Garden Reloaded: The Raised Bed

 

Old bricks

Old bricks

At a fairly early stage I had the idea of having a raised bed for my herbs. With so many bricks having to go from the stable (during the process of turning the stable into the print room) it was tempting to have the raised bed with a red brick wall made from the old bricks, that had served as flooring in the stable for at least decades.

Shower of sleet in late April

Shower of sleet in late April

Our herbs sat waiting in their pots on our patio. In late April they got showered with sleet. There was a meadow to begin with, and a rumble strip with demolition waste, that I don’t know how many generations had a habit of dumping there. In the first place the debris had to go and the grass. The grass was easy to remove compared to all the rubble. The latter had to be dug out and this took me weeks. It was rusted keys and shards from cups and broken bricks and tiles and bits of concrete. And bones. Old bones, from cooking broth so I believe.

Weeding

Weeding and digging

Mr blackbird

Mr blackbird on the outline

In June I could put down the outline. The bed is facing southwest. It will have full sun from one side and the small pig stable in its back. The stable’s wall heats up considerably on hot summer days and reflects the heat of the sun until late in the evenings. Mr blackbird was very torn: the open soil made it so much easier for him to find food for his chicks, but that lady digging was a bit of a nuisance. This was when Mr and Mrs blackbird were raising their June chicks.

Windmill in Levern

Windmill in Levern

Raised bed in July

Raised bed in July

The village Oppenwehe is part of a municipality consisting of 13 villages and hamlets altogether. The municipal administration is located in the village Levern. It was there that I first saw that red bricks were used in traditional gardening around here. There is a little gathering of historical housings in Levern. They nestle around a large windmill, in which couples can get married. One of the old homes shows off a traditional farmer’s garden. And all the margins of the beds were neatly laid with red bricks. Putting in that margin around my bed-to-be took a while during July.

Raised bed in July after rain

Raised bed in July after rain

For some time there was very little progress as to the raised bed. There were so many other things on the agenda. In August we hit the road to fetch the bindery, but work resumed in September. We started to mix mortar and build the brick wall. By this time the old bricks had been waiting piled up on the site. They had got washed down repeatedly. We’d had torrential rain on one or two occasions. And all of a sudden there it was: a raised bed made from red bricks. We filled in the rest of the rubble for good drainage. Then we put in the sand that had been sitting in heaps around the bed. And on the sand we put a layer of garden soil mixed with compost.

Brick wall growing

Brick wall growing

Raised bed from red bricks

Raised bed from red bricks

Sand goes in

Sand goes in

By late September the herbs at long last could abandon their tiny pots and move into their new bed. Here they have plenty of space and all the sun they can wish for. There is two small bushes of rosemary, one sage and a variety of thyme. There is caraway and oregano and marjoram and parcel, which is a cross between parsley and celeriac.

Raised bed with herbs

Raised bed with herbs

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

Some fellows are quick in making friends: the red admiral butterflies seemed to love the place from the start. A number of them kept coming back sitting on the bricks in the sun. And the bumblebees came to visit the lavender which is still in bloom.

sunflower-bronze

As I write this it has gone chilly outside. Temperatures have dropped rather quickly these past days. The swallows and martins have left for warmer regions. I have seen more geese flying in formation. The starlings are still here, though. The sunflowers show all shades of bronze and golden-brown. In the barn the nest of the white tailed bumblebees seems abandoned at last. And dusk sets in so much earlier in the evenings. But the sunsets are still as stunning as on our very first evening here.

Sunset September

Sunset September

A Bindery’s Trek: Episode 1

 

Bespoke books

Bespoke books

 

Binding books

Binding books

Bespoke books are wonderful things, both while making them and when using them. For making them you need imagination, a feel for the materials you work with, experience. You need a number of tools, most of which are handheld. You need proper devices for cutting paper and boards. And you want a workplace you feel at home with. Having to move a bindery leaves you with a few boxes of tools and a number of items which are either heavy-weights or gaggers or both.

Bespoke books

Bespoke books

 

Board shear

Board shear

In mid-August we set out to get the bindery. After all, this had been scheduled for July to begin with. The most tricky to move were the board shear, the block cutter and the huge metal storage racks. The rest wass packed in boxes, some heavier than others. And there were the packs of paper, of course, sitting in piles or still stored in the racks.

Board shear: weight

Board shear: weight

We rented a lorry, drove 560 kilometres south and slightly east to where the studio still sits waiting. The board shear was built around 1912 or 1913. Its frame is cast iron, the table is wood. We decided against taking it apart. We took off the weight which when working is the balance to the cutting blade. Its shape resembles the drawn bombs in 1970s comic stories of bank robberies. It has an estimated weight of 40 or 50 kilograms and as it is rounded it is virtually ungrippable. It comes as a surprise to basically anybody who tries to lift it up. It almost always fools people new to the job. The block cutter is not even half as much fun. It comes in one piece. Fullstop. It is bulky and heavy and the lever is fixed and protrudes and will poke you unless you keep in mind that it’s there.

Board shear

Board shear

 

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We started loading with a fair number of boxes and the board shear. We decided to have the block cutter in my delivery van, which was unjustily dwarfed by the truck we had rented. The four book binding presses were perfect company for the block cutter. The metal storage racks could not be loaded upright, as their height exceded that of the shipping space. We laid them, which gave us the opportunity to pile the packs of paper on top of them.

Packed paper

Packed paper

 

Marbled paper handmade by Victoria Hall

Marbled paper handmade by Victoria Hall

Transporting packs of paper always makes me feel uneasy. You need to wrap and pack them neatly. I have a good stock of very different qualities of paper. The range is from deckle edge papers and designer papers to glassine, Japanese and handmade decorated papers. Some of the qualities in my stock are old papers you would not be able to go and purchase nowadays. You would need to be lucky, as I was, to come across them at some old bindery or printing office closing for good.

Sewing sections

Sewing sections

Even if the books you set out to make are of a fairly reasonable, say ordinary size, you will need a quite large table to work on. You will have to handle full size sheets of paper while folding to produce sections you can then sew together. So the table needs to be big. My worktable is built from four type cabinets set in a square with a large chip board on top. We started loading this table with disassembling it. We filled the cavities in the shipping space with rolls of bookcloth. We stuffed the canvas booth I use when at arts&crafts fairs on top of one of the lying storage racks. It comes with large rolls of canvas (kind of like sails) and a number of battens making up the wooden frame of the booth.

Book covers made from fabric

Book covers made from fabric

Basically, books are made of two materials: paper and cloth or fabric for that matter. I love to use fabric for my books’ covers. Cotton or linen, even towel linen, hessian or silk, corduroy or Chinese brocade, Italian jacquard and African batik, English linen with classic flower patterns or even handwoven material. I love the touch of the fabric on the book. The variety of patterns is fascinating. All my stock of fabric made up for a number of large movers’ boxes plus a couple of bolts of cloth.

canvas

 

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At this point we must have been loading for almost three days. A heartfelt thankyou goes to Denny, a dear friend who came round on Saturday to help us almost all day lifting and dragging and piling. She was patient enough to find spaces for small odds and ends. Where would we be without her help? Still loading, I presume. And a big thankyou to Klaus, my landlord, who helped lifting the block cutter into my van and gave us a hand with the board shear.

Upcycled book

Upcycled book

On the field beyond my studio’s windows a small circus was camping, the tent packed away. All shows were over. One large pole had been painted blue and was drying in the sun. They were preparing for moving on some time next week. A long tent was put up as a shelter for the animals. There were two camels, a small herd of goats and four ponies. On Sunday just before noon the camels had pushed over the fence and that was when the four ponies went for it. They cantered away across the road having car drivers slaming on their brakes. We all left what we were doing running to help catching the ponies. We stood guard at the road and everybody else was grabbing collars and ropes to get the ponies. The four obviously were enjoying themselves cantering across the field, meandering around the old apple trees there having their people chase after them. It was a field I know fairly well as I used to walk our dog there. Finally the ponies were all caught safely and put back in their pen, together with the camels who had a look on their faces saying „It was not us.“

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Last but not least we loaded: potted plants. They all had been given asylum in my mother’s garden. We had left the plants in her expert care in spring 2015. We could not load them all. We decided on the young bushes like yew, rowan and guelder rose. Plus all the pots with tulips, daffodils and herbs. Plus the bryony. That was when we closed the door of the lorry. The trip back was in a way an adventure as we got stuck in a massiv traffic jam following a road accident of an HGV which had spilled its load on to the motorway. This event nailed my dear husband driving the lorry to the spot. He had set off early in the morning and when he got home it was 8pm. He had spent most of the day on the road, almost 15 hours altogether. We got the plants out of the truck and that was that.

 

Back home.

Back home.

 

Lorry empty

Lorry empty

The aftermath of this hampered journey left us with only one morning to unload the truck, as the deadline for handing back the lorry was 2pm. A whole bunch of heartfelt thankyous goes out to our neighbours. Three of them came to give us six hands for a couple of hours after they were through with the morning chores on their farm and with their cattle. We were five to unload the truck. We managed to be at the car rental company by 1.58pm. Slightly tight, but still in time.

Unloading complete

Unloading complete

Most of the bindery has moved by now. So far everything seems to have arrived unscathed. The plants are striving, the bryony is showing a new set of flowers. The weight of the board shear is in place again the working table re-assembled. The bindery is not yet back to full working order, but we are not far from it. We have booked the lorry for another trip in late September.

Bindery tools

Bindery tools

 

As I write this the sunflowers open their huge flowers one by one. They are of various shades of bronze, from dark brown to almost yellow. The swallows and martins are still chasing flies on our patio. They have not left yet for their autumn migration. I’ve seen a flock of starlings recently, so these are staying on, too. They were gathring in numbers in an old oak tree, of which we have so many around here. In a blink they had vanished from the sky and hid within the foliage of the tree. Summer is clinging on longer than usual. But this morning, quite early, I watched a formation of geese in the sky travelling. It looked as if their intention was to be gone.

Sunflower

Sunflower

Wildlife around our new home

Blackbird virgin flight

Blackbird virgin flight

We have moved to the countryside and it goes without saying that we are surrounded by what is commonly called wildlife. Some so far have not introduced themselves in person. They prefer to leave their business card. And they do so in numbers, well, we could have done with less.

Fresh molehills

Fresh molehills

Some make themselves heard in the darkblue very starry nights we have here. Quite certainly it will be some kinds of bird of prey. We hope to learn their names over the course of the years. Just across the small road to the west there is a field of maize and from out of there a pheasant has made its voice heard every now and then. Also, the area is home to bats. They come in the latter part of the blue hour hunting for whatever dares to be in the air at that time of the fading day. In spring it was cockchafer. Cockchafer grubs are living in the soil in good numbers and all sizes. There is a lot of oak trees around.

Cockchafer grubs

Cockchafer grubs

dead-beetle

wildlife-puppa

Swallows and barn martins are treating us to their flight shows. On a good day they chase off the falcon and after their success seem to give eachother what looks like a flown high-five. For the past two weeks or so every now and then they gathered on our roof chatting cheerfully and with a lot of hubbub – as they always do, even while hunting. I was wondering whether this could be some ritual to prepare for their upcoming migration. A family of redstarts is living in and around the barn. And wagtails search the meadow each time it is freshly cut. Up in the oak trees lining the small road magpies live and crows. And bussards draw their circles on the spotless summer sky – every so often chased away by either the crows or the magpies.

Wood pigeon

Wood pigeon

 

Heron

Heron

There are pigeons. Or doves for that matter. Currently, which is late August, the wood pigeons have their ramshackle nest from sticks in the back part of our barn. They have at least one chick, fluffy and dark grey. We have had a grey heron visiting and a stork in spring. A flock of cheerful sparrows is living in our front garden. The two purple hawthorn trees are theirs and the yews next to the hawthorns too. And we had blackbirds breeding in the corner of our patio. They had three clutches and raised twelve chicks.

Daddy blackbird

Daddy blackbird

 

Blackbird flegling in June

Blackbird flegling in June

Some wildlife has failed to leave while it was still time. I found the mumified carcass of a marten in the old hey in the barn. It was stuck between an almost ancient bale of hey and the brick wall, baring its teeth. A somewhat eerie sight in the twilight of an old barn. And our neighbour’s dog managed to cut one lad’s life short by catching a root vole in what is to become our back garden.

Late marten

Late marten

There have been butterflies almost right from the start. But with the meadow now having more flowers than grass they seem to have become much more abundant. Also there are two large bushes of privet in the front garden which have attracted a great many and all sorts of insect visitors during bloom. Plus we planted some flowers in our garden-to-be, amongst them lavender and sage, a white hollyhock and a few roses. The white butterflies obviously cannot resist the little yellow flowers that have sprung up in our meadow, presumably some kind of hawksbeard. It is their place to look out for a date. They dance in pairs or threes or fours up into the sky.

white-butterflies

butterfly

But other butterflies, like the small tortoiseshell, seem to clearly prefer our white Echinacea. The species that seems to be very abundant is red admiral. It is very eye catching with its brilliant black and red wings.

Red admiral

Red admiral

There are hoverflies as well and of course bumblebees and ladybirds. We have had a nest of white tailed bumblebees in a stack of old straw in the barn all summer. It seems abandoned now, as could be expected by September, but there are still bumblebees around. Some built their nest in crevices of the brick wall of the house. And there are midges or rather mosquitoes. I have seen the majestic hornets, the tottery daddy longlegs, and only recently, some golden-brown very delicate dragonflies have paid their visit. The place here not only is rural, but there is a peat bog not far, too. So dragonflies do not come as a total surprise.

Borage visitor

Borage visitor

It was to be expected that a certain proportion of our plums would be claimed for dinner before we could harvest them. Tiny pink larvae were eating them up from within. We have put up large barrels to collect rain water from the downpipes. The vessels got inhabited in a blink. Almost from the start little swimming beetles raced around. Later the larvae of great diving beetles caught whatever they could catch. They are known to be greedy.

Bumblebee

Bumblebee

As I write this it is a sunny late summer afternoon. Temperatures have gone down to the mid-twenties. The old ivy on the wall of the little stable is in its early bloom – much to the solitary bees’ liking.

 

A Garden-to-be

Our former garden

Our former garden

This is a photo of the garden we had in the past. It is an allotment not far from Stuttgart. The rhododendrons have grown taller than two metres in over 10 years in their specially built sheltered raised beds with acidic soil. There is an extra bed of ferns, there are apple trees, a pond with irises and a huge walnut tree amongst far more. We have moved away from there, some 600 kilometres north. Instead of loamy the soil here is sandy. Instead of mountainous the area here is lowland and flat. When I chose the rhododendrons for our former garden in Swabia, I watched carefully to pick those that could deal with temperatures below minus 20 degrees centigrade. We need not expect winters getting that cold here in the north of Westphalia with the coastline of the North Sea just over 100 kilometers away. Instead we’ll have to keep in mind that winds can be rather rough. We are no beginners as to gardening, but here conditions are so different to what we are used to we can consider ourselves starting all over again.

Garden-to-be in late April with snow flurry

Garden-to-be in late April with snow flurry

This would not be an old farm if it did not come with some land. There is a front garden with bushes and yews and hawthorn and a small white lilac tree. But in the back there is all meadow. Over the past so many years it was cut to feed cattle. When we moved in earlier this year the grass was dense and looked juicy.

Yellow meadow

Yellow meadow

When the wind went over it, it moved in powerful waves like if it was an ocean of green. We started mowing it with our sit-on mower at some point in May. It grew so quickly we had to cut it almost every 10 days because otherwise it would grow too tall for our mower to handle. Come August the meadow has changed from the uniform green of grass to a mixture of yellow and a great many shades of greens. It was time to take out some very old, very much used books again.

Very used old books

Very used old books

 

Muckheap in February

Muckheap in February

The old farm comes with two stables. The larger one was used for cattle, the smaller one for pigs. Both are built parallel to each other separated by the pit for the muckheap. The basis of the pit is made of neatly laid bricks. The times in which animals were kept here are long gone. The muckheap must have been disused for quite some time, 15 years at least. What was left in there had a lot of time to rot away thouroughly. Which is exactly what it had done.

Muckheap in June

Muckheap in June

 

Composters

Composters

The material resting there was moist and dark and densely inhabited with all sorts of creatures of decomposition: worms of all kinds and larvae and little shiny blue-black beetles. I carefully scraped all of it from the bricks and mixed it into the various composters when setting them up. With all the little helpers already in there the process of decomposition could start straight away.

Muckheap early August

Muckheap in early August

Muckheap mid August

Muckheap in mid August

During the process of clearing the old straw and hey from the attic and the barn I put one compost heap where the muckheap was. It is a good place. The pit only opens to the north, it is sheltered from all other sides by walls of buildings. It gets some sun but only for a few hours each day. This heap is keeping its moisture nicely. It grows little mushrooms each night. The pumpkin seeds I put in there in July are going strong.

Garden-to-be in early April

Garden-to-be in early April

Garden-to-be in late May

Garden-to-be in late May

One wall of the pig stable faces east where the place of the muckheap is. The opposite wall faces west and overlooks much of the meadow. We learned that at the foot of this wall there was a rumble stretch. Apparently a certain amount of debris had been dumped here over the years or rather decades. I took up the challenge of clearing this away. It took me a couple of weeks to dig through it.

Garden-to-be in early June

Garden-to-be in early June

 

Old tiles

Old tiles

Some very nice old floor tiles emerged. However, most of what came up was broken bricks of all sorts. There was a rusted key, some shards with floral designs and some broken glass from old fashioned bottles. Now that this strip is cleared I can start building a bed for my kitchen herbs just in front of the old stable.

Garden-to-be in mid July

Garden-to-be in mid July

As I write this dusk is closing in. The sun sets much earlier now. We had a pretty hot and rather windy day, the last in a row with temperatures around 30 degrees centigrade. During the past couple of days countless white butterflies kept dancing in the heat of the day above our yellow meadow – in pairs or in threes. If the night sky is clear it takes a dark shade of blue and we have the most beautiful view of the stars twinkling. Just recently we saw a very bright falling star.

Four legged neighbours

Four legged neighbours

Anybody longing to learn more about the garden we had to leave behind? Go for it.

 

Straw

oldstraw-hey

When visiting the farm for the first time, we knew in an instant there would be a number of challenges connected with our new home. One of them was to move out the old oak-style furniture. In the end it all added up to some two tonnes of chairs and tables and wardrobes that went. This sounds a lot. But there was a challenge bigger than that waiting for us: old straw.

Old straw in the barn as it looked in January

Old straw in the barn as it looked in January

In fact it is old straw plus old hey. Either partly in the form of bales and partly loose. The straw/hey was packed mainly in two spaces: the attic and the barn. The straw and hey had been in there for at least the past 15 or 20 years. But part of it might have been sitting there for significantly longer – considering the state it is in.

Old straw in the barn in early August

Old straw in the barn in early August

The stuff in the attic was mainly bales. They were tightly and meticulously packed and in places some strength was needed to haul them out from underneath a beam. The bales were easy to handle but it was an awful lot. Even after far more than 20 loads have gone so far, there is still one load of bales waiting to be given a lift. At first the bales got loaded onto a trailer through a hole in the ceiling of what is called the „Deele“, the large farm working-entrance hall.

"Deele" with trailer to load some bales of straw from the attic

“Deele” with trailer to load some bales of straw from the attic

Later we started throwing the bales through one of the windows in the attic with the trailer parked underneath in the meadow. One advantage was that we could feed more bales onto the trailer as it had not to squeeze through the farm door when leaving. The other advantage was we did not have straw distributing itself in the house all over the place. The straw and hey is being used as bedding for livestock.

Old straw in the attic

Old straw in the attic

The stuff in the barn is a different story alltogether. Much of it is loose with some bales hidden in between. The bottom part of it, sitting directly on the brick floor, shows signs of a slow process of decomposition. Large brown sheets have formed, in a way resembling papyrus. In the far left hand side corner of the barn some kind of white-tailed bumblebees have their nest in the old straw-hey mixture. They are quite not amused about anybody manipulating their home. They’ll let you know instantly with a do-not-mess-with-us buzzing sound. The bumblebees will abandon nest in September and have a new one next spring. Thus we can clear away the nest once the bumblebees have left it.

Paper-weight egg found in the old straw

Light-weight egg found in the old straw

Even within the straw and hey in the barn unexpected treasures emerge: an egg as light as paper. I know there used to be a henhouse on the premises, but it got pulled down very long ago. How old this egg might be? We’ll never know.

compost-built-up

By chance I came across a book outlining a method of decomposing straw and hey. It sounded interesting and like some sort of solution for some of the loose stuff we have. There is no shortage of space to pile up heaps of straw for letting it rot away. We needed to have compost heaps anyway for all the grass we had to cut and for weeds and other stuff that had to go from where it was currently growing. We now have composters of different styles working. One is built from old oak beams we found in one of the stables. Two are simple heaps set up layer by layer.

compost-oakbeam

I spent days putting up compost piles and packing old straw out of the barn wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow. While piling up the old material it had to be mixed with nitrogen fertilizer of some sort. I decided on pellets of manure. It keeps the little helpers going while they eat up all the old straw and turn it into compost for gardening. Apart from nitrogen – and phosphor and potassium – they need moisture. Consequently I kept watering the heaps while it was hot and dry in July. With the beginning of August we got some nice and steady rain that works well with the heaps of straw. They seem to be rotting quite nicely, feeling moderately warm inside.

straw-compost-fence

straw-compost-stables-0

I stuffed pumpkin seeds into one of them. I do not hope to be harvesting any pumpkins in autumn. I wanted a plant producing great big leaves to cover the surface of the heap and prevent it from loosing its moisture. The heaps of straw are big and it takes a while to water them and there is so much else to do. The first half dozen seedlings are showing and maybe there will be more to come.

Pumpkin seedlings

Pumpkin seedlings

straw-compost-mushroom

With part of the straw having been in a state of decomposition already there are fungi and mushrooms appearing on the straw within days. The tiny grey mushrooms are pretty short lived. They last a day or two and melt away quickly. I am curious how the heaps will develop.

august-rain

As I write this it is overcast and has cooled down considerably compared to just a week ago, when it was still hot and dry and kind of like an old fashioned summer in the countryside. The steady rain had started early this morning and now everything is thoroughly moistened. The pumpkins are doing their best to grow large leaves.

tripod

Settling in Gradually

Photo by Denny Boehm

Photo by Denny Boehm

Three months ago we were handed over the keys of the house. We are moving in gradually. There is a feeling of both familiarity and newness. We keep coming across things, we had not realised were there, things that come as a surprise. Old doors and windows burried and forgotten in the straw in the attic. Signs of habits long kept but somewhat outdated: all tools are labelled with the name of the owner and date of purchase. The umbrella too.

Underneath wallpaper

Underneath wallpaper

Underneath wallpaper

Underneath wallpaper

The main part of the house is said to date back to around 1893. Some parts might be much older. The vital parts like bathroom, kitchen and heating are pretty contemporary. A fact we are very grateful for. They are in good working order and we need not touch them for now. There is still enough work left. It goes without saying that the whole place has been designed for the every day work of a farmer. Accordingly we’ll have to convert part of it into a printroom and another part into a place where books will be bound. While these more substantial changes are being planned for, we tend to the lesser chores, which have to be tackled just the same.

Baler Twine

Baler Twine

All space used for work or living is on ground floor level. But of course there is an attic. It is not fitted for living in, unless you are a pigeon, an owl, a martin or a barn swallow, a marten or whatever sort of mouse. Some 20 years ago the whole of the attic was tediously packed with one layer of bales of straw. Currently we are step by step, meaning load by load getting rid of the old straw. From underneath or in between the bales some nice things emerge that have been burried there untouched for decades.

Impression of an old door having been in the straw for decades

Impression of an old door having been in the straw for decades

 

Buttons in a bucket

Buttons in a bucket

The most peculiar of them certainly is a bucket filled with buttons. But also there is an old stained mirror, an old farmhouse door, feeders for chickens, parts of an old fence, spare bits for a tractor which is long gone (it has left its keys in a clear plastic box with many others), piles of snippets of all sorts of tiles and a number of huge coils of baler twine. A farmer from one of the surrounding villages comes round every now and then and we load his trailer to the brim with the old straw. When I am up there in the attic piling bales of straw to have them at hand for the next loading there is somebody carefully watching. It is a tiny male black redstart. He is not on his own there, the whole family is living hidden somewhere in the attic. I could watch all three of them outside when working in the garden. They can be quite talkative at times.

Feeders in the attic

Feeders in the attic

 

The garden-to-be is currently just a somewhat spacy meadow. On an old photograph it looks like if it had been used as pasture land. (We found the old field gates packed away in a shed.) Just beyond the fence in the back two large cherry trees are the happiness for some small flocks of starlings. They have a hang for the ripe cherries and are feasting there. For the past so many years the meadow was mowed and the grass or hey fed to cattle. This spring there seemed to be only one sort of grass and it was growing very quickly. We hardly managed to mow it in time before it grew long enough to clogg up our sit-on mower. However, the growth has slowed down and there are other species showing now.

Yellow meadow

Yellow meadow

Some species of hawksweed appeared in July turning most of the place into a sea of yellow. In one area there is a large population of mugwort. Somewhere I spotted dark mulletin, and out on the margin the odd poppy.

Trough

Trough

plant-pot-01

plant-pot-02

For a small scale start we re-planted some pots that have been overlooked for some time. With the help of a neighbour and his traktor we moved one trough to the entrance of the yard. Some of the shrubs had dried and had to go. I put in some flowers and grasses to accompany what might be a dwarf juniper which proved to be determined to stay.

plant-pot-03

In the large room that is to become the bindery we found a basket-like plant container. With a bit of help we managed to move it outside and put in a species of Moroccan mint. I gave it some wallpepper for company. Wallpeppers are abundant all over the place as we have dry sandy soils and enough sunny days for them to strive.

plant-pot-basket-01

Old carpet in the study

Old carpet in the study

Apart from tidying up the attic and gradually developing the meadow into a garden, there are some lesser tasks in the house. The room that is to become my study was fitted with a rather old and worn carpet. The process of replacing the carpet with tiles is ongoing.

New tiles in the study

New tiles in the study

More new tiles in the study

More new tiles in the study

 

Morning light

Morning light

Almost empty

Almost empty

The room that is to become the bindery is being used as storage space on a preliminary basis. First of all we moved all the old furniture there that was to go. Once all of this had gone the space was almost empty for a day or two. Then the movers came and we piled everything in there that had been stored in the container for over a year. And at times we needed to make space for the trailer to be loaded with bales of old straw.

Reloaded

Reloaded

 

With trailer

With trailer

As I write this the wind outside plays with the oak trees’ foliage in the night. I know there are mosquitoes out there. And owls. I have seen them sweeping the night sky without making a noise like if there was a shadow flying by. We could do with some rain. The past days have been mostly sunny and windy at times. And hot. The sand from the dry soils is blown everywhere.

White hollyhock

White Hollyhock

 

#154sonnets

In Stratford upon Avon

In Stratford upon Avon

 

The Bodleian Library, Oxford (UK)

The Bodleian Library, Oxford (UK)

William Shakespeare died on April 23rd in 1616. By then, besides his plays, he had written 154 sonnets. In 2016, 400 years after his death, the Centre for the Study of the Book at the Bodleian Library in Oxford called artists worldwide to print all of Shakespeare’s sonnets afresh.

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I consider myself lucky that I was given the opportunity to be part of this effort. I was assigned sonnet 89 which reads:

Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault,
And I will comment upon that offence:
Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt,
Against thy reasons making no defence.
Thou canst not, love, disgrace me half so ill,
To set a form upon desired change,
As I’ll myself disgrace; knowing thy will,
I will acquaintance strangle, and look strange;
Be absent from thy walks; and in my tongue
Thy sweet beloved name no more shall dwell,
Lest I, too much profane, should do it wrong,
And haply of our old acquaintance tell.

For thee, against myself I’ll vow depate,
For I must ne’er love whom thou dost hate.

 

Stratford upon Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace

Stratford upon Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace

There have been many attempts to transfer Shakespeare’s works into German. The list of writers and poets who did so, is a collection of many big names: Wieland, Schlegel, Tieck, Friedrich von Schiller, Theodor Fontane, Erich Fried, Peter Handke. There have been others as well. In the early years of the 19th century a group of writers and poets teamed up to accomplish the task: Schlegel, Tieck and von Baudissin. Translating the sonnets proved to be particularly tricky. In 1826 Ludwig Tieck presented a translation of the sonnets. He admitted due to lack of time and his poor health „a younger friend“ had helped. It took some time until it was revealed that the sonnets in fact had been translated by Tieck’s eldest daughter Dorothea. Years later, in 1831, she would write to Friedrich von Üchtritz saying „I believe, translating is a much more suitable work for women than for men, particularly because we are not allowed to produce a work of our own.“

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Many years ago I came across a book published in Berlin in 1909. The title is „Shakespeare Sonnette: Umdichtungen von Stefan George“. A great poet himself Stefan George did not claim to have translated the sonnets, he tried to write them all over again in German. He kind of converted them. This is how sonnet 89 reads in his words:

Sag, du verliessest mich um einen fehl,
Und ich entschuldige dich für diesen schlag.
Sag, ich sei lahm, so hink ich auf befehl
Da ich mit deinem grund nicht rechten mag.

Du, Lieb, verstössest mich nicht halb so schlimm
Um dem erwünschten wechsel form zu leihn
Als ich mich selbst verstosse .. du bestimm!
So töt ich freundschaft; schau als fremder drein ..

Bin fern von deinen wegen .. nie mehr sei
Dein süss geliebter nam auf meinem mund
Dass ich Unheilliger ihn nicht entweih ..
Und etwa künde unsren alten bund.

Dich schützend stoss ich nach der eignen brust;
Ich darf nicht lieben den du hassen musst.

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Being a lover of the English language I decided to print the sonnet in English.

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I set out on 29 February driving south for this very special working visit at my studio. Some six hours later I unlocked the door. In the afternoon light streaming in from the windows I could see finest cobwebs dangling from the ceiling. I had not been here since Christmas. I was looking forward to set free the scent of printer’s ink into the air in a couple of days time. This time my stay would be a three week working visit.

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Deckle edge paper ready for printing

Deckle edge paper ready for printing

Shakespeare's sonnet 89 in the press

Shakespeare’s sonnet 89 in the press

Choosing type can be difficult. I felt the sonnet was like if the writer imagined an argument against him almost in the style of a lawsuit, a trial or court case. To me it sounded like a parol, or the defendant’s last word, confessing it all, pleading guilty on all counts brought forward against him. A court case is something very matter-of-fact, sober. As far away from romatic as could ever be. No story, a report of a status, a plea of guilt. Nothing to it. Pure information, the sheer character. This broke it down to just one fount: Futura. I went to get the case with Futura, 20 pt condensed light. After some consideration I decided to use only lower case characters. In the sonnet it is the speaker’s intension to make himself small as can be, his own will or needs almost non-existent. Or rather: reduced to serving the beloved’s will whole scale. No justification for a capital I whatsoever. The only capital letter being the first letter of the sonnet printed from lino. The sonnet’s text is printed blue, resembling truth in a double sense: speaking the truth and being true beyond all. The linoblock is printed in purple, with the red hinting on the love that still is a bond between them. Printed on BFK Rives deckle edge paper 250gms, made entirely from cotton. Here it is: an avowal.

A first proof.

A first proof.

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Shakespeare's Sonnet 89

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 89

Work finished. I was pleased. I started to tidy up, sort back the type. Sorting back type is something very letterpress, so to speak.

Sorting back type

Sorting back type

A job nobody would think of in times of digital work. A rather unloved job because it seems so unproductive. A task that seems utterly tedious, but needs to be done with utmost care. Otherwise the next time you set out to use this case of metal type, you’ll pay the price with the specimens being in the wrong places. Still, sorting back type can have side effects. It had with me as my mind remained under the spell of the sonnet. I could see another layout, with another typeface, another print altogether. I was mesmerised. I went to get the case containing 16 pt Baskerville. I went for the floral border. I tore the deckle edge paper to size. And there it is: the classic in black and green. The green representing hope. Printed on Zerkall mould made printing paper, white, smooth, 225gms.

Shakespeare's Sonnet 89: the classic

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 89: the classic

I like them both. As I write this, I sit in the kitchen of the old farmhouse where we moved in only a few weeks ago. We have had considerable amounts of rain during the past couple of weeks. While we were staying at Turn The Page Artist’s Book Fair in Norwich severe thunderstorms were lashing through this part of Westphalia. Luckily, the farm was unscathed. Today saw some showers but also brilliant sunny spells that made the pigeons shine like if they were made of pure silver while they were diving into the old oak trees. Their foliage now having taken the heavy shade of green they wear for summer.

In Stratford upon Avon

In Stratford upon Avon

This effort of the Centre for the Study of the Book at the Bodleian Library is ongoing until September this year. More information on this project is to be found on Twitter: #154sonnets, @theBroadPress, @bodleincsb

Home found. Work starts.

 

Sunset in May

Sunset in May

At long last we found a home for the lot of us including the presses and all metal type. It has taken considerably longer than we had wished for or even expected – and the relocation process is far from being over. Our home-to-be is a moderately sized old farm in the village Oppenwehe. We are out in the countryside and it appears we’ll see a lot more of those sunsets in the coming years.

Yard

Yard

This will be only a very brief preliminary introduction. There are so many stories to tell. As there will be a lot of hard work to get finished before we can even think to move in the presses and type, there’ll be plenty of opportunity for further blog posts to tell all the tales. We did have very poor connectivity which is why there was so sparse news over those past weeks. We are on landline by now.

We had our first date with the farm on a rather wintery day with nasty weather conditions including freezing rain. The old farm looked unfazed. It had seen winters come and go ever since the end of the 19th century. Why bother. The house was uninhabited but well looked after. A number of pieces of furniture had been left there. Most of it had to go, but there are a few nice little cuties that will stay with us.

Essentials

Essentials

And once more we moved in at a place on a makeshift basis. But this time we are moving in to stay. First of all the essentials got set up, i. e. the kettle and the tea bags, and of course the mugs. I started living in one room, with the kitchen next door on one side and the bathroom next door on the other. We had to move out the old furniture first to make room for the walls to be stripped off their old wallpaper and get them some new wallpaper and paint.

Windmill Oppenwehe

Windmill Oppenwehe

While shoving the furniture around we took some time off to pay a visit to the local windmill. The village is one on what is called Westfalen Mill Trail, which connects places with old mills of all sorts. The village is situated between two large lakes: the Dümmer to the west and Steinhuder Meer (Lake Steinhude) to the east. The area is very rural with many small villages and known for its tasty asparagus. There is a lot of grazing land for cattle and tree lined roads with lime and birch and oak trees.

roadsign-with-poppies

We’ll be living in a rural part of the district of Minden-Lübbecke, not far from the most northerly point of North Rhine-Westphalia. The village itself ist called Oppenwehe which is one out of 13 villages that have joined up into an administrative federation called Stemwede.

patio-garden

There is a little patio out at the back of the house and we put some of our plants in pots out there. They seem to like it. We like it there, too, particularly sitting there with a mug taking a break from whatever work has to be done. And we had two first fletchlings of the year in May already.

 

Blackbird Fletchling

Blackbird fletchling on its virgin flight

As I write this there are clouds in the sky and we have sunny spells. The elder bushes are in bloom and a strong wind is blowing. We have had a good number of sunny countryside summer days lately including some thunder and lightning around the oak trees, and a fair share of rain, too.

Oak Trees and Thunderstorm Sky

Oak trees and thunderstorm sky

A huge and heartfelt thank you goes out to all of you who never stopped thinking of us during our search for a new home. Thanks for all your good wishes, they worked.

 

And as a little reminder, just in case you were having second thoughts:

It goes without saying:
We’ll be in Norwich at this year’s Turn The Page Artists Book Fair later this month at 24 + 25 June.

Save the date and see us there and the books and prints and everybody else and the Norfolk Longbook and whatever there’ll be to see and be part of! Let yourselves be surprised with „Books but not as you know them!“

 

 

 

Working Visit 3: 29 February – 21 March

 

Turn The Page Artist's Book Fair Norwich 2016

Turn The Page Artist’s Book Fair Norwich 2016

 

I’ve been staying for a third working visit at my studio. The visit was special in a number of aspects:

It was lasting for the whole of three weeks.
I was to be printing the sonnet assigned to me for the #154sonnets effort of the Bodleian Library in Oxford (there will be a separate blog post covering this), and, last but not least:
I was to be staying on the 11th March. On this very day ten years ago we had to say farewell to our dog Tita. She was almost 14 years old by then. She was the master of the studio, printer’s dog and guardian of type while on transport in the van. What I was not aware of back then but have learned since: she scared the mice away.

 

Tita 1992 - 11 March 2006

Tita 1992 – 11 March 2006

Footprints of house mouse 2013

Footprints of house mouse 2013

I’ve had furry visitors ever since the summer of 2013. As far as I can say today it was three different species. The first to come, and fairly hard to catch, were house mice. They seemed to be all over the place, running over sheets hot off the press and leaving their footprints on the margins. There were three at the same time. It took me weeks to catch them and give them one by one a lift to a nice place far away from the studio’s doors.

House Mouse 2013

House Mouse 2013

 

In January 2014 a yellow-necked wood mouse somehow managed to come in. It was comparatively easy to catch. They don’t normally fancy living indoors.

Yellow-necked Wood Mouse 2014

Yellow-necked Wood Mouse 2014

 

Later that year shrews tried out the place. I got rid of them by the same procedure as before: catching them alive and giving them a lift to somewhere far enough away to prevent them from coming back in again.

Shrew 2014

Shrew 2014

 

I had traces of somebody living in one of the drawers when I was in the studio last December. I cleared all of it away. But when I came for this recent working visit, the traces had reappeard in the very same drawer. I put up the traps, but there was no catch over the whole long period I was staying. It appears there was nobody home anymore.

 

Nottuln February 2016

Nottuln February 2016

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Shortly before I left Nottuln a cold spell was rushing in and we had some snow. It gave the town a very special flair. The blackbirds on our balcony were not all too impressed. The day of my 500 kilometer journey to my studio was dry. But the next morning I woke up to a surrounding covered in white again. The view from my studio’s windows was stunning. All the machines of the ongoing building works were covered in snow as if halted by the weather.

Waeschenbeuren 6 March 2016

Waeschenbeuren 6 March 2016

There were three major tasks on my agenda: first and foremost I wanted to print Shakespeare’s sonnet 89 (stay tuned, there’ll be an extra post). Additionally I wanted to print a keepsake for the upcoming artist’s book fair in Norwich: Turn The Page on 24 + 25 June. It is the fair’s first jubilee: the fifth time the fair will be open in The Forum, right in the centre of Norwich. On this blog you can find a post on 2013′s ttpABF in the Fairs and Markets category.

 

Metal type for keepsake

Metal type for keepsake

 

Plus: I had to do more packing. There is still no new place found and no date for moving the studio can be set. But every time I am staying for a working visit, I need to get some sorting and packing done. By now boxes are piled up in many a corner. While sorting some long forgotten treasures emerge: this tin box, for example. It is a set for rubber stamping we were once given by our bookseller, who had used it for a long time herself.

phoenix-type

 

In the studio

In the studio

As I write this the sun prepares for setting, it is 6pm and the change to what is called summertime will be in a few days time. On our balcony the daffodils are at their best. During my absence the jackdaws have figured out how to get at the feedballs that are supposed to feed blue tits. They are clever black birds, they are.

 

See you there!

See you there!

As a reminder: Save the date! Come to Norwich on 24 + 25 June for the 5th Turn The Page Artist’s Book Fair. Get your copy of my keepsake there and see books, but not as you know them!

Relocation: February 2016

 

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11. Norddeutsche Handpressenmesse, Hamburg-Barmbek, 2016

During my first attempt to pack up our stuff way back in April 2015 I had thought I could quite as well store away our winter clothes. By the time we’d need them, the container would be unpacked and we’d be reunited with all our belongings. Then I had second thoughts about this. I decided it would do no damage to have the woolen handknitted jumpers, the scarves, the thick jackets at hand. Expect the unexpected. A sudden arctic spell. You never knew.

bleikloetzle's krisenseiten at Norddeutsche Handpressenmesse, Hamburg-Barmbek 2016

bleikloetzle’s krisenseiten at Norddeutsche Handpressenmesse, Hamburg-Barmbek 2016

Now, almost 10 months later, the big container is still in storage with the movers. Everything neatly tucked away inside of it. Every now and then I feel I’d like to look up this or read that before realising that I can’t. The book I’d need is in storage. Being a bookish girl the books are the things I miss the most. Next to the books I miss our red sofa. It was lovely to snuggle into its corner with a book. Next to the books and the sofa I miss my studio, my presses, my type – which of course have not fitted into the storage container, but have had to stay put in the old place. And I miss at times the odd pot I liked to cook a stew in. But, honestly, you can improvise on that. Since I moved in with my husband here in this small flat we’ve had baked beans and apple pies and flapjacks and all sorts of things all homemade. But, without the big casserole there is no way we could have cock-a-leekie. And the casserole sits deep in the storage container.

Anna Käse at Norddeutsche Handpressenmesse, 2016

Anna Käse at Norddeutsche Handpressenmesse, 2016

 

Simone Jänke at Norddeutsche Handpressenmesse, 2016

Simone Jänke at Norddeutsche Handpressenmesse, 2016

Winter has been comparatively mild so far. We did have some dusting of snow. We did have icy roads with rain freezing onto the surface in a blink. There have been good reasons for wearing the handknitted woollen jumpers, though. My journey to the artist’s book fair in Hamburg was good and safe. No delays. The fair was lovely as it always is. But there have been sad moments, of course. Only weeks prior to the fair Heinz Stefan Bartkowiak had died.

Heinz Stefan and Wibke Bartkowiak at Norddeutsche Handpressenmesse, Hamburg 2013

Heinz Stefan and Wibke Bartkowiak at Norddeutsche Handpressenmesse, Hamburg 2013

He and his wife Wibke had been ever so dedicated to the world and folks of book arts for decades. They had been publishing „Bartkowiak’s Forum Bookart“ for a long time. It was a year book with essays, portraits of artists and studios and a catalgue listing new and backlist books in the world of book arts and fine press printing. The pair gathered a group of like minded friends and volunteers, all of them joining into the association „BuchDruckKunst e.V.“. Thus forming a strong basis for activities, one of them the „Norddeutsche Handpressenmesse“ at the Museum der Arbeit in Hamburg-Barmbek.

Widukind-Presse at Norddeutsche Handpressenmesse 2016

Widukind-Presse at Norddeutsche Handpressenmesse 2016

At first the fair in Hamburg used to be every other year. Since 2013 the fair is held every year. There are two in-depth essays on the fair and the venue here on this blog dating from 2013. This year’s fair, once more, was very nice. So we are all looking forward to the fair in 2017.

Wibke Bartkowiak and Tita da Rego Silva

Wibke Bartkowiak and Tita do Rego Silva, Norddeutsche Handpressenmesse 2016

Meanwhile, back in the town of Nottuln, I learned that somebody had pulled down the wall my display case was in. This came quite as a surprise as I had rented out the display case for a whole year (lasting until into August 2016) and nobody had pointed out to me it would have to be removed. So all my posters and stuff was still in there one day, and the next day everything was gone. It took me a couple of days to find out who was involved in this. And it took some negotiations. I got a refund by now, but unfortunately the display case is gone for good.

At my table at Turn The Page artist's book fair in Norwich, 2014

At my table at Turn The Page artist’s book fair in Norwich, 2014

Those past few days a number of notifications trickled in. One of them was to let me know that I was chosen to exhibit at this year’s Turn The Page artist’s book fair in Norwich. This event will be on 24 + 25 June in the Forum right in the city centre. So it is ferry time again in June.

Norwich, The Forum in the city centre

The Forum in the city centre of Norwich

 

Bodleian Library, Oxford

Bodleian Library, Oxford

Another one was to let me know that I am part of #154sonnets. This is an effort of the Centre for the Study of the Book at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. In the 400th year of William Shakespear’s death all 154 of his sonnets are to be printed anew by artists worldwide. I am registered to one of the sonnets, mine is No.89. The deadline is on 30 September, which means, there’ll have to be one more working visit to my far away studio sometime in the spring or summer.

stratford-shakespeare

As I write this it is pitch black outside with the street lamps glowing. It is neither a full nor a new moon. We are still having strong winds and rain at times. On our miniature balcony I had been keeping four decorative cabbages, two of which have succumbed to the wet and mild winter weather. I replaced them. It is daffodils now. It is spring we are moving towards.

And: You can now follow me on twitter: @Annette_Disslin