Awesome finds at Renegade Craft Fair

Vases by Justine Free

The trouble with attending craft fairs, I find, is you go with every intention to buy hundreds of presents for other people but as soon as you get there you want all the things for yourself.

Just me? Ah.

I don’t go to nearly as many as I used to, due to a combo of having to drag little sproglets with me these days and a far higher density of that sort of event in Hackney where I used to live, compared to here in East Dulwich.

So Saturday’s trip to the Renegade Craft Fair in the Old Truman Brewery was a special effort but oh-so worth it.

I thought I’d share a few of my favourite finds with you in case you’re on the hunt for presents for yourself early Christmas presents too.

(By the way, excuse the slightly crappy pictures — I took most of them on my phone with no decent light.)

Justine Free ceramics

Firstly, my hands down favourite in the room, were these amazing ceramics by Justine Free. I persuaded the hubby to buy me these three single stem vases for Christmas. After photographing them to show you, I’ve had to wrap them back in the bubble wrap and put them away again til December. Still, something very much to look forward to then!

They’re unbelievably tactile, just begging to be picked up. I’m not sure if I will be able to put flowers in them for that reason, or just have them empty on an accessible shelf somewhere in a nice cluster.

Website:; instagram: @justinefree

Animal alphabet

Animal counting by Katie Viggers

B for bears by Katie ViggersWe got these two illustrated animal alphabet / counting books by Katie Viggers. The intention is to give them as a present to someone else’s children… …but I suspect they might just stay with our kids, they’re so blooming lovely.

If you like them, they’re also available as prints and cards. Gorgeous.

Website:; instagram: eightbear

Here be monsters

And I couldn’t resist this “Here be monsters” tea towel by Woah there Pickle. At £9.50, I have to confess I don’t think I could ever skank it up by doing the dishes, so instead I plan to frame it for the kids bedroom.

Website:; instagram: @woah_there_pickle

Grain and Knot chopping board

Grain and Knot chopping board

I’ve spent the best part of the last few years yearning to head off to the hills and whittle spoons, so I couldn’t pass up on the stall of Sophie Sellu, Grain & Knot, which was stuffed full with spoons and other wooden delights. I bought my sister this beautiful beech chopping board for her birthday.

Just getting the website details now, I’ve seen she also runs workshops in London. I shall be off to learn a new skill pronto!

Website: Grain & Knot; instagram: @grainandknot

London print

I also bought my sister’s birthday card, this stunningly intricate print by The City Works. We’d run out of money by the time we reached his stall, so I could only afford a couple of cards, but I’ve since bought the brilliant colouring-in poster for the sproglet online.

Website:; instagram: @thecityworks

Monti by Monti stall at Renegade Craft Fair

Monti by Monti also blew me away – geometric shaped plant stands in simple glass and black frames, that you can hang directly onto the wall. I picked up a few air plants at the RHS Frost Fair the weekend before and I now have the distinct feeling that they absolutely must live inside one of these very, very soon.

Instagram: @montibymonti

Verdantica collage

For a while, a year or so ago, I decided that I wanted to photograph every tutorial for this blog with a tiny person in each photo. Assisting, if you will. (I never saw through on it, because I tend to only actually execute about one in every 500 ideas I have…)

So, I fell head over heels in love with Verdantica’s stall; a selection of little people in scenes inside salt and pepper shakers, compact mirrors or jars. My photos above aren’t very good, but this was seriously one of the very best things I’ve seen in ages, do go to the website to see some much better photos and get an idea of just how awesome they were.

Website:; instagram: @verdantica

Business cards from Renegade Craft Fair

Then there were other stalls that I loved but didn’t photograph and had run out of money to buy anything from, so just had to satisfy myself by taking their business cards. Here are a few more places to visit, if you’re inclined:

Geo-fleur have a range of amazing succulents, cacti and air plants, along with some lovely concrete pots and macramé plant hangers. (I have to confess, I’m not buying into the macramé trend because I am just (just!) old enough to remember it from the first time round…) The plants and pots, though, I love. There are also some Japanese hanging moss ball planters, called kokedama – a trend I am 100% into. I meant to pick something up from the stall (I had actually been insta-stalking them for a while before the fair) but the wallet was dry by the time I got there. I think I’ll have to go and visit their shop in Walthamstow sometime soon instead…

Website:; instagram: @geo_fleur

Cactus Club had a brilliant cactus print that I would have bought had I not been busy arguing its merits with the husband over a whale print that he preferred. In the end, we just had to wander off…

Website:; instagram: @cactusclubpaper

Sarah K. Benning does “contemporary embroidery” for which read the BEST ever embroidered samplers of plants. (See the top right card in the photo above.) I would have insisted on buying one of these, but I had a feeling my husband was remembering the name for another time and I might be surprised with one in future…

Instagram: @sarahkbenning

Hazel Adams business card

I really loved the insect illustrations by Hazel Adams. The hubby’s birthday is in a few weeks and he is a serious insectophile, so I think I might have to buy him one.


Finally, Pygmy Cloud had some utterly irresistible bear and mountain cushions, as well as lots of beautiful wooden cloud shapes. I think the sproglets will probably be finding one of the bears in their stocking each. Father Christmas has excellent taste, doesn’t he?

Online shop:; instagram: @pygmycloud

So, yes, ha! If you’ve got similar tastes to me then I apologise (somewhat) for this deluge of amazingness tugging at your wallet strings. Roll on December, so I can start spending without guilt!

Poems for boys

Something I particularly love about having boys is their unswerving fascination with natural history, aka bugs, snails, slugs, caterpillars, moths, butterflies, flies, bees, wasps and whatever other hapless creature might crawl, slither or fly in their direction.

Hours are spent out in the garden, closely examining what can be found by dislodging large stones or pouring water abundantly on the flower beds so that the creatures are fooled into thinking it’s raining.

Fascinations and fears seem to be somewhat arbitrary, the eldest convinced that he will be stung by a butterfly at any time (but keen to poke a bee whenever he sees one), the youngest particularly fond of following spiders around for hours, but showing marginal interest at the sighting of a ladybird.

The obsession continues for any bug-related activity too (actually, any animal-related activity is pretty popular): colouring-in books, stickers, stories and so on.

I was particularly delighted, therefore, to find a small poetry pamphlet in my local bookshop* all about minibeasts, titled, rather delightfully, Five Creepy Crawly Poems (contains slugs).

Five Creepy Crawly Poems

The sproglet loves to have them read aloud before bedtime and the first poem in the book, especially, is so pleasing to me I couldn’t resist sharing it with you here, in case anyone else has boys (or girls) who would appreciate listening to such things.

Buried Treasure

I went into the garden.
I dug down in the ground
To look for buried treasure
And this is what I found:

Crawly things
Creepy things
Things with shiny tails
Snails snails snails
Creepy things
Crawly things
Little beady bugs
Slugs slugs slugs.

Richard Edwards


Isn’t it fabulous?

Anyway, I hope I’m not breaking hundreds of copyright laws by writing it up here. If I am, let me know and I’ll take it down again…

The pamphlet is published by Candlestick Press and they have a great selection of other subjects too (the idea is, you send a pamphlet of poetry instead of a card, which I really kind of love…) You can buy them online here: if you’re not lucky enough to have an awesome independent bookshop stocking them in your area.

And if you know any other great poems for boys, please let me know in the comments. We’re having a bit of a poetry moment round here.

*  I’ve mentioned my local bookshop before, I know, but it’s worth a second recommendation in case you’re ever in the neighbourhood. It’s Rye Books (, in East Dulwich, down on Upland Road. It’s an independent, and is packed full with the most appealing books you’ve ever seen. Oh and you can get tea and cake as well, or leave your kids outside having a ride on a space rocket.

Notes from a summer: Regent’s Park sunshine

Echinacea in Regents ParkHellebore leavesRegents Park sausage borderA few Fridays ago, I had the most blissfully relaxing day I have had for some time. Possibly for three years, in fact.

The thing about living with small kids, I find, is that no matter how many wonderful, cute, endearing individual moments there are, day-to-day life can feel a lot like a repetitive slog.

Well, I speak only for my own small kids, of course, who both still need post-lunch naps to avoid serious meltdowns, and who will both only contemplate taking post-lunch naps in their own beds, which ties us close to the house at all times, and mostly on a merry-go-round of park visits / singing classes / soft play excursions, all accompanied with a never-ending soundtrack of “why haven’t you put your shoes on yet to go out when I’ve asked you ten times?” or “can you please eat something from your lunch plate that’s not just grated cheese” and “why are you throwing that bouncy ball at your brother / the priceless Ming vase / my head”…

Chocolate cosmosSedumAnyway, a rather exciting development at the end of August was that both boys started to go to nursery two days a week. Leaving me with one day a week to attend my garden design course and one day to… …do whatever I like!

This particularly blissful Friday a few weeks ago, was the very first of my child-free days. I left the boys together at nursery, sitting next to each other at the breakfast table, eating rice crispies and looking very happy and not at all sad to see me leave, which was completely wonderful.

Then I had to pop to Regent’s Park to take some photographs of one of the flower beds there for a garden design assignment.

Regents Park in the sunSunflowers in Regents ParkSedum flowers at Regents ParkAfter which, I went and had lunch with the hubby at a French wine bar in Farringdon. I had pâté and cured ham and drank a kir. Oh my days, I tell you, I felt so carefree and relaxed!

The sun was shining, I travelled the tube unencumbered by prams and without any deadlines to arrive anywhere, I had an actual conversation with my husband without being either completely shattered or interrupted. Well, all in all, it was a pretty heavenly day. And it made me realise that having a few more days like that would no doubt do me (and the rest of the family) the world of good.

All pictures here, by the way, are from Regent’s Park on that day. One of our assignments for my garden design course is to photograph the same flower bed each month of the year to see how it changes. The bed I chose is known as the “sausage border” because, erm, it’s sausage-shaped. It has some really lovely herbaceous plants in there and at the height of summer is an exuberant riot of abundance. If you’re ever close to the park, head over to the Mediterranean garden, just past the rose garden, and you can find the sausage bed a little further north from there, just next to a small pond. It’s a great space to sit and think on a sunny day…

So here’s to days for relaxing, days to yourself and days of sunshine. May we all have at least one of these this month.

Notes from a summer: London Wetland Centre

London Wetland CentreAhoy there! Hello! How are you? It’s been ages, I know. I fell off grid a bit, this August. Technology (such as this dear old laptop on which I write all my blog posts) becoming substantially less appealing than lying outside in the sun on a picnic blanket.

Anyway, such times have come to an end, it seems, with this utterly relentless and miserable rain of the last week, so I’ve finally remembered how to open up Word and plug my camera into the computer to take a look at some pictures I’ve taken over the past few months.

It’s been something of a pottering sort of summer. No big holidays, but the odd weekend away. Few exciting day trips, but lots of time poking around in our garden pond, or building soil castles in the flower beds, or mooching along to the local park.

Still, I have a couple of little gems of visits to share with you so, for the next couple of days, a few notes from summer 2015.

First up, the utterly wonderful London Wetlands Centre. We visited a fortnight ago, when the summer flowers were just reaching their end, and the first hints of autumn were coming in.

Summer planting at London Wetland Centre
Kniphofia, grasses and asters looking abundant
Wood sculpture at London Wetland Centre
I loved this wood sculpture
London Wetland Centre
I shared this pic on instagram, having been astounded at my wondrous photography prowess. Very few people liked it, ha ha. Just goes to show, you never can tell with instagram,

It’s a great spot for kids: acres and acres of lakes, surrounded by long winding paths, perfect for running down and exploring.

(Side note: last time we visited the littlest was still pram-bound only, and I found that a more peaceful experience than our most recent visit when he was off toddling away and I had to keep a close eye to ensure he wasn’t about to leap off into a huge body of water. So if your child is toddling age, perhaps wait six months or so until they really understand why it’s best not to run headfirst at a lake…)

Of course, there’s lots of wildlife to see, of the ducks, birds and otters variety, but I am always especially taken by the glorious plants. It’s naturalistic planting at its best, in my opinion, everything appearing to be growing just where it wants to but – I am sure – in fact carefully planned and designed.

London Wetland Centre
Paths for wandering
London Wetland Centre
All the reflections made me think a lot about what plants are best to sit next to water. There is something lovely about seeing the flickering mirror image upside down of a beautiful plant.

A high point of this trip was discovering three sleepy ducks sitting on a wooden bridge. As we approached, they opened their eyes to take a look at us, but made no attempt to actually move, so I got the chance to photograph them for some time, while the sprogs stared and asked various questions about their feathers, their legs and why they had chosen to go to sleep on a bridge.

Ducks at London Wetland Centre
Duck feathers
Those amazing feathers!

And aren’t these just the sorts of conversations you want to be having on a day out?

Practical info:

  • The Wetland Centre is in Barnes and is run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT).
  • Entrance is £12.75 for an adult or £7 for a child. Various family, concession and membership options also available. I’ve just seen, while checking prices to write this, that you can save 10% by booking online. Doh, if only I realised that before we went.
  • Their website is here: London Wetland Centre
  • There’s a cafe (essential in my eyes) and various activities for children too.

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.

Trips to the Horniman museum

At last! Another post in my Making the most of London series. A mere year since the last one, ha ha…

Horniman museum | Wolves in London
The stunning conservatory at the Horniman museum. I want to live here

Overstuffed walruses, giant totem poles, kitchen gardens growing lentils; what’s not to love about the Horniman museum?

It’s one of those collections of eclectic eccentricity that the British seem to do so well.

Luckily for us, it’s a mere 15-minute walk from where we live (albeit up an extremely steep hill) so we visit almost every week. But weekly visits are almost a necessity to even start to explore just a little bit of the amazingly diverse activities and sights here: almost all of them ideal for children.

Bandstand Horniman museum | Wolves in London
A view out across the grounds by the bandstand. Look closely and you can see the London skyline in the distance…

The museum was founded by Frederick John Horniman, a Victorian tea trader, philanthropist and collector in 1890 to showcase the bits and pieces he’d picked up on his travels around the world. [Side note, if only current job descriptions were as exciting as “tea trader, philanthropist and collector” — I’d be updating the CV as we speak…]

Added to slowly in the centuries that have followed, the museum is a brilliant juxtaposition of the old anthropological exhibitions that you expect from a natural history museum and crazy architectural features like a totem pole, with modern additions such as the beautiful green-roofed library and aquarium in the basement.

Horniman museum totem pole | Wolves in London
Just your average view in South East London

Being something of a fishy family (in the nicest possible way), the aquarium tends to be our first spot to visit, where the sproglet races round pointing out all the fish excitedly to anyone listening and the baby and I tend to spend a little more time staring into the tranquility of the jellyfish tank. So peaceful and beautiful, I’d really love one in my own house.

I try not to bore on too much about the differences between a pipe fish and a seahorse to the sproglet, so once we’ve completed the loop a few times, we head upstairs to the natural history museums.

Here, two floors of glass cases are filled with stuffed animals, where the most famous exhibit is the fat walrus – bought by Horniman for the opening of his museum and originally from Canada. He’s a little chubbier than he should be as the taxidermist who stuffed him who had never before seen a photo of an actual walrus so had no idea they had folds in their skin.

If fish and stuffed animals aren’t your thing though, there’s plenty more to see.

The music room showcases practically every musical instrument you could ever imagine. Though safely behind glass, two tables in the room allow you to select photos of the instruments and listen to what they sound like. An adjacent room has a hands on area where you can play a selection of random instruments (most often populated by dads with their children, I’ve noticed, “just showing them” how to play the instrument correctly)… Outside, by the bandstand, every day objects have been turned into giant instruments – plastic pipes become a huge organ, and metal ones a giant xylophone. The sprog absolutely adores this area.

Outdoor music at the Horniman museum | Wolves in London
He’s a musical genius, I suspect…

The bandstand itself is the setting for weekly story readings as well as a series of concerts over the summer.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the animal walk – a (really pretty tiny) walkway where you can admire chickens, goats, sheep, rabbits and… …two alpacas. Alpacas being pretty much one of my favourite animals in the world right now, I often lose myself, leaning on a gate, dreaming of owning an alpaca farm in the country and making my fortune selling beautiful alpaca yarn. Right until the sprog starts tugging at my sleeve and demanding, “Wot Mummy doin’?”

Horniman museum gardens | Wolves in London
The dye garden: full of wonderfully bright coloured flowers

There’s also a kitchen garden, ten acres of grounds to explore, and the most stunning glass conservatory, in which occasional exhibitions are shown and which is available to rent for events like weddings (we did consider it for ours…)

Conservatory at Horniman museum | Wolves in London
Just one more of the amazing conservatory

The summer events programme is particularly impressive, I think. With an Edwardian theme (to match the newly renovated Edwardian bandstand), they’ve really gone to town on creating events to cater to all whims. Open air cinema, Edwardian “lates” with tea dances and live music (sooooo up my street!) and activities for kids on every day of the week, such as storytelling, art and minibeasts tours of the grounds. I genuinely think this must be one of the most “interactive” museums in the whole of London.

So, if you like a bit of weirdness in your kulcher, definitely somewhere to add to the “to visit” list. It’s in Forest Hill, so fairly easy to get to on the Overground or train line. Just be warned that the hill to get there is pretty steep…

Related articles:

  • Check out all the events, activities and exhibitions on the Horniman museum website. (NB, despite the gushing, I’m not in any way in cahoots with the Horniman on this post; just a genuine fan!)
  • For more Sabrina-reviewed places to visit in London, check out my series Making the most of London


5 ideas from Hampton Court flower show

Last Wednesday I spent a gorgeous sunny day wandering round Hampton Court flower show.

Forgotten Folly summer garden at Hampton Court show | Wolves in London
The Forgotten folly summer garden. One of my favourites from the show

It was an English summer personified: the drowsy song of bees in the air, the sun beating down with occasional white clouds drifting across the blue skies, endless (endless!) stalls selling Pimms and rather a lot of people dressed in striped blazers and Panama hats.

I managed to spot a glimpse of Carol Klein, Joe Swift and Mary Berry, which added to the excitement of course, but I also got lots of inspiration from the gardens and stalls around the show.

I am planning to redesign and replant my own little patch of green this autumn and I came away with lots of ideas I’d love to translate back to my own space.

Here are five pieces of inspiration I took away from the show, in the hope they might also inspire you!

1. Use native planting to attract insects

Macmillan legacy garden and Hampton Court show | Wolves in London
Wonderful naturalistic planting of native flowers

As far as I’m concerned, this is preaching to the converted. Who wouldn’t want lots of colourful butterflies and buzzing bees in their garden, helping pollinate all the fruit and veg?

Lots and lots of gardens featured naturalistic planting and wildflowers, but the Macmillan legacy garden, above and below, was definitely my favourite.

Macmillan legacy garden at Hampton Court show | Wolves in London
I’m pretty sure I need a rusty metal cow in my garden too…

The plants chosen were all native to Somerset (where Douglas Macmillan grew up) and included verbena, alchemilla, ammi majus, anemones, campanula, grasses, foxgloves, geraniums, hostas, sedum and thyme. In short, loads of my very favourite plants!

2. You can still pack a punch with small borders

It’s easy to walk around a show like Hampton Court and think, “sure, this all looks lovely, but I just don’t have space in my own garden to do anything like this…”

Al Fresco summer garden | Wolves in London
Small bed + loads of plants = lovely

The Al Fresco summer garden, though, provided great inspiration for planting in small beds. The majority of the garden was hard landscaping, with a central dining table, covered by a pergola, and built in barbecue.

The area was surrounded by a number of raised beds, of fairly small dimensions, but full of gorgeous flowers, more than making their mark despite the small space they were confined in. Definitely one to provide encouragement to all those who, like me, only have a small space for planting…

3. Use your garden for what you love

Before I started my horticulture and design course last year, I had rather set ideas about what a garden should be.

Surely every garden needed a lawn, a patio, some borders and so on?

Of course, this is complete nonsense. Your garden should contain only the elements you want and will use.

No interest in a lawn but lots of time entertaining outside? Don’t bother including one, just create an amazing dining space like the Al Fresco garden above.

Allitex greenhouse at Hampton Court show | Wolves in London
Sigh, dribble, drool. How I want one of these beauties in my garden

Obsessed with growing tender plants? Forget everything else and just have a greenhouse then! This one from Allitex is surely the greenhouse dream and I loved the way it had been surrounded by flower beds.

Not a show garden, of course, just a display by the company, but I lusted after it nonetheless.

(Perhaps one day I will be able to afford one to replace the beast…)

4. Simplicity is key

I am something of a magpie when it comes to my garden. I want to include every single lovely plant I have ever seen somewhere within its four fences…

Allium stall at Hampton Court show | Wolves in London
Stunning. Just stunning. Love me an allium

But this display on an allium nursery’s stand reminded me of the importance of paring it back with plant choices and with colours. Less range of plants, but growing in profusion, is definitely more in design terms…

Sure, I don’t want to restrict myself to just alliums in my garden, but this was a great reminder of just how striking simplicity can be.

5. Plant up in everything you can…

…but don’t forget a cohesive style

Zinc planters at Hampton Court | Wolves in London
These amazing buckets only cost £25. But I couldn’t carry one home, with the baby in a sling, and the guy said he only sold at shows. Sob, sob. Next year…

I adored this stall which sold lots of zinc planters and buckets and milk urns and a million other wonderful things.

My garden currently has everything planted in the beds, with a few scattered pots here and there.

But planting up all sorts of unusual objects can have a wonderful effect. These zinc buckets, for example, would look fabulous planted as a herb garden.

Remember to match the planters to the style of your garden, however, to ensure you achieve cohesion of ideas. These would look great in a cottage style garden, as would terracotta pots.

A contemporary urban garden might suit aluminium or concrete pots better. Don’t be tempted to mix too many different materials together or the overall look can become a little bitty…

So, plenty of inspiration for me as I start to plan the next phase of my ever-evolving garden. And I’m booking myself a ticket to next year’s show as soon as I can!

Related articles:

  • You can see more photos of all the gardens over on the RHS website: RHS Hampton Court flower show
  • Of course, but of course, I have Pinterest boards for these sorts of things too. If you love a beautiful garden as much as I do, follow my Dream garden plans board for lots of stunning designs. And my board Plants, plants, plants started as a place to save plants we were learning about in my horticulture course and has evolved into a place to save details of every plant I come across that I love. You can see a preview of both below, just click on the photos to go to the full board…

Wonderful Wisley

Last Sunday, we strapped the sprogs into their car seats, cracked the windows open to let in some warm summer breezes and set off along the A3 heading for RHS Wisley.

Sun behind trees | Wolves in London
Trees, sunshine, what more could you want?

I wasn’t sure how enjoyable the rest of the Wolves in London clan were going to find the excursion; all of them so far too young /not-into-gardening to think that a thrilling day involves me wandering round examining flower beds and sharing fascinating snippets of information about Latin horticultural names or the biology of a plant’s roots. (More fool them…)

Tree trunk | Wolves in London
“Now gather round, family, and let me share some fascinating facts about this stately tree…”

Actually, I was delighted at how family friendly Wisley was. There were only a few areas where I had to try and explain “Keep off the grass” signs to the sproglet.  There was a soft play area and a children’s playground. But, it says a lot about how much fun we had everywhere else, that we didn’t have time to visit either of them.

An arts and crafts fair was taking place that weekend (I know, double heaven for me: gardening and crafts!)

Lots of stalls were set up around the grounds with makers selling their wares and offering lessons in everything from pot-throwing to brooch making.

Had I been alone, I would have definitely tried my hand at these plant prints. I only had a very quick look, but I think they must be made with inkodye, something I have been dying (geddit?!) to try out for a while now. The effect is really striking:

Blue ink flowers | Wolves in London
My guess is that these have been made by placing a leaf over some fabric covered in light sensitive dye

The sproglet was particularly impressed with a collection of wire sculptures of animals, like this hare:

Wire hare | Wolves in London
Pretty realistic, no?

And, naturally, I couldn’t resist getting a photo of this wolf sculpture. (A friendly wolf! I’ve written before about how they’re pretty hard to find…)

Wolf sculpture | Wolves in London
Awww, a soft cuddly wolf

There were also various performances going on during the day. This lady, in the glasshouses, was billed as an “aerial artiste”…

Aerial artiste | Wolves in London
Not a job for those with vertigo

But, most fun was had just wandering through the impressive grounds themselves, which are full of quirky architecture and sculptures.

RHS Wisley | Wolves in London
I loved these huge bulrush sculptures by the lakes

The sproglet dashed off in glee the minute he saw the pagoda:

Pagoda at Wisley | Wolves in London
You can’t beat a good pagoda…

But his attention was held for even longer by a rather impressive insect hotel.

(Side note: I think these look stunning, but any I have come across seem rather devoid of insects. Anyone have something similar in their own garden?)

Bug hotel at Wisley | Wolves in London
I have a sneaky suspicion a few bits of wood might have been removed at this point…

Rather intriguingly, my friend Annie (of Nimble Fingers and Steady Eyebrows) tweeted me just as I was leaving and said that there was a statue of her somewhere in the grounds. Sadly, I didn’t see it, but I did enjoy this couple sitting and soaking up the view:

Statue at Wisley | Wolves in London
“Weather’s nice today, dear…” “Yes, isn’t it, dear.”

And the glasshouses, of course, were mind-blowingly awesome:

Glasshouses at Wisley | Wolves in London
Now I only I could replace my old greenhouse with one of these!

We spent a lot of time wandering round inside and, of course, I took a few hundreds of photos of plants. This is the (highly) edited selection…

Pink flower | Wolves in LondonOrchid | Wolves in LondonLeaves | Wolves in LondonWhite orchid | Wolves in LondonYellow flower | Wolves in London

Rather foolishly, I was so busy being snap happy that I forgot to write down the names of any of these plants and I’m not really familiar with exotic flowers like this so I no longer have a clue what’s in the photos.

But no matter, for I’m saving the best til last. My very favourite part of the gardens was the more naturalist drift planting, just outside the back of the glasshouses. This is the look I aspire to in my own (much, much, much) smaller flower beds.

Drift planting at Wisley | Wolves in London
The sun was in when I took this photo, which is a bit of shame…
Red flower | Wolves in London
So cheery!
White flowers | Wolves in London
I think this was a type of Lavatera
Red flowers at Wisley | Wolves in London
Anyone know what this is? There were so many lovely red flowers here it *almost* persuaded me to plant some in my own garden…

And I was very excited to see lots and lots of Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus) growing out of walls and steps all over the place. I just bought some for my own garden and have planted the little plugs over the stone wall that divides one of my flower beds from the lawn. The first little daisy-like flower appeared yesterday, to my immense delight:

Erigeron karvinskianus | Wolves in London
One day I hope mine will look as prolific as this

Aaaaand, that’s the end! Lots of photos, but still only showing a mere fraction of what’s there. I shall be returning soon, no doubt.

I also purchased some rather glorious second hand gardening books, but this post is already heejusly long so I’ll show you them another time…

The hubby is off work for five weeks now between jobs, so we’ve got plenty of time for exploring. Anywhere else we should go?

{Joining in with Manneskjur and How does your garden grow? If only this were my garden!)