You can keep your Kews, Wisleys, Munsteads and Great Dixters. My favourite garden is at the end of my street.

It belongs to an elderly neighbour who has tended it and loved it for years, without design manuals, Homes and Gardens magazine or TV makeover programmes. It’s his own, personal, DIY garden, made without spending much money, just as he likes it, with any old bits and pieces that came to hand. He can’t get around so well now, but he still potters and keeps it tidy. It’s unique and wonderful.


Borders are kept in check by bits of Dexion and cement walls studded with pebbles. A few tiles he found were made into a short length of paving. Concrete animals, gnomes and caryatids live under shrubs. A bit of irrigation has been built into his own Manneken Pis.


The fig tree is the statement plant. Windfall apples are too many to be picked up and pattern the path like stars. A shady bench under the trees reminds me of an Italian courtyard garden.

Of course, this is all too posh and high flown. It’s just one man’s private garden. But as it’s on a corner, it’s also public, and I stop and admire it every time I go by.




Bowls by Murray Fieldhouse (V&A Museum)

I learned today of the death of Murray Fieldhouse, an important figure in post-war studio pottery who edited the magazine Pottery Quarterly, the first periodical on the subject, which came out irregularly from the mid-1950s to the early 1980s. He was also one of the founder members of the Craft Potters Association.

Murray was born in 1925, and after an unconventional wartime national service, when he became a pacifist, he alighted on the crafts as a way of living out his Utopian and anti-establishment ideals. The choice of pottery came later. He served an apprenticeship with Harry Davis in Cornwall, who was also an anti-establishment Utopian, but more austere in his habits than Murray, who was well-known for his enjoyment of life.

In the 1950s, Murray ran Pendley Manor, an education centre in Hertfordshire to which he invited most of the top names in studio pottery to demonstrate. When I was researching the life of Dora Billington, he gave me some photos of her demonstrating there.

Pottery Quarterly in its early days contained reviews of everything that was happening in British pottery and it is an important record of the period, but Murray was a fierce advocate of the Leach style of pottery and his reviews of exhibitions by potters who didn’t follow it became harsher over the years. Nevertheless, he was a close friend of William Newland, who was not in the Leach circle and didn’t like his artistic dominance.

Another of Murray’s initiatives was the Dacorum and Chiltern Potters Guild, of which he remained honorary president until 2009, when he retired and the job passed to Mervyn Fitzwilliam.



I usually list my top ten potters from the annual ceramics festival at Hatfield, but this year I’m just posting a picture of a vase I bought from Susanne Lukács-Ringel. Her studio is in the south of Germany where she fires in a multi-chamber, wood-fuel kiln. The variegated surface on this beautiful faceted vase is created entirely by the flying wood ash, which volatilizes at high temperatures and then condenses on the pots, colouring them with random patterns from the minerals it carries.



The owner of two Dora Billington vases has given them to me because she is moving house and has no room for them. They are signed and of good provenance. They are important pieces because there is little studio pottery by Billington still extant and none that I know of this size. The grey vase is 27 cm high, the black one 26 cm.


They are hard to date, though further investigation of the signature may give a clue. Billington started making high-fired stoneware in the late 1920s and probably donated these pieces in the 1950s or 1960s. They are heavily potted, and so may be early works.

I plan to give them to a museum in due course. I am curating an exhibition at the Crafts Study Centre about Billington’s life and work, to be opened in 2020, and these noble vases will be exhibited there.


IMG_20180808_145651861‘Expanded Narcissistic Envelope’, Toby Ziegler

Only a week left to visit the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, which is the best I have ever seen. It was co-ordinated by Grayson Perry and reflects his wit, irony, topical interests and attention to the vernacular. The older generation, exhibiting for fifty years, are there – Hockney, Tilson, Allen Jones, Antony Green and others – and there is the usual sprinkling of amateurs, some of whom have almost no artistic ability.  Among the clever and the weird there are conventional paintings that might have been exhibited a hundred years ago.

This is the largest ever summer exhibition, the selectors considering 20,000 submitted works and choosing almost 1,400. They are spread throughout Burlington House, including the recent development which allows you into the RA Schools. All the exhibits are online, but this is my personal selection.

228 Scream‘Scream’, Sophie Jansson

artwork_52026_1_disp‘The Bored Horse’, Henry Bateman.
Who chose this?  Indeed – who bought it?

artwork_66637_1_full farage - 260‘Nigel Farage MEP’, David Griffiths.
Devotional but does not capture the subject.

artwork_67067_1_full fortitude parkhouse‘Fortitude’, Sarah Parkhouse.
Hung high in the gallery but the first work you see.

franz hals embodiment - anastasia belous‘Franz Hals Embodiment’, Anastasia Belous.
One of the works in the show that make you wonder, what is the point of art?

Gallery IIIGallery III, hung by Grayson Perry.

Gloria Neave - Mrs Margaret Neave”Mrs Margaret Neave’, Gloria Neave.
Another of the traditional portraits in the show.

grayson perrriesA selection of the many, less conventional, portraits of Grayson Perry.

Heather Nevay - The Party‘The Party’, Heather Nevay.
Reminiscent of Richard Dadd and the Brotherhood of Ruralists. Creepy.

IMG_20180808_150046949_BURST000_COVER_TOP‘Untitled (Triste), Charles Avery

IMG_20180808_154419075‘Libby Heart’, Sophie Dury

IMG_20180808_150158552‘Star Cluster’, John Maine

unasfhsg‘Unfaffordable Housing’, Carl Godfrey. ‘The All-Seeing’, Richard C. Smith

artwork_63438_1_full okun‘A Man and a Woman’, Sasha Okun

IMG_20180808_155045162‘The Inspection: Kim Jong Un & Kim Jong Il Inspecting Lady Gaga’s Homage to Duchamp Urinal’, David Axtell

john wragg girl in the black dress‘Girl in the Black Dress’, John Wragg

len grey - no 222
‘Good Morning, Mr Corbyn. How are the Speed Trials Going?’ Len Grey

mach burlington ho‘The Battle of Burlington House’, David Mach

mark denton rollers‘Rollers’, Mark Denton.
A subversion of Tretchikoff’s ‘Balinese Girl’, now collectable because of its kitchiness.

martin cox afternoon at the angel‘Afternoon at the Angel’, Martin Cox

peter jones bunny‘Bunny’, Peter Jones.
Something always unnerving about dolls and pictures of bunny rabbits.

sharon wilson cabinet membersYet Sooty glove puppets are not in the slightest bit unnerving.
‘Cabinet Members’, Sharon Wilson.

taxonomy‘The Taxonomy of the Cornflake’,  Anne Griffiths.
A bizarrely autistic classification of cornflakes, accompanied by a text that analyses size, shape, edge formation, make, and so on.

rego - human cargo - detail‘Human Cargo’ (detail), Paula Rego.
One panel of a triptych, the most powerful and serious work in the show.



We stayed for a few days with our friends in France, where they have an old farmhouse well away from town in a peaceful spot with roses and fruit trees. In the sweltering heat we preferred to stay indoors, protected by two-foot walls, but the evenings were pleasant in the garden under the vines.


Over the years they have built an eclectic collection of china and pottery, for use and ornament, found in antique shops and brocante stalls, and generally bought for a few euros. Here are some pictures, and also pictures of other items from their cabinet of curiosities.