Posted In Garden Design, Gardening tips

That Old Bucolic Thing

It’s been a while. Annoying pains in my shoulder were put down to RSI through overuse of laptop at a strange angle, normally due to the fact that the signal at home is so appalling that I have to sit on the side of a sofa, directing myself and all technical equipment in whatever direction the wind is blowing from.

So ‘frivolous use of keyboards’ (ie fiddling about on Twitter) was banned by the medics, so I have been devoting all working hours to work and all those lovely clients who have entrusted me with their gardens.

At first, the stupidly weak internet connection was yet another reason to bang on about how frustrating I find rural life from time to time. Twelve years ago I sat with some girlfriends in some swish  regular London haunt, all of us dressed in our Joseph-Reiss combos – clearly the style forerunners of the Duchess of Cambridge. My announcement that I was moving to the country, to give my as-yet unmade children an Enid Blyton childhood, was met with screams of horror: “But darling, you’ll have to go to coffee mornings and take up gardening”. More screams.

And a dozen Springs later, here I am. One coffee morning was enough: the talk of pureed food and milestones was too much for me and I retreated into my home, took a look round, signed myself up on a course, got out of the home and proceeded to spend the next year in London doing something that was actually rather an appealing part of rural life: studying how to make sense of these great big spaces so many people here are surrounded by. And lo, the garden designer was born.

City clients always look at me as if I’m completely bonkers when I tell them how much I adore their 5-floored houses with one room at each level, and gardens the size of other people’s porches. I love it – the whole feel. I love the smell of pollution in the air and the kamikaze cyclists. I liked the fact that last time I was there, the people on the corner of the street threw their big 1980s telly out of the window just at the right time for me to see it happening but not to be flattened by it. I quite like the lunatics who walk along talking to imaginary people, until they start addressing their ramblings at me: this gets me into all sorts of existential dilemmas – am I imaginary like all the other people they’re talking to?

Three weeks staying in the city whilst  at  the Chelsea Flower Show, this year  making a garden for the sculptor Helen Sinclair, is my idea of heaven, and there’s a huge dip-downer every year when I return to the beautiful, clean, quiet place In The Middle Of Nowhere, where I live and the place my children call home.

I have a love-hate relationship with the country, or maybe it’s a fair-weather relationship – I like it so much better when the sun’s out. After a couple of days of sulking at the quietness of it all, the quietness of it all starts to become rather attractive again.

It’s very, very dry and those crop things look very short to me. This pondering makes the countryside with all its farms and fields start to make sense – I’m actually thinking about it and worried about it, not  pulling a face at it simply because there isn’t a decent bookshop for miles and  trying to forget the fact that the best country pub I know is actually in Pimlico.

We’ve picked elderflowers and made cordial: I felt very “I’m a country-type just like you” when I asked for citric acid at the local chemists. The pharmacist had it under lock and key and told me it was being rationed: “Ah,” I replied, still with  that slap-my-thigh-I’m-so-rustic demeanour, ” I bet you know what I’m going to be up to this afternoon?!” She gave me a rather old-fashioned look.

Later when I mentioned on Twitter that there must be an epidemic of elderflower-cordial making, @LickedSpoon pointed out  that citric acid is used by junkies to pad out the mix, as it were. Coming back home, R. Venusta Pendula had decided to start doing her  very beautiful thing, although in reality she is in focus. A few hours later the flower was opened completely,  flat and white with the teeniest hint of pink. Almost mother of pearl.

And the best thing? I’ve discovered this morning that there’s a vineyard of Pinot Noir just around the corner. Have a look at Herbert Hall’s website: Nick Hall is making sparkling wine in a lane near me. Heaven.