the sweetest flower

bluebell ocean

On a chilly morning, and swapping the annoyance of no hot water for a walk under an uncertain sky, I made my way to Kew Gardens to see the famous bluebells.

Well, to be immersed in them really as their ocean of colour spread about us beneath the trees – blueness indeed. Notices told us about the sweet nodding nature of the common English bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, as opposed to the upright habit of the Hispanic invader, and gave accounts of the continuing efforts made to maintain only our native species growing there. There were posters up, too, about other foreign outlaws – giant hogweed, Japanese knotweeed, New Zealand pigmy weed etc; the weed police have defined them as ‘the most wanted’ – presumably they’re the most unwanted though!


The fabulous bluebells have a natural unrestrained spread beneath the trees around Queen Charlotte’s Cottage. Further on, a formal planting in a constructed circular bed gave us massed tall tulips, stirring in the breeze, undulating creamy-white with hints of pink, underplanted with rich vermilion sweet williams (I think) waiting to take over – beautiful.

old master 2001

It’s worth visiting the log trail too – a brilliant use of storm-felled trees. And, and, and – the Gardens are full of riches…

logs at kew

The mornings lighten and I love to wake up to the view through my bedroom window as the spring greening creeps over the trees and every day new leaves unfurl. I leave the curtain open so it’s the first thing I see. And one morning the first thing I hear is about the Professors of Circadian Rhythms (wonderful name) at Birmingham University, who tell us that flu jabs are far more effective if given before eleven in the morning – the time that our own daily clock ensures optimum vaccine processing. A beautifully simple improvement.

Still, as Hamlet says, ‘What a piece of work is man?’ We had a lot of Shakespeare and music on BBCradio3 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of his death; some of it great, some rather turgid. I did tweet to ask could they play this piece from the musical Hair, which was so influential in the ’60s, but my request may have fallen on deaf ears. In any case, here it is. In London the show had to wait until the Theatres Act 1968 abolished the Lord Chamberlain’s censorship rights – it opened the day after! Susan and I played that record a lot as we worked.

sonnet 2016During the Shakespeare400 I particularly liked being reminded of Duke Ellington’s 1957 album ‘Such Sweet Thunder’.

In honour of the sweet swan of Avon we’re recolouring our own Sonnet scarf in indigo and saffron. Here’s a first sample; the new version will be available soon from the website, where you can read the original in full.

And I went to see Ran again – the 1985 Kurosawa film, his last epic, based on the tragedy of King Lear, set in the steep wooded hills and dusty plains of Japan.


What a drama of action and shocking intrigue: the contrast of the chaos of slaughter with the restrained formality of court protocol, of scheming ambition with the loving heart. His use of time and space is masterful.

And within it all I couldn’t help but admire the importance of the textiles, the significance of colour, the power and meaning of the flapping flags and banners in the windblown landscapes.


At the very start of the ’80s I heard Katia and Marielle Labèque playing Brahms Hungarian Dances and fell in love. I heard them again last night at St John’s, Smith Square. I have a natural interest in sisters who work together, particularly combining to produce a creative outcome, and I was thrilled again to see and hear them. Their hands trill and pirouette and pound along the keyboards with courage and humour, bringing joy and pathos and drama; I wanted to get up and dance. They seem to stretch and enlarge the music so daringly with timing and emphasis. It’s almost five years since my own sister died; that unspoken intimacy, the shared smile of accord, the explosion of laughter or temper, the hatching of a new idea together, the so-known history of our working lives – I miss them.

As I’ve written before, one of the things I’ve really enjoyed developing in these last few new years is running workshops; the second ‘painting a summer top’ course at the Fashion and Textile Museum produced another and different crop of potential garments.

ftm group pic

Here is one happy student’s top, from first experiments to full painting, then sized and beautifully sewn. A bit of a triumph, though I say it myself.

ftm workshop 2ftm workshop 1



My next courses run at Bradness Gallery, one at the very end of May and another in July. Later in the year I’ll be back at Morley College in London, and at Hard to Find in Guadalajara once more (lucky me!); and at West Dean again in the new year. Keep an eye on our News page events listings.

The little H&A video shows me painting a commission for curtains on linen; these are now finished, hurray, and here’s the left side – I know it needs a good press!

The history of recent work, mainly silk hankies for ours and the FTM’s shop, remains imprinted on the desk!

studio table

team jumper sketchAs a holiday treat I took senior grandson trampolining with his friends; they all got a special tee-shirt – team jumper – I couldn’t help it when I thought of the pun! It was amazingly quick and simple to email my I-pad Paper53 drawing to the company, Printsome, and get the soft cotton Tshirts back within a couple of days…

I had fun with another pun and the queen’s birthday stamps when posting them on an envelope abroad – by heir male. Groans all round.

heir male

Clothes and royalty – isn’t this an astonishing find – a 400-year-old dress (and some blue silk knee-socks) lost at sea and preserved in the sand-covered wreck. It has a fascinating history of intrigue and plot.


Thanks to Molly, Steve, Sue C, Joe and Rohan, and Tricia Sharpe

Take a few minutes and brush up your Shakespeare here, thanks to Kiss me Kate

14 thoughts on “the sweetest flower

  1. Love your blog and post – as usual inspiring. Beautiful painting of bluebells from Kew – reminds me I must pay another visit – last visit was in September. See you VERY SOON CHx

  2. Great post as always Sarah and the bluebells are simply wonderful; you are very creative and talented and thanks for another uplifting post!

  3. Beautiful painting, Sarah. And uplifting post as usual. Is that the spirit of Andrew hovering over the stamps? Happy spring.


  4. Gorgeous painted curtains and everything floral as always Sarah. I haven’t managed to get to a bluebell wood this year but am taking my mother to a tulip festival in Kent tomorrow at So maybe there’ll be some bluebells in the grounds too. I quite like spotting the odd tuft of bluebells here and there, self-seeded beneath a garden gate or in the cracks between paving stones.

  5. Hello Sarah, there are no words to describe how much I love the Bluebell wood watercolour at the heading of this month’s blog! If you ever think if selling it, please would you give me first refusal? We have a NT property nearby called Emmetts, which has the most beautiful bluebell wood. We visit it every year at this time and the sight of swathes of bluebells truly lifts the spirits. We are going there this weekend. Thank you for another lovely blog. Olivia x

    • Thank you Olivia; that little painting has already attracted a couple of would-be purchasers so I’m thinking of making a new edition of prints from it – will keep you informed..Enjoy Emmetts. Sarah

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