Interiors stylist Jane Cumberbatch has turned her attention to her garden and her new book is a study in understated but elegant style
Summer comes and the garden becomes an outdoor extension of the house, reflecting my ideas for natural textures, and a sense of intimacy and informality. Even if it’s just putting a chair in a sunny spot to watch the bees play in the pollen of the frothy white Kiftsgate rose bush, or to seek shade on a bench under the apple tree on a hot afternoon, the pleasure of being outside in the elements is the most joyful thing. Post-pandemic, the joy of outside has never been quite so pertinent, whether it’s enjoying a garden, terrace, balcony or like last weekend’s treat, spritzers on my friend’s front doorstep, with swifts swooping and sweeping above in the twilight.
Make the best of outside living with practical, relaxed and portable elements: folding chairs and tables, rugs and throws that can be taken inside at the threat of rain are very useful. The other thing is not to be too precious. Rather than going for the spanking brand new and glossy, I incline to the side of the weathered and beaten-up, choosing, for example, old zinc baths for plant containers and vintage deckchairs in striped cotton canvas. Old red bricks, cobbles, and worn flagstones are textural surfaces underfoot. Thyme planted between paving stones smells delicious. Pea shingle gravel is a good inexpensive solution for paths and small seating areas, and you can line it with an impermeable lining to stop weeds. (However, this very relaxed-about-weeds gardener is not averse to the self-seeded alliums and dandelions that push up on the unlined gravel “sun deck” outside the shed.) At my place in Portugal, I laid local terracotta tiles handmade for generations at a small factory in Santa Catarina in the hills behind Olho. I love the feeling of bare feet against the sun-baked surface when I’m hanging out the washing or relaxing at the end of the day. We made a tabletop from broad and hefty salvaged chestnut floorboards, which rests on two trestles. When I sit eating, or painting a watercolour, the satisfyingly rough surface and close curving lines of the grain are like engaging in a tactile and visual conversation with what once was a magnificent tree.
Simplicity is also the theme for eating outside. Pare down the kit you take outside for lunch around the table. A cotton or linen cloth and napkins, a few sprigs of something from the garden give the meal a sense of occasion
With heat comes the need for shade. How about a cool front porch with pots of cacti and climbing roses behind a painted picket fence like those fronting the many delectable Victorian cottages I eyeballed in Melbourne? On another trip to visit family in Barbados, I fell for an old colonial wooden house with an airy sea-blue verandah. In Cartagena, Colombia, I came across simple but clever purple and green public beach tents, a great blueprint for an open-sided retreat from the sun or rain. I love the idea of a shady pergola entwined with the white scented flowers of Jasminium officinale, or the even more heavenly-scented Cestrum nocturnum (Damade Noche).
To keep the sun off, I make simple removable awnings with cotton canvas, an old sheet, or whatever comes to hand. I hem the sides and stitch on ties for securing to hooks fixed in the wall. An inexpensive fold-up marquee can be a life-saver for a small party, and can be jollied up with garlands of flowers.
Then there’s the wild thrill of being outside in the chill of a summer’s night but warmed by the glow of a campfire, or more prosaic but none the less effective, a portable fire pit.
Simplicity is also the theme for eating outside. Pare down the kit you take outside for lunch around the table. A cotton or linen cloth and napkins, a few sprigs of something from the garden, park, or hedgerow give the simplest meal a sense of occasion and are more sustainable than going down the paper plate and disposable cutlery route. Consider serving the main dish or hot potatoes straight from the pan; one or two big platters or bowls for salads are easier than passing round lots of smaller ones. Fill a large jug with ice water and a few lemon balm or mint leaves. On a windy day, anchor a cloth with stones at each corner; put tea lights in lanterns or glass storm jars … don’t waste time trying to keep naked candles alight unless the air is dead still.
Pure Style in the Garden by Jane Cumberbatch, published by Pimpernel Press, is out now.
Sign up to our MAILING LIST now for a roundup of the latest fashion, beauty, interiors and entertaining news from THE GLOSS MAGAZINE’s daily dispatches.