picking out weeds and moss from the crazy paving with broken dinner knives. There was a white-pillared veranda where lunch was eaten every day from April until October. There was a very good wisteria all over the side of the house facing south, and at the edge of the crazily paved terrace was a small retaining wall with a narrow bed on top. Another area about which, like her hair, she was fiercely anxious, this bed was planted out with lipstick-red geraniums every summer, held in with miniature hurdles. Beyond the croquet lawn was the wood, bordered by rhododendrons and millions of naturalised Crocus tommasinianus – source of immense pride to her. Beyond this were several acres of Surrey woodland whose canopy was, like the sandy soil beneath, light, being mostly birch and hazel, the floor spangled and the clean air scented with myriad lily of the valley in May. It was exciting and filled with dangerous burrows, mushrooms and stinkhorns.
In London I found myself doing A levels at St Paul’s, which to begin with I found alarming in its sophistication. Country bred, I read Country Life with more relish than Cosmopolitan and indeed had done so since before I could read. I liked it because it was not reading, it was looking at pictures mostly, and the pictures were of houses and that fascinated me. Both my parents had been gripped with a thing about houses, pictures and furniture, and Julian’s parents similarly loved to take him to the country-house sales that abounded in the 1960s. My mother eventually turned this passion into a job by opening an antique shop in Wallingford, which prompted my happy exile to boarding school and, later when she succeeded in moving us back to London, in Chelsea, and together we went on buying trips round the country in her yellow Volvo estate and would stop to look at houses, market towns and the odd church. She liked to share a smoke and a gin in the evenings and tales of the ‘trade’. My Dad, who had been involved in the setting up of the Open University throughout the seventies, was by now working for a quango called the Centre for Environmental Studies, researching regeneration and the built environment, and he and I would set off at weekends for urban walks round Thamesmead and other social housing developments, as well as to Columbia Road to buy plants for his pots, and on excursions to look at the paintings of Claude and Poussin for whom he had a great admiration. In 1975 ‘The Destruction of the English Country House’ exhibition happened at the Victoria and Albert Museum, masterminded by people who would later become Julian and my heroes and friends: Roy Strong, John Harris and Marcus Binney. It found me already recruited, I think, into the cult of the country house. It was followed by a companion exhibition ‘The Glory of the Garden’.
I went to Edinburgh to read History and History of Art, cherry-picking Early Islamic Architecture and the Development of the English Country House. I loved Edinburgh from the moment I alighted at Waverley Station: the city, the architecture, the Scots, the university, the friends, the theatrical productions, the junk shops, the parties, were all beyond my greatest expectations. Students spent a lot of time drinking in bars
Above: Hardwick Hall and Wardour Old Castle (the grotto by Joseph and Josiah Lane in the foreground) by David Vicary, early 1960s.
Below: Antoni Gaudí, Parc Güell, 1900–1914 (top); Niki de St. Phalle, Tarot Garden, Tuscany, Italy, 1998 (bottom).