"Pure style is my way of life... a blueprint for living in the 21st Century"
28 May 2020
After over nine weeks of Lockdown (the last three with more relaxed rules) time merges from one day to the next in a kind of calender limbo. It must be Thursday because I have Zoom pilates. The weather has been sublime for May and the garden is blooming in a way that it hasn`t before, as if nature is putting up an extra show of defiance against Covid . I notice the garden and its comings and goings so much more being home most of the time apart from excursions to the DIY shop, and a bike ride on my newly acquired sit up and beg Orbea bike - a Spanish company and pleasingly made in Portugal. The roses are magnificently cabbagy pink and scented including the newish Ancient Mariner standard ,see above, which is in its second year here, and has burst forth with many flopping blooms, that pale to vintage pink tones like faded roses on a fifties frock. Dear Constance Spry and Gertrude Jekyll are surpassing themselves on both fences and St.Swithins` heady scented pink whorls are simply fabulous climbing up above the metal arch. With little rain to speak of, the slug and snail threat is low and for the first summer in years I think my beans are going to do good... are springing up in their biodegradble peat pots like gangly youths straining to leave lockdown.
Seen here are Dwarf beans, at the other end of tray there are Runners.
Constance Spry rose
Peony : Luscious and deep fuschia pink. A wonderful memory of my mum who grew the original plant in her Wandsworth garden. After she died in 1999 I divided it and brought it home to the garden.
St.Swithins... not unlike Constance above you might think, but its all in the detail, and once close up the scent is much more subtle, the petals paler and the general structure, looser
Exciting to think of what lies in the future for these little pots of compost with bean seeds tucked up inside waiting to germinate. A few sturdy shoots are poking up and breaking free.
With the dying back of the tulips, the alliums now provide more rich purple garden colour.
The tulips are on the wane but the first swifts are skywheeling towards summer. `They`ve made it again, which means the worlds`s still working ` Ted Hughes. Recycled glass jars are my tulipieres for these single stemmed beauties, and make a few go a long way.
Spring brings so many pretty herbs and wild flowers. ... Here I`m with the wild bunch: comfrey, commonbugloss, lemon balm and a rhubarb leaf, which all add to the wild shaggy look of the garden and are a simple look inside where I put them in a vase on the table.
Over the weekend I made butterfly cakes and a birthday card for close gardening nut friend. I am most industrious when no parties on the horizon. The wire rack is another of my mum`s tools - another old friend for me in the kitchen. I even crystallised the lilac flowers.. quite easy and sweet lilac flavour. Dip flowers in egg white , dip in caster sugar using tweezers, dry on baking paper for up to 36
hours . You can find the cake recipe on Instagram @janecumberbatch ... From my book Pure Style Recipes for Everyday/Pavilion.
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"
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….
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.
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 .
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 .
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.
Leaves are strewn like golden paper plates over the garden. Summer`s die back is a challenge and I need to chop, weed and clear to make space for bulb planting. Past four pm and the day is closed and so it is easy to ignore the untidy goings on in the garden.
I have a gardener friend, Simon ,who says Jane your task is to get all those beds weeded, and then the job`s done. So I take his advice and do it . He does the heavy stuff and is ace at pruning and keeping many other local flowering spots neat and under control.
You know my Label hate, but I need a new pair of wellies and the pigeon grey Hunters at TKMaxx are cheapish at £40.00 (they`re seconds ) compared to £79 up the road at Morleys. I don`t even feel comfortable at spending this on a boring pair of rubber boots, but I have to say they fit like a glove and as with my favourite rake and spade, it`s good to have practical functional items with which to garden. I suppose I`ll be hiding them from the festival goer next summer.
Away from the screen, solicitor`s letters , leaking sink pipe, and the general impermanence of things, I feel contentment digging snug earth beds for the alliums, and tulips. The afternoon is quiet , blue wash sky going into pink and a blackbird on the fence.
Cradling each bulb ,laying it down in its nest bed I think optimistic pleasing thoughts. I think about the garden in spring decorated with fluffy allium balls, a sea of purple and pink.. I think of the summer grass warm and herby and the sun setting behind the apple tree
The whole thing of putting Christmas together is great, I love to do it for my family but what I do rage over is the commercial relentlessness which began somewhere back in September with cut price chocolate snowmen on sale at the Co-op. Out in the garden there`s none of that and I am grateful to all the growing things for that
Good things are also cooking in the kitchen to keep the household stoked up because I`m being frugal with heating. My daughter and I went went on a morning`s quest for pigs trotters, ingredients for pork pies. Herne Hill market saved the day when there wasn`t a pigs trotter to be had between Pecham and Streatham. She worked from the recipe in Pie a brilliant book, and no doubt why said pies won lst prize at the classroom staff bake off. I`ve been having fun with mackerel fillets coated in oats and fried in a little olive oil great brain food tasty and economical . I also bought silvery and fresh wild sea bass to be baked with herbs`s from wonderful fishmonger,Pauline . Sadly she is moving on because greedy greedy shortsighted landlord wants to get fatter and fatter and lease to another betting shop or pawnbroker.
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.