in my pots
The new house is completely different to the old one. So different that some friends and family have been visibly shocked by the change: suburban to urban, 1929 to 2008, two floors to four, one set of stairs to three, separate rooms to open-plan living, detached to semi, carpet to wood, garden to terrace, and most startling of all, colourful rooms to white walls everywhere. We love it. It's modern, practical, easy to maintain, full of light, and we can cycle or walk everywhere instead of having to drive. I have never been so fit in my life from all the daily exercise and stair-climbing.
Amazingly, I don't miss the colourful rooms. Because the areas of the new house flow into each other, it would be really complicated to use different colours, and anyway we bring in plenty of colour with furniture, pictures, quilts, rugs, books, and flowers. Alice and Phoebe thought we would miss our old garden terribly because Simon spent so much time in it gardening - they didn't allow for the fact that he did that not because he particularly enjoyed it, but because the work had to be done. Now he spends his time outside doing what he wants to do (book/beer/sleep/talk/watch the clouds/appreciate the lack of planes flying over) and I do the gardening.
I've always enjoyed growing things in pots and this summer - perhaps not the best moment ever to start a container garden - I've rediscovered the pleasure and ease of having lilies, dahlias, clematis, morning glories, verbena, mint, basil, roses and lavender in pots which can be emptied, refilled and moved around to create a new arrangement whenever I feel like it. We have bees and butterflies, scent and movement, height and colour, and in spring we will have plenty of tulips and daffodils (I've just done my Peter Nyssen order).
A couple of weeks ago I reread The New House by Lettice Cooper, one of my favourite Persephone books. Although it's about a significant move from a large, old family home to a smaller place, gardens play a huge part in the narrative. The one they move to is a unkempt tangle of roses, carnations, pansies and hollyhocks, with nasturtiums and convolvulus growing up through them in a rather 'insidious' way, and you know that Rhoda has to decide whether to clear her life, like the garden, or be choked by her clinging family who wind themselves round her. It's a good book to read after a move, when you have settled and feel at home again. And it has a most beautiful word-picture describing Rhoda's genius for arranging flowers which tells you just how much artistry and beauty would be suppressed and lost if she didn't find her own new house. She unpacks a 'cup-shaped bowl of clouded glass', goes into the new garden and picks, 'apparently at random, but really with design, a dark red rose, the scarlet flowers of a geum, a handful of flame and gold nasturtiums, a spray of early Michaelmas daisy, shafts of golden rod, a cluster of wine-coloured pansies', puts them in the bowl, lifts and shakes them gently, 'setting free their airy grace with a light touch, as though she shook as flock of butterflies into the air'. Wonderful. It makes me think of paintings by Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Dora Carrington and the Scottish Colourists, of Constance Spry and Sarah Raven, and provides all the flower-arranging inspiration anyone could ever need for a new home.
Flowers in a Chinese Vase George Leslie Hunter (1879-1931) in the Kelvingrove, Glasgow