Wednesday, 1 August 2012

SUMMERTIME: going for gold

Summertime: London 2012 is here at last and we've all got gold fever.  Shame the sun's not been shining much this summer but even on an typically overcast London day you can bring a touch of Olympic gold to your garden with some winning plants - great for colour and great for basketry.

  Torch song: Kniphofia also known as torch lilies - as illustrated in 'Practical Basketry Techniques'

I was thrilled to see massed plantings of one my favourite summertime plants, Kniphofia, drifting in swathes throughout the Olympic park at Stratford.  The designers must have been aware of the Olympic connection in choosing this plant - also known as the red-hot poker or torch lily. Never truly red, the flowers come instead in shades of orange, gold, cream and even green.  I love the soft apricot shade of this variety growing happily in my south-facing front garden.  I plant them for their long floppy leaves which are great for cordage or twined basketry.  Although they can look a bit of a mess in winter the dead leaves help protect the plant from frost damage so pull them off in spring when the new growth begins.  Torch lilies are also a must for attracting bees and house sparrows who love to drink the sticky nectar so you can combine basketry and wildlife gardening.

The red stems of Salix alba 'Britzensis' - perfect for an Olympic torch

I got the chance to make an Olympic torch earlier this year, not from torch lilies, but from willow cut from the garden of renowned basket maker Olivia Elton Barratt.  Along with fellow members of Hertfordshire Basketry I spent a sunny day in late winter cutting the many colourful varieties Olivia has planted including this fabulous flaming red Salix alba 'Britzensis'. 

           Several colourful willow varieties cut and left to condition in a shady place for a few weeks    before weaving

Herts Basketry, , a group of makers who meet regularly in Welwyn Garden City to run workshops and swap and share basketry tips and materials, had been asked by Stockwood Discovery Centre in Luton to make an Olympic-themed willow installation for their walled garden.  Stockwood was to be the overnight resting place of the Olympic torch on its way to London and teams from Tunisia and Ivory Coast would use its athletics facilities.  In  addition to two torches it was decided to make six life-size figures representing the sports of swimming, cycling, athletics, football, weightlifting and gymnastics. 

                                               Blue skies and a sunny picnic in March!

Once the willow was perfectly conditioned and ready to weave Team HB met up over several weekends to make the figures and torches.  Working to designs by Elaine Kingsford and using a two-dimensional, random, inter-weaving technique developed by Hazel Godfrey, over fifteen members each did their bit.

Team effort: Maggie Smith, Caz Ingall, Miriam Fraser and Harriet Riddel working on the gymnast and footballer in the chicken shed.

At first I chickened out of working on the figures in the cool of the disused chicken shed provided as a workspace by member Jane Ingall.  Preferring instead to work outside in the spring sunshine I joined Geraldine Poore and together we synchronised our making to get the torches as near as possible identical. 

HB member Geraldine Poore proving that a three-week manicure will stand up even to an eight hour day of willow work.

We decided to add the flames once the torches were installed to make them easier to transport and saved the most vibrant of the Britzensis stems for whoever got the job of 'lighting' our torches. 

Back in the shed it was fascinating to see work in progress whenever we went in for a well earned cuppa and a slice of Cherry Carter's 'friendship' cake.  There's something about basketry and cake that just works - a winning combination!

                                                  The swimmer outlined in brown willow

 The footballer scoring gold with me - I just love the vibrant immediacy of work-in-progress

                                         The cyclist is almost finished but where's the bike?

Norma Adams getting to grips with the wrestler


                             Tricia Fraser and Jan Watkins on a winning streak with the runner

Caz and Harriet almost ready to score with the footballer

Maggie putting finishing touches to the gymnast's red leotard - must mean she's from gold-medal winning Team America

We all fell for the weightlifter - our incredible Hunk! - just waiting for some weights

Later, I was pleased to get the chance to do a bit of interweaving on the swimmer's head and shoulders.  Hmm, doesn't look much like Tom Daley - yet!

After a winning team effort and a fitting example of co-operative working, the figures were installed at Stockwood in plenty of time for the Olympic opening ceremony and this coming Saturday all the members of Team HB are invited for a champagne toast to our Willow Winners.  Oh and there'll be cake too, of course. Cheers!

You can visit the Stockwood Discovery Centre and see the installation for yourself - entry to the walled garden is free and the figures will be there until October 2012.  For those who can't make it to Luton I'll be up-dating this post later with more photos of the finished work in-situ.

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