Author: haftonandkelly

Holiday Reading

This post has failed to keep to my planned ‘one a month’ but only just and it is much longer than I intended. Writing about seven books, some of which I care passionately about, has made me wordy. Read in parts, or skip, as you will.

One of the most pleasurable aspects of going on holiday is choosing which books to read. Recently I went to Wales and although I was only going to be there for four days I had a train journey at either end so I embarked on some careful book planning. For the past ten years or so I have always based my holiday reading round a rhyme; as you will see I am prepared to bend its rules but it is a useful guide. I discovered it in Claudia Fitzherbert’s column about her bookshop in The Telegraph in 2005. I still have the original cutting because, although I am a rare and irregular reader of newspapers I am a great ‘cutter out and keeper of useful and interesting articles’, some of which eventually get read. Anyway, here is the rhyme:

  • Something old, something new,
  • Something made up, something true.
  • One that’s here and one that’s there
  • And one that could be anywhere.


Something old: E. Nesbit, The Lark

Beloved by generations of children, E. Nesbit was also a successful writer of fiction for adults. The Lark, reissued as part of the Penguin Women Writers series, is a delightful tale of unexpected freedom and gentle adventure. Set in 1919, the story opens with Jane and Lucilla at school, confident in the knowledge that their inheritances will ensure comfortable lives until they marry. Largely lost by a hapless guardian, the inheritances turn out to be a small cottage and an even smaller bank account. Armed with Jane’s uncrushable conviction that the whole thing is a lark, a little luck and a degree of freedom rare at the time, the two young ladies set about earning their livings.

Something new: Rowena House, The Goose Road

This is very new, at the time I read it, it hadn’t even been published – one of the advantages of my day job as The Shop Scribe to Hatchards is that I get advanced copies of all sorts of exciting books (the downside is that I get far more than I have time to read, but that is hardly a just cause for complaint). The Goose Road is a children’s book but, like many, it is a worthwhile read for anyone, regardless of age. Set during the First World War it tells the story of Angélique, daughter of a French farmer. The book opens with his death and, try as she might, Angélique cannot mourn the death of this bully; her concerns are with her brother and the task of maintaining the farm for when he returns from the fighting. However, her father died in debt, the Requisition plundered the farm and Angélique’s only hope is to sell her brother’s Toulouse geese for a good price. The necessary journey across France really captures the times with trauma and danger but also humour, especially regarding Napoleon, the authoritative gander.   

Something made up: Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow

This is my favourite book of the year so far – and I shall be surprised if anything supplants it. Beautifully written it follows the life of Count Alexander Rostov, opening in 1922 when he is brought before a Bolshevik tribunal. He is branded an unrepentant aristocrat and sentenced to indefinite house arrest in the hotel where he lives – not in his usual grand suite but a small and bare attic room. The count philosophically takes charge of his new life, not just making the best of the situation but delighting in it. The hotel is large and forms a world within Moscow, a world which the count makes his own, rising through its ranks with style and charm. He is one of the most gracious gentlemen in all fiction – and quite probably in fact as well. I would love to have met him.

Something true: Claudia FitzHerbert: The Diary of a Stockmistress

Turl Street, Oxford by stevecadman on Flickr

Although I am an erratic newspaper reader, there are times when a column will make me faithful: Monty Don in The Observer, a series of articles following a 2CV in the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge of 1997 (I had a 2CV) and Claudia FitzHerbert’s The Diary of a Stockmistress in The Telegraph. Between November 2004 and March 2006 she wrote a weekly (?) column about the QI Bookshop in Oxford which she ran. It was tiny, quirkily arranged and, to my great regret, I never went there. Like so many things, I assumed it would always be there and then, suddenly, it wasn’t. I hadn’t even saved all the columns, just the one with the rhyme and half a dozen others. A trawl of the internet unearthed about half of them. The others may be there but my technological skill and patience ran out.

I worried the columns would not have stood the test of time but a second reading, a decade or so later, is just as pleasurable as the first. The shelves of the shop are arranged by theme, with fiction and non-fiction rubbing shoulders under headings such as Dislocation, Bohemia and Modest Proposals. The only subject she seems to consider putting on its own is poetry, because she notices that people who buy poetry never want anything else. I like coming upon poetry unexpectedly but possibly that is because I edit anthologies so I am always on the look-out for a new discovery. The staff include The Hungry Pole and Implacable the sixth-former who takes charge after school and at weekends. Rereading the columns I have laughed, grimaced, noted down a huge number of forgotten books and ultimately cried at the demise of the shop I failed to visit.

One that’s here: Philip Pullman, Deamon Voices, Essays in Storytelling

This earned its place as the ‘here’ book because Philip Pullman spent part of his childhood in Wales (which was lucky as I really wanted to read it and otherwise my books didn’t match the rhyme). Sadly, this book is not a joy to read. Badly produced it is bulky, heavy and doesn’t stay open. Oh it looks attractive enough; a substantial brick with a nice cloth binding. Everything about it says “I am worth the price printed on the back; you are getting value for money.” The problem starts when you try to read it. It is far too heavy and bulky to carry around. With 400 pages it doesn’t need to be so; Everyman’s Classics with 6-700 pages are perfectly manageable. You can’t read it in bed in case you fall asleep; it drops forward and knocks you out and it is awkward to hold as the binding means that it is intent on closing itself.

Having got that rant out of my system, the words themselves are a joy to read. Most of the essays began as talks or lectures and cover everything from the duties of a storyteller, via religion, humorous anecdotes and interesting asides to Philip Pullman’s own books. His voice comes through clearly and I think this would be perfect as an audio book.

One that’s there: Fran Cooper, These Dividing Walls

The dividing walls of the title refers to those at number thirty-seven, a late nineteenth-century building hidden away in a quiet corner of Paris. Inside the apartments there is a rag-bag of residents: the sad, the lonely, the furtive and the defiant. One hot summer’s day Edward, a refugee in all but name, arrives from England, mourning a past he cannot change. Employed in the bookshop on the ground floor he quickly learns to recognise the residents and becomes privy to some of their secrets. The story is set against a backdrop of mounting racial tension and violence in the city and as this threatens the peace of the building itself he becomes increasingly entwined in the lives of its residents.

One that could be anywhere: Genevieve Cogman, The Invisible Library

The premise of this immediately caught my attention: the story of a professional spy who collects fiction from different realities for The Library. An alternative London was the setting and Irene the interesting and charismatic heroine. It didn’t quite live up to my expectations but I think that was because I had ridiculously high hopes for this book. It has adventure, clever magic and excellent characters; I enjoyed it but not quite enough to read the others in the series.


A New Job, a Late Resolution and Some Biscuits

I have a new job. Well, more accurately, at the beginning of the year my job at Hatchards was tweaked a little and I have become The Shop Scribe. The title was mentioned jokingly at first but it has stuck and I rather like it. The images it conjures up are of dusty Dickensian desks and quill pens. My reality is a laptop that the cat uses as a bed, that is, when she’s not helping me edit.

In addition to writing the shop’s catalogue I am writing a weekly newsletter and reviews etc as and when they are needed. A quick look at the website revealed that the last blog had been written in 2016 so I am also writing a monthly blog, selecting books loosely based on an event or particular date: The Boat Race, St George’s Day, The Chelsea Flower Show. I was telling someone how shockingly out of date it had got and they replied ‘Yours isn’t much better!’ Rubbish, I thought…… but then I checked and realised that our track record isn’t much better. So, my not-so-new-year’s resolution is that when I write a blog for Hatchards I’ll also write a post here. My hope is that resolutions made in mid-March are easier to keep than those made on New Year’s Day. I prefer the word post to blog but a little distinction between the two may not be a bad thing; Hatchards customers probably won’t want to know my opinions on gardens, although they might want this wonderful biscuit recipe.

One of the most important dates in culinary history was 1977. This was when the recipe for Delia Smith’s Chocolate Orange Biscuits appeared in her Book of Cakes. Over the years I have adapted it for all manner of fruits and nuts, combining them with dark, milk or white chocolate. Particularly good combinations that Sally and I discovered for our books Berries, Nuts and Cherries and Mulberries (to be published in June) are:

  • Hazelnuts and milk chocolate
    Walnuts (replace the orange juice with maple syrup)
    Dried cranberries and white chocolate
    Dried cherries, cocoa and dark chocolate

Dried mulberries and white chocolate (don’t be put off by the appearance of dried mulberries; they look rather like something you might put on a fishing hook. Once cooked they disappear into the biscuits, giving a lovely chewiness)


  • Makes 25-30 biscuits
    125 g / 4 oz / 1 stick soft butter
    175 g / 6 oz / 1 cup caster (superfine) sugar
    225 g / 8 oz / 2 cups plain (all purpose) flour
    25 g / 1 oz / ¼ cup cocoa (if using)
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    75 g / 3 oz / ½ cup dark, milk or white chocolate, chopped into small chunks
    100 g / 3 ½ oz dried berries, chopped
  • OR 30 g / 1 oz nuts, chopped OR
    for the original biscuits, grated zest from 2 oranges
  • 1-2 tablespoons orange juice (or 4 tablespoons maple syrup) as necessary

Heat the oven to 180 C / 350 F / Gas 4

Beat the butter and sugar together till pale and creamy. Sift the flour and baking powder and mix well. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix together. You should have a stiff, slightly crumbly dough. Don’t be tempted to add too much orange juice.

Lightly flour a work top and roll out the dough to roughly ¾ cm / ½ inch. It will be very crumbly but that doesn’t matter, just squish it together. The biscuits will hold together once cooked. Cut into 5 cm / 2 inch rounds and place on a greased baking tray. Allow space between the biscuits as they tend to spread. Bake on the top shelf for about 10-12 minutes until golden, be careful not to burn them. Leave to cool on the baking tray for a couple of minutes to firm up and then transfer to a wire rack to cool fully. In the unlikely event that any are left, these biscuits can be stored in an airtight tin.



The late seventeenth century Woolbeding House and its associated 2,000 acres of beautiful countryside in the West Sussex Rother Valley were acquired by the National Trust nearly 60 years ago. However, its rather splendid gardens have only been open to the public since 2011. 

Even now they are not easy to visit.You can only see them on Thursdays and Fridays from late April until the end of September. You must pre-book by phone, and then take a complementary minibus from the local town of Midhurst. There is no parking on or near the site, as a result of local planning policy, and the only access from the main A272 road is by a busy, narrow, lane that is unsafe for pedestrians. 

You might at this stage perfectly reasonably think “why bother?” However, once you’ve been you will see why locals keep coming back and why so very few people go away disappointed. 

The restricted visiting times reflect the historically private nature of the property, which was acquired without any endowment from the Lascelles family in 1958. Given the dilapidation of the house and its surrounding garden and grounds at that time it was logical to let it to private occupiers. Fortunately the choice fell on the well known philanthropist and connoisseur Sir Simon Sainsbury, who died in 2006, and his lifetime partner Stewart Grainger who between them created the present gardens. Stuart survives him and still uses the house at weekends.  

No expense was spared, although little money seems to have been wasted either. The best authorities and experts, especially Lanning Roper and more recently Julian and Isabel Bannerman, were engaged to design the gardens.  These factors alone however can’t explain Woolbeding’s extraordinary success. Just as importantly, both partners had an exceptionally good eye and very considerable organisational skills. These were enhanced by a charming, albeit steely, determination to make something of exceptional quality.

Even now it is clear, from talking to the gardeners, that the success of Woolbeding’s gardens is a consequence of collaboration and mutual respect between all those involved involved. These gardens, an essentially private celebration of the couple’s lives together, match in quality, and one could even argue in importance, the better known achievements of Sir Simon’s business career in the family firm and his public munificence.

You currently enter Woolbeding through a fairly formal Bannerman designed courtyard garden centred on a series of pools, cascades and stone tanks and troughs. Water, often in motion, is a continuing theme throughout the gardens. You might even, however fancifully, think the deity of the local River Rother constantly commands  monuments and sacrifices to be created there. Next follows a reception area adapted from old barns, which also sells good simple food.

The main gardens lie to the west of the house and are principally the product of the Lanning Roper years in the 1970’s.  There the old walled garden has been divided into rooms with statuary, yew hedges, paving and walls. Two long borders extend the westwards axis towards an avenue of trees across the road.

The components include a herb garden, a vegetable garden, a garden centred on a fine copy of an original renaissance fountain now in the V and A, a pool garden and an orangery designed by the architect Philip Jebb. The area offers fine borrowed views of All Hallows church, around which the grounds wrap on three sides.  The planting is exceptional in terms of both quality of upkeep and selection of varieties and colours with a bold and sophisticated use of complementary colours and variation in tone and intensity. While the design may be conventional, its quality and execution are of the highest standard.

The loss of two exceptional trees has been marked by the erection of structures that memorialise them. The storms of 1987 felled largest tulip tree in Europe and a domed folly designed by Philip Webb now stands in its place.

A William Pye water feature, in which you can see the house and garden reflected, commemorates the far more recent loss of an enormous cedar of Lebanon.

From the upper garden one takes the appropriately named Long Walk to the south through meadow and parkland to arrive at an entirely separate, Bannerman designed ,pleasure ground. This is constructed around an artificial and very pretty lake within a sloping valley with paths on either side. The feel is romantic and recalls the later eighteenth century, indeed putting me in mind of our recent visit to Painshill. 

At the nearer end a charming, although not totally convincing, ruined abbey provides a suitably melancholy approach.

In the middle a yellow Chinoiserie bridge crosses the water.  At the far end a summer house, rather gothick in appearance, straddles a cascade from which water pours into the lake. A ruined hermit’s hut and various similar structures have been placed near the paths around the lake.

Near the summer house a grotto contains a river god with water pouring out of his urn.

The whole constitutes significantly more than the sum of its parts and recalls, as well as playing games with, all that is best in the tradition of the eighteenth century landscape.

Capability Brown called himself a “placemaker”.  The Bannermans can fairly do the same. Although they would probably have been too modest to make such a claim the partnership of Simon Sainsbury and Stewart Grimshaw may well be deserving of the title. At this moment in the history of Woolbeding, the property is in transition from a totally private place to one with limited, even if growing, public access. Now seems the perfect time to visit.



How Important are Plant Labels?

Whenever I visit a garden I always go armed with a notebook and pen so I can make a note of any plants I’d like for my garden. Ideally I also take my camera (my phone is sufficiently old fashioned that it can deal with phone messages but is not really up to taking photos). This way I can photograph the plant label to be sure of accurate information.

That is as long as there are plant labels. Last week I had lunch (highly recommended) at Sunbury Walled Garden. Afterwards we wandered round the garden admiring the roses. But only some had labels; at least only some labels were visible. A lot of tutting ensued.

I would be the first to admit that my note-taking system is not perfect. Firstly there is NO room in my garden; there already two trays of miscellaneous plants waiting for something in the garden to die so that they can take its place. So the ‘Oh, I must make a note of that so I can sow it / plant it / buy it next year’ is a bit pointless. Even if I had room the notebooks tend to be left, ignored, on the kitchen table till the next visit, by which time I often can’t read my writing or remember exactly why I liked a particular plant so much. In theory the photographs should solve any identification queries but I have never developed a systematic way of taking pictures so I never know whether the labels refer to the preceding or following plants. Sometimes it’s obvious but all too often I am left peering at the pictures, comparing them with the RHS Plant Encyclopaedia and finally giving up and deleting them.

Part way round the garden I realised that the lack of labels didn’t matter and I could simply enjoy the roses as beautiful flowers. It was a huge relief to realise that their exact names didn’t matter. They were pretty, enhanced the day immeasurably and surely that was enough?

To get to Sunbury from Central London you never really leave the city and yet it has the feel of a village. There are a lot of old and extremely attractive houses and the residents have created a Bayeux-like tapestry, stitched by over a hundred people, some of whom had never done embroidery before. It was drawn by a local architect and everything is accurate, from the buildings to the people depicted. The result is impressive, beautiful and fascinating. It is housed in a specially-designed building, which also houses the all-important café. 

Sunbury Walled Garden was originally the kitchen garden of an eighteenth-century manor house and is still surrounded by gracious parkland. The Walled Garden now contains knot gardens, parterres and a fragrant border. The Victorian Rose Garden has old varieties which have a short flowering season but are beautifully shaped, strongly scented and have romantic names such as ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’. Midsummer is the best time to visit for these roses. The Modern Rose Garden has newer varieties which ‘repeat flower’ and bloom throughout the summer. The garden also holds part of the Clematis Society’s collection and they drape elegantly over every wall.

The café has a terrace overlooking the garden and sells freshly baked cakes, home-made soup and sandwiches. Try the cream tea, with proper clotted cream or the delicious blueberry cake. There is an excellent cookery book available. There are courses, concerts and exhibitions throughout the year.

There is a two-mile walk through the park and village which looked lovely but we had unfortunately spent too long over lunch and ran out of time.  It will be a good excuse to go back later and admire more unknown roses.



London Art Week Summer 2017

By the time this appears London Art Week will be over. I missed the preview and only got there on Thursday, but I can report that it appears to have been a great success with numerous red dots on exhibits. Perhaps more to the point from the perspective of those who follow these posts, it took place in an exceptionally friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Of course, dealers would not exist if there was no money to be made, but equally most people involved are really passionate about what they do and want to share that passion. This is really not the same sort of business as the market for pork belly futures, where one unkindly suspects  many traders have never even seen a pork belly. If however there are City bonuses to be spent, there are plenty of things here you could do worse than to buy. Obviously one can’t write about everyone, even though the quality was very high throughout, so here are a few favourites.

Mark Weiss in Jermyn Street is focusing on Tudor and Jacobean portraiture and the role of clothing at Court. The gallery is showing several immaculately tailored reconstructions of court clothing alongside portraits where the sitters are wearing the same sort of attire. A portrait of Sir Roland Cotton by Paul van Somer shows him, as the Gallery states, wearing one of the most resplendent costume pieces of this period and the silk doublet and breeches are virtuosically tailored with deep slashing on the doublet to reveal a layer of blue silk beneath. The original costume was lovingly preserved by his family and given by his descendants to the V and A in 1938, where it remains.

Even finer, in my judgement at least, is the portrait, also painted on panel, of Lady Jane Thornagh by William Larkin, painted in 1617, a couple of years before the artist’s death. It combines an immaculate provenance by descent within the Thornagh family, superb condition with the impasto fully preserved and an exceptional and wonderful surface, and is of outstanding quality. Again I quote from the Gallery’s notes The intricately embroidered and brilliantly coloured costume is kaleidoscopic in effect. The motifs include sea monsters, maritime birds and flora, emerging from stylised silvery ripples of water on her skirt. Her bodice is decorated with crimson-crested woodpeckers, insects, grapes, and flowers punctuated by silver spangles and swirling patterns of golden thread. They are depicted with painstaking attention and each brushstroke imitates individual stitches. This picture had an intriguing red dot on its label and I understand has recently been sold, possibly to a museum.

Bowman in Duke Street is showing one of Emily Young’s large sculpted heads in St James Churchyard: her large pieces are very popular and well suited to incorporation in a garden setting – if anyone wants something along these lines designed do feel free to let us know! There are several good Rodin bronzes in the gallery itself. Faunesse Debout was originally conceived as part of Rodin’s Gates of Hell and the version here, cast from the original plaster in 1945 on behalf of the Musee Rodin, is very fine. 

Stephen Ongpin in Mason’s Yard is showing a group of drawings by Giovanni Baptista Tiepolo, such as this one of a Centaur Carrying off a Young Faun, and by his son Giovanni Dominico.  The father’s works show a remarkable economy of line used to suggest volume. They appear to have mostly been produced by way of working out ideas for more finished works in other media. The son’s are often highly finished drawings in their own right. Many of these drawings, including a head of an old man that I reckoned the finest of them all, have been sold, but some still remain.

There are some very grand things available while the same galleries also offer material within the reach of, admittedly comfortably off, private collectors. For example at Dickinson in Jermyn Street, there is a wonderful pair of Guardi Capriccios for a seven figure price, but also a very fine Portrait of a Jockey by Frederic Whiting (a less fashionable but very able contemporary of Munnings) for about £12,000.

If you turn up, as you should not hesitate to do when the next one occurs at the beginning of December this year, gallery owners will be genuinely glad to see you and will happily talk about what they offer. Chris


Claremont and Painshill

Recently Jane and I decided we needed an outing. After a little amicable debate we settled on the eighteenth century landscape gardens and parks at Claremont and Painshill in Surrey. These are only a couple of miles apart, situated just inside the M25 near Cobham and Esher.

At the risk of coming over like Pollyanna we just had a wonderful day.  Friendly staff in the cafes served good food. The rain held off. It was warm enough to sit outside but cool enough to walk briskly round the several miles of paths and tracks required to see each property properly. We followed the suggested routes that are such an important feature of the enjoyment of these landscaped parks. Since there were so few other visitors, we pretended to be the private guests of the earlier owners.

The gardens have much in common. Both are thoroughly relaxing and great places to take children and families. Both have very attractive wildlife including black swans at Claremont and the more usual white ones at Painshill. Both could fairly be called very pretty indeed. They really deserve to be visited.

Both sites are very properly listed Grade One and are extremely important examples of early English landscape parks.  Both estates fell from secure private ownership into times of great uncertainty and decay in the middle of the twentieth century. The essential cores of both were only rescued from dereliction and potential property developments by the remarkable efforts of concerned organisations and individuals.

To some extent the history and existing layout of Claremont is more complicated than that of Painshill. The National Trust acquired some 50 acres of Claremont in 1949 and a major programme of restoration began in 1975. Its underlying structure was largely established over a period of more than a hundred years, between 1709 when the site was first purchased by Vanbrugh and 1819 when the last major additions were laid down. Great names involved range from Vanbrugh himself, through the 1st Duke of Newcastle to whom he sold the property in 1714, and subsequently Charles Bridgeman, William Kent, Clive of India, Capability Brown and Prince Leopold and Princess Charlotte.

Vanbrugh and Bridgeman’s baroque layout, here shown in an engraving of 1725, was partially naturalised by the alterations of their successors. It survives at its strongest in Vanbrugh’s Belvedere tower and Bridgeman’s three acre turf amphitheatre carved into a steep hill,  was originally mirrored by a regular pool that Kent and Brown re-formed into a serpentine lake.

The Trust’s renovations include the re-instatement of the Amphitheatre, the clearing of vast acreages of Rhododendron ponticum that had overwhelmed and distorted both the overall layout and the individual features of the park, and the restoration of the Belisle Pavilion on the island in the lake.

The Mausoleum erected after the death of Princess Charlotte has recently been re-instated as a temporary replica. Although rebuilt in lightweight materials it offers an excellent idea of the original mass and design. The earlier breakup of the estate left Vanbrugh’s Belvedere in the possession of the adjoining school. Nonetheless it has been restored and is open to visitors once a month.

At Painshill more land has survived and its restoration looks back to the unified vision of a single owner and period.  Numerous surviving images of that period helped to guide the restoration, including a series of views by Gilpin.

A fine but anonymous picture of the early 1780’s has recently been acquired by the Garden Museum. Previously believed to be of Virginia Water, its subject has recently been identified as showing Painshill viewed from the Turkish Tent.The images show the picture and the same view today.

148 acres at Painshill were, after a torrid period, purchased by Elmbridge Borough Council in 1980 and vested shortly thereafter in an excellent charitable trust. As ongoing funding becomes available the long term programme of restoration and re-instatement continues. At Painshill, the park today today is the vision of a single man with an essentially naturalistic and romantic approach manifesting itself to visitors as they move through the landscape. Its prime mover and effective architect was the Honourable Charles Hamilton, the 9th son of the 6th Earl of Abercorn, who owned and developed the property from 1738 until he was forced to sell it in 1773. Despite a perpetual shortage of cash, he demonstrated a remarkable eye for the positioning of architectural features and the layout and balance of the vital ingredients of landmass, water, trees and grass. It is his vision that the Painshill Trust is so effectively re-instating on the land in its stewardship and at times succeeds in creating a musical or even a magical quality.

At Painshill many major triumphs include the repair or re-creation of buildings such as the marvellous Crystal Grotto, the Gothic Tower, the Ruined Abbey, the Turkish Tent (albeit with the original canvas replaced by accurate but slightly stiff fibreglass mouldings) and the five arch bridge. Currently the Temple of Bacchus is being recreated on its original site and this should be completed in the early autumn. In general the reconstructions and restorations are probably more solid and enduring than the original structures, but then they have to cope with a far larger number of visitors.

Both properties are, in the best sense of the word, theatrical. You are well advised to follow the set routes so you come upon the prospects and buildings in a satisfactory order and from the best viewpoints. There is the delight of immediate vision when you look through the window of a ruined Hermitage to see the ground fall away to the River Mole or walk up the Elysian Fields to the reconstructed Gothic Tower at Painshill. For many current and historical visitors the park can and must have produced an emotional and sensual response.

You need no historical or garden knowledge to appreciate Claremont and Painshill although they still recall classical landscape and mythology.  Eighteenth century sensitivities would admittedly find it easier than we do to appreciate the grounds in terms of Virgil, Pliny or the paintings of Claude Lorraine, but to do so simply adds another dimension to a wonderful experience.

These landscape parks act as theatres of transience and memory. And whatever Dr Johnson might have said about naturalistic and romantic gardens (“Pray Sir, where is the surprise the second time?”) that surprise remains in the play of light, weather, wind and the seasons across the more fixed elements.

Painshill is occasionally open on winter evenings before Christmas. If a good frost has formed, the moon is out on a cloudless sky and the crystal grotto is lit by candles then even the most hardened cynic will admit the experience to be both wonderful and magical.

Do go: It’s well worth it!  Chris


This, and many other delicious recipes, come from Jane’s new book, Nuts, Growing and Cooking, which she wrote with Sally Hughes. The first time we discovered Bløtkake (pronounced ‘blurt-kak-ir’) was in Tilly Culme-Seymour’s delightful book Island Summers.  It is a Norwegian birthday cake; at least it was the cake Tilly always had and the moment we read about it we knew we wanted it as our birthday cakes too. It is a wonderful concoction of sponge, cream, fruit and marzipan and makes a perfect centrepiece for any tea table, birthday or otherwise. In the book the cake has to make a fraught journey in a small boat from the mainland bakery to the island, this is not something we would recommend, although one Jane made survived a bike ride to Piccadilly.

Island Summers does not include a recipe for the cake but when Tilly came to sign her books she confirmed that our recipe was pretty near her original.

Ready-made marzipan is fine for this cake but use white, rather than golden for authenticity. You can use any combination of berries, according to your inclination and what is in season.

Serves at least 12; this is very rich and substantial cake, a little goes a long way.


  •             300 g /10 oz / 3 ½ sticks soft butter
  •             300 g / 10 oz /1 1/3 cup caster (superfine) sugar
  •             6 eggs
  •             300 g / 10 oz / 2 ½ cups self-raising flour
  •             2 ½ teaspoons baking powder


  •             300 ml / 10 fl oz / 1 ¼ cups double (heavy) cream
  •             4 drops vanilla extract
  •             3-4 tablespoons apple juice
  •             3-4 tablespoons strawberry jam
  •             100 g / 3 ½ oz / ¾ cup chopped walnuts


  •             300 g / 10 oz marzipan
  •             200 g / 7 oz strawberries
  •             200 g/ 7 oz blueberries
  •             icing (confectioners’) sugar, for rolling out and to dust the finished cake

To make the cakes

Preheat the oven to 180 C / 350 F / Gas 4. Grease 3 x 23 cm / 9 inch loose-bottomed cake tins and line the bases with baking parchment. Even if you have to cook them in batches, it is much easier to cook three separate cakes rather than trying to cut one into three layers. They also rise better.

Put the butter and sugar into a bowl and cream together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a little flour after each egg. Gently fold in the remaining flour. Pour the mixture into the tins and level out. Bake for about 20-25 minutes. The cake will have pulled away from the sides of the tin and a skewer should come out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few moments. Take the cakes out of the tins, remove the paper and leave on a wire rack to cool completely.

To assemble the cakes

Once the cakes are totally cooled put the bottom layer onto the plate you wish to use; the cake will be almost impossible to move once you have decorated it. Whip the cream and vanilla extract till it forms reasonably stiff peaks. Drizzle 1-2 tablespoons of apple juice over the bottom layer of cake; this will ensure it is deliciously moist and gooey. Spread with a layer of ½ the jam and then add a layer of about 1/3 of the cream. Sprinkle half the chopped walnuts on top. Put the next layer of cake on top and repeat the apple juice, jam, cream and walnut layers.

Put the top layer of cake in place and cover the top and sides with a thin layer of cream. This is not the final coating but merely a ‘glue’ to hold the marzipan in place. Roll out the marzipan into a thin circle, large enough to cover the top and sides of the cake. Remember to roll it out on icing (confectioners’) sugar, not flour. Using the rolling pin, drape the marzipan over the cake. Trim any excess; tuck the edges neatly under the cake and smooth over any cracks.

Cut a large cross in the centre and peel back the four triangles of marzipan. You should have sufficient marzipan left to cut away the triangles and replace them with fresh ones. This isn’t vital but it saves cleaning off the cream and cake crumbs from the underside of the triangles which are now exposed. Hull the strawberries, cut into quarters if they are large and pile into the centre with the blueberries, or whatever fruits you are using. Put the remainder around the cake. Dust with icing (confectioners’) sugar and put into the fridge. The cake is best made an hour or so ahead to allow the filling to soak in. It is fine made a day ahead. Keep in the fridge and ideally remove an hour or so before serving.



Chelsea Flower Show 2017

The Show Gardens

As well as entry to the flower show a ‘Chelsea’ ticket allows one to make sweeping, and probably rather unfair, judgements on the gardens. Along with the ‘Oohs’ and ‘Aahs’ of pleasure you can also hear ‘I wouldn’t have done that’, ‘How on earth did they manage to get a Gold medal?’ or ‘Why didn’t the judges give them a Gold, this is clearly the best garden in the show?’

It is probably fair to say that most people who go to the Chelsea Flower Show are interested in gardening and that a fair number of those people know quite a lot about plants and garden design. The difference between most of us ordinary mortals and the judges is that we are allowed to like (or not) a garden. They have a strict set of criteria for marking each garden and for them ‘like’ is a forbidden word.

This year the show was a little different, for reasons explained below, but there was still much that I liked, even loved. Charlotte Harris’ garden for the Royal Bank of Canada was inspired by the boreal forest of Canada. This covers 1.2 billion acres but somehow she managed to create something which looked both like a wild forest and a delightful garden. Although this was her first garden she has worked on many gardens at Chelsea and knew exactly how to make the most of the space. The dark surrounding walls were unobtrusive and the Pavilion framed a view through to a beautiful tree and the hint of more forest (rather than the neighbouring stand). The Welcome to Yorkshire Garden was charming but its view, a trompe l’oeil painting framed by a ‘ruined’ abbey, simply looked fake, whereas view here looked eminently real. The views through the Jack pine (Pinus banksiana) also made you think were looking through into a wilderness, albeit one you could also use for afternoon tea. The pretty cones remain on the trees for years, only opening after the extreme heat of fire. At this point the seeds fall to the forest floor and begin the process of regeneration. Red and yellow Granny’s bonnets (Aquilegia canadensis) floated delicately in amongst the grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) and this is one of the many plant combinations that would work well in the smallest garden.

James Basson’s Maltese Quarry won the Best in Show. It was spectacular in a harsh way, looking like a cross between an alien landscape and a cemetery. The addition of a swimming pool and table and chairs meant that one could (just) imagine using it as a garden and, with time, I have come to like it more. Even so his Perfumier’s Garden in Grasse from 2015 remains my favourite Chelsea garden ever –from the thirty-four shows I have worked at or visited. (It should have been thirty-five consecutive years but one year I decided I’d seen it all before and couldn’t face the crowds. Too late I realised the error of my ways as new and exciting plants and gardens unfolded before my eyes on the telly. It just isn’t the same.) In an interview he said that he is now interested in the landscape of Sicily, in particular the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna. In a couple of year’s time we may see an even more extraordinary garden if he recreates a volcano in west London.

Reading between the lines this has clearly been a trying Chelsea for a lot of people, with vagaries other than just the weather to contend with. As Brexit and its attendant caution hit the sponsors many decided, perfectly reasonably, that now was not the time to spend thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of pounds on creating a garden. Instead of the fifteen to twenty large show gardens there were a mere eight.

This meant the RHS had a lot of space to fill. The photographic display and new seating area were clearly gap-fillers but the Radio 2 Feel Good Gardens were a great addition. Each was based on one of the five senses and although they weren’t judged they were all the same high Chelsea standard. Sarah Raven’s Colour Cutting Garden was definitely my favourite, but then it was always likely to be. It was a condensed version of her garden as Perch Hill in Sussex and was a riot of well-organised colour (yes, you can have a well-organised riot; Sarah has just proved it). As well as introduce you to new plants, Chelsea reminds you of plants you once grew but have, for one reason or another, forgotten. Sarah had opulent opium poppies (Papaver somniferum) in a purple so deep it looked almost sinister. Sue and I used to grow these from seed every year and their brief but spectacular appearance each summer is something I now realise is lacking in my garden at the moment.  There were also pretty pink poppies (P. dubium) which they are trialling at Perch Hill. They have the delicacy of Welsh poppies and manage to be a shade of pink which is neither insipid nor brash. They were also on the M&G Investments stand and apparently you can buy them at Great Dixter. More wish-list plants and proposed outings go in the notebook – but that is the joy of Chelsea.

The Artisan Gardens

The Artisan Gardens have expanded up towards the Studios and this is brilliant as it spreads these little gardens out and makes them easier to see. Every year we head directly to the large gardens first and by the time we reach the Artisan Gardens in the middle of the afternoon the people are ten or twelve deep. Being Chelsea, everyone moves along in a well-mannered and genteel fashion and it is perfectly possible to see everything but the telly showed Monty Don visiting them in the empty twilight after the show had finished for the day and they are far better viewed in an atmosphere of peace and quiet. The three which have moved up onto woody glade which used to house some of the food stands have more space around them and the Poetry Lover’s Garden had the added advantage that it could be viewed from three sides. Sue and I had first marched past it on our way to lunch and it had very much been a case of ‘Yes, lovely, now where’s a seat in the shade for lunch?’ Later we met someone who raved about it, so we went back for a proper look.

Designed by Fiona Cadwallader this garden was inspired by the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem ‘This Lime Tree Bower My Prison’. Apparently the poet had been forced to remain behind in the garden while his friends went rambling in the countryside. The garden is similarly divided with an ‘old’ stone wall separating the domestic garden from the small strip of ‘wild’ beyond. The idea works perfectly; you could easily imagine striding out through the garden gate for a walk in a meadow-strewn meadow leading to the hills beyond. The prison consisted of four lime trees (Tilia europa ‘Euchlora’) which were pruned to create a canopy over a single seat. Even with my powers of space-filling I cannot fit this into my tiny London garden without sacrificing everything else but when I eventually move to the seaside (and a larger garden) this would be one of the first things I would want to create (well, one can dream).

The Great Pavilion and Beyond

The plants both in and out of the Great Pavilion were blissfully unaware of any economic problems and shone brilliantly. David Austin has a beautiful new creamy yellow rose called ‘Vanessa Bell’. W. S. Warmenhoven had an extraordinary plant between the traditional purple globes which consisted of a stem that rose straight up and then writhed and twisted like a streamer in mid-flight (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon). I think I like it but I’m not sure how it would fit in a garden; perhaps a single specimen in a pot?

I am writing a book on Mulberries (Cherries & Mulberries, Growing and Cooking, with Sally, due 2018, sorry about the plug) so I was very pleased that a mulberry won Plant of the Year. Mulberry Charlotte Russe (‘Matsunaga’) only reaches 1.5m, which means I can have one in my tiny garden. It is a hybrid resulting from a cross between a white and black mulberry by the Japanese breeder Hajime Matsanuga nearly fifty years ago. The fruits can be harvested from June to September, it will grow happily in a pot and apparently crops in its first year. It is available from Suttons and I have, of course, ordered one. Writing in the Daily Telegraph Stephen Lacey charmingly christened it Morus minor.

In conclusion I think most of the new ideas have improved the show and I am already looking forward to next year. I am also aware that I have less than fifty weeks to acquire (and find space for) all the plants on my wish list.


Allium jesdianum ‘Early Emperor’

Candelabra Primula (in this and lots of other colours)

Hydrangea ‘Fireworks White’

Eschscholzia caespitosa ‘Sundew’ (I think, if not they’re near enough and I want them anyway)


Garden Museum Re-opens 22nd May

On Monday 22nd May, just in time for Chelsea Flower Show, the Garden Museum will re-open its doors to the public after a lengthy, but very successful, programme of extension and refurbishment. The impressive results were on show last week at a press launch. Although work will continue right up to the wire what the first paying visitors will see on the 22nd is impressive and transformative. This has always been a very good museum, however strapped for resources it was. It is now an exceptional one and reflects the massive efforts of the Director, Christopher Woodward, the staff, the Trustees, and its numerous supporters at every level including the financial one.

This is the second phase of the Museum’s development programme and was enabled by £3.5 million of Lottery based money fully matched by funds raised by the Museum. The new work has a strong focus on the local and wider communities. It drives forward a process of engagement with the wider world. It is especially orientated towards education and developing young peoples’ interest in botany, horticulture and sustainability.  At the same time, and without creating a mood of elitism, you can find numerous reminders of the art of fine gardening and its constant engagement with the rich, the famous and the grand.

The Museum is based in, and is the long leaseholder of, the redundant and previously abandoned church of St Mary at Lambeth. The church’s original structure and the estimated 20,000 bodies interred there have to be fully protected so the new work is completely reversible if needs be. This design challenge has been most elegantly met by a series of lightweight solutions superimposed on the original structure without altering it. Engineering features have been developed to bridge protected areas and structures such as graveyards, vaults and the original structure and many features of the church.

The architects, Dow Jones, have further developed a long standing relationship with the Museum dating back to before 2008. The results of the building programme are manifested not only in individual buildings and services but also in the powerful sense of light, flow and structure that has transformed the Museum.

The lucid airy space engages visitors by its contents, displays, history and connections to the world as a whole. At a purely practical level it no longer feels cramped and random. The building is warm for the first time in ten centuries, at last possesses properly working loos, and now exudes a strong sense of purpose.

You enter the Museum through a new front garden, still under construction as this is written,  and then move through the main body of the church filled with display galleries at ground and clerestory levels. You can visit a recreation of Tradescant’s original “Ark” or Museum that subsequently formed the basis of the Ashmolean. This room is fittingly resourced by a core of valuable and generous long term loans from today’s Ashmolean. These include a reconstruction of Tradescants’ collection of shells, a stuffed crocodile, original portraits, and private possessions. In the centre of the floor is a sealed glass panel covering a steep stair to the vaults of the church, where the tombs of five Archbishops of Canterbury were discovered during the building works.  Elias Ashmole’s black memorial ledger slab was also discovered during the works and is on show nearby. Elsewhere in the main body of the Church is a study room, while the Archive of Garden Design, containing the works of Russell Page, Beth Chatto, John Brookes and Penelope Hobhouse amongst others, is now up and running.

You then pass into the new structures based around the old churchyard. They form a cloister of bronze clad buildings (the cladding is made of T shaped metal tiles intended to suggest the bark of neighbouring plane trees). The new work is centred on the Tradescants’ and Admiral Bligh’s tombs and set in a Dan Pearson garden of many semi-exotics that might be called a “vitrine” or “half a Wardian case”. You can see through the glass windowed buildings, including a cafe and education spaces to external roads and the world beyond the Museum. It is not too fanciful to claim that the process of looking in and out through glass corresponds to the process of global discovery and engagement by botany and horticulture through time and space. The retention and centrality of the two tombs within the garden is of the utmost importance. Both Tradescants of course won fame as explorers, plant collectors and catalysts of change in the seventeenth century.  Admiral Bligh is popularly renowned as the villainous and authoritarian captain of the Bounty. However, in conversation that day I learnt that after his reinstatement he made a second successful voyage, taking breadfruit to Jamaica. He thereby provided a food source that saved the lives of many thousands of freed slaves in the 1830s.

The themes of the whole courtyard express not only the excitement of possession of plants and knowledge but also the moral ambiguity that is an inevitable consequence of setting out to understand and conquer the world. The Tradescants may have sought to create a second Eden by re-assembling all the plants they believed to have been in the first in their Lambeth house. Their successor in the Museum shows us exactly how the process of man’s interaction with nature has consequences, good and bad, far beyond the expectations of those who originally thought, almost innocently, that they might master and control it.


An Admirable Cult

There are surprisingly many good books, some great books and of these a very few also achieve cult status. Joyce’s Ulysses is an obvious example, even if there are many readers who find it hard to connect with.  A slightly less well-known example is Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita which however is hugely entertaining and a far easier read. Although written in Stalin’s Russia between 1928 and the time of Bulgakov’s death in 1940, state censorship prevented its publication in book form until 1967, and even then much of the text had been removed or altered.The 150,000 initial copies were sold out within hours.  

In 1973 a complete and accurate Russian text was published. Subsequently at least three and a half million copies have been sold worldwide. There have been at least six English translations. The book has proved hugely influential. It has inspired 8 films, untold TV and theatre productions, numerous dance works and ballets, and many graphic and comic novels. Its content has provided a recurring theme of pop music; for example Mick Jagger’s Sympathy for the Devil. It has its own specialist website ( and dedicated tours of Bulgakov’s Moscow take place as they do for Joyce’s Dublin.

One reason for its success is simple; it’s a very good story. The plot is based on a visit by the Devil and his entourage to Stalin’s intensely atheistic Moscow during the inter-war period.  Satan arrives disguised as the curious Professor Woland (“platinum crowns on the left side of his mouth and gold on the right. .. Mouth somehow twisted … Right eye black, left – for some reason – green. “).. What chaos follows!

Woland’s visit is linked to an unpublished novel written by the eponymous Master about Christ’s trial and Crucifixion in Jerusalem (“Yershalaim”) and Pontius Pilate’s ineffectual attempts to save him. The manuscript’s rejection and vilification by the Soviet literary establishment has brought about the Master’s madness and confinement into a rather upmarket state-run lunatic asylum and his alienation from his mistress, the adorable Margarita.

The novel is divided into two parts. The first is principally a satire on human greed and vanity and in particular upon the Soviet literary establishment and Moscow’s newly rich citizens.  The sycophantic writers are organised into a fictional association, Massolit. Based in a luxurious clubhouse, Griboedov’s; their every material need is catered for at very best prices. “But sterlet in a silver chafing dish, sterlet slices interlaid with crayfish tails and fresh caviar? And how did you like the fillets of thrush? With truffles? Quail a la genoise? Nine-fifty!” Massolit’s Chairman, Berlioz, is unfortunate enough to deny the historical existence of Christ to Woland, when he appears at the start of the book. Woland claims he has arrived in Moscow at the invitation of the State to expose the fraudulent nature of black magic. He then predicts, and he and his associates bring about, Berlioz’s death by decapitation from a tram

Berlioz’s sidekick, Ivan Nikolaevich “Homeless”, becomes deranged and transferred to the asylum. A theatre performance by Woland results in citizens losing their clothes, chasing after apparently convincing money and revealing the most embarrassing secrets of their private lives. Woland’s associates include a memorable and enormous black cat, Behemoth, who talks as well as making poor jokes, shoots pistols and tries to pay his tram fare with Russian money. The goings on are memorably funny and inventive with elements of slapstick, magic realism and science fiction.

The second part of the book, whilst equally imaginative and comical becomes more focussed on the ideas of love and courage. Woland and his associates have taken up residence in the flat formerly occupied by Berlioz, enlarged infinitely by the use of the “fifth dimension” into the setting of the Devil’s Walpurgis Night Ball on May Day’s Eve. Because of her love for the Master, Margarita acts as the Devil’s hostess at this spectacular event. She is transformed into a witch and flies naked through the night with her maid Natasha (not without a little far from innocent fun tormenting the Master’ critics in Massolit) before facing a parade of the great sinners of history, all revived from the dead by black magic.  Her eventual reward from Woland is to join the Master in a state of blissful eternal peace while Pontius Pilate is released from a shadowy post-death hell.

Bulgakov draws on a vast variety of sources and influences to make a separate and convincing masterpiece. Goethe’s Faust and the tragedy of Man’s nature is perhaps the most central. Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, you name them, their influence can be recognised with ease. So can references to Freemasonry, the Manichean nature of the universe and the US Ambassador’s Ball of 1935!  I even had fun trying to connect the antics of the Soviet police and secret agents around Woland’s apartment with memories of Edgar Allen Poe’s Murders in Rue Morgue. There just might be a connection.

In a way, none of this actually matters. The book is just a great read. It’s freely available from nearly all good booksellers and at £6.99 (Pocket Penguin edition, admittedly on rather poor paper), is cheap. So cheap it will actually cost no more from your local independent bookseller than the Internet after allowing for postage, so you can feel both virtuous and shrewd in supporting them!