Down by the stream at the bottom of the hill the wild garlic has appeared. It has been visible for a couple of weeks, but with more ground visible than leaf, so that it took some time and judgement to find enough to pick for a meal. This week, after the equinox and in common with the first trees that are breaking bud and the sheets of daffodils and primroses which have suddenly eclipsed the snowdrops, the leafmouldy woodland floor has disappeared under a green, allium blanket.
This first spring flush is magical. A resurrection and clarion call for the coming wave of growth. A signifier of ancient woodland the wild garlic also connects us to the past inhabitants of this site. Imagining the people who have lived here before us, seeking sustenance from the woods and hedgerows, you feel reconnected to their longstanding and hard-earned accrued knowledge. What is good, what can heal and even what can kill.
Although growing your own food can’t be beaten, nothing compares to finding your food growing wild. The act of harvesting the first leaves and shoots, filled with spring energy and the promise of new life, is a ritual that binds us to the land and makes us aware of the natural cycle of life and our part in the wider ecosystem.
As a town boy, although I picked blackberries as a child and knew that maiden great aunts brewed elderflower and blackberry wine, this was my only contact with food that had not been grown by someone. I didn’t really experience a breadth of wild food until I was in my twenties at university, when I moved from Manchester to the Peak District and met people with connections to the land who made elderflower champagne and cordial, hedgerow jelly or went looking for puffball, parasol and field mushrooms.
One of my strongest memories of eating foraged food was thirty years ago at Ivy House Farm, the Hampshire home of Antonio and Priscilla Carluccio, where Dan created a garden in the early 1990’s. Antonio was a great forager, having grown up with it as a child in Italy and, where the resurgence of foraging has been a fairly recent development in Britain, in Italy there is a long, unbroken tradition of using nature’s larder on a regular basis. Most times we visited there was something foraged served. A cake made from cobnuts, a simple salad of dandelion and hawthorn leaves and, of course, mushrooms. For him finding and eating wild food was second nature.
The day I recall was a cold, sunny spring Saturday. We were talking with Priscilla at the table in the cottage’s frugal kitchen while Antonio busied himself at the stove. Moments earlier he had come in from the garden with a bunch of shoots in his hands, which he held up in front of me and asked if I knew what they were. I hadn’t known Dan for long at that point and was unversed in all but the most basic of plants and said I didn’t have a clue. “Hop shoots! Bruscandoli! We are going to have a frittata for lunch.’ In a matter of moments it arrived at the table, served straight from the pan, with a loaf of delicious bread and salted butter. Nothing else. It was, naturally, delicious.
Hops do grow wild in Britain as they have been cultivated since the middle ages for medicinal purposes and to brew beer, but to meet Antonio’s demand for shoots and for ease of harvest Dan had planted them up arches in the kitchen garden. They grow to a huge height and can, like Old Man’s Beard, swamp a hedgerow, so when we were creating the vegetable garden here and wanting to replicate some of the abundance of Ivy House Farm, Dan planted a shorter growing variety, Humulus lupulus ‘Primadonna’, a dwarf variety which grows to 3 metres. We support these with twiggy hazel branches which they rapidly ascend to reach the roof of the barn before flowering in late summer. The distinctive pale green cones, as the flowers are known, can be dried and used in a sleep-inducing tea or to stuff a pillow to help with insomnia.
Pick only the first 15cm of young, emerging shoots, as they become tough and fibrous with length and age. However, due to the fact that cutting stimulates new growth they do have a relatively long season and will continue to produce edible growth into April. The common name of Poor Man’s Asparagus is somewhat misleading, but not if you think of the string thin wild asparagus that you also find in the vegetable markets of Italy to which it bears a resemblance. The flavour is nothing like asparagus, but green, nutty and with the slightly metallic edge of nettles. When picking in the wild do not mistake for the shoots of white bryony (Bryonia dioica), another twining hedgerow climber, which is poisonous and causes bad stomach upset. The potato farls are the perfect vehicle for a strong wild garlic hit. You could add or substitute with any other wild green herbs of the moment including nettle, sorrel, wild (or cultivated) chervil, bittercress and cleavers.
250g floury potatoes
50g plain flour
About 10 leaves of wild garlic
Salt and black pepper
4 fresh eggs
A handful of hop shoots, about 100g
A large knob of butter
First make the farls. Put the whole potatoes into a pan of hot water. Cover the pan and bring to the boil. Simmer until the point of a knife easily pierces them to the centre. 20 to 30 minutes depending on the size of the potatoes. Drain and allow to cool for a couple of minutes.
Being careful not to burn your fingers (use a tea towel to hold them, if necessary) quickly remove the peel from the potatoes using a sharp knife.
Either put the hot potatoes through a potato ricer or food mill, or mash with the butter until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
Sift over the flour. Chop the wild garlic leaves into fine ribbons and add to the bowl. Stir the mixture until it starts to come together. Then use your hands to bring the dough into a ball.
Heat a 24cm diameter cast iron skillet, griddle or heavy-bottomed frying pan on a fairly high heat.
Lightly flour the worktop and use the palm of your hand or a floured rolling pin to shape and press the dough into a circle about 22cm in diameter and 1cm thick. Cut the circle into quarters.
Place the four quarters into the hot skillet and cook for about 4 minutes on each side, or until a rich, golden brown with darker spots.
Transfer to a plate and put into a warm oven while you cook tthe frittata.
First boil a kettle. Put the hop shoots into a heatproof bowl and pour over boiling water to cover. Leave to stand for 1 minute then drain.
Melt the butter in a frying pan about 16cm in diameter. Gently fry the hop shoots for a minute or two, while you whisk the eggs with a large pinch of salt. Add the eggs to the pan and shake to cover the base. Cook over a medium heat for about 10 minutes until the eggs are just set.
Serve immediately with the farls.
Recipe & photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 25 March 2023
In the twelve years we have been at Hillside, I have deepened the gardener’s journey of learning. The process of trial and error that can only strengthen your knowledge in the doing. My mind’s eye vision of how I’d imagined the narcissus here is a good example of why time is so important in the equation. It takes time to understand where a plant wants to be and time for it then to create its own domain.
Meeting established colonies of plants that have found their niche allows you to see them in all their true character, with mother colonies raining younger generations that have found their way. Pattern making which, when you see it playing out on the ground, is distinct to the plant. This vision of self-determined purpose brings its own kind of joy.
The colonies of wild Narcissus pseudonarcissus growing in ancient hazel coppice in my home county of Hampshire have most likely evolved there over centuries. Gathering in the open clearings and flourishing with the rhythm of light and shadow as it comes and goes in the cycle of the coppice. I had these colonies in mind for the new coppice that we planted on the slopes above the stream. Introducing five hundred bulbs at a time over a wide area is just a drop in the ocean if you are looking for immediate effect but, if you are prepared to be part of the process, the wait becomes something quite beautiful. It has taken five years to be aware of the first seedlings and perhaps it will be another five before they flower and seed, but the process has begun. The hop and skip of youngsters is already visible, always seeding downhill and the distance a seedpod leans from its parent.
You always hope for this demonstration of independence when you plant bulbs into grass. For the easy association of spring celandines and primroses and then the softening sward as it rises to first nestle the flowers and then obscure their foliage as it feeds and then fades under cover into dormancy. But the bulb banks behind the house have proved problematic and over the years I have begun to see a pattern. Despite introducing new bulbs every autumn, the narcissus have repeatedly retreated to the shade of the young crab apples. I had my suspicions, but am now sure that Narcissus fly must be the culprit, for it favours a sunny site and will only lay its eggs in the cleft of narcissus foliage if it can do so in the open. Without you knowing it the grubs hollow out the bulb underground, so that the following year you have nothing but blind offsets. But, as the crab apples and their shadow have grown, so has the safe place for the narcissus and we are beginning to see which ones like it here on the free-draining banks and which don’t.
Shade or no shade, my repeated attempts to introduce the hoop petticoat narcissus (Narcissus bulbocodium) have failed here, so I have been growing them in pots with a number of other small-flowered treasures such as the true form of Narcissus cyclamineus. I lived with colonies of both when I was a student at Wisley, where the hoop petticoats were naturalised in the Alpine Meadow and the miniature Narcissus cyclamineus most appropriately cast its reflection in the dark waters of the Ditch Garden nearby. Thinking back (and this is where time once again comes into play) both the meadow and the ditch at Wisley were not so dissimilar to our own ditch here with its cool slopes and damp ground. So I will only replant the narcissus where the shadow extends its reach on the banks behind the house and, in the spirit of experimentation, start a new colony of moisture-loving narcissus in the dappled light of the willow on the ditch. Perhaps one day they will find their niche here too and I will be able to write with the balance of success and failure tilting in the right direction.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 18 March 2023
At the beginning of the pandemic and locked down in the isolation that was forced upon us all, I began to post daily moments of that incredible spring on Instagram. It was a counterpoint to the fear we were living with on a daily basis. The reassuring surety of the unfurling season and its life force.
The films were no more than a minute and were made to capture the incremental changes. I’d sit and take in what happened in front of me for a given moment so that the films felt like moving stills. Spring light caught in wood anemones. The sound of the wind in the poplars above and April birdsong. By definition every post was different, because in truth a moment only happens the once. Time slowed and captured.
I felt guilty about sharing these moments to a degree, because we were so very lucky to be locked down in landscape and not within four walls of isolation. But there was such a positive response and a hunger to be part of our fortunate immersion that I continued to communicate the garden and its surroundings. Everyone was yearning for contact and, despite our idyllic lockdown location, we were no different. It was mutually uplifting to share our experience of this place and what is sustaining about the beauty of nature and the activity of gardening.
It was around this time that we got into a conversation (by Zoom, of course) with Create Academy. They wanted to know if I would be interested in creating an online course about naturalistic gardening that would be filmed here at Hillside and which would look at how we have made the garden sit within its setting. I have always enjoyed communicating the process of what it is to garden through the written word, but the opportunity to return to film felt timely. Hillside was moving into its sixth summer in the garden and its tenth in the work we have done in the landscape, so it was ready to share more broadly. The moving image has always felt like the best way to capture a garden or the natural world. Freeze an image in a photograph and the sensual world within it is frozen also.
The team at Create Academy are small and intimately involved with the subject matter they are filming. Between us we developed an informal course outline that used Hillside as the focus for talking about the principles of naturalistic gardening and how I apply them here. It also looked at a complementary project where I have used naturalistic planting as a contrast to formality within a more defined setting. This was The Old Rectory in the Cotswolds. An acre garden with formal bones that I had made almost twenty years ago.
Addressing the principles of naturalistic planting is a huge subject and in the first course we set the scene by illustrating how the context here at Hillside drives all the design choices. How much you impose upon a landscape with a garden and where careful management of the setting can enrich the environment. We looked at how the surrounding meadows, hedgerows and woodland helped drive the decisions within the property boundary and how important it is to really understand your local conditions. By taking time to feel your way, you begin to understand the context and what is the right plant for the right place. I also discussed the blurring of the boundary between the cultivated ground and the landscape beyond as well as the all-important borrowed view.
In the Cotswold garden we looked at how the setting there influenced our decision making. The river that runs along one boundary, the dry stone of the surrounding walls and the formality of the house and its relationship to the church, which drove the layout. I described design solutions such as the garden rooms we created around the buildings, the reveal and change of tempo as you move from one to the other and the mood of each of the spaces. Filming brought a whole new level to revealing how the garden fits into the landscape with drone shots giving a bird’s eye view, showing the ideas on plan borne out from above.
The response to the first course on Naturalistic Garden Design was hearteningly positive. Keen to develop a follow on course the production team contacted subscribers to the first to ask what they would like to learn next. Nearly all of them requested more detail of the process of planting design, as well as the inclusion of a case study of a smaller, more relatable garden. So, for the second course, which was filmed last summer and has just gone live this week, in addition to revisiting Hillside we have looked at two more gardens. A large coastal garden set in an exposed position in Devon and a contrasting terraced London property, with an intimate front and rear garden.
The new course goes deeper into the complexities of planting design. It deals with the scale changes you have to make in your thinking, from the wider context and macro vision (which of course also includes time) right down to the micro decisions. What you see immediately at your feet when you stand and look down. I explain the importance of understanding how your plants cohabit, of layering and planning for seasonal change and the principles of using colour, form and texture in plantings.
To illustrate the process and to take it beyond words and imagery, we filmed the planting of the new pond last May. It was six months since it had been made the previous summer and using it as a focal point in the course reminded me of the BBC series I made about Home Farm in 2000, where the pond was a driving force in the narrative. It allowed us to illustrate ideas through action and show its immediate impact.
The case studies beyond Hillside have allowed me to discuss the importance of understanding the microclimates in a garden. Never more important than in the Devon garden, with its extremes of weather, but just as critical with the London property and its split personality. A bright, south-facing garden to the front and a contrasting garden to the rear in the shadow of the house. The two projects also illustrate what happens to plantings over time. The Devon garden now over a decade old and the London garden just in its second summer. A garden born from the depths of the pandemic, planted in the window after the first lockdown and nurtured into life by our careful clients.
It has been a complete privilege to work with the Creative Academy team. We have learned to trust them entirely in producing beautiful films with excellent content and, in the case of this most recent course, an opportunity to go deeper. That doesn’t happen very often in life, but it is so very good when it does.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Create Academy and Deborah Panes
Published 11 March 2023
I was lucky enough to have an enlightened editor during my time writing for The Observer. I loved working with Allan Jenkins. He pushed hard when he needed to, but left you to enjoy the process once he’d set the scene and his expectations. He was good at making a creative environment in which you could flourish and he paired Howard Sooley and I on the gardening pages for the best part of ten years.
It was easy to have Howard as part of our lives during our time in the Peckham garden. He’d come down weekly on my Friday writing day, we’d talk over our subject matter over coffee and then he’d set off into the garden, whatever the weather and time of year. There was always talk about plants and life and our common ground. Chat that moved easily from one thing to the next and often revolved around things that matter. The recurring theme of authenticity and of being in the moment and of context. We talked about looking and in taking the time to do so through our respective disciplines.
Howard’s work is so very good at getting to the essence of things. The nuance, the mood of a place or a time that might only last a few seconds. It was good to see the world though his eyes in his photography, to be shown the unexpected, the reframed and what you had become used to or indeed might have overlooked. We eventually made a book together about the Peckham Garden called ‘Home Ground’.
So, it was a pleasure to have Howard here last week, in the last few of days of February. Here are some words by the man himself which explain something of his process and some of his imagery. As always so honest and heartfelt and to be treasured.
Thank you, Howard.
Dan Pearson | 3 March 2023
Howard Sooley | 2 March 2023
When I see a garden I don’t see it as a place, it is a moment in time, a transient moment that will never repeat or remain the same. A meeting of people, place, intervention and time.
Though I have photographed many gardens, I don’t think of myself as a garden photographer, more a photographer who is interested in gardens.
The first garden I photographed was Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage in Dungeness. I had visited there to photograph Derek and somehow I never left.
Whilst gardening with Derek I would periodically pick up my camera to record a moment; red field poppies dancing in the breeze or Derek coat collar up, back to the cold wind, collecting driftwood from the beach in a late February gale.
The pictures became like a diary, a chance to hold and look again at some of those moments that felt precious at the time. Eventually they began to sit together, starting to tell a story of those days.
After Derek’s Garden book was published, I was asked if I would photograph other gardens. I was happy to. The activity of gardening seems fundamental to me. The opportunity to explore gardens around the world seemed like a gift.
It has been a journey of learning how to photograph gardens as well as trying to explore what gardens actually are, and finding ways to tell their story.
My friendship with Dan and Huw began when Dan knocked on the door of Prospect Cottage probably in around 1995. A few months later I was asked to photograph their roof garden in Vauxhall and a few years after that I found myself working alongside him on his weekly column for The Observer, eventually making a book about the garden in Peckham.
I love returning to gardens, to look and look deeper, to look through first impressions and start to form a relationship with place.
For me photography is an exercise in learning to see, then an opportunity to tell a story. The more I explore this, the more I realise it isn’t beautiful photography that tells a story, it is the understanding and the observation.
When I first started photographing gardens, Miranda Brooks (garden designer and gardens editor of American Vogue) gave me some advice ‘not to try and photograph the garden, but to find a story within it, that you connect to, that is part of that day, then try to reveal that story’. It was such good advice and I have always held it with me.
Often garden photography leaves me feeling a bit short sold. The photographs seem to be more about the image than the subject, more about the expected, less about enquiry and revealing. That is why I often respond better to photographs by plants people or gardeners, because they understand what story they are trying tell, like Roy Lancaster’s photographs of his travels in China or Gertrude Jekyll’s photographs of her garden at Munstead Wood.
Then later, at some point I came across Stephen Shore’s book of photographs of Monet’s garden at Giverny, which was extraordinary in its simplicity of vision and the honesty of the story it tells. It seems a bit drab at first, but then when you set aside your expectations, you realise it is a beautiful document of a moment and a place.
It is late February and I am travelling to Bristol, to the opening of a friend’s (Garry Fabian Miller) exhibition at the Arnolfini. I left a day early to spend time with Dan and Huw along the way, a time to catch up and talk, walk around their garden and along the stream that snakes beautifully through bottom of the valley.
It felt like an extraordinary moment of winter about to turn into spring. The spaces, colours and shapes of the garden open faced and reaching to the valley around it. These are the some of the pictures from that day.
Photographs: Howard Sooley
Published 4 March 2023We are sorry but the page you are looking for does not exist. You could return to the homepage