Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Rediscovering London and Paris, via Instagram

Are you on Instagram? No? Neither was I for years. I resisted it because, like many photographers, I was wary of the way Instagram owned the copyright to all the images posted on it. It was like blindly signing your rights over to an organisation you knew little about. 

Lately, however, I've become enamoured with the beauty of 'Insta' because it's a captivating insight into people's lives, only without the negativity and criticism that sometimes goes on in society and social media. I don't know about you but I'm trying to live a more balanced, positive, productive and happier life, and for some reason (well, actually it's probably not that surprising), images of people's gardens, a table set for 10 under a grapevine-covered arbour, a pile of new books, a bouquet of fresh flowers, snapshots of travel, a just-finished illustration, a newly decorated room, and even someone's too-cute dog will make me joyful and also—this is the strange thing—surprisingly grateful for life.

You see, Instagram celebrates the charming minutiae of our days; the beauty of our world, rather than the ugliness of society. It's a visual reminder to appreciate the things we see, and the things we have, and the things we're lucky enough to experience, too. It also encourages us to appreciate others as well. I love seeing Kerrie Hess' latest prints and Nichole Robertson's Parisian pix, both of whom I follow.

 Some people do carefully composed 'flatlays' or still lifes (tagged #flatlay), which are the new and 'in' thing on Insta, but I prefer the spontaneous shots: the 'outtakes' of our days that would never make it into a family photo album but still offer uplifting glimpses into lives well lived. Happy lives. Joyful lives. Lives that make us smile. 

For the past week, I've been posting on Instagram, and I have to tell you, I'm converted! 

It's a great way to post travel pix and tips and to exchange information with other followers, but more than that, it's a great reminder to look at life with a fresh vision. Sometimes we need to put down that expensive camera, stop over-composing, and just take a shot that moves us, a shot that simply makes us happy.

Sometimes I worry that my Insta pix are TOO under-composed, that perhaps I should have shot the Paris hotel bed BEFORE I slept in it, but the slight ruffles of Instagram, and life, are what make it real.

That's the beauty of it. The imperfections.

Other times, you can be somewhere and take a photo that seems so surreal, you can barely believe you caught it. This shot, taken from the ferris wheel in the Tuileries (something I'd never tried but always wanted to do, esp in winter), reminds me of a Georges Seurat painting.

So here are a few Insta pix from Paris and London, from new places I've discovered, and a few old ones I've rediscovered. 

Do consider joining Instagram, if only to share pix with your family, and if you do, then drop by and say hello at

Or click on the link here to follow my Insta trail.

The Petit Palais

The staircase in the Petit Palais' is one of the most beautiful in Paris. And not that well-known.  I love the curves of the ironwork against the curves of the staircase and the stone arches: an incredible design of line and beauty.

Other people will no doubt shoot it much better, but I wanted a 'snapshot' to remind me of its elegance.

 Le Dokhan's Hotel

Le Dokhan's Trocadero is one of Paris' true gems. I've only stayed here once as it's normally quite expensive, but last week they were throwing away the rooms just to fill the hotel. So I booked three whole nights. It was bliss.

It really is a beautiful, beautiful hotel, which will fill your Insta feed if you're not careful. It's a neoclassic fantasy with a rooms decorated in blue and white, a lift lined in Louis Vuitton steamer trunks and a Champagne bar that just serves Champagne. (Of course!)

Do consider booking it on your next Paris trip. Even the cheap rooms are delightful.

Parisian architecture

Every now and then I become a little jaded with Paris, but then I see something that makes me realise how glorious it is. On this trip, it was the details: the exterior of the Galerie de la Madeleine; the gilded gate of the Petit Palais. That's what Instagram does: it forces you to look at the details.

Parisian museums

It's easy to think you've 'done' the museums of Paris. Been there; seen that. But there are so many sweet little places to discover, and on this trip my 'find' was the sublime Jacquemart-André (Musée Jacquemart-André). Set inside a former mansion—once one of Paris' grandest residences—it displays the rooms as if they were still part of a private home.

It really is spectacular.

Vintage style

Something else I rediscovered was the treasure to be found in Paris' vintage designer boutiques, where wealthy Parisians and foreigners leave their unwanted (and often unworn) items. You can sometimes find new Hermès scarves, tag still attached, for under 100 Euros. Catherine B's boutique is a little over-priced now, but others, such as Reciproque, still offer bargains.

Floral fantasies

The florists of Paris and indeed London are always worth stopping at. Instagram is FULL of flower pix and no wonder: they're always a joy to see.

This was Wild at Heart in Notting Hill Gate. Aren't the 'red' hydrangeas beautiful?

Lindley Library

Another place I discovered was the Royal Horticultural Society's Lindley Library near Victoria Station in London. A treasure trove for gardeners, it's a free library full of thousands of books that just focus on gardening. It's the largest gardening library in the world. I spent ages researching Gertrude Jekyll titles for a future book, but I could have stayed all day!

The Artesian Bar

A new favourite, this exquisite place was a symphony in pink leather and chinoiserie, with a little gilt thrown in. Designed by the late David Collins, it's one of the loveliest bars in London.

Great for a pick-me-up mid-afternoon, after a day traipsing around town.

The Portrait Gallery

Located high above the rooftops of West End, with incredible views of London, this is perhaps one of this city's best restaurant secrets. It was misty when we were there for a quick G&A, but I imagine it's magic on a summer's night.

Meeting Miss Tricia

And finally, Designers Guild held a wonderful Christmas soiree yesterday, filling the store with crafty people making gorgeous things. Founder Tricia Guild was also there and I was very fortunate to be able to spend a few minutes chatting to her. She is just as lovely as her designs.

It made me grateful for having an iPad to hand!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Instagramming London and Paris

Just a note to say that if you're on Instagram, I've been posting travel tips and inspiration from London and Paris this past week, at link here

Do have a look, or even follow: I would love to see you there!

And if you're not on Instagram, you can still view images on this link – here or at

I will still post on this blog so if you're a traditionalist (like me) and like to read stories and posts, there will still be newsy bits delivered here.

As always, thank you so much for reading! I always love the surprising interactions that come from these pages and other pages, posts, and people's sites on the Internet.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Textiles and Fashion Discoveries of Paris and London, Part 1

When you travel for work, it's easy to get stuck into the same old 'the Milk Run' (as a friend calls it) of staying in same trusted hotels, strolling the same favourite routes and neighbourhoods; browsing at the same beloved boutiques; dining at the same restaurants (with friends who love them as much as you do) and even visiting the same museums. 

But every now and then it's important, I think, to step off the Milk Run and discover cities anew—just as you did the first time you went overseas. Changing the pace and the paths you take can renew your sense of wonder at places, and make you fall in love with destinations all over again.

This happened to me this week. 

In the spirit of this new 'Gratitude Attitude' that we're all joyfully adopting, I decided to try and uncover parts of London and Paris I'd never seen. 

I'm here for a few days to source textiles and fashion places for new books, including the Paris book that's been stuck behind a writer's block. For the last few months I've been reluctant to leave my partner at home after a few very sad months, but the state election is on, our house is in chaos because of it (my partner works in politics part-time), and so it seemed like a good time to finally GET OUT OF TOWN and find inspiration again!

As it turned out, the last week of November is the perfect time to travel: Paris hotels are dirt cheap (I found many for $100/n), the Christmas lights are twinkling, and the weather is still gentle. More than that, people are busy and so things that would normally be booked out are available. But the most wonderful thing about getting off the ol' Milk Run is discovering a new side to Paris and London.

Let me show you what I mean.

Every month, the V&A Museum has a tour of its archives. I'd never bothered with it before as it's often over-subscribed, but this week there was a place, so I cleared a few hours to try it.

Oh my. What a textile lover's dream.

Held at Blythe House in West Kensington, the archives are where the museum's collections of fashion and textiles are stored when they're not on show. Our group only saw one room but there were 54,000 pieces in that one room. Rows and rows of vintage Dior, Givenchy, Balenciaga, Chanel and so on... I can't tell you how amazed we all were. The gasps seem to rise higher and higher.

I dare not show you much as I'm not sure how much we're allowed to reveal (the security was tighter than MI5!), but I can tell you it's well worth it. If you love fashion and textiles, it's an incredible place to see. The V&T has always been held in high regard by fashion and textile lovers but this team should be applauded for their dedication to preserving such magnificent history.

Another little-explored section of London—at least for me—is the northern part of Notting Hill, and having heard about the wonders of The Cloth Shop, a fabulous fabric resource in W10, I decided to head north. 
(Tip: If you want to see Portobello Road, go on Fridays when there are no crowds. It's bliss.)

The Cloth Shop is a secret treasure trove of textile goodies in the midst of the bustling markets: a store full of beautiful linens (some as little as 12 pounds) and striped bolts galore.

The staff is also lovely. There's a cat too, who happily sits on all the expensive trimmings.

While you're there, pop around the corner to Alice Temperley, a designer loved by both British celebs and Australian expats for her intricately detailed pieces. (link

She has stores in King's Road and Mayfair, but this is her original, and is still her private atelier.

This house is on the way to Temperley.
 If you look carefully, the brass plaque says 'BANK ROBBER'. 
Clearly a thief with wit and style.

I'd also never really stopped to notice the flower stalls in London before. This as one filled with Christmas bouquets in shades of crimson and magenta. Just beautiful.

More London cuteness. I can't believe I've never seen this side of Notting Hill before.

But perhaps my biggest London 'discovery' has been the bedrooms of Blakes Hotel. 
Which have to be seen to be believed.

Most design lovers and hotel hedonists know about Blakes—it was the first 'boutique hotel' in the world. Like many, however, I'd never really spent much time here. Until now. With cheap November deals (try Sundays and Mondays for the best bargain prices), I booked a night. 

They kindly gave me the red-and-white room. Which was like walking into an urban oasis on a cold London afternoon.

This is the bathrom. Balcony and all. 

(Can you see the ceiling? It's all lined in fabric. Incredible.)

The detail in the curtains, curtain pulls and door handles was enough to make a design lover gasp.

Apparently Lady Gaga stays in a similar red-lined room here. A room that, incidentally, has just been voted The Most Romantic Hotel Room In The World by Mr and Mrs Smith Guides.

Here's another room, which Amelia, the gorgeous reservations girl, kindly showed me. 
The price for this room is incredibly cheap, considering the design.

If you love fabrics, this is the London hotel for you.
Trust me. You'll be as ga-ga as Lady Gaga.

I'm back in London next week, so will post more textile gorgeousness then.

I'm now in Paris for a few days to source fashion, style and design destinations for the new Paris book (just to finish it off), and will post many of my Parisian discoveries this week.

If you'd like to follow on Instagram, the link is here: instagram link

Or here —

I'm only new to Insta, but it's a lovely place to browse pix, so hope you follow. I look forward to seeing you there!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Creating A French Picking Garden (Easily)

As many gardeners know, gardening can be addictive. One minute you're happily potting up geraniums  in a couple of blue and white planters you bought on discount in a closing-down sale; the next you're digging into your newly mown lawn to create a perennial flower bed. 

Then you begin to visit open gardens. And the more gardens you visit, the more addicted you become.

 Suddenly, you're out there at 5AM on a summer's morning, quietly dead-heading the roses and hoping you're not waking the neighbours with the watering.

{All photos mine}

This happened to me this year. After visiting the magnificent walled rose gardens of Mottisfont in England (Nat Trust link) (Blog Post), I became obsessed with the idea of creating a picking garden. Or, as a friend romantically put it, a "rustic French rose garden". Only with bush roses, because fancy French ones didn't seem to do well in our Mediterranean-style heat. (Or my amateur hands.) 

Our lovely gardener Geoff had also told me about his former employer Dame Elizabeth Murdoch's walled cutting garden, which was designed to change colours with the seasons. (Cruden Farm link)

Dame Elizabeth wanted a cutting garden rather than a cottage garden, because the former is designed to be picked, with flowers that suit vases (such as roses), and plants that are grown in narrow beds, for ease of access (and cutting).

It was, he said, one of Dame Elizabeth's favourite places.
(How wonderful it would have been to have worked with her...) 

A rustic French picking garden, I thought naïvely, with the enthusiasm of a novice. 
How difficult could it be?

So, on a perfect Sunday in early spring this year we drove up the mountain to Monbulk, where, hidden away behind the myriad nurseries is one of the prettiest rose farms in the state, Newstead Roses (link).

 This week, my mother visited the famous Ruston's Rose Farm in Renmark, the largest rose garden in the Southern Hemisphere, and told me it was looking a little unloved. (Could also be the heat?) There are no unloved buds here at Newstead, where every pot looks like a contender for Chelsea.

If you're a serious rosarian, you need to get your sweet derriere up here, pronto. 

It is truly glorious. You will adore it, I promise.

This is Dave, the head rose gardener. 

He speaks French to his French roses "because it encourages them to bloom". 
His pronunciation of Côte d'Azur (a yellow rose inspired by the Riviera city of Nice) was so perfect, I made him say it twice. Côte d'Azur. 

He was as gorgeous as the roses.

He'll also pick out the most scented cultivars for you.

He's generously written all the roses on little signs at the end of each row, to make selection easier. 

I was after the elusive Christian Dior and Paris de Yves Saint Laurent roses. 
Which seem so rare they could be a myth.

We bought a few roses. Then a few more. 
Then we drove home to inspect the borders.

This was the target. A sad patch of empty garden in our empty suburban backyard. 
Which we originally moved to just so I could have a garden. 

It was time to face the dirt.
(Note: The raised beds have been properly screwed together since then.)

I like pink, so we bought bright, Schiaparelli-esque numbers: Queen Adelaide (above); Princess Anne (a beautiful David Austin); Gertrude Jekyll (one of the highlights of Mottisfont); the Eiffel Tower (very vigorous), Madame Isaac Pereire, and Paradise (below).

Also William Morris (a pretty pale orange rose that reminds me of the designer's muted palettes), Queen Elizabeth, Charles de Gaulle, Brother Cadfael, New Dawn, and to really mix the colour palette up, a rose called (rather worryingly) Sexy Rexy. 

We also planted salvias, dahlias, lilies, lavender, geraniums and other hardy French-style flowers. 

Just in case the roses failed. 
Which was highly likely.

So many salvias...

Then we all waited.

The gravel was laid a day before this photo was taken. It makes the garden look like a rustic French potager but it also reflects the heat onto the underside of the plants. A gardener at Versailles told me this.

 I don't know how true it is but those gardens in our neighbourhood that have gravel on their paths and even in the garden beds grow roses as big as dinner platters.

(NB You're meant to paint your trellises, gates and arbours French blue too, but we choose French grey. It will match the timber of the raised beds when they age.)

The thing about roses is that they don't like a lot of fuss. They actually hate attention. 

Just mix the soil properly and remember your "$5 hole-for-a-$2-plant" mantra. 
(I've forgotten the proper soil formula, but just toss some heavily composted soil together with a little dynamic lifter and manure and water in with Seasol. I throw some slow-release fertiliser on a month later, after the roots have settled. Some people put the fertiliser in the hole first, but it's up to you.)

Roses also seem to prefer the morning sun—at least here in our Mediterranean climate. 

And for some reason, our pale roses like a little shade in the afternoon. 

That's another tip from Dave, the rosarian: choose roses that suit not only your area but also your backyard's microclimate.

Spray for black spot and pests if you need to. (I use garlic spray for the latter, and try to prevent black spot by having little half-trellis boundaries—rather than hedges—to allow cross-breezes. There's some good black spot advice on sprays here—link

The lovely thing about rose gardens is that they teach you patience. And of course humility. (Because not everything will grow like you hope it will.) Wisdom, too.

 I tend to think a lot in this garden. 
I make business decisions and then, doubting myself, think: how can I make this business model (or project / plan / business relationship) work better? Surely, I think, studying the salvias, there's a better way? Then I go back to the business decision and consider it again.

Inevitably the business decisions mulled over here are the best ones made.

Eventually, three months, a lot of heavy spring rains, and some hot, sunny days later, there was some action in the gravel...

The Pinkie roses erupted.

So did the Pierre de Ronsard.

And the Charles de Gaulles in the obelisk beds were enormous.

The thing about picking gardens is that it doesn't matter how much you pick; there always seems to be something left in the bed to rise up the following week. I always feel guilty and leave something on the stems but lately I've noticed that the more I cut this cutting garden, the better it gets. The roses seem to love the pruning.

It's incredibly easy to create a rustic French picking garden. 
If I can do it, with my novice gardener's ineptitude, you can too.

But the best thing about picking gardens isn't the outdoor work. It's filling the vases inside, at the end of the day. That's my favourite part, I think.

Such simple pleasures.
And such unending gratitude.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...