"Pure style is my way of life... a blueprint for living in the 21st Century"
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.
A host of white and golden narcissi under the apple tree.
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
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
FROM MY GARDEN BOOK NOTE BOOK:
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
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.
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
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.
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….
Last week while I was feeling the breeze in Barbados and reconnecting with long lost Bajan Cumberbatches (an extraordinary story of which I will write later ) the garden was busily bursting forth in an explosion of tulip colours. On the plane home, I was yearning for the Bajan sea colours which are of unspeakable beauty: gazing from the verandah each day at a glassy expanse of dark blues on the horizon, then ultramarine, and in the shallows, luminous turquoise flecked with white froth. But after battling against the early morning commuter flow at Clapham Junction and dragging my wheelie bag up and down the hill, my mood lifted as soon as I saw the floral beauty by my very own back door .
I planted the bulbs randomly and so not quite sure what is what, but know that that the varieties include: Lilac Perfection, Violet beauty, Fringed fancy frills, Lily flowering China Pink, Triumph ( the white and beetroot coloured ones) and blue parrot tulips, from Dejager Crocus and Rose Cottage .
The week in December that I spent almost double pushing several hundred tulips and alliums far into the ground to prevent squirrel digging was all so worth it. Each morning, coffee in hand, I`m outside inspecting the day`s new blooms. The tulips are first , and I can almost see them growing as vivid pink and raspberry rippled flower cups unfold in the sun on smooth lime green elegant stems .
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.
The Japanese arrive as the cherry blossom froths in next door`s garden. It`s a shoot for Mrs Magazine Japan`s oldest womens` publication. I am Mrs Pure Style cooking with herbs from the garden and sharing my recipe tips with the enviably porcelain smooth face of Mrs Magazine, actress and singer, Miki Imai.
Some things are lost in translation, but east and west over tea and lavender shortbread have a mutual feeling for the simple and beautiful. Photographer Okemi Kurosaka neat and efficient as her glossy black fringe snaps until the shadows are long and we have picked the bones clean from very English spring lamb cutlets with rosemary and garlic.
Chive pesto also goes down well on my Japanese date: chop a handful of chives and process in the hand whizzer with pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, grated Parmesan , salt and pepper.
Getting orders for the borders!!! and Press, too... Here`s the latest thumbs up from Living Etc who also feature them on the Editor`s front page of ` Inspiration`
Loading up Richard`s van for delivery to Olhao. I have my first holiday tenants soon, and want them to enjoy crisp sheets and soft pillows, floaty cotton awnings, and lanterns. Seems mad to to be sending mats, chairs, folding beer tables two thousand miles south when you think items as prosaic as these might be found locally. They can... and they can`t if you`re picky, like me and get get stuck on wanting what feels/looks right not what is simply available. Fussy yes, but would you want stacking plastic loungers at Pure Style Portugal? .
Not so much flat calm, but rippling : wavy black and white linen/cotton for another take on the stripe theme
Together with the unfurling of the garden`s first tulip, I receive green fingered excitement from the forthcoming Chelsea Fringe alternative
garden festival. Masses of events: sign me up for a walk on
London`soldest nature trail at the Horniman museum and the drawing and
sketching classes on Hampstead Heath.
Lunch break. A gorgeous painterly arrangement of salads and salmon by location caterer, Laurence Mash has just landed on my desk. The crew downstairs is enjoying the tastiest and most visually appealing shoot grub that has appeared in my kitchen for a very long time.