1 May 2015

It felt like summer for a moment

It’s a strange moment when you realise that the sound of nature is the sound of millions of animals, birds and insects desperately trying to get laid.  Unknown

A week or so ago we had a spell of the most gorgeous warm sunshine.  It was unseasonably warm and it felt like summer had arrived – the days felt a decent length, with lighter evenings, after the clocks had gone forwards a couple of weeks earlier.  I took my work outside at any opportunity and sat doing my polishing in shirt sleeves – an unexpected bonus for the middle of April.  Although it’s slightly incongruous to sit out with tulips in bloom and no leaves on the trees.

We often get early warm periods like this, lulling us into thinking that summer has actually arrived, then as quickly as it arrived, it vanishes again and we’re reminded of just how early in the year it still actually is.  I went to post some orders today, grabbing an opportunity of dryness between wintry showers and really regretted not putting on my gloves, as I walked to the letterbox.  My afternoon sojourns to polish in the garden bathed in sunshine felt like an especially surreal and distant memory.

Orange-tip butterfly looking for a girlfriend as soon as he emerged for the season.
Orange-tip butterfly looking for a girlfriend as soon as he emerged for the season.

Whilst sitting outside during this nice spell, I was aware of how many insects were now active, presumably spurred into activity by the rise in temperature.  Nothing evokes the idea of summer quite as readily as the sound of insects busy at work and I had several treats during this period.

Left you can see an Orange-tip butterfly I photographed in the garden.  It flew past me and I dashed to grab the camera and by the time I found it and got it ready, he had settled on a climbing hydrangea I have growing up the end wall of the garden.  I took the photograph and was annoyed that a plant label was reflecting the sun and dominating the frame, so as I adjusted my position to try and photograph him with a better background, my moving shadow must have spooked him and he was soon off over the wall and away.

Ironically, that in itself turns out to be the interesting point.  I wasn’t wholly sure of the name of the species, so turned to my books for confirmation.  And there I read that male Orange-tip butterflies emerge in April and their first task is to find a mate.

There were a number of the same species of hoverfly active too, the first I've seen this year.
There were a number of the same species of hoverfly active too, the first I’ve seen this year.

The lady Orange-tips aren’t actually orange, they’re grey where the lovely chap above is orange and consequently, the males, in their quest for a girlfriend, land on anything white hoping that they’ve found a willing female.  He returned to the garden briefly several times during the day, variously landing on lightly variegated leaves and the same obviously enticing plant label.  I hope he was successful at some later point.

I’ve always been fond of hoverflies and keep some plants in the garden that I know they favour.  I love the way they drop their undercarriage to land and they don’t bother you, sting or bite and I’m happy to have them visit the garden.

There were several of these large hairy bee-like species and they alternated between hovering in the air in the sunshine and washing their legs on the tops of leaves.  Love was clearly in the air as we saw several coupled as they hovered, which must be quite a feat in itself – presumably they find it safer to be airborne whilst distracted and vulnerable rather than a potential double meal for something if they landed to get down to business.

The intense colour of these tulips really comes alive when backlit by sunshine.
The intense colour of these tulips really comes alive when backlit by sunshine.

My work this week:

I’ve revisited some of my ‘classic’ designs for some new variations recently.  Some pieces continue to sell well even though their first incarnations were early in my career and I seem to have been working on several of those again recently – although I do perpetually hone the designs as my technique and workmanship improves.  There are some designs that as soon as I get back in stock, they’re gone again.  The earrings below are a variation on the rosebud knots that I’ve now done in many different formats and even as I made these, I had a subsequent idea for a bracelet link, which I’ve just started making up.

Rosebud knot looped link earrings featuring intensely coloured raspberry jade beads.
Rosebud knot looped link earrings featuring intensely coloured raspberry jade beads.


'Coil on coil' pendant featuring a lovely delicate aquamarine jade bead with a lovely marbled texture.
‘Coil on coil’ pendant featuring a lovely delicate aquamarine jade bead with a lovely marbled texture.


A new variation of an early design which I used to wire wrap with copper, but these now have the flowers ball riveted with silver.
A new variation of an early design which I used to wire wrap with copper, but these now have the flowers ball riveted with silver.
6 Mar 2015

Mother Nature knows how to cheer us up

Spring is Nature’s way of saying “let’s party!”   Robin Williams.

I had always planned to make a large painting of the early spring, when the first leaves are at the bottom of the trees, and they seem to float in space in a wonderful way. But the arrival of spring can’t be done in one picture.  David Hockney

I discussed in my previous post the fabulous showing of snowdrops I have this year.  Unfortunately, they’re now passing their best and the first to flower are now withering, but I can still enjoy them for a little longer yet.

A little splash of cheery sunshine in my otherwise largely dormant garden.
A little splash of cheery sunshine in my otherwise largely dormant garden.

I also mentioned that the first crocuses were also emerging, adding a much needed and appreciated colour amongst the grass at the front of the house.

Yesterday I had one of my weekly chores to attend to – fetching the wheelie bin from outside the house and putting it away.  I always keep a selection of planted plots in front of them in a vague and largely ineffective attempt at bin-subterfuge, so it’s a tad tedious to position the bin and replace them all – especially in bad weather.

How fabulous is the curled structure of these crocus petals with their tiny delicate stripes.
How fabulous is the curled structure of these crocus petals with their tiny delicate stripes.

Having done that, I decided, as the sun was briefly out between showers, to survey our tiny walled garden and get a bit of much-needed fresh air.  I’d done the same task a few days ago, so wasn’t expecting any surprises, but was delighted to find that a good number of my bulb planting was reaping rewards with quite a few crocuses in flower and even a handful of the Tête-á-tête daffodils already in bloom – where a mere few days ago, they looked to be well off showing any colour.

I’ve always held the view that spring bulbs are Mother Nature’s way of cheering us up after the cold and lack of colour in winter.  She’s jolly clever; it works a treat.  I love this period where the worst of winter is behind you (but may yet come back for a bite) and the whole of spring and summer is ahead.

I couldn't even begin to catch the fabulous lustre of these purple crocuses.
I couldn’t even begin to catch the fabulous lustre of these purple crocuses.

I took some photographs, largely to cheer me up if nothing else. I suspect, if you want to trawl back through my posts, that you’ll find that I do this every year.  But it was quite breezy and the sun that was out when I set off to grab my camera only lasted about 2 minutes after I fired it up – so the photos aren’t quite as cheery as they would have been with sun on them.

It has been my habit for a few years to make a mental note of the time of day that the garden blackbirds noisily roost each evening – I used to actually document it for a while.  In the depths of winter if can be well before 4pm and last night, I noted that it was the first evening that it was after 6pm, so it felt like another little milestone towards summer was passed – the evenings are tangibly lengthening now.

My work this week:

These Carnelian and Butter Jade beads look like berries.
These Carnelian and Butter Jade beads look like berries.

I’ve spent a great deal of my working week spiral wrapping various gemstones for bracelets and necklaces to commission.  I’ve also made a couple of new ones for sale.  I loved how these deep red Carnelian and lovely fresh green butter jade looked together; like berries at differing stages of ripeness.

In fact, I’m only even getting chance to write this post as I’m giving my fingers a rest between sessions of polishing.  I find the bit that suffers most is my left thumb, in trying to keep a tight grip on the piece that my right hand is busy polishing – the smaller the piece, the greater the discomfort.  I’ve tried an assortment of gripping devices and methods over the years, but there’s nothing that can match the subtle changes of grip and positioning that the human thumb can manage.

beads riveted to hammered copper paddles.
Large Palmwood saucer beads riveted to hammered copper paddles.

Whilst ordering some of the gemstones I needed this week, I decided to try some wooden beads my supplier had to offer.  Wood has the advantage of being very light compared to gemstones and glass and for earring wearers like myself that can’t get on with weighty earrings, means that I can offer something quite chunky in size that is still comfortable to wear.

I paired these gorgeous Palmwood saucer beads with some hammered copper paddles cut from thin copper sheet and they’ve been riveted in place with balled bronze pins.  I chose bronze as the colour, once it’s been melted, is quite close to the colour of copper anyway, but the bronze makes an especially nicely round ball when melted and is lovely to rivet with.  The beads were called saucers, but they’re rather more like shallow bicones as they’re quite tall at the centre hole, which isn’t obvious at the angle shown.

12 Apr 2011

An advance taster of summer to come

Here in the UK over the last few days we’ve had glorious warm sunny weather. Spring has well and truly arrived with the bonus of some unseasonably early warmth. I even managed to get several loads of washing dried outside and put away the same day.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.

I have collected lots of interesting pieces of driftwood and bought a bag of large pebbles to scatter around and I love the textural interest they provide in the garden even when nothing much is growing.

It was actually slightly odd to be outside in shirt sleeves, yet be able to see trees that were still bare. But that in itself has now changed, 4 days of sunshine and everything has erupted. That gorgeous new spring green foliage that positively glows in the sunlight.

I have a small corkscrew hazel in a pot and the ‘lambs tail’ flowers emerge before the foliage, which just emerged with the lovely sunshine we just had.

I love this time of year with the promise of summer ahead but with everything still emerging – lovely pristine foliage in fresh perfect colour, before weather, disease and insects take their toll over the summer months.

I have a large feature hosta in a tall glazed pot which looks stunning until the snails find it. It starts off as purple spikes which gradually unfurl the stripey leaves. I didn’t spot this family of greenfly until I looked at the photos.

One of the big advantages of being self-employed and working from home is that I can choose when and where to work – for the most part. Clearly work demands take priority if I’m to keep happy customers, but I do love the warmer weather (shirt-sleeve warm, preferably not hot) when I can work with the back door open and potter in and out of the garden to do work outside when it’s possible. I have a favourite bench in the shade that I love to sit at and work. It has been warm enough over the last few days to be able to do that and I was actually remarkably productive.

We even had bees busy at work collecting pollen and making the garden sound summery as well as feel it.

I had several pieces of wire wrapped work that I wanted to replace in my stock and several part finished pieces that needed hand polishing and I got through all of it over the weekend in rests between vigorous garden work – like stripping back a lot of the ivy that grows up the outside of the house. We tend to trim it right back, rather like a severe hair cut and it will re-grow rampantly over summer and still more over winter, ready to be curtailed again next spring. It’s a messy, dusty job that we both hate, but always want to get done before we plant the summer annuals as the process drops hundreds of loose leaves in the garden.

I bought two phlox plants last summer that looked stunning when I planted them, but the first flush of flowers finished and they never seemed to get more than the odd further one. I was surprised to see that not only had they survived the hard winter, but were positively thriving. They’ve gone from tight buds, that I hoped were flowers, to full of these delicate flowers in a matter of days. I love how they uncurl as they open.

I do however have to share my garden. We have a very steep pitched roof which overhangs the house rather more than most houses, giving rise to deep eaves which provide good shelter for nesting birds and each spring and summer we have a whole neighbourhood of nesting house sparrows coming and going under the eaves and into holes where the roof crosses the stone walls. They seem to squeeze themselves through implausibly small holes and vanish out of sight.

For the most part, the sparrows don’t mind us being in the garden, they seem to accept that we’re going to be there but don’t interfere with them and we happily share the space – I’m happy to do so as they’re in serious decline and I enjoy being close to them. As the sparrows raise their families, we often get baby birds dropping from the nests when they’re fledging and on more than one occasion, one has dropped down the drainpipe from perching on the guttering and we’ve had to take a section out of the drainpipe to release the trapped baby where they get stuck near a bend in the pipe.

I pointed out that as he wasn’t paying rent and I fed him too, he might exercise a little more control over his manners.

But sparrows are pretty vocal, especially when a few gather and they sound like they’re having heated discussions. I don’t know if they’re trying to chase us off, just let us know they’re there, or just are chatting. So we often have individual birds that seem more vocal than others and make a big fuss as they come and go. The bird in the photos was one such 2011 resident. Every time he arrived or left, he sang loudly and very pointedly looked at me as he perched inside his own particular front door a few feet above me. Several times he hopped over to a length of the telephone cable coming into the house and would look down at me, very pointedly and loudly having his say.

The lovely weather gave me the opportunity to sit and do some wire wrapping and to polish several pieces in progress. There was a distinct ‘heart’ theme to my work this weekend, I made several pendants this shape in both copper and Sterling silver and the matching earrings are just waiting to be antiqued. I also finished a series of antiqued copper earrings featuring squiggled infills wrapped to a frame with Sterling silver. The oval pair were for a commission and I made the teardrop pairs at the same time to make available in the shop.

14 Jul 2010

Keep up the good work!

At the weekend whilst working in the garden I spotted several ladybirds – and moved each of them onto a rose I have that is totally infested with green fly. I regularly clean them off only to see as many again the following day. They just love the emerging new shoots – on a rose that has been rather slow to get going this year after I both moved it and re-potted it this spring.

All of the ladybirds remained on the plant for the next few days, despite horrible cool and wet autumnal-like weather with a very stiff breeze; they diligently worked away, chomping their way through my greenfly – I say my like I’d choose to actually own the greedy, promiscuous blighters.

I just went out to the bin and went over to monitor their progress – and was astonished to see that the rose was almost cleaned of greenfly – a handful of odd specimens remain – but the plant is as clean as it’s been all summer. I could actually see 2 of the ladybirds still munching away. I suspect the others might have fallen off, stuffed to bursting and moaning that they couldn’t possibly eat another single thing, not even a wafer thin mint! I imagine they’re lying in the leaf litter beneath the rose, clutching their stomachs.

I grabbed my ‘jewellery’ camera which was close by, as one of the ladybirds devoured a greenfly, seemingly almost half it’s own size, in a matter of seconds.

Please click the photos for a larger, clearer view.

It’s not very sharp as it’s a very dark day and the stiff breeze was moving the leaf and the poor ladybird significantly and locking focus was somewhat tricky from an inch away. You can just see the last trailing edge of a disappearing greenfly.

Aren’t his iridescent wings just gorgeous.

I love hover flies – we seem to get quite a lot of different species in the garden and they fascinate me to watch them – with their little flat ended tongues probing leaves for sap and their undercarriage that they drop and raise as they come to rest and take off – they never bother you or come into the house, just go quietly about their business. This little chap – and he was a little one – was working away on the sticky sap left behind by the greenfly – so they made a good team.

I wonder how much they charge and if they have any mates who want work?