It seems that summer has been and gone, and its disappearance has put the kibosh on our plans for regular trips to Portishead Lido — just as with camping, we are fair-weather swimmers in this household, or at least I am which means the kids are forced to be.
But the arrival of a rather lovely parcel from Roz Streeten, aka Rosie Flo, lifted everyone’s spirits. A Pool Party. Perfect. The girls were beside themselves with excitement and spent all weekend drawing and colouring in the little figures, while outside it poured with rain.
Most parents of school-aged children will have come across the phenomenon that is the Rosie Flo Colouring Book. But if you haven’t, then click on the link, or head to your nearest good toy shop, and check them out — you are in for a real treat.
The brainchild of graphic designer, Roz Streeten, the colouring books feature charming line drawings of wonderfully eccentric outfits to which children (and adults) are invited to add heads, arms and legs, as well as lots of colour. The books are printed on lovely heavy paper and are quite unlike any colouring book you will have seen before. My children have been obsessed with them since the books first appeared, about ten years ago, and I would guess that between them they’ve worked their way through twenty or more.
Two years ago, Martha was given Rosie Flo’s Colouring Fashion Show for her birthday: a 3D colouring extravaganza which, in turn, prompted all three girls to make a whole range of their own paper pop-ups last summer.
All children seem to love colouring in, whether or not they like drawing, which means that there is an enormous market out there for colouring books. Such a shame then, that most colouring books are of such poor quality: so often the paper is horrible and the art work worse — heavy black lines around simpering Little Bow Peep-type characters or gurning leprechauns. Urgh.
And this is why Rosie Flo has been such a huge success. Roz Streeten’s books not only satisfy a child’s desire to colour in, but they also invite children to engage their imaginations in order to embellish the scenes. Often, Martha races through her copies armed with nothing more that a black biro, adding faces and limbs, and sometimes additional characters in the background. In fact, now that I think about it, she’s never really been that interested in colouring, but she has always loved these books. She adores the witty detail in the drawings, some of which I hope you can see in the image below — the cupcake hat the waitress is wearing, the tiny ice lollies and the shelves stacked with cakes.
I was lucky enough to find myself standing next to Roz at an event at last year’s Bath Children’s Literature Festival. We peered at each other’s name tags in order to launch into the obligatory small talk and I explained that I was an unimportant ‘plus one’; she countered by saying that she wasn’t an author or illustrator but made colouring books, at which point the penny dropped, “Rosie Flo?” I said. “Oh you’ve heard of them?” To say that I was excited is putting it mildly. I really, really do love these colouring books. Roz seemed surprised to find such a grown-up fan; but I know that I’m not the only forty-something devotee. I would guess that many a parent has breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of a rack of Rosie Flo colouring books in their local toy shop — imaginative, charming, simple, fun and at £4.99 to £5.99, affordable too. Over the years the range has expanded to include packs of postcards and large colouring posters (£2.99). Not only do the colouring books make brilliant presents, they are also the best way to stave off cabin fever during the holidays or at weekends when the rain sets in — as it did last weekend.
Thank you Roz, the pool party saved the day on a very wet weekend!
The pool party is in the shops now, and I’d highly recommend it. And for all festival goers, you might like to know that for the second year running, Rosie Flo is behind the Camp Bestival Colouring Book.
I understand from various photographer friends that 5am is the best time to photograph a garden. Sadly I cannot get my lazy bones out of bed at that time, and so although I know that 8pm is nothing like a fair substitute, it will have to do.
This is how the garden looked ten minutes ago.
The trellis is a little overbearing (though I’ve managed to avoid it in these shots), but by this time next year it will have weathered nicely and, I hope, it will be hidden by climbers such as Clematis montana Tetrarose, which smells delicious.
The bottom of the garden is a bit of a hotchpotch, and my runner beans are holding it all together while I decide what I want to plant here in the autumn. But yesterday these wonderful irises (White Bridge from Nyssen) finally opened. A second clump, in a shadier spot, have yet to unfurl. I’m itching to cut a few stems, but can’t bring myself to rob this part of the garden of its star performer.
One of the prettiest geraniums, Splish Splash (who thinks up these inane names?) also opened this morning. I planted it around the base of R. William Lobb last autumn and I hope it will look good alongside the deep pink rose which should open soon.
But the real excitement for me, and the reason I went out with my camera this evening, was the sight of the first flowers of Ferdinand Pichard. More on him tomorrow.
NB The geraniums in the shot above the irises are Mrs Kendall Clark (pale blue) and, deep breath, g. x oxonianum f. thurstonianum (hot pink star-like flowers), both firm favourites of mine and fantastic as a cut flowers.
The weather continues to taunt us: bright sunshine one minute and with it the promise of a glorious day; the next moment the black clouds roll in and all thoughts of summer are put on hold. But the flowers suggest the seasons are moving on, or are in transition at least.
I can’t quite bring myself to throw this tulip out. It was the first one up; the only one to return from a group of Malaika that I planted last year. More from a fresh batch are about to open any minute — and I really do mean any minute: the buds are fat and flushed with colour, and with a bit of luck and the warmth of the sun they could be open by lunchtime.
I’ll resist picking them until they’ve done a week or two in their pots. They will provide interest whilst the sweet peas make their slow start up the wigwam, and the rest of the garden gets into its stride. Malaika is one of my favourite tulips — so elegant as it emerges and then puts on a spectacular show as it dies. I will buy more next year.
Every year I spend much of January and February trying not to look at the garden. When I do, I am filled with despair: I simply can’t believe that it will ever look nice again. Back in October I dug up almost everything at the bottom of the garden to make way for new raised beds and a pond, and this section looks particularly bleak at the moment.
But Sunday’s sunshine tempted me outside. The novelty of feeling the warmth of the sun on my back and being able to wear only one jumper rather than three, meant that I spent most of Sunday afternoon pottering in the garden — my first proper session in the garden.
It looked pretty desolate, but it was good to face up to the ravages of winter and my total neglect. And after an hour or two of methodical pruning, cutting, raking and mulching, most of the garden had sprung back into focus.
My thoughts had snapped into focus as well, and I now have a plan for those empty beds.
For now, I’ve cordoned off the area with chicken wire to protect the few remaining plants from the rampaging dog, and to be honest it looks worse than it did before. But in a week or two things should start shaping up.
In the pop-up green house, I was delighted to see that the first of my sweet peas are emerging and tiny little dots of green on black, damp soil tell me that my rocket and
cut-and-come-again lettuces are on their way too.
By five o’clock it was chilly again, so I kicked off my boots and finished these mittens (ravelled here). And despite today’s sunshine, it was cold enough to wear them.
In January, I embarked on an interesting project with two friends, which will run until July. It’s strange to have a formal structure to my week after so many years in which my work has come in fits and starts with lengthy lulls between the deadlines. I can’t write about it in great detail because, although it’s not a secret or particularly special, the project isn’t entirely mine, so it wouldn’t feel right to air it here until we’ve finished. Enough to say that it’s rewarding and painful in equal measure, and doesn’t leave me with much spare time. Something has had to give, and I’m afraid it’s been the blog.
But this post is by no means “over and out!”, more an explanation of the fallow state of my corner of the internet.
I began writing here, nearly three years ago, in order to record the life of my small city garden. Naturally enough, as with most other blogs I read, its remit quickly expanded; but the garden was always there in one form or another — a bunch of flowers, a newly planted bed, rose petal jam. But in January the garden was asleep and so it felt like an appropriate moment to take time out from blogging regularly.
Over the last week other things have started to emerge and the usual gloom I feel about the garden at this time of year is lifting. My mood was given a further boost by the arrival of a really wonderful and incredibly inspiring book: Veg Street Grow Your Own Community by Naomi Schillinger, whose blog Out of my Shed is one that I have long admired. I’m off to read it now, over a cup of coffee and, as the sun is out, I might even venture into the garden with pen and paper and make a few plans.
I will post a proper review of the book later in the week, but for now I’ll just say that I cannot recommend her blog highly enough, and I feel sure that I’ll be saying the same about her book.
* Hoping that, as with farm land left to lie fallow, there will be increased productivity later in the year!