This is usually one of my favourite times of year: the days are noticeably longer, the daffs are at their best, the tulips are just starting and everything is showing signs of new growth and promise for the future. Given the current situation the natural world seems to stand in stark contrast to our everyday lives. There is blossom on the trees, birdsong (which I can now hear clearly because there are no aeroplanes and very few cars) and new, pale green growth on all my plants, which are carrying on regardless of what is happening to us. In a way it is rather comforting. In the garden the kerria is still providing a brilliant buttery yellow glow and the pots of daffs and wallflowers are looking lovely. The last few days have encouraged some of the tulips to open too, a rather rash move which I hope they won’t regret when it gets colder again.
I have cleaned the windows so I can now see out properly but new developments mean that this post will also include things that are just inside my window – seed trays of opium poppies. Unfortunately they are living on the table where I mostly work, which is also where the cat’s favourite basket sits (sunny, over a radiator and with a good view of the street), so everything is a little cramped. Particularly as the seeds have to be moved onto the other table as the sun moves round. But full of hope.
The foxgloves, evening primroses, alliums and grasses are all showing promise of great things in the months ahead – although at the moment the blue fescue looks a little like a badly-shorn skinhead.
I have also gained a greenhouse. Well, a small greenhouse-shaped cloche that I rescued from a skip some years ago but never got round to cleaning. I now see why it was thrown away; apart from being slightly broken, it is about a quarter of an inch too small to accommodate a seed tray. After a certain amount of improvisation it now houses seeds of sunflowers and hollyhocks.
As of this morning, the opium poppies have germinated. I now have hundreds of new residents in the house too look after. Tiny delicate little plants who will need exactly the right amounts of sun, warmth and water if they are to transform into tall elegant flowers – it’s a bit daunting but very exciting as I don’t usually grow many seeds, saying my house has neither the space nor light necessary. I hope I can prove myself wrong.
Given the current situation we are probably all going to spend more time at home – perfect time to sew, paint or create. I have always tended to do things quickly; particularly with patchwork, if there was a short cut I’d find it. Not because I didn’t enjoy the making process but because being faced with at least five hundred, and sometimes nearer a thousand, pieces for a quilt could be daunting. I would break the process down: planning, cutting, tacking, piecing etc. Each part was enjoyable in itself but the sheer repetition involved meant I became more and more efficient without even trying. Now there is no particular merit in doing things quickly. These patchwork boats are time-consuming and, to a greater extent than other patchwork I’ve done, inflexible regarding the process. They need to be made on a relatively flat surface, with an iron handy – so no bunging a few patches into my pocket and tacking or sewing them together wherever I happen to be. That said, these boats have given me more pleasure than most of my other patchworks. I enjoy the slower making process and, perhaps because of that, I have been more pleased with the end results.
These are Boats 70 to 81 of the 100. Depending how they are laid out they are 30×30 inches or 24×40 inches; neither of which are particularly useful sizes. Also the panel with the first boat is slightly smaller than the others. So still a work in progress…..
As a final note, Al Stewart, with all his nautical songs, is a particularly suitable accompaniment to patchwork boats. Sparks of Ancient Light even has a ship on the front cover.
Most of the time when I look out of the window everything seems as it did in January: rain-battered, wind-swept and hunkered down. But there are little changes; the blue and gold irises (Iris reticulata ‘Fabiola’) have flowered, providing tiny pinpoints of colour in the front garden, the little Tete a tete daffs are in full bloom and the larger Trumpet daffs are starting to open. Kerria has taken over from winter jasmine as the yellow against my walls and the witch hazel (‘Rubin’) is now ablaze with flowers. It isn’t particularly scented but that doesn’t matter; it’s role in life is to brighten the view from my kitchen window, which it does to perfection, every spring and autumn. Photographs, at least mine, cannot do the witch hazel justice. I see it every morning from my kitchen and, even on the dullest winter day its deep red flowers shine against the dark green ivy. Photos show the slightly grubby white brick wall below and the houses beyond the back wall but my mind can block these out; all I see is a flame of brilliant colour against mysterious and magical rich green holly leaves. It is a good way to start each day.
Many years ago (well, sixteen) I read this article which argued, very convincingly as far as I was concerned, that 29th February should be regarded as an ‘extra’ day; one on which we could do whatever we liked. I have no idea who wrote it but whoever it was suggested one should ‘cut a caper, paint picture, stare into the distance or sing sea-shanties.’ They even suggested that ‘Politicians could tell the truth; journalists could choose to look on the bright side’. This 29th fell on a Saturday so I spent it working at Hatchards Bookshop; even so, it felt like a slightly special day. In London it started wet and miserable but by the end of the day the sky was clear and blue. It was as if the year knew it should shift towards spring.
Finally, an extract from a poem called Winter’s Turning by Amy Lowell:
Let us throw up our hats,
For we are past the age of balls
And have none handy.
Let us take hold of hands,
And race along the sidewalks,
And dodge the traffic in crowded streets.
Let us whir with the golden spoke-wheels
Of the sun.
For to-morrow Winter drops into the waste-basket,
And the calendar calls it March.