OK, so we’re not quite there – we still have a fortnightly supermarket delivery – but with daily fresh eggs from our (rather naughty) hens Isla White and Princess Layer, plus a glut of rhubarb and leeks from the allotment this week, I’m feeling semi-self-sufficient! Some advice for first time chicken owners: White Leghorns are great layers of pretty, white eggs but they are also nervous and essentially bonkers. Speckeldy hens (Coucou Marans) are good layers, too (of brown, speckled eggs) and are friendly, curious and clever. When you first bring your hens home, they will be so freaked out and traumatised by the journey that they will sulk in their nesting box for days. Don’t worry. Just make sure they have access to food and water and they will soon forget the drama and grow braver. Mine were petrified of humans for the first few days but were pecking food from my hand and letting me stroke them within a week. Bribe them with food every time you visit them – a handful of rice, an earthworm (!) or a cabbage leaf and a soothing ‘tut tut’ noise will soon put them at ease. I kept them in their coop for a week so they got the idea that it was their ‘home’, then let them roam free. If you’re going to let them free-range, be prepared to lose some plants. My alliums are basically gone. And get ready to pick up / hose away poo every now and again from your patio. (By every now and again I mean, like, every day.) Apart from that, they’re amazingly low-maintenance. They peck about, eating slugs and bugs – and when it gets dark, they sensibly put themselves to bed, so all I need to do is lock the door behind them in the evening.
This huge slate slab is part of a chunky Georgian kitchen worktop in Castle Green House, Cardigan Castle. Hundreds of years of chopping, slicing and food prepping have left thousands of tiny knife marks in the surface, giving it a textured, beautiful finish. (Incidentally, there was also a massive Welsh slate salting sink in this kitchen, which I really wanted to take home with me!) This slab is ‘wabi sabi’ in action – one of the many wonderful results of using natural materials in a home – they stand the test of time, but evolve, changed and sculpted by the human hands that touch them over the years. A few months ago, while visiting the impressive Middleport Pottery in Stoke-On-Trent for a feature, I learned that generations of workers there had shaped the very building itself; a brass tap had been buffed to a high-shine by clay-covered fingers and a wooden stair banister, polished by generations of dusty hands, was glossy as a conker. (Incidentally, both Middleport and Cardigan Castle have been revived by the Prince’s Regeneration Trust, an organisation with a refreshingly light touch when it comes to renovation, hence these details remain intact.)
Worn, well-used interiors are all the more appealing precisely because of their imperfections, which are imbued with rich histories and the ghosts of times gone by. There’s something reassuringly permanent about the markings we leave behind us – the cooks who chopped vegetables on this slab are long gone, but some evidence of their existence remains – locked in stone. We can’t resist running our fingers across such marks, to briefly touch the past.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting the newly re-opened and restored walled kitchen gardens at the National Trust’s Croome Court, which is a truly remarkable feat of restoration and attention to detail. The garden is still a work-in-progress, but the original greenhouses have been rebuilt and are as splendid today as they would have been in the 1800s.
I’m always drawn to old greenhouses, with their white-washed bricks and elegant glazing. Surrounded by exotic plants – lemon trees, figs – in tropical air, you’re transported to another realm. Admiring neat rows of terracotta pots and seedling trays, studying the carefully-pencilled gardener’s labels and lusting after vintage twine scissors, I’m quite happy pottering about for hours, much to the husband’s chagrin. Love old greenhouses? West Dean in West Sussex also has some incredible Victorian ones (which are being restored at the moment)…
…and Charles Darwin’s blue-painted glasshouse at Downe House is another stunner.
SO, we’ve finally moved. Our new home is an Edwardian farm workers’ cottage, which needs a lot of work. All we’ve done so far is paint the walls white, fit some essential peg rails and sand all the floorboards, which I then treated with Danish lye and oil by hand (it nearly killed me but was well worth the effort). This house might be an ongoing project since fitting in DIY around work is proving impossible as per – but since it took us five years to decorate and renovate our last house, I’m prepared for the long haul!
With baskets of greenery
pinched obtained from the nearby fields and hedgerows, today we made fresh wreaths. I used these 16-inch diameter wreath bases with floristry foam so the wreaths would stay fresh for the whole festive period. Happy Christmas!
I’m thrilled to announce that my new interiors book, Chic Boutiquers at Home, will be published by Ryland Peters & Small in October (2015).
(Thanks to The Future Kept for this lovely photo.) I was fortunate enough to meet the characters and creative forces behind leading online stores around the world (in USA, England, Wales, Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark) and shoot their beautiful homes (with talented photographer James Gardiner) for a series of inspiring case studies.
From battling blizzards in Brooklyn to exploring Copenhagen’s meat-packing district, we had plenty of adventures and met lots of friendly people along the way.
The result is part-decorating book, part-shopping directory – a smörgåsbord of fascinating interiors from a new generation of online style gurus who do much more than just sell homewares; They inspire and delight their customers, too, offering glimpses into their gorgeous homes and covetable lifestyles.
Chic Boutiquers at Home is packed with plenty of ideas to use in your own home and a wealth of tempting new online shops to explore. If you dream of selling online yourself, the final ‘How to Launch Your Own Online Shop’ chapter is crammed with invaluable practical advice, including comparisons of popular online shop hosting platforms such as Big Cartel and Etsy and insider advice from the experts.
You can find out more or pre-order on Amazon.
Found this little vintage herb guide in a secondhand bookshop in Wales recently. It’s the perfect prop of course, but also contains some hilarious chapters where the author can’t conceal their disdain for certain herbs. For example, Sweet Cicely is not one of his favourites, but instead of leaving it out altogether, he simply writes:
Oh for the days when scientific books were a bit less, well, scientific.
June has been HECTIC. In between deadlines, trips, shoots and stress, the cutting patch in our back garden has been keeping me sane. The sweet peas are thriving and I’m able to fill a jam jar a day with flowers – the more you pick, the more they grow. This year, I planted an old-fashioned ‘heirloom’ mix of bi-colour, highly-perfumed sweet peas and a lot of my favourite Matucana ones, too, which have piercing violet and crimson petals and a strong, sweet fragrance. Apparently, Matucana was first introduced into Britain in the 17th century by Sicilian monk, Franciscus Cupani, so it’s an ancient variety, but a good one.
This house is just around the corner and I admire it every time I pass. Peach and wisteria mauve – what a winning combination. I love it when people match their front door colour to flowers.