Tuesday, 21 May 2019

PETERSHAM PARADISE

Petersham Pretention or Paradise?  Sarah Tucker gets hooked on the exquisite nonsense that is Petersham Nurseries. 



First day of the Chelsea Flower Show is a good day to visit Petersham Nurseries.  There’s one in Covent Garden, with its polished courtyard and clean lines, but the best and brilliantly smudged original is in a small side street off Petersham road, one of those roads which was built to take horse and carts rather than four wheel drives and double decker buses. In the summer it is less congested as Richmond Park opens its gates to the four wheel drives if not the buses.  Cars are able to travel along the park from Richmond gate to Ham gate, past Pembroke Lodge with its uninterrupted views over London and the deer which always hover when you are in a hurry along the side of the road like teenagers, looking as though they are about to cross, but never do.  And of course the Mamils (middle aged men in Lycra), more aggressive than the deer even in rutting season. 


The Nurseries started as simply that. A nursery of flowers, greenhouses, three of them, and as the entrance skirted St Peters Church and homes owned by some rich and famous, buying the odd lavender or verbena didn’t seem disruptive.  


Then arrived Skye Gyngell, and the café and restaurant, gaining a Michelin star, and the Petersham players, a phenomenal and mesmeric troupe of actors, who took over the neighbouring Petersham House and at Halloween and Christmas led paying guests round various sets, in turn comedic, tragic, terrifying and poignant.  


The Nurseries is unique. Its energy, style and use of space and light is seductive. When you go through the gates you will want to buy a French house with a courtyard and put everything you see, plant and ornament into that courtyard. 






Soho House seems to have unashamedly ripped off the incredible style of this place.  Furniture is on sale, and you are able to buy ornaments for the garden or conservatory, a lot of it rusty or rusted, but it is placed in such a way, it looks (and sometimes costs) thousands more than it should. I admit, I have bought a fountain there, which probably originated from somewhere in Southern France, was brought back to Petersham, and I’ve now taken it back to Southern France, to my home there.  This place does this to you. People actually buy rusted gardens chairs for £250.  If you think they are mad, go and you will soon get hooked. 



It is always busy, although perhaps on a Monday mid morning or Tuesday mid morning it is quieter, but as I have always thought most of the people who live in Richmond do not work or do not need to work, or if they do they work nocturnally, this place is always buzzing.   Men are like honey to the bees. The nurseries is a matriarchal place. Tables and chairs (all for sale) of ladies who lunch, usually talking food and/or divorcees talking litigation over gluten free orange and almond cake, or vegan chocolate cake, or match.com first dates trying not to get the camomile flowers in the tea stuck between their teeth; new mums with young babies, looking incredibly tired, older mums having just dropped kids off at school ready to talk about their first novel, or first love to any other mum who will listen or at least pretend to.  It is a social observer’s paradise.  Richard E Grant visits, and I’ve seen him, and so does Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones when they are over.  Not for the flowers I presume, but for the pleasure of eating and drinking in what should be a pretentious paradise but wins you over with its exquisite style and beauty. 



Someone very clever has designed how you enter each greenhouse, the first of which houses most of the nic nacks to buy. A slightly rusted round mirror for £2500.  A chandelier for £4,000.  A stone urn for £75, which compared to the mirrors seem quite reasonable, until you realise you can get one without the rusted effect in Homebase for a fiver. 

Visitors are led around, snaked around with mirrors and low hanging jasmine latticed over the ceiling. This leads into the main restaurant with its sawdust floor and long and round tables and odd chairs. It is a fairyland with food.  Gyngell is long departed but the food is still good – although pricey, but the ambiance is unique. I have never been to a place like it in all my travels around the globe and think those who travel a lot like Douglas and Zeta Jones recognise this too. 



There is a canopied area with vines growing and hanging above more tables and chairs with a fountain trickling. This area is as lovely to eat in during the depth of winter as it is in the heat of the summer months.  The statues, some quite badly damaged, stand still as though watching the guests like some Monet painting. 


The second greenhouse has more tables and chairs, and is an extention of the café which serves light lunches of  utterly delicious quiche (I don’t eat quiche but I do here) and salads usually with some sort of feta or halloumi in them (this is Richmond after all, where there probably more vegans and yoga instructors per square mile than anywhere else on the planet.)  I used to adore the beetroot cake but they don’t do it any more. That was back in 2008 and it was five pounds a slice. Five pounds.  See what I mean.  They sell a variety of herbal teas but none of that in a pouch rubbish – all the fresh stuff, so fresh mint, camomile, green leaf tea – hence getting it stuck between the teeth.  


The third greenhouse has a large open area with more tables and chairs and an area for seeds and also if you would like a bouquet made up or advice or gardening tools, reminding you, it is a garden centre and nursery.  They use to have an area where they sold antiques from India and I bought a two foot high metal Buddha. Its beautiful and actually compared to the rusted chairs and tables very reasonable.  It’s in my garden. My boyfriend at the time, who I thought was relatively sane, on his first visit there, bought four eight foot stone pillars. Four Roman looking stone pillars. For £500 a pole.  He put them in his sitting room by the flat screen. 


I remember meeting Sir Terence Conran once and asking him what makes good interior design. He replied it is the understanding and use of the seduction of space.   Petersham Nurseries understands exterior design better than anywhere I have ever eaten.   I just wish it would bring back the beetroot cake. 

Monday, 13 May 2019

ALL IN THE BALANCE IN BRICK LANE

I visited the Balance Festival again this year. It was brilliant last year and wanted to see if it could either maintain momentum or increase it as everyone seems to be vegan (including me for money
saving as much as planet saving), or on the verge of it,  and with everyone with the exception of those who are able to do something about it (Trump, banks, all those who attend Davos, oil companies, palm oil producing companies, logging companies, car manufacturing companies) everyone realising we are losing our planet through our own greed (or rather all those within the brackets. I was going to include meat farmers, because although they could do something about it, their wealth isn't on the same disproportionate scale as the rest. And I should include travel companies and travel writers, so, yes I'm aware of the hypocrisy.  But #justsaying

The energy was just like last year full of hope. The millennials know how to exercise like the baby boomers knew how to party and whinge. There were areas for punching and HiiT classes, and a new DJ exercise which works every muscle - sort of strictly come dancing meets HiiT  www.bloklondon.com (enter code balanceblok19) on their website and get £25 off.  #heyhotpod delivers hot yoga in a bouncy castle sort of thing. #welltodo will give you the best careers in the wellness industry.  #KXU exercises the mind as well as the body.



Bacteria is the new black.

Mouth hygiene #zendium if you want to get rid of only the bad bacteria rather than nuke everything in your mouth.  If bacteria is the new black, the gut is the new brain and everyone was talking about the gut. Check out #VSL#3.  #Probiotics which is what I use told me there were to many myths about probiotics.  Not true the best probiotics are kept in the fridge. Nor that more is better - variety is better allegedly. They gave me some for travel, which protects you if you are going to distant countries and suffer from a dodgy tummy usually.  Excellent idea - check out their website.






There was travel ideas, suggesting Sass-Fee in Switzerland, Lagos in Portugal and Interalpen in Austria is the best @peakhealthswiss. @workoutaway @visitaustria are the places to be seen. The challenge is now everywhere is a #wellbeing.

Herbal teas were still in. Love #pukka and they hd a fab wall telling me what dosh I was - mix of pitta and vata . And lovely spring rolls (vegan) from start up #kaleido







This year it became more hi tech.  I can get my DNA sorted via #DNAfit Basically genetically showing me how to be the best I can be.  #chronomics seems to do a similar thing, There was a wonderful moment when I was pummelled by a  26 year old with a G3 gun #theragun which is brilliant. I have an ache in my right shoulder which has been a pain for two weeks. It is either, according to google, torn shoulder cuff, arthritis or cancer.  Murad has skin wellness sorted , #Hair Express for a pre and pose, I mean post workout.

The usual suspects, #almondbreeze were creating amazing #smoothies.  And balls.

Loads of different variations of protein balls. I am so full of dates today (protein balls seem to carry dates), that I'm just drinking juice.
There was a lot who were focusing on how they are giving back to the environment.  #thezerofoodwastegeneration. but do check out #unrootedenergy. www.unrootedenergy.com which is a new start up using the Baobab beans from the tree. I was in Madagascar and its an amazing place being destroyed by greed and ignorance - under the guise of progress and tradition.  I spoke to the young guy on the stand and although they focus on the tree coming from Tanzania, I told him its #Madagascar that needs his help.   #saveMadagascar.







If you still aren't utterly ready for bed after all that healthy food and exercise, for those suffering from insomnia check out #benenox

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

NOTHING COULD BE FINER THAN TO BE IN CAROLINA IN THE MORNING (True). Easter continued.

The smell of mouth watering BBQ food sifting through the air; the sound of jazz echoing from bars and even bakeries, makes you smile and stop a while. Cats peer out at you from closed shops if you wander the streets before ten on a Sunday (as I did).  Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning, as the song goes. It pays to get up early in Charleston. 


Side streets lead to glorious gardens. Window boxes would win Chelsea Flower Show prizes. everything is painted beautifully, in harmony with nature. Lamp posts, water pillars, everything is pretty. Even the cobbled pavements are pretty.  It is impossible to take a bad photo even on a grey day. Symmetrical, neat, polished and colourful.  It is linear with its grid like network of streets, and English secret gardens, smelling like heady aromatherapy baths, with mimosa, jasmine and rose carefully cascading over intricate hand made wrought iron gates.  The piazzas (second story porches) on the houses, are picture perfect - always to the left hand side of each building to protect the modesty of the ladies who in their large skirts (in the 1700s) didn't want to show their ankles.


After the beauty and sensual serenity you notice that Charleston is wealthy.  There are more shiny four wheel drives there than there are in Richmond Upon Thames (and that is saying something).  There are the prosperous who like to wear diamonds. There is a church seemingly on every street, not for show. People I am told, actually go in there to pray.  It is called the Holy City because it is known for its tolerance for all religions and numerous historical churches including the circular Congregational church one of the oldest congregations in the South


The city is culturally rich. Rich by American standards, if not by European standards, but it is still utterly fascinating. There are many galleries, but one of the best is the recently renovated and wonderfully designed Gibbes Museum (www.gibbesmuseum.org). Situated in Kings Street, it has some exquisite works of art which could easily grace and centre stage any of the finest in London or Paris. Indeed many of the art works were inspired by the travels of the wealthy landowners who spent their summers visiting Europe returning with works of art, and furniture as well as plants from the finest English and French gardens. There are painting workshops there as well as an excellent gallery shop selling wonderful clothes and pottery, not just tourist tatt. 





The city is flat making it an easy city to walk around and navigate.

There are plaques on the houses and major buildings which are well written and pithy. There is a quirkiness and whimsy to the place.  One restaurant calls itself a 'vegan rehab centre' (sells ribs), and there are houses which are number one and a half, and two and three quarters.  Very Harry Potter. I even saw a road sign with two children son a see saw in a yellow square which I still don't know the answer to (no see sawing in the road?). And oddest of all, the state dance is called a Shag. I spoke to an expert who told me its a very smooth dance.  You don't go up and down a lot. Quite.



Get a VIP pass (www.explorecharleston.com) which will save you time and money. There is a lot to see and various ways to see it, although personally, I preferred by foot. Some of the residents allow visitors to look around their homes and gardens (www.toursbylocals.com. www.charlestonperspectives.com).  Everything is polished, in place, pristine. Everything is manicured. Even the lawns. There is a grace to the place. Everyone walks and talks slow with that southern drawl which is like listening to a lullaby. Those who speak the Gullah English - the sea island creole are wonderful to listen to. You can go on Gullah tours (www.gullahtours.com) and buys books (www.bluecyclebooks.com) which translate this literal language.   I have a dream, Martin Luther King, 'Ie still hab uh dream'.   


In bakeries, there are jazz bands playing. Local artists hang their paintings and sculptures in the hotels and restaurants. The buildings are painted and well kept. There are restaurants to cater for all tastes as well as bars for the young. Restaurants sell amazing fish - must try the oysters which are excellent and fresh here.  As one fisherman told me 'when the oysters are not doing well, the oceans are not doing well. They clean the oceans.'  Grits (a savoury porridge) is an acquired taste.  Often combined with shrimp, and served with BBQ chicken, ribs, anything with loads of flavour, also try benne seed wafers (sugared wafers, nice but stick in your teeth), boiled peanuts, grilled peaches, fried green tomatoes, she crab soup (very good and moorish).  It is also the land of the BBQ and they do it well.  (check out Rodney Scott's in North Central (www.rodneyscottsbbq.com)


Its a city of firsts. The first playhouse, college and museum in America. It even organised the first golf course in America, Harleston Green, and South Caroline Golf Club. The first ever miniatures were painted in Charleston (on show at the Gibbes Museum)

It has a thriving craft beer scene.  I had lunch at the High Wire Distillery
(www.highwiredistilling.com) which makes a wide selection of fine beers but you can sample a wide selection in the bars, restaurants and shops around the city. Buildings are always being reused for something else.  The distillery was originally a warehouse for electric cables (hence high wire rather than circus acts).  The owner is a former master baker, so knows his grains and the distillery produces gin, vodka and bourbon. They organise very interesting tours and there is an apothecary where you can try out making your own.



Out of town walk about the cotton, rice and indigo plantations. There are many to choose from.  I visited Middleton Place, owned by Arthur Middleton, one of the signatories of the US declaration of Independence.  You walk amongst majestic live oaks which are of prehistoric proportion, dwarfing anything in Richmond Park.  There is a serenity about the place.  Although get too close to the lakes and you'll see it isn't birds grazing by the lakes, but alligators.


Horses clip clop through the streets drawing their carts of people - following a designated path so that there are never any horse powered traffic jams (there are about five horse cart companies in town).  The air is warm, tropical and subtropical.  
Charleston is also the only place in the States where I have ever sampled excellent tea. Kings Street has the designer labels where every second Sunday it becomes pedestrianised.  There are names on the stones of the pavement, which is rather disconcerting - whoever they are, the idea of walking over someone is a bit icky. The harbour has white sailed schooner rides which take you out into the harbour where you see pelicans with X ray vision zoning down onto invisible fish from a great height and looking around proudly to see if anyone was watching.  There are dolphins which come up to the boat. 







The wilderness in Bulls Island makes it a must (www.coastalexpeditions.com). The beach is haunting with its skeletal petrified forest half submerged into the ocean, seemingly pointing out to sea, as jelly fish glisten in the sun daring you to step on them. 

The Charlestonians have a lot to be proud of and you can tell they are. But as the stunning light of Charleston casts a shadow there is the lingering shadow of slavery. 

The tranquility, this wealth, this peace, was there by the grace and favour of tens of thousands of slaves who were shipped over from West Africa.  And I remember when I worked for Classic Fm, and visited Senegal and the Ile de Gore, another place that had a tranquility and beauty to it with its bourganvilea and second homes of the wealthy Parisians, but also the place where the slaves were kept like sardines before they were shipped over to the Americas.  I remember clearly the guide saying there, both in native French and translating into impassioned English. 'Everyone talks about the Holocaust and what dreadful atrocities were done there. But no one talks about these slaves. Well, I'm going to talk about them till the day I die." the guide said. 

If you go cold to Charleston, as in don't read about the recent history, you wouldn't know about the city's complex racial history.  This is an understatement. Example.  In Marion Square in front of the newly opened Hotel Bennett, there is a statue of John C Calhoun, the antebellum Vice President of South Carolina, one of slavery's most ardent defenders, next to a memorial for the holocaust, and a block away from the memorial in remembrance of the nine who died in the massacre in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015 where nine people had been killed while taking benediction.  Its a beautiful white building with a tall spire, not far from the harbour and easy walking distance from the French Quarter and main shopping street of Kings Road. If you had not read up on the history, you would not know of the efforts made to remove the statue of Robert E Lee in the Lee Park, renamed Emancipation Park in 2016 (too much #metoo),  then Market Street Park in 2018. Or the subsequent rally in May 2017 where a group of white supremacists led a rally to protest against the plans to remove Lee's statue, carrying torches where counter protesters also held a rally.   In July the same year the Ku Klux Klan held another rally, which though non violent was 'loud'.   The argument for upholding the statue of Lee is they want to protect their Confederate history.  Protect is the wrong word.  Remember is better.  I was given a book Very Charleston, beautifully illustrated about the history of the city, but it skimmed over the darkest bits.


There is a memorial by the church bearing the names of those killed in the massacre (which they call 'the tragedy' in town), reminding people not only of the event but of the power of forgiveness.  It was in June last year, when the Charleston council officially apologised and denounced its role in the slave trade. The resolution approved by a voice vote and greeted with loud cheers recognised the city had flourished at the cost of the slaves and policed on behalf of the city. The resolution pledged city officials will work with businesses to strive for racial equality and creation of an office of racial conciliation to help the process of racial healing. That's a huge step. 



My overall impression of Charleston? Beautiful and cautious and clever in the way it is handling its shadows, for lest we forget, every place, every person has a past they wish to hide. Charleston wants to learn from theirs. Many historic cities appear to teach us history is cyclical if we live long enough.  America doesn't have the depth of history of Europe or the Far or Middle East, but Charleston has managed a lot within its time. Even and especially a formal declaration and apology. And has set out laws to enhance racial healing. It is a big ask for a city which is generations deep in not only one way of living but one way of thinking.   Its history is as dark and shameful as anything you will find in Cambodia or those places in Europe where tragedy and cruelty take centre stage. Here it does not. Well, it does, but not in the same way.  The city is extremely wealthy. The wealth was made on the back of slaves. As a visitor you are well aware of the wealth of the city and that it has been founded on the slave trade. The population is still 30/70 black to white, and even the map maker is aware of the have and have nots.  South of Broad Street is the haves. North is the have nots. It is clearly defined. Just like the clear Charleston light, it casts a sharp shadow. The light casts shadows everywhere in Charleston. 
Every tree, building, person casts a shadow like ghosts following you about. The beauty of Charleston does not mask the tragedy and violence of its history. It shows it is aiming to learn from it. The beauty polarises it.  It shines that bright artists light on the dark side of human nature, and makes you realise where there is clearest light there is always the darkest shadow.  And that where there is light, there is hope.   It also made me realise there is a slave trade everywhere. Just it is better hidden. And the slaves are just slightly better paid. And the chains are of their own making. 



Where did I stay? 




In Wild Dunes,(www.destinationhotels.com/wild-dunes) a resort a few miles from Charleston central, there are rows and rows of houses which are Tarras, with their cascading double staircases from the main terrace and doorway. 



This place boasts one of the best golf courses in the world, and although I do not play golf, I loved cycling around the area, past the houses, and their post boxes, always with the union flag flying high, each street named after a conch or soft shell crab.  I made baskets with Lynette who is fifth generation making wonderful works of art from sweetgrass.  The locals are friendly.  Really friendly. I get cross with myself now for throwing that line away on places which are friendly but not as friendly as this. But friendly as in you can start up a conversation with someone who cleans your hotel room, or the person at reception or the person selling grits in the market and find yourself there still after twenty minutes transfixed and not wanting to get away.




   


The Spectator hotel (www.thespectatorhotel.com)  in the heart of the French Quarter, is a superb boutique hotel, with dark entrance, gold lift opening up to bright bedrooms. There is a butler service (Alex and David - I had two, greedy I know), who do everything for you, like iron your clothes and bring you Epsom salts with flowers for your bath (I had four in two days). I realise now I do not want a boyfriend, I want a butler. The food is exquisite, views wonderful (I looked down over a fish restaurant specialising in soft shell crab, and the market where they were selling sweetgrass baskets). Its one of the best hotels I've ever stayed in taking everything from service, location, facilities into account.  They served purple and brown macaroons with tea in the afternoon with giant S on them - this place had my name written all over it. 



The Hotel Bennett (www.hotelbennett.com) with Calhoun's statue and the holocaust memorial in front, is a striking building, Palladian.  Twenty years in making it happen, the building just opened a few months ago, is already a landmark of the city. The rooms are large and luxuriant, staff are friendly and accommodating. The doorman is a fountain of all knowledge so ask him loads of stuff. He knows everything. 




For further information contact