One of the most beautiful books published this year has been One Man's Folly: The Exceptional Houses of Furlow Gatewood (April 2014).
Chronicling the remarkable homes and interiors of American collector and designer Furlow Gatewood, who for many years worked alongside antiques dealer John Rossellini (Bunny Williams' husband) as his business partner in their New York store, this book is more than another design book. Every page, shot so beautifully by Paul Costello (Sara Ruffin Costello's husband) captures the casual elegance of Furlow's style.
I love that the pages show the flotsam and jetsam of daily life – dogs and all (I even spotted some dishes in a sink on one page). It allows you to relate to this sophisticated but clearly down-to-earth Southern gentleman, even if his taste is exquisite and his collections worthy of a museum. If only more design books showed the 'reality' of our homes.
I've only just bought it this weekend, but wish I'd purchased it sooner.
Price: $99. (But well worth it.)
Publisher: Rizzoli New York.
WATERCOLOUR LESSONS ON A WINTER'S DAY
Orange, pink and green seem to colour-palette companions, if Furlow Gatewood is to be believed. Thank goodness, because our new Garden Tour branding is going down those lines.
I did do these with a very small brush one rainy afternoon this week: our new With Compliments slips. (Don't worry: the tour itineraries have a lot more care and detail going into them.)
CHASING THE ROSE
AN ADVENTURE IN THE VENETIAN COUNTRYSIDE
This is another book that lots of people are talking about. I bought it yesterday on recommendation from a friend. It's a lovely read, especially for rose lovers. It's a delightful story about Andrea di Robilant's search for a fabled antique rose – a journey that takes him from modern-day Venice back to the time of Josephine Bonaparte and into some of the most outstanding rose gardens of Europe. The text is so evocative you can almost smell the scent of the petals.
The watercolour jacket (cover) and pages are beautifully designed, too. They're by Venice-born, London-based designer Nina Fuga.
Nina Fuga also did the cover and some of the page designs for fashion designer Collette Dinnigan's recent illustrated biography, plus a range of Collette's romantic Parisian scarves.
Speaking of romantic, one of the prettiest small gardens in the Cotswolds is this little charmer set in a hidden Cotswold valley: the Painswick Rococo Garden. I visited it one sunny afternoon last month, after hearing a few whispers about how pretty it was, and although I didn't expect much I was bowled over by how beautiful it was.
There are very few Rococo gardens in England and this is a superb example.
Garden design between 1720 and 1760 was a time of great change, and gardens became flamboyant, frivolous and full of follies and fun. (Furlow Gatewood would have loved them.) They were a place for garden parties; somewhere for Georgian folk to let their hair down. Curiously, there were few flowers back then because gardens were almost theatrical sets used as a backdrop for the decadent garden parties. Garden Historians have since named this period Rococo.
I adored this little folly painted in a cheery shade of Italian pink. But Painswick's real attraction is the white folly that looks out over an enormous kitchen garden, all set in a magical hidden valley.
It's a garden that's well worth seeing, especially if you have children. They'll love it.
HORTICULTURAL ART IN LONDON
If you're in London and you love all things horticulture, then there are lots of things to see that are free, especially in May, when the Chelsea Flower Show is on. The Chelsea in Bloom festival is, of course, a must-see (www.chelseainbloom.co.uk), as the Chelsea Flower Show. The former is free (you simply wander around the King's Road quarter where many windows do flower-themed displays), but the CFS is costly. If you forget to buy tickets, there are people you can purchase them from. (Tip: Check the Internet during the week of the show, and arrange the meet the seller face-to-face to check the ticket's legitimacy.)
Even walking around the streets of neighbouring South Kensington will reward you with green-thumbed creations. This was a small part of an enormous display of heart-shaped topiaries and heart-shaped ivy in front of a hotel on Kensington High Street.
Another cute freebie for garden lovers is this gorgeous, leaf-inspired sculpture in South Kensington, on the corner of Palace Gate and Kensington Gate, set in amidst a pretty copse of pleached trees.
One way to see it is to start at the Natural History Museum one Saturday morning (don't miss the Wildlife Garden) and then wind your way north to the Portobello Road Markets along Gloucester Road (which becomes Palace Gate). You'll see it on the left. Keep wandering north, to the Sunken Garden in the Kensington Gardens and then veer left to Kensington Church Street so you pass the bloomingly beautiful pub, the Churchill Arms (one of the prettiest pubs in London, thanks to all the flower displays).
From there, it's only a short walk north to Portobello Road, and after the markets, you can explore the Notting Hill Gate's leafy streets and grab some lunch at a cute cafe.
CHELSEA PHYSIC GARDEN
Another garden worth visiting in London is the Chelsea Physic Garden.
I missed this on our Garden Tour last year because I was looking after two of the group who needed assistance, so I went back and saw it this year.
It's a small garden but packed with interesting features and corners that detail how plants are used in medicinal and other purposes.
The 'Dye Plant' bed was fascinating, and the 'Scented Flowers' area was equally surprising. This was a rose-scented geranium (above). The garden encourages you to bend down and sniff or touch its plants (which everyone was doing), which contributes to the enjoyment.
A third book for your To Buy List is this crisp beauty: Linens by Jane Scott Hodges, with a cover so luscious you can almost smell the scented water and sun-dried sheets!
There was a similar linen book published a decade ago (with a very similar cover), but it's difficult to find now, so pick up this appealing alternative instead.
SISSINGHURST IN SUMMER
A gratuitous pic of Sissinghurst's rose garden, simply because it's so beautiful!
(It will also be on the tour next year.)
And finally, what a sad story about Stuart Rattle that appeared in this weekend's Australian newspaper.
I was half hoping that a decent journalist would write an in-depth cover story about the terrible murder of this much-loved design icon, as there are so many questions left hanging, but I wondered whether anyone would be courageous enough to take the story on? It's such a sensitive matter, and you really need to tread lightly around these kinds of cases. Thankfully The Australia's Kate Legge has done a superb job under difficult circumstances.
I only met Stuart a few times while interviewing him for various stories, and he was always gracious, kind, funny, and full of wit and self-deprecating humour. It's still such a shock. I can only imagine how his close friends must feel, and my heart goes out to them.
We may never know what really happened last December, and perhaps that's a good thing? Perhaps it's best that we remember Stuart Rattle in the way he no doubt would have wished: by his remarkable garden, his gracious home Musk Farm, and his inimitable elegance and style.
Penguin is bringing out a book about Stuart's work later this year. If it's under Julie Gibbs' Lantern imprint, it will no doubt be done with love and care and attention to detail, just as Stuart would have wanted.