The above show images of peonies at Chelsea. Elsewhere, they are late this year. I love peonies. They're so heavenly pretty, and if it weren't for the fact that peonie sounds a lot like 'pee on me' I would have made more of a case for naming Esmeralda after them. (As it was, Esmeralda was literally the only name my husband agreed to; he vetoed Ophelia, Olympia, Sybilla, Drusilla, Estella, Eugenia, Delphina and Valentina. Which are all names I'm going to have to give to cats or hens or something one day. Perhaps I could have a clutch of Bearded Polish Silvers, interspersed with various coloured Silkies, all carrying the names I would have given my many daughters, had I had them.)
Bearded Polish Silver
There's a book by Andrew Solomon called A Stone Boat which, aside from being one of the most beautiful stories I have ever read, is also something of an ode to peonies, especially peonies just before they're completely finished, which is when they're at their most perfect. There are peonies for sale at the Flowered Corner on Ladbroke Grove at the moment, but their heads are still tightly furled little spheres, and when I ask Wendy or Jane if they think they're going to open they mouth 'no' at me. So I buy tulips instead.
Everything is late this year, because of the weather, which is something that has variously helped/ hindered - often depending on personal point of view - the creators behind many of the gardens at Chelsea. And I'm sorry if you thought that I was going to give you anything in the way of a review, because I'm not. I'm simply not qualified. I tried to grow sweet peas once but failed to prune them properly, so grew sweet pea bushes, the stems of the flowers so short that I had to put them in egg cups around the house.
The prep school I went to - Hanford, in Dorset, it was recently in World of Interiors - had the most marvelous gardens imaginable, looked after by the fabled Mr. Underwood who had worked at the house since he was a boy. He not only produced vegetables (except potatoes) and fruit for the entire school, but also grew the most exquisite flowers, enough to make sure that there were always vases full of them in every fireplace during the summer, and bowls full of bulbs on every table during the winter. The vases, bowls, jugs and jardinieres were kept in a dedicated room - actually it was more of a cupboard - that smelt of stale flower water and damp earth and floor polish. It also hosted the telephone (though no chair. We were not encouraged to spend long in there.) But ever since then I have been collecting anything that could ever possibly serve as a repository for flowers, and that is something that I do feel qualified to witter on about. So here is my pick:
I fell in love with these (they're a pair in real life) at the Spring Decorations Fair in Battersea Park. They're actually 'Lily Pools', designed to be filled with water and have water lilies floating on top of them. They're currently in the stock of Sue Norman, who deals in English blue and white (Spode, Wedgewood, Copeland) and who is in the little arcade opposite Chelsea Town Hall on the King's Road.
This Burleigh jug in Blue Arden was a wedding present, and though it is sometimes a water jug, it is currently full of white parrot tulips (although sadly it is less full today than it was yesterday, I came downstairs this morning and found Sholto, on the table, merrily snapping the heads off to create a new baby bunch of flowers which he presented me with.)
Burleigh Calico Cow Creamer. This has now got the broken tulips in it.
This is from the Gien Oiseau Bleu range (our wedding china) which I love. My parents' wedding china is also Gien.
Limoges. Oh I love Limoges. I would love a pair of these. I think my mother has got one, but it might not be real. But does it matter? It's pretty. Though there's a wonderful moment in The Eye of the Storm (see it - Charlotte Rampling, Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis, in various cinemas now - it's brilliant) when the character Judy Davis is playing turns over a plate on arriving at one of her mother's long-abandoned houses for supper, watched by the housekeeper and her husband. It's something I have to stop myself doing sometimes. I know it looks bad. I'm not a Christie's valuation expert, especially in somebody else's house. I should simply accept things as being pretty.
This is by Royal Copenhagen and is from the Flora Danica range which was first commissioned by the then King of Denmark as a present for Catherine the Great of Russia, and it is mind numbingly expensive. I think it would look adorable with little daisies or forget-me-nots in it, but nobody in their right mind would use a cream jug that costs the earth for that. Well, I would actually, but I don't own this cream jug, so can't.
However we have got a couple of these silver plated 'Sangria' jugs by Culinary Concepts, and they're amazing and look perfect full of peonies or roses or tulips or simply stock. Ours need cleaning.
I want this. I really want this. Henning Koppel designed it for Georg Jensen, and I love it.
This is also Georg Jensen, and I love it, too.
I could go on forever and ever, and I realise that I've barely touched on actual vases or jardinieres, but another time. Incidentally, one of the best places to buy any of these things is the Golborne Road and the top (northern) end of the Portobello Road market. Fridays and Saturdays. Seriously, it's receptacle heaven.