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Archive for the ‘gardens’ Category

The temperature was 34 degrees and a light dusting of snow covered the ground when my copy of London in Bloom by Georgianna Lane arrived in my Ohio mailbox several weeks ago.

With its cover photo depicting pale pink roses draping a doorway, arching over a window, and filling the basket of a matching pink bicycle parked out front, the book introduced a welcome breath of spring into my life that day. We need that even more now.

Turning from fear to beauty

The coronavirus has infected our globe, and many of us are sheltering at home, attempting to stave off the ugliness of anxiety. So there is no better time to open a book full of the floral beauty of London, Virginia Woolf’s favorite city.

London in Bloom is the third and final book in Lane’s Cities in Bloom series, published by Abrams. To capture the images that fill it, she spent many early morning hours photographing the floral beauty and architectural detail of England’s capitol before residents and tourists clogged the streets, sidewalks, and parks. I daresay she would find that task easier now.

On “Tea and Tattle”

I first heard of the book on episode 27 of Francesca Wade’s “Tea and Tattle” podcast. Wade describes it as “most beautiful guide to the city’s parks, gardens, florists and hotels and should be on any London-lover’s shelf!”

Much like Woolf, a lover of gardens who incorporated them into her life and into her work, the author shares her affection for London’s gardens in her Introduction to the book:

Perhaps not surprisingly, my most memorable London experiences have been inextricably interwoven with gardens… the open spaces of London have seeped into my consciousness, awakened my imagination, and become part of me” (7).

From parks and gardens to floral displays

London in Bloom is divided into four sections:

  • parks and gardens
  • floral boutiques
  • market flowers and
  • floral displays.

Each is introduced by a page or two of text that shares Lane’s thoughts and experiences, then filled with gorgeous photos of flowers and architectural details — brickwork, tile-work, doorways — that enhance them.

Whimsical touches are also introduced in the form of light cotton floral print dresses in a shop window, teacups and cake on a tea table, and London’s trademark red phone booth and double decker buses.

Beauty and practicality

Despite some touches of red, the theme throughout is pastel — from flowers to buildings to cover pages. But the book includes the practical, as well as the beautiful.

The back section gives us instructions on creating our own London-style bouquet, a field guide to London’s spring blooming trees and shrubs, and an introductory guide to springtime blooms throughout the city.

London in Bloom provides delectable refreshment for the eye and the soul in our troubled times, whether you are a lover of flowers, a fan of London, or just in need of a bit of balm.

 

 

 

 

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Since I am currently studying in Canterbury, it would be unthinkable for me, Virginia Woolf’s admirer and scholar, not to visit St. Ives, the mythic place that inspired the most of Virginia Woolf’s novels, but particularly Jacob’s Room, To the Lighthouse and The Waves.

Talland House

My own exploration of the site has been inspired by Ratha Tep’s Back to the lighthouse: In search of Virginia Woolf’s lost Eden in Cornwall” that appeared in The New York Times on Feb. 26, 2018.

However, as I and my husband chose to visit St. Ives at the very beginning of November, the weather conditions did not permit us to see all the places we had longed to see.

From London to St. Erth

We started our journey to St. Ives early on Friday morning and after we had arrived in London, we boarded the Great Western Service from London to St. Erth.

Surprisingly, the five-hour journey turned out to be quite tolerable, thanks to the comfortable service and a good read (Woolf’s Orlando). How different, longer and more uncomfortable the Stephens’ journey must have been at the turn of the 20th century, with all the luggage and servants packed for their summer stay in Talland House!

In St. Erth we had to change for a local service running to St. Ives, a beautiful scenic ride alongside the Cornish coast.

In St. Ives

We arrived in St. Ives around 6 p.m. and made our way up the hill to our B&B that I had chosen due to its location with a view of The Island with St. Nicholas Chapel and Godrevy Lighthouse – the lighthouse!

Although we found a lot of useful information about tourist attractions in St. Ives and its surroundings in a folder in our room, the official guide booklet did not mention Virginia Woolf and the Stephens as famous residents of the town.

The view from our window – Godrevy Lighthouse in the distance
The view of the Island and St. Nicholas Chapel

Exploring the town

The following day, which was extremely windy, we started our exploration of the town. In spite of the construction of modern buildings, numerous hotels and other vacation accommodation, the spirit of the old town from the Stephens’ days was still noticeable – crooked hilly streets in the centre, several churches and the incessant sound of breaking waves.

After hiking up to St. Nicholas Chapel, we visited Talland House, which is located right above the local railway station and which is nowadays, unfortunately, encircled by quite ugly blocks of summer apartments. Luckily, the house is now in the hands of Chris and Angela Roberts who try to renovate the house and re-create the garden in its original spirit. You can read about their praiseworthy effort on a sign attached to the wall of the house.

Woolf talks about her father’s discovery of the house in “A Sketch of the Past” as follows:

Father on one of his walking tours, it must have been in 1881, I think – discovered St. Ives. He must have stayed there, and seen Talland House to let. He must have seen the town almost as it had been in the sixteenth century, without hotels, or villas; and the Bay as it had been since time began. It was the first year, I think, that the line was made from St Erth to St Ives – before that, St Ives was eight miles from a railway. Munching his sandwiches up at Trengenna perhaps, he must have been impressed, in his silent way, by the beauty of the Bay; and thought: this might do for your summer holiday, and worked out with his usual caution ways and means.

Main shopping street in the town centre
Talland House – the steps below the left French window are those where the Stephens used to take their family photo
Sign about the current owners’ aim for Talland House garden
Talland House garden

View from the garden

Even though the house is not opened to the public to admire its Victorian beauties, we were still able to appreciate the view from the garden – Godrevy Lighthouse in the distance, which made Leslie Stephen move his London household to St. Ives every summer until 1894. We visited the garden in an inappropriate season so we could not see its blooming flowers.

However, we were able to see the steps below the left French window of the house where the family used to sit and have their family pictures taken. Moreover, the window directly makes you think of the window from the novel To the Lighthouse which symbolised the distance and seemingly impassable boundary between the house and the lighthouse, or the private life of the family and the outside.

Quite surprisingly, despite the distance from the ocean, the breaking of waves was still audible from the garden of Talland House, as well as from our hotel room, with the same intensity as Woolf describes in the following quotation from “A Sketch of the Past”:

If life has a base that it stands upon, if it is a bowl that one fills and fills and fills – then my bowl without a doubt stands upon this memory. It is of lying asleep, half awake, in bed in the nursery at St Ives. It is of hearing the waves breaking, one, two, one, two, and sending a splash of water over the beach; and then breaking, one, two, one, two, behind a yellow blind.

The view of the Lighthouse from Talland House garden

The fact that Woolf places this memory of St Ives and at the base of her life-experience bowl reveals how much she was influenced by the place. As she mentions later in the same memoir, “In retrospect nothing that we had as children made as much difference, was quite so important to us, as our summers in Cornwall”, by which she admits the formative effect of the Stephens’ holidays on the Cornish coast. It was so overwhelming to stand in front of the house to which Woolf pays tribute in To the Lighthouse, but sadly, without being able to talk to the Stephens.

To the lighthouse . . . sort of

The following day we decided to pursue James’s childish wish to visit the lighthouse. Owing to windy weather conditions and rough sea we were forced to abandon the idea of making a boat trip and we went by bus to Upton Towans (line T2 for those who would like to do the same) and from there we followed the Coastal Path to Godrevy Beach and the headland providing the best view of Godrevy Lighthouse.

The scenery along the path was astonishing and it was exciting to approach closer and closer the lighthouse which is the main source of the novel’s symbolism. The inner voice in my head was repeating Mr. Ramsay’s excuse “It won’t be fine” and Nancy’s and Lily’s concern about “What does one send to the Lighthouse?”

When we got to the closest viewpoint on the mainland, we sat on a bench and observed waves breaking on the little island’s shore. It is a pity that today you cannot see the lighthouse’s rotating “yellow eye” because it has been replaced by LED light mounted on a platform nearby the original lighthouse.

I must frankly admit that after two days of harsh wind and rain, after getting soaked while watching seals in a cove, I started to be more sympathetic to Mr. Ramsay’s scathing sentence “It won’t be fine” – was he just the more rational one? Did my own journey to the lighthouse reconcile me with the man?

Coastal path to Godrevy Lighthouse
Godrevy Lighthouse

I would recommend visiting St. Ives to all those who are deeply in love with Virginia Woolf and her writing because it is great to get a sense of the place that I had been imagining in my head for at least a decade.

More Cornish coast magic to explore

Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit surrounding villages such as Zennor where Woolf lived when she returned to the town as an adult woman. I am convinced that this visit to St. Ives is not our last one and that we will continue exploring the magic of the Cornish coast and landscape. We definitely need to make a boat trip from St. Ives to the lighthouse, which must be really enjoyable in the summer.

 

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Botanic Garden gates

Today at the Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens, we went To the Lighthouse.

Not literally. But that was the focus of both the lecture by Trudi Tate and our small group tutorials this morning, before we veered off across the land to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden. There, garden historian Caroline Holmes led us on an afternoon tour of plants from all over the world.

We didn’t make it through the entire 40 acres of the garden that opened in 1846. Nevertheless, we saw, felt, and sniffed a wide variety of the more than 8,000 species growing there.

Discussing the garden in To the Lighthouse

Predictably enough, our morning discussions about To the Lighthouse focused on Woolf’s use of the garden in her 1927 novel. In her lecture, Tate touched on ways the garden connects to mother and memory, as well as the Victorian past.

Later this morning, in our four-person tutorial group led by Karina Jakubowicz, two things stand out to me from our discussion. One was the way the urns full of red trailing geraniums fail to attract Mr. Ramsay’s full attention but cause him to go off on intellectual tangents. The other was the meaning of Mrs. Ramsay’s green cashmere shawl in the “Time Passes” section. We all thought there was more to explore there.

Walking the gardens

Now for photos from the day, starting at Wolfson College, home of this year’s Literature Cambridge course, and ending with a walk through the Cambridge University Botanic Garden.

The Wolfson College garden where two of the four tutorial groups at this year’s Literature Cambridge class discussed Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse” this morning.

Entrance to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden on Trumpington Street

The knowledgeable Caroline Holmes provided the history of the trees and other plants at the Botanic Garden during our tour, adding a touch of humor throughout.

The iconic fountain designed by David Mellor, a focal point at the eastern end of the Botanic Garden’s Main Walk

Path through the Winter Garden

Floral close-up

One of the many trees on the Main Walk of the Botanic Garden

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This afternoon, as part of our Literature Cambridge course on Virginia Woolf’s Gardens, we visited Newnham College in search of Virginia Woolf. We found her in several places.

Garden walk

Lottie Collis leads us on a garden tour.

First, we found her in the gardens, as we were led on a walking tour of the college’s four gardens by Lottie Collis, head of the garden team. We went from the original mid-Victorian garden with winding paths to the Arts and Crafts garden focused on form and function, to the sunken rose garden. All were in place in 1928 when Woolf visited.

Each garden was peaceful and beautiful in its own way, providing sensual stimulation to the eye as well as the nose, particularly when among the roses. In that outdoor space, the air smelled like heaven.

Site of the talk

But the most exciting part of the tour for me was our visit to Newnham’s dining hall, the site where Virginia Woolf gave her October 1928 talk on women and fiction. That talk, along with one given at Girton College, became A Room of One’s Own (1929), a landmark text for feminists worldwide.

The size, grandeur, and light-filled beauty of the room took my breath away. It was a room fitting for someone of Woolf’s current stature and the women who came before her. It was completely unlike the small, dim setting I had imagined for Woolf’s famous talk about the poorly treated women students she described.

Reactions to Woolf’s Newnham College talk

Woolf came to Newnham at the invitation of the Newnham Arts Society. Her audience that day is estimated at roughly around 40, but since no records were kept of the luncheon menu or the participants, it is difficult to be certain of the number or of the food served at the lunch.

Reactions to her talk about women and fiction were mixed. The first, published in the student magazine Thersites during the Michaelman Term of 1928, was positive. The next one, published years later in A Newnham Anthology of 1970, was not.

The woman who led our tour of the dining hall shared them both with our class and with Blogging Woolf. And we share them below, along with photos from our garden tour and our visit to the dining hall.

Exhibit of Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group

The Newnham College Library has a special exhibit of Hogarth Press books by Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group on the second floor of the new wing of the library. We viewed the exhibit. But sadly, photographs were not permitted. All of the materials are housed in the library’s special collections.

1928 commentary on Woolf’s talk.

Commentary on Woolf’s talk published in the Newnham Anthologies of 1970.

Mid-Victorian style garden outside Newnham’s Old Hall.

Students in the Literature Cambridge class, Virginia Woolf’s Gardens, walk the path on a tour of Newnham College gardens.

Just one view of one of the Newnham Hall gardens.

Students in the Literature Cambridge Virginia Woolf’s Gardens course In the Sunken Rose Garden at Newnham College.

Closeup of a yellow rose in bud in the Sunken Rose Garden at Newnham College

A perennial bed at Newnham College

The Newnham College dining hall where Virginia Woolf gave her famous talk on women and fiction in 1928.

Another view of the Newnham College dining hall where Woolf spoke in 1928.

A view of the elaborate, light-filled dining hall ceiling at Newnham College.

Alcove in the Newnham College dining hall.

View of the gardens from along the corridor leading to the Newnham College dining hall where Woolf gave her famous 1928 talk.

 

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