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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,

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 I’m 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 magazine’s 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 heading….

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. …Long 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 Pope’s advice to the Earl of Burlington – that the gardener consult the genius of the place could certainly apply to my back garden as much as to the 18 century earl’s 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 season’s 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,

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

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

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,

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

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,

Tip toe through the tulips
17 April 2015

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 .

Tags: spring, tulips, garden, purecolour, alliums,

Pure colour 2015
06 January 2015

Pure Style colours 2015 via a  day glow yellow t shirt  and pink string from my present pile. You`ll see more inspiration  when my new Colour book comes out in April!

Frosted rose bud  is almost the very very last one before I take the secateurs and prune the rose bushes in time  for spring.

All the way from the balmy fields of the Scilly Isles : scented narcissi arrive packed in folds of tissue paper .

Lime green  paperwhite bulb shoots and moss bedding make me feel that there`s life and vibrancy even in early January grey gloom

There`s the promise of more pink scented  blousy rose blooms with 2  St Swithins  climbers  that I will train up the metal arches in the garden..

Tags: winter, colour, pink, yellow, garden, roses,

Autumn and corduroy colours
24 November 2014

Like unclogging bristle brushes under the  tap, a 12  hour deluge flushes the last  leaves from the trees. They  join a golden tide coursing through the roads and gardens of Tulse Hill.  Bulb planting is  an unpopular option for the moment and I escape to  Emily Carr`s   rhythmical brush strokes of the Canadian forest at The Dulwich Picture Gallery.  I also visit   RIBA and  Edwin Smith`s black and white photographs of the beauty in ordinary subjects:  a bench overtaken by a nettles or the graphic ridges and furrows of a Norfolk field .

Autumn fashion: the corduroy trousers of childhood with elastic waistbands, and, later on earnest student males in sagging corduroy jackets turned me off the material for years. I now appreciate its comfortable sensible  qualities and find it amusing that my new cords for autumn are   `sexy boyfriend` ones.  If only.

Like dividing a bag of of pic n mix  sweets I sort the tulip and allium bulbs, from Unwins , Rose Cottage Plants and de Jager  into  16 piles for the 16 beds in the garden.

 More autumn garden things: stray rose blooms; dried spikes of  nut brown cardoons;  busy robins and blackbirds stabbing at  worms,  and  the country in the city earth rot smells of sopping grass and moulding leaves. .

Tags: autumn, bulbs, garden, golden, yellow,

The colours of autumn
06 November 2014

I understand how it is easy to fall  into a depression after the completion of an intensive project(school exams the exception).  It`s all over, what to do next?  I delivered my Pure Colour book a few weeks ago  and felt stunned for a few days. But as someone who is always  keen to curl up with a glass of wine and a good read, or catch up on films  and generally reward myself with art, food and natural  beauty, I have avoided a pit of despondency. Rather there is a feeling of  relief, almost disbelief that  I got to the finishing line and everything is in the bag.  

The Indian summer autumn this year is as vivid as the hyper-coloured dreams I experienced during the putting together of the book A kind of affirmation that there is brilliance and beauty in the everyday, and how we need  look no further than a view from the window to see a spectacular  blue sky or  trees with fluttering leaves in reds and pinks and golds.

On Halloween I ditched the pumpkins and eerie candlight for a swim at the Lido. Sparkling blue water (tres bracing I must admit) and sunbathing  in  21C  made it seem  more Miami than Brixton beach.  Mixed muddly climate change  conditions or typical unpredictable English island weather?

You have got to see Mr Turner,  funny, enlightening and as (almost) visually beautiful as the paintings at The late Turner exhibition at the Tate.  I also recommend the dancing and rhythms in Northern Soul,

  Nature is so much more interesting than reading that the John Lewis Christmas ad is out.  This morning it was the first frost and tonight it will be  full moon. First thing  I pull on a sweater over my nightie and go out into the garden  all autumn  damp and with an  earthy country smell  to  snap the frosted leaves and  jam jar night lights on the table by the shed. 

Tags: autumn, PureColour, frost, roses, lido, swimmming, garden,

Pure Style out and about
20 June 2014

Head down and chasing ideas and making pictures for my new book about colour.  We have a publisher , hooray, and it will be on the shelves next spring. In between, sensual respite for a few days in Olhao.  Soaking up the sun and splashing in first swim of the year sea . So cool and invigorating and then   to eat and feast on fish. Vegetables come home in Olhao where the market is spilling over with plump tomatoes and greens. A plate of roast tomatoes, onions, peppers and courgettes is my offering for  supper with friends. 

 It is `quinta-feira da espiga` (ear of wheat Thursday or Ascension day) and there are bundles of olive, wheat ,poppies, and daisies piled outside the corner shop. It is is good to see the survival of simple country rituals.

Same but different: the beach at Camber sands the day after  friends daughter`s 21st. England is as beautiful as any Algarve coastal retreat. But, and this is a big one I`m not  enthused about   murky English channel  shallows.

View from my room, below.   I am booked on late  at Pontin`s `holiday park` fulfilling a childhood curiosity  of what`s  behind the wire of a holiday camp. It`s housing estate on sea:  slot machines, chips, flimsy walls, and family bbqs. Could offer more quality for the price.  And don`t punish your guests  Mr Pontins:  clean the windows, shoot the seagulls and put in bedside lights.

  Sunday morning Long island style at Camber sands, below.

Travelling  mentally to more watery paradise with Clare Lloyd`s My Greek Island Home.   Australian  artist, designer and photographer, Claire left the stresses of  city life in London to set up home in a small village on Lesbos.  The book is a visual feast  in which Claire eloquently describes  the simple pleasures of reconnecting with nature and community. I love the feline details.

 To  Colefax and Fowler on a fabric hunt and to see the new collection.  I want to order  the linen stripes by the hundred metre rollful but am content with a sweet carrier bag lined with `Bowood` my favourite Colefax print

There`s no place like home and  my back garden on a hot day in June.

Tags: summer, Olhao, coast, blue, garden,

Shots of purple
21 May 2014

When the garden is looking as heavenly as it is at the moment I have no huge  need to spread my wings in search of new excitement. ( Although   I  would rather like to go dancing.......  ) This week it is our clever lodger Jeffrey`s birthday and there is cake for tea and all the gorgeous purples and greens of  early summer to mark the occasion.

 Lucky to have the last fading tulip petals (they`re edible!) to decorate a chocolate  Victoria sponge using the recipe from my cookbook, and  to enjoy it against a garden canvas of alliums and lime green lavender and lemon balm leaves:  one of my favourite colour pairings.

See  how  a purple/green combination works in printed floral  cotton: a remnant used to patch one of my chidren`s jeans pocket.

Tags: purple, lime green, purestylecolour, summer, baking, chocolate, garden

Spring break
18 April 2014

Up with the lark. 4.30am actually. Ring at the door bell. Dog barks loudly and wakes me from dream where a shoot is submerging the house in folds of paper. Stagger downstairs and peer through the knobbly glass door panel. Vague outline of  man in motorbike helmet. Panic. It`s a smash and grab raid?  "Who is it ?". ``Pizza". "Pizza, pizza who? "  I say.  "It`s paid for " he says, and hands over  a box from a thermal bag. "  " It`s 4.30, I didn`t order this, and it`s stone cold"  I say, and stagger upstairs.  Someone has messed up at pizza HQ.

Wish  the  `instant` of nocturnal fast food delivery , could be applied to building work.   One thing leading to another is what building is all about. The  attic bathroom project would have been  done and dusted but for this week`s discovery of a wasps` nest,  parts missing,  and paint colour  mixed with the wrong base. Plus the soggy fallout from the unfortunate incident in  the downstairs bathroom when X and X removed the lavatory as part of the panelling job, and flooded the ceiling below. `You`ll have to get in your plumber` they try.  Hmmmm. "You did say X and X  were competent at removing bathroom fittings" I remind the contractor.  And on, and on  it goes.

Oh well. There`s always the garden. My touchstone of sanity. Spring is at least a  month earlier than last year and we are  soaking up the scents of bluebells and frothy blossom like  parched drinkers.  Best job of the week has been raking  bag of grave  in the relining of  the pathways between the parterre beds.  They look refreshed, almost like clean linen. 

  Unsurprisingly, I`m longing for the weekend. I think that spring lamb will be on the menu for our  Easter feast. This recipe with roasted artichokes and spring greens is  from my book .

Tags: spring, colour, garden, homecooking,

Birthday tea
01 April 2014

Spring is springing and the first tulips are blasting colour in the garden. The snail and slugs are in retreat and all is well. 

 Party of the year in Battersea Park for Bertie`s sweet 16 walk and birthday tea.  Everyone was there.  Regrets were sent from Khan who was  sad because the vet  said he must rest his leg. He sent love. The weather  was perfect. There was  much frolicking and ball playing. For the most part the guests behaved impeccably, apart from Rosie who  slurped melting ice  from the champagne bucket and Lola the black pug who ate too much birthday cake and delivered it back on the rug. The party boy managed to stay the course and tottered home  happily across the grass as the sun dipped beneath the great  chimneys of Battersea Power Station .

Justify Left

Much to be inspired by in the coming season of blossom and light evenings.  I have my eyes on Gallery   Libby sellers  for  eye provoking  design in a  curated environment;  Ben  and Winifred Nicholson`s very domestic take on early  20C art and life at  Kettles Yard ;  creamy Welsh goats`  cheese logs  from Mootown sold at Sunday market in Herne Hill; and my first bath in the new attic bathroom which will be opened for shoots as soon as the last lick of paint has dried.

Here are pictures of the latest blasts of colour in my  garden, shot this morning soon after the fairy mist had lifted and the sun  had broken through.

Tags: tulips, spring, colour, garden,

The garden beckons
25 February 2014

There`s fun in a workout  with  fork and spade in the fresh air . As good as a punch bag (it has been one of those weeks) .Happily ,weeds growing super fast in the warmth, and infesting snails are at the receiving end of my energies.
 I  dig and  thoughts come, like how there is sanity in the unpredictability  of nature.  Give me this  violet (above) pinging with unseasonal  colour and  vigour over a mush diet of commercial uniformity.  Bring on the super green alliums bursting with early green shoots  and,  over there , a  radical  forget met not,  glowing with delicate  cobalt blue flowers  And even though  I can’t tame nature  I can attempt to work with her.

 The hazel hurdles are up. Easy to mount the stakes in the boggy soil and they should  make a good backdrop  for  garden shoots this spring.  I’ve recycled the worn out willows ones and put them in the vegetable patch (see below).   They’ll look good with sweet peas curling up  in summer.

  I am planning a new shoot bathroom in the attic and to line the downstairs bathroom in  tongue and groove mdf cladding.  I’ve my eye on a cast iron bath with feet for the top room  and  Pigeon  dark grey  to give it warmth and contrast  to my mostly white house. 

 On the fabric side of things, I  have recently seen luscious  colours in sleek contract textures  designed by  fashion designer Raf  Simons for   Kvadrat . And there  are interesting retro prints   in Heals` first fabric collection since the seventies`.

I seem to need more raw food at this time of year, something to do with winter depleting our bodies’ stocks of nutrients maybe, or simply a desire for crunch and colour. Here ‘s a simple winter salad, from my  recipe book that you might like to put together
2 or three carrots, peeled and sliced into thin sticks.
200g red cabbage finely sliced
1 head of chicory finely sliced
handful of pomegranate seeds
handful of chopped mixed nuts
few mints leaves, to garnish ( my local Turkish shop has a steady supply all through the year)
for the dressing
1 tbsp olive oil
2tbsp Seville orange juice or lemon juice
 1garlic clove finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Combine the vegetables, pomegranate seeds and nuts in a bowl. In another small bowl, whisk the olive oil and orange or lemon juice until amalgamated. Add the garlic and season. Add the dressing to the salad, mix and garnish with mint.

Tags: winter. home cooking, garden, colour,

Summer cool
03 August 2013

  We are in summer, real summer (last one was 2006) with  the almost forgotten sensations of  sticky heat on skin, cooling  swims at the Lido and the garden smelling more sweet  and meadow-like as the mercury rises.  The heat seals the season`s scents: ziplocked sweat ,rose petals ,hot pavements, bbq sausages and factor 30. I keep cool and fragrant with a squirt of  cologne  and and eat ice cream. My sister  piles a carton high with blackcurrants from  her garden which I simmer  in sugar and water, cool whisk into whipped double cream and freeze.
A friend emailed:  "George and I made your lemon ice cream a few days ago -which was simply sublime especially eaten before it had set`  See said ice cream from the summer section of my book  Pure Style Recipes for Everyday

What a treat to duck under the shade of the  apple tree and read the 2nd issue of The Foodie Bugle mag.  It is like a well stocked larder of delicious information and visual inspiration. Immediately drawn of course to the piece entitled `The Taste of Portugal`"


The house is a busy shoot destination this summer, and props and crew can spill over into the garden without the threat of a drop of rain.  
Just as well, when Coca Cola turn up with  plus 30  individuals, fridges , ovens, turkeys  and enough Coke to keep the area`s dentists in work for years. The theme is Coke and food, and involves a  Coca cola `family` most of whom look like you and me, except for a brooding model  hunk who spreads across the doorstep in between takes like a shaggy dog .  

Just as it`s so good to waft about in summer frocks and bare legs, the hot weather gives me so much pleasure on the housewifely front.  When the washing dries warm and toasty in the space of an hour  I feel a flush of domestic euphoria. Similarly I`ve been itching to give the rush mats a good scrub  and here I am, hosing them down with gusto.

Pink poppies are  welcome garden invaders maybe encouraged by the sun because they didn`t appear last year.

 The sprinkler and he hissing of summer lawns couldn`t be more suburban and cool.

Want to feel cool and floaty? invest in a hippy cotton nightie from  Denny Andrews

Cool sea blue ceramics by Sue Binns are summer essentials. (Green string,  an Olaho hardware shop stalple)

  Pink white, purple and green , the cool colours of summer in a  jug of flowers on my table.


Tags: summer, garden, roses, floral fabrics,

Garden furniture
28 June 2013

In between summer showers  I take a  comfortable seating option with arms into the garden to read a book in.  It sounds middle aged but deckchairs annoy the backs of my legs, and lying flat on the grass invites the dog to drop a constant supply of stones by my face thus getting no further than one or two paragraphs. 

The chair here is an Ikea upholstered model that I bought a couple of years ago with the intention of making a simple loose cover to jolly it up. And so, as with many of my  bright ideas , it sat in my office  unadorned for month upon month.

 What I needed was an incentive, which came my way in the autumn with sewing classes run by Tessa Brown. There`s something about working in a group of people  that is more fun  and less intense than when it is just you and a pair of scissors.  The biscuits were delicious, the chat good,  and Tessa showed me how to make my very own couture chair cover from scratch.

The fabric is Ian Mankin   cotton ticking which I pre washed and pre shrunk. Very useful  for dealing with mud paw prints  now that the dog and cat are making moves to hijack my comfortable chair.

Tags: ticking, stripes, blue, summer, garden

Garden moods
31 May 2013

My garden has moods and textures that change with the time of day, the quality of light, and whatever the  elements are supplying.
On a late afternoon in May the garden is a visual intoxication of light and shade: low long beams  track the brilliance of the tulips, the green gloss finish of the grass, and the bees that dangle and dodge on the highways of rays.

Like a sleek well fed cat sprawling  in the sun, the garden seems to exude a kind of contentment which washes over me as I weed, plant or sit by the shed thinking  about nothing in particular.

Late afternoon  tulips in the sunshine curl and unfurl  in a siesta of translucent languorous petals.

The alliums shimmer and fizz in purple brilliance,  edible  pompoms for feasting bees

I want to eat it up, the deliciousness of the garden;  it primes the appetite for taste and smell for the visual and the sensual.  This is the time of day to sit under the blossom of the apple tree in the dappled shade and  eat meringues, cream and raspberries.

NB the wallflowers - especially the lipstick pink ones, see below - are spectacular this spring!

  Garden Mood 11
 On the other hand, or perhaps I should say something more garden-like like spade, or trowel,  the dullest no-show-of -sun-day, gives the garden  a rather wonderful saturated matt quality, like a fabric or a Hockney landscape.  And all  the  colours  and textures of leaves and petals seem to advance and intensify  against the grey canvas of sky,  see pictures  below


  Beetroot ripples and stripes of  a `Triumph` tulip,  below

Silvery green grey Globe artichoke foliage is on my  list to become a Pure Style paint colour

  Over the last day or so  my moveable feast of a garden is more a green and purple scene  of alliums, nodding and swaying in the breeze as the remaining tulips wither and shrivel .

A grey day, but  the rich colour  of Mr Campbell`s bluebells almost sings in contrast.

NB Mr Cambell`s bluebells are the descendants of those that were  flowering  here in the garden when  the previous owners Bernard, and his parents did all the things that people did  before technology, like taking  afternoon tea in the shed,  or sitting  in deckchairs in  Flannels waiting for Cook to ring the bell for luncheon.

Tags: Pink, garden, spring, colour

Spring break
04 April 2013

The wind continues to cut like iced knives, but at least there`s some green shooting going on in my shed. These are the sweet pea seeds  I planted last autumn, and I`ve been pinching out the top leaves so that side shoots are encouraged to grow. Look at them stretching towards   the light.

Good Friday.  I make hot cross buns from the recipe in my book. My version only requires one proving of the dough which means they`re heavier than buns made with two.  But less fuss to make, and  delicious  toasted and spread with butter.  The mighty mxing bowl, my favourite , is part of an order  to replenish stocks of house kit that has worn out or gone too far gone to repair. The last bowl met a shattering end on the kitchen floor.

A clump of self seeded violets  in my vegetable patch is  visual treasure. The flowers are edible, too.

New  white towels, are almost as exciting.

A  friend back from Fogo  has saved my toes from  more destruction by chilbain with a gift of  slippers  handknitted by islanders

Hoping that this won`t be the last of the rhubarb!

Tags: spring, natural fabrics, homecooking, garden,

Eggs and leeks
03 January 2013

 The rain has taken a bank holiday. New year, new sky so blue, a  sense of optimism in the lst January air.  I trek across the sparkling park and the view is hyper clear. A crow’s eye vision of London: swooping  past the  glowing needle points of the Shard, and onwards to the hills of northern Thameslink land.  


My Christmas was as over indulgent and wine embellished as usual. From rolling out sweet pastry for mince pies and tending slow roast pork, we were never away for long from kitchen activities.  Highlights were my sister’s hens’ eggs with glorious yellow yolks and the sweet baby leeks she pulled, mud caked, from the garden on Christmas morning.

No seasonal frost,  more a nuclear winter grey to accompany the cloudbursts and floods.  And the mud persisted.  Should have  treated myself to  those shortie Hunter wellies ). There was constant hosing down of the-dog-from–the- trenches and my housewifely mopping of floors decorated with paw mud prints . More than timely, though, was the  recent purchase of a  retro wooden airer with rope and pulleys.  Draped over the wood slats  like an aerial souk  the washing actually gets a chance to dry like toast.

A relief to come across some colour, see lichen on Somerset tree trunk below

And  hens` eggs:  pure, white (decorated with mud) and simple.

Plans, and  more plans for the months ahead: to grow a rambling scented jasmine in Portugal, to get my Colour Bands out there and on your walls, to paint pictures in bold washes of colour,  to cook more paellas, to rein in daydreaming at my desk.

PS I hope that I’ve ironed out all the new website   stuff. The comments page is up and running again. I look forward to hearing from you all in 2013. J

Tags: winter, home cooking, garden

Saturday market
19 December 2012


The frosted 05.30 from Liverpool Street to the small scale experience of Southend airport gets me in the mood for the simple pleasures of Olhao. We even take off over the same  silvery mudflat coastline that meets our descent two and a half hours later.

The house is dry but needs a fire. We stoke up the woodburning stove, a dumpy cylinder on legs and  traditional feature in old houses throughout Spain and Portugal. It soon pushes out heat. We sit beside it, like contented

cats, eating bo wls of sweet steaming clams in garlic.


Shops are closed, or down to minimum stock supplies. The down beat, empty feel of  Portugal`s recession is even more apparent in an out of season Algarve seaside town. There are no christmas lights in Olhao this year, but somehow the token nativity with live donkey and sheep in pen with crib and star, is  more charming than streets of blazing illuminations.

The Saturday market seems recession proof, people, colours, produce. life, as visually intoxicating as ever. A vivid canvas of lemons, golden wedges of pumpkin, the new season`s olives, plump greens, and eggs like white opaque jewels. 

We hit the road to tour some reclamation yards - basically a field or two strewn with smashed and broken  pillars, porticos,  old sinks, and tiled floors. Torn, or rescued, depends on which way you see it from Portugal`s  architectural heritage to make way for developers` concrete and glass boxes.

Any one for worn and weathered  pantiles ? So much more beautiful than prefabricated modern ones.

On the last night we drive up an avenue of palms to eat  with Detlev von Rosen - whose extra virgin olive oil is some of the smoothest I have tried in these parts.

Goodbye Olhao, until next month when I will embark on the big spring clean to make the house ready for rentals.
I miss the sea salt air and cobalt blue sky, but nature is here to grip me in suburbia with her continuing frost and ice beauty.

Frosted verbena, above and allium seed head, below.

Tags: winter, portugal, garden

Ice Ice Ice
05 December 2012

White crunch outside. Crystalised petals and leaves piped with ice. Wouldn’t mind a pair of fur lined boots to go with digging in the last bulbs. Frozen toes, frozen ground, not fun to hack at with spade but good for strength.

As was ….boogying, Yes I Can, to Seventies’ band ‘Kool and the Gang’. Played at every rubbish wedding disco I’ve been to it was a revelation to hear the authentic Live beats of ‘Celebration’ and ‘Ladies Night’. Found very odd that many people viewed the stage through smart phones, arms stuck up in the air and blocking the view. But rubber beer bottles v. good idea.

In town and eyeing Christmas presents I’d like to give: Rococo sea salt chocolate; striped cotton pyjamas from Toast;  Diptyque  woody scented Feu du Bois candles. And, if no limits, a Hans Wegner oak and corded seat armchair,  inspired by the story I have written about Danish architect Pernille Arends, in this month’s Elle Decoration. You will love the retro Scandinavian  white and wood features  of her fifties’ home.

Going local I think a hyacinth vase with bulb is a perfect present, see this from Alleyn Park garden It comes in clear, green, and lilac, too.

On the homemade front I’m giving jars of quince jelly boiled up from fruit I picked from a friend’s tree in Somerset. I have an open pot which as well as dolloping on toast with butter I spooned into gravy with white wine and juices from the pheasants I roasted on Sunday. Only a fiver for the brace from Brixton farmers’ market – brilliant value and tasty.

Tags: winter, homecooking, garden

Bulb planting
27 November 2012

 Taking my maths O level three time was as painful as getting the new website up. I have to say that if  I were one of  the sweet and patient boys at  I would be hairless after nursing me through a hundred panicked calls in learning how to use the website manager.  But  Hooray! I’m in business.

Do have a look at the new Pure Style  shop, and the delicious colour bands.  (I noticed that White Company shooting here this week, used them as props!) 

  Escape route?  The garden. The place where I can have some control when the uploads don’t, the links go nowhere and paste text paste text is like  severe aerobics for  hands and fingers.  

I’ve planted 8 of the 16 beds with  about 125  tulip and alium bulbs – Got them this year from  Rosecottage   plants, who  have rather  good deals, and an amazing array of both aliums and tulips

 I’ve got a bit behind with posting this-  so a week ago when I shot these pictures  it was warm and sunny enough to down tools for half an hour and cook up sausages on the bbq. The end of the garden by the shed catches the afternoon rays in autumn  and is a  brilliant  spot for the purpose.

Tags: autumn, garden, homecooking,

Green tomatoes
13 November 2012

  Digging and musing,  I think about a man I know and his mid life delusion: leaving home for an  ex-council bedsit,  smoking, the Affair.  They say that  clinging to the death throes of youth is a temporary fix - like Botox.  What if the  energy could be channeled into something really productive gardening?   Clubs  even where you can ` Dig for  a new lease of life`  Nurturing a pumpkin patch  could be so much more rewarding than  lusting over Janet in Accounts.  And  pumpkins make good soup. I stab the bramble roots  at the thought of the colossal parking fine I paid after yesterday`s visit from the bailiffs. How so I didn`t see the previous warning letters?   It`s not unusual for  stylists on shoots to help themselves to my stuff for props in a shoot  scene. Parking tickets lost in a Day in the life of  British Gas or Moshi Monsters Christmas. Or is it just a case of me throwing  them in the bin by mistake?
 Fresh air, light, space. ... suburbia is the place to be.  Screened-out I can tour the  last  rose buds, pick a green tomato, (see above)  and fennel (see below) for fish, or   check  on the sweet pea seedlings in the shed to revive me.   How I used to pace from room to room in our last flat high above the City where one fragile weed on the roof top opposite  was the only spot of green. It`s only a bus and a tube ride away from the bright lights.  Recent highlights: more al fresco swimming at the Oasis in Covent Garden followed by clams and razor clams  at Barrafina as fresh and garlicky as they could be outside of  an Andalucian beach bar; Tim Wright`s figurative paintings  in Shoreditch  and  last night`s treat  a groovy basement bar The Social with  readings   by Faber Man Booker  authors, Adam Foulds, Deborah Levy and Sarah Hall .  

Wouldn`t it be fun to create paint colours for each season.  Autumn  references of  golden yellow, ,orange, earth brown  are here, leaf confetti at my feet.  And all in a morning`s dog walking across the dew grass in Brockwell Park.  

Tags: colour, flower power, garden, scent, Simple, spring, white rooms

Things I like this week....
22 February 2012

  More good ideas from the Pure Style Design Files  

  Rococo sea salt milk chocolate and  blue and white  wrapping -   very moreish and Moorish.  

Hand dyed  cushions recycled from vintage blankets by textile specialist  Sasha Gibbs.  

  Hoxton Grey, Golden Square, Spitalfields and Pimlico: some of the rather wonderful  colours with a London theme from Mylands.  

  My tough,  rough leather  Spanish riding boots could do with  a  polish,   and  afterwards a good brush up.  This   horsehair model would be just right for the job.      

  Simple  garden green folding bench from Jonart  

I don`t think I`ve ever seen such a good red (Cherry is it`s name) in vinyl flooring and this  goes for the other great shades in the range from The Colour Flooring Company    

Tags: colour, garden, paint

See Pure Style on Design Sponge!
05 October 2011

  I wanted to show you this great piece on my home that`s just gone live with Design Sponge. Thanks so much to Keiko for taking such glamorous pictures!    

Tags: books, colour, garden, homemade, interiors, Simple, thrifty decoration, white rooms

Things I like this week ...
28 September 2011

  This is my new weekly post where I share inspiring pictures and ideas from the Pure Style design files.    

  Retro look for keeping warm this winter: wool blanket ‘Madison Gold’ from Melin Tregwynt.  

  With 20% off from 1st October Scottish fabric designer Donna Wilson’s Eadie armchairs at SCP are potentially more than just a textile-dream.  

  Just launched at the London Design Festival is Studioilse’s Companions bedside table in oiled chestnut and cork for De La Espada.  

  This olive oil crushed from Arbequina olives, by Spanish food specialist Brindisa is really mellow and nutty - I think it’s brilliant for making mayonnaise.

  I’ve had my Le Creuset cast iron casserole pans for over 20 years - but wouldn’t mind adding a cream coloured one to my kitchen kit.  

Feathery white parrot tulips are essential in my spring garden. Definitely putting in another order this season from Crocus.  

  It’s time for dealing with the fading roses. Great for pruning are Swiss made Felco secateurs.

Tags: autumn, colour, flower power, garden, interiors, Simple

Local paradise
16 May 2011

  Suffused in pools of light and shade this May afternoon the garden seems to take on an air of secrecy and serenity. It is my place of shelter and repose from the roaring traffic and sirens on the South Circular, just two streets away. I turn on the hose and give everything a good drink (drought conditions continue, and gardeners are being asked to create mud pools so the house martins and swifts can build their clay like nests). The arc of water plays like a silver stream over the last tulips, rosemary, alliums and clumps of purple chives. It leads my thoughts to a piece I have read about Islamic gardens, and how we owe a huge debt in the West to the Muslim ideal of paradise. This is encapsulated in the design of the Persian `chahar bah . This enclosed garden has a central fountain which flows into water rills which represent the four rivers of Paradise. Famous examples include the Taj Mahal garden in India and the Court of the Lions in the Alhambra, Granada. In his book` Gardens, An Essay on the Human Condition`- the academic Robert Pogue Harrison argues that it also provides a key to understanding Islam in the modern world. He suggests that where paradise is imagined as a garden of perfect tranquility our incurable Western agitation takes on a diabolical quality. It would be wonderful to have world peace and understanding through gardening.  


  On a personal level, working in my garden takes me away from just about every mental annoyance that happens to be swirling around. I enter a calm non judging head space when having to concentrate on the delicate and precise task of lifting fragile radish and bean seedlings into position for the next stage of development. My senses are energised: bad or dull feelings float away with the smells of damp earth as the hose plays across the beds, and I feel more in touch with the elements as my legs are lightly tickled by lavender that has spilled voluputously over the brick path.  

  The Constance Sprys, are in themselves a vision of petally paradise, tumbling luscious pink blooms over on both garden fences. Not only visual balm, but with a scent that is so light and sweetly fragrant that I feel I want to drink it .  

  Then there are the equally fabulous frilled and frothy pink peonies, (below) the ones I lifted and divided from my childhood suburban garden after my mum died. It is reassuring that she lives on, in a way, through this yearly renewal in the garden.  

  I`m always coming up with ideas for Pure Style this and that - one dream is a heavenly little hotel with a walled garden and bright white bedrooms. If there was to be a Pure Style scent, of course `rose` would get a first look in, but I have to say that if anyone could help me bottle the delicate vanilla fragrance of my wallflowers this spring( see below) I am sure we could be on to a winner, too.


Tags: colour, flower power, garden, scent, Simple, spring, white rooms

Falling petals
09 May 2011

The party`s coming to a close with the tulips. Like beautiful young things  who`ve been up all night their  petals are languid and flopping.  Somehow the  curling and dessicating parts aren`t cause for gloom,  but give the flowers  an extraordinary wild and anarchic look.  The tulip`s  decline is an elegant one.  I must remember to pick off the seed pods and later in the summer  I will lift the bulbs and dry for planting out again in the winter. There`s so much more about to happen in the garden, and I am being kept on my toes with planting out vegetable seedlings, mowing the grass (only roughly  I have to say, just to make it look refreshed rather than obsessionally neat and titivated) and weeding, weeding, weeding.   My gorgeous Constance Spry rose are on the point of bursting forth, so in next week`s post  I can show you these and the other   summery beginnings which are so  very early this year.


Tags: colour, flower power, garden

Blossom days
27 April 2011

I wake  early with the encouraging limpid blue of an English Spring  sky.  Since  I`ve been away in Olhao  the apple tree has blossomed in a candy floss of  fluffy  pale pink petals.  

  The morning  sun warms the  worn red  brick paving  tiles and spills across the newly opened array of tulips. I can`t remember planting quite so many gorgeous varieties.  (Not that surprising  because when I did so, the garden was coated in a thick white icy coat of snow and it was all I could do to force the bulbs randomly into snow rimmed earth holes before it all became too cold and unpleasant and I had to scurry inside, toes and fingers numb.)  It is so exciting to watch this blast of petally colour unfold.  

See above  from left to right:  Spring Green;  Black Parrot ( a straggler  from  bulbs  that I planted three years ago ); Lilac Perfection.  

The purple and white striped `Triumph` tulip reminds me of the purple and white colourings of red onions; it has to be the most stylish  of my tulip flock.

  Hardly have the bags been unpacked and the weeds attended to,  then our spring jaunt continues with a large family  get together in Suffolk. By now the air feels midsummer balmy and the weather people are in high excitement  about the early heatwave that is hitting northern Europe. Whilst  I am ambling along dewy lanes,  alive with cuckoo song , lilac,  and wild asparagus (see above), a subdued  text from our tenant in Olhao describes great winds and rains  and a request for wet day  activities  in the area.  Wow, we had a narrow climatic escape.  

We visit Walberswick, rather like an  English east coat version of  the Hamptons, on Long Island,  all beautiful picturebook, wisteria-clad houses and cottages with immaculate picket fences. There is a village  green with swings, well behaved  children and a horizon with simple beach huts. We crunch along the pebbly beach and some  of the party, plus the dog, embrace the unseasonal warmth and swim. Of course, the sea is still winter cold and we drive home with the heater full on to keep hypothermia at bay. I negociate a detour to Wootton`s  nursery which has everything from agapanthus to old fashioned cottage garden plants, and the most amazing selection of auriculas (see above) all massed together in a light white greenhouse.  I come away with a box of cat mint and  lavender for the potager beds,  blue geraniums for  ground cover,  and an exquisite lemon secented old perlagonium  called  Mabel Grey which  I shall keep in a pot to sit  on my desk through the winter.  

Sufffolk (and going over into Norfolk) is also very blissful with its  wide flat watermeadows  around  Harleston and Beccles,  where cows swish their tails in the shade of  ancient  willows and the river Waveney is cool and meandering. We  bike past hawthorn hedges frothing with white blossom and look over to into fields where  hares leap across the furrows.  The county`s vast field aspect can be overwhelming, as are the electric  yellow swathes of rapeseed.  Sometimes I catch the whiff of a  more industrial and stinky smell than anything with more rural connections.  There are clues in the  anonymous green lorries thundering past gnarled  greening  oaks to what is probably  hidden away landfill. We eat well on Suffolk honey, the new season`s asparagus,  cod landed at  Lowestoft and rhubarb for pudding.  The  Ship inn at Dunwich  serves the best fish and chips  of the week, and is also a only a few minutes walk to the beach , where it is said  that  divers can  hear  the ghostly clang of    church bells that succumbed to the sea.

Arriving back in London through steamy streets where the thermometer is hitting 27C,  I am almost bowled over by the riot of colour  (see above and below)  that that has taken over the garden.  All  the tulips are now full and voluptuous on leggy stems.  I watch their cups open up lazily  in the sunshine and   close  in the shade as as if  to keep warm.  

  New this year to my bulb order  are   `Silver ` parrot tulips (see below right)  which when they first came out weren`t in the least bit silver, more  bright raspberry ripple.  Now that they`ve matured, the pink has faded a little and is rather fabulous.  


Tags: colour, flower power, garden, holiday, scent, Simple, spring

Natural beauty
09 April 2011

The garden is growing growing growing. The warmth and sun of the past week has kick started the spring juices and the little beds in the parterre/potager are greening and filling out fast. The tulips that started as a flop of leaves have developed slender stems with tight buds. The first to flower is the variety Lilac Perfection (see above) in fabulous bowls of fuschia pink petals.

This natural beauty in my backyard is a kind of antidote to all that’s commercial and mass market: ads that make us want more even though we don’t need whatever is being pushed, or the TV mush of American teen soaps and celebrity dining shows. This, and my desire to live more simply and without so much fuss is also where I am at with my Pure Style philosophy. I think I must be on the right track when I read that my design hero Terence Conran has a buff label on his desk with the words ‘Plain, simple, useful` and says that we should apply this attitude to everything we own and use. I am also a fan of John Lane’s Timeless Simplicity - in which he explains how to live more creatively in a consumer society.

It quite a revelation, to see that it’s not the first time there has been a reaction to the consumerism in society. Go and see the V&A`s exhibition Escape into Style, `The cult of beauty: The aesthetic movement 1860-1900’ which is about the late nineteenth century revolt against Victorian industrialism by artists and architects who wished to create a new ideal of beauty in wallpaper, painting, architecture, textiles and poetry. NB: Although it`s really all about middle class family angst - and a rather too close to home portrait of it too, I recommend the film, Archipelago, to see some truly mesmerising visuals of the natural beauty on the wild and windswept island of Tresco in the Isles of Scilly.

Tags: books, colour, flower power, garden, Simple, spring

Spring greens
18 March 2011

The new greens are in season. Whatever else might be thwarting my daily progress, young bean green shoots and fresh bright spring green grass are reassuringly sprouting and budding outside the kitchen window. I can’t resist bunches of  ‘muscari ‘ grape hyacinths (see above) delicate blue flowers on equally delicate lime green stems. They are packed fresh from the fields in a box propped up outside the florist with the logo, Cornish flowers on its base. At £1.25 a bunch I am surprised that by lunchtime the sales woman says that I am the first to buy some of these vibrant and colourful pieces of spring.

With its potent link to nature, green is one of my favourite colours to have about the home. (Have a look at the exciting greens for faux suede by Designers Guild). Its presence as a decoration tool can be as minimal, as a flash of a lime green painted flower pot to brighten up the bedroom, or as all encompassing, as our lime green painted loo. The latter idea is a very good way for me to incorporate a rich green colour in a house that needs to make its living being painted white almost all over!  And I have also managed to make way for some muted greens in the tv room and garden shed as the shoots are very keen to use them for backdrops to simple and natural still lives. As soon as there’s a day with the faint burn of spring sunshine my thoughts turn to picnics. I like to head for that south facing spot on the tussocky slopes that frame our walks along the Somerset valley on visits to my father. Feta cheese, basil and cucumber is one of our favourite fillings in hunks of sourdough bread that come freshly baked via our local corner shop.

Tags: colour, flower power, garden, home cooking, interiors, Simple, spring, thrifty decoration, white rooms

Spring and eggs
11 February 2011

  This feels like spring. A brilliant sunlight filled day and a plate of Daisy’s eau de nil and chalk white eggs fresh from her hens. I check outside and even the bare flower beds have little patches of brilliant green where the chives, and tulips are having a go at bursting forth. I know that the doom mongers say there’s plenty more foul wintry weather to come, but you can’t ignore the fact that it stays light until teatime. And as it turns dusky velvet blue, the sky has the luminous feel associated with softer, warmer and longer days ahead.      

  I like to bring the spring feeling inside even if it hasn’t quite got going outside. There are inexpensive bundles of daffodils, or pots of delicate grape hyacinths at Jayne Copperthwaite’s fragrant flower shop which she recently opened in Balham, south London. It’s my daughter’s 17th birthday weekend and so there’s every excuse to come away laden with bunches of blue hyacinths and sweetly scented white narcissi.          

  I prefer my flowers to sit in containers that don’t shout: simple glass vases, pint beer gasses even, or the white enamel bowls that I fill with bulbs and layer with moss.

  I lay the table with a suitably spring green cotton cloth made out of a furnishing fabric remnant from my store cupboard on the landing. Later at the birthday dinner, there are candles, pink fizz and large slices of chocolate cake. (I feel very short amongst the beautiful gazelles in high heels.) NB: Before I push Publish, I must say how really cross I am that the Government wants to close hundreds of libraries (481 libraries, 422 buildings and 59 mobile libraries are under threat according to Public Libraries News). As an 8 year old, it was a first taste of independence, wheeling my bike back from Earlsfield library with an Everlasting Toffee strip and a  bagful of books dangling from the handlebars. The shiny parquet floors and hushed atmosphere made the library seem all at once very grow up but somehow calm and comforting. Choosing books from packed shelves, rows and rows, was like being in a kind of sweet shop of words and ideas, and all the better because you could take them home for free. My current local library at West Norwood is a brilliant source of everything from thrillers, to the latest Booker Prize winner in a pristine dust jacket. There are mothers with young children getting their first taste of reading books, old people who come to read the newspapers, seek some companionship. Even the disruptive teenagers calm down in this airy, peaceful environment.  And in common with other libraries around the county, it is also a lifeline for the one in five people who do not have the internet at home and need their local library to look for jobs. The libraries must stay open.

Tags: books, colour, flower power, garden, home cooking, homemade, spring, thrifty decoration

Junk chairs and blanket stitch
20 January 2011

When people ask, how do you know what to chose when you’re putting together a new room or buying a piece of furniture ? I say that going with my instinct of what feels and looks right is usually successful. This is all very well, but if I am fussing or thinking about something else I may not always be properly alert to some wonderful new prospect that is staring me in the face. This is exactly what happens when I am cruising around the Brixton branch of the British Heart Foundation’s chain of second-hand furniture and electrical shops.  There it is, a magnificent upright and elegant wing chair. A touch elderly-aunt-like in its plush velvet cover but this can soon be sorted out with an update in a simple blue and white ticking. And my goodness it’s only 20 quid. I clock it as ‘brilliant, should buy it, a great piece for the location house’ but the detail is  all made foggier in the domestic thought jumble. I am oblivious to precious minutes being lost as I fiddle with the messages on my iPhone. Too late! An eagle eyed young mum with child and a buggy also knows its potential value and snaps it up before I’ve even had the chance to press back to Menu.

You win some, you lose some. Happily, I return to form when I spot  a pair of  pretty  armchairs (see above and below) lined up on the pavement outside the junk shop in Streatham Hill.  Like the lost wing chair, they have promise  in spite of unappealing covers.  A quick barter with the fag-in- hand, peroxide blonde attendant and the chairs are  mine for under 40.00. Their new home is the blue room where I think I have made them look a little more dashing with linen shawls from Volga linens.  I find the use of a throw is a very handy trick to cover up ugly prints or threadbare seats, and to protect a more precious fabric from muddy paws or children’s feet.

Also related to a too fast, too multi-tasking existence  (as seen with wing chair experience above) I read in the newspaper that the emphasis on knowledge in our culture, is taking us further away from using our hands. Too right. I think it’s so important to feel the physicality and satisfaction of creating something oneself.  My main proviso is that nothing should be too complicated. One of the best ways, for example, to update a simple dining chair, is to give it a lick of paint. (For those who are like my friend Marjorie and think that being handy is an anathema, look at Howe London to see some clever ways with old-fashioned Windsor chairs.) My favourite colours for sprucing old chairs are duck egg blues or plain whites. This is how you do it: Sand the chair with a medium grain sand paper, and then again with a fine one. Remove all loose bits of old varnish or flakes of old paint to leave a smooth surface. Apply one coat of wood-primer or undercoat as evenly as possible. Allow to dry. Apply one layer of eggshell paint. Allow to dry thoroughly before applying a second coat of paint.

I also love the idea of rescuing worn out linen and blankets with the needles and thread from my desktop sewing kit. It’s a wonderful and practical distraction from the screen to repair a favourite blue and white check blanket that has lost some of its blanket stitch edging. (You can see lots more simple sewing examples in my book Sew Easy). It feels productive, and calms me. Just as an afternoon digging in the garden does, or stirring the aromatic golden marmalade which is on the list for this weekend. Oh yes, one other good thing is that although the garden has been left looking like a rugby pitch on a wet Saturday afternoon, the leak is mended and I no longer live in fear of Thames Water  spying on our pipes in the early hours.

Tags: colour, garden, get crafty, home cooking, homemade, interiors, Simple, thrifty decoration, winter

A thriller and the garden
30 December 2010

From almost-hysterical queues to silhouettes of trees and church towers against white fields: this contrast from urban shopping frenzy to rural peace has been one of the best things about our Christmas, spent in the depths of Somerset. Charades, a melee of dogs plopped in front of the fire, and Blackadder on the TV are pretty good festive ingredients, too.

There’s a feeling of relief that all the present searching and sorting is over. I am using the post Christmas calm to get stuck in to Before I Go To Sleep With a bizarre form of memory loss as its key theme, the story is a gripping psychological thriller which kept me up all night, because it was too tantalising to close the pages and not get to the clever ending. But enough of the adrenaline. I am thrilled with my copy of Second Nature: A Gardener`s Education by Michael Pollen who brilliantly promotes the garden rather than the wild as the most appropriate place for rethinking our relationship with nature. He says that a garden is the place for being in, rather than looking at. Lawns, for example are not part of Pollen’s landscape: “The more serious about gardening I became, the more dubious lawns seemed” he writes and goes on to say “For however democratic a lawn may be with respect to one’s neighbours, with respect to nature it is authoritarian”. I know what he means, but you do have to tough it with nature too - I’m thinking of the groundelder and lemon balm that engulfs my summer garden, of which I have no qualms at hacking down to maintain order.

With more musing on my unseasonal train of thought I do so miss the summer herby lavender scents of my garden which is looking so spare and flattened now that there is a bit of a thaw in progress. The closest I can seem to get to a summer sensory experience at the moment is the gorgeous Primrose Facial Hydrating Cream with lavender, sage and rosemary from Aesop. I don’t usually find huge words of praise for beauty treatments (having worked as a beauty editor some years ago and tried out products that came with extraordinary claims, even more extraordinary prices and yet didn’t seem to be any better than E45 cream from the chemist) but this cream is delicious in fragrance and good to my frazzled winter skin. Whilst I’m on the subject of beautifying I shall keep you posted with the effects, if any, (who me, sounding a touch cynical?) of my Yuroll which bills itself as a jade facial massager – not unlike a small rolling pin on a long handle – and is supposed to ensure a “lean re-contoured wonderfully unlined face: thoroughly toned and with improved elasticity”. I can’t see anything, apart from a very large dose of Botox improving my ‘laughter’ lines and general wear and tear, much of which occurred when I sunbathed furiously in my teens. But, hey I’m going to give it a go!

We’re all nursing extremely full stomachs, and yearning for something lighter and more fragrant than Christmas turkey fare. My sister in law gave me a jar of her preserved lemons, which I can’t wait to add to a spicy tagine with some fluffy hot couscous. I must also pay a visit to Persepolis our local taste of Persia in Peckham, where there are many aromatic middle eastern delights. After an extremely bracing walk across Hampstead Heath, it won’t be over indulgent in this season of indulgency, to enjoy some ice cream at Marine Ices in Camden, a family tradition that goes back to when my children were small and seemed to disappear behind their two huge scoops of chocolate tottering on wafer cones.

Tags: books, Christmas, colour, flower power, garden, home cooking, homemade, scent, Simple, winter

Hot puddings and warm cardigans
21 December 2010

Tobogganing at great speed in the park (well it seems like it to me as I am given a rather alarming shove to get going) is one way of getting rid of excess adrenalin brought on by the run up to Christmas. It’s Alpine conditions here still in south London and I seem to be permanently dressed in bobble hat and my very thick hand knitted granddad style cardigan from the Brixton branch of Traid, the brilliant charitable organisation set up by Wayne Hemmingway that recycles clothes and textiles. On the subject of all things sub zero it seems rather typically dotty and British if not plain mad that it’s the annual open-air cold water swimming championships at the local lido in a few weeks time. We’re keeping warm too with a spot of mince pie making. There is readymade flaked and short crust pastry in the fridge to get them out in double quick time. And I’ve stocked up on jars of shop bought mincemeat which can be customised with more flaked almonds, orange and lemon zest and slugs of brandy.

There’s absolutely every excuse in our draughty house to make a log fire and sit beside it with a slim volume of Ten Poems about Puddings which arrives by post complete with a lucky sixpence to stuff in the Christmas pudding. If I’m on a lap top it’s always worth a quick visit to see what’s new in interiors on the decor8 blog . My log baskets are Spanish and made from plaited esparto grass, but if I didn’t have these I think I’d go for something English and traditional in woven willow. I prefer the elemental feeling and flickering heat of an open fire but am considering a wood burning stove because they’re a more efficient way of storing heat. We’ll see. War is waging in the garden as the big birds - crows, magpies and fat woodpigeons scare the little birds – robins, sparrow, and bluetits away from the survival rations of seeds and nuts that I have scattered across the garden table. We must try and keep the robins alive, especially as their numbers were depleted in last year’s hard winter. A squirrel has hidden a boiled potato in the rose standard. I know because I went and checked it out this morning, hoping it wasn’t one of the tulip bulbs. The snow shows up the gaps in the lavender planting and I make a mental note to go to my favourite catalogue and order more for the spring.

Slip sliding my way around the West End crush in search of very specific make up requirements for the sixteen year old, I think about the beauty of online shopping. But because mother nature is holding up deliveries during this mad freeze I can see I will be out hunting and gathering right up to the big day. At Liberty there are the most gorgeous Liberty print scarves, investment buys, yes, but brilliant colours in timeless style. And even if it didn’t arrive until after Christmas it would be worth waiting for one of Volga Linen’s lightweight woven shawls in olive or duck egg blue that is half price, and as good to look at thrown across a chair, as it is wrapped around you. If I could have a new set of cutlery for the Christmas feast I would go for the classic sixties stainless steel knives and forks from Robert Welch - really beautiful and streamlined. It would be good too, to fill a large white bowl with the fat juicy oranges that are now in season in the market in Olhao.

Tags: books, Christmas, garden, home cooking, homemade, interiors, winter

Christmas roses
16 December 2010

The snow comes and the last roses are topped with fairy queen ice bonnets. I embrace the way the snow, the hoar frost, the cold, slows everything down: idling in front of a blazing fire to thaw out, or the ridiculously slow driving speeds needed to avoid the neighbour’s brand new Fiat are all rather welcome. I crunch around the garden in Wellingtons and think it timely to invest in a pair of the recycled cashmere gloves that I spied on the nydesign room site. The dog loves the new white world and takes up goal post positions saving the snow balls we chuck in the air. “Look at that dog jumping” squeals a boy in the park and I feel the sort of maternal pride normally reserved for my children when they were young and doing some sort of athletic trick.  I think she deserves a Liberty print collar even if it’s not quite the butch streetwise look that most dogs sport around here.

The extreme weather conditions have encouraged the squirrels to excel at survival tactics.  They line up on the garden fence, tails juddering, twitching and eyes greedily fixed as I attempt to plant the bulbs that didn’t get dug in before the blizzard. I am not taking chances and put down barricades of wire netting to stop their mining efforts.

The shoots are tramping in slush and so I rush round laying down covers hoping it doesn’t seem too unfriendly. It is not a little disorientating to be watching TV on Monday in the sitting room painted in Dulux’s aubergine vision for winter 2011, and then by Wednesday, it’s spring again and all pale walls, tulips, and hyacinths for a magazine feature that includes a gorgeous arm chair upholstered in olive green from Laura Ashley. Another theme on all things British, includes very simple white jugs from Burleigh that are ideal for a Pure Style kitchen, and simple block printed fabrics from Tobias and the Angel.

This Christmas I am stocking up on Spanish fig and almond slices from Brindisa and more membrillo as book writing meant that I didn’t get round to making it this autumn. For more Iberian pleasures such as simple woven Portuguese shopping baskets try Feitoria. For a present of simple everyday drinking glasses you can’t beat the dumpy French Duralex ones from Labour and Wait. And any lover of English food history will have their head happily buried all over the festive period in a copy of Dorothy Hartley’s classic Food in England: A Complete Guide to the Food That Makes Us Who We are

I might think the moment for scented room candles could come and go forever if it weren’t for Diptyque who make ones with authentic smells. My favourite is Oranger, and almost as aromatic as the real thing. The Christmas tree is going up tomorrow and with it woolly pom poms that are very satisfying to make with children because the effect is very quick to achieve. I also make rag balls with fabric strips from my remnants bag that are pinned to floral oasis.  The look is simple and homespun.

Tags: colour, flower power, garden, get crafty, home cooking, homemade, scent, Simple, thrifty decoration, winter

Summer scents and sweetpeas
15 August 2010

Packing up for the hols’ may be palpitation inducing: thundering down the motorway to take the dog for her summer billet with my sister, racing through a month’s paperwork in the early hours, and making the house ship shape for a magazine Christmas shoot . But boy it’s worth it! Exchanging city shorts for beaten up espadrilles and t-shirts is as good for the soul as  the summer diet  based around   grilled sardines and hunks of watermelon.  Just scraping under the 20kg limit as usual, my suitcase is stuffed  with books  for long spells of reading under the beach umbrella.  Favourites include   The Surprising Life of Constance Spry  by Sue Shephard; Outliers ‘the story of success’ by Malcolm Gladwell,  and  The Algarve Fish Book by Nic Boer and Andrea Sieber.  I’m also inspired by  Reinventing  Letter Press by Charlotte Rivers,   a stylish   little book with fabulous printing ideas.

Along with the reading matter, there’s just enough room  to slot in  a few bars of Green and Blacks chocolate bars.   It will head straight to the fridge as soon as possible after we meet the sauna temperatures of Olhao in August.

I’ve also tucked in the  dolls house sized  Indian terracotta pots that the  returning  traveller produced from her mighty backpack. Perfect for salt, pepper, and chopped herbs, they are also  a tangible reminder of just how far my middle born has spread her wings  in the last six months.,   

1’m  counting on the Spanish lodgers to  nurture the courgettes and tomatoes all swelling nicely in the warmth and damp. One of them is a specialist ham carver, so I hope his talents for precision extend to the vegetable patch.  They’re  already under instructions to feed and water Miss Bea, the cat   who will lord it over the  sofas,  spreading her black fluff,  with the dog safely out of the way.. One last look around the flowerbeds, to enjoy the sweetly scented  white nicotiana- another unexpected  success from last year’s seeds, which in turn were produced from the previous year’s blooms that i collected. And even the agapanthus managed to defy the winter’s ravages and has just put out some glorious blooms. I’ll miss the sweetpeas, too, their delicate soapy fragrance is so much part of an English summer garden. .

 Before I snap the case shut   I  must tell you about  three new finds: sells a cleverly edited collection of   Portuguese accessories, such as  leather slippers, donkey milk soap,(yes, honestly)  and cork ice buckets -  so much more inspiring than the usual souvenir stuff. Closer to home ther`re  simple  Welsh blankets and other  celtic  home ideas from Blodwen   And   sells stylish  child sized chairs: a good idea for anyone want ing a nice  bit of  scaled down Ercol in the nursery.

Tags: colour, flower power, garden, home cooking, scent, Simple, summer

A white room and tulips
12 May 2010

Very very late in getting this post out,  but  my fingers have been  racing over the key board writing text  for the book.  Driven by a  surge of fear and enjoyment  I plug into Al Green`s   `Let`s Stay Together ` and try not to be distracted by   You Tube  comedy clips and the latest  updates from THAT  volcano. The spewings of which,  we were lucky to avoid returning from Olhao, where,  hooray!  the  room on top is complete and wonderful.  Filipe Monteiro of White Terraces is the  architect of this little white  gem. From   simple  white wooden beams   to  curved detail  on the stairs up to the roof, he has  cleverly  interpreted  traditional Olhao building features to make the structure look as if  it has been there for ever. And together  with his gang of men, Mr  Martinho  is  the builder from  heaven.

In Olhao market, spring is here with the juiciest oranges billowing herbs and plump `favas` broad bean pods. The fish market is full of fish because it`s Friday, and there`s the fresh ozone sea smell  rising from wet slabs displaying everything from the anonymous  `pescado`, 1 euro kg, so ordinary it doesn`t deserve a name,  to thick white fillets of corvina 16 euros kg. From their perches on cranes, and spires, the storks are gnashing their  great beaks in mating calls, sparrows twitter and the 11am  hooter whines like an air raid siren : the boats have come in.

In London the garden is  green and glossy, and the tulips are bursting out in bloom with more vigour than I remember. Maybe it was because winter was so long and so hard that all growing things seem to have extra reserves of energy to launch themselves into the new season.  Against all these signs of nature`s renewal, it is particularly sad and poignant to hear of the sudden death of mother, and brilliant   garden and interiors writer Elspeth Thompson.  What a great loss.  A fellow blogger, she was most encouraging to me.  At the very least she will live on through her evocative  words and thoughts.

I never quite know what will come up on the tulip front, and I`m really pleased that the black Parrot tulips from last season have reappeared. Watching them go through the budding bit  to  their unfurling into  a whirl of feathery petals the colour of dark beetroots is absorbing

Black Parrot tulips in bud and full frilly bloom

Unfurled `Blue` parrot tulips, look  like striped fruit drops from an old fashioned confectioner or even a head of salad radicchio.  Where`s the blue?!  and  when they are in full bloom the striped effect fades into an all over fuschia pink.

New to the garden this year, and from another really good value bulb order from Crocus the single late tulip,  Violet Beauty, is more of a slender, elegant thing than its  more wayward and feathery Parrot  tulip companions.

Tags: colour, garden, spring, white rooms

Seaweed Prints and Sourdough
28 March 2010


Only a few piles of dog eared admin remain before we can escape to Olhao and the new room on top. On the way to the post office, mimosa and forsythia are fizzing with yellow. It seems a little wasteful to be leaving behind the first budding and greening signs of spring but the draw of sand between toes and sardines are tantalizing too. And after more technology malfunctions (I won`t even go there) parking ticket angst, missed train connections, and near hospitalisation involving clogs on a down escalator, I`m ready to walk there, let alone fly .


Just have to get in a session of dough making for pizza (artichoke hearts, green olives and parmesan, is my current favourite) and other homemade creations (see here my sister in law`s divine rye sourdough bread) to illustrate my new book. The four legged paparazzo is enjoying the cooking sessions too, hanging around the worktop for crumbs, and helping herself to the subject matter of a flapjack shot when no one`s looking. It`s all go putting together the pages, and the deadline is no tiny speck in the distance anymore. But that`s good, too, because it means the weeks are slipping away until the backpacker daughter returns.


When I`m back first stop will be gorgeous fabrics at the V&A exhibition, Quilts 1700-2010. Might even get round to a spot of quiltmaking with pretty seaweed prints from the museum`s collection of archive printed cotton. Check out more print ideas from Printand and Liberty prints at knockdown prices in the new range for American chain store Target .


Spring garden notes: Divide agapanthus: I have an extended family of agapanthus plants that came stashed in a suitcase from Spain and are now packed tightly in a pot like chocolate fish in a tin, which is how they like it. This year, though, division is necessary to keep the plants vigorous and I cut them down the middle with a fork and plant the new half in a fresh container. Feed shrubs and climbers: I started with the standard roses, and have now worked in more compost and bonemeal around the shrub and climbing roses, and gorgeous pale lilac wisteria at the front of the house. Sow seedlings half hardy under cover: Nicotiana and zinnia seeds saved from last year are germinating in a tray on the windowsill. Sow less than think as a pinch of seed goes a long way. Prepare trenches for beans and `chitted` potatoes and dig in muck or compost (on another sea salty note, I remember my grandmother lined her bean trenches with seaweed and newspaper to conserve moisture).

Tags: colour, flower power, garden, home cooking, Simple, spring, thrifty decoration

Sweet and utilitarian
01 March 2010


Bother! I`d hoped to get my post out before the end of February. I am diverted from my laptop to equip the eldest daughter with `wedding ring`, door wedge, extending washing line and all the other stuff for the gap year female traveller. It is like losing a limb when she walks through Terminal 5 departures, but I can get in the bathroom now. And in the way that life sometimes seems to synchronise itself, my new book contract is signed and the deadline is just about the date she returns. Publication is next spring, but I`ll give you some sneak previews along the way. Some design notes:I won`t ever tire of gingham, it`s a really inexpensive way to add a spot of spring colour to the home: a simple pull on chair cover ,say . My temple is MacCulloch & Wallis who sell online as well as from a shop crowded with young fashion students in central London. Look out, too for enamel alphabet letters and numbers from Hyperkit, more timeless simple design. RIP Lucienne Day one of our great designers, known for her painterly and simple Fifties` fabrics. I also have a passion for the stacking Polyprop chairs that her husband Robin Day designed, and can still be picked up from secondhand shops and markets.


There are walking babies, crawling babies, sicky babies and back-up babies modelling shoes in the house, and so I escape to the garden. It`s looking spare (an understatement) but crocuses like bright fruit drops are pushing through. I prune the roses with vigour giving the 4 standards the equivalent of a military short back and sides. But they will flower well and spread without looking wild and untidy. They have a good feed with shovels of rich earthy compost from the bottom of the bin. It`s so cold I can`t be bothered to dig it in, but it`s raining so the nutrients will wash down to where the roots need it . The room on top in Olhao is nearing completion after the builders have ducked and dived the thrashing winds and rains of the Algarve`s worst weather in 30 years. It`s a whole new vista up here. In the distance, a band of cobalt sea beneath a grey blue sky, tv aerials, flapping laundry, a silver winding mesh of homing pigeons, the fizzing pink of an almond tree. And all with the Olhao soundtrack of dogs barking, bells, and the strains of a fado song on next door`s radio. NB The dearth of photographic evidence is due to further gadget malfunction, this time, my newly acquired i-phone, a marvellous invention, when it works The blues and greens of the seaside are exhilarating but no less than the rolling hills and valleys on the drive to see my Dad in Somerset: a mossy palette as if from a Farrow and Ball paint chart. And then there is more heavenly natural colour at the Van Gogh exhibition, where my rushhour Friday stress melts before the artist`s drawings and paintings of French gardens and vegetable patches


What with all the backpacking details I almost leave the marmalade making too late, but am saved by the last boxful of Sevilles at the local greengrocer. Soon the kitchen is a bittersweet aromatic fug and the mind only focused on the job. No wonder DH Lawrence said "I got the blues thinking of the future so I left off and made some marmalade." I read though that 80% of marmalade eaters are over 45. Don`t you think we should champion the young to get boiling and stirring? It`s such a pity that marmalade has that fusty old major at the breakfast table image.


I pot the marmalade in recycled jars that I save and store under the sink. Holding one`s golden efforts in a simple glass jar topped with a cellophane lid and decorated with a homemade label is pure pleasure; so, too, is a slice of bread topped with marmalade and a spoonful of creme fraiche.

Tags: colour, flower power, garden, get crafty, home cooking, spring, thrifty decoration

Linen sheets and peppermint creams
17 December 2009


8.00am: a fairy tale encounter with iced petals and snow flakes when I venture into the garden this morning to prod a blocked drain. A mucky distraction from the business of Christmas shopping which is something that I always intend to get done without getting stressed over, but never quite manage to pull off. It would be wise not read all those Christmas gift guides which swamp the reader with choices and possibilities that make decision making even more problematic. At least they`re not all about solid gold teapots these days, and hey, the Rolser (shopping on wheels vehicle of choice in Olhao) was even in the Eco Gift part of the Observer magazine. The shop floors of the Nation, though, continue to be choked with over packaged Starbucks gift boxes and pile `em high towers of celebrity memoirs. And talking of books, real ones, I have just ordered several copies of the Little Stranger by Sarah Waters . It`s supposed to be a good eerie read - perfect for a snug holiday afternoon. I know that all the mags are telling us to make our own presents, but it`s not quite as simple as that. You need time to create a handsewn bag for Aunt Olive or a knitted mohair scarf for your nearest and dearest. I know it`s all about the thought but setting yourself the task of homemade gifts for everyone can induce similar palpitating stress to battling through Oxford Street department stores. The way I do it is to do a bit of shop bought and a bit of homemade, and try to give appropriately. I can`t see my 20 year old wowing over a box of peppermint creams but know that if they`re prettily wrapped in tissue, will really please a girl friend or grandparent.


HOME MADE PEPPERMINT CREAMS: 1 egg white 450g icing sugar, juice of half a lemon, 5 or 6 drops of peppermint flavouring, the mere driplet of green colouring (or they`ll look gruesome and lurid). Beat the egg white until fluffy, and add all the other ingredients to make a ball of green paste. Roll out to half an inch thick and cut out shapes. I like mine round, but stars and hearts would be good for christmas too. Decorate with silver balls and leave the creams to dry on greaseproof paper overnight Christmas biscuits are also a winner, and can be thrown together in half an hour, left to cool and either eaten for tea or wrapped up as a gift. Watch me making a batch on my latest YouTube I have in mind, a `present to myself` set of Volga linen sheets. But the car needs to be fixed and what sort of parent lets their children drive off in a dodgy vehicle? This business of feeling responsible for your offspring, doesn`t diminish as they get older, quite honestly you feel even more protective towards them as they hurl themselves around the world on gap year travels and hit party nights in drink sodden University cities.


Another way of giving beautiful presents without spending a fortune is to have a rummage around charity shops for someone elses old glass. I set myself a visual style guide: no crystal glass, nothing coloured and always simple in shape. In this way it makes the hunt easier and defines the `look`.


Seagulls patterned like Fairisle jumpers swoop over the house in Olhao, where the ` room on top` is emerging from piles of rubble and bricks. I`m not going to post the `works in progress` pictures because they don`t look much fun, only to me. I will wait for a `before` and `after` show. Dare I say it, but it might take less time than we thought because Mr Martinho got off to a roaring start when a violent storm was forecast. It didn`t appear but, because there were more hands on the job in anticipation, the men were able to take down the old roof, and construct the building`s cement platform in just a few days. I like the way they have put all the old tiles to one side for reuse. I`ll leave you at the end of the year, with a plate of plump aromatic lemons, as typical an element of winter, as the rickety wagons of roasting chestnuts in the twinkly Olhao cobbled streets.


Tags: colour, flower power, garden, get crafty, home cooking, homemade, winter

Bulbs in the shed
26 November 2009


It has been a glorious Indian summer of an autumn: crisp golden leaves catching in my hair and tumbling across the grass as I walk in the park. But now the clouds have burst to soak the leaf fall which pastes the streets like papier mache. London is good at this time of year quieter, more mellow. In the deepening shadows the city squares and churchyards seem more secret, invitations into the past.


At weekends it`s hat, scarf and ribbed tights weather. Dark sunday afternoons are for eating cake and idling at an exhibition. I really really recommend the visual magic at The Museum of Everything, showing unseen artists, who create their work outside the eyes and ears of the art world. Take Judith Scott, who made sculpture from household objects entirely hidden by being wound-about over and over by wool and yarn. Scott had Down`s syndrome, and only communicated through these things. They`re very convincing, together with the spirit drawings of medium Madge Gill, and the ceramic recycled kingdom of Indian roads worker Nek Chand. The works are unintentional, delicate and profound. What a contrast at Tate Modern where Pop Life: Art in a Material World is billed as a foray into the world of the celebrity artist. It includes Andy Warhol wallpaper, Damien Hirst`s golden spot paintings, a reconstruction of Keith Harings`s Pop Shop and some unappealing top shelf stuff in the over 18s` room. The artist as commercial brand continues to flow into the shop where Tracey Emin white mugs are a whopping £15.00. It all left me feeling rather flat and anxious to go home and do something nourishing like collect the bean and nicotiana seeds from the pods I`ve been drying by the boiler.


I wake up to the door bell and a postman (something of a rarity during the recent post strikes) bearing a cardboard box with perforated holes from Crocus. It`s the tulip bulbs: Lilac Perfection, Tulipa White Parrot and Tulipa Violet Beauty. All to be planted asap. Six inches isn`t too deep too keep out the the foxes and squirrels who enjoy a crunchy bulb or two..or three....or more. By the way, bulbs are poisonous if eaten by humans and can be irritating to the skin.


A couple of weeks ago I planted up of bowls with specially forced bulbs of hyacinths, paper whites, and crocuses so we will hopefully be surrounded by gorgeous scent and colour over christmas.The secret is to keep them cool and in the dark to let them develop good roots before bringing them into the warmth and light.


Now for some trumpet blowing: Remodelista editor, Sarah Lonsdale has voted my blog as one of her top ten eclectic design blogs. And I`m `Queen of Simple`, no less, in Grazia magazine where there`s a piece on the house in Olhao. Speaking of which, hooray! hooray! almost a year to the day, we have the licence to start work on The Room on Top. Who knows what will be in store, once Mr Martinho`s gang arrive and start the heavy work? I will keep you posted.


A room isn`t a room without Farrow and Ball`s `Teresa`s Green`, it`s my current passion, having just re-painted the tv room. A room isn`t a room without a dog, but unlike paint which can be painted over if you get fed up with it, a dog is for life. Should be, but round here `weapon` dogs roam the streets with hoodied youths who can`t look after themselves, let along something on four legs. We found a sad, abandoned and emaciated staffie with sores and trailing claws who clambered wearily into the back of the car and let me take her to Battersea Dogs Home. If you want to rescue her she is Brindle/White SBTX


What with all the leaves pouring off the trees it seems a little unseasonal to be to picking remnants of a summer flower garden: a few rose heads, nasturtiums and so on. I hope it`s not because of climate change. But then Pepys describes roses blooming in his London garden in the middle of December, and that was hundreds of years ago before we`d begun to stifle the planet. Anyway, it`s good to press the petals between the pages of the telephone directory for simple decorations that you can stick on your christmas cards.


The warm conditions followed by wet this autumn have been a fungi foragers dream. My family really got into searching for porcini, (penny buns) field mushrooms, chanterelles, blewitts and parasols when we lived in Spain. These are edible mushrooms that are quite easy to identify. The locals there were crafty so and sos and thought nothing of raiding their neighbours` fields before daylight.


On a stroll through Berkshire parkland we found parasols (actually umbrella shaped) poking up beneath gnarled trunked oak trees. They`re very tasty fried in a little butter with parsley, but as with all edible mushrooms you shouldn`t eat them in large quantities because they`re hard to digest.


Tags: autumn, colour, flower power, garden, home cooking, Simple

Beautiful and Useful
18 October 2009


I am on a no waste campaign after listening to Tristram Stuart at a Studioilse Kitchen Table Talk, about the shocking way in which we waste food. His book Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal reveals how much food gets chucked away right across the food supply system. Consider just this one fact: from the bread and other grain-based products that British households throw away each year, Stuart estimates it would be possible to alleviate the hunger of 30 million people. That sounds at first like an improbably large number ‚Äö?Ñ?¨ until one considers that British households chuck away 2.6bn slices of bread each year. I was brought up with the concept of not wasting food because both my parents were world war 11 children, but my daughter sees little harm in binning a perfectly good but one day out of date yoghurt, "Mum, you`ll give us all food poisoning" she protests, sinking her teeth into a Big Mac. Tristram would give the thumbs up, though, to my apple gathering in the garden. We have had three apple puddings and as many crumbles in the last fortnight. Not only have copious sheets of the Guardian been recycled, but the trays of newspaper wrapped apples in the cellar will last weeks.I`m planning to send a specimen - fruit and leaves - to the National Fruit Collection who for a tenner, will attempt to identify it. The tree`s pretty old so I`m hoping its some long lost variety.


The 19C architect and designer William Morris`s belief `Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful` is a resourceful, and anti-waste idea to embrace now. That doesn`t mean you have to buy exquisite and expensive: think of the humble pudding basin, it looks good and serves its function for very little money. Similarly, a useful junk piece with intrinsically good bones, can be given a facelifit with a lick of paint. See my latest Youtube where I perk up a rather gloomy looking side table, rescued from a local skip. This is a good way, too, of using up paint that you might have left over- another way of reducing waste. Don`t worry if all you have is emulsion. I know that paint purists wouldn`t approve but I use it all the time to paint bits of furniture. A water based primer, and two top coats of colour is all that you need. Here I`ve used Little Greene`s Salix which is a pale greeny blue colour. When I do get around to mending things, the relief and sense of purpose, and happy thoughts of money saving are so huge that I don`t know why I didn`t do it long before. For the last year or so, the dog has been regularly falling through the Salvation Army Ercol sofa because the webbing has worn through in the middle. Being lightweight, the cat doesn`t have this problem, and humans know how to avoid the caved in bit. So I am so excited to have come across the Upholstery Supply Man who is sending me replacements.All I have to do is fit them......


My last swim at the lido was two weeks ago: the day golden and still with maturing shadows; the air warm but with a chill; the water sparkling and fresh. Wistful, now that there won`t be any swims until spring. But to look on the bright side of things there are the dahlias: old English teatime flouncy petals that make me think of Erdem`s digital floral printed dresses, one of which to waft about in, top of my current wish list.

Tags: autumn, colour, flower power, garden, get crafty

The September issue
20 September 2009


I have had an action packed summer: six teens and me, in Olhao. ( No time to paint my nails, let alone get a new blog post out) The heat, beach and three meals a day keep them out of trouble. There are a few ups and downs: livid red grazes from a failed mission to rescue a smartphone, another you-learn-by-your-mistakes- episode with drinks in pretty colours, bags with keys and money left at shops, and spectacles washed away whilst frolicking in crashing waves.


The food side of things is more of a challenge Not that the gang are fussy, in fact they lap up everything from crab to clams but the sheer weight of daily supplies is in danger of destroying the Rolly Rolser shopping bag on wheels. This trusty accessory joins the fleet that Olhaons trundle over cobbles to the daily fish and vegetable market. Saturday is best when local farmers bring their own produce and I come home with exquisite olives, sprigs of mint, garlic strings and brilliant zinnias, one euro a bunch. I am keen to get to grips with grilling sardines, and hang around peeling white washed alleys where old ladies and fishermen expertly fuss over their door step bbqs. The story: gray charocoal, not too much of it and a cup of water for damping unruly flames. This ensures light crispy skins, rather than the oily black charred offerings if the charcoal is red hot. As for preparation, the daily catch is so gleaming and rigid with freshness there`s not need to gut them. Salad to go with sardines includes our take on Italian panzanella made with stale bread, chopped tomatoes, cucumber, onion , parsley and a dressing with oil, balsamic vinegar, and garlic. Then there are lemon quarters to squeeze over the fish and bring out its flavour.


The teen gang leave with the exuberance with which they arrived, in a whirlwind of Kate Moss scent, suntans, tangled salt hair and flip flops. The house settles back into itself again, with the air of post party relief that comes from from sending everyone home in one piece. I have a few delicious mornings in bed with Alan Bennett`s witty and self deprecating memoir Untold Stories . Then it is planning the Room on Top project for which, 8 months on, I finally have planning permission. The very last little bureaucratic hurdle is the 3 month licence, which should be through next week. More finger crossing.


As I pack away t-shirts and cool dresses, I muse that that it`s one thing to have visual records of Olhao`s unmanicured charm, but another to convey the pot pourri of smells: overworked drains, rotting fish, the waft of a honeysuckle in a hidden courtyard; beery fisherman, lingering herb cologne, home cooked stews, the ozone and saltness of the sea air. They`re so evocative, so of the place, it`s hard to conjure them up mentally but London suburbaban street air seems so bland in comparison, even when the foxes have been having a party by the dustbins.


Back at the ranch in Tulse Hill, the house has been earning its keep and host to shoots, including one for SMA baby milk of feature film proportions (apologies to my neighbours) with baby models, back-up baby models, and crates of plastic flowers; the latter draped all over the garden to make it look more colourful. My son says why can`t it always look like that. I give him the look reserved for similar utterances about things not meeting his exacting standards. Actually, the house is looking a bit bashed up after all the babies, cables, and cameras. So I am planning to do a bit of tidy up: repaint floorboards, and renew floor coverings with simple tactile rush matting, the sort we had at home in the sixties`. I am also debating one of Atlanta Bartlett`s white country tables from her new online store Pale and Interesting. The vegetable garden has survived a month of sporadic watering and nurturing from family members who remained to look after the shoots. The lettuces didn`t stand a chance, but the potatoes (Pink Fir Apple) and (International Kidney) are plump; we eat the first earthy diggings, boiled in mint and tossed in butter.


Cherry tomatoes, yellow courgettes, garlic and shallots have all performed far better than I`d dared hope, and I shall plait together a bundle of garlic for my friend`s birthday. Thanks, in part, to Lambeth council: it is their free compost bin that is the receptacle for the nicely rotted contents from the kitchen peelings.


Despite the jolly hard work of nurturing and tending to the nursery of delicate seedlings that started life next my desk, it is pure pleasure to see last year`s bean seeds curling and climbing up the wigwams, heavy with slender green pods.


Even the temperamental basil, that threatened to expire when I brought it outside too early is keeping us in supplies for pesto. The magical notion of producing so much from so little is exquisitely shown by a border of leggy nicotiana plants, whose delicate white flowers release intoxicating scent at nightfall. Weeks of sensual and visual pleasure from a packet of seeds is truly gratifying.


London might not have the laid back charms of a Portuguese fishing town, but there are more than enough autumn shows and exhibitions to divert post holiday blues. I am looking forward to the new ceramics gallery at the V&A , settles and benches by Studioilse on show at Leila`s Cafe, part of the London Design Festival , or booking a table at local home dining room the Salad Club. Don`t miss life on planet fashion in the endearing and irreverent documentary, The September issue which chronicles Vogue editor Anna Wintour`s preparations for the September 07 issue. I am agog because I once worked in an office below the Vogue fashion floor, and was terrified by the svelte things that tended the sample rails upstairs.


It`s the time of year, too, to think about hunkering down with warm blankets and cushions by the fire. I use a mix of calico and cuttings from Liberty floral cottons to make simple patch work covers. See my trusty sewing machine in action on my latest Youtube video which shows you how to make a simple bobbly trimmed tray cloth: an idea that could easily be put in the pipeline for diy christmas presents. And if all you do is go for a walk, take a bag, the trees are heavy with fruit: crab apples, plums, sloes and so on, for a spot of autumnal jam making.


Tags: autumn, colour, flower power, garden, get crafty, home cooking, homemade, summer

Brixton beach
03 June 2009


Gracie says the air smells like a greenhouse after the cloud burst today. The garden steams and drips, soaked in earth, grass, and sweet petal scents. Heads bowed and blousey, in a riot of pinks , the roses are heavenly. The Constance Sprys are doing the best ever: huge pink fluffy musky scented flowers, named after the Fifties` kitchen goddess, whose resourcefulness brought the nation `Coronation chicken` and the mantra that you can be `a millionaire for a few pence` with a packet of seeds. A spirit after my own heart, but thankfully eating habits have come a long way from the curried mainstay of buffets and wedding breakfasts. Talking of resourcefulness, have a look at the latest You Tube video where I have a go at revamping a junk shop dress. Ever since I double rolled the waist of a sensible school skirt to make it look more Mary Quant mini, I have been lopping off hems to give my wardrobe a new lease of life.


I don`t know about you, but I feel an attachment to the flowers and plants in the garden, not as strong as that for my children, or the dog, or the cat even, but an attachment nevertheless. Don`t send for the white coats yet (Prince Charles talks to his plants). I heard a PHD student on radio 4 discussing a series of case studies which examine the emotional bonds that people have with plants. It makes sense to connect with a living thing that you`ve nurtured and laboured over. Then there is the sense of continuity that growing can bring. When my mum died, I dug up some of her peonies, and planted them here in the garden. Each summer the plants are bigger and put out an even more gorgeous show. Increasing natural beauty with nothing but a spade is one of the most satisfying things in life. The frilly drooping lipstick pink blooms remind me of a hot day at home and `ninety nine ` flake cornets from the ding dong ice cream van.


Notes from the vegetable patch: I have resorted to pellets to protect the courgettes from snails` fangs. The rocket is taking off and even the little basil plants are filling well - in pots. The basil planted in the ground was a dead loss. It is a such a tender little thing and I put the seedlings in too early. Shallots, garlic, potatoes, and chard all doing nicely. And I`m just about to plant out the seedlings from last year`s beans - a success rate of maybe 30%. Not so bad, but I will need a few more plants to top up. Pulled some radishes, which looked as if they`d been dipped in a wash of deep water colour - so pretty, but maybe a bit woody. Should have eaten when younger, but delicious enough with sea salt and pepper. Next to be potted is the tray of white nicotiana plants, grown from seed, which promise heady scent later in the summer.


I set myself a deadline of midday to write this, because the sun is now blazing and the glorious Brockwell Park lido beckons, where even the most sensitive creature will want to do a bit of swimming and frolicking in the shimmering blue cool water. How wonderful to be at the `Brixton Beach` where only in February, there were 3metre high snow balls, tobogganists on For Sale signs, and an artist painting in a blizzard!

Tags: colour, flower power, garden, get crafty, homemade, summer

Tulips and wild garlic
07 May 2009


Horrors. Some beastly person took a chance in our side passage and nicked my bike. Simple. I had neglected to lock it. I take a walk outside and let the beauty of the curled and furled parrot tulips take the edge off my frustration. The feathered buds seem to have been dipped in blueberry juice, clasped together like the furled wings of some exotic bird. In fact, more birdlike, than the the parrots` beaks they`re named after. Soon they will unfold in a riot of undulating and frilly petals. Some will be white, others blue (actually a fuschia pink) and black ( not black, black, but more a deep burgundy black). I`ve got to get replacement wheels, immediately. Not a pretty sentiment for someone who`s always banging on about the evils of self gratification, but the cycle bug has bitten and I`m fretting that I can`t hook the dog`s lead over the handlebars and let her take me at a cracking pace to the park, or nip to the Turkish shop for a bundle of early mint. Justification swims around in my head for quietly siphoning off the family`s holiday money to fund the purchase, from petrol saving, to the health benefits that will stave off some horrendously expensive operation in my old age. I will make it up to them, I think , feeling like a wife who plays bingo with the housekeeping, on my way to Recycling at Elephant and Castle . And thank goodness, that in the third bike crammed aisle is a reconditioned classic sit up and beg, Raleigh, with my name on it. After a short test cycle under the grimy railway arches of one of London`s most gruesome interchanges (although developers have grand plans for it) the deal is done. Not the bargain rate I got in the wilds of Norfolk, but not a bad one either. I"m back in business,and doing more making up to the family, by tearing up leaves of Jonny`s father`s wild garlic to strew in a gorgeous soup made with leek and potato. This is the season for wild garlic, `Allium ursinum` or ransoms, and you can find it in any damp, shady woodland, or even a suburban garden, which is where mine came from. The flowers taste delicious, like garlic, too, and you can toss them in salads along with the leaves.


Living with all this white, is great because the location shoots that come to the house want a space that is light and airy, which is just the kind of feeling exuded by a white painted room. It doesn`t have to be a very specially mixed kind of white either, just a qood quality paint, in white. Dulux brilliant white matt emulsion is always reliable. I can`t resist new colour though, and have taken the opportunity to spruce up the wood panelled attic, now my son is at university, with Paw Print` a lovely muted stone shade from the environmentally friendly paint range by Earthborn.


Tags: colour, flower power, garden, get crafty, spring

Sowing seeds
24 March 2009


It`s been snowing blossom. Our suburban streets have been turned into bridal avenues of trees laden with white and pink scented petals. Even the faceless housing estates look more inviting with clumps of daffodils and flowering cherries planted in the communal spaces. Yesterday I was up early and staggering outside with a weighty bag of seed compost to get on with sowing. I tend to pick up seed packets on a whim rather than on a preordained expedition. I know more or less what I want, but like to gather together elements of my summer garden bit by bit. It gives me breathing space to mull over ideas. It`s not that I`m a procrastinator, rather that I enjoy the adventure of coming across surprises, like the chilli seeds raised by Latin American chilli lovers at the local community allotments. When I was visiting my father in Somerset a couple of weeks ago, I wandered into a typical country high street hardware shop brimming with tools, and, inspired by the equally well stocked racks of seeds ,bought packets of zinnias the colours were so irresistible. And summer visions of salads tumbled with leaves aromatic basil, meant that there was no alternative but to ditch smelly cheese, for two varieties of basil from the artfully packed range of Italian Franchi seeds at the local deli cum cafe cum veg shop. So back to the garden, and a balmy Sunday morning filling plastic trays with handfuls of compost and various seeds from little black specks of nicotiana ( heavenly scent on a summer evening) to peppercorn sized sweet peas. I soaked the seven year old sunflower seeds in water, gathered from our garden in Andalucia , and prized open the tough striped casings to remove the seeds. They look healthy enough, but I`ll know in the next 10 days or so, whether there`s still potential in them. The trays are lined up, like cots in a nursery, in my office by the window on layers of newspaper and an old door so when I water them it will not soak the floor. I sit writing, glancing maternally at the potential garden offspring beside me.


I like a bit of architecture in my garden. Not waterfalls, giant urns or grand gazebos, but wigwams. Wigams of willow sticks , that is, and I`m very excited to have discovered the English Hurdle company on the net, who swiftly dispatched two bundles of willow sticks which I have bashed into the earth with a mallet and tied together at the top with all purpose hairy garden string. These twiggy structures are placed at the four corners of the flower and vegetable patch (my informal version of a traditional potager) and will support the climbing beans and nasturtiums. Until this year I`ve used cane pea sticks for my wigwams, but the willow looks more earthy and organic, and although its more expensive, will last longer than the canes.


My son is back for Easter and wants to know where to take his girl friend for lunch. Somewhere suave, mum, he says. How did I raise a boy with such expensive taste? Maybe he`s winding me up but then, he is a child of the boom time when expectations were high. Without extending his student overdraft even further , I think there may be a solution more in keeping with these straitened times. Ok, Brixton market, might not be the capital`s most romantic spot, but at franca manca wedged between stalls selling yams and Rastafarian bonnets, there`s the romance of eating the most heavenly sourdough pizzas baked in a special Naplese wood fired oven. And it won`t cost them more than £20.00 to eat sumptuously, in the word`s of one reviewer `the best place to eat pizza in the UK`


Spring has sprung with many of the season`s new frocks decorated with pretty florals. I have always fallen for buds and blooms and they needn`t look girly if you mix them with blocks of colour. And just as you don`t want to look like a flower border so you should also use florals in moderation around the home - as accents rather than all over floralness. Sprigged prints on lampshades are a good starting point if you want to introduce some simple country style in a plainly decorated room.

Tags: colour, flower power, garden, spring

Looking ahead
01 January 2009


The new year feels like a fresh start as I walk through silvery streets in the early hours to meet daughter number two off the free New Year`s Eve night bus. The garden is preserved in ice like frozen aspic. And the late rose I snip before breakfast, in thermal socks and clogs, is a frosted powder puff of petals. The earth is hard, but I`m not unhappy the squirrels find it challenging to dig up the tulip bulbs. I will be generous though and put out nuts and seeds for the undeserving beasts. I don`t compile lists of new year`s resolutions because there are too many elements of my life that could do with fine tuning and better application. I am going to settle for just one: a bicycle. It will keep me fit and get me from A to B in a slow and carbon friendly way. The bike must be the sit up and beg variety, even though it`s more the maiden aunt going out for a sedate pedal-look, rather than the groovy young thing on fast and smart alloy wheels. I`m going the secondhand route, but if I had the funds, I`d be on a spanking new Pashley Princess, complete with gold lined mudguards, ding-dong bell, leather sprung saddle, skirt guards and a wicker basket.


Dodging the sales crowds, and ten deep queues outside Yves st Laurent, on a trip into town the other day, it seems that Londoners are heeding mayor Boris Johnson`s declaration that it is our patriotic duty to keep shopping throughout the recession. I`m not so sure if it means yet another designer handbag. Even if it`s 75% off, what`s the point when there are already three more clogging up the wardrobe? I think it`s the small luxuries, that cheer you up in hard times. Indeed, recent sales figures from the world`s big cosmetic companies, L`oreal, Beiersdof and Shiseido, confirm the so-called lipstick effect has returned with consumers increasing their spending on cosmetics even while economising on everything else. Barry M, No52, lip paint (shocking pink) and a good read are favourite pick-me-ups. I am gripped by Wendy Moore`s Wedlock an intricately researched tale about the terrible marriage made by the Countess of Strathmore. It lives up to the blurb on the jacket `how Georgian Britain`s worst husband met his match` with bloody duels, great hairstyles, abduction, deception and betrayal in every paragraph. The Maurice Sendak inspired drawing is fabulous in An Awesome Book by Dallas Clayton who encourages children and adults to follow their dreams of rocket powered unicorns, and magic watermelon boats rather than mobiles and matching sets of silverware.


There is pear and ginger cake for pudding: CAKE 125g softened butter 125g caster sugar 125g self raising flour 2 large eggs 4 tbsps ginger syrup 4 knobs preserved ginger, chopped 9-16 inch cake tin SYRUP 90g butter 90g sugar 2 tbsps ginger syrup 4 large pears juice 1 lemon 1 Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the syrup and sugar. Beat until creamy and a pale toffee colour. Pour into the cake tin lined with grease proof paper. 2 Peel, core and slice the pears, turning them in the lemon juice. Arrange the slices around the base of the tin . 3 Pour all of the cake ingredients, except the ginger, into a mixer and whizz until smooth. Add the chopped ginger and spread the mixture over the pear slices. 4 Bake at 190C for 45 minutes (approximate, as this will depend upon your oven). If the top browns reduce the heat. A skewer plunged into the middle will emerge clean if the sponge is ready. Remove from the heat and cool on a rack. Serve with lashings of cream , creme fraiche, or ice cream.

Tags: flower power, garden, home cooking, winter

Lavender bags and logs
19 November 2008


I was allowed out last Saturday night and went to a party at newly revamped Soho restaurant Kettners , where designer Ilse Crawford has waved her magic wand. Pretty, white Thonet chairs, twinkly candles and pale grey walls are delicious as the steaming French onion soup. To sleep late, but not too late to bounce out in the morning and get on with garden tidying. High winds and heavy rain have denuded the trees, which look like bristle brushes. Autumn is making way for winter. My brother-in-law is cooking Sunday lunch, a good incentive to work hard if there`s a reward of Jonny`s chocolate tart for pudding. Putting the garden to bed for winter is satisfying: trimming, and sweeping and generally neatening up the withered remnants of summer`s wild growth. My garden is allowed to meander more than is good gardening practice, but then I`m no wannabee Martha Stewart. I snip the lavenders so that they are more rounded and bushy, but I`m not going to bust a gut about making them look topiary perfect. I should have collected the dried flower heads in summer when they were at their most pungent but there are enough aromatic handfuls to rescue from the flower stalks to make lavender bags for Christmas presents. A whiff of lavender is almost as good as ginger and lemon tea for getting me off to sleep.


There`s an Ercol love seat with a simple spindle back for sale at the Midcentury Modern show, where young couples with babies trussed up in hand knits barter for retro fabrics and furniture. The price tag is too high for me, my goodness I didn`t realise quite how collectable Fifties` Ercol has become, but feel that I spend money well on the latest issue of Selvedge, a beautifully illustrated and informative magazine for the textile addict. On the other hand, many discounts are appearing from every which way now that recession is as official as Madonna`s divorce from Guy Ritchie. I welcome the special deal on a load of logs which, I suppose, helps to even out the cuts appearing in some of our location fees. I really don`t mind the general slowing down, and drawing back, it`s a chance to reassess priorities, to spend more prudently, on what we need rather than what we want.


PANCAKES Pancakes are a tasty recession proof idea: flour, milk, eggs, butter that`s all you need. Great for stuffing with fridge leftovers - chopped chicken, spring onions, fromage frais and a squeeze of lemon - pancakes are a quick lunch option. We like the sweet version in our household: 100g plain flour; l beaten egg; 250 ml milk;30g melted butter Put the flour and salt in a bowl. Make a well and pour in the egg and the milk. Stir well with a wooden spoon until the batter is smooth. Add a little more milk if necessary.Leave to stand for half an hour. Heat the butter in a small non stick frying pan. When it is very hot add about 30 ml batter or enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Tilt so that it spreads evenly. Cook for about a minute until bubbles appear and the bottom is gold brown. Turn or toss the pancake and cook the other side. Sprinkle it with caster sugar and juice squeezed from an orange or lemon wedge. Roll up and eat immediately.


Tags: autumn, garden, get crafty, homemade

A packet of bulbs
09 November 2008

Autumn`s performance continues to spellbind. The park is decorated like a natural film set, dressed in toning themes of yellow, golden brown and berry pink. Wading through layers of papery leaves is sensual, like eating a Bendicks Bittermint or lazing on hot sand. It was good to get out in the fresh air as my kitchen was steamy and busy, booked for a team photographing food by Australian chef, Bill Granger. I watched the refreshingly ego-and-expletive-free, maestro conjure up gorgeous baking one minute, then exotic oriental fish flavours the next. The dog had a field day escaping to lick up whatever tasty crumbs might fall. Bill`s take on chicken curry, with aromatic coconut and chilli, was among the divine leftovers that upped the ante on our everyday grub after the shoot departed in the evening. The house has been working hard for its living. As soon as the cooking gang left, knitting heroine Debbie Bliss arrived to take pictures for the second issue of her smart new knitting magazine. My knitting skills are restricted to never-ending scarves in purl and plain, but I`m feeling inspired after drooling over Debbie`s fabulous ideas: I fancy the apricot coloured long cardigan, a groovy alternative to a dressing gown. I`m laying down the dust sheets for the next job, a recycling ad that stars a dustbin, plus all the clobber and fuss that accompanies film making. Hey ho, all in a day`s work. RETRO LOOKS


The fifties` were not all about kitsch. It was an era of high quality design classics that were meant to last. I have a passion for the simple elm stick back chairs and tables that Lucian Ercolani designed for his company Ercol . I grew up eating my mum`s sphag bol around an Ercol table. I must admit that Ercol didn`t make it into my first home; I was trying out new ideas and anything associated with parents was uncool. I re-discovered the simple shapes a few years ago in forays to junk shops (see an example above, with one of the paparazzi seated) and intensive searches on Ebay, one of which led me a garage in Bedfordshire and a set of Windsor table and chairs in fabulous condition. Even the flat tyre on the way home didn`t dim my excitement. For more fifties` ideas visit the exhibition, Designer Style: Home Decorating in the 1950s at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture. MORE JOBS


On gardening matters, I really must get out to finish the weeding, rose pruning, (remember: clean secateurs and slanted cuts to let rain run off and prevent infection) and bulb planting. The most important thing about bulbs is to make sure you plant them the right way up: the hairy root bit at the bottom, and the pointy shoot at the top. If in doubt plant them sideways as the shoot will find it`s way to the light. The next most important thing is keep the squirrels out and plant the bulbs at a depth of 10cm. I`m looking forward to seeing what these white and green flamed tulips bulbs from the local garden centre will look like next spring. On `the room on top` in Olhao, we`ve submitted the planning application to the camara. Now all I have to do is wait, and send out positive vibes so that the word from on high will be positive and in the not too distant distant future. I know that I`m supposed to be on the slow road to less instant gratification, but I can`t wait to get out the roller and finish the walls in pig fat and lime a tried and tested traditional recipe, would you believe, for lime wash. I sense, though, there will be one or two hurdles to leap before that day arrives. During my visit there a couple of weeks ago, the chestnut vendors had arrived with rickety metal wagons to sell paper twists of roast nuts from the smoking coals. Everyone from old men to young children are customers. We roast chestnuts over an open fire at home in winter by slitting them first and then tossing amongst the embers for a few minutes. One year a friend gave me a chestnut roaster, a pan with slotted holes that was much less messy, and more suitable if a novice.


Tags: autumn, garden, Simple

A new term
17 September 2008

It`s September. It`s swallows flying south. It`s sun tan washing off in the bath. It`s back to school. It`s polished shoes, timetables, and a brisk swim at the lido on a mellow Sunday morning. As my children get down to their books with the vigour only seen at the start of a new year I, too, am enthused with ideas for colours, new spaces, and what to plant in the garden. August under cloudless Algarve skies has filled me up with positive thoughts, like a well stocked fridge. Ballast against the coming grey afternoons that darken before six. Not that I am tiring of white, but I am experimenting with more colour around the house. Last week, aided by the muscle of my 19 year old, I rollered and brushed away the pale retro green in the north facing room which until now has been used for the rowing machine and ironing. Now it has a new rich olive green look or `citrine` as described on the paint pot. It will go with white and is very seventies`, like one of the rich funky colours that society decorator David Hicks used. I think he was so clever at making stuffy grand houses look hip with the injection of something bright and outrageous like lemon yellow armchairs, or shocking pink and orange wallpaper. My secret plan is to annex my new green room as a snug winter sitting room/study.


Olhao is an ongoing project near the top of my list of things to do. For the last two years we`ve been restoring an old townhouse, in this Portuguese coastal town with it`s specific aromatic tag of grilling fish, drains, and salty air. This where we come in the holidays to eat sardines so fresh they are rigid, swim in clear unpolluted sea reached by ferry boat, and live at a slower pace.


Using local builders we have repaired and renovated walls weeping with salt, and woodwork blistered and warped by sun and rain. I have sourced handmade terracotta floor tiles, still produced by an ancient factory up in the hills, and poked around in dusty warehouses to find the perfect sized white tiles for the kitchen and bathroom. The interior is plain, with tongue and groove detail, high ceilings and tall double doors. On the flat roof, typical of the town`s North African architectural feel we`re adding a room, a white cube, with a bedroom, wood burning stove and shower. This will be a cool retreat in summer without electricity, candles will do, and there`ll be a solar panel on top for hot water. This is where to watch storks glide and breathtaking sunsets. . As my grasp of Portuguese is at best, limited, my hands will held by a Portuguese architect friend. I hope we will not need to seek planning permission as the building will remain in the permitted height restrictions. Ho hum, I`m not counting on anything though. E-mails are being pinged back and forth refining the original layout, which I paced out one sizzling morning, eyed by a scraggy black cat. Fingers crossed, completion should be by next Spring. I`m off to seek more architectural inspiration over the Open House weekend when all kinds of extraordinary buildings, public and private are open to the public in London. Last year we stayed local and explored a windmill, an amazing eco house, and a fabulous but faded art deco housing estated called Pullman Court.


Apples, apples and more apples are waiting to be gathered in the grey metal bucket. If I am organised there will be crumbles and apple sponge for pudding. The garden has that overgrown and dying back look of autumn. The effect is monotone and washed out like the moody Vilhelm Hammershoi canvases of landscapes and interiors I managed to catch on the last day at the The Royal Academy of Arts.


Tags: autumn, colour, garden

Good things
20 July 2008

We`re back home: back to our own beds, and garden with the beans now curling wildly up their wigwam supports. It`s odd to imagine that 10 days ago the house was heaving with 40 crew and cast, false doors and walls, towering light arrangements, and a forest of christmas trees in the front garden. Like the fair that came to town and left, all that remains are some faded patches on the grass and a signed mugshot of Jack Dee pinned to the fridge. The garden tasks have built up over five weeks of plunging downpours and bursts of heat. I`m deadheading roses (my favourite scented and blousy Gertrude Jekyll blooms), watering, and planting, rather late, several different varieties of tomatoes. I`d forgotten about the compost we`ve been making in our free Lambeth Council compost bin. It was a bit of a bonus, on top of the sunniness of the morning, to open up the hatch at the bottom and find an earthy smelling and glistening mush of fruit and vegetable matter to dig in for a hopefully bumper crop of Alicantes and Sweet Millions.


The family`s linen is in need of some maintenance. I shall have to put off excuses and deal with it. I try to follow the example of my Grandma Phyllis, who emerged intact from her devastated cellar, after a Luftwafe bombing raid over Clapham Junction and became, by necessity as the family lost their home and most of their belongings, a devoted make-do-and-mender. She sucked on Murray Mints as she repaired worn sheets by folding and cutting away the thin part. The cut edges would then be hemmed on her rackerty Singer. The sheet ends up with a central seam, but that matters little when there will be a good deal more wear in it. Dyeing worn and grungy bedlinen is another good way to extend its servitude. I have found that the colours by Dylon last well; see the hot pink dyed sheet here, from Decorating easy. I know that dyeing with chemicals is not particularly eco-friendly, but on the other hand the amounts needed for this sort of home dyeing are small, and it`s more sustainable to eke out the usefulness of an item rather than chuck it.


There`s always someone trying to spoil the fun, like the government study which showed that 90 percent of the fruit from national retailers and pick your own farms was covered in pesticides. It`s not going to stop me from buying punnets of juicy sweet English strawberries from my local high street stall. I`ll give them a good wash though, before piling them onto a meringue base with blueberries, and any other summer berries I can find. I am thinking though, that it`s time to invest in an organic boxed delivery from Riverford Organics, which sound brilliant because bundles of asparagus, rhubarb, or whatever arrive just hours after they`ve been cut.


Tags: flower power, garden, home cooking


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