Monday, June 22, 2015

Two Day Trips Out of London

Even though it's a bit of a drive, a great day trip out of London is Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex, the country home of the Bloomsbury Group. If you go to lunch at a charming pub along the way, the drive doesn't seem so bad.

That is exactly what we did a couple of weeks ago when we stopped at The Rose Cottage Inn on our way to Charleston. This is a wonderful spot for lunch, with traditional pub food such as Ploughman's Lunch and fish and chips.

The ambiance is cozy, casual, and old English

We arrived at Charleston and were grateful we had made the drive. The house looked beautiful with  climbing roses and vines all in bloom covering the front facade. I could only imagine what the garden must look like. That would be later; first we would be having a tour of the house.

We were scheduled for a 2:00 pm tour and had arrived a bit early which gave us some time to explore the fabulous gift store. Years ago I purchased some fabric and made two Bloomsbury pillows for my library at home. They always remind me of Charleston. This time I was tempted by the lampshades. Isn't this one gorgeous? The gift store at Charleston has to be one of the best gift stores around.

We had a fabulous tour of the house and heard some new stories. (Photos of the inside are not allowed.) I loved picturing the members of the group gathered together in this cozy place for country weekends filled with work in the mornings, relaxation in the afternoons, and dinners and long conversations into the nights. My favorite new story was learning that Quentin Bell wrote his landmark biography of his aunt Virginia Woolf in his father's (Clive Bell) bedroom. I kept imagining what that must have been like. Surrounded by his father's things as well as the ghosts of the other members of the Bloomsbury Group, he must have found plenty of inspiration.

As you exit Duncan Grant's studio you arrive at the garden. This time we spent a lot of time there. Lush, loose, and beautiful, this is truly an English country garden. It was easy to picture the garden parties that were held out here. As well as the plein-air paintings that were done by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. You can imagine them setting up their canvases in this lovely environment and painting to their hearts' content.

We wandered through, walking along paths and admiring the flowers

The borders were beautiful

I loved the old stone wall with its climbing plants

And its sturdy garden gate

This is a great view of the back of the house through the garden; Duncan Grant's studio is on the right with all the windows.

 More paths bordered by country flowers 

This is a great walking garden; evening strolls in the summer would be lovely.

After completing our walk through the garden we got on the road back to London. It was a wonderful visit and a great day trip out of the city into the Sussex countryside.


Another fun day trip to take out of London is Richmond, about 30 minutes away, where you can visit Kew Gardens and Petersham Nurseries. Because of the rain we had to skip Kew that day, but we had a wonderful time at Petersham.You would be surprised at how much there is to do at this multi-faceted garden center!

Welcome to Petersham Nurseries

If you dream of having garden parties, everything you could possibly need is at Petersham. And unlike any other nursery I've been to, they have an award-winning restaurant with gourmet food and the prettiest ambiance I've ever seen. Not quite sure what I like best about Petersham -- their vast selection of plants, their indoor spaces with beautiful garden-themed decor for sale, or their glorious restaurant. Here is a look at all three.

There are many outdoor and indoor areas with plant material for sale --

I love these rustic wooden flower supports; you see them in gardens all over England and this is a great place to buy them!

It's fun to see what's available at Petersham's

This place is a treasure trove for gardeners

Roses on another wooden frame

So much inspiration here 

The beautiful seed room

Then there are the indoor spaces with everything you could want for garden decor --

Dream of hosting a garden party? You'll find everything you need here to create a magical outdoor setting.

And after a little shopping, you can have lunch at the glorious restaurant--

Dining under a canopy of flowers, trees and vines

The perfect setting for a summer meal

Surrounded by nature

With one beautiful vignette after another to gaze upon

If you are a garden-lover, don't miss Petersham Nurseries next time you are in London. It is filled with beauty and inspiration. Make a reservation for lunch and you will have the perfect afternoon out of the city.

Saturday, June 20, 2015


Last fall, when I was in Cornwall, I bought many books set in this enchanting part of the world. Go here to read more. My goal was to keep the magic going once I returned home. I read A Cornish Affair by Liz Fenwick, Summer in February by Jonathan Smith, and Ross Poldark by Winston Graham. I enjoyed them all, though Ross Poldark was my favorite. When I was in Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago, I went to Waterstone's, a fabulous book store on Princes Street, and bought book two in the Poldark series: Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall. I've been devouring it ever since; it is my new guilty pleasure. 

And on Sunday night a televised drama of Poldark will begin. It has already aired in Britain and received excellent reviews. Do you remember the original televised drama of Poldark starring Robin Ellis from many years ago? Well, if this is half as good, it will be a hit. If you are into costume dramas, brooding heroes, swashbuckling adventures and romance, all taking place in the 18th-century, then this one is for you. It doesn't hurt that it is set in Cornwall, one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Here is a brief synopsis of the story. Ross Poldark has just returned to Cornwall after fighting in the war against the American colonies. Everyone has assumed he was dead. He finds his estate in ruins as well as his fiance engaged to another man. The mining industry in Cornwall is in crisis because of the monopoly of the big companies. As he sets about recovering what is his, he becomes a champion for the struggling miners. He takes in the half-starved urchin girl Demelza as a kitchen maid, an act which will change his life. He rebuilds his estate with the help of his incompetent servants Jud and Prudie. They are the married couple who worked for his father and let the house fall into ruins. He trains them in the proper methods of running a house and together they get the estate up and running. The story of Ross rebuilding his life, finding new love, and becoming a champion for the struggling miners and the tenants on his land is one of those sweeping sagas that we don't see very often. It's the kind of escapist television that is so much fun.      

Now that the first season of "Outlander" is over, I have a feeling this may become my new weekly obsession.

Will you be watching?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Beautiful London

"What she loved: life, London, this moment of June." --  Virginia Woolf

I just returned from a wonderful two week trip to London and Scotland. This will require a few blog posts, so I'll start with London where we had beautiful weather. The end of May, beginning of June, is such a good time to see this city. As always, it was filled with so much inspiration, excitement, art, history and beauty. The weather was the icing on the cake!

Carlos Place, Mayfair

Because of the great weather we did a lot of walking, through some beautiful streets and green spaces of London.

Discovering little out of the way places, like this church near the Connaught Hotel

And this park, Mount Street Gardens, next to the church

We stumbled upon Colefax & Fowler on Brook Street and were amazed to find this gorgeous garden at the back of the store.

A perfect little haven

And inside there was Nancy Lancaster's famous "yellow room"

The Royal Academy of Arts had a fabulous Richard Diebenkorn exhibition in its Sackler Galleries

And on this beautiful day, everyone was taking advantage of the sunshine

The National Gallery had the Inventing Impressionism show and the National Portrait Gallery had the John Singer Sargent, both of which were excellent. The portrait of the Victorian actress Ellen Terry dressed as Lady Macbeth and painted by Sargent took my breath away! The audio narrative on this was great. Apparently the spectacle of her arriving at Sargent's studio drew many visitors, including Oscar Wilde, who watched her being painted.

That day there was an organized run that went past Trafalgar Square, which was very exciting to see!

We went to the Wallace Collection for the first time where we were bowled over by the beauty of the place. This historic London town house sits on its own little square and is filled with old masters by English, French and Dutch artists.

Each gallery is a little gem

Another discovery was The Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace, an exquisite art space, where we saw the exhibition Painting Paradise, The Art of the Garden. It was stunning.

One beautiful room after another filled with art about gardens

I loved this painting

Of course, you can't go wrong hanging out at London's fabulous bookstores, such as Hatchard's.
We did a lot of this!

 All kinds of inspiration there

Or Liberty of London

Where they built a towering maypole out of their famous fabrics

I loved looking up

Evenings were filled with some great restaurant discoveries such as Cheyne Walk Brasserie

And walks through historic neighborhoods -- I thought that address sounded familiar!

Where literary giants lived

Evening walks took us past Duke's Hotel where Ian Fleming used to hang out and order martinis  "shaken, not stirred."

This place is filled with history

The Ritz Hotel

As is the Ritz Hotel on Piccadilly where we went for the first time to experience the elegance. We were not disappointed. We sat with two of their signature cocktails and people-watched. There are so many stories attached to this place. Did  you know that Churchill, Eisenhower, and de Gaulle met in the Marie-Antoinette suite for summit meetings during the Second World War? And that Noel Coward wrote songs here? Tallulah Bankhead sipped Champagne from her slipper during a press conference in the 1950's. It was a favorite of Hollywood stars.

The Royal Opera House

And on a very special evening we went to the Royal Opera House to see the new ballet Woolf Works which was inspired by three of Virginia Woolf's novels. It was staggering in its poignancy and beauty. Please try to see this if they stage it again. Anyone who loves ballet would love this one. It is inventive, original, touching and very beautiful. The costumes, the lighting, the imagery projected onto the stage, and the dancing were very special. The creator of the ballet came out at the end to take a bow and the applause was rapturous!

"Woolf Works" at the Royal Opera House
This is a scene from the first act based on "Mrs. Dalloway"
Image via here

Back home at the Stafford Hotel we were given a tour of the wine cellar which was used as a bomb shelter during World War II. There are actually gas masks and other war paraphernalia from that time that have never been moved. Amazing. Some nights it was almost impossible to go to sleep with so many stories whirling around in my brain. London is endlessly fascinating.

Charleston Farmhouse

Which is why it's always a good idea to get out of the city and visit some gardens! Next up, two day trips out of London. One to Petersham Nurseries, a magical place for anyone who loves gardens. And another to Charleston Farmhouse where I learned something very interesting this time. It has to do with Clive Bell's bedroom. Virginia Woolf's spirit seemed to preside over this trip!


P.S. I would never have known about Petersham Nurseries or the Virginia Woolf ballet if it weren't for two lovely friends in London who kept me informed as I was planning my trip. I was able to see both of them while I was in London. I caught up with my friend Sarah Berry over tea and scones. She has worked in interior design over the years and I loved hearing about her exciting new career opportunities. And I was able to meet up with a new friend, Miranda Mills, of the beautiful and inspiring blog Miranda's Notebook. We got together over a glass of wine at Quo Vadis restaurant. I am so grateful to have made these friends through the world of blogging!