For the last few years I have, by chance rather than design, edited more books than I have written. My plan was always to keep the two level. Earlier in the year I began compiling Bedside Companion for Food Lovers (my thirteenth anthology) and I have now been commissioned to write Urban Nature Every Day (my thirteenth full book). I am writing it with Sally Hughes and could not be more excited. I have already written three books with her (Berries,Nuts and Cherries & Mulberries, all published by Prospect Books) so we know we work well together. Luckily for this project she knows more about birds, animals and creepy-crawlies than I do, whilst I know more about flowers, trees, weeds and weather. It will involve lots of jolly days out, business meetings in cafes, pubs and restaurants and interesting discoveries.
I have lived in London on and off pretty well all my life (apart for a brief time in Edinburgh) and love it. Some time ago I wrote for a delightful magazine called Lost in London. It celebrated the ‘green within the grey’ and was a beautiful publication which came out about three times a year and culminated in a book in 2013. I loved writing for it and discovered a great many wonderful green places within the city. I can’t wait to visit them again.
I don’t normally like parties but this one is different. Hatchards is the oldest and, biased I may be, best bookshop in London, opened by John Hatchard two hundred and twenty-five years ago. Every year, since the mid-twentieth century, they have held a party for all the authors who have supported the shop during the previous twelve months. It is a delightful affair with champagne and all the very best authors gathered together to enjoy themselves. There are no publishers, no signings and no customers. I am in the uniquely privileged position of being both staff and author. This year the party was particularly timely as the previous day Sally (with whom I wrote Berries, Nuts and Cherries & Mulberries) and I had signed a contract for a new book. But that will be next week’s pleasure.
A few months ago eminent scientists somewhere discovered that pottering is good for you. Apparently four hours a day are necessary, which seems perfectly achievable. The same is probably true for cats.
Some time ago I made some miniature patchworks as test pieces to see how shapes and colours worked. They were fun to make so I made some more. A small pile grew into a slightly larger one. I have now decided I’m going to join them together and make a quilt of quilts. Each one measures 6 x 8 inches, I think I shall need twenty-four. Here are the first ten.
Okay, Easter was last week but I’m still eating cake and chocolate. Last year I made the mistake of standing the fluffy chicks in the icing and spent the best part of a week trying to wash it off their little legs. Balanced on their nest they stay clean. Who knew that hens made nests from chocolate flakes and Smarties hatched into chicks?
I tend to treat tulips as annuals, buying new ones each year. They are always planted in pots so they are never planted really deeply and I tend to disturb them during the year when I plant other things so they never last. I only have a few so it isn’t that expensive and it means I can enjoy new combinations each year. I have about six old plastic flower pots that I use – David Austen rose pots are particularly good as they are deep and slot neatly in between other pots. This way I can plant them in November, leave them somewhere reasonably sunny but inconspicuous and then bring them out in spring for their moment of glory.
This year I’ve got ‘Couleur Cardinal’ with ‘Prinses Irene’, ‘Rems Favourite’ with ‘Continental’ and ‘Helmar’ with ‘Flaming Parrot’. I’m still waiting for the parrots to open but the others are brightening the garden beautifully.
Just as dogs are not only for Christmas and this book is not only for April but it is the perfect spring read and I reread it almost every year. Four women, dissatisfied with life for a variety of reasons, rent a small castle in Italy for the month of April. The country, the castle and its owner all work their charms and, without spoiling the details of the story, it is safe to say that everyone’s lives are improved. A truly uplifting book which proves happy endings do exist. I have four different editions; these are the prettiest.
This is my Patchwork Radiator Disguiser. I love the comfort that this radiator brings on cold winter evenings but I dislike the look of it. Old-fashioned radiators may have been less efficient but they were certainly more attractive. Now the problem is solved with a patchwork which hangs on a bamboo cane and can be drawn back and forth as necessary.
One of the most fiddly things to make in patchwork are sharp, pointy angles. Anything less than 90 degrees and there is a problem of too much fabric to tuck neatly behind the corner. Possibly that’s why so many traditional British patchworks were made using hexagons. But, like so many things that are just out of reach (to the shoddy sewer that I am), I’m drawn to these sharp points – diamonds, stars and even little triangles attract me, possibly because of their seeming impossibility. I have used them in the past but usually as a single centrepiece or in small areas of the main quilt.
Finally I have solved the problem, at least for some points. Rather than creating the tiny triangles I made two squares and stitched the smaller one at right angles on top of the larger one. Hey presto! Triangles with none of the faff.
Similarly to create the sharp corners of each panel I simply stitched the edging fabric over the top. It means pinning the panels in place but this is an easy task compared with eight sharp points for each panel.
These posts have become very neglected. This is partly because WordPress has changed and my technological ineptitude and intolerance means I haven’t mastered it. The main reason though, is that I love Instagram which, thanks to tutoring by my goddaughter, I have mastered. Anyway I am making a New Year’s Resolution to post more here. I know it is March but that means I won’t give up in January or February. Also I have decided to put up a brief post each week and there are forty weeks left in 2022 which seems like a neat number. Each week I’m going to post something, probably book, food or gardening related which has given me pleasure.
This week it is the cover of my forthcoming anthology, A Happy Poem to End Every Day. These colours aren’t quite accurate; trust me, it is a beautiful, jolly yellow with brilliant birds flying all over it. There 366 delightful poems which will make you smile. Batsford are publishing it and it’s coming this autumn.
The Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show always prompts me to look at my garden and plan for the future. The fact that the show was held in September rather than May this year has, in a way, been an advantage; I like making plans in September, I suppose because of years of starting the new academic year at this time.
The Show Gardens, even the small ones, are usually impractical for the average gardener but there are always ideas one can use: flower combinations, interesting plants for shade or even imaginative paving. When the flower show was cancelled last year and delayed this year till autumn I felt my (tiny) plot was in need of some new inspiration. Tom Stuart-Smith provided me with that inspiration. Now I have been to Chelsea, I am returning to his book, for more ideas, both sensible and wildly impractical for my little plot.
Ever since I saw Tom Stuart-Smith’s first garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 1998 I have wanted him to write a book. I loved the way he combined plants and made a formal, traditional garden look interesting and different. But gardens at flower shows only give you a single glimpse of a designer’s ideas. Now, after over twenty years’ wait we have a book on his gardens and ideas. Drawn from the Land is a magnificent book; it describes twenty-four projects including private commissions and public garden such as RHS Wisley in Surrey. There are design sketches and fabulous photography. Each garden is described by Tim Richardson, one of the most engaging being Tom Stuart-Smith’s own garden, The Barn in Hertfordshire, just across the lane from the house where he grew up and first developed his passion for plants and gardens. There are also two essays by Tim Richardson on planting and design and two by Tom Stuart-Smith in which he reveals his influences, inspirations and methods.
I bought the book when it was published in May and since then it has variously sat on the kitchen table, on a bench in the garden or in the summerhouse, my three favourite reading spots. I have dipped in and out of it and marvelled at the gardens and the stories behind them. As with the Chelsea gardens, all outscale my tiny London patch but in every garden I have found something of interest, even if I can only dream of putting some of the ideas into practice.
Unlike many of the beautiful books published on gardens this one is beautiful and genuinely interesting. Tom Stuart-Smith, by working with nature and the landscape creates unique and very wonderful gardens. Writer and historian Tim Richardson is the perfect person to describe both them and their stories.