Cornwall

Ink making at Potager Garden and Café, Constantine

Friday morning saw me weaving my way around the country roads towards Potager Garden and Café, my destination for the day and my first foray into the world of ink making using natural ingredients.

Tucked away in the rolling countryside of South Cornwall near Falmouth, Potager is a gorgeous, hidden away spot that’s well-loved by locals and visitors lucky enough to know about it. Left abandoned as an old nursery, the current owners took it upon themselves to transform it into a social and environmental project. Any profits made by the excellent café or the workshops that they run are put back into the garden, which is looked after by volunteers, enabling them to welcome a variety of groups to come and experience this gorgeous spot for themselves such as a dementia support group and a forest school for children.

I was lucky enough to visit on one of the few sunny days in February, the calm after a stormy couple of weeks. As I parked up and wandered up towards the café, I passed shockingly bright daffodils amongst the lush grass, jewel-like crocuses juicily purple and catkins on branches nodded in the morning breeze. It felt like spring was just around the corner, and with chickens pecking amongst the foliage and children excitedly greeting each other, it was hard not to get caught up in the beauty of it all.

I was intrigued about today’s course. I consider myself a bit ‘arty’; I love to paint and sketch amongst other things, so the idea of making my own ink and tools really appealed to me, especially as I’m keen on any way to make how I live work with nature rather than against it.

The course was in a blissful setting; a gorgeous artist’s studio not far from the café with windows overlooking the garden, a little decking area and a kitchen for teas and coffees. On arriving, I was met by Naomi, the passionate soul behind Creative Roots and our teacher for the day. A lover of the great outdoors, her deep knowledge and love for the natural world was infectious, and her desire to share how easily it is to work with nature, really inspired our group – a comfortable size of just eight ladies.

To start us off whilst we cradled mugs of steaming Cornish coffee, Naomi taught us the history and fundamentals of ink-making, specifically using oak gall ink which was used to write the Magna Carta. Oak galls occur when gall wasps lay an egg in the oak (either in the leaf bud or acorn). As the egg develops and transforms, the gall is created to protect the larvae which when fully grown burrows through and flies off. What’s left is either a round gall (from the leaf) or a mad-looking acorn.

These galls are collected and crushed, with water added and rusty metal (it’s something to do with the chemical reaction) then boiled gently and slowly to create ink. To this you can add gum arabic which thickens the ink and fresh rosemary, which stops it going off.

After the theory came the practical; we worked together to make our own oak gall ink. We all took turns in grinding the galls, then working through the whole process.

After this, Naomi showed us how to make our own ink quills, using bamboo. Whittling with extreme care, we were able to make at least two quills each – it was satisfying to see my clumsy attempts transform a stick into a usable pen, and all was silent as we whittled away.

Whilst the ink brewed, Naomi gave us ‘here’s some I made earlier’ ink and paper and using our new quills we all went off to draw in the garden. It was lovely to sit in the sunshine, and I took inspiration from a line of trees which grew just outside the studio.

Next, lunch – kindly provided by Potager and just delicious. With everything vegetarian and homemade, we delved into homely soups, puy lentil salads, sweet potato laksa and my own choice – amazing dukkha-covered flatbread served with labneh and hummus – yum!

With tummies full, we spent the rest of the afternoon learning about different inks, how they react with acid and alkaline and how best to use them. It seemed all very alchemical, thoroughly fascinating and it was amazing to see how many things you can make ink from; onion skins, dahlia petals, turmeric, red cabbage, hibiscus - so many possibilities!

We left this wonderful day equipped with our own bottle of oak gall ink, set of quills and the satisfaction of being able to create art from nature. It was a peaceful, almost meditative experience and a unique way to spend a day amongst the beauty of South Cornwall.

Potager is a must-visit for coffee, lunch, or afternoon tea. They also host the occasional evening event. Set amongst such beautifully well-cared grounds, the former glass house is the perfect setting for a tranquil moment or two – with great credentials. Dogs are also welcome, as long as they are kept on leads.

Naomi runs a fascinating selection of courses here, including working with natural dyes, ink making and weaving. For a truly unique, immersive experience set in stunning surroundings, this is a wonderful way to spend a day of your holiday in Cornwall. You can learn all about Naomi here.

Feeling inspired? Take a look at our luxury cottages in Cornwall here.

Potager Garden and Café, High Cross, Constantine, Falmouth TR11 5RF |  01326 341 258 | www.potagergarden.org

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