edgelands

Alice Fox train tracks

I’ve really enjoyed reading Edgelands by Paul Farley & Michael Symmons Roberts: a wonderfully playful mix of observations and poetic writing about those in between places that are not quite city, not quite countryside, not quite classifiable as one thing or another.

in their words:

Somewhere in the hollows and spaces between our carefully managed wilderness areas and the creeping, flattening effects of global capitalism, there are still places where an overlooked England truly exists, places where ruderals familiar here since the last ice sheets retreated have found a way to live with each successive wave of new arrivals, places where the city’s dirty secrets are laid bare, and successive human utilities scar the earth or stand cheek by jowl with one another; complicated, unexamined places that thrive on disregard, if we could only put aside our nostalgia for places we’ve never really known and see them afresh.  (p 10)

Edgelands are constantly shifting and being re-developed.  That’s part of what makes them dynamic, hard to pin down.  Some crop up in pockets close to city centres, where waste ground and industrial decline has offered space for the edgelands to self-seed. (p 213)

When I walk to my studio I go along part of the Leeds Liverpool canal, along the back of industrial buildings, offices, under roads, beside railway.  This is a classic example of an edgeland, an un-cared for piece of land that is pretty much left to its own devices, complete with rubbish, graffiti, weeds, ducks, magpies, blackbirds…  And this is the magic, the wildlife that just gets on with things.  The resilience and sheer bravery of some of the plants you find in these scruffy places, pushing up through cracks and flowering away no matter what, brings an enchantment to these walks and the sudden flit of a long-tailed tit can make my day.

Alice Fox pansies in the cracks

In Robert MacFarlane’s The Wild Places, having visited some of the most remote parts of the UK, he comes to recognise the wild all around him in his local landscape.  This is certainly true for me too.  While the call of the coast is never far from my mind and the lure of remoteness is always tempting, it is the wild of my streets and pathways that keeps me engaged with my landscape on a day to day basis.

Further reading: Weeds, Weeds & Wildflowers

Alice Fox stone and growth

antidote

Alice Fox winter blossom

 

My kitchen has been filled with the most beautiful fragrance this past week.  I brought a couple of twigs back from my parents’ garden (Viburnum, I now know) and they have these delicate pink and white flowers on them, a bit raggle tangle and scruffy, but gorgeous with it.  They have been quite a focus this week and their perfume has been such an antidote to the grey damp weather outside the house.

In a pink frame of mind I made the most of a load of avocados that needed eating and used their skin and pits to dye some strips of paper and fabric.  Again, this was a creative antidote to the period of relative inactivity over Christmas.  I didn’t want to just dye the strips, I wanted to make lines along them.  I am more concerned with mark and changes in quality of the dyed mark than getting an all-over colour.

Alice Fox avacado skin & pit dyed strips lined up

The skewers were to help my little tubes stand up in the dye bath.  Once dyed I enjoyed playing about with the arrangement of the bundles.  They stood up beautifully and had an almost ceramic quality to the forms (reminded me a little of Edmund de Waal’s lined up pots).

Alice Fox avacado skin & pit dyed strips from above

There was a playfulness to the process, which I enjoyed.  The kitchen table was experiencing quite a lot of playfulness at the time – look carefully and you’ll find a stork sitting on top of a crocodile: part of my son’s and my drawing project over the holidays.

Alice Fox avacado skin & pit dyed strips

The rolls are still drying out.  I’m looking forward to opening them up once they’ve properly done so.

 

lanes

I’m really enjoying my walk to work here in Cumbria, despite the grey and wet conditions (Sedburgh isn’t getting the heatwave that the rest of England have been enjoying).  I’m staying about 15 minutes walk away from Farfield Mill and I have a choice of walk across the fields or round the lanes.

On Tuesday I walked up the lane, picking wild strawberries on the way, then across the fields.  I saw a roe deer and then a hare in quick succession: both exhilarating experiences.  The footpath wound its soggy way but I couldn’t have been happier, arriving at the Mill very wet.

Yesterday I took the lane the other way and found all sorts of bejeweled plants.  The hay has either been cut and sits waiting for a dry spell or it hasn’t even been cut yet.  Things are so damp but also lush and green as a result.

These lanes are absolutely amazing: they’re jammed with a rich mix of foliage, flowers, insects, mosses, birds flitting about, trees and the most lovely smells.  I could spend hours lingering in them, but I have work to do

 

delight

A day of respite from the relentlessly wet summer we’re having means I can linger a little longer on my forays into the garden.  One of the advantages of working at home is that I can potter a little outside in between other jobs or, at the least, sit outside or on the steps to have my lunch.

I am constantly delighted by my garden.  It is a very important part of me.  At the beginning of the year there was nothing here: a patch of grass and a tired fence.  I’ve changed that and in the space of a few months it is overflowing with greenery of the ornamental and the edible kind.

As I potter it is the detail that draws me in, fascinates me: the tiny holes in leaves (made by who?); the textures of different foliage mixed together; the various insects that are going about their own business; and the mix of colours that can be so stunning.

And then there is the satisfaction of finding something edible forming, and the hope that you will manage to harvest it before the slugs do.


garden dreams

 A trip to my parents last weekend allowed for some garden pottering, finding interesting shapes in the winter sunshine,

and winter sweet, which doesn’t look like much (although is better seen from below like this rather than from above the drooping flowers) but smells amazing.

Since then I’ve spent most of the week at my desk doing paper work or jobs around the house.  Meanwhile I dream of what my garden might become.  I currently have a patch of scruffy lawn and a small patio.  It isn’t much yet, but it has lots of potential…

>abundace

>
I missed my garden while I was away last week. It such a lovely time of year and everything has filled out beautifully with the heat and rain.


The day before I went away the first buds on my sweet peas were tantalisingly showing a little colour, ready to burst open as soon as I closed the front door to go for my train. On my return there were enough flowers for the first posy to go on the dining table.


For me that is the point at which summer has truly arrived. The smell drifting around the house takes me right back to my childhood and picking great bunches of the multi-coloured blooms for the dining room at my grandparents’ house.


I’ve been picking salad leaves for a while but the beans have finally started producing and I picked the fat golden balls off the gooseberry bush yesterday.


The plant itself looks very worse for wear as it has been ravaged by saw fly larvae again. It happens every year: they completely decimate the leaves, but it doesn’t seem to stop it producing the lovely fruit.


Current listening: Michael Nyman, The Piano (dreaming of distant shores)

>yellow

>
Driving home this morning from a long weekend with family the predominant colour was the yellow of oil seed rape fields shouting out their presence.


It’s brash and bright in its mono-cultural state in these fields and really quite a contrast to the more subtle colours we came across on our woodland walk the other day.


This time of year, when the hedges are full of cow parsley and may blossom, has to be my very favorite time. And when you look closely there are stitchwort, red campion, dandelions, bluebells…


I’ve had a lovely break with some of the best company one could ask for and we’ve had such lovely weather. But enough of all that relaxing stuff: I have so much work to do.

>flowers and flour

>I’m feeling strangely chilled out, must be all the lavender…




Lavender biscuits

150g butter
90g caster sugar
225g plain flour
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon fresh lavender leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon lavender flowers, removed from spike

Oven: 160 C

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add flour, egg yolk, leaves and mix well. Turn out and kneed until soft smooth dough, then roll ball into cylinder. Cut into 10-12 sections and lay on greased baking tray, pressing flowers into each disc. Bake for 15-18 mins, until firm but not brown.Cool on trays then move after about 5 mins to cooling rack.

Recipe courtesy of Alys Fowler, The Edible Garden.

Current listening: Goldfrapp, Seventh Tree