Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Great Stories, New Horizons and Horticultural Delights

Heartfelt apologies – I've been busy expediting books and other urgent work projects that were put on hold when the Garden Tour took over life for 5 months. I'm also heading back overseas in a few weeks for more work projects so both office and home are choked under piles at the moment. 

But I thought I'd post a few whimsical snippets to entertain, inspire, entice and delight... 

Firstly, a sincere thank you to all those who went on the 2013 Tours of Paris and England, and particularly to those who sent lovely thank-you notes. More than three-quarters of the tour sent gracious emails, and one even sent a $1000 tip, which was deeply touching, and more than made up for all the hard work and pain that went into the tours. 

I'll try and post some highlights soon but Faux Fuchsia and Janet at The Gardener's Cottage both did extensive posts on their blogs, so pop over to their archives, as their photos are beautiful.

To all those who have emailed to enquire about future tours, I probably won't have time to do any more but one of the women on the England Garden Tour is organising a Grand Gardenalia Tour for 2014 (with some logistical help from me). 

She's lovely – one of the nicest women in the group – so you'll adore travelling with her. If you're interested, just email me. I'll be very happy to pass your details on. 

The RHS is also starting a new programme of garden tours in conjunction with Wendy Wu and Collette Worldwide Tours. Their itineraries don't include many private gardens but their prices are very reasonable. []

Love staying in hotels and guesthouses with glorious gardens? So do I. If you're travelling to Italy, try to book one of the guest cottages at La Foce, one of the most famous gardens in the world. Created in the Renaissance style garden by Cecil Pinsent for writer Iris Origo, La Foce is so remarkable that Monty Don included it in his Italian Gardens tour.  A new friend is about to head off there with her husband and has promised some photos for our soon-to-be-published magazine. (I'll be shooting for this while I'm away: we hope to publish by Nov)  []

And if you're heading to the South of France, another fabulous garden guesthouse to try is the Pavilion de Galon in Provence. Created out of a former hunting lodge by a photographer and stylist/designer, it's an incredible achievement. No wonder it's popular with architects and gardeners. []

Australian landscape designer Paul Bangay is also following in the 'horticultural hotel' path with his new garden-enhanced B&B at his country home in Victorian. It opens in October 2013, and a free garden tour of his famous Stonefields garden is included in the stay. See his pix on Instagram at  @paulbangay.

Another hotel/guesthouse that I loved staying at in the South of France was Bastide Rose. [] Owned by Poppy Salinger, the widow of JFK's media advisor Pierre Salinger, it's a charming hideaway created from an old mill and is set in a stunning landscape. [Will do a post on this soon. I can't publish many pix of Provence as my contract doesn't allow it until the Provence book is published in December.]

It's strange to think that this November will mark the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination. I heard a startling story about what happened the week before he died, and who really did it (from someone who would know), but I can't betray confidences and it doesn't really matter anymore anyway. What IS intriguing is that Jack's 'code name' when sending top-secret information was 'Lancer', presumably for Lancelot. It makes you wonder what Jackie's code name was?

Speaking of mysteries, the new film Salinger, about the life of writer  J D Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye, is out on September 6, and it promises to be an eye-opener. Salinger published Catcher in the 1950s but then disappeared at the height of his fame. Why? What were the secrets he was trying to hide? [Trailer here: Salinger]

I wish I knew, but the film promises to shed some light on the literary mystery. A few years ago I was staying with a new friend in Boston, a journalist who had joined a hosting agency much like Air BnB. While there, she told me a great story about Salinger, which I've never forgotten. She said her elderly mother had befriended a women (at their Bridge Club, I think?), and had started visiting this woman's house for afternoon tea. The journalist's mother visited her new Bridge friend every week for more than  10 years. One day, the journalist's mother came home and said: "You know my Bridge friend that I go and visit every week? Well I've met her partner a few times now. He's reclusive; he always works in his garden shed, but he comes inside for a cup of tea every now and then. He's a writer too, like you. I wondered if you know who he is?" My journalist friend said (rather absent-mindedly): "Maybe. What's his name?" To which the mother replied (equally absent-mindedly): "Salinger. J. D. Salinger."

 Isn't that just the best story? 

Those who love books and gardens (such as Mr Salinger) will be pleased to know that literary gardens are becoming hugely fashionable in horticultural circles. Literary influences in gardens were everywhere at Hampton this year. Jenna Stuart's atmospheric 'Witches of Macbeth' garden (above) featured medicinal and poisonous plants while Sophie Walker’s vibrant 'Valley Garden' paid homage to literature with a garden inspired by Jean Rhys’s classic rewriting of Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea. (Such a great book.) 

Furthermore, the UK’s first ever Festival of Garden Literature was held at landscape designer and Chelsea winner Tom Stuart-Smith's Barn Garden on June 29 and 30. Speakers explored themes that included gardens in biography and autobiography, and how Eden and Arcadia continue to haunt our imagination. Adam Nicolson (Vita's grandson), Sarah Raven and Louisa Young were highlights. 

Next year's festival is already being planned for June 2014, so if you love garden books, mark your diaries.

Speaking of gin, gardens and other good stuff, the Queen Mother also loved the intersection of gardens and scintillating wit:. She had her gardener create a 'Salon Vert' at Clarence House, which was an outdoor green room in which her guests could sit, indulge in a lovely luncheon and a G&T or three, and catch up on royal gossip. 

There is no truth in the story that towards she end of the meal she would order the chairs to be moved close to the wall separating the garden from the Mall, so that they could all eavesdrop on the conversations of the passers-by on the other side. 

No truth to that at all.

Gardening books make gorgeous gifts – if you can relinquish them. Vita, by Victoria Glendinning, is still one of the best biographies about Vita Sackville-West, the extraordinary gardener, writer, designer and custodian of Sissinghurst Castle. The book was so popular when it was published, it was reprinted 21 times in 12 months. 

I've been trying to get through a wonderful set of Getrude Jekyll gardening books that my partner's sister gave me as a lovely gift this year. Gertrude Jekyll was part of the Arts & Crafts movement and together with Sir Edwin Lutyens created hundreds of architectural garden in England and abroad. 

The hallmarks of the Jekyll/Lutyens Arts and Crafts gardens were overflowing borders and wild areas held in balance by strict structural lines created from hedging, paving and other structures. Still love an Arts and Crafts garden.

Another wonderful Jeyll book is Gertrude Jekyll: Her Art Restored at Upton Grey. It's the story of a restoration of one of Jekyll's gardens at Manor House in England by Ros Wallinger and her financier husband John. 

Ros Wallinger had never gardened before, but that didn't dampen her enthusiasm. She flew around the world to research and source the plants that Jekyll would have had in the original garden. (After 8 years of hunting, Ros found one tea rose in Umbria: a great lady rosarian told her that it was surviving there in an Italian professor’s garden.) When the Financial Times asked Ros if she thought she'd get on with Miss Jekyll, she said: "I admire her, but she would find me spiky." 

Yes, sometimes even gardeners don't get along.

Kit Kemp, meanwhile, is working madly on her next Firmdale venture: Ham Yard. It's a three-quarter-acre site behind Piccadilly in London that's been vacant for 40 years. Kit plans to create an enormous hotel there, set to open next spring (May). 

She's planning a red, white and black palette, in homage to Sixties artist Terry Frost.

After the enormous success of her first book, a memoir about the fashion industry, former Vogue editor Kirstie Clements is now rapidly working on the sequel. 

Entitled Tongue in Chic, it's being rushed out in time for Christmas. Rumours are that it will dish the sartorial dirt on the fashion industry. (Mixed metaphor there, sorry.)

And lastly, here's one of the loveliest stories I've heard all year. 

Last year, I befriended a girl at a business breakfast. We met again when she invited me to Hanging Rock. Her friend was coming out from Indonesia to see the famous landscape, and they kindly invited me along. Her friend was a spiritual man – a shaman – who, I have to say, was the most well-dressed shaman I've ever met. (Although I've only met one shaman.) 

 In May, when I was away overseas, she emailed to me to tell me some surprising news: she'd just returned from her honeymoon! She and the spiritual man, Vas, had married – in Indonesia. 

The ceremony had involved – wait for this – 2000 guests, 500 or so gatecrashers, 50 tents, 6 priests, 16 Western friends and family, 5 cows, several goats and sheep, and a huge reception all night party in the heart of Vas' home village. 

It was, she says, crazy and sometimes overwhelming, but it was also the most wonderful wedding she could have asked for.

Isn't that a great love story?

Sending a huge hug to Melati and Vas for their new life together...

Have a lovely week!


  1. Dear J

    I think about the garden tour all the time and miss all the lovely things and the people too.

    It was so much fun and I have great memories.

    I wish I could do it again.

    cheers, x

  2. LOL Lancer for Lancelot ..I think it was for Lance ie a weapon of mass destruction or is this the way my mind works?. I remmeber ages ago reading about the Kennedy code names but cant remember Jackies.

    When I was child I met a woman who had met Jackie "what was she like?" I asked breathlessly "Spoilt" was the answer. Jackie ws the one when I ws a child . I remember the kerfuffle when she married Onassis and the photos of her wedding frigthened looking children and all.

    It's amazing I checked your blog today as I was on the verge /precipice /cliff etc of emailing you ..which I will do post haste .

    1. My parents met her too and said she was a spoiled brat - I do believe she was, I've never understood why people laud her so.

      Janelle, lovely to see a post from you, enthralling as always.

    2. Her code name was Lace.

      I think people laud her because she was brave after he died and because she maintained a sort of mysterious air. She was flawed, but like Diana, I find her interesting.

    3. yes I agree I find her endlessly fascinating

  3. Gardens truly are your first love, it seems. They keep sneaking their way back into every thought...I love that! Glad that you are busy, but I hope there is still time to enjoy it all along the journey.

  4. Thanks for all your lovely comments. I've reconfigured my Comments Section, and apparently a number of people can no longer comment (esp if they're Anonymous), so I do apologise.

    I obviously didn't know Jackie O and so I don't like to offer too much of an opinion on her, b/c I don't think it's courteous to judge someone you haven't met. (And even if you have met them, well there's too much harsh judging between people in the world anyway, esp between women!) What I HAVE heard from those who DID know her personally, is that she was a very strong woman. After Jack was assassinated, she was terrified "they were coming for her too", and was never more afraid than that night, when she was in the White House alone with her kids. Whatever else the public thinks of her, there has to be a measure of sympathy for that moment, after the world had witnessed her husband being shot in such a terrible way. That's why she wore the pink Chanel through the swearing in of the new president – "to show them [the killers] what they'd done". That, to me, speaks of a woman who's incredibly strong, and deserves some respect.

    I do know a women on Martha's Vineyard who hosts Lee (Jackie's sister) for a week in summer each year. She says the two Bouvier sisters were raised in a certain way, and their childhood explains how they've lived their lives. I won't go into details here, but it made a lot of sense.

    Lee, of course, is just as beautiful as Jackie, if not more so...


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