Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Sunday, January 24, 2016

News on the Duchess of Devonshire, Pierre Frey and Belmont House


One of the most anticipated auctions this year is Sotheby's forthcoming auction of the personal items of one of this century's most remarkable women, Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire. It seems strange to think she's gone, after such a long and extraordinary life as one of the legendary Mitford sisters, and even stranger to think that her beloved things are now being auctioned. But she was so adored by the public, and if some of the contents of her final home The Old Vicarage at Edensor on the Chatsworth Estate can be sold to raise money for estate of Chatsworth, why not?

I always regret not meeting her before she passed away. A contact at Heywood Hill bookshop in Mayfair (which the Devonshires bought in recent years, in order to save it) kindly said he would make arrangements for me to visit (it was for a forthcoming book on gardens, one of the Duchess' passions), but in the end she wasn't well enough. A friend of mine in the US dated Elvis for the briefest of periods (she was very young at the time!) and I had some great stories about Elvis to tell her (another of her obsessions). But it was not to be. I probably would have been too shy to converse much anyway. She really was one of the most interesting, most inspirational businesswomen of our time.

The Financial Times (FT) has recently published a wonderful piece about the sale here. And Sotheby's has another, smaller, article about 'Debo' (as she was called) on its website here, as well as a glimpse at a few of the pieces going to auction here.   The sale includes exquisite jewels (some gifted to her by her husband and his parents), a rare copy of Brideshead Revisited personally inscribed by her friend Evelyn Waugh, plus fine and decorative art, and (something I'd love to view) the contents of Duchess of Devonshire’s library.

Here are a few pre-sale photos and pieces from the auction, from Sotheby's website:

The collection mixes high-end and low. There are many personal photos, including the one above of the Mitford family, priced at a reserve of only a few hundred pounds. But there are is the Duchess' jewellery, including a Chanel camellia (£400) and a pair of aquamarine-and-diamond clips (£2,000), and a book of John F Kennedy portraits (£1,500 -- £2,000) signed by the former US president with the sign-off 'L.O', a reference to the sisters’ habit of calling him 'Loved One'. (JFK was a close friend of the family.)

More details of the sale, including the pieces in the photos above, on Sotheby's website.

The auction is at Sotheby's London, March 2, 2016, with pre-sale viewing from February 27 -- March 1.


One of the most popular places to stay in England isn't a hotel but a small, relatively unknown Landmark Trust property known simply as 'Belmont House'. It's an exquisite, pale pink, 18th-century, Grade II-listed villa in Dorset that was once owned by businesswoman Eleanor Coade and more recently the author, John Fowles, whose books include The French Lieutenant's Woman. 

The Landmark Trust has spent several years carefully restoring the house, including the Victorian observatory tower, with hatch and revolving roof, and the garden leading down to the beach, and has opened it up for short stays. However, it's proved so popular that the earliest available booking is now mid-2017. (NB: It's incredibly inexpensive; the villa sleeps 
8, and 4 nights is £640, or just £20 per person, per night.)

For those who would love to see it but can't wait until 2017, there is a rare Open Day on the weekend of Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 February 2016 , from 10am to 4pm each day. No booking is required.

More details on Belmont can be found here. It looks beautiful.


The first major exhibition of French textile house Maison Pierre Frey since 1935 opens at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris this month. The show features many of the famous fabrics produced by Pierre Frey as well as the stages and techniques involved in creating and producing a textile, from the sketch to the finished product. It's set to be a fascinating show about fabrics, but it also covers wallpapers, and how they're conceived, created and produced.

 Knowing Pierre Frey, there is certain to be awealth of patterns, colours and information on display.

Musée des Arts décoratifs from 21 January until 12 June 2016. 

More details can be found  here.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The New Trend for Flowers, Scents, Floral Books and Other Gardenalia

There is a quiet but highly scented new trend sweeping England, France, the US, Australia and other international destinations. And it's all to do with botanica. In this grey, urban, high-tech world, we're turning to a new kind of therapy to offset it all: Petal Power.

I'm currently working on an ambitious new garden book, but my project is daisies compared to some of the extraordinary floral and garden projects being seen around the globe at the moment. 

Here are a few incredible ones...

As always, follow my Instagram at LINK ,  or at 
I'm finishing writing two books but will be back to IG next week, once the deadlines are over.

(PS It seems strange to do this in a post about gardens, but RIP David Bowie. He will be greatly missed.)


Do you follow Claus Dalby and his gorgeous garden on Instagram? I've written about him here before, but his photographs are becoming more and more beautiful with each passing season. Claus is a Danish plantsman, publisher, author, florist, photographer and an all-round lovely man man whose Scandinavian garden is arguably one of the best private picking gardens (flower gardens) in the world. 

Unfortunately, the garden isn't open to the public, apart from one or two rare days each year (usually August). But the good news is that Gardens Illustrated magazine is featuring his spring bulbs and other stunning tulips in a forthcoming issue. (Most likely April 2016)

And the even better news is that Mr Dalby is also working on a book, which will detail the whole development of this grand garden over the years.

The image above is the entrance to the garden. Glorious, isn't it?
Here are some further images from his Instagram feed.

It's an astonishing estate.

The room above is his 'vase room' (this is half the space). It's interesting how most of the vessels are green shades. Perhaps they highlight the flowers better than more neutral-colored or glass vases?

More of Claus Dalby's beautiful images can be found here . Many of them are his flower arrangements, which are just as superb as his perennial beds.

Further details can be found HERE.


Another Instagram feed worth following is The Land Gardeners, the business name for two floral entrepreneurs whose skill with arrangements is almost more impressive than the Oxfordshire garden and manor house they do it in. 

Henrietta Courtauld and Bridget Elworthy established The Land Gardeners in order to grow organic, quintessentially English cut flowers. Each week, they deliver buckets of blooms to London florists, local markets and individual clients. However, they also design gardens -- "wild romantic, productive and joyful gardens", says their wild, romantic, joyful website- - and they've already finished projects in England, France, New Zealand and Zimbabwe. 

But perhaps the one thing they're really becoming noted for are their workshops, in which they explore "healthy gardens". These workshops, held at historic Wardington Hall, are not only a chance to learn about gardening, flowers and other beautiful botanical matters, but to see the Manor and its gracious garden beds up close. (The dahlias are spectacular.) 

Forthcoming workshops include Grow Your Own Cut Flowers (Edwardian cutting gardens are very 'in' again), Planting a Dyers Garden and How To Grow Edible Flowers.

For more details, see or THIS LINK for details.


The Chelsea Flower Show has seen some astounding show gardens over the decades, including one by the house of Chanel. (Still my favourite.) But the masterful, magnificent garden planned by Harrods and Orient Express for this year's show looks set to be one of the best yet.

The grand centerpiece will be a 25-m (80-foott) -long carriage from 1920s Belmond British Pullman (sister train to the legendary Venice-Simplon Orient-Express), which will be 'parked' in a special Chelsea Flower Show train station that will be surrounded by a a 6,000-square-foot garden. There will be two platforms, with Platform 2 featuring rare jungle ferns and other exotic, eye-catching plants. 

It's all designed to represent a 'journey through gardens' over the centuries. Very, very clever, indeed.

There is also a garden called ‘The British Eccentrics Garden’ (above), which looks like being one to watch as well.

More details on Chelsea can be found HERE.


Did you catch the period drama Indian Summers on Britain's Channel Four or in the US or Australia last year? (It's now on DVD if you didn't.) It was so successful that a new series has been commissioned and is currently in production. 

It's an epic drama set in the summer of 1932, at a time when India dreamed of independence, but the British were still clinging to power. The series revolves around the events of a summer spent at Simla, in the foothills of the Himalayas, by a group of British socialites at the time of the British Raj. 

The producers looked at filming in Simla, but eventually decided, due to logistics and monsoons, that Georgetown on the island of Penang would be better. (NB Because of this series, I now want to see Georgetown, which has been declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, and so do thousands of others, judging by the increase in visitor numbers!) Executive producer Charlie Pattinson found their perfect setting on the VERY LAST DAY of their five-month scouting mission, after many countries and countless sites. It was at the top of Penang Hill, in Malaysia, where the wealthy had built hill stations to avoid the heat. It was a semi-derelict house that was hidden by jungle overgrowth but that clearly showed the remains of a grand floor plan and garden. It took the team some time to hack through the jungle to fully assess it, but when they at last emerged from the overgrowth, they knew it was going to make the whole show.

Woodside Bungalow, as it is known, was always going to take a lot to restore, and so Penang’s chief minister, who knew the colonial property and its architectural neighbours from his childhood, stepped in to assist. He found the funds and became personally invested in the project. After several months,  and great deal of painting and replanting, the house and garden were ready to be filmed. It was renamed 'Chotipool', and can be seen above, serving as the home of  Indian Summers' central character Ralph Whelan and his sister Alice. 

However Woodside wasn't the only hill station to be saved by Indian Summers' team. They also stumbled upon the old Crag Hotel, which was also perched on top of Penang Hill with its spectacular views. (Both houses could only be reached by a water-powered funicular railway, a real relic of empire, which eventually caused problems with production and the transporting of equipment up and down the mountain.) The Crag Hotel was one of several 19th-century hotels, including Singapore’s Raffles, that had been owned by an Armenian family, the Sarkies. After the Second World War the Crag Hotel became a boarding school, and was then used as a set in the 1991 film Indochine, starring Catherine Deneuve.  (I still remember the scene where she steps out onto the verandah, with the old timber shutters visible behind her.)

But after the Indochine film crew left, the jungle re-claimed it. When the Indian Summers team came along and saw its forlorn facade, barely visible through the vegetation, they knew that the Crag would be perfect as the Royal Simla Club, where much of the action happens in the series. (Julie Walters is the club's owner and powerbroker.)

Isn't that a great story of two great houses and gardens, lost to the world and then rediscovered just in time?

More details on Indian Summers' setting can be found HERE.
Let's hope they commission a third and fourth series, and it becomes -- as the media are suggesting -- the next Downton Abbey.


Have you heard of the New York photographer Paulette Tavormina? I was first alerted to her by a friend Lee. (We send each other recommendations all the time; aren't they the best kinds of friends to have?) Paulette composes the most beautiful still lives you've ever seen; intricate studies of figs and roses and fruit that look more like 17th-century Old Masters' paintings than something put together on a 21st-century  photography studio. (She admits to being influenced and inspired by the still life art of Dutch, Italian and Spanish painters of the 17th century, including Francesco de Zurbarán, Giovanna Garzoni, Maria Sibylla Merian, and Willem Claesz Heda.)

Well, Paulette Taormina has, not surprisingly, gathered a following and is now producing a limited-edition book on her work, which is available to pre-order. There are also exhibitions and workshops planned for 2016.

Here are a few more extraordinary studies from her website. 

Do go and have a browse, and then make a note to look for the book.
More details can be found HERE or on Wikipedia.

More floral posts shortly! Until then, I hope you're all having a wonderful 2016!
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