St Albans

Most of my possessions are in storage at the moment and I must admit, I’m beginning to miss them. My plants and pots, though, are divided between my mum and my sister’s gardens, so I see them quite frequently. Sometimes I catch myself thinking, ‘Oh, that’s a nice pot’, only to realise that it actually belongs to me.

The pot in the foreground is mine, and Mum has filled it with some hyacinths that look perfect now, just before they come out fully. The metal ball to the right was a birthday present a few years ago. It’s one of my favourite things – it somehow looks at home in any setting. It came from the Duchy of Cornwall Nursery.

The pot behind belongs to my mum. It contains a hellebore and some kind of bright pink heather – they look pretty good together. In fact the whole patio was looking pretty good, despite my mum’s dire warnings, as ever, that the garden was looking ‘terrible’.

I wonder if, when the time comes, I’ll actually get my containers back. They look quite at home in their new abodes and I’ll feel a bit mean reclaiming them. I can’t see my sister giving up my nice wooden wine boxes without a fight, and Mum is pretty attached to the metal ball… On the other hand there are some piddly pots I don’t want back, because if there’s one thing that I’ve learned about gardening in containers is that it’s best to go big. I’ve got a feeling, though, that only taking back the pots that I still like and leaving the rest is NOT going to be an option as far as the Peerless gardeners are concerned…

Phlox Flowers

South Bank

The other day, I bade a sad farewell to my colleague Vicky, who is going to work at Vogue. I am going to miss her terribly, but at least I can now leave a cup of tea unattended without her adding brown sauce or some other noxious substance to it behind my back.

Anyway, Vicky got given a lovely bouquet from Jamie Aston, just down the road from the office. But she mentioned in passing that the best flowers she’s ever received (Vicky clearly gets more bunches of flowers than I do) came from Phlox Flowers on the South Bank.

That turned out to be a handy piece of info, as I was on the lookout for some Mother’s Day flowers and Phlox is very near where I live. In fact I walk past it several times a week but had hardly noticed it – there are very few flowers outside.

Inside, though, its a completely different story. Huge buckets of sumptuous flowers fill two walls, waiting to be made into bouquets, and wrapping papers and ribbons in every hue fill another. In the centre is a big table where the bouquets are made up. I bought a bunch of beautiful red ranunculus, and they looked even more stunning once they’d been wrapped in red and green tissue paper and tied with twine.

It turns out that Phlox doesn’t really need to attract passing trade as it gets most of its business from the nearby ITV studios, theatres and magazine companies. Although a few more pots like this one still wouldn’t go amiss outside – things are pretty dreary around the back of the South Bank.

Hellebores and silver birch

Royal College of Physicians

I’ve seen silver birches underplanted with all kinds of things – snowdrops, anemones, cyclamen, bluebells etc – but never hellebores for some reason. The combination works so well – the pristine white of the petals complements the dazzling trunks of the small grove of Betula utilis ‘Jacquemontii’ trees perfectly.

This is a clever bit of planting. The hellebores will flower for a while yet, and will then give way to foxgloves. And that’s it. Simple, but very effective.

Let them eat cake


A friend of mine once spent some time at a monastery in southern France where the monks lived in silence. They were allowed to speak when it was their turn to welcome passing travellers – and when it was their turn, they couldn’t stop talking. By the end of his stay Gérard was desperate for some peace and quiet.

I was reminded of this story at La Musée de la Vie Romantique in Paris last weekend. It’s free to get in and was virtually deserted, so the receptionist had very little to do. She checked we had the right leaflets, fretted over some audio guides, described in detail where the toilets were and talked us through every item for sale in the tiny shop.

Needless to say what I was most interested in was the sign saying ‘Thés dans le jardin’, but the receptionist didn’t have anything to say about that. There were no teas in the garden – they don’t start until early summer. This was a shame because the newly renovated Winter Garden, attached to the house, would have been the perfect setting in which to nibble cake, sip tea and shelter from the cold. I can’t imagine a ‘refreshments in summer only’ rule going down very well with in England – a historic house without a tearoom is like a ship without a sail.

But I digress. I’ve always loved the idea of a winter garden, or a conservatory, or a room like Andie McDowell’s in Green Card – a place to go for light, warmth and greenery when it’s cold outside. I love the design of this one, with its sloping roof and green paint – it manages to look classic yet contemporary. I wouldn’t have a grotto in mine, though, and I’d pack it with a hell of a lot more plants.