Today’s post is written by Emma Mitchell of Silver Pebble. Emma and I share a love of all things wild and wayside grown and I am so happy to have her share a post here. My own love of wild flowers began with the Flower Fairies of the Wayside book by Cicely Mary Barker, though it also involves the Observer books that graced my Grandparents bookshelves when I was a child and I find Emma’s illustrations & collections familiar in a way, they remind me of happy places, of memories I don’t want to forget.
Emma runs silver workshops – where ordinary folk like you and I can fashion silver pendants through modern day alchemy with a bit of magic mixed in I reckon – and there’s soon to be one in my dining room, see the footnote for info. Emma also writes a blog, contributed to The Big Comic Relief Crafternoon in 2015, has written articles for Mollie Makes and is currently running a handwritten letter exchange. Emma is an all round brilliant person and you can read a little more about her adventures in the press here.
Emma and I have swapped posts today, shared a little about what is growing now in our very different localities. Mine is as coastal as can be having walked the top of the cliffs at Beachy Head and Emma’s is a fenland wander, read on my friends…
Apart from sinking my teeth into a slab of delicious cake there are two things that engage my whole mind and almost allow me to forget where and who I am…
The first is making something with my hands – a crocheted wristwarmer, a lemony biscuit or a tiny silver wren. My mind is entirely absorbed in each stitch and tiny, feathery mark I make on the wren’s wing and I’m spirited away to a rather calm and soothing place, lined with yarn and furnished liberally with baked goods. It’s good to go there after I’ve just filed my tax return.
The second is standing in a wood, meadow, on a beach, close to a hedgerow or simply in my garden. The first place that this full immersal in nature occurred for me was in my Grandad’s patch. It was a smallish suburban garden in Liverpool, just six doors away from our own house but his passion for gardening and nature had transformed it into a few square metres filled with wonder for my four year old self. I have vivid memories of finding miraculously tiny froglets in the ferns around the pond, the smell of the mint as we cut some to go with my Grans’ roast lamb, the papery smooth feel of honesty seedpods as I freed up the seed in the late summer and the sweet yet peppery smell of purple aubretia in flower, tumbling over a low stone wall in Spring. My Grandad passed on his fascination for green, flowering, crawling and flying things to me and I soaked up every piece of leafy information. And then I discovered that book amongst his shelves.
Opening The Concise British Flora in Colour by Rev. W Keble Martin is like opening a Victorian collection of pressed botanical specimens. Each page is an exquisite, densely packed study of groups of British wildflowers and plants, each one intricately illustrated and painted by Keble Martin over a period of sixty years. It was his magnum opus and when it was published in 1965 it was an instant bestseller. The botanical plates of this book stayed imprinted in my mind – the layout, the hand lettered labels, even the fonts. When I began to use Instagram a little more seriously last Spring, Keble Martin’s influence started seeping into my photographs.
I have a strong urge to record what is happening in the hedgerows and the woods near our cottage. W Keble Martin catalogued and grouped plant species that were closely related. Instead my botanical images are snapshots of the seasons – a fleeting moment when hellebore and grape hyacinth are blooming together; a week in midsummer when the pastels of chamomile, scabious and bindweed sit together in a Fenny field; the beautiful shapes of hawthorn and alder in October. Right now we’re on the verge of Spring here in the Fens. The buds of trees are swelling and some leaves and blossom have emerged earlier than usual. Flowers and colour are crowd pleasers but I confess I take nerdy glee in identifying a plant or tree from the shape of its bud or seedpod.
Birdsong is growing louder and more varied as our British birds begin to pair off and build nests for the Spring and Summer. On the walk I took into the village wood to find the specimens for these pictures I heard robin, blackbird, great tit and a tiny, high-pitched call like the squeak of a miniature bicycle wheel that needs oiling. It was the call of a goldcrest.
In recent months I’ve begun to draw what I see and find in hedgerows using my fountain pen, as well as taking photographs. My nature notes may be rather simpler and less detailed than Rev Keble Martin’s but they show what is growing here in the Fens now, in 2016. There may not be any fancy, showy wildlife – the most exotic are perhaps some bee orchids -but somehow I find humble plants just as beautiful. As for our birdlife we do have one notable visitor who returns each April.- a nightingale, and I recorded his song in 2009.
Some of this may seem like nerdery and a rather baffling obsession with forgettable weeds. I confess that I’m striving to learn birdsongs and spend a fair bit of time with one ear pointing towards trees and hedges. Intense study of goosegrass brings me calm though and combined with cake and a spot of crochet is a recipe for geeky glee. And now, if you excuse me, I’m off to study the song of the ring ouzel…
You can find Emma’s gorgeous crafty posts – she is a whizz with the crochet hooks as well – and say hello here: –
Blog | silverpebble.net
Instagram | @silverpebble2
Twitter | @silverpebble
In June Emma will be running a silver workshop at my home, there are very limited spaces available so if you’d like to come don’t hang about too long, all the info can be found here and booking is available here. To avoid confusion, you are looking at the 18th June in Eastbourne. I’m excited!
P.S. if you would like to read about my coastal wanderings, you can do so here