I do love Country Life magazine for its aspirational property pages and left-field cover headlines… one favourite from 2011 being “Does it Get Better Than a Cocker?” – spaniel of course… but what other magazine proudly puts a gorgeous dog on the cover and maintains a tradition of featuring a recently engaged (or alluringly single) young maiden within its illustrious pages each week?! This really is the magazine for anyone denied the birthright of a large stately pile (but secretly would rather love one).
This week I am especially excited to read a beautifully photographed feature on Highgrove’s meadow garden. The beauty of a completely free form meadow, bursting with wildflowers, is just absolutely the lift one needs at this somewhat grey and wet time of year. And… not wanting to miss a bit of merchandise, I am also pleased to report that the Highgrove shop sells a seed mixture (£2.95 per 8g bag) like the very one used to plant the garden featured – you just need to employ a team of full time gardeners (and some grazing sheep August – October!) to make it look as stunningly beautiful as Their Royal Highnesses have done.
Apart from a brief sunshine and heat wave at the end of September, I think we can safely say that autumn is upon us here in London. Finding myself with a free weekend, I seized the opportunity to replant my window boxes and in order to do so, a visit to Petersham Nurseries for a lovely lunch was called for. Petersham is justifiably a very popular destination for its laid back, casual atmosphere and delicious food which if you eat in the tea shop is not at all expensive. Lunch for four people was just £42. After eating you can wander through the plants and imagine what you would do if you had many acres to plant up and maintain. The acres falling under my jurisdiction can be measured in mere feet, so some simple pink and white winter-flowering heathers were acquired for only £30 and planted up look very well in the galvinised metal window boxes I bought at Clifton Nurseries earlier this year.
This time of year also heralds some delicious changes to the weekly menu. Squashes and suchlike which have been nurtured and lovingly tended all summer become ready for the table. Last evening we were treated to a home cooked supper of rabbit in a red wine sauce. Rabbit is so delicious but I often forget about it as an option. A visit to a proper butchers such as Allen’s in Mount Street or Lidgate’s in Holland Park is a great reminder that small independent shops often carry a selection of fare which is completely unavailable in the margin-driven world of the supermarkets. Specialist sausages and game are all out there to be enjoyed and popping into Lidgate’s was another reminder if one were needed that we must support our local specialist retailers whenever possible. As someone once said… Use it or lose it!
I know I say it every time… reading about other people’s travels is so dull. Better to get out there and find your own places of interest and excursion. However, I am feeling a need to share with you some of my Tokyo highlights if perchance you are coming here and need a pointer or two… so here they are.
This restaurant serves delicious beef and crab shabu-shabu, which is served raw and you cook it yourself in a copper couldron filled with boiling water in the centre of the table. The charming staff are generous with their explanations of what to do and how to do it and the overall experience is delightful for its novelty and deliciousness. Very thinly sliced beef shabu-shabu takes mere seconds to cook. Lunch for three people came in at ¥21,500 (£180)
This shop in Ginza is an absolute must if, like me, you are a lover of anything made of paper. The store is laid out over ten floors and sells everything from greetings cards to fine writing instruments and origami supplies. The sixth floor is your must-visit for handmade Japanese paper (Washi) which comes in a seemingly limitless choice of colours and designs. You can buy roughly A4 sized sheets for as little as ¥189 (£1.60) each and my purchases are destined to be framed and hung as a souvenir of this visit.
Across the street you will find Alfred Dunhill‘s “Home”… and the very lovely Aquarium Bar which has a great view of the passing Ginza foot traffic below. Owned by the global luxury company Richemont, this store is noteworthy for its collections of vintage Dunhill items artfully merchandised alongside current product, and whilst no longer British-owned, is a wonderful outpost of the British sartorial aesthetic so loved in Japan.
Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum
For lovers of Art Deco the building itself is pure inspiration. Completed in 1933 for Prince Asaka (a relation of the Imperial Family) this residence was built to reflect the aesthetics of the time he and his wife spent in Paris. They visited the Exposition des Arts Decoratifs in person in 1925 and were therefore early patrons of this still influential design movement.
Heads-up… The museum is closing for renovations in November 2011 so perhaps put this on the bring-forward list for your next visit to Japan.
If visiting the Teien Museum, a short (downhill) stroll leads one to Happo-En, a truly relaxing and beautiful garden which one can scarcely believe exists in such a bustling and seemingly crowded city as Tokyo. Taking a stroll along the winding path, you come across a small lake teeming with enormous carp, turtles and dragonflies.
Overindulgence is somewhat difficult to avoid in France. Foie gras, smoked duck, and delicious cheeses were to be enjoyed in abundance on my last visit when I was treated to a few nights away in Normandy. We stayed at the charming Chateau Villeray; a large house which had clearly enjoyed many a heyday some decades past. The welcome was warm and genuine and it felt very much like staying at the home of a distant relative. We were left almost entirely to our own devices and the rich velvet upholstery of the sofas in the salon enveloped us as we read, caught up on email and idled away an afternoon. There is a nice pool and sun terrace at the sister property, a mill house at the bottom of the steep hill atop which the chateau sits, and the weather afforded us a couple of late afternoon hours sunning, swimming and drinking very generously proportioned G&Ts.
Apart from the sheer joy of being away for a few days R&R, the highlight of our trip was an afternoon at the Fondation Claude Monet in Giverny. Monet’s house and pretty gardens are open to the public and for €14 your ticket also permits access to the Impressionist museum nearby.
The gardens close to the house (despite being formally laid out) are a riot of chaotic planting. Blurry borders spill over with multicoloured flowers and foliage. An ancient gnarled apple tree espaliered at waist height along the edge of a border was particularly memorable. Further into the gardens a tunnel leads the visitor under the road and up into the famous water lily gardens for which Monet is probably best known. He painted some 250 works on this theme alone. There is a strong Japanese aesthetic which I personally find very beautiful and there are several places along the winding lakeside path when one feels one has been transported to a Japanese temple garden. It goes without saying that the water lilies themselves are a major feature and their delicate pink and white petals floating on the still surface of the water cast mesmerising reflections which captivate the visitor as entirely as they did the artist.
The house itself was very busy partly because of intermittent heavy rain showers causing great scrums for shelter inside. I could happily have not ventured in and avoided the slightly voyeuristic sensation of snooping around someone else’s gaff. Aside from the extensive collection of Japanese prints, there was nothing particularly remarkable about the interior and following the other visitors around felt slightly obligatory.
61110 Condeau au Perche
Fondation Claude Monet
Rue Claude Monet
27620 Giverny, France
This morning I was inspired by a visit to the gorgeous Clifton Nurseries, an oasis of beauty in west London and a must-visit for anyone seeking some embellishments for their urban patch. By definition I suppose this place is a garden centre, but that term is a poor reflection of the very high standards of merchandise, display and plantsmanship here. You can buy the usual essentials such as compost, plant feed and tools, but this is a place to linger, enjoy and treat oneself to a bit of nature.
Much of London’s liveable loveliness derives from the way in which the natural world creeps into the built environment (albeit quite often with a helping hand) and rewards us with a display of optimism and colour which lifts our spirits and reminds us that beyond the city limits lie greenery, fresh air, and abundant space. Aside from the blessing of the big big parks, smaller garden squares and private gardens with their trees peeping over fences and rooftops, I am always restored by the sight of plants growing vigorously in pots on a doorstep or a window box spilling over with lavish colour.
Clifton’s plants are excellent quality and this must be the tidiest place of its kind in London as there didn’t seem to be a dead leaf or twig in sight. In the sunshine the greens looked greener and the colours more colourful than ever. A particular feature of the outdoor plants area is a large and I presume architectural salvage column with a grape vine winding its way up to the heavens… Bacchus would surely approve…
The charm extends indoors with home accessories, linens and furniture both of which are more akin to what you might find at Liberty than your local garden centre (although their prices do reflect that). Colour-themed displays also brought to mind a thoughtful, curated perspective behind the merchandising so that one really felt as though a bit of time had been taken to create an appealing and inspiring browsing experience so lacking elsewhere.
5a Clifton Villas
London W9 2PH
Those renegade Royals Edward & Wallis lived a life of luxury-in-exile and this version of their monogram is my favourite. W and E are both angular letters and therefore work brilliantly together as modified regular hexagons. I have seen this monogram applied to a clutch bag belonging to the Duchess in the catalogue of their belongings… I am trying to find an image of it. In the meantime, I noted that the Duchess had her own stationery engraved with this same W by itself…
Whilst mentioning the Windsors it is worth noting that the Duke & Duchess’s French country house, Le Moulin de la Tuilerie, has been bought by The Landmark Trust and is now available to be enjoyed by everyone as a holiday let. Located 35km south west of Paris, the house and several guest cottages provided the backdrop for weekends attended by such luminaries as Cecil Beaton, Maria Callas, Marlene Dietrich and Elizabeth Taylor, who no doubt talked jewellery with her hostess during cocktail hour. The gardens are said to be charming and were tended by the Duke himself, who loved to potter about in the flower beds. The main house, Le Moulin, is actually the beautiful converted 18th Century grey stone mill house pictured below and looks perfect for a holiday with friends.
The Landmark Trust was founded in 1965 to rescue and restore noteworthy buildings and, once returned to their former glory, to let them out for holidays, thereby making the buildings pay their way. In this respect it is a really fantastic charity and if you are planning a holiday in the UK or France this year, do have a look on their website. They might have the perfect place.
The Landmark Trust
“…her originality would hit on one emblem, the camellia, which in her hands became a necklace, a watch, a hat, a chignon, a detail on a button, or just a silk flower pinned to a dress. There was something radically simple about its shape, what Bott calls ‘its perfect, almost geometric roundness’. As far back as 1922 a stylised camellia is embroidered on a blouse. Every season it appears as a jewelled monogram on a toe or beaded outline on the heel of a Chanel shoe. Like the lotus in Buddhism, the camellia expressed for Chanel a shape with infinite possibilities.”
– Linda Grant writing for The Telegraph, 2007
Who knew that tea, that essential reviver, relaxant and comforter, comes from a special variety of Camellia? Of course as with all things botanical, there are many varieties of camellia and many different-looking flowers, not all of them resembling Chanel’s favoured multi-petalled variety. The Client is a huge fan of both Mlle. Chanel and a nice cup of tea, so it was sheer delight to discover that there is a flourishing organic tea plantation in the UK in the beautiful county of Cornwall, long having held the belief that tea only grows in India, China and other such distant and exotic climes more evocative of the spirit of Chanel.
Tregothnan is a family estate which boasts continuous, same-family ownership dating back to the 1300’s. The estate was the first to bring ornamental camellias to the UK 200 years ago, and today has a selection of plants, available to buy inexpensively online, to nurture yourself in your own garden. The resulting blooms will bring the spirit of Chanel richly to life. Whilst visiting the website (or if you find yourself in that part of the world the gardens themselves) be sure to treat yourself to some organic honey which is also produced on the estate, these luckiest of bees no doubt visiting the camellia flowers in the plantation to plunder their nectar.
Tregothnan Estate, Truro, Cornwall, TR2 4AN
photo: Camellia “White Nun” available at Tregothnan’s online shop