Missing Chelsea

I am in London. Down the road Chelsea Flower Show is in full bloom, but sadly I don't have tickets for Chelsea this year.
Of course, I could have done something about this, but with one thing and another I never got around to it.
So knowing I need a very English flower fix to cheer me up I head to Piccadilly and Fortnum & Mason.
Tucked in the basement is a secret garden made up of vases of peonies, lilac, snapdragons, rosemary and sweetpeas.
Displayed in English pottery jugs, and the distinctive Fortnum's blue bag, there are posies of lisianthus, astilbe, alstromeria and freesias.
I feel better already.

Welcome to Wyken Hall Garden

Now that is what I call a welcome.
I once read that the more beautiful and intricate the birdsong, the plainer and dowdier the bird. Hence the disappointingly brown and boring nightingale that sang in Berkeley Square (although someone did tell me that the nightingale referred to in the song was actually a local prostitute) But I am getting side-tracked. It seems the birdsong, plumage equation works the other way around too. So whilst the peacock that welcomed us to Wyken Hall Garden was majestic in his iridescent loveliness, his song (morning, noon and night) might lead you to wonder what peacock pie tastes like.
Somehow I cannot imagine the cafe and restaurant serving this amongst their menu of tempting light lunches ...but you never know.
I have been brought to Wyken Hall Garden in Suffolk by my friend Liz, who knows how much I like beautiful gardens. She also had a pretty good idea I would fall in love with the shop, that fills the 400 year old barn next to the garden with lovely things that any sane woman would want to take home with her. You get the idea this has been brought together by someone with great taste - and a good sense of humour. I particularly like their sign by the till for customers which reads "Unattended children will be fed a double espresso and given a free puppy".
The garden and associated businesses (farm, vineyard, cafe, shop) are the life work of the Carlisle family who have lived here since the 1950s.
When Carla married Kenneth Carlisle in the 1980s she brought an additional dimension to the gardens with her strong sense of colour and design. She also brought her rocking chairs from her home in Mississippi.
The gardens wrap themselves around the Elizabethan farmhouse in a number of 'rooms'. Those closer to the house are more intimate and slightly formal. These then radiate out into looser wilder gardens that blend naturally into the surrounding farmland.
Everywhere you look you spot places that look perfect for sitting with a book and a glass of wine, and it is not long before Liz and I are imagining what it would be like to live here.
I think that is the joy of this type of garden - it is homely and welcoming rather than stately and impressive.
Visitors can spend a relaxing hour of so wandering around in a happy daydream imagining that they do in fact live here (without having to worry about the upkeep) - and yes, a party under the apple trees would be a great place for a long Sunday lunch ...
There is a great sense of family that permeates the gardens - and it seems this extends to the family pets too.
In this case I don't think you wouldn't actually mind saying 'I'm in the dog house'!
Well loved cats and dogs have their own quiet burial spot, so these family members remain an intrinsic part of the landscape.
One last turn around the garden and we must head home, but I am very grateful for Liz for bringing me here. She was quite right, I do love it.

A Bird in the Hand

As I approach Kate's shop I am greeted with; "No! Not in here!" It takes me a while to realise she is not talking to me but a visiting pigeon.
It doesn't take Kate long to capture her unwelcome guest. That's a farmer's daughter for you.
I am running a workshop in the room above Kate's shop, but first I have to have a good look around to see what she has in that is new.
I always know I am going to get a revitalizing blast of colour when I come to visit Rustic Rose, and today is no exception.
Kate is clearly getting ready for the wedding season and in the window, tiered on vintage teacups, is a cake made by Kate's aunt.
Outside there are pots of sunflowers and daisies
and bundles of glorious lupins.
Today we are going to be using pastel coloured campanula, roses and hypericum to make a wreath of flowers around a hurricane lamp.
It seems all my flower workshop ladies are keen gardeners and as we work we swap stories of different foliage and flowers that can be used in arrangements at different times of year.
All of us are fascinated to hear about one lady's plans to move to Australia later this summer - it seems she already has her eye on a flower shop she would like to buy.
It makes my plans for the summer seem rather tame!

Friendship not Flowers

This time I am not writing about flowers, and I think when I explain where I have been this week you will understand why.
When my husband, Billy, decided to organise a marathon and half marathon in rural Rwanda to raise funds for his charity, Msaada - who was the first to sign up? My best friend Pip. Now that is what I call friendship!
I once read an article written by a woman whose bestfriend had died. She described how little people appeared to understand the depths of her grief as she was not a named relative of the woman who died. As I read this I felt a cold chill come over me - with a best friend like Pip, I understood how precious that relationship can be.
We met on our first night at university, and now, many, many years on she was standing on the starting line with 100 other runners (including the Rwandan national marathon team!). What a woman!
As the runners gathered for the first Msaada Marathon (it went so well and was so much fun - there will be others) there were 10 Brits taking part. Fathers ran with sons, friends with friends.
And Pip waved at every child she saw - which was quite an achivement in itself!
The course took runners off the tarmac roads on to the red dust roads that meander through the Rwandan countryside.
People came out of their houses to cheer the runners on,
and sometimes just to stare in disbelief!
Rwanda is known as the land of a thousand hills
and the course had quite a few examples in it.
Supporters had travelled over to help man the water stops and count the runners out and in.
The long steep climb to the finishing line.
I was anxiously waiting at the finishing line for Pip. When she came around the last bend she was surrounded by a gang of children who were cheering her on her way.
They had run the last 3 miles with her - bare foot or in flip flops.
She said she couldn't have done it without them.
Did I cry? Of course I did. I was just so very proud of her.
There are so many fantastic memories of the week - not only the run, but all the people who came from England to take part where able to visit the projects and people that Msaada supports.
Msaada's belief is in dignity through self sufficiency. Their projects help Rwandan's to be able to take care of their families, in the way we would want to ourselves. Sharing the experience of running together was just another way of demonstrating that we want to help, but we will do it together - with people who are fast becoming our friends.


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