There are many pleasure in the first days of spring -- the days are longer, the weather is warmer, and flowers are starting to bloom in the garden. Gardens at this time of the year really start to come into their own and are a constant source of joy. When I walked outside yesterday and saw this ruffled Mary Frances Iris, I was in awe of its feminine and regal beauty. The lavender color is just exquisite. A very dear friend gave me this plant a couple of years ago and looking at it is a constant reminder of our friendship. It made me realize how wonderful it is to receive a plant as a gift. As it takes root in the garden, we will always be reminded of the person who gave it to us.
Is there anything more peaceful and comforting than a rainy day and a good book? On Sunday it rained all day and I found myself sitting by the fire and rereading the wonderful book "Old Filth" by Jane Gardam. It was even better the second time around and I frequently found myself filled with emotion as I read the twists and turns of this poignant story. I had read it a while ago but needed to refresh my memory before my book club had its discussion this week. As I delved back into this book I realized from the very first page what a special book this is. The scene is the Benchers' luncheon room at the Inner Temple in London, present day. Some jurists are commenting that they may have just seen the legendary "Old Filth" walk by. They speculate on his age, "He must be a hundred." "Never put a foot wrong, Old Filth. Very popular." "Child of the Raj, public school, Oxford, the Bar -- but he's not a bore. Women went mad for him." "But it was good to see the old coelacanth." "Yes, yes, indeed it was. Tell our grandchildren."
As they discuss him in hushed tones, the reader immediately gets a whiff of the mystery attached to this person and the rest of the book is an exploration of who this really was. It is not a linear tale and we learn about the main character through flashbacks, other people's impressions of him, and his experiences in present time. The past and present are interwoven and we travel through the rich tapestry of this book uncovering clues as to what has happened in this man's life. And what a life it was.
Jane Gardam writes in the acknowledgements that one of her inspirations for this book was the Autobiography of Rudyard Kipling who was a Raj Orphan. In fact the book is dedicated to "Raj Orphans and their parents." And I wondered, what was a Raj Orphan? The main character of the book, Sir Edward Feathers aka "Old Filth," was a Raj Orphan. I learned that these were the children of English soldiers and officers who were stationed in the warm colonies of the British Empire, in places like Malaysia. The children were born there and sent back to England to be cared after by relatives, if they were lucky, or strangers as in the case of Feathers. The goal was for these children to be educated in England and to be raised English. This was foster care and much of it was negligent and even abusive. We first meet Old Filth (the main character's nickname, an acronym for "Failed in London Try Hong Kong") when he is an old man and has retired with his wife Betty to the English countryside of Dorset. He has had a long and successful career as a colonial solicitor and judge in Hong Kong, and is admired by everyone in his field and considered a legend. He is rich and handsome, even in old age, and he and Betty have had a long marriage and lived in Hong Kong most of their lives, only returning to England after "the handover" of Hong Kong to the Chinese. They do not have any children.
In the beginning of the book Betty has just died and Feathers is trying to deal with life without her. He is filled with memories of the past. He remembers going to London with her just before her death to tie up details in their wills. She had answered the phone before they departed the house and received a call from a man named Veneering who told her about the death of his son. She is devastated by this news and there is an intimacy in her conversation with Veneering leading us to believe they have had more than a platonic relationship.
And so the story begins. We learn about Old Filth's career in Hong Kong, his marriage to Betty, and his present day retirement in Dorset. But woven throughout these rather mundane stories are the deeper stories of his childhood in Malaysia, his parents and their absence in his life, and his years living in a foster home in Wales where he is sent at age 5. We also learn about the people in his life who came to his rescue, the saviors who appear throughout his very sad story to help him survive. This book has a Dickensian feel to it with its eccentric and unusual characters and its heartbreaking story of unprotected and uncared for children. But it also has the rescuers, the saviors that Dickens always included in his books who exist to help us see that yes, there is some good in the world. In fact many of the characters have theatrical or larger than life characteristics -- one is a card playing, mysterious Chinese dwarf -- that made me think of Dickens and often made me smile. This novel has many excellent qualities but one of my favorites is that it makes the reader experience so many different emotions. And ultimately this book is a powerful story of loneliness and survival.
Before you begin this book, be prepared to take out your dictionary or computer for you will need to look up many words, such as "Queen's Remembrancer" and "Bencher" and other terms from the Inner Temple in London. And what exactly is a "coelacanth"? But I didn't mind the extra work because I learned a lot about the world of the Inner Temple, of English expats living in Hong Kong after World War II, of Raj orphans, of British officers stationed in Malaysia who fathered children and lived there for years. I learned about soldiers whose duty during World War II was to guard Queen Mary at Badminton House in Gloucestershire where she stayed in the English countryside during the course of the war. Feathers was assigned to this detail and he and the Queen become quite close during this period, apparently his height and slight stammer reminded her of her son, King George. I learned a lot about the British Empire when it was at its height and the damage that its policies and attitude of "stiff upper lip" could inflict onto people such as Edward Feathers, the main character in this wonderful book. I was learning about a world that once existed -- "the sun never sets on the British empire" -- but exists no more and I felt enlightened and enriched by what I learned.
I would love to know if you have read this book and what you thought of it. If you haven't read it, I hope you will. It is a beautifully written story about loneliness and one man's search for connection and belonging. As we watch the hero build up his successful career and life, we learn the secrets of his past that up until now he has repressed. But after his wife's death the memories begin to resurface and allow this man to finally come to terms with his real life. The jurists in the Inner Temple on the opening page who are in awe of the legend of "Old Filth" have no idea what it took for this man to get to his level of success. As readers we have the privilege of finding out.
"And after all the weather was ideal. They could not have had a more perfect day for a garden-party if they had ordered it. Windless, warm, the sky without a cloud." -- Katherine Mansfield
The Coral Tree at Virginia Robinson Gardens
Morning Room at Robinson Gardens decorated for the Garden Tour, 2011
"The first time I saw her, which was in a garden in Bloomsbury -- we were both at a delightful tea party -- she was quite at her best and was then wearing a soft lavender muslin dress. I don't remember her clothes well in themselves, because they seemed merged in her. I remember this original mauvy dress, and the hat worn forward over her face."
-- Elizabeth Bowen, "Recollections of Virginia Woolf"
"...Only is the sunlight ever normal at Garsington? No, I think even the sky is done up in pale yellow silk, and certainly the cabbages are scented..." -- Virginia Woolf
Now that spring has arrived, give yourself a treat this May and take a little journey into the gracious past with a garden tour of some magnificent private gardens. After the tour, you are invited to a beautiful garden party at the Virginia Robinson Gardens. Dress up in your garden best and don't forget to wear your hat! Come to the "2012...into the garden Tour" (May 18, 2012) put on by the Friends of Robinson Gardens and take a little vacation from the rat race of daily life. Turn off your computers, put away your cell phones and readjust your time frame. Enter the world that Katherine Mansfield, Elizabeth Bowen, and Virginia Woolf were writing about, a time when friends would dress up and meet over tea and champagne and garden parties were a common occurrence. Enjoy the splendor of five private gardens in West Los Angeles and then come for lunch and tea at the enchanting Virginia Robinson estate in Beverly Hills. The house will be decorated by talented Los Angeles florists and designers and the gardens will be blooming. This is truly the garden party of the year.
I hope you can make it this year to the annual "2012...into the garden Tour." Click here to order tickets.
Be sure to dress up in your garden best and don't forget to wear your hat! It is always a day of elegance and beauty. There's nothing like it for getting ideas for your own garden, enjoying a visual feast, and meeting some wonderful garden friends. You will be inspired!
I love design books and read them all the time. I also enjoy looking at other people's homes. If I could pick a dream career, it might be as an interior designer. The idea of helping someone create a "home" and encouraging them to let it be a reflection of who they are is very appealing. A home should highlight the owner's books, art, travel, souvenirs and family heirlooms. I have often heard designers say that the most inviting homes are a personal narrative of the way people live.
Recently I read in "House Beautiful" that its editor in chief Newell Turner was coming to Los Angeles for something called West Week and that it was happening at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. I was curious about this design event and coincidentally a friend sent me some information about it and asked if I would like to go to one of the lectures. I began to gather some information about what this was and discovered that it was a series of design lectures by some fabulous interior designers at the Pacific Design Center. And it was open to the public. I looked forward to gathering some decorating advice for my own home as well as creative ideas in general. I happily said "yes" and so began our "design" adventure, a day of inspiring thoughts and images.
We got to the Pacific Design Center a little early and enjoyed walking around this incredible building which is an architectural gem. It is bursting with showrooms filled with fabrics, rugs, antiques, furniture and anything you would need to furnish a home.
The lecture was called "Take Five: Four Designers Talk About Influence, Fantasy, andHow To Stay Inspired." I loved the sound of this one. Isn't this what we all want to know about -- creative influence, fantasy, and inspiration? We would be hearing a panel discussion with Charlotte Moss, Suzanne Kastler, David Netto, and Gaye Tapp, four of the best interior designers working today. They would be talking about exciting room designs, beautiful places, and brilliant mentors that have influenced their work. We would be seeing slides of the places and people they were talking about. These four designers share a passion for design. I couldn't write fast enough to take down all the interesting thoughts they shared with us.
Here are some of the gems that were being tossed around the room by these four luminaries in the field of interior design:
They were asked about the five most exciting rooms they have ever seen --
David Netto's choices included Harry's Bar in London because of its gorgeous salmon color and wonderful lighting which add up to an inimitable atmosphere, which David said was the most important aspect of a successful room.
Gaye Tapp (who also writes the blog Little Augury) picked a bedroom by Nancy Lancaster because it is so quirky and truly reflects the person who inhabits it, and the idea of finding a room you can call your own. She believes that everyone is looking for "a room of one's own."
Charlotte Moss picked Monticello as one of her inspirations, also citing University of Virginia, both of which were designed by Thomas Jefferson. She noted that Jefferson was a gardener and she will never forget the first time she saw the serpentine brick walls of the gardens at University of Virginia and smelled the boxwood. Jefferson's architectural and gardening achievements demonstrated great attention to detail, which is one of the hallmarks of Charlotte Moss' design style.
Suzanne Kastler chose the restaurant at the Ritz Hotel in Paris as one of her favorites. She showed us a photo of this space which features a tree in the middle of the room. She borrowed that concept and used it in the barn at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee. Travel is one of the most important sources of inspiration for all of these designers, and they incorporate ideas from their travels into the homes they design. I also loved Suzanne's philosophy of decorating: "A room should be collected not decorated."
They also talked about the people who have provided inspiration for their design style as well as inspiration for their lives. The list was far-reaching --
David Netto talked about his godfather Alan Campbell, who was a fabric designer and provided artistic influence. He also cited Gregory Peck for his sartorial elegance and moral integrity and the diarist James Boswell for his zest for life.
Gaye Tapp cited Virginia Woolf and her concept of creating a "room of one's own" as a huge influence. Gaye reads a lot and is a student of cultural and literary history and finds her inspiration in books. If you read her blog you will know what I mean, there is the spirit of the scholar about it.
Charlotte Moss is inspired by Bill Blass, a great raconteur and Diana Vreeland whose ferocity of spirit lends itself to great style. She talked about the importance of books in a house and how they add such an important dimension to every room.
Suzanne Kastler has found inspiration in her parents who taught her to never lose her spirit no matter how tough things become. She also admires the designer John Saladino who makes history fresh in his interior designs.
It all comes down to inspiration and being receptive to it. These designers recommended relaxing, carving out some time for yourself, loving life, not having an agenda and just going out and letting the inspiration come to you. They all believe in the intangibles of home design: a feeling of joy, atmosphere, patina, and a home that feels well-loved and lived in. These are the intangibles that add up to a beautiful home and these are the ideas we took home with us.
I left feeling inspired and enlightened, realizing that there is nothing more appealing than hearing how professional designers, or any creative souls for that matter, have turned their passion into careers. They keep it fresh by being receptive to ongoing inspiration and staying curious and interested in life.
Isn't this the most inviting and cozy little nook? I spotted this in a garden in England and can't stop looking at its appealing freshness. That chair nestled within its leafy green wall. I would love to have a chair in that shade of green. I want to sit on this chair with a good book and daydream, looking up to gaze at the beauty around me. All by myself. Maybe reading "Elizabeth And Her German Garden" by Elizabeth Von Armin.
This is one of my favorite passages from that book:
"I am always happy (out of doors be it understood, for indoors there are servants and furniture), but in quite different ways, and my spring happiness bears no resemblance to my summer or autumn happiness, though it is not more intense, and there were days last winter when I danced for sheer joy out in my frost-bound garden in spite of my years and children. But I did it behind a bush, having due regard for the decencies.
There are so many bird-cherries round me, great trees with branches sweeping the grass, and they are so wreathed just now with white blossoms and tenderest green that the garden looks like a wedding. I never saw such masses of them; they seem to fill the place. Even across a little stream that bounds the garden on the east, and right in the middle of the cornfield beyond, there is an immense one, a picture of grace and glory against the cold blue of the spring sky.
My garden is surrounded by cornfields and meadows, and beyond are great stretches of sandy heath and pine forests, and where the forests leave off the bare heath begins again; but the forests are beautiful in their lofty, pink-stemmed vastness, far overhead the crowns of softest gray-green, and underfoot a bright green whortleberry carpet, and everywhere the breathless silence; and the bare heaths are beautiful too, for one can see across them into eternity almost, and to go out on to them with one's face towards the setting sun is like going in the very presence of God."
Do you ever want to dance for joy as you anticipate the promise of a creative and productive day? Or maybe you have had a vision or inspiration, hitting you like a thunderbolt, and you are bursting with ideas for enhancing your life?
Oh Elizabeth, I love your "spring happiness" and that you danced for sheer joy behind the bush. You are one of the delightful dreamers I love to read about, and your joy and excitement about transforming a wilderness into a garden is expressed in joyous passages such as the one above.
Elizabeth Von Armin's idyllic garden was a sanctuary for her. It was where she went to be alone and clear her head. We all need to find our nook, our retreat, our special place in our house or garden -- a place to meditate, to dream, to plan and to read. These are the simple pleasures and moments of reflection that refresh and rejuvenate us. They may lead us to our muse, to a new source of inspiration. They often lead to great ideas: a new plant for the garden, a new dream for our lives, a solution to a nagging problem, a new approach to our days, even a new blog post! Taking our coffee outside in the morning and spending some time in reflection, seeing the first blossoms of spring can give us a little thrill and suddenly we are smiling. Suddenly we know the day is going to be all right. These are the beautiful moments that allow us to live and breathe. These are the moments that take us to the border of the next big step, or even that little step that will make all the difference to the rest.
Elizabeth Von Armin's "spring happiness" is contagious. A new season can point us in fresh and exciting creative directions. Happy Spring!
The wonderful Elizabeth at Pinecones and Acorns has "tagged" me! This means that she has asked me eleven questions about myself which I will answer. Then I am suposed to choose eleven bloggers and ask them a set of questions. And so on and so forth...you get the idea. The point of the exercise is for all of us to get to know some bloggers a little bit better. This exercise has been a lot of fun. So here goes...
1. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SEASON?
AUTUMN has always been my favorite season. What's not to love about this season of sunny and crisp days, houses and shops decorated with pumpkins and chrysanthemums, maple leaves scattered on the ground and small New England towns all decked out for the holidays. This love of autumn started when I was a little girl and anticipated the beginning of the school year which meant new clothes, crisp temperatures, seeing my friends again and meeting new teachers. As I got older nothing really changed; I went away to college and the same excitement occurred: new clothes, crisp temperatures, seeing my friends and meeting new teachers. Now I welcome autumn because it is the coziest season around my house with lots of cooking and baking, a time to nest and be home as I get ready for the holidays, my very favorite time of the year!
2. DO YOU PREFER TO WATCH TV OR READ? WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE GENRE OF TELEVISION OR BOOKS?
This is a close contest because when TELEVISION is this good (see above) I love it. One of the advantages to a television series such as "Downton Abbey" is its episodic quality. With six or more episodes, we can really sink into the story much as we would into a good old-fashioned, sprawling novel. Which brings me to the second part of the question, my favorite genre of books -- definitely NOVELS. I love becoming immersed in a good novel. A good novel takes me places and puts me into other people's minds. The best writers tell stories and invent characters that are always relevant and contain truths we can apply to our own lives. These books stand the test of time. And so I often reread my favorites. These books take me to a cozy place, a place of recognition and connection, they make me smile and allow me to learn. Here are three that I like to revisit:
So, the answer is I really love both!
3. IF YOU COULD STEP INTO A TIME MACHINE AND GO ANYWHERE IN TIME, WHERE WOULD YOU VISIT? WHY?
PARIS IN THE 1920'S as depicted in Woody Allen's film "Midnight in Paris." It is his love letter to the city of lights. It is also a wonderful reminder of a period of time and place when writers and artists were coming together and doing new and exciting work, creating art that would have a lasting impact on the world. I would love to experience the excitement about art and life that was going on in Paris at that time. Friendships were strong, literary salons were popular, and for the young and idealistic, life was intoxicating. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, the Murphys -- they were all there. "Midnight in Paris" shows that era in a kind of a glow and a golden light, which is how it has always looked in my imagination.
4. ARE YOU A CAT OR A DOG LOVER?
Elizabeth, I don't have a pet but if I had to choose it would be a dog. My friends have dogs and I have a lot of fun playing with these furry friends. Darla (my little Yorkie friend), you know I am talking about you here!
5. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ASPECT OF BLOGGING?
There are three answers to this question:
The first is WRITING AND TAKING PICTURES. Being a blogger is almost like being the editor of your own "magazine," the creative possibilities are endless. For someone like me who loves magazines, this is a true joy. And it is also an outlet for me to talk about the things I am most excited about.
The second are the OPPORTUNITIES that have occurred because of my blog:
For example I was happy when Stacey from Quintessence asked me to write a piece for the online magazine Women's Voices For Change. I was thrilled when they accepted my essay about my daughter's wedding and my milestone birthday both occurring in the same month.
David from the excellent art blog A Husk of Meaning asked me to write a guest post on an artist I admired and I wrote about Duncan Grant and the Bloomsbury Group. This was an opportunity to really delve into a topic that I love.
An old friend from grad school days at UCLA contacted me through my blog. We haven't seen each other for ages. She lives in Connecticut and we've already planned a get-together for the next time she is in Los Angeles.
And the third and most important aspect of blogging is becoming acquainted with FELLOW BLOGGERS and MY READERS. I have learned so much from you! Book suggestions, gardening stories, travel advice, ideas for home decorating, inspiring thoughts and beautiful images, friendship and cheer. It has been such a rewarding experience!
6. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE HOLIDAY? A STAY-CATION, VISIT WITH FAMILY, A CRUISE OR A TRIP AROUND THE WORLD?
Well, this is so hard to give just one answer. (Are you noticing a pattern here?) Bear with me, as I narrow it down to three. And I would love my whole family to be with me on any of these dream trips!
THE SOUTH OF FRANCE --
My trip to the Luberon region of Provence was one of my favorite trips and left me wanting more. Peter Mayle's books whetted my appetite, and when I finally got to go several years ago, it was worth the wait. I would love to return and explore different parts of this region. You probably recognize this photo from my header. I love that path leading us to more discoveries...
Discovering beautiful and magical Venice when I went to Italy was a highlight of my life. We also visited Florence and Rome on that same trip. It was my only trip to Italy and I would love to go back and trace the footsteps of my ancestors. They lived in Naples and Rome. One day...
Anyone who reads my blog knows that I have a love affair with England. It started when I was in college and read English poetry and English novels for six years. All those locations from the books were present in my imagination before I even visited England. When I went for the first time, it was almost like going home. I walked the streets of London that Dickens had described in his books, I saw Shakespeare's plays in the city where they were originally staged, I visited the English countryside where Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell lived. The photo above which is from the Cotswolds takes me to the region where the delicious "Mapp and Lucia" books by E.F. Benson were set. And there are so many parts of England that I still haven't seen: the lake district of Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter, Yorkshire where the Brontes lived. The list is endless...
7. SWEET OR SALTY? WHAT IS YOUR GO TO FOOD SNACK?
Definitely SWEET and if I could, I would eat this every day. But since I try to be good, I usually have a cup of tea and some ginger snap cookies in the afternoon.
8. WHAT IS YOUR DREAM JOB?
I used to write book reviews for several publications and I often dream of getting back into it:
Ralphe Fiennes in "The Tempest" at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London
Photo via here
But right now my dream job in journalism would be as a THEATER CRITIC. I adore Ben Brantley's reviews in the New York Times and when he flies off to London to review the new season I always wish I could be him. Can you imagine seeing all the fabulous plays he sees and then writing about them? What a treat to see "TheTempest" (which I got to to see on my September trip to London) as a theater critic and then write up a glorious review the next day. Obviously it's not all a bed of roses, but still I can imagine the gems would outweigh the disappointments. And (since we are still in my fantasy world here) I would love to write like him. His review of Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" (the longest running play in modern history) was excellent (you can read it here). I loved his thoughts on this old classic and why it still has meaning and value.
There is also part of me that would love to be an interior decorator. I read home decor magazines incessantly and love looking at people's houses. There is such an appeal to the idea of helping someone create a "home" and encouraging them to let it be a reflection of who they are. When I walk into a friend's house and see their books, art, travel souvenirs and family heirlooms, I really feel at home.
And then there is always the delicious idea of being a food writer or food stylist for a magazine. Okay, I cheated here and gave way too many answers, but I got carried away when I imagined my dream job!
9. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE ARTIST?
"Bar at the Folies-Bergere" by Edouard Manet, 1882
I love MANET and his "Bar at the Folies Bergere" is one of my favorite paintings. The face of the barmaid is so compelling, we wonder what is she really thinking as she goes about her job.
10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CITY IN THE WORLD, EITHER ONE YOU HAVE VISITED OR HOPE TO SEE ONE DAY?
In the words of Samuel Johnson, "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life."
11. DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE SAYING, OR MOTTO?
"BE HAPPY. IT'S ONE WAY OF BEING WISE." -- Colette
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE WRITER AND IF SO WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE BOOK BY THAT WRITER?
IF THERE WERE FOUR PEOPLE FROM ANY TIME PERIOD YOU COULD INVITE TO DINNER WHO WOULD THEY BE?
DO YOU LIKE TO COOK? DO YOU LIKE TO ENTERTAIN AT HOME? IF THE ANSWER IS YES, WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE ENTERTAINMENT AND COOKBOOK AUTHORS?
ARE YOU IN A BOOK CLUB? WHAT IS THE BEST BOOK YOU HAVE READ RECENTLY?
WHAT ROOM IN YOUR HOUSE DO YOU GO TO WHEN YOU WANT TO RELAX? DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE NOOK FOR READING OR DAYDREAMING?
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR PART OF THE WORLD. WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO IN YOUR HOME TOWN?
WHAT IS YOUR PREFERRED FORM OF EXERCISE -- WALKING, YOGA, THE GYM, OR OTHER?
HAVE YOU EVER WRITTEN OR WOULD YOU LIKE TO WRITE A SHORT STORY, MEMOIR OR A NOVEL?
ARE YOU A GARDENER, OR ARE YOU A GARDEN ADMIRER? YOU CAN BE BOTH!
WHEN YOU TRAVEL, DO YOU LIKE TO GO TO A CITY OR THE COUNTRYSIDE?
WHAT WOULD YOUR DREAM CELEBRATION BE FOR A BIG BIRTHDAY?
I hope you will read all these wonderful blogs; each of them is inspiring, informative and will take you on a little journey. These writers are sharing their passions and interests and reading their blogs will bring a smile to your face and give you something new to think about.
All photos are by Sunday Taylor unless otherwise noted.
Right now I am reading books about gardens. More specifically, I am reading books about gardeners and garden dreamers. These are books about the intrepid souls who dream about having a garden and their dreams become a passion. In these books the garden lovers go on to create the garden of their dreams. I have written before (you can read it here) that these kind of books seem so hopeful to me because the garden is often a metaphor for discovering meaning and hope in one's own life. Somehow the garden helps the garden dreamer get there. And in the case of English writer Beverley Nichols, there is a healthy dose of humor thrown in to the mix that makes the reading experience so delightful.
I have read several gardening books by Beverley Nichols, but not his very first one "Down the Garden Path," which is considered a true garden classic. I opened this gorgeous book recently (the illustrations are by Rex Whistler) and read the introduction and the foreword. I began to get a sense of what a delicious reading experience this is going to be.
The Cotswolds, England
From the foreword I learned that Beverley Nichols was a prolific writer on subjects ranging from religion to politics and travel. He wrote six novels, five detective mysteries, four children's stories and six plays. He lived in London and was a successful writer and a dapper man about town. In the 1920's he appeared to be the epitome of the Jazz Age playboy, an image he was eager to change. In 1928 he bought a beautiful Tudor cottage built in 1520 in the village of Glatton, England with a garden that had been badly neglected. Working in London on a musical show and other writing projects at the time, he could only get away on the weekends to work on the restoration of the cottage and garden. But his weekend hobby became his passion.
He decided to write a book about his experience and thought his readers would enjoy this tale of a "playboy-turned gardener." He took less than three weeks to finish it. As he said, "It was hardly likewriting a book at all, it was more like arranging a bunch of mixed flowers." This book "Down the Garden Path" came out in 1932 and was a huge success.
The book opens with these words:
"I believe in doing things too soon. In striking before the iron is hot, in leaping before one has looked, in loving before one has been introduced. Nearly all the great and exciting things in life have been done by men who did them too soon. It was far, far too soon for Columbus to set out on his crazy trip to the New World. The ether was not ready for Beethoven when he began a symphony on a dominant seventh. Shelley, long before the appointed time, unloosed, with trembling fingers, the starched ribbons which bound the dress of Poetry. 'Too soon...too soon...' it is the snarling sleepy cry which greets all new-born beauty, all flights of the spirit.
I know that unless I write a gardening book now...swiftly, and finish it it before the last bud outside my window has spread its tiny fan...it will be too late to write it at all. For shortly I shall know too much...shall dilate, with tedious prolixity, on the root formation of the winter aconite, instead of trying to catch on paper the glint of its gold through the snow, as I remember it last winter, like a fistful of largesse thrown over a satin quilt. Just as the best school stories are written by boys who have only just left school, so, I feel, the best gardening books should be written by those who still have to search their brains for the honeysuckle's languid Latin name, who still feel awe at the miracle which follows the setting of a geranium cutting in its appointed loam.
That is why I have written this book. You must not look to it for guidance. It will not tell you how to prune a rose-bush...No...I fear that this book holds little practical wisdom. But if any gardeners should honour me by turning its pages, idly, after their day's work is done, I hope that from time to time they may be tempted to smile, not unkindly, at the recollections of their own early follies. And I hope that there may come to them, once more, a faint tremor of that first ecstasy which shook them when they learnt that a garden is the only mistress who never fails, who never fades..."
Have you ever dreamed of starting a garden from scratch? Or redoing your garden? Maybe reading about someone who did it would be enough. Beverley Nichols book "Down the Garden Path" is considered a garden classic. It is a magical place to start your journey.
Spring is almost here and flower arrangements like these from Botany Flowers bring it a little closer. Friends came over for dinner last weekend and the flowers above were a beautiful centerpiece for the table. A few days later I hosted a meeting for the "...into the garden" Benefit Garden Tour put on by the Friends of Robinson Gardens. I wanted to add a dose of spring freshness to both occasions and so called on the wonderful florist Botany for two flower arrangements.
About 25 dedicated women attended the fundraiser meeting at my house and it was very successful. Have you ever noticed how creative women are when they are motivated and passionate about their cause? A friend of mine said something so true, "I have always believed in the power of women gathering to work on good things in this world." I agree with her, there is nothing like a group of women for getting a job done. I am so inspired by all the talented women I know and the contributions they make to their community.
The Benefit Committee's task is to put on a garden tour (guests see five private gardens in West Los Angeles) which is followed by a garden party at the Robinson Gardens Estate. This takes place on May 18. It is our biggest fundraiser of the year and an event that every garden lover in Los Angeles looks forward to. This year I am working on the boutique and we have gotten some very exciting vendors to participate. They will be selling garden hats, jewelry, purses, art, home decor, garden ornaments, plants, clothing, and other lovely items. I have been going on this tour for many years and it has always been a highlight of the spring season for me. Now I get to work on it with the talented women in this group and it is an inspiring experience. Spring is traditionally a time for garden tours and other fundraisers. It is a season of people working together as volunteers on projects they care about. If you are involved in something like this in your community, I would love to hear about it.
Spring is the season of renewal and rebirth, and there is nothing like getting involved in your community to make you feel energized and alive.
By the way, today is the birthday of English writer and gardener Vita Sackville-West who was born in 1892. Happy Birthday, Vita! Her garden at Sissinghurst Castle has been a source of inspiration for so many gardeners. You can read more about her on the Writer's Almanac.
Are you the kind of adventurous traveller who dreams of going on an African safari or a trek through India? Or are you a quieter sort of traveller who delights in a garden tour of the English countryside? No matter which kind of travel experience you enjoy, if you love to travel you probably love maps. Do you gaze at them and see myriad opportunities for traveling to distant parts of the world? Do you also find beauty in the older, vintage ones? Chances are good that you would probably love to have a beautiful hand-painted map made for you that documents your very special journey. This is exactly what my talented friend Connie Brown creates at Redstone Studios in the town of Durham, Connecticut.
The map featured above was done for a client to document a memorable trip to East Africa. The client is an accomplished nature photographer and supplied Connie with photos of wild animals and other details of the trip, including a quote about Africa from the writer Ernest Hemingway. This is a map to be treasured, not only as a representation of the location of a magnificent trip, but also as a beautiful work of art to display in one's home. The photos below show some of the exquisite details that were included on this map.
Quote from Ernest Hemingway and beautiful paintings of the animals
Photo of giraffes that the client gave to Connie and Connie's artistic rendering below
In the photo above notice the map's border which is based on a beaded Maasai bracelet design and the compass rose which is inspired by a Maasai necklace. These details contribute to the beauty and personal meaning of this project. The colors Connie has used throughout are so appealing -- the yellows, greens, blues and browns all work together well and create such a pleasing result.
More images of animals in the borders and gorgeous close-up of the regions in Africa that are featured
Connie is a cartographer and enjoys the marriage of art and science that exists in map making. Her maps are accurate and also beautiful. She has an interest in the elaborate elements found in Renaissance maps, such as borders, cartouches, elaborate lettering and illustrations. These are features that add a beauty and vintage quality to her work.
The list of maps that Redstone Studios has made over the years reads like a travel book of short stories:
A journey that a couple took to China to adopt their infant daughter and bring her home
The annual vacation that a family takes to their favorite lake in the Oregon Cascades
A trip that a family took to Africa to visit their son when he was in the Peace Corps
The travels of a couple who circled the globe at the equator, looking at animal species
The routes of a retired submarine captain
Civil War experiences depicted for the great-grandchildren of soldiers
A tiger reserve in India done for a documentary filmmaker
A wedding week in Tuscany
A private pilot's trip from Nantucket to Cape Town
An antique car-rally in British Columbia
A bird watcher's trip to Antarctica
You can imagine how many personal narratives and family history would be contained in the stories of these trips. These are tales of geography and the human spirit.
If I were to commission a map from Redstone Studios, I can think of three ideas:
1) My garden tour of the Cotswolds in England
2) A literary landscape of England featuring the locations of my favorite writers
3) A trip to Italy to trace the footsteps of my ancestors, born in Rome and Naples (I haven't made this trip yet, but want to)
What trip would you like documented if you were to commission one of these maps? Are you an adventuresome traveller or a traveller who likes to return to favorite places?
"The past lives on, in art and memory, but it is not static: it shifts and changes as the present throws its shadows backwards. The landscape also changes, but far more slowly; it is a living link between what we were and what we have become."
-- Margaret Drabble, "A Writer's Britain"
Wouldn't it be amazing to have the landscapes of our lives, the ones that really made a difference, memorialized in maps such as those made by Redstone Studios?