Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Dreams, designs, and dangerous women

 "I am so longing to read about you starting a new garden. Wonderful to see the concepts and ideas developing, happening and growing. What lurked in your mind, unsuited to a completed London garden, that you can now tackle with aplomb, delight and joy?"
Diana of Elephant's Eye, who has been a long-term blogging friend, posted this comment on my last postShe's absolutely right. Things do lurk in your mind. They are filed away for future reference, until one day you pull the idea out, blow the dust off it and see that, yes, this is the time to put it into action.
Just because your garden has a particular style, often dictated by its aspect, its soil type, the local climate and so on, doesn't mean that you can't appreciate a completely different style.
I have a fairly clear concept in mind for my new garden. The actual landscaping may turn out to be slightly different from my current mental picture, but the style will be the same.
I want something that echoes the surrounding landscape. If you look at the pictures below, you can see how the designers have used evergreens, or sculpture, or hard landscaping to provide a contrast to the very soft, pretty planting.
You may think: "Oh, well, I don't have any of those things." But you probably do. You may not have a wall, but you'll have a house wall (at least, I sincerely hope so)! You may not have a sculpture, but you may have a tree, whose shape you can repeat with the right planting.

This is Tom Stuart Smith (above) for Laurent Perrier at the Chelsea Flower Show 2010. I really admire his work, and the more I see of it, the more I love it. I think he is a master of proportion and "punctuation": his gardens look so simple and so artless, and yet the design is very clever. The eye is led exactly where he wants it to go.

Here's another one of my favourite designers: Cleve West, who won Best in Show at Chelsea 2011 with this garden for the Daily Telegraph. The colour scheme here is so subtle - I love the dark red with the misty greys and purples, injected with pops of pale yellow that pick up the colour of the wall. And I like the restraint that characterises Cleve's work - the flat bare wall makes a wonderful contrast to the fluffy, floriferous perennials.

This is a detail from Cleve's garden for Chelsea this year, which also won best in show. It's the sort of planting that looks terrific in any garden, but particularly in a country garden, where it gives the impression of random seeding, but with a strong shape that makes it stand out.

This is Derry Watkins' garden (above) in Wiltshire. Derry runs a nursery called Special Plants and boy, is it special. She also has a wonderful garden on the other side of the house from the nursery. Don't go there. I went, and look what happened to me. I ended up selling my house in London and moving to Gloucestershire, just up the road.

Here we have the "echoing" effect that I like: the humps and hillocks of the plants in this scree bed reflect the curves of the trees and the hills around the garden.

A fabulous yellow kniphofia, with its upright flowers looking like soldiers standing to attention, echoes the shape of the conifer beyond.

Of course, you don't have to use plants just to echo plants. Here Derry has used a rusted iron sculpture as a sort of exclamation point at the end of the border.

And the kniphofia stands guard at the beginning of a path.

Sorry, I can't say anything intelligent about this picture. It just makes me go weak at the knees. What a view. And in the foreground, the angelica has raided the dressing up box and is pretending to be a tree.
Seriously, Derry's nursery has a lot to do with my reasons for moving. I went there with VP (yes, I blame her too) and Marty Wingate back in August, and had a wonderful afternoon being shown round the garden by Derry herself. We got back to VP's house for supper, and I sat there bleating: "I want to live in Derry's house! I want to have Derry's garden! I want to come and buy my plants at Derry's nursery!"
Marty teased me, saying: "You just want to BE Derry!" and VP said: "Well, why not? You could do it, you could sell your house in London, and move to Wiltshire." No, I couldn't possibly, I said, I have to keep working until my kids are through university, and I enjoy my job, and OK, I might get very tired, and I might really miss the kids now they're both off to college and feel that the house is too big, but it'll be fine.
All the way home, driving along the motorway, that little seedling of an idea took root and grew. Marty went off to Edinburgh for the festival, and I got on the internet and started looking at properties.
I warn you: these women are dangerous.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

So, Awkward Hill...

It's a strange name, isn't it? Awkward Hill is a very steep hill, rising abruptly from the River Coln. You can quite see why it's called "Awkward" - it's a sort of blip or bump right in the middle of Bibury.
If you go down the other side, the lane is called Hawkers Hill, as in hawker, or pedlar. I keep meaning to look into this, to discover whether Hawkers Hill is a corruption of Awkward Hill, or whether Awkward Hill is a corruption of Hawkers Hill.
If anyone knows where the name comes from, I'd love to hear from you. When I decided to move to Bibury, my family thought the name was hilarious. It was even suggested that I use the blogging name Awkward Cow. But I think not.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Local heroes

One of the things I want to do in my new life is to use local producers as much as possible. If you live in the country, it seems mad not to buy from the people on your doorstep, especially when some of them are producing wonderful things, whether it is cheese or gingham checks.

I came across the textile designs of Vanessa Arbuthnott (above) while looking for a shepherd's hut. (My mother wants to buy a shepherd's hut for my garden, where she will sleep when she comes to stay. But that's a whole other post!)
Vanessa's designs were featured on the Cotswold Shepherds Huts site, and I was thrilled to find a range of fabrics that used such clever colour combinations and subtle designs. I've never been a very chintzy person, but I wanted something for Awkward Hill that was more in keeping with a country cottage than the more austere colour scheme I had in London. I think Vanessa's designs complement the colours of the Cotswolds perfectly.
I'd discovered, thanks to VP, that there was a very good organic farm shop nearby, on the road to Cirencester, but ironically I had my first taste of Gloucestershire artisan cheeses in London the other night, at the RHS Harvest Festival show.
Godsells, who are based in Leonard Stanley, near Stonehouse, had a selection of their award-winning cheeses to taste, and I was smitten by their Three Virgins (so to speak), which is a Cheshire-type crumbly, tangy cheese. Only iron willpower prevented me from ripping open the packet I bought and eating the cheese on the train on the way home.
Another of their cheeses is Singing Granny, a Cheddar-type cheese that is so strong, you could almost use it as a substitute for Parmesan.
The man at the Godsells stall also gave me a copy of the Grazing Guide, which is a directory of local food and drink producers (including pubs and restaurants) in Cirencester and the Cotswolds. I only got it on Tuesday but it's already well-thumbed.
I anticipate that I am going to put on weight in Gloucestershire. But at least I'll have nice curtains.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Japanese question

The first thing you do when you buy a house in the UK is to have a survey done, to check that there are no structural problems such as subsidence, or damp, or dry rot, or anything else untoward.
I've had many of these done over the years, but I've never had one that mentioned Japanese tourists as a possible hazard!
Under the heading "Environmental issues to check and other considerations", my surveyor notes: "Bibury is very popular with tourists (especially Japanese, who often wander around the village peering into houses and gardens).
This is absolutely true - indeed, many of the houses on the main street, down by the river where the tourists tend to congregate, have signs in Japanese which (I assume) say things like "Private".
"They're always very polite," said my surveyor, "and all they want to do is to take photographs, but they do tend to assume that the entire village is one big historical attraction."
The only access to my new house is through the gate onto the lane (dry-stone walls surround the entire garden), but even so, it's still a focus of attention. My mother came to see it with me the other week, and says that she was photographed several times by groups of Japanese tourists while she was photographing the house.
I think this is quite amusing and sort of charming in a way. (I hope I still think that in years to come...)
I also like the idea that there are people around all the time. It gives the village a sort of buzz, and certainly there would not be a shop, or a post office, or two pubs, or any of the other facilities that make it quite a civilised place to live if it was not for the tourist hordes.
Wherever you live, town or country, you have to make compromises. 人生はそういうものだ - as they say in Japan.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

BBC in Bibury (from the archives)

I found this old video from the Day Out series, presented by Angela Rippon. This episode looks at the South East Cotswolds and features Bibury, along with Northleach and Fairford.
There's one about Cirencester too, with a different presenter.

Counting down the days

I am itching, absolutely itching to move into my new house. We haven't even exchanged contracts yet (there's no great delay or problem as far as I know, so it should be any day now), but although I tell myself that in a few weeks I will have all the time in the world to measure for curtains, think about the garden, rejig the kitchen and arrange the furniture and so on, I want to do it all NOW!
It's funny how you can make a connection with a house after seeing it for only 30 minutes. I've now visited Awkward Hill Cottage three times, and each time I go, I feel at home. My shoulders relax, my breathing slows and the world seems a much more beautiful place.
It's not that I dislike London. On the contrary, I think it's the best city in the world - the most beautiful, the most glamorous, with the most to offer in terms of theatre, restaurants and shopping. (I'm biased, of course!)
However, for me, life in London has become a bit of a Catch-22 - I have to work in order to be able to afford to live here, but if I work, especially the sort of hours that daily newspaper life dictates, I don't have time to take advantage of all it has to offer. And I'd like to slow down a bit, to have time to stand and look at my garden as well as scamper round tidying it up. For garden, also read life.
In the meantime, my old house feels rather like a big hotel, one in which the guest has to do all the work. The children's rooms are stripped of their posters and paraphernalia - they've both now departed for university - while the hall and landings seem to be full of piles of clean bedding. I'm  gradually working my way through the house and laundering all the sheets and towels I can find (and believe me, I've found some in some funny places...).
I'm consoling myself by ordering fabric samples, and kitchen brochures, and books on keeping chickens. And dreaming of what life will be like in Gloucestershire.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Golden October at Awkward Hill

The famous cottages at Arlington Row, which date originally from the 13th century, and which are now owned by the National Trust. In the 18th century, they were converted to weavers' cottages.

Rack Isle, which is also managed by the National Trust. It's a meadow area which is home to all sorts of bird and animal life. In the olden days, the weavers used this flat area beside the river Coln to dry their cloth, hence the name.

In the gardens in Bibury (above and below) the shrubs and trees are starting to take on their autumn colours.

Meanwhile, up at Awkward Hill Cottage, the autumn crocuses are in full swing.
They're growing in a reasonably open situation - not too dry, but with a bit of sun. The blue ones, below, look like a little pond from a distance.