There are odd days in the summer when the air is still and warm, the sky is a spotless, deep-blue and we start to believe (despite knowing better) that this is a beautiful English summer. Yesterday was such a day. Today isn't! I drive over to Ted Martin's to collect some flowers that we are taking, along with cases of wine, to my book launch which is being held this evening at Kew Gardens. Jennifer and the girls in the shop load me up and wave me off - Jennifer will be joining us later, but Kate and Rosie, sadly, are busy working on a wedding. From the car I keep a distrustful eye on a tentatively pale-blue sky and wonder what will happen to our guests, who will be exploring the gardens prior to the launch, if the heavens decide to open.
Life always looks better after a good lunch. Having driven through grim showers of wind-swept rain we tuck ourselves into a red checked table-clothed restaurant, Ma Cuisine, near to the gardens. Other friends have had the same idea, and soon we are gathered around a big table so busy talking that I forget my weather watching. I find that this and the lunch seem to do the trick, as I emerge from the restaurant into clearing skies with more than a hint of sunshine. Billy Kelly always says that if I fell in the docks I would come up dry!
The afternoon sun is clear and sharp, illuminating the interior of the Palm House and ricocheting off the spray from the fountain in the lake.
(If you double click on this picture you will get the full effect)
It is whilst admiring the view of across the lake that I bump into Chiaki, who along with her Japanese friends asked me to conduct a workshop for them earlier in the year (May blog). It is lovely to see her again and she tell me she will be at the launch this evening with her husband.
One of my favourite conservatories is the Waterlily House.
How Jeremy Fisher would have loved those lily pads!
A quick stop at the book shop to make sure all is ready for this evening and to sign a few books. It is the most bizarre feeling seeing posters of myself around the gardens.
A weird combination of disbelief and embarrassment, mingled with a touch of pride - if you can imagine that!
Kew has great expanses for walking, acres of planting to investigate and wonderful architecture to enjoy. But what I particularly like is that every where you look there are also thoughtfully positioned benches and seats for those who just like to come and sit in the garden.
As we walk around the garden we spot some familiar faces, guests who will be joining us this evening. In the Princess of Wales conservatory I catch a glimpse of Jennifer's distinctive white hair.
There is so much detail and texture to enjoy; from etched sundials to elaborate drinking fountains.
Back to the book shop,and guests are arriving to share a glass of wine with us. For my new book I photographed twenty-one gardens around the country, and I am delighted to see many of the gardeners have come along tonight, including Margaret and John (wonderful 'Bed & Breakfast' garden in the Peak District) who came down by motorbike! Siggy is here from County Durham (Austrian style in a Christmassy garden), Mike & Sadie (Pick your own flower farm in Hatch in Wiltshire), Val and her daughter (beautifully restored station garden in the Test valley), plus ladies from the Wimborne St Giles flower group who created An English Country Garden in their local church.
As I am typing this I am picturing each garden, but realise you may not know what I am thinking of - so I will include some photos from the book in my next blog.
I am especially pleased to see Beryl, who has made the journey from Dartmouth in Devon. In Beryl's garden, which hugs the edge of the Dart estuary, I fell in love with a sculpture of a young girl who sits serenely in a greeny alcove. Only one was ever made, because the girl was the sculptor's daughter and he did not want her mass produced. Beryl tells me that recently local builders destroyed her whilst putting up scaffolding for a neighbouring house. She has been fortunate to have been given the mould by the sculptor so she can be recast, but until then I have a page in the book I want to show her, as it is a full page photograph of her original girl.
There are old friends, like Sally, who has fairy-godmother status with my daughters, and new friends, like Becca, who runs the book shop at Kew and who has been unfailingly enthusiastic about this event.
There are many faces I know and some that are almost familiar - which makes me worry that I haven't recognised someone properly who I would know immediately if I saw them in another setting. However, there is one face I will not forget from the evening!