gardening spirit

As this is the start of National Gardening Week it seems appropriate that I reflect on how important gardening is to me. Growing up in a gardening family, with a self-sufficient attitude to growing vegetables I suppose it was inevitable that one day I’d have a garden of my own to tend. For years I’d visit mum and be walked around the garden having updates on the state of things, nodding but never knowing the names of things, but seeing the pleasure the process of gardening gives to her. Now I understand.

Here in Birmingham we have an allotment to grow the vegetables and fruit in, and we grow flowers in our garden. We have spent over a decade digging and harvesting plot 8; learning to respect weeds for their various ways of making their presence known – I still want to try weaving couch grass. The feeling of success when we pick the first strawberries of the year, or fill the rucksack with runner beans that can be filling the freezer for wintertime is certainly worth the hours of graft. Last weekend I picked over a kilo of purple sprouting, and we commented that the harvest would probably cost well over £10 in the shops, as organic produce – but with no plastic wrapping or air miles included. Of course our food tastes so much better too! Gardening spells out the seasons as we check for frosts, or pick the first fruits, and enjoy the harvest and flowers of each changing month. The beds of wallflowers make me so happy this time each year, signalling the excitement of the growing year getting underway.

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It was at the allotment plot that I first developed my pattern collection ‘Plot to Plate‘, launched in 2012. I had been drawing the allotment beds on the site, as well as National Trust kitchen gardens for a while, and a language of graphic pattern made from lino cuts evolved, firstly as limited edition prints, and secondly as motifs to explore repeat pattern with (for example: Plot to Plate VVV textile design – final image with the Auricula). The title design is slightly different in the fact that it was hand drawn, and is an over-sized dog tooth check featuring tools of growing, cooking and eating, such as garden rakes, spades, whisks, wooden spoons and cutlery as a visual narrative up the tea towel, celebrating the journey from plot to plate – available in Brassica green or Brassica purple. plottoplate_ttowels_katefarley150

This collection has evolved to incorporate more formal pattern compositions such as Parterre (below) and Hanbury, inspired by National Trust’s Hanbury Hall and Gardens in Worcestershire, featured on hand screen printed cushions and wallpaper, where I make links between pattern design for textiles and formal garden design.

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These days my design practice has moved away from the inspiration of the formal gardens but I continue to dig. Our potatoes are in the ground for this year and the greenhouse is working some magic. Gardening provides me with not only creative inspiration but also head-space – a highly valuable asset in today’s world. As a designer and an academic, juggling a young family too, things can be frantic and I’m often running for trains. Faced with two hours of hard clay to dig I’m actually very happy. I can focus on the job in hand while chatting to the friendly robins, making myself physically tired, seeing the result of the work, and at the same time having time to think and mull over some of the other stuff of life. There’s also the sense of community with other allotmenteers; we share the same weather and battles but also share the excess harvests. Every time we get to the point of questioning ourselves about the allotment and if we have time, I remember all that it does for me, how my hard work there actually keeps me well; gives me a sense of well-being I can’t imagine getting from anything else. I shall keep digging, and knowing, for so many reasons, why I do!  Happy National Gardening Week!

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Plot plants and design musings

It’s that time of year when the weeds seem to grow faster than the vegetables, and with so much rain this last month, the slugs have found it very easy to slide across the plot to our crops. The courgettes have started cropping but the peas lost the fight. This has got me thinking… This gardening game is very much like the designing game.

There are highs and lows with both, rewards and lessons to learn too. Progress can at times come easy, and with other situations hindrance can be everywhere, and not of your doing. There are also joys in the changing seasons, the changing pace, the focus of attention. Preparation is needed in both garden and design studio; good tools, knowledge of good practice, even ethics come in to both!  Experience and maturity can guide you, but even then, elements beyond your control can create a set-back. How the gardener, and how the designer copes and picks themselves back up also has similarities. Both disciplines demand attention, can’t quite be put down, often filling my mind with excitement of what is happening, what is growing in to something beautiful, edible, or with great potential.

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I hadn’t really thought of this before, but now I can see the similarities I can see the sense of purpose in both, as well as the patience required. Neither can be rushed if you really want quality outcomes. You can buy a box of plants ready to put straight in the ground but the satisfaction is never the same as when you nurture the seed in to a strong plant, eat the fruit, gather the seeds and start again. Isn’t that exactly the same with designing? You can start from the very beginning, and own the entire idea, or you can take a short cut, see someone’s beginning, and take it from there. Not at all as satisfying.

There’s many ways of being a gardener, and there’s many ways of being a designer. I think what’s important is that find the thing that feels right, and works for you. Then, tired from the tasks, you can sleep well, knowing the process will keep you strong.

For reference, sadly none of the flowers above were grown by me, but by my fellow gardeners at the allotment. I did take the photos though!

 

Springtime shopping of Plot to Plate gifts

My ‘Plot to Plate’ collection inspired by gardening is celebrating Springtime with a special offer in my online shop. For orders over £20 placed during March and April there will be free gifts included.

All products are printed and made in England. Tea-towels, bags as well Hanbury and Parterre cushions are screen printed. Greetings cards are printed with British paper.

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an alternative view

I’m not so keen on this time of year. Despite the crocuses being up it doesn’t feel anywhere near summer, and there is still a small chance that snow will fall before anything but parsnips can be harvested on our plot. Having been brought up in the Norfolk countryside I miss what the countryside offers. It is important to me that I notice the seasonal changes that shape our year, despite the suburban home I find myself in, here in Birmingham. I miss the big skies, the open fields, and the greens of each season, still in existence, I just can’t see them from here.

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Looking though photographs from last summer I found this shot. I took it from the car as we sat aboard the Windermere ferry, crossing back towards the motorway, heading south to the Midlands from our final holiday of the season. It really was a grasped shot of the closing summer, peering through the window, breathing in the view. A last look across to the beautiful hills of the Lake District, unaware of what sort of wet winter was in store for so many in the region. In getting the link to the ferry for this post I’ve just discovered there’s a ferry-cam. I’ll check back to it in daylight, and dream of the summer holiday.

Today it was sunny in Birmingham. I had a short run around the park nearby and pretended it was the countryside, imagining I really could feel the heat of the sun through my hat, gloves and coat. I think we have a while to wait. The ground underfoot reminded me all to well of school cross-country in winter!

I think I’m in need of another holiday to the country!

 

 

miles on wheels

I was brought up in a very keen cycling family, as a useful form of transport from a-b as well as for touring holidays and adventures. Growing up in Norfolk meant ignorant bliss when it came to real hills, and yet we did know that it can feel as if you have a headwind on four sides of a flat field!

With the Design Museum’s bicycle focused ‘Cycle Revolution‘ exhibition now on, the theme of their Twitter #FontSunday recently was bicycle brands. This got me thinking. I own many bikes, and each one for different reasons and I have many happy memories of times on two wheels. I took a few photos and started to remember…

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My early school photos show evidence of me learning to ride. Scars, bumps and bruises across my face, the result of falling in to the ditch of the edge of the disused airbase runway in rural Norfolk. I’ve fallen off with full panniers on, in fords deep enough with water to soften the landing, and I’ve broken my elbow as a result of hitting a pothole that was so small it could hardly be photographed for evidence! I’ve cycled Boxing day charity CTC runs, made others fall in love with touring on wheels, and ran round the park being brave enough to let my own children pedal away from me.

I inherited the silver ‘Falcon’ after my dad died, and once I’d grown old enough to fit an adult frame. With huge sentimental value, I love the bike I’ve covered miles and miles on. Youth hosteling with friends in Norfolk, and further afield: Scotland, Wales, France and Denmark. Loaded high and wide, on the open road, enjoying the same freedoms my father had experienced on the same steel frame.

My ‘Rudge Whitworth’, a heavy gent’s black butchers bike with rod breaks and wicker basket was purchased for a tenner from a fellow student at the art school in Great Yarmouth. I loved riding along, with my art box in the basket, seated so high up that I could peer over fences and be nosy. It takes hard work to pick up real speed, and yet once going, it’s impressive. The stopping is more interesting / less easy!

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My life changed colour with the purchase of my ‘Turkish Green’ Brompton, from BikeFix in London. I ordered it before I’d seen the true colour but as the staff pointed at many products in the shop, saying, nearly this, bluer that that, brighter than those, I chose my new bike. On the day it arrived I excitedly arrived at the shop to discover the true colour, and to receive ‘training’ of how to fold and unfold the bike before I was allowed out on the streets. When I lived in London I headed off with the bike, all over the place, leading bookbinding workshops, before packing it all up, and heading off to the train home again, some miles cycled, others on tracks. Now this bike is my regular commuter bike to the train and I’ve covered so many miles in over ten years. I transport my children on it when they are too tired to walk, I load up the rack with runner beans in trays ready for the allotment, and I carry the harvest back from the plot, strapped up in front and behind. I fold it without a second thought now.

There are other bikes too. The borrowed, hand-built racing bike I cycled Lands End to John O’Groats on back in 1994, all 1144 miles of it. Then the Dawes Galaxy with ‘modern’ gears, that made me embrace cleats on the pedals instead of the rat traps. The red Falcon that I had before I was tall enough for my Dad’s old bike, I still have that one too.

Each bike I own was made with a different rationale to the next one, in different times, in different workshops and factories, with different ambitions. Each one I own has been part of a different story too.

 

 

summer to autumn colours

We’ve been treated to some clear blue sky days over the last few weeks and this makes the transition from summer to autumn a bit more tolerable. I always hate having to acknowledge that the summer warmth has gone for another year, and that the plot has given us most of the harvest for the year. We will wait for the frosts before we dig the parsnips, but I’ve gathered the squash and picked the final runner beans we will eat. The last of the sweet peas still offer their scent, but their strength of colour has passed. It’s a constructive time at the plot as we take down the netting, pull up the spent corns and clear ground for new anticipation.

Poppies, marigolds and nasturtiums still bloom such strong summer colours, daring the frost not to strike for a few more nights… I have my fingers crossed too…

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Sissinghurst in full bloom

We had a great day out at National Trust’s Sissinghurst gardens in Kent last week even though the weather gave us several seasons in one day. It has been a number of years since my last visit and I’ve spent those years becoming more of a gardener, and launched my Plot to Plate collection of garden inspired patterns in that time so my reasons for observing, taking photographs and drawings have changed. The planting was fantastic; the combinations of colours and textures in particular were stunning. Here’s a few examples:

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