In the GARDEN
It’s a colourless February day - a milky sky and everything is just stone and silt, bare branches, low cloud.
But the birds are singing. Maybe I’m imagining it but it doesn’t feel as though the birds have been this vocal in a while. A few days lately it has been sunny, light, a glimmer to the air - you could have been lured into thinking it was spring. Not yet - we learned that lesson last year when all emerging shoots disappeared under a blanket of snow mid-March.
In the garden so much is happening now, even if it is just out of view, just beneath the surface. It makes me think of the metaphor of the swan gliding over a flat pond. All seems calm and serene, though below the water-line there is a wild mayhem of peddling and effort and churned bubbles.
We harvest the first sparse offerings of the season. In tunnel one the Iris reticulata are flowering - ‘Painted Lady’, ‘Alida’ and ‘Clairette’, planted by Jess back when I was sheltering from autumn storms in Greece. The last two are sweetly perfumed and the darkest blue reminds us of our grandmother; it was her favourite colour.
The first few anemones are blooming too, so frail their petals are almost translucent. Lots of hellebores in muddy taupes, plum and black. Galanthus (snowdrops) including ‘Sam Arnott’ which we collected from the Chelsea Physic Garden last year after the annual talk by Joe Sharman. Also ‘Flore Pleno’ - very perfumed and with a rosette centre - and ‘Nivalis’; the name comes from the Greek words gála or "milk", and ánthos "flower" and the Latin nivalis "resembling snow". They are just heavenly - pure poetry. We dream of a bride one day ordering a tiny, intricate bouquet of snowdrops tied with silk; hard to imagine anything more beautiful, seasonal or meaningful than that.
Elsewhere the narcissus, tulips and alliums are shooting up, the ranunculus looking happy and healthy for the most part. We prune the roses back. Scores of new plants arrive weekly, seeds are sown - calendula, scabious, rudbeckia, phlox and Californian poppies. Successional sowings of sweet pea seedlings shoot up in their root trainers, flaming reds specially sown for a late May bride (whispered to, cajoled). Everywhere things are budding - the lilacs, honeysuckle, raspberry canes. Signs of hope and promise.
In the STUDIO
It feels good to be back at work after a few weeks away. For us January is a carefully guarded month of hibernation and recuperation. Time for catching up with friends, cooking and road-trips, reading the piles of books we collect throughout the year and that stack up beside the bed unfinished, long walks, drinking whisky by the fire in the evening. Jess returned from her travels in India, browner and somehow lighter too; the break did her good. This time away has become completely necessary to us to get the distance we need from the day-to-day running of the business, to re-set and re-energise, come up with new ideas. I used to loathe it, now I love this time of the year - the drawbridge up, the gentle pace.
Sometime around the 1st of February, every year, there is a surge on the wind that speaks of change. New beginnings; time to get back in the saddle. There’s always a lot to do before the season begins - staffing, logistics and design planning for spring and summer events, a backlog of quotes and proposals to work through, maintenance work at the studio, setting up systems to make things easier for us all in the heady months ahead. The studio remains closed but although it isn’t visible yet we’re gaining momentum behind closed doors. As always the pattern and pace of our work exactly mirrors what is going on in the garden
In the studio we dust off snips and press the first cuttings; preserving them to use later in the year for stationery and table settings. We open the doors wide and let the fresh air sluice through. Sit in the sunny little garden out the back, surrounded by pots of emerging tulips, muscari and narcissus. Throughout the month we’ll be ticking off jobs: sweeping and de-cobwebbing, plastering and painting a new wall, dropping off any unused props at the charity shop. It’s like getting into an old car and letting the engine warm up slowly. We’re looking forward to firing up and being off again - so many new and exciting avenues to explore this year.
Next month we are heading to Japan and then on to South Korea to teach our first workshop of the year on Jeju Island. If you have any tips of gardens to visit, or great places to eat in Tokyo, Kyoto or Seoul we’d love to hear your recommendations!
We’ll be posting a monthly journal from the garden and studio here on the blog this year, along with a photographic series of the gardens we visit and are inspired by (stayed tuned for some glorious Rajasthani gardens next week that are sure to warm the cockles).
We’ll also be sending out a quarterly seasonal newsletter with updates, upcoming events, pop-up shops, workshop dates and more. If you’d like to be kept in the loop please sign up at the bottom of this page. We promise we won’t send you any junk.
In the Ether
A few things we’re loving at the moment…
L I S T E N I N G T O - Goldfrapp (Supernature) and Moloko (Things to Make and Do) and the Pardon My French Podcast with Garance Doré
C O O K I N G - Anna Jones’ Smoky Corn Chowder from The Modern Cook’s Year, and Dahl Makhani
A V I S I T T O - Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams at the V&A (on now until 14 July)