"Pure style is my way of life... a blueprint for living in the 21st Century"
29 April 2019
Tap tapping at the key board has a feel of the siesta hour, window blind not pulled completely shut allowing a sliver of
sunlight to burst through the darkened
interior. The mind wanders up here but
then flying is mind bending, the turbine hum reality of being 12,500 metres somewhere
over Iran, looking down on countries of
puffy meringue clouds. 500 km per
hour for almost a day, en route to Melbourne via a two hour stopover
in Kuala Lumpur. A second visit to check out the down under life of my almost Melburnian son.
travels are all happening at once it seems. Arriving late home last night from
Easter in Olhao (feasts of grilled fish
and chocolate eggs) I was up at dawn to re-pack
and see what had been going on in the
garden: an explosion of blossom and pink
tulips and everything infused with spring fever. Have the slugs decimated the young sweet peas
in my absence? Yes, theyíve had a damn good try but most seedlings are pushing on upwards, in little spurts of
green curling around the hazel peasticks. There are instructions (daughters are minding the fort) for the tops to be pinched out from time to
time to encourage stronger growth and more flowering.
much in a rush to get to Heathrow on time to identity all the tulips, apart
from the obvious raspberry ripple markings
of Rems Favourite. I know that I planted
80 Violet Beauty, 50 Bleu Amiable , 50 Jackpot
and 50 Blue Heron. As Iíve explained before. I
donít lift the oldtimer tulips- partly laziness but also because those that do come up again are a bonus,
like fluttery eldery aunts to the generation of bright young things planted the previous autumn,
Expectation versus reality is the downfall of over optimistic gardeners, most of us , and it is what can make one want to give up when the
cherished box hedging is annihilated by box blight almost overnight. Yes, it
happened to mine last summer. Thus I hadnít thought further of the
tightly shut apple
tree buds of a week ago. But
there was no frost or fierce storm. The
apple tree has burst forth in a vsion of
Van Goghís French orchards in spring , a
delicate fluff of petals in white and pink. Looks like weíre going to get a big crop of
apples this year Ė cautiously ímaybeí of course.
Most lawns have been silenced by the regime of a lawnmover
says Alys Fowler in the Guardian and reflects on Margaret Renkl who recently made
the case for neglecting lawns in the New York Times. The scientific thinking is that scorched by weed and moss killers lawns are drained of
their bio diversity.
mow some of the grass , but donít use chemicals, and keep it rough around
the apple tree, a little bit of wildflower
meadow, already with spring dandelions, bluebells, and forget
me knots and food for bees and other
fresh buds and petals, itís been
all too fleeting, and hello to the
falling leaves of an Australian autumnÖ.
Papery pink blossom petals drift across the fence from Clareís ornamental
cherry joining the general budding in my spring garden. Furry apple tree buds
are poised to unfurl, the hard pruned roses ( you can never prune a rose too
hard) are peppered with nascent pink shoots. I donít go so far as to describe it as
lawn, but the grass is already the
optimistic electric green of mid spring , a newly laid patch of turf is particularly thick
and lush. Time for an outing with the hand (good exercise) lawn mower.
in the city and driving a cabin baggage sized Suzuki Aalto are no obstacle to procuring long
lengths of hazel with which to build wigwam structures at the four corners of
the herb and flower beds. Only a few clicks on EBay led me to Graham who
coppices woodland in Henley on Thames and delivered an 8ft bundle of twenty
sticks plus twiggy peas sticks for making
simple supports to prop up scrambling sweetpeas.
Some deliciously scented varieties are on order
from Ashbridge Nurseries who are also sending more lavender. I have yet to
consider the further fate of the already fated box hedging on the north house
wall. Ravaged and stinking with box blight in a matter a of days it was a
shocking sight on my return from a trip last summer. There is some regrowth but
The plan is to train Jack and the Bean
stalk-like swathes of scarlet runner beans and white flowered French beans up
the wigwams. That is, of course, if we
are able to keep the munching slugs and snails at bay. In the knowledge of last yearís dahlia carnage I am going to be super alert keeping watch over
my crop like a tiger mother of the garden. An over night patrol plus big torch
would be ideal.
A daily squashing session more likely. In my experience snails
are as sly as theyíre slimy, gliding with uncanny speed especially over glossy rained
What with the locust effects of
box blight it seems as if the recent hot summers and warm winters might also be aiding the garden wars.
Tempus fugit and all that. I haven`t posted a blog for over two years. Over-scrolling on Instagram certainly competes for head space, as does Netflix , but there has been much useful writing, photographing and researching ideas for a couple of books on the boil. There are also my efforts at painting and drawing with skills learnt on courses at the jewel of an adult education centre Morley College under the guiding eye of artist and teacher Gillian Melling. There`s something so completely connective and elemental about dragging a paintbrush loaded with colour onto paper, drawing with a stub of grainy charcoal making marks that are one`s unique interpretation of an object, a figure, a landscape or simply the fruit of imagination.
I`m just back from New Year in Olhao. Cycling over the salt marshes scattered with ponds and flocks of birds, walking and swimming on Armona in crystalline water were energising. At the Saturday market, stalls were teetering with deliciousness as usual: bundles of crunchy spring greens, plump lemons and oranges, fat bulbs of fennel . I want to buy it all, but am on the last plane home to Gatwick. So it`s ingredients for an flight picnic feast: raspberries; a plump pink knobbly field tomato a small round sheeps and goats cheese, and
In May I
packed my samba shoes
and flew down to Rio where Gracie, the youngest, is studying Portuguese. It is an understatement
to say the city is vibrant - it pulses with life. The classic
lush green mountain
blue beach and seascapes are
more than breathtaking. And the whole city is washed in colour from weathered Colonial
mansions in faded pinks , blues and
street art in the favelas.
What about Zika, did I get mugged
? Sure, only a fool
would walk around flashing their i-phone or go for a beach swim after
and yes the mosquitos are
tedious. But more testing is to ride pillon on a moto taxi up to Gracie`s
hostel in Vidigal
pacified favela. Picture me
to the driver`s middle as he roars up
a near vertical
gradient, taking bends like a Manx TTrider in slow motion, swinging
the bike a hairís breadth from head-ons
with pedestrians, dogs, vans, and
moto taxis on their way down.
Like Rio`s other favela shanty towns, Vidigal creeps up the hillside a
jammed and improvised sprawl of basic
breeze block homes, shocking
wiring, open drains, and hole-in-the wall shops
and bars. You need a good pair of knees to explore the labyrinthine
passages. The views are stunning, as if from a
plane, looking down at the very distant beach fronts of Ipanema and Copacabana. Children fly kites in the wind thermals, spots of
bright colour against the sheer rock face and limit of Vidigal`s extent.
Above, the lush garden at Marcela`s beautiful Air BnB retreat in Cosme Velho (perfect if you`re going to the Olympics and want some time out) were we swam and read after a hard day`s sightseeing. It is a few minutes walk to Largo de Boticario (below) a hidden square of 19C Colonial architecture and colour.
Below: Santa Teresa has many nineteenth century Colonial mansions, plus trendy bars and restaurants.My favourite is Armazem Sao Thiago,
Below: street life in Vidiga
I must note of course that Rio is also a city of fabulous modernist and contemporary colour and detail. I`m intrigued, for example, by the pure white and futuristic Museum of Tomorrow, designed by Spanish architect
Santiago Calatrava, and built next to the waterfront at Pier Maua.
9th June 3pm: the garden basks in afternoon heat and light. Days like this in our hit and miss summers are precious, as all worthwhile things are. The bees are here again, feasting on the fluffy alliums and there`s a haze of blue nigella magic from a packet of seeds. Blue and purple, purple and green: summer colour pairs which work so naturally and beautifully. Framing the left and right borders lush green and pink, the usual, but never taken for granted , bowing and flopping roses are sweet with soap scent..
The tulips are giving a good show. Somehow they have escaped the gnashing snails that slithered in with the winter wet. Have got a little confused with the varieties as surprisingly I`m getting some re-shows from last year, and even the year before, I think. I know, because there are a few violent red imposters which I swear I never ordered in the first place, but which have somehow bedded down confidently with at least two seasons of unwelcome visits. Anyway I`m not complaining about the other pink ones that have come back, and am especially pleased with the one or two frilly `black` parrots` that have popped up.
My overall tulip favourite is the raspberry ripple/beetroot coloured `triumph` variety (see above) - like something from an old Dutch master still life.
Since restoring a broken down Georgian Spitalfields house back in the nineteen eighties` and seeing its simple interior spaces come to life again my heart goes out to every piece of neglected architectural beauty I come across. On a recent trip to Barbados (where I`m having the best of times liming with my long lost Cumberbatch family) I note the neglected colonial-style buildings in Bridgetown, the island`s capital, wishing I could scoop up them and put them back together again. It`s vital to hang onto architectural heritage: one swing of a wrecking ball and hundreds of years of skill, detail and social history pound to the ground in a blast of dust. Sometimes the balance tips the wrong way: walking in Spitalfields last week I feel the quirky beauty which attracted artists and brave creative types prepared to rescue the decaying Georgian splendour has all but been swamped by eye-watering house prices, burglar alarms,and Costa Coffee chains. It seems merely another tourist destination where the idea of the artist is all that remains. But at least the houses are preserved.
Back in Barbados the profits from swanky golf resorts like Sandy lane are greater than the less profitable unsung heroes of vernacular style but The National Trust of Barbados does an enormous amount to protect the island`s heritage and there are many exquisitely preserved structures such as, the Black Rock Archives site of the old leprosy hospital where I spent a morning under wooden eaves and cooling fan uncovering my Bajan Grandfather`s birth and death details.
Would love to have a go at bringing something like the tattered building below to life again - it has a For Sale sign.
Built in 1907 The
Empire theatre and cinema - my cousin remembers visits here when she was a child- there are plans to refurbish it
I love the wooden balcony detail
Backstreets of Bridgetown fading beauty- note the simple Georgian style sash windows.
Wooden detail is at the mercy of tropical heat and humidity
On the coast road out of Bridgetown: thirties` gothic - a perfect setting for a Bajan ghost story with a Colonial twist?
With only the swishing of palm trees, the old Queen Elizabeth hospital in Bridgetown is eerie and desolate - my great grandfather was the first man of Colour to be Superintendent here. See below:
The Black Rock Archives , are located in the old leprosy hospital, a collection of elegant stone buildings.
I fly south to Olhao and the glorious vegetable colours and textures of the Saturday market. Beans pods flecked with pink like a painter`s abstract are a joy to look at let alone eat .
More building is in progress at the house to open up the living/ eating space. I am moving a bathroom to what I call the monk`s cell, a poky inner room with a glass brick in the ceiling as the only light source; a not altogether unreasonable Olhao detail, as it is the coolest room in summer and warmest in winter. The new L shaped space has an open hatch to the kitchen. We couldn`t knock all the way through because the giant chimney on the roof above would have no support, and I didn`t want to lose this traditional and distinctive Algarve feature. I am looking forward to the delivery of blue and white floor tiles, in a simple checked pattern that are being made in the traditional way by Artevida near Lisbon.
Against the drab died-back look of winter the last few roses (see here, a John Clare specimen) decorate the garden in defiant shots of frivolous summer pink. I cut some blooms for the table to join candles and a bowl of aromatic clementines in a simple festive still life.
In the season for boxes of delights, I find particular pleasure in unpacking after a year`s rest in the attic irisdescent baubles and a peg doll fairy for the tree. And, there is all the hope and spring potential in the tulip and allium bulbs. Arriving in boxes by mail order, they are tucked amongst newspaper bedding, in net sacks and brown paper bags with special holes to keep the bulbs cool and dry. It is worth noting that most bulbs should be planted at a depth that allows twice their own height of soil above them. Shallower planting is ok but the bulbs are unlikely to perform well after their first year, and there is the added danger of being easier to be scavenged by squirrels. I have just finished planting about 300 pink tulips (including Blue Heron and Recreado) purple giant fluffy alliums (Gladiator and Globemaster). Do hope the rain and sogginess will dry up for spring or I fear the consequent snail plague will be not only a threat to the young foliage but an unwelcome preoccupation.
Hooray, the last bulb is in. Time for a warm up by the fire!
London`s autumn streets swarm with black ant-like crowds dodging and diving from shop to shop as if buying has become as serious as life itself Of course my well over 50 perspective is skewed but no way is my city as rough and exciting around the edges as it was in the 80s` when my dodgy Molton Brown bob and frilly white New Romantic shirt were cool. No Boris bikes to take me to our broken down Georgian wreck in rather grubby Spitalfields . Our youthful optimism and passion for rescuing beautiful architecture also unwittingly prepared the scene for the influx of the current hipster generation; you can hardly move between the foodie pop ups and designer handbag displays. Thankfully Olhao, remains a source of solace and visual inspiration and the Saturday market with its life, understatement, colour and fabulous fresh produce beats any West End/East End foray.
Figs from the flat capped owner`s garden - all shapes and sizes none of which would pass the supermarket test for shape and uniformity
Last month, on a trip to visit my son, I was bowled over by Victorian and Edwardian architecture in South Yarra`s blossom scented streets A kind of Melbourne`s Notting Hill with hipster overtones (plenty of beards and foodie haunts), South Yarra would be a place I would happily do up (quick not many left) a pretty unmodernised weatherboard villa.
Filigree detailing in an Italianate style decorates the balconies and verandas built to provide shade from hot summer sun.
I haven`t seen so much picket fencing since my forays to Long Island in the US.
Simple door furniture detail
Corrugated iron roof: classic and practical Australian style
Victorian bench seating at the Botannical Gardens.
Victorian style beach huts at Dendy Street Beach, Brighton.
As I write the rain spatters on the glassy pavements and the main view from my desk is monotone grey. The horse chestnut across the road is drooping with ever yellowing leaves and the grass on the front lawn is lush iridescent green from late summer downpours. Autumn is here and it is time to unfold the blankets from the cupboard on the landing.
Golden yellow and orange pumpkins are seasonal colours cues for room details.
I aim for colourful and simple eating on hot summer days. For evening drinks or starters at lunch or dinner I pass round smoked mackerel, beetroot and horseradish on pieces of soda bread or a huge plate of raw vegetables and beetroot puree . Carrots, chicory, cucumber, radishes and courgettes are perfect vegetable colours in orange, pink, green, and yellows. Substitute the puree with garlic mayonnaise. These went down a treat at my Pure Colour book launch in June, when the garden was heavy with the scent of rose blooms .
For the book launch we hung garlands of lights which gave a twinkling summer garden party feel to the occasion. Their waterproof qaulity is being tested as we leave them up through the summer cloudbursts to enjoy on warm evenings.
Summer colour in the garden doesn`t stop when the roses are over. I stitch cushions in rose pink cotton velvet, and purple and yellow linen by Manuel Canovas to keep the vibe going.
And there`s cake. Cake is best eaten outside on a winter picnic, or somewhere shady on a hot afternoon. I make a basic Vctoria sponge and smother it with lemon butter cream.
Last week while I was feeling the breeze in Barbados and reconnecting with long lost Bajan Cumberbatches (an extraordinary story of which I will write later ) the garden was busily bursting forth in an explosion of tulip colours. On the plane home, I was yearning for the Bajan sea colours which are of unspeakable beauty: gazing from the verandah each day at a glassy expanse of dark blues on the horizon, then ultramarine, and in the shallows, luminous turquoise flecked with white froth. But after battling against the early morning commuter flow at Clapham Junction and dragging my wheelie bag up and down the hill, my mood lifted as soon as I saw the floral beauty by my very own back door .
I planted the bulbs randomly and so not quite sure what is what, but know that that the varieties include: Lilac Perfection, Violet beauty, Fringed fancy frills, Lily flowering China Pink, Triumph ( the white and beetroot coloured ones) and blue parrot tulips, from Dejager Crocus and Rose Cottage .
The week in December that I spent almost double pushing several hundred tulips and alliums far into the ground to prevent squirrel digging was all so worth it. Each morning, coffee in hand, I`m outside inspecting the day`s new blooms. The tulips are first , and I can almost see them growing as vivid pink and raspberry rippled flower cups unfold in the sun on smooth lime green elegant stems .