Author: janemcmorlandhunter

The Fine Art of Stonebalancing

IMG_1135For me, the exceptional stand at the Chelsea Flower Show was the Stonebalancing stand. It was tucked away amongst the Fresh Gardens and at first glance it looked like a display of rather nice stone sculptures. Then you realised that the stones were balanced on each other, some seemingly defying gravity. Adrian Grey positions stones on top of each other in a way that seems completely impossible and created an area of magical calm amidst the bustle of the show. The stones you can buy are pinned together (for safety as some are huge), although all were naturally balanced originally. In the centre of the stand was a ring with naturally balanced stones. Every so often Adrian changes the stones. Holding the top one in place, he appeared completely still, all his concentration focused on finding the perfect balance. It seemed remarkably easy and totally impossible. After a few seconds he stepped back, leaving a perfectly balanced sculpture, which looked both precarious and solid at the same time. I think it is the contradictions that make stonebalancing so amazing: ease and impossibility, solidity and precariousness.

I bought his book, which is full of stunning photos of impossibly balanced stones, many of them on the beaches at Lyme Regis. As the tide comes in the stones are engulfed and, eventually, unbalanced. The stone boats are particularly charming, as are the stone families making their ways along the sands; others seem to defy gravity.

When I got home I decided to have a go. Dredging up the little physics I remembered, I was confident that everything must have a balancing point. It was simply a case of finding it. I selected some stones from the garden and settled down to create works of art. It is, of course, much harder than Adrian makes it look; it requires tiny, gentle adjustments, feeling for the slightest movement in the stone. It also requires a camera to hand and an attractive background, neither of which I’d thought about. Making my two little stone animals felt like a huge achievement but also made me realise just how incredible Adrian’s sculptures are.

Visit his website, read his book, The Art of Stonebalancing, and be amazed.



The Chelsea Flower Show 2016

Geum 'Mai Tai' 2Last week I visited the Chelsea Flower Show and, as always came away inspired by the gardens, awed at the standard of plants in The Great Pavilion, weighed down by too many catalogues promising great things and clutching a large list of plants I wanted.

The M & G Exmoor Garden, designed by Cleve West has the first plot on Main Avenue and it is wonderful but, in the sweeping way of amateurs, we decided that the judges were correct in awarding the Telegraph (or Dinosaur) Garden, designed by Andy Sturgeon, the Best in Show. I don’t usually like slabs of rock in a garden but here the fins of the stegosaurus managed to be spectacular without overpowering the rest of the garden. As we left there were people on the garden drinking champagne and sitting round the fire. It showed that while the garden was an extraordinary piece of design, it was also a garden which could work – children would love it and it looked just as good occupied by people as pristinely empty.

A great many of the gardens included semi-naturalistic planting with an abundance of grasses and purple flowers. This is not necessarily a bad thing, although by the end of the day it had become a case of ‘Oh look! More wafty purple plants.’ The Husqvarna Garden was very formal with tightly packed purple, burgundy and magenta blooms encircled by immaculately clipped hedges. Like little meercats the lysimachia seemed to be looking for a way out and in places had even made a break for freedom.

L'Occitane  Linum campanulatum or L. flavumLast year the L’Occitane Garden had been my favourite by a long way (it is still the screen saver on my laptop). This year the garden was a little too rough. It no doubt created an accurate picture of the landscape but, apart from an enticing path lined with poppies and flax, it didn’t appeal to my wilder fantasies of going to live in Provence.

The Harrods British Eccentrics Garden was inspired by William Heath Robinson and designed by Diarmuid Gavin. It was meant to make one smile, and that’s exactly what it did. The planting was exuberant, multi-coloured and, to my mind, near perfect. It was a joy to look at and then, every fifteen minutes, there was a brief flight of fantasy. The pure white foxgloves gave a little shake and then trundled round the folly. Box balls bobbed up and down, trees twirled, window boxes rose up a storey and a pair of shears popped up to trim the topiary. The sundial performed a somersault and became a tub of flowers. It was ludicrous and yet totally wonderful, especially with the man himself vaulting the flowers!

Jekka 3Jekka McVicar had moved out of the tent onto a plot on Royal Hospital Way. It was small but suited her design perfectly. Medicinal plants of all types circled a central stone bowl of constantly flowing water. It looked good from every angle and we couldn’t work out why it hadn’t been awarded a Gold Medal. Eventually we came to the conclusion that it was probably because the rough grass round the edge looked ‘rough’, rather than the ‘manicured rough’ one often sees in show gardens. Or there may have been a perfectly valid judging point that we didn’t know about. Either way, it was lovely.

In the smaller Fresh and Artisan Gardens, The Mekong Garden Mekong Garden 3: a giant stone cube with a garden hidden inside but every time we passed there was a huge queue and I’m afraid coffee and cake or a glass of wine won against the wait.

The Great Pavilion had its usual spectacular displays and the pile of catalogues on my kitchen table is testament to the persuasiveness and charm of the growers.

Outside, many of the stalls have been influenced by the need to cover costs (perfectly understandably). When I first started working at the flower show on the Hatchards stand we were one of five or six bookshops. Now, margins have meant that only the RHS is left, and even their display has shrunk to a few shelves and a couple of tables. For a variety of reasons, people don’t buy so many gardening books now but, even so, it seems a shame. Instead, there were a lot of stands selling expensive clothes, some garden-related, some not. One good thing is that I am less tempted to buy: some labels and a set of outdoor fairy lights from Sarah Raven were pretty well my only purchases. As far as I am concerned the plants and gardens are very much the stars of Chelsea and a little less shopping does no harm.


Novellas Save Trees

I rarely make New Year’s Resolutions. This year I did – along with ‘eat less cake’ and ‘feed the pots in the garden regularly’ was ‘write a post for the website every two weeks’. Two weeks seems to have become three and a half months. The less said about cake consumption the better. At least I still have the chance to keep the pots in tip-top condition.

My excuse is that I have been writing a catalogue for Hatchards Bookshop. Our Favourite Novellas of the Past Two Hundred Years was published this week and it, together with Berries: Growing and Cooking (published in May), seems to have taken up all my time.

Interestingly, in Britain there is no exact definition of a novella; the Oxford English Dictionary description is splendidly vague specifying ‘a long short story or a short novel’. The word comes from the Italian ‘novella’ meaning new. In Germany it is a different matter; the story can be any length but must centre round a particular event. Stefan Zweig’s A Chess Story is an example, one of the few included in the final selection. Our criteria were that it should be able to be slipped into a pocket and devoured at a single sitting: on a train, relaxing in a deckchair in the sun or curled up by a roaring fire.

While I didn’t have total control over the choice of titles, the Hatchards catalogue could equally be called Shortish Books which Jane Mostly Really Likes. Mollie Panter-Downes’ One Fine Day was included – not strictly a novella but one of my best-loved books and certainly a quick read. The Blotting Book by E. F. Benson (the author of the Mapp and Lucia stories turns his hand to crime) and Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino (not really a story at all but rather a series of descriptions of cities Marco Polo has supposedly visited, each more fantastical than the last) were also included, which slightly stretched the limits but are short books I wouldn’t want to be without.

As well as rereading some of my favourites I made some wonderful discoveries. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather is a genuine novella and tells the story of an unusual Victorian heroine making her life in the harsh Nebraskan Plains of the American West. It is wonderful and I fully intend (soon) to read the other two titles in the trilogy: The Song of the Lark and My Antonia.


However the book which stands head and shoulders above all the others in the catalogue is The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono. Written in 1954, it tells the story of Elzéard Bouffier, a shepherd who reforests the high plateau of Provence where he lives. He gradually transforms the harsh and barren landscape by planting seeds and saplings as he follows his flock. Undisturbed by the horrors of two World Wars the trees continue to grow, creating a ‘natural’ forest which baffles the authorities. With the trees comes life; springs begin to flow again.

‘As the water reappeared, so there reappeared willows, rushes, meadows, gardens, flowers and a certain purpose in being alive. But the transformation took place so gradually that it became part of the pattern without causing any astonishment.’

For many years I thought this was a true story and it was originally written in response to a request by an American editor for a piece on an unforgettable character. The publishers had wanted an actual person but Jean Giono had chosen to write about a character that would be unforgettable. The story was rejected and published not long after by Vogue. It should be a true story. Many people are wary of planting trees because ‘they take so long to grow’. Few would think of trying to alter an entire region by planting seeds and saplings. This book shows what is possible. It was written to make people ‘love planting trees’ and Jean Giono says ‘It is one of my stories of which I am the proudest’.

I went to RHS Wisley intending to take some photos of trees to accompany this piece. There was lots of beautiful fluffy pink and white blossom, delicate pale green new leaves and dark, solid evergreens but it was all extraordinarily hard to photograph. I now have a new respect for the photographers of tree books. The blossom stood out clearly for me but the camera included a lot of background plants that my eyes had blocked out. The sky couldn’t make up its mind whether to be blue or grey and did not failed to create a suitable backdrop. Here, instead is a host of goldenish daffodils.

IMG_0866The Man Who Planted Trees is published in paperback by Peter Owen, with wood engravings by Michael McCurdy, a loose print of one of his engravings and an afterword by Norma L. Goodrich or in hardback by Harvill Secker, with wood engravings by Harry Brockway, a foreword by Richard Mabey and an afterword by Aline Giono. I have both editions and each has its own merits; either way it is the text itself which really matters.


Do read this book. If you buy it, please do so from your local bookshop, or indeed any bookshop. If people don’t use them, bookshops, like so many other things on this planet, will become extinct and, too late, we shall be sorry.


A Fitting End for a Christmas Tree

When I was a child we always had Christmas trees with roots, which were (fairly) regularly watered and then planted in the garden after Twelfth Night. The result was a copse of motley trees, one or two with stray decorations still attached. The only tree which really thrived was one Dad planted crookedly after too good a lunch. It grew into a giant Leaning Tower of Fir, ever a reminder not to garden when too merry.

When I came to London I hated the fact that the first part of every year was marked with dead and dying trees lying sadly on the pavements, waiting to be taken away. It is not so bad now there are proper recycling systems but, even so, being shIMG_0589redded seems a sorry end for the trees after all the joy they have given us. Thanks to Helen Macdonald’s book H is for Hawk I have now learnt that there is a better way. I’m giving the whole passage here, which will make this post rather long and is probably an infringement of copyright law but it is too good to cut. And, with any luck, it will make you want to read the whole book.

(Helen and her mother have spent Christmas with her friend Erin and his parents, on the coast of southern Maine. This is their last morning there.)

‘I sense a plan is brewing. And a minute later I’m helping him drag their huge Christmas tree out of the room and onto the snowy lawn, tip snaking through the rough trail it makes, branches skittering over and cutting through the crust that glitters in the sparse light. We prop it up in the deep snow as if it had grown there. I have no idea what is going on.

            ‘OK, Macca, let’s burn this!’ he says.


            ‘It’s traditional. It’s what we do here. In ‘America.’

            I don’t believe him for a second.

            ‘In England we dump them on the street, traditionally,’ I say. ‘Absolutely let’s burn it.’

            ‘I’ll get the firelighter!’ he yells. I can feel the madness to this, its contagious pagan glee. He runs back from the house with a squeezy bottle of firelighting gel and in the snowy hush, fog collecting around us as the thaw turns ice to water that hangs in the warming air, he decorates the tree with gloopy green strings that drip and stick like glutinous tinsel.

            ‘Stand back!’ he commands. He strikes a match. A branch catches with a tearing scratch of flame. For a few moments this is pretty: a soft yellow light in the monochromatic gloom. But then there is an explosive, tearing waterfall of rearing flame that bursts into appalling brightness. Erin’s eyebrows go up. He steps back a good few paces. And now I’m laughing so much I can hardly stand. ‘Jesus Erin,’ I shout. It’s as if he’s set light to the whole of the world: a twenty-foot pyramid of flame lighting the lawn, the house, the river, the far side of the river, sending black shadows out from the trees that a moment ago were lost in darkness, and our faces are gilded with fierce orange fire. What the hell have we done? The smoke mixes with the fog so that everything, everywhere is on fire. The incandescent tree, black twigs sintering, clicking, crumbling, and smoke, and Erin and I wearing faces of people who are going to be in serious trouble. ‘I think we might be seeing the fire truck any moment now,’ Erin shouts, and we’re both of us children again, delighted at what we have made and fearful of disaster.

            And then the fire is out. The skeleton stands in the snow, all its complexity gone. Just a thin trunk with a few charcoal branches, already damp in the steaming air. And I stare at the remains of the tree and breathe the smoke and the fog from the air and Erin makes a face at me and I make one back.

            ‘That,’ he says, ‘was excellent.’

            It was. A ritual burn, a ceremony of strange, protective magic. Bad things had fled from that burning tree. We laugh all the way back to the house, leaving the skeleton upright in the snow.’


This is what I would like to do to my tree; give it a spectacular send-off in return for all the pleasure it has given over the previous weeks. However, I have a small garden in London so it is not going to happen. One day, perhaps. Merry Christmas.


H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald is a brilliant read and is available in paperback (£8.99), from ‘all good bookshops’, not Amazon, please.

Writing in Edinburgh

Last month I went on holiday to Edinburgh and unexpectedly had some writing to do – in fact a lot of writing. I needed somewhere nice to write, after all, I was meant to be on holiday.

The Royal Botanic Garden was the perfect place; the weather was warm enough to sit outside and there were still lots of flowers to see, but the colours had an autumnal tinge. In fact the actaea looked positively Christmassy.

Sitting in the sunshine, on a bench brushed by lavender with a view ofView Edinburgh Castle in the distance is surely the way to write.

The other perfect place to write, and eat, is Earthy, at Canonmills, beside the Water of Leith. There were pumpkins and gourds on rough wooden tables reminding one that, however summery it seemed, autumn was approaching. Vases of fresh flowers and the warm sunshine which streamed in though the windows allowed one to imagine it was still summer. It is on a busy road but inside is calm and quiet. On the wall it says ‘You are how you eat, as much as what you eat’. I arrived in time for breakfast and stayed till lunch. It was busy enough to have an air of bustle but quiet enough that is didn’t matter that I spread my papers over the table and worked while I ate breakfast and drank delicious coffee.

Mid morning an elegant carafe of water with mint and long twirly slivers of cucumber appeared like magic. The croissants, fishcakes and the Strawberry and Pistachio Mess were wonderful and, if they are anything to go by, the rest of the menu would be delicious too.

Outside the back window is a broken old piano; a sight that should be sad but is actually charming. The candlesticks remain, as so most of the keys, but it is clearly past its prime. With strawberry plants and ivy growing out of the top and a bird house resting where sheet music once sat it has been given a delightful second life. Had I been less entranced I might have remembered to take a photo.

At times, Earthy can be a victim of its own success. On my last morning I went there for a farewell breakfast, rather sadly as I wasn’t ready to leave Edinburgh. I was shocked to find it packed, barely a free table. It was jolly, but not the quiet sanctuary I wanted. Perhaps it was time to go home after all. Jane.

Milk Chocolate Bramble Cake

Berries jacketI have been hopeless about writing posts this summer, but I do have an excuse; I am writing a book on berries. I am writing it with Sally Hughes and it will be similar to Quinces – a mixture of cookery, gardening and history. This one will also include foraging, as there are so many delicious berries one can collect on country walks or even in city parks and gardens. The book isn’t published till June 2016 but, in the meantime, here is our recipe for Milk Chocolate Bramble Cake.

This is a gentle chocolate cake, rich, but mild in flavour. You need to use dark chocolate in the cake mixture as the flavour of milk chocolate is lost in cooking. For a more intense chocolaty taste, use dark chocolate for the icing too. It is best made with small, foraged blackberries as the large cultivated ones tend to make the cake soggy in parts. Earlier in the summer raspberries are a delicious alternative.Milk Chocolate Bramble Cake 4

  • Cake
  • 200 g butter
  • 100 dark chocolate
  • 4 eggs
  • 200 g caster sugar
  • 200 self-raising flour, sifted
  • 175 g blackberries
  • Icing
  • 100 g good quality milk chocolate
  • 140 g butter, softened
  • 140 g icing sugar

2 x 20 cm loose-bottomed cake tins

Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F / Gas 4. Grease the tins and line the bases with baking parchment.

To make the cake:

Bring a large pan of water to boil. Break the dark chocolate and put it and the butter into a bowl which will fit inside the pan. Put the bowl into the boiling water, ensuring that the water does not bubble over the rim. Once the butter and chocolate have melted remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Add eggs and sugar to the chocolate mixture and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. This shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes.

Reserve a handful of the blackberries for decoration and add the rest to the flour. Stir to coat the berries and then gently fold into the chocolate mixture.

Divide the mixture evenly between the two tins and bake for 30-35 minutes. The top should be nicely risen and a skewer should come out pretty well clean. Remember the berries will make the cake juicy.

Remove from the oven, allow the cakes to cool in the tins until you can handle them, 10 minutes or so, and then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing:

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over hot water as before, remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Beat the butter and icing sugar until creamy and then mix in the melted chocolate.

Level the top of one cake, if necessary, and spread half the icing onto it. Put the other cake on top and spread the remaining icing evenly over the top. Decorate with the reserved berries.

Amongst other things, we’ve also made (and eaten) Gooseberry and Elderflower Loaf Cake, Raspberry Lemonade, Raspberry Brownies, Heart Attack Pudding, Tartes aux Myrtilles, Cranberry Scones and Strawberry Butter. Perhaps our next book should be on lettuce leaves. Jane.

A Secret Garden

Midhurst in West Sussex is a charming town, conveniently placed for an early elevenses stop on the way to the seaside at West Wittering. There is a nice bookshop, an Aladdin’s Cave hardware store and lots of cafés. The Vintage Tearoom is particularly good, serving crumpets, cupcakes and much more on dainty, mis-matched china. Our cupcakes were Sticky Toffee and Chocolate, but I’m afraid they were eaten before I thought of taking a picture.

3What I hadn’t known, until yesterday, is that Midhurst is also home to one of the prettiest walled gardens that I have ever seen. Hidden, a little back from the main street, are Cowdray Ruins, the remains of a grand Tudor house. In its day, the house boasted visits from Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, Robert May as its chef in the 1630s and Capability Brown as its garden designer in the 1770s. Unfortunately in 1793 the house was largely destroyed by fire. The ruins are splendid, but what caught our attention was a little sign saying ‘Walled Garden this way’.

Behind the converted stables or outbuildings is The Walled Garden at Cowdray; a secret Tudor pleasure garden. It is used for weddings and parties, so presumably at certain times it is closed to the public, but we simply wandered through a couple of deserted reception rooms and came out into the full glory of the garden. Apart from a solitary gardener, it was empty, with a riot of flowers and fruit trees, all vying for our attention. On various websites a café and shop are listed, but neither seemed open when we were there. No matter, the garden is delightful on its own. There is also apparently a £3.50 entrance charge, we saw no sign of this either, although I would happily have paid as the garden is worth much more. The day we visited was cloudy and rather misty, but the garden was still enchanting.

In 2001 Jan Howard of Room in the Garden discovered the ruined garden and by 2005 the restoration was complete. It is laid out as a Tudor pleasure garden, with a central lawn, walkways, pools and beds bursting with colour. There are immense drifts of Verbena bonariensis, engulfing stone lions and stately yellow verbascums, but in a light, airy manner.

There is a little orchard and lots of roses, most of which were past their best, but it really didn’t matter, they were still lovely. Dotted round the garden are seats which look as if they have escaped from Alice in Wonderland; a turf bench, two ornate, metal rocking chairs and a host of others that manage to be quirky, charming and comfortable.

The plant supports are mostly rusty metal and they too have a character of their own – there are arches with giant thistles poking through, obelisks festooned with clematis and one or two pieces that are simply interesting in their own right.

There are neatly trained apple trees, laden with fruit and bed after bed of lovely flowers. In one there were clumps of particularly pretty pink and white cornflowers, far more attractive than the ones I have grown.

The garden was quiet and peaceful when we were there, but it is clearly a perfect place to hold a party. There is floodlighting and lanterns with tea lights along all the paths and it must look magical at night. As we left we saw a solitary wine glass; the only evidence that revelry had taken place. Jane.Wine glass

Winter in the Garden at the Garden Museum

The garden at the Garden Museum

The garden at the Garden Museum

When I recently visited the Garden Museum to see Rachel Warne’s exhibition, I had a further reason for going there; I wanted to see how much colour there was in the garden.

My garden is just beginning to wake up. The witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Rubin’) is finally flowering. This cultivar isn’t scented but for my purpose that doesn’t matter; its role is to be seen from the kitchen window. It lives in a large pot and has grown naturally (with only a little help) into a very pretty fan. I bought it nine years ago and everyone said ‘Your garden is far too small; you can’t possibly have a witch hazel.’ It proves that one shouldn’t listen to other people too much; it is still a manageable size and fulfils its task of announcing the approach of the end of winter perfectly. Dotted around the garden are little irises, crocuses, puschkinia and the beginnings of the daffs, but not much else. I was interested to see what 17th century gardens would have had.

The day started crisp and clear, with a promising blue sky but, as I cycled along the Embankment, the sky got greyer and greyer and by the time I arrived it looked as if it might rain, not a very auspicious start for a wander round the garden looking for colour. Everything always looks better after a visit to the café and, sure enough, a Gnocchi alla Romana and butternut squash cake later, the sun had come out again.

What actually struck me most about the garden were the textures, rather than the colours. There was colour; amongst other things there were vivid purple Iris germanica, flowering completely out of season, head-hanging hellebores, blue anemones and a single daffodil flower, which was clearly going to wait a little longer to open fully. What I noticed more though, were the patterns and shapes of the leaves and plants. Even the dry, brown leaves providing protection for the banana plants were interesting to look at.

There is great attention to detail in this garden and it is worth taking time to look at each area carefully. There are tiny pink squills hiding beneath the trellis, blue and pink pulmonaria, and periwinkles sheltering against the wall of the church. There are pots of Narcissus thalia and irises and the tips of the shoots just appearing above the gravel hold promise of colour to come. More sinister looking are the shoots of the dragon arum or voodoo lily (Dracunculus vulgaris).

I read that this garden is the poor cousin to the Chelsea Physic Garden; I am not so sure. The café and shop alone make a visit here in winter more pleasurable as both are closed at the Chelsea garden until April. The Chelsea garden has a wider selection of plants, and much more space, but I rather like the restrictions here. I have long fancied making a garden using only plants known to the Romans who settled in Britain, but have always baulked at the limitations. Looking at the garden at the Garden Museum a 17th century garden would be a much more realistic proposition. Jane.

Surprises at the Garden Museum

IMG_6094A week later than planned I went to see Rachel Warne’ s exhibition Faded Glory at the Garden Museum. As so often, I got there just days before it closed. I frequently do this, thinking ‘Oh, it’s on for ages,’ and often regret my tardiness as it means I rarely have time to go back and see whatever it was again. In this case, although the exhibition is small, I would certainly have gone back. Chris’ post has entirely done it justice so I won’t write any more about it here.

As it was, I spent far longer at the museum than I intended and discovered far more than I expected to. Just as I was leaving I was told that there was a guided tour and, on impulse, I decided to join it. At first I was the only person, but in the end there were seven of us and the guide coped brilliantly with the fact that part of her audience spoke only French. It was utterly fascinating; I cannot recommend these tours highly enough. They take place at 2 o’clock and we learnt about the history of the church, the history of the museum and, along the way, about the potteries of Lambeth and the fact that for many years the only ferry across the Thames which could take horses and carriages was at Lambeth. This gave rise to Horseferry Road, leading to the river on the north side, and the now vanished Horseferry Street on the south side. We were then taken round the garden and were shown a lot of details that I had missed, even though, by that stage, I’d already been round the beds twice.  

Briefly, the Garden Museum is housed in St Mary-at-Lambeth, just south of Lambeth Bridge. There has been a church on this site since the 11th century, but in the late 20th century the congregation declined, the building fell into disrepair and was finally deconsecrated. The area at the front is more churchyard than garden, whereas the graveyard beyond has been transformed into a garden. There is a knot garden designed by the Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury in the centre, but the main focus of the garden is probably the tomb of the John Tradescants, father and son. They were gardeners to, amongst other people, Charles I and II and travelled extensively, collecting plants and curios wherever they went. Their story really deserves a post of its own but the important point here is that their grave was the reason the church was saved and the museum created. In honour of them the garden contains only plants which they discovered, or which they would have known, i.e. nothing later than the 17th century.

The garden is helped by having a beautiful stone church along one side and a splendidly tall brick wall on another (the boundary wall of Lambeth Palace). The roads leading to Lambeth Bridge are just beyond the two remaining sides, but it is surprisingly easy to ignore them. The stone of the church is pale grey and almost anything would look good against it; a little periwinkle nestling in the shadows looked especially pretty. The tall brick wall is covered with Virginia creeper. Autumn is clearly its high point, but the day I visited, the stems hung there in a forlorn and strangely attractive manner. Virginia creeper 1Perhaps the plant knows that it will only have one more season of glory on the wall, for next autumn the museum will close and begin a period of major work begins, which will see the garden partly built over.

My first reaction was one of horror, but, having looked at the model of what it will be like and read about the plans, I see why they are doing it. Much as I hate change (see my earlier post), I think it is a good idea and even though the edges of the garden will be lost, the knot garden will remain, surrounded by an enticing-sounding cloister. The entrance area will also be brought into the garden, so in fact the garden will grow in size and, designed by the Dan Pearson Studio, I have high hopes that it will be absolutely lovely. There will be three pavilion buildings housing classrooms, studios and, crucially for me, an enlarged café. This will apparently retain its unique character, but will have a better kitchen, access from the street and outdoor seating in both areas of the garden. The inside of the church will then have more display space and more of their amazing collection will be put on show in the newly opened Pelham chapel.

It is worth visiting the museum this year, before the changes, and it will be even more worth visiting after the work has been done.


Weekly tours take place on most Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2pm. There are also end-of-the-month tours on the last Tuesdays and Wednesdays of every month, also at 2pm. The tour I went on was the Tuesday one and gives the history of the church and the Museum.

The Ever-Whirling Wheel of Change


I have just read a post on Sometimes Gardening by Lucy Masters where she writes about the theory that the way to keep ageing at bay is to constantly disrupt the patterns of your life; read different books, listen to different music and plant flowers you’ve never considered before, in her case Cannas.

As a general rule, I dislike change. Naturally I veer towards the same authors (Monty Don and Iris Murdoch), listen to the same music (Baroque and the Beatles) and embrace new technology very grudgingly, as Chris will affirm. Each summer I grow the same flowers based round a palette of pinks and purples; cosmos, gaura, verbena, sweet peas and trailing lobelia are the mainstays of the garden every year. I am trying to convince myself that these are the plants that are suitable for the conditions I have, but there are masses of yellow and orange flowers that would do just as well, or even red and white. The truth is that I grow these plants because I like them and I know they will create a gentle wafty atmosphere in my tiny London garden. I dislike cannas and I’m not sure growing them would make me any younger, probably just crosser for a season, before I reverted to my tried and tested favourites.

I don’t think that total change is the answer, but perhaps a few additions which will shake up the garden a bit is what is called for. Plants that I haven’t grown before in a new range of colours. Parker’s catalogue has arrived and I went through it deliberately concentrating on the oranges and reds. The result is that, along with my usual cosmos, scabious and lobelia I have also ordered the following:

Crocosmia ‘Emily McKenzie’: this is daintier than the brash red ‘Lucifer’ which somehow got into my garden a few years ago and clashes with everything. I love Lucifer’s arching stems and the red and yellow buds so I hope this second crocosmia will act as a good companion.

Alstroemeria aurea ‘Orange King’: According to the description this cultivar has ‘marigold orange flowers, blotched buttercup yellow and striped purple-violet’. That should shake up my pastel colour scheme.  

Bidens ‘Hawaiian Flare Orange Drop’: This forms a compact bush with flowers which have red petals with orange tips. I hope these will form good bright clumps.

Thunbergia alata ‘Orange Beauty’: I have never grown black-eyed Susan (T. alata) as I felt the yellow flowers wouldn’t show up against the white walls that surround my garden. This cultivar has deep orange flowers which would show up against anything.

Of course this will all depend on the plants behaving as they are described in the catalogue, but I have high hopes for a brightly-coloured summer.