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By pastures green

15 May 2017
Ben Pentreath
43 Comments

One of the strange things about renting two houses is that you spend a lot of time travelling between the two. I suppose that my weeks, in the main, are in London – with long day trips to some of the further flung places where we are working at the moment – County Durham, Northumberland, Inverness. Thursday or Friday evenings will see me getting wearily on to the long train to Dorset where we bury ourselves for the weekend, as regular readers of the blog will well know, and Monday mornings arrive, and so it goes on. But the one thing we don’t do masses of is going anywhere else.

You’ll recall that we had a lovely weekend on the Suffolk-Norfolk border last weekend. The week flew. And on Saturday morning, we found ourselves again not down in Dorset.  A strange feeling twice in a row. We were heading to the Cotswolds to stay with our friend Mary Keen, the eminent garden designer and writer. She and (her) Charlie are about to move from their beautiful house that has been home for twenty five years, and she had madly invited us to have a look. The last thing you want before you are about to move, but there we are – that’s Mary for you. More energy than ten other people put together.

We were staying in a beautiful tiny cottage in the garden, approached down this grassy path through the orchard.
After lunch and a wander around the garden (more later) we went for a walk into Mary and Charlie’s bluebell wood. First past a meadow of cow parsley….

A great stand of beech trees had been planted here just after the war, which just goes to show how quickly, in the scheme of things, you can turn a hillside into beautiful woodland, if you so choose.

Bluebells have moved in and now carpet the woodland floor.

Hundreds of orchids too….

Looking back to the house.

That evening we went for drinks at Daneway, fabled Cotswold manor, with a sense of history that passes deep through the veins of the ancient, thick stone walls and tiny leaded light windows. In this tower, monastic chants are reputed to have been heard (although not by the present owners, who find the ghosts to be kind and welcoming; one can see why – they have treated the house well). 

Dinner back home was a right royal riot, and we went to bed happy and tired. There was heavy rain in the night, a blessing for parched gardens everywhere. We woke to sunshine and an intense, vivid, saturated green. I went for a tiny wander in the garden before breakfast.

Across the veg garden walls you see the little church tower.

The building is magical, 11th or 12th century; a truly ancient place, quiet and still.

Looking from Mary’s yew garden, a tiny glimpse to the tower beyond.

Euphorbia and tree peonies spill out of the gravel that she put in twenty five years in place of a wide tarmac drive.

The house is tall and plain, and perfect. I loved that second little chimney pot you just glimpse to the right, interrupting the symmetry.  Tulips just going over in the flower garden.

Mary said her auriculas were sulking about the forthcoming move, but they were in a beautiful sulk, it has to be said.

A glimpse of the happiest room you have seen in a long time, with Mary’s giant angle poise lamps, shelves of well-thumbed gardening books, and beautiful golden yellow Willow by Morris & Co. Heaven. This colour should be reprinted immediately and distributed on the N.H.S.

After breakfast we tore off on a day of sightseeing.  First stop, the Abbey Farm Organic Farm shop, about as far from your Daylesford-meets-Soho-House-idea of the Cotswolds as it would be possible to get, and perfect, especially if you are into bright pink walls and bright green shelves, and more overflowing organic produce than you’ve seen before. 

We bowled on through green lanes. The colour of the landscape is intense at this time of year anywhere, but nowhere more so, it felt, than here.

Next stop Burford.  We were having a garden and house tour with Mary’s friends Christopher Moore and Michael Taubenheim (except that Christopher, sadly, was away).  Amazing. If the garden was green, our faces were greener with envy. Or at least, we pretended it was admiration.

A tiny stone path leads as far as the eye can see; you dart through a little gap in a hedge to find a wide, open, level lawn, surrounded by clouds of cow parsley and ancient regency benches.

Up top, a beautiful, newly built stone pavilion of perfect proportions, designed by Christopher and Michael, housing a tiny banquet house, with this fireplace cobbled together from Irish bits and pieces.

The view looking back.Most amazing of all is this vista through the great house’s hallway and into the steps of the garden beyond. It is like arriving in a courtyard house in Sicily or the south of France. Quite unlike anything I’ve seen in England before; magical. The house, inside, is equally fine; an interior repaired and nurtured back from the brink of decay.  A quiet labour of love. 

To step out into this street scene must be an amazing thing everyday, although it is true that such perfect beauty brings an almost unreal air to proceedings. Life’s a bit different down in Dorset. (We don’t, just for a start, have coach loads of Japanese tourists every day of the week, although may be I should stop writing the blog just in case). 

We went next to an amazing house, that of Magdalen Jebb, the genius creative director at Lewis at Wood, who’d been staying the night with us all at Mary’s, for fun. Magdalen’s house is one of these days going to appear in the pages of a certain magazine, so you won’t mind if we don’t make them cross by posting photos for all to see here. But it is perfect, too, and if I explain that she lives in an end of terrace modern council house on the edge of a village your intrigue will be piqued all the more.  I am now going to rush out and buy extra-wide wallpaper from Lewis and Wood in their document ‘beech’ pattern.

We had a delicious lunch at the Mitford-orama pub, the Swan at Swinbrook, where Charlie and I downed good pints of beer and felt slightly sad that fish and chips is nowhere to be seen on a menu dense with bulgar wheat, chorizo, squid, asian slaw, roasted red pepper salsa, pan fried this and (you get the idea)….. the food was good but again – for a moment – we missed humble old Dorset and crap pubs where you can’t quite finish your chips.

The afternoon rolled on, under sunshine and intense, dark rainclouds.  We had a final stop on Mary’s amazing tour, to see the ebullience of the Bannermen (that is, Julian and Isabel) planting at Asthal Manor.

Drowsy blowsy plants spill extravagantly this way and that, everywhere, and you suddenly reach moments of austere calm:

or of pure wild beauty, 

or of smiling humour, the duck egg pool house tucking out from under an ancient pink cherry tree. 

Dream path.

We were grateful to our hosts for such a generous visit.

Across the way from the church, great horse chestnuts blew in the wind, their candles in full flower. For a brief moment it was as if you had never seen anything so beautiful in your entire life.I’ve noticed more than a few comments recently, on the blog, saying thank you for being a moment of calm in what feels like an increasingly crazy world. Charlie’s got the best advice of all, ultimately, which is just to switch off the news. For those of you like me who, despite our better selves, remain slightly addicted to political discourse, it’s worth reminding yourselves that those tall trees (or that ancient church tower) have seen the start and end of wars, the rise and fall of empires. Life has a curious habit of carrying on. And in many ways, it’s better than it ever has been (just as in some ways, as always, it’s not).

The church clock struck four – well, it didn’t, actually, but I thought you’d enjoy the thought. It was time to make our farewells.  We had great hugs from Mary and Magdalen (who make ideal travel companions, let’s face it), and we set on our way back to London to collect Mavis from Will and Brandon, where she had been on a happy weekend with her boyfriend, their Airedale, Lewis; heavy rainstorms rolled across London, and the three of us rolled home tired and ready for an early night. I don’t think we’d seen quite so much in a long time.  It’s refreshing.

43 comments on this post

Shelaghsays:

Dear Ben, your posts lighten my day every time but this time – wow, the entrance hall of the house in Burford amazed and delighted me. I made a screenshot, I printed it out. I pinned it up in my kitchen so I could gaze and dream in wonder as I cooked. I researched Christopher and Michael and discovered that Greyhounds, their beautiful home featured in Romantic English Homes and bought the book to read more. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Thank you Ben, Shelagh.

Charlotte Ksays:

OMG Ben. Best post ever? I will return to this beautiful place over and over thanks to you. Do you ever think of your posts as a kindness to others? You should!

Carolesays:

What a breath of fresh air! Thank you Ben and Charlie for sharing! We are in winter here in South Africa so to see these beautiful lush green fields is balm to the eye!
I am an interior designer here and so love your real and comfortable interiors that show like Mary’s beautiful little den – what is right about our world. Comfort,peace and serenity! More power to you both. Thank you

Nellsays:

Mary Keen’s book about making the garden she’s now leaving, is one of my gardening bibles. Thanks so much for this visit.

New Moons For Oldsays:

‘… those tall trees (or that ancient church tower) have seen the start and end of wars.’ Such a perfect sentiment to round-off another dreamily excellent post. Thank you.

Geoffrey Whittingtonsays:

Glad you enjoyed your visit to my part of the world! Always enjoy your blogs and your books are a constant delight.
Best wishes to you both

Emma Fletchersays:

I forwarded this to my sister as I thought she would enjoy. Her reply was “I’d happily potter around those grounds for a good part of my life”
My sister germinated the idea for her gardening business while serving in Afganistan and Iraq with the British Army. On leaving the Army she studied for 3 years with The English Gardening School and now has 10 years experience in designing, landscaping and maintaining gardens..
I think I will get her Paradise and Plenty: A Rothschild Family Garden for her Birthday ……..
As always, thank you for the inspiration.

Diane Keanesays:

Thank you for this lovely post, Ben. I had to smile when I read the bit about your being green with envy over the Burford gardens. Now you know how your readers feel about the Old Parsonage gardens! I retired, finally, at the beginning of this month, so hopefully my own gardens will get more TLC than I could give before. I am chuffed!!

RE the news, I only ever picked up random things here and there, now I avoid even that. My local classical station plays the BBC news, but even the lovely English accents don’t help! One can only hope sanity will eventually prevail. In the meantime, by all means gardens, books, friends, pets, art!

Big hugs to you both from Diane

Pierre B.says:

The three chimneys house looks perfect to me. Great photos as usual. Thank you!
We may ignore pllitics but this is not, I’m afraid, reciprocal…

judithsays:

absolutely top notch post, in every way and many many thanks; I am your greatest fan!
Also, Charlie is right about the news; I watch/listen to nothing after lunch time, so have time to forget/digest all the gloom and doom…
Have a lovely successful week.

Marilynsays:

The enjoyment and sheer pleasure I get from reading your weekly posts cannot be measured. The beauty of both your photographs and prose are food for the soul and in a world that at times seems to have gone mad, it provides moments of calm and a reminder of the beauty found all around us. I provided a dear friend of mine with a link to your post. She was born in England and emigrated to Canada when she was just a newly married young physician. She is now losing her vision but the pictures of the rolling hills in Dorset brought tears to her eyes. Thank you for the time you spend each week bringing so many people such joy.

Millerballsays:

I cut cable almost 20 years ago and am now learning to wean my self off CBC. Whenever I travel for work and watch TV in my room I’m not surprised why people feel so frazzled, the content is just horrible.

Even though I live on the West Coast of Canada and just had a beautiful few days on Salt Spring Island, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of England in the Spring – it’s just so beautiful and has so many memories that it makes me come over all Call the Midwife weepy.

eriksays:

reading your post was like putting salve on a wound .

Nicolasays:

Used to live in Chadlington 1000 years ago and frequently revisit the area whenever we can. Often walked past the Burford house and glimpsed the garden beyond the hallway when the big doors were open, so it was a real treat to see it in its greenery. Actually the whole of this blog was fantastic and gorgeous and green. Seriously thinking of moving back now. Best, Nicola

Junesays:

All the green beauty and so much more.
Thank you.

Shelleysays:

All I can say is: “I want to be there”! We here in Maryland are about to top 90F. this week, so pictures of lush, bucolic English spring settings are just what I need to gird myself! Thanks, Ben, for sharing!

mintysays:

Thank you for sharing!

Annsays:

Oh such glorious gardens and I kept wondering about the number of people it must take to keep them looking so beautiful? I too have switched off the news as it makes me so sad and angry. Thanks for sharing your beautiful weekends with all of us.

camillasays:

what a fabulous collections of gardens,so inspiring

elizabethcsays:

Wonderful Ben!
Such a joy to read.

Thank you .

Annabellesays:

I have a deep nostalgic love of chestnut trees in full bloom. As a little girl growing up in North Dorset, my tiny bedroom window looked out into the midst of the most glorious chestnut so close that you felt as though you were in it. Now in West Dorset, I am surrounded by dripping wet green and beautiful birdsong, but I miss the chestnut trees.

Rebecca Haydensays:

What beautiful pictures and what a beautiful country we live in. Such greens and so refreshing. Reading your blog is always an absolute joy. To be able to take pleasure in the little things and take time to look around you is a rare gift. Thank you Ben. X

Sophiasays:

So beautiful!! That’s all I really need to say! Looks like my perfect sort of weekend 🙂 Love the Cotswolds.

Gracesays:

Ben, your posts are unfailingly generous..with lovely prose and gorgeous photos. I, too, quit the news realizing that the world of politics would roll on without me. We’ve had bad guys in the White House before and they came to an end without us losing our democracy or minds along the way. I am immersing myself in my small garden and in the dreamy gardens you share in your blog. Thank you for always bringing us back to nature, that enduring healer..

Melaniesays:

Thank you for another lovely post. I too switched off the news years ago..

Emilysays:

More inspiration to get on with the garden, thank you! Maybe one day….!I can’t remember if I’ve said this here before, but I take huge comfort from the fact that my roof saw Charles I lose his head and has survived the centuries since. And the trees and hills fulfill the same need to be a very small cog, sometimes.

Lindasays:

BEST. BLOG POST. EVER! Thank you Ben for a reviving breath of fresh, green air laced with beauty and fun. The Cotswolds and Dorset. My two favourites. P.S. Thursday nights are ‘burger night’ at The Swan…and the chips are super! Perhaps you could persuade them to try a ‘fish and chips’ lunch day!

Anna Ksays:

Like Charlie, I have switched off the news and rejoiced in the green of spring and birdsong.

Thank you for that heartstopping post. May I quote Walter de la Mare’s poem ‘England’? I know it off by heart and whispered it under my breath as I read your blog.

England

No lovelier hills than thine have laid
My tired thoughts to rest:
No peace of lovelier valleys made
Like peace within my breast.

Thine are the woods whereto my soul,
Out of the noontide beam,
Flees for a refuge green and cool
And tranquil as a dream.

Thy breaking seas like trumpets peal;
Thy clouds – how oft have I
Watched their bright towers of silence steal
Into infinity!

My heart within me faults to roam
In thought even far from thee:
Thine be the grave whereto I come,
And thine my darkness be.

Catherinesays:

Thank you!
Your post was a lovely escape from my current madness. They always are
but, today especially.
I am moving house as well. Ugh!

Alicesays:

My jaw dropped at the start of your post and it didn’t move until the end. What an insanely beautiful weekend! How did you take it all in? I was on overload and we only saw snippets. Once again, thank you, thank you for sharing bits of your world with us all…

Joaniesays:

What a beautiful series of in and out with splashes of color framed in greens. Back here in Chicago, we can match the green, but not so much the amount, even in my fairly blossoming tree filled neighborhood. Appreciate your comment on the witness trees to history and noting the young trees that are relative postwar babies (like myself). As our election neared its bitter end, I was on a long sandy walk along Lake Michigan, on the other side of Chicago, where there miles of beach and dunes, with a friend discussing the the horrible politics of it all. She suggested we stop talking about it. Her observation was that this beautiful massive lake, waves, and miles of beach don’t know there is an election…so we should just join in. It worked. Happy New Week.

Alison Lewissays:

Such a perfect showcase of our green and pleasant land. Thank you for sharing your weekend story and glorious photographs. My weekends are not complete without a copy of the Saturday Daily Telegraph and your writings on Sunday evenings x

Annasays:

ah, England, England England. I am lucky enough to live in it, and in Bath to boot, and still absolutely love your blog and its magnificent photos and the blissful weekend journeys and observations you share with your readers. much gratitude to you

Isla Simpsonsays:

Ben,
This post completely transported me to a bucolic wonderland. I devoured ever minute of yew hedging and cow parsley. Utterly divine! I only wish I’d been on the magical carpet ride. Love, Isla xx

futzsays:

This gives a sensational sense of the freshness of late Spring, green on green …

Catherine Inglebysays:

Did you mean Burford? The Burford Garden Company has to be the most attractive garden centre I’ve ever visited, I now have work in their gallery, simply so I can have the pleasure of visiting occasionally (and spending my profits!!). Heavenly photos, as ever.

Mary Jenkinssays:

I know Mary’s garden well after visiting many times at different times of the year and sitting in that dear little cottage! We all dream of something like that in the garden? I was sad to hear that she is moving so was delighted that you have captured some of its beauty for us to revisit.

Michael Senterfeitsays:

Ben –
If there is a Dorset tourist board, they should be paying you. My wife and I want to come to the UK from the US on holiday in a couple of years, and your beautiful pictures and mesmerizing descriptions draw us strongly to Dorset.
We lost most of our backyard trees in a big “domino fall” caused by Hurricane Matthew last year and are rebuilding the landscape from scratch. Your pictures are providing some inspiration in this endeavor. Unfortunately, we don’t have a church tower in the background.
– Michael

Debrasays:

Beautiful a wonderful calm prevails like a soothing balm. Nature has done it again surpassed all expectation renewed the spirit and fed the soul.Thank you Ben for capturing these moments and sharing them with us. It is no wander that William Morris and other designers got their inspiration from nature they say the best things in life are free.It does make you wander why we complicate life and run ourselves ragged searching for this and that when very often all we need in life is right under our nose. We all have a tendency to make life harder than it needs to be what you teach us through your blog is to observe and wander at the glory of our beautiful world. Maybe the essence of politics would win if it put our planet and everything living as priority above financial gain and super inflated egos we are all but a moment in time Mmmm a bit heavy but it is us humans that are complicating our existence and by doing so seem to be losing our way need l say more.Have a good week Ben and once again thank you God Bless.

Christinesays:

Beautiful. What I love most of all, Ben, is that you always post lots of photos, soI have the feeling that I’ve had a good look around. Instead of just small plates, there’s a whole meal, a bit like your Dorset fish and chips. Sigh.

David Sanderssays:

Great horse chestnuts in flower; quite possibly are the most beautiful one will see, in one’s life.
Like you Ben, I am slightly addicted to news of the political sort – I keep feeling I can make a difference, in my own curious way, but like Charlie – a fellow kiwi – sometimes I just shut off from the whole stupid mess, and drift off into a world of beauty – it’s so much nicer.

glendasays:

ya’ outdid yer’sef’, dear ben. a “keeper” to go back to, when things look a bit black. even your friends have outstanding taste. i cannot decide which is the “best” photo….worthy of a published book, is all of this blog! thank you ben and charlie, for your generous sharing, of which i can imagine takes a huge amount of extra energy, seeing everything in “blogness”. thank you for going the extra mile(s) for all of us.

glenda

Mikesays:

Glorious post,a welcome respite from the “real” world which is becoming increasingly dire. I do so appreciate your generosity in sharing your engaging narratives & beautiful photos.

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