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

20th May

Constance Spry rose

15th may

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

14th may
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.

14th May

 With the dying back of the tulips,  the alliums now provide more rich  purple  garden colour.

5th May
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.


7th May
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.

4th May
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.

Tags: tulips, springgarden, lockdowngarden, covid, roses, wildflowers, butterflycakes,

April blog 2020
29 April 2020

Monday 27 April

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"

Tags: tulips, spring, garden, lockdown, pandemic, athome, bluebells, lilac,

Spring thoughts
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. 

31st march

A host of white and golden narcissi under the apple tree.

30th March

 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 fraiche/yoghurt.

24th March

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


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 to start?

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.

23rd March

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 between the 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.

Tags: spring, garden, tulips, lockdown, covid-19, simple, style, growing, coronavirus, everyday beauty,

April garden
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….

Tags: springgarden, tulips, blossom, pink, ecogarden, londonreatreat, countryinthecity, simplegarden, outdoors,

The tulip portraits
22 April 2016

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.

Tags: tulips, pink, spring, garden,

More of my pink passions
03 May 2015

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 .

NB  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 .

Tags: spring, tulips, garden, simple, pink,

Tip toe through the tulips
17 April 2015

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 .

Tags: spring, tulips, garden, purecolour, alliums,

Birthday tea
01 April 2014

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 .

Justify Left

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.

Tags: tulips, spring, colour, garden,

Bulbs in
02 December 2013

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.

Tags: Tulips, alliums, autumn, baking, colour ,

Tiip toe through the tulips
13 May 2013

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.

Tags: spring, tulips, flowerpower, pink, colour

Chive pesto and first tulips
24 April 2013

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.

Tags: spring, homecooking, tulips. Japan. location shoots


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