I’ve missed you

9 September 2013
Ben Pentreath

…It’s been a long time, as some loyal readers of the blog have taken to commenting on (which, I would say, is a fair comment), since I was in Dorset. So you can imagine, on Saturday morning – Bridie and I got back from Paris the evening before, where we’ve had a very exciting and (can we say it ourselves?) successful mission finding new stock for the shop…so, on Saturday morning – how happy I was to be heading west.

I didn’t go straight to Dorset. I wanted to catch – before it closes at the end of the month – the fantastic Rex Whistler exhibition in Salisbury. I’d missed the opening, I’d missed a million and one opportunities to get there earlier in the summer, and now it closes at the end of the month, and, well, from time to time, there’s no time like the present. I cannot recommend this wonderful show too highly. It’s the perfect exhibition. Small (I love a two-room exhibition) and packed with superb paintings, drawings, sketches, books.  I knew many, intimately, from reproductions but it was a joy to see so many in the flesh. I’m not sure I was meant to whip out my camera but I hope you don’t mind.

Jock Lewes, co-founder of the SAS; a deeply pensive portrait that was captivating.

Another wartime portrait: quiet, dark, completely unlike anything else by Whistler and hinting of a powerful future.

The dreamlike Palladian Bridge at Wilton – a chalky, limpid painting.

And I was thrilled to see this portrait of Ashcombe, Cecil Beaton (then more recently Madonna’s) magical house on the Chalk Downs… the painting forms the jacket of Beaton’s biography of the house, Ashcombe: the Story of a 15 year lease, which seems to have become stratospherically expensive since I bought my copy, but find it if you can…

The perfect small show. It is on show at the Salisbury Museum until the 29th.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Not least, of course, because you walk out of the Museum to this view.

I love walking around Salisbury Cathedral Close so much.  Two of my favourite houses on earth;

But after all that…it was time to go home. A magnificent drive across the downs, sparkling in brilliant sunshine.  I drove down into the valley just before lunchtime, and the view across West Bay to the cliffs of Devon was breathtaking, gleaming.

The descent down the steep hill into the village is one of the things that makes me happiest on earth. But no more so than when I haven’t been for a month.

The vegetable garden has gone crazy.

Some things have fared better than others.

My cabbages and broccoli have been destroyed by caterpillars.  They were rather beautiful in their desolation, but I am sort of happy. While I’d been in Italy I’d decided what I’d really like to do this autumn is clear the entire veg patch and start over in a slightly calmer way.  The crop rotation, just as a for instance, has gone a bit awry. So that’s a good excuse, because nothing else is planned to overwinter. There is a huge pile of manure waiting to be dug in.

The sunflowers have done rather better.

The dahlias meanwhile have gone mental:

I think some of these might migrate up to the flower borders next spring.

But it was time to start clearing up the less picturesque chaos.

Many trips to the compost ensued.

The pink fir apple potato harvest is prolific. I think I may be eating rather a lot of pink fir apples in the next few months.

It was a weekend of extraordinary skies.  Fine looking east… but dark clouds were gathering to the west.

My leeks had gone completely to seed months ago. I love leeks in seed, like some giant allium. Now it was time, before autumn storms crashed their way through the garden, to cut them and bring them in.  I’m liking their scale in one of the bay windows.

Dahlia time.  My favourite.  I cut buckets of dahlias and even managed to get them back up to London on the train.

It was a fleeting visit – down on Saturday afternoon, back on Sunday afternoon, but strangely I didn’t mind. Not least because I’m down in Dorset a lot this month coming. But there are also exciting things afoot at the moment in London, which I will be writing about very soon. So after a long absence from Dorset, even a brief stay is long enough to reconnect. There is something permanent and unchanging there which works its effect from the moment you walk through the door.

30 comments on this post


Mr Pentreath ! – the piano. The beautiful faded burr walnut. I am sure your hand drifts across it as you pass and perhaps you raise the lid and breathe in its scent but – are you giving it a work-out ?!


Dear Diana – it gets played every day that I’m here! Very badly…


The dahlias have gone mental! LOL xxx


PS I also have the Beaton Ashcombe book – pleased to hear that it is appreciating!


I love your inspiring blog. In Burgundy a couple of weeks ago I came across the most beautiful field of onions/leeks that had gone to seed. So unusual to see after all the fields of sunflowers – utterly stunning in their structural splendour.

Ben! I just got the October Elle Decor, and their “Elle Decor Goes To…” feature was about London. And lo, there was Ben Pentreath Ltd, not just mentioned in the Where to Shop column, but also with a lovely photo featuring, I think, Mr. Hone channeling Mr. Soane. (Did you, perchance, have the wall in the shop painted the same color as your Dorset kitchen?) Well, you’ve gone international, which is only for the best. Someone of your taste, charm and knowledge (and passion, as someone commented) is always welcome on the world stage. May your influence and values spread far and wide. kUDOS!!



Thanks Diane!! I will check it out… That’s my favourite US magazine by a long shot, so very good to hear. All best, Ben

Why are those clouds over the cliffs of Devon so full of promise and suggestion, somehow? What is it about big sculptural clouds that makes them trigger memories and longings? Big words, I know…:)


Dear Ben,
What a happiness !!
Reading your posts is like opening peaceful “parenthèses” on the day, a sweet and precious moment.
Thanks for that.
The garden is so beautiful, you’re very lucky. Enjoy it.
A french reader !

lovely lovely post – those dahlias! i once stayed in a landmark trust property inside the cathedral close in salisbury and it was truly one of the most magical experiences….to see the light change over the cathedral day after day.

your blog is like heroin to me. i’m afraid i’ll be back!

Joyce Morrissays:

Whistler, when what can one say, the man was a genius.

Thanks for the joys of your blog, it’s so, well, intelligent and passionate. We almost ended up living in Dorset last year, but, actually ended up in Herefordshire which is equally as wonderful and now we can visit D. for a treat.

I have just found your wonderful world and can tell straight off that I will become an avid follower!
Can’t wait.

hello from chicago, usa.
this anglophile just discovered your blog ben and i am smitten. and to see my favorite place, dorset in this post. terribly sorry to be missing the whistler exhibit. i will be in sherborne, dorset for the month of england, your images has certainly whet my appetite.
thank you for such lovliness!

Oh, lovely England. I treasure your blog — thank you for sharing glimpses of your corner(s) of the world with us.


the dahlias!!! oh goodness.

Deby (in Canada)says:

smile… all is well! Except of course my dahlia envy!

I really like your pictures, they are great.
Thanks for sharing

Italy was lovely but we’re glad you’re home. And thanks so very much for the Whistler detour. You made this another memorable Monday here in the Midwest.

Oh, Ben—Rex Whistler! One of my favorite personages! I still think of him more as a muralist than a standard painter, perhaps because I first discovered him in a book with photographs of the fabulous murals at Plas Newydd. I have his biography, “The Laughter and the Urn” written by his brother, Laurence, but never finished it for some reason. I see a pair of the topsy-turvy heads on the back wall of one of the photos. Thanks for sharing these.

Cecil Beaton is another favorite character. Does it sometimes seem that people of our own time just can’t compete with the personalities from the past? Beaton, Diana Manners, Vita Sackville-West, the Mitfords, the Sitwells. Ashcombe, Montegufoni, Sissinghurst…and that’s Walton Canonry in the 2nd Salisbury Close photo, I believe? Perhaps it’s just easier to discern the ones whose lives and accomplishments have already been brought into high relief by the passing of time.

RE Wilton and the Chalk Downs, do you know the book, “Arcadia: The Dream of Perfection in Renaissance England,” by Adam Nicolson? It is right up your alley, not only because it deals specifically with that locale, and the buildings there (among other aspects.) As I read it, I keep thinking of the Old Parsonage. You are a copyholder—the owner of an actual written agreement with the landowner. Be glad that modern leases do not also entail a huge quantity of unpaid, back-breaking labor on behalf of the landowner, that would’ve been required in the 16th c. You are lord of your own, lovely manor and “farm,” looking deliciously blowsy and resplendent in the early autumn photos. (I’ve always wondered about the thatch-roofed buildings adjacent to your garden. Are they part of your estate? If so, could we get a closer look sometime? And the church? Blogortunity!!)

This is one of the reasons I so enjoy your blog. You are always making Venn diagrams with my own interests (Whistler, Beaton and Wilton, all in one post), that intersect consistently with my current reading and on-going interests. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. Thanks, Ben.


Yes, finally. English order (not Greek or Roman) is restored. Thank you.

I believe we have heaven on earth. You certainly do. Thank you for your beautiful pictures and blog.


Aaahh…. Dahlias in a lovely jug, sitting on a simple table…all is well.


Lovely – I really look forward to your posts. Would it be possible, if it’s not too impolite, to request pictures of your flat in London? Dying to see how it looks now you have been there for a while. Thanks for dedictating the time to your blog – it is much appreciated.


I’ve loved all your posts from Italy – blessed land! But isn’t it wonderful to come home again? I sense your joy in being back in Dorset. Do you know Laurie Lee’s poem ‘Home from Abroad’? Here’s the last verse:

So do I breathe the hayblown airs of home
And watch the sea-green elms drip birds and shadows,
And as the twilight nets the plunging sun
My heart’s keel slides to rest among the meadows.

It’s amazing that the garden just gets on doing its own thing flowering away and producing lovely harvests – even though there is no one there to see it. My brassicas look the same as yours I’m hoping they will recover although the possibility of that is a little slim.


What’s the sunflower? Chianti? Welcome home!

Glorious. As ever. What a treat first thing. And Whistler too! And not just Whistler, but new Whistlers I hadn’t met before.
That’s my morning brightened, thank you Ben.

On you last photo I noticed a framed Whittington Summer Show poster and a Howard Phipps wood engraving. The 2013 show was this past weekend, I was there, and so was the lovely Howard Phipps too.

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