Painshill Park: the weirdness of landscape gardens

Hot on the heels of my trip to Eltham Palace to check out the 1930s planting, yesterday saw me visiting Painshill Park in Surrey, this time to visit an 18th century landscape garden.

Painshill Park | Wolves in London
The lake at Painshill Park

A bit of potted garden history for anyone interested. The “landscape” style of gardening became popular in the UK around the 1700s; its best known designer Capability Brown.

It’s a style of gardening that essentially aims to “improve” the natural landscape, intending the results to look like a beautiful spot of English countryside (though, in fact, huge chunks of money were likely spent on creating these effects, and vast swathes of land dug up and moved around to make “natural” lakes and hills and woodland areas…)

Painshill Park | Wolves in London
View of the estate

Nestled within the bucolic scenery were (in my opinion) completely lunatic buildings, designed to become a focal point and draw your eye to the horizon, across the sweeping vistas. Gothic follies, “ruined” abbeys, temples, towers, arches, bridges… …nothing was considered too grand or too weird for the aristocrats who owned and built these gardens.

At Painshill, close to Cobham in Surrey, all these features are apparent. Designed by its owner, the Honorable Charles Hamilton, an aristocrat with good connections but little actual money, the park was extensively re-designed and re-built to adhere to the 18th century ideas of a beautiful landscape.

Among other great ventures, the oxbow lake was re-dug to form a more appealing shape; a tumble-down ruined abbey was built to hide some actual modern-day brickworks; a grotto was bejeweled inside with crystals; and, most bizarrely, a Turkish tent was erected on the top of a hill at one side of the estate.

Grotto at Painshill Park
The outside of the crystal grotto. Think this looks weird, then take a look…
Crystal grotto at Painshill Park
…at this! Every single crystal was stuck onto the ceiling by hand.
Crystal grotto at Painshill Park
And this was one of the views from the grotto’s many peepholes
Gothic temple ceiling at Painshill Park
This is the ceiling of the gothic temple
Hermitage at Painshill Park
Naturally, there was a hermitage (!) – this was the rather beautiful view from its window

I’ve got to admit, it’s not my favourite era of garden styles. A little bit too much effort and artifice to create something “natural” – and a serious lack of things that, to a modern eye, are desirable. Such as, you know, flowers or non-evergreen trees and shrubs.

But a morning wandering around (in rather cold May drizzle) was a good way to blow away the cobwebs of the week. And I did very much enjoy the (non-original) watermill and the glorious walled kitchen garden on the way in.

Kitchen garden at Painshill Park
The walled kitchen garden
Water wheel at Painshill Park
The waterwheel building was gorgeous
Waterwheel at Painshill Park
As were the views behind

Incidentally, if you’re thinking of visiting a landscape garden close to London, I would recommend, instead, a trip to Stowe (where I was lucky enough to spend two years in the sixth form at the school there). Designed by Capability Brown himself, this is landscape gardening at its absolute finest.

Next week, we’re off on holiday to Somerset and I’m hoping to visit Hestercombe while we’re there. With a garden designed by Lutyens and Jekyll, I’ve got high hopes of some serious inspiration there…

Falling in love again

Of course we loved our house when we first bought it. You’ve got to really love a collection of bricks to hand over the best part of half a million pounds, after all.

I remember when we first viewed it: I was seven months pregnant, we were looking at 13 houses that weekend and we thought we’d found everything we ever wanted as we wandered through the cute little Victorian terrace in East Dulwich.

Pebble dash London house
Our house, the day we viewed it for the first time

It was perfectly preserved in the 1950s, a real home where we could imagine bringing up our imminent arrival.

And, best of all in our eyes, it was a doer-upper. “Oh yes!” we exclaimed when we heard there was no central heating. “Oh we’ll just extend this kitchen right out to the side and back” we panted with enthusiasm on discovering the long narrow galley kitchen with no natural light. “We’ll have that pebble dash off on the very first day” we grinned to each other, all the while thinking of the savings we were making on the purchase price by doing all these things ourselves.

And then we moved in. And the love affair came to a rather abrupt end.

That first winter was so fricking freezing. Without central heating, we shivered away. Ancient electrical heaters in the main rooms provided some warmth but left me with the constant fear of an electrical fire in the night. Heaven forbid if you had to walk out of one room to reach another, shivering all the way down the corridors.

Eventually, the builders moved in, 14 months after we first did. Four months later, structural work completed, we moved back. To a house of bare plaster and a need for endless decorating. Once again, I was seven months pregnant.

Our money long (long!) eaten up, the past 14 months have been spent painting, sanding, hole-filling, caulking and getting quotes for various things that cost a fortune.

But at last it feels as if the end is in sight, signalled by the momentous occasion of the pebble dash being removed. And you know what, I’m reminded for the first time that my house is actually a real little looker.

Under all that ugly brown and grey pebbledash are some beautiful London stock bricks, all now beautifully re-pointed and able to breathe the air for the first time in probably 40 years.

London terraced house
That brickwork! Who knew I could be so excited by a lovely brick?

Next steps: plant a climbing white rose up the front and replace the windows. Possibly in the opposite order. Ah, little house, you’ll be a proper beauty again before too long.

Loving the 1930s: Eltham Palace day trip

I always wonder, at some point in a blissful three day bank holiday weekend, whether every single weekend would be as good if everyone only worked a four day week all the time. Surely so much office working is just faffing around, chatting, making coffee, checking emails and so on, that actually it could all be squeezed into four days instead and the whole country could have three whole days off every single weekend? Anyway, such dreams are unlikely to become reality (and perhaps I would find then that I longed instead for a four day weekend?) but a bank holiday Monday is always a very delightful thing for me… …even though I don’t even have an office job to go to these days.

This Monday past, we set off for Eltham Palace, an English Heritage owned house and garden in deepest South-East London.

Eltham Palace | Wolves in London
The main entrance was across a fantastic bridge…
Eltham Palace | Wolves in London
…and round the curving drive to the front door

My latest garden design assignment is to create a planting plan for a London garden attached to a 1930s house; the planting needs to sit nicely with the period of the home. I didn’t know much about 1930s gardening, but a quick Google told me that Eltham Palace has some of the best 1930s borders in the country (and described it as a “gardener’s garden”) and Google maps told me it was a 25 min drive from our house. What luck, eh?!

The gardens were, indeed, stunning.

Along one side of the house, the formal gardens are set: a rose garden, a “linear” garden, a square pond and so on. In my research on 1930s gardens, I discovered that this was quite common in Edwardian times (and, indeed Arts and Crafts gardens, which were still in fashion in the ‘30s): more formal gardens, laid out often symmetrically, planted closer to the house, often in a series of “outdoor rooms” and then, as you got further towards the boundary, the planting became more naturalistic and wild, blurring where garden ended and open country began.

Eltham Palace gardens | Wolves in London
All is symmetry and tradition here
Eltham Palace gardens | Wolves in London
This looked like an old potager
Orangery at Eltham Palace | Wolves in London
The heavenly orangery. Oh to have an orangery!

So, too, at Eltham. Across the most fabulous bridge from the moat, a meadow area was full of trees, grass and wildflowers, with a series of paths just mown into the meadow. This is an idea I absolutely adore and one I definitely plan to do if I am ever lucky enough to own a piece of land big enough to have a meadow…

Eltham Palace | Wolves in London
The bridge across the old moat – perfect for the Billy Goats Gruff
Eltham Palace meadow | Wolves in London
The meadow had some magnificent trees

Though the house would originally have been enclosed by the moat, nowadays only half is still filled with water. The section of moat at the back of the house has instead been turned into huge borders, flanked by beautiful old red brick walls.

Even the car parks were beautiful, in fact, this brick wall being one of the first things we saw when we parked the car:

Eltham Palace car park | Wolves in London
Yup, I haven’t uploaded the wrong photo here, this really is the wall in the car park…

Looking at the “1930s borders,” I’ve got to say, they looked like any contemporary flower borders to me, using all sorts of plants that I’ve learnt about in my course and love. I certainly wouldn’t have known that they were specifically from the ‘30s if I hadn’t been told so.

Garden notes a Eltham Palace | Wolves in London
I loved this sign on the way in…

white flowersflowerseuphorbiablossombleeding heartsAs for the house, well, that is the most fabulously 1930s place you could ever imagine. I’d left my camera in the pram (which wasn’t allowed inside) so I’ve got no photos, but it was a wonderful stroll round rooms preserved in their 1930s best: fabulously decadent gold mosaic-filled bathrooms; round windows all over the place; a special room (with central heating) for the pet lemur, called Mah-Jong (or Jonggy, if you’re on intimate terms) and walnut-panelled guest bedrooms. Given half a chance, I would have moved in then and there…

So, definitely worth a visit if you’re a garden lover, 1930s buff, or just fancy a wander round a nice house and grounds. We were talked into signing up to a year’s membership with the English Heritage at the entrance (you know, cos it ends up only costing three times as much as just paying to get in and that suddenly sounds like a great deal when someone says it to you enthusiastically) so I hope we’ll be visiting lots more places before the year is out.

All quiet on the blogging front

I’ve been a little quieter than normal on the blog recently. But don’t worry, I’m not stuck in the same lethargic funk as I was all over the winter

In fact, quite the opposite. Chez Wolves in London has been a crazy hive of activity recently.

The littlest is going to be one in just over a week, which has meant (yet another) renewed effort to get the house finally finally finished before his birthday. (Spoiler alert: we won’t manage to get it finished before then. I’ve been setting deadlines for us for the past two years and we’re still trucking on…)

But there has been lots of wall and door-painting going on, and even a bit of, shock, putting-up-of-pictures on newly painted walls. This is a pretty huge step, I have to say, to actually have something hanging on the walls (instead of tatters of ancient wallpaper…)

Botanical wall artThat’s a pretty shabby photo, but I am very pleased with my botanical wall art in real life. The frames, of course, aren’t actually warped, as they seem in the photo. I used a Cavallini calendar and then framed my favourite pictures in some of Ikea’s bog standard (but rather nice) RIBBA white frames. They’re sitting on a chimney breast, but I couldn’t get far enough back with my camera to show you any more of the view…

Everywhere you turn, there are various parts of the house waiting for another coat of paint:

Doors being paintedThis morning, scaffolding was set up against the front of the house so the pebble dash can be removed (we’re not trying to do that ourselves) and a handyman has been in all day putting on door knobs, hanging doors in different directions and re-wiring our doorbell back into the mains, a mere 1.5 years after it was first unwired.

I’ve also been spending loads of time outside in the garden, sowing endless successions of seeds with the sproglet and admiring all the new growth.

Cherry blossomForget-me-notsApple blossom
Borlotti beanTulipsI’ve got carrots in pots, beans rearing their heads above the soil, apple and cherry blossom on the trees, a rather delightful bed of tulip bulbs and some lovely perennials and about 75 tomato plants, at last count. I’m not quite sure what I’ll be doing with 75 tomato plants, but at least it means I won’t worry too much if a few of them die.

I’ve also been thinning the radish and carrot seedlings and decided to eat the mini leaves as a salad, rather than throw them into the compost. Oh, I felt very Masterchef, I can tell you, eating my microgreens. (And also, rather amused by the whole concept of microgreens being a modern way of eating, having also recently grown loads of cress with the sprolgets, which I remember doing in my childhood and is, surely, the origin of the whole microgreen craze?)

Radish microgreensA great find from the weekend was a Birds of Britain book, left outside for collection on someone’s front wall. The sproglet adores bird watching, peering out from the kitchen and saying to me, “oh Mummy, yook, a robin! Yook a blackbird!” so a happy time has already been spent poring through the pages.

Bird bookbird book insidebird bookIt’s incredibly beautiful, I think, with a map in the front cover of the locations of various birds and some lovely illustrations.

Finally, I’ve been beavering away industriously at my garden design diploma. We had two major deadlines just before Easter. One was to design a border for a shady courtyard attached to a bookshop; thinking about year-round interest. Bliss. I loved doing this.

The other, was to draw five different plant associations (eg, groups of plants that look nice together…) Five different drawings! I am terrible at drawing, so this was some sort of special hell for me. Not only am I terrible at drawing, but I really ever so very desperately want to be good at drawing, so every time my pen makes things look weird and not how I imagine them, I get very frustrated and cross. Ah, the rage of a wannabe artist…

Anyway, these were the two I was most pleased with (or, rather, least displeased with). After weeks of getting fed up and stressed out and thinking I would be failed, I managed to pass the assignment. The main feedback from my teacher? “Interesting style.” I’m not entirely sure whether that’s a good thing or not, ha ha.

Plant associations

So, in all, just the right sort of fever of redecorating and gardening to perfectly accompany the Spring weather… As each last job gets completed, I’m starting to believe that at some point we might, we just might actually live in a house that is fully painted and fully functioning. Exciting stuff!

A few flowers

Magnolia stellata | Wolves in LondonChionodoxa | Wolves in LondonPrimrose | Wolves in LondonWe continued with Operation Sort-out-the-garden this weekend.

It’s an ongoing attempt, that’s been running for about, oooh, the 2.5 years we’ve lived in this house.

It’s not that I’m not crazy on gardening or that I’m not actually really quite desperate to have a garden that’s nice to sit in… it’s just that we’re also simultaneously running Operation Finish-decorating-the-darned-house and Operation Look-after-two-small-kids.

Anyway, I’m really starting to see progress now. I might even share some whole garden photos with you soon… (The suspense! I know!)

Yesterday was spent shoveling a big pile of soil into buckets to put onto a new bed. The soil pile has been sitting in front of the greenhouse for more than a year now (intended time of habitation in that location: about one month). There is something wildly satisfying about a bit of physical labour, especially the repetitive thrust of the spade into a big fat pile of earth.

On Saturday, with the sproglet’s help, I sowed a few more seeds, removed the duckweed from the pond and peered at a huge ball of frogspawn, did a bit of weeding around the rhubarb, checked on the new bed that’s been dug out for veg, and went on a snail hunt.

In between all the gardening, I spent lots of time admiring the new flowers that are appearing.

Oh and the hubby got in on the act too, cutting down the gigantic wooden post that was in front of our greenhouse (you can see it in the picture here) that once led a visitor to comment that it was always nice to have some gallows in the garden…

Next weekend, we’re putting up an arch in the same location, planting some honeysuckle and evergreen jasmine round the base, sowing the seeds into the veg bed and doing whatever else I can add to the list in the meantime.

Nowt like Spring, is there?

Life recently

Well after that gloriously wonderful weekend of sun and spring weather, we seem to have returned to the depths of winter, plunged back to rain, grey skies and cold temperatures (here in London, at least).

I have to say, it’s put me in a rather bad mood to have been given the promise of sunnier months, only for them to disappear so quickly. Judging by the incessant moaning and whining of the sproglets this morning, they’re feeling the same way too.

Still, cold we might be, but life has continued in an anticipatory vein around here. I’m just dropping in quickly with a few photos from the last week…

Mothers day flowersMy Mother’s Day flowers are looking very beautiful on the mantelpiece. Tulips and daffodils can’t fail to make you feel all spring-like.

The sproglet and I have been spending every spare moment dedicatedly (some might say obsessively) sowing seeds. Most surfaces in the house and greenhouse look like this now.

Borlotti bean seedsWe’ve mostly done fruit and veg so far: three different tomatoes, two aubergines, these borlotti firetongues (which I keep seeing out of the corner of my eye and mistaking for a plate of chocolate cupcakes), some yellow courgettes, chillies and yin and yang beans.

Next up, this weekend, are the veg that are going straight out into the garden: carrots, broad beans, chives, beetroot, radishes and some garlic and onions that I bought for Autumn planting, but which have been sitting around in the house ever since.

I’ll let you know how I’m getting on when I have some germination!

Finally, but taking up most of my time recently, I’ve been working away on my next garden design assignment. This was to create a planting plan for a shady border in a bookshop courtyard.

Garden design planting planI’ve just finished putting all the different elements together and am feeling pretty proud of my first ever design. My new A3 printer arrived today so I can print the final sheet out in proper size this evening. Exciting stuff!

Now, if the good weather would just come back again too, life would be all but perfect.

Spring’s sprung at Wisley

Oh, but I bloody love Spring.

The lighter evenings, the bulbs nosing up through the soil, the constant refrain of birdsong. Above all, the sense of possibility in the air, a renewed energy to get up off my arse and just do stuff. Anything! For everything undertaken in Springtime can’t fail to be fun.

Crocuses at Wisley | Wolves in LondonSnowdrop at Wisley | Wolves in LondonOn Saturday, we made another trip to Wisley so I could steal some ideas get some inspiration for my latest garden design assignment. I challenge you to find a more enjoyable place in the country to enjoy one of the first days of Spring.

I visited for the first time last Summer (read about that here: Wonderful Wisley) and was totally won over by the glorious gardens. Our trip on Saturday just deepened my love.

Everywhere was a riot of crocuses, with clusters of snowdrops, winter aconite and lots of beautiful irises to enjoy. I felt immense pride every time the sproglet stopped, delighted, by a snowdrop and said, “Look! Mummy! A nodrop, a nodrop!”

Grass at Wisley | Wolves in LondonGrass heads at Wisley | Wolves in LondonWe wandered round the lakes, admiring the dogwoods, ate an immense and delicious (but pricey) meal in the restaurant, ambled through the library, bumped the pram through the glorious woodland area and generally just felt pretty bloody contented, with the sun on our faces.

Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn' at Wisley | Wolves in LondonJust before heading home, I took the sproglet into the glasshouses to see the butterflies. It was crammed to the rafters with hundreds of other families doing exactly the same thing, so we raced on through, stopping to spot a few butterflies on the feeding tables, but not much more. (The V&A butterfly house we visited a few years back had a better butterfly to person ratio, I found, though I have to say this was the last weekend at Wisley, so perhaps most of the butterflies had already died off…)

Butterflies eating bananas | Wolves in LondonAhhh, days like these are just good for the soul. Roll on more Spring weather, please, life feels so jolly at this time of year.

The garden of my dreams

The sprogs have both been ill, with various bits and pieces, these past few weeks, which means that my days have disappeared in a blur of antibiotics administering, snotty nose wiping, eyedrop dispensing, multiple night-time wakings soothing and generally feeling pretty knackered myself.

There’s not been much time for blogging. Or thinking. Or brushing my hair.

French country cottage gardenAlso taking up a fair bit more time than I anticipated is my garden design course. Yup, that same garden design course I was so excited about starting and which is now feeling a little bit more like a chore in my life because of the mountains upon mountains of homework that come with it. Still, I am learning lots of nice and interesting new things, so I’m not complaining too much. Even if I am suddenly plummeted back into my English Lit student days where you always, but always had an essay due in in a week’s time and consequently any other event that was going on* had a shadow hanging over it whispering to you: “You really should be writing that essay you know…”

So when I stumbled across photos of a beautiful garden when doing some research for my course, I was immediately tempted to go and visit it and have a nice day off.

Garden des JoetsThen I realised that it was in France. Hey! Even better!

A quick Google later and I’ve discovered you can get the ferry to Dunkirk and then drive for 30 minutes and be in Eecke, the home of Le jardin des Joets. Ferry timetables are being consulted, cars are being booked, the surrounding neighbourhoods examined for friendly looking B&Bs.

Meanwhile, I just had to share some of these photos with you as they are, in essence, my absolute dream garden. In these still rather cold and dreary early March days, I find it deeply cheering to look at a garden in full bloom and dream of the drowsy bee-filled summer months.

Summer flowersAll photos from a rather brilliant French website, Le jardin de Sophie. Do head over and take a look, there are lots more wonderful pictures to tempt you to book your place on a ferry too: Le jardin des joets.

*Events going on in my student days could probably be summarised with: making supper, smoking a cigarette, going out in Bristol and getting steamingly drunk.

The torture of Sisyphus…

Cleaning brush

I’ve been in a bit of a blogging slump recently.

I won’t bore you with the overall existential ponderings. (Brief summary: but what is my blog for? *Scratches head, spends months trying to come up with the answer*) Coupled with that has just been a basic lack of things to write about.

When I started out, I mostly wrote about craft. Various lovely (or not so lovely) things I had made. But I’m not making anything these days. A cardigan for the sproglet has been sitting on my knitting needles for five months now and nothing else even attempted.

Sometimes, I used to tell you about nice places I’d been. These days, it’s mostly a blur of toddler dance classes, singing classes, the nursery run, lunches round at friends’ houses while our kids play together (I am sorry, but I just cannot use that vile term “playdates”) – all a pleasant enough way to spend time, for sure, but not offering wildly fascinating stories that I can retell to avid readers.

Weekends are mostly taken up with the endless chore of painting the damn house. Or thinking about painting the damn house. Or not painting the damn house and then regretting it.

And, of course, there are lots of bloggers who keep up regular lovely, inspirational posts, showing you nothing more than the insides of their house. Their beautifully styled, gloriously white houses with eclectic collections of carefully sourced nicknacks and curios. My house, however, spends most of its days looking like a cesspit. Or at least the place where a charity shop vomited up its insides and nobody’s yet had time to sort through everything and price it all up…

Housework, ah housework. Before I had two children, I had expected – of course – that more of my time might be taken up looking after the kids. (I didn’t realise that somehow this time would not double but possibly quadruple…) But I didn’t anticipate that the time needed to do the housework would also exponentially increase.

It’s, quite literally, a full time job attempting to wash everyone’s clothes, stack and unstack the dishwasher, cook everyone’s meals (that are left mostly untouched or thrown to the floor), sweep the floor, think that I really should get around to mopping the floor one day soon, get two children washed in the evening and napping at the right times throughout the day.

And not a full time job at which I am doing well, either. A full time job at which – were I to have the corporate time waster that is a quarterly review – I would be found “failing to meet expectations” and put on a three month probation period, almost certainly fired at the end of it due to lack of improvements.

(I should say, I do (almost definitely always) get the kids fed and washed. Don’t worry about that. In clean clothes every day? Hmmm, not so much. Frequent is the Friday where I fish out some dirty clothes from the washing pile and use a wet wipe to clean off the worst of the stains before dropping the sproglet in to nursery – wondering if I am secretly being judged for consistently bringing my child in in unwashed clothes…)

How does everyone else manage it, I wonder?! Of course I know that behind the blogging / instagram photos of immaculate mantelpieces are almost certainly messy sitting rooms, but still, still, congratualtions to all those who find time to not only beautifully style but also photograph their mantelpieces!

Anyway, I may no longer be bringing you craft projects, reviews of fun places to visit in London, or even a decent photo of any old thing these days, but I did stumble across this fabulous quote a little while ago, which perfectly sums up how I feel about all this. And this, my friends, is definitely worth writing a blog post just to share.

Simone de Beauvoir on cleaning:

“Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day.”

Now, please, tell me I’m not alone!

PS, scrubbing brush image above from the Graphics Fairy. I’m not kidding you, I literally can’t find the time to go and snap a photo for this post…

…Postscript

Water droplets on the window
Water droplets on the window

Did you spot the foolish assertions in my last post?

Let’s revisit for a second. I’d been ill for three days, then working late on my gardening assignment for three days and then, then, I decided it was the perfect time to spend a weekend painting the house.

Was that a good idea? No. It was a ridiculously bad idea and, guess what, I’m back in bed again today with the dreaded mastitis once again.

It’s a most gigantic pain in the arse (or, more accurately, a gigantic pain in the boob) and my levels of patience with being a patient, already low after three days cooped up, are dwindling even further.

The good news? No vomiting this time, hurrah, and the very wonderful SELDOC (South East London’s out of hours doctor service) prescribed me some new antibiotics at 8pm last night and let us send a taxi over to collect them.

So, once again, here I am, looking at the white walls of the spare room, agitating about everything I should be up and doing, but instead lying on a hot water bottle (which I have just discovered has been leaking actually, arggghhh) to try and ease the aching bone pain in my back.

I’ve got to say, in my experience of not-especially-serious illnesses, mastitis is a pretty grim one. The pain isn’t too bad as that can be relieved by a constant supply of paracetamol and ibuprofen, but the fevers, the chills, the night sweats, the nausea, the dizziness and the bone aches are a truly horrible combination.

Anyway, on days like today I am hugely thankful for my Kindle (I’m re-reading The Secret Garden which is rather wonderful and wholesome and, of course, all about gardening, whoop whoop), my trusty laptop (on which I am writing now and on which I have been having a good old catch up of all sorts of fabulous blog posts) and my iPhone for perusing hundreds of lovely photos on instagram from people who are not lying in bed, but out and about doing wonderfully photogenic things.

And who knows, with an unexpected extra day in bed, I might actually get round to finishing some of the millions of half-written blog posts that have been sitting in draft since the start of the year.

In all things a silver lining, eh?