Summer cure

27 July 2014
Ben Pentreath

Well, thank you… for a lot of amazing comments at the end of the last blog. Life’s a lot more cheerful this Sunday than last, I’m glad to report. What a difference just a week can make in life…combined with a fair dose of happily optimistic planning, a little bit of research, and a lot of long-distance phone calls to the ends of the earth (literally). Watch this space…. I think it’s all going to be okay. Maybe.  Just.  Which is better than I was feeling last Sunday night.

It has certainly been a roller coaster. I slipped out of London as dawn broke on Friday morning, leaving the detritus of the birthday party I’d thrown for my friend Mo in the flat the night before. There’s nothing at these moments quite like escaping to Dorset. If I ever wonder, from time to time, why I try and make it all work to live in two places at once, Friday explained it all. The cares of the world fall away as quickly as the miles pass. The journey, so familiar, passes like a dream. Do you ever have that moment when you are travelling a deeply familiar route where you suddenly realise you’re not quite sure where the last 50 miles went?  As if you have suddenly been picked up and placed down again further down the road? That was my going to Dorset on Friday morning.


The house was sleeping, shut up, and the valley was heavy with heat. I love this moment of deep summer, when nights and mornings are stifling, and you think it will never end. And I love the moment of arriving at the Parsonage when I haven’t been there for a while, walking around the garden, seeing what is new and what is over, and then the house, opening shutters, opening windows, bringing light and life to darkened rooms. In the heat of the late afternoon I caught up with a few bits of work, almost reluctantly… and called my neighbours Ed and Christine for a catch up. Gate crashing one of Christine’s amazing suppers is always a pleasure.

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We talked long into the warm night.

The morning was beautiful. The vegetable garden has reached a stage of manic productivity. It’s so hard to think of six months earlier, or six months from now, when all of this will be cold, bare soil – that moment feels a million months away. I suspect it will be here sooner than we can imagine. For now, it’s blissful to wake incredibly early and enjoy the garden as the sun rises over the house.

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Mornings are about the vegetables. Evenings are about the rest of garden, and the valley beyond.

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I’d been for a catch up with Glen and Mandy down in the village, and now was heading through the valley to dinner with my old friends and neighbours, the Sykes. When I started in Dorset it was with them and I’ve always adored Anthony’s mad and beautiful interior decoration and architectural style. You would have no idea that this house, which Anthony designed, was just 15 years old. It’s a stage set, but the most brilliant stage set I’ve ever seen.


Here is Anthony, never happier than when he is giving a tour (in this instance, a tour to inspect the remarkable programme of gilding that has been underway).P1040237

If you are partial to Anthony’s pale-blue trompe-l’oeuil columns, do not forget that they are for sale in the shop (we are the only stockists in Britain of the last remaining stock). They are brilliant, and beautiful.P1040238

A few years ago Anthony and Harriet decided to tent the dining room. It’s  magical place to eat. The view to the south is remarkable.P1040241

My friend Argus (who knows a thing or two about such matters) always says that the Sykes’ house is the only well-sited country house in the whole of Dorset. He has a point. Most of them have some strange flaw.P1040252

Dinner with Anthony and Harriet is a riot. Even more so, if it’s possible, than with Ed and Christine. There’s nothing like keeping busy and getting drunk and eating the most delicious food to cheer you up, after all.P1040256

I woke incredibly early, at dawn, my head feeling a little the worse for wear, it may be true. But I picked a hundred dahlias for Bridie, and beans, and packed up the courgettes I’d picked the night before, and jumped in the car again to head home. I had a morning date with Maggie Owen at Matisse.

“PLEASE DO NOT TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS” said the guard. But how could you avoid wanting to remember this?


Or this?P1040261

It was brilliant, and Maggie and I left The Tate with buzzing heads and happy hearts. It’s a great show, and I loved it. A bit like eating raspberries and ice cream all day long, in extreme heat… not a diet for the rest of your life, but perfect for a summers day.

The afternoon was at Bridie’s house. We lingered and languished and talked and laughed and munched our way through 100s of yellow courgette pizzas. P1040276

A bit of football went on (The cartwheels were slightly more spectacular than the goals)….P1040277

… And a lot of laughter.P1040281

The bar, which had started life as the most elegant thing you’ve seen outside of ‘the Peak of Chic’, descended, like all of us, into a happy but slightly messier state of affairs.P1040283

And as afternoon slipped into evening, it was time to leave. I reflected, when I got home, that there’s nothing like being busy doing nothing at all to keep you happy.  photoBack home, dusk fell at Queen Square, and I dreamed of the other side of the world all over again, and wrote this diary, and thought – as I always like to do on a Sunday evening – about the week to come.

20 comments on this post


Mrs. H, Deborah, Nicola, and Ben –

Thank you all for your kind thoughts. It hasn’t been easy and there are still lots of rough patches but I continue to move forward. When you face a life-changing event of this kind you come out at the other side changed but with a greater appreciation of what is important in life, how fragile it is, and a better sense of how you want to use your time. At least I did.

So many people are constantly complaining and bitter – I refuse to take that path. Finding blogs like this and like-minded folks around the world reinforce my feelings that there is still so much beauty and joy to experience. This bog and the commentators are very special indeed.

Take care!

The photography is gorgeous, so happy to have found this blog. Relaxing in Canada and reading this blog is making me want a change of scenery. England here I come!

Nicola Lawrencesays:

Dear Ben – and Ann

I have been thinking about you both since reading the blog earlier in the week.

Ann – my thoughts, as with those of other readers of this blog, are with you and I hope you continue to be able to find solace and happiness and lessening of pain through beautiful things and words.

Ben – if your sadness and now some hope is relating to a long distance love interest….. you might like my ‘happening’. I met Peter (in 2011) three days prior to flying to London to study at The Inchbald…. he was a dream…. as was my course and time in London. I thought Peter was a missed opportunity however he appeared in London three months later…. it was incredibly special and the sort of thing that would not be expected to happen to me! I finished my course….. headed back to Australia – and four weeks ago we were married! I am now living in a very remote part of Australia with a tall, handsome, fun, genuine of spirt and generous man – and a very ‘ungorgeous’ landscape (ugly and hostile beyond words….! However, we escape quite often, and I also live vicariously and happily through family, friends, books – and you! Good luck?! x


But perhaps I have the Anns mixed up…if so, sorry!


Ben, another blast of happiness coupled with another blast of envy in re your garden. Oh, how I dream of a garden like that! If I let loose my imagination, I can smell the soil and flowers and hear the plants growing. And looking at your social life makes me wish I was not quite so introverted and lazy about entertaining. I used to be known for throwing imaginative parties – a particularly successful Saturnalia comes to mind.

Ann, I am so sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine how hard that is for you. I would be truly lost without my husband and am selfish enough to want to go first to spare myself. Also, thanks again for mentioning Bevereley Nichols a few posts back – I now own three first editions and am handing out lesser copies right and left to deserving family and friends. He is very good for filling the gaps between Ben’s posts. The English Gardener by William Cobbett (1763-1835) is another great read. Coming from a long line of keen English gardeners, I imagine I am reading the admonishments of my forbears.

We States-side residents (Cambridge, MA, on this end) must feed our dreams as best we can.


thanks sbw


Insprational blog it tis indeed 🙂 Do you have a gardener, or someone looking after all that in Dorset when you’re not there?? How’s the roof garden? Piccys pretty please. Isn’t summer in UK the best 🙂 Have a happy week, look forward to next Mondays update, as always. Loves x


Thank you once again for a beautiful blog. I love all the photos of the countryside. Lovely!


Your garden is so lovely. Would you allow me to paint it from your photos? – Thanks

Mrs Hsays:

Ben, I love your blog so much, for all of the reasons Ann and others have said.

But I want to add that one of its very many pleasures is the elegance and eloquence of the comments people leave here for you every week.

Ann, life is so very hard and you sound so kind and lovely. I will be thinking of you.

PP (incidentally my own initials) your journey from Somerset to NSW surely deserves a blog of its own.

And other comments from weeks past that never cease to move, amaze, inspire and educate me.

Thank you, Ben, for your fab blog and great online community.

jane marshallsays:

I so look forward to monday afternoon when mail arrives in the antipodes from ‘our friend’ ben, never more so than today when there seems to be a return of a pep in his step and not solely due to the abundance of riches in the dahlia dept.


From the “other end of the world” in Australia Thank you as always for your great blog.


Hi Ben, been following you since the beginning of the year, I look forward to reading your blog , to look at your photos, I feel I have known you for a very long time !! I connect to you in every aspect,
I lived in the Uk when I was in college and already been to London twice this year with the intention to pass by your shop , but never had the time due to the hectic work schedule …I will be coming to London again hopefully before the end of the year and I hope this time I will manage to meet you. You are a source of inspiration to me, I look forward to reading your blog , keep it rolling …going through rough times is part of my life , when you were down I kept thinking of you! But as the french say “‘c’est la vie , on pleure et on rit” !!

Nicola Lawrencesays:

Hello Ben. I am glad you have had a better week and a weekend filled with happy relaxings! I really hope by your comment of ‘the end of the earth’ you mean you are travelling to Australia! Working in Australia? Moving to Australia????!! x

Your herbaceous baxons are absolutely sumptuous! I’ve never been the greatest fan of dahlias, but I’m reconsidering them on account of yours, all telescoping upwards on long necks, surveying the garden with the greatest curiosity.

And absolutely – that feeling of driving along, and suddenly wondering how you just passed the last 50 miles.

Also the need to go into the garden straight away, on arriving, and check what’s been happening. I used to drive down from London to Somerset on a Friday evening and go straight out into the dark with a torch, just to check. And I do the same here when I go from Sydney to rural NSW. Minus the torch, for some reason. Probably the moon shadow.

Your post last week was mysterious and this one is too – markers strewn about the ends of the earth…very tantalising. The promise of happiness seems to be appended, so a collective breath will be held and fingers crossed until it transpires, whatever it is.

oh yes, your garden is just heaven. so happy for you and so glad you share it with us. and yes, nothing nicer on a summer day than doing nothing at all. it’s what summer’s for, isn’t it?

All those flowers! I hope you cut big bucket-fulls and took them home to London with you.


A long time follower of your blog from the US (NJ to be exact) I have never posted before – but just want to say thank you – for your photos, your words, your honesty, your wit and style, your ability to share your life with complete strangers in such a lovely and thoughtful way. I have dealt with heartache that I never anticipated over the past few years (my husband died way too young of cancer 20 months ago) and reading blogs full of beautiful places and lives in places I love (I’ve been to London twice since he died) reminds me of why I keep on going.

I hope all is well with you in every way – amazing how attached and connected you can feel to a complete stranger – and that you face whatever is in your path with laughter, love and appreciation of all we have been blessed (I hate the word but sometimes it works) with. Peace and happiness. Thank you for sharing your life.


Thanks Ann! All best, Ben

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