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.
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.
It’s amazing what you can achieve with even the smallest little bit of outdoor space. Makes me feel all the more guilty for not doing anything much with my rather bigger garden, but I am rubbish at gardening and also would rather sit and read. I’d happily grace any of the patios below with my book and my presence!
I had the great good fortune of visiting St Mary’s University in Twickenham on a sunny day, which allowed me to take a walk through its lovely campus and visit its next-door neighbour Strawberry Hill House: indeed, there is a door leading from the wing of one to the old building of the other.
It was the summer house built to house the art collection of the extravagant and eccentric Horace Walpole, politician, art historian and writer. He was not all that rich when he acquired a plot of land with a cottage and a nice view over the River Thames in Twickenham, but he had very strong ideas about what he wanted to create: an architectural folly to entertain guests who would come upstream to visit him, a backdrop for his legendary literary and artistic parties.
He had a passion for the Gothic style and pioneered its revival a good half century or more before the Victorian revival of it. He even pioneered it in literature, starting a new genre: the Gothic horror with The Castle of Otranto. As he got richer, he kept adding another wing or redecorating the house, and of course he spent a fortune on his collections. Not just objects of artistic value but also of historical importance – for example, the clock that Henry VIII gave to Anne Boleyn on their wedding day or Cardinal Wolsey’s scarlet cardinal hat. Before visiting, I had the impression that Walpole made it up as he went along and created a mish-mash of styles without much thought and planning. But I discovered just how meticulous a historian he was and how accurate all his reproductions were (of wallpaper and silk hangings for example).
And it was not all about extravagance. He was also astute at spotting a bargain – for instance, most of the stained glass in the windows was reclaimed from Flemish salvage yards. Unlike most private collectors, he was not about keeping it all for himself, but saw Strawberry Hill as a cultural centre to be shared with others. He started a printing press, and exhibited most of his possessions like a museum.
He had a wonderful life surrounded by all his favourite objects, showing them off to visitors, living exactly as he pleased. But the sad coda to this tale is that when he died without an heir, his entire collection was auctioned off. Fortunately, for a short time only, much of it has been brought together again (on loan or reproduced) and until the 24th of February you can see Strawberry Hill as its owner wanted it to be seen in the Lost Treasures exhibition.
The view over the Thames has been lost, sadly, and the gardens border onto St Mary’s athletic track, but what other garden has got a shell-shaped seat with a whole book dedicated to it?
After attending my beekeeping classes, I’ve realised just how important even the tiniest of urban gardens are (as well as big trees in parks) for keeping the bee population alive and thriving in our cities. In many cases, the bees are better off in the urban environment, because there are fewer pesticides than in the countryside.
Spring is almost ready to spring, or so we hope! It seems to come earlier in England than in other parts of the world, but this week my pictures take me to France. Paris and other French cities may not have quite as many green spaces as London does, but it’s always a pleasure to discover some of them, however small. French gardens may be famous for their severe geometric precision, but this is the more natural, unkempt style.
Doorways into secret gardens bring the promise of forbidden delights, paradise into the everyday and nostalgia of childhood forays into the fruit orchard. Plus, as winter darkness and damp drizzly mornings begin, it offers a remembrance of better days…