Monet, Monet, Monet


Some jobs are fun to do – and some are REALLY fun to do. One minute you’re contemplating the aphids on your roses and suddenly you get a phonecall from The Sunday Telegraph and are in a taxi at 6.15am on the way to Eurostar.  The occasion? James Priest has just taken over the head gardener job at Giverny, Monet’s garden outside Paris, and he’s British. Zut alors! Read my interview with him in The Sunday Telegraph here…

Glossy magazines and holey knees

w&h p1Last year, on three occasions, I had a garden panic. These corresponded entirely with the arrival of Woman & Home magazine’s homes and garden’s editor and her photographer. They arrived once in the spring, once in the summer and once in the autumn to photograph my little London garden for an article all about how easy it is to grow fruit and vegetables even in small spaces, showing how the garden changes over the growing season.

A more charming, instantly disarming duo you would be hard pressed to meet, though of course this didn’t stop me going into a garden-preparing frenzy for weeks beforehand, tying things in, cutting things back and  hiding toddler’s trikes in the shed. Obviously, I was so panicked about the garden that I forgot to actually dress myself appropriately and wore jeans with a hole in the knee – like some tragic Just William scallywag rather than the sophisticated thirtysomething woman I’m probably supposed to be, but moving on swiftly. Anyway, it’s in the newsagents now: May issue, Woman & Home magazine, and the article looks LOVELY and, if you’re not persuaded to stump up on glossy magazines merely to see a small London garden and a woman with incomplete jeans you also get the cover story all about the fabulous Sarah Parish. Result! Self-promotion announcement over, and breathe…

‘Don’t swear, Jerry. And don’t bleed in the sink. I’ve just cleaned it.’

imagesLet’s face it, the real star of The Good Life was Margo, a suburban colossus in a silk kaftan forever gazing over the garden fence in wincing disapproval. But Tom and Barbara were all right I suppose.


Now Sue Perkins and Giles Coren (above) are recreating the sitcom roles played by Felicity Kendall and Richard Briers in BBC2’s Giles and Sue Live The Good Life, it seemed a good excuse not only to talk to Sue about making cheese in old tights and dodging the ‘bum Maltesers’ of goats for The Sunday Telegraph, but to find some real life suburban smallholders – namely Ruth, Jason and their colourful menagerie. So, is it all pigs running amok and knit-your-own jumpers? Let’s see

Petersham, posh wellies and me


I had a great time at Petersham Nurseries last night talking to a charming crowd of Richmond ladies (I think I spotted a couple of men but they were very much a rare species) about The Girl’s Guide to Growing Your Own . Afterwards there was wine, smoked meats and crunchy radishes, carrots and other veg from their gardens dipped into toothsome aioli. Everyone seemed to have a lovely time, no one threw rotten tomatoes at me and I signed a fair few books so result all round.

I am so in love with Petersham Nurseries it’s a bit tragic – it’s a miracle I managed to leave without buying my body weight in beaded cushions, candles and those posh wellies with laces up the front that I always lust after but could never afford. Still, I’m not out of the woods yet – I’m back there on the 24th to lead a Grow Your Own Veg Clinic – I have a feeling I won’t be leaving empty handed that time…

The Girl’s Guide – consider it launched!

So Friday was the launch party for The Girl’s Guide to Growing Your Own – a fabulous and rather boozy affair in a gorgeous florist/plant shop on London’s Bermondsey Street called Igloo – the boozy part of the equation being helped by the fact that the shop also sells wine. Thanks to everyone who came – whether they were involved in some way in the book or just wanted a free glass of wine and a tortilla chip. And thanks to all who bought the book – apologies if my signature and written comments became unintelligible by the end of the evening.

Here’s me – in the flowery dress (I thought it was appropriate) standing next to my agent Heather Holden-Brown – saying a few words…


with some of the lovely guests…

me, isobel, siobhain

and, of course, who could forget the marvellous display of books, snapped proudly by my dad in his Man from Del Monte suit…


Thank you and goodnight

Darwin over daiquiris

The launch party for Miles Irving’s The Forager Handbook a couple of nights ago served up some great cocktails – mean mojitos and cherry whisky sours – and moreish canapes, but there was no disgruntled crush at the bar. Could this be because most of the guests usually have to wade through thorns to get their sustenance? You could tell the foragers from the other folk since, in the chrome and glass, city trader-environs of The Paternoster Chophouse in St Paul’s, they were the ones wearing shorts, with brown faces. Miles himself, longish hair and three-quarter length trousers was in happy mood as he signed copies and chatted to some of the chefs he supplies with foraged finds, such as The Paternoster Chop House’s Peter Weeden and Simon Wadham, head chef of The Rivington Bar and Grill who zips between the Shoreditch and Greenwich branches on his motorbike.

Anne Misselbrooke, a forager who supplies Miles with plants from Cornwall, has no time for gardening. ‘I can’t be bothered,’ she said, ‘foraging is so much easier.’ Comparing my dressing-gowned pottering in SE10 with scrabbling around on a windswept beach for sea purslane and sea beet, I didn’t get it, till she explained, ‘You’re always having to battle against pests to keep plants alive. In the wild, something’s either there, and healthy, or it isn’t there at all.’ Flashes of nasturtiums and broad beans bowed under the weight of blackfly and ants and daily blasted by the garden hose in a vain attempt to win the fight came into my mind, and I rather saw her point. She’s going with natural selection, we gardeners battle it all the way.

Go wild in the country – The Forager Handbook

Back in August last year, I found myself crouching by a beach hut on the Whitstable shingle, riffling through a scrubby bush with an intensity that soon drew the stares of passers by. It was all Miles Irving’s fault – a foraging maestro who was showing me how to identify sea beet, dittander, sea purslane, buckthorn berries and other treasures of the hedgerows and shore you’d normally squash under your sandal. He also cooked me a gorgeous lunch of all sorts of things I could barely identify, many of which may well have been destined for one of the swish London eateries his company supplies.

I wrote about it in The Sunday Telegraph here


Anyway, Miles’s book The Forager Handbook – A Guide to the Edible Plants of Britain is being published next week. It’s a beautiful hardback bible of all things foragey, and a nice mix of the anecdotal and the informative with black and white photographs of every plant he covers. In short, the definitive guide to enjoying the fruits of the forest without landing yourself in casualty.

I’m going to the launch party next week and am already feeling slightly wary of  the canapes…

Spring rising

Been a bit busy lately –  having a baby and looking after a toddler too (unfortunately, it seems the two and a half year old can’t look after the baby) – so my blog has rather fallen by the wayside.

Now the clocks have gone back, I can hold back the tide of spring enthusiasm no longer and must once again bore all incomers with minutiae about my London kitchen garden. The carrots that won’t germinate. The blurry close-ups of redcurrant flowers. Sorry, but I’m compelled to. Especially since the Sunday Telegraph has stopped my weekly Edible Gardener column for the time being due to reasons of ‘budget’ and ‘space’, those twin horrors of the freelance journalist.

Meanwhile, in the world of media gardening, Carol Klein has driven around Britain in a Nissan Sunny with the roof down and continued her tireless championing of the rolled up jean, Sarah Raven has come up against the wrath of lower-middle class England with mutterings about cous cous in the Sissinghurst kitchen (‘But Vita and Hadji loved Morrocco!’) and Toby Buckland has become the host of Gardener’s World, channelling Geoff Hamilton. Which some may think is a marvellous thing. Some.

Garden highlights from my early morning garden patrol: two peas have germinated in the wine crate and a cat has sicked up a piece of baling twine.

Here’s a blurry close-up of a redcurrant flower…


3 things I learnt yesterday

1) Andy Sturgeon is really really nice (sort of guessed that already, but turns out I was right)

2) It’s amazing how you don’t notice the rain and cold of a British August when you’re high on adrenaline and caffeine and have a radio transmitter velcroed to your upper thigh

3) Being filmed for the telly is not quite as terrifying as I thought it would be

So a TV crew came yesterday to film me and my ‘edible London’ garden for a show that’s going to be on in November and the lovely Andy was presenter. Naturally, being August, it rained so everything looked wet, but I’m hoping they can do amazing things with the wonders of television. And, obviously, being a publicity-hungry media hack, I’ll be letting any reader(s) of this blog know exactly when it’ll be on when I do.

Now, when I’ve finished pulling up all those plastic aubergine plants, I’m off to that darkened room…