Seven months in beautiful South Africa.

The winter is back this afternoon, a last bite and bluster outside. An afternoon for being in the study, watching the rain from a cosy distance, although the one thing I shall remember, or had forgotten, is how cold my house is. Never here for the cold time, I have yet to invest in fireplaces or underfloor heating – sometimes it is warmer outside than in, but the summers suit the house so I just wrap another shawl around my shoulders and have been known to wear a beanie and gloves at the desk.

The trip was meant to be a few weeks.  Covid and cancellations, plus the dreaded HMP Boris of hotel quarantining resulted in months of being away from my children, work and London. Yet I have embraced being back, mainly because the natural light in this country is like no other.  The healing power of the sun, space, fresh air and nature is a wonderful combination – I have rested, received my vaccinations and spread the wings a little further this time, all deeply rewarding.

Armed with rolls of Sanderson wallpaper in my suitcase, the Fruit Orchard changed the walls of my bedroom into a dreamy space.  For years, this house was a rental, we were here once or twice and never bothered to show her some love, after all, how long do we keep her? The decision to wallpaper rooms, paint furniture and bring out our family history was a conscious choice – it doesn’t matter how long I shall be in one place or another, each moment should be owned, and cherished.  The house at the top of the hill, is now a personal sanctuary which brings more to my life that just being back in the country of my birth.  I am surrounded by my past.  My grandparents, parents, loved ones moved on, all have been taken lovingly from boxes to share this house.  The choices are deliberate – grief gone, no longer sentimental about every little memory but carefully choose the essence of the person and invite these items to join my present day.

The first was dealing with all things I did not love, but felt guilty about sending to new pastures.  Instead I selected one or two tapestries, had them made into cushions and donated the rest.  Stories of winter afternoons and my mother, needle in and needle out, comfort on the sofa in the living room.  Photos lingered over, many tears, but now less of a museum and conversations with the dead to inspire gratitude in the present. My children’s childhood favourites remain, yet I feel it is time for them to claim and mine to pass on. This is a European home, influenced by my Dutch heritage, the Delft vases showcasing the last of the iceberg roses beside the bookcase my grandfather carved.

There lives here now, a great sense of calm and sweet memory.

The silent months were not spent only between these walls, though I swear this is the longest I have had my own company.  Though cautious, I chose to get to know this Cape Province where I have touched but a few months in a decade, and explore more of her.  Here now lives my oldest friends, grow up, grazed knee, drive-in on a Friday night friends – all within a short distance of this house.  We joined a hiking group and it soon became a silent addiction.  I have yet to fully explain the joy of finding trails to end in views of God’s design, one cannot, only to say that being out there, with others like myself, has been a great joy.  New friends. Likewise with the gym – and I am not a ardent runner or anything ungainly like that, but joined the aqua group early each morning.  Forget the stereotype of ladies and men in swimming caps, the tactile thrill of moving through tepid swirls of water cleansed not only my body but washed my soul. Drives to sun drenched wine farms to wait until the last of the afternoon slipped behind pink mountains, to laundered waves crashing on beaches, spraying sea rain over penguins, cormorants and dassies more patient than I shall ever be. Nature here in Africa is strong, bold and unapologetic.

There are poems in the sleepy towns.  Ghosts of good and not so good, unmarked graves, slave bells and main street dirt. Driving with mountain ranges for guidance, whipped treacle cattle in butter yellow fields. These days has been the changing of me.

The rain is heavier now, lashing the window pane, making the ivy and rosemary dance. I am drinking a Milt Tart flavoured cappucino, decadently sweetened but where else would you find a Milt Tart flavoured cappucino and not be able to resist?  Daily walks to the finest food store in the world, Woollies for rusks, samosas, strong coffee and shopping here has me wanting to lie down on a bed of roses amongst the peppers and proteas, right next to the genuinely ripe avocados. Best evenings of wine on the ‘stoep’ at my friend’s house and pizza evenings with the neighbours. I have Mugged and Beaned, Spur worshipped and licked my fingers over Steer’s chips.  Even the biltong, for a not so much meat eater, has been the traditional choice for watching rugby. Every missed morsel, that I can only find in those sad South African stores in the city, looks brighter and happier to be here.

In two weeks time I fly back to London.  Back home to my family.  These seven months have been so lovely, yet my family are everything. The house will fall silent, the ghosts left to their own conversations and I am sure they shall have a lot to talk about.

 

 

Easter Time.

The Origin of the Easter Egg Hunt

The Origin of the Easter Egg is Pre-Christian, when eggs represented new life and Spring.   Christians believe the Egg represents the resurrection and the shell the empty tomb.  Families would gather eggs to bring to church, to be blessed and gift to neighbours, landlords and friends.

The idea of having an Easter egg hunt originated in Germany.  Stories go as far back at the 16th century, when Martin Luther organised hunts for his congregation.  The men would hide the Easter eggs to be found by the women and children – it was women who discovered the empty tomb.

Queen Victoria celebrated the hunting of Easter eggs, as a child in Kensington Palace and for her many children.  The idea of painting real eggs, to hide before sending the children to find them, remains a beloved tradition at Easter Time – the only difference now, is that they are made of chocolate.

Decorating of Easter Eggs for the table on Easter Sunday is a fun way of including the whole family. Though some may love the bright colours, I prefer a pastel basket of decorated eggs.

Celebrating Easter is a special holiday.  It is a spiritual time, a reminder of Christ’s cruxifixction, on Good Friday, and this is when we eat Hot Cross Buns.  Try this recipe by Paul Hollywood.

For the buns

For the cross

For the glaze

Method

  1. Bring the milk to the boil and then remove from the heat and leave to cool until it reaches hand temperature.

  2. Mix the flour, sugar, salt, yeast, butter and egg together in a bowl, then slowly add the warmed milk until it forms a soft, sticky dough.

  3. Add the sultanas, mixed peel, chopped apple, orange zest and cinnamon, then tip out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough by holding the dough with one hand and stretching it with the heal of the other hand, then folding it back on itself. Repeat for five minutes, or until smooth and elastic.

  4. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise for approximately one hour, or until doubled in size.

  5. Divide the dough into 12 even pieces, and roll each piece into a smooth ball on a lightly floured surface. Arrange the buns on a baking tray lined with parchment, leaving enough space so that the buns just touch when they rise and expand. Set aside to prove for another hour.

  6. Heat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7.

  7. For the cross, mix the flour with about five tablespoons of water in small bowl, adding the water one tablespoon at a time, so that you add just enough for a thick paste. Spoon into a piping bag with a small nozzle. Pipe a line along each row of buns, then repeat in the other direction to create crosses.

  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes on the middle shelf of the oven, or until golden-brown.

  9. Gently heat the apricot jam to melt, then sieve to get rid of any chunks. While the jam is still warm, brush over the top of the warm buns and leave to cool. Gently rip the buns apart to serve, revealing temptingly soft edges.

 

Easter Sunday is the celebration of the Resurrection.  Invite family and friends, hang the bunting, lay the table (with those beautifully decorated eggs) and put on a feast.  What would you serve for Easter Sunday lunch?  Old favourites?  Family traditional fare? Like any great Sunday lunch, chicken or lamb will go down very well.  We have a favourite Roast Leg of Lamb recipe handed down over the years but I do try and do something different with lamb when the opportunity arises. Here is another lovely recipe, for Roast leg of Lamb and Hasselback potatoes.

There are so many wonderful ideas for setting up the table for Easter Sunday lunch.  Or breakfast, whichever suits.  I used to love making a true theatrical experience of it, and the children loved having their talents put to use (not always matching of course) for decorating the table.  Using simple flowers, boughs of blossoms, twigs and nests, even tied grasses will create the right effect.  All about Spring, so bring spring into your home.

And then there is the cake.  An act of love in food.  Plenty of recipes, but love this one.

 

However large, or small your party may be over this coming Easter Weekend, make it beautiful.  Even if you find yourself on your own.  It may take longer to eat the cake, but more for you.  When we are at our age, and things are quieter in our lives, we sometimes don’t want the fuss.  Then we think of all the memories and for me I would rather still make the fuss, make the eggs and a little egg hunting on the side, regardless of my age or number in my party.  It can still be a party!

Images: Good housekeeping, Garden and Home, BBCfood, redbubble, English Heritage, Country Living

 

Is Wallpaper making a massive comeback in our homes in 2021?

 

Wallpaper is a key trend for 2021, and the insatiable appetite from consumers doesn’t look like abating any time soon,’ says David Harris, Design Director at Andrew Martin.

Sanderson Fruit Aviary.

If you are a product of the fifties, you were most likely also a product of the wallpapered bedroom.  Mine, I remember distinctly, would be changed every few years, and it would be not just the wallpaper, but the curtains, valance and sometimes, even the cover of the bed.

Sanderson was the current favourite, our lives characterised by the Sanderson fabric and wallpapers in our house. It wasn’t just Sanderson, but mum was an ardent supporter. So it was when I had my first home, after years of living like a student of in flats in cities as I was pretending to know what I was doing, that I went straight back to the Sanderson stable.  Not so much the wallpapers, but Little Chelsea and Rose and Peony, to name two favourites, were curtained up and upholstered on the very grand sofa.  I was echoing my mother, was I becoming my mother?

Hotel Caron de Beaumarchaise.

The love affair with wallpaper, for me anyway, seemed to fade with the neutrals and monotones of the Nineties and early 21st century.  South Africans, in particular, were finding themselves less florally inclined, and if wallpaper was selected, it was nothing as busy and garden orientated.  I went for the taupes, the creams, the nudes.  Wall statements were fallow in favour of strong accent colours in the room. Natural light and openness, and may I venture a rise in fabulous local fabrics and decor.  At times I even leant towards the desert theme, sun washed bones and hides for accents.

The more I returned to Europe, and in particular living in England, it was the hotels that reignited my love of wallpaper.  We do not get to see each other’s home all that often, it’s very much an English thing, but the hotels I was booking my clients into, revealed the most beautiful, wallpapered lobbies, rooms and dare I say, bathrooms.  I found myself photographing hotel toilets in the reception areas, just because I loved the wallpaper.

Saint James, Paris

Wallpaper helps to tell a story, it sets the tone of the room. Bold, daring, soft and cosy, the room takes on an identity of it’s own. Why are we sort of scared to paste?  Maybe because it is expensive and set for a long time, where with accessories, you can change the look of the room in an instant. With the pandemic, many have turned inwards, to their own interiors, in which we are spending a great deal of time, and I am drawn to doing something different this time. I need drama right now, I need passion and optimism and colour. I may not be able to control what is happening outside, but I can make my living space, more mine.

So it is the wallpaper I go.

Hotel Daniel, Paris.

I have bought five rolls of wallpaper, to put in my suitcase and take back to my home in Cape Town.  To paper the walls of my bedroom and bathroom, and that’s a start. It is the paper in the first photograph, Fruit Aviary, so yes, I am going back to the days of yore, the mother days, the bedroom wallpaper days and I cannot wait to see the results.

It’s gloomy out there.  Hope the birds and fruit will cheer me up when I wake … staying positive, trying new things …

Black stockings, early winter magic and ‘oh seriously, its dark at four pm!’

‘Winter is on my head, But eternal Spring is in my heart.’  Victor Hugo

We can all agree that this has been the most freaky,  frigging year.  Take it from someone who has entering into her Third lockdown since February.  A brief moment of bliss every now and then, but by and large, this has been a spooky year and I for one, have had enough of the sucky, suck it up, stuck mode and even Christmas is at risk!

Actually let me rephrase that – I am almost at Christmas already, an entire month before the event.  What else is there to do, she wails, oh pray what else is there to do when work has dissipated along with tourism in general and every day is a little like … oh yesterday.

Go Christmas shopping.  Oh, hang on, that is not allowed for another three weeks, except for Wilko of course, so just to give close ones an inside – Christmas will be heavily reliant on Wilko.  And Chocolates, or any other foodstuff from stores still open.  Thank the Lord we can still buy wine, unlike the South African lockdown earlier this year that had me at bootlegging and possible arrest for the stuff.

This is the time when you get to seven pm and think, how will I make it to eight pm and not go to bed?  How many re-runs can you watch, I beg you.

I have done the English winters for over a decade, in London, but this never got to me so much as now.  Would make the most of the lights, restaurants, theatres and just walking till late so I didn’t know that the sun was going down so early.  The combination of lockdown and no light is a different, and worrying combination.

Is this an age thing – okay I know it’s a lockdown thing, which is great for blaming, but seriously, was once a time that eight was the magic hour for actually leaving the house to dine, party and stumble back in the wee hours of the morning.  Now, it seems, the bath and pj’s happen super early and there is no trace of make-up past seven thirty. Sad situation, she mumbles, bloody sad situation.  And it too shall pass.  I am really not one for looking forward to the latest rerun or building a puzzle at this stage.  This will happen in the retirement home one day.

I’m recording my life experiences by the season I shall be encased in black stockings. That is on a good day – some days the gym pant pull on for the muffin relaxation is standard stuff. And the colour is … merde!

Speaking of French, as we do, I have been known to prefer Paris in winter.  There is something huddly about it:  fewer tour groups who push their way into Galleries Lafayette and buy Louis Vuitton like sweeties, fewer outside everything and more intense light, still able to sit at sidewalk cafes under the heaters and walk for miles in the mist.  A good Pot au Feu in a local bistro, lights on the Avenues, but not this year. It will be next year.

In the lockdown, and the months prior, it is really interesting to see how different people react.  Many of my friends have literally locked themselves in their homes, doing home deliveries and I can appreciate that, if one feels this age is a risk thing.  I have also seen many, like me, that at least try to walk through London, along the river, up Hampstead Heath, in Richmond, anywhere just to get out for the sake of our physical and mental health.  Being locked up in a house in London, is not for me.  I am careful, but determined to remain curious.

One good little emotional love, is the yearly John Lewis Christmas advertisement, and I am still a fan.  Sharing kindness, and being aware of just being kind is what we all need right now.  I know I do. Tried to embed the video here but again, the woman is technically challenged – maybe this lockdown will be the time I don’t have to ask my children for help and work it out myself. That’s a plan.

Anyway, tomorrow will come … and the black stockings will be on, no more comfortable granny anything … and maybe it’s time to find the little skirt to go with them, like I used to. A red one.  Bont and paired with long black boots … now she is thinking … and then, without the trusty hair salon open, to let the hair go wild, like a Pre-Raphaelite, and put on the Barbour, check I have the face mask and go forth into the city. Sounds like a good plan.  Are you with me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

One rose can be your garden.

If daybreak brought about a misguided twittering for sorting the social media, it has ended in an argument. A desire to pick up a fountain pen and write an entry that requires scratchy nib on paper and a dash of sherry.  All efforts of managing passwords, updating profiles and back and forth, back and ruddy forth to get a new code, change a forgotten golden password, is a teary endeavour and I lost.  It turns out I have three Twitter accounts, none of which I can change, or delete without upsetting the other one, and I want none of it.  If I must cull all to create anew I shall, but on another day.

The proverbial cherry was a message sent by a friend. Is this you, she queried with a link on Face Book. Now, what was I to make of that?  Was it me who sent it, perhaps cloning or being disrespectful?  Was I in the You tube link doing God know what?  Such were the words and just as the fingers tapped into a strange URL I shrank back in horror and closed the window.  Did I touch the devil himself?  Turns out my friend thought I had sent it, changed my password, apologies to all and have now decided, I am going focus on something lovely rather than the mean, disrespectful lot out there. Vulgar, human or not.

Sometimes one just has to step away.  Counselling has taught me that.  When things cannot be conquered, or changed, go smaller.  For me that can be a number of things.  And only lockdown has taught me the value of these, more prominent, more acute, more lasting.  I have learnt the value of a perfect cup of tea. The British answer to everything. Be it the cup of char, the infusion, the rooibos, whatever your fancy – it is the brewing and savouring that brings relief.  The good book.  I can write volumes on this – for years every joining a book club and finding drivel in the ‘Number one best seller.’  Topical – like a screenplay, must have angst, heartbreak, rivalry and for that extra touch, rape. I am talking about a book that will transport in words, create heavenly images, triumph in the everyday. A good, intellectual book will touch the soul rather than pass the time. An excellent glass of wine.  Past times, wine was water with a twist, had vat loads of it – now to look, sip and savour.  A long, languishing bath with classical music, and bubbles – so long that the skin will winkle and the wrinkles of the mind ease.

A pet cuddle.  Miss those but appreciate them more now.  And a garden. You may not have one but to be in one is like falling into the personification of beauty.  I found a few roses ready for the vase today, as you see, and rather than plonk, I placed each one lovingly, in a vase and thought, where would you like to live in my home? Making a meal, not for mere consumption, but glorification of the dish. Each action, each process, one of deliberate undertaking. These little things take me away from the fraught time, the uncertainty and down, down into the enjoyment of just letting the mindful cake be placed in the oven and keeping the door closed until it is time.

We cannot run at this time.  We have to slow down, but slowing in a fashion of fusion of little things.

And of course, family.  This is a wonderful accumulation of blood, of amity, of others we chose to spend our lives giving ourselves to. The definition has changed over the decades.  We can love whom we please now, at last.

The day is complicated with the times now.  To re-design lives and work that will not fit anymore. Becoming more imaginative to survive, re-direct, re-shape, rediscover who we are, what we want and how to make it work.  It is not so new really, it is just our new time.  So, in the morning of got to get going, find some way to make a living, pay the bills, validate our identities, I was ready to give up with … at this age, now, what the hell do I know and how am I going to convince myself and everyone else, that I still matter – to, it will come, there is time … will go back to the simple measures of breathing in, breathing out, putting the cake in the over and waiting for it to rise, without hurry, until the answers come, in the small soaking up of what makes me happy.

Tomorrow to tame the beast.  Today, home. Be it here, there, in a one bed flat or a four bedroomed house, if there is a garden, a cup of tea, a glass of wine, a good book, a soft nuzzle, a bath and my family … it will come.  And be extraordinary. It will be a different, but a better journey home.

 

 

 

 

All about the blooms. Two very different events.

One of the reasons I have returned to South Africa, apart from the Summer of course, it to celebrate a very special wedding. My best friend’s daughter is getting married on one of the most exquisite wine farms in the country, and the countdown has begun.  A year in the planning, nothing left to chance, this is going to be one of the most beautiful weddings I have the privilege to be a part of. Cannot wait to share the pictures with you.

Not doing the wedding flowers this time, but super excited to do all the blooms and set up for the Bridal Shower and wedding Shabbat dinner.  Two very different themes, and two very important events on the wedding calendar.  So you can imagine, with so much at stake, a happy bride and a happy mum, I have been planning – checking what’s available, meeting suppliers, setting up the mechanics and a very tight timeline for prepping and creating two very different, but sensational events.  To set the tone for the big day.

As a wedding and floral designer, nothing happens, just like that. More that plopping a few daisies in a vase. The Bridal shower is themed around one theme, and the dinner, very glamorous. Been doing the homework, which involves a lot of time finding inspiration, creating a mood board, making sure all is going to transport the guests into an afternoon, and evening, of pure magic. All about flowers this week.  Am eternally grateful to my daughter, Madison, for working with me on these events.

We are blessed in South Africa with magnificent suppliers of these gorgeous blooms. Today I found myself at the local farmer’s market, where Adene’s flowers displayed a fusion of blooms and I was lost in the frilly petals, the strong dahlia’s, floating cosmos and many other shades of prettiness.  Am going to explore a little more on the actual flower farm.  We need frilly and soft for the Bridal Shower, and then the strong stems and dramatic blooms for the pre-wedding dinner. Could not do without Alsmeer flowers who never fails to disappoint.

Adene’s flowers. Until April they have an open day on Sundays and so worth a visit.

My inspiration comes in so many different forms.  And one is never too experienced to learn, just that little bit more.  Been fortunate to travel and see some of the most incredible gardens in the world, all which add to the dream.  Smitten with the gardens of Italy and France, and England for that matter, and Monty Don’s insightful documentaries on these gardens has me at, oh of course, how amazing to bring this into the repertoire. Have visited a few myself and April sees me back at the Lakes of Italy to discover a few more myself.

Another secret crush is Tulipina.  Follow her work religiously. Seems so simple doing flowers, right?  Tulipina has become a major influencer in floral design today. Detailed art. Then there is Jeff Latham, always popping into the George IV in Paris to see his latest work and going ‘wow’ when I do. Many floral designers in London of course, especially Bloomsbury Flowers. there are so many: Flowerbx, McQueens, Wild at Heart and Elizabeth Marsh – one is never at the I know it all.  So much more out there! Sometimes inspiration comes from the smallest things, a vintage tea cup, a beautiful vase, indigenous blooms – one’s one garden. Planted another seven Icebergs last week, they just keep blooming and great to use for a soft touch. They last well in water. They are planted beside my lovely David Austen’s ‘Litchfield Angels’, who never disappoint.

Inspired by nature, here and in the UK. How to take local materials and make them the stars of the show. One needs to work with what is right there in front of you, hone it, incorporate it and make it something special. We draw all the threads together and often, even when walking, I find material that would be perfect, for the right setting of the scene.

So, as a floral designer, the countdown has begun for this special time.  To create a wonderful Bridal shower and then turn all around for a dramatic, sophisticated dining experience. Seasonal drama. A summer setting. Want it to be personal, digging deep to do so – and that’s why it’s all about the blooms this week.

No matter how small or large the event, the flowers will tell the story.

When someone trusts you with their dream, it’s a privilege and lots of work to deliver that dream to perfection.

 

Love what I do.  Love the flowers and the possibilities of what they can achieve. Love their ability to transform the ordinary to the extraordinary.

They will tell their own story. A memorable one at that.

To work.  To doing what I love. To the blooms

Images: Own, Adene’s flowers, Italy tourism

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Into the memory boxes.

This photo was taken on the first anniversary of Princess Diana’s death.  That long ago.  Our visit to her grave at Althrop. Found in the box of photographs tucked deep inside a cupboard I keep locked away when I am not here. I am seldom here.  All my family things are here.

Our family home is in the Cape, in South Africa.  I live in London.  Still in the nomadic stage of life, I rent in London but keep our family home intact on the other side of the world.  Times we rent it out, times we just lock it up and return for the summer. It’s when I return, for a little while, that all the memories surround me, time to go back and swim into the past.  Not always easy, much has happened in the interim, but fortunate to find the pieces of self that brings nostalgia, but also a sense of belonging, and inspiration to pack the suitcase and fare out again.  The past will be here, when I am ready to surround myself with it years from now, but some say I am fortunate, and sometimes I have to remind myself of that.

When children leave home, they are not ready to take their lives with them.  To much to do, achieve, races to run.  We are the keepers of their pasts until they are ready to settle and own them. Do you do the same?  Hold onto your children through their chapters with you?  Admit to moments when hanging on seems more of a burden, only to realise how blessed I am, to have the role of keeper of what our lives became, once was, the weaver of the threads, the creator of the tapestry. The gatekeeper.

So I make a quiet time, a peaceful time, to look back.  We need to do that.  When life is fraught with anxiety, and at times pure hopelessness, when the road forward seems dark and foreboding and we are that stage when some of us are alone and despite the courage we all have within ourselves, daunted – it is a good thing.  We owned our youth, silly dreams, too much experimenting – our weddings and first jobs – being the smug mummies and creating homes.  When it was simple and no longer seems so.  The memory boxes remind us of a time of everyday magic, of swimming lessons and toddlers birthday parties.  Beach holidays and freckles on their faces. Our parents who may not be here anymore. Of laden tables and slim waists.

Going through the school days.  The all important, all consuming years of exams (yes, we soothed your fevered brows), the dances and first dates (yes, we listened and were there for you).  The sports games and rugby matches (yes, we closed our eyes in case you got hurt and wanted to run onto the field and box the ears of those you bullied you) and when you brought home your ‘Christmas’ decorations and we swooned over them. All still in the boxes.

A few photos of myself, only back then, photos were rare and not the best, not so? The odd school photograph of badly cut hairstyles and teenage angst. Beautiful wedding photographs. Now my daughter’s also.  All in the boxes.

It is a time of reflection, and a time of … gathering the threads to say ‘ it was good’, and put them back at this time in the new year.  They will be safe and no matter what the future holds, the past was pretty awesome. We are the fabric of how we dealt with the past, and that fabric, that tapestry, is the forever binding to what we do with it, and take it into the future.

Which is looking pretty good, now that I have had a giggle and a sigh at the boxes of memories. I know I keep everything, photographs, toys, slips and receipts and you know why, when I feel lost, as I often do lately, it really helps with the courage, to say, I am ok, I can be proud of where I have come from and even more excited of where I am going.

 

 

 

My fifth visit to Babylonstoren, and not my last.

 I am listening to the soundtrack of ‘Downton Abbey’,  luring my heart to rural England. I am watching Monty Don’s series on French Gardens, calling me also. Writing tonight about the magic of Babylonstoren, in the heart of the Cape Wine lands.

Best in a garden. Most spiritual in a garden.  The grander the better, no, that is not entirely true, I love the small cottage gardens just as much.  Babylonstoren is grand, in a style I see in Europe and of course, it was when reading Monty Don’s book: ‘The Road to Le Tholonet’ that it came together.  Monty talks of visiting Babylonstoren and that the garden was designed by well known French garden designer, Patrice Taravella.  Inspired by the Company Gardens in Cape Town and the early Dutch influence, Babylonstoren is a tribute to European garden design, lots of Delft influence and then, the lovely mixture of South African taste.

 

Perfect rows of lettuces and the heady surprise of hanging calabashes – watch out!

Driving into Babylonstoren is like driving into a beautiful painting.  The mountains rising in the distance, almost surrounding the farm, the golden Autumn hue, pink and mink wild grass by the roadside.  The vines are turning deep jewel colours, rich and crisp.

The buildings seem newly whitewashed, gently put on verdant, lush lawns.  A contrast to still signs of the crippling drought experience last year. Everything is fresh and growing.  As a wedding venue, you could not ask for a prettier background.  And the donkeys say ‘hello’ as you enter, the speckled chickens scratching at the base of the old, oak tree. Proud and haughty chickens.

The Kitchen Garden begins around the corner of the shop and I always leave the temptation of visiting the shop, till last.  And the rooms begin: long, rustic pathways of dirt or peach pips that cross-cross the garden.  Small squares and rectanglular blocks.  Ponds of shimmering water and a variety of fish, water-lilies, glossy and clean.  The ponds and water furrows, instant attractions for children, playing their own version of ‘pooh sticks’ with leaves and twigs, anything they can chase down in the game of winning.

This is a working garden, food supplied to the hotel, Babel and the Greenhouse, which is the reward at the far end of the garden.  The actual planting and schedules of it, as well as daily tours are all available on the Babylonstoren blog and I am no expert, but fancy the odd recognition of plant and design, much to the thrill of the brain so long last used when it comes to gardening.

Shades of Autumn and twisted vine, and the gorgeous delft mosaics.

For me, it is the ambling, the ‘flâneur’ and picking of path in an unhurried way.  From dappled light to cool repose beside the fountain, a minute here, careless adoration of it all.  Much like any successful garden, the garden at Babylonstoren works in any season.  Planting is done in such a way.  Structures take on a bolder presence when leaves are lost.  All fifteen clusters offer up a difference scene.

The Insect Hotel.  Something to think about for your own garden, no matter how small it may be. With all the fear of disappearing bees and pesticides, fostering sanctuary for wildlife should be a priority for any lover of this planet.  And I do so miss my garden, have spent many years living with a single crabtree, and then David Austen rose on my balcony, and now have a sliver of a patch around my house here in the Cape, but I think I shall find a little place for an Insect hotel – as long as they stay there and don’t come into my house!

As a wedding planner, Babylonstoren holds an added charm.  Their Wedding venue is the stuff of dreams.  A perfect backdrop, ideal accommodation, old Dutch style buildings, nature in a five star setting.  Love the whole idea of it.  Stay, even if it just for a night, partake of the cuisine and spa.  The new Scented building is pure indulgence: Karen Roos has thought of every detail and it will be difficult to tear yourself away.

And you can shop, take a token of this heavenly repose with you.  First a wine farm, their wines a gift to my palate, but there is so much more, eg, as the Dutch say … leuk. A deli too. In short, everything for the perfect day out and indulge, in sheer beauty.

I like to visit early in the morning, and late in the afternoon.  When the mountains are pink and envelope the farm in a calmness difficult to emulate elsewhere.

Please take note that there is an entrance fee of R10.00 on weekdays and R20.00 on the weekends, which is little for the glorious experience.  I did however, on my last visit, enquire about some sort of loyalty card, much like the National Trust, and was offered an annual, as many times as you like to come, card for R50.00.  Ask for it if you, like me, cannot stay away.

If you want to know more about Babylonstoren, are planning a trip to South Africa or getting married, kindly contact me at [email protected], or [email protected], or even at [email protected]

Thank you so much for reading.

Anxiety and The Garage. When letting go could just include sanity. Maybe a little …

This is Sarah Gardiner.  A Victorian delight sent to an asylum for suffering from anxiety, I believe.

Poor thing, bless her, I wonder if she too at some point, faced the anxiety of moving house? For me, again, the anxiety levels are up there with naked swimmer from ‘Jaws’ at the moment, but she remains calm, as Sarah seemed to be, in the face of adversity, moving, and dealing with, amongst other things, the Garage.  An Ogre for sure.

A little background c’est nécessaire mon amies, in the way of an explanation.  When the flat was bought, number 16, I assumed (never assume) that our garage was also, number 16.  A slim, yet easily accessible delight – but no, we were sent marching to number 18.  A garage … to be debated, but sort of in the corner that would take a tricycle about twenty attempts to enter. No problem, no-one in London uses a garage for the purpose of a car, it is the ‘other room.’ The storage, toss in all unloved, debris cemetery and hallows of memories. No light, no window and no chance of seeing the back wall.

Things go to die in the garage. They breathe with difficulty in the damp (we have a rivulet of constant water running through the centre of the roof) and all so, rather than call it a garage, per say, it should be called a swamp. But no matter, plastic covering, plastic tubs and plastic everything prevails.  Best attempts awarded.

Best avoided lest we seek the soggy suitcase, you know the one where the name tag ink has run and it could end up in Calcutta – yeah, that one.  But time, dear time, comes close.  After ten years the garage needs clearing and dear Lord, I need a drink, some Valium and a pretty white mask over the mouth. The swamp, like those old graves in Parisian cemeteries, needs clearing for the next bodies.

Part of the process is finding stuff you had quite forgotten. Not like money, but twenty thousand pieces of paper dating back five years: bank statements, accounts, reports etc. Some need careful shredding and for lack of shredder, about two hours of finger tearing whilst sitting on very hard tar where the stones drive themselves into your butt. Then there is the Persian, once admired and stored, now home to moths and eggs – off you go, she says choking ever so slightly. The dresser once loved and too big, now a pregnant, swollen mass with drawers thicker than Brexit. Ugh, not even attempting to find out what’s inside, bugger and to hell with it. There is a bicycle pump and helmet, but no bicycle (long stolen) musty Christmas tree and a mouldy mattress.  And pots, hundreds of little blue pots.

The blue pot are those I buy my favourite yogurt in. Ceramic jars I could not throw away and thought one day I would find a use for them, like people who buy a lovely Chateau and find use for dormant stuff – perhaps pencil jars, flower pots, beauty products oh, the list was endless and the patience is now worn so the pots will have to go to the dump along with everything else.

I find parts of my mother’s 60 year old Kenwood. A shovel, for what reason I know not, miles of electrical cords and a DVD player, lying in a watery grave. Chairs and a table turned white with mould, and books in a box.  Books that peel pages, wet and melancholy pages.

I can let go of all this.  I need to let go of all this, but here is the rub – I have to get rid of all this. Physically. In London. To the dump.

Herein lies the anxiety.  The leetle car will make for days of my life, going back and forth. The lifting and trying to move said items will impact on my heart, my lungs and my future.  Hiring someone to do it will cost me the same price as a holiday in Mauritius. What is a girl to do?

And I think of Sarah, facing adversity with a calm resignation.  I hope I shall not be committed, but rather temper the fear and get to the doing of things.  Time … oh she is harsh. The children can sense the asking, like they used to wait to have their vaccinations, dreading and filled with doom.

How simple it would be to shut the door and leave it for someone else to clean up. Not like that.  So to scraping the soggy bottoms of cardboard from cold cement floors, heaving and heaving in the doing of it.  Making sure that the new owners have a clean garage, but secretly sniggering when they find out which one it is.

My new garage will be light filled, spacious and house a car from now on. And I shall remember the experience whilst mixing a batter for cupcakes with the other half of the Kenwood, when I find it, and ponder – did this cleaning of this garage curse my anxiety to the level of Sarah? Will I max the Amex and hire burly men to do the job instead? That cave of stuff needs addressing and I have little time, so to mustering the strength, face the ire and damp and dive in.

Remember, it is dark, even at nine in the morning.  Medusa awaits.

Images. The daily mail

 

What does Spring mean to you?

“If you’ve never been thrilled to the very edges of your soul by a flower in spring bloom, maybe your soul has never been in bloom.”
— Audra Foveo

I can never really describe Spring. I will never do her justice.  But in my few attempts, I change, I become the hopeful, optimistic soul who stops and stares at blossoms when they appear.  Full knowing that whilst I have endured winter, some good, some soulless and questioning, Spring has been pushing through the darkest soil to present the gift.

The English countryside transforms. Birdsong comes a little earlier, at first light, with happy tunes. Leaves unfurl in verdant lime. It is as if I can see them from curling to show. Nature lays her bounty before me and I am enthralled, my soul transformed, the year begins again.

When the time comes, I love nothing more than a walk from Richmond Station to Ham House. All that has been dormant, comes alive in so many ways.  The Thames lifts her veil of mist to glitter in the sunlight, brooding waters, lovely in winter, is now filled with coots, swans and geese who chatter and fly rather than lament in low sounds at the water’s edge.

Ham House has planted nearly 500. 000 bulbs this year. The early crocuses are shown and gone, the tulips rise majestically and the meadow flowers will bloom in June. In the Wilderness, the fritillaries pop up everywhere, hooded blooms with their polka dot dresses.

Happy girls. Happy me.  I feel the awakening of myself at Spring. God knows I love Christmas in London, and then struggle with the aftermath of winter in January and February, but March, I find the reason in the season and am all about lambs gambolling and fields of poetry. When I do my tours at Ham, I am over the top sort of about Spring!  You have to imagine, I tell my guests, what beauty lay beneath and what the next few months will bring. You have to imagine the pushing up of bulbs, the heralding of branches and fruits that will yield in the Kitchen garden. Soup becomes salad. And the blossoms are everywhere.  Cherries, peaches, apricots and plums. White mischief and pink possibilities.

My mother was Dutch, and for me Spring is our connecting time.  I see her there.  It is not easy to grow tulips in South Africa, some bloom, some stay dormant, but here in England, and of course when I go to Keukenhof in Holland, there are rivers of tulips at this time.  They are delicate ladies, need little water in vases but they are the stuff of the Golden Age, the Masters of the 17th Century and I see my mother in every one of them.  And I miss her at this time, but am happy that I can still enjoy what she enjoyed so very much. It is my Dutch heritage that is the tulip Spring.

Many years ago, and I mean many, many years ago, I discovered Petersham nurseries.  Long before it became the stuff of popularity and Instagramming.  Before parking became a problem and all were in ‘on the secret.’ Even before I lived here. It is now part of my weekly walk. I buy my David Austen roses here. My vases here and my spot for coffee in one of the conservatories. Bought my mushroom brush here. My first huge, and I mean huge container that we had to transport in the tiniest car and still holds pride of place on my balcony – which will go to pride of place on my children’s balcony.  How we did it, I don’t know, squashed in a little car, mermaid, and plonked on the balcony, first with a crab apple tree and now with ‘Litchfield Angel.’ She is about to bloom, a multitude of cinnamon sweetness.

And then there are the magnolias.  This one is in the Petersham Cemetery, where the Dysarts are buried.  They are important to me, they are the family from Ham House.  Some may think it a little macabre but I find it all the more significant in the spring. There is history here, important history and for me, seeing the new blossoms in a way, is paying tribute to the new and the old.

We learn. We stay connected.  I am a better person for learning about Elizabeth and her family and I can take that with me through the years for we must honour those who loved Spring before us. I find myself here, in a quiet time of her, her family and all those lying here, some going to war and never to return in life, some who lived here and never travelled, who teach me everyday about strength in adversity and still made it good.  They are important. Spring for me, teaches me that every year when it happens, we are grateful to be part of it. New beginnings but also remembrance. Gosh I love being here!

So I walk, past Ham, past Petersham, past the meadow and along the river to Richmond. And I am still walking – for it is a new year, with so many possibilities and so much hope. That is what Spring, or as the French call it Printemps, and you know how much I love the French. it is a revival of sorts, a Renaissance of life, a chance to start over – or make it better.  And I am lost in Spring – I am the one on the way to the tube taking pictures of flowers and beguiled by the birdsong – I have survived another winter and the year, oh, this year, is going to be amazing.

Spring must mean another chance. It must mean a beginning of self. For me, Spring is the epitome of growth, despite the challenges and if a bulb can push through the winter soil, to flourish and bloom, so can I.

 

Do we look more closely to the blossoms as we grown older?  Do we value Spring more closely? I do – and for me, it means I am still about to bloom again.

What does Spring mean to you?