest, I worked up these studies super-fast and without any fuss or forethought and just really enjoyed what the process itself was giving back. Given the knock-about informality of the technique, it amused me a bit to dial-up the formality with some tasteful frames, imagining these ill-disciplined little drawings on the walls of some tasteful interior.
Up-close, there’s so much activity and texture in these tiny unstable explosions of colour and subject, I couldn’t resist abstracting everything a little further.
A roar of Summer at the end of the week! In common with lots of my plant photography, I don’t know when these portraits of Eschscholzia californica were taken, but at some point in the early 2000s. I know where they were taken – in the garden of a post office in rural Lincolnshire, and on 35mm film. Californian poppies are a personal favourite of mine, for the delicacy of their satin-like blooms and their ferny sea-glass-coloured foliage.
Lilium ‘Night Flyer’ in the late afternoon sun was an impressive sight – nearly black flowers revealing the deepest, richest reds and licks of orange flame. Lilium ‘Night Flyer’ in the early morning after the night’s rain, lit by the soft-box of the clouds, was something else again; black petals reflecting white, droplets of water like garnet beads, and anthers like moist chocolate orange eclairs.
Dangerous-looking and ridiculously dramatic, these ‘Night Flyer’ lilies were glowing in the garden this afternoon, their stamens like pokers left too long in the fire.
Another trip out into the luxuriant froth of the Kent countryside yesterday evening to locate and photograph an entire field of ox-eye daisies – or Leucanthemum vulgare if you’re feeling fancy. The sunlight was milky and yellow and the effortless pointillism of the meadow was another impressionists’ delight!
As I type this bit of preamble, the swallows are screeching overhead, a fat wood pigeon is hoo-hooing insistently -if melodically – and a blackbird is trilling away like a happy milkman. It’s been very sunny, very warm, and our garden’s bobbing asteroid-belt of alliums is winking out, globe-by-starry globe, their purple colour desaturating and their flowers giving way to bulbous seed capsules that resemble little green pumpkins. It’s been quite a show, and the ending of it means the garden is moving towards a hotter, racier palette. Fireworks to follow!
We’ve got several great big clumps of Astrantia major – or Greater Masterwort – growing in the garden. It has just come into flower, though ‘flowers’ don’t quite describe the perfect papery things sitting above the foliage. They manage to be both very old-fashioned seeming and also architectural, a bit scruffy, but neatly appointed. Their green tips, green venation and translucency make them very photogenic, but they’re let down by their scent, which to my nostrils smells like cat shit you haven’t discovered yet. I think we can see this in the difference between the plant’s latin name, Astrantia major, which sounds rather lovely and important-seeming, and its common name, Masterwort, which sounds like a mildly unpleasant character imagined by Mervyn Peake.
I can’t tell you the year these photographs were taken, somewhere between 2003 and 2005. I can tell you they were taken in the front garden of a rural Lincolnshire post-office and that they’re De caen anemones. I can likewise tell you these photographs were taken on 35mm film. This is the thing about plants – the closer you get to them, the more extraordinary they are. I do remember when I first saw these images, how the common-or-garden reality of their subject slipped away, leaving me instead with milky nebulas and strange, hirsute planets orbited by pillow-shaped asteroids…