Monday 22 June 2015

A garden is a lovesome thing.....

....and I am lucky enough to have two of them now.   The full-size garden - courtyard really - has been in existence for a number of years but since opening Small Worlds two years ago I have rather neglected it.   

This year my excellent neighbour, Bara, who takes care of things when I am in the UK, and who cuts the grass at the back of my house, urged me to "bring the courtyard alive again", promising to schlepp the containers around and plant them for me.

So I had a perfectly lovely time at the end of May buying lots of beautiful plants and leaving her to do all the work.  It's so nice to be able to come back from Small Worlds in the early evening and just sit and look at it.

I had long been totally fed up with two granite troughs that never got any water when it rained so I resorted to cheating - and sneaked some mini items in at the same time - those who know me well will not be surprised to see evidence of my obsession with fungi....

The mini-garden was a somewhat different story.   The need for it arose because of an unexpected space in Small Worlds.   Whilst moving the dilapidated Triang Cex to reach something behind it I found traces of dreaded woodworm dust beneath it.   Although I couldn't find any signs in the house itself, its condition was anyway so bad that I decided to dispose of it.   The furniture from inside - my examples of 1960s Czech Tofa, covered last year in a great article by Rebecca Green, editor of the Dolls Houses Past and Present online magazine - are waiting to be sprayed and monitored although thank goodness I can see nothing sinister at the moment.

So I was left with a large bottom shelf with nothing on it and a need to fill it rapidly before Small Worlds opened to the public on 13th June.

As luck would have it, just before I left the UK I went to a giant car boot sale in Cuffley and picked up a strange little house, of uncertain scale - smaller than 1/24th anyway.   Butterfly (who is having a lovely third birthday giveaway on her blog) cast doubts on its usefulness......

And buried somewhere in the drawers around me I knew there was a substantial amount of the component parts of a Britains Floral Garden - though not packaged in such a nice tidy box as seen here of course!

I had been vaguely thinking about some gardening after reading the delightful Miss Barbellion's Garden by Irving Finkel.   The illustrations, by his sister Jenny Kallin, were clearly based on a Britains garden. 

The company of William Britain was best known for its lead soldiers and farm animals.   But it also manufactured a garden range in the scale of 1:32 which had to be constructed from fiddly, tiny parts.   Made in lead until the end of the 1940s, the range then went out of production, only to reappear again in the 1960s, in plastic.   

I have no idea where my collection came from - I probably picked it up in a charity shop at some point.   I certainly didn't pay the sort of prices that are being currently asked on ebay!

I scrabbled around for hours in the garden drawer, finding many tiny bits but no flower heads.   Fortunately I remembered that they were actually neatly filed away in some little drawers.   

After a considerable amount of searching I laid out everything I had unearthed on a large pin board. 

I found I had no fewer than five greenhouses!   Thoughts of a market garden crossed my mind, but I rapidly rejected that idea as I had no vegetables at all.   

I took the greenhouses home to wash, along with a few other shed-like parts.

I called on Jenny Kallin for help in identifying some of the bits and pieces.   Crucially, she explained to me how to make the roofs stay on the greenhouses. And that the red and green squares did not belong to the range.  

The greenhouse shelves are a nightmare - as fast as one is lodged into position, the one on the other side falls off again. Grr!  

But in the end I managed to get one greenhouse to stay together, complete with shelves, pots, and the only two seed trays that I possess.

Having gathered everything together, it was time for some garden design.   The size of the garden was easy - I wanted it to take up the whole of the shelf space available.    I measured, and then laid out a base which in the end consisted of two polystyrene ceiling tiles and one piece of foam board covered with the only three original pieces of Britains lawn that I had.   The little house was placed at the back of the base.

The walls and hedges are of course a fixed size and so it required some juggling, and ingenuity, to make everything fit as I wanted - it wasn't until right at the end of the process, for example, that I realised I would do better with a zig-zag path to the front door....

I was acutely aware that it was going to be difficult to find enough seasonal flower heads to fill the beds.   I had plenty of leaves and stems but relatively few heads other than daffodils, which I really didn't want to use alongside the roses.   (Though in this strange year I could well have had them flowering alongside each other.)   

One of the reasons for the lack of summer flowers was that I had turned the delphiniums (or they might be lupins) into wisteria a couple of years ago....for the Karlovy Vary spa colonnade.

I  love the rose pergolas!   But like the greenhouses, they fall to pieces as fast as you put them together.   And as for the tiny pin holes in the rose heads into which you have to insert the not very firm minute plastic bits on the stems....suffice it to say that my language was not suitable for young Czech ears.   Just holding the rose heads is a challenge.

And that was nothing compared to trying to hinge the gates. Arrrgh is all I can say to that.   You have a tiny plastic loop that fits into the wall - and nine times out of ten falls out again - and then you have to insert the hinge on the gate into it.   Because I had decided to double up the gate height I had to get four hinges into place at the same time.  
Hah!  Three in, one out.   Two in, hinge falls out of wall, four in, drop whole thing on the floor.   Swear a lot and in the end leave the gate hanging on three hinges.   As long as no one wants to go up the garden path that should be just fine.

The layout was now taking shape, complete with trees and hedges and it just remained to fill the beds.  
I had little choice over trees - although I have a vast quantity of foliage for what seems to be a pine tree, I had no trunk or branches for one.   So I was left with what the Britains catalogue describes as an apple tree, a weeping willow and something that looks a bit palm-like. 

The rockery and flower beds were a doddle after the gates.  It was just a question of trying to eke out the available flowers as intelligently as possible.   The system is very cunning - you have a little gardening tool with which you press the stems, complete with flower head, into the holes.  Distribute rocks around as you please and there you have a rockery and flower beds.

There are dinky little bricks to finish off things neatly.   I was determined to have a vegetable bed to join the shed, kennel and rabbit hutch at the back of the garden.   No vegetables however.....but as long as one doesn't ask about the precise nature of what has been planted, I think it works fairly well.  There are certainly lettuces and tomatoes.   Possibly some asparagus too?

I not only had a surplus of greenhouses, but also of ponds - four of them.   So I felt able to sacrifice one and cut it up to frame the garden path which looked rather lonesome making its way from the gates to the front porch.   

One of the other ponds took its place centre stage by the rose pergolas, with the addition of one of the few non-Britain items, some water lily flowers.   I am afraid the leaves were added yesterday, after I had taken the photos......but they are there now, plus a few more lilies. 

I will end with some more views of the finished garden. For once it is an advantage for something to be on one of the lower shelves because it is best viewed from above. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this indoor gardening, even if it involved much swearing and cursing and I can't wait to get my hands on some more garden stuff, particularly people.  The lack of people makes me very jealous of this gardener....  Tantalisingly, I am fairly sure I have a bench like the one in the article but can I find it?   Not at the moment anyway.

And don't forget to close the gates gently when you leave!

I hope you have enjoyed this tour of my gardens and I will leave you with one of my favourite poems, by Thomas Edward Brown -

A Garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!
Rose plot,
Fringed pool,
Fern'd grot -
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not -
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
'Tis very sure God walks in mine.

Tuesday 2 June 2015

Long time ago....

It seems a very long time since I sat down to write a fresh blog post.   As I have said before, when I am in England I find it extremely hard to connect with Small Worlds and what goes on there.   Especially if I have forgotten to take enough photos to see me through the winter.....

But that excuse has now evaporated since I have been back in the Czech Republic for nearly two weeks and in fact Small Worlds has been open for just one morning, to coincide with the local Farmers' Market on 23rd May. 

Although the market was less well attended than usual this year, we had a number of highly interested visitors in the museum - it is always a sheer delight when adults engage fully with what they have expected to be just "something for the children".  And I think I may have also found another seamstress prepared to tackle tiny dresses.   The Gosthwaites fashion buyer will be delighted!

As soon as we closed the doors at noon (we had opened at 8am -things start early here) the friend who was helping me and I unloaded the stuff I had brought over from England.   I spend much of the winter months trawling the local charity shops to find new items for Small Worlds.   There are very few similar opportunities in the Czech Republic since charity shops barely exist.   And nor, of course, are there many dolls house items - the hobby is almost unknown here.

So I was once again faced with boxes......

But I am getting ahead of myself - I arrived back here on the Wednesday night before the scheduled Saturday opening and during the drive from Germany I had been racking my brains about a new window display that I could set up as quickly as possible.   People had been looking at the same display since the end of last October....

No brainwaves whilst I was en route but as soon as I arrived in Small Worlds, my friend in Bonn's prophecy that I would think of something once I was there, came true.   "Cars" I thought - I have many, they are easy to shove in the window and will also serve the dual purpose of showing that there is more to Small Worlds than just dolls houses. 

No sooner said than done - not my best display, and I shall change it soon - but it has attracted quite a lot of attention, particularly from men and boys whose noses are glued to the window amidst loud discussions about what cars they are looking at.

One other task before I got to the boxes - I have been lucky enough to be given a dinky little set of drawers by "the doll people", Anna and Jiři Šlesinger, who you have already met several times on my blog.   I now stay with them at their lovely home in Bavaria on my way down and back up again.  It's stuffed full with amazing dolls, nearly all made by Anna - you can see some of them here at an exhibition she held three years ago in Lanškroun.

I was very much hoping that the drawers would slide under one of the working tables to replace some of the untidy shelves there and sure enough, the fit was as if made to measure.   Butterfly would be delighted to see the way paints, glues and other necessary items are now neatly stowed away - she is so good at creating order out of chaos!

When I finally got to the boxes I decided to unpack the whole lot and spread it out so that I could take photos before trying to find a home for everything.   Eventually you should be able to spot where some of the things turn up in Small Worlds....

So here's a closer look so that you can recognise them -

The chef and the wonderful set of kitchen table and chairs were both gifts from followers of Butterfly's blog - many, many thanks Chrissie and Sandy.  The table and chairs have already found a home, though it may only be temporary 

Needless to say, when I began putting things away I got side-tracked and found myself setting a scene instead of shoving things in drawers.   

It occurred to me that one of my many breadbins had just the right wall paper to give a home to the elderly couple who have been sitting comfortably in their Raine's Take a Seat chairs on my bedroom bookshelf all winter.  (I love this series of chairs and it irks me dreadfully that most of the ebay hits for it are in the US, and thus out of my reach because of the postage costs. These two came back with Butterfly after her sojourn in New York last year)
Since Darby and Joan have been out in the world for months it seemed a little churlish to now banish them to a drawer!  By the way, does anyone recognise their maker? They emerged from the box of Lundby furniture I acquired somewhere.

I ended up stealing so much from a very ancient roombox made out of foamboard that I decided to retire it completely and replace it with this new scene.   I think they look very contented in their luxurious abode.....

I think that's about it for this time - just two more new additions, both from the animal world.  They  came from the best flea market I have ever visited - a giant event on the banks of the Rhine in Bonn.   The setting is amazing and it is so large that we only managed just over half.   I can't wait for the next one in October!

So on that fishy note I will sign off for now and return to getting Small Worlds ready for Saturday 13th June when it opens properly for the summer season - its third!   Thank you for following the journey so far and I look forward to seeing you all again soon - very soon, I promise.