GARDEN NOTES 1ST OF MARCH

After weeks of rain and gloom, finally a sunny day. Next door’s white Clematis is in flower and the scent is so strong! I cut a few stems and can smell it now, subtle but sweet and so beautiful. A taste of things to come.

All the roses have finally been tied in, Super Fairy has really made it’s way across the fence and fingers crossed there will be tons of flowers on it this year.

The bamboos must go, you just can’t control them and that section of the garden will never become anything unless they are removed. But who is going to dig them out?

Camellia is in full flower, Prunus about to happen. Monty cut the grass for the first time this year, so early but it needed doing. Narcissi pots well on their way, can’t wait for them to start flowering. Another week or two and we’ll be there.

HOW TO FEEL AT HOME IN A HOTEL ROOM

We are back from a lovely half term break in Yorkshire in the north of England. The weather forecast for the week was bleak to say the least so I was fully prepared to stay inside by the fire all the time but actually, it turned out ok and we even had the odd glimpse of sunshine. Lots to show from the trip but right now I just wanted to share a top tip on how to feel at home when staying in a hotel – get some flowers for the room. If, like me, you always have fresh flowers at home it is really lovely to do the same when you are away. In front of this beautiful window in our bedroom at the Talbot in Malton where we stayed was a giant TV. It took me about five minutes to replace it with some gorgeous Mimosa and daffodils – much better!

My impossibly cosy bedside, made even sweeter by the bunch of daffodils I bought from a market stall in beautiful York. I always love looking around markets when I’m away but it is so frustrating not to be able to buy things you like because of tiny baggage allowances. Perfect then to visit the flower stall and take a bunch of blooms back to the hotel room – you feel like local when carrying them around too. Love it.

McQUEEN ‘ROSES’ – GARDENS AS INSPIRATION

In Bond Street in London there is a beautiful Alexander McQueen store, recently refurbished and with a top floor dedicated to exhibitions featuring garments from past collections and the creative process behind them. The current exhibition is named ‘Roses’ and garden lovers will quickly spot the unmistakable towers of Sissinghurst and the characteristic oast house rooftops of Great Dixter when looking at the inspiration photos.

It is a joy to get to see the sketches, notes and swatches that document the process of creating each dress. The finished garments are also on display and each one has enough detail to keep you looking for ages – a bit like an exquisite flower with layers of petals.

The abundance and layers of flowers of a quintessential English garden. Hard not to be inspired!

That thing about gorgeous handwriting again. Lovely.

Bee keeper chic – totally exquisite beadwork and honeycomb smocking.

Just look at those bees! 💛

The vivid green and transparent blue of a flax field.


Layers of pleated, ombré dyed and laser cut silk manipulated around the body. There are toiles (prototype garments) on a rail which you can touch and examine inside out, and a video where the head of the Atelier explains the intricate process of creating one of the dresses on show.

It feels so generous of McQueen to share in this way, to invite visitors to have a closer look and give us a glimpse into the thought process behind the work on show. I can imagine how inspiring this exhibition would be to any young fashion student – if I was at fashion college now I think I would be camping out at the store! Well worth a visit for anyone interested in beautiful clothes and garment making craft.

ARABELLA LENNOX-BOYD AND GRESGARTH HALL

A beautiful house with a lake in front and the most romantic of gardens to go with it – Gresgarth Hall has been on my list places I would like to visit for ages. Last week Nowness published a short film about Arabella Lennox-Boyd who lives there and created the garden and now I feel like I must visit as soon as possible! Totally inspiring to hear Arabella speak about her affinity with plants and how she will go on planting trees for at least another ten years.

As well as the garden at her Lancashire Home, Arabella Lennox-Boyd has been designing award-winning public and private gardens for over four decades with a client list that includes royalty and A-list celebrities. She has also made an amazing looking garden at Palazzo Parisi, her Italian childhood home which is available for hire. Dream holiday location.

A garden by a stream – can it get more picturesque than that? If you have five minutes to spare, do make your self a cup of tea and have look at the film about Arabella here. Enjoy!

All photos by @montgomeryphoto for @houseandgardenuk.

SUNDAY LUNCH – THE EAGLE

Sunday was a stormy day and judging from the empty streets of London, most people decided to stay inside. But we ventured out, first to visit the postal museum which was really fun and made me feel even more strongly about the beauty of letters. Then on to the highlight of the day – lunch at the Eagle. This humble looking place was the original food pub, first opened in 1991 when pubs were not places where anyone with a reasonable palate would consider eating. Since then a thousand similar establishments have cropped up and I’m sure lots of us are thankful for it! Nothing better than a good Sunday lunch in a pub with a pint of something tasty to go with it.

We used to visit the Eagle regularly when we lived in Clerkenwell many years ago but then we sort of forgot about it and didn’t go for about 10 years. But one day last year we decided to go back and were so happy to discover that it is still as good as it used to be. Menu scribbled on a chalk board, the crowded dining room full of groups of friends catching up and people reading the Sunday paper. The most relaxed and wonderfully comforting ambience. The odd person turns up for just a drink but really, this place is all about the food. Simple dishes but just so, so delicious.

Back when we were young and carefree, I remember seeing families enjoying Sunday lunch in this pub, reading the paper and discussing the stories or perhaps doing the crossword together. No phones in sight for sure. It seemed so very civilised and lovely. Now I feel like I have to pinch myself to be sitting there with my own family doing just that. A perfect way to spend a stormy Sunday.

CHURCHES, ROSES AND ALEXA CHUNG X BARBOUR

This week Barbour launched their collaboration with Alexa Chung and while the collection is cute (yes please to the check blouse and the patent trim jacket), I was looking more at the background. The location for the campaign shoot is the lovely rose garden at Christchurch Greyfriars Church, a place instantly recognisable to anyone who has stumbled across it whilst walking around the city of London. Located very near St Pauls Cathedral, the church was first established in the 1200s but burned down during the great fire of London. It was rebuilt by Christopher Wren and later destroyed for the second time during the second world war. Only the west tower remains.

In the late 80s the rose garden was established on the site with a formal layout representing the structure of the former building. Wooden structures are covered with climbing roses in summer and box hedging frames what would have been the nave and aisle. This is such a lovely spot with a wonderful sense of romance, a breathing space for city workers and tourists to sit and eat their lunchtime sandwiches on a sunny day. I love the way that some bombed out old churches in the City have been turned into secret gardens. St Dunstan in the East is another gorgeous one, a truly magical place that is well worth a visit.

One day in the early 2000s whilst walking home from lunch at Smiths of Smithfield which was a real hotspot in those days, my husband and I noticed an intriguing advert in an estate agents window. It was the west tower of Christchurch Greyfriars Church that was up for sale! Imagine living in a Wren church tower with a rose garden and a view of St Pauls. Quite something. A few years later the tower came up for sale again, this time remodelled as a super smart two bedroom apartment and the price had tripled. Every time I go past I wonder who lives there now, what it is like to wake up to the bells of St Pauls and if they ever take their morning cup of tea out into the garden. I know I would!

I GOT MAIL

On Friday the snowdrops I ordered a few weeks ago arrived. This is what they look like when you buy them ‘in the green’, complete with flowers and all! Most exciting mail I have had for a long time. This week I have seen so many lovely photos of snowdrops that have been picked and put in tiny vases inside the house, and I am so happy that hopefully next year I will be able to do the same.

I planted the snowdrops today, they all went into one corner of the lawn. I divided the 50 bulbs into three smaller bunches and sort of just shoved them in with the intention of creating a natural arrangement. Not sure how successful that was, but still, how satisfying this little gardening session was. Instant results! They are slightly floppy still but perhaps they will perk up over the next few days. I hope they will like it here and that in a few years time we will have some nice clumps of snowdrops to brighten up this dull first month of the year.

YOU CAN’T FEEL THE WEIGHT OF AN EMAIL IN YOUR HAND

One day recently, I realised that I hardly ever write by hand anymore. Not properly anyway. I noticed that on the few occasions I had to sign for something, I almost couldn’t recognise the careless scribble on that dotted line. Turns out handwriting is something you have to keep up and pay attention to. So I decided to make a conscious effort to restore both the look of my writing and also the habit of sitting down with pen and paper.

Inspired by my five year old son who has got his first pen pal (my mother ❤️), I started writing letters again. It really is something different to firing off a quick text message on the train in the morning. I am sure everyone agrees it is lovely to receive a real hand written letter – and so rare these days. A total joy to find a beautiful envelope on the doormat in amongst the usual bunch of bills. But I had forgotten that it is really enjoyable to write them too. To sit down in peace with a candle lit, thinking about the person you are writing to and letting the words flow. The rasping sound of a fountain pen nib against textured paper – delicious.

Letter writing seems to be a dying phenomenon and what a shame that is. How many youngsters have ever received a good old fashioned love letter? Not enough of them I bet. And you can’t keep a text message hidden in your underwear drawer, it is just not the same. I think about all the biographers out there who rely on letters to infuse their stories with emotion and real people’s perception of events. What will they do in the future when there are no stacks of letters to be found? We will have to wait and see.

I am not one for resolutions or big life changes, but this is a small change of habit that so far I am really enjoying. Highly recommend dusting off the writing paper and best pen to anyone looking for a peaceful, reflective activity that saves you from scrolling the Netflix menu yet another evening. Write a letter instead and make someone happy.

JANUARY – HOW TO GET THROUGH IT

As far as months go, January does not score particularly highly with me. There are some good things about it, like the feeling of a fresh new year when good things can happen. And it is my sister’s birthday month so that is a happy thing. But the weather, the darkness and the depleted post-Christmas wallet…not so good.

To help get through this least favourite month I have worked out a few things that I find make it a bit easier. My first tip is to schedule house projects for January. It is such a boring time and you don’t want go out anyway – getting things done around the house turns that hibernation period into something positive. It is a nice feeling to start the year by getting jobs done that you have been thinking about for ages. Our project for this year is to sort out our bedroom, finally turning it into a grown up comfortable room instead of just somewhere we sleep. We are well underway and it is coming along nicely – will show more of that another day.

The second tip is to book in dates with good friends. December is always so busy socially with Christmas parties and work events that it is hard to get to see anyone, so the last few years I have planned get togethers in January instead. Yesterday I cooked lunch for a few dear friends, poured some bubbles and talked until well after dark. Can’t think of a nicer way to spend a dreary Saturday. And – a perfect time to make a bit of an effort with the table and flowers to cheer everyone up. I went a bit wild and bought a bucketful of daffodils. Anything en masse is gorgeous and daffs are so affordable you can really go to town. I love them in tight bunches like this, they really brighten up the whole room and smell quite beautiful too. Looked like spring inside even though it was grey and drizzly outside.

They next day, enjoying the flowers from the table setting and thinking of the conversations that were had, feeling grateful.

ALL MY ROSES AND WHY I LOVE THEM

Roses – they are just the best and I think a gardener that does not have any is just waiting to come across the right one. In my previous garden I didn’t have a single one. Then, when we moved to our current house and I started the new garden, I knew that I wanted a sense of romance, an old fashioned look. An urban take on a true English garden. With that in mind, roses were a given. I started off with four and can clearly remember how hard it was to choose. I sat for hours and hours making lists, selecting the most beautiful out of all the gorgeous varieties available, working out which ones might cope with our semi shaded situation. Then finally I decided, they went into the ground in April 2016, the first blooms arrived a couple of months later and I was hooked. Their beauty, the delicacy of the blooms, the scent…I love everything about them.

Now I have twelve different roses in my garden and I imagine that I will carry on collecting them for as long as I am fit to put a spade in the ground. I may run out of space but will do my best to find a way to squeeze a couple of new ones in every year. In anticipation of rose season 2020 I thought I would show my collection so far and what I like about each. So, here they are.

I must start with this one, the queen of the crop – Gertrude Jekyll. Just look at those flowers. The vibrant mid pink colour of them will stop you in your tracks. A strong healthy rose that flowers profusely despite being put in a slightly shady spot in my garden. And the scent. Intoxicating.

Next up is this amazing climbing rose, James Galway. I am so impressed with the vigour of this one. It has covered a five metre stretch of fence in just three years with many strong shoots from the base of the plant and lots of fresh new lateral shoots every year. The flowers are so gorgeous, tightly packed petals in a delicious soft pink with irregular edges that give it a frothy look.

This is Louise Odier, my grandmother’s favourite. It is the first to flower in my garden and always such a welcome sight. Deep pink beautiful blooms send out the most amazing strong scent. Take a single flower inside the house and it will fill a whole room with fragrance. The flower clusters can get a bit too heavy for the stems so important not to be cautious when pruning this rose – better to chop away and get strong new shoots that can support the blooms than to leave any leggy growth that will just flop over.

Sceptre’d Isle. Have you ever seen anything prettier? Those cupped flowers with their round petals in the softest pink. Like generous scoops of soft strawberry ice-cream. Can’t get enough of this rose. If you are thinking of getting one, don’t hesitate – it will bring you much joy well into autumn with those exquisite flowers.

This is New Dawn. A crowd pleaser, I know, but what a beautiful rose. It had a tough start to life here with me when a fox dug it’s way underneath the fence and scratched this poor plant badly just a few weeks after it was planted. I wasn’t sure it would recover from this trauma but here it is, blooms aplenty! Hopefully this year it will make more headway and send out lots of new shoots to achieve good coverage of our ugly fence. Come on New Dawn, you can do it!

Super fairy. So happy I got this rambling rose, it has literally sprung up and outwards and grows smothered with pretty flower clusters in early June. It is the only rose I have with weak scent but I will forgive it for the way it has thrown itself about and made a dull space truly beautiful.

New for last year, Harlow Carr. I got this when I found a large terracotta pot buried under lots of rubbish at the back of the garden. This rose is supposed to do well in a pot and I loved the warm pink colour fo the flowers. Hoping for lots of bushy growth this year.

Another climber that will hopefully make it’s way up the trellis this year, Mortimer Sackler. Adore the shape of the flowers with the rich yellow middle. And yes, this one is pink too. Clearly I have a thing for pink roses.

Now, of course, as well as these lovely plants which have worked out really well, there have been a couple of failures. I have a rambling rose Paul’s Himalayan Musk that I was sure would thrive and quickly cover a big area of trellis which divides the front section of the garden from the back. But it has suffered terribly with powdery mildew, also some black spot and although the stems have grown rapidly I have yet to see this rose flower. I was really unsure what to do about his, whether to move it or persevere, but decided to give it one last chance in this spot. I cut it back really hard in October and within a couple of months it had grown back with strong new stems. So far so good – no mildew visible yet but I fear I will be disappointed again come May time. Let’s wait and see.

I also planted The Generous Gardener the year before last and even though I thought I had put it in the ideal location against a sunny wall, it didn’t put on much growth last year and there were no flowers. I hope it will do it’s thing this year, fingers crossed.

And lastly, the two most recent additions that were planted in November. I have been lusting over Olivia Rose Austin for ages and finally got one. Inspected it at the weekend and it is looking super! More than ten shoots on it already so I am feeling hopefully that it will carry flowers this summer. Also, inspired by the wonderful London Blooms, I got The Lark Ascending. Veering away from the truth pinks with a touch of peach – who would have thought! Can’t wait to bring in stems of this beauty to add to my rose pickings.