Fancy initial S, white wisteria and Painted Lady butterflies


Fanciful initial S ( hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

A week in London busy with domesticity, childcare, and the joy of having three daughters together all in one place has left me a bit behind with my aim to blog once a week. I managed this little ‘S’ monogram but getting round to blogging about it was just a step too far. Forays into Islington (Ray Stitch, Loop, Camden Passage) and central London, along with a few lunches out kept us away from the newly turfed back garden as the grass settled in. On Saturday the grass had been down a month and the children were let loose on it. My grandson was ecstatic, rushing round self commentating on a game involving sticks, stones and leaves, much as hunter-gatherers might well have done millennia before. His little one-year old sister went for a more spiritual approach to nature as she sat – often alone – looking round in wonder at this new environment. A lunch party on Sunday with both adults and small people gave the lawn a real baptism of fire – and so far no bald patches.

White wisteria in an Islington garden Mqy 2018

Daughter No 1 is just as lucky with neighbouring wisterias as we are, although the one that so generously hangs its flowers over her wall is white. (See below and

White wisteria in an Islington garden June 7 2017

But the highlight of the week end has been the hatching of five painted lady butterflies. By the time I saw them, the caterpillars were attached to a vertical circular disc from which they hung by silken threads (at the bottom of a mesh basket on a shelf in the house) – see photos below. Just before a butterfly emerges the chrysalides become darker, then suddenly lighter immediately before breaking out, at which point the wings look crumpled and to the inexperienced eye damaged. Catching this at it happens was utterly thrilling for both children and adults (who expected at least one failure) and caused great joy. At this stage the wings are gently shaken by the butterfly as blood is pushed into the vessels in the wings until they reach their full size. This takes a couple of hours.

Three butterflies had hatched by Saturday evening and the last two emerged on Sunday morning, so we let the two four year olds release them after lunch. Three flew off immediately (one headed straight for the wisteria) but two (perhaps the last to emerge) didn’t go far and then came back and sat on the boys’ hands – one on each! And there they largely stayed  for more than an hour or possibly two (briefly going and returning, like homing pigeons –  one named ‘Stay-stay’ accordingly). We lost track of time, marvelling at the way they stood on their hands as they walked around the garden, finding patches of sun for the butterflies as the afternoon advanced. Eventually Daughter No 3 (biologist and conservation expert) returned these two butterflies to their basket, deciding to give them another day there before releasing them. Never have I seen butterflies so close up before, so what an experience for a four year old!

Painted Lady butterfly caterpillars


Painted lady chrysalides

Painted Lady butterfly emerges from chyrsalis


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A mainly mauve Fair Isle jumper and mauve flowers

Cheltenham wisteria over the garden wall

In spite, or possibly even because of our harsh winter and late spring, scented flowers of shrubs and small trees have been glorious this year. The other day on our walk to the shops, my husband and I played ‘find the tree’ as we passed by one scented garden after another, and subtle differences in perfume declared the presence of lilac, wisteria and quick growing clematis montana in glorious and not always exclusive succession. We are lucky, our next door neighbours have nurtured a wonderful mauve, double helix twisted stemmed wisteria whose flourishing  racemes of flowers generously hang over our side of the trellis as much as theirs. As the heat of the day dies down, the smell is beyond belief, as good as anything out of a stoppered bottle, and tinglingly life enhancing.

Fair isle jumper with wisteria flowers

Detail of Fair Isle bands

As it happens – and I started this knitting weeks ago – my latest garment makes use of predominantly mauve wool, and includes  colours in the range from mulberry and orchid to their palest relative. I looked through my books of Fair Isle and flicked through patterns from Pinterest until I had graph paper sketches of all sorts of motifs that looked like they’d be enjoyable to knit … and then I just set off with the needles and had fun. Surprisingly I undid very little, even after the early use of acid yellow which I only really came round to after I’d finished both back and font. With enough colours of yarn and repertoire of motifs, Fair Isle knitting is a heck of a lot more exciting than knitting inch upon inch of the same colour.

With mauve all around, I remembered that somewhere I had a copy of Simon Garfield’s book of the same name. The book came out on the coat tails of Dava Sobel’s ‘Longitude’ of 1995, a ground breaking book which made publishers realise that we rather enjoy the back stories behind such single issue subjects where serendipity, hard graft, vicious competition, a bit of blind fortune and a lot of musing over the human condition keep the reader a gripped as the best Ruth Rendell.

‘Mauve’ by Simon Garfield

Simon Garfield’s ‘Mauve’ tells the story of the accidental discovery of the first synthetic dye which could be mass produced in a factory. In  C19th India, many British suffered with malaria. Quinine was the only treatment available and even that was often in short supply. The chemist William Perkin  set out to synthesise artificial quinine from coal tar (aniline, a component of coal tar has a very similar chemical composition to quinine). Something went wrong in his experiment and the residue of muddy brown sludge which resulted turned out to produce a vibrant purple dye – a dye to match the illustrious Tyrian purple which for centuries had been produced from Mediterranean shell fish with much difficulty and at great expense. Garfield finds it ironic that the first successful artificial dye to be commercially manufactured and available to the masses should produce a colour so closely associated with imperial power and high birth.

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