I am back at the cottage after a bit of time in London. The ricochet-dance between the city and the country continues and I continue to feel fully at home in neither, and yet both at the same time.
I wonder whether anyone else finds that being on the road, suspended in the limbo-zone between here and there, is the only place they can think clearly?
Sometimes all I long for is a permanent base, somewhere roots can be put down deep, but other times 'home' as a concept seems a weighty thing, an anchor when I would rather drift...
I seem to spend my life in the van at the moment: laptop on the passenger seat, flowers in the footwell, a takeaway coffee between my knees, one bag in the back with a few clothes and a tangle of clipping implements, notebooks and chargers.
I like this very much - the way of the wayfarer - it suits me, at the moment, to feel light and migratory - unbound.
I have always been a nester, ever the home-maker, but in the here and now, for the first time in my life, I want nothing more than to be unconstrained by places and 'things'. I just want to be a travelling sales-woman on a single mission - buying flowers, selling flowers, and in between driving and driving on the road to nowhere.
I've been thinking about moving back to London a lot lately. When I am there, I feel I am right at the nerve-centre - of what, I'm not sure, but I feed off it just the same. There is endless inspiration and inexhaustive incentive on the streets of this city - so much effort and energy and industry and creativity and talent. Perpetual possibility. And damn good coffee.
On Monday we walked around Bermondsey and down to Rotherhithe along the river. It was one of those dramatically gloomy days that London does so well - everything greyer than grey - grey apartment buildings, grey river, grey bridges, grey sky. I fantasised about taking a studio under the arches and driving to and from Nine Elms in an old long-wheeled based Defender with a couple of blue whippets for company and doing high society weddings all around town. Is that where we're headed I wonder? The honest answer is I don't know yet.
Bermondsey has a uniquely Dickensian character and a fascinating history; I love it there, particularly all the beautiful old tanneries and warehouses and wharves along the river and the view looking North to the city. It turns out that both my maternal great grandmother and my paternal grandfather were born in Bermondsey so our family has some history there. One day I must make time to find out more about it.
At home in Oxfordshire the roads are fast disappearing between swollen verges of cow parsley. The grass in the fields is suddenly thigh-high.
I have a couple of hour-long walks at home that I take alternately morning or evening. Invariably they bring me through a field of teenage cows who daily seem to be under the impression that I am (and daily forget that I am not) the Farmer, and get terribly excited and curious and follow me right across to the other side where they stand and watch me, rather forlornly, as I navigate through the safety of the gate and up to the village. I am becoming quite fond of them and their beautiful long eyelashes.
I seem to have stumbled into a new exercise routine that I will christen 'welly-running'. This is exactly as it sounds, and involves sporadic bursts of rather ungainly cross-country running in wellingtons. I have never been able to get into running on roads - it seems ridiculous to exercise in the fumes of other people's cars, and here we have such beautiful wide expanses of countryside where you never seem to come across a soul (fortuitously, because otherwise you would certainly give them a fright). The wellingtons, as opposed to the seemingly more sensible running shoe is imperative, however, because the route I take winds through some boggy woodland, through scratchy crops, and across tufty clumps of uneven grassland. I have never been fond of wet feet, in fact I would go so far as to say that I will go to any lengths to keep my feet dry and warm, and so the wellington it is.
You must understand that this form of exercise has been designed and developed over time, and honed (by yours truly) into a superb physical fitness regime. And - shared publicly here for the very first time - the rules are as follows: 1) go out into the countryside until you cannot see people, nor building, nor car (cows or similarly bovine animals are permitted because they don't judge and will just think you are the Farmer); 2) warm up by walking rapidly until the fresh air and space and lack of onlookers allows you to feel quite uninhibited; 3) then RUN, full pelt, in any direction whatsoever until you can run no more.
After being in town, it feels a really special treat to encounter all the new flowers that have bloomed even in the few days I was away - in wall crevices and over the windows and beside the front door. The peace and quiet seems blissful, rather than oppressive, which I get when I spend too much time here. I walk in and put my bags down and breathe in the strong woodsmoke smell that seems to be so ingrained in the very walls and floors of our house, ineradicable. Perhaps the best scenario of all is the best of both worlds and always packing up and moving on; I am beginning to think so.
In the studio we are enjoying being in the midst of peony season. Last week I made a few deliveries in Oxford and it was somehow amusing to see how much people just love these balls of silk-froth.Their faces just erupt into a smile instantaneously! Peonies are very rewarding blooms to deliver. I like massing different varieties together with only a little dark red foliage, like photinia or smokebush, or my current favourite - Eleagnus x ebbingei/silverberry. This has the most divine metallic sea-green leaves which remind me of mermaid tails, with an underside of silver and this grainy surface, a little like a fine sandpaper or the texture of a cat's tongue.
My favourite time of the whole week is when I am at the market, choosing flowers. I take far too long over it, because I just love prevaricating over all the different colours and shapes. The best part is finding something new, that I haven't seen or worked with before, like this magical Enkainthus Campanulatus, below, from Japan, that had the most beautiful, delicate umbels of cream and intricately red-veined bells. When we found this we drove back to the studio feeling that we were carrying a cargo of rare treasure; a curious Japanese jewel that then sat exquisitely in a Danish brass vase and needed no accompaniment. Often I find that flowers look best and most effective when they are left alone and you can appreciate their intricacy without the distraction of anything else vying for your attention.
At long last it is honeysuckle time again.One of my absolutely favourite flowers for their intensely fragrant, exotic shaped petals and the perfection of their colours - that creamy shell-pink together with the almost Schiaparelli shade of shocking pink beside it.Whenever I am feeling underwhelmed at work all I need is to see a wall of this twining woodbine and I am headlong right back in the honeymoon period all over again.