"Pure style is my way of life... a blueprint for living in the 21st Century"
29 April 2019
Tap tapping at the key board has a feel of the siesta hour, window blind not pulled completely shut allowing a sliver of sunlight to burst through the darkened inte rior. The mind wanders up here but then flying is mind bending, the turbine hum reality of being 12,500 metres somewhere over Iran, looking down on countries of puffy meringue clouds. 500 km per hour for almost a day, en route to Melbourne via a two hour stopover in Kuala Lumpur. A second visit to check out the down under life of my almost Melburnian son.
My travels are all happening at once it seems. Arriving late home last night from Easter in Olhao (feasts of grilled fish and chocolate eggs) I was up at dawn to re-pack and see what had been going on in the garden: an explosion of blossom and pink tulips and everything infused with spring fever. Have the slugs decimated the young sweet peas in my absence? Yes, they’ve had a damn good try but most seedlings are pushing on upwards, in little spurts of green curling around the hazel peasticks. There are instructions (daughters are minding the fort) for the tops to be pinched out from time to time to encourage stronger growth and more flowering.
Too much in a rush to get to Heathrow on time to identity all the tulips, apart from the obvious raspberry ripple markings of Rems Favourite. I know that I planted 80 Violet Beauty, 50 Bleu Amiable , 50 Jackpot and 50 Blue Heron. As I’ve explained before. I don’t lift the oldtimer tulips- partly laziness but also because those that do come up again are a bonus, like fluttery eldery aunts to the generation of bright young things planted the previous autumn,
Expectation versus reality is the downfall of over optimistic gardeners (most of us) and it is what can make one want to give up when an event such as cherished box hedging is annihilated by box blight almost overnight. Yes, it happened to mine last summer. So I have been guarded in my anticipation for the apple tree buds. But there was no frost or fierce storm. The apple tree has burst forth in a vsion of Van Gogh’s French orchards in spring , a delicate fluff of petals in white and pink. Looks like we’re going to get a big crop of apples this year – cautiously ’maybe’ of course.
Most lawns have been silenced by the regime of a lawnmover says Alys Fowler in the Guardian and reflects on Margaret Renkl who recently made the case for neglecting lawns in the New York Times. The scientific thinking is that scorched by weed and moss killers lawns are drained of their bio diversity.
I mow some of the grass , but don’t use chemicals, and keep it rough around the apple tree, a little bit of wildflower meadow, already with spring dandelions, bluebells, and forget me knots and food for bees and other insects
So goodbye fresh buds and petals, it’s been all too fleeting, and hello to the falling leaves of an Australian autumn….
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.
I fly south to Olhao and the glorious vegetable colours and textures of the Saturday market. Beans pods flecked with pink like a painter`s abstract are a joy to look at let alone eat .
More building is in progress at the house to open up the living/ eating space. I am moving a bathroom to what I call the monk`s cell, a poky inner room with a glass brick in the ceiling as the only light source; a not altogether unreasonable Olhao detail, as it is the coolest room in summer and warmest in winter. The new L shaped space has an open hatch to the kitchen. We couldn`t knock all the way through because the giant chimney on the roof above would have no support, and I didn`t want to lose this traditional and distinctive Algarve feature. I am looking forward to the delivery of blue and white floor tiles, in a simple checked pattern that are being made in the traditional way by Artevida near Lisbon.
Against the drab died-back look of winter the last few roses (see here, a John Clare specimen) decorate the garden in defiant shots of frivolous summer pink. I cut some blooms for the table to join candles and a bowl of aromatic clementines in a simple festive still life.
In the season for boxes of delights, I find particular pleasure in unpacking after a year`s rest in the attic irisdescent baubles and a peg doll fairy for the tree. And, there is all the hope and spring potential in the tulip and allium bulbs. Arriving in boxes by mail order, they are tucked amongst newspaper bedding, in net sacks and brown paper bags with special holes to keep the bulbs cool and dry. It is worth noting that most bulbs should be planted at a depth that allows twice their own height of soil above them. Shallower planting is ok but the bulbs are unlikely to perform well after their first year, and there is the added danger of being easier to be scavenged by squirrels. I have just finished planting about 300 pink tulips (including Blue Heron and Recreado) purple giant fluffy alliums (Gladiator and Globemaster). Do hope the rain and sogginess will dry up for spring or I fear the consequent snail plague will be not only a threat to the young foliage but an unwelcome preoccupation.
Hooray, the last bulb is in. Time for a warm up by the fire!
Last week while I was feeling the breeze in Barbados and reconnecting with long lost Bajan Cumberbatches (an extraordinary story of which I will write later ) the garden was busily bursting forth in an explosion of tulip colours. On the plane home, I was yearning for the Bajan sea colours which are of unspeakable beauty: gazing from the verandah each day at a glassy expanse of dark blues on the horizon, then ultramarine, and in the shallows, luminous turquoise flecked with white froth. But after battling against the early morning commuter flow at Clapham Junction and dragging my wheelie bag up and down the hill, my mood lifted as soon as I saw the floral beauty by my very own back door .
I planted the bulbs randomly and so not quite sure what is what, but know that that the varieties include: Lilac Perfection, Violet beauty, Fringed fancy frills, Lily flowering China Pink, Triumph ( the white and beetroot coloured ones) and blue parrot tulips, from Dejager Crocus and Rose Cottage .
I still use the Elna sewing machine my parents gave me for my 21st birthday many moons ago. And now my own daughter is 21, it feels good to run up a birthday cushion. I use remnants of vibrant fuschia pink cotton velvet by Manuel Canovas left over from a shoot. This should make a glamorous shot of colour in Gracie`s attic student house bedroom, I think. My skills at embroidery are wanting, but I can do simple running stitch to make a personalised label. And it`s good to know that I`m passing on the sewing bug because her friends have clubbed together to give her a sewing machine, too.
And as with every birthday in our household there`s chocolate cake . NB 21 Candles were lit and blown out later.
There`s so little show of summer, I`m feeding you some visual energy with these garden-in-the-early-morning -sunshine snaps.
7am , camera in hand: My feet bare on cool brick and the sweet grass smell give me that country in the city feeling. I am accompanied by the cat, who pads the frothy chive edged paths swishing her tail contentedly, caught in the shafts of light it looks like liquid chocolate flecked with gold.
Heavenly allium "Gladiator` , a heavenly pit stop for bees.
I like to think about morning tulip petals and shimmering green lavender rather than breakfast radio gripes and bumper to queues on the South Circular. See below:
Took these pictures a week ago, and didn`t want to leave it too long before I uploaded to show you all how exuberant the tulip show has been this year. The combination of cold and rain this winter seems to have encouraged particularly lush grown in all areas of the spring garden: the bluebells are bluer and the forget -me- nots more luminous and pale blue porcelain-like than ever.
I had moments of heart in mouth when a shoot came and the child models used the tulip patch as a football pitch. Only lost three specimens (see salvaged Match Point tulip example above) but it`s an aspects of house hiring that brings out the rant in me.
There`s the excitement of the apple tree coming into blossom at least a month late, but oh so worth it for the froth of white and pink petals which may be a harbinger of plump golden apples if frost stays away.
Writing now from Olhao where the final whitewashing, brushing up and dusting down of the house is in progress. Really pleased with a junk bench stained in glum brown varnish that after sanding and painting white reveals its good looks. That`s the fun of tracking down old junk of trying to visualise its potential. Heading home tomorrow and hoping that weeds and snails have not taken over.