It has been the greyest of January days. Where the sky, so heavy with water, feels like it is barely managing to stay above the rooftops. The rainwater from last nights downpour gurgles in the gutters and it feels like the kettle is on a continuous boil. I'd quite like to make fresh bread and have a read in the bath, but these will have to be saved for a slow weekend. My inbox is steadily growing and I have seeds to purchase.
On days like this I turn to homemade cake and fresh air for solace in between the to do lists. A blood orange and rose cake, a January favourite, is cobbled together and by mid morning I’m sitting down to a pot of tea and a generous slice to fuel the admin ahead. Winter citrus takes centre stage in the kitchen during these seemingly everlasting January days, the sharp tang of lemon or orange jolting me back to lighter, sunnier, warmer days spent drinking homemade lemonade in the garden.
Another defence against the January melancholy is great lungfuls of fresh, cold air. I’ve been known to call it a run but the honest truth is it’s a gentle jog, allowing me to listen to the steady rhythm of my steps on the path and take in the woods around me. I always take the same route, sticking to the well trodden path that cuts right through the heart of the woods, with its towering trees sheltering me from the worst of the elements. I feel as if those ancient trees push that grey, water laden sky upwards, away from me, and I can breathe in that space. As I was passing a front garden on my return, I could smell woodsmoke and the faintest scent of sweet blossom which near stopped me in my tracks. I scanned the house and garden, noting the smoke from the chimney which would explain one, but could not locate the source of the honeyed scent. I am still sitting here thinking about it. I'd love to know what it was.
Sometimes I like to hear the reassuring rhythm of my footsteps on the path as I organise my thoughts, and other times I like the soothing sounds of my new favourite podcast in my ear, transporting me to Sweden, Australia and Scotland. Dispatch to a Friend is a must listen, a series of letters written between friends, heavily punctuated with tales of homemade cake. I always return from these outings hungry, no need to wonder why.
Whilst the soil is water logged and the garden bare, I wish to transport you back to a rather blissful summers day last June at Chenies Manor. I was asked to be part of a shoot in the beautiful Tudor mansion house and gardens, and spent the day before clipping great armfuls of rambling rose and wisps of clematis from my garden, whilst filling buckets with favourite garden roses in ballet slipper pinks and buttery yellows.
The gardens at Chenies Manor are some of the finest in my humble opinion, beautifully tended by a team of enthusiastic and incredibly knowledgeable gardeners who keep the grounds flowering year after year. Alongside the kitchen and medicinal gardens, the sunken garden to the left of the garden room is a true oasis. It is planted with towering tulip for the spring festival and dinner plate sized dahlia for the autumn festival, and in between there is a beautiful jumble of rambling rose, clematis, poppy, foxglove, cosmos, phlox, allium and wisteria... oh I could go on.
The path of catmint in the kitchen garden is a favourite walk of mine, alive with bumbling bees in the summer and a stones throw from the pretty St Michael's Church just over the garden wall. It is the perfect escape for a warm summer's afternoon, and a cup of tea and homemade cake in the garden room is a must.
Adjacent to the garden room, which is perfect for wedding celebrations, is the sweetest little summer house that we were lucky to use as our shoot base on the day. Natural, wild and rambling bouquets seemed only fitting to compliment the beauty of the gardens surrounding us, so I created delicate bridesmaid and bridal bouquets in whites, blush and buttermilk. The palest blush and yellow garden roses took centre stage, nestled in between clusters of my favourite white rambling rose with its jolly yellow centre and intoxicating scent. For a touch of wildflower meadow lightness, I added a few stems of Saponaria which danced elegantly in the breeze. A final flourish of Philadelphus added further sweet scent and I popped in a few grasses for movement too. Bound with naturally dyed silk ribbon (hand dyed in the studio) the bouquets were ready to go.
I also whipped up a wispy, wild arrangement in an old ceramic half crescent urn, which sat perfectly against the soft apricot walls in the bridal bedroom. A flurry of clematis and bobbing cosmos added lightness, further enhanced by the afternoon sun through the old leaded windows.
There is magic in bringing flowers into beautiful historic homes and gardens such as Chenies Manor. An ode to their former inhabitants you could say, who didn’t have the distraction of screens, and possibly spent their days instead admiring nature and entertaining friends. I imagine long dinner tables in candlelit dining rooms dressed with flowers cut from the garden, with chandeliers and polished silver sparkling. A time for cut glass champagne saucers and dinner jackets. Much like a wedding in many ways. Perhaps that's why I love them so much.
I love to arrange flowers in old buildings steeped in history, it feels right. Grounding, you might say. The purposeful act of bringing the outside in to celebrate the distinct seasons we are so lucky to experience. They mark special occasions and lift spirits on a dull day. A simple pleasure that many have enjoyed centuries before me within those old walls. A simple pleasure, and an absolute joy.
Fellow suppliers for the Chenies shoot are as follows:
Venue - Chenies Manor
Hair - Hair by Holly
Make up - Laura Carroll
Dress - Cristina Adami
Model - Joey Kendall Brown
Film & further photos (coming soon) - McDowall Photography