Month nine and spring is definitely here

Don't you cut timber on a windy day stay out of wood better listen what I say
Winds and top flowers go either way don't you cut timber on a windy day

Don’t Cut Timber on a Windy Day // Sonny James 

I’m chomping at the bit to get to the allotments, but every time I have enough time the wind picks up for a few days and it just doesn’t feel safe enough to sit down and get lost in thought. Allotments are places where many things blow around and sometimes when it gets really gusty, as it has been, there are various greenhouses that have suffered glass broken and shed doors are blowing open. It’s just not the right place to sit still and draw, not to mention being impossible to control sheets of paper.

Finally there’s a calm day when I’m free and I head up to the allotments - through a hail storm. March certainly throws weather at us. However once I arrive the hail has stopped and the daffodils by the front gate are catching the sunlight.

Daffodil

Daffodil

The big news this month is that the water is back on.

Water butts against a shed

Water butts against a shed


The weekly delivery of chippings helps plot owners to tend to the paths and as they do so and some work together to help neighbouring allotmenteers the place is alive and so different from a month or so ago when the snow arrived! I stop off on my way and chat about the nesting box on Q6 which doesn’t have tenants. However a neighbour is lending a hand to lower the height of the holly, perhaps that will make a difference. To my untrained eye a nesting box in a holly bush is a perfect deterrent from intruders.
As I collect my sketching stool from the shed another hail storm passes by, tapping out a tune I don’t know on the nearby metal table as I cower inside the shed until it soon passes. 

Thorns on a rose

Thorns on a rose

As I paint that day a cat saunters past, they are too quick for me to catch in my sketchbook though, by the time I’ve put down my paintbrush and got out a different sketchbook, the feline friend has hidden itself amongst the leaves of a neighbouring plot.

A cat saunters past in the sunshine, ignoring me as I sit quietly.

A cat saunters past in the sunshine, ignoring me as I sit quietly.

The allotments are just so alive with energy and activity, there is so much tidying and pruning and planting going on, unwanted crops dug up and used as ballast or composted, from above the plots must look as though they are awash with busy ants this Sunday.

A redundant vegetable gets used as ballast

A redundant vegetable gets used as ballast

As I’m drawing the rain starts and I shelter in a greenhouse I’ve been given permission to use. The roof keeps the rain off but the recent gales have broken some of the side pieces. It is however, welcome respite from the now pouring rain. We have experienced so many weather systems today it’s hard to know what might come next. Eventually I give up on the day and a little too cold for comfort I head home to warm up.

Leaf catcher, otherwise known as a sieve!

Leaf catcher, otherwise known as a sieve!

This Sunday visit the weather has treated us to sunshine and warmth. I wander around the plots and can smell the wonderful scent of cut grass.  It’s just gone 10am and allotmenteers are out in their t-shirts, working hard, it feels as though spring is creeping into the corners and I spot blossom on some trees. It’s impossible to come here and not feel an overwhelming sense of wonder at nature.

Stunning blossom

Stunning blossom

I’m here to meet and chat to Q6 today, but before we meet for our lunch, I head onto plot O7A to do a little more to my page of drawings from the plot. As I sit by the pond and draw the willow the sun’s power surprises me, very soon my winter layers of clothing disappear and I’m in a t-shirt, feeling strangely bare without a scarf and gloves. It’s also hard not to sit and close my eyes, but I’m here to draw, at least this morning, I remind myself.

I don’t mind working on Sundays when I get a view like this

I don’t mind working on Sundays when I get a view like this

I absolutely love talking to allotmenteers about the life journey’s they’ve been on that has brought them to the allotments now. There are so many different people and diverse cultures it’s wonderful. I’m now on O7 who originates from Yorkshire, which is why one of there are three white roses, hopefully one being the original White Rose of York. There is certainly no red rose on this plot! I look through two photo albums that record the plot developing and changing during some of the six years since the current caretaker of the plot took over, I am amazed how different it looks. I know myself well enough to understand I would have probably been unable to take on that kind of challenge being completely overwhelmed given my lack of gardening knowledge, but I’m so glad someone has done. I’m also really glad we agreed to have something to nibble! The purple sprouting broccoli and blue cheese muffins are divine. The artichoke dip with Nordic crispbread are delicious and although the banana and chocolate muffins’ ingredients aren’t grown on the plot, my goodness they’re good! I wonder if all plot owners are good cooks given they all grown food for themselves…
We boil up some tea and sit at a round table with two chairs, talking about the plot, the person and life in general. This is a very special moment for me, the unbidden memory of sitting with my grandfather at his allotment is very strong and catches me a little by surprise. 
The friendships and generosity that people have shown me during the residency is very moving.

Hello, flowers and veg are beginning to surface above ground…

Hello, flowers and veg are beginning to surface above ground…

Finally I leave and head back to put my chair away only to stop and talk to another friend while she’s eating lunch and I have another brew. I may have to review which days I come up so that I actually get some work done and don’t get swayed with offers of tea and chats, or at least not too often, I’m easily persuaded when it’s warm and sunny.
The breeze picks up as the temperatures cool, a sharp reminder that’s it’s spring and evenings sitting outside are still some way off. Standing in the greenhouse now, I watch as potatoes have their soil built up so they almost cover the plant. Seeds of various kinds are being sown as others are being potted on, keeping a cycle of growing. On the constant lookout for slugs, which can quickly cause a disaster in a greenhouse with all those lovely new tasty shoots… one is spotted and it doesn’t last very long.
I’m given some glorious looking salad leaves to take with me, coriander and rhubarb which makes its way into a rhubarb and strawberry fool for Mothering Sunday.

Tasty rhubarb

Tasty rhubarb

Friday, people are around but it is still peaceful and the weather is like a summer’s day so I settle myself quickly in to a position to draw, which is where I end up for the next six hours, barely moving other than to slightly shift to draw another plant. Although there’s someone working in the plot next to where I’m sitting this one feels hidden away and that suits me today. Today is an introspective day, a quiet day, one where I just want to sit and draw which is exactly what I’m able to do in this glorious weather. I am joined on the plot by a scarecrow but other than a slightly rustling bag over her arm, and it is a her I think, as she has beautiful long blue plaits for hair, she doesn’t move so I’m not disturbed. 

She has beautiful blue string plaits

She has beautiful blue string plaits

The smell of a bonfire drifts over, I’m not sure if it’s on the plots or from one of the houses, I can’t see the smoke, just smell the scent of burning wood. Again I’m taken back to nearly 50 years ago and cooking baking potatoes in the fire pit in that small allotment plot of my grandfather’s in Switzerland.
Planes fly overhead to exotic places but I’m not drawn to wonder where I’d like to go if I could go anywhere, because I’m pretty sure I’d just pick here.

My idea of paradise

My idea of paradise


Month eight starts with snow ends with a heatwave

Oh, the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
And since we've no place to go
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow // Dean Martin

A light dusting of snow on the allotments has then frozen over making the paths crunch underfoot. The sky is a solid fearfully cold blue which requires the wearing of many layers of clothing, with more in my bag. However the snow is deceptive and as the sun burns through the day warms up. I’m being interviewed for the Ham & High today and as we talk on Q8B we drink freshly brewed coffee and chocolate ginger biscuits laid out on a tablecloth of ice.

Wrapped up drawing in the cold

Wrapped up drawing in the cold

After the interview I’m left on my own and carry on drawing as the sound of ice cracking on corrugated plastic shed roofs accompanied by the constant dripping of melting snow, along with two magpies squawking. As soon as the sun disappears the temperature drops I realise my feet becoming very cold and I make a hasty retreat to my warm home.

….

As I arrive today the wind brings a cold twist tucked inside it which holds on to your ears, nose and fingertips after the powerful wind has passed on. 

But between the swirls of this mischievous petulant wind which catches the clouds, the sunshine bursts through on J4B. This on/off winter sun is difficult to work with as shadows come and go not only on the ground but also on my paper.

(This video is shot at six times the normal speed, with constantly changing light levels)

This plot is exposed so there’s no hiding from the wind when it comes, no shed to befriend its lee side. I am so wrapped up it takes a few minutes to realise a there are some drops of rain. With no where to hide I hastily clear up and by the time I’m all packed away the wind has blown the rain somewhere else.

A useful pile of things for an allotment holder

A useful pile of things for an allotment holder

I’m battling today though, though a head cold and sitting in this spot is rather chilling so I head back to my writing spot at the rusty table elsewhere on the site. Making some notes and now out of the wind with a cup of tea, I feel less chilled continuing to write until the lack of light makes it impossible.

Walking slowly back on the dried leaves I tune into the sound of the birds. They are busy in conversation as the sky turns to dusk.

Finally I have to give up writing as the light falls away.

Finally I have to give up writing as the light falls away.

I’m late to the plots this afternoon but I manage to get on to F4, even if it does mean turning down the offer of tea from a plot I pass which is a shame. I aim to draw a large explosion of leaves but once again I’m caught up in the detail of an artichoke leaves and some dried seed heads. At this time of year instead of the summer’s vibrant colours everything is muted, soft greens, greys and silvers.

As I sit and draw in my quiet undisturbed world I become aware of the noises that surround me. 

No need for a hat or scarf today!

No need for a hat or scarf today!

I’ve become accustomed to working on my own and only seeing one of two people around each visit. However I’m aware this time work is going on all around. Someone to my left is hammering on their plot, someone to my right is pruning a fruit tree. Dogs are vying for attention in the houses that surround the plot (answered I think by a dog on the allotments) as magpies and parakeets shatter the soft air above.

Catkins

Catkins

As dusk starts to amble in it’s noticeably later and slower than previously visits. The dogs have all gone inside and quietened down, most people have left and it’s time for the quieter birds to be heard. 

Before I leave I sit having a last cup of tea from my flask and a wave of contentment settles over me. Although I have a small urban garden there is something special about the space of an allotment, for me this one is the countryside within a town, where the pace of life is no longer influenced by advertising and trend but where nature dictates.

Beautiful low light on the plots

Beautiful low light on the plots

It’s Valentine’s Day!

My heart of nature’s discarded leaves

My heart of nature’s discarded leaves

I arrive at the plots which are sparkling in glorious sunshine. It’s unseasonably warm and I can’t wait to draw. However I bump into a plot owner who invites me to join them for a coffee which is such a lovely sociable thing to do and I have time today so I agree. It turns out to be such a treat as they have many photographs of a previous tenant who I have heard so much about. The personality of Margaret and her friendships with people seem to have become part of the soil here and I have heard so much about this wonderful lady that when I am shown a video of her talking about the plots it is a treat to be able to put a voice to this wise and wonderful gardener.

I haul myself away from the lovely sunshine and chat to a plot where there’s a lovely mixture of new and old. A bucket of twigs and branches holds last season’s offerings but in the beds of winter flowering crocuses are a treat for bees and wasps enjoying the warmth and in another bed seedlings start to force their way through the ground.

There is always so much to draw on a plot, even in winter

There is always so much to draw on a plot, even in winter

I’m sitting near a tree with many bird feeders on it and there is a constant flow of small birds visiting, playing in the branches of the trees, their chatter like a playground of young children. What I think is a crow, appears for a while and finally makes its way down to a feeder, it’s not as elegant as the smaller birds but still somehow regal with its muted black feathers.

As I talk to one of the other plot holders there is a sudden rustling and charging through the plants on plot to our side and then a beautiful young fox appears seven or eight feet away. It literally glows in the low sunlight and then is gone, out of sight, so quickly I momentarily wonder if I imagined seeing it. There’s another fox nearby but it doesn’t appear, then the noises stop and their game of hide and seek is no longer close enough to hear. I head home wondering just how many foxes there are that visit this plot, is it just a playground when they aren’t rummaging though the food rubbish of nearby dustbins.

Winter Digging (a hand coloured linocut)

Winter Digging (a hand coloured linocut)

Today the sun is baking down, it’s like a warm spring day, bonfires are crackling as they get rid of unwanted waste, pruned twigs and branches, there are many plots being worked on, the allotments are alive with activity, but no one really believes that this good weather will last and everyone’s aware that a frost could still be lurking around the corner of March.

I have arrived with far too many layers and although I’m sitting still and drawing which usually means I get cold, today I’m finding really rather warm in the sunshine in my long sleeved t-shirt, how different from just three weeks ago. The plot I’m on today is close to a main path so I catch up with people as they head onto their plots and then on their way home. Someone has come to finish of a pond so that they can encourage frogs, which have appeared in some of the small ponds around the site. The sounds of chatter and laughter from the allotmenteers trickles over and I remember how busy summer was, it feels like years ago that I started this residency not just eight months.

As this pretend spring day gets ready for an early night the chill soon spreads over the ground. Appropriately for February as the sun sets the tree branches play with its shape and form a heart.

A heart shaped sunset in February

A heart shaped sunset in February

Month seven and well, brrrrr!

January 2019

I really can’t stay (but baby, it’s cold outside)
I’ve got to go away (but baby, it’s cold outside)
This evening has been (been hoping that you’d drop in)
So very nice (I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice)

Baby, it’s Cold Outside // Dean Martin

First page of the weekly journal

First page of the weekly journal

4th January 2019, my first visit this new year. It’s 1pm and the sky has a few wispy clouds floating high above against a pale blue sky. Long shadows lie on the ground as the sun is already heading quickly towards the horizon. Although there’s barely a wind it’s cold and I’m wrapped up in my hand knitted jumper my mother made, it’s thick, very thick, warm and cosy, which along with my waterproof jacket, scarf and fingerless gloves allow me to sit for some time and draw. Unlike the allotment holders I don’t move around all the time so therefore cool off very quickly when sitting almost motionless, drawing. As the sun lowers I add a woollen bobble hat to this delightful ensemble, being at the allotment really doesn’t allow you to be fashion conscious in any way, it’s necessity over whim. I meet someone who tells me the plot number he’s been working on in such a way I am completely confused, until I realise he’s romantically read the number as a roman numeral rather than a combination of letters and numbers.

Layers, it’s all about adding layers to keep warm!

Layers, it’s all about adding layers to keep warm!

There aren’t many of us around, N6 is clearing brambles, sad that the council feel the brambles which are the home and playground of many local birds need to be removed or at least thinned. It’s a difficult balance between having a nature space and a neat space, not everyone feels the same or has the same boundaries. Being Swedish we talk about how the Swedes like to spend as much time as possible outside and how she loves being outside in Winter. It isn’t something that I particularly thought about until I started the residency and how much I’m enjoying having a reason to go out rather than hunker down inside in the warm every day. We also talk about the delightful warmth and respite from wind that a greenhouse can give on a bitterly cold day. 

Natural dye paints

Natural dye paints

The water has been turned off for winter so that the taps and pipes don’t freeze. This means I need to be organised and bring painting water with me. I have started a visual weekly journal, picking out details from a different plot each week. For this purpose I will use the German watercolours I have made with natural dyes; carrot, extract of vegetables, blue algae, beetroot, all feature in the palate. They aren’t high grade watercolours and can be a bit tricky to get depth of colour, but for my journal they are perfect and to be using natural dyes in the allotment work seems completely fitting. By 3pm it’s too cold for me to draw any longer though so I leave.

Details from the weekly journal, all drawn in situ

Details from the weekly journal, all drawn in situ

Just as in the height of summer, I find there is so much to draw here in winter. The sheds are exposed and structural patterns are dominant, where they will soon become grown over and hidden. And at this time of year the blue skies can be cold but wonderfully uplifting after solemn, short, grey days. Being outside is a good mood uplifter, just walking around the plots and spotting small shoots breaking out of the ground is so exciting. But it can change really quickly as well and having settled into a plot to draw the journal I find I’m anxiously checking the sky that has clouded over and is threatening rain. I’m sure a few drops land on me, so I move as near as I dare to a holly tree, and from that close position notice a bird box hidden against the trunk. A perfect place that won’t be disturbed by anything big enough to be speared by the sharp edged leaves. Completely lost in my world of drawing I hear a gentle crunching as an allotmenteer passes behind the plot, we wave and say hello and shortly afterwards she offers me a chocolate Brussels sprout which I can’t resist!

Another page from the weekly journal

Another page from the weekly journal

It turns out that we have a small Swiss village in common, her cousins and my mother grew up in the same village when I check with my mother there’s a chance they were the neighbours that lived opposite! I love talking to the people at the allotments, they are a wonderful mix of cultures, experiences, jobs and personalities but with a common golden thread, a love of growing and nature. And you have to love it as it is just too hard to keep a plot unless you really enjoy the work involved. She returns with a skeletal poplar leaf as a late Christmas present for me! I’m delighted and will take it home to sit on my studio table until I have some spare time to draw a detailed study. By 4:20pm the light has faded so much I have to leave and head home to warm up in a hot bath with a cup of tea.

Beautiful hellebore and rain doesn’t stop play!

Beautiful hellebore and rain doesn’t stop play!

I’ve got really cold today, without realising. The last half hour as the light faded the temperature must have dropped but I was so engrossed with my journal and drawing I didn’t notice. My fingers and nose are really cold today whereas it is usually my feet that tell me they’re getting uncomfortable. I’ve been working on a hidden plot, one that’s not obvious from the main paths and one that has hidden treasures. Unlike a lot of the plots within the boundaries, that are in a state of semi hibernation, this plot has a wonderful selection of plants, some with small white flowers (my plant recognition is not improving, neither is my bird call recognition,) and a beautiful selection of hellebores. It’s raining but I’m not easily deterred and carry on while trying to hold my drawing board, pencils and paints while balancing an umbrella on my shoulder.

Leaves, bulbs, snails and the drawing perch

Leaves, bulbs, snails and the drawing perch

With the carefully tended paths this feels just as much a winter plot as a summer one, which is how although the light has been sinking I have become completely lost in my work. An empty snail shell lays on the ground, a forlorn home, decaying, disintegrating.
I nip into a shed I’ve been given permission to use and write up my notes for the day while there’s still a tiny bit of light left. Bright green parakeets which are not a favoured bird of mine, sit in surrounding trees. They are brash and noisy and overshadow the delicate colours and birdsong of the more native birds. Eventually they too move on at the end of the day and I’m left listening to the sound of plastic sheeting flapping in the wind and plastic bottles rattling on  top of stakes. Eventually the light blurs the edges of shapes as it starts to give up on its day.

The artist incognito!

The artist incognito!

Month six and it's getting dark

December 2018

‘In a clearing beyond the castle the twelve months sit about a fire, warming their feet, exchanging tales.’
Instructions Poem // Neil Gaimon

As December plays its lengthy shadows across the ground, allotmenteers around the site are putting their crops and beds to sleep. There’s a coolness that comes from the light rather than temperature. It’s no longer a vigorous growing light, but a tempered, restrained, slow and gentle light, that encourages rather than demands action. 

Beds are covered with a variety of fabrics and so beautifully held in place by carefully thought bricks they wouldn’t go amiss in an art gallery.

Fabulously neat covered beds dot the allotments

Fabulously neat covered beds dot the allotments

The natural world isn’t the only present in plant form. In an area of the path near the gate feathers are strewn over the ground, I’m guessing that from the number of them it was the end of flight for one.

The one that didn’t get away

The one that didn’t get away

Without the summer growth of tall beans and artichokes the allotments are a skeleton. I can see the sheds around the plots easily, so many different shapes and forms. My project for January is to record these in all their glory, some are brand new, some are failing rapidly and many are a personal signature of the allotmenteers.

A visit on the shortest day of the year; 21st December. I don’t expect to see anyone but am pleasantly surprised to spot a few people checking their plots, building sheds and weeding. I meet someone I introduce myself to, only to find that I met them not long ago at the AGM, but today we are both wearing wooly hats, thick coats, scarves and gloves, we are both totally unrecognisable. There is no fashion parade to be had here, however, many of us appear to be wearing bright red, a glorious splash of colour amongst the brown of the season.

R3A is digging his plot, there’s not much light today, even when the sun is at its highest, but he is still managing to unearth the tangled roots of previous crops which are being discarded.

On the Friday before Christmas many folk have left the city, the low drone of traffic is muted today. No building work is going on so the music of the allotments is made by cds hanging from bamboo stakes playing their own tunes. ‘Together as One’ has been relegated to a bird scarer.

I remain though, in the city, at the allotments. I do not need to have a concentrated effort to get anywhere, I am just happy sitting here listening to the breeze, planning next year’s crops, crops of drawings in my case.

Sunset on the shortest day of the year

Sunset on the shortest day of the year

Gulls attempt to fly against the wind, their flights make invisible angry patterns in the sky. Two crows whirl and tumble. Hidden in the doorway of a shed it feels calm but slightly above me the wind is playing havoc.

A magpie in its glorious (albeit wicked) monochrome rests on a post before joining it’s mate upon a shed roof, two for joy.

Against a back drop of scurrying clouds across a blue sky, bamboos calligraphically scribe their winter message.

Chairs that once rested aching backs and bodies are now themselves resting for a while, backs propped up against tables. Amongst the strawberry leaves turning to a golden yellow and red some new crops are beginning to show in the winter darkness. Garlic and shallots are reaching up.

Winter crops planted in neat rows

Winter crops planted in neat rows

Back in the studio I am planning out a couple of lino prints and deciding on how to draw the forlorn dried seed heads, flowers and leaves I have collected from the paths.

Planning a drawing in the studio

Planning a drawing in the studio

I feel as though I am too laying dormant, waiting for the sun and heat to warm the ground.

Month five and the temperature is dropping

November 2018

Here's that rainy day they told me about
And I laughed at the thought that it might turn out this way

Here’s that Rainy Day again // Frank Sinatra

Working on the images in my studio from the Harvest Moon session I start abstracting, playing with shapes, but there’s one image that really captures the night for me. Using flash photography I took an image of a dried artichoke flower. I printed some cards using Ice Gold paper and the image almost pops out of the card now. I’m really pleased with the way they have worked and how well the paper compliments the image. I’m not the only one, they’re selling well.

A photograph during my visit to the allotments during the Harvest Moon

A photograph during my visit to the allotments during the Harvest Moon

I nip in for a couple of minutes on two occasions as I drive past to other destinations, more pressing for my work. As I walk around I gaze at the floor, looking for interesting leaves, unusual  shapes, berries, anything discarded and left resting on the ground. It’s another reminder that my knowledge of nature does not equal my passion for it. I am woefully unaware of which tree has which leaf and please don’t ask me to recognise a tree. I know the easy way to deal with this is to draw each tree along with its leaf and flower, and that’s probably what I’ll do. I’ll set myself yet another project / task for 2019, but for now these little objects of different shapes and sizes shall remain nameless.

I yearn to spend longer here, I’ve got used to my weekly, if not more often, visits to this haven, but this is always the busiest time of year for me and it never fails to take me by surprise. I am working 70 to 80 hours a week with little if no spare time for anything, so I’m losing out on my restorative dose of allotments. These glimpsed moments are all I can allow myself, at least for now.

I somehow find time to allow myself a breather every day to draw the assorted finds from the allotments and realise that these are heading towards a little book, a day by day record of the month. I create a small concertina artist’s book measuring 105mm wide x 60mm high when closed. At my pop up shop the book attracts a lot of interest, along with the exhibition of my work so far from the residency.

Cover of ‘A Month at the allotments’ artist’s book

Cover of ‘A Month at the allotments’ artist’s book

‘A Month at the allotments’ book’s inside concertina pages

‘A Month at the allotments’ book’s inside concertina pages

I head into the west of Wales for a week, something planned months ago and now arriving at the wrong time but I can’t cancel. I am staying in a little cottage in the Dyffryn Fernant garden where I am surrounded by plants, leaves and seeds, all talking about autumn, all fighting the wind with varying degrees of success. The early frost here has taken a lot of the plants by surprise and they have succumbed to the bitter cold. I spend a surprising amount of time wondering how the allotment plots are, how will it fair in the first frost.

Finally I have returned. I agreed with myself that this morning, whatever happens, I would visit the allotments. I hadn’t factored in a migraine though and I’m now in the post migraine hours, hoping the weather will wash away the feeling of fuzziness in my head that always follows.

It’s a grey day with promised rain but the clouds briskly pass by without having time to stand still and rain on me. However moisture sits in the air, clinging onto each breath. Suddenly I am taken aback at the noise here, this may be a heightened sensitivity due to the migraine. A murder of magpies squawking and arguing with pigeons in a tree. I can’t see why they’re so annoyed or who’s winning. A background of car alarms, electric saws and builders shouting unintelligible instructions, race over with the wind, riding the waves. 

Autumn leaves covering the paths

Autumn leaves covering the paths

Where once there were paths there are now leaves, autumnal golden brown leaves sketching out a line. The leaves that aren’t already drawing out the paths are scurrying across to their final resting place, they are frantically, desperately trying to get there, but where is there?

An early shout out from plot holder R5A saying he has an excess of silverbeet (chard or in my case I know it as Swiss Chard, but that’ll be because half of me is proudly Swiss) on his plot and any other allotmenteers are welcome to help themselves. Before they do I head over to the plot and draw. I’m shaking quite badly, not because of the cold but another after effect of the  migraine, so drawing is more challenging than normal, the wind doesn’t exactly make it easy but as long as it doesn’t rain. It doesn’t look hopeful so I draw quickly using a Conté pencil, which means I can put down areas of light and dark quickly. As soon as I’m happy with the quick sketch ~ perfectly timed rain stops play. It’s the only weather I can’t battle with, paper gets ruined within seconds and paintings can just wash away in a matter of minutes. The rain isn’t bad, just enough to stop my drawing, so I head into the sanctuary of a shed I’ve been allowed to use and listen. Bamboos whisper to each other as they bend and spring back, defying the aggressive wind. CD’s hanging to deter hungry birds tinkle against stakes and plastic bottles at the top of poles, circle around, tapping out their own rhythms. I head back, realising that my head feels clearer, it’s mending. The noises I was so aware of to begin with, have been filtered out and I’m only aware of the natural sounds around ~ of swishing leaves mostly.

SwissChardIains.jpg

Walking back I pay attention to the outlines of the plots, sheds have become more prominent as tall sweetcorn and sunflowers are no longer defining the structure of the horizon.
December will be shed drawing I think.

The Artichoke cards and ‘A Month on the Allotments’ artist’s book are both available to purchase.
Cards are £3 each (including envelope), sized 148x148mm
’A Month on the allotments’ artist’s book is £12 sized 105mm x 60mm when closed

Please contact me via the contact page if you are interested.

Month four and the leaves are falling

October 2018

The falling leaves
Drift by the window
The autumn leaves
Of red and gold

sung by Eva Cassidy on Songbird

I’m waiting for one of the allotmenteers, the autumn season has crept in and it’s the night before the harvest moon, the closest full moon to the autumn equinox. 
The crops are definitely changing as I look around in the dimming glow from the setting sun. Beans are picked, melons worried over, when to pick them and ripen at home, raspberries now just a ‘pick and eat one’ crop.
As we walk around we see a large casualty, a tree from a neighbouring garden to the allotments has fallen onto a plot, pushed its way over the boundary with ease and crushing a shed, but leaving the greenhouse intact - just beyond its reach. Thankfully no one was there when it happened, so no injuries to people, but it still looks devastating to plants and property. A mess of tangled roots and ivy causing chaos to a well ordered space. I haven’t met these plot owners and so have no images of how it looked before, I feel for them, this must be heartbreaking. I only draw on plots where I have being given permission to be.

An unloved tree next to the allotments gives way.

An unloved tree next to the allotments gives way.

The temperature drops and layers of clothing are added, scarf, gloves but I’ve forgotten a hat and I notice, as the beautiful clear sky brings cold with it. As we walk around the paths our eyes adjust to the light that is available, it’s a different feeling at dusk and night here, the balance of sound changes, rustles in the undergrowth are more important than a bang in the distance. The uneven ground proves challenging and has to be respected and traversed slowly. But we’re too early to appreciate the rising moon, it’s just not high enough yet. Hunger and cold set it and we head off to warm up, as I walk in to a warm flat, there’s leek and potato soup heating up on the cooker, both the leeks and potatoes gifts from the allotments.

Tomorrow I’ll return, later in the evening and with more layers, although this time alone.

24th September 9pm
I return, dressed up in layers and layers of clothes, but ironically it feels slightly warmer this evening. The moon is shining very brightly. Harvest Moons are supposed to glow more orange but this one seemed pretty white to me. As I set up my camera I’m getting used to the sounds and tell myself not to be scared or alarmed at noises, just walk round confidently. It’s not long before I am able to tread fearlessly as I can see so much just by the light of tonight’s moon. 
I’m surprised that the camera without a flash manages to take any images, but there’s certainly enough moon from the light to make out silhouettes.

Harvest Moon 2018, images using available light.

Harvest Moon 2018, images using available light.

I also use a flash, but even that’s a challenge as I can’t really see what I’m going to take the photo off beforehand so I set things up and add some hope. The dark ominous backgrounds are quite exciting, once I’ve taken a shot I let my eyes adjust and carry on walking around. I’m sticking to the main paths but it’s not so easy to make out which plot is which as they line up on either side of me with the distinctions lost in the darkness... 

Although I could stay much longer, I finally pack up at 11:30pm, the experience of staying quietly in the allotments during the harvest moon is rather moving and my writing is much more that of a personal diary than a blog notebook.

Harvest Moon 2018

Harvest Moon 2018


Wind slides across the leaves and through the trees, it’s an impetus wind; one full of speed, elbowing its way through anything in its path, swaying the branches of the large poplar trees to the side of the plots. Glints of gold dot their way through the trees, the peach tree near to me has yellow droplets of leaves that hold on against the wind’s better judgment, but I am aware these will soon fall. Autumn is just a few days in, fatigue shows on the summer glory of the plots. A slower pace, that of autumnal growing creeps over the crops. A blanket of calm slides its way through. 

Hops

Hops


S2
has dropped in to pick some crops, amazing peppers, chillis, beans and tomatoes nestle in a blue crate that sets the colours off, subtly fighting for position. 

As I wander around I spot melons hanging in nets in greenhouses, suddenly there’s a dash of wind and the leaves noisily and angrily respond to being pulled and pushed around. Then it’s gone, passed, and bird song trickles through the vacant space. I need to find someone who can help me identify bird song.

The vegetable leaves are showing their age, some appear to have dipped their edges into light green or yellow ink, sweetcorn tops have turned to beige, trying to quietly blend into the background having used all their energy to show off in summer.

A pepper just before it’s cropped.

A pepper just before it’s cropped.


I drop into the allotments on my way somewhere. It’s drizzling so I set myself up to think on a bench under a large umbrella. I don’t mind drizzle, in fact I really enjoy being outside in drizzle, it’s partly the returning to a warm dry home that holds appeal and also listening to the sound of rain on the umbrella. From the bench seat I can watch bugs and insects hiding and scurrying around under leaves. Nothing appears to be happening on the surface but so much life is crawling and slithering around on and in the top layer of earth.

Drizzle set up

Drizzle set up


Saturday and I’m ready to go to the allotments and draw, which I do, but it’s raining, very hard and it is also rather windy. The combination of the two is pretty unworkable. I could hunker down under an umbrella  - if there’s room between plants but the wind will whip the raindrops onto my sketch regardless. There’s not a lot I can do and I only have a couple of hours spare. But the colours with the rain are intense I can’t just walk away.

Too wet to draw today

Too wet to draw today

There’s no let up and it doesn’t look as though it’s going to ease up. Still, I am determined to work with the weather not against it. I concentrate on the smell of the newly watered ground, how different this is to summer’s heat. And sounds, dripping, water pooling in the middle of leaves, wobbling around in the centre of a nasturtium leaf. Clinging onto the bottom of a dahlia and sweetpea flower, it holds on, moving with the wind, as though building up courage to drop… and disappear. For a moment the light holds this fragile raindrop and all my focus is held here.

In the meantime I pick up discarded leaves to draw in the studio. October is always a busy time for me so I will need to draw images in my studio. As it’s Inktober on social media where many artists take to the web with ink sketches, I will focus mine on things found and seen at the allotment. And I decide they will all be small drawings, no larger than 3.5” or 9cm, although most will be smaller.

Tiny allotment ink drawings

Tiny allotment ink drawings

Month three and we've had rain

September 2018

The leaves of brown came tumblin' down, remember
In September in the rain
The sun went out just like a dying ember
That September in the rain

Dinah Washington’s version

Painting at the allotments

Painting at the allotments

Jays, or is it Magpies, squabble in the tree to my left. It’s Tuesday, 10am, I’ve only spotted one other person, somewhere there’s a creaking shed, and nature is already discarding its leaves.

I’m back on Y1B, capturing the plot on paper, from one day to the next the leaves move, grow, droop, twist, bend and fall. I know I’m sitting in the same place, but I struggle to see what I drew before.

Post rain, 7pm, snails creep around on newly planted crops. I think I’m alone, well, just me and the snails. The light is fading fast this evening, I can hear barking, perhaps foxes. There are always noises here that sound close, today apples are dropping, bouncing on the hard ground. I’m trying to record the dahlias on O6, wandering on their collective noun; a handful? It’s difficult not to have a handful when these flowers explode onto the scene. The light has dropped to the point I can’t see what I’m drawing, time to leave

Drawing in the fading light

Drawing in the fading light

I’m away for a week housesitting in Cornwall. It rains, a lot, after the summer of dry blue skies. I’m missing the allotments more than I thought I would. I’m not in a city, there’s an expanse of sky over the water, I usually love this vista and never want to leave, but the allotments are calling me back. I feel I’m missing all the growth and change by not being there at least for a week.

I’m in charge of checking some small seedlings while the plot owner is on holiday. I find myself talking to them very quietly, and to the snails that I then whisk away to another life in different part of North London. I know these little creatures have excellent homing instincts but it’s going to take them a while to get back. I carry on my lookout while drawing Swiss Chard.

Sketching a Swiss Chard leaf

Sketching a Swiss Chard leaf

O6 and I enjoy a flask of tea together, sitting at the table, glorious sunshine, hats on.

We can’t sit still for long though, as the conversation meanders around the plot we’re jumping up to inspect more closely something we’re discussing. Two cucumbers, about two foot in length are cut, tomatoes, chillis, dahlias, aubergines, strawberries, all part of today’s crop. I don’t turn down the generous offer of tomatoes, a few of which don’t last the journey home, they’re so deliciously sweet.

Colour pencils for a tiny tomato

Colour pencils for a tiny tomato

We’re just about to get going, I have my drawing materials in my hand when the heaven’s open. Quick as a flash everything transfers to the shed’s inner sanctum. This is the first time I’ve had to resort to waiting out a downpour in the shed, I’m ever so grateful that I’ve been lent a key, it’ll no doubt be my saving grace this winter.

It pours, the aroma of wet rain on the plants is all consuming, deep, deep breaths. I could happily wear a perfume called ‘after the rain’. Scents are intensified, the soil reaching up to touch the sense of smell. The joy of rain after heat.

The sky is still black so I don’t venture far as I’m not prepared for wetness today. I sit just outside the shed, hunkered down out of the way, starting to record pears on a tree. Soon, the sun returns and bakes my back again. Flies and insects scuttle and buzz around me. One hungry wasp sits on top of a pear, twisting and turning in a hole, oblivious to me as I lean in to take a good look.

Drawing pears as they are being eaten

Drawing pears as they are being eaten

When I’m set up, settled, working away, I often fall into a reverie or slightly ‘removed from reality’ state. So focused with what I’m doing I get lost in the world of drawing that I’ve entered, not completely, but easily unaware of things around me other than the subject of my work. In the words of Nina Simone, “and I’m feeling good”…

Autumn has breathed its freshness over the plots today. The sun is behind me, it’s 6pm, I have a cardigan on for one of the first times this summer. A cotton scarf I’m wearing matches some dahlias, exactly, it’s not often shocking pick is a camouflage. 

Scarf and Dahlia unexpected colour coordination

Scarf and Dahlia unexpected colour coordination

The coolness is refreshing and the unworkable heat of just a couple of weeks ago feels like a fading memory of a summer holiday in a different country.

A robin hops around in the sweetcorn bed to my side. As I work I become aware that I’m feeling cold and my hands are icy, it’s been so long since my body has experienced this that I sit for longer enjoying the feeling.

Laughter trickles across the plots from one to the south of where I’m sitting, joyous laughter.

Borlotti Beans

Borlotti Beans

Sunday

I arrange to meet E2B at 10am. We time our arrival perfectly and walk through the gates together. We sit and chat and the frustration they arrived with ebbs quietly into the distance as we recount funny stories and end up crying with laughter together. That’s what the allotments do, they heal, they take the experiences from outside and they gently cleanse them away. It’s a joy to sit and talk, it’s easy to talk profoundly in this space, it feels protective. I watch wasps on the ground going mad with joy at fallen fruit, so much to feed on.

E2B has to go and I carry on sitting at the plot, drawing. It’s quiet, having taken a time for people to filter through the gates this morning. A few hours later I go to leave and see an allotmenteer who has been working hard all morning relaxing in a chair, in the sunshine.

Starting a drawing

Starting a drawing

Month two and it's hot!

August 2018

We’re over a month in and it’s hot
Just give me another chance
This could be a new romance
Heat wave

Heatwave / Martha and the Vandellas

Drawing in the evening light

Drawing in the evening light

I’m choosing my time carefully at the allotments. 

I’ve managed a few full days, but it’s been easier to work in the evenings when the temperature isn’t so scorchingly hot that my watercolours, painstakingly mixed, dry before I’ve had a chance to put them onto the paper.
***
There are clouds in the sky and at last a breeze. I place myself on the edge of a main path and started drawing. However, the sun being on its decent, is moving swiftly and the light changes every few minutes, which brings its own challenges.

Bean Leaves in the evening light

Bean Leaves in the evening light

Two jays croak and cry their call while I can get completely lost in my work, again. I often forget I’m in the centre of London here, until from the south west, a helicopter’s rotor blades rhythmically slices through the peace and quiet. The breeze picks up and all of a sudden things come crashing down around me onto the path. I hesitantly turn round just as there’s another gust and suddenly the culprit is obvious, the bark from the tall London Plane trees that line the fence is falling off the trunks and tumbling down to earth.

***

It’s 10:20am Saturday morning. I’ve spotted one other person here so far, watering their plot, otherwise, there isn’t a lot of activity, yet.
My plan is to start understanding the plot boundaries, I pass forlorn apples that have dropped onto the ground to the utter glee of wasps, I see lavender awash with bees and butterflies.

The plots are a bit of a maze as I wander round I meet more people. I talk to J2 and I am cut a marrow and donated beans. I’m going to be torn between painting these beautiful vegetables and cooking them. If I’m lucky I’ll have time to do both. 

I sit with E2B for a while discussing the history of their plot, the process of getting the plot and how they tend it, every snippet told is fascinating to me.
As I leave, it isn’t the first or last time that I wish I was able to spend a full year working on this residency, not just part time, as and when I can afford time. I start to wonder about sponsorship again…

***

I am watching jam being made with gooseberries grown at the allotments, I learn and record the process. Intending to make it into a little artist’s book.
While I’m there we discuss how the plot is laid out, looking at notebooks recording day to day jobs and planting over the years, studying plot plans which I absolutely love. Plot plans are records showing the rotation of crops, these send me home with many ideas…

***

Saturday evening, clouds scurry by for, what feels like, the first time in weeks the rain has fallen and the temperature has dropped. The wind that steadily whips across the plot bring coolness. Clouds have turned a threatening grey and the heat that was so unrelenting is already slipping into a memory.

The sound of a breeze through leaves that edge the allotments, airplanes and distant sirens slide through when a momentary respite of the more playful wind allows.

It feels and smells very different here when the heat isn’t baking the earth. I am reminded of a new word I recently learned, Petrichor, ‘the pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather’.

This Saturday evening it’s quieter, people walk along the path at a faster pace.

Writing, Painting one of the plots

Writing, Painting one of the plots

***

11am Saturday, I see only three people on plots but I hear so many more, rustling amongst the leaves as yet another promise of a hot day is borne out. I find dappled shade in the corner of Y1B. I throw fashion to one side and wear a hat I mistakenly bought a year or two ago. Again tucked away in the corner I can draw and paint undisturbed, thinking of nothing more complex than trying to identify the birdsong I hear. 

Tiny plums fall around me like hailstorms

Tiny plums fall around me like hailstorms

Small plums drop from a tree is sited in the garden next to the allotments and which hangs over. They scatter around me.

As my arms become sticky with sweat flies on them, cabbage white butterflies float past and ants crawl over my pencil case. When the breeze picks up the plastic bottles sitting on top of the bean stakes dance and play their own tune.

***

I’m back on O6, this is my bedrock plot, I know O6 well, to every question I am given plentiful answers, to every query I am given history, to every rumble of my stomach I am given another fresh tomato! It is also where I leave my gardening/drawing seat and makeshift drawing board so that I don’t have to bring it along with me every visit. Today I sit in front of an espalier apple tree. 

Espalier apples

Espalier apples

Hidden by trees children play on the plot behind, dipping in and out of water excitedly, squealing with delight and mock horror at spiders and bugs, trying to frighten one another with ever increasing large insects. O6 and I eat tomatoes warmed by today’s sunshine from the greenhouse while we take a break, there is nothing sweeter, more delicious, more fragrant than freshly picked fruit, particularly tomatoes from the vine, eaten seconds later.

***

Under the shade of a Quince tree, I meet Harry

Under the shade of a Quince tree, I meet Harry

The day after I return and head to X2 where I sit in the shade of a quince tree on a bench. I’m visited by wasps, flies and Harry, an elderly chap with a personable character, a mongrel who has been sitting on G5 but meanders over to see who I am and if approved of. I didn’t realise how grateful I would be when first offered the use of chairs and benches by plot owners, although I have a drawing stool a bench offers me space to sit and put my paints and pencils down. And a back rest is sometimes a bonus.

Harry sits next to me and his owner appears. I learn how and when to prune soft fruit trees, as I am handed a greengage and although it’s incredibly tempting to eat, I must take it away to draw first.

Figs

Figs

Shortly afterwards I am offered a fig straight from the tree, when I say this also has to come home to be drawn first I am offered a second and sit in a delicious dream as I eat this sun warmed fruit. With less than a minute from plot to palette its sweetness seeps into my very being.

Aubergine

Aubergine

Next I am delivered a perfect shaped aubergine, but as this is going to be X2’s supper I don’t get to take this one home! I need to record this perfect specimen. I am frustrated and challenged by using watercolours which dry too quickly for me. I battle on, and work with pen on top of the watercolour to bring more structure into the piece.

I return the aubergine to X2 and I am handed a number of windfall cooking apples which I cook up that evening. As I turn to leave we spot a sparrow hawk swooping into the tree on the allotments’ boundary.

Arriving on Y1B the kettle is on and we sit to discuss the plot, I ask pre prepared questions but the conversation flows its own way and it is obvious that along with the other plot holders I have spoken to, Y1B love their plot, from the produce they grow to the sanctuary and happiness that comes hand in hand with the hard, but rewarding, work.

I return to O6 and am met by my new eight year old friend from O7A. She is interested in my drawings and paintings which I show her and we head off to her plot to draw together. I am on my stool, she on a chair beside me, while her four year old sister sits beside us, surprisingly quiet, watching. As her parents work on the plot we start to draw a rhubarb leaf together, the same leaf from different angles. We talk and work on our drawings discussing the leaf shape, marking out an outline shape so that we can correct it as we realise that elements are the wrong angle or in the wrong place. We both have our diagram and begin to draw detail, looking and studying together. She asks me questions about the leaf, how to draw it but she actually needs little help from me just the occasional piece of guidance. I look over to her drawing, there is such sensitivity, and such careful drawing I am delighted to sit and watch for a moment. We both work with coloured pencils, before starting to use colour we do a little work on how to merge colours, using blue and green to produce a darker, deeper green, and yellow and green (or blue) to produce a lighter, brighter colour. We also work with the weight of the pencil, lightly to let more of the white paper shine through, and heavily which covers the white paper to give a darker feel. Drawing together I have completely lost track of time and soon it is time for the family to go. My plot drawing partner finishes her piece, although I suggest she doesn’t rush it her enthusiasm takes over and  she is determined. I meanwhile leave mine officially ‘unfinished’ but in a state that I am happy with. I like drawings that don’t appear ‘finished’, they lead the mind to fill in and explore what’s missing. It’s a technique I sometimes use through choice.

Rhubarb leaves. L's leaf left, my leaf right

Rhubarb leaves. L's leaf left, my leaf right

I am really impressed by the drawing of my new friend, she has worked hard and conscientiously and has produced a drawing she can be proud of. I’m sure I have gained as much enjoyment from this experience as she has, we hope to do it again. 

As I walk away into the evening light I am handed a beautiful bouquet of herbs, fresh mint, sage and rosemary, a wonderful gift.

My herb bouquet

My herb bouquet

 

 

The first month of my residency

July 2018

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn't it a pity
Doesn't seem to be a shadow in the city
- Summer in the city // Lovin’ spoonful

Drawing in the shade

Drawing in the shade

I’m sitting on an old wooden chair on O6. Hiding from the blistering midday sun in the shade of the tree. She’s growing veg and that’s what I start drawing, but I have no idea what vegetables they are.

Drawing vegetables

Drawing vegetables

In the distance the usual city backdrop of sirens carries on, but here, in this space, it’s calm and peaceful. There’s a rustling as a light breeze plays with the leaves while insects and butterflies silently flutter by. The sky is blue without a cloud, so no momentary respite from the sun.

Just like in my garden at home, there are old sash window weights by the side of the plot. I’ve kept ours because they look so useful, but whatever that use is has escaped me, perhaps I’ll find out what it is here.

The smell of hot sun baking the earth is so reminiscent of my childhood that the memories of my grandfather working in his allotment, memories from about 50 years ago, come flooding back. The heat on the earth has its own special scent.
I wished my grandfather and I had shared a common language, we used basic sign language and smiled at each other a lot, but we also spent companionable silences together on his allotment. If we’d shared a language I probably wouldn’t be sitting here unable to identify what it is I’m drawing.

My insect attracting lanyard

My insect attracting lanyard

The bright yellow cord of my lanyard is attracting a number of little beasties who find the vibrant colour irresistible. A white butterfly and bee drift around me, but soon realise I have nothing other than perspiration to offer in the way of food. As they work away to their own timetable, mine slows down and relaxes. This is the perfect place to be to draw, I can lose myself in spaces and feelings like this, lose myself in the drawing, become completely in tune with the moment, what I’m doing now, and nothing else intrudes on that feeling or space. It’s not often I’m able to work like this, without interruption or my mind wandering, so it’s very special to find that I can tune in so quickly to that feeling at the allotments.

As I draw and time passes I’m beginning to realise what a formidable task I have ahead of me. I could easily become overwhelmed by the numerous things I want to draw and the season won’t last long enough for me to record everything. I could spend a year just drawing one plot, watching, sketching, recording growth and then decay. The sheds and signs intrigue me, but that’s definitely a subject for winter. The patterns of raised beds and rows of different leaves are beautiful. 

Plant beds

Plant beds

And as I contemplate this, the metal end of my pencil has become so hot it’s difficult to handle.

Drawing Sweetpeas

Drawing Sweetpeas

Another visit, in the evening, it’s still hot but there’s far more activity on the plots. The trickle of water is everywhere, surrounding me as people arrive to hydrate the earth. I’m sitting down, between artichokes and sweet peas, I can hear the allotment near to me on the left as it’s being irrigated. The pattering of water on leaves. That doesn’t stop numerous insects from landing on my arm and probably drinking jewels of sweat.

Drawing sweetpeas during my Artist in Residence at Highgate Allotments Association. Working in real time.
Sketching an artichoke

Sketching an artichoke

I’m one of those people that find I need to take some time to wind myself up ready to talk to a lot of people. I’m not naturally outgoing, I’ve been described as a public introvert and a private extrovert and that feels like a good description. But, sometimes we just have to put ourselves out there and be brave and determined. I thought the annual allotment BBQ would be a good opportunity to show my work and introduce myself and my project to the allotmenteers.

It’s always a little disconcerting to put yourself and your work on the front firing line, nothing between you and unusual comments you don’t have a ready answer for. When an artist puts their work that they’ve spent hours working with on public display, it’s like putting your inner most secrets on show.

However, the allotmenteers I met were generous, many had read the newsletter and knew that there was a new artist in residence, so were ready to impart useful information, history, stand with me and chat. Those that weren’t aware of my residency were equally welcoming and interested to listen to my explanatory chat about my plans for the next year. I couldn’t have hoped for a friendlier audience.

Conversations were incredibly varied, there are so many different personalities, backgrounds, jobs and interests that are drawn together in allotments. It’s so exciting to find I have this ready source of fascinating information in this space. One person offered to help me identify the botanical names of plants, but I had to own up I was struggling to identify the common names so that was perhaps going to be outside of my remit and requirements! I even get a chance to talk to someone about my Bay Leaf Curl at home, but they didn’t have any folklore remedies to help me.

As the smells of the BBQ drifted towards my table by the shed, a plate of cooked vegetables also drifted over, along with a glass of wine. There were so many gestures of friendship and kindness in my day, I was moved by the generosity of spirit.

However even with a parasol I was finding the heat somewhat oppressive and regularly moved my table with work on, to hug the shade of the shed, with the occasional breeze attempting to play with my work and whipping away one or two of my artist’s books when I wasn’t keeping a close eye.

As the afternoon turns into the early evening the BBQ packs up and I see baskets full of stunning home grown produce and flowers, walking out through the gates. All of these I’ve missed a chance to draw!