Rhubarb Sanctuary

Ink, watercolour and pastels on paper (23.5” x 33”)

The above image is one from a series of paintings and tapestries chosen by Leicester City Art Gallery for a touring exhibition called Eat Your Greens. At the time of this opportunity my husband and I were members of Bartholomew Road Allotment, Cowley, Oxford and so I was immersed in ‘Greens’! The text scrawled behind the ‘Rhubarb Sanctuary’ painting (above) was written with great ease (a rare occurrence) and describes the people we came to know and love. If you are scrolling through this website and find other works using text and are struggling to make sense of them. They are fragments from this work …‘Organic Richard’, ‘Italian Lady of the Allotment’.


Doing what we can a few hours at a time, the plots take shape and stories are revealed.

Ete assumes the divine voice is displeased with her: she cut her leg outside the church entrance getting off her bike. She hasn’t returned. They don’t worship like at home. Easter isn’t the same. She carries her family tradition to her plot, ordering and arranging her way – the old family farming way. Eyes wide, smiling on the side of her face, she is quick to give advice, laughing at mistakes; full of compassion.

Jimmy points out his ‘best side’, if I had a whim to paint him. A singer of old, he tells me he has sung to royalty: the Prince of Wales, King George…. and many other public houses! He has seen many friends fade and been to funerals by the dozen. “Better crack, better than weddings”. He will sing’The Rose of Tralee’, next week.

A hip replacement kept him down for two days, and then UP again. “Doing a good deed, as well, taking vegetables to an old lady” and fell off his bike on the return. But he’s not bitter!

Jimmy sings at the Easter service. Every year two churches join to parade from Littlemore Green to their churches. A donkey leads the way. Jimmy chuckles that the other church always gets the donkey. The procession splits and they part company.

Jimmy walks to the compost bin, past my cauliflower. (we have only been growing for half a season and this is all that stands in the centre of our newly dug plot) Jimmy quips, “I thought you were keeping that for the Thame Show!”

David the dark horse abides here. Ete is suspicious. We met him one night when time seemed to have stood still. Grey and dusty: an outcast. Perhaps he responded to a kind word? We don’t see him much.

Organic Richard knows the order of his plot. Artichokes from Victorian times. Green fertiliser. This seemingly irregular fallow ground is hosting his work. Fermented hops will enrich his crop. The smell reminds me of the breweries of Edinburgh. Visitors will soon come to view his organic paradise. Will he be ready? Will we know if he is ready?

Diligent John, serious John. He enjoys his plots with a firm knowledge, “The trouble is…You’ve got to ….or else you’ll find…“We find his plots prolific, experimental. Two black sacks full of Jerusalem Artichokes. An ‘acquired taste’ – he only likes them in soup and is over-run with them. Horses tales, slugs, drought; but even John knows that if you pampered the ground until the end of the day, you’d never get anything planted!

A black chap I haven’t met before is digging, preparing to plant. He looks after his wife and his knees – taking it slowly, bringing home the native reminders. He bids me to smell a plant – aromatic. He knows everyone, “Oh yes, Jimmy, he dances you know”.

(Lord keep our knees from straining)

A communal plot for fruit trees – apples, crab apples, plum.

(Keep the land working for us.)

Alone among the rhubarb early in the season…this haven could be mistaken for a rhubarb-sanctuary.

Ete shouts: “GET PLANTING!”

(Thank you to Eterina from Italy, Jimmy from Ireland, Mr Bullock from Antigua, John who lost his wife after a long illness and Richard whose house you couldn’t sit down in for plants.)

Private collection, London

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