Life continues

A lot going on these last few days. First to Stratford to see a really good Antony and Cleopatra, a generous and appropriate birthday present for someone of my advanced years, the play dealing as it does with middle-aged passion. (School parties in the audience could practically be felt resisting the temptation to go ‘yeuchh’). Next up, the (possibly) world-famous ‘Tour de Presteigne’, the world’s only rally dedicated to the electric bike.The culminating fancy-dress parade (five high speed laps of the town) made up in mad inventiveness what it lacked in fashion sense, or indeed any other kind of sense.

Under starter's orders

Then it was off to Sussex to start shooting a couple of gardens for our next book, Great Dixter and Sissinghurst, both looking wonderful as expected and gloriously different from each other.

Finally to the election. I hope – how I hope – that I’m being pessimistic, but the words that spring first to mind are, of course, from the closing lines of Animal Farm – “the creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which

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A new feature – La Foce, Tuscany

wisteria at la foce

Wisteria tunnel at La Foce

An appropriately spring-like feature in the current issue of Country Life magazine¬† (21st April edition) is Helena Attlee’s piece about the garden of La Foce in Tuscany, made by Cecil Pinsent for Iris Origo and her husband in the 1930’s. One of its major features is the wisteria tunnel, which we were lucky enough to find in full flower when we visited it last May.

I’m just back from a short trip to Cornwall, where I went to photograph the amazing magnolias at Caerhays Castle, some of the trees being as large as a full-grown elm – an astonishing sight, though so high that I really should have brought a field camera with me. Nikon make a couple of good lenses with a fair range of movements – may have to be this summer’s expensive acquisition.

magnolia

Magnolia at Caerhays Castle

The Gardens of Japan continues to do reasonably well – the French edition has now sold out so they’re reprinting there too, and it had a good review from Robin Lane Fox in Saturday’s FT – you can read it here.

Fire Down Below

house on fire

Central heating

A couple of heat-related matters this week. The first involved waking early on Saturday morning to find a huge column of smoke rising into a clear sky from the derelict house over the road. It was a strange, quiet, unhurried scene – a couple of fire engines and three or four early morning spectators idly watching the firemen go about their business. A perfect fire, really; nobody hurt, a rather ugly house (deserted for years) destroyed, the whole thing giving entirely innocent pleasure to all who saw it.

The second thought inevitably involves the real fire down below, i.e. the one underneath Iceland. I may be behind the times on this, but it seems odd that no-one has yet mentioned Dunkirk. Surely here is the model for the way to repatriate desperate British families marooned in a garlic-smelling ashy mist on the Continent, surrounded by untrustworthy foreigners. Small-boat sailors of Britain, now is your hour! (An update – it looks as if real life has caught up with me, to judge by the latest news)

Finally, I’m pleased to say that The Gardens of Japan is already being reprinted, less than a month after publication. Onward and upward!

A New Feature – Les Ballets Russes

A new feature written by Helena Attlee and photographed by me in the May issue of The World of Interiors – a recently rediscovered hoard of amazing early 20c costumes from Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe company, designed by Leon Bakst. Wonderful things to handle – one of the great privileges of this job is the immediate contact with objects that would normally be seen behind glass in a museum

A Cossack tunic from the ballet 'Thamar', 1912

No Such Thing As A Free Launch

Well, that’s got The Gardens of Japan off to a good start. A hundred or so friends, family and acqaintances came and made a determined attempt to drink us dry in the intervals of saying nice things to Helena and I about the book. They bought a copy or three as well, I’m relieved to say. David & Sara Bamford generously offered us their beautiful new cafe and gallery as a location for the launch and the accompanying small exhibition. A very good evening altogether, and we even managed, just, to cover the cost of putting it on. Gone, alas,¬† are the glory days when books went hurtling down the slipway awash with the publisher’s champagne.

Book launch

some of the multitude

If you missed it, the exhibition is on until May 2nd at The Workhouse Gallery, Presteigne, LD8 2UF (01544 267864). Opening hours are 10 – 4 from Tuesday to Saturday, 12 – 4 on Sundays, closed Mondays. Copies of the book are also on sale, as are some of Jake Hobson‘s beautiful Japanese gardening implements. Oh, and if you’ve seen the book – and like it – we’d be grateful for a brief review or rating on Amazon. Thanks!

Our glamorous girls man the bar

A new feature – the Telegraph Magazine, Saturday 6th March

Ginkaku-ji Temple

The gravel garden at Ginkaku-ji, Kyoto

In tomorrow’s Telegraph Magazine, extracts and pictures from The Gardens of Japan. Just a taster – I’m afraid you still have to buy the book, which is published on the 25th March. Visit and support your local independent bookseller for choice, but if like us you’re miles from anywhere, you can always get it from guess who (link on the book cover below)
The Gardens of Japan

The Gardens of Japan – first review

Our first review for The Gardens of Japan, and we really couldn’t ask for a better one. It’s in the current (March) issue of Gardens Illustrated and is by Charles Quest-Ritson, to whom all thanks. “Ravishingly beautiful and inspirational” – yes, we can live with that. Official publication date is the 25th March, though some bookshops already seem to have stock.

Ryoan-ji Temple, Kyoto

A weeping cherry overhangs the famous ochre wall at Ryoan-ji Temple

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