October – this month’s gardening jobs

Last year’s narcissi pots

The season is coming to an end but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do in the garden. In fact it is quite a busy time of year as you can start planning and preparing for next year – exciting! These are some of the jobs I will be doing in October:

Ordering spring bulbs

For me it’s too early to start planting bulbs yet but it’s definitely time to get planning and to buy the bulbs before the best ones sell out. I order the majority of mine online because that gives you such a huge variety of gorgeous things to choose from, but of course you can pick them up from a garden centre or DIY store too. If you like to have flowers in the house I would definitely recommend buying a few extra bulbs to grow for cutting – I can’t tell you how much happiness I got from my tulip cutting patch last year! More about bulbs and tulips specifically to come. It’s all I think about right now…love them!

Hardy geraniums that need dividing

Dividing perennial plants

Now is a really good time to dig up and divide perennials that have grown too big or look like they need reviving. This is such an easy and satisfying job – creating new plants for free from what you already have in the garden. I like to get this done before I start planting bulbs so I don’t disturb them once they’re in the ground. I have some geraniums that have got really huge so I will be digging those up for sure. Other perennials that are easy to divide are japanese anemones, hostas and Lady’s Mantle Alchemilla mollis.

Best nasturtiums I have ever grown

Collecting seeds

My nasturtium arch has been amazing this year and I definitely want to try this again next year, although I’m slightly nervous it won’t work nearly as well when I try to replicate this years look which was a complete accident. I will be collecting seeds from this years plants to dry and keep for next season. All you need to do is look for the nice plump ones, pick them when they come off really easily and leave them on a piece of kitchen towel until fully dry. Then you can put them in an envelope or paper bag until springtime when it’s time to sow them. This way you can get tons of plants absolutely free – win win! As well as nasturtiums I will save sunflowers seeds, calendula and a few other things. A top tip is to keep your eyes peeled when you’re out in a park or walk past any public planting. If you see plants with ripe seeds on them, go ahead and take some. As long as you do it in a careful, considerate way there’s no harm done and you get lovely seeds for free.

Viola grown from seed

Planting up winter pots

Normally I shut the back door at the end of November and hardly go outside until spring comes around, but this year I am going to make an effort to use the garden more in autumn and winter too. To have some colour going on all year round, I will be planting up some winter pots with viola, cyclamen and other goodies. I will put the pots close to the back door so we can enjoy them even on rainy indoor days.

Rooted rosemary cuttings

Taking cuttings of Rosemary and Thyme

So happy to finally have my greenhouse up because it means I can start growing things from cuttings – I have never been able to do this before because my house doesn’t have a single useful windowsill to put tender young plants on. Rosemary and Thyme are both quite slow growing and we use a lot of it for cooking so it will be great to have more of it. I like to root my cuttings in a glass of water before sticking them into a pot, that way you can see what’s going on and I have had a higher success rate when doing it this way.

Our visit to Cerney House Gardens

The other week we spent a glorious sunny weekend in the Cotswolds – English summer at its best. On the way back home to London we made a stop at Cerney House Gardens, a lovely hidden gem of a place. I have visited once before in springtime and it was amazing then with gorgeous tulips and other spring bulbs, so I was really excited to return in high summer and experience the garden at a different time of year. The main event here is the beautiful walled garden, situated on a slope surrounded by tall trees that filter the sunlight and gives it a real ‘secret garden’ feel. I love the vibe in this place, it is somehow very real and relatable, not as perfectly manicured as some of the major showstopper gardens but all the more lovely for it. Here I am standing on the steps at the entrance to the walled garden.

How about that for an entrance! I’m sure I’m not the only one dreaming of having a rose cascading over an arch in such a relaxed way.

Lots of roses to see here, how pretty is this baby pink one mingling with the lilac clematis – gorgeous!

The view towards the entrance, a strip off lawn flanked by deep borders on either side. Dreamy evening strolls to be had here.

At the top of the garden is this little summer house with a medicinal herb garden in front.

Bright orange day lilies showing off in the dappled afternoon sunlight.

Loved this combo of hot pink roses and crocosmia, so bold and vibrant!

Here you get a feel for the general vibe – relaxed, secluded and very tranquil. Such a beautiful spot.

There is a lovely Victorian glasshouse with cold frames attached.

Absolutely love these brick cold frames with the bench in front, a mass of poppy seed heads spilling out.

View from the top of the garden over the glasshouse. The Japanese anemones were out already and truly stunning! Mine are only just budding here in London but they are in a much shadier position so I’m guessing that’s why.

There is a lovely knot garden at Cerney House, I remember this looking spectacular in May time with tons of tulips peeking out from those box hedges. The box has been badly hit by blight but is currently being treated and I hope that it will recover soon. The structure of it still looks gorgeous and I enjoyed this part of the garden even though it was looking slightly sorry for itself.

And finally, the rose walk that leads down to the house. Such a lovely garden to visit, all very low key with an honesty box for the entry fee and self service tea room. Both times I have visited it has been really quiet with just a few other visitors which means you can really enjoy the place at your own pace. Highly recommend a visit – hope to return in spring next year!

THREE THINGS ON MY MIND – ROMANTIC NOSTALGIA

Instead of endlessly browsing Netflix for something decent to watch in the evening, we have been taking the opportunity to revisit a bunch of favourite films. I am not interested in seeing anything remotely challenging at the moment, it seems that real life is providing enough grit and sadness. Some escapism of the gentle, romantic sort suits me much better right now. The other night we watched A Room with a View, I haven’t seen it in ages and it was every bit as lovely as I remembered. Beautiful settings, a sweet story and lots of giggles to be had at the awkward genteel English and their preoccupation with manners and etiquette.

And of course I must mention Lucy Honeychurch’s outfits. If you are still not convinced about volume sleeves, this movie will do the trick. Plenty of square necklines, lace and embroidery too, all of which are key ingredients to this summers fashion looks.

That pale blue dress with the wide yoke and full sleeves… I feel like I have seen this look on Instagram 100 times just today – hat included! Cutter Brooks have helpfully put together great versions of some of the iconic moments from the film. Here is the tennis look, the meadow scene and the plait and boater hat combo.

Personally I am looking forward to putting on this cotton broderie dress, also know as the Suffragette dress because every time I wear it, someone asks if I have chained myself to any railings recently. But I love it very much. From Topshop a few years ago but you can get similar at most retailers right now or if you are lucky, you might find a vintage one.

Moving on. Robin Lucas has spent his time in lockdown creating a new vegetable garden. Talk about making the time at home count! Looking at this photo I feel as though I have been transported straight into a Beatrix Potter story, Mr McGregor just out of shot as he chases Peter Rabbit away. So beautiful and so very low key. Nothing fancy, all the materials found on site. Just lots of hard work and a good dose of that magic touch that money can’t buy. The gorgeous fence is particularly wonderful and would be quite simple to replicate. You can see more of the garden and listen to Robin talk about it here.

I have noticed a lot of references to the classic children’s book The Secret Garden recently – seems I’m not the only one entertaining my nostalgic side right now. To anyone with fond memories of that story I would highly recommend this book, also by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The making of a Marchioness is a really enjoyable Cinderella story with a bit of mystery thrown in. I wish I hadn’t read it already so I could experience it for the first time.

My edition is published by Persephone Books, they specialise in forgotten books by women writers. Here is a snap I took in their store in Bloomsbury a while ago. Would very happily browse away in there for a couple of hours right now.

Such a lovely store, I can’t wait to visit once we are allowed shop again. Until then I will support them by ordering my next batch of books through their website. Must always have a pile of good books on the nightstand!

TIME FOR ROSES

The unseasonably hot weather has returned and with that, the first few roses have opened in the garden. So I guess we can say that it is summer now? 20 degrees plus forecast for the next ten days and no rain in sight. Yes, summer is definitely here. First out this year was James Galway. This photo is from two days ago, by now this flower has opened out further and is the size of my palm. I adore this rose.

Next up – oh my goodness, just look at it! This is Olivia Rose Austin, one of the new bare roots that I planted back in November. I had this one on my wishlist for ages and finally got one last year. Good decision, how gorgeous is it! Like a perfect fairy tale kind of rose, the softest cool pink and the scent is incredible. I may not get any more flowers this year so will make sure to really enjoy this one while it lasts. And hopefully next year the plant will be bigger and covered in blooms.

And if you are wondering where to find me over the next few months, I will most likely be doing this. The other night we had the windows and doors open and I could smell the roses inside the house even though only three or four flowers had opened. The best time of year might just be right now.

SUNNY SUNDAY WALK

On Sunday I left the house on my own for the first time in 7 weeks. I went for a really long walk and wow, how nice it was to be alone with my thoughts and not be responsible for anyone else for just a few hours. I have really missed my walk to work and all the gorgeous gardens I see on the way so decided to head that way, choosing my favourite route this time, not the quickest one. But first, Sunday pancake breakfast. The very last tulips were on the table and the jug full of wild flowers I picked a week ago still going.

Checks on checks – my new Converse making me happy. And getting dressed properly and even putting on a bit of makeup. A nice change after what feels like a lifetime in loungewear.

Across the canal to look at the view. In the far distance you can see the Gherkin right in the middle of this photo. You can’t really walk on the towpath at the moment, completely impossible to maintain social distancing there. Look forward to being able to walk along the water again sometime in the future.

The rose borders in Victoria Park have just come into flower. Think this may be Queen of Sweden?

By 11 o’clock it was boiling hot and the scent of roses and jasmine heavy on the streets of Hackney. Once again, thank you to all the kind gardeners who put beautiful plants in their front gardens where lots of people can enjoy them.

First take away coffee in 5 weeks!

Poppies, gems and aquilegias in this wonderful front garden, love the mediterranian/cottage garden feel. Nothing wrong with mixing it up!

A rambling rose with a scent that would stop anyone in their tracks no matter how much of a hurry they were in. This rose trails along a brick wall and up a house and reaches across a good 10 metres. Highly recommend looking at ramblers to anyone choosing climbing roses. They have that wild look that I love, and as long as you have enough space they are a great option.

Happy me basically standing in the rose to fully gorge on that perfume.

Foxgloves out in force everywhere.

And here, the main event. This house with its amazing white wisteria is one of my all time favourites. If it ever comes up for sale and I happen to win the lottery the same week, well then I’ll have it. I like to walk past and have a look sometimes even though it is a detour. And this time of year when the wisteria is in flower, I always have to go and have a look. Was worried it was going to be over already but gosh, how beautiful it looked. The whole front garden is to die for, packed full of gorgeous things like foxgloves, peonies, nepeta and lots of climbers.

Just look at those flowers, best dangly earrings I ever saw.

It trails around the side of the house and carries on all along this wall. Beautifully trained and full of flowers.

The house used to be a pub and the old sign is still there.

From one closed pub to another. After all that Wisteria-related excitement, I could have done with a drink but of course that will have to wait a while longer. Gosh, how I long for a pub lunch. Just – can’t – wait!

Back home to the amazing cow parsley froth that Victoria Park treats us to at this time of year.

And a sit down in this spot to rest my tired legs. This is a new little corner of my garden, the perfect place to enjoy a drink in the evening. And that’s just what I did!

WOMEN AND FLOWERS

A gorgeous flower image always catches my gaze. A figure in the picture adds a sense of scale and time. I picture myself in that moment, in the image, with those flowers, in that mood. Wearing that dress. Take the woman out of the picture and it is no longer a moment – just flowers. The centuries are different but the flowers are the same.

By Xenie Zasetskaya, image via Blumenhaus Magazine.

Jane Birkin, posted by Laura Bailey.

In the Bey’s Garden by John Frederick Lewis (1865) from Watts Gallery.

Kate Bush having an Ophelia moment. From Paul Bench.

Peonies by William Merritt Chase (1889) from Lucy Davies.

By Mordehai Avraham, curated by Mert Alas.

Hans Thoma (1876) ‘Forest Meadow’, image from Roni Milla.

From Rakesprogress.

Stella Tennant photographed by Martin Parr in 2018. From Brit Peel.

‘London Fields’ print by Christoper Kane SS20, image by Vogue China.

MY GREENHOUSE – A DREAM COME TRUE

Try to find me a gardener that doesn’t dream of having a greenhouse and I think you would struggle. Personally I never seriously considered it, thinking our garden is too small. Then I came across The North South Garden and suddenly thought, why not? So for my birthday in 2018, I got myself a little greenhouse. Nothing big or fancy, just a basic one big enough to grow tomatoes and keep tender seedlings. And to have a cup of tea in when it’s raining.

A year later and the greenhouse was still sitting in boxes in a sorry looking pile. As far as DIY projects go, this one turned out to be pretty daunting. Somehow I nominated myself to lay the concrete slab base – not sure what I was thinking but eventually, thanks to the extra time we have been spending at home due to the current situation, I finished it. And had a back ache to prove it. Finally, over Easter weekend this year, my husband put the greenhouse up and I couldn’t be happier with it. Here you see it from the very back of the garden with the raised vegetable beds in front. So cute!

This is what I love most about having the greenhouse. As soon as it was up, the whole space at the back of the garden made sense and sort of became something – trust me, before the greenhouse this area was very much just nothing. I love the way you can see a glimpse of it all the way from the house, it draws you out and into the garden. That classic trick of having a focal point at the end of a vista.

And from the other side. I love how this area looks now. A lot of work to do here still but so much closer to how we want it to be. This is the place to sit with a drink in the evening, the low sun hits these steps right on. And behind the greenhouse are the raised vegetable beds and compost bins. That little kitchen garden area has now become a lovely enclosed space which you can’t see from the rest of the garden. So on a rainy day (or a sunny day, or any day in between) you know where to find me. I LOVE my greenhouse!

WHEN WE WENT TO CHARLESTON HOUSE

In August last year we went Charleston House in Sussex, country retreat of the Bloomsbury group. It would be no exaggeration to say that I have thought about this place every day since. I had wanted to visit for a really long time and was looking forward to it so much, but the day didn’t start very well. We ended up being late, the weather made a turn for the worse and we almost didn’t make it before closing time. Let’s just say the atmosphere in the car was not the best but as soon as we arrived at Charleston, the mood changed. It was late afternoon and most other visitors were leaving so we could look around pretty much undisturbed. The sky brightened up and there was the most amazing glowy light. Even though it was a warm afternoon, there was a fairly strong wind which added to the experience of the garden by making the tall late summer plants sway and the long shadows of them flicker. I felt as though we got there just at the right moment. It was special. Here is the entrance to the house and just look at it – the gate, the rustic urn, all the climbers. What a welcome.

The front entrance with that wonderful powder blue door frame, flanked by two huge fuchsias. You can just about make out the baby pink door.

A place to sit with a view of the pond which I don’t seem to have a photo of. The upside down butterfly shape of the bench legs ❤️.

Picture perfect.

And looking the other way, the gate leading into the garden. The planting here gives a hint of what’s to come – the bold colours, the exuberance. And those lilies that add a touch of the exotic and unconventional to this rural idyll. They seem to perfectly reflect the people that lived here and made it into the Charleston we know. At this point I just have to point out that we have actually not even entered the garden yet. All this beauty is just in the one border in front of the house. Now, let’s go in.

The main part of the garden has long wide borders with gravel paths that lead to and from the house, most of them edged with dianthus.

Every bit of border packed full of gorgeousness, everything allowed to grow tall and towering. For me the height of the plants and the vicinity of them as you walk the paths was key to the feel of the place. It brought to mind childhood experiences of running through winding garden paths, hiding and getting lost among beautiful flowers.

A lovely pink corner with tonal japanese anemones and cosmos below.

The path leading from the studio, white anemones and one of many statues just visible.

This little bit right here completely stopped me in my tracks. That mix! Made me throw everything I thought I knew about colour out the window.

A clearer view of this incredible combination. Kniphofia, zinnias, tithonia, pompom dahlias, delphiniums and – lilies! It is the pale blue in the mix that makes it so amazing. Try covering that blue up with your hand and look at the photo. Very gorgeous but conventional ‘hot’ colours. Uncover the blue and look again – unbelievable, see! I love this so much and am attempting something similar at home but I am absolutely aware that it won’t be 1% as exciting as this.

The dahlia border, chock-a-block with blooms in every colour, white lilies thrown in on the sides for good measure.

Enough there to fill the house with bucketfuls of flowers.

This is the stuff of dreams if you are into dahlias.

There they are again, those lilies peering out underneath the hollyhocks that are flopping all over the place.

The back wall with a doorway leading to the greenhouse.

Squashes trailing along the old wall.

View of the house from the kitchen garden with sweet pea wigwams and artichokes in the foreground.

Happy me, strolling.

Most gorgeous tangle I ever saw. Crocosmia spilling out onto the path.

Behind the wall is a greenhouse with sunflowers, cosmos and sweet peas in front. Nothing fancy or grand, just a normal working greenhouse.

Perfectly beautiful if you ask me.

Chard, nasturtiums and calendula at ground level. A lovely apple at the back.

All garden visits are memorable for one reason or another, but some leave stronger impressions than others. I am generelly less interested in very grand stately homes with gardens spreading across acres and armies of gardeners to maintain them. Smaller settings appeal more, perhaps because they are easier to relate to as a gardener with an average sized plot and modest resources. But ultimately, I know that it is the people behind the places that make them special. Most of the gardens that I return to frequently, both in thought and in person, were created by people who were not afraid to break the mould. At Charleston, the spirit of the Bloomsbury group is tangible in every room of the house and every part of the garden. It would not look like this and feel like this if the people that founded it had been concerned with adhering to convention. Well worth remembering I think as sometimes, the gardening world seems so full of rules and advice on how things ‘should’ be done.

You can’t talk about the garden at Charleston without looking at the house too, it is just not possible to separate the two. But I will have to do that another day as it deserves its own post. In the meantime you can learn more about Charleston and the Bloomsbury group here.

THREE THINGS ON MY MIND

This is the textile artist Kaffe Fassett at home in London, pictured by the FT How to spend it. What a treat to get a glimpse of his world through this article from a few weeks ago. There are plenty of young creatives with a love for bold colour at the moment that inspire people with their work and lifestyle. I am pretty sure that they in turn have all been inspired by Fassett at some point. He famously fell in love with some brightly coloured wool yarn on a trip to Scotland in the 1960s and bought a bunch to take home. On the train back to London a fellow passenger taught him to knit and his first creation appeared in Vogue knitting. He later became a long term collaborator with Missoni and Bill Blass and still has links with the fashion world, most recently working on runway pieces for Stuart Vevers at Coach. I know a lot of people are taking up embroidery, knitting and other crafts right now so it seems timely to revisit Fassett and his work.

Kaffe Fasset knits, does needlepoint and paints but it is the quilts that I love most. I have been dreaming of making my own quilt for years and perhaps if I didn’t have the garden and home schooling duties at the moment, this might be the time to make that project happen. It would be a labour of love for sure, not a quick fix. Vintage quilts sell as investment pieces at The Apartment and they have some really gorgeous ones, but I think it would be so amazing to make your own. Even if the bright, bold Kaffe Fassett look isn’t to your taste, you can’t help but be inspired by his work simply in terms of what is achievable.

Kaffe Fassett and his partner Brandon at home. Don’t know about you but I would love to hang out with these guys. Have a cup of tea and do some knitting, listen to stories about the good old days. That sort of thing.

A super fun master class in visual references, Art-lexachung was set up by Spanish sisters María and Beatriz Valdovín. They delve into the huge archive of photos featuring the world’s favourite fashion muse and pair them up with works by Gaugin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Klimt, Goya and others. The resemblance is astonishing and there are so many examples! Not sure what it all means except that nothing is ever truly new, but that doesn’t matter – this is just a bit of fun.

Ben Pentreath is an architect and interior designer who also runs the completely gorgeous shop Pentreath and Hall in Bloomsbury. Every instagram user with a remote interest in interiors will recognise images of the Dorset rectory where he lives with his partner Charlie McCormick, about a million Dahlias and a handful of dogs. But perhaps not everyone knows about his lovely blog where he shares weekly accounts of country walks, village fetes and windswept visits to their Scottish bothy. Pentreath writes in the most soothing, gentle way and it feels like a privilege to get to share some of his experiences through his photos and words. You can find his blog here. A perfect evening read when you have reached boredom with the regular Netflix scroll.

MUMMY DOING THE FLOWERS

Last Christmas I bought myself a lovely present – a painting. I spotted it at a Swedish online auction and immediately felt that I wanted to have it in our home. The colours, the scale, I loved everything about it. Then I had a closer look and discovered that the title is ‘Mamma fixar med blommorna’ which translates as ‘Mummy doing the flowers’ and well, I sort of had to have it. Because that’s what I do. A few months later the painting arrived in London and it suits our sitting room so well, it is as if it was meant to be here with us.

As I was lying on the sofa yesterday enjoying my painting, I felt as though I was looking at myself up there on the wall. I thought: that’s how my little boy will remember me. Fixing with the flowers, always telling him to stick his nose into a bloom and draw in the scent. Earlier in the day our home schooling session kept getting interrupted because every time I looked around the room, I saw this bunch of tulips from the garden illuminated by the most amazing afternoon sunlight. Of course I reached for the camera, I must have got a hundred photos of those flowers. And I realised that I have taken this whole thing to another level – not just growing and doing the flowers but photographing them all the time too. Can you see the shadow of me and my phone in the photo above? It is sort of like a selfie really. With flowers in it.