11 MARCH 1995, Page 27

Sir: I agreed with virtually all the Duchess of Devonshire's

loves and hates (Diary, 18 February), but must take issue with her over 'flowers in fireplaces'. Of course we all hate the feeble dried arrangements put in front of the `Jetmaster' patent grate all summer long. But does the Duchess realise that a mid-18th-century inventory of Chatsworth lists the great Delft tulip vases, bought by the first Duke in the 1690s, placed in groups of three or five in all the chimney-pieces of the main state rooms? Filled with tulips in April and then with other fresh flowers as the summer pro- gressed, these must have looked spectacu- lar, and filled the rooms with scent, while disguising the ugly black voids of the fire- place openings at periods when the fires were not lit.

We have evidence of this happening at many other houses, like Dyrham in Gloucestershire, and Hampton Court Palace during the reign of William and Mary. We also have marvellous early exam- ples of painted chimney-boards showing the same thing in trompe l'oeil. It is good to know that the practice is being revived in our own times. Excellent replicas of white or blue-and-white Delft tulip vases are being made in Holland, and can be dressed with exquisite silk flowers by Lucy Henderson, who made the garlands round Adam's state bed at Osterley not long ago. Sarah Janson also paints marvel- lous trompe Poeil chimney-boards to your own specification.

Would the Duchess make an exception for these reinterpretations of the past?

Frank Staff 25 Elgin Crescent, London W11