The BIG news on the illustration front was my attendance at the ‘turn the page‘ Artists’ Book Fair in The Forum in Norwich on the 17th and 18th of the month. It proved to be a huge incentive to finish my two latest pop-up books – ‘British Butterflies’ and ‘Tulips’ But this month I thought I’d talk about the inspiration for a couple of my little concertina books – ‘Flowers for Butterflies’ and ‘Flowers for Bees’ shown on the nearer part of my stall.
It started at the end of the second year in my Illustration degree at the Norwich University of the Arts when we were given a project on reportage. I know we were meant to go out into the vast outdoors and draw in public but, being a very shy illustrator, I choose to interpret the brief as being outside – but in my garden.
I didn’t enjoy the experience; I recall writing in my sketchbook: “I’m sitting on a small, uncomfortable stool feeling hot and bothered. Greenfly keep landing on the page and I’m hating working outside in the sunshine”. However, all that changed when I started drawing the plants that bees were visiting and then, as often happens, an idea emerged. I drew the plants that were growing in a line at the edge of the patio, photocopied it several times and then plotted on the paths taken by various visiting bees.
Several years on, it lead me to experimenting with this horizontal format in a book all about flowers that attract bees to your garden. Below is the very first draft. I’d actually only folded some paper to mock-up the possible dimensions for the book, but then couldn’t resist inking in some flowers, and then adding a splash of colour. I undertook a bit more research into the actual flowers to include before producing the final books. And if you’re interested in planting flowers to attract butterflies and bees to your garden take a look at my blogs for December 2017 where I give the botanical name for each of the plants in the books so you know what to look for at your local garden centre.
May is such a wonderful time in the garden, with so many plants bursting into leaf and flower. I love the play of light on the garden, throwing plants into sunlit contrast against other shaded areas.
I’m delighted with how established this area of the garden is looking as it was only added a couple of years ago. And, of course, the bees love all those alliums.
And continuing my suggestions for plants for shady areas, I’m a huge fan of the white version of camassia. They are actually a very subtle shade of off-white and perform beautifully in the shade. Flowering a week or two later than the blue version, their flowers seem to last much longer and they have such a delicate, starry appearance.
This is the quintessentially British cake for afternoon tea in the garden. It’s one of my tried-and-tested super-easy loaf tin recipes that you can whisk up in moments. I like to make it the day before so that the flavours have a chance to all melt together. Don’t expect it to have the ‘high rise’ of modern sponge cakes with their layers of icing. This old-fashioned recipe produces a cake which may look more modest but more than makes up for it with its wonderfully dense texture and delicious taste – the perfect partner with a cuppa!
Cherry & Almond Cake
(makes 8-10 slices)
150g self-rising flour
125g glacé cherries, quartered*
125g caster sugar
50g ground almonds
125g soft butter or baking margarine
2 medium eggs
1 tsp almond extract
25g flaked almonds
You will need
a 2lb / 900g loaf tin
non-stick liner or butter and greaseproof paper
- Preheat the oven to 160°C/Gas 3.
- Lightly grease and line the loaf tin or use a non-stick liner.
- Mix the flour and quartered cherries together in a bowl, stirring to ensure the cherries are all coated with flour, and then tip into a sieve. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl retaining the cherries in the sieve. Set these aside to fold into the cake mixture later.
- Add all the other ingredients (except the flaked almonds) to the flour and beat the mixture with an electric hand mixer for one minute. Fold in the cherries ensuring they are evenly distributed throughout the batter.
- Spoon the mixture into the tin and level the surface. Sprinkle the flaked almonds across the top and bake for about 60 minutes until the cake is well risen and springs back when the surface is lightly pressed with a finger.
- Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then remove and place on a cooling rack.
* If you have time, rinse the syrup from the glacé cherries and dry thoroughly before quartering. This really helps ensure the cherries are evenly distributed throughout the cake.