A year ago we asked Carolyn Grohmann* of Secret Gardens to design a new garden for us. This was a big step, and a not inexpensive one, but a year on we can say it has been a good decision. Interpreting the brief with sensitivity and an instinctive understanding of what would suit the house and its owners, Carolyn came up with plans for both front and rear gardens which thanks to Robin Torrie and his team from Water Gems have now been made flesh.
Work has been going on over the last few months, and while the building of the garden is now complete, the planting is at the very early stages and will continue well into next year (and beyond, of course), but in terms of the 'bones', we are utterly delighted with what Carolyn and Robin have created for us, and as to their attention to detail, the standard of their work, and the considerate way in which the job has been done, we couldn't be more impressed and appreciative.
The picture above shows the rear garden in the drizzle this morning, the markers indicating some of the 1400 bulbs we planted over the weekend. The four parterre beds will contain mixed planting with the less formal, more shady areas towards the far end being given over to woodland plants (the picture gives a slighty skewed perspective - the whole thing is much bigger than it looks), and on the south-facing wall to the right we have espaliered apple trees, a raised bed for vegetables, and a greenhouse. We couldn't be happier with it.
Along the way, we have given much entertainment to passers-by who have stopped to watch the work going on at the front of the house, where amongst other things we moved the entrance (a digger and other heavy machinery were involved), and to neighbours who have commented most favourably on the transformation. I, too, have found the process extremely interesting as the Water Gems men, ably led on site by Luke, coped with logistical challenges and the very hard work involved in the build with unfailing good humour and dedication. It was a pleasure to have them here, and after so many weeks in their company, I miss them now that they've gone!
If you've noticed a lack of Friday flowers posts this year, it's because once the preparatory work started there were virtually no flowers left to feature, but now that that fallow period is over we are looking forward to plenty in future, and I hope to record the garden's progress on these pages.
*Just by the way, Carolyn numbers novelist Kate Atkinson among her clients, and you can see her lovely Edinburgh garden here.
I'm finding knitting podcasts full of interest, information and all-important inspiration, and while I follow quite a few, I thought I'd mention some British ones today, so if you don't already know them, pop over and meet:
In St. Andrews last week we had coffee at Gorgeous in Bell Street - I recommend the 'speciality' scone I had, the patriotically red, white and blue Prince of Cambridge - raspberry, white chocolate, and blueberry with (optional) clotted cream and jam.
The seating area upstairs is accoutred with domestic paraphernalia of decades ago: the carpet beater, washboard, long johns on the pulley, evoke another era.
A wander round St. Andrews this morning yielded much in the way of floral interest - despite the lateness of the season. I love the huge verdigris pots of cyclamen outside a house in North Street, the tiny mossy St. Andrews Preservation Trust Museum garden, and the wit of the Ladies' Golf Union down on The Scores.
"Vita hated Hybrid Teas, and was not keen on most of the Hybrid Perpetuals [...]. She felt the new varieties lacked 'the subtlety to be found in some of these traditional roses which might well be picked off a medieval tapestry or a piece of Stuart needlework. Indeed, I think you should approach them as though they were textiles rather than flowers. The velvet vermilions of petals, the stamens of quivering gold, the slaty purple of Cardinal Richelieu, the loose dark red and gold of Alain Blanchard; I could go on for ever, but always I should come back to the idea of embroidery and of velvet and of the damask with which some of them share their name.' "
The picture is not mine but, I hope, anticipates one of my own. It's from rose breeder David Austin and is of Munstead Wood, one of a number of roses I have just ordered from them, so I'm already looking forward to next summer's blooms and shall bear in mind Vita's words.
"The air was densely perfumed with a mixture of Victoria's scent (white heliotrope, from a shop off the Rue Saint-Honoré in Paris), potted jasmine and gardenias that stood about on every surface, apple logs in the grate and, on window ledges and tables, 'bowls of lavender and dried rose leaves, ... a sort of dusty fragrance sweeter in the under layers': the famous Knole potpourri, made since the reign of George I to a recipe devised by Lady Betty Germain, a Sackville cousin and former lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne."
You can read a little about "the prim-looking" Lady Betty and her rooms at Knole - Vita's ancestral home - here, and this post apparently gives the recipe for the potpourri. Over here is another rather nice extract from the biography.
I've written about Helen's shoes before as I've been a customer of hers for many years, though my taste runs to the more understated end of the range, but above you'll see some of her striking designs worn by violinist Alice Rickards and cellist Sonia Cromarty as they play a piece from Transplanted, "a celebration of the rich diversity of Scotland's plant life and its music". The sonata is Primrose by Scottish baroque composer James Oswald.
It's been a fraught day on the domestic front (a flooding washing machine - very long story ...),
but once everything was back to rights, a piece of this with some good cheese restored the spirits.
The recipe is from Sarah Raven's Garden Cookbook and is similar to this one but uses butter instead of sunflower oil and has you soak the sultanas in water (or whisky or sherry, say) for an hour before mixing. One to make again - preferably in 'drier conditions'.
From Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's new book River Cottage Light & Easy: Healthy Recipes for Every Day comes this castagnaccio, a cake made from chestnut flour. Flavoured with orange zest and rosemary and topped with pine nuts, this is an unusual but very moreish cake, good with a drizzle of honey and some mascarpone if you're feeling indulgent, and great for those for whom most cakes are out of bounds for, as you'll see from the recipe, it is gluten-, egg-, and dairy-free, and fairly low on sugar.
While I'm about it I can also recommend the St. Clements polenta cake from the same book. We had it with blackberries rather than blueberries, for a birthday lunch, and like the castagnaccio, it deserves to be added to the regular repertoire.
Here's something that knitters in the US may like to have a look at: Twist Fiber Studio is a new yarn- and fibre-dyeing business which is seeking start-up capital via Kickstarter, and offering backers a 'Perfect Pair Project Bag' with co-ordinating yarn and/or fibre in a range of ten designs and colourways - all the details and pictures are here.
Subscribing to this seems like a great way to help get a new business off the ground, and acquire some pretty knitting things in the process. It's a pity it's only open to US backers, but good luck to Ashley and her fledgling company, and no doubt she'll sell to a wider market when she's fully launched - I shall look out for her.
Autumn (or Profile of Lydia Cassatt), Mary Cassatt, 1880.
There are still a couple of weeks left to see the American Impressionism exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (which I mentioned here) - above is one of the highlights, and look at the fabulous autumnal colours of Lydia Cassatt's shawl.
Yesterday I went to one of the events connected to the exhibition: American Impressionists in the Garden, an illustrated talk by garden historian Caroline Holmes which covered plants, garden design, social history, symbolism in paintings, and more; fascinating in itself and a great exercise in looking.
In Melrose the other day we visited Priorwood Garden, known especially for its orchard. Look at those pears on that fine old south-facing wall; note also the 'door' on the right (below) which is at first floor level and opens onto nothing but a drop to the ground - might it once have had a forestair?)
The orchard is home to many old varieties of apple,
"The next time I pass the huts down on the river, Mac himself is sitting outside with a board across his knees. He has a jug before him stuck with a few sticks and he is using a tin paintbox like a child's. I stand and watch him. He's drawn the outlines first in pencil and now he's using the tip of his brush, spreading colour, filling the dry wood of the twigs from inside. I squat down beside him. He has a stem of larkspur, must have picked it from the Millside garden, and he squashes the brush into the powder, stirs and flattens it until the pink is mixed, and then he lets it spread out inside the pencilled lines so that the edges catch it like a dam. He uses blue, the crushed blue of canvas, and yellow and red for spots and creases that I don't see are there, overlapping each other and ballooning into buds, so that they seem to be growing right there before us, the stalks silvery, the leaves grey."