Tag Archives: pomegranate



Catalogue cover for the Monochrome exhibition at the National Gallery, London.

At this mad end-of-term time I do recommend that you sneak down into the bowels of the National Gallery to see the Monochrome exhibition.  Rattling as I am with that double challenge of finding hilarious or ingenious Christmas stocking presents for my three cucumber cool  kids (they are aged 18 – 21, you can see the difficulty ) and finishing a sleigh load of writing and designing work,  I have managed to visit twice.

I was astounded by Ingres’ Odalisque in Grisaille – pictured on the catalogue (above).  The gorgeous silvery calm of of her gaze lures you into the exhibition from posters rigged up high outside the gallery above the touristy razzmatazz of  Trafalgar Square.   I think I must have seen the image before in books or catalogues but had always assumed I was seeing a print perhaps of the luscious, richly coloured Grande Odalisque painting in the Louvre  and was intrigued to learn that the monochrome odalisque was a a completely separate, subtle, simplified version of the subject, painted for Napoleon’s sister.  There are no oriental fabrics or props in the black, white and grey version which gives the painting an abstract quality and allows Ingres to focus entirely on form, light and shadow and it is known that he particularly valued what he achieved here.

La Grande Odalisque – Jean-August-Dominique Ingres, 1814,  Musée du Louvre, Paris.

When I visited Scampston Walled Garden in Yorkshire this summer for Country Life (my piece on the garden will be published next year) I learnt that the many horticulture students who spend time working in this early Piet Oudolf are encouraged to take photographs of the borders and convert them to black and white so that they too are concentrated on form, light and shadow and not distracted by colour.

Scampston, Perennial Meadow – full colour and black and white.

It is an interesting exercise.   In the colour photographs of a group of plants from the Perennial Meadow,  the composition feels balanced with the yellow of the Thermopsis caroliniana, the pinky-mauve of the salvia and the blue-mauve of the Geranium Brookside seeming to make an equal contribution.  In the black and white photograph the upright form of the Thermopsis caroliniana stands out – without the clarity and dynamism of these vertical strokes the planting might feel much more muddled.  The neat inky heads of Rudbeckia occidentalis (top right) are also much more noticeable in the black and white photograph.  Again these curious flowers, which have a an almost black central cone and negligible green sepals rather than petals, provide an important staccato accent which animates the scene.

Back in the National Gallery, there are many beautiful examples of the simplicity of monochrome being used to reflect the sobriety of Lent and to suport the focus on prayer with minimal distraction.  There is a particularly lovely French stained glass Panel with Quarries and a Female Head from 1320-24 made with grisaille glass and silver stain.

Part of a Stained Glass Panel with Quarries and a Female Head, Victoria and Albert Museum London, part of the Monochrome exhibition, National Gallery, London.

I love the idea that the silver stain turns yellow in the firing process so that the panel moves gently and richly away from monochrome.  I see the same natural, quiet lustre again in the lovely handblown glass from Afghanistan from the brilliant Ishkar, a company set up to import pieces made by craftspeople affected by war.  Definitely my favourite Christmas purchase.

Gold and clear hand blown tumblers from Afghanistan from Ishkar.

One of my other favourite pieces in the exhibition was a wall hanging from Genoa – pale oil paint on the hard wearing indigo cloth developed in the city in the 16th century – this is origin of the word ‘jeans’.

Agony in the Garden 1538, oil on indigo canvas, State Property on deposit in the Museo Diocesano, Genoa.

You need to visit for yourself to appreciate the  tactile satisfaction of white on tough navy blue.  A whole set of hangings would be used to clothe a chalky white chapel during Lent. How wonderful it would be to create something simple using white on blue denim to soften an outdoor loggia.

Star of the show for me was the  Donne Triptych by Hans Memling.

Hans Memling. The Virgin and Child with Saints and Donors (The Donne Triptych) about 1478, National Gallery.

Again a photograph is a poor substitution for the demure delicacy of the outer panels which are slightly opened to reveal a tantalising slice of rich red and glowing gold of the VIrgin’s Gown within.

Detail of Hans Memling, The Donne Triptych, Saint Christopher carrying the infant Christ – one of the outer doors.

Hans Memling – the Donne Triptych – central panel – National Gallery.

Applied to a garden context, this is perhaps the most important lesson of the show – the powerful effect of an area of calm and restraint adding hugely to our appreciation of colour when we finally reach it.

Rationing colour is not always the solution of course. One of my favourite images this summer is of these dancing poppy seed heads against the uplifting cinnamon coloured walls of Culross Palace in Fife, Scotland.

         Poppy seed heads against the uplifting cinnamon coloured walls of Culross Palace.

Interestingly, because the composition is so strong, depriving the image of colour is a sad loss.

The last room of Monochrome is an installation by Olafur Eliasson, Room for one Colour, where the artist uses single frequency sodium yellow tube lighting to suppress every other colouring in the spectrum, transforming everything into monochrome.  This is in fact a rather fascinating and cheerful experience which has even the most staid art lover losing themselves in the world of the selfie for just a moment.

My faithful red notebook is monochrome.

And so am I.

I leave the National Gallery smiling and thoughtful and head to the Victoria and Albert museum’s exhibition Into the Woods – Trees in Photography . Here, calmed and held back by a world of different shades of grey, I only have eyes for two photographs – by Tal Shochat, Pomegranate and Persimmon 1974.

Pomegranate and Persimmon, Tal Shochat, 1974, Into the Woods, V&A.

Shochat takes perfect specimens of trees, dusts and grooms them to perfection and shoots them studio-style against a dark backdrop. Entirely unreal, but deliciously celebratory.

A few days later on a rainy early morning walk in Peckham, South London,  I spy a resplendent persimmon tree in a back garden.  The abundance and the glowing orange colour set against a shapely piece of yew topiary has me smiling from ear to ear.  A perfect city tree which is not to be forgotten as I look forward to possible new gardens in 2018.

Persimmon Tree and shapely yew topiary through wire fencing, Peckham.

Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas, Non.

A young- monochrome – me on a Christmas trike.




Dinner in Vini da Arturo where I ate pasta with a very delicious sauce made from raddichio da Treviso which had been cooked for five hours (a clove of garlic, half an onion , half a cup of olive oil, basil and parsley and a kilo of raddichio – add water every ten minutes, add half a cup of cream and parmesan before serving, since you ask). We got talking to New York artist, Judi Harvest http://www.judiharvest.com , who invited us to meet her the next day at her Biennale show – Denatured – which takes the form of a honey bee garden on the island of Murano with beehives painted the colours of the fishermens’ houses on Buranohouse

image courtesy of ‘Denatured Honeybees+Murano’catalogue

and an exhibition of glass honey vessels and paintings at the elegant Scola die Batioro e Tiraoro – the eighteenth century building on the Grand Canal that was once the headquarters of the city’s goldworkers. scolaJudi worked with master glassblower Giorgio Giuman and his family at the Linea Arianna factory on Murano to create the beautiful abstracted glass vessels in gorgeous, glowing honey-inspired colours – from olive to deep amber to a clear lavender.  The vessels are a celebration of the sensuous, viscous quality  of both honey and molten glass and the use of found chicken wire as a framing device, with the blown glass bulging stickily through, perfectly echoes the rhythmical, hexagonal structure of honeycomb.


image courtesy of ‘Denatured Honeybees+Murano’ 

At the heart of the exhibition, suspended from the ceiling with the grandeur and glittering allure of the finest Venetian chandelier, is ‘Monumental Hive’ – made from porcelain, beeswax, goldleaf and resin and which took six months to construct.

the hive

                       image courtesy of ‘Denatured honeybees + Murano’ cataloge.

As we ride in the water taxi over to the factory, Judi explains how the exhibition was conceived.  She had become increasingly aware of both the global environmental crisis in the dwindling honey bee population and the saddening local decline of handmade glassmaking in Murano – a seven hundred year old tradition being increasingly and aggressively replaced by cheap imports from China and Eastern Europe.


In New York, to find out more about bees, Judi set up beehives on her studio roof terrace (keeping bees has, amazingly, only been legal in New York City since 2010) and became involved with Bees Without Borders ( http://www.bestbees.com) a brilliant small charity whose aim is to reduce poverty by teaching beekeeping skills around the world.

In Venice, as she set about making her work in glass for her exhibition, she also took on the extraordinary – and pretty much single handed – task of making a real, durable bee friendly garden in the neglected grounds of the factory on Murano.

It was brilliant to visit the garden with her.  We spent time in the factory first – a wonderful place with the raw, ramshackle, treasure trove quality of the best studios and workshops –

journey 2festoon factory

opaque orangecoloured glass windowand then we entered the almost story book world of the walled garden with the brightly painted beehives as the focal point and fruit trees – pomegranate, peach, pear, cherry, apple and quince – encircled with cushions of lavender and sage.

non  and judy tramping

salvia and beehivesage circlecoloured glass and ceratostigmaThis tranquil space does not betray the dogged hard graft it took to make it.  Once the ground was cleared of rubbish and broken glass, everything – soil, turf, trees, plants, bee hives – had to be sourced somehow from the nearest possible point, brought in by freight boat and installed in the heavy rains and aqua alta of early spring 2013.

But the impact of the garden has been significant beyond the scope of the exhibition – it has had a powerful effect of the pride and self esteem of the Giuman family – finally a place to go when there is a chance to take a break from the intense heat and dusty concentration of glass blowing.  Giorgio’s daughter made the sweet threshold sign ” il giardino delle api” out of glass beads. Already the history of the garden is taking off by itself – and honey and fruit will be harvested for years to come.threshold 2threshold 1

We have lunch in a great workers’ cafe/restaurant,  Trattoria Bar Serenella dal Coco just next door to both the glass factory and the Serenella vaporetto stop.  Surely the cheapest spaghetti vongole you will find in Venice?


In the afternoon we take the vaporetto to the island of Torcello to see the cathedral of Santa Maria Dell’ Assunta.  The cathedral was built in the Seventh Century and is most famous for its Byzantine mosaics.  Torcello_-_Santa_Maria_Assunta_-_mosaics_of_the_choirimage by Remi Mathis via Wikipedia Commons

As well as the gorgeous elongated simplicity of the Madonna and Child on a gold ground which fills the entire curve of the apse, I am captivated first by the pale zig zag marble of the walls and then the marble floor.

floor torcellofloor torcello 2

A bold, inventive, delicate patchwork of ochre, russet, black, green, grey and white.  A celebration of whatever could be sourced over the years.

Later in the afternoon we enjoy an elegant, 20th Century interpretation of the same materials at the Fondazione Querini Stampalia.  The ground floor interior and garden of this sixteenth century palazzo now art gallery were brilliantly redesigned by Venetian Architect Carlo Stampa in the early sixties.


I am utterly charmed by the incredible quality and detail of his work here.  I love the spare geometric ironwork of the pair of gates which lead – tantalisingly – straight into the milky water of the canal,scarpa gatescarpa gates

and the graceful double row of precious and semi precious tiles set into a speckled concrete wall.

scarpascarpa tilingThe floating emerald discs of water lily leaves provide a glossy rhythm to the rill

scarpa rilland the band of stainless steel circles which line the wooden frame of the pond and the patterns of tiles and stepping stones cut into the lawn add further delightful layers of texture.

new pondWe are feeling the city’s charm badly.  Flashes of red everywhere.  Deep red Virginia creeper drapes itself knowingly over an austere castellated wall.

venetian sky

One of the city’s red painted benches waits confidently in a crumbling square.

red benchPartially lowered red canvas blinds provide a warming glow to the cool, shiny damp of the fishmarket.

flashes red and greenAn avenue of eighty year old Pittospurum, shaped into lush and portly trees, anchors the garden of a crumbling private palazzo


Even the museum posters plastered onto corrugated iron seem to be a symbol of the beautiful and endlessly creative city which is always the same but always slightly changing.

poster muranoposter tapies



Venetian pink

An October day in Venice. The morning glides softly by in a palette of diffused reds and milky greens.  The marble clad Church of Santa Maria dei Maracoli is the most exquisitely beautiful, calmly metered example of this, emerging matt and confident out of the petrol blue of the canal.

dei Miracolijourney a

The colours shift gently as we walk – somehow the richness of colour and texture is always perfectly balanced.

I am distracted by a detail – here the simple, overlapping curves of the metalwork on a bridge go into my sourcebook.

diversion 1

We climb up the tower of San Giorgio Maggiore. Look down one way and you have a dreamy view of the lagoon and its islands.


Look down another way and you have the ordered topiary of the Fondazione Giorgio Cini Onlus. It is a heady mix.

look down

We have arranged to meet Tudy Sammartini – the grande dame of Venetian gardens, both as a writer (“Secret Gardens in Venice” and “Verdant Venice: Gardens in the City of Water”) and a designer. We meet her at the San Basilio stop. The fragile white haired eighty something figure sitting by the canal melts away as she gets up revealing her imposing height and commanding voice. She lights up as we step onto the vaporetto over to Guidecca and is greeted superstar style for the rest of the afternoon – “Ciao Signora Tudy!”.


Tudy has been restoring the private garden behind the rich red industrial brickwork of the Fortuny factory with specialist architect, Ilaria Forti and will continue to work on the garden over the next few years.


She has been in the business for a long time and tells us how she worked with ‘The Countess’ in the sixties on the original development of the garden. Countess Gozzi has an amazing story.  She was an American interior designer and business woman – Elsie McNeill Lee – who fell in love with Fortuny furnishing fabrics in 1927 when she saw them hanging in the Carnavalet Museum in Paris.

fortuny sampleMariano Fortuny had patented a way of processing cotton to have the sheen and subtlety of antique silk in 1910.  He was an extraordinary man – as well as establishing his textile business he was an innovative and exciting set designer and painter, a lighting designer (he invented the dimmer switch) and in 1907 started producing the gorgeous finely pleated silk “Delphos” gowns which are synonymous with his name.

McNeill Lee travelled to Venice to meet  Fortuny – and ended up introducing his furnishing fabrics to the US and becoming so closely involved that when Fortuny died in 1949 she took over the business.  When she died in 1994 – having married an Italian Count and become Countess Gozzi –  she left the business to her confidant, Maged Riad whose family are still in charge and who have commissioned the garden restoration.

One of Countess Gozzi’s most ambitious gestures in the garden was to adapt the ‘Cavana’ – or boat garage into a private swimming pool – still one of only four swimming pools in Venice.  But for me the ambition is in the painstaking research – each plant in the restored garden features as a design in the Fortuny archives  –

Non and Tudy in showroom

archive fortuny

and the passionate tenacity that are bringing a neglected garden and piles of stone back from this:

still undone

non tudy pile treasures

Tudy shows me her fiercely guarded “pile of treasures”

stone face

To this:

gates + recycling

wisteria colum 1IMG_0648arch with sky

‘These sculptures are not that great’ she declares  ‘but they will have red-orange coats, (Virginia Creeper),  they will look good when they have coats.’

naked man

There is a romance and particular vocabulary to this sort of European formal garden which excites the Anglo Saxon designer – it is a language of rusting pergolas, berceaux  (vaulted trellises) laden with fruiting vines, crumbling marble columns whose capitals have been replaced slightly off centre “to keep a sense of movement and rhythm”, walls waiting to be clothed in arches of Laburnum and rangy pomegranate trees with their globe-like fruit splitting and spilling out their jewel red flesh against a blue sky.


Tudy has renovated the roses and the Wisteria herself ” I bring earth from the mountains …. I cut, cut, cut”.  But the first thing she insisted on was serious irrigation and she has used Dichondra to replace lawn as it only needs to be cut twice a year.  She will be planting bulbs – Iris, baroque tulips and narcissus – and shows me the meandering scented ‘snake’ she has created of lavander, box and myrtle.

A pragmatic scheme of white Camellia underplanted with blue and white Vinca is edged in the finely striped sepia and white stones used in the manufacturing process of Fortuny fabric.

fortuny stone

A celebration of soft red:

rust fabric paint and bricj

and rich green and soft red.


This wall – with spare arching black iron window frames dressed in grey toile de jouy style fabric – is clothed in bright yellow roses all summer.  I bet it is a brilliant combination.

IMG_0643grey fabric iron

As we leave the garden Tudy points to some dandelion leaves lurking at the base of a still  lonely pergola – I should not, of course, have expected this gardening powerhouse to be remotely apologetic:  ” I come to collect it” she says “and then I eat it”.