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Showing posts from May, 2018

Found my niche

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Whenever I visit a garden, I’m drawn to the quietest corner, imagining how to recreate a mini-oasis of calm and inspiration.

Recently, I had the luck to visit Wallington in Northumberland, and found the perfect niche.


A joyous combination of modest asplenium ferns, alchemilla and lobelia set in a Regency-era horse-shoe enclosure facing the sun.

Frosted greens and navy are definitely my favourite combination for tranquillity. Add a lichen-encrusted stone feature, a bench and sundry hostas in pots, and I’m in heaven.


A small, naturalesque waterfall gurgled discreetly, reminding me of a wry comment by Alan Titchmarsh, amused at a large garden fountain, commenting that ot sounded like a large equine relieving itself into a deep trough. Oh, dear. I still can’t walk past ostentatious water features without wondering where the nearest loo is.

I may never aspire to the view they have at Wallington, but when we move house, I now have my wish list.

PS I discovered that the gardener at Wallingt…

Fact, fiction and fascinating foraging

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Cragside is a superb Victorian house in the North-East of England with an unusual claim to fame –it’s the first home to be lit using hydro-electric power.
It’s also well known for other gadgets inspired by the owner, Lord Armstrong, a Victorian inventor, innovator and landscape genius whose engineering skills made him a fortune.
There’s a hydraulic lift for the servants, for example, and the first electric dishwasher in the world.But some eerie personal coincidences have made the place even more fascinating.
I’ve been working on a sequel to The Lost Orchid, a tale of botanical skulduggery in the 1880s when orchid fever was at its height. (Doing the research I became something of an orchid addict - see Orchidmania, a small blog of mine.)
Ferns were massively popular in Victorian England, and much has been written about pteridomania, so I thought a fern-themed sequel would be appropriate.
It seemed a good idea to move the action further north and this is when I came across Cragside and its…

Fancy a blue ruin?

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Bingo; Blue Ruin; Blue Tape; Daffy; Diddle; Drain; Frog’s Wine; Geneva; Heart’s Ease; Jackey; Lady Dacre’s Wine; Lightning; Max; Rag Water; Sky Blue; South Sea Mountain; Strip Me Naked; White Ribbon; White Tape; White Wool.

Whatever am I talking about?
These are all 18th-century nicknames for gin. I’ve just found some sloes in the freezer picked last autumn and was hunting for a recipe – and inevitably got caught up with some Georgian history.

It is said that gin was invented around 1650 in the Netherlands by Dr Sylvuis. This man - who is also known as Franz de la Boé - was Professor of Medicine at Leyden, Holland. Originally, he intended this 'medicine' as a remedy for kidney disorders. He used neutral grain spirits flavoured with the oil of juniper. He called it 'genever' after the French term genièvre meaning juniper. By 1655 it was already being produced commercially and English soldiers serving in the area developed an affection for the spirit.
When William of Orange…