Happy 2019! I’ve still got that excited ‘New Year’ feeling – like I’ve just opened the front cover on a fresh exercise book. Last year was very quiet for me blog-wise whilst I poured my energy into other areas of my life but things have a way of coming in cycles don’t they? And now I have so much that I want to share – starting with a visit to Charleston Farmhouse (the former home of Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and various other members of the Bloomsbury Group at one time or another) back in October.
The house’s interiors are decorated from top to bottom with paintings, patterns and art in all mediums and it immediately reminded me of Karl Larsson’s house in Sweden which we visited a couple of summers back. I feel like there should be a word for this way of life – where people grab a house with both hands and paint with murals and patterns all over the walls, doors, window frames and fireplaces… perhaps there already is? It’s the opposite of keeping your whole house white so that it will be easier to sell in the future. I found the guided tour so interesting (though photography indoors is sadly not permitted – you can see plenty on the Charleston Farmhouse website here if you’re curious) especially as I knew only a little bit about the Bloomsbury Group (and most of that from watching the BBC series ‘Life in Squares’). Just as inspiring as the house itself though were the gardens and I took plenty of photos which I’m excited to share today.
2018 was the year I fell in love with gardening – so much so that by the end of the year I’d signed up for an allotment at a beautiful 150 year old site just around the corner from where we live. Dahlias in particular captured my attention and I started noticing them wherever I went (perhaps they’re in the zeitgeist?). I loved the peach-pink colour of this overblown beauty and am hoping to try growing them myself this summer.
‘I’m painting flowers – one can’t resist them – when the sun comes out you can’t conceive what the medley of apples, hollyhocks, plums, zinnias, dahlias, all mixed up together is like.’ Vanessa Bell to Roger Fry, 1930
During the First World War the garden at Charleston Farmhouse was mainly used for growing vegetables and keeping hens but afterwards, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant gradually turned it into a ‘painters garden’. I read somewhere that the idyllic ‘English Country Garden’ (where fruit, vegetables and flowers co-exist in a relaxed jumble) is actually a myth and that this is very impractical to achieve but the garden at Charleston definitely fits my vision of an English Country Garden – with touches here and there to show that it is the home of artists. There are busts and figurines dotted around as well as a little mosaic terrace made from broken pottery (Vanessa’s son Quentin Bell became a potter and had his studio in an outbuilding of the house).
I particularly loved seeing the apple trees growing amongst the abundant flowers. I took on our allotment at the start of the Autumn and spent the last few months of 2018 clearing the ground, building compost heaps, sowing green manure and other bits and bobs in preparation for the growing season. The Winter months so far have been spent researching and dreaming about what I’m going to grow this year. I’ve been talking to lots of green fingered friends and one advised interplanting flowers amongst my vegetables and fruit to create a good habitat for pollinators and other wildlife. I’m hoping I can create something that is productive in terms of vegetable growing but also feeds my soul like this garden did.
After touring the house and wandering in the garden, my feeling is that the inhabitants were not actually the most skilled artists but what matters is that they went ahead and did it anyway. I love how they’ve left their mark on this house and garden and now it has taken on a life of it’s own. More and more I notice that striving for ‘perfection’ holds me back from realising many of my creative projects and that often I go over an idea again and again in my head until it feels like I have made it already and I run out of enthusiasm for making it for real. This year I’m going to try to be mindful of that and pick up the paint brush (or fabric scissors, or pencil, or whatever) earlier in the creative process and try to bring more of my ideas out into the world. Starting with my allotment!
I’ve been sharing snippets of our allotment over on Instagram Stories and you can see what I’ve managed to get done so far in my Allotment stories highlights. The allotment owners scene on Instagram is strong and I’m excited to be able to contribute. During these Wintery months I have been enjoying Hothouse – a podcast about design, ecology and the way we garden now. Do you have any gardening podcast or book recommendations? I can’t wait to introduce you to my allotment properly (even if it’s just a rectangle of plastic covered earth at the moment). In the meantime I hope your year has got off to a peaceful start – I’m sending you good vibes for 2019!