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"Pure style is my way of life... a blueprint for living in the 21st Century"
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,

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

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

Pure Style returns
18 August 2014

Sorry for the silence but I have been pushing on with my new book and have a deadline for end of September!   Yes that`s me out there with camera slung round my neck,. sun hat, glasses (can`t focus through  view finder without)  ruck sack , notebook, tomato bun . We`ve been all over  the place  my camera and me , and next week we`re at home in London where I`m  painting  and shooting more  gorgeous colour inspiration. I am    moored to the keyboard,  but  food breaks are not  neglected- the only demand is  that ideas are  simple and easy to prepare.

Peach puree is a favourite:   Peel 5 or six large peaches, stone and slice and put in a saucepan with enough water to cover.  Add two or three tablespoons of sugar and juice of half a lemon. Simmer for 5 to 10m minutes. Cool, blend and refrigerate until use. Decorate with a scented geranium leaf, or not if you don`t have, and  pour over ice cream for a delectable summer pudding.

Have just said good bye to beach style for the season.... home to grey London skies I suspect.

Tags: Summer, home cooking, colour, blue, orange,

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

Summer remnants
25 September 2013

Back to blogging post the M4 migration and  university delivery of youngest.  And the  back to the everythings of September  that I would rather not have to deal with, such as the  garden which is  looking, let`s say, autumnal.  But the apples shimmer on laden branches and next post I`ll show you the first of my apple puddings.  It`s no chore, too, to revisit the delicious things I came across this summer.

 Puglia ,via Ryanair to Brindisi (some  say it`s the new Tuscany- hmmm it would be a great loss) was all gnarled olive trees in baked earth fields like rows of ancient chieftains. And  all the  chalk white hill towns , strawberry gelato  and  beehive  Trullis that you could wish for.

Markets like the one at Cisternino  were piled with enough arugala, pommodori,  mozzarella and good bread  for a century of al fresco picnics.

We made fava ( broad bean ) humus with dried beans  bought in plastic bags from the petrol station , and  crunched  small round dried bread snacks,  (the Portugueuse and Spansih do similar)  see below  which encourage to you to sip more and more from your wine glass.  .

 One day we took the coast road  swimming  off rocks and then  to the Taverna da Santos   where we  sprawled  on  fold up blue canvas deck chairs by limpid blue sea like extras from la dolce vita

Tags: olives blue summer

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

One more look.....
17 June 2013

 I`m  as besotted with my garden as the bees are sated on sweet nectar from the  starry alliums.  It feels almost electric with activity:  bursting glossy pink roses, voluptuous  peonies  shedding  brilliant carpets of petals and crowds of  bees,  enough, if there  were such a thing for a bee club night. I get up close, eye to bee pollen sack with  black and white striped ones,  fat yellow ones,  small bobbly hairy ones,  brown fluffy types as if they`d had a cut and blow dry.

Growing, budding, flowering,  seeding on a still warm  June afternoon the garden seems  more dynamic than the brains in any government think tank. Only joking, but as  George Eliot suggested "If we could hear the squirrel`s heartbeat, the sound of the grass growing, we should die of that roar" .

 The garden soothes, me with its it`s distractions and needs.  What better way than to work off writers block or  parking ticket annoyance with the  physicality and sense of purpose that an hour`s weeding gives.  The fact that  nature is ambiguous, that she is neither all good nor all bad, that she gives as well as takes away, also  puts life outside the garden into perspective.   Contentment with green fly free roses, fury at the  bullet headed snails who strafe the  rocket, it`s all about the ups and downs and the getting on with what is thrown at you.  A dancing in the rain approach., rather than waiting for the storm to pass  I suppose.

 Pink rose love: gorgeous Constance Spry with a scent that almost knocks you out in a perfumed stupor.  I  cut them for a jug on the table and take bundles  tied with string to friends` as a  summer offering.

I`m  glad I ditched climbing beans having lost them to slugs over the last two summers, and went for the sweet pea option to pole dance around  the wigwams of willow sticks.  Snug in their flowerpots in the shed at the bottom of the garden they began to sprout  towards the light way back in the winter. In early may I prepared their summer beds with shovels of home produced compost and set about planting. For the first week so it was touch and go as to whether they would survive - the leaves went pale and flabby as if they were homesick . I think that the energy was going into putting down strong roots and sure enough, they`re leaping skywards now and putting out brilliant bursts of scented colour.

Each summer, my mum`s peonies, lifted from her garden after she died, produce more and more pink memories of her and my
childhood .

On the subject of the colour purple, it`s the most wonderful colour to go with the  greens of the garden.  Purple alliums, as you might have noticed are my latest crush.   I could never have predicted this after been subjected to years of  school uniform in a particularly brash shade of the colour , which topped with a  hideous purple  berets marked us out as targets for ridicule at the wild and untamed  bus stops of South London.

Tags: garden, summer, alliums, purple,

Early morning garden
14 June 2013

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:

Tags: garden, summer, pink, alliums,

Summer scents and sweetpeas
15 August 2010

Packing up for the holsí may be palpitation inducing: thundering down the motorway to take the dog for her summer billet with my sister, racing through a monthís paperwork in the early hours, and making the house ship shape for a magazine Christmas shoot . But boy itís 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 Ďthe story of successí by Malcolm Gladwell,  and  The Algarve Fish Book by Nic Boer and Andrea Sieber.  Iím also inspired by  Reinventing  Letter Press by Charlotte Rivers,   a stylish   little book with fabulous printing ideas.

Along with the reading matter, thereís 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.

Iíve 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.,   

1ím  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.  Theyíre  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 yearís seeds, which in turn were produced from the previous yearís blooms that i collected. And even the agapanthus managed to defy the winterís ravages and has just put out some glorious blooms. Iíll 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

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

Wild swim
14 July 2009


Good news! Elle Decoration, July Issue, has voted my blog as one of the best style blogs on the web: " British style journalist Jane Cumberbatch`s blog is a feast of gorgeous photography and inspiring ideas, on everything from Ercol furniture to making shortbread. Her style is simple, relaxed and recession-friendly". I`m in sartorial male blog company too, from Mr Peacock who offers tips on how to customise an Ikea sofa, to James Andrew a NY designer who dresses as hip as his surroundings and Jonathan Adler who`s mad about blue. It`s sweatingly hot and steamy in the city but at Hampstead Ladies pond , spreading trees shade this North London oasis and swimmers become part of nature as they move between floating water lilies and small fleets of ducks with ducklings. It`s my first ever dip here, and it feels like heaven, so peaceful, and even though the dark water seems eerily bottomless, it is fresh and free from tangled weed. Ben and Jerry`s or Haagen Dazs might be what the teenagers prefer to spoon into their wafer cones, but I live in hope that student budgets or even ennui with the packaged stuff, might nudge them towards making their own ice cream. It`s dead easy. See my latest YouTube for proof.


As all bee experts will testify, the global bee population has recently entered a catastrophic decline, in a syndrome despairingly known as "Colony Collapse Disorder". Thriving bee farms are being turned overnight into ghost towns as workers mysteriously desert their queens and everyone is quoting Albert Einstein to the effect that if the bees go, the human race will perish four years later. Well you wouldn`t think there`s a buzz crisis in Tulse Hill the bees are positively crowding out my pom pom thistles and lavender bushes in their pollinating and honey making efforts. In fact, this year. Nevertheless, I`m going to do my bit and offer up a quiet spot by the shed to host a hive a brilliant initiative for urban beekeepers who need more space.



I`ve been communing with more bees at Das Kransbach spa where you can get stuck into some serious treatments or idle away the day in buzzing and knee tickling Alpine wild flower meadows. The boxy hives passed on the walk home are the source of sticky golden chunks of honeycomb for breakfast. Just as energising for the soul are the sublime rooms designed by Ilse Crawford and the simple back-to-nature saunas, and pools that lull guests into bliss. No spartan spa this is, either, with delicious cakes on trays at teatime.


Tags: garden, home cooking, Simple, 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

Summer ingredients
20 July 2008

I can`t believe the slugs and snails did not get their evil way and decimate the beans. But then I did keep an eagle eye on the fledging shoots, crunching any marauders, as they budded and curled skywards up the bean sticks. In the last weeks the flowers have dropped to leave nascent pods which are swelling fast as a result of the downpours we`ve been having. There are even enough fully formed to pick a first batch and eat steamed with melted butter, garlic and lemon juice.


The rocket is also doing well, and the bitter sharp taste transports me to the whitewashed Italian house where as a lily white 18 year old `exchange`, I picked it for the first time from a herb patch outside the back door. I learnt to toss it in golden olive oil for salad that the family ate after the daily plates of pasta and grilled meat. The southern tradition of whole families sitting down to bond and eat proper meals is something that seems to be on the wane in our takeaway culture. But after sitting through the food, family, failure and friction within France`s community of North African emigres in the film Couscous (La Graine Et Le Mulet) I began to think that maybe the odd tv dinner wasn`t so sad after all. I would recommend this film though, for its mouthwatering visuals of the preparations for fish couscous: gorgeous steaming piles of fluffy grains, spicy sauces, firm fleshy mullet and wonderful cooking pots.


A quick but delicious way to eat couscous is to combine the cooked grain with olive oil, chopped mint, parsley, spring onion, and grilled peppers. This is a sublime salad to eat with meat or fish, or on its own. I`m an alfresco girl, even if the weather looks set to be indifferent for a party this weekend. Once I gather a few colourful cushions and fabrics around the table, a string of lanterns, shawls to keep warm and something fizzy to drink, I will imagine the mood to be more Tangier than Tulse Hill.


Tags: summer

The swimming pool season
20 July 2008

There`s not much time to write. It`s over 70 degrees, the sun is shining, the sky cloudless and the lido`s cool ripply blue water beckons. The government wants free swimming for all - it`s already part of the primary curriculum - but there aren`t enough outdoor watery oases like the Brockwell Park Lido where swimmers from 0 to 90 plus can get fit and chill out. My season ticket here is worth more than a hundred pairs of Manolos in terms of well being. A few lengths and a dry-off in the sun are guaranteed to remove the jitters or bad humour. Looking at all the blue below and above my breast stroke makes me think of what a brilliantly versatile and natural decorating tool this colour is.


From deep hyacinth to very pale ice, blue comes in a myriad of shades. I think of how blue turns to lavender when mixed with violet, or turquoise when blended with green. Take a cue from the fashion world and look at the soft blues that characterise denim as it is washed and worn. These shades adapt as easily to home furnishings as they do to jeans and jackets. My favourite blue dream-scheme is walls in sludgy grey/blue offset with white painted furniture, blinds in blue and white ticking and bowls of cut herbs. Make your own blue story by adding blue pigment to a white base, like my friend Hermione who repaints her beach house in Portugal, every spring with limewash tinted with blue.


And as it`s the time of year for alfresco feasts, a blue and white checked tablecloth is an important part of my kit, whether it`s to spread out at a picnic on the beach, or to make the table look jolly for an everyday meal. Blue and white checks are prosaic, pragmatic and never look out of place.


Tags: summer


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