Monday, May 28, 2012

An Abundance of Flowers

Peonies in the Loggia at Robinson Gardens

If you love flowers, then you would love visiting the Virginia Robinson Gardens estate on the day of the "into the Garden" Tour that happens once a year in May.   Each year the florists who participate in this event seem to outdo themselves. They create arrangements that lend an air of beauty, magic and enchantment to each room of the house. The environments they create are a feast for all the senses.  If you have a chance to go next year, you will be enchanted and inspired by what you see.  Be sure to take your time to walk through each room of the house so you can absorb all the beauty that these florists create.   You will be inspired to go home and add flowers to your house. Here's a little tour of what these talented florists did this year.

The Library by Stephanie Grace

The Guest Bedroom by Botany

Entrance Foyer by Lily Lodge

Dining Room by Marc Byrd Flower Design

Loggia by Eric Solberg Gardens

Mrs. Robinson's Bedroom by Tre' Designs

Kitchen by Teryl Designs Landscaping

Ivo's Office by Bel Air Garden Club

Butler's Pantry by Beverly Hills Garden Club

Kitchen Patio by Cottage Garden Design and The Flower Box

Concierge Special Events by Lulu Powers Food to Flowers

Library Patio by Stephanie Grace

Kitchen Gardens by Dale Witt and Lucia Burke Garden Design

Peonies on the Front Porch by Magical Blooms Flowers and Boutique

This year the florists did a spectacular job creating their floral masterpieces.  I think that everyone who visited Robinson Gardens was transported to a place of beauty and fantasy.  Flowers communicate so much with their color, fragrance and texture.  They light up a room and create a mood of celebration and happiness.  I hope this has inspired you to go out and buy some flowers for yourself.  It will bring you a little burst of happiness and brighten up your day. And it is a wonderful way to celebrate the beginning of summer!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Waiting for a Pink Cactus To Bloom

Recently I was thinking about a book that I loved when I was younger --  the beautiful and lyrical "Break of Day" by the French novelist Colette.  Colette was in her mid-fifties when she wrote this book.  Her second marriage had ended and she had bought a house in St. Tropez, when it was still a sleepy fishing village.  The novel's theme is a woman's return to independence as she gathers strength and inspiration from the beauty and peace of her natural surroundings.  The main character  (Colette -- this book is based on her life) quotes a letter that her mother wrote at the age of 76 in response to an invitation to visit her daughter. Although Sidonie would love to see her beloved daughter, she declines to visit and spend a week with her because she is waiting for her rare pink cactus to bloom, an event that only happens every four years.

Sidonie writes,
"I am already a very old woman, and if I went away when my pink cactus is about to flower, I am certain I shouldn't see it flower again."

Colette wrote about her mother, who died the following year,
"Whenever I feel myself inferior to everything about me, threatened by my own mediocrity, frightened by the discovery that a muscle is losing its strength, a desire its power or a pain the keen edge of its bite, I can still hold up my head and say to myself: 'I am the daughter of the woman who wrote that letter.'"

I remember reading this book in my twenties when I moved to Malibu.  I read it during that first summer when I spent every free moment at the beach. Colette's descriptions of the South of France and her Mediterranean summer were seductive and I related to her feelings about the beauty and peace of nature, the beach, her daily rituals and all the sensual delights that she wrote about.  The narrator is in a relationship with a much younger man, and at the same time coming to terms with getting older.  It was an important book for me then and even though I haven't read it for many years, I will never forget how much I loved it.

My plan is to reread "Break of Day" and find out if I still feel the same way about this book. Since I am now closer in age to the narrator (she is in her fifties) I have a feeling that I will  respond in a different way.  I am sure that I will still love the beauty of the writing and the sense of place that Colette establishes --  the lush descriptions of the coast and the sea, the earthy foods, the warmth of the sun, and the pleasures of life in the south of France.  But now I may understand better the narrator's empathy with her mother's response to the invitation -- her decision to stay home and wait for her cactus plant to flower.  It should be a lovely journey to find out.   This is a beautiful book about a mother-daughter relationship and when I told my daughters about it, they asked me to get them a copy.

Have you read this book?  Have you returned to books that you loved when you were younger and discovered that you reacted differently when you were older?  The way we relate to books is often an indicator of where we are in life.

I went to the Huntington Library in Pasadena on Monday with some friends to see the gardens.  Some inner compass must have steered me there because the first place we went was the beautiful and evocative Desert Garden. As we wandered through this wonderful retreat, I paid close attention to the flowering cacti.  They reminded me of Colette.  In fact, the entire garden could have been in the South of France.  Isn't it funny how connected our experiences can be -- thinking about Colette and a flowering cactus led me to a walk through this garden filled with flowering cacti.  And there was such beauty there!  I can understand waiting for a cactus to bloom.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Books, Flowers, and Dinner

"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well."
-- Virginia Woolf

The annual "...into the garden" Tour at Virginia Robinson Gardens was on Friday, May 18.  On that day each year the historic 1912 Virginia Robinson estate in Beverly Hills is opened to the public.  Each room in the house is decorated by talented Los Angeles florists and interior designers and the guests can see the entire house before exiting out onto the Great Lawn for a garden party and lavish lunch.   Each year the house is a wonder to behold.  As I walked through the rooms on Friday I had many favorites. The library was one of them.

I have always loved the idea of a turning a library into a dining room.  And this is exactly what designer Stephanie Grace and botanical illustrator Parnell Corder did.  What could be better than eating a delicious meal surrounded by beautiful books?  Great ideas, stories, and inspiration are all around you.  Conversation would be enhanced as your eyes wander around the room noticing titles and you discuss favorite books and writers with your dinner companions.

Food and books are complemented by fresh flowers and greenery.  What a visual feast!

I was enchanted by the botanical art work done by Parnell Corder that was displayed in the library.  I love the charming way he hung these paintings.  Here was another element that added to the overall effect of this room -- art and the unique way it was hung.  Just gorgeous!

The richness of the leather bound books and the color and freshness of the flowers was such a great combination

Parnell Corder next to one of his lovely botanical paintings

The room was overflowing with flowers

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever."
--  John Keats

Books and flowers, fine dining and art -- these are the elements that went into making this an enchanting room and an inspiration for everyone who saw it last Friday at Virginia Robinson Gardens.  Who says a room has to be used for just one thing?   The gardener and the book lover would feel equally at home having dinner in this exquisite library.

Library decorated by Stephanie Grace and Parnell Corder.  Flowers by Stephanie Grace and art work by Parnell Corder.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The New Sherlock Holmes

Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in the new BBC series "Sherlock"
Photo via here

Have you been watching the delicious new Sherlock Holmes series "Sherlock" on Masterpiece Mystery?  This fabulous British update of the Sherlock Holme stories is fun, witty and oh so smart.  How clever to transpose the adventures of the famous sleuth to modern day London with all the current technology of today's world.  There are smart phones and texting.  Dr. Watson chronicles Sherlock's adventures on his blog!  Everything happens quickly, mirroring the razor-sharp mind of Holmes as well as the rush of modern day life.  The dialogue is quick and witty and the slow-motion fight sequences are dazzling.   The creative graphics allow us to see how Holmes picks up his clues in quick fire succession as they point him to the solution of each case.

Sherlock Holmes is played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Dr. John Watson by Martin Freeman.  These two actors do such a good job portraying their characters.  There have been many different actors who have played Sherlock Holmes, but it is hard to think of any that have given as enjoyable a performance as Benedict Cumberbatch.   Martin Freeman is also excellent as Dr. Watson and, in fact, it is the unexpected warmth of the relationship between the two men that makes this new series so appealing.

The first two episodes of season two are "Scandal in Belgravia" and "The Hounds of the Baskervilles." The main plot lines are still in place, but they have been reimagined for this new production in a sparkling and fast-paced way.  The boys still live at 221B  Baker street and Mrs. Hudson is their housekeeper.  But now there is a depth to their personalities as well as their relationship with Mrs. Hudson that I never noticed in any of the other other Sherlock Holmes productions.

And it is the layered relationship of the two men that adds the greatest appeal to this new series.  It is obvious that they care for each other and know each other very well.  Many of their lines, though clever and witty as they attempt to conceal feelings, betray this caring as well as the deep knowledge of each other's characters which comes from spending so much time together.

And this new series is funny.  There is a lot of tongue-in-cheek humour here.  My favorite line from Sunday's episode was when Dr. Watson says to Holmes (and I am loosely quoting here):

 "Don't do that thing you always do, going all mysterious on me with those cheekbones and pulling up your collar."

I laughed out loud, and at the end of the episode marveled at the fact that something as old as Conan Doyle's stories of Sherlock Holmes can be given a fresh spin that makes them entertaining in a new way, but also highlights the eternal appeal of really good characters, stories and writing!

It seems "elementary, my dear Watson" but this show is obviously the result of some very clever, original and creative minds -- the writers and directors who put this new series together.  Bravo!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Angelica Garnett: December 25, 1918 - May 4, 2012

Angelica Garnett at Charleston, the Sussex farmhouse where she was born.  A bust of her aunt, Virginia Woolf, stands on the right.  Photo by Jane Brown via here

I was saddened to read that Angelica Garnett died on May 4 in the South of France.  She was 93.  She was born on Christmas day in 1918 at Charleston Farmhouse, the Bloomsbury Group's country retreat in Sussex, England.  She was the daughter of the artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and the niece of writer Virginia Woolf (Vanessa Bell's sister).  Vanessa married the art critic Clive Bell in 1907 and they had two sons, Quentin (1908) and Julian Bell (1910). Angelica was born in 1918 and grew up believing that Clive Bell was her father, until Vanessa enlightened her at the age of 18 that Duncan Grant was actually her father.  Angelica wrote about her struggle to deal with the psychological issues that she associated with her upbringing in the book "Deceived with Kindness."  Angelica Garnett was the last direct link to the Bloomsbury group.

Angelica Garnett with her aunt Virginia Woolf
Photo via here

Charleston was Angelica's home until she married in 1942.  She was 23 when she married the writer and publisher David Garnett, then nearly 50.  They divorced after 25 years of marriage.  As a young woman she briefly studied drama in London, but decided not to pursue it and instead became a painter like her mother.   She wrote two memoirs and was the mother of four daughters.  Sadly her life was greatly affected by her lack of a real father, since she and Duncan Grant together never acknowledged their real relationship.  It was only when she wrote her memoirs that she gained some amount of closure and comfort on this topic.  She wrote frankly about her upbringing and also captured some of the idyllic qualities of growing up at Charleston,  describing how life at Charleston seemed bathed "in the glow of perpetual summer."  Her writing brought her satisfaction and she experienced a sense of accomplishment with the publication of these memoirs.    

Charleston Farmhouse
Photo via here

Perhaps her greatest legacy was the restoration of Charleston Farmhouse, the house where she and her brothers grew up with her parents Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.  Vanessa and Duncan lived and produced art together there for 50 years.  Clive Bell also lived there at times and many of the Bloomsbury Group visited for extended stays.  Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived at Monk's House which is a short distance away and were frequent guests.  Maynard Keynes had his own room at Charleston.

The Charleston Trust has released a statement about Angelica's death saying that she was actively involved in the acquisition and restoration of the house and its contents.  After Duncan Grant's death in 1978, Angelica returned to live at Charleston and this was when her involvement began.  Her parents had decorated the walls, mantelpieces, and furniture of the house with their distinctive designs, but the house had fallen into disrepair.  Lovingly restored to its original condition and opened to the public in 1986,  Charleston Farmhouse is a wonder to see.  The house is the incredible creation of two remarkable artists -- Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant -- and every room of the house is bursting with color, pattern, texture, and happy design.  The restoration of it and opening to the public was a gift to the world.  The appearance of the house and collection today is the result of Angelica Garnett's generosity and that of her brother and sister-in-law Quentin and Olivier Bell.

The Garden Room at Charleston, decorated by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.   A painting of Vanessa Bell by Duncan Grant hangs on the left wall.  Photo via here

Angelica's parents were deeply bonded over their art and created much art together at Charleston throughout their lives. They decorated the house with murals, painted furniture, fabrics, rugs, and ceramics, all of which they designed.  They painted mantelpieces, designed needlepoint rugs, pillows and wallpaper.  All of it fills the house and gives off a feeling of joyousness.  I have visited Charleston twice and I urge you to go if you ever have the opportunity.  To visit there is to be transported to the bohemian environment of Angelica's parents and to understand that art was truly the heart and soul of the lives that Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant lived there on a daily basis.   To see Charleston is to get a glimpse of "Bloomsbury" at home.  This modest home bursting at its seams with art and its lovely garden feel like an enchanted place.

Duncan Grant's art studio at Charleston.  Photo via here

Angelica Garnett at Charleston.  Photo via here

"It is always an adventure to enter a new room; for the lives and characters of its owners have distilled their atmosphere into it, and directly we enter it we breast some new wave of emotion.."  Virginia Woolf,  "Street Haunting"

Virginia Woolf could have been writing about Charleston.  Certainly "the lives and characters of the owners have distilled their atmosphere into it."  Throughout her life Angelica Garnett was a passionate supporter of Charleston, most recently donating over 8000 works by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell to The Charleston Trust.  She worked devotedly to make this home accessible to the public so that we could understand how special and unique a place it is.  We can be thankful to her for the restoration of Charleston and the opportunity she has given us to visit it today.  The Charleston Trust released a statement saying that Angelica's most recent visit to Charleston was in April 2012 when she attended the opening of an exhibition of her recent work donated to support the Charleston Centenary Project.  She was actively engaged in writing her autobiography at that time.

Angelica Garnett will be missed.        

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Beautiful May

"The world's favorite season is the spring.  All things seem possible in May."  --  Edwin Way Teale

My daughter gave me a wonderful book on gardening.  It is the classic "First Garden" by C.Z. Guest.  C.Z. Guest was a renowned socialite and lifelong gardener who decided in 1976, while recovering from a riding accident, to write a clear and concise garden primer that would allow any beginner to learn the satisfaction of working in the garden. Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons in 1976,  it was long out of print and demand from the collector's market prompted C.Z. to reprint the book in 2003.  That is the copy that I have.

Introduced by Truman Capote and illustrated by Cecil Beaton, this book has impressive collaborators.  Here is some of what Truman Capote wrote in the introduction about C.Z. Guest.  Reading his description of the first time he spotted her takes us back to a time of glittering New York nightlife:

"The first time I saw Mrs. Guest was during the entr'acte of 'My Fair Lady.'  Escorted by Cecil Beaton, the play's costume-designer, she was standing at a bar across from the theatre.  There were fifty-odd fashionable ladies crowded there, but one could not have overlooked this one.
As Raymond Chandler remarked of his femme fatale in 'The Long Goodbye,' 'There are blondes, and there are blondes.' Mrs. Guest, shimmering in the blue smoky light, was one of the latter.  Her hair, parted in the middle, and paler than Dom Perignon, was but a shade darker than the dress she was wearing, a Main Bocher column of white crepe de chine.  No jewelry, not much make-up; just blanc de blanc perfection.
Beaton introduced me to her, a gesture she acknowledged with ice-cream reserve.  Who could have imagined that lurking inside this cool vanilla lady was a madcap, laughing tomboy..."

And describing C.Z. in her garden, Capote wrote:

"...once she has stepped across the threshold that leads from the glass houses to the walled garden that contains her row upon row of edibles and lookables, the true CeeZie emerges, like a sun sliding from behind the clouds.  There with her baskets and spades and  clippers, and wearing her funny boyish shoes, and with the sunborne sweat soaking her eyes, she is part of the sky and the earth, possibly a not too significant part, but a part.  And that is what this little testimony of Mrs. Guest's is about; well, yes, it is about gardening -- but it's also about belonging, being a part of living things:  just, you might say, life itself." 

Truman Capote couldn't write a sentence that wasn't beautiful!

Here is what C.Z. Guest wrote about the value of gardening:

"There are so many fabulous things about gardening, and the best is that absolutely anyone can do it.  It's great fun, and for someone who is unhappy or lonely, having a garden is like having a good and loyal friend.  Gardening can also be a tremendous relaxation for someone who is nervous.  I find that being outside and using my hands to care for each flower is very soothing.  In addition, once you plant your garden you'll feel such a thrill to see your things growing. Each day you'll find it's different -- a new surprise!  After a good rain all the young flowers and vegetables seem to sprout right out of the earth, as if to say, 'Here I am!'  Your garden will help you discover a whole new world...
And best of all, your garden is never finished.  You must keep up with it and tend to it every day.  It's like watching your children grow.  It will give back to you all the love and care you put into it.  Your garden is a good friend -- a true friend.  And if you help it grow, it will never disappoint you."

This book is a gem and I hope you can find a copy for yourself or to give as a gift to a gardening friend.  And for the Persephone Book lovers out there, these endpapers will make you very happy!

Have a wonderful weekend and Happy Mother's Day!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Old California

Lush pots of begonias and geraniums greeted us as we toured La Casa Pacifica in San Clemente,
California, a wonderful example of old California architecture and gardens built in 1926.

Here in Southern California the Spanish style of architecture is significant because of the Spanish influence in the history of the state.  Recently I had the opportunity to see one of the best examples of this architectural style.   The Friends of Robinson Gardens,  a fund-raising group that helps support and maintain an historic estate and gardens in Beverly Hills -- Robinson Gardens --  organized a field trip to a very special Spanish-style home in San Clemente, California.  I joined them for a tour of La Casa Pacifica, a traditional Spanish-style courtyard residence overlooking the Pacific Ocean in San Clemente.  The current owners have spent the last two decades installing gardens that include a brick-walled double-axis garden imported directly from the grounds of the Chelsea Flowers Show in London.    I wrote about it here.

The courtyard with its colorful tiles and sturdy ceramics

The six-acre estate includes cherished plantings, such as towering palms and Monterey Cypress, that survive from the early part of the twentieth-century when the original owners lived on this property.  Built in 1926 by Hamilton H. Cotton, a real estate and cotton broker from Chicago, the house was part of a 5.000-acre estate that included a horse farm and a racetrack.  The Cottons were prominent figures in the Democratic party and brought their friends down the coast on weekends by private railway car.  During the 1930's President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a frequent guest.  In 1969 Richard Nixon moved in and turned it into the Western White House.  This house has been the scene of important historic events.  Leonid Brezhnev and President Nixon signed the historic Salt II Treaty there.  The current owners moved in shortly after the Nixons left and moved to New York.     

The fountain

La Casa Pacifica is a beautiful example of old California architecture and landscape and visiting it reminded me of many of the essential characteristics of this kind of lovely Spanish home.  The distinctive architecture and landscape design of this style of house has influenced so many homes that are being built today.  It is very exciting to see the real thing!  Both the house and the gardens exhibit the authentic details of old California style and when I was there I felt truly immersed in the gracious old California style that existed in the early twentieth century.  Here are some of the highlights of the gardens and house that we saw.

Close-up of the colorful tiles

More lovely tiles on the floor, as well as a tile "painting" set into the outdoor wall

A path through the Monterey Cypress grove

The English garden imported from England

   Roses climbing on a brick wall is such a happy sight

All the hard components of the English walled garden (pictured in the above three photos) at La Casa Pacifica, including a large quantity of 200-year-old bricks, are from a garden judged Best in Show at London's Chelsea Flower Show

This magnolia tree grew from a cutting that Pat Nixon took from a tree planted by Andrew Jackson at the White House in the early 19th century.  It is now 30 feet tall and is the focal point of the garden on the northwest side of the house.

These gardens framed in boxwood are planted with seasonal flowers and provide year-long color

Mona Lisa anemones

Iceland poppies were profuse

The rose garden

Pots of geraniums and hanging plants adorn outdoor areas of the house

Old California and English Gardens made for a fabulous day!  One of the joys of living in Southern California is year round gardening and at this time of the year gardens are at their most beautiful.  There are many wonderful garden tours coming up in the month of May which means great inspiration and enjoyment for those who love gardens.