Easegill Head Farm, Cumbria

Stay Lambing Live in CumbriaI suspect it is a rare person who looks for and finds a place to work while they are on a trip, but but nothing surprises me to find out what constitutes  a holiday for Rob. Easegill Head Farm in Cumbria belongs to a family that raises sheep.  They have a guest cottage available for anyone who would be interested  in staying, and participating, in the routine of the farm. This farm was featured in a very popular 5 part series filmed by the BBC in 2011, called Lambing Live.

birthday 2I had lots of questions to ask when I first saw his pictures.  What do the colored dots mean? The color on the backside of a ewe indicates which ram is responsible for her pregnancy.  How do they possibly keep track of this?  During mating season, each ram has an identifying color repeatedly applied to his chest. This is a farming version of kiss and tell. Color on the front of a ewe indicates how many babies she is carrying.  A pregnant ewe needs extra food.  A ewe with multiple lambs coming needs lots of extra food.  What is Rob doing with an orange bag? The sheep recognize a feed bag, and will follow anyone who is carrying one. His main job, separating the ewes with 1, 2, or 3 lambs on the way.

Swaledale sheepTheir prize sheep are known as Swaledale sheep.  They are found throughout the mountainous regions of England. They are one of three distinct breeds associated with sheep farming in the Lake District. They can be identified by their curling horns (both the males and females have them), their off white wool, and the white markings on their faces and around their eyes.

Scotland 2015  11As a breed, they are noted for their ability to thrive in exposed locations with inhospitable winters.  In general, they do not need to be raised indoors, but for lambing time. The ewes are exceptionally good Moms, and look after their lambs. A ewe who does not become pregnant will, on her own, go back to the original ram for a second mating.  Extraordinary, this.

Scotland 2015  8Their flock numbers around 1100 now.

Scotland 2015 9
The sheep farmers in the area all have the right to graze their sheep on what amounts to common land.  Each farmer takes responsibility for culling out the sheep that belong to a neighbor, so they can be returned to their rightful owner.

birthday 3Looks like this trip suited Rob.

Scotland 2015  10The landscape, the sheep, and the moody winter weather-this had to have been an unforgettable experience.

Scottish highlands 2

Scotland 2015  7

Scottish ponies

sheep in Cumbria 2015

sheep in Cumbria 2015  3

Scottish sheep 2015

trip to Scotland 2015

easegill-head-farm.jpgin case you would like to visit…

 

Scotland In February

snowdrops in Scotland  February 2015Rob likes to get away for a few weeks in the winter, before our garden season starts to stir.  His choices are always interesting. They never involve a warm or tropical place.  A decision to visit England’s lake district in Cumbria, Wales, and the Isle of Skye in Scotland sounded lovely-but in February? There were a few days while he was gone when Michigan was warmer than Scotland, but his photographs are proof positive that the natural landscape – even those in cold climates in February – have a presence that transcends the seasons. These snowdrops in bloom-in the woods in England’s Lake District. Rob’s visual chronicle of these natural landscapes, barely edited by the demands of agriculture and travel, have a haunting beauty I won’t soon forget.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Wales February 2015Along the Brecon-Monmouthshire Canal, in Wales

Wales February 2015  2These man made canals were used to move frieght, before the invention of the railroad.

Wales 2015  4Brecon and Monmouthshire Canal

Walescanal in Wales

wall in Scotland 2015in England’s lake district

Scotland 2015  4on the Isle of Skye

Scotland 2015  12the lake district

fence posts Wales 2015fence along a canal in Wales

Scotland 2015 5the Isle of Skye

Scotland 2015 3the lake district

birthdayHe looks to be perfectly happy and at home in Wales, don’t you think?

English Stoneware Garden Pots

English-stoneware-garden-pots.jpgAnywhere in the world where garden pots are made, there are stoneware pots being made. As noted in the post on Belgian stoneware, the stone like quality of the pots has to do with the mineral content of the clay, which when fired at very high temperatures, becomes very hard, and impervious to frost. The English made stoneware pots pictured above have a particularly beautiful color and surface, which comes from a process known as salt glazing. From Wikipedia:  “Salt glaze pottery is stoneware with a glaze of glossy, translucent and slightly orange-peel-like texture which was formed by throwing common salt into the kiln during the higher temperature part of the firing process. Sodium from the salt reacts with silica in the clay body to form a glassy coating of sodium silicate.”  The glazed surfaces of these pots is definitely glassy. The color reminds me of freshly baked bread. Delicious.  That glossy brown color is beautiful, in contrast to a treasured group of plants.

English-pottery.jpgThe pottery has been in production since 1878. It has remained a family owned business throughout the past 237 years. Each pot is either hand thrown, molded, or cast. The people who make these pots are working people.  Just like the gardeners I know.  Rob toured the pottery last September, and placed a large order. Pictured above is his rental car in the pottery lot.  That order was delivered to our shipper several weeks ago, and will hopefully be on its way to us shortly.

English-coal-fired-kiln.jpgThe beehive kiln is very old, but works well enough to thoroughly cook these iconic British pots.  The heat from the kiln is recycled into the building where the pots are made, via that large pipe at the top. This ancient kiln is as beautiful as the pots.

coal-for-the-kiln.jpgThe kiln is coal fired, with a type of coal that is very hard and clean burning. Anthracite is very difficult to ignite, but once it is burning, it burns with a smokeless blue flame.

English-stoneware.jpgThe temperature inside the kiln at the height of the firing cycle is incredibly hot. Handfuls of salt are thrown inside, at the hottest moment. This results in a lot of variation in color – but every color variation is beautiful.   That heat keeps the adjacent studio warm. Though this kiln is ancient, the pots have a timeless quality to them. They are quiet and sturdy.  We so value stoneware garden pots, as when they are properly cared for, they can survive our winters. At one time or another I have left all manner of handmade garden pots outside over the winter.  The handmade pots have thick walls, and are fired at very high temperatures. This makes them a more durable pot all around. Stoneware pots are exceptionally durable.  If you love terra cotta pots in your garden, consider a stoneware pot. They will grace your garden year after year, without complaint. The design of these pots is all about their functionality.  The rims are thick, and resist chipping.  The drain holes are generous. Even the small sizes have generous planting area.

garden-pot-production.jpgThe real beauty of these pots is the beauty that comes from within. They are made one at a time, all by hand. They have a history that dates back centuries. They are not fancy.  They are handsome, and serviceable. The surface glows, and the colors are scrumptious. These pots do the work, of providing a quietly beautiful home for a collection of flowering plants, or a grouping of rosemaries. The first container load we purchased from them 2 years ago is gone now. It was time to restock. They are very different than the Belgian stoneware pots-but I would not hesitate to put them together. I would be confident to place them in a more contemporary setting as much as a more traditional garden.  Their clean lines and simple shapes would work just about anywhere.

Europe 2014 1017It took four months for our order to be made. One pot at a time. They are worth waiting for – of that I am sure.  I have held them in my hands, and felt glad to be a gardener. Rob’s pictures of his visit to the pottery tells that story. Early in March, we will be awash in these pots.  I can’t wait.

kiln-door.jpgkiln door

Europe 2014 1068stacks of salt glazed potssalt-glazed-pots.jpgEnglish salt glazed pots

salt-glazed-pots.jpgfired earth

salt-glazed-stoneware-pots.jpgsalt glazed stoneware pots

English-salt-glazed-garden-pots.jpgpot stacks

salt-glazed-strawberry-jar.jpgstrawberry jars

pot-stack.jpgEnglish stoneware garden pots

ssalt-glazed-garden-pots.jpgThese pots may be subtle, but their story is remarkable. I am so looking forward to having them again.

 

Belgian Stoneware

stoneware 3Rob has been shopping in Belgium for at least 15 years. He has a considerable affection for the topography and natural landscape, as it reminds him of Michigan. The garden ornament has a solid and unaffected feeling about it. Many of the things he buys there have their roots in agriculture-cisterns, troughs, and the like. The pot pictured above comes from a pottery whose work he greatly admires. This will be the third year we have offered these Belgian stoneware garden pots. The come in three colors-taupe, gray, and black. The shapes are simple.  Though the shapes are smooth and graceful, the surface texture is gritty and rough, in a subtle sort of way.

pots 4That gritty texture and surface is typical of stoneware.  The name stoneware comes from the dense and hard quality of the clay body. This clay body, or type of clay from which a pot is made, has natural characteristics that result in pots more like stone than fired earth, or terracotta.  Stoneware pots are fired at a high temperature, and do not absorb water much after the firing. This inclination to repel water after firing makes this type of clay, and this type of pot, perfect for our climate.  Water that is absorbed by a pot which is them subjected to freezing can result in breakage.  Water expands as it freezes. This freezing action can shatter or break a clay pot. Anyone who has ever inadvertently left a machine made Italian terra cotta pot outdoors over the Michigan winter knows from whence I speak.  This stoneware is frost proof- this is great news for anyone who likes terracotta. Clay pots are made the world over. Clay dug from the ground in Philadelphia is very different than the native clay of southern France, or Italy. Not all clay is of a natural stoneware type. Pots made from stoneware clay bodies are of interest to us, and gardeners in our zone.

stoneware 2Some potters mix their own clay, or choose a clay body/mix that has been made available commercially, that suits their interest and intended use.  Porcelain is the material of choice for an artisan interested in a very fine and formal clay that can be thrown very precisely, and very thin. These large thick walled Belgian pots are made to hold many hundreds of pounds of wet soil without complaint. The natural clay is a friendly visual companion to plants that go in that soil. The texture is just enough, and no more. The gritty surface of this stoneware is a result of adding grog to the stoneware clay body. Grog refers to clay which has been fired, and then ground into hard particles of various sizes. Those particles are then mixed into the fresh wedged wet clay body before the pots are thrown.  As wet clay is incredibly heavy, there is a limit to how large and tall a pot can be thrown, before the clay starts to collapse from its own weight. In addition to providing great texture, both visual and tactile, grog helps provide the construction of a big pot with a little structure. The grog particles have been fired.  They will not absorb water, and melt.  Grog stiffens the wet clay, so larger forms can be thrown at one sitting.

Belgian stoneware 8Even so, very large stoneware pots may need to be thrown in stages. The lower portion may need to rest, and begin to harden, as in leather hard, before the pot can be made any taller. This accounts for one reason why large handmade pots are much more expensive than smaller pots that can be made in one sitting or throwing session. Another reason-the volume of clay consumed.  Very large French terra cotta pots are incredibly thick. Thin walled, large pots would not likely survive the heat of the firing. There may be many hundreds of pounds of wet clay in one pot. I would bet that clay bodies are sold by weight, and that weight can make it expensive to ship them. Of course as the water evaporates out of the pot, the weight is much less.  How a pot is dried, and how it reacts to the firing is a topic of much study.  Pots that have taken days to throw that break or explode in the kiln is a big loss in materials and time.  The cost of breakage becomes part of the cost of those pots that survive the firing.  stoneware rock collectionThese stoneware “rocks” are forms that can be used as a sculpture or seat in the garden.  The shapes are all beautiful, and different.  They have an aura about them, as they have gone beyond function to another level.  I am sure every gardener would perceive and use them differently. Nor would they appeal to every gardener.

stoneware 14These pots seemed quite contemporary in form and color when I first saw them, but I have since learned that what they do best is take on the quality and character of their environment.   I have seen them used successfully in modern, and even quite traditional architectural settings. One client with a classic 1920’s English tudor style house has a pair of these pots at the front door.  They look great.  They do not impose, or attract undue attention. They are simply and beautifully made. They look great, planted up. The statement they make when they are empty-sober and strong. I am not surprised that Rob would have them, a third time around. To follow are some of his pictures of the two containers that came in last week.  You can tell from his pictures, how much he likes them.

stoneware rocks

stoneware collection

stoneware 11

Belgian stoneware 6My discussion of the clay is cursory. I am not a scientist, or a potter.  I just love these pots.  If you have a further interest, you can read more about clay at  Hammill & Gillespie