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.

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