In like a Lion, out like a Lamb?

10 March 2013
Ben Pentreath

Well, it’s certainly a freezing start to March. I’m in London and as I’m writing, a snowstorm is threatening to blow in; and I’ve got to admit, without trying to sound smug, which is close to impossible on this blog from day to day and week to week, but never more so than right now: I’m rather glad to be leaving town for the Bahamas for a week. There, thanks, I got that one out quickly.

I popped down to Dorset yesterday after a meeting with my clients near Salisbury, where we’ve been making exciting repairs and alterations to a fine old listed building. It’s such a pleasure to see that old house breathing again, and settling into its new clothes which (even though I say so myself) look as if they’ve always been there. That one is such a happy job.

It was a beautiful drive from Salisbury, as cold clouds rolled across the plain. The Bride valley was magical in a soft grey sea-mist.

I planted my first early potatoes, and took a few photographs of the house and garden, for those readers (or commentators, I should say) who have clearly been missing a dose of Dorset; and I just took it all in, and enjoyed  the quiet muted palette of green and grey and earth brown.


Will you check out that compost? There is something incredible in the alchemy of time turning your old vegetables and peelings into dark nutritious soil, and I can’t exactly place why I find it quite so satisfying. But I do. More than anything.  The pile on the right is slowly cooking now.

Spring in the garden seems poised… waiting for warmer weather, holding her breath. It’s remarkable how within a matter of weeks the mornings and the evenings are light again; how the darkness of winter mornings steadily retreats without you even noticing.  As Luke in the office is inclined to comment just about now, the evenings will be drawing in soon.

Cold flurries of sleet and rain suddenly swept across the valley and I retreated indoors. But no sooner had the storm arrived, than it passed, and the landscape sparkled in brilliant warm sunshine.

Steam rose off thatched roofs, and the transformation was extraordinary.

I distinctly remember as a child being fascinated by the way water droplets were held in the leaves of lupins, and nasturtiums.  I was probably about 5 or 6 when I thought I had discovered diamonds in the garden. Intense excitement gave way to equally intense disappointment, which is maybe why I’ve never forgotten.

A crazy out of season calendula.

I had a surprise call from my friends the Hursts. Call in and see Edward’s stand at BADA next week, if you’re in London. It is bound to be amazing, although I confess I’d rather be on the beach.

Anyway, I made Edward and Jane make the tea, while I finished planting more broad bean seeds.  After all, I’m not back for a couple of weeks and I knew that things couldn’t wait that long.

As we walked around the garden, drinking in the beauty of afternoon, and swapping tales of this and that, an extraordinary soft light filled the valley, and the house and landscape glowed. From time to time, I wonder what on earth I’m doing, with my lease on this old house and pouring my heart into it, and into the garden. Then, at moments like this, it’s all pretty clear.

But it was a fragmentary hint of spring. The sun set, and a grey mist blew in once more. Within minutes the evening had returned to chill winter.  I had a gently alcoholic evening with my neighbour round for supper, chatting and putting the world to rights. The perfect response to a bitterly cold night.

This morning, snow flurries blew about the house and garden all day, and the temperature had plummeted. The day had given a briefest suggestion of things to come, but for now: March is here like a Lion. Is it too much to hope that by the time I’m home, it will be gone, like a Lamb?

23 comments on this post

dear mr.gardener,excuse my english.but i desire congratulations for your photographs and yours feelings comments about your lovely land and marvelous garden¡¡I live in guatemala, the land of eternal spring , and i dont imagine how is a a long time of winter. I love plants, and i tray to send someones photograps of muy garden.

We love your atmospheric photographs and descriptions, you are one of our favourite and certainly most creative of bloggers. (just thought we would get that in early). We can almost taste the freshness of that dorset morning.
ps. book?


Houses and gardens like that need people like you Ben and long may you live and garden there. It’s a very curious thing, but I must be one of the few readers who know where your house is. A flukish discovery two or three months before I discovered your book and your blog. I looked at the beautiful photographs and thought to myself “My god, it’s that house.” A hidden and private gem. My lips are sealed.


I am wondering the style of gardening from the aesthetic movement, as I have just dated my house to this time. I was so excited to learn the symbolism of the sunflower as it is in the brickwork, and it has been fascinating to be able to find out the style of decor from the artist william wise who designed some of the tiles on the fireplaces. I like your pale yellow primroses, I imagine them as a victorian posy with violets tied with an antique velvet ribbon cut crystal vase by a sunny window. I like some of the modern fabric of jennifer pagninelli, an american she spent her childhood growing up in bahamas, I made up a couple of cushions in the most beautiful green cotton, I even took them to the beach for a picnic, they make me think of summer as william morris said ” Any decoration is futile if it does not remind you of anything beyond itself’. Have a lovely holiday.


Thanks for sharing the pictures of your garden. It spurs (panics!) me into action, when I realise that you’ve already planted out your broad beans and potatoes. I’m rather taken with your cloches. I wonder what is sheltering beneath?


I have never heard the expression “the evenings are drawing in” used to mean the days are getting longer. We always say it in very late autumn and early winter, when the dark comes earlier and earlier. I’ve always taken it to mean that the (dark) evenings are encroaching, closing in upon the day. Now that I learn of Luke’s usage, however, I am intrigued to realize it could also be taken to mean “withdrawing” from the day, ie, retreating and leaving more daylight. Wondering if anybody else uses this expression and if so, which way? For early darkness or later darkness?


Dear RC – that’s exactly what Luke means too. It might be true to say that he’s somewhat cynical and loves to announce the start of spring with the reminder that soon it will be winter again!


What wonderful pictures! They really drew me into the article and I fully enjoyed what I read. I use to do my own compost in Florida since we had a large piece of land there.

I brought back many seeds from Thailand; mostly fruits and herbs. They mixed nicely with the local vegetables.
Sadly, I’m far too busy these days with my Interior Design firm in Bangkok. Besides, not too much room in Bangkok for large gardens.

I love those older homes in the country. Reminds me of Upstate NY a bit. Except for the weather…LOL. Anyway, thank you for a wonderful read. Cheers.

Kind Regards
Deli LaBarck
Bangkok Thailand

I still am fascinated by water droplets in the garden, especially rolling around like mercury balls on the flat, green plates of Alchemilla Mollis leaves.

I have said it before and I’m moved to say it again – you are a one-man homesickness catalyst. All these lambs and lions when in Sydney there is only the great drone of Summer, bearing relentlessly down. But I shall be back in London and Dorset in three weeks and whatever the capricious moods of Spring, I will relish them all.

Enjoy the Bahamas – may you deliquesce delightfully on the beach.


Agreed, Robert.R. A few nights at The Cape Grace, then on to a Dutch Colonial in Stallenbosch?


Quite agree about the compost heaps. Good enough to eat. Add to that cloche envy. How much help do you really have, Ben, with your leased property?

Liza Vandermeersays:

I absolutely agree about the joys and satisfaction of composting. I can’t help but notice that your compost pile is just as attractive/impressive as your other, more public, endeavours.


Beautiful pictures. Wish I were there!

Tim Ssays:

Your comment about the diamonds is adorable! I am particularly fond of dew on spiders webs.
I admire you for taking a place on a lease…you wanted the lifestyle and so you found a way to make it happen, and I find that quite inspirational. I am currently doing the sensible/safe thing property wise but your blog has got me wondering! What the hell am I doing without a garden?! Have you read “Ashcombe: a 15 year Lease” by Cecil Beaton? I think it might ring a few bells! Enjoy your trip!

Dorothy Lindsaysays:

Dear Ben…..your blog is more important than you know.
My husband and I were married for 45 years and he died just before Christmas. The desolation I feel is terrible
but I am getting through it with hefty doses of your blogs and Monty Don’s gardening books. I am blessed in having
children and loving friends – but they can’t be there all the time and that’s where you come in.
Thank you….


Dear Dorothy, that’s such a kind thing to write, and I am so glad that my little diary gives you a bit of solace. Thank you so much for letting me know. Regards, Ben

Robert Rowandsays:

Next year try Cape Town…28 degrees and wall to wall blue sky today, unsurpassed beauty…plus no jet lag from London.

Frances Kassamsays:

Love ur ..holding its breath line , felt it. Re house re lease you are living in the present, past is history, tomorrow is a mystery, the present is a gift and that’s all one really has so enjoy the immense pleasure it gives you and always know you will have that memory. I would just love your energy. Love pics love the fact that you do this, look forward to it like I’m marooned on a desert island waiting for some good news, it always arrives and I am always delighted and becoming increasingly grateful it does.


Your blog gives me immense pleasure and I look forward to it knowing it will brighten a Monday morning. Like you I am about to leave for the sun but I’m heading for Melbourne so was amused by Jo’s comment above.
Jo – I completely understand your longing for rain and lower temperatures but please keep some sun for my first visit to Australia! It’s been a long cold grey winter over here.


oh my god, thank you ben. beautiful, beautiful photos.
i CAN”T wait for autumn/winter. melbourne is suffering a heatwave – day 8 of above 30 degree temperatures and 2-3 more to come!! i am melting and my poor, poor garden is suffering horribly. Send some rain our way.

enjoy the bahamas!

Elizabeth Barrsays:

Your England includes Bahamas just as my Canada includes Bahamas. Nothing wrong with sunshine in March. Have fun and return home refreshed!


“0h, to be in England”……
Here in Woodstock……. Connecticut that is, we have 10” of snow but it is warming up!

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