Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Preparing for London

Do you love planning and researching a trip as much as I do? It's almost as fun as the actual journey! I am getting ready for a trip to London and Yorkshire in the spring and have discovered three fabulous books on London to help me create my itinerary. Each one validates the well-known adage that if you are tired of London you are tired of life. They are filled with wonderful suggestions for things to do in London. Some have been on my to-do list forever, some are ones I have never heard of until now, and others are places I have already been to and now can't wait to revisit. Here are the books and some interesting things I learned from them:

Literary London by Eloise Millar & Sam Jordison. This books gives us the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of our literary heroes. It tells the stories behind the stories, giving us fascinating facts about London's best literary landmarks, taking us into publishing houses, cafes, parks and all our favorite authors' stomping grounds. There are charming maps within the pages to help us find the best of literary London. Here are a few fun and quirky things that stood out to me:

1) A Dickensian pub crawl including the George Inn on Borough High Street, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (love the name) on Fleet street and the Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden which boasts a little plaque in the alleyway commemorating Dickens' time there. In his days the tavern had a slightly more sinister name: The Bucket of Blood!

2) Berry Bros & Wine Merchants on St. James Street. I walk past this wine shop every time I am in London. I loved learning that it has had the same slanting floor since 1698 (better for rolling barrels) and was the poet Lord Byron's shop of choice for his wine cellar.

3) Brown's Hotel. I've been to Brown's for afternoon tea but didn't know it was the model for Agatha Christie's "At Bertram's Hotel." An interesting fact: Brown's Hotel was opened by Lord Byron's former valet a few years after the poet's death in 1837 (and on Albermarle Street, the same road as Byron's publisher). And the tea is supposedly very similar to the one Miss Marple eats.

4) Maison Bertaux. Located at 28 Greek Street, Soho, this is London's oldest French patisserie. The Bloomsbury Group loved to gather here for pastries and coffee.

The Art Lovers' Guide, London. This is a fully illustrated guidebook about the finest art in London. I learned a few interesting facts about some very famous paintings.

1) "Ophelia" by John Everett Millais which is at the Tate Britain was worked on by the artist for four months. He worked on a riverbank in order to copy the background accurately. For the foreground his model Lizzie Siddal posed for days in a cold bath, becoming ill in the process.

2) "The Swing" by Fragonard is the most famous masterpiece of Rococo art at the Wallace Collection, one of my very favorite places to visit in London. The Wallace Collection is located in London's Hertford House which was once the home of Richard Wallace and his descendants. It is now a national museum exhibiting the family's acquisitions of European art, including London's finest group of 18th-century French paintings. Next time I go I will seek out "The Swing."

3) "A Bar at the Folies-Bergeres" by Manet is one of my favorite paintings and I have enjoyed seeing it at the Courtauld Gallery. This painting of the famous Paris musical hall was Manet's last major work. The Courtauld is located in beautiful Somerset House and has a fabulous collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Art. I haven't been for many years and after reading details about its impressive collection, I can't wait to go back. The description of the paintings by Degas and Renoir at the Courtauld are especially enticing.

The London Cookbook by Aleksandra Crapanzano. This wonderful book is both a guide to some of the best restaurants in London as well as a cookbook featuring some of the best recipes from these restaurants. Here are a three that I want to go to that feature some of the the best of British cooking.

1) La Fromagerie. This is a cheese shop with a cafe that is supposed to be a great place for lunch. The featured recipe in the book is "Alpine Fondue." In the notes for the recipe, the author writes that a great fondue is a balancing act, melding different varieties of cheese so no single one claims center state. This dish is served with bowls of cornichons, ham, boiled potatoes and cubes of crusty bread. I would love to order this dish if I make it to the restaurant!

2) Bucca Di Luppo.  An Italian restaurant that I have been to, it is located on a tiny street in Soho. This is another great place for lunch, especially sitting at the bar where you can watch the cooking. After reading about the featured recipe, Chestnut Straccetti with Mushrooms and Chestnuts, a pasta dish that includes chestnuts, pancetta, sage and mushrooms, I now want to go for dinner.

3) Nopi. One of Yotam Ottolenghi's restaurants, Nopi is a brasserie located in Soho. I have all of his cookbooks and would love to finally eat at his restaurant. The featured recipe is Purple Sprouting Broccoli with Olive Oil Mash. As the author says, "You may well wonder why I've included a recipe here for what is essentially mashed potatoes and grilled broccoli. The answer is simply Yotam. When Yotam cooks vegetables, magical things happen." That answer is good enough for me. I have been cooking his food for years and have total confidence that this dish will be delicious!

And one more thing: a good friend just returned from London where she saw the Vanessa Bell retrospective at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. She brought me home a copy of the collector's edition of the March  2017 issue of Harpers Bazaar UK which includes two fabulous articles about Vanessa Bell and Bloomsbury written by Virginia Nicholson as well as a short story by Virginia Woolf that was originally published in Harpers in 1936. I am planning to see the Vanessa Bell exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery and can now read up on it. I will be adding this to my ever-growing pile of research for my trip!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Reading and Other Adventures

"Either write something worth reading, Or do something worth writing."
-- Benjamin Franklin

Hello! Happy February. I hope your holidays were good and you've been enjoying the new year. You may have been wondering where I have been! Well, I have been trying my hand at writing some fiction and it has been challenging, satisfying, and completely absorbing. I have enjoyed stretching myself and, if you are at all inclined, I highly recommend it. Finding a creative outlet has to be one of the most enriching of human experiences. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, "The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless."

Fortunately I have been able to keep up with some fabulous books that I am currently reading and wanted to share with you.

Nutshell by Ian McEwan:

I loved this book. Just as he did in "The Children Act," Ian McEwan manages to pack a powerful punch in a small number of pages, just under 200 here. The concept of the book sounds a bit crazy, but if you are willing to "suspend disbelief," it works. The narrator is an unborn baby who can hear everything that is happening around his mother, including the conversation between her and her lover to kill the baby's father. Her lover is the father's brother. Sound familiar? Yes, echoes of Hamlet here. The book is a bit of a sly comedy and I laughed out loud many times. The mother drinks prodigious amounts of wine (which is an awful reality that McEwan mines for some dark humor) during her pregnancy and there is quite a bit of humor as the baby-to-be becomes a wine connoisseur, commenting throughout the book on the quality of the wine as well as enjoying a contact high. The baby has learned about world events through the mother's habit of listening to podcasts and offers observations on the state of the world. He is full of disdain for his mother's lover who is crass and unintelligent. He also ponders the fact that his father is about to be murdered. What will happen to him after he is born, the baby uneasily wonders, since his mother and her lover never seem to consider this about-to-be-born human when plotting the murder. It is a very clever novel written by one of the best writers working today. I highly recommend it!

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles:

A friend of mine remarked that this book reminded her of the film The Hotel Budapest. I agree. There is a whimsical and light-hearted quality to it. I am only halfway through, but suffice it to say that I am completely entranced by the voice of its central character, the charming and witty Count Rostov. It is 1922 in Russia and, as you can imagine, not a good time to be a Count. His crime was writing a poem. However, the Count's imprisonment will not be Siberia, but rather house arrest in the Metropol Hotel, the nicest hotel in Moscow. The hotel becomes a world unto itself for the Count and the events of the outside world enter only when his friends come to tell him what is going in revolutionary Russia. He shares their dismay. At one point he considers suicide, but decides to move on and manages to live a full and rich life within the confines of the hotel. The key to his contentment seems to be meaningful relationships with hotel guests and staff, an interest in everything around him, reading great books, and a determination to choose optimism over despair. The book is written with all the wit and charm of "Rules of Civility," Amor Towles first book, which I loved. I'm anxious to finish this one and see what ultimately happens to Count Rostov, an unforgettable character who is easy to love.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins:

A big, sprawling Victorian mystery that I have read before, this is a book I love. T.S. Eliot called it "the first and greatest of English detective novels." As soon as you open the first page you will be pulled into the tale of the moonstone, a famous diamond that originated in India and continues to be stolen from whomever is its unlucky owner. The mystery begins two years after the diamond was stolen from Rachel Verinder, who received it as a gift from her uncle on the occasion of her 18th-birthday. There are multiple narrators including the Robinson Crusoe-loving butler Gabriel Betteridge, Rachel's dashing cousin Franklin Blake, and the detective Sergeant Cuff. They all tell their story of the missing gem and its eventual recovery. Just like a Dickens novel, the book is filled with memorable characters and evocative Victorian atmosphere. This is one of those books that will take you to a cozy place.

It's raining cats and dogs this weekend in Los Angeles and it will be the perfect time to curl up with a classic novel like "The Moonstone." I'm also reading up on the Brontes as I plan my next trip to England. This time I will visit Haworth in Yorkshire and finally make the pilgrimage to the Bronte Parsonage where the Bronte family lived. Did you know that every night the Bronte sisters would walk around the table in their dining room discussing their writing? After Emily and Anne died, Charlotte continued this tradition to honor her sisters.

Let me know what you are reading and anything special you may be working on. The new year is the perfect time to follow our dreams!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Happy Holidays!

The holiday weekend is coming up and I have been rushing around buying gifts, wrapping paper, greeting cards, ingredients for cookies, and food for our Christmas celebration on Sunday. The tree is decorated and the house looks festive but I've hardly taken a moment to enjoy them.

Today I decided to wrap presents and finish my Christmas cards which was a very good idea as I was home most of the afternoon and got into the Christmas spirit. One of the reasons my mood was so merry was that I did it all to the accompaniment of a very charming podcast. Miranda Mills and Sophie Butler are best friends who live in England and the creators of "Tea and Tattle," a podcast "for the discerning woman" that covers topics ranging from "fashion to books to well-being and everything in between." Their current podcast is called "Christmas Traditions" in which they talk about their favorite holiday traditions and read passages from books that remind them of those traditions. Their choices include "Anne of Green Gables" by Lucy Maud Montgomery, "Christmas Pudding" by Nancy Mitford, and several others. I found myself smiling the whole time as I was reminded of being young and feeling the magic of Christmas. If you need some Christmas spirit I highly recommend this delightful podcast. Go here to listen.

The co- hosts of the podcast ask us to think about our favorite holiday traditions and books that remind us of those traditions. One of my favorite Christmas traditions is baking for my family and friends -- cookies, gingerbread, coffeecakes -- and all the delicious smells that waft through the kitchen and the house. A book that reminds me of this tradition is "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote. In that book a young boy remembers making fruitcakes with a beloved elderly relative every year and sending them to friends and strangers alike. It is a heartwarming and poignant story that always makes me a little weepy. I'm very grateful to Miranda and Sophie for encouraging me to think about this topic and reminding me of the power of memory and great books to add layers of meaning to the holidays.

I hope you are enjoying the build-up to the big holiday weekend and that you get to celebrate with family and friends. Wishing you all the merriest of holidays and a happy and healthy New Year!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

"To Walk Invisible"

A scene from the television film "To Walk Invisible"
Photo via here

If you are a fan of the Bronte sisters (Charlotte, Emily and Anne), the authors of some of the most iconic novels in the English language, you will be very happy to hear that a dramatization of their lives will soon be airing on PBS.  Sally Wainwright, the creator of television shows such as "Happy Valley" and "Last Tango in Halifax," has just completed a new film for the BBC, "To Walk Invisible." It has been shot in Haworth, Yorkshire, where the Bronte family lived, and from the photos I have seen it looks breathtaking. I have always been enthralled by the story of the Brontes -- their humble beginnings, remote setting in Yorkshire, tragically short lives, and the literary masterpieces they produced  --  a personal story as riveting as any of their books. Now it will be told in what looks to be a brilliant television production. The lucky viewers in Britain will get to see it this month. We will have to wait until March when it will be broadcast on Masterpiece Theatre.

Here are a few things I have learned about this upcoming television production:

Sally Wainwright was approached by the BBC to do something for the 200th anniversary of Charlotte's birth in 2016. Rather than do a series about their entire lives, she decided to focus on the four surviving Bronte siblings (Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell) as mature adults. Siblings Maria and Elizabeth had died of tuberculosis as young children.

The film will be 90 minutes long and covers the years 1845-1848. These are the last years of their brother Branwell's life. He was a troubled young man and during this time he sank into alcoholism, drug addiction and disturbing behavior. He died from alcoholism in 1848 at age 31.

The film depicts the domestic situation of these three women living with a disturbed brother and how they dealt with his problems. This is also the time that they tried to publish their books. It was an uncomfortable situation at home and yet they continued to write and create their literary masterpieces. I can't wait to see this!


Another wonderful event in honor of the 200th celebration of Charlotte Bronte's birth is the Charlotte Bronte exhibition in New York at the Morgan Library which I just visited for the second time. It's up until January and if you are in New York be sure to see this.

The original manuscript of "Jane Eyre" on loan to the Morgan Library
Photo via here

Here are the highlights:

A portion of the original 1847 manuscript of "Jane Eyre" ( photo above) on loan from the British Library and shown in the U.S. for the first time. It is open to the page on which Jane tells Mr. Rochester: "I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will; which I now exert to leave you." Seeing this treasure was very special and I have to admit to getting a little emotional.

The only surviving portrait of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte painted by their brother Branwell which has never been seen in this country before. It resides in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

A blue floral dress worn by Charlotte in the 1950's 

Drawings and watercolors by Charlotte that demonstrate her artistic talent

The tiny books written by the Bronte children in a nearly microscopic handwriting. Magnifying glasses are nearby to help viewers read them. The children wrote fantasy fiction set in Glass Town, Angria and Gondall, imaginary lands populated by aristocrats, poets and swashbuckling heroes. 

I walked out of this exhibition touched by the poignancy of Charlotte Bronte's short life. She died three weeks before her 39th birthday while pregnant with her first child. Just nine months earlier she had married the curate at Haworth, Arthur Bell Nicholls.  She had watched all of her siblings die, including Emily at age 30 and Anne at age 29. It is awe-inspiring to think of all that she wrote and the celebrity she achieved considering her personal life. After her death her father Patrick Bronte and her husband Arthur Nicholls worked hard to protect her literary legacy. Fans of her books began making the pilgrimage to the Bronte Parsonage in Haworth, England just a few years after her death. The flow of visitors continues to this day. Nothing has changed except the sheer volume of admirers and each year the streets of Haworth teem with devoted fans of the Brontes. I am planning a trip for 2017. I am so happy that I got a chance to see this exhibition twice!    

 I would love to know:
Do you have a favorite Bronte sister? What is your favorite Bronte book?
Have you visited the Bronte Parsonage in Haworth?

Friday, November 25, 2016

A Little Trip to England...

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Now that you are done with all that cooking, you may be craving a little vacation. If you can't get away, you can take a little trip to England without ever getting on a plane. Look no further than Ben Pentreath's new book English Houses. Ben is a renowned architectural and interior designer, writer, shopkeeper and blogger. I adore his blog and his cozy shop in London. I think he has the most exquisite taste. He is a classicist but with a sense of fun and youthfulness. From the moment you open his gorgeous book, you will be transported to some of the most beautiful homes in England. Each one is hand-picked by Ben because they exhibit that iconic English style of architecture and interior design that he loves. Since he is both an architect as well as interior designer, several of his own projects are featured, including his own homes which are located in London and Dorset. At the end of each chapter, he gives us paint colors, wall paper names, furniture and lamp designers, and many other sources that we can use in our own homes. You will learn so much. And you will feel as if you have just gone on a little vacation!

 Here are some of my favorite things about this book --

Ben's London House

I have been admiring this sitting room, via Ben's blog, for years and it was so interesting to learn about the details. It is in a rooftop flat in Bloomsbury in an early Georgian house. In this room Ben used layers of contemporary fabrics, furniture and lighting combined with antique furniture and engravings. He wanted to create a mood that is at once modern and traditional, restful yet richly-colored. The walls are covered in grass cloth and the color comes from the chairs, cushions, ottoman and piles of books.

The map wall features a framed map of John Roque's Cities of London revealing 18th-century London. I love the use of individual framed parts of the map to form a whole.

The master bedroom is papered in Seaweed Lace by Soane Britain

The guest bedroom is papered in William Morris's Willow Bough

The Old Parsonage in Dorset

This is Ben's country home

The walls of the drawing room are painted "Parsonage Pink" by Patrick Baty. The lamps on the table behind the couch and the cushions on the couch add so much pattern and charm to this lovely space. This room makes me want to curl up with a cup of tea and my favorite novel.

The bedroom is painted a velvety olive-brown by Patrick Baty

The kitchen is painted Farrow & Ball's archive color Wet Sand. The Aga stove and the dresser give this country kitchen so much personality.

The book features 10 additional homes belonging to Ben's good friends. They include apartments in London, manor houses in the countryside, and a castle in Cornwall. One of them is a 17th-century country house in Northumberland. I loved learning about the grand stairwell which is "painted a rich sunny yellow to counter the cold Northumbrian light and bring warmth to the heart of the home." Such a good idea! Another home is the London apartment belonging to Lulu Lytle, the owner of Soane Britain. She has used bold colors, patterns and stripes throughout to create a joyful, beautiful environment. Her apartment is a great lesson on not being afraid of color. Her home has a "snug," a small cozy room for relaxing. I had not heard of this term before, but that word says it all. And in Hardy country there is an ancestral manor house with an exquisite conservatory. It is truly gasp-worthy, if there is such a word. Most of us will never have a conservatory, but as Ben says at the end of the book about all these houses: "...each contains a kernel of an idea that is in some way universal, from which you can draw happily and cheerfully -- and, with increasing confidence, make your own." I agree, that conservatory makes me want to have more plants in my house. What all of these houses share is a timelessness and sense of personality that make each space a living and breathing place. This book is filled with ideas on how to accomplish that very thing. It is all about the art of making a home. With the holiday season upon us, this book couldn't be more timely. And it would make a great holiday gift!

Photos via here

Monday, November 14, 2016

Embracing the Season

Right now many of us are craving coziness and comfort. We want to make our homes warm and welcoming and spend time with our loved ones. November goes by so fast, culminating in everyone's favorite holiday -- Thanksgiving. In the spirit of creating some "comfort and joy," here are twelve things I am most looking forward to in November. It's all about slowing down and savoring the season.

1. The Days Getting Shorter

Believe it or not, I look forward to the days getting shorter. Being from the East coast originally, where the weather was cold and nothing felt better than getting home and warming up in front of the fireplace, I always loved the shorter days of winter. We may not have that cold weather right now, especially where I live, but as the nights arrive earlier it feels cozy to light the candles, set the table with flowers, and have friends over for a weeknight dinner. 

2. Some Really Good Television --

There is so much good television right now. I have been watching "The Crown" which is airing on Netflix. This beautiful new series, created by Peter Morgan, is about the life of Elizabeth II and begins with her accession to the throne at age 25 in 1952. Peter Morgan wrote the film "The Queen" and the play "The Audience;" "The Crown" feels like the natural next step in his work. I have watched the first five episodes and am riveted. I loved the actress Claire Foy as Anne Bolyn in "Wolf Hall" and she is excellent as Queen Elizabeth. And what a sumptuous production. It is filled with so much history, for example the Great Smog of 1952 in London. I didn't know about this. Have you started watching this series? The episode on the coronation is brilliant. Notice what a big role the Duke of Windsor has in this story. Which makes a lot of sense, since Elizabeth wouldn't have become Queen if he hadn't abdicated the throne. He changed history forever. I would love to know what you think!

3. Reading a Classic Novel --

It's the time of year to hunker down with some good classic novels and Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf is the one I am reading right now. "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers..." And so begins Virginia Woolf's modernist masterpiece which consists of one day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway. As she goes about her day getting ready for her party, we are in her head as she moves back and forth in time -- recalling her youth, interacting with the people around her and evaluating her life. Her loves, regrets, fears, joys, and general observations of life are all woven throughout this stream-of-consciousness novel. Her character is revealed layer by layer. At the same time we are in the head of another character, a young man named Septimus Smith who is suffering from shell shock after World War I. Through this character Virginia Woolf explored the topic of mental illness, a subject with which she was very familiar. Other characters are vividly portrayed: Peter Walsh, Sally Seton, and Richard Dalloway -- all have played an important role in Clarissa's life. And from their perspective, we learn of the impact she has had on them. Woolf was doing something new with Mrs. Dalloway -- writing a novel that reflects the way people really think. She also wrote some of the most beautiful prose you will ever read.   

4. Travel --

Fall is such a great time to travel, especially to the East Coast to see the glorious fall foliage. We were in New York in October where we saw the amazing exhibition Charlotte Bronte: An Independent Will at the Morgan Library and Museum. If you get to NY before the New Year, be sure to visit the Morgan. The Bronte exhibition will be up until January. This is the kind of exhibition savor. In fact, I will probably go again when I am in NYC in December. If you go, be sure to check out the original manuscript of The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens which is always on display at The Morgan at this time of the year. The Morgan is a treasure trove and a place to celebrate the written word. It is one of my favorite places to visit and I go every time I am in New York.

5. Pumpkins and Mums

This is the classic combination for fall

6. The color orange

It really makes things pop! Here is our Thanksgiving table, 2015

And the garden, 2010

7. Plaid

Plaid feels tailored and crisp, just like fall.
These candles from Anta in Scotland would be perfect for the holiday season!

8. Cooking 

This weekend I had my family over for dinner and made Ina Garten's "Roasted Italian Meatballs" and "Kale Salad with Pancetta and Pecorino" from her new cookbook Cooking for Jeffrey. They were delicious!

9. Hot Mulled Cider

Tis' the season for hot mulled cider. Go here for my favorite recipe.
Photo via here

10.  A Delivery from Heywood Hill

I can't wait to see what Heywood Hill sends me for November. Go here to read more.

11. Listening to podcasts 

Listening to podcasts is another way to slow down and savor the season. Miranda Mills from Miranda's Notebook has just launched her podcast series Tea and Tattle and the first one is about Hygge, the Scandinavian philosophy of togetherness and coziness. Just what we need right now. Go here to listen.

12. Thinking about Christmas

This is the month to order tickets for "The Nutcracker." Going to this ballet in December is a magical holiday tradition.

By the way, I hope you had a fun Halloween. We went trick-or-treating with our little granddaughter who was dressed up as Madeline, the character from the Madeline books by Ludwig Bemelmans.  She was adorable!

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Virginia Woolf Kind of Day

There are times when the perpetually blue skies and sunny weather of Los Angeles make me very happy. In fact, I would say that is the case most of the time. But there are also times when my mood craves "a scene of wet lawn and storm-beat shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast" as Charlotte Bronte described in "Jane Eyre." This is the kind of weather that necessitates staying indoors and for me that means curling up in front of a roaring fire and reading. Or writing. Or maybe just daydreaming. There is something about the darkness of English skies that feels conducive to inner life. It may be confining, but there can be pleasure in confinement. And conversely there is the sense of promise and gratitude that comes when the skies finally clear and we can go outdoors. Something about those contrasts makes life seem a little more vivid.

Yesterday was one of those days. The sky was filled with dark clouds throughout the morning, making it truly feel like fall. The sun peeked in and out all afternoon, the temperature was in the sixties, and it was the perfect day to get some reading done.  Later that evening it rained. Fortunately I had a delightful assignment in front of me. My garden book club has turned out to be a very interesting group. We meet every other month to discuss garden books. However, as with most literature, one things leads to another and garden books have taken us in unexpected directions. For example, many of the gardens we read about belonged to writers. And so we've had some great discussions about Edith Wharton's garden and "The House of Mirth," Vita Sackville-West's garden and "All Passion Spent," and now Virginia Woolf's garden and "Mrs. Dalloway."

Yesterday I started reading "Virginia Woolf's Garden." This book is very special to me because I have visited Virginia Woolf's garden at Monk's House, Virginia and Leonard's country retreat in Sussex (go here to read more). It is a modest house filled with atmosphere and reminders of the lives lived there: the sitting room painted in Virginia's favorite shade of green (despite her sister Vanessa's disapproval) where the Bloomsbury Group would gather for late night conversation, the dining room chairs with their needlepoint cushions stitched by Duncan Grant's mother, and Virginia's bedroom filled with her beloved books and a mantlepiece decorated with a lighthouse painted by her sister Vanessa. The garden is the biggest surprise. It was Leonard's gift to Virginia, a haven where they could both relax and she could work on her books. From the overgrown land behind the house, they created a brilliant patchwork of garden rooms, linked by brick paths, secluded behind flint walls and yew trees. Virginia wrote most of her major novels at Monk's House. She worked in a little writing hut nestled into a corner of the orchard. She could often be seen walking the grounds as she spun her narratives and created her characters.

The Foreward to "Virginia Woolf's Garden" was written by Cecil Woolf, Leonard's nephew. He recalls a time before the Second World War when he stayed at Monk's House with his uncle and aunt. He spent an entire weekend there and remembers arriving, pushing open the creaking wooden gate, and being greeted by Leonard and his pack of excited dogs. Virginia, interrupted by the barking of the dogs, came strolling across the lawn from her little writing cabin. He writes,

"It would take an horticultural epic -- for which my abilities as a poet and my knowledge as a gardener are unequal -- to do full justice to the little Eden I remember. Leonard and Virginia had no children: their books and garden were their children. My recollections of the garden are inevitably somewhat impressionistic. From the overgrown land behind the house that the Woolfs bought twenty years earlier, they had created a spectacular mosaic of brightly coloured flowers...merging into vegetables, gooseberry bushes, pear trees, apple trees, figs. Here and there on the lawn were scattered goldfish ponds. Beside the flower garden and orchard, there were the beehives and the greenhouses, where Leonard had an extensive collection of cacti and succulents. Unlike the grand and formal gardens at Sissinghurst, created by Virginia's close friend Vita Sackville-West, the Woolf's garden was organic, delightfully informal and less self-conscious."

This book is written by Caroline Zoob who lived with her husband at Monk's House for over a decade as tenants of the National Trust. During those years they tended and planted the garden as other tenants had done before them. She tells the story of how the garden has evolved since 1919, when the Woolfs bought the house, to the present day. I have read that this book will appeal equally to gardeners as well as those with an interest in Virginia and Leonard Woolf. I'm looking forward to reading it alongside "Mrs. Dalloway." It should be interesting to learn about this magical garden that formed a safe haven and inspiring environment for Virginia as she wrote one of her masterpieces. For the next two weeks I will be immersed in the world of Virginia Woolf and I am looking forward to my book group's discussion of one of my favorite authors and her garden.