January, like life, is what you make of it. Not so very far away from here are two fine gardens that bring January’s dark days alight with explosions of colour, and they’re inspirational to the arty-minded. First there’s the Cambridge University Botanic Garden (CUBG) - one of my favourite places. Its Winter Garden is nothing short of spectacular at this time of year. And we’re not talking just tiny snowdrops here!
For me, it’s the coloured dogwood (Cornus alba) varieties that lift the spirits and give you a very ‘David Hockey experience’, if that eminent artist doesn’t mind the comparison. From bright orange to pinky-red, dark nutty brown to bright leaf-green, the dogwoods are sensational planted en masse. They’re also sensational used in basketry, as I’ve found myself over time. The Cambridge University Botanic Garden runs basketry courses several times a year, under the tutorship of artist-basketmaker Mary Butcher, well known for her own creations and for her tireless promotion and support for the ancient craft of basketry both here and abroad. On one of her CUBG courses you get to use the coloured materials from the Winter Garden: an experience not to be missed!
The CUBG Winter Garden’s colours are accompanied by an array of sensuous scents that assault you on your walk. There’s the winter honeysuckle, Lonicera x fragrantissima, the intense Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’, and winter-flowering Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ amongst others. Also in near orbit is Anglesey Abbey, which also surprises with colour contrasts at this time of year, but is more famous for its snowdrop walks, which collectors come from miles around to see.
For me it’s the intense colour experience that you get from a well-planted winter garden that’s such an inspiration. There’s no way you can truly match nature’s brilliance of colour, but I try my best! And I can rest easily in the knowledge that however whacky I get with the colour combos, nature’s probably way ahead of me somewhere in the world. You only have to look under the sea to understand who’s best at this 'colour thing'.
The BBC has been running a series of programmes on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and, whilst I’ve seen books and pictures before, there’s nothing like all that amazing colour coming straight at you from your television or computer screen. I wonder if the fish and sea creatures have a perception of exactly how colourful they are? Some of course flash their colours to attract partners – and some humans are just the same! But others just seem to be going about their daily business seemingly unaware that they're clad in the most amazing outfits.
Whether it’s in the garden or under the sea, if any yarn of piece of weaving I create can get half-way to being that radiant I shall be ecstatic. Here’s wishing you brilliant colour to brighten your week!