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Chiswick House & Gardens

30 Jul

What a glorious weekend of weather we’ve had! For once I had no concrete plans so decided to head out for an amble along the Thames Path to soak up the sun. I was heading back towards Fulham when I saw a sign to Chiswick House and Gardens – somewhere I’ve always meant to visit. I didn’t have my English Heritage card with me (you get free access to the house if you have one) but fortunately entry to the gardens is free – and it was too nice a day to be inside anyway! The gardens aren’t massive but with cascades, ornamental ponds, obelisks, walled gardens and ample wildlife, there’s enough of interest to keep you entertained – but even without they’re just a peaceful place to while away a few hours with a paper or good book. And don’t worry about going hungry – the on-site cafe is well stocked with reasonably-priced and generously-sized cakes (I recommend the crumble cake – see the picture below).

A couple of swans with their EIGHT cygnets!

Just one of many red-eared terrapins basking in the sunshine

The crumble cake – part flapjack, part Bakewell; a wonder of goodness!

Wells, walled gardens, and Wimbledon

8 Jul

Sorry for the lack of posts over the past week or so – I don’t know where the time’s gone! Last weekend saw me head home to Somerset for a number of social occasions. On the Saturday I headed to Wells to catch up with a close friend L, who’s recently taken on an amazing hair salon called Hairdressing by Jax (hairdressingbyjax.co.uk). She’s already expanded the business to include a fish spa and has so many other exciting plans for the future – watch this space! I’m so proud of how much she’s achieved in such a small space of time – and all while balancing another full-time job!

On Sunday I was treated to the most delicious breakfast ever by godmother. She’s a member of the idyllic Babington House so we headed there for homemade granola with yoghurt and compote followed (in my case) by a Full English. Yum! Took a peak at the walled gardens and grounds on the way out (to die for!) and left wishing I could afford to become a member – or just live there permanently! I then headed to Steeple Ashton in the afternoon for a friend’s 50th and, if you’ve never been, it’s a truly beautiful village with picturesque, quintessential country gardens of fragrant roses and perfectly mown lawns.

And my highlight for this week (aside from Murray making it to the Wimbledon finals) would have to be Kew the Music on Wednesday! I’ll admit to you all now that I’m a secret M People/Heather Small fan so, when I heard she was to be performing – with 70s hit Chic featuring Nile Rodgers, the warm-up act, I had to go. Fortunately the rain showers of the day stopped in time for the show to start and I, and a former work colleague and great friend C, set up on a grassy bank with a prime view of the stage – situated in front of the Victorian Temperate House. It was a stunning evening and such a treat to see Kew Gardens in the evening, full of the buzz of excitement of our fellow music fans, all sitting around tucking into their picnics. There’s something special about listening to music on a balmy evening as the sun sets and Heather didn’t disappoint. Kew now have a series of open air cinema with The Artist, which I’m still to see, on 6 September. Should be good! kew.org

Chelsea Physic Garden – worth braving the rain for

25 Jun

I am only just beginning to realise how many wonderful green spaces London really has – you turn a corner from a main tourist thoroughfare and suddenly there’s this expanse of idyllic green land hidden away behind beautiful walls and intricate gates. The city is a treasure hunt of secret gardens.

The Chelsea Physic Garden is a real case in point. Just five minutes off the King’s Road with entry down the tiny Swan Lane, you could easily walk straight past. But what wonders you’d be missing!

Sie Hans Sloane

The garden was founded in 1673 by Sir Hans Sloane and is the oldest botanic garden in the city. It houses the country’s oldest rockery – built on volcanic rocks brought from Iceland in the 1770s – a fernery, a Victorian greenhouse of rare and exotic species, and over 100 types of tree. I went with two friends and we joined a guided tour when we arrived. For an hour our guide – Patricia, a volunteer – was absolutely captivating, taking us down meandering gravel pathways to explore beds and borders of wild meadow flowers, plants used in medicines and herbal remedies, and displays of the most intensely fragrant roses I’ve ever come across. The garden is a never-ending delight. We suffered one torrential downpour partway through the tour but nothing could have deterred us and, if anything, the rain only heightened the colours and aromas around us. Oh Chelsea Physic Garden, how have I not discovered you sooner?

Open Garden Squares Weekend

9 Jun

Rococo Chocolates

Rococo chocolate

This weekend sees over 200 parks, gardens, and usually secret green areas in London open their gates to the general public as part of The London Parks & Gardens Trust’s annual Open Garden Squares event. It’s a rare opportunity to see inside the likes of Cadogan Place Gardens, Chiswick House Walled Gardens and even 10 Downing Street’s garden! I had my name down to volunteer and was lucky enough to be positioned at the delectable Rococo Chocolates at 5 Motcomb Street. As well as having an abundance of delicious handmade confectionary, which you can watch being made, and a never-ending menu of hot chocolates and bespoke coffee blends, there is also a cute Moroccan-styled courtyard garden, which offers great inspiration on how to make the most of the smallest of spaces. The event is running all weekend so there’s still time to explore parts of the city you’ve not seen before. Tickets cost £12 for an unlimited pass or £3 for a single garden, and National Members get all tickets half price. See which gardens are open near you at opensquares.org.

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

21 May

As well as Jupiter Artland, when I was up in Edinburgh I also had my first visit to the Royal Botanic Garden. It’s recently had a striking new entrance and cafe built so M’s parents were keen to show it off and treat me to a hearty breakfast at the same time. Unfortunately we were too late for breakfast – they stop serving at 11.30 on the dot – but we had the most enjoyable stroll around the gardens, which are free!

My highlight was the Edible Garden, a stunning allotment where they grow many of the ingredients for the cafe and restaurant. They had every sort of vegetable and herb imaginable growing and I loved the use of pebbles as name tags (the plant descriptions were written on different shaped small stones). They’d also used branches as supports instead of canes – very sustainable! rbge.org.uk

We then headed outside the gardens to find sustenance for my journey back to London, and stumbled across the newly-opened Earthy, a chain of three health food and organic cafes/delis in the city – their tag line is ‘Forage, nourish, share’; love it! I couldn’t choose from the array of homemade cakes, many of which were gluten-free or vegan (a pleasant surprise), so ended up just having a coffee – but what a coffee! It was honestly one of the best ones I’ve ever had (Matthew Algie). But don’t take my word for it; check it out for yourselves… earthy.co.uk

If you go down to the woods today… make sure it’s to Jupiter Artland!

20 May

What a weekend of discovery I’ve had! I was up in Edinburgh visiting friends and M’s family, and have had such an exciting time.

I travelled up on Friday and happened across an article in The Guardian about a new art installation at Jupiter Artland, a ‘gallery’ situated a few miles outside of Edinburgh. The display was by Turner Prize nominee Anya Gallaccio and featured 10,000 fresh roses, which over the next four months, will slowly age and decompose.

Now, I’ve been on a bit of an art trail of late (Tate Modern last month, V&A and National Gallery this month) so I was eager to check it out. I headed there yesterday, with M’s parents, and what a find. I can’t believe I’d never been there before! For not only was Anya’s exhibit thought-provoking and strangely mesmerising, but Jupiter Artland is like another world – not a gallery in the usual sense of the word but a living and breathing exhibition, situated outside, in the midst of a stunning bluebell wood with views across to the Firth of Forth. Pieces ranged from an intricate web of coloured fishing line (see pic below) to a series of ghostly wax works of weeping girls, made even more sinister by the drizzle of the day. It was refreshing to be outdoors with the space and quietude to stand back and appreciate the art on show, without the jostle of city crowds.

We ended up, as is custom, in the on-site cafe – in this case an American aluminium Airstream – where I enjoyed a wedge of ‘Barry’s Favourite Coffee & Walnut cake’, served by none other than the man himself! Now I’ve found this place, I’ll definitely be coming back. The whole Artland boasts sustainable credentials (which I love) and Anya’s got a new installation opening later on this year – an underground chamber of amethyst protected by gold barbed wire. But, even without that, the changing seasons alone would make each permanent artwork, look like new.

jupiterartland.org

10,000 roses form Anya Gallaccio’s latest art installation

Art interspersed with nature – can you spot the weeping girl wax work?

The 400cm web was knitted from multi-coloured fishing line, using a technique inspired by Shetland lace

The cafe!

It’s Barry’s favourite – I can see why!

Saturday (and Sunday) in the sunshine

13 May

What wonderful weather! After what seems like months of rain (which I hasten to say I love), a weekend of blue skies, balmy breezes, and sunshine. I headed straight out into the garden to plant up pots of rocket, sweet peas, and tomatoes. I’ve been waiting for a garden through Age UK’s Garden Partners programme, which pairs up those with gardens they can’t manage, with people willing to lend a hand, for the past few months to no avail (one possible garden unfortunately fell through) so instead, I decided to give the garden where I live a second chance. I say ‘second chance’ because the garden here in Putney seems to be the one place in London that receives minimal sunshine and it’s also the toilette of choice for our resident cat, Missy. Thankfully, I have a newly required green house – a most precious leaving present from when I recently changed jobs. Check out my beautiful terracotta pots (and a couple of wine coolers) planted up with tasty salad leaves. After being without space to grow my own for a while, it’s a fantastic solution until a bigger (and cat-free) veggie patch comes my way.

Sunday – more sunny weather. I, however, headed indoors to the V&A’s Norfolk House Music Room for an hour of piano with soprano accompaniment – Schumann’s Liederkreis, Debussy’s Trois Chansons de Bilitis, and Copland’s Poems of Emily Dickinson. A stunning programme in an even more impressive setting, and, I’m pleased to say, a free event that takes place on the first three Friday nights of the month. Follow that with a visit to the V&A tea rooms for one of their epic scones with apricot jam – bliss.

Columbia Road flower market, Hackney City Farm – and more!

2 Apr

It’s been a while since I’ve had a weekend in London to explore so, with the weather on our side, B and I ventured to the East side of London to tick off two places that have been on my must-see list for a while – the Columbia Road flower market and Hackney City Farm.

The flower market starts at 8am (ish) on Sunday mornings but B and I were far more leisurely in our approach, getting there at about 11.30 by which time it was more than in full swing. The narrow road was crammed with flower sellers, tourists and those wanting to buy, and there was a real buzz in the air. But, best of all was the smell – lavender, rosemary, jasmine; it was a treat for all the senses. I was particularly pleased to see sweet peas and peonies – the two flowers that will always remind me of M and my wedding day. columbiaroad.info

Next up came the Hackney City Farm. I couldn’t wait to get there to see what baby animals were about – piglets, lambs… When B and I arrived, I headed straight to the shop to pick up some freshly-laid eggs for dinner that night before they sold out. We also popped into the cafe for some sustenance and were bowled over by the choice – full English breakfast, rabbit ragu, pie with goats cheese mash, and a mouth-watering selection of cakes. We were lucky to get a table but, even though it was busy, we didn’t have to wait long for our food – two English breakfasts – and very tasty indeed.  Then, off to see the animals – not as many as I’d been expecting, but cute nonetheless. hackneycityfarm.co.uk

Finally, because the farm hadn’t taken nearly as long to go around as we’d thought, B and I found ourselves with time on our hands to pop down the road to the Geffrye Museum while we were in the area. It’s a striking building set in beautiful grounds. We were lucky that it was the first day that the herb gardens were open, and they’re well worth a look in, with interesting fact cards stating the different ways in which herbs can be used in the home and for medicinal purposes. Inside, the museum takes you through how the home has developed from 1600 to present day with a series of interesting room installations and memorabilia. geffrye-museum.org.uk

By the time I headed home, I was worn out but on a high from the fun we’d had. Next week, I’ll be up in Edinburgh for Easter and M’s last weekend before he sets off to sea. We’ve already got some exciting trips planned though – notably Alnwick Gardens, another place that’s been on my to-do-list for ages. Can’t wait!

Hello spring!

26 Feb
It looks like spring has finally sprung. This weekend has seen London bathing in warm, sunny sunshine. Bring. It. On.

I took the opportunity to make my first outing to Richmond Park to see what all the fuss was about. It was great! Herds of deers roaming freely, parakeets, and miles of leafy lanes, lakes, and fields to relax in. A slice of the countryside in the city. I could almost pretend I was back home in the west country – if it wasn’t for the Heathrow flight path.

Not complaining though. It’s such a relief to finally be out in the sunshine and to be able to strip off my coat, scarf and gloves.

Can you spot the deer?

How about now?!

Kew Gardens

20 Nov

This weekend I had M and the in-laws come visit. The weather was amazing – lovely crisp, sunny, autumnal days. We headed straight to Kew Gardens (kew.org) for a stroll and were surprised by some of the wildlife we saw (pics below). We also stopped by the endangered plant painting exhibition – incredibly detailed. Oh, and for the obligatory tea break? The Original Maids of Honour, outside the gardens and a five-minute walk from the Victoria Gate entrance. It’s one of those old-fashioned tea rooms that serve a proper sized slice of homemade cake and tea in dainty china tea cups. Love it! See theoriginalmaidsofhonour.co.uk.

The temperate House with Glasshouse Walkway

The view from the treetop Skywalk

A friendly robin inside one of the glass houses

Kew's free-range chickens!