Peak bloom at Thames Barrier Park

Thames Barrier Park, LondonThames Barrier Park is one of those slightly random places in London that I tend to read about and never visit.

Built in 2001, next to, you guessed it, the Thames Barrier, it’s a really cutting edge bit of garden design and I’ve seen photos of it in magazines, online, and, frequently, in lectures at my garden design course.

Thames barriers

And yet, it always seemed so far away and hard to reach that I’d never had quite enough impetus to go and visit. And that’s coming from someone who already lives in London.

But at the end of July, we had a scheduled visit on my course, so I hit the jubilee line and then the DLR and set off for Pontoon Dock, the station beside the park. (Side note: Pontoon Dock! What a fabulous name!)

My reservations about travelling so far must be shared by others. It was a gloriously sunny day, but the park was all but deserted, apart from my gaggle of eager garden designers to be.

The park is surrounded by a huge amount of new buildings and new building work, bordered at one edge by the river and the barriers, and at the other by the DLR line, and directly under the flight path of City Airport, with planes taking off and landing every few minutes. Yet, despite the noise and the bustle, it’s a surprisingly relaxing place to be.

Thames Barrier Park

At the centre of the design is the sunken garden: the one you’ll probably already recognise from photos. Clipped hedges of yew are shaped into huge rows of undulating waves, the long lines leading your eye all the way down the barriers. Interspersed with the green yew is a range of colourful perennials and grasses which, when we visited, were at peak bloom.

Rolling waves of yew hedging
Thames Barrier Park in July

Thames Barrier ParkIt’s an impressive and innovative spectacle, no doubt, but maintenance issues were apparent when we visited (and, I think, all the time) as the clipped forms need constant care and were growing straggly in places and had even died off completely in others.

You can walk down into the garden and wander along the lines of plants, but it’s really designed to be viewed from one of the bridges that cross over its width.

That instagram fave, the hydrangea, was in full flower when we visited

Around the main area, is a swathe of wildflower meadows, interspersed with a grid of birch trees and, I have to confess, I found this a more enjoyable place to sit and spend time. The semi-natural environment provided more of a relief from all the construction and hard lines around, and it was lovely to watch the grasses waft in the wind and the bees landing on the flowers.

wild flower meadow wild flowers

I would say it’s well worth a visit if you’re already in the area, but that begs the question who would be in the area and why? I wondered exactly why such a contemporary garden had been built here and whether the original intention was to draw people to this rather neglected part of the docklands simply to come and see it? If so, I’m not sure it’s been successful, but I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve visited…

I am delighted to say I am joining in with Annie Spratt’s wonderful How does your garden grow once again. Annie’s has long been one of my fave blogs to visit and I was really sad when Annie announced her decision to stop blogging recently, and over the moon when she decided to resurrect HDYGG again. Do go over and visit everyone else’s posts, there’s always some great inspiration to be found…








Five on Friday

  1. The London EyeIn the London EyeView from the London EyeBig BenLondon skylineTo the Thames, on Wednesday, for the sproglet’s fourth birthday. His favourite thing ever in London is the “big wheel” (aka the London Eye) – he is seriously excited whenever we spot it from the window of a train, or see it in a photo. So, as a birthday treat, we took him on a circuit, preceded by a river boat trip along the Thames. It was raining and grey and I got terrible boat sickness (must be a pregnancy thing, as I’ve never suffered before), and couldn’t talk or move for an hour after the boat trip. But all that aside, a fun day in the centre of town!
  2. His birthday present from us was a scooter. I know, I know, seriously late to the game, most kids are on them from birth these days, but I’ve been wary of them since a friend’s son broke his thigh bone falling off one when he was three, years ago. He was in a full leg cast for a month and couldn’t move from the sofa. It was a stationary fall. But I’ve finally given in to pressure, along with the realisation that in a few months I will be carting three children up and down the roads on the school / nursery run, and it would be handy if one of them at least could get along under their own steam power without constant whining about being tired or the need to hold my hand. So far, it’s been a great success; he scooted off to nursery with glee the past few days.
  3. Said scooter is red. Another slight bone of contention. For me, anyway. The sprog requested a pink one because, well, pink is his favourite colour and his best friend’s scooter is pink. (She’s a girl.) For the past four years, I’ve been railing against the ridiculous gender stereotyping of pink vs blue. If I ever encounter some item which for absurd reasons you can only buy in pink or blue (from fuzzy memory, I have been in shops where you could only buy sippy cups, bath mats or cutlery in those two colours) then I always buy pink for the boys because I think the whole thing is so insane. And yet. And yet. With the sprog starting school in September (and already very young in his year, quite shy and very small for his age) I had all these horrid thoughts of him getting teased by much bigger boys for turning up on a girl’s scooter. So we bought him a red one, which went down fine, but I was very aware that all my ideals had been completely compromised in the face of some imaginary bullying from a five year old. Is this how it goes from now on? Ideals are all good and worthy, until you worry they might stop your children making friends?!
  4. His party, joint with a friend from nursery, is on Sunday. It’s going to have a bug theme. I have purchased a gazillion wind up bugs and finger puppet mini beasts to hide around the park and we’re sending them on a bug hunt, with mini magnifying glasses. There will be up to 20 children aged four and under. I am feeling slightly apprehensive about the whole thing. But, actually, there is little time for apprehension tomorrow, as my to do list is as long as your arm, starting with making a bug birthday cake. Maybe next year, we’ll do a quiet day trip with one friend…
  5. In non-sproglet related news, we are on tenterhooks today, waiting to hear back if our proposed new house has been signed off by the mortgage company. If you can’t remember all the convoluted details; in short, our mortgage was turned down last month because they said the house had serious subsidence, though the structural engineer told us he thought it was perfectly mortgageable. It was the day after Brexit, so we wonder if uncertainty about the future led to a clamp down on lending. We’ve now applied for a mortgage through a new company and yesterday was the survey valuation. We wait to hear their thoughts on the (only slightly falling down) house we’ve fallen in love with…

So, that’s my week! Hope you’ve had nice ones. Joining in with Amy and Five on Friday.




East Dulwich in bloom

Last Friday, I took a walk through my local streets, camera in hand, to photograph some nice examples of hard landscaping for my recent garden design assignment.

Does that sound interesting? It wasn’t hugely. I soon found myself photographing roses instead.

Pink rose | Wolves in London

White rose | Wolves in London

Rose bud | Wolves in LondonOver almost every front wall, it seemed, profusions of roses were blooming. Every colour, scent and type imaginable was adorning the streets of East Dulwich.

These are some of the finest…

pink frilly rose white dog rose dog rose

And if you ask really nicely, I might share my hard landscaping photos with you at some point in the future, but in the meantime, here is a photo of a nice bit of sandstone paving, plus cat…


Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy: possibly one of the best things I’ve ever seen in a gallery

Ai Weiwei at the RAOne of these days, I’ll become one of those organised and useful bloggers. The kind who share Christmas tutorials in November, so you’ve plenty of time to make the craft before the big day. The kind who don’t have photographs sitting on their hard drives for months on end before writing the accompanying blog post. The kind who go to amazing, inspiring art exhibitions on their opening weekend and tell you about them when there’s still months left to book a ticket.

But, erm, I’m not yet that kind of blogger, I’m afraid, and so it is I am posting about the utterly amazing and unmissable Ai Weiwei exhibition a mere few days before it closes (at the end of this weekend, Sunday December 13th).

On the other hand, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you about it in the first place, since it seems to have been the big ticket show of the year; the one that’s been thronging with people since it opened.

I visited last week, on a wonderfully sunny, though bitterly cold day.

I usually find that the higher my expectations of something, the more likely I will walk away disappointed, but, despite my already high expectations, I was absolutely blown away by the show.

The art was beautiful, which is a brilliant start. So much of it tactile, made of wood or marble; natural visceral elements. The construction was also awe-inspiring. Ai Weiwei works not only with materials that have a long history in China, but also with craftsmen who use traditions that date back centuries.

Stools at Ai Weiwei Stools at Ai Weiwei

Inspecting one of my favourite pieces, the circle made of three-legged stools, which on first sight I thought were probably glued together, I realised that a leg of each stool became a leg of its neighbour as well. The entire piece, in fact, carefully joined into one.

Fragments by Ai Weiwei at the RA, LondonFragments by Ai Weiwei at the RA, London Fragments by Ai Weiwei at the RA, London

Or the huge sculpture, Fragments, made from salvaged beams from demolished Qing dynasty temples: the sculpture takes up the whole room and you can wander through its arches. Apparently random as you see it from the room but from above, it makes up a map of China, though – of course – you can’t see that viewpoint in the gallery.

Bicycle chandelier by Ai Weiwei at the RA, London

Also breathtaking, the final piece is a huge chandelier, made from crystals and bicycles. The crystal (and chandeliers) used by the wealthy. The bicycle, of course, the chosen method of transport for many in China’s vast cities.

What I hadn’t necessarily been expecting (partly because I hadn’t read up on it in advance of visiting…) was to be so moved by the politics of the work.

I knew, of course, that Ai Weiwei is a political dissident, detained frequently in his own country and not allowed to enter the UK to curate the show. But I knew little about the specifics behind those stories.

Straight by Ai Weiwei at the RA, London

Straight by Ai Weiwei at the RA, London Straight by Ai Weiwei at the RA, London

My favourite room was the one housing Straight, a sinuous giant sculpture made of straight rods, laid out in lines, the end of the rods creating a curving shape that moved throughout it.

The accompanying videos told the story behind the piece. Earthquakes in Sichuan province in 2008 brought down many buildings, but it was the schools that were the worst affected. As government-built properties, they had suffered from shoddy building work, lack of foundations and poor building materials (bribes and corruption said to be to blame). Thousands of children died, but the government refused to release a full list of names.

In all of the buildings, mangled rods, supposed to protect the integrity of the buildings, were left sticking out.

Ai Weiwei gathered and bought the rods as scrap, and his team painstakingly straightened every single one, so that they looked as they would have done before being used. They are arranged on the floor of the room with a full list of the names of everyone who had died written on the walls.

Powerful stuff.

More info

  • The show is open until the end of the weekend and — due to the overwhelming numbers of people wanting to visit — the gallery is open 24 hours a day for Saturday and Sunday. So, if you still want to visit and you’re close to London, then get over to the RA! More info on their website here: Ai Weiwei exhibition.
  • They also have a fascinating round up of 13 of Ai Weiwei’s most important works.

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.