A day out: Petersham Nurseries



Maidenhair ferns, squash, yellow dirt floor and tattie mats lining the ceiling.

You know I seldom leave the comforting bosom of London N16, especially not at weekends when there is so much pottering about to be done, between park and market, coffee shop and pub, garden and kitchen. But a couple of weekends ago, I went all the way to Richmond which, though it is still technically London I suppose, is a completely different city altogether. The bustle and noise of the Kingsland Road gives way to leafy lanes, church spires and artful interior design shops, selling the scrubbed-up-and-pressed version of Dalston’s many vintage emporia.

I was going to meet my friends Fi and Rebecca at Petersham Nurseries for lunch. I’d been here before, years ago, when Skye Gyngell was in charge of the kitchen, didn’t manage to get there in the Greg Malouf era, and hadn’t yet tried Lucy Boyd’s food. Lucy is the daughter of the late Rose Gray of the River Café and began her career at Petersham Nurseries as the head gardener before becoming culinary director too, so her plot-to-plate credentials are impeccable. Today, with Damian Clisby as head chef, the food is as pretty as it is delicious.


My starter of scallops, watermelon radish, sea purslane and Amalfi lemon zest.


My main course of loin of venison, white salsify, kale and sparkling crab apple jelly.


Amalfi lemon and mascarpone ice cream.


Raggy dahlias from the garden decorate the tables.

It was like eating in the middle of the poshest village fête ever, as rain pattered down on the roof, vines twirled above our heads and a fierce little robin hopped about on the yellow dirt floor. We ate and drank and talked, before wandering around admiring the breathlessly tasteful bibelots in the greenhouses and the end of the dahlias in the garden.


They wander the tearoom at night. Especially the one on the right.


Artfully distressed paint and white-glazed ceramics, very much part of the aesthetic.


I can never resist a chandelier.


A galvanised tin bath, dressed for best.


Angels’ wings.


Possibly my first and last selfie, among the hyacinth bulbs.


A perfect gift for your housekeeper.


In the greenhouse, we found a stack of our friend Mark Diacono’s books.


Dahlias light up a zinc-topped table.


Gardens are so poignant at this time of year – the last dahlias, verbena bonariensis and cosmos defiantly cling on, before the autumn leaves take over the show.


Sitting on the platform at Richmond Station, a bag of pelargoniums on my lap.

Petersham Nurseries
Church Lane
Off Petersham Road
Surrey TW10 7AG

020 8940 5230info@petershamnurseries.com

A postcard from Chelsea, with love and cowparsley XXX



Christopher Bradley-Hole’s garden for the Daily Telegraph. I loved this combination of clipped cubes of box and yew, and native plants wafting in the afternoon breeze.

If you were ever in any doubt that Chelsea is the world’s biggest flower show, the ticket touts scattered along the path between Sloane Square tube and Royal Hospital Road are enough to tell you that this is the hot ticket that marks the beginning of summer, even when the skies are leaden, the wind brisk.

Inside the grounds, smooth-skinned young men in striped blazers and panama hats rub shoulders with ladies in pac-a-macs up for the day, their sturdy bags packed at dawn with thermoses, mints, bottles of water, biscuits, hankies, notebooks, a selection of biros. Felix Baumgartener probably jumped from actual space with less preparation. They crowd along the rails, speaking of ‘wow factor’, sighing over favourite plants like you might a sleeping puppy, dodging camera crews and gathering free cotton tote bags with barely-concealed glee.

This year, the show’s hundredth, seemed a little quiet to me. Of course, we all collectively clutched our pearls at Jinny Blom’s B&Q garden for Prince Harry’s charity, Sentebole. We sighed over the elegant, meditative beauty of Christopher Bradley-Hole’s garden for the Daily Telegraph and cooed at the traditional, pretty planting in Chris Beardshaw’s Arthritis Research UK garden. While I could admire the technical skill of the Best-in-Show Australian garden, it left me rather cold. The plants all looked a bit crammed in (I know they all are, they’re just not supposed to look it), like chorus girls vying for the role of headline act.

Hard surfaces, such as concrete and stone, and sculptural clipped shapes combined with the deliciously billowy waft of grasses and native plant species. Cowparsley, sweet cicely and other meadow-y delights were everywhere.

After the high-octane hoopla of the show gardens, the Great Pavilion is always terribly soothing. With its banks of flowers, pyramids of vegetables and bowler-hatted nurserymen, it feeds my terminal plant geekery. In these troubled times, just knowing that The Delphinium Society exists makes me happy.

I come home laden with catalogues and ideas, hastily scribbled plant lists and sore feet, desperate to get out into my own little garden to work out where I can cram in just a few more plants. It seems I really didn’t learn anything from the Australians, did I?


The Brewer Dolphin garden designed by Robert Myers. Clipped cushions of box surrounded by billowy native plants, such as wormwood, angelica, musk mallow and ravenswing cowparsley.


The ‘Sowing the Seeds of Change’ garden by Adam Frost for Homebase shows that the trend for combining the decorative with the edible continues to gain popularity. On the day I was there, visitors seemed to be really enjoying the posh potager look.



Jinny Blom’s planting somewhat overwhelmed by the hard structures in the B&Q Sentebale Garden.

And on into the Great Pavilion…


Robinson’s remarkable vegetable display.


A mountain of pelargoniums at the Fibrex stand.


Quite the bunch of tulips at the Blom’s Bulbs stand.


Delphiniums and begonias arranged like a floral army on the Blackmore and Langdon’s stand.


Amaryllis dangle high over our heads at the Warmenhoven stand.


Splendid tiers of well-behaved alliums at the Warmenhoven stand.


An explosion of allium Christophii at the Warmenhoven stand.


A window of clematis.



There’s something comfortingly old fashioned about these cushions of chrysanths.


W&S Lockyer’s auricula display. Note the bowler hat in front of the stand.


I love these orange geums. So cheering.


Always so very difficult to walk past the Hardy’s stand without ordering something.

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A little light, post-Chelsea reading.

Thank You Salad Burnet, You’ve Been Wonderful


Apple blossom

Someone put out the bunting. It seems we are finally allowed to wave goodbye to winter.

I am sitting in the garden writing this. In the time it takes me to lift a teacup to my lips, leaves unfurl, buds fatten, ferns slowly straighten and bees dart in and out of the rosemary flowers. Apple- and cherry blossom froth about. Greenfly descend on soft, new rose leaves like OAPs with vouchers for the earlybird special.

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Magnolia stellata and grape hyacinths, growing cheerfully together in a big pot.

At this point, I feel I have to say a small thank you to salad burnet, which stood by me through the cold, dark months, appearing regularly in salads and sandwiches or scattered on soups and casseroles when other, more robust-looking herbs, gave up the ghost.




Pretty salad burnet, cucumber’s happy companion.

Salad burnet is delicate, with prettily serrated leaves and at first glance you think it might be a bit of a prima donna. It’s not. It’ll grow in pots or in any reasonably well-drained soil. It will tolerate full sun and put up with a bit of shade. You can dig up established plants in early spring or autumn and divide them to create new plants, or simply leave a few flowers to self seed at the end of the season. Just keep snipping at it to encourage tasty young growth – and given its versatility in the kitchen, that won’t be a hardship.

When Lola and Jane came to tea, we had to have cucumber sandwiches. That’s the Number One byelaw of afternoon tea: cucumber sandwiches must be served. Whenever I make them for my friends, I always wonder why I never make them to enjoy by myself, when polishing off the whole plate wouldn’t be such an embarrassment.

I’m not one for messing things about much. To me there’s no more chilling phrase on a menu or in a recipe introduction than ‘With a twist’. Just stop it. But here I am, breaking my own rules. To the glorious triumvirate of white bread, unsalted butter and cucumbers I add some salad burnet. In my defence, I will say that salad burnet tastes of cucumber, so it makes it taste more of itself.

If you’re not in the market for a cucumber sandwich (who are you and what are you doing here?), salad burnet is very good in potato salads, with boiled eggs or steamed carrots. In summer, it’s delicious with tomatoes or in lemonade. You don’t really want to cook it. Use it in cold things or fling it on hot dishes at the last minute so you can enjoy its colour, shape and flavour at its fullest.

And an invitation…

If I haven’t put you off too much with my love letter to a herb,
and you live in or near Crystal Palace,
and you are free this Saturday, May 4…

Between 11.30-12.30, I’ll be demonstrating some projects from my book, Gifts from the Garden, at Westow Park Edible Garden. The park is opposite The Secret Garden Centre, Coxwell Road, off Westow Street, Upper Norwood, London, SE19 3AF

And between 1-2pm, I’ll be at Bookseller Crow, 50 Westow Street, London SE19 3AF, signing copies of Gifts from the Garden.

Do come and say hello. It’d be lovely to see you and I might give you a biscuit.

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Sunshine in Winter



My friend Laetitia came to lunch last week. On a cold and blustery day, she brought the sunshine with her in the form of a huge bunch of orange tulips. I’m afraid we call them tooolips, in recognition of our shared devotion to Ina Garten. Ina often uses them to adorn the table when entertaining her fabulous coterie of East Hampton decorators, cooks and party planners. They add a jolt of colour without requiring Constance-Spry-level flower arranging skills. As Ina would say, ‘How easy is that?’.

Laetitia and I spent a happy few hours laughing and chatting and talking about books and gardens, over a lunch of soup, salad and cake. In the middle of the week it felt indulgent, like playing truant from a life ruled by deadlines. It brought a bit of the weekend into the weekday, which is always a good thing.



Cos, red amaranth, feta and toasted pumpkin salad.

If you love your garden, or would like to learn to love your garden, you should really have a bit of Laetitia in your life too. Her books, The Virgin Gardener and Sweetpeas for Summer are full of simple and beautiful ideas for transforming your outside space, and for bringing some of the outdoors indoors too. She’s that precious combination of practical and funny, honest and inspiring. She brings the sunshine with her, and in February we could all do with a little bit of that.

Ham Hock and Cannellini Bean Soup


I love a ham hock. It’s one of the cheapest pieces of meat you can buy and is enormously versatile. Boil it, roast it, toss it in salads or sandwiches, use it in pasta dishes or pies, or shred it and add it to soups like this one.

Serves 6

For the ham hock:

1 ham hock
A bouquet garni of 2 parsley stalks, a couple of sprigs of thyme and a bay leaf tied together with kitchen string
¼ tsp black peppercorns

For the soup:

A generous knob of butter or couple of tablespoons of olive oil
2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
A sprig of thyme
2 medium-sized carrots, diced
1 medium-sized leek, halved lengthways, rinsed well and finely sliced
1 celery stick, finely diced
A few mushrooms, thinly sliced, optional
2 garlic cloves, minced
1x400g tin cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
About 1.3l ham cooking liquid
About 250g cooked ham
A small bunch of parsley, tough stalks removed and roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve:

Extra virgin olive oil
Shavings of Parmesan

Place the ham hock in a large pan of cold water and leave to soak overnight. Drain and rinse. Place the hock in a pan with enough cold water to cover, the bouquet garni and peppercorns. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 1 ½ hours until the meat is tender and pulling away from the bone, skimming off the scum from time to time. Strain, reserving the stock, and when it’s cool enough to handle, shred about 250g of the hock into large-ish chunks.

Melt the butter or warm the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium-low heat and gently cook the onions with the bay leaf and thyme until the onions are soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. They shouldn’t take on any colour. Add the carrots, leek, celery and mushrooms if using and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, beans and ham and stir for a further minute. Pour in about 1.3 litres of the ham stock, bring to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, taste and add some grinds of black pepper. You probably won’t need to add salt as the ham itself is quite salty. Stir in the parsley. Serve in warmed bowls with a trickle of olive oil and some Parmesan shavings over the top.

It’s For The Birds

I remember my grandmother making four things: delicious cottage pies, terrible, watery scrambled eggs, fudge and, every winter, fat balls for the birds.

Barbara wasn’t a cosy granny. She liked watching snooker and football on her tiny black and white television, Embassy Regal, ferocious, improvisational knitting, railing against Arthur Scargill, reciting Shakespeare and reading at least three Mills & Boon library books every week. (‘Get me the juicy ones, love.’)

Her favourite phrase, on observing in her grandchildren any signs of vanity was, ‘She needs a good floor to scrub’. So this small act of kindness towards the sparrows and tits which visited her little garden was made all the more tender in her strong, impatient hands.

It’s supposed to get cold again, possibly snow. This morning I refilled the birdfeeders and made some fat balls. Barbara packed hers into old Ski yoghurt pots. I made mine in old teacups. I can only imagine what she would think about that. I should probably go and scrub a floor.


Getting the ingredients together. To the seeds, add other things which you may already have in your cupboards, such as nuts, oats and dried fruit.


I used twigs to make the perches, but small lengths of dowel work just as well.


The finished feeders. They took about 10 minutes to put together. It’s an easy project to do with children and a finished one would make a nice present for a bird-loving friend.

How To Make Teacup Bird Feeders


I saw this idea when I was trawling the internet late one night and I’m afraid I can’t remember its source, so many apologies to the person whose idea it is for not crediting them.

If you don’t want to use teacups, you can make the bird feeders in empty coconut shells, plastic cups or small yoghurt cartons. Or simply turn them out onto the bird feeder when they’re set. I can’t do that because of our cats, so I hang them as far up as I can reach in the cherry tree, far enough so the cats can’t get near them. No doubt this is how I will die.

You will need:

A mixture of birdy treats: nuts, seeds, dry porridge oats, dried fruit
Twigs or bits of dowel

Weigh the dried food and put it in a bowl. You need about half that weight in lard. I used 400g dried food to 200g lard, which was enough for three teacups.

Melt the lard and pour most of it into the bowl – reserve about a tablespoon’s worth per cup you want to fill. Give it a good stir so that everything’s well coated and spoon the mixture into the cups. Make a perch by poking a twig or bit of dowel into the middle of each teacup while the mixture is still warm and gently press down with the back of a teaspoon to ensure it’s all nicely packed in. Pour a little more lard over the top of each cup, like sealing a nice rillettes. Place them in the fridge until they’re set.

Tie some string around the handles and hang from trees, fences, anywhere that’s out of the reach of cats.



Other diners also appreciate high tea en plein air.