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Time flies when you are having fun….



Ben

At the end of every weekend for the last month I’ve been saying “oh golly I’ve got to write a blog”. And at the end of every weekend either something is happening, we’re going out, we’re doing this or that or the other, or I’m completely zonked and in bed before nine, and yet another blog goes unwritten. And now – a month has gone by. So, if you’ve just come back to work after a lovely late May bank holiday… I hope you can sneak an extra ten minutes during your coffee break reading this weeks’ blog….  because there’s a lot to get through.

WEEK ONE

We had Will and Brandon staying at the beginning of the month…. that magical moment when the garden is bursting with spring….

In smart gardening worlds, copper beech trees are EVER so slightly looked down on (did you know that?).  Various of my landscape architect friends will slightly cruelly refer to a copper beech as an ink blot in the landscape.  Who came up with the description first?  It’s hard to know exactly, as I’ve heard it ascribed to more than one originator.  Whoever the cause, copper beeches are not quite “U” these days.  But I’ve got to admit, I love ours, at that moment in early May when the leaves just unfurl and the colour is like claret.

Tulip time hasn’t been quite so mental this year, because Charlie planted just a few rows, not several thousand. But still enough to make us go crazy. Is there anything more beautiful in early May than a bunch of tulips in a mocha ware mug, gently drooping?

One day, Charlie will have a greenhouse… but until then, the dining room bay window will have to do. The contents of this trestle table will be revealed in the summer (under strict embargo until then). 

Will and Brandon have a famous dog called Lewis the Airedale.   Who makes Sibyl and Enid look rather small.  Sibyl, on the left, has now been overtaken rather dramatically in size by Enid, who is only 5 months old…. but they all get on so happily, minor arguments only.  Even with Henry, the cat, most of the time. 

The green of the early May landscape.  There really is nothing more beautiful.

Sunset:

And the next day, fields of cowslips on the hills on the edge of the village.  This is what farming without chemicals looks like…. old chalk hills, for grazing the Bride Valley Longhorn herd. 

Sunday lunch that day was at Bettiscombe, dreamily perfect as always.  That was why we rolled home too late to blog. 

WEEK TWO

Two days later I was down in Cornwall, working on the romantic castle on the South coast where we are breathing new life in to some ancient bones. We arrived in the late afternoon on a dreamy evening, walking in the woods – the first of a series of azalea and rhododendron gardens that will be featuring this month.  Literally – the dream.

And, back to London the next day, by rather special transport. 

We flew right over the Old Parsonage, though I’ve got to confess I couldn’t quite see Charlie waving furiously below, the dogs rushing around the garden to see us passing…. But there is the Parsonage, with the copper beech directly in the middle of the photograph, and the little church, and our neighbouring cottages and houses….

I don’t think I’d go this way every day, but it was spectacular.

Two days later, we were on the train to Scotland.

We arrived in Glasgow, had a fry-up, and picked up a rental car to head to the bothy for a night. NOT that we can actually stay there yet – as you will see. But we were meeting Duncan, our builder.

We stopped on route at Ardkinglas, and the dreamy Edwardian woodland gardens – at peak perfection in this mid-May sunshine…. 

(the tallest tree in Britain is here:)

Afterwards, calling in to Kilmorich church….

Past Inveraray, my favourite town in the whole of Scotland I suppose…

And calling at at Crarae Garden, also owned by the National Trust, looking spectacular.  I think five years ago if you’d asked me if I liked coral azaelas, I’d have said no. Now, I can’t get enough. Is that the Charlie McCormick effect, thinking about his grandfather Hamish’s beautiful garden in New Zealand? Or is it a softening of that whole idea of “GOOD TASTE” in gardens, which suddenly becomes rather… dull?   The drama of both Ardkinglas and Crarae was breathtaking… especially in the warm, sparkling air of the most beautiful Scottish morning either of us had seen in a long time.

We arrived at the bothy after lunch at the pub. We had a good meeting with Duncan, and Ross, our neighbour… and the had the dreamiest time, day dreaming about the future.

As dedicated readers will know, we have actually bought two houses. The one on the left has two rooms and will be a tiny bedroom and sitting room. The bothy on the right is just one room. It was totally derelict; we’re not doing too much to start, but just getting new windows in, a new roof on, and leaving it at that. It will be our field kitchen to start.  I say “field kitchen” because there’s no running water…. just for starters.  It will be BASIC.

But it is the dream. 

We spent the night at Crinan…. a beautiful sunset…

Giving way to the most crystal clear, still morning. Extraordinary.

Driving back down to the cottages. 

There is nothing, I mean nothing, more beautiful that Scotland on a beautiful day. 

Here is the inside of the cottage, with its perfectly untouched 19th century pitch pine interior. No, for the record, we are not painting it white or pale pink. Do you know how rare these original interiors are? 

Slowly being cleared and tidied up, although we are doing nothing at at, as such.  no heating, just re-wiring, and sweeping the chimney (as you can see).

That Sunday morning the air was warm and the sunshine was bright.  We simply cannot WAIT until it’s ready to move in. 

Also, just for the record, because a few people have asked…. we really are not leaving Dorset.  Scotland is a different place, a tiny bolt hole, that really only the two of us and the dogs will get to I think.  But it is the dream.  WATCH THIS SPACE!!!!

From Glasgow, Charlie took the train home and I took the train to Inverness – a spectacular journey, which I would recommend for those who haven’t done it.  I was at Tornagrain, our Scottish New Town, for two days of visits and site meetings.  The town will be familiar to regular readers – an entirely new settlement that will one day contain thousands of houses, shops, businesses, a new high street, schools and hospitals…. a thriving new town. The whole place is the vision of my client, the Earl of Moray.  The initial masterplan was produced by DPZ of Miami; our role is to take it all forward, and to design, so far, about half of the houses…. some of which you can see in a few glimpses below. It’s really taking shape now.

About 150 houses are now occupied, and the emerging town is looking so beautiful – I cannot tell you how thrilling it was to be there after 6 months and have such a great sense of progress.

WEEK THREE

I arrived back in London….. and the next day, Charlie and I were at Greenwich for a dinner to celebrate the re-opening of the incredible Painted Hall after its restoration.  Such contrasts.  We arrived by boat.  The view of the buildings is always breathtaking.

The evening was brilliant and lavish. Here is the Royal Marine Band, playing in front of the Princess Royal.  Too much, but just right. 

And here is the ceiling of the Painted Hall – one of the truly great Baroque buildings of England…

It was a curious trip down memory lane. Years before, as you will know if you are a very, very loyal reader of the blog (see here), we used to live at Greenwich, in the old Naval Hospital…. it was amazing to be back.

WEEK FOUR

We were in Dorset briefly, for a night. Then back to London. Charlie was doing a planting at our friends Will and Charlotte Fisher’s shop, Jamb, on Pimlico Road, for the Chelsea Flower show…  I arrived in Dorset on a Friday evening and on Saturday afternoon, we tore ourselves away.

But it was a fun week nonetheless.  Chelsea Flower Show week saw the unveiling of one of our buildings, the restaurant at Chelsea Barracks. 

An exciting moment. I went for a small celebratory lunch – only just making it over to meet Charlie at a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace that afternoon (along with a mere 8000 other people). 

The next evening, Charlie and I were at a dinner at the Soane Museum for the Institute of Classical Architecture visit to London.  The group had come for tea at our flat and a tour of the Art Workers’ Guild. Then it was the Soane that evening. I’ve been a million times before, but never such fun. 

The museum had brought out the collection of Syon Park drawings, by Robert Adam.  Stunningly beautiful. 

We had a tour of the museum by candlelight.

If you have never been, do try and make a visit… and you can now, of course, visit Pitzhanger Manor, Soane’s country house, too – beautifully restored and hauntingly empty of contents.

Conversation flowed in these esteemed rooms. 

So, you can imagine what a relief it was to get down to Dorset on Thursday evening.  Henry was happy to see me.  Charlie and the dogs were still in London for a night, but I had a site visit down here the next morning.

The Dorset evening was warm and still, totally silent except for evening birdsong, Quite a contrast to the evenings before. 

It’s been the quietest weekend. We’ve had Dad staying fora couple of days, giving him a change of scene from the flat… Fun times last night with our neighbours Glen and Mandy.  We were feeling slightly the worse for wear this morning, but nothing that a good walk can’t cure.  The hills are green and vital.

If you’ve made it to the end, you’ve got more stamina than me.  That’s what happens when you have four very busy weeks in a row. Time has been flying.

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