A Surreal Week

The light has been extraordinarily clear and bright this week.


A nice leaf on the windowsill.


Same leaf on the windowsill with the light reflected off a new tall building blazes in from the north in the late afternoons.


Our dim little counter gets lit up – had I known the light would fall there I would have arranged a better still life.. This is sort of brownish in honor of the meatloaf that is about to get made…


Light on the High Line on election afternoon when I was beginning to feel wobbly.


Last licks of flowers from my son’s garden the day after…


Apprentice flower arranger.

So the week continued with lots and lots of walks and sights seen.


A house to desire in Greenwich village


and leaves in the gutter


not to mention the hats on 5th Avenue


and heaven in the New York Public Library…


and an intimation of mortality.


But the light! – and a man leaving.


All this emotion and seeing things required a little respite in the form of Tea & Sympathy where we ate


very stodgy puddings and drank tea.

img_4592On the way home I passed the Chelsea Hotel which is undergoing an extensive and much needed renovation – for good or ill. Anyway lots and lots of changes. I’d better get used to it.

Fall Thoughts – assorted

A rather sepia-tinged time of year – my favorite really.


Last week it was 85F but time for raking leaves thought there weren’t enough to make a jump-able leaf pile.


A season of very round things


and more round things


and a giant sunflower seed head.


Time to get out the water colors and work on images for my Jane Stories.

img_3904-3And look at the light on Robert’s notebook!

img_3913Halloween approaches and Berch has been busy on the local diner window. The light was so clear and bright yesterday afternoon that the paint thew splendid shadows.

img_3915This makes the window paintings extra good.

img_3922In the later afternoon a walk by the Hudson. So breezy and clear.

Four Days on Long Island

First evening at sunset on the beach…

such glorious light!

Connecticut in the distance.

How pink the sea wall at the neighboring beach!

The next morning it was foggy.

We went to the pond at Centerport

very tranquil

and mysterious.

Robert Moses beach was swathed in fog

rather like in a Fellini movie – and no one was there except us. It was like being inside a cloud and our hair got completely wet.

Someone said this looks as if Robert is walking out of one of his own paintings…

The Sweet Shop in Northport was like going back into the past… and the ice cream was all home made….

and delicious.


The dry  cleaners looks like a window into the past.


Most unusual to find a building on either side of the Atlantic that was built in 1940.

Green Thoughts

What would I do without the green market to take photos of?


White and red currents with a suitably sere leaf.


Squash flowers to be lightly battered ( but not by me!)


A complete meadow of black-eyes Susans and daisies and so forth.


Shasta daisies…


And then the edible flowers – photographed in their plastic containers which render them misty and mysterious. As a child I ate nasturtiums and honey suckle and maybe chomped on clover.


But the current fashion for eating snapdragons and chive flowers etc etc is more to do with looks than taste, I think. Others may disagree.


But they do look stunning.


As regards my own humble horticultural efforts on the roof: this year I’m attempting an egg plant (seen here). I have a great deal too much mint and a lot of sage that looks charming but I never eat. There is kale but I never eat that either.


And here is a tiny posy on my table.

Reading notes:

Green Thoughts by Eleanor Perenyi

Landscape and Memory by the brilliant Simon Sharma who grew up in Essex like me.

And a Famous Five  adventure by the much maligned Enid Blyton – just to see how she moves plot and conflict – and gosh, was she good at it.


Writing about the Past and Mythical Gardens


The idea  of a lost Eden is a commonplace in myth and literature – think Le Grand Meaulness. How compelling is the idea of a perfect place to be discovered or rediscovered – and to be expelled from. Masaccio’s painting in the Brancacci chapel captures the idea only too well. Adam and Eve look spectacularly miserable. Not one blade of grass to be seen!


And of course the place they were expelled from was a garden! Another mythical  – but very real – place was The Secret Garden where Frances Hodgson Burnett managed to weave every single heart-tugging  strand together: the grumpy child, the bereft husband, the huge old manor house,the mysterious cries in the night, the local boy in touch with nature – all heading towards healing. Needless to say, like a very large number of other girls, I was madly in love with Dickon. How could I not be?

When I was a child – my very own lost Eden – I lived in a place very rich in history. I grew up in what had once been a gamekeeper’s cottage on a huge estate in Essex. The Petre family, hugely wealthy in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries – despite remaining Roman Catholic – had built Thorndon Hall, a magnificent pile designed by Thomas Paine. Building began 1764.


By the 1950s, after several disastrous fires, the house had been abandoned and only the shell remained in various states of decrepitude. As children we were warned never to go in it. So, needless to say, we went into all the bits of it that we were able to.

In the woods there were reputed to be mysterious trees rarely seen in England and planted by one of the lords who was a ‘famous botanist’. Then there  was the myth of the First Thorndon Hall which had entirely vanished and had been some mile and a half to the south. All this was rather hazy and ill-defined, and though we did a lot of exploring – as one did before the internet and the constant monitoring of children’s whereabouts  -we never did find the old hall.

So, many years later, researching a story for children, I came upon a most fascinating person, Robert the 8th Lord Petre, who died shortly after his 29th birthday, leaving his heir a baby only three months old.


Robert’s acheivements were remarkable. Between 1740 and 1742, some 60,000 trees of at least 50 different species were planted at Thorndon Hall. His hothouse – here referred to as a ‘stove’ was reputed to be the largest hothouse in the world, was fully 30 feet (9.1 m) high and contained trees and shrubs 10 to 25 feet (7.6 m) tall including specimens of guavapapawplantainhibiscusHernandia (Jack-in-a-Box), ceroid cactiSago Palmannatto (a red berry used for edible dye) and bamboo cane. The walls were hung with trellises covered with passion flowers, a wide variety of clematis and creeping cereus. Robert was particularly fond of the white lilac and, on one occasion, culled sufficient seed to raise in his nursery 5,000 new plants. Unfortunately, the principles of plant genetics and cross-pollination were then little understood; all but twenty of them bore purple blossom. Between 1740 and 1742, some 60,000 trees of at least 50 different species were planted at Thorndon Hall.

Twenty years after Robert’s death all remained was a scene of desolation: the house was falling down having been partially burned by a fire caused by lightning in 1757, the nurseries were overgrown and the stoves empty, apart from two date palms, a cactus and a few sickly shrubs. Even the menagerie had vanished.

Robert’s son, who had not known his father, had the new grandiose Thorndon Hall built and the old one was almost entirely obliterated and forgotten. Only two images of the Elizabeth building exist.

Old Thorndon HallOld-Thorndon-Hall-1669-Duke

I cannot discover a single image of Robert himself who after his death was described thus: “He was a fine, tall, comely man. Handsome, had the presence of a Prince, but so happily mixt that Love and Au was begat at the same time. The endowments of his mind are not to be described. Few excelled him in the liberal arts and sciences – a great Mechanic as well as a Mathematician, ready at figures and calculations, a fine taste for architecture, and drew and designed well himself” – a great Ardour for every Branch of Botanic Science, – whoever sees his vast Plantations and his Catalogue will not doubt it. In his Religious way an Example of great Piety, Charity and Chastity. Strict in his Morals, of great Temperance and Sobriety, no Loose Word, no Double entendre ever dropt from his lips”.

And now to write my story about how 20th century children rediscover this lost earthly paradise.

I wonder what passion drove Robert to create this fleeting marvel and why it was so utterly forgotten?

Oh to be in England…


Well, it was April after all


and the log fire burned merrily in the hearth.


The ghost was nowhere to be seen


though the light bounced off all sorts of things in the sitting room.


The dew was heavy on the lawn.


Outside the kitchen


a single red tulip in the grass – and Marmite on the window sill.


Houses galore


even a house fit for a hobbit.


Cowslips, dandelions, grape hyacinth  and tulips make a lawn in the orchard.


Primroses too


just look at the grass


and peek in at the windows.


Primroses under the rose.


March 21st

Went up to 28th Street today to look for spring flowers to put in the tree pits.


Lots of cheery choices outside in the cold. Much warmer inside as you can see from the moisture in the windows.


Nice falling apart window frames.


Trader Joe’s on 6th Avenue – lots of flowers in the window. I bought a little basil plant $2.99


and white ranunculas and lilac hyacinth.


Spent the morning making the flowers look artistic against black…



Tea and Sympathy


I have been on Instagram quite a lot lately with a bookish group of people.


They read a lot of books and drink a lot of tea and have very nice china and excellent settings to drink the tea. And there are often lovely flowers. Beth Bonini posted a photo of a gorgeous cake – but her commentary was fascinating too. How we spackle over various things. Anyway, charming domesticity has its delights. Herewith lemons on a plate bought at a jumble sale by Robert’s grandmother.


Lemons squeezed into the batter of the cupcakes above.

And yes, you can eat raw batter. The head of the ER at Mount Sinai told me so. He does. So there. (Probably would not let the grandchildren do so…)


Baked cupcakes.


Messy family tea. Clotted cream! Scones! and yes, I did put too much red dye in the icing.


The right kind of primula for taking to Margaret’s


The right kind of pears for the same. (Take photos first. Put next to cracked Moroccan jug I can’t bring myself to chuck out.)


Margaret has bought home lemon meringue  thingies from The Met. Yum.


My contribution the said pears. She is much more elegant than me.


Some various musing on a rather under appreciated month.


This discarded looking glass just by PS 11 captured such a sharp image of the rather ugly buildings opposite. Blue plastic trash bags manage to look pretty in bright sunlight,


This building in the east 60’s has maybe been on fire – or grown mold or been abandoned – or maybe all three. Deniz says it looks like buildings in Istanbul. The blackness is just like the abandoned Portuguese Consulate building in Essouira. Like almost everyone on the planet, I like mysterious buildings.


The reason for this picture is the wonderful writing on the check. I did not set anything up as a still life. This is just what remained after I had eaten my pancakes and bacon and drunk my tea.


Yesterday I walked home down the High Line and there was almost no one about – well of course there was someone taking photos who had color coordinated his jacket to look brownish like the buildings.


See! No one at all!


But some witch hazel with waving fronds. When I was a child some mothers put witch hazel on bruises. Not sure if it has any effect – maybe magic like Bandaids on invisible scratches.


Well, one person in the distance…


A full moon to dream on


and a plastic castle to play with.



Old and New and Bookish

A new year, a new beginning and so on and so on.


January 3rd was our 40th wedding anniversary and I got out my wedding dress to show a friend.  It was probably made about 1870  – for a very slim young thing.  Anyway, it’s still pretty. I photographed it on a chair that was probably made even earlier than that.


And here is the little nursing chair newly upholstered and restored thanks to my thoughtful daughter-in-law – with lovely putti doing cherubic things. This chair came from my grandparents’ house in Kent and was in my childhood bedroom. The little daffodil was a present from a friend.


Here is Robert’s work table cleared for the new year with a sketch of the cherub who made the very useful Lego pot-for-puting-things-in.

How one relishes the austerity of the clean and clear and fresh. Then thoughts about what to do with the lovely new year. Hmm….back to books and writing I think. I sorted out the book shelves a couple of months ago and tried a new system…


sorting by spine cover color – which makes for some very strange bedfellows indeed. The juxtapositions so odd they make one think anew. This is the red bit.


This is part of the black bit. Black seems to be the ‘it’ color both for book spines and New York clothing.


This is a messy bit that needs sorting out.


This is the blue and yellow bit. Yellow is the least used color. Needless to say, most of my best books have disappeared – pressed upon people who will probably never read them.

This year I will write down all the books I read  – something conscientious readers do.

New years always start with the very best of intentions.