Autumnal moments

21 September 2014
Ben Pentreath

On Friday night, Charlie and I drove back to Wardington… that magical garden in Oxfordshire that you first caught sight of on the blog a few months ago now, Glimpses of Things.  It was wonderful to be back. But the most wonderful thing of all, visually at least, is the vegetable garden. Saturday was rainy and misty all day long. But in the soft afternoon light the dahlias glowed.

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Across the lane from the house is the extraordinary flower field that Bridget Elworthy has planted here. With a friend, Henrietta Courtauld, she has created The Land Gardeners.  Once a week they drive buckets of fresh-cut, organically grown, seasonal English flowers down the M40 to London. Flowers are picked at dawn and are at the florist early that morning. I’m reminded of my old boss, Charles – whose grandmother’s vegetables used to be sent on the train from Suffolk each morning and would arrive in London with the dew still on them. But this is now – and it’s for real.P1050698

Quite aside from this satisfying productive pleasure, the flower field is stunningly beautiful.P1050706 P1050708

There is something innately pleasing about rows of flowers in a cutting garden.P1050710

(I couldn’t resist sneaking in a photograph of the lake and boathouse in the grey afternoon mist):P1050734 P1050737

But early this morning, in a beautiful autumnal morning, everything came brilliantly to life, both in the vegetable garden:
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… and even more triumphantly in the flower meadow:
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(giant pink dahlias the size of plates from Dixter):

I love these orange-white creatures:P1050757

And these rows of purple dahlias in the early morning sunshine:P1050759 P1050760 P1050761 P1050762 P1050763 P1050764

Looking across the lane to the manor is a sight of quiet serene beauty.

Start ordering your flowers now.  If that is too complicated, Bridget has recently written and produced the most beautiful book of English Gardens, photographed by Clive Nichols, which you can buy here, in support of the Katherine House Hospice Trust. I cannot recommend it enough. Although if I’m honest it just sets off the itch to write a book on gardens one of these days too….

Reluctantly, we left bright and early – to make our way to Decorex (in conversation with Sue Crewe). Sue, it was great fun, but do you mind my admitting it was a wrench, on such a beautiful morning, to tear ourselves away?

Not, I should add, without a bucket of flowers picked by Somers:


Can you imagine anything nicer to take home to London?  No, you cannot.

Decorex was what it was – may I confess to finding the world of the trade show a little bit weird? But it was lovely to see some good friends, with such beautiful stands, and especially to say goodbye to Sue after her brilliant decades on the helm at House and Garden. I enjoyed the talk and I loved meeting people afterwards.

But we abandoned as soon as we could… in favour of what might, who knows, turn out to be the last of the warm soft autumn afternoons (do you feel a chill in the air?). We headed first to Petersham but the traffic was chaotic and we turned our sights instead on Chiswick… on the way home and just the ice-lemon sorbet we needed after the crowds. It was years since I’ve been. Nothing could be further from the gentle Arts & Crafts of Wardington.

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If you missed William Kent at the V&A… don’t worry. Just pop down to Chiswick – the most perfect classical house you will ever see, a triumphant example of his style, and even on a busy Sunday afternoon in the park, near deserted.  (Oh, and please note, taking photographs inside is forbidden):

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It is a dream. The real delight of Chiswick is how small-scaled the house is… the grandest cottage-villa in London.P1050795

Palladio watches over us:P1050797

But I really liked the fact that he’s watching over gardens filled with happy families playing among the trees.P1050798

The walled garden is amazing. They had just closed, but let us in. I have severe pumpkin envy.P1050805 P1050808

Leaving, there is a glimpse across the ha-ha to the great avenues and terraces of Lord Burlington and William Kent’s sublime creation. P1050809

And in the distance, the roar of the traffic of the A4 thunders by, and in the quiet flat autumn light another day passes in the great continuum of 285 years since this place was first made. I love the randomness of days like this. Who knows how they will begin, and how they will end? I love this time of year.

14 comments on this post

Ellen Farissays:

Dear Mr. Pentreath,
Your blog brings me such joy.

Erica W.says:

What a pleasant surprise to open the New York Times magazine special supplement this morning and see your name and your lovely apartment and your smiling face! I hope you’re now going to treat us to the photos of the painted bedroom — it was such a teaser in the mag to just show a corner of the room. I seem to remember you saying you were sworn not to reveal anything on your blog until the magazine hit the stands. It was such a nice article and great photos — hope to see more!

Just saw the New York Times article. How nice for you. Congratulations!

Southern Galsays:

just read your profile in my local paper -the New York Times. How lovely ! And the accompanying video. -nice to see more of your apartment and office/studio


Confessions and sneaked snaps. He he. Thanks, Ben.


Balm for the soul,such gorgeous scenery. If you find yourself in Northern California, the Mendocino Botanical Gardens are a sight to behold; their dahlias are especially lovely & like the ones you posted, as large as dinner plates. The gardens overlook the Pacific and are stellar.


Such lovely photos full of atmosphere at this juncture of seasons. Ah, dahlias. Surely the world would be a sad place without them. In its last days, what started out as a bouquet of cheery yellow cut stems is acquiring a pleasing dappled look with splotches of dark red (the petals will soon fall off, dry out nicely and eventually fill out some clear glass vessels – not without a few drops of essential oils …). Thanks, Ben.

What an absolute confection Chiswick appears to be. I’ve not visited but will certainly do so on my next trip to London.

Your photos perfectly capture the beginnings of autumn. Once again, thank you for sharing. Those dahlias are delightful!

Yes, Chiswick is deceptive, but, though lovely as it is, my heart is with the Arts and Crafts movement.

I was in a similar garden on the other side of the pond. Loads of dahlias, and a bit bucket of flowers to bring home! Click here.

Lovely photos and post. Thank you. I do not do a good job at dahlias here in western Massachusetts so I loved seeing these. Here it is feeling like fall. It is going to be a beautiful week but the light is changing and we know what is coming next. Happy Autumn Ben!

Hurrah for British flowers! There is a real movement afoot of British flower growers (of which I am one) and we are desperately trying to get florists to stop using unscented, predictable, imported flowers and use the gorgeous ones grown right here. Your beautiful pictures of the flower field show just what we can produce. Thank you.

I am so jealous you were at Chiswick yesterday. I drove past after a silly day in London – why be in London on a lovely Sunday??? – and as I made my way to the M4 to return the Blonde to High Wycombe I passed Chiswick House and wanted to stop…
Thanks for the photos of what I missed!


Pumpkins and nasturtiums a good combo. Dare I say I’m getting dahlia fatigue… there and everywhere!

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