Friday Fun: Amazing Courtyards and Patios

Still here, still pretty much housebound, and no plans to travel too far afield. But who needs to, if they’ve got such wonderful courtyards in their own home? I hope they come complete with a gardener who knows what they are doing, because they can’t count on me to keep anything alive and pretty.

I’ve always craved a place to gather with friends outside on balmy summer evenings and tell stories. From
Courtyard in Mexico from Photo credit: Lorena Darquea.
Water features are so soothing, and I like the idea of having a swing as well. From
Another inside outside room from Arch Daily. Photo credit Denilson Machado.
Tunisian feel in this simple to replicate courtyard, from


Friday Fun: Even the Smallest Patio

It’s amazing what you can achieve with even the smallest little bit of outdoor space. Makes me feel all the more guilty for not doing anything much with my rather bigger garden, but I am rubbish at gardening and also would rather sit and read. I’d happily grace any of the patios below with my book and my presence!

Strategically placed reading chair, from
Clever way of ensuring privacy amongst the concrete, in Crete. From
Even a balcony is enough, if you have this gorgeous view of Granada. From Flickr.
Who doesn’t dream of climbing roses – and reading chairs? From Pinterest
This must be a problematic garden, without much sun, but a lot of charm. From Pinterest.
Of course, if your garden is very steep, you may have to consider different levels. From


Strawberry Hill Forever!

I had the great good fortune of visiting St Mary’s University in Twickenham on a sunny day, which allowed me to take a walk through its lovely campus and visit its next-door neighbour Strawberry Hill House: indeed, there is a door leading from the wing of one to the old building of the other.

St Mary’s University leading to Strawberry Hill House (in white).

It was the summer house built to house the art collection of the extravagant and eccentric Horace Walpole, politician, art historian and writer. He was not all that rich when he acquired a plot of land with a cottage and a nice view over the River Thames in Twickenham, but he had very strong ideas about what he wanted to create: an architectural folly to entertain guests who would come upstream to visit him, a backdrop for his legendary literary and artistic parties.

Period view of Strawberry Hill House by E. Sandby.

He had a passion for the Gothic style and pioneered its revival a good half century or more before the Victorian revival of it. He even pioneered it in literature, starting a new genre: the Gothic horror with The Castle of Otranto. As he got richer, he kept adding another wing or redecorating the house, and of course he spent a fortune on his collections. Not just objects of artistic value but also of historical importance – for example, the clock that Henry VIII gave to Anne Boleyn on their wedding day or Cardinal Wolsey’s scarlet cardinal hat. Before visiting, I had the impression that Walpole made it up as he went along and created a mish-mash of styles without much thought and planning. But I discovered just how meticulous a historian he was and how accurate all his reproductions were (of wallpaper and silk hangings for example).

The oldest part of the house was a sort of two up two down cottage, and Walpole added a wooden turret to it.

And it was not all about extravagance. He was also astute at spotting a bargain – for instance, most of the stained glass in the windows was reclaimed from Flemish salvage yards. Unlike most private collectors, he was not about keeping it all for himself, but saw Strawberry Hill as a cultural centre to be shared with others. He started a printing press, and exhibited most of his possessions like a museum.

He had a wonderful life surrounded by all his favourite objects, showing them off to visitors, living exactly as he pleased. But the sad coda to this tale is that when he died without an heir, his entire collection was auctioned off. Fortunately, for a short time only, much of it has been brought together again (on loan or reproduced) and until the 24th of February you can see Strawberry Hill as its owner wanted it to be seen in the Lost Treasures exhibition.

You’re not allowed to take pictures inside, but I have to show you the promotional picture of the library, which can be hired as a wedding venue, I believe.

The view over the Thames has been lost, sadly, and the gardens border onto St Mary’s athletic track, but what other garden has got a shell-shaped seat with a whole book dedicated to it?

Friday Fun: Urban Gardens

After attending my beekeeping classes, I’ve realised just how important even the tiniest of urban gardens are (as well as big trees in parks) for keeping the bee population alive and thriving in our cities. In many cases, the bees are better off in the urban environment, because there are fewer pesticides than in the countryside. 

Balcony on Ile St Louis, Paris, from
Quick, cheerful and cheap option, from
Garden in Rome, from
Penthouse garden in NYC, from Laurel B. Interiors
The more DIY approach to rooftop gardens from Germany, from
Why not a house surrounded by a garden and koi pond, like this Nagasaki home, from Pinterest.
Disuses railway lines have been transformed into promenades in a number of cities, including the Highline Promenade in NYC.

Friday Fun: Swimming Pools

Just as the weather gets grey and miserable, I have a craving for outdoor pools. This is what comes of not having been on a beach in summer for 4 years…

Infinity pool with the sea beyond it, what more could one wish? From Pinterest
Extravagant architectural statement from Mexico, from
Infinity pool above the jungle canopy, from One Kindesign.
More of a paddling pool, but with Tunisian tradition to it, from
Pool with a jungle feel to it, in your own back yard, from Fitz and Huxley.
Hammock, plants and pool in a more geometric design, from Pinterest.
Our neighbours in France had a pool that lit up at night, so this is a dream of mine… From Pinterest

Friday Fun: French Urban Gardens

Spring is almost ready to spring, or so we hope! It seems to come earlier in England than in other parts of the world, but this week my pictures take me  to France. Paris and other French cities may not have quite as many green spaces as London does, but it’s always a pleasure to discover some of them, however small. French gardens may be famous for their severe geometric precision, but this is the more natural, unkempt style.

My favourite park in Paris: Parc Buttes-Chaumont, outrageously romantic, with an amazing view towards Sacre Coeur from the temple.

But it’s also about finding green spaces everywhere you go: cafes (here in Saint-Germain).

… along disused railway lines (from Time Out France)

…in little residential impasses (much like the mews of London). From

Another passage Grenelle from 15e arrondissement.

The famous flower market between Notre Dame and the Palais de la Justice. From La Compagnie.

Side streets in Montmartre, from

Jardin Sauvage Saint-Vincent in Montmartre.

Japanese garden from the Pantheon-Bouddhique, 16e.

Friday Fun: Romantic Doorways

Doorways into secret gardens bring the promise of forbidden delights, paradise into the everyday and nostalgia of childhood forays into the fruit orchard. Plus, as winter darkness and damp drizzly mornings begin, it offers a remembrance of better days…

The White Rabbit Doorway in Atlanta Homes.

Quintessential cottage garden style, from

Traditional gate designed by Dan Ascbach.

Wrought iron beauty from

Simple beauty in Italy, from Birds and Baking on Tumblr.

Architectural focal point, from Jamie Forbert Architects.

Not really a gateway, but a wonderful space for thinking and dreaming about what lies beyond, from

Friday Fun: Japanese Gardens

As autumn draws near, can there be anything more beautiful than Japanese maples bringing colour and balance to the calm contemplative harmony of a Japanese garden?

The Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden in LA, from

Gate to beautiful mysteries, from Pinterest.

The glory of autumnal colours, from Peter Toshiro on Flickr.

Simple, easy-gardening style from You Tube. The cat approves of the lack of lawn-mowers.

Garden in Kyoto from William Corey Gallery.

There is even a Japanese Garden Design School, and this is from their website.

There is nothing more beautiful than the sight and smell of rice paddies after the wet season; this one reminds me of them, from Shiro Nakane City Limits.

Autumn in all its glory: Savill Garden, Windsor

In case you think it’s all doom, gloom and complaints in my life at the moment, there are the occasional perfect autumn days to rejoice every little cockle and mussel of my heart. There are few things more beautiful than an English garden, but perhaps one with artworks to discover and a son with a map determined to see every single one of them (and exclaim at the prices) is the best garden of all!

Savill Garden is an enclosed, well-tended part of Windsor Great Park, but not that easy to find even with a GPS. It’s considered one of the finest ornamental gardens in England, is part of the Crown Estate, and until 31st October it hosts an exhibition of 61 sculptures.

Autumn colours
Autumn colours

Landscape with deer
Landscape with deer

A sea of hortensias
A sea of hortensias

Lilac tree, the most expensive sculpture in the garden.
Lilac tree, the most expensive sculpture in the garden.

Borders with real flowers and sculpted ones.
Borders with real flowers and sculpted ones.

A more affordable metal flower which captured our hearts.
A more affordable metal flower which captured our hearts.

The prize for artificial flower of the day goes to this one, though.
The prize for artificial flower of the day goes to this one, though.

Mr. Fluffles, owner of the garden, who showed us around his manor.
Mr. Fluffles, owner of the garden, who showed us around his manor.


Friday Fun: Head Back to the Patio for Work

In my dream world, I would be able to work on a shady patio, drinking in the fresh air, rejoicing in the cheerful chirp of birds and friendly breezes playing with my hair. In the real world, I get attacked by insects, cannot bear the heat, have my hair buffeted around by angry winds and fail to read anything with the glare on my screen. But this is all about dreaming, isn’t it?

So, with so much work coming up over the next few weeks that I’ll be mostly missing in action again, here are some places I will be working from (in my mind).

Singapore villa, from
Singapore villa, from

Italian villa,
Italian villa,

Garden shed of joy, from
Garden shed of joy, from

Cloud House, Australia, from
Cloud House, Australia, from

Another example of effortless Italian style, from Domaine Home.
Another example of effortless Italian style, from Domaine Home.

Terrace in a jungle, or so it seems, from Domaine Home.
Terrace in a jungle, or so it seems, from Domaine Home.

Where do you like to work – in your dreams? And in real life?