Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Thunderstorm Companion


The Thunderstorm Companion
The afternoon cracked open and the air turned white with rain.
The old cottage winced under cannonades of thunder and lightning burst through the windows, jagged and unnatural.  In other words, the perfect afternoon to cast aside all responsibilities, curl up on the chaise, and knit.  
The big dog watched me, a tiny flicker of unease crossing his furry face with every shudder of thunder.  
“Perhaps she is scared”, he thought. “Yes.  She needs me close.  That’s what I’m here for.” 
So he jumped up to share my seat.


He is a big dog.  A very big dog.  
And, after a few of my wiggles and squirms to get comfortable….


“What do you mean, you don’t have enough room??”
I just love life with this dog.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

One Place Understood


One Place Understood
There wasn’t much to do in Jackson, Mississippi in the years between the wars.  Nights were quiet and the heady concoction of gardenia and jasmine that had steeped in the afternoon heat now hung, almost liquid, in the humid air.  Spared the robotic roar of air-conditioners, the houses that lined Pinehurst Street shared snippets of conversation, music, and laughter through their opened windows.  As the fragrant night darkened to velvet, a crowd began to gather at No. 1119, a gracious Tudor with an arched front door.  Summoned by an advertisement in the local paper, these lucky souls were there to witness, and to celebrate, a lovely event.  A night flower was about to bloom.

The night-blooming cereus is a strange plant; a rather ugly one, if I am completely honest.  A member of the cactus family, it has but one attribute worth noting, but that one attribute is a doozy.  Once a year and only in the dead of night, it produces a spectacular flower - snow white, spidery, magnificent.  Such a sight to behold, it prompted a group of its fans to form a club in Jackson, Mississippi in the 30’s.  The Night Blooming Cereus Club took its name from the popular song of the time… “Life is just a bowl of cherries.  Don’t take it ‘cereus’, life’s too mysterious”….. and the wonderful writer, Eudora Welty, was a founding member.  Whenever one of the club members had a night-blooming cereus about to do what its name suggests, they would take out an ad to announce it and members would flock to their home for a grand, all-night party.  As I write this, I am looking at one of the ancestors of Miss Welty’s night-blooming cereus, something that tickles me no end.

It was the creation of my new back garden that led me to visit Mississippi.  Having read that there was to be a plant sale featuring plants from the garden of one of my favourite authors, how could I stay home?  It was my first visit to Miss Welty’s home and stepping inside felt both revelatory and divinely familiar.  

There is a scent in the air of all well-mannered Southern houses, a melange of lemons, garden roses and old paper.  This perfume met me as soon as I walked through the door, so evocative that I almost looked around for my great-aunt.  The house has been saved as it was when Eudora lived there.  It’s almost as though she’s just stepped out to go to the store.  Books, oh my soul, books on every available surface - a significant sight that assuaged a boat load of housekeeper’s guilt for me.   Miss Welty’s writing desk sits by the large double window in her bedroom.  From here she could hear the music from the choral classes of Belhaven College across the street as it wafted through that open window.  I could almost see her - could almost hear the song.  

Her famous garden was so recognizable I felt as though I’d walked back into my own childhood.  Here were the old roses, the violets, the buckeye trees, fragrant and unbowed in the face of a promised early morning thunderstorm. Here were the camellias and the irises, serenely feminine in their spring finery. It was an unheard of luxury to gather up some of Eudora’s plants to include in my garden.  I see them now as I write, soaking up the morning sun, and I like to think a little of her remarkable spirit is now residing amongst my flowers. 

 Eudora Welty once wrote, 
“One place understood helps us understand all places better”. 
 I understood her place very well.
I’ll let you know when my night-blooming cereus is ready to bloom.  
We’ll have a party.
******

Sidenote:  ……In true Southern fashion, there was cake and lemonade being served on the side porch by ladies of the Welty Foundation and I sat to talk with them for a long while.  One told me of the days when her son was small and she would push his carriage past Miss Welty’s house on walks every afternoon.  Framed in that upstairs window like a painting, Eudora could be clearly heard, typing away.  She would look out as the lady passed by, spy the baby and, waving her hand out the window, she’d call out loudly…”Sweeeeet Baby” … and continue writing.  

See more photos from Eudora's garden on my Instagram Page.
And To Find Out More.....

A wonderful tour through the Welty garden. 
I adore this book.
Find it HERE

A slender volume that introduces one to Eudora.
I adore that cover photo, her high-school graduation shot.
She was sixteen.
Can you imagine looking that self-aware and intelligent at sixteen?!
Find it HERE

A delightful collection of gardening letters, 
something I can never get enough of.
Find it HERE

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Literary Rabbit Hole


The Literary Rabbit Hole
Any voracious reader will tell you, this activity is fraught with tempting diversions.  One book can easily lead to twenty - an interest can become a fascination with hardly a whisper of warning, and before you can say “Hermione Granger”, you have fallen down a wondrous rabbit hole with doors leading off to a multitude of magical destinations.  Is it any wonder London’s King Cross Station installed a Platform 9 and 3/4’s?

King's Cross Station, London

Fall in love with Mrs. Dalloway, for instance, and one is soon delightfully lost on the streets of Bloomsbury, making the acquaintance of all sorts of literary giants from E.M. Forster and T. S. Eliot.  Virginia introduces you to Vita Sackville-West and you take a lateral shift to a love of gardening.  Or you open a door to find Vanessa Bell, working on a portrait of her sister while across the room sits Duncan Grant, and in no time at all you have veered away from letters and plants and are immersed in art.  Soon you are in a rental car heading to Monk’s House and Sissinghurst -  Charleston House, and Berwick Church, a besotted and unabashed devotee. 

Charleston, Sussex, England

Or perhaps you discover an old copy of The Pursuit of Love. You are tickled and enchanted and before you know it, you are reading the all the many letters of the infamous Mitford sisters, from authoress Nancy to communist Jessica.  You become conversant on all things Mitford - from Unity’s unfortunate fascination with Hitler to Debo’s chickens.  If you’re not careful, you’re in another rental car on the way to Chatsworth.....

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, England

Daphne du Maurier beckons to Cornwall, the Brontes will lure you to Yorkshire. 
Read Gerald Durrell and you are sure to long for the white-washed sun of Corfu.  But few literary rabbit holes are deeper and more mysterious than the Southern one. 

Most people are introduced to Southern literature by way of Harper Lee’s, To Kill a Mockingbird, a book that rest comfortably and deservedly atop many, if not most, “best books” lists.  From there they are likely to discover Faulkner, Capote and Twain and journeys to Mississippi, Alabama and Missouri are being planned.  I know from experience.  Flannery O’Connor has called me to Andalusia, her peacock-dotted farm in Milledgeville, Georgia and recently, on the week of my birthday, I accepted Eudora Welty’s invitation to visit her lovely Tudor home in Jackson, Mississippi.

It was the late Eudora’s birthday week as well, so how could I refuse?  Plus, known for her garden as she was, the Eudora Welty Trust was having a plant sale in her very own garden.  As I have been in the process of redoing our back garden, this was too good to pass up.  Some of Eudora’s plants in my very own garden, in view of my writing chair on the porch?  What inspiration that would be!  We took a slight side trip to somewhere utterly magical, too.
Watch this space for all the details next!

And I wonder….
Have you ever fallen down a literary rabbit hole like me?
If so, where did you go?
And who lured you there?
Or… who would you like to follow??
*******
Special Note:
Edward and I are now on Instagram!
Follow us for photos of our travels, our home, our garden, our adventures!
We’ll have fun!
Follow HERE.
*******
Some of the authors mentioned in this post, in case you’re interested….
Click on the titles to see more.







Saturday, May 2, 2015

The First Morning in May


Out in my back garden on the first morning in May.
Of course, this poem was being whispered through the rusting leaves. 
“Afresh, afresh, afresh.”

The Trees
by Philip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Life With A Happy Dog - The Best Kind of Life in the World - A Spring List


Life With a Happy Dog, the Best Kind of Life in the World
A Spring List
Perhaps it’s the way the light has changed.  No longer the thin grey light of winter, it bursts pink and gold through the windows these mornings like laughter in church - startling, unexpected, and hard to resist.   I would think it only another of my eccentricities to be so affected by this brand-new season if it weren’t for the bubbling happiness of Edward - the spring in his step so pronounced these days, he practically bounces round the garden.  I laugh at the way his ears bob up and down as I try to keep up with him on our afternoon walks; his unabashed grins make me respond in kind.  We spend these breezy days between the just-departed cold and the soon-to-be swelter reacquainting ourselves with the infinite magic of Spring.  The sound of a fat robin, splashing about in the birdbath reaches us from an open window, we breathe in the fragrance of newly mown grass.  Like life itself, Spring days are short, and we know it. 
The evident joys of being a big, furry white dog are delicious reminders to me:  
It is Spring.
There is Beauty.
Life is Sweet.
Here’s a list of good things for Springtime.
Enjoy!

1.  The Best Spring Shirt
Linen is my go to fabric for both Spring and Summer.  
Yes, it wrinkles.
Beautifully.
I couldn’t resist this shirt, in pink.
Find it HERE.

2.  The Best Little Broom
The lure of Spring Cleaning is no mystery to me.  It follows the throwing open of windows and doors - suddenly we want to shake off the dust of the season of hibernation, delightful though it may be, and clean and polish till everything is as fresh and new.  After all, isn’t that what Mother Nature is busy doing just outside our door?  With our new stone courtyard, I find myself sweeping a bit more than usual.  
And isn’t this broom the most wonderful thing ever?
Straight out of Oz.
Find it HERE.

3.  The Best Brand New Antique Pillows
I cannot seem to keep these glorious pillows in my shop.  As soon as they appear, they disappear.  I can easily see why.  They add a bit of beauty and mystery to every room they adorn.  Some have been a wrench to part with, but I have many throughout my home.  I don’t find them that often, and I only choose the ones most special.
There are a few new large ones in the shop now.
Find them HERE.

4. The Best New Take on Toile
There are few fabrics as charming as toile.  I love a completely toile covered bedroom, for instance- beds, curtains, walls, ceiling.  Punctuated by wooden moldings and beams, that sort of room can be enchanting, particularly looking out on a bucolic view.  This new toile from Timorous Beasties takes that old pattern and turns it on its head a bit.  But I love it.
Gone are the milkmaids and sheep.  New, all scenes of London. 
Also designs for Glasgow and New York. 
Contemporary toile.
Marvelous.
Find it HERE.

5.  The Best Spring Bracelet
Rows of hydrangeas line our front garden.  They march down the drive and stand protectively, shoulder to shoulder, along the street.  They are just waking up from their winter’s nap and will soon explode into cotton-candy blues.
  I’ll soon cut masses of them for the house.  
Naturally, I am in love with this Hydrangea Petals bracelet.
Find it HERE.

6.  The Best Fairy House
In the garden.
Beside the pink foxglove, halfway hidden by a chartreuse Hosta.
Magic.
Find it HERE.

7.  The Best Costumes, Ever!
I know from the letters I’m getting,  a lot of us are watching Outlander.Originally enticed by the oh, so, accurate scenes of Scotland, I am now thoroughly besotted with it all. And not least for the amazingly beautiful costumes. (I’ve already knitted one of Claire’s fetching cowls, though mine was done in the color of the sea instead of the earth like hers.) 
 The costume designer for Outlander is Terry Dresbach and all her costumes for this show are intricate, authentic and jaw-dropping.  I thought you all might enjoy reading how these gorgeous outfits are created.
I loved this.
(And I want that Gathering dress, above,  for myself!)
Find all about it, HERE.

8.  The Best Video Ever
I’m not strictly a vegetarian, 
and I often feel guilty about it.
This video doesn’t help me feel a bit better.
You?

9. The Best New English Mystery
If, like me, you were utterly charmed by Granchester, the latest cozy mystery to cross the pond and land on our televisions as a delightful series this past winter, then you might be surprised to know that the books from which this production is taken are current ones, with a new book being published every May, according to the author’s website.  Perfect for those Spring evenings on the screened porch with only the wind chimes and hoot owls for a soundtrack.
Find the Books, HERE.
and, if you missed the recent BBC production, 
you must see it.
Find it HERE.

10.  The Best Colouring Book
Yes, Colouring Book
 A colouring book for adults.
 I know, I thought I misheard when I was informed about this, too. 
But no, it’s real, and it sounds like so much fun to me. 
One could, I suppose, say it fosters creativity, that it teaches a person about colour and form.  But who are we kidding?
It’s fun.
It’s just fun.
Find it HERE.

11.  Whiskeyknitters
Throughout time, knitting has been a congenial group activity.  Women, and occasionally men, have gathered together to knit and talk, to share and, well… occasionally, to drink whisky.  My knitting group is such a clan.  We meet once a month, though our schedule is loose, in an atmospheric pub.  We knit, we laugh, we talk about wildly divergent topics, and some of us drink whisky.  I myself rarely indulge - I have the longest drive and am loathe to drop stitches, something that I’ve noticed tends to happen when one imbibes that particular elixir.  
A few weeks ago, some members of the Whiskeyknitters took a field trip to my side of the city where there just happens to be the world’s most tempting yarn shop.  We shopped, had lunch, and then everyone came to The House of Edward for a visit.
Now the founding members of Whiskeyknitters have started a blog. 
They are fun, witty women.   It was bound to happen.
  I thought you might enjoy their account of our visit. 
Fun was had by all.
Read all about it HERE.

Hope you all are enjoying a Happy Spring.
Just like Edward!
Just like me.
xoxo,
p




Friday, April 24, 2015

Two Ramblers on a Spring Afternoon


“Without habit, the beauty of the world would overwhelm us. We’d pass out every time we saw— actually saw— a flower. Imagine if we only got to see a cumulonimbus cloud or Cassiopeia or a snowfall once a century: there’d be pandemonium in the streets. People would lie by the thousands in the fields on their backs.” 
Anthony Doerr

*Congratulations to Mr. Doerr being awarded the Pulitizer Prize this week
 for his wonderful novel, All The Light We Cannot See.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Secret Garden, and A Few of the Books That Inspired It


A Secret Garden
and a Few of the Books That Inspired It

When the Songwriter and I became engaged to be married, the minister we chose to formalize the process requested we meet with him to answer a few questions and receive a few learned words of advice, something we were more than happy to do.  There were far too many stars in my eyes for me to have been expected to retain all he told us, but one nugget of wisdom took root and has flourished over the years, bearing fruit in all sorts of far flung areas.  To avoid the pitfall of financial disagreements, we were told, always consider any grand purchase to be “exchanging one form of wealth for another”. 

 The Songwriter remains wryly amused that this is all I can recall from that momentous meeting, but throughout our life together I have found it a useful bit of wisdom.   It has encouraged us to take leaps that have resulted in irreplaceable memories and has, on numerous occasions, made our lives better.  It also enabled me to back away from the trendy, thus saving my feet from the mile-high, toe-pinching Sex and the City shoes of the nineties and the humiliating peplum skirt phase of the eighties.

We employed this much relied upon wisdom once again last fall when we decided to add our birdhouse screened porch onto our bedroom.  One enters this porch via a very special door in our window seat and follows a screened breezeway down the side of the cottage to the round, pointed-roof porch.  Here no one can find me, here it’s all birdsong and wind chimes, here Edward and Apple curl up in their matching tartan beds and doze as I write, and knit, and read, and dream.   And here, I am surrounded by our back garden, a garden that, sadly, was utterly ruined during the building of this lovely screened hideaway.  
So, throughout the Christmas holidays, all during those long, cold days of January and February and the unreliable warmth of March, I planned.  With a stack of favorite gardening books at the ready, I made notes and grew pictures, went spelunking deep into Pinterest boards and wandered nursery aisles.  I’m happy to say, all this paid off wonderfully and our new garden is now a reality.    

Presided over by a serene stone Humpty Dumpty, it is filled with Mauve Lenten Roses, Pink Astilbe, Chartreuse Hostas, Japanese Forest Grass and and Foxglove.  There is a round flower bed in a circle of  English cottage stone with masses of white verbena spilling over and around, calling forth butterflies of every size and colour, and a flagstone terrace with Mazus Alba flowering between the stones. And best of all, old-fashioned Gardenias by the door and under the old stained glass casement windows.  I sit in my gothic willow chair, listening to the exuberant splash of robins in the birdbath  and the lugubrious hum of fat, lazy bumblebees as they hover around the blooms.  
Truly a fair exchange of one form of wealth to another, wouldn’t you say?

  I have recently returned from a visit to a very special, very happily haunted, garden and will share all with you soon, but till then I thought you might like to take a look at some of the books that inspired the creation of this secret garden of mine.  I found as much inspiration from narrative as from instruction.   Perhaps you will too, I’ve shared an irresistible quote from each, just click on the books to see more.  
If any of you love gardens, and gardening, as much as I do,
 please share your favorite flowers, and gardening books, with me! 

Onward and Upward in the Garden
by Katherine White
I have read somewhere that no Japanese child will instinctively pick a flower, 
not even a very young child attracted by its bright color, because the sacredness of flowers is so deeply imbued in the culture of Japan that its children understand the blossoms are there to look at, not to pluck.”

The Morville Year
by Katherine Swift
“I love the way wild foxgloves have their bells all on one side,
 as if straining to catch the last notes of some far-off tune…”

In Your Garden
by Vita Sackville-West
“The charm of annuals is their light gaiety, as though they must make the most of their brief lives to be frivolous and pleasure-giving.  They have no time to be austere or glum.  They must always be youthful, because they have no time to grow old.  And so their colours are bright, and their foliage airy, and their only morality is to be as cheerful as possible….”

Merry Hall
by Beverley Nichols
“But whatever else people may see, they cannot help seeing the lilies.  They are all over the house, like groups of dancers, poised and waiting; those that stand near mirrors seem to take on a silver sheen, and those that catch the glow of the candles are lit with gold; in the full light they sparkle like sunlit snow, in the shadows they are luminous…and always, upstairs, downstairs, in every nook and cranny, there is fragrance.”

The Writer in the Garden
edited by Jane Garmey
“That evening, for instance, as the light faded, and the tree branches grew black against the pink sky, I knew it was getting on toward dinnertime, and I felt so peaceful sitting like a child in the warm earth.  It was dark as I strained my eyes, searching out infinitesimal parsley seedlings among the weeds.”

Virginia Woolf’s Garden
by Caroline Zoob
“…a weekend of no talking, sinking at once into deep safe book reading; & then sleep:  clear, transparent, with the may tree like a breaking wave outside & all the garden green tunnels, mounds of green:  & then to wake into the hot still day, & never a person to be seen, never an interruption:  the place to ourselves:  the long hours.”

The Gardens of William Morris
by Jill Duchess of Hamilton, Penny Hart and John Simmons
“The garden, divided by old clipped yew hedges, is quite unaffected and very pleasant, and looks in fact as if it were a part of the house, yet at least the clothes of it:  which I think ought to be the aim of the layer-out of a garden.”

Beatrix Potter At Home in the Lake District
by Susan Denyer
“Beatrix was not preserving a cottage garden; what she was doing was creating a garden  - her own garden - in the cottage style.  It was in this way that she conformed with what was then being written about gardens:  the imagery of gardens, the way spaces within then should be divided up and above all how gardens would be seen as an extension of the building to which they belonged.”

Writing the Garden
A Literary Conversation Between Two Centuries
by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers
"No one gardens alone."

Friday, April 17, 2015

Behold The Face


Behold the face of a fellow who thinks
making up the bed is the most glorious fun.
Love this boy!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What is Luxury?


What is Luxury?
For By Invitation Only

“Luxury:   free or habitual indulgence in or enjoyment of comforts and pleasures
 in addition to those necessary for a reasonable standard of well-being”

There is a country house in the Lake District of England, sitting high on a sheep-speckled hill overlooking the still, reflective waters of Lake Windermere.  In the tip-top tower of this house is a room with a window that opens out to welcome in the perfume of late summer roses and freshly mown hay, where the only sounds one hears is the wind swishing through emerald cedars and the tintinnabula of cow bells as their wearers make their way home at vespers.  I have slept in that room, in a bed so high, so deep, that I felt like a princess of Oz….



In the furthermost islands of Scotland, closer in distance to Norway than Britain, there is a yarn shop several streets from the sea where every colour in the palette lines the walls in a rainbow of wool.  The mind simply boggles at the possibilities of pattern and design within these walls.  I have gathered up armload of skeins here in much the same way a child gathers up candy in a candy shop and flown home to await the arrival of my choices … so many skeins they had to be shipped over….  

On a tiny side street in the heart of Chelsea there is a bookshop where the books are piled in stacks of unrelated subject and name, one up next to another as though gathering together for conversation the way strangers sometimes do whilst waiting for something to happen.  In this shop I have occasionally seen one special book, as one always does in bookshops such as this, shining as though singularly lit to catch my attention alone.  And I have stood on a stool and stretched out to retrieve it,  slightly dizzy at the good fortune of my find, and held it close like the treasure it is as I’ve made my way down the stairs to secure my purchase…..


Like Mrs. Dalloway on the morning of her famous party, I have entered dimly lit flower shops to the magical sound of a tinkling bells, waiting for my eyes to adjust in the close, humid air before being knocked off kilter by the unseen hand of beauty as the colours of a thousand flowers coalesced into one glorious tapestry right before my eyes.  I have wandered home in absolute bliss, carrying as many bouquets as I could hold…..


Without doubt, these experiences have represented luxury to me though I can think of no other word quite as subjective as that one.  Luxury.  What is truly luxurious to me might well be considered a trivial squander to you.  For instance, I have ridden in a limousine twice in my life and have felt like a complete, conspicuous nincompoop both times, though I can name people for whom that form of conveyance would seem the height of luxury.  When traveling, I can be, and often am, perfectly content with yogurt, fruit and biscuits for dinner, something that would horrify those gourmands of my acquaintance.  One man’s luxury is so often another’s trifle.

  One’s idea of luxury changes over time as well.  For instance, I am increasingly reluctant to spend my money on expensive frocks but, as illustrated in the paragraphs above, I am most liberal when it comes to books, yarn, flowers and travel.  No doubt I would spend my last dollar on flowers.  

Truth is, to me there is nothing as luxurious as a sparkling clean house, redolent of baking bread and gardenias, where soft music plays and furry dogs nap, where teetering stacks of books and a half-finished cashmere sweater await my attention as I sit at my table planning my next journey to Scotland.   After all, as I explained in my last post, my tastes do run along the same lines as the home-loving characters in Wind in the Willows. 

 I would so love to hear what you consider to be a luxury worthy of indulgence.
An Hermes bag?  Or a new pair of Wellies?
A gourmet kitchen?  Or a summer month in Greece?
Do tell!

Find more posts on this subject HERE.