Saturday, 21 June 2008

A Room of One's Own

Last Autumn I went on a Bloomsbury tour of Sussex and visited the country houses of the Stephen sisters Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell. Monks House in Rodmell was Virginia's house. It is a small, understated cottage with a large garden that stretches out into the Sussex downs where Virginia used to go on regular walks. It is owned by The National Trust, but is lived in by a couple who occupy the upstairs rooms but have left the downstairs areas as Leonard and Virginia would have had them. Monks House was very much a retreat from London for the Woolf's, especially in the late 1930's when London was in the middle of the blitz. It may have been safer to be in the countryside, but it was very much at the centre of the conflict, with The Battle of Britain being fought in the skies above.

My favourite part of the house and gardens was Virginia's writing room, which is a small shed at the bottom of the garden containing a desk, chair and a few simple items.

Just behind the writing shed are the huge vegetable patches that are bigger than my entire garden.
I really enjoyed visiting Monk's House because it is was where Virginia Woolf had lived and written some of her novels from. Virginia Woolf is one of my favourite writers, but I only began to enjoy reading her work after I had read about her life. I am fascinated by the connections between her life and her writing and I don't think that you can truly appreciate one without the other. Being able to see some of the places that she writes about in her diaries adds a whole new depth to reading them.

The visit to Charleston, Vanessa Bell's house, was very much an after thought. The trip itself was another mother/daughter outing and it was my mum who suggested that we call in at Charleston as well. It made sense as it was just down the road from Monk's House, they have a lovely cafe where we were able to have lunch and it was very much a central part of the Bloomsbury Group. I am really pleased that we did this as it is the most beautiful farmhouse and it has been preserved just as Vanessa left it, so it is full of all of the art work she did. Each of the rooms of the house has been decorated by Vanessa, with bold patterns on the walls, doors and fireplaces and contain objects made by various of her artist friends.
My favourite room was Vanessa's bedroom which is connected to the studio (which is a brilliant, light space) as well as having two double doors that open out onto the garden.

And it really is a fantastic garden. It is much less formal than Monk's House and the borders are full to bursting with brightly coloured, scented flowers.

Vanessa took her artistic talents outside and there are little touches of her art all over the garden such as these tiles.

I can't decide which house I prefer because I liked them both, but for different reasons. I know that I would love to live in either of them and I took lots of photos and found it very inspiring for things to try in my garden.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

An English country garden

Whilst I really enjoy tackling my own garden, I also love visiting other people’s gardens for inspiration. In the last month I have been to several great places that I have really enjoyed and that have inspired me to try things in my own garden. Visiting gardens is something that I started to do with my mum a few years ago. It is a really lovely way to spend time together as we both appreciate the gardens and I can gain some knowledge by asking her questions. But we are also spending time together where we are not distracted by the hustle and bustle of day to day life.

We took my Mum’s friend Lee and her daughter Cathleen to Wyken Vineyards in Suffolk in May. Lee is American but regularly comes to the UK armed with a list of things she wants to do. She had been to the Vineyard some years ago on an organised tour, but the guide had only allowed her to have lunch there and not to see the garden. Needless to say this time she was not going to miss out on seeing them. It was the most perfect day. The weather was glorious, the sky was a really deep blue with not a cloud in the sky and it made the house in the vineyard, which is a deep terracotta colour, look even more stunning.

We had lunch at the cafĂ© before setting off into the vast four acres of gardens. It was interesting to see another mother/daughter pair enjoying the gardens and the four of us all agreed that we are lucky to be able to spend a wonderful day together. I also enjoyed seeing the different breeds of chickens they have roaming around. Since getting my girls I have become obsessed by all things chicken! This little cockerel was my favourite, I think he is a bantam. He tried to crow as loudly as the full size cockerels, he wasn’t as loud but he gave it his all!

Last Saturday was one of my favourite days of the year. A friend of my mum has a beautiful garden and for the last few years she has held a plant swap party. She invites all of her friends round and asks them to bring a plant that they have too much of, they can then wander around her garden (which is not open to the public), eat some home made cake and then at the end of the day everyone dives in to grab a plant or two to take home. It is a great garden and last year it won the Times back garden of the year competition! Despite not having anything to take, Sorrell insisted I went away with something so I have a strawberry plant, an artichoke and a geranium to add to my ever growing plot.

And as if that was not enough gardens for one weekend on Sunday I went to the Eye Open Gardens with my Mum and our friend Jess. The village of Eye in Suffolk is very picturesque and has managed to retain a really retro feel to it. This year the church and town hall had organised a weekend of open gardens to raise money for various repairs. We arrived at the town hall at 1:30, paid our entrance money and were handed a map of the town with the 18 open gardens marked. We set off to explore the gardens which were all beautifully numbered by the owners. The gardens we visited were a real mixture of planting styles and ideas. The first one we visited was very well thought out but also clearly loved by the owner. She was sitting in the garden ready to tell all the visitors about the gardens history and what inspired her.

We stopped half way through for tea and scones in the town hall, very 1950’s. The spread of sandwiches, scones and cakes was very impressive but as we were off to a tea party of our own we held back.

By the time we came to the next set of gardens the sun was blazing hot and we only made it through 9 of the 18 gardens on offer. We did manage to keep going until we got to the garden with the plant sale and I picked up a pot of purple sprouting broccoli. Jess and I even managed to get our picture taken by a reporter from the Diss Express. He thought that a picture of us taking pictures of the plants was an interesting angle to go with. You can see it here picture number 8DE0608042

At the back of the garden with the plant sale is the Eye allotments which are just wonderful. If I could live in a village like this I would be very happy. All in all a thoroughly enjoyable weekend.

Strawberries and cream

I have had my first crop of strawberries from the garden. Well, I say crop there was actually only three but they taste delicious. It is so satisfying to grow a plant, water and look after it and then be able to enjoy the produce.

I have been cooking with my home-grown basil and the flavour is just so much better than anything you can buy in the shops.

I feel like this is my first step to growing the majority of my own food. The other plants I have seem to be doing well. Some little courgettes have emerged, the tomato plants are flowering and the potatoes in bags look from the surface like they are doing well. I haven't grown potatoes before so I am not really sure what they are supposed to look like.

The onions have not done so well, but this is mostly due to me not being able to stop Mabel the chicken from jumping into the bed and digging them up. It is great having chickens in the garden, they are lovely creatures and there is nothing quite like a freshly laid egg for breakfast. Their poo is great for the compost and they help to keep the weeds down but they love to dig. Trying to keep them off my plants is a full time job and if they are not digging they are nibbling the leaves or tipping over flower pots. Naughty chickens... but oh so lovely!

I was so excited about the strawberries that I forgot to take a photo of them