Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Monday, November 17, 2014

Creating A French Picking Garden (Easily)

As many gardeners know, gardening can be addictive. One minute you're happily potting up geraniums  in a couple of blue and white planters you bought on discount in a closing-down sale; the next you're digging into your newly mown lawn to create a perennial flower bed. 

Then you begin to visit open gardens. And the more gardens you visit, the more addicted you become.

 Suddenly, you're out there at 5AM on a summer's morning, quietly dead-heading the roses and hoping you're not waking the neighbours with the watering.

{All photos mine}

This happened to me this year. After visiting the magnificent walled rose gardens of Mottisfont in England (Nat Trust link) (Blog Post), I became obsessed with the idea of creating a picking garden. Or, as a friend romantically put it, a "rustic French rose garden". Only with bush roses, because fancy French ones didn't seem to do well in our Mediterranean-style heat. (Or my amateur hands.) 

Our lovely gardener Geoff had also told me about his former employer Dame Elizabeth Murdoch's walled cutting garden, which was designed to change colours with the seasons. (Cruden Farm link)

Dame Elizabeth wanted a cutting garden rather than a cottage garden, because the former is designed to be picked, with flowers that suit vases (such as roses), and plants that are grown in narrow beds, for ease of access (and cutting).

It was, he said, one of Dame Elizabeth's favourite places.
(How wonderful it would have been to have worked with her...) 

A rustic French picking garden, I thought naïvely, with the enthusiasm of a novice. 
How difficult could it be?

So, on a perfect Sunday in early spring this year we drove up the mountain to Monbulk, where, hidden away behind the myriad nurseries is one of the prettiest rose farms in the state, Newstead Roses (link).

 This week, my mother visited the famous Ruston's Rose Farm in Renmark, the largest rose garden in the Southern Hemisphere, and told me it was looking a little unloved. (Could also be the heat?) There are no unloved buds here at Newstead, where every pot looks like a contender for Chelsea.

If you're a serious rosarian, you need to get your sweet derriere up here, pronto. 

It is truly glorious. You will adore it, I promise.

This is Dave, the head rose gardener. 

He speaks French to his French roses "because it encourages them to bloom". 
His pronunciation of Côte d'Azur (a yellow rose inspired by the Riviera city of Nice) was so perfect, I made him say it twice. Côte d'Azur. 

He was as gorgeous as the roses.

He'll also pick out the most scented cultivars for you.

He's generously written all the roses on little signs at the end of each row, to make selection easier. 

I was after the elusive Christian Dior and Paris de Yves Saint Laurent roses. 
Which seem so rare they could be a myth.

We bought a few roses. Then a few more. 
Then we drove home to inspect the borders.

This was the target. A sad patch of empty garden in our empty suburban backyard. 
Which we originally moved to just so I could have a garden. 

It was time to face the dirt.
(Note: The raised beds have been properly screwed together since then.)

I like pink, so we bought bright, Schiaparelli-esque numbers: Queen Adelaide (above); Princess Anne (a beautiful David Austin); Gertrude Jekyll (one of the highlights of Mottisfont); the Eiffel Tower (very vigorous), Madame Isaac Pereire, and Paradise (below).

Also William Morris (a pretty pale orange rose that reminds me of the designer's muted palettes), Queen Elizabeth, Charles de Gaulle, Brother Cadfael, New Dawn, and to really mix the colour palette up, a rose called (rather worryingly) Sexy Rexy. 

We also planted salvias, dahlias, lilies, lavender, geraniums and other hardy French-style flowers. 

Just in case the roses failed. 
Which was highly likely.

So many salvias...

Then we all waited.

The gravel was laid a day before this photo was taken. It makes the garden look like a rustic French potager but it also reflects the heat onto the underside of the plants. A gardener at Versailles told me this.

 I don't know how true it is but those gardens in our neighbourhood that have gravel on their paths and even in the garden beds grow roses as big as dinner platters.

(NB You're meant to paint your trellises, gates and arbours French blue too, but we choose French grey. It will match the timber of the raised beds when they age.)

The thing about roses is that they don't like a lot of fuss. They actually hate attention. 

Just mix the soil properly and remember your "$5 hole-for-a-$2-plant" mantra. 
(I've forgotten the proper soil formula, but just toss some heavily composted soil together with a little dynamic lifter and manure and water in with Seasol. I throw some slow-release fertiliser on a month later, after the roots have settled. Some people put the fertiliser in the hole first, but it's up to you.)

Roses also seem to prefer the morning sun—at least here in our Mediterranean climate. 

And for some reason, our pale roses like a little shade in the afternoon. 

That's another tip from Dave, the rosarian: choose roses that suit not only your area but also your backyard's microclimate.

Spray for black spot and pests if you need to. (I use garlic spray for the latter, and try to prevent black spot by having little half-trellis boundaries—rather than hedges—to allow cross-breezes. There's some good black spot advice on sprays here—link

The lovely thing about rose gardens is that they teach you patience. And of course humility. (Because not everything will grow like you hope it will.) Wisdom, too.

 I tend to think a lot in this garden. 
I make business decisions and then, doubting myself, think: how can I make this business model (or project / plan / business relationship) work better? Surely, I think, studying the salvias, there's a better way? Then I go back to the business decision and consider it again.

Inevitably the business decisions mulled over here are the best ones made.

Eventually, three months, a lot of heavy spring rains, and some hot, sunny days later, there was some action in the gravel...

The Pinkie roses erupted.

So did the Pierre de Ronsard.

And the Charles de Gaulles in the obelisk beds were enormous.

The thing about picking gardens is that it doesn't matter how much you pick; there always seems to be something left in the bed to rise up the following week. I always feel guilty and leave something on the stems but lately I've noticed that the more I cut this cutting garden, the better it gets. The roses seem to love the pruning.

It's incredibly easy to create a rustic French picking garden. 
If I can do it, with my novice gardener's ineptitude, you can too.

But the best thing about picking gardens isn't the outdoor work. It's filling the vases inside, at the end of the day. That's my favourite part, I think.

Such simple pleasures.
And such unending gratitude.

Monday, November 10, 2014

From Vogue Living to Les Puces in Paris...

Here are a few lovely links and videos from around the world...

Vogue Living's latest issue (Nov/Dec 2014) is full of blue-hued gorgeousness, plus Ilse Crawford, Oman, London, Italian perfumeries, and more. 
Website and Instagram here—link.

Carolyne Roehm's deeply moving tribute to Oscar de la Renta, her employer, mentor and friend for many, many years, is on her blog this week.
Of all the tributes floating around, this is not just one of the most interesting insights into Mr de la Renta's life and career, it's also one of the most beautifully written. (link)

Architectural Digest magazine has just posted a fascinating article online about American photographer Gail Albert Halaban, who has managed to capture glimpses, Rear Window–style, of life in apartments all over Paris for a new book Paris Views. But before you think it's intrusive, all the subjects knew and agreed to being photographed. The rooftop architecture is almost as intriguing as what's going on behind the balconies. Link or link

When Susanna Salk and Timothy Corrigan went shopping at Les Puces in Paris, they were generous enough to share their experience (and tips) via a wonderful video by Quintessence, detailed on the blog here, or here—link 
(And don't miss the great insights into Timothy's French chateau, also on the Quintessence blog.)

Author Diane Dorrans Saeks details interior designer Jonathan Rachman's remarkable space for the Traditional Home Napa Showhouse on her Style Saloniste blog this week. 
Joanthan's highly original theme ‘Strait-Up English Colonial Tasting Room’, was inspired by the Straits of Malacca (hence the play on words), and his childhood growing up in Indonesia. It's a fantastic mix of cultures, motifs and period pieces from Singapore, India, Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as the Dutch, British and Portuguese trade years, all wrapped up in a classic colonial vibe. 

Just beautiful. (link) 
(All details, images and credits on Diane's blog.)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Travel Insights: Where To Go in 2015

If you're planning your 2015 sojourns, here are some inspiration and ideas to get you started.

The most important thing to remember when planning trips is that some destinations are seasonal, so pick your month with care.

I was set to do some work in Cambodia in May, enroute to London and Paris, but was advised to avoid the monsoon period, and travel in December instead. The rains can also wash out Paris at certain times of the year, usually late April and May, so take an umbrella and/or raincoat if you're heading there at that time. The best months to see Paris are April and September. 
New York is also beautiful in April, when the blossoms and bulbs all come out, while autumn/October in Manhattan is magical.
Charleston is also best in April (lots of private gardens open up to the public), while New Orleans is fab — both weather-wise and in terms of a festive spirit—at Halloween.
London is best in June when the roses come out, or Christmas, when the Chrissy decorations glow like a fairytale.
And Sydney is stunning in spring (Sept), but horribly muggy in summer (Jan).

All that said, it really doesn't matter when you travel, as long as you do travel.
Here are some places and ideas to get your 2015 itineraries started.


With the quirky name of Only You, this new, navy-trimmed beauty opened earlier this year. It was created from a former bookshop (now the bar) and a former 19th-century palace once owned by an aristocratic Spanish family. 

The interior design retains the charm of the original buildings while adding some surprising touches. The elevators in the foyer, for example, have been hidden behind a beautiful blue-and-white Chinoiserie facade. 

Its designer Lázaro Rosa Violán is fast becoming the new Michele Bonan (the talent behind JK Capri), blending classic lines with contemporary art and eclectic pieces. The hotel is right in central Madrid and has rooms from €160. Leaving you lots of money to splurge on Spanish tapas and wine.


If you haven't yet been to this London cutie, put it on The List. Inspired by grand Parisian brasseries, The Balcon Bar is one of the city's prettiest and most delightful spots for a pick-me-up G&T or a chat with friends over a dirty great magnum of French Champagne. 

The design and colour palette – periwinkle blue paired with rich mahogany timbers and high ceilings—is so alluring, people have been known to steal the design ideas for their own home.

Other lovely places to check out in London include the just-opened Mondrian Hotel, the ever-improving Fashion and Textile Museum (just near the Design Museum), the pretty new Cabbages and Roses store off King's Road, and the new designer boutiques and buzzing scene set around elegant Mount Street in Mayfair.


Ever since it opened in 2012, The Siam Hotel in Bangkok has become one of the most talked-about hotels in travel circles. It's owned by a Thai rock start but there's definitely no sign of ripped jeans and Jaggereque swagger here: just coolly glamorous suites and Instagram-worthy antique collections. The aesthetic is classic colonial, so vintage suitcases and old hunting hats dot the sideboards, but the colour palette of cool blue, Dior grey and ebony black modernises the design.

The best part? The enormous spa-style bathrooms and private pools (above). The hotel also provides handy floorplans so you can see how much luxury you're getting for your Baht. 

It makes those Bangkok stopovers look a whole lot brighter.
(NB This place isn't cheap, so put it on the 'Indulgence List')


Remember when Gwyneth Paltrow was slapped around by social media for posting about her 4-day, $62,000 trip aboard the Silolona schooner? (link) (Personally, I think: Good on her. If she has the cash, why not?) Well, Gwennie may have been onto something, because sailing the Indonesian archipelago has become one of THE hottest activities in travel as we face the head winds of 2015.

Why? Well, Indonesia's remote islands are possibly the last unexplored place on earth, now that Bhutan is busier than the Eurostar.

 The relatively secret Raja Ampat has long been regarded by the diving world as a pristine diving and snorkelling destination, but there are hundreds of unexplored islands to snorkel/swim/hike here. Furthermore, Bali-based brands such as Villa Sungai and Plantaran (above) offer amazing old refitted schooners to cruise on, with all meals and drinks included.

Two other tropical destinations that are starting to see schooners—one of the best ways to explore watery places – are the Maldives and Fiji. Both are particularly suited to schooner-ish adventures because you can sail from island to island, snorkelling the pristine reefs in between. I've been liaising with a lovely California travel agency, Pacific Harbor Travel, about their dedicated snorkelling cruises to the Maldives and Fiji—perfect for travellers who want to escape the stress of life by drifting underwater for their entire holiday. The best part? They're usually less than $400/day (all-inclusive), as opposed to the standard $700+ (without meals) charged by most Maldives resorts. 

Sounds idyllic, doesn't it? 
Gwennie may have had the right idea escaping on a schooner, after all...


Ever since an online friend, Miss Slim Paley (link) photographed and posted about the Royal Mansour in Marrakech, I've had it on the Wish List. Commissioned by King Mohamed VI of Morocco to accommodate state guests, its interior comprises intricate, finely-detailed tiles, furniture and lighting handmade by local artisans whose decorative arts skills have been passed down through the generations. 

SP finds ALL the best hideaways in the world—she also did the Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru in the Maldives; one of the most beautiful places on earth—but what I love is that she elected not to stay here and pay the eye-watering prices but simply went for lunch instead. (Which then lingered into cocktails and dinner. Cos that's the sort of ravishing place it is.)

Booking a lunch instead of a bed is the cheap way of seeing such luscious places. The hotel doesn't mind how long you stay, as long as you keep ordering wine, and you're normally welcome to wander around the courtyards and grounds between courses, or afterwards. 

We're having a pre-Christmas lunch at Amanjiwo to save money this very way.


If you're stuck for inspiration, or just want some travel eye candy to get you through the lunch hour, some great travel blogs are Tuula Vintage (also has lists of vintage stores) and Friend in Fashion (image above). Four Months in Paris is also full of Parisian pleasures while Pret a Voyager always has great ideas – her map posts are gorgeous. I also love A Lady In London because she has what seems like an incredible life but also seems very down-to-earth about it –


If you've 'done' a lot of Paris and want to see different things, there are all sorts of secret corners offering aesthetic treasures. Along with Frank Gehry's new Fondation Louis Vuitton (just opened last month), there's also Louis Vuitton Espace Culturel, a quiet gallery space on the second floor of the Paris flagship store. Not only does it offer a glorious view of the rooftops of Paris but it also features ongoing exhibitions, and each one comes with a covetable, limited-edition cloth-covered catalogue. You can wander through with a guide, or explore the space on your own. 

The well-stocked reading room is bliss, too. And it's all FREE.

If you can't get to Paris, consider buying the truly beautiful Louis Vuitton book, 100 Legendary Trunks: The History of the Travel Trunk (above). I received this for a Christmas gift and it remains my favourite design book. (link) A great Chrissy gift for the adventurer in your family.


Another sumptuous book to inspire you is The French Riviera in the 1920s, by Xavier Girard. It's a new release from Assouline and I was lucky to receive it as a gift from The Man for surviving a tough few months. It's now my second-favourite book. The photos alone are worth the price tag. See if Santa will gift it to you. It will inspire you to visit / return to the French Riviera, trust me! (link)


Another new title that's creating a buzz amongst stylish travellers is Kate Spade's new travel book, Places To Go; People To See(link) 

Full of quirky lists and even-more irresistible drawings, it reminds you that travel is meant to be fun: something we all forget on occasion.


Something we've started to do in our house is collect little bits and pieces from our travels and display them in our kitchen, where we pass them every day as we walk outside. It reminds us of the places we've been fortunate to visit, the sights we've seen, and the lovely people we've met along the way... It also reminds us to be grateful for our travels, cos it's unlikely we'll be lounging around the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc when we're eighty...!

The team at Maison Valentino has also done it. They love travel so much, they featured a mood board as part of a recent fashion show.


I'm going to leave you with a place that was recently voted by hotel and publishing company Mr and Mrs Smith as being one of the most beautiful in the world. It's Six Senses's sublime hideaway at Ninh Van Bay in Vietnam(link)

Now this isn't cheap, so reserve it for anniversaries or indulgences, but it's said to be worth every cent. Some of the villas have their own private plunge pools carved out of the rock cliffs, as well as hand-crafted timber soaking baths.

And just look at that view...

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