Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Life, Gardens, And Everything Inspirational In-between

Ever since I returned from England in June, life has been very Down The Rabbit Hole-ish. Very  Lewis Carroll meets C.S. Lewis, with a surprising amount of strangeness (a very Carollesque word).

Sometimes our life does veer into the Crazy Lane – just like everyone else's – simply from juggling too much work, travelling too many miles, or meeting the demands of too many people (because nobody ever wants to let anyone down). But then life goes back to being blissfully ordinary again.

But for some reason, these past few months have been more than crazy.
They've swung around and around like a turn-of-the-century carousel in Paris's Arts Forains Museum.

Alongside these crazy weeks have been curious – and often crazier – conversations.
Let me explain.

A surprising number of people we know have had near-death experiences this year.
We even had a phone call from one lovely friend asking if we had a copy of his and his wife's Will?
If our friends haven't had close encounters, then they've been faced with mortality in other ways.

As such, we've talked a lot about life and death a lot this year – and of course all the good bits in between. 

We've also pondered Heaven and Hell; a subject that came up after I interviewed Joan Lindsay's housekeeper for the Picnic at Hanging Rock book. She said – and this is a very strange tale indeed  – that Joan Lindsay had a near-death experience just before she died. (This lovely housekeeper was at her side in the hospital.) She said that Joan claimed there was indeed a 'Hell' or a 'dark underworld' waiting on the other side, and that Joan had almost gone the wrong way.

"Did I think Joan Lindsay had done anything or lived a life that would cause her to receive a ticket to The Wrong Side" the housekeeper asked me. (Because I had obviously spent 2 years researching the Lindsays). "No," I said firmly. "No more than the rest of us."

And then I drove home wondering what, if anything, awaited us on other side?

Now before you scoff and scowl at all this Esotericism, Tim Smit, the co-owner of the magnificent Lost Gardens of Heligan in England (the most popular garden in the UK), also questioned the existence of such a thing in his bestselling memoir (above). (Which I'm reading and which is fantastic, and very unnerving in parts.)

Tim had to call in a priest to 'cleanse' Heligan's gardens and perform a horticultural exorcism after all the gardeners complained of feeling melancholy, or dread, or even seeing strange things that nobody could explain. 

When a dear friend, who's also a gardener, was around here for tea the other day, I asked her about Hell. She's quite spiritual, so I thought she'd have an interesting answer. "Do you think Hell really does exist?" I said. But she simply laughed and shook her head. "What if there's no room left in Heaven?" I persisted (half tongue-in-cheek). "What if there's a queue? Do we stand around outside, then go off, and come back later? Maybe we can't all get in? Where do we go then?" 

"The Maldives," she said dryly.

As Tim Smit knows, gardens teach you a lot about life. And not just about the passing of seasons, and of time, and of the dark things that lurk beneath the Ligustrum. 

Gardens give you hope for life. They're better than a dirty martini and a disingenuous therapist.

And that, perhaps, is what we've learned most this year.
Life can be crazy, and there are some corners we'd all rather not go down, but there will always be a garden – the earthly version of Heaven – to retreat to.

As Dorothy Frances Gurney's much-loved quote says: "One is nearer to God in a garden, than anywhere else on earth." (NB Half our family is devout Catholic; the other half is firmly atheist. But I tend to sit between them, on the fence, by following Mother Nature.) 

So here's my little slice of advice for the weekend... If you're ever feeling overwhelmed – with work, life, or personal issues – go and sit in a garden. If you're annoyed at somebody, go wander down a cool green allée. If you're upset at nasty slander (as I was last year), go and dig over flower bed. And then plant some roses. (The act of stabbing manure into the soil is cathartic, I assure you. Just dig that sh*t in!) And if you've simply forgotten how to 'be' – how to be kind; how to be courteous; how to be socially aware; how to be grateful for what you have – and indeed for life itself – grab some secateurs and go and snip a fragrant bouquet. (Don't worry about fancy flower arranging. Just toss them all in!)

Ruth Ostrow recently wrote a great article in The Australian called 'Digging Deep For True Grit'. She said there were three types of people in the world: optimists. pessimists, and people who have 'grit'. The 'gritters' are the ones who always go the distance.  They feel the pain and press on anyway. 

Gritters get things done.

Gardeners are like that. Mother Nature may smack you across the face like one of those nasty, shallow girls from The Bachelor, but you just chuck some more manure over the problem and dig away! 

Gardening and grit. 

It's all you need to survive and succeed, really.

In honour of October and turning over a new leaf (bad metaphor, but there are no Pulitzer Prize winners here), here are some 'heavenly" things happening around the world. 

Including these divine leaf-green shoes from Oscar de le Renta's latest collection.

Stuart Rattle's Musk Farm

Published November by Lantern/Penguin, with a foreword by Paul Bangay.

(RIP Stuart.)

The Gardener's Garden

Another new book published by Phaidon in October. 
It features one of the world's best gardens, Villandry.
It's an enormous tome, at 480 pages, and 250 gardens, so will no doubt keep gardeners happy this Christmas.

Kate Spade: 
Places To Go, People To See

Yet another gorgeous title from the colourful world of Kate Spade. 
This book follows on from the success of Things We Love, and is about places and destinations and the inspiration you can find in the world.
One for creative and colourful globe-trotters.

Hermès Australia’s Festival des Métiers

Another inspiring company, Hermès has brought its hugely successful Festival des Métiers to Sydney this week. If you haven't seen this sumptuous show about the French fashion house, it's on for five days from October 2 – 6, 2014 at MCA’s Foundation Hall (140 George St, The Rocks.)  The exhibition will recreate the working environment of the artisans in the Hermès workshops, and feature eight craftsmen at work, including scarf makers, engravers, gem setters and tie makers. A few of us saw it in London last year. It's well worth seeing - and FREE!

NB Have you seen the delightful little videos entitled 'Petit H' showing all the behind-the-scenes action at Hermès, which the company has posted on Hermès website? LINK HERE

Haute Couture Ateliers

Something that's always ephemeral is fashion, and Hélène Farnault covers the ever-changing nature of The Style Game in her gorgeous new book, Haute Couture Ateliers (Vendome, $75)

The pages are full of exquisite detail, from feathers stitched into a jacquard pattern for Jean Paul Gaultier to the meticulous process of hand-pleating fabric, a two-person job that results in folds as delicate as origami.

Aman and Louis Vuitton

According to the financial media, the LVMH group (which owns Louis Vuitton) is reportedly in talks to buy Amanresorts International. 

Amanresorts create what are arguably the world's most beautiful hotels – next to Six Senses and Four Seasons (not that we've ever been able to afford them, at $1000/n). Aman hotels are famous for their architecture, settings and service. There's been a lot of press about the behind-the-scenes money troubles, but there is no doubt that their front-of-house is first class.

 Ed Tuttle and Australia's Kerry Hill are two of the architects employed by Amanresorts, and their designs are often beyond this world, as with the extraordinary Amanjiwo (above). 

If the LVMH group does buy the company to expand their hotel portfolio, it will be interesting to see if they change the aesthetic.

Hotels For Less

This is something of a little aside, but if you're looking for reasonable hotels this Christmas and have used to book places in the past, check whether you're eligible for their 30% discount. (You only need to have booked 3 hotels to be eligible.) 

I'd forgotten about it until I started trying to find our escape from the Christmas madness and became alarmed at the prices of Hawaii, the Maldives, and Europe/the US over December. One hotel – the Four Seasons in the Maldives – was $2500 a night. That is the true meaning of CRAZY. 

In desperation I tried our normal sources –, etc – and then tried daggy old Bamn! This famously beautiful, newly renovated Art Deco hotel came up in my 'Favourites' file at 30% discount. We really can't afford Park Hyatts at rack rate but 30% means it's (just) within budget. With the discount, it was even cheaper than booking the hotel directly.

Hotel bargains. Just love them!

Tory Burch In Colour

And finally, a few months ago I received a email from Tory Burch's head office in New York. Could they use a couple of my photos of the Petit Trianon trelliswork at Versailles for Tory's new book? 
"That's very kind of you," I said, feeling surprised but somewhat embarrassed, "but I don't think my photos are good enough for your beautiful book." 

They persisted. Lots of emails were exchanged. When I finally searched for the pix it turned out I no longer had those images because I'd trashed them, thinking they were terrible. I told Tory's PA I might be able to find some more on the archives. She went and asked Tory. (This all took a LOT of time! Books are THE most time-consuming things on the planet! Good thing we all love them so much!) Tory said yes to different photos. More emails were exchanged. 

A fee was offered but by this time the Tory Burch girl and I were getting along so well (I told her I'd just bought Tory Burch fabric to make a gown; she told me about her mother's wedding) that it seemed, well, silly to speak of cash.

All of this friendly, back-and-forth shenanigans left me with the impression that Tory Burch was one of the nicest fashion companies in the world. 

So here's a great big plug for her new book, Tory Burch in Colour – LINK HERE

Her blog – – and tumblr are beautiful too. 
And now she's hired Ralph Lauren's former bigwig to be co-CEO, there's no stopping her from reaching Ralph-esque heights.

Lastly, there's a fascinating article about Tory's heady rise to success here on's website (a great business site) – LINK HERE

"Last spring’s collection featured floral prints inspired by the gardens of her 10-acre Southampton, N.Y., estate. The Tory Blog offered glimpses--a boxwood hedge here, a trellised walkway there--but never a wide-angle shot that would show how rarefied it all is. On Instagram, there was a blue-and-white Delftware vase spilling over with daffodils, the orange blooms of the dwarf Poinciana, and, one Saturday, an extraordinary bouquet of burgundy peonies.

This is how Burch makes luxury accessible..."


Wishing you all a lovely weekend.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Gardens in Green and White

We've had a reflective week here with the passing of someone close to us, so to counteract that we've spent a lot of time in our garden, where the sight of fresh green shoots and new spring growth (Australia's transitioning from winter to spring) has eased the heartache. (Fertiliser is often just as good for the soul as it is for the soil.) 

Fortunately, our new gardener started work this week, so there was a 'pro' in the house.

Formerly one of Dame Elizabeth Murdoch's gardeners, Geoff is one of the quietest, kindest, most knowledgable plantsmen I've ever met. One of our family may have gone up to Heaven but Heaven has been kind enough to send a replacement. I think Geoff and my mother-in-law would have liked each other.

Here are a few favourite garden places and pieces to offer some some horticultural inspiration for the gardening months ahead. 

{Top 3 images are my own, from my kitchen garden book.}

A beautiful new book for both Paris and garden lovers is Private Gardens of Paris, by Alexandra dArnoux and Bruno Laubadère. It's set to be published in 2015, but Flammarion are considering pushing the pub date forward, so keep an eye out.
Published by Flammarion. {link}

One of Hawaii's most beautiful gardens, Doris Duke's Shangri La.
Have you see the book? It's just as beautiful as the garden.
We're considering spending this Christmas in Hawaii to have a rest from a busy year, and this magnificent place is definitely on the To See List. 
(A lovely reader recommended it, and I'm so grateful to her.)

This is one of Paris's most beautiful florists.  It was called Saint-Pères Fleurs, but now seems to be called La Boutique des Saint-Pères. It looks like the luxurious salon of a grand old home, only one filled with vases and blooms. I believe it's been renovated, so if the images you find on Google aren't inspiring, don't worry – it's remarkable in real life.
14 rue des Saints-Pères, Paris.

Ralph Lauren's restaurant, Ralph, in Paris, is one of the prettiest restaurants in Paris for garden lovers. 
It's been so successful that Ralph is opening a New York offshoot (sorry for the pun) on the Upper East Side later this year.
173 boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris, 75006.

Another lovely Parisian hideaway for horticulture followers, the Hotel de l'Abbaye is tucked behind glamorous iron gates and a charming front courtyard. Its rear garden and terrace are wonderful for breakfasts and a relaxing wine at the end of the day.
10 rue Cassette, Paris, 75006.

If you can't afford a plush Parisian hotel, try a garden apartment. This one, available through the wonderful apartment rental site, One Fine Stay, has its own lush, private oasis in the middle of Paris, reached by walking through the apartment's charming conservatory. It's called Rue Lhomond, and it's in the Latin Quarter, a neighbourhood that's currently going through a revival.

I adore this quirky garden architecture store. It's part of the famous flea market in the village of L'isle sur la Sorgue in Provence, and is near the main parking area in the centre of town. (I'm not sure of the address and it doesn't matter because, like many French places, the store may move around anyway.) Just look for all the rusty-but-still-glamorous greenhouses lined up in a dignified row. You can't miss them.

Don't you love this new silk square by Hermès? 
It's based on the illustration for  Hermès' perfume Un Jardin Sur Le Toit ('A Garden on the Roof').
So simple. So beautiful.

Spotted this image on Instagram recently via Ben Pentreath's Insta posts (another garden lover). It was posted by Soane Britain and is an image of the absolutely gorgeous orangery at the Horniman Museum in London. (There are more amazing pix on Google.)
100 London Road, London.

Vita Sackville West's famous 'White Garden' at Sissinghurst launched a thousand white imitators. Even after all these years, Vita's is still one of the most magnificent.
{This was photographed in June this year, when it was truly glorious.}
Biddenden Rd, Cranbrook, Kent.

If you haven't seen Villandry, then try to see it next time you visit France. It's one of the most majestic gardens in the world. This is the topiary garden, but the estate has several gardens, including a delightful parterre and the spectacular ornamental potager – made entirely of vegetables (pictured at the top of the post). My parents and I once flew to France to do our own private garden tour and my father confessed that this garden was worth flying across the world for.
3 rue Principale, Villandry.

And finally, this was one of the most exquisite gardens I saw at Chelsea Flower Show while living in London in the 1990s. It's the Chanel Garden by Karl Lagerfeld and Tom Stuart Smith. It was, at the time, the most expensive garden ever produced for the Chelsea Flower Show, at a cost of 1 million pounds. There's a great article about it here – Link.

{All images my own, excluding One Fine Stay, Shangri La and Hornman Museum, which are from their websites and are properly credited. 
If you use or repost my images, please credit me out of courtesy.}

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Secrets of Paris, Part 3

For those who are heading to Paris soon and planning their itinerary, here are a few ideas and suggestions for memorable places to visit. I'm currently working on the next Paris guide and have included these in the 24-hours-in-Paris section. They're a little different from the usual Seine-to-St.Germain-to-Eiffel Tower stroll. I don't know about you but I like getting off the beaten (Parisian) track and seeing the city from new perspectives. These places will show you the City of Light in, well, a new light!

Finally, thank you all for your kind emails about the book offer. I've received more than 60 requests so far and have now run out of books! It was really a gesture of thanks to those who have kindly left comments on the blog or emailed me directly to say hello. However, I'll see what I can do to accommodate those more-private souls who prefer not to leave comments but would like a book anyway.

Thank you, too, for those wonderful stories. I wish I could post them but they're clearly private. I'm now emailing individual thank-you notes to everyone.

La Terrasse at the Hotel Raphael
A lovely place for a special meal, this rooftop restaurant has spectacular views over Paris, including the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, plus all the charming rooftops in between.
17 avenue Kleber, 75016 (16th), Paris.

From high atop the top level of the Trocadéro gardens. If you head for the City of Architecture and Heritage (Cité de l'architecture et du patrimoine), you'll see a parallel line of gold statues. It's here, particularly at sunrise or sunset, where the best photos of the Eiffel Tower can often be taken.

The Radisson Blu Le Dokhan's Hotel
A former 18th-century residence, this charming boutique hotel is beloved by fashion designers (Armani books it out each Fashion Week), and the Louis Vuitton trunk-lined lift will make your ascent to the top-floor suites even more magical. The suites themselves are sublime (ask for the Eiffel Suite, with some of the best views in Paris), but if you can't afford to splurge, go to the exquisite Champagne Bar for a little bubbly instead. It's one of the prettiest bars in Paris.
117 rue Lauriston, 75116 (16th), Paris.

Newhotel Roblin
It's sometimes difficult to find style at an affordable price in Paris, but this cutie delivers. The foyer is fabulous, the rooms are elegant without being frou-fou or over-the-top, and the other spaces, such as the sitting room (above) are dignified, quite and completely welcoming after an exhausting day traipsing around town.
6 rue Chauveau-Lagarde, 75008 (8th), Paris

The Hotel Meurice
Most people wander straight past this place without realising the architectural riches that are inside. It's one of the most beautiful hotels in Paris, and the best way to see it (if you're on a budget) is to book a table for lunch. There's a fancy restaurant or the (slightly more casual) bistro. Alain Ducasse heads the kitchens so you can be sure the food is top-notch. But it's the people watching you should be going for. That, and the interior design.
228 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 (1st), Paris.

I'd never heard of this place until recently, and I imagine others will be just as surprised to learn of it. It's a lovely place for a sunny day; a whimsical, slightly quirky museum that's an homage to gardens around the world.
Albert Kahn Musee et Jardins
14, rue du Port, 92100, Boulogne-Billancourt, Paris.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Paris: A Thank You

It occurred to me tonight that not everybody is as enamoured with New York as our family is. (I would happily move to Manhattan tomorrow if it were not for my partner's job, our little dogs, our families, our mortgage, our friends and lives, and the other logistical difficulties.)

New York certainly isn't for everyone (and probably not for poor authors). So I thought I'd extend the book offer from the last post to Paris lovers too.

If you've kindly left a message on this blog over the past 6 months, I'd like to thank you. I know sometimes I don't get time to reply straight away – there are lots of 2am nights here and often I'm so weary I get very behind in admin – but I'm deeply grateful and I'd like to send you a small gift in return. If you've taken the time to leave a message, either on the blog or by direct email, and you'd like either of the Paris/Provence books on the sidebar to the left, please email me, at 

I will be more than happy to pay for costs and postage, in gratitude.

(Of course, you may not want one of my Paris books, and I'd understand that, too. It's just that... I can only get an author discount on those ones.)

And if you're heading to Paris soon (or Provence or the French Riviera), and would like some tips and ideas on where to stay, what to do, and where to kiss your beloved in a suitably romantic spot, please just email me. I will happily reply.

As always, thank you for reading. I love every email and kind note you send, short or long.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Books and Bookshops

Bookshops are beautiful places. Before it closed earlier this year, New York's Rizzoli bookstore was one of the most elegant interiors in Manhattan; second only to The Plaza, the New York Public Library, the NoMad Hotel, Ralph Lauren's flagship stores, and my favourite dining hideaway, Caffe Storico.

Heywood Hill in London's Mayfair would have to be the quintessential antiquarian bookshop: cute black-and-white facade; creaking floorboards, and bookshelves heaving with history and titles – many of them saved from great old English estates whose libraries have been sold to pay for death taxes.

(Heywood Hill is also a fascinating place to see who's still reading books. There are always piles of brown paper parcels addressed to names like 'Devonshire', as in Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, who co-owns the bookstore, and Hugh Grant. Last time I was there, I saw a girl wrapping up some books for Hugh. You'd be surprised if you knew what he was reading. It was impressive.)

Other wonderful bookshops include the elegant Galignani in Paris (above), and the very pretty Potterton Books in Chelsea, London, which specialises in new, antique, out-of-print and unusual books in gardens, architecture, design, interior decoration, antiques and the decorative arts.

(Potterton's owner also has an enormous book barn full of books in Thirsk, North Yorkshire – The Old Rectory, Sessay, Thirsk, North Yorkshire. Contact: tel: +44 1845 501218.)

In London's South Kensington (Gloucester Road), Slightly Foxed Bookshop is another charming bookshop with 100-year-old windows and a wonderful basement of great secondhand titles, including design, gardening, architecture and many other books, such as intriguing biographies.

The shop used to be owned by Graham Greene's nephew Nick Dennys, who ran it along eccentric lines, leaving a key under the mat for regular customers when he wasn’t in the shop.

Don't you love bookshops like that?

This Saturday, August 9th is National Bookshop Day.

It's the day when we should all support our favourite bookstores. I know many of us buy a lot of our books online but it's more important than ever to buy books from stores too, especially considering the very real danger that Amazon may become a monopoly distribution channel. (Imagine one company having control over all the books in the world? Imagine if they hiked prices sky high, which they're already starting to do?)

Many of us do continue to buy books in stores. Avenue Bookstore (my favourite Australian bookstore) told me that last Christmas was the busiest sales period it's had in decades. (I know: I saw the queues.) The Strand in New York (another great bookstore) said last Christmas was the busiest it's ever had, in its entire 87-year history. There's nothing like a bookstore to browse in, whether sunny or wet, morning or night, alone or with book-loving company.

I can't imagine a world without bookstores. Let's hope there's enough people who think that, and continue to split their book purchases between online and in-store.

Buy a book from a bookstore this weekend. Here are a few lovely ideas from our library to inspire you...

[All books from our home. Please excuse the poor quality photographs.}

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