Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Monday, July 23, 2012

Miss Scarlett, In The Greenhouse, With Secateurs

{Bunny Mellon's conservatory via current issue of Vanity Fair}

It's 3AM and I'm up late writing the story about the story behind Picnic at Hanging Rock. Specifically, I'm writing about the fictional orphan called Sara Weybourne, who came to a tragic death after she was pushed (or jumped, but I'm with the Push Verdict) out of an attic window of an elite girls' school called Appleyard College. If the fall/push wasn't tragic enough, poor Sara fell directly into the roof of the school's greenhouse, where the gardener only discovered her twisted body amid the broken pansy pots a day or so later.

This terrible and utterly heartbreaking point in the narrative is pivotal to the plot because it heralds the decline of not only the school but also its headmistress, the terrifying and formidable Mrs Appleyard. If you haven't read Picnic at Hanging Rock, it's perhaps too much to explain here, however the short version is that there's a scandal, schoolgirls disappear, and the school never recovers. Mrs Appleyard eventually goes to the top of Hanging Rock and throws herself and her Edwardian corset off. It's worth a read. If you can't be bothered though, just watch the film.

Curiously, Picnic's author, Joan Lindsay, knew something about greenhouses and gardens, having grown up in an enormous estate that had its own enormous garden. She also knew about death. And ghosts. And indeed pansies, which is the flower she plucked to use as a metaphor for little Sarah's death. There's a lot in this pansy scene; far more than most readers realise. In fact, it could almost be the key to the whole story.

I can't reveal too much, as I'm still writing. But in tribute to Miss Sara, I thought I'd do a greenhouse / conservatory post. Just to show they can also be places of beauty, serenity, growth and pure horticultural glory. I don't think any whodunnit novels were set in these splendid spreads? Then again, I could be wrong. I often am.

Bunny Mellon's famously theatrical conservatory in Virginia, featured in the latest Vanity Fair. Doesn't it have something of a stage set about it? I think this is quite possibly the ultimate in private conservatories. Imagine pottering about with your botanicals here?  

A detail of the trompe l'oeil in Bunny Mellon's conservatory. This wall-length mural was designed / painted by Fernand Renard.

The gorgeous conservatory breakfast room of Number Sixteen hotel in South Kensington, London; part of the Firmdale Hotel group. I always stay here whenever I'm in London – or at the Dean Street Townhouse, which is just as pretty. I think I like this hotel just for this beautiful space – and the sublime garden hidden behind it.

The exquisite orangerie of the Moet et Chandon estate in France.

The Palmenhaus in Vienna, which has been turned into a stunning brasserie and bar. I think I'd travel to Vienna just to see this extraordinary building.

The beautiful buy-off-the-shelf conservatories of Going Going Green. You can have these for a mere $50,000. Imagine this as an office in the corner of the garden?

The sweet make-your-own, pop-up conservatory, 'Plantini', designed by the whizzes at Another Studio / PostCarten and Finch & Fouracre. These even come with a DIY planting scheme. (Okay, so they only provide viola or alfafa seeds, but they could look like the palms at Kew Gardens!) I love the marketing spiel that comes with it – "Experience the grandeur of the Victorian botanical garden in the palm of your hand. Raise your own specimen of ‘Lepidium sativum’ under the ornate arches of your miniature plant house - within a week you can invite your friends and rivals to wonder at the magnificent fauna you have cultivated." Just fantastic.

Another cute paper conservatory design from the Another Studio gang.

Even table decorations are starting to be inspired by the conservatory aesthetic! Via Traditional Home.

The new pop-up greenhouse created by the imaginative designers behind the REDValentino label,
 Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli. Think clusters of delicate white butterflies, garments and gardening items intertwined in delightful style, lovely scarves enclosed in sheer glass bulb containers, and gumboots suspended over  wooden counters, while the colored jewelry look like seeds planted inside small white pots. Exquisite. And all to promote a new collection. This was on show in St Tropez this month. I wish it would tour the world.

A solar-powered greenhouse in Finland, which the owners use as a spare bedroom. I'd never get out of bed with this view. {Unsure of source; please notify me if you know.}

NB We, too, have been inspired by the conservatory style. Our new library is an ode to these serene green spaces. Will fill you all in once I get a chance to take some snaps!


  1. Sarah is such a tragic character...even before her death, she seems to haunt the edges of 'scenes' in the novel... ethereal, yet pivotal all the same...

  2. Just bought a House & Garden magazine from the mid-80's because it had Bunny Mellon on the cover.

    Would know her garden anywhere.

    Put her Vanity Fair garden pics on my blog ages ago. Also her 'basket' room.

    Building my own Conservatory was the best money I've spent in decades. Read, nap, work, luncheon with girlfriends, a wood stove for snow days, entertaining the garden cat.

    Want you to have a Conservatory, just to see how you decorate it ! XO T cannot imagine the thousands of hits my blog got when Bunny Mellon was in the news during the John Edwards trial. Crazy world.

  3. Love the conservatories and hoping to demolish my plain old kitchen and build a fabulous conservatory style kitchen. Must save up.
    Speaking of saving - I am hoping to spend about a month in New York in May/June 2013, and I'm looking for brilliant ideas about where to stay. For such a long stay, a centrally located apartment with kitchen and washing machine would be ideal, but everything I have found looks dismal or dodgy or both. Any ideas?

  4. The make your own conservatory is about my limit, aren't they sweet though.

    Re Picnic at Hanging Rock, I remember being told as a child the school in the book was based on a Victorian school called Clyde. Have you heard that? It is really a fascinating story.

  5. Right, I must reread Picnic at Hanging Rock.
    As beautiful as these conservatories are, I love the fact that I live where such things are not required!

  6. I can't wait for your sounds so intriguing. You are a tease with your posts....I'll be lining up at the bookshop when it's released!


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

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...