"Pure style is my way of life... a blueprint for living in the 21st Century"
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.
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.
This is a brief Pure Style update as much sorting and clearing for new bathroom in the attic. And I`ve been weed bashing outside for many a happy hour in the soft bird twittering spring air.
Colour combination of the week is a bedside gorgeous pink rose left over from shoot in a turquoise coffee cup.
And look, more fabulous pink in a floaty wrap around dream skirt made for me from birthday present fabric by Tessa Brown.
Daughter, Georgie is taking over the kitchen in a very pleasing way with delicacies like this Paul Young sea salt chocolate and pecan tart. A comforting slice or two much needed after car break down on the M3 and subsequent lightening of purse .
I am still married to my rubber boots even though the sun is spilling through the windows on a rare dry break in the deluge.
Cat and dog laid out in the warming rays as they spread across the newly made bed and decorate it with the finest of cat and dog fur.
After my rant last week, I must say that the upsides of shoots outweigh the occasional down moments. This week we feasted on leftovers: coffee and walnut cake.etc., made by a young, and starting out cook Charlotte Gardelis, who expertly fed and watered the team in the main shoot space.
Munching the last slice of cake and reading Vogue, I see that my investment in a lightweight mint coloured puffa from Uniclo has been given the fashion bible`s stamp of approval, too. I`m not a puffa person but this is a great colour to go with my pink bits and is really warm which is what really counts.
Dodged the showers and tube strike to see Beckett`s Happy Days at the Young Vic. It wasn`t the most uplifting play to go to with a young person at the start of life and full of fluttery hopes, but Juliet Stephenson `s Winnie showed the female capacity for looking on the bright side when it isn`t ,and she has great hand movements.
Happier days, are spent fielding packets of lovely fabric samples, that drop through the letter box for the new book I`m working on. My heart sings when I come across colours in embroidery like this from Pierre Frey , above. Must tell you too that I`m pleased my borders are part of the collection curated by Silvanna de Soissons in her new foodie bugle online shop.
Days getting a little longer... the garden is beginning to beckon for spring. I am looking forward to replacing worn out and wind damaged willow fences at the bottom of the garden with 3 freshly woven hazel ones that arrived by courier yesterday.
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:
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.
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.