Caroline Le Foy ran her hands approvingly over the bulging ombre vessels. They were a masterstroke in the conservatory, where they mingled with a jungle of Chilean ferns and a small army of orchids. She’d first met Adam, the rugged ceramicist, at Decorex and had recently spent a day in his Monmouthshire studio mesmerised as he did miraculous things with enormous lumps of Welsh clay.
Caroline had bought the Grade II-listed Dedham Court – a major renovation project – and its 25 acres after selling Swapsies, a luxury accessories swap-shop that had gone global and netted £80m in a brisk buyout. Since she’d taken on the Georgian pile she’d been on a crafting crusade, enlisting specialist joiners and painters, muralists and makers.
In just 18 months she’d blitzed through the house and gardens like a tornado. She’d stripped the 1980s additions and restored the west wing; commissioned bespoke de Gournay chinoiserie for her bedroom and channelled Rose Uniacke in reception rooms that combined aged plaster with modern murals in a palette inspired by the frescoes of her favourite chapel in Ortigia.
This morning, Guido, her Sicilian portraitist husband, inspired by the new pots, had taken their eight-year-old to a clay masterclass at Hauser & Wirth just over the county line – and Caroline was planning to focus on her moodboards.
Until, that is, she spotted a navy Volvo thundering up the drive. Her heart sank. The only blot on her landscape, quite literally, was Eleanor, her nearest neighbour and a former head girl of her alma mater. Pushy Plunkett was renowned for her dorm dictatorship. She was also the source of scurrilous gossip that featured a potter’s wheel in the art block and the dashing head boy, Jamie Aldridge, in a monstrously successful attempt to have Caroline dethroned as head of the debating team.
Now, just as at school, Eleanor had ensconced herself into all local positions of power. She had staged a coup to become editor of the monthly freesheet, Radcliffe & Upton Reporter, where she stealthily settled scores with village foes, and she’d nominated herself organiser of the local garden scheme. But most dangerous of all was her agenda-setting role as head of the parish council planning committee.
Eleanor stormed through the portico. “Ah, wood-ash glaze. You always did like ceramics,” she said as she spied the new pots. She had an opinion on everything – from the concrete countertops (“So impractical”) in the DeVol kitchen (“Such a murky green”) to the Souvenir de la Malmaison roses planted along the oak pergola (glorious, though she said only, “Terribly susceptible to rain damage”).
Eleanor had one goal – to persuade Caroline to open her garden. Because while the house was a waking beauty, the gardens were utterly sublime. Eleanor visibly quivered at the thought of a midsummer opening. “Why don’t we take a look at those outbuildings,” she commanded. Caroline knew that the best way to get planning permission to convert them to guest suites and a pool house was with Eleanor’s support.
Work was already underway when the day of the open garden arrived. The inappropriate concrete counters were groaning with strawberry-and-hibiscus layer cakes, the guests had filtered over to the pergola to admire the magnificent trailing roses, and Eleanor stood basking in the sunshine and reflected glory.
She spotted Harold, head of the parish council. “Isn’t it wonderful?” she beamed. “Eleanor,” he started sternly, “we have noticed that your open garden owners all seem to have benefited from your unwavering support for their planning applications. And yet you’ve fiercely opposed every other one. So at an extraordinary meeting last night we voted unanimously to relieve you of your position with immediate effect.” Eleanor, for the first time ever, was lost for words. But Harold hadn’t finished. “I’ve also suggested that you be removed from your role at the Reporter.”
Turning a deep magenta, Eleanor made a hasty retreat to the rose pergola. Caroline, who had observed the exchange from her kitchen island, gave a satisfied sigh. It had taken three decades, but Pushy Plunkett might finally be getting her comeuppance.