Our second last chapter in this year’s “The Gentle Art of Domesticity” draws our attention to Nature and how it inspires, parallels and brings life to an everyday domestic life.
“Nature forms a wonderful backdrop to domesticity. It’s like an external room with an ever changing wallpaper…” (page 226)
“Nature can inspire the domestic artist not only with its visual treasures, but also with its sense of energy, its rhythms and its fundamental need for cycles and repetition. Nature is doing outdoors what we are doing indoors…” (page 226)
GREEN FINGERS AND FEET OF CLAY
Jane’s love for gardening is mainly drawn from the actual growing and not the hard labours of digging, mowing and raking. She enjoys shopping garden catalogues for bulbs and seeds, planting purchased seeds in germination trays, and the handling of her grown herbs, flowers and produce far more than the months given to tending them as they grow. In fact she’d love to wear pearls and direct a team of dedicated under-gardeners who could apply themselves to the tedious parts.
Her family have grown accustomed to an assortment of seedling trays covered in cling wrap scattered through the house and along every windowsill in spring, a practice which delights Jane, especially when her seeds show signs of budding life.
She also welcomes seasonal self-sown flowers with open arms and blooms such as cosmos, verbena and nasturtiums are regular return guests in her garden.
“…I think self-sown flowers encapsulate all that is good about an ordinary domestic garden.” (page 228)
“I learned long ago that you don’t need to have a celebrity budget or spectacular herbaceous borders to appreciate flowers.” (page 230)
Jane once bought five deep violet tulips the day before she was due to fly to Moscow for a week, and for the next 24 hours she took the small vase of flowers everywhere with her – to her room whilst packing, into the kitchen while she cooked, to the bathroom whilst enjoying a long soak and into the living room where she watched television. Though left behind when she left next day for the airport, every detail of their shape and colour is still imprinted on her memory.
“What may have seemed like extravagance was actually an education in flower appreciation.” (page 230)
She goes on to describe in detail what she loves about the Oriental Poppy, David Austen roses, and a blue bearded Iris.
“Flowers are not a domestic essential, but even if you can only have five tulips or a single hyacinth or a free branch of lilac, it’s worth taking the time to look properly at nature’s incredible cleverness.” (page 230)
LOOKING DOWN ON NATURE
Autumn is a wonderful season to be ‘looking down’ as you walk along the way. Jane discovered this when feeding her chickens stale croissants and left over cous cous one day. Watching the hens happily pecking and scratching she couldn’t help but be drawn to the russet and orange carpet of fallen leaves beneath her feet.
STITCHING FROM NATURE
Not a fan of modern machine embroidery, Jane prefers a more natural free motion form of machine embroidery.
“At first it’s quite terrifying until you learn to treat the needle as a pen and the fabric as paper, except that it’s the ‘paper’ that moves while the ‘pen’ stays in the same place.” (page 234)
Admitting she is hopeless as drawing Jane discovered that natural subjects such as fruits and vegetables are the perfect subject for her free stitching and at the same time satisfy her deeply ingrained allotment nature and imagination.
She enjoys repetitive embroidery in her machine work; rows of buns, washing on the line, cakes…but then returns back to her beloved fruit and veg.
Unable to resist a touch of girly-ness, she will hand sew a few beads or gold thread into the background of garden pieces to create highlights and texture.
“And then I look down and see my fruit salad and I remember that Grace Kelly never wore a fruity frock. She didn’t know what she was missing.” (page 234)
Jane waxes lyrical on the beauty of a quince…
“When the creamy flesh is cooked with sugar and nutmeg and cloves it is transformed into translucent jelly, like garnet or ruby stained glass.” (page 236)
…and each Autumn she picks them from her tree to admire, smell for a few days, and then bake with sugar and spice to serve with thick cream.
(Just out of curiosity, have you ever tried quince? How did you serve it?)
“I have always thought of Hollyhocks as belonging to a world outside my domestic domain…belong(ing) to traditional cottage gardens, Suffolk lanes, French kitchen gardens and Monet’s garden as Giverny.” (page 238)
Unsuccessful in planting hollyhocks from purchased seed packs or bought as plants from the nursery, Jane lost hope of ever growing them – until she scattered a handful of seeds collected from the garden of a friend, promptly forgot about them, and was surprised to see them popping up in the most unlikely areas of her garden.
“It was like having a group of famous people turning up unannounced. I took photos to prove they had been there and set up a bodyguard zone around them so no-one could get within two feet of them. I bellowed at them if they tried.” (page 238)
Jane stitched some lovely hollyhocks which no-one could pick and goes on to mention how prominent they are in old pieces of Crinoline Lady linen, something I’d not noticed before…but she is quite right!
As she so often does, Jane then draws our eyes to a painting which evokes a strong sense of what she’s trying to convey in her words – this time her love of hollyhocks and their old world beauty.
Hollyhocks (1889) by Henri Fantin-Latour
We will complete the chapter on Nature by reading pages 240 – 253 for our next study post on October 29th.
Tomorrow I’ll be back with some pics of the latest in our own garden, a much loved piece of nature we’re working hard to tame in order to bring about productivity and a touch of beauty.
What’s happening in nature around you?