Who Stole the Tate Gallery?

It is late in the afternoon when we race down to the furthest tip of Cornwall, to be ready the next morning, to cheer 'The Brother-in-Laws on Bikes', as they set off on a cycle ride from Lands End to John O'Groats to raise money for the charity, Msaada. (Msaada was started by my partner, Billy Kelly, and his friend, Fergal Keane, to help widows and orphans in a region of Rwanda that Fergal reported on extensively for the BBC)
Nigel and Malcolm are married to two sisters, and this is a trip they have talked of and planned for two years. Malcolm says he is keen not to leave it any longer as he has already reached sixty-seven!
If you want to see them in training (!) visit www.justgiving.com/RideForRwanda
When we leave the house I know for a fact we must turn around and race straight back after seeing them off. But somehow, after an evening spent in a pub listening to the impromptu singing of old Cornish songs, nothing seems as urgent, and we decide to dawdle back calling into St Ives on the way. I have always wanted to visit the Tate Gallery here and I am sure lunch by the sea would also be a very good idea.
Every twist and turn in St Ives seems to be filled with flowers. The sun is shining and everybody is out enjoying themselves. As we explore the steep and winding roads I am only glad that I am not on  a bike!
We wander through the town following signs we spot here and there, directing us to The Tate. We walk and meander,  and then stroll a bit more. Another sign directs us this way, another sign directs us that. . .
We climb up and we zig zag down, we find weathered terracotta pots of roses and hanging baskets of every colour.
We spot majestic mauve agapanthus,
we wander into galleries were guitarists play amongst the paintings,
and linger by the clotted cream and cakes,
we admire cheerful sunflowers of impossible sizes,
and spot irresistible handmade glass vases in citrusy shades. We also spot an equally irresistible table for lunch overlooking the sea, and even come across two Brother-in-Laws on Bikes, but however hard we look we never do find the Tate Gallery!
If you like these wall vases too, have a look on www.jodowns.com

Just a Taster

As promised, a few photos taken from my new book,
The Flower Shop in your Garden. 
During the gardening year I visited twenty one gardens around the country, looking at them with a florist's eye and gathering ideas of how to bring a bit of these garden into the home.
Delicious roses that remind me of raspberry ripple icecream!

Bringing the scent of the rose garden inside for a country christening celebration.

Book Launch at Kew Gardens

Life always looks better after a good lunch. Having driven through grim showers of wind-swept rain we tuck ourselves into a red checked table-clothed restaurant, Ma Cuisine, near to the gardens. Other friends have had the same idea, and soon we are gathered around a big table so busy talking that I forget my weather watching. I find that this and the lunch seem to do the trick, as I emerge from the restaurant into clearing skies with more than a hint of sunshine. Billy Kelly always says that if I fell in the docks I would come up dry!
The afternoon sun is clear and sharp, illuminating the interior of the Palm House and ricocheting off the spray from the fountain in the lake. 
(If you double click on this picture you will get the full effect)
It is whilst admiring the view of across the lake that I bump into Chiaki, who along with her Japanese friends asked me to conduct a workshop for them earlier in the year (May blog). It is lovely to see her again and she tell me she will be at the launch this evening with her husband.
One of my favourite conservatories is the Waterlily House. 
How Jeremy Fisher would have loved those lily pads!
A quick stop at the book shop to make sure all is ready for this evening and to sign a few books. It is the most bizarre feeling seeing posters of myself around the gardens.
 A weird combination of disbelief and embarrassment, mingled with a touch of pride - if you can imagine that!

Kew has great expanses for walking, acres of planting to investigate and wonderful architecture to enjoy. But what I particularly like is that every where you look there are also thoughtfully positioned benches and seats for those who just like to come and sit in the garden.
As we walk around the garden we spot some familiar faces, guests who will be joining us this evening. In the Princess of Wales conservatory I catch a glimpse of Jennifer's distinctive white hair.
There is so much detail and texture to enjoy; from etched sundials to elaborate drinking fountains. 
As I am typing this I am picturing each garden, but realise you may not know what I am thinking of - so I will include some photos from the book in my next blog.
I am especially pleased to see Beryl, who has made the journey from Dartmouth in Devon. In Beryl's garden, which hugs the edge of the Dart estuary, I fell in love with a sculpture of a young girl who sits serenely in a greeny alcove. Only one was ever made, because the girl was the sculptor's daughter and he did not want her mass produced. Beryl tells me that recently local builders destroyed her whilst putting up scaffolding for a neighbouring house. She has been fortunate to have been given the mould by the sculptor so she can be recast, but until then I have a page in the book I want to show her, as it is a full page photograph of her original girl.
There are old friends, like Sally, who has fairy-godmother status with my daughters, and new friends, like Becca, who runs the book shop at Kew and who has been unfailingly enthusiastic about this event.

There are many faces I know and some that are almost familiar - which makes me worry that I haven't recognised someone properly who I would know immediately if I saw them in another setting. However, there is one face I will not forget from the evening! 

A Very Irish Affair

Today I decided to create a second blog. 
You can read about it on your right. 

At first I was reluctant to publish this correspondence as it is so personal. However, it was written nearly eight years ago, and time has moved on and the feelings recorded at a sad time in my life, have mellowed. Most of all, I felt that the emails that Billy Kelly wrote to me were so gloriously ridiculous, that others who share this madly Irish sense of humour, would also enjoy his writing. Added to which it would be a shocking crime to keep the Bishop and Mrs Reilly under the bed any longer!

I shall let the correspondence develop as it unfolded for us - adding one or two emails a day, as I can. They need little explanation, apart from to say that Billy Kelly is known to some of his friends as The Colonel. There is a long story to this involving the Governor of Kentucky, Mint Juleps and, of course, Guinness.

Nostalgia in Notting Hill

When I moved to London in my twenties I was lucky enough to share a flat in a high-ceilinged, Georgian house in Notting Hill with two girlfriends. Our landlady was less fortunate, as it did not occur to any of us, that in between work and parties, we should also fit in some cleaning! I can vividly imagine what I would say to my daughters if they decided to live like this now - but then isn't a selective memory one of the privileges of being a mother? 
The day is overcast, but the air is warm, and pavement cafes are beginning to fill up as I explore the streets that were once so familiar to me. Some things remain unchanged, like the classic London road signs, but there are now newer, smarter shops, and a rather bold and impressive flower trough stretches across the pavement. 
I am intrigued by this sign. There is nothing ambiguous about it. It leaves no room for a swipe at an angry crocodile or marauding lion, not that you find many of these in Notting Hill, or you certainly never used to. Maybe things have changed.
I don't think you can beat London's flower stalls. Often rich with colour, they seem to give the city a chance to take deep breaths in and out with the seasons. The inky purples and chocolate browns of the Wild at Heart flower stand on Westbourne Grove give a sense that autumn is waiting just around the corner.  
Further down Westbourne Grove is Daylesford Organics and it is here that I have arranged to meet my French daughter's mother for lunch. I should explain that I have adopted my daughter Libby's french friend, Juliette - or rather we have adopted other each other, during the times she visits us in England. Juliette is the ideal exchange student. She is sweet and helpful, she takes delight in everything English, she has a huge amount in common with Libby, and she laughs a lot (I like to think with us). 
There are shops to browse in, windows to admire and we start to day-dream of a shopping trip to New York with Libby and Juliette. 
 ... and so do I!
I have waxed lyrical about London flower stalls, but if you know of other gorgeous stalls near you I would love to hear about them.

Blooming Summer

The rain has stopped and it may be my imagination, but everywhere I look is coming up daisies ... and lavender and geraniums and hydrangeas and cosmos! First stop, when exploring the Peak District in this almost forgotten sunshine, has to be the Florist Cafe in Ashbourne.
What could be better than tea amongst the flowers? Especially when it is served in a pink stripy teapot and it comes with pastel, speckled mini-eggs.
Inside, pretty cake stands and teacups sit alongside jugs and bowls of flowers. Talking to the owner I discover that the cafe was started to help the flower business during the quiet times - and it seems to be a mix that is working well. There is something very soothing about watching bouquets and posies being arranged as you linger over lunch.
I don't even think I would mind being trapped inside here for the afternoon, amongst the fresh flowers and old books, if it did decide to start raining again outside.

We are directed a little further north to the village of Alstonefield, where we are told there are a number of circular walks that are easy to follow.
As we walk from the memorial hall car park into the village we are greeted by a quirky alternative to the municipal hanging basket.

Opposite the George pub, small wellington boots cascading with forget-me-not blue lobellia are attached to a bench dedicated to, Mike Goodwin, 'who loved this village'. I did not know this man, but I like to think he would have enjoyed sitting on this bench between the boots watching the life of the pub unfold.
And what a pub! Emily Hammond is a third generation landlady and it is clear from the Snug bar hung with drawings and photos collected over the years, to the pale linen coloured walls of the recently refurbished dining rooms that this is a building that has been, and still is, well loved.
The pub and much of the village was once part of the local Estate and the Snug bar was traditionally used by the Estate for collecting local rents. For us it is a good place to study the booklet we have bought from the pub showing a number of circular walks in the area. We decide on one that starts and finishes at the George.
Emily, I am delighted to see is a landlady who loves flowers, so I soon ask if I can photograph the displays on the bar and in the dining room window.
I cannot resist adding one more flower find to this blog. As we meandered our way back through the dales into Buxton, where we are staying, we come across the Buxton Infant School.
I would love to meet the teachers who have the imagination to plant their playground with such a jolly mix of colour and who, when planning a new stone wall, decided that the children would probably much rather climb over it than go through the gate.
It is a playground that has been been designed with places for the children to sit amongst the flowers and from my point of view that can only be a good thing!


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