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May garden diary
30 May 2019

  May 9th. 17.00.  Still  acclimatised to Melbourne’s burnished autumn golds and yellows,  plus being  being knocked sideways  with a  return dose of jet lag,  I am stunned in a happy way by the garden’s  brilliant spring greens and exuberant petal pinks and purples  . As well as a fluttering crowd of  tulips:  Violet beauty (purple centre ) Bleu Amiable (pale yellow centre ) Rems Favourite, (raspberry ripple ) Jackpot (deep purple) and Blue Heron  (frilly edged petals) self seeding forget me nots and bluebells create vivid blue contrasts, .ogether with feathery lime green nigella and sleek architectural allium stems.  The skins on the  bobble buds  are  peeling  back to   reveal tightly packed, nascent pink  and purple florets, which will soon form soft pompom balls -  a bee  favourite.  The  recent rain has  much plumped up the whole garden scene too  and I am heartened that despite  radical pruning in February  the Constance Spry on the right fence has caught up and is laden with many potential heavy scented pink blooms.  Wow,  only two days ago I was catching the  autumnal scents of damp  earth and woodsmoke .

The textures, moods and colours of the garden change with the light and weather, giving a sense of life and momentum  any time in the year. But somehow late Spring with all its newness and freshness is particularly vibrant.
I love to photograph the garden at all times of the day and can capture a moment with a click of the button. Learning how to paint and sketch its elements forces me to focus in another way. The more  I  look  the more I see  the way in which petals  and leaves are arranged on a plant  for example.  It`s good  this looking and noticing,  meditative  even , an antidote to my over reactive  life on the smart phone.

The crowds of  tulips are all glossy with beads of rain and a  grey brooding afternoon sky enhances and saturates the  garden`s   rich pink , blue and green palette.
From top: Rems favourite and Jackpot. In background: Violet Beauty.

May 12th 0.800   Morning light and shade The  delicate structures  of self seeding forget -me- nots and nigella are  perfect ethereal textures.

May 13th 18.00     Flat light again but fabulous for seeming to draw the intense tulip colours closer to the eye … do you see how the pinks of Violet Beauty become cooler and more  blue?

MAY 16th 08.30- Bathed in morning sunshine

May 21 15.00    The tulips are winding down -  most of the  vivid pink and white striped Rems favourite are over - and the alliums are taking centre stage to create a more uniform splash  of purple and mauve. Many are repeats from previous years, but  I have added  new plantings of  large headed  gladiator;  tall and leggy rosenbachianum  and christophii-  more stubby but  with  beautiful heads of star like flowers.

30 May  -  Noon

I didn`t make it to the Chelsea Flower show or rather didn`t get round to organising a ticket in advance,  but Jane Perrones  highlights in The  Guardian  describe  green being the dominant theme, literally and metaphorically . The main avenue was awash with broad-leaved tress among  swathes of cow parsely, euphorbias  and meadowsweet.  Topiary got soft and lower as designers for soft mounds of yew, pine and beech over tightly clippped box balls as seen on Tom Stuart Smiths RHS Bridgewater garden and Kate Gould`s  Greenfingers garden.  Christ Beardshaw`s Morgan Stanley garden was a good attempt to minimise the environmental impact of a transient Chelsea plot , carrying out groundworls using an electric excavator instead of a diesel engine, and growing plants in recyclable pots.  In Jilayne Rickards` garden for the Campaign for Female Education, there was a water wise raised bed system for growing food anywhere. Its made from reclaimed brick  with a rubble-filled reservoir at its base fed by rainwater or grey water. There were the usual on trend details , such as a raised bed clad in hammered copper in David Neale`s Silent Pool Gin garden and a log wall in Paul Hervey-Brookes` Art of Viking Garden.  I am rather keen on one of Allitex`s decorative greenhouses for the National Trust... I can see myself potting away happily in one with the radio going and a cup of tea.

Meanwhile outside there is a fabulous flush of roses on the left sunnier side of the garden . I walk outside first things  to the combined and heavenly  sweet scents and pink blooms of  Gertrude Jekyll, John Clare, and Constance Spry.


April garden
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 inte rior. 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.

My 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, they’ve 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.

Too 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 I’ve explained before. I don’t 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 an event such as cherished box hedging is annihilated by box blight almost overnight. Yes, it happened to mine last summer. So I have been guarded in my anticipation for the apple tree buds. But there was no frost or fierce storm. The apple tree has burst forth in a vsion of Van Gogh’s French orchards in spring , a delicate fluff of petals in white and pink. Looks like we’re going to get a big crop of apples this year – cautiously ’maybe’ 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.

I mow some of the grass , but don’t 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 insects

So goodbye fresh buds and petals, it’s been all too fleeting, and hello to the falling leaves of an Australian autumn….

Tags: springgarden, tulips, blossom, pink, ecogarden, londonreatreat, countryinthecity, simplegarden, outdoors,

Spring ideas
22 March 2019

 Papery pink blossom petals  drift across the fence from Clare’s 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 don’t 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.

Living 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 not much.

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 year’s 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 they’re slimy, gliding with uncanny speed especially over glossy rained upon earth.
 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. 



Tags: spring, garden, hazelsticks, simplegardn, springcolours, wigwams

New start
08 January 2019

  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 pao d`agua   .

Local clementines complete with leaves

 Earthy textures:  cork bowl and new potatoes
Slices of pumpkin dispensed by  small machete
Lemons looking like real ones rather than the all look the same lemons at the supermarket.

Bundles of wild asparagus - it grows in ditches and grassy banks

Tags: colour, simple-living, olhao, simple-eating,

Colour in Rio
29 June 2016

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 backdrops plunging to vast  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 ochres,  to spray painted 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 dark,  and yes the mosquitos are tedious. But more testing is to ride pillon on a moto taxi up to Gracie`s hostel in Vidigal a recently pacified favela. Picture me grimly clinging 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 hair’s 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. 


Tags: Rio, colour,

June beauty
10 June 2016

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..

Tags: summer, alliums, garden, purple, blue, green, purecolour, simplestyle

The tulip portraits
22 April 2016

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.

Tags: tulips, pink, spring, garden,

Caribbean beauty
03 March 2016

   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.

Tags: Barbados, archtiecture, simplestyle,

New year, new plans
15 January 2016

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.

Tags: winter, olhao, simple, interiors. decoration, pink, tiles

A christmas rose
15 December 2015

 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!

Tags: christmas, roses, pink, winter, bulbs, garden

Pure Colour Olhao
19 November 2015

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. 

Glossy olives

Figs from the flat capped  owner`s garden - all shapes and sizes none of which would pass the supermarket test for shape and uniformity

Bees wax from a stall with honey, and honeycombs

Piri piri chillies, hot red and firey.

Sweet potatoes

Garlic in light and shade

Tags: autumn, Olhao, market, simple, colour

Melbourne details
19 October 2015

  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.

Tags: Melbourne, simpledetail, spring

Pure Colour: autumn
16 September 2015

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.

 A cornfield harvesthome  look in  linen by Angie Lewin

 PS Lots more colour inspiration in my book Pure Colour !

Tags: autumn, pumpkins, orange, yellow, blankets

Purecolour summer
16 July 2015

  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.

Tags: purecolour, summer, simpleliving , cake, homemade, linen, cotton, garden

More of my pink passions
03 May 2015

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 .

NB  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 .

Tags: spring, tulips, garden, simple, pink,


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