Better late than never…

This morning I came home to this blog. It’s been quite a while. Other people have been visiting. Just not me.

But now I’m back. And the first thing I’m doing is having a tidy up. Because you know how it is when you’ve been away. You see things with a fresh eye. So I’m updating my image and giving this blog a new look. I hope you like it.

If you’ve been with me from the start, you might remember that in the early days I wrote a post about William Robinson. Until I embarked on my garden design course I had never heard of William Robinson. So I had no idea that he was one of the founding fathers of the ‘right plant, right place’ philosophy which has had such an impact on the way we garden today. And I had no idea that the place where he put his philosophy into practice was Gravetye Manor.

Gravetye Manor
Glorious Gravetye

Gravetye Manor happens to be just up the road from where I live. It happens to be where I spent the first night of my honeymoon. It happens to be where Tom Coward presides over the garden. Tom Coward happens to have come from Great Dixter. Which happens to be one of my favourite gardens.

So loads of reasons to visit. And I can’t for the life of me think why it’s taken so long  to get round to going back there.

I finally went last week. And you know what I discovered? Big mistake leaving it so long.

Because it’s fabulous.

Gravetye Manor
Hidden Spaces

The day was overcast. But this didn’t stop the garden from looking completely stunning. In fact if anything it helped. The textures, the form, the colours – all appeared at their spectacular best in the gentle light.

Grasses and perovskia at Gravetye
Stunning mix of grasses, salvia and perovskia
Stunning texture and form using euphorbias and grasses
How to do texture and Form
The Garden at Gravetye Manor
Another stunning combination

It was a masterclass in how to combine plants for stunning late summer effect. And all I can say is go there. Now. It’s nothing short of inspirational.

Winter windup….

Does anyone else agree with me about the weather?

I mean I know it’s been pretty miserable. The wind hasn’t stopped blowing and the rain hasn’t stopped raining. People have been without power for days over Christmas. They’ve been flooded out of their houses, there’s the possibility of more flooding to come. And lets not forget the cold weather coming over from America….

But has it really been as Armageddonly, world endingly, life will never be the same againasly, bad as the media is making out? I’m not sure it has. And I’m not sure how good it is for us to have this constant stream of bad news drip fed to us like Chinese water torture.

I began to feel uncomfortable when I heard someone on the news before Christmas saying that ‘hundreds’ of homes had been flooded. Now I know ‘hundreds’ is quite a lot of homes, and for the people who have had water pouring in through their front doors it must be an absolute nightmare. But when you think of the total number of houses in the entire country, then hundreds isn’t an awful lot. But from the way the news was being delivered in the hushed tone, prepare yourself for the most appalling news you’ve ever heard style that newsreaders these days seem to think is appropriate for everything from suicide bombings to lost dogs, you would have thought that the whole country was under water.

So then I heard that these were the worst conditions in TWO DECADES. Yes that’s right…. TWO DECADES. Now if they’d said TWO CENTURIES it seems to me that there would be good cause to feel a bit anxious. But TWO DECADES. That’s twenty years to us ordinary human beings. And twenty years doesn’t feel like that long to me. After all I’m coming up to three lots of twenty years old in a few years time. And lots of big stuff has happened weather wise in the years I’ve been around – the big storm of 1987, the winter in the early 60’s which I was very young for but can remember because we were snowed in for a very long time. And for people older than me, of which there are more than quite a few, there must be all sorts of major weather events that make what has happened these last few weeks seem…. well just in the grand scheme of things seem not quite as earth shatteringly life changing as the media would like us to believe.

I mean it was only in October last year that I read that we were all set for the worst winter since the Ice Age. And now there are all sorts of gloomy mutterings about the ‘Polar Vortex’ coming over from America. It sounds like something out of Doctor Who. But you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s just a fancy new name for something that’s been around for ever but now that it’s called something else…. now we’ve really got to start worrying about it.

So, as I say it’s not good for us. All this doom and gloom, and just you wait for what’s coming up next, makes us feel anxious and miserable and stops us living in the present and enjoying life as it is now. Take my dear lovely mother in law, who has been worrying that the world is coming to an end. For someone who has lived through a lot more hardship than a few days with the lights out it seems unfair to me that she should be worrying because of all the stuff being thrown at her by the modern news machine.

So I know it’s not a new idea but let’s sit back and look around us and start focussing on the good stuff that’s happening right here and right now. Because there’s always something.

Winter Berries
Winter Berries

I’m offering the sunshine this morning, and the colour of the berries on the trees, the bliss of getting between just laundered sheets in bed last night, the fact that I’ve nearly finished all the work for the start of term next Wednesday, the poetry of David Whyte who I’ve just discovered. And that’s just for starters.

If anybody has got any suggestions I’d love to hear them. Because I think we need to start redressing the balance.

So here’s to good news and the things that make us feel positive about life.

And a very HAPPY NEW YEAR!

It’s never too late….

I’m not thanking Ulf Nordfjell for getting me soaked at Chelsea this year. (I can’t help feeling he was personally responsible.) But I am thanking him for introducing me to Nicole de Vesian. It was she, along with Swedish designer, Ulla Molin who inspired his exquisite show garden.

There are two reason I won’t forget her.

One is her wonderful garden in Provence. Which has shot to the top of my must visit list. Sadly these photos aren’t mine. But you see what I mean…


Monty Don obviously agrees with me. If you missed his series on french gardens you missed out. Just click on his name and spend a few minutes in heaven with him. And don’t say I don’t look after you. A fabulous garden…. and Monty Don. What more could a girl ask for….

The other reason I won’t forget Nicole is the fact that, after a lifetime as one of the top designers at Hermes in Paris, at the age of 69 she switched careers and became a garden designer. How’s that for old doggery, new trickery…..

So, at times of stress, when the workload seems like too much, and I’m asking myself if I’m completely mad to be putting myself through all this pain, I’m going to think of her. And be inspired.

How to make pastels sing……

I’ve just been to one of Marina Christopher‘s Plantsman Days at Bury Court near Farnham. These happen on the last Wednesday of every month and there are so many reasons why they are worth going to.

First Marina Christopher herself. Who is  smiley, approachable and incredibly knowledgeable. And yesterday, in her half an hour talk – which was very low key and down to earth – she changed the way I look at colour in the garden.

Second, Bury Court. It’s got a courtyard garden by Piet Oudolph and a front garden by Christopher Bradley Hole. What more need I say…..

Third, the plants. Valeriana officianalis at Bury CourtMolopospermum I’m adding these two (even thought I can’t pronounce them!) – Valeriana officianilis and Molopospermum peloponnesiacum – to my list of must haves.

Fourth, the lunch. Which was delicious.

So pastels then….

Pastels at Bury Court
Beautiful but sombre

Yesterday was a grey day (again!) and – as Marina pointed out – pastels on their own can look rather flat.

But add a splash of vibrant colour and it all changes….

So I went home and looked at my photos and picked out the ones that demonstrate this new found fact.

Oranges and yellows give this planting it's edge
Oranges and yellows give this planting it’s edge
Lupins and peonies bring this scheme to life
Lupins and peonies bring this scheme to life
It even works in my own garden!
It even works in my own garden! Prince Charles (the rose that is!) adds a shot of colour in the foreground

Poets Corner

One of my early posts for this blog was about the first project we were set at the start of this term. We had to come up with ideas for the Chelsea Fringe, a festival which takes place in London around the time of the Chelsea Flower Show. My concept for a Graffiti Garden was inspired by a quotation from a poem that I saw written on the John Lennon Wall in Prague.

Ever since I came up with the concept I’ve been thinking about starting a collection of garden related poems and quotations. But it was when lovely Gussy, a fellow student on the KLC course, gave me a copy of the poem she read at her grandmother’s funeral a couple of weeks ago that I decided to include it and some of my other favourites in this blog.

Gussy has gardening in her blood. The garden of her family home, Mere House near Maidstone in Kent, has been opening to the public as part of NGS open day scheme for the past 50 years. It’s particularly famous for its snowdrops and daffodils (and for her mother’s cakes!) I’m really disappointed that I’m going to be away for their next open days on Sunday 24th March and Monday 1st April. (For the cakes as much as for the garden!)

It was Gussy’s grandparents who moved to Mere House in 1958 when her grandfather became  MP for Maidstone. They created the garden from scratch. And, as if this wasn’t enough to keep them busy, they also started a nursery and used to go to various shows, even winning some medals at Chelsea. The hurricane of 1987 destroyed the vast greenhouse they used for the nursery, but undeterred her grandfather started a company called Wells & Winter selling all those essential garden items like plant labels, stakes, books and gloves that gardeners can’t manage without.

Gussy’s grandfather is about to be 88 but he’s still propagating plants and selling them at markets. Meanwhile her parents have taken on the garden and all the hard work that goes with it. So gardens and gardening are most definitely in Gussy’s blood. She’s even married to a garden designer, and she works with her husband Rob for his company Naturally Creative Gardens…. when she’s not doing planting combinations and designing gardens in Balham with the rest of us at Hampton Court.

Gussy’s grandmother died at the end of February. This is the poem she read at her funeral.

Upon a day, a woman who had died
Came to the gates of Heaven, and saw outside
St Peter, writing in his book of gold,
The dreary lies that everybody told.

The woman waited, with averted head,
Until St Peter looked at her and said:
“Tell me oh traveller, with the pilgrim pack,
What loves and hates you carry on your back.”

“I love my garden, Sir,” the woman said,
“I loved my flowers, and now that I am dead,
I only ask that someone will be kind
To that dear garden I must leave behind.”

The key was turned, the gates were opened wide
St Peter and the woman walked inside;
And there, within the sunshine of the throne,
She saw the garden that she had grown.

I thought these were wonderful words to read in memory of a woman whose gardens and gardening had played such a vital part of her life. And it made me think of a poem I came across last year after my mother died.

It’s a sad job packing up a house when a parent dies, made even sadder for my two sisters and I because our father had died two months before our mother. But one of the things that was really comforting was coming across the books and poems that our mother had loved. I found an anthology of poems that she must have had from when she was girl, because her maiden name, Jean Simpson, was written in pencil on the flyleaf. The book fell open at a page marked by an old postcard with a picture of freesias, and daffodils and lilac. And there was this poem, written by Katherine Tynan …..


Lord, when I find at last Thy Paradise,
Be it not all too bright for human eyes,
Lest I go sick for home through the high mirth –
For Thy new Heaven, Lord, give me new earth.

Give of Thy mansions, Lord, a house so small
Where they can come to me who were my all;
Let them run home to me just as of yore,
Glad to sit down with me and go out no more.

Give me a garden, Lord, and a low hill,
A field and a babbling brook that is not still;
Give me an orchard, Lord, in leaf and bloom,
And my birds to sing to me in a quiet gloam.

There shall no canker be in leaf and bud,
But glory on hill and sea and the green-wood,
There, there shall none grow old but all be new,
No moth nor rust shall fret nor thief break through.

Set Thou a mist upon Thy glorious sun,
Lest we should faint for night and be undone;
Give us the high clean wind and the wild rain,
Lest that we faint with thirst and go in pain.

Let there be Winter there and the joy of Spring,
Summer and Autumn and the harvesting;

Give us all things we love on earth of old
Never to slip from out our fond arms’ fold.

Give me a little house for my desire,
The man and the children to sit by my fire,
And friends crowding in to us, to our lit hearth –
For Thy new Heaven, Lord, give me new earth.

I sat on the edge of my mother’s bed and read this with tears in my eyes.

If anybody reading this has poems or quotations that inspire them I’d love to hear them.

Suddenly I see…

… what the sketching is all about.

The tutors at KLC place a lot of emphasis on sketching every week, and keeping up with our sketchbooks. To start with I didn’t really get why it was so important. You might ask…. I certainly did… what sketching has got to do with gardens and plants?

But this course is about design. And design is about seeing. Sketching is a great way of helping us to see. To see how the ordinary and everyday things around us, that we all take for granted, have their own unique and individual form.

I’ve just been to see some great examples of the magic in everyday objects at the Georgio Morandi exhibition at the Estorick Gallery, a short walk from Highbury and Islington tube station. I’d seen a review of this exhibition by Andrew Graham-Dixon in the Saturday papers. If I hadn’t been trying my hand at sketching I would have glanced at it and passed on.  But it caught my attention… and I’m so glad it did.

Here form is created out of shadow. The artist achieves infinitely subtle variations of tone with the simplest of cross hatching. Objects and landscapes spring to life out of nothing more and nothing less than black and white, and light and shade. Lines on a page creating poetry.

Georgio Morandi 3 Georgio MorandiGeorgio Morandi

So I came home and had a go myself.


Ok so it’s not great….But I’m new to this sketching lark….And at least I’m having a go…Which is what this year is all about.

So go and see Georgio and be inspired.

A great life…..

Sat in bad traffic on the drive home from Hampton Court yesterday. But the good thing about it was that I listened to Carol Klein on Radio 4, talking about the Victorian writer and garden designer William Robinson.

Before this programme I didn’t know a lot about William Robinson….nothing at all if I’m honest. But listening to Carol, I discovered that he had as great an impact on British garden design as William Morris had on interiors. It was his ideas about wild gardening that provided the focus for the development of the English cottage garden style as we know it today. He swept away the formality and regimented planting of the Victorian age and championed a much more naturalistic approach. And his books are still published and read in the 21st century.

He lived at Gravetye Manor, which is just up the road from me…. and just happens to be where I spent the first night of my honeymoon nearly twenty eight years ago. Tom Coward, the  head gardener at Gravetye, came from Great Dixter in 2010. Great Dixter is one of my favourite gardens… So Gravetye is calling to me. And I’m going for a visit as soon as I can.

Finally, a word about Carol Klein…..Because I love her. She is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about plants and planting; she’s natural and quirky and entertaining; she’s spiky and she doesn’t pull her punches. And she’s 67 and showing us all how to embrace new challenges and live life to the full with grace and energy and integrity. She’s a true old dog/new tricks hero.