Modern art on a hangover is not a good combination

4 October 2016
Ben Pentreath

We had our friends Brandon and Will staying.  Friday night was quiz night in the village hall. No-one was very good at the answers but as usual we were good at consuming vast quantities of the cheapest wine and beer and generally having a fine time. For once Charlie did not end up ripping his trousers dancing on the bar at 5am, but it’s always a close run thing. We woke to waves of rain sweeping in across the valley, and I imagine the whole village silently nursed hangovers of various severity.  But as our heads cleared after breakfast, so too did the weather, and in heavenly autumnal sunshine – mixed with torrential showers  – we made a trip up into Somerset.

Lunch at Hauser+Wirth, the oh-so-bang-on-trend contemporary art dealership that has made an outreach hundreds of miles from Mayfair to the sleepy market town of Bruton, was a weird and slightly curious affair, populated by a tribe of people who felt so far from the normal run of the mill of our part of the world that I couldn’t help but stare (much to Charlie’s horror). It’s a look you expect in parts of the Cotswolds or the Home Counties, but not in the muddy, dark West Country on the first weekend of October. I couldn’t love it, I’ve got to admit, and although lunch was delicious I resent being served by people who think they are cooler than you (it’s true, they were) and who pointedly refuse to smile. And I’ve also got to admit, (controversial, I know) that I am tired to death of that particular school of Dutch gardening made popular by Piet Oudolf, that says that dead grasses and drifts of perennials are interesting on their own terms. I don’t get it. Hauser+Wirth have planted an Oudolf field and in the 45 minutes that the waitress made us wait for a table (that was empty when we arrived, in a half empty restaurant, I think to prove a point that they don’t welcome ‘walk-in’s’) we wandered around the formless beds under overcast skies and looked at drifts of largely dead plants with occasional smatterings of broadly spaced perennials. At the far end of the field was a large fibreglass blob that I think maybe had been a Serpentine pavilion in a previous existence. Maybe I was ranting about it all because I was hungry, or maybe I couldn’t cope with so much smugness quite so concentrated all in one place. Maybe I am just not for here. I am sure that Hauser and Wirth rocks many people’s boats and I am actually honestly sure that visiting a Piet Oudolf garden, at dawn or dusk on a magical, completely still summers evening, alone, would be a transportive event. So I’m not blaming them, but me. I wasn’t in the mood.  Maybe it didn’t help that the gallery itself was closed, although given my state of mind, perhaps that was lucky. And I’m afraid that I didn’t even open my camera – so you will have to take my word for it, rather than being able to judge for yourselves. Not a good reporter.

We left, chuckling gently about the whole experience, as yet more vast black and dark grey SUVs pulled into the car park, splashed with Somerset mud and decanting daintily clad ladies in gilet and men in statement glasses and Hawaiian shirts, and we headed the few gentle miles down the road to Lytes Cary Manor, which I am sure I will have written about before, the dreamy house owned by the National Trust and surrounded by a modest and perfect garden. Here is the view down from the front door to the Dovecot.

Even here the tentacles of modern art installations were not entirely to escape us. Dotted around the garden were little moments of this and that.p1050460

I don’t know why, but I would have preferred the view without the black and white forms on wobbly wooden stands, which I suppose the gardeners have to move a few inches from time to time to stop the grass dying completely?
p1050461There. I really was in a deeply cynical mood. Terrible!

The orchard restored my sense of calm for a moment….

Until I was confronted by some giant wicker pods, just podding around.  All so meaningful.

But the apples, in all their varieties, were really beautiful,

And the calm simplicity of the stone sundial at the centre of this serene orchard garden showed really how to create a relationship between the man made and the natural.  And we remembered the underplanting of fritillaries and pheasants eye narcissus that filled this grass in the spring.p1050469Yew hedges are being cut back and restored, a sight I always like.p1050471

Other glimpses of the garden:p1050480 p1050481 p1050482 p1050483

The long border is one of the most delicately and skilfully planted that I’ve seen in years, really. I don’t know who the head gardener is responsible for this, but he or she deserves recognition. p1050484 p1050485 p1050486 p1050488 p1050490 p1050491 p1050492 p1050495 p1050497 p1050498 p1050501

Inside the chapel:p1050504

I am obsessed with this cushion on the chapel chairs:
p1050505 p1050508

The house is oaky and dusty and dreamy:p1050514 p1050518

And I love the huge allotments across from the main gates.p1050535

Back home, we walked in the beautiful afternoon sunlight, with autumn pregnant in the cooling air.p1050539 p1050540 p1050541 p1050546 p1050547 p1050548 p1050549 p1050552 p1050553 p1050555 p1050557 p1050564

Mavis and her boyfriend Lewis had the best weekend of all.p1050569 p1050570 p1050573 p1050574 p1050576 p1050577 p1050585 p1050587

Saturday evening we were at home. Sunday was a sparkling day and we made another walk around the valley that morning. Everything glowed. I adore this time of year.p1050592 p1050593 p1050596 p1050597 p1050598

We had lunch in the garden, in real heat; amazing for the time of year. I snapped a photo and only realised later that Will and Brandon look like a presidential security detail, slightly incongruous amongst the dahlias.
p1050646 p1050648 p1050651 p1050652

Another stroll around the village after lunch.p1050655 p1050658 p1050660 p1050661 p1050663 p1050669 p1050670

And then it was time for Mavis to say goodbye to Lewis. for a little while. p1050672 p1050674 p1050675 p1050676

On Sunday night we were all tired. Mavis slept by the aga all evening and Charlie and I had an early supper and headed up to bed at a ridiculously early hour (actually, you can never go to bed too early on a Sunday or a Monday night, I’ve decided). The next day, bright and early, I was heading to Devon for two days’ of looking at new projects, all of which was exciting, and only tonight did I head up the train from Tiverton Parkway speeding back to London. That bit of Devon I don’t know so well, and it is very beautiful, and very unspoiled. No contemporary art installations, I would say. And that is why the blog is a little late this week.

Charlie and I are off to Lisbon on Friday, a trip we were meant to make the weekend that – at very short notice – Mavis coincidentally arrived. At the last minute we couldn’t go – I got laid low in bed with genuinely insane flu, that kept me grounded for 10 days. So we re-planned the trip for what seemed like an age away, and now it’s here. Isn’t it crazy how time flies.  But no more so than if you are Mavis. I thought you’d like to see a little photo of her and Charlie that first weekend.


And with that, good night, have a lovely rest of the week… how nice that tomorrow is already Wednesday, and that you are not, as usual, reading this blog on a Monday morning, drinking your coffee and pondering the whole week ahead.

34 comments on this post

Paul Gillinghamsays:

The irony of it all that your work takes you to places that the common herd can only dream of but you possess the ability to see right through the pretentious posturing of the so called moneyed elite.
Love the pictures love the dogs and love the reality check.


I was amused at your comments about the Piet Oudolf-style garden you encountered. Full disclosure: I’m Chicagoan living in a climate where English-style gardens mostly Just Don’t Work, a frequent visitor to a *genuine* Piet Oudolf-designed garden (the Lurie Garden), and acquainted with its manager.

I love that garden! It is beautiful in all times of the year, including autumn’s drifts of softly colored native grasses. Oudolf has understood the capabilities of a gardening style based on American prairie landscapes better than almost anyone since the great Jens Jensen.

In the right hands, and in the right place, this type of garden can be stunning and appropriate; but I can understand how, done poorly, it would be so disappointing in the context of your landscape, climate and beautiful traditional English style of gardening. These things I truly appreciate whenever I visit England, and might even have had a similar reaction on encountering the one at H+W. (And we certainly have enough “cooler-than-thou” restaurants in Chicago, which I avoid like the plague.)

Diane Keanesays:

I grinned all the way through your post—which I read belatedly; not finding a new one on 10/3, I assumed you would skip a week as in the past. I cannot understand the “no smiling” thing. Is this really what we need in today’s world? But that sort of goes hand-in-glove with a lot contemporary art, doesn’t it? If you’re smiling, that means you don’t “get it”. The photo of Mavis and Charlie, in which both were smiling, was the best!

I’m not a big fan of some contemporary garden trends, but I came across a copy of Piet Oudolff’s book, Designing With Plants, that was a mine of information for those of us who are garden-design-challenged. It was in the library used-book shop, so I was bought it. The principles explained with regard to characteristics of plants used en masse and how they fit into schemes, was applicable to any type of design. It was really helpful because the information was presented so differently from other garden design books I’ve consulted.

I hope you guys are having a wonderful time in Lisbon! I’ve never been these so looking forward to many photos

Charles Ward-Jacksonsays:

My wife, who is a fan of yours, dragged me to a party in Pall Mall on Thursday night, on the strength of a rumour that you might be attending, but you weren’t there! Packing for your trip to Lisbon, no doubt.

I confess that I hadn’t heard of “Hauser + Worth” but I am inclined to agree with your comments. That rather pretentious “plus sign” between the two names is not encouraging…


Don’t be too hard on the H&W staff – it can’t be easy dealing with all those pretentious people day after day, I expect it’s like Stockholme Syndrome!


and the seasons….they are a changin’

Pierre B.says:

How lucky you are to be able to escape city noise and polution almost whenever you want.. and to Portugal! Bon voyage!

mlle paradissays:

looking forward to your Lisbon posts. and loved that quilt. i’m sure you could have done justice to the hauser & wirth visit if you’d been in a better mood but……we appreciate that you have your feet firmly on the ground and solid ideas about beauty. it’s what brings us back.


Oh, so lovely to find someone who agrees with me about those darned grasses! I feel like the only one who can see the Emperor’s new clothes for what they really are . Thank you and keep writing. More photos please of your garden and your travels .


A Piet Oudolf garden nearly killed me a few years ago. We were wandering though the waving grasses at Scampston Hall when my friend appreciatively ran her fingers through the dry seed heads and cast the fine dust to the wind. A seedy flake managed to float into my mouth, down my throat and completely block my wind-pipe for a frightening number of seconds. Beware!


Well I still love your blog even if you did have a bad H&W moment. For us Bathonians surrounded by the old it is a treat to visit even though I was very cynical about it at the start. Bad luck with the restaurant…we have arrived without a booking looking anything but trendy, and in our ancient Honda, and been treated with fantastic friendly service by the manager and the waitresses alike. And I do find 70% of the art they show there beautifully curated and a treat to have top notch cutting edge art in small bites, unlike an exhausting (for this old lady) visit to Tate Mod. But I read you for Charlie’s garden and the surrounding countryside and your winter weekend London walks, so carp away! its allowed.


Please feel free to rant about the likes of H&W. And you can add Daylesford to the list of pretentiousness and lack of service with a smile. Thoroughly enjoyed the tour of Lytes Cary, minus the “artistic abominations” of course, and the views of your own patch this gorgeous season. I love Lewis too. Best, Nicola


Thank you for confirming my quiet, sneaking suspicion that Dutch Wave gardens just might not be the be-all-and-end-all of garden design for this millennium. And I am a fan of them! I too wonder if they will stand the test of time. Thank you for this small dose of refreshing crankiness, followed by the soothing Dorset-y calm we all rely on.


Ben…you’re human and have your very own biases…thank goodness. This bit of balance makes all your other posts even better… and that mavis has quite an eye, Lewis is a handsome guy and they make a very handsome, fun couple.


Bizarrely we were at Hauser&Wirth the day after you as we were at the national dahlia collection a day behind you coincidentally… It was a beautiful day and the garden looked lovely. You missed a treat with the exhibition and the barn conversion to galleries has been done beautifully (this won’t let me add a photo to prove it). We missed the restaurant and yes, too, felt not quite cool enough but I think you probably just needed feeding….

Roy Thomassays:

Paula,my wife being an avid follower couldn’t resist getting me to read about your visit to our local art place. Ha! one day we’ll bump into you two. I’m not sure if the giant bucket is still there, but that may have been the only photo we’d approved of. Only because of the scale of a person standing next to it looks good.
The whole place It is rather larger than life and agreed totally out of place. But it’s free (we love free) and a pleasant place to go to to lower the tone having a few uncool aged 60 year olds. The gallery is always interesting, but as the whole place is comparable with the emporer’s new clothes, I’m sure you would have had an interesting take on it. Appalled by the service and snobbery of the waitress. Don’t take it to heart, I’m sure she isn’t cooler than you, we’ll certainly not me despite my age! Courage! As they say in France.

Dorothy Lindsaysays:

Hi Ben….It is so unusual for you to be ‘narky’ that I went on the H&W website to see for myself and you’re right. The text is written in such a pretentious way that you have to laugh…

Their Design Concept says ‘The alignment of the new volumes is determined by the size and shape.. of the property’. Well, yes. But volumes? What’s all that about?
Who are they trying to impress?
And again, they refer to a “specially commissioned painted mural’ How pedantic. Most murals are still painted;but perhaps not in H&Ws neck of the woods.
And a salt store made from ‘Hand-cut Himalayan bricks’ !!! ‘Nuff said.
‘An ever-changing curated programme of live performances’ Well, yes, again. but ‘curated’? Why do they need to justify themselves to such an extent?
One for Pseuds Corner?



Thank you for NOT sharing the modern stuff and yet taking time to share Lytes Cary. Wednesday is not Monday, but still seems far to go to Saturday. Your post made a school nurse in Chicago linger a bit longer over coffee, dream a bit, and feel her shoulders relax a bit. Enjoy Portugal!


I always enjoy your posts. Don’t know whether your Lisbon trip is for business or pleasure ( or both) but I think you might enjoy the Chinese Pavillion bar, if you don’t know it already. It is a real one-off. The Pavilhao Chines is at Rue Dom Pedro V 89-91, in the Barrio Alto. Make sure to walk on through to the back rooms (there are about five rooms stuffed with curios).


Ben, I keep meaning to ask, do you have goes on the swing ? (One of your old shots of it is my screen saver …)
Lewis’s ears make me crack up every time !


Moral of the story is never stray over the border from lovely Dorset. How’sitworthit, as we call it, is a ridiculous, pretentious place full of ditto people!


Oh how I laughed at your comments on H&W. Just consider yourself lucky that the gallery was actually shut and you didn’t have to wander round trying to fathom the nonsense on display. I was less fortunate and turned to the garden hoping for a little light relief only to be met with drifts of dreary grasses that I suggest will not pass the test of time. On the other hand, I do know who the Head Gardener of Lytes Carey is and will forward to him your lovely blog. The garden is local to me and he was kind enough to identify a plant that left me (and my small local nursery fluent in Latin) completely stumped.


Dear Ben, I just love your posts and the beautiful images that you capture. They transport me from Brooklyn, to the Englush countryside, where I’ve left a piece of my heart. In a few hours, I’ll enjoy this jewel again, with English breakfast tea, in my favorite Portmeirion mug. Many thanks for so much pleasure!
Warmly, Linda


Lytes Cary – was thinking only this week – having been reminded that it has a campaign chair and canopy (an interest of mine) – that it is time to revisit and your post confirms that it would be good for many reasons. Can’t remember how long ago I last went! Thank you for another much enjoyed post – my husband will particularly appreciate your views on Bruton!


This is lovely! The photo of little Mavis made my morning. And really enjoying seeing how the Autumn is creeping into your garden. Have a lovely week.


How I chuckled at your comments about Piet Oudolff. I’ve never really got him either. So glad that your dahlias are still looking gorgeous as an antidote.

Victoria Powellsays:

I’m not normally a vandal but would have been seriously tempted to bump into the wobbly bench with the black and white sculptures – ‘accidentally on purpose’ as we used to say as children.

Isla Simpsonsays:

Much rather see your beautiful rural photos than some tried hard trendy gallery. Please snap loads in Lisbon for us, it’s been on my travel list for ages. Sorry I didn’t get the chance to congratulate you at the book launch, was a wonderful party! xxx


Hilarious, have been wanting to go to Bruton but hubby is not in the slighest bit interested. Always insists instead on a walk along the South Coast path usually from Worth Matravers with a pint at the Square & Compass afterwads!


Well, that was a jolly good post. Nothing like a bit of snark (as they used to say but probably don’t now). I’ve been meaning to get to Bruton, so I’ll go with your comments lodged in a corner of my mind, though I’ll try not to pre-judge too much.

Lytes Cary – oh yes. I’ve only ever been around the gardens because we’ve only been here in Winter for years. The house looks divine. I completely love those topiary bushes which in some lights look like the bells you used to have on shop counters (and still do in some hotel receptions), and in others, well, rather like Madonna boobs…

Enjoy Lisbon.

Robert Gladdensays:

Love today’s post. Rant away! And Lytes Cary looks a dream.
Enjoy Lisbon Ben, I’d like to imagine that it’s all very ‘Casa Pupo’.


Such beauty. Thank you, as always, for the pleasure of reading your post.

David Sanderssays:

Oh no Ben, you are not cynical at all; perhaps just a little fed up with some of the conceit that is prevalent in the world of contemporary art. “…dead grasses and drifts of perennials are interesting on their own terms. I don’t get it.” Love it, sounds like something I would say myself. Here in NZ, making disparaging remarks about grasses (and flax), is akin to heresy. I love them in their natural settings, but they seem to have become the default setting for landscape architects; especially here in Christchurch NZ for any new project in the rebuild, after the earthquake.

Your love of Dorset is washing over many of your followers. For my own part, Dorset has become something of a preoccupation, in the most lovely sort of way.

Debra Mooresays:

Really missed your post yesterday but feeling better now that you have shared some lovely photos.Mavis has grown so much. Once again thank you very uplifting l cannot stop telling everyone about you.Have you ever considered writing a romantic novel set in rural Dorset l am sure it would be a classic.Enjoy Lisbon x

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