Swimming into Summer

Koi Study No. 7 (50 x 50cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

Like most mornings, I walk to the bottom of my garden with a sense of purpose.

The winter garden has now thawed, and I feel the sun coaxing me out of my dormancy long before I step outside. I gingerly step as to not disturb the chatty birds or the wandering bees. I begin in my slippers, but the temptation to feel the grass underfoot soon becomes a compulsion. I enjoy the tickling sensation on the soles of my feet, and being connected to my surroundings.

I finally get to the fish pond and struggle to make out the dull, distant shapes. I too enjoy the immersion of the water, often thinking to my childhood summers of white sands and clear waters. My eyes scan the water’s surface, as I sprinkle a thin layer of fish food and wait. I watch the orange blur at the bottom of the fish pond manifest into the koi fish who snap up their breakfast hungrily.

The interaction is soothing for me, as a simple relationship which requires so little. In exchange, I receive a private performance of twirling orange bodies reflected in the tumultuous water. The tiny dancers are aware of their talents, and they never fail to parade their beauty for my own enchanted eyes.

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The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden (71 x 91cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

Often in a busy and bustling city, it is hard to find quiet.

As the Earth thaws, the public flock to the parks for a day of sunshine and socialisation. Shorter lengths and bright patterns, London is awash with summer florals and blue denim. I tend to avoid the crowds, in search of my own haven.

Along the illuminated paving stones do I find a Victorian-inspired, cast iron gate. The black metal is scorching as I tenderly allow myself into the garden patio. I see an inviting bench, almost as if the sun has two weighty hands on my shoulders. Before I reach the comfort of sitting down, I am swarmed by a small animal tribe: an unlikely trio of hens, entrusted as keepers of the garden.

I hold my breath as they circle my feet and peck at my laces. I am not sure how happy they are to have a foreign invader, but my silence quickly earns their trust. Over a shared lunch, we bond even more. All three sit with their feet tucked in, their feathered bodies as dense as bread loaves.

They rise to wish me farewell, as the heat of the iron gate subsided from the cool evening air.

This garden shall remain our secret.

**Article continued on Page Two**

Lavender-Scented Hens

Lavender Scented Hens (30x40cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

This is a scene that I hope to wake up to each morning. When my eyes are closed, I can transport myself to sunny days in the British countryside.

There are white beams of light through each window, not ceasing until late into the evening. The days are long and sleepily warm, as not to exert yourself; Whether that is from the sunbed with a book, or a picnic on the bright gingham tablecloth, or a dinner party where champagne flutes clink in celebration, you so often find yourself outside. As your skin browns, it seems as if your physicality absorbs your surroundings.

There is nothing better than that feeling of opening the door and the strong waft of French lavender, vibrant and quick to flower, greeting you. Its calming influence subdues the mind.

The hens of my garden are happy little souls, strolling up the gravel path, hoping to explore inside further. But I will be leaving my house to meet them, to follow their forked footprints from their morning venture.

I think of this memory all year round, appealing to my weary, wintery soul until the snow melts and the flowers flourish.

Coming home is so safe and familiar, but I am excited to go, to step out into the exquisite unknown.

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Up The Garden Path

Up The Garden Path (30x40cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

There is nothing quite like the sheer panic of forgetting someone’s birthday, more specifically a birthday card, to truly mark the occasion.

Luckily, an artist works well under stress. As someone so often used to the pressures of meeting deadlines for clients, she quickly make haste; She grabs her art supplies and throw them down onto her work surface with an anticipatory thud.

This is no regular client, and there has been no debrief in this instance. But with her husband as the recipient, she knows him well enough to paint something of his taste.

Using a piece of paper, easily folded into a card, the artist begins to plot her canvas just in time for this important day. In her mind, she fondly envisions the summer garden.

The buzzing bees and singing birds are an orchestra in this quiet corner of the countryside. The wild flowers grow with such a vigour, they often overstep into the pathway. This is the pathway which the artist’s husband will walk after the working day. Crunching gravel underfoot, the bright bulbs are thrust forward by the wind and kiss his feet. The artist imagines his pace quicken upon his excitement of seeing balloons, or a colourful banner in the archway perhaps; His mind is animated with what surprises may be awaiting behind the front door of their home.

The artist plays out this warm and happy scene inside her head as she paints. Almost as if the mental image has been scanned onto the paper, it is complete. The artist reviews the finished birthday card, with the long, overreaching stems of the flowers and the path seemingly built around them. With dots of sapphire and rouge to imitate their swaying, she leaves the darkened doorway, as the beautiful, ambiguous end of one’s journey up the garden path.

**Article continues on Page Two**

Charismatic Chickens: The Most Exotic Hen House

The Most Exotic Hen House (60x60cm)

**Words written by Amber L-J**

“At my grandmother’s house, there was one rule: no one was to sit on the dark pink, velvet sofa.

It always looked so inviting, with deep, sunken cushions encased by wide, pleated arms. But this was more of an aspirational piece than one of comfort, reserved for the most sophisticated company. With no family or friends meeting this unachievable standard, it was as if my grandmother was expecting a visit from royalty that never came.

This being said, a flock of pure, white hens with crimson beaks were treated as loyal pets which roamed the estate freely. But even their presence was not welcome anywhere near my grandmother’s most prized possession, with the living room door closed at all times.

One day, when my grandmother was moving to a new house, the family helped move her furniture outside in preparation for the moving van. The chickens were to travel with us.

A home which held so many fond memories, I walked through each vacant room, with only faded pencil marks left in the kitchen to mark the youth and growth spurts of myself and my siblings. Over the years, the chickens’ claws had scraped along each floorboard, also leaving their mark.

On that crisp, summer morning, as we say our final goodbye, I twist the door handle. A sudden gust of wind outside rushes through the wild flowers, with speckled sunlight dancing on the red-clay, earthen brick walls. This force of nature means a dramatic thud of the door fully ajar.

Before my grandmother can react, the chickens seize their opportunity; they dash outside, at different speeds but with the same destination in mind.
The most exotic, and the most forbidden, hen house.

As my grandmother looks on in pure exasperation, the chickens burrow down happily on the sofa cushions, basking in the sunshine.”

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