May 282013


‘Gardening and drinking go really well together,’ says Lottie Muir, aka the Cocktail Gardener. And she should know – by day she’s a volunteer gardener at the Brunel Museum and by night she mixes delicious cocktails using botanical ingredients.

I’d never heard of the Brunel Museum, let alone its roof garden, before the Chelsea Fringe. The garden sits above Brunel’s Thames Tunnel and was created last year by Lottie, with the help of a small grant from Capital Growth and Southwark Council. Triangular raised beds are laid out like a Trivial Pursuit counter around a fire pit and sun dial. Volunteers in the garden can take the produce home, but Lottie admits that she’s increasingly favouring plants that she can infuse, distill or use as a garnish for her cocktails.

Ah yes, the cocktails. I don’t generally drink in the afternoon but that policy went out of the window the moment I clapped eyes on Lottie’s Midnight Apothecary menu. First up was a Chelsea Fringe Collins (jasmine-infused gin, St Germain elderflower liqueur, rose petal syrup, lemon juice and soda). It was long and refreshing, sweet and sour, pale pink and sparkling, and garnished with sweet william petals and a sprig of lavender. I could have drunk that all afternoon but for decency’s sake I moved on to the non-alcholic but equally amazing Lavender Honeysuckle (lavender-infused wildflower honey, lemon juice, lemon balm, mint and sparkling water – see the pic above).

If I wasn’t such a lightweight I’d have tried the deep crimson Silver Rose Hibiscus (silver rose tea-infused vodka, Cointreau, hibiscus syrup, lemon juice and bitters). As it was I had to be driven home in a daze – the sun, the alcohol, the hum of the bees, the gentle chatter, the fragrance of the lavender I’d been sitting next to and the fact that I was wearing a jumper in the 20-degree heat had all conspired to make me feel a little… sleepy.

The roof garden is a lovely and unexpected space, free to enter, and it’s a real sun trap too. I urge you to go, especially while Lottie is dispensing her cocktails – every Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Just make sure you don’t have anything important to do afterwards.


Dec 082012

Fondation Cartier, Paris

I only ended up going to the Fondation Cartier because my Parisian pal Esther needed to order some curtains that were on sale in a shop nearby, but I’m really glad we went. It’s a very interesting space, all steel and glass, designed by the architect Jean Nouvel. As soon as you draw near you can tell that the garden is pretty special too.

It’s designed by an artist, Lothar Baumgarten, and is inspired by the idea of a Theatrum Botanicum, an inventory of medicinal plants and herbs kept by mediaeval monks. Like mediaeval gardens it is enclosed, but by a wall of glass, so you can see it from the street. It has curved terraces and an ingenious sunken area.

It wasn’t the best time of year to visit, but the garden is home to 35 tree species and 200 native French plants, including fig trees, mint, violets and lily of the valley. It also has wildflower meadows which are quite a sight in summer.

I was pleased to see that there were none of the usual signs telling people to keep off the grass. But as I left, I spotted a sign that said ‘No picnics’…