Tuesday, 29 January 2013


                                                     Silver Birch (Betula pendula)

One of my favourite trees - the Silver birch - ethereal in the dead of winter, finely drawn against the fading light.  As a native of the British Isles much ancient folklore attaches to it. Silver birch is associated with Venus - both the planet and the goddess of love and fertility - and is often referred to as 'the Lady of the woods'.  Bundles of birch twigs were used to drive out evil spirits and to purify the body.  It's fine branches were also bound and made into brooms (the archetypal witches broomsticks) known as 'besoms' - a term which became associated with upstart or stroppy women.  Maybe that's why I love the silver birch! 

Over the past few years I've been snipping the drooping  twigs from urban street trees to incorporate into my painted wall pieces using a random interlacing technique.

                                                    Stella Harding, CLOSURE, 2007

                                                     Stella Harding, WHITE NOISE, 2007

Stella Harding TRUE NATURE (side 2) 2011 Photo: Trevor Springett
Recently though I was lucky enough to come across a tree in a church garden that had just been pruned and the many fine twigs still lay scattered on the ground.  I gathered armfuls and I thought I'd have enough to make an actual basket for a change. I was keen to try out samples for my forthoming hedgerow basketry workshops - see my website www.stellaharding.co.uk for details.  Many people plant silver birches - their graceful, upright habit, striking white bark and dainty, fluttering leaves make them a popular choice for small gardens. 
They don't like to be heavily underplanted but a scattering of snowdrops or spring bulbs would be perfect - as here in the grounds of West Dean College near Chichester.
                                        Stella Harding - silver birch and rattan #1 2012
                                            Stella Harding - silver birch and rattan #2 2012
Stella Harding - silver birch and rattan #2 (base)
I was amazed at how much material these small baskets used.  It will be a few years before the little seedling birch I've planted in my own garden will provide enough for a basket - until then I'll have to look elsewhere. 
This coming Sunday 3rd February 2013 I'm taking part in SILVER ACTION a work of performance art, conceived by US artist Suzanne Lacey, in the Tanks at the Tate Modern, London.  Over 400 hundred older women will engage in conversations - telling stories of personal and political activism that has changed the social and cultural landscape over the last 60 years.
'Silver Action' February 3rd 2013 the Tanks, Tate Modern, London
Oh, and I've got my eye on those famous Tate Modern silver birch groves ............. 

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

WORKSHOP TIME - Basketry from the garden

Hedgerow Basket by Stella Harding - Silver birch and rattan.
For dates and details of my hedgerow basketry and other workshops 2013 please see my website www.stellaharding.co.uk
WHISPER 2007 by Stella Harding Coiled grass - Deschampsia Cespitosa
Hedgerow basket 2011 by Stella Harding - willow, dogwood, lime, blackthorn - illustrated in Practical Basketry Techniques by Stella Harding and Shane Waltener, A&C BLACK 2012

Tuesday, 8 January 2013


It's been a pretty 'dreak' wintertime here in London.  That's my thrifty Scottish gardening friend's way of saying dark, dreary and bleak - but why use three words when just one will do!  A lot of  grey skies, rainy days and sodden ground.  Not great for gardening but perfect for a winter basketry project!  One to brighten the gloom and lift the spirits.  What I long for at this time of year is a bit of flower power.

I need as much vibrant colour in my life as I can get so I'm taking inspiration from some of my favourite planting combinations from sunnier days.  I love the way nature mixes it all up sometimes.  No such thing as clashing colours - just a joyful free-for-all.  These opium poppies came up unbidden amongst the stately golden Verbascums in a newly dug flower bed.  You couldn't plan it better - the cool glaucous greens and silvery greys of the poppy and verbascum foliage are a perfect foil for the riot of purples, pinks, magentas, reds and yellows.

It's almost a text book tutorial in complementary colours - in other words the way that the three primary colours red, yellow and blue tend to associate well with the three secondary colours green, purple and orange: i.e. red with green, purple with yellow, blue with orange.  Of course that's the theory and not everyone may agree in practise.  But just look at the way the pale greeny-yellow poppy seed head is off-set by the deep magenta-purple stain at the base of the petals - stunning!. 

This wild flower nectar bar is a pastoral symphony of soft pastels with pink corn poppies (Papaver rhoeas) and steely blue viper's bugloss (Echiums).  Fo me that golden Californian Poppy just peps the whole thing up a bit.

Though dreamy pastels from the cutting garden can also combine well against their own deep green foliage.

One bleak January my cousin and I went to Madeira where we almost overdosed on exotic blooms.

The local willow wild life was pretty exotic too! if not quite what I had in mind for a winter project.
Though I did have a go at making willow reindeer at the Hertfordshire Basketry Xmas workshop.  That's mine on the far left, the one with the big ears.  They are each made from a single willow rod and based on similar animal stick figures found in caves in the US dating back 5000 years.  Nice to know our ancient ancestors occasionally got time off from hunting and gathering for a spot of crafting.
Covered core coiling in 'figure of eight' stitch illustrated in 'Practical Basketry Techniques' by Stella Harding and Shane Waltener, A&C Black 2012
What I had in mind was the colourful coiling project from 'Practical Basketry Techniques'.  Covered core coiling such as this can be time consuming but that's perfect for long winter evenings. It's simple to pick up and put down whenever you've a spare moment and a good way of using up odds and ends of yarn.
It has proved a popular project with readers too.  Here's an image of her coiled basket sent to me by Celia Darbyshire.  Her colour palette was inspired by a particularly beautiful dawn sky.  She has a lovely blog too!
So I'm off to my stash of tapestry wools to begin coiling my next flower inspired coiled basket. 
The cutting garden at Restoration House, Rochester UK
Orange Tulipa Ballerina at Great Dixter, UK - they actually smell of fresh oranges!
Can't decide.  Tulips from posh borders?
Or wild flowers from a derelict council estate?
If you're inspired to try some basketry projects please follow the link on the home page of my website for details of my latest programme of BASKETRY WORKSHOPS www.stellaharding.co.uk