Monday, August 24, 2015

Ready for Fall

I don't know about you, but every year at about this time I start to crave fall. The middle of August feels tantalizingly close to September and I am ready for the crisp and cool weather of the upcoming months. And right now we are in the middle of a heat wave. Although the weather continues to be hot here in September, the month brings shorter days and with that comes a sense of the changing seasons. So even in Los Angeles we start dreaming about pumpkins and apple pie.

But in my opinion, there is no place more beautiful in autumn than New England. One of my favorite things to do in October is travel to the east coast and stay at a country hotel such as The Pitcher Inn in Warren, Vermont. This year we are going to New York -- we got tickets for Hamilton! -- and then on to rural Litchfield, Connecticut for some leaf peeping and all the other things that go into a New England fall. We were there many years ago and loved it. I remember gorgeous gardens, antique stores, great restaurants, Federal style architecture and country walks. Every porch is decorated with chrysanthemums and pumpkins. I can hardly wait!

With fall on my mind, I began to think of my favorite things to do at this time of the year.

So here goes:  

Ten Things About Fall That Make Me Very Happy

1. Traveling to New England

Historic Deerfield, Massachusetts
Photo via here

One of my favorite places to visit in New England, especially when we are staying in the Berkshires, is Historic Deerfield, Massachusetts. The village consists of one street lined with 18th and 19th century houses that have all been restored to their original condition. Each one is like a little museum.

Here are some other things I like to see and do in New England in the fall. The list is far from exhaustive and in no particular order, but includes some of my favorites.

Shop at the antique stores in Woodbury, CT
Visit the covered bridge in Kent, CT
 Go to The Mount, Edith Wharton's home, in Lenox, Mass
Drive the beautiful Mohawk trail in Western Massachusetts and admire the stunning fall foliage of the Berkshire mountains
 See art in Williamstown, Mass. The Williams College Museum of Art and the Sterling and Francine Clark Museum have stellar art collections
  Visit Stockbridge, the idyllic Berkshire village painted by Norman Rockwell
 While in Stockbridge, stop at the Norman Rockwell Museum
Explore Woodstock, VT, one of the prettiest towns you'll ever see 
Go to nurseries in the area, such as the White Flower Farm in CT
Visit my alma mater Bates College in Maine and walk on the Quad which is carpeted with fall leaves
Eat a bowl of clam chowder at M.C. Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine
 Admire the fall displays of mums and pumpkins that are everywhere!

2. Fall Cooking

There's nothing like cooking up a Wild Mushroom Risotto such as this one from Judith Jones' The Pleasures of Cooking for One to get you into nesting mode. This is a great dish for a cozy night at home. Go here for the recipe.

3. Flowers

I love the colors of fall flowers. These are from a flower arranging class I took last year. 

4. The beach

I have always thought that the beach is at its most beautiful in the fall and winter months. This photo was taken on a gorgeous day in November. There is something about the light at this time of year that makes the air crystal clear and the water glisten.

5. Sinking into a classic novel

I have just started rereading "To the Lighthouse" and am swept away by the beauty of the writing.

6. Adding some tartan to the house

I think that tartan looks especially good in the fall. It has the same crisp and tailored feeling of the season. These dishes finally arrived from Scotland and they remind me of my wonderful trip in June and my visit to the Anta store in Edinburgh, which has to be the the mother lode for all things tartan. I love the way the dishes look on the kitchen table!

7. Pulling out my favorite cookbooks

There are certain cookbooks that do seasonal recipes really well and Nigel Slater's Notes From The Larder is one of them. His pork chops with pears and cream is one of my favorites. Go here for the recipe.

8. Taking out fall table accessories

I have been collecting table ware with fall motifs forever and it's so much fun to take them out once October arrives. This table runner is from Italy and the leaf candle holder from a trip to Paris almost 20 years ago. The amber tea lights I bought in bulk one year for a party.

9. Lighting the candles at dusk on a fall night

As the days get shorter, candlelit tables bring a glow to the house and make staying inside feel very  cozy!

10. Wearing my Bloomsbury poncho

 Having lived on the east coast for so many years, I have been guilty of buying too many sweaters and coats for L.A. But it does eventually get cool enough here to wear some of them. This year I can't wait to bundle up in the Bloomsbury-inspired poncho I bought from Burberry last year. It was part of the Fall/Winter 2014 The Bloomsbury Girls collection and I got it on sale. After learning about the literary and artistic heritage behind this collection and Burberry's support of Charleston, the country retreat of the Bloomsbury Group, I was so happy to have one of these pieces. It will be perfect for a crisp day in October.

Have you travelled to any of the beautiful New England Inns during the fall months? 
I would love to know your favorites!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Last Days of Downton

If you have an Instagram account and follow the Downton Abbey actors, such as Michelle Dockery and Joanne Froggatt, you are probably aware that the filming of the final season of Downton Abbey is almost over. In fact, it ends this week. The stars have been posting some very cute as well as touching photos of the final days of filming (#LastDaysOfDownton). Here are a few of my favorites.

It's hard to believe this show is coming to an end. What a phenomenon it has been.

The final season will air on PBS in January.

Will you miss it as much as much as me?

Instagram photos via here

Monday, August 3, 2015

A Garden Book Club

When a friend asked me if I would like to be in a garden book club, my answer was a resounding yes! After all, I have been collecting garden books forever but must admit to not reading any of my most recent finds, such as Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life, Virginia Woolf's Garden, and In the Garden with Jane Austen. Yes, I thumb through and read passages and drool over the photos, but don't read them from beginning to end. Not for lack of desire. In fact, I used to read a lot of garden books, especially when we were designing our garden. In recent years it seems that I read mostly novels and don't always make the time for a good garden book. But if I am reading it for a book club, I will get it done.

I don't mean garden how-to books. These books are obviously a must for anyone who gardens. The genre that has always interested me is garden literature -- the stories of people who create a garden -- who they were and why they did it. (Go here to read more) The story of the garden will often tell a bigger story since the creation of the garden yields so many personal rewards. First, there is the finished product -- a garden to experience and enjoy; second, the therapy of tending to it -- having the sun on one's back and being outside in nature; and third, often finding the answers to life -- "Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow."  

These books also contain practical information for gardeners: discoveries and knowledge, what worked and what didn't, the trials and tribulations of that particular garden. It's always interesting to learn about gardening in another part of the world. These are often garden tips we can apply to our own gardens. There is so much for the reader to learn. Our book group is starting with one of the most famous gardens in the world and its fascinating creator: Sissinghurst and Vita Sackville-West. The book is Vita Sackville-West's Sissinghurst, The Creation of a Garden by Vita Sackville-West and Sarah Raven. It contains many quotes from Vita's garden column that appeared in the Observer from 1946 to 1957.

Vita Sackville-West bought a dilapidated castle in the English county of Kent in the 1930's and set about restoring it. Everyone thought she was crazy. She was the only one who could see the promise in the ruins. The idea of restoring a castle appealed to her romantic imagination and was impossible for her to resist. She was enchanted by its Elizabethan history. As she set about restoring it, she also began creating her famous garden. I can imagine that the process calmed and grounded her while she lead her very tempestuous personal life.

An only child from an aristocratic family, she was disinherited from her childhood home Knole because she was a woman. The estate went instead to her uncle. She spent many years searching for a replacement. After her marriage to the politician Harold Nicolson, she found that replacement in Sissinghurst Castle. Their marriage was an unconventional one as they both had avant-garde attitudes towards marriage and monogamy. They had numerous extramarital affairs and yet remained devoted to each other and never divorced. Vita's most famous affair was with the writer Virginia Woolf. Portrait of a Marriage by Nigel Nicolson tells the fascinating story of his parents' marriage.

The rose garden at Sissinghurst Castle

Vita was a gifted writer of poetry, novels, essays, travel books and, not surprisingly, a gardening column for the Observer. Many of her books were published by Virginia and Leonard Woolf at the Hogarth Press. But her most famous legacy is the garden she created at Sissinghurst. I suggested that we also read one of her novels for our meeting and we chose All Passion Spent. I can't wait for our discussion in September. In the meantime I am enjoying Sarah Raven's book about Vita's garden.

My favorite passage so far is from the chapter called "Cram, Cram, Cram"

"In her planting, the filling and flowering up of her spaces, Vita had a clear and individual style. It is 'Cram, cram, cram, every chink and cranny,' she wrote on 15 May, 1955. You have plants popping up in the paths; you have plants trained over almost every square inch of wall; and where there's a gap, Vita encourages plants to grow in the walls. As she says of herself, 'My liking for gardens to be lavish is an inherent part of my garden philosophy. I like generosity wherever I find it, whether in gardens or elsewhere. I hate to see things scrimp and scrubby. Even the smallest garden can be prodigal within its own limitations...Always exaggerate rather than stint. Masses are more effective than mingies."

A garden tip I would like to apply to my own garden! 

Have you ever thought of starting a book club with a theme? I would love to hear about it.