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"Pure style is my way of life... a blueprint for living in the 21st Century"
september blog
15 September 2020

Despite the overall greenness of the garden  exuberant splashes of colour continue to blaze in a mini summer heat wave: sunflowers grown from seed given to me by my eldest daughter`s partner;  pink and white rose blooms : John Clare, St Swithins, Gertrude Jekyll, Winchester Cathedral,  Ice Berg.There are even a few new flowers on north facing white tissue paper coloured Madame Alfred Carriere.
I gather armfuls of apples, that have ripened and swelled in the  two weeks since I departed for ,and have just returned from, Olhao  (Missing new  quarantine by 36 hours).
There is an apple crumble coming on in my cooking thoughts and more apple and ginger puddings. For Emma`s Birthday I tie up  the last zinnias some rose buds, and creamy white dahlias from the pot Jane gave me. I must say this nursery grown plant, has delivered an endless show of blooms since the middle of July... and of course, there  has not been a whiff of  a slug or snail.

Sad to hear of Terence Conran`s death,  a design hero who has  hugely  influenced my love for simple practical design and  the importance of everyday things. Enticingly modern and full of gorgeous ideas the Conran Shop was a magnet for us stylists.   After  Conran  had lost  the business in 1990  I styled and art directed two Habitat catalogues  but the ethos and pieces  I  was given to  work with were diminished compared with the  simple  and appealing elements of early Habitat .  Conran`s influence  also seems a very long way from many  current ideas as in  the surfeit  of Central London  glass tower developments  which feature  showoff  and over sized lumps of furniture, awkard angles,  and,  my personal bugbear, mega kitchen islands some it seems with  the dimensions of  aircraft carrier landing strips.  Timely perhaps to  revisit  Conran`s House Book series.

Even thought the Zinnias are fading some stems   continue to push up a few new vibrant blooms . Just think all of these from a sprinkling of seeds back in early summer.  These and more garden thoughts  are percolating whilst I sit at my desk and   I  also write about autumn for my forthcomng book....Can`t wait to tell you more about it!!!.

  This is what I mean about the overall greenness of the garden on my return from Olhao: such sweet grass scents and the rhubarb is rampant,  both signs of recent rain..The beans are all  over on the plant in the foreground but there are runner beans feasts (steamed with garlic and butter  ) ahead with the scarlet flowers and emerging pods on the specimen in the  background: one of the only two  of 25 seedlings that made it to this stage. Survival of the fittest?

Olhao in early September is hot, still and pleasingly less crowded. The beach on Armona calls and I sit under the umbrella playing with brushes and   acrylics,  trying to make sense of the  coastal textures and colours.

The Saturday market is suffused with oranges and reds: thick pumpkin wedges,  glossy pomegranates and Rosa  tomatoes the size of small footballs.

 31 August   Before my Olhao departure I pick a  colanderof runners, with instructions for younger daughter to enjoy. The verdict was mainly good, although there was some string and toughness..

Auguse  2nd   Our  Puglian  visit  combines  impossibly beautiful scenes of olive groves,  sparkling sea,  gelato  and gelato coloured architecture.  I  inhale heady cologne  scents  wafting from beyond the  thick rope curtain  at the barber`s in Carpagano and get  hooked on  espressino freddo con panna - basically an intense cold coffee kick with cream in a glass. 

Summer dried grasses in the countryside and extraordinary cactus garden in town

Pool at Pasulo by me

Evening light -

It smells heavenly beyond .....

lst August   I say  goodbye to the garden  en route to Puglia at the heel of ( Southern )Italy.  Friends have moved in to dog sit the elderly one who will turn 16 in September.

Zinnias in full bloom: the zinc bucket will later make way for the `thalia`  narcissi bulbs, which have been drying in the shed. Recycle recycle.. is all part of the garden mood and adds to  why gardening feels so productive and nourishing

 21st July    Birthday dahlias from Jane  in a pot... a great way to have cut flowers on tap.

Tags: september, garden, sunflowers, roses, puglia, olhao, painting,

Summer garden
10 July 2020

Dank , grey and very English summery it is. The garden is running wild  but in the way that I like it to  and the air is sweet with grass , jasmine and honeysuckle scents.  Of course the roses are largely over such an intensive performance  each season but not long enough for me. However  Grace rose, above,  continues with  sunset orange blooms, which take on a pink hue as they mature.
The only thing really missing in my life at the moment are lido   swims  oh for the cool clear water and chance to clear the mind and energise the body. Have just heard Brockwell lido might be back in operation next week....and so my swimming togs are at the ready.
This is just a quick note this month because I`m writing my book and even though the garden is its focus... the blog requires different brain operations (fiddly picture uploading for example)and my sexagenerian one is pretty much stretched to the  limit.

Very pleased with the `mediterranean medley` basil by Unwin seeds....such a good idea to have a variety of aromatic leaves.

I painted a box of eggs produced by next door`s bantams.....

Most of my beans have been eaten by the snails and slugs, but here`s a valiant survivor with scarlet buds, and promise of some Runners after all.

Earlier in June I planted a tin bath with Zinnias, and you can see they`re doing well. In my next post I hope to show them flowering in flamboyant  oranges and pinks.

The roses were in their prime at the beginning of June, and none more so than blousy and cabbagy Constance Spry.....

Tags: summer, basil, roses, runnerbeans, garden,

May blog
28 May 2020

 After  over  nine  weeks  of Lockdown (the last three with more relaxed rules) time merges  from one day to the next in a kind of calender limbo. It must be Thursday because I have Zoom pilates. The  weather has been sublime for May and the garden is blooming in a way that it hasn`t  before, as if nature is putting up an extra show of defiance against Covid . I notice the garden  and its comings and goings so much more being home most of the time apart from excursions to the DIY shop, and a bike ride on my newly acquired  sit up and beg  Orbea  bike -  a Spanish company and pleasingly made in Portugal.  The roses are magnificently cabbagy pink and scented including the newish  Ancient Mariner standard  ,see above, which is in its second year here, and has burst forth with  many flopping blooms, that pale  to vintage pink tones like faded roses on a fifties frock.  Dear Constance Spry and Gertrude Jekyll are surpassing themselves on both fences and St.Swithins` heady scented pink whorls are  simply fabulous climbing up above the metal arch.  With little rain  to speak of,  the slug and snail threat is low   and for the first summer  in years I think my beans are going to do good...  are springing up  in their biodegradble peat pots like gangly youths straining to leave lockdown.

Seen here are Dwarf beans,  at the other end of tray there are Runners.

20th May

Constance Spry rose

15th may

Peony : Luscious and deep fuschia  pink. A wonderful memory of my mum who grew the original plant in her Wandsworth garden. After she died in 1999  I divided it and brought it home to the garden.

St.Swithins... not unlike Constance above you might think, but its all in the detail, and once close up the scent is much  more subtle, the petals paler  and the general structure, looser

14th may
Exciting to think of what lies in the  future  for  these little pots of compost with bean seeds tucked up inside waiting to germinate. A few sturdy shoots  are poking up and breaking free.

14th May

 With the dying back of the tulips,  the alliums now provide more rich  purple  garden colour.

5th May
The tulips are on the wane but the first swifts are skywheeling towards summer. `They`ve made it again, which means the worlds`s  still working ` Ted Hughes.  Recycled glass jars are my tulipieres for these single stemmed beauties, and make a few go a long way.


7th May
Spring brings so many pretty herbs and wild flowers. ... Here I`m  with the wild bunch: comfrey, commonbugloss, lemon balm and a rhubarb leaf, which all add to the wild shaggy look of the garden and are a simple look inside where I put them in a vase on the table.

4th May
Over the weekend I  made butterfly cakes and a birthday card for close gardening nut friend. I am  most industrious when no parties on the horizon. The wire rack is  another of my mum`s   tools -  another old friend for me in the kitchen. I  even crystallised the lilac flowers.. quite easy and sweet lilac flavour. Dip flowers in egg white , dip in caster sugar using tweezers, dry on baking paper for up to 36
hours . You can find the cake recipe on  Instagram @janecumberbatch  ... From my book Pure Style Recipes for Everyday/Pavilion.

Tags: tulips, springgarden, lockdowngarden, covid, roses, wildflowers, butterflycakes,

April blog 2020
29 April 2020

Monday 27 April

Six weeks in and with glorious weather lockdown has at times the feeling of an endless summer holiday albeit one without the sense of an actual ending, or what might lie on the other side.

Getting to grips with how the new normal will be for work; winging it and re- invention seem to be the order of the moment. The publishing industry is mothballed, but Iím ploughing on to complete my new Pure Style book with Vanessa Courtier my long time collaborator. As my potential publisher says, it will be easier to sell a finished book once things get moving again. I`m enjoying the focus and chance to research.
Editorial and advertising shoots have come to a standstill. The days are gone it seems of 30 unsocially distanced people pitching up here to make a commercial. The June/July cover of American Vogue is an Irving Penn close up of a rose, the magazineís first still-life cover in 50 years and photographers who co-habit with a spouse, partner or adult child model are offering ready made at-home creative teams. Am sniffing the air to see whether this idea might be where the house and I will be headingÖ.

Life and reassuring continuity goes on in the garden. Luminous spring greens against cobalt sky are David Hockney exuberant . Tulips still brimming even if some on their way out and the alliums are on the way to becoming centre stage, every soon with leggy detail ideal for creating height and splashes of purple colour. It`s dry out there but several days of rain are forecast. (As I write the weather has flipped over night and torrents are giving the garden a good drink) .

23th April Planting up pots and trays with runner bean, dwarf bean and rainbow chard seeds. Also anticipating a herb and sweet pea seedling delivery. ÖLong over due sweep and dust in the shed where there`s a bees nest under the wood floor boards; the bees buzz in through a hole by the door. The plan is to write and work from here on warm days through the summer.

22 April Heavenly scented English country garden sprays of lilac `syringa` from my friend Pam who`s marooned in the US and generously let me forage from her Tulse Hill front garden tree

In my old cloth covered copy of Constance Spry`s ` Simple flowers` A millionaire for a few pence` lilac , not unreasonably is one of her `few penc`e flowers She writes " it grows in the less favoured positions in country gardens as well as many a dusty town yard. Lilac massed in a box or a bowl, set low on coffee table or stool, is not only good to look down on but for such an arrangement short stemmed pieces are suitable , and these last better than longer branches; neither of course do well if one neglects to remove the leaves from the flowering stems, not of course discarding useful sprays but arranging them among the flowering heads though detached from them " So there you have it from Constance.

Cardoon: garden awning for Coco cat

13 April Easter Monday quiet and blossom filled. Would have been flying to visit my Cumberbatch family in Barbados. Trip to the hardware shop in Herne hill. Open. Not allowed into the shop but have to stand by a serving hatch at the door whilst the assistant disappears into the tool hung gloom to fetch what you want. Buy low odour white spirit for cleaning paint brushes, seed compost, peat pots and seeds.

8th april Work and play: though the locations shoots are on hold the house remains multi functional with me per usual in office, one daughter holed up in front room working via Zoom, dog and cat sprawled across various chairs doing absolutely nothing and other daughter
Georgie being creative in the kitchen with smoked mackerel, mashed with yoghurt, lemon, parsley on toast and topped with cooked beetroot. Inviting in colour as well as taste.

Painting my way through lockdown is good for the spirits.

8th April Apple tree blossom unfurling, sycamore filling with slodges of lime green buds. Our beady eyed garden robin hops along the fence in hope of a juicy worm.
You know how you go on for years convinced of something and then find out that you`ve been completely wrong? Using my new Picture This app I`ve discovered that clumps of deadnettles with pretty white flowers (ideal for widflower jugs on the table) are in fact Comfrey plants Also excellent for making comfrey juice fertiliser. I remember using my sister-in-law`s comfrey potion on my tomatoes a few years ago to good effect. See Griselda Kerr`s advice in the Apprenhensive Gardener, Pimpernel Press: "remove flowers regularly to keep the foliage fresh. Pick the leaves, throw away tough stalks and put in a bucket to make a great potash-rich feed suitable for most plants. Weigh down the leaves with a brick, topping up with fresh leaves , adding 10 l water to every kilo of leaves - stir occasionally and leave until it has broken down into a liquid (which stinks). Strain, bottle, keep cool and dark. Dilute again 1;10 to use"

Tags: tulips, spring, garden, lockdown, pandemic, athome, bluebells, lilac,

Spring thoughts
30 March 2020

 Some good things:  road use is down to 1955 levels  and the  garden powers on in lockdown. The  first raspberry ripple Bicolour flaming flag tulips are blooming and the apple tree is budding- simple pleasures  to alleviate  anxiety and  the  hit by a hammer effect of social distancing and self isolation.  Mad humour to match mad times is a good antidote:  the  vide  boss unintentionally  appearing as a virtual potato  in a  group office meeting on Zoom  the new way to connect whilst we are stuck inside.  I have had my usual pilates class via Zoom and even if we were not together in the flesh it is  connecting to see everyone else,   to get a glimpse of each others sofa arrangements plus a  show and tell of pet dogs, cats and even a lizard. 

31st march

A host of white and golden narcissi under the apple tree.

30th March

 Fresh and varied Vegetable  box delivered from   Smith&Brock   wholesaler who have miraculously reworked their  business  mode in response to the lock down of  events,  hotels  restaurants and bars    and are  now sending out  consumer deliveries.

Vegetable box candy coloured  beetroot and carrots - plenty of time to play around with  art  now .....

 Rescue  soup kitchen in our picnic  thermos and a posy of spring flowers from the garden

A friend with suspected covid now has pneumonia  and so  I make her some pea and mint soup.  I leave it at her doorstop and wave from at least 2 metres away. She reports that it`s fresh and soothing on her throat.  Worrying times.

Pea and mint soup: chop 1 onion, 4 garlic cloves, 2 peeled potatoes, add to a pan with l litre vegetable stock. Bring to boil and simmer for 15 minutes until potato soft. Add handful of chopped fresh mint leaves, 500g frozen frozen peas (petits pois sweeter), juice half lemon, and bring back to simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Whizz in processor. Can serve with sour cream/creme fraiche/yoghurt.

24th March

Social distancing in Brockwell Park:  a quick charcoal after my run along with everyone else on their once a day exercise, now that we all have stay in.  The sun is streaming, sky is clear and  the streets  are empty. I miss the cold clear lido... Don`t know when we will be swimming again. 

The new gravel  is satisfyingly crunchy and adds  definition to the beds which are growing in profusion. Think the alliums are going to be fabulous this summer . In the  background are my  newly planted box plants...  I am taking a risk because  box blight destroyed the previous hedge but  with all things  in the garden its  worth having another go ..

At least the garden`s ready for lockdown  even if  I`m not. I`m more than lucky to have this space when so many people in London  will have to endure confined conditions.

For those new to my garden here`re  some notes on my  plans for the garden when we moved here in 2003


Winter is the time to plan and dream. And over the first one at Palace road I read up on  gardens and gardeners, great and small to get me going on the new garden I will dig with the help of Tommy and his gang later in the year. Alexander Popeís advice to the Earl of Burlington Ė that the gardener consult the genius of the place could certainly apply to my back garden as much as to the 18 century earlís sprawling acreage . The genius in this place is its spacious and leafy,suburban proportions. Where to start?

I rough out a basic plan and thoughts in a notebook. I envision the garden as
a series of outdoor spaces: a journey for the senses, a mix of the formal and
informal , with places to sit and eat or contemplate on a blanket under a blue
sky. Three sections emerge: a patio, a central flower and herb plot divided by
gravel paths and planted at the corners with wigwams of beansticks, and the
grass area at the end with the old apple tree and garden room,. The brief :to
keep it simple, functional, and beautiful. Simple in the sense of layout, functional
in not having time consuming plants, and beautiful in terms of texture
colour and sensuality. Possible obstacles to dash my plans: the unvisual prospect
of a trampoline - at the time my children were begging for one.
I also look with increased focus at the cottage gardens and allotments
on which I will base my ideas. The forerunners of sweetly cobbled or
brick paved front gardens brimming with little clumps of the seasonís first
snowdrops , near me, and of my own childhood back garden for that matter,
go back to the Middle Ages, and earlier when green fingered monks tended
flowers and herbs in cloister and courtyard gardens. Enclosed by a wattle
fence, hawthorn hedge or stone wall.

23rd March

As the country closes down,  loo roll is like  gold bars  and birdsong takes over from the roar of aircraft,  it`s a race against lockdown  to  ren novate  the gravel paths between the flower and herb beds.  Gavin and and Karl are my right hand  garden team  digging out the existing gravel, now thick with weeds and earth spillover after the most torrential  winter  I have known , and laying down a permeable plastic membrane on which will be spread a thick layer of pea shingle gravel. This should be more weed repelling than previously because the plastic butts up against the earth border of the flower beds.

Tags: spring, garden, tulips, lockdown, covid-19, simple, style, growing, coronavirus, everyday beauty,

february blog
16 March 2020


february blog
17 February 2020

Yesterday the garden became a little Venice as the storm rain poured down and created watery canals between the central beds. To say it was sodden was an understatement as I took refuge in the office and tidied up the computer desktop rather than the garden prunings.


This morning the ground has swallowed up the excess water but the grass still feels like the unstable mud flats you get at low tide by the river. Squelchy, but at least the narcissi are poking through , the little clump that is well over 10 years old has sprouted again and is about to burst into bloom. This time last year the buds were shut tight and the plants half the size in height. Itís been another exceptionally warm winter , as we all know.


Very excited to come across a pot of narcissi actually flowering; theyíre bulbs from inside that I put out after flowering over a year ago and forgot to dig into the ground. Love the accidental surprises that the garden yields.



I skipped swimming to garden but itís another form of exercise, sweeping, cutting, loading up the wheelbarrow and trundling it to the heap behind the fencing at the bottom of the garden. After an hour, plus aching arms from stretching upwards to prune wildy unwieldy Madame Aflred Carriere rose (a glorious puff of white petals later on in summer) itís time to lay down the choppers and have a break.



Tags: spring , narcissi , garden, tidy

September garden notebook
16 September 2019

Gertrude Jekyll`s brilliant pink petals  are having a second blooming -  welcome colour in the the end of summer garden . There might be less of the brilliant pink and purple  swathes of roses and alliums that bathed the garden in loveliness throughout May and June, but in the spirit of  less is more  I especially appreciate what is on offer as a visual feast 

My  Verbena is  extraordinary , always ,  going from tiddly  5cm green  shoots  somewhere back in the spring   to 2 metre tall  living artworks almost of purple florets atop  delicate  gangly  stems which look exceptionally pretty and other worldy in early morning  sunshine.



The tomatoes are a bit of a cheat really, because they arrived in a pot with a view to planting out and to  thus increasing their flowering and fruiting.  Challenged however   by  indoor domestic piles  and summer lethargy   of course the tomato pot didn`t make it to the  enriching ground. Never mind it has been cheering to chart the  green to yellow to red  ripening of the lucky few specimens  over the last week or so.



There are also the  classic fruits of the English  season to enjoy and this year the apple tree is more laden than I`ve ever seen it.   In fact the fruit tree scene is bounteous , spectacular and spilling  all over the gardens of London:  golden pears, juicy Victoria plums, red dessert apples, mulberries (I even made some jam from a local tree in the park) and crab apples , too.  I think it has something to do with the fact that were no significant frosts and spring was a warm one... as they are all becoming it seems. This is in contrast to 2018 when the the icy  `Beast from the East, knocked nascent buds for six and  drastically cut back fruit production. That`s not to say that I wasn`t able to enjoy some apple cakes and puddings from  our tree`s limited  yield.


 I`ve been having a heady experience cutting back the lavender and will make some scented bags for my drawers.


Tags: september, garden, londonretreat, simplegarden, pink, roses, verbena, apples

May garden diary
30 May 2019

May 9th. 17.00. Still acclimatised to Melbourneís 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 gardenís 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 Ö 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, 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.

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 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 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 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.

I 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 insects

So goodbye fresh buds and petals, itís been all too fleeting, and hello to the falling leaves of an Australian autumnÖ.

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

Spring ideas
22 March 2019

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.

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 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 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 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. 


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,


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