I’ve not given you much in the way of holiday destinations and escapism with my #WITMonth reading so far, so let me make it up to you. What if you crave a cosy garden AND untamed nature just a little further on? Well, you could do worse than snap up one of these charming little (little?) chalets around the world.
Romanians are very fond of their gardens but they’ve always had to combine their love of beauty with practicality. The climate ranges from very dry and hot in summer to very cold and snowy in winter, with everything in-between. Growing your own vegetables was never a trendy hobby but a necessity, and much of the land around your house (if you were lucky enough to own any) had to be given over to keeping hens, turkeys, pigs, cows or whatever livestock you could muster, to make up for the lack of food in the shops during Communist times. The younger generation now live mostly in the urban areas and have at best a balcony or terrace in which to unwind (or a park). Wealthier people, who have holiday homes in picturesque settings, are not there all the year round to look after their gardens properly, or are keen to copy Western models.
So, while they might not look as pretty and dreamy as the English country house or cottage gardens, these are hardworking gardens which deserve our admiration. And I can assure you quite a few are suitable for reading (tried and tested in my childhood).
It’s so lovely to see how many of my blog readers enjoy my Friday Fun posts – and even make suggestions for future topics. Like a DJ, I am always open to requests – and the excuse to go off and do some ‘research’. A couple of weeks ago, CA Lovegrove, who blogs at Calmgrove, asked about cloisters and gardens with shady walkways. So here are some inspirational gardens that I hope fit the bill…
Look, just because I’m a rubbish gardener and don’t like being suburnt or buzzed by wasps while reading outdoors, doesn’t mean that I cannot appreciate a beautiful garden, and the English cottage garden style which is so difficult to replicate without a lot of hard work…
Did you know, by the way, that there seems to be a trend for short filmed walks through gardens? Try The Flower World on Pinterest.
After a particularly fraught and busy period at work, I had been looking forward to this week of annual leave. I was going to do so much (Cardiff, writing, day trips to London, editing translations, reviewing, major cleaning blitzes around the house) – but I should have realised that all my poor battered body and brain wanted to do was relax.
My older son vetoed Cardiff last weekend, because he wanted to watch the Euros Final in England rather than Wales. I’d been having second thoughts about travelling anyway, with the rising cases of Covid and the possibility of being pinged about going into self-isolation (which happened to a friend of mine when she went away for a mini-writing retreat in Eastbourne the week before). So we cancelled the hotel and instead wandered a little closer to home. Savill Gardens in Windsor Great Park no longer had the glorious rhododendrons, but there was still plenty to admire there.
On Wednesday we braved a trip to London – the first time I’ve been into town since 16th March 2020. It felt like a good time to go, before the breakdown of any and all restrictions on 19th July. Needless to say, GWR lived up to my bad impression of it: there was no accurate or up-todate information about how busy the trains were, nor about changing trains and platforms. I booked tickets and was told I had to reserve seats for part of the journey, which I initially thought was reassuring. If you reserve seats, you at least know that it’s not going to be crowded, right? Wrong! Turns out that every single seat had been sold – so there was no social distancing. Although on some of the trains there were big signs saying not to sit facing other passengers, we had to sit facing other passengers, including those who did not wear masks.
We went to visit the newly-opened Japan House on Kensington High Street, so we could walk there from Paddington via Kensington Gardens. In the morning, the park was quite quiet, partly because of the cloud cover. In the afternoon, however, when the sun came out, it was a typical London summer day: dog walkers, sports activities, children playing. The streets and shops were busy too (perhaps not like Oxford Street in the pre-Christmas frenzy, but busy enough). I struggled to see what people were complaining about in terms of restrictions or having their personal liberties curtailed.
The Japan House itself was slightly disappointing – or perhaps our expectations for it had been too high. According to the website, it is one of only three such centres around the world, set over three floors, housing exhibitions, a library, a restaurant and all sorts of other things. You had to book in advance for the library, but we ended up having the whole place to ourselves, which was just as well, since it was just one small room: interesting books, but simply not enough of them (and not enough variety – mostly design or visual arts). The ground floor exhibition/shop was beautiful, but a bit too heavily curated, upmarket and expensive. The afternoon tea we had at the restaurant was delicious, but expensive and not very filling (especially with two teenage boys – they had to buy sandwiches to eat immediately before and after).
Of course, for a Japanophile such as myself, it was still very interesting and I discovered some fascinating historical Japanese photos. But do not plan to spend the whole day there, as we thought we would. There simply isn’t enough to do and the chairs in the library are not that comfortable. Still, it was not a wasted afternoon, because we managed to do some clothes shopping, which is nearly impossible to do in our town, which has only a smallish M&S and a SportsDirect. We did not go into any bookshops, although I later found out there is a Waterstone’s a little further away on High Street Kensington.
The very next day, I ventured into London again, this time in a friend’s car to the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, to see Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days. I don’t think I was too popular with my friend for choosing such a pared-down, depressing play which feels very apposite for the loneliness of lockdown. But I rather enjoyed its bleakness, and the multitude of ways in which it could be interpreted: the humiliation of old age and impotence or amnesia, the burden of caring responsibilities, the grinding down of personality in a long and not very happy marriage, the need to be seen and appreciated.
Most of the rest of my holiday was relatively humdrum. I slept nearly eight hours most days (a record for me), read a lot of undemanding books (which is not to say badly-written – just not heavy topics), only logged onto my work email once to check if I still needed to help out a colleague with a Zoom call. I had quite a bit of school and car-related admin to do, ordered a new sofa, gave the porch a thorough clean and even went to the gym and for a run. I also tried not to get angry about news and politics and news, about not losing a gramme of weight in spite of my best efforts to eat healthily and follow an intermittent fasting programme. I have watched just two films this week, mostly because my son’s laptop (which we connect to the TV to watch things) is on its dying legs: The Battle of Algiers, a powerful documentary-style Italian film about French colonialism and the war in Algeria, and Midsommar, about which I might write a whole blog post re: the misappropriation and misinterpretation of religious cults and folklore.
Instead of feeling guilty about ‘vegetating’, I call this a ‘fallow field’ period, which, as all farmers know, is so necessary to improve the yield of future crops. As part of my ‘three field rotation’ programme, next week I start the BCLT translation summer school, after which I probably will require another week of annual leave to recover. There is no doubt that I would rather be doing that than the day job (aka ‘main crop’), though!
Yay! Finally some time off for a week! I might even do a spot of emergency gardening (aka ‘keeping things under control’), but I doubt that my garden will ever look as pretty as the ones below, unless I bring a proper professional gardener in.
A couple of the readers commenting on last week’s post expressed some misgivings about reading indoors in fine weather, while others admitted they weren’t that keen on reading outdoors. Although in my youth I used to read outdoors (most notably when I was supposed to be looking after my grandmother’s animals – e.g. I read Anna Karenina in the cherry tree, stuffing myself with cherries and losing the cow in the process), I find the insects and the noise of other people’s mowers and barbecues put me off doing so nowadays. However, these gorgeous settings might make me change my mind.
Sadly, the WordPress block editor has decided not to allow me to add any text directly below the image, so I will have to produce a little bit of text in-between images. Can you just quit ‘improving’ things all the time, WordPress?
- Above: cosy reading and writing nook, from Decor Renewal.
2. Of course, it helps if you live in a forest. From Book Bub.
3. This is so bright, you might be able to even read here after sunset. From The Backyard Room.
4. If you’re an Italian prince and want the Rolls Royce of garden loungers, this one from Patio Productions should do the trick.
5. I struggle to read for a long time in a hammock, as my back starts aching, but it’s a lovely feel. From Better Homes and Gardens.
6. If all else fails, a garden bench in the shade will do as well. From The Garden Glove.
It’s not just the British gardens that are beautiful, of course. Here are some more hidden gardens all over the world, where you can forget about the hustle and bustle of daily life.
My garden is a weed-infested, often soggy mess with its heavy clay soil and my lacklustre plant knowledge (and laziness), but I do love to see other people’s gardens, especially if they hint at being half-way secret and tucked away. And, let’s face it, gardens in the UK are simply magnificent!
Still here, still pretty much housebound, and no plans to travel too far afield. But who needs to, if they’ve got such wonderful courtyards in their own home? I hope they come complete with a gardener who knows what they are doing, because they can’t count on me to keep anything alive and pretty.