Wednesday, 19 November 2014

US release of 'Inside the mind of Leonardo'

Last year, Peter Capaldi starred in Julian Jones’ award winning documentary on Leonardo da Vinci one of the great scientific and artistic genius ever to have lived.  The film was first aired on Sky ARTS and ARTE only in the UK and France, but the good news is that now people in the United States will have a chance to see this gorgeous documentary when it is available in limited release both in 2D and 3D formats around America. I myself completely missed this when it came out in the UK (I am very annoyed that I did), so thought I'd promote it here to my US readers so they don't miss out like me! However, if you are one of the unlucky ones who lives somewhere extraordinary like Easter Island (or just plain missed it) and are interested in seeing some bits of the documentary, I suggest visiting Julian Jones' webpage which features a few very detailed mini-episodes. Here is the trailer which I was able to watch by right clicking on it and opening in a new tab:


With more than 6,000 pages of handwritten notes and drawings, da Vinci’s private journals are the most comprehensive documents that chronicle the work of the world’s most renowned inventor, philosopher and artist. Using this precious collection of writings and drawings to recount da Vinci’s story in his own words, the film re-creates the mindscape and ideas of mankind’s greatest polymath in 2D and 3D formats. In this particular performance, Peter Capaldi portrays Leonardo, dramatically narrating passages and monologues from his journals, capturing the passion of Leonardo’s genius, his understanding of the natural world, his insights on art and life and his inner fears and torments. The film explores how Leonardo experienced the world around him and in turn, the film changes the way we see the world today. 
 Leonardo da Vinci (c. 1505-10). Oak Leaves, Royal Collection

For more information visit here and here. Apparently  'the film opens Dec 5 in NYC and rolls out nationwide soon after'... 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Muirhead Herbarium

Recently I was contacted by Plymouth University about the work I did on their Muirhead Herbarium back in 2007. Seemed a little odd at the time as I had just nipped into London from Spain and so my mind was not only having trouble in time travelling backwards to a previous life I had in London, but it then had the further onslaught of going back even further to another time in Devon, which was actually when I first started writing this blog. 

As I sat in Tate Modern talking on the phone to this lovely lady about where particular specimens were and which parts of the herbarium need to be imaged and which not (if one had to give priority), I realised that it would be a jolly good thing to publish some of the material I wrote and found at the time online, so it is available to all who need it as a resource. So here goes:

The Muirhead Memorial Herbarium* is located in 220A on the second floor of the Davy building located in the main Plymouth University Campus.  It is in a very small room which is situated to the side of the main lecture theatre which hmens access is limited to when the lecture theatre is not being used, so no one really ever goes in there. When I first went inside it felt like I was digging up a time capsule. The room was littered with old cigarette butts and packets, old newspapers and chocolate bar wrappers with redundant price tags on. It was like being in Gene Hunt's office in 'Life on Mars'.

The University of Plymouth originally had assorted collections of biological specimens to assist with teaching, but the herbarium was augmented in 1984, when Miss Clara Muirhead bequeathed her herbarium to the University (Fothergill and Hallett, 2000). Later, the specimens from the 1987 Habitat Project were amalgamated in to the Muirhead collection and the herbarium grew further in size.

The Muirhead Memorial Herbarium houses collections of vascular plants, bryophytes, fungi, algae and spirit stored specimens. The geographical range is mainly limited to parts of Scotland, Ireland, Cumberland and Devon and specimens date from the 1940’s to the present, although there are a few older, tropical specimens. Most of these specimens are new donations and have not yet been properly mounted or taxonomically sorted, where others are attached to the Muirhead collection. A recent donation from Seale Hayne has also provided the herbarium with a new agricultural collection of mainly old wheat (Triticum) varieties.  These specimens are also not suitably mounted or taxonomically arranged and are in a very poor state. 

The current standard of care for all of these specimens has been inadequate in recent years due to a lack of funding. The use of non-archival materials and the use of specimens in teaching are continuing to endanger the longevity of the collection and associated data (Fothergill and Hallett, 2000). Further to this, the size of the room is not sufficient for the volume of material present. Many of the un-mounted specimens are not catalogued and are not being stored correctly. With a lack of cupboards, specimens are being stored in boxes where access to them is extremely limited. With there being no dedicated budget for the herbarium, the room has become dated. It is recommended that in the future the Muirhead Memorial Herbarium is housed in a larger, more modern and accessible room. 

At this point it is important to note that digitising and creating a database is only a small facet of a working herbarium. Databases with digital images are used to reduce the handling of fragile specimens, and also to make the herbarium more accessible to outside institutions.  Alone, databases are not sufficient to ensure the prolonged existence of a herbarium.  Herbaria need to be cared for by trained personnel.  The Muirhead Memorial Herbarium, for example, is in desperate need of physical attention.  Many specimens need to be mounted and catalogued, the room needs to be made airtight and the specimens need to be frozen regularly in order to reduce the chances of insect attack. On inspection some of the specimens in the room have already been damaged by insects.  Further to this a digital image, although useful for teaching, is inadequate for the taxonomist.  For scientific study the mounted specimen, along with its collection data is needed.  Therefore it is important to note that although the rest of this report will be exploring the methods used for digitising and databasing herbaria, that this alone is a fragment of a larger project.  It is also important to note that full digitisation of the entire herbarium cannot go ahead until the rest of the specimens have been mounted.  Mounting needs to be done by trained staff using archival material. 

Noteworthy collections present in the herbarium:

Miss Clara Winsome Muirhead (1915-1985) Collection

Figure 1: Miss Clara Winsome Muirhead

Miss Clara Winsome Muirhead (CWM) was a notable botanist of the time (figure 1).  She worked at both Carlisle Museum and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.  She joined the BSBI in 1952 and became active on the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) committee for the study of Scottish flora.  Her interests within botany were wide but her main curiosities included mosses, succulents and cacti – notably Sempervivum, roses and Cassiope. This is clearly evident in the Memorial Herbarium, with their being noteworthy collections of these particular groups of plants. In fact, her enthusiasm for Sempervivum also resulted in an increase in the living collection at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh and Win revised this genus for the Flora of Turkey.  Amongst her other works she also wrote a monograph on Cassiope lycopodioides. To mark her liking for Cassiope, the well known plantsman R. B. Cooke (who wrote to Win frequently) named his cultivar C. ‘Muirhead’ (C. wardii x lycopodioides) after her.

Frank Kingdon-Ward (1885-1958)
Figure 2: Frank Kingdon-Ward

Frank Kingdon-Ward (figure 2) was born on 6th November 1885 at Withington, Lancashire.  Inspired by his father, a botanist, Frank acquired a love for nature and this; with his dreams of travel lead him to become a plant hunter.  Frank travelled to Burma, Tibet and Assam in order to find new plants and is one of the last of the famous plant hunters (Musgrave, Gardner and Musgrave, 2000).  Most of the Kingdon-Ward collection is held in the Royal Botanic Garden Kew, although some specimens are in other large institutions such as Edinburgh.  It is common knowledge that there are a few missing specimens from his entire collection (missing collection numbers), and much has been done to track them down.  It was therefore a delight when a few specimens that were collected by Frank Kingdon-Ward (FKW) were found within the Muirhead collection (cabernet four). 

The specimens were Cassiope species and they have been mounted and labelled by Clara Muirhead in her own hand.  Each specimen has its own FKW collection number.  These specimens are extremely valuable historically and should not be housed in cabernet four with the un-mounted and unsorted specimens, which is where they currently lay.  It is recommended that these specimens are moved to a more organised cabernet. One other aspect which is also of importance is the possibility of tracking down the letters that were sent between FKW and CWM as these are part of the FKW collection.  The letters have been seen by various members of staff in the past, but during this study it was not possible to locate them. If the letters have gone astray, this further reinforces the need for more stringent rules for access into the herbarium.

George Forrest (1873-1932)
Figure 3: George Forrest
George Forrest (figure 3) was born on 13th March 1873 in Falkirk, and after his education at the Kilmarnock Academy he was employed by a pharmaceutical chemist.  It was there where he learnt about the medicinal properties of many plants and how to dry, label and mount herbarium specimens (Musgrave, Gardner and Musgrave, 2000).  After some time, Forrest then started to work for the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh as an assistant in their herbarium.  In 1904 he got the opportunity to travel to China to collect new plants suited to British gardens.  From then on he became a plant hunter, bringing back more than 30,000 plants, many of which ended up being cultivated in British gardens (Musgrave, Gardner and Musgrave, 2000).  Most of his collection books and specimens are now housed at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh.  However, cabinet four in the Muirhead Memorial Herbarium appears to also house several Cassiope specimens that had been collected by George Forrest.  Again all the specimens have been mounted and labelled by Clara Muirhead in her own hand and all of them have Forrest’s individual collection numbers.  This tiny collection of specimens is also very unique for a small herbarium and historically important.

Habitat 1987 Collection

In 1987, forty unemployed people joined a project to survey the Plymouth Flora.  Four of the team were involved in remounting the Muirhead herbarium. Nick Bragg was involved in mounting the material collected from this survey and Dr. Andy Stevens (figure 1.4) and Monica Rowland sorted these mounted specimens, along with the rest of the herbarium, amalgamating the new specimens with the Muirhead collection. The Habitat 1987 collection is extremely important, and the only record of the flora in Plymouth at that particular time.

James Burkill Collection
Figure 4: James Burkhill Collection which is in desperate need of cataloguing and filing
A recent donation to Plymouth University has allowed the institution to obtain several books, papers and herbarium specimens that belonged to Mr. James Burkill, a botanist who worked for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Currently, there is very little information on the internet about this botanist, but from his specimen collection it is clear that he was particularly interested in seaweeds and tropical flora. There are several specimens that had been collected from south eastern Asia and Africa, all of which have written labels on the newspaper files which they lay between. A collection of his note books and published material was also donated, and this half of the collection is kept in room B406 in the Portland Square Building. The Burkhill collection is unmounted and unsorted and is currently being stored in cardboards boxes (figure 1.5). This type of storage is unsuitable and the specimens are in urgent need of mounting, especially as newspaper is known to degrade very quickly, and this could lead to the loss of this valuable collection.

Seale Hayne Collection

Figure 5
Figure 6

The Seale Hayne Collection (figures 5 and 6) is the latest addition to the Muirhead. The specimens were brought over from the Seale Hayne campus during this project and are currently being housed in room 201 in the Davy Building. Some of the loose specimens have been placed on the work bench in the Muirhead Memorial Herbarium for safe-keeping until further cataloguing can be done.  The specimens that were added to the herbarium have been wrapped in polythene bags to prevent insect attack.

Please note that the collections mentioned in this report are not the only collections in the Muirhead Memorial Herbarium, and have only been reviewed here because they were either a new addition to the herbarium, or they were considered important. Please refer to Fothergill and Hallett (2001) for the full inventory of the Muirhead Memorial Herbarium. 

Chapter 5: The Future of the Muirhead Memorial Herbarium
The Muirhead Memorial Herbarium, as it is to date, is not dynamic.  It is not being used for research, teaching or promotion and therefore it is a dead-space.  It would therefore be beneficial to the University of Plymouth to amend how the herbarium is used and how it functions in order to maximise the use of space on the campus.  Such changes do not have to involve the purchasing of expensive pieces of equipment, but does require the construction of an online catalogue/database for the specimens, and a short term contract so that someone can complete the mounting of the specimens in the boxes and in cabinets one - four.  Below are listed some of the ways in which the Muirhead Memorial Herbarium could be used by the University in the future and the benefits associated with databasing the specimens.

Future Collecting and teaching

With a small amendment on the teaching syllabus for some courses, the Muirhead Herbarium could become a useful tool for teaching and future research.  Plant collecting and pressing could be incorporated as a feature of field courses, along with data entry.  Biology students could be assessed on their ability to collect, press, label and enter data onto the database like the students are in RBGE.  Such activities would be advantageous to the University, as it could generate voluntary students who may be willing to help with the upkeep of the Muirhead Herbarium in the future.

Collecting plants abroad could also strengthen the links that the University has with institutions over seas.  This could place Plymouth University on the map as a centre for biodiversity research and conservation, which links into sustainability. The University could not only practice conservation on its campus, but also abroad.  Many current projects that are currently run through IUCN now involve the use of herbaria.  Red lists are often generated by measuring collection rates of plants species in herbaria.  Similar assignments could generate interesting research projects for students, which could increase student interest and promote the reputation of the University.

Promoting use within the University and locality

The Habitat 1987 collection mainly focuses on the flora of Plymouth and the surrounding areas.  Therefore, it is of importance to local wildlife organisations and university staff and students as an environmental and botanical reference.  By generating a digital database, access to information about this collection would be improved and this could potentially increase the interest in the herbarium, further adding to the value to the space and improving the reputation of the University.  Improving and strengthening the ties between the City Museum and the University of Plymouth would further add value to the herbarium, especially if it was used for events such as Science Week or on open days, such as those held in Edinburgh. RBGE frequently invites the general public into their herbarium for talks and tours.

Promoting use to outside bodies

As the older collection is primarily made up of material from Cumberland and Scotland it would be appropriate to promote the use of the collection by other interested bodies.  Many institutions such as universities, museums and botanical gardens in these areas maybe interested in referring to the Muirhead collection. If images were taken of the specimens and placed on a database, institutions in these areas could refer to the collections with ease.  This would also reduce the need to loan out specimens as well, helping to reduce complications in the running of the herbarium.  It is also suggested that if a digitisation project goes ahead, then it should be advertised, not only in University magazines, but in more public magazines such as ‘The Garden’ (RHS).


As mentioned by Fothergill and Hallett (2001), the general condition of the Muirhead Memorial Herbarium is satisfactory, but some work does need to be done, the most crucial of which is the development of a database to reduce handling and to ensure that all the specimens are catalogued.  Maintenance and updating the windows in room 220A is also very important, as further deterioration of the seals could pose a threat to the collections in the future.  If the University of Plymouth cannot refurbish, conserve and utilize the Muirhead Memorial Herbarium then it is strongly suggested that the herbarium is moved to in an institution that can.  During the writing of their report, Fothergill and Hallett (2001) found that Carlisle Museum and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) were interested in having the collections made by Clara Winsome Muirhead back, especially if they were in danger of being lost.  During construction of this report, the current curator of RBGE was made aware of the agreement made by the previous curator, and he now recognises that the Muirhead Memorial Herbarium is an important collection which is historically attached to the herbarium at RBGE.  Further to this, Helen Fothergill at the Plymouth City Museum has shown interest in housing the Habitat 1987 collection with their local herbarium if the Muirhead was ever at risk.

*A herbarium is a collection of preserved plants stored, catalogued and arranged systematically for study by botanists, ecologists, historians, geographers and even artists. The specimens that that are stored in a herbarium are a working reference collection used in the identification of plants, the writing of Floras, monographs and red lists, the study of plant evolutionary relationships and other DNA researchA herbarium is like a library or vast catalogue and each plant specimen has its own unique information – where it was found, when it flowers and what it looks like.


Frank Kingdon Ward Collection Numbers

3311 – Cassiope sp.                                        8285 – C. wardii
5663a – C. fastigiata                                       6942 – C. pectinata
5663b - C. fastigiata                                        5663c - C. fastigiata

George Forrest Collection Numbers

19068 – C. macrantha                                    19069 – Cassiope sp.
30874 – C. macrantha                                    23560 – Cassiope. sp.
10443 – C. macrantha                                    19495 – C. macrantha
30874 – C. macrantha                                    28746 – C. pectinata
489 – C. pectinata                                           1675 – C. pectinata
30488 – C. pectinata

Smokers Live Longer than Nonsmokers

Today I read this fascinating article by one of my favourite journalists, Eric Francis, on the effects of smoking and thought I'd share it with you, because it isn't really about smoking but about the importance of taking regular breaks, deep breaths and being social. A theme that has recently cropped up in my comments section on a previous post. Obviously we all have a basic understanding that these three things are good for maintaining our health, but I personally had no idea that their effects were so potent that they could even override the dangerous chemical effects of smoking. What I also find so interesting is that the sponsors of this study were not tobacco-based at all so the findings are certainly something to take notice of. 

Eric Francis of Planet Waves writes:

"A new study published today in The Lancet, the leading British medical journal, has found that smokers outlive non-smokers — by nearly five years on average. The study’s findings were so unusual that even cigarette manufacturers were sceptical even though the study seems to be valid. The study, which followed a group of 10,000 smokers for 20 years, contradicts decades of established science, which had previously determined smoking to be a leading cause of disease and death. It was funded by the National Health Service and the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention — with none of the funding coming from tobacco companies. Half of the smokers were in the United States and half were in Europe and Great Britain.

The psychological effects of smoking, and certain social patterns among smokers, appear to outweigh the physiological dangers,' said Dr. Morton Fumar, one of the scientists who led the study over the past two decades. The research team consisted of top oncologists, psychologists and an anthropologist. Time spent relaxing, breathing deeply, taking a few minutes away from work and socializing with peers, has been shown to increase the lifespan of smokers by an average of 4.7 years, the study proves. These factors outweigh the presence of dioxinradiation, carbon monoxide and 589 other carcinogens found in cigarette smoke. According to the study’s conclusions, 'Smokers take time away from work, even if it’s just 15 minutes every two hours. They tend to congregate, and they get outside. Most important, smoking encourages people to take deep breaths, which seemed to be the most important physical factor involved in our findings.'

In other words, smoking is spiritual, and produces spiritual benefits. Native Americans have known this for centuries, and have used tobacco as one of their most cherished offerings to nature spirits.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Strictly Botanical

Strictly Botanical is an exhibition curated by the brilliant botanical artist Fiona Strickland. For this show Fiona has brought together a stunning collection of botanical watercolours and works in pencil by a dedicated group of artists who are passionate and committed to documenting plants in minute detail. Works by Fiona, including her original painting of the Royal Mail stamp, sit along side works by other renowned artists, including Robert McNeill, Sharon Tingey and Mary Dillon.

You can find out more here where there is lots of information abotu the show and a listing of several talks and workshops.

Ophelia Prints Available Online

Ophelia (Phalaenopsis)Width:84.10cm x Height: 59.40cm, £150

Limited edition prints (of 20) are now available to buy from my online shop, so if you fancy one for Christmas you know where to go!

Ophelia in detail

Ophelia in detail

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Monday to Wednesday in the Big Smoke

After a few fun days in Bognor Regis with my friends and family, loaded with ebay parcels and birthday presents, I went up to London for three days. If I am honest it was this section of the trip to England that I was most anxious about. I hadn't been back to the city properly since August and the thought of being with all those people in such a small space after being in Spain filled me with horror. I was worried about how I'd cope with all in the information flooding in, all the adverts and noise and worst of all - the memories. It takes time for memories to change into happy ones. I pretty much loathed everyday I was at school and even several years after leaving it I hated going back. I always did wonder why elders described their days at school with such fondness and nostalgia because I really didn't feel like that, until round about now. In my 30th year, snippets of the funny times are slowly replacing the more painful experiences of my school years and I wonder if my four year spell in London is going to be a little bit like that. I have many happy memories of my time there, but because I left on such an odd note I feel that those memories have been clouded a little.

Still, I hopped off the train, checked into my B&B and then with grit determination hit the crowds. It was sublime. Firstly I nipped to the V&A, then the NHM, the BM and Wellcome Trust. I then got taken out for my 30th by a wonderful friend who is studying for her solicitor exams and was wined and dined. Tuesday – filming day at Chelsea followed by a business lunch with the producer and a quick visit to the Huntarian Museum which BLEW MY MIND (another blog post). Then a mad dash to meet another friend in Bank.

A glimpse of the Huntarian Museum (image Jackie Beans Studio)

Feet covered in blisters, exhausted and fuelled by several oversized Americanos, I then visited Tate Britain where I bumped into the Lady of Shallot, Ophelia and David Nash, who must have been having a weekend in London for his birthday. It was quite remarkable bumping into him after not seeing him for a couple of years since his show in Kew. Then a mad dash to The Globe for lunch with another friend who has just got engaged, a quick visit to Tate Modern and a brief telephone call from Plymouth University who seem to finally be doing something about their Muirhead Herbarium (I will do a blog post about this next), then another mad dash to Bedford Square to attend a PhD open evening. On the way there I bumped into another very old friend at Victoria tube station. After discussing my PhD application over some nibbles, I then suddenly felt wild and hopped on a tube Camden just for the sheer hell of it. It was magnificent.

Ophelia, Sir John Everett Millais, Tate ©

What a fantastic few days. I met so many wonderful people and was so very much looked after. I feel incredibly privileged to know so many kind hearts and to be able to experience the juxtaposition of Spanish and London life this intimately. Feeling pretty full from the experience, I am now back in Spain and rearing to get on with some work with a rather different perspective on London life and life in general. Being in the centre like that, the entire three days really made me think about what life is. It is about engagements, exams, travelling, dining and creativity.  I have been recently so concerned with the lightness and darkness of life that I forgot about all the little bits in between. Seeing all the specimens in the Huntarian Museum made me realise how magical it is that our flesh and bone can achieve so much, most of which is invisible, in the form of a simple gesture which time forgets.

David Nash at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, Kew ©
So, on that note I leave you with this. It is a short video about Daredevil Dilys, an 82 year old who ceases life to the very core.  In my eyes, this video is all about the need to take risks, to face your fears and to do what you want to do regardless of what anyone thinks. 

Dilys epitomizes what people can achieve, especially those who feel that they are too old to live their dreams. 

Life is for living - be nice and embrace it.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Rory and the Ginkgo

Just a short post that sort of stands alone, but I felt that it was something worth mentioning. During filming I was asked which one of Rory McEwen's paintings was my favourite. Certainly a tough one to answer, as I do like one of his tulips a lot, I went with the Ginkgo leaf because it was the first painting of his I saw (probably in one of Shirley Sherwood's books) and it is my favourite tree. I think that this is the most amazing depiction I have ever seen of a Ginkgo Leaf - Rory has managed to capture the shadows and highlights with finesse and grace. When I saw this painting for the first time I realised what an incredibly distinguished artist he was and this is why I use the Ginkgo leaf in the Inky Leaves logo today - it is in recognition of Rory and part of his legacy. 

Inky Leaves

Just thought you might like to know...

A grand day out for the BBC

Filming with the BBC and Northern Town in the Chelsea Physic Garden
Well I haven't done the best job at keeping things quiet it has to be said, but then I was rather excited. Luckily I have got a green light from the producers to talk about my little bit of news, so here goes... Back in September, when I was living temporarily in my parents flat in Brighton I received an email from Edward Morgan from Northern Town, the production company that made that beautiful and touching short film about the life of Rory McEwen which was used for the exhibition at Kew in 2012. He wanted to let me know that the BBC had decided to commission a half hour programme on the life of Rory for BBC4 and wondered if I'd be interested in doing a spot of filming for it.  Naturally I was more than delighted to help.

Having recently moved the Inky Leaves studio to Spain I wasn't able to invite the crew to my Brick Lane studio, so we had to think of another UK-based location and it was then when I mentioned that the Chelsea Physic Garden is pretty much my 'second' studio. It's where I go for inspiration and I am frequently painting amongst their beautifully planted boarders. After a couple of recces it was decided that Chelsea offered an ideal spot, not only because it was it was a bit different to the usual indoor setting one might use for an interview, but because it is also quite close to Rory's old house in Tregunter Road. 

Conker Shells on Rory McEwen Vellum; gifted to me from Sam and Christabel McEwen in 2012

So now you all know why I took the plunge to paint on Rory's vellum a few weeks ago and why I flew back to Blighty this week... Well actually there were several reasons why I flew to England, but this was one of them. Thanks to British Airways, who were incredibly accommodating and helpful, I was able to bring my portfolio and vellum on board with me alongside my hand luggage. This was really important as the climate in the cabin is much more regulated and my work and materials were thus protected.

I originally thought that the day wouldn't be very long - as it is intended that the documentary will cover his musical career as well. With so much of Rory's colourful life to get in a short space of time, I concluded that I will probably get a maximum of a couple of minutes of air time. Therefore, I thought a couple of hours of filming would have been probably done the trick. Alas, it was surprisingly a rather long day and what was brilliant was I had absolutely no idea at the time. I was enjoying the experience so much that I hadn't realised how the day had flown by. I think we were at the garden for about five hours! We didn't have to do many re-takes - all the one's we did were due to aircraft flying over. There were some pretty cool planes at that because of course it was Armistice Day.

Painting on vellum in the Chelsea Physic Garden

A consequence of me enjoying myself so much is that I completely forgot to take some photographs of the whole event. This is what happens when I have too much fun, I get completely lost in the moment. Luckily, the Director of Photography and digital maestro Terry Wilson from Northern Town, has managed to take some screen grabs for me which I have loaded up on here. It feels a little self indulgent, as you only get me, but we do need some pictures to space out the text... so apologies for not being able to post images of the entire set up but I think you can get the gist...

The day started with the sun actually out - can you Adam and Eve it?! I was so utterly over the moon to see the sun shining through the Autumnal leaves and I wasn't the only one, therefore we begun the day filming shots of me walking around the garden while the weather was being ultra kind. Then, as the misty clouds started to roll in we went into the glasshouse with all the Germaniums and Pelagoniums inside. It smelt delicious. 

Once inside there were lots of other takes and two types of interview - one of me painting and the other not. Alison Grist, the Director, was really wonderful. She was really kind and really helped me throughout the day. I don't know what I would have done without her support, attentiveness and creativity - a seriously gifted producer. Hopefully, with all this assistance and with Eddie and Lily Middleton (Marketing & PR Assistant at Chelsea Physic Garden) filling us up with coffee it has come out well. Throughout the whole day I remember really trying not to muffle, stutter, hesitate or swear (the latter of which, as most of me nearest and dearest can confirm, is really difficult for me. I am no Malcolm Tucker, but the occasional word has a habit of slipping in when I get overly enthralled). Anyway, the production team were pleased with the material they gleaned from the day, so I guess we shall just have to wait and see what they decide to use and how they edit the content. 

Of course, I realise that all of you will be very excited to hear that there is a programme on Rory McEwen coming out and I know that you will want to know when it is being first broadcast. At this current time I don't have an official date, but I know it is likely to be sometime in February 2015 - I will keep you posted. In the meantime I am incredibly honoured to have been asked to participate in this project and really hope that that I have done Rory proud. I am very grateful to everyone in the production team, the Chelsea Physic Garden, the McEwen family, Martin J Allen and of course BA. 

Chelsea have since written their own a article about the day which can be found here.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Fields of Fire

Today, the day after the Day of the Dead, the locals really got into full throttle when it came to burning the corn fields down behind our house. The smoke was impressive - it came in through our windows and doors and the smell was superb. You just cant beat the smell of smoke from organic material at this time of year. 

Corn fields on fire, Belicena, Santa Fe, Granada

After inhaling a rather impressive quantity of smoke all morning I decided to go out on my bicycle (Neptune) at noon with the intention of finding a heart. It's a long story which I am sure I'll tell you in full later on, but what I was looking for was a very Catholic picture of a heart in a church somewhere. Needless to say I didn't find one, but I did pop into the local cemetery which was PACKED. On this day all of the Spanish go to the cemetery and quite simply respect the dead. They spend the whole of the 31st cleaning all of the tomb stones and making the place very, very smart and then they put plastic flowers everywhere. I have never seen so many flowers. Then the day after they visit again, all dressed up and in their hoards adding even more flowers. There were so many people pitching up at our cemetery, that there was even a traffic jam at the end of the road. On my return I noticed the police had been called in to help manage the situation. I would have taken photographs of this event, but I felt like it would have been disrespectful so instead walked around the tombs taking in the sight. Needless to say my mum managed to discreetly take some shots during her visit to the same cemetery several hours afterwards and I am really hoping that she'll do a blog post that I can link to later on so that you see how amazing the cemetery looks at this time of the year. 

Corn fields on fire, Belicena, Santa Fe, Granada

So yes, heartless, yet full of plastic flower love I cycled home into a cloud of smoke. All I could hear was the cracking of flames as they chomped through the fields. It was utterly enthralling as the noise and smoke were on BOTH sides of the road. I actually felt like I was in the Peugot 405 advert as I peddled through the smoke and ripping noise.

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After playing Daenerys Targaryen I arrived home and cooled off. So I guess this is just to let you all know that the back of our house doesn't quite look like it did in Sanctum any more, although thankfully my Poplar Plantations are still there.

Corn fields on fire, Belicena, Santa Fe, Granada

Wishing you all an insightful, bountiful and rejuvenating Samhain!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014


Today I woke up at 6am - I always do. Sometimes I wake up earlier, but rarely later at the moment. Not entirely sure why this is, as the Spanish have these amazing shutters that cut out all forms of light, usually ensuring a good nights kip. So yes, at the moment my typical drill is to sit in bed with my breakfast and tea and listen to music for an hour whilst daydreaming and waiting for the sun to rise. However, this morning I decided to go out on a solo bicycle ride because  I fancied doing something a little different.

I ended up cycling to that magical place I mentioned earlier - my little sanctuary at the back of our house. It was an exquisite experience. Lots of little birds were darting about as the sun cast these slightly emaciated shadows across the path. There were a few Spanish about, including a lonely old man with his stick. I found him particularly enchanting. Although worn out, he was a valorous epicentre of energy, transmitting a frequency that appeared to be repeated across the fields. Every plant seemed to adopt his stance in empathy as he moved along the path. It was incredibly beautiful. 

Then there were the corn fields, which the farmers have started to harvest. Their bare stumps looked rather sad and as the smoke rose from somewhere at the back of the plot it looked like something from the First World War. 

And then of course, there was the heart of the Sanctuary itself - a mustering of majestic Poplar trees... Simply magic. For me this hits it on the head (first minute only) if you want to listen to something whilst looking.


' La Masacre '

'La trinchera' 

' La Masacre '

' La Masacre '

' El Humo '

' El humo'

' La terra y las nubes'

' Doblado' 

' El Santuario '

' La fisura '

' El Santuario '

' La fisura '

' El camino'