Thursday 27 February 2014

March - Très Riches Heures

March brings my 12 month exploration of Les Très Riches Heures to its conclusion.
Spring is on the way, the snow has melted, and the peasants are preparing the fields and vineyards for the new growing season. In the background, situated on a hill top, is Château de Lusignan which dominates the farmland surrounding it. The château in the Départment of Vienne was a formidable structure with multiple defensive walls and was owned by the Duc de Berry in the early 15th century. To the right we can see a tower with a protective gilded dragon on its summit.
At the top left a shepherd with his horse and dog are looking after a flock of sheep; below are three peasants pruning vines; to their right is a vineyard which has already been prepared for the spring growing season; at the far right is a peasant sifting a bag of seed corn; and in the foreground we see a peasant ploughing a field with 2 oxen. The Limbourg brothers were keen to show how important agriculture was to the peasant economy and how dependent upon them were the aristocracy for the upkeep of their castles, châteaux and lands.
The blue lunette shows the zodiac sign for Pisces in the first half of the month and Aries in the second half. In the centre the chariot of the sun continues it's yearly cycle through the heavens.
Note: The illuminations painted for the Book of Hours inspired several of the backdrops to sets used by Laurence Olivier in his film of Shakespeare's play Henry V.
The original of Les Très Riches Heures is held in the Musée Condé, Chantilly. Due to conservation concerns it is no longer available for the public to see.
February Très Riches Heures here.
To view the 12 months of the year in more detail commence here with April.

Sunday 23 February 2014


A small group of us were invited to Hereford to visit hidden corners of the Cathedral in and around the private cloisters not generally open to the public. A further invitation was extended to visit the first floor of Hereford Library to see the private Woolhope Library belonging to the Woolhope Naturalists Field Club founded in 1851. The society is named after the Woolhope Dome, an outcrop of Silurian rocks a few miles outside Hereford. Sir James Rankin, a wealthy member of the club, offered to pay for Hereford's Public Library and Museum, and that is the reason why the club has its own room within the building. The frontage of the building is decorated with stone carvings showing fauna and flora reflecting James Rankin's interests. 
The Woolhope library has floor to ceiling shelves full of beautiful old leather bound books on many subjects including archaeology, geology, and natural history alongside a number of early manuscripts.
Medlars and pears

Since Herefordshire was and is renowned for its cider and perry, an early project undertaken by the club was to document and conserve local apple and pear cultivars. To this end, the club held annual exhibitions of fruit from Herefordshire orchards, inviting leading pomologists to help identify them. These fruits were painted over a period of 10 years during the 1880s by Alice Blanche Ellis, who was a gold medal winner from the Bloomsbury School of Art, and Edith Elizabeth Bull.
Several varieties of pear

They were published in a series of books known as the Herefordshire Pomona - copies of which were on display for us to look at. The books show over 400 paintings which have been reproduced as hand-coloured lithographs. Limited editions of the catalogues were produced and they now make very large sums of money whenever they come up for sale.
Pears in the Herefordshire Pomona 
Whilst in the room my attention was drawn to a large black cast iron fireplace with beautiful monochrome tiles. I know nothing about the tiles, or who designed them. They were obviously made towards the end of the 19th century in the Art Nouveau style. This is pure conjecture on my part but I do wonder whether the tiles were painted by Edith Elizabeth Bull (one of the women painters of the Pomona). To my eye they carry the hallmarks of a woman's hand, and her links to Woolhope Club were particularly strong being the daughter of the Clubs President. This is just a very small selection of the tiles - they are suggestive of feminist ideals that spread amongst the educated female middle classes at that period which also happened to coincide with the women's suffragette movement. 
Natural History
No time to visit Hereford Cathedral's Mappa Mundi (World Map) created in the late 13th century, nor the famous Chained Library. The 16th century Chained Library is the largest of its kind in existence. In the Middle Ages books were so rare and valuable that they were often chained for safe keeping. In 1217 Henry lll revised the Magna Carta. There are only four copies now known to exist, and one of them is housed in the cathedral library. There is also a very precious 8th century illuminated manuscript known as the Hereford Gospels, but all these must wait for another visit. 
Hereford Cathedral cloisters, gardens, and houses used by the Bishop, Dean, and clergy
The name Pomona refers to the Roman goddess of fruit trees, gardens, and orchards.

Thursday 20 February 2014

Willow Pattern

Two birds flying high,
A Chinese vessel, sailing by.
A bridge with three men, sometimes four,
A willow tree, hanging o'er.
A Chinese temple, there it stands,
Built upon the river sands,
An apple tree, with apples on,
A crooked fence to end my song.
The childhood home that I grew up in had an oak plate rack running around the dining room walls.  It held my mother's eclectic collection of blue and white china some of which was willow pattern. As a child I recall looking at the plates and wondering about the story behind the design - two love birds at the top, a little boat on a lake, three people crossing a Chinese style bridge, a Pagoda, a zigzag fence, and of course the depiction of the willow tree itself.
Willow Pattern is often assumed to be a story from China, but it was a tale conceived in England by Mintons, one of the major ceramics manufacturers, to promote and encourage people to buy their willow pattern wares.
The Romantic Fable
Once there was a wealthy Mandarin, who had a beautiful daughter (Koong-se). She had fallen in love with her father's humble accounting assistant (Chang), angering her father. It was inappropriate for them to marry due to their difference in social class. He dismissed the young man and built a high fence around his house to keep the lovers apart. The Mandarin was planning for his daughter to marry a powerful Duke. The Duke arrived by boat to claim his bride, bearing a box of jewels as a gift. The wedding was to take place on the day the blossom fell from the apple tree.
On the eve of the daughter's wedding to the Duke, the young accountant, disguised as a servant, slipped into the palace unnoticed. As the lovers escaped with the jewels, the alarm was raised. They ran over a bridge, chased by the Mandarin, whip in hand. They eventually escaped on the Duke's ship to the safety of a secluded island, where they lived happily for years. But one day, the Duke learned of their refuge. Hungry for revenge, he sent soldiers, to capture the lovers and put them to death. The gods, moved by their plight, transformed the lovers into a pair of doves.

Sunday 16 February 2014

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Sarasota, Florida

For several years during the month of March we would fly to Florida and meet up with my brother and his wife at a holiday cottage on Anna Maria Island, Florida. Whilst there we visited the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens which are located in the grounds of the former home of Marie and William Selby of Texaco Oil Company. Marie died in 1971 and left instructions that the property be given to the community as a botanical garden for the enjoyment of the general public. Although millionaires, the Selby's lived a very simple life out of the spotlight. Their modest home within the gardens is now a gift and bookshop. The garden is a respected centre for research and education as well as showcasing flowers and plants for the visitor.
Stained glass windows featured within one of the summer houses in the garden
At the far edge of the garden is Christy Payne House a graceful example of Southern Colonial architecture which hosts botanical art exhibitions. Visitors to the garden often assume that this was the home of the Selby's, but it was in fact the retirement home of Christy Payne whose father was Calvin M. Payne, one of the original group that aided John D. Rockefeller Sr. in building his giant business, Standard Oil of New Jersey. The property was bought by the Selby Trust in 1973 and incorporated into the garden.
The gardens maintain the most diverse collection of bromeliads in the world, and feature over 20,000 plants including 6,000 orchids. There are over 20 habitats with banyans, bamboo groves, southern live oaks, palms, mangroves, succulents, wildflowers, cycads, and a Koi pond all of which are situated on a spectacular site bordering Sarasota Bay.
 Koi pond
Banyan trees
Bamboo grove
Pot full of bromeliads and spanish moss
Orchids and pitcher plants in the Tropical House
Southern Live Oak tree (Quercus virginiana) covered in stag horn ferns, air plants, spanish moss and orchids.
Large statuesque palm
Papaya fruit
Air plants which very cleverly gather moisture and nutrients from the air
The outer edges of the garden showing the views across Sarasota Bay to the Ringling Causeway Bridge.

Friday 14 February 2014

Happy Valentines Day



♥Sending some February spring flowers from my garden on this Valentine's Day♥
Whatever the heavens throw down, the flowers determinedly show their faces with accustomed resilience - we need to follow in their footsteps

Sunday 9 February 2014


We live on Cotswold oolitic limestone which gives alkaline soil, not conducive to growing Heathers. Heathers belong to the Ericaceae family and require an acidic soil to flourish. 
The site where we were interested in growing heathers was infertile and at the edge of a stone patio with bits of stone and concrete residue left behind from when it was made. How then to put acid loving plants into alkaline and rubbish soil? Following some investigations, I discovered three happy pieces of information.  Heathers can tolerate infertile soil due to a fungi that they have called mycorrhizal which assists them in extracting whatever nutrients they can find from infertile soil. My second discovery was that there are some heathers that do thrive very happily in alkaline soil. As long as the heather has the words Erica carnea or Erica x darleyensis on the label then they will flourish in alkaline soil. I managed to track down over 30 cultivars covering the whole spectrum of heather colours from deepest ruby pink with dark green foliage to white and pink with pale cream and lime green foliage. The third and final discovery was that they like good drainage, which we most definitely have.
We planted small immature Common Box hedging plants (Buxus sempervirens) along the patio edge interspersed with different heathers on either side. As the box matured we began to clip it into the shape of balls. The heather was also clipped so that it snuggled around the bottom of the box balls. Ten years later they are mature - thriving incredibly well - the only maintenance being a quick annual trim.