Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Garden Party: Fairs & Horticultural Fantasies

Connecticut. For the past two days I have been researching this tiny-but-perfectly-designed US state. A garden-loving friend told me we should visit the Trade Secrets Garden Fair held there in May (considered the Chelsea Flower Show of the USA), and so I've been trying to work out how. A 14-hour international flight, a 5-hour domestic one, a 4-hour 'rest' stop in NY, a 5am start and finally a 2-hour drive... I'm thinking we could quite possibly make it?

The reason for this crazy excursion? Trade Secrets and the state of Connecticut, particularly the Litchfield Hills, are considered a gardening 'Mecca' for horticultural lovers. My friend told me Ms Martha Stewart (pictured below at the fair) loves it so much she and her assistants go there at 8am on a Saturday with two empty SUVs to fill up. We hadn't planned on seeing Connecticut on our forthcoming US trip (we hadn't even planned to be in the US at this time), but now it seems to be first priority on the list! {Image of garden path above via Design New England. Image of gardening girls below via www.stephaniestanton Image at very top via christinedarnelldesignstudio.}

The fair was co-founded by the inimitable interior designer Bunny Williams (above, with Ms Martha), who bought a farmhouse in the area and then wrote a bestselling book (also above) about its renovation and decoration. She now opens her extraordinary home to visitors on the same weekend. Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter has a weekender in the neighbourhood too. So does Annie Leibovitz, Michael J Fox, Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Christine Baranski, writer Annie Kelly and photographer hubby Tim Street-Porter, and a thousand other low-key celebs. Bill Blass also owned a house in the region and retired there to design out his days.

What do they all do up there? Dig, apparently. "''Gardening is our sport,'' one local explained, dishing the dirt on the social activity. ''People garden here like other people play tennis.''

Indeed, Connecticut's VIP residents love gardening so much, many of them mob the stands at Trade Secrets for the antique cloches, artful topiaries, vintage wares and rare specimens. The people watching is meant to be more amazing than the plants. (And the fashion more amazing than the people!) Regulars include Oscar de la Renta and Carolyne Roehm.

I promise to take some photos, if I can sneak the Leica between the hydrangea leaves. But in the meantime, I was so inspired by this fair I thought I'd post a small selection of some of my favourite images of garden loveliness. Have you noticed how more and more designers are introducing botanical prints and horticultural images into their collections? I predict we'll be seeing a lot of flowers and leaves on frocks and sofas later this year. It's not surprising. Gardens are so wonderful, it's difficult not to resist.

A prediction of things to come? A page from British Homes & Gardens magazine's Feb 2012 issue.

Vintage botanical prints from the fantastic website Vintage Printables (, which lets you download vintage prints (including these lovely leaf ones) for free.

An old but much-treasured postcard from the Chelsea Flower Show one year.

French poet and art critic Dominigue Fourcade's Provence garden. One of the loveliest outdoor entertaining areas I've seen this year. Trust a poet to create an inspiring garden.

A house on Shelter Island that I had the good fortune to photograph last year. Designed by that talented duo Schappacher White, this was the guest cottage. It was as sweet as a pea.

My favourite gardening poster, a vintage Brussels print from the fabulous Izzi & Popo store in Melbourne, in our downstairs 'Gumboot Hall'. 
I can't understand a thing in it, but it always makes me smile.

A collection of treasured gardening books in our Gumboot Hall. These always make me realise I need to strive to be a better gardener! The two little peached lime trees and the miniature Metro entrance and lamp post were bought in a little store off the Palais Royal in Paris. 

If you haven't read any of Adam Nicolson's books, then do – he's one of the best garden writers around. Then again, it's not surprising. His grandmother was Vita Sackville-West.

Gumboots as art. 
I love everything about this. The simplicity of the scene, the double shelves with mismatching prints, the old wellies lined up like a leathery still life on the floor... even the leaf-green runner. So creative. {Via Homes & Garden Feb 2012}

The great Arts and Crafts garden at Hidcote Manor, which, along with Sissinghurst, has inspired Andy Sturgeon's design for the eagerly anticipated M&G Garden at Chelsea Flower Show this year. All three gardens encapsulate the ‘New English’ style of informal cottage-style planting schemes set within a strong, formal framework (often box hedges), although Sturgeon's will feature a modern mix of plants ranging from Aquilegia 'Chocolate Soldier' and Black Form iris chrysographes to clipped holly and domed umbels of hog’s fennel.

(On a little aside, we sold our house this week, just 3 weeks after we listed it. Apparently it was the Arts & Crafts-style garden that endeared it to the two sisters who bought it. I was so thrilled, as I spent most of my renovation budget on the garden rather than the kitchen, which is apparently where the money should have gone.)

Bunny Williams' glorious conservatory-inspired dining room, impressive alfresco pool house, and whimsical, folly-inspired bathroom at her Connecticut weekender, all of them inspired by her gorgeous garden. Bunny calls her bathroom 'Bath in a Garden Folly'. She says she was inspired by the grand garden rooms of 18th century Europe. Imagine washing the exhaustion off here at the end of a gardening day? {Images via Design New England}

Bunny's out buildings, which are just as elegant as her 'in' ones. {Mislaid credit: please notify me if you know}

A garden-inspired dining room at a Virginia home, also designed by Bunny Williams. The hand-painted trellis wallpaper is by Gracie.The topiary at left is planted in an antique urn from Treillage, Williams' New York garden store. {Via Architectural Digest}

An incredible trompe l'oeil in a grand American conservatory. Look at the roof. Just beautiful.  {Via Vanity Fair}

Windsor Smith's deliciously verdant hall, which has been featured repeatedly in the blogosphere but is still worth a little gaze. {Via House Beautiful}

An enchanting green house set up for afternoon tea. So simple and yet so sweet. {Via Millie's Laurel Hedge and Tove Anderson}

And lastly, it's a terrible photo, but this was my Valentine's Day gift to The Man this year. It's supposed to be a 'wisteria heart', created from entwined wisteria vines. 
Yes, I know. Rather wonky up top. It was difficult to train. (Or maybe it's the gardener whose skills are dubious?)
I had to point it out to him on Valentine's Day. (I didn't need to cover it up because he would have never guessed what it was before then.)

It was my little horticultural gesture of love.

With that, the blog is now taking a break for a little while. It's been a delight to see you here, and even more lovely to read your kind and thoughtful notes. I apologise for the brief halt in posts, but hope to see you back here again very soon!


  1. As always, a beautiful and inspiring post.

  2. Thank you Sharyn. It's always lovely hearing from you. Hope to be back soon!

  3. Well congratulations on the sale! 8 months on and I am still waiting for my first inspection!!!!!!
    What am I going to do without my daily dose of library of design????? Please, please don't be gone too long!!!!
    I need to move into Bunny William's weekender...permanently!!!!
    Lastly for a total non gardener I love everything about this post. xx

    1. Jules, There will be a buyer soon! Don't worry!
      Ours only sold because a) it's a gentrifying area that city people want to move to (although that's also a bad thing because the little village is like Times Square on weekends!) and
      b) we had the price VERY low - and and sold it for $50K lower than what we wanted. We just wanted to sell and move on quickly, and we could afford to take a small loss.
      It's a difficult property market at the moment. I know how frustrating it must be. But don't worry, there are buyers creeping back so I'm sure there's one for your home too.
      Janelle xx

  4. Yes, you can definately make the Garden fair, it sounds amazing, I have Bunny William's book, I love it. Look forward to hearing about the Garden Fair.x

    1. Hi Samantha, I just drove into town today to try and find Bunny's book at Avenue Bookstore in Albert Park, but couldn't see it. I'll wait until we get to the garden fair now. Bunny will have copies on sale at her Open House Day and she'll probably be signing copies too.

      Will be sure to take lots of photos for you! Thank you for popping by.

  5. Your posts are always beautiful, but this one is particularly beautiful, thank you.
    We will be waiting for you when you return.

    1. Thank you Claire. You have been such a faithful reader. I'd love to send you a book as a little 'thank you'. If you email me your address, I'll post something up to you!


    2. That is so kind of you. I feel that as the reader, I should be giving you a thank you present!

  6. You've outdone yourself today.

    Wish you would expand it into one of those specialty magazine type things. Get Meredith to publish. It would be a keeper.

    Though I've written 5 books I often assign my clients their purchase of Bunny Williams, An Affair With A House.

    This gardening thing is a language. Living in the outpost of Stone Mountain, GA I have my paths, pairs of boxwoods, stone terraces, Conservatory, something coming into bloom every 2 weeks, garden cats, beautiful views into my house, brick edging, stone steps & so much more.

    Can't imagine living any other way.

    Happy/safe travels. Remember that I'm hungry for all the garden pictures you're about to take !!

    Garden & Be Well, XO T

    1. Oh thank you Tara! That means a lot coming from you. We shall be in Georgia in late May. I want to try and make time to visit a friend of mine in Savannah, the interior designer Jane Coslick. Perhaps we could catch up, if you have time? Please don't worry if you're busy. It's a rushed trip for us too.

      Thank you for popping by. I shall look out for your books at Rizzoli or The Strand in NY!

      Janelle x

  7. Congratulations on the speedy sale! 3 weeks is fabulous. Such a stressful process - but now all done and dusted. Have to say though, that I am not at all surprised that somebody wanted to scoop it up - you have done wonders with it.

    As for the fair, sounds like it is a no-brainer to move heaven and earth to go and see it. Sounds rejuvenating and exciting. (But then I am a garden nut, so it's my idea of bliss.) I'm just exciting about the upcoming Melbourne one - always makes me come home looking for gumboots and spades! All inspired again.

    1. Oh, that is so kind of you. I always think our house is a bit dishevelled compared to professionally designed and decorated places. But it's a country cottage so it was always going to be a bit on the 'rustic' side!

      So glad to hear you're a garden lover too. I think it's something that seeps into the blood as we get older. I remember laughing when Carrie said "I'm cheating on fashion with furniture" in Sex and the City 2. Well, I'm cheating on fashion with plants! And obelisks. And pots. And cloches...

      J xx

  8. Congratulations on your Sale! Glad to see Coco has improved (somewhat) and that you have some exciting things ahead. That garden fair sounds amazing!! You'll definitely have to take an empty suitcase (or container?) I find things are so limited here in Australia for planters/statuary/ garden pretties. I'm always looking at overseas magazines and dying to bring their things over (but a couple of pots probably isn't that economical!!)
    Happy travels, looking forward to hearing back from you when you return!

  9. Hi Heide,
    I'm so glad to hear someone else devours gardening catalogues and magazines too! I don't understand why there isn't more of a selection in Australia? Our gardening market is huge, and growing every year.
    Do hope your trip is going / went well! I'm green with envy; it sounded so lovely!
    Look forward to hearing all about it at some stage.

  10. Oh CT is so lovely, I used to live out that way in my younger days.

    Yes, stayed at the Bel Air and Chateau in week two, it's still wonderful hide away but the interior is a bit too trendy it will date really soon.

    1. Hi Tabitha,
      Thank you for dropping by, particularly when you have jetlag! I was inspired by your last post to order the LA book on Amazon. It looks fantastic. (Particularly how you model it!)
      I've always had a love/hate relationship with LA, but am growing to love it more and more. An architect I once worked with, Marc Appleton, told me where to go and I've since discovered all the little 'secrets' to the city. Hope your trip was more cocktails and chaise lounges and less chaos and crap traffic...

  11. That Garden fair sounds like my kind of place. How wonderful if you could make it there. And I would quite happily like to live in one of Bunny William's outbuildings! So happy about your house sale... Lucky buyers! And lastly so very pleased to hear that Coco is well and truly better. Enjoy your blog break. Now is it really a break this time? (hopefully NOT!!) Sarah x

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Oooh now I want to know what you were going to reply to me Janelle!! x

    3. You made me laugh Sarah. Actually, I think I started writing (probably drivel as usual), and then realised it was drivel and deleted it. I really can't remember. But I'm sure it wasn't important. I'm so glad you're enjoying Easter with your beautiful daughter. Isn't the weather glorious? J xx

  12. hello janelle,

    my friend sarah (semi expat) just told me today about you. she said you are very nice irl too! anyway this is my first time here and i can't wait to look around. i can't figure out how to get to the next page though.

    i love bunny btw. i have her book and get thrilled every single time i open it.


    1. Hi Janet,
      So lovely to receive this note from you. We all love your blog! I just wish I could be as stylish on a frugal budget as you...

      Sarah is beautiful, isn't she? I've never met her but I adore her. Actually, I've met her once - in a store - but was very shy and scurried out again. (She recognised me from the books on the store wall. I knew I should have worn a prettier frock that day!)

      I'm sorry you're having trouble with the pages. Just go to the Library Archive on the left and the past posts are there. Confusing, I know.

      So funny that you like Bunny too. We must be all mad gardeners in this part of the blogging world?!

      J x

  13. Dear Janelle, I have just started blogging too, although my credentials aren't as impressive and complete as yours. We do share many of the same interests,like Bunny Williams, old movies, anything French. I'm an artist who paints in oils, but I am also a somewhat interior designer. I'm so glad I found your blog! It's beautiful and inspiring. I'm looking forward to seeing lots more. Thanks!

  14. Thanks Mary. Your blog sounds great. I love art and painting and interior design, so I'm sure I'll love it. Feel free to leave a link next time you comment. I won't mind.
    Thank you again for your kind comment.

  15. in response to That Garden fair sounds like my kind of place. How wonderful if you could make it there. And I would quite happily like to live in one of Bunny William's outbuildings! So happy about your house sale... Lucky buyers! And lastly so very pleased to hear that Coco is well and truly better. Enjoy your blog break. Now is it really a break this time? (hopefully NOT!!)
    Sarah x, by Semi Expat.

  16. Hi Janelle - I can't believe that I've found you just as you're taking a blog break! Anyway, this post has just left me reeling with the loveliness of it all (don't get me STARTED on that fabulous header - the colours!). For starters, the garden fair sounds amazing, with two of my favourite pass times - people watching AND looking at pretty gardens - a mouthwatering combination! Your 'Gumboot Hall' is VERY stylish - the black and white accessories against the green is an inspired choice - may have to try that one. As for Bunny's outbuildings - well, as someone has already commented - forget the house, I would happily live amongst the chickens!
    I'm off now to devour some more, and hopefully get some more glimpses of your spectacular house before it disappears. I could go on, but I'll get boring, so my last word is to say thank you for your delightful comments on my blog, and hope to see you back here again soon. Paula x

  17. Hi Paula,
    It is such a privilege to hear from such a lovely person. So many of us adore your beautiful Georgian manor in Norfolk! And your writing is such a pleasure to read to. Do hope you continue your blog long into 2012. I for one will be reading it, enthralled as always. J


Thank you for stopping by. It's always lovely hearing from The Library's readers.

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