An al fresco Willow Sculpture Workshop is great fun, but there is lot of hard work beforehand

Dave Gosling the Creative Green Willow Sculpture Tutor assured us that ‘Impressive structures can be achieved in a day’ before we had our Willow Workshop, but what he did not mention was that whilst these ‘impressive structures’ are being created some amazing creative conversations can take place across a marquee.  Of course having a beautiful blue sky and being bathed in some fantastic warm sunshine also assisted in creating a very relaxed atmosphere.

Clue Hill Farm Willow Workshop

Soaking the Willow in the Pond

The cut willow arrived some two weeks before from our supplier on the Somerset Levels: Musgrove Willow.  This has been harvested from their renewable and sustainable willow beds. Easy for us, as it just came by a courier, but for the producer the setts are firstly planted, and as they begin to shoot, they are watered and weeded.  The new willow bed can take up to three years to fully establish.  The willows are cut in the dormant season from November, sometimes still by hand and then they are processed.  Firstly, they dry naturally outside, then they are stored in sheds.  To produce Buff (the type that we used), the sorted willow are place in a boiler for approximately eight hours of boiling.

The bark is then removed, either by machine or through a brake by hand.  This is quite hard physical work.  This is an extremely important process as it stops the rods from going mouldy.  Once the bark has been removed the rods are dried, then tied into bundles ready for despatch.

Clue Hill Farm Willow Workshop

Taking the Pre-soaked Willow up to the Marquee

Using our own natural and sustainable resources, we then popped the willow into our spring-fed pond at Clue Hill Farm to soak ready for our workshop (we turned them daily).

Tony Davies started off the day by demonstrating how to plait the willow and how to tie it, if necessary, with natural jute twine.  This is the basis for all sculptures and the rest is literally down to the imagination of the individual. Armed with a pair of scissors and secateurs and their own pile of willow, our workshop attendees started out on their sculpting adventure. The level of concentration at this stage was amazing, but gradually, as everyone started to get the hang of the feel of the willow, the conversation started to flow.

What was so interesting to observe, was that by putting a dozen or so of very creative people together in a marquee on the edge of woodland, in a hay meadow, on a beautiful sunny day, some incredibly varied and very interesting sculptures started to take shape:

Clue Hill Farm Willow Sculpture Workshop

Starting the Willow Sculpture

a basket, pig, giant pear, tree garland, large orb, dragon fly, chicken, dog, plant obelisk, stag’s head, hat – to name but a few.


Clue Hill Farm Willow Scullpture Workshop

Willow Basket Sculpture

Clue HIll Farm Willow Sculpture Workshop

Dragon Fly Willow Sculpture

We take for granted how easy it is to purchase a hand made basket to take shopping with us, but what we do not realise is the amount of design and physical work that goes in to the making of it.

As the structures started to take place the table space became too small and some people needed to expand their work out in to the hay meadow.  The dragon fly was a very symbolic sculpture for Clue Hill Farm, as the pond in the woods has been and continues to be, home to many beautiful dragon flies.  They gracefully fly through the workshops during the course of the summer and it is only as you catch a flash of iridescent turquoise in your peripheral vision that you realise one has just flown past.

Clue Hill Farm Willow Sculpture Workshop

Lunch Break

The lunch break has become an important part of the Clue Hill Farm workshops, with our  home made and locally-sourced ingredients.  It is an opportunity to exchange ideas and get to know each other in a more informal setting.



The Sustainable Art of Willow Weaving

Basket weaving it one of the oldest and widest spread crafts in the history of any human civilization, but it is very difficult to state exactly how old the craft is, because natural materials such as wood and grass decay naturally and constantly.  It is worth having a brief look at the history behind this very traditional art.

The oldest known baskets have been carbon dated to between 10,000 and 12,000 years old.  These were discovered in Faiyum in Upper Egypt.  During the Industrial Revolution in the UK, baskets were used in factories and also for packaging and for delivering goods.  Wicker furniture became very fashionable in Victorian society and this led to the development of various different uses for it, other than industrial use, such as aesthetically pleasing items – ornamental baskets and sculptures.

Basketry is made from a variety of fibrous, or pliable materials.  Basically any material that will bend and form a shape.  It is usually classified into four types:

– ‘Coiled’ basketry – using grasses and rushes

-‘Plaiting’ basketry – making braids using plams, yucca or New Zealand flax

– ‘Twining’ basketry – material from roots and tree bark.  This actually refers to a weaving process, or technique whereby two or more flexible materials cross each other as they weave through some stiffer upright spokes.

-‘Wicker’ and ‘Splint’ basketry – using reed, cane, willow, oak and ash

It is this latter process that has been adopted and developed by the Creative Green  tutor and environmental artist, Dave Gosling. Dave uses a variety of materials to create his sculptures, but when

Willow Sculpture of Man Standing by Dave Gosling

Willow Sculpture of Man Standing by Dave Gosling

teaching newcomers to the art, he uses willow.  Mainly because it is much easier to manipulate.  We have sourced the willow that we are using through Musgrove Willows.  For almost a hundred years the Musgrove Family have been growing willow on the Somerset Levels.  It is a renewable and sustainable crop, annually harvested from a stump in withy beds.  It is the ultimate green product, absorbing carbon from the atmosphere as it grows.

Dave has developed his work from a weaving background to one that weaves itself into the the natural landscape.  This is much in evidence in a lot of his work, including the more permanent pieces.  Dave insists that ‘impressive structures can be achieved in a day’ for even a beginner.  He has been commissioned by many Local Authorities to bring the natural environment into urban town centres by using his sculptures in either wire, or willow.

We are hoping that some amazing sculptures will take place at our Al Fresco Willow Sculpture Event at Clue Hill Farm on Friday 3rd July, under the expert guidance of Dave Gosling and Tony Davies.  The willow is currently soaking in our pond, for at least 10 days (the pond is fed by natural springs, so the water should be really pure) – this is what Dave has advised us to do.  So everything is ready and waiting for the sun to come out and then we can begin!


Flowers are good for your Health

Flower arrangements created during the floristry workshop at Clue Hill Farm, Brill, during the summer of 2014.

Hand-held arrangements from a Creative Green Flower Workshop

Floral design, or floral arts is the art of creating flower arrangements in vases, bowls, baskets or other containers.  It may also include the making of bouquets and compositions from cut flowers. People have been using flowers to lift their spirits for hundreds of years.  Studies have show that even the view of a flower, or tree can lift the mood and help an ailing body recover.  There are definitely benefits to health by just being near to them.

There have been studies at Rutgers University (USA) where they found that flowers had an immediate impact on levels of happiness, in all age groups. Flowers have a long-term positive effect on moods. In particular, the study participants reported feeling less depressed, anxious and agitated after receiving flowers and demonstrated a higher sense of enjoyment and life satisfaction.  Flowers can also allow intimate connections.  The presence and use of flowers led to increased contact with family and friends.

‘Flowers bring about positive emotional feelings in those who enter a room’ said Dr. Haviland-Jones. ‘They make the space more welcoming and create a sharing atmosphere’.  This is applicable to homes, offices, hospitals or anywhere where people tend to gather.  This may also be applied to outdoor spaces, but in this instance we have our native wild flowers with their abundance of colour and natural beauty to enjoy.

In the hay fields and surrounding woods and paths at Clue Hill Farm we have an abundance of wild flowers.  This is primarily due to the fact that there have been no chemicals used there for the past 28 years and that the sheep are our wonderfully efficient natural lawn movers during the winter months, which prepares the hay fields so that they can burst into an amazing pallet of colours as they mature and grow during the months of May and June.  There has been an amazing crop of buttercups this year, which looks stunning in the sunshine.

We have the following wild flowers on natural display at the moment: buttercup, wood anemone, bee orchid, red campion, red clover, rosebay willow herb, dandelion, bird’s foot trefoil, yellow iris, yellow archangel, bugle, yellow rattle to name but a few.

Wild flowers do not really last when brought indoors and also, should not really be picked.  They are better left in the natural environment, for us to enjoy and for bees and insects to make use of.  For floral arrangements, the use of natural materials such as mosses, lichens, bark and small branches can really enhance a few garden flowers giving that back-to-nature feel.

Our Gift Flowers and Floristry Techniques Workshop is specifically designed to make use of these natural materials that can be harvested sustainably from Clue Hill Farm.  Caroline Wilson  and Hazel Harmanour workshop tutors, are passionate about the use of nature’s fruits and have both had many years in the floristry trade where they have practiced this art.

Summer flower arrangement

Creative Green Floral Arrangement using Natural Materials

Some of the floristry tips that are being offered at this workshop are:

– ensure that your flowers are as fresh as possible when you get them.  Even after they are in the vase, the freshest flowers will continue to open up and live fully until the end of their lifespan.

– whilst growing, flowers need water and sunlight, but after they are cut that’s not entirely the case – sunlight plays a vital role in growth, not necessarily in lifespan.  In fact, too much heat will restrict the absorption of water, so a hot windowsill in the midday sun may not be such a good idea.  Equally, avoid putting them near radiators or fires, or even microwaves.  Overnight it is a good idea to put your flowers in the coolest part of the house to ensure that they do not get too warm.  It is also crucial not to place them in a draught, or near a door.

– to maximise water absorption, put your flowers in warm water, not cold when they arrive.  Warm water is easier to absorb and will ensure that the flowers stay fresh.  Be vary of adding too much water – flowers only absorb through the bottom of the stem, so only an inch or two needs to be submerged.  Ideally, cut your stems across and keep them as short as you can.  Shorter stems means the water does not have as far to travel and will make a difference in lifespan.

‘A successful person is not necessarily someone with a lot of money and material goods, but rather someone who is in tune with people and knows how to touch their hearts.  I can think of no other item besides flowers that evokes such positive feelings and perceptions for both the giver and the recipient’ M.J. Ryan author of the Random Acts of Kindness books series.


What Happens at a Wildlife Safari Sensory Workshop

Last Saturday we held our first Wildlife Safari Sensory Workshop with ‘Wildman’ Stuart Mabbutt leading it.  This was an opportunity for everyone, myself included, to explore the wildlife secrets of Clue Hill Farm.

Warming by the Fire at the Wildlife Safari

Warming by the Fire at the Wildlife Safari

The weather was quite chilly and very windy to start with, which meant that for the first use of our one of our senses: hearing, the dominant sound was that of the leaves rustling in the trees, interspersed with the sound of some very loud chiff chaffs and robins.  Almost to order, a Great Spotted Woodpecker ‘clucked’  as Stuart was explaining how we should slightly disengage our hearing in order to be able to listen to everything around us.

Our woods abut the Woodland Trust woods of Piddington and by a strange coincidence they were holding a bat survey on Friday night.  (We do not fence our boundary between their woods and ours, as this permits the free movement of wildlife).  Despite the poor flying conditions on Friday night, the volunteers, led by Stuart Jenking, the Warden managed to find 38 bats in 4 boxes.  These were: Common Pipistrelle, Natterer’s Brown Eared Noctule bats.  It’s wonderful to know that the Clue Hill pond is the water and insect supply for these nocturnal creatures.

You can install your own bat box in your garden, but remember, once it has been installed, you need to get permission from the Bat Society to remove/relocate it, so that its residents are not disturbed.

Stuart explained how important dead wood is as an insect habitat.  At Clue Hill we like to leave small piles along the woodland edge, some of the larger logs to just decompose and some actually in the pond (half in and half out of the water as it attracts dragonflies and we have these in great abundance in the summer) – just as Stuart suggests we can replicate in our own gardens.

One of the Clue Hill Farm Hay Meadows

One of the Clue Hill Farm Hay Meadows

Our sheep had done a good job grazing throughout the winter and the hay meadow leading up to the woods is now starting to come alive with wild flowers, which all attract butterflies, bees, spiders, millipedes, birds.  Stuart explained that leaving small parts of your garden to go ‘wild’, along with differing lengths of grass will attract butterflies, eg Gatekeepers and Meadowbrowns

The sun then started to shine, looking especially impressive as it came in through the woods creating the beautiful dappled lighting effect.  Stuart commanded silence, so that we could all hear the wonderful birdsong and learn how to relax and engage with all that was around us, explaining how different bird species require different sections of the trees to inhabit.  Leaving the woods undisturbed is an important part of protecting their habitat.

‘That’s Oxford’ TV cameraman Alex visited us and filmed the morning’s activities:


Discovering all of our senses by sitting in the hayfield


Looking and touching the different types of trees in the Clue Hill Wood

Is it Difficult to Draw a Naked Body?

Life drawing, or figure drawing is considered an essential component of an artist’s education. It is the act of drawing the human figure from a living model and the model is always in the nude. A living person has a very different energy to it than an inanimate object.

It is when we engage our right-brain.  It is the side of our brain that enables us to draw, a non-verbal action and takes place mostly outside our conscious awareness.

Life Drawing by Jan Harvey – Creative Green Tutor


It is considered to be essential practice for the aspiring, or professional artist.  It trains your ‘eye’ and your hand.  Often the poses from the model are dynamic ones (short), this means that you have to draw very quickly.  This enables the artist to ‘loosen up’.  It enables your analytical brain to disengage itself and your creative brain starts to become liberated from any restrictions.

What are the benefits of life drawing?

  • Life Drawing teaches you how to see
  • Life drawing teaches you how to draw what you can see
  • Life drawing enables you to develop your own style of drawing

The type of representation is wholly subjective.  It may be highly detailed, anatomically correct interpretations to loose and expressive sketches.  For those new to figure drawing, or those who have not used their skills for some time, it is beneficial to have some guidance.  Jan Harvey shares her experience and knowledge at our al fresco Life Drawing events

What also makes a life drawing class easy to follow and participate in depends very much on the life model being used.  Life models come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life. Arthur Lowe, the Creative Green life model has been posing for several decades now. The number one criterion though, is the light.  Using the correct type of lighting make a huge difference to the model.  In a studio this will be artificial and can sometimes be quite harsh.  Using an al fresco setting, such as the woods at Clue Hill Farm, ensures a distinct subtlety in the lighting and there will be clear light and shadow patterns and much more of a distinction between light and shadow.  One of the most important skills to learn in figure drawing is the ability to accurately observe light and shadow patterns. This should result in some impressive drawings.

Jan Harvey - Creative Green Tutor - Life Model II

Jan Harvey – Creative Green Tutor – Life Model II

It has been said the ‘drawing the human figure for an artist is like a musician practicing scales’.  All pianists, whatever their ability, practice their scales and this is the same for any artist.  What better opportunity for scale practice than an idyllic woodland setting.  There are not very many locations in the UK where this is available.



How Art helps us to Relax

Everyone has been moved by art at some time in their life, whether they consider themselves to be ‘arty’ or not.  Art is a form of expression and just as it has been created in a specific frame of mind, so can it influence mood when viewed.

Art can also be used as a tool to help people to relax, unwind and take time out from our very busy lives.  When it is translated into our natural surroundings it can have an even deeper influence.  Richard Long, the Land Artist states: ‘I have the most profound feelings when I am walking, or touching natural materials in natural places’.

wood lounge

Clue Hill Farm Woods have been used for all sorts of Installations

What better way to relax than making an effort to let simple creative expression ease out that inner tension and work you into a state of inspired self-possession?

To take time out of a hectic schedule to create a work of art, when you have absolutely no idea where to start, or idea of whether you might even be able to paint, could be quite a challenge for some people.  However, if you were to attend a specially designed course: introduction to watercolours  you will start to feel more comfortable with your own individual artistic style (there is never a right or wrong way with art – just your conviction that this is how you want it to look).  Even better, if you can be inspired by natural surroundings.  Often we look at the nature around us, but rarely do we ‘see’ it.

Pablo Picasso said: ‘All children are artists.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up’

There is an unpredictability and uncontrollable nature of watercolour painting that makes it probably the most exciting and expressive medium in art.  There is the opportunity to wander somewhere between mastery and complete lack of control during the course of a painting and this is what makes it one of the most engaging mediums.   For the first timers, it is useful and insightful to have the benefit of some instruction from a professional tutor, for example: Keith Dunford  who is the tutor used by us at Clue Hill Farm.  The woods, pond and surrounding hayfields provide the most inspirational back drop for any aspiring artist.

‘Life is the art of drawing without and eraser’ John W Gardner

The Birdsong is Amazing at this Time of Year – The Cuckoo is Here!

On my dog walks around Clue Hill Farm last week I heard the cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) three days running.  A true sign for me that spring is really here.  I think that this must be a real privilege, as the call of the cuckoo is becoming a

wood violets

Wood Violets in the Sunshine at Clue Hill Farm

very rare sound in the U.K., because fewer and fewer of them return to breed here every year.  It seems that very little is known about their habitat and where they go, so it is therefore very difficult to concentrate on their conservation.  We just hope that the conservation work that we are doing will prove beneficial to providing the correct habitats for birds such as the cuckoo.

I may have heard one, but I certainly did not see one and I wonder how many people would recognise one if they did see them?  The cuckoo is a dove-sized bird and has blue/grey upper parts, head and chest, with dark barred white under parts.  They have a sleek body, long tail and pointed wings, which is not unlike kestrels or sparrowhawks.

The females lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, especially meadow pipits, dunnocks and reed warblers.  The unfortunate host birds then take on the duties of parents and feed the cuckoo chick, unaware that the baby bird is not their own.  A female cuckoo may visit as many as 50 nest in one year – which if they are such prolific breeders, begs the question as to why they are in such decline; but due to their recent decline, they have now been listed as a Red List species by the RSPB.

Planning for the Wildlife Safari in the Barn at Clue Hill Farm

Planning for the Wildlife Safari in the Barn at Clue Hill Farm

When I met with Stuart Mabbutt last Saturday, who is now our Resident Wildlife Sound Recordist* at Clue Hill Farm, within the space of 25 minutes of walking around the woods and surrounding hedgerows, he heard: robins, willow warbler, wren, great tit, blue tit, pheasant, blackcap, green woodpecker, dunnock and saw two buzzards searching for prey.  We did not hear the cuckoo though.

Stuart was preparing a site study for his Wildlife Safari on May 16th and was really pleased to see how the woods and pond were springing into life.  He had last visited us in late autumn and our careful and sustainable management of the area is proof of how we try to nurture the environment to encourage wildlife.

Meanwhile, I shall be looking to spot my first cuckoo.  They are masters of disguise.  Some of them are even able to match their eggs to those in their chosen nest, making it less likely for the real owners to notice the new addition. How clever is that?

* Our Resident Wildlife Sound Recordist will be using Clue Hill Farm to build his sound archive so that he can produce soundscapes.  This is an exciting new collaboration for us, so watch this space!

The Power of Mindfulness

3AE338DE-430B-4E55-A0BD-B8BE55683C48If we are more aware of our thoughts, feelings and body sensations, from moment to moment, we give ourselves the possibility of having greater freedom and choice.  This takes us away from the old ‘mental ruts’ that may have caused us problems in the past.

A good starting point for the beginner is to try to be more open-minded.  Perform one new action as an experiment and don’t pre-judge how you will feel until this has been completed.  Trying new behaviours can be interesting in itself.

Don’t expect things to change over night and don’t expect miracles, but even making a one per cent change in your activity pattern, for example, increasing those activities that nourish you and decreasing those that deplete you, can help in regaining an overall sense of control.

When we become anxious and stressed out, we are like cars that are over-revving and it can be difficult to stop the effects that the stress hormone cortisol is having on our minds and bodies.

There is evidence that if you have as little as eight weeks of this simple technique of meditation you can reduce the size of the amygdala, which controls our fight or flight response.  This means that practitioners of meditation  are less prone to angry outbursts and over-reacting to certain situations.

There are now several opportunities throughout the country to enroll onto  a Mindfulness Course and really get to grips in a safe and controlled environment with the practices of Mindful Meditation, such as our one at Clue Hill Farm.

The so-called ‘Serenity Prayer” asks for:

‘Grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.’

If we can learn how to realize all of the above, then we have succeeded in moment-by-moment mindful awareness.

For an example from Jon Kabat-Zinn on ‘Healing the Mind’ do take a look at the YouTube recording:


To be able to turn your life around you may only require an introduction and guide to all of the above practices, we have the perfect solution to that:

These were the comments from Angela on our last day:

‘Would definitely recommend and come again myself.  A truly wonderful day – thank you!’

Creative Green Workshops

Wood pile and bench in the outdoor workshops and retreats area.
Flower Arrangements

As 2014 moves into autumn then winter, it’s a good time to look back over the creative workshops that took place this summer. They included topics and activities as diverse as art skills and techniques including pencil drawing and watercolours, as well as flower arranging and, on a completely different theme, mindfulness.

These events have all taken place out in nature at Clue Hill Farm, where participants also enjoyed homemade lunch and other refreshments such as tea, coffee and cakes.

The enthusiastic comments we received from participants at this year’s events are a delight to read and, ans requested, there will be more events next year.

Our next up-coming event is A Day of Festive Inspiration, which will take place between 10am and 4pm on the last weekend of November.