Friday Fun: How to Read Outdoors

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?

  1. 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.

Friday Fun: Secret Gardens Around the World

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.

Orchard Central roof garden in Singapore, from Time Out.
My old favourite haunt, the Jardins Secrets Vaulx in Haute Savoie, France, from jardinez.com
Tsitsikamma National Park, Eastern Cape, South Africa, from Travelground.com
Sinkhole in Australia transformed into a secret garden, from Australian Traveller.
Sitio Roberto Burle Marx in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is not just a fantastic garden but also one of the most important plant collections in the world. From Transfer-Arch.com

Friday Fun: Secret Gardens

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!

The Hampstead Pergola in London, from Time Out.
The Hidden Gardens in Glasgow, from The List.
Braco Castle gardens, Scotland, from The Guardian.
Greencombe in Somerset, near Exmoor, from The Guardian.
Barnsley House, Cirencester, from PlantsGalore.com
Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens in Wales, from plascadnant.co.uk

Friday Fun: Amazing Courtyards and Patios

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.

I’ve always craved a place to gather with friends outside on balmy summer evenings and tell stories. From simplybestwoman.com

Courtyard in Mexico from Contemporist.com. Photo credit: Lorena Darquea.

Water features are so soothing, and I like the idea of having a swing as well. From arielbrazil.ga

Another inside outside room from Arch Daily. Photo credit Denilson Machado.

Tunisian feel in this simple to replicate courtyard, from simplybestwoman.com

 

Friday Fun: Even the Smallest Patio

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!

Strategically placed reading chair, from Bellacocosum.com

Clever way of ensuring privacy amongst the concrete, in Crete. From designboom.com

Even a balcony is enough, if you have this gorgeous view of Granada. From Flickr.

Who doesn’t dream of climbing roses – and reading chairs? From Pinterest

This must be a problematic garden, without much sun, but a lot of charm. From Pinterest.

Of course, if your garden is very steep, you may have to consider different levels. From sfgirlbybay.com

 

Strawberry Hill Forever!

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.

St Mary’s University leading to Strawberry Hill House (in white).

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.

Period view of Strawberry Hill House by E. Sandby.

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).

The oldest part of the house was a sort of two up two down cottage, and Walpole added a wooden turret to it.

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.

You’re not allowed to take pictures inside, but I have to show you the promotional picture of the library, which can be hired as a wedding venue, I believe.

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?

Friday Fun: Urban Gardens

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. 

Balcony on Ile St Louis, Paris, from guestpartment.com
Quick, cheerful and cheap option, from deco-cool.fr
Garden in Rome, from SimonMetz.com
Penthouse garden in NYC, from Laurel B. Interiors
The more DIY approach to rooftop gardens from Germany, from diana212blogspot.com
Why not a house surrounded by a garden and koi pond, like this Nagasaki home, from Pinterest.
Disuses railway lines have been transformed into promenades in a number of cities, including the Highline Promenade in NYC.

Friday Fun: Swimming Pools

Just as the weather gets grey and miserable, I have a craving for outdoor pools. This is what comes of not having been on a beach in summer for 4 years…

Infinity pool with the sea beyond it, what more could one wish? From Pinterest
Extravagant architectural statement from Mexico, from homify.com.mx
Infinity pool above the jungle canopy, from One Kindesign.
More of a paddling pool, but with Tunisian tradition to it, from fomfest.com
Pool with a jungle feel to it, in your own back yard, from Fitz and Huxley.
Hammock, plants and pool in a more geometric design, from Pinterest.
Our neighbours in France had a pool that lit up at night, so this is a dream of mine… From Pinterest

Friday Fun: French Urban Gardens

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.

My favourite park in Paris: Parc Buttes-Chaumont, outrageously romantic, with an amazing view towards Sacre Coeur from the temple.

But it’s also about finding green spaces everywhere you go: cafes (here in Saint-Germain).

… along disused railway lines (from Time Out France)

…in little residential impasses (much like the mews of London). From Pariszigzag.fr

Another passage Grenelle from 15e arrondissement.

The famous flower market between Notre Dame and the Palais de la Justice. From La Compagnie.

Side streets in Montmartre, from sakartonn.fr

Jardin Sauvage Saint-Vincent in Montmartre.

Japanese garden from the Pantheon-Bouddhique, 16e. Pariszigzag.fr

Friday Fun: Romantic Doorways

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…

The White Rabbit Doorway in Atlanta Homes.

Quintessential cottage garden style, from DavesGarden.com

Traditional gate designed by Dan Ascbach.

Wrought iron beauty from Ineeddecor.com

Simple beauty in Italy, from Birds and Baking on Tumblr.

Architectural focal point, from Jamie Forbert Architects.

Not really a gateway, but a wonderful space for thinking and dreaming about what lies beyond, from studiosphotos-f.ak.fbcdn.net