Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Surprises & Delights of London

No matter how much you think you know London, this city still has the ability to surprise and delight... 

The Lessons of Spring

This past week has been something of an epiphany.

You know those periods when life throws everything at you and you're so exhausted you can't even think straight? (Although some of that is due to intense jetlag at the moment.) Well triple that feeling and then toss in a terrible head cold, a beloved relative dying (the second obviously more devastating than the first), and a whole lot of personal life decisions that need to be made and you're getting close to how I feel this week.

But rather than sink into solemnity, I've tried a new tact.


Gratitude is a funny thing. It's when you feel grateful for life that you start to really appreciate what you have. Indeed, you start to notice things you didn't notice in the fog of worry and stress. You remember the lovely people you've met on your travels; the joyous surprises; the laughter; the unexpected delights of the day.

The potential of life returns. 

And if you can't do gratitude, then gardens offer a good remedy too. In fact, immerse yourself in a garden and your spirits will return. I guarantee it. 

I've discovered that this week. So, too, have a few others.

Just look at the happy faces of these people. These charming women are some of the loveliest people I've met recently. (Their wardrobes were almost as impressive as the floral borders.) Seeing their delighted faces made me quietly delighted too. And then everything seemed okay again.

There is a well-known Vogue editor that I've come to know because she's a friend of a new friend. I used to think she was brittle. Perhaps even arrogant. And living an existence entirely separate from the rest of us, which perhaps made her seem even more remote and unapproachable. 

But then my friend said she puts out a shield to defend herself from criticism. This Vogue editor has chosen to deflect the negativity of life in order to concentrate on the bright, the good, the beautiful, and the inspirational. After all, said my friend, there is only so much negativity a person can take. 

The result, added this friend, is that she comes across as being superior and full of froideur but is actually one of the kindest and loveliest people you can imagine meeting. 

(And her garden is simply glorious.)

So many of us become caught up in what another friend calls "the gloominess of life": the pessimism, the criticism, even the gossip of society. We do it because a) it is encouraged and b) it gives us a kind of psychological 'lift'. As this same friend suggests: "People put others down to make themselves feel better." But I prefer to focus on the positive. It is far more gracious. And far more rewarding.

Wandering through these gardens this week has made me realise that life doesn't need to be hard. And that you can achieve what you want – if you're courageous enough, tenacious enough, and – perhaps most importantly – positive enough to go after it. 

I think gardens teach you that. The art of optimism.

I'll aways remember a wonderful anecdote by the landscape architect and gardening blogger Tara Dillard. Tara was designing the garden of a woman who had been through cancer. Treatments had already taken the client's hair, and made the tips of her fingers and toes blue.  Just walking was treacherous. 

When Tara was installing the garden, the client asked, "How long till the azaleas cover the wall?"  

"Well, with the drought and everything..."said Tara nervously.

But the client interrupted with a smile.

"Tara," she said firmly. "We must always be optimistic!"

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Around The World In 80 Shades

Dear Library Lovers. 
Please forgive my appalling lack of correspondence from The Library. I have been flying low under the radar lately.
 (I also hope you will forgive my terrible manners, as I still haven't had a chance to reply to everyone. But I will, promise.) 

For the last few months I have been knee-deep in Google Maps, flight schedules, itineraries, running sheets, and To Do lists. 

This is why.

Six weeks ago I left Australia and flew 40 hours and 7 planes across the world to here.
Harbour Island. 
A speck of an atoll at the very edge of the Bahamas. 

I went there for just 2 days. 
I know. 40 hours and 7 planes for 2 days. But look at the beach. It's almost worth all the jetlag.

I'll tell you more about the island and some lovely people who live there in a future post.

Then I flew up to New York (via just about every state in the US as the flight was on frequent flyers), and visited the home of this gorgeous woman.

Ms  Carolyne Roehm.

Quite possible the most gracious, most beautifully manned woman I have ever liaised with.

Her home isn't too shabby either.

This was her Picking Garden.
I know. I had serious Garden Envy too.

These were just a few of the urns stored in the Winter Conservatory. Aren't these incredible?
I can't show you more as this greenhouse was actually a private area of the estate, but I will be able to show you some glorious scenes of her Connecticut home and garden in a future magazine we're working on.

Then it was back to New York for 3 days, where I stayed at The Jade, a just-opened new boutique hotel with a sexy 1920's theme in SoHo.
Sublime. Just sublime.

The spring blossoms were also at their peak.
Honestly. New York couldn't have been lovelier.

Did a little shopping.

Saw my book in one of my favourite stores, and thanked the manager, who was as sweet as the merchandising. No wonder Anthopologie on Fifth Avenue is always fabulous. The staff are as lovely as the product.

Then left the magnificence of Manhattan to fly to two quiet places that are almost side by side on the French Riviera. 

Cap d'Antibes and Cap Ferrat.

If you think the Riviera is all over-development, ostentatious cars and over-the-top film festivals, just come here. These two parts of the coast are the Old Riviera; the Riviera of the 1950s, or even earlier. Few people, even less cars. Just a few sleepy fishing boats, lots of walking trails and views to make you swoon.

They looked like film sets.

This was my hotel for two utterly memorable nights.
Royal Riviera.
I could only afford a room at the back, but they kindly gave me an upgrade to an ocean suite.

My old view was a vista of the railway line that ran along the back of the hotel.

This was my new view. 

Talk about an upgrade. I don't think I'll ever be fortunate enough to stay in a place so swish again.

Had dinner here. Belle Rives. 
It's the original villa where F Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby

You could almost hear Scott tinkle his Champagne glass while Zelda fell into the pool.

Paloma Beach. So incredibly pretty.

More on this later.

Then took a small group out to a beautiful garden called Chateau Brecy in Normandy. 
They let us in after-hours because we said we'd come all the way from Australia to see it. (Australians... We always pull that old "Australian" trick!) Consequently, there was no one there. Not even the owner. (The caretaker kindly allowed us access.) We had the entire chateau to ourselves. 

That was a truly memorable morning. 

More on the gardens later.

We also saw Christian Dior's home and garden, and the Christian Dior Exhibition. 

John Galliano's frocks were almost as exquisite as M. Dior's. Now that we've forgiven Galliano and he's learned his lesson, can someone please give him a proper job worthy of his talents?

Spotted Karl Lagerfeld outside his Paris apartment.

Then hot-footed it to London for the London Garden Tour and the Chelsea Flower Show.

This was my favourite garden. It was the kitchen garden and potting shed of an elderly gentleman. 
It reminded my of my grandfather.
Look at the gorgeous hat.

I had a quite moment of reflection here.

The new William and Catherine rose. An English Musk Hybrid. 
More on Chelsea later.

Then we spent the next week seeing gardens. 

Gardens and gardens and gardens. So many gardens, I think a few of us became a bit garden-ed out.

Ms Faux Fuchsia didn't. She has more energy than anyone I've ever met. Except perhaps for Carolyne Roehm.

This was the Oxfordshire garden of the late David Hicks. 

The Pot Garden (above) was my favourite green room. All the pots have the bottoms cut out so the plants can grow straight into the soil. 
I know some people may ask: "What's the point of the pots then?" But David Hicks didn't care about conventionality. 
That's why he was such a genius.

Lady Pamela Hicks' dog Coco, heading home to Ashley Hicks. Coco had followed our group down the laneway before realising her home was the other way. One of the sweetest dogs I've ever met. 

I couldn't help but wonder how my own dogs were faring? I'm sure they've forgotten who I am.

Went to Highgrove too. 
Invites were impressive but the garden was extraordinary.

Saw the Hermes exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery.

Pawed the scarves.

Also had a long coffee with Ms Vicki Archer and (for a shorter period) my friend Sarah Stubbs. 
Both have fantastic blogs – Vicki at and Sarah at Neutral Territory (

Vicki Archer was one of the loveliest people I've ever met. And funny as well.
 Gotta love an Australian who keeps her sense of humour long after she's left the country.

We chatted for ages. No stopping the conversation when two authors get together. Alas, some of it is too risque to tell you, this being a family blog and all.

Also saw one of my oldest friends, a girl I shared a house with at university for 2 years but haven't seen for 10 years, Ariel White. 

Ariel divides her time between LA, Sydney and London. Yes, I wish I had her job too. She also sees a lot of other countries. You see, she was the Executive Producer of the TV show The Amazing Race for 6 years. (She was the most unassuming student in our year, and is now, with a doubt, the most successful. I'm so proud of her.) 

God, the girl has some stories. I think we drank a lot that night... Laughed too. 
You know those nights?

And lastly, I've been picking up some pretty mementoes whenever I have the chance to shop. This was a limited edition copy of Harper's Bazaar, which is only at the V&A Museum. Isn't it beautiful? It's a cover of Dior. (Have you noticed how Dior is now everywhere? I think it's a new trend.) 

The magazine's editor Justine Picardie has taken the magazine back to its glamorous roots. 
Just one more reason to admire Justine. The contents are clever too.

Will post more from London (and Riviera/Paris/New York fripperies) soon. 
But in the meantime, this was a gift from a Ms Sarah Stubbs. 
I showed her around Paris for 24 hours and she bought me this.

Don't you just love lovely people?

Me too.

More soon.

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