Emma Dibben: illustrator and allotment gardener extraordinaire!

These luscious figs, just enticingly juicy enough to make your mouth water and purple enough to evoke jewel-like baubles, are the work of English artist Emma Dibben.

If these images look at all familiar to you (like these delightful French Breakfast radishes), it might be that you’ve been lucky enough to acquire a re-usable Waitrose shopping bag.

Emma graduated from Falmouth College of Arts  with a degree in illustration in 2004 and makes her home in Bristol.  Today she has an impressive list of clients besides the mythic Waitrose …

… so you may have also seen her work in issues of House & Garden magazine, BBC Gardens Illustrated, Conde Nast Traveller, The English Garden and other print media.


But fans of her work can also buy her originals or signed prints either from her own website or from the Bristol Contemporary Art website here.

Emma has an allotment garden which she has blogged about since 2010 and this is where she gets much of her visual inspiration.

I find the best illustration is done by those who have seen, felt and tasted their subject.

Emma clearly has a green thumb and exercises it regularly on this plot of verdant earth.


Sometimes with company…

Winter on the allotment

She is a committed allotment-er and grows not simply veggies in the ground, but fruits and berries from trees and vines.  I think her allotment is not simply abundant but also beautiful.

Even in the winter –


Her artistry both on paper and in the garden has truly given me renewed inspiration for my own plot which, by the way, just experienced tomato devastation.  So at my virgin allotment in the ‘colonies’ –

– with tomatoes that I had grown from seed and planted thus-ly:

They now look like this one:

I have been told by Mary, a veteran allotment-er, that the culprits are field mice (our guesses had been giant cutworms, voracious earwigs, rabbits, groundhogs, etc…).  Well, live and let live I say so immediately went out to the Lansdowne Market the following day and purchased four new tomato plants: 2 Brandywine and 2 I can’t remember (another heirloom variety).

As you may remember from last year, I had high hopes for this allotment and my hopes have not been dashed.  This season we have grown and already harvested different varieties of greens as well as some Rainbow chard.

Here is Monet’s Garden mesclun from Renee’s Seeds.

In the last couple of weeks the plants have grown exponentially!  I have also snagged some blackberry, raspberry and haskap plants from certain death on a rack in a Loblaws garden centre as well as several shrubs that I received to trial as a result of my membership in the Garden Writers Association.  Lucky me!  So, although my allotment is several minutes from home and completely at the mercy of mice and men, I am hopeful that it can begin to flourish as a place of ornamental experimentation and tasty produce.  I may even buy some fruit trees!

I’ll be back again with more photos.  In the meantime, I will dream of Emma’s beautiful plot and devise ways to make mine half as lovely.

The power of the leaf

When is a leaf not simply a leaf?

I was going through some of my spring photos and discovered that I have a fascination with foliage tapestry.

Of course, the value of interesting foliage that maintains its colour and integrity all season long cannot be understated, like the ‘Halcyon’ hosta above or the Epimedium rubrum above that.

But this value is not simply a singular leaf but interesting relationships.  Even if they’re found naturally, without the “benefit” of our hand or design.  I almost love these the most – they are such a beautiful surprise.

Flowers aren’t everything.

Secret garden in the city

This is a garden that belongs to a friend and client, and that I secretly covet because it is so peaceful and private.

It has been a work in progress over the last several years, not least of which due to the challenges of planting under a very large, very thirsty Norway maple (you can see its trunk sandwiched between the lattice panels).

This is the first year the rhododendron has bloomed significantly, but clearly it needs some attention as its leaves appear chlorotic – not the yellow we were going for!

These lattice panels and fencing allow for privacy without the feeling of being closed in.  They also provide some textural interest along a flat plane that divides the properties.

Two stepped planters along the rear next to the maple’s trunk provide added planting space that is (theoretically) not taken up by maple roots and allows for more vertical interest in a confined space.

The challenge here has also been to provide intermediate height:  somewhere between the overwhelming maple canopy and the scale of the perennials.  We have achieved this with several small trees and shrubs:  a serviceberry, a dogwood, a witchhazel, a ‘Bloodgood’ Japanese maple and a transplanted purple-leafed sandcherry.

We have also used a lot of yellow to brighten up this secret garden.

Never underestimate the power of the hosta :c)

This treasure does not last long enough…

* Swoon *

Meet Paeonia ‘Garden Treasure’ with its companion, Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s mantle).  This peony is an ‘Itoh’ variety, also called ‘intersectional’, meaning it is a cross between a herbaceous peony and a Japanese tree peony.  It is also a American Peony Society Gold Medal Winner.

I purchased this peony from La Pivoinerie d’Aoust about three years ago and it cost me ….. shhhh…. $150.0o!  If you’d like to order from this company, you’ll have to wait until the fall of 2013 when they will have a new catalogue and will resume shipping.

In the meantime, you’ll have to see if Suzanne Patry can get one for you at her nursery, Whitehouse Perennials.  If no, then there is no shortage of other glorious peonies to choose from!

Super dog!

Alas I cannot claim credit for these marvelous photos of my super-beastie best friend, Skye-dog.  That credit goes to Bruce Deachman, journalist and photographer extraordinaire who is employed by our own Ottawa Citizen newspaper.

Skye has been enjoying the dock for jumping purposes, forget launching canoes or kayaks:  this set up was made for dogs and their shenanigans.

Nice form, eh?

Did I tell you that she can also walk on water?

Did I also tell you that this is the same dog who graduated from six months of chemotherapy for lymphoma on August 25, 2011.

She continues in remission, a full 16+ months after her diagnosis.  She turns 10 this month.

The only thing that slows her down is this: