Foliage and Flowers

During the 6 years that Ingrid Betancourt was held as a hostage in the Colombian jungle she made a promise to herself – that when she was released she would “always have flowers in my room and wear perfume”.

Nice mess on the floor at the Posy Hands workshop

I know what she means – flowers do add that grace note to a room. Wanting to learn more about how to get that, I signed up for the “Posy Hands” Workshop at The School, taught by Poppy from Pop and Scott, a creative workshop co-operative from Melbourne. I‘d seen Pop and Scott on Instagram and there was something fresh and loose about their arrangements. I liked that they made indoor swings too.

Poppy’s expert wrapping

the posy I made in class

It’s interesting how just a few chance remarks and a demonstration can tilt your perspective. For me it was Poppy talking about the importance of foliage, the structure and beauty of leaves. She showed us how to build up the base up with foliage, rotating the bunch in your hand and then feeding in little clumps of flowers going from feature flowers to secondary ones. We were then given a chance to make our own from a table full of luscious flowers.

my neighbour in class making a posy

my allergic reaction to grevillea a few weeks ago

There was talk of gathering foliage from the verdant streets of Sydney – with the phrase “I picked it locally” prefered to “ I stole it from the neighbours” Well… actually that’s how I found out that I had an allergy to grevilleas…

flowers from the front garden

… onto the naturalist’s desk

Back at the old schoolmasters house, looking forward to trying everything out with homegrown flowers and foliage gathered from country lanes. Standing in the garden I could completely see the sense of having leaves surround the flowers, that’s just how it is in nature.

looking at foliage with a new eye

Making my posy with rich hued late summer flowers; I notice how the soft eucalyptus leaves cradle and frame it. To display it – a jam jar rigged up, tied with string around the neck, another tip from the class. Totally new way of displaying flowers, I like the unexpectedness of it- it gives the wall such vibrancy.

hanging jam jar vase

… experimenting with different backgrounds

A Relaxed Country Kitchen

The words ‘country’ and ‘kitchen’ just go together…

telegraph post in the village

country kitchen from an unknown magazine

Looking through back issues of World of Interiors and creating a board on Pinterest, the image starts to come into focus. Dream country kitchens are large and spare, with substantial stoves and checkerboard floors, open shelves, windows onto a cottage garden and maybe an old oil painting propped up. Tea cosies, battered old stools, and large pots and pans. It’s a comforting vernacular, and leads to thoughts of time spent cooking slow meals made with vegetables and herbs from the garden.

the old kitchen at the schoolmasters house – the ‘before’ photo

The old kitchen was an approximation of that dream, if you squinted a bit and blurred your vision. But it felt unloved, tired and cramped. The trick was to bring in some modernity and entwine it with a fresh & affordable version of country charm.

corn from a neighbour’s garden

the kitchen… … a work in progress

The first addition was an island bench in the middle of the kitchen. It’s one of those surprising things when a single piece of furniture changes the feel of a room and the way people move through it. Suddenly the kitchen had a focal point, a clear place to prepare meals or to sit and eat. It felt more homely. The cupboards were painted a subtle grey green, an almost Scandinavian colour, one that was both refreshing and calm. A vintage plate rack was found and open shelves put to the side. A tiled checkerboard floor replaced (awful) fake brick vinyl.

out for a evening walk

the new/old kitchen light

So checking items off the list for country kitchen. I guess some would call them cliches, but I’ll call them classics. Now the broad strokes are in there are layers to be built up, the small details. A new hunt for kitchen bowls, canisters and wire baskets – ones with patina and character. This could take many years, a delightful excuse for stopping off at country fetes and markets. But for now the best accessories are the fresh fruit, flowers and vegetables bought in from the garden…

first crop from the kitchen garden

The Land of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie

Going deep into the world of 1930’s illustrator May Gibbs this week- her bush fairytale creations seem more tangible in the landscape of the old schoolmasters house.

In the book ‘May Gibbs: More than a Fairytale’ by Robert Holden and Jane Brummitt

Her whimsical, adorable gumnut babies Snugglepot and Cuddlepie are embedded in some childhood memory; sharpened, deliciously, with the threat of the Bad Banksia men. There’s a kewpie doll look to her bush babies, but somehow her work hasn’t dated; there’s no one else quite like her.

my unscientific collection of banksia and seedpods

one of May Gibbs’ Bad Banksia Men

I’d heard that her house ‘Nutcote’ was a now a museum in Neutral Bay and I was curious to visit it, to find out more about her. What it was like to lead an artistic life in Australia in the 1930s? The distance between the old world and the new was so vast then, the voyage from England weeks at sea – did she feel cut off from the centre of things…

May Gibbs’ studio at Nutcote- beautiful harbour views from every window. Photo David Cumming

It’s a beautiful house, Nutcote – it lives up to the promise of its name. Designed in a Spanish Mission style, it feels airy and light to be in; an artistic spirit lingers. True to her generation, nothing is superfluous. My favourite part was her china collection; all blue and white except for one green cup, which she bought in a café to rescue an insect trapped inside it.

May Gibbs’ portrait of a Suffragette friend

Nightfall at the old schoolmasters house

May did spend time living in London and was involved in the Suffragette movement. But impending war forced her to come home. Her gumnut babies were inspired by trips to the Blue Mountains, according to her ‘it’s hard to say if …the bush babies found me or I found the little creatures’. She turned them into postcards to send to Australian soldiers in WW1.

Still, it’s hard to find out much about May Gibbs – she was a very private person. The best source is the beautifully illustrated book ‘ May Gibbs; More than a Fairy Tale” by Robert Holden and Jane Brummitt. But I would love to get something of the spare, artistic, natural touch of Nutcote into the old schoolmasters house. And the next time I pass through the Blue Mountains I will look out for the gumnut babies…

the same era- my Grandfather’s trunk

From ‘May Gibbs: More than a Fairy Tale’