Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Saturday, June 3, 2017

JUNE IN BLOOM: Books, Bouquets, Fashion, and Hideaways


June is traditionally the garden lover's favourite month. It's the time when most gardens, certainly those in the northern hemisphere, are in full floraison. I love this time of year in England, Europe and the US; the roses are in blousy, full-petalled bloom, the days begin early and end late -- usually in a glorious golden light; there are countless private gardens that have graciously opened their gates for charity days, and there are floral borders galore to explore. Even if you're ensconced in winter in the southern hemisphere, there is something uplifting about seeing all the gardenalia on Instagram and in magazines. Gardens take us places. Even if we can't experience them in person, their beauty transports us to a place of grace, away from the pressures and stresses of everyday.

I'm actually on a 'botanical break' at present -- I had to take a few weeks off social media in order to focus on some pressing projects, including a big garden book (above), which has been a joy to work on, despite the logistical difficulties.  I hope you'll love the gardens that we've featured in it, including the stunning country estates of Carolyne Roehm, Jeffrey Bilhuber, and many other celebrated design names.

But I will be back on Instagram in a week or two with some beautiful pix of gardens, grand and small. After a crazy year of deadlines, more deadlines, endless nights of writing and endless days of all work and little exercise, it has been wonderful to get out of the office finally; to go for long walks with my partner and our dogs again, and to catch up with friends over Champagne and laughter and stories galore. (I caught up with so many of them last month, during various events for the biography -- seeing everyone was the best part of the publicity tour.) 

There's nothing like flowers and friendships to make a person appreciate life, I think. I'm deeply grateful for my friends, new and old; for the books we exchange, the cakes they bake (see our 'feast' of an afternoon tea at Picardy garden last month; I didn't contribute to these vegan fantasies but I did make Picardy wrapping paper and bought gifts of books), for the wonderful and often funny stories that are told, and for all the the memories that linger long after everyone has departed.

So here's to June. To travel, flowers, laughter, friends, family, books, and botanica. 
May it be a beautiful month for you, too. 

(All pix above by me, excluding the beautiful image of the glorious iris garden in Carolyne Roehm's country home, which Carolyne has kindly supplied for our new garden book.)



If you're in New York or New England in June, there are four magnificent private gardens opening their gates to the public on June 17 and 18 as part of the wonderful Garden Conservancy organization.

Bunny Williams' beautiful garden is one, Michael Trapp's another. Both are in Litchfield County, Connecticut. (I will be visiting both of these, so will post pix on Instagram.)

Across the border in Duchess County, in upstate New York, there are two more gorgeous garden that are well worth the drive. Christopher Spitzmiller's idyllic garden (two images above of Christopher's interior and garden above from Christopher's website, shot by Archi Digest) is as pretty as his lamps, while Katie Ridder and Peter Pennoyer's garden has become known the world over thanks to their bestselling book, A House in the Country. (Top image; house with red door).

More details:


If you happen to be in England in June, there are two gardens that are well worth visiting. 

Amanda Lack Clark's garden at Seend Manor (interior and garden shown above) is a sublime country estate in Wiltshire that is so beautiful, many of us follow her Instagram just to catch glimpses of it among the other delightful pix of her life. Seend is having a rare Open Garden event on June 17 and 18; details are on various sites -- Google "Seend Manor" for more. 

Amanda's Instagram (from which came these images) is also worth following -- LINK HERE.

 And down in Kent, Old Bladbead Stud (see the three garden images above) is another magnificent private garden that only is open several times a year, with the next days being June 11 and 25. Details are HERE. Owner Carol also posts photos of the garden on her website (usually weekly in summer), so you can see what's flowering. It's a little-known garden that deserves to be better known. Many gardeners I know say it's one of the prettiest flower gardens in England.


I missed the Chelsea Flower Show this year, for the first time in many years, because of publicity commitments for a new biography. However, I loved seeing everyone's pix on Instagram. If you're heading to London this year and need a few travel tips on where to go (shameless plug!) there is a lovely book out called LONDON SECRETS -- link here. It is now in bookshops in London, as well as in the US and elsewhere, and is starting to show up in bookstores in Australia too. (It's also available online.) So if you're going to London this year, I hope you'll consider it -- whether for yourself or as a gift for a UK-bound friend. 



I adore the look of this new Paris hotel. It's feminine, sophisticated, witty and whimsical, and doesn't seem to have cut the budget on interior design, either. It's called Hotel de Jobo, and it's been receiving lots of well-deserved press for its stunning design. Designed by Bambi Sloan, (who calls herself "part designer, part storyteller"; what a great line to put on your business card), the hotel was inspired by Josephine Bonaparte, Napoleon's first wife and, briefly, Empress of France. Like her husband, Josephine was a bit of a leader, particularly in style and design. She was one of the first to make leopard fashionable, and her love for roses created a craze for them that has not abated since. This hotel has all of her passions and more. It's pretty and witty, and Josephine would have probably adored it!



Do you follow British fashion designer Alice Temperley on Instagram? No? Well, if you love fashion and flowers, she is one to add to your list. Her account is full of floaty, romantic dresses but where she differs slightly from most fashion designers is that she often posts scenes from her atelier, too: the detailed shots of the embroidery being done are some of the most beautiful  dressmaking images I've ever seen.

Alice Temperley has already produced a book, which was a bestseller (I gave it to my sister-in-law, who loved it), and is now finishing a second one, called Myths and Legends. While the first was all about Alice's life and career, and the challenges she faced, the second gives a more intimate view of the world that Alice inhabits, revealing both practical and sentimental sides of the artist’s creative process. (Images from Temperley's Instagram feed. Alice has her own Instagram, which is worth following too, but the Temperley official Instagram shows more of the designs and collections.)

BOOK DETAILS HERE: Myths & Legends


I first spotted the whimsically named I Love Pero fashion label in Scarlett Jones' store several years ago. Since then, I've seen its fame grow. Stylist Sibella Court also loves it. Designed by Delhi fashion designer, Aneeth Arora, it's distributed in both the US and Australia (I'm not sure about Europe), and it stands apart from many other fashion labels for its intricate use of embroidery, which India is a leader in. if you love textiles, fashion, and particularly embroidery, you will love Pero's collections. (Images left and centre are mine; image on right is from I Love Pero's Instagram.)



Have you noticed there is a return to femininity in both fashion and interiors? Flowers too. And much of it seems to be driven by the new love affair with a colour that hasn't been seen for years: palest pink.  Or what's been dubbed 'millennial pink'.

I first noticed this pretty shade of pink in The Ivy in Santa Monica (see my image of The Ivy restaurant; first image above), where it was the perfect backdrop to the bright, beachy upholstery and stunning fresh flowers that are always a feature of this place. 

Then  I saw it at Sketch in London, and then at the new Playa Grande hideaway in the Dominican Republic last year (see my images above), where Celerie Kemble has used it sparingly but beautifully (it is the exact shade of the beach in front of the estate), painting shutters and floors, and dressing pillows and cushions and select pieces of furniture. It doesn't look too pink because there are acres of white and aquamarine to offset the sugariness. And of course the lush green of the tropical garden and the blue sky above to offer visual reprieve. But take all the other shades away and it still works, I think. It's tropical, but not over the top. Elegant, but understated.

Then pale pink, or Millennial pink, showed up on the UK Harper's Bazaar's May cover (above; four image from top), which was a sublime design featuring rosebuds entwined into the masthead. (I loved this cover so much, I used it as inspiration for mini chocolates for our biography launch last month; the blues and pinks perfectly matched the colour of the biogaphy.) 

And now I've started seeing this pink in stores, too, including The Rose Street Trading Co (above; second image), which now stocks exquisite vases and boxes, as well as on Instagram, which seems to be showing more and more pink houses -- and pink pieces to go in them. (I can't find where this lovely lantern came from, above. If anyone knows, please tell me so I can credit -- and buy it!)

But perhaps my favourite pink moments have been this gelato flower (above), which is part of a new global ice cream trend that's seeing ice cream sculptured to look like roses (this gelato consists of citrus, stracciatella, mango and raspberry), and this pink wallpaper by de Gourney at Paris Déco Off. Both are utterly sublime.

Let's hope this elegant, enticing, ultra-feminine colour stays around for a little while longer.


Have you noticed there's a new genre of garden book? It's all about flower farms! 

There are several flower farm books out at the moment but one of the best is by Erin Benzakein, the founder of Floret Flower Farm, and one of the leaders of the locally grown flower movement in America.

Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden has equal parts instruction and inspiration, but what you'll really be doing is gazing at all the images, particularly the fields of dahlias. It's a sumptuous book with beautiful photographs that really show the beauty of this heavenly space on the American West Coast.

Her instagram is glorious, too.



Have you noticed how beautiful the UK edition of Harper's Bazaar has become over the past year or so? Ever since Justine Picardie took the reigns, it has blossomed (forgive the pun) into an elegant, sophisticated, surprisingly interesting read. The May and June issues are always my favourite for their garden-focused stories. Even the covers, above, are creative, and daring, and have become, not surprisingly, collector's pieces.


A lovely friend of mine in the Adelaide Hills, Clare Tomkins, sends me the most beautiful properties for sale, to tempt us to buy them. In turn, I send her gardens that I find online that I think are worth visiting. (Such as the incredible Old Wesleydale in Tasmania, which now has a new orangery, and dovecote but which Clare already knew about and had visited, because serious garden lovers tend to be on top of all the best gardens!)

So... A few weeks ago I found this extraordinary but slightly run-down estate for sale, and before I could email Clare and say: "LOOK!" I had dragged my partner on a five-hour round-trip to the country for an inspection. It had a surprisingly affordable price for a one-acre, 150-year-old estate, but what stood out was the garden -- the most glorious Italianate garden I've seen in years. 

It was very down-at-heel, but the architectural bones were good. There were three or four separate walled gardens, layers of low box hedges to create 'gardens within gardens', and dozens of espalier trees everywhere... Even the antique urns were astonishing. 

My photos don't do it justice -- the light was fading and I was only snapping for our own property files -- so I've attached two of the agent's images immediately above. You can see the two grand old colonial houses on the property, and the four walled gardens that run between them. The owner was almost eighty, and while the beds were overgrown and the herb garden needed a good weed, he had clearly done a superb job of both designing and maintaining this amazing Italianate garden for many decades. 

If only it was closer to the city! 
If only we had the money to buy and restore it all to the standard it deserves!

Wishing you all a lovely June, whatever you may be doing, and wherever you may be. 

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Power of Enthralling Stories

I want to tell you a story. A story about a story.

Several years ago, I was staying in B&B in Provence when I suddenly realized the engaging hostess I'd been happily chatting to for the past two days was the widow of Pierre Salinger, the well-known politician, journalist, and one-time White House Press Secretary to former U.S. President John F. Kennedy. I'd been vaguely aware of the connection before I checked in, but then work and photo shoots took over and I forgot, until I walked into the library one night holding a small aperitif that she'd kindly offered and noticed the photos of John and Jackie Kennedy. It was then that she began telling me a story. About Pierre. And JFK. And what happened the night that Kennedy was assassinated.

As the story unfolded, my overworked brain cleared and I began to realize the significance of what was being discussed. And who my hostess was. And so I listened. I listened for the hour that it took to tell (by which time I had pins and needles and needed to wee!), and as I did so, I realized it was an extraordinary story; the kind of story you hear perhaps three or four times in your life. I was immediately captivated but I was also conscious that it was the kind of story that needed to be saved somehow, so it could be retold to future generations. Of course some stories are not for retelling. And perhaps this was one. But, like most journalists and authors, I am of the firm belief that if we don't save such stories, if we don't archive them somehow, they will be forgotten. And then all these great stories that we hear in distant libraries will be lost in the dust of the footsteps of Old Man Time.

I vowed then that if I was ever fortunate enough to hear another such story, I would write it down.

As a journalist, I hear stories all the time. We all do. Stories that make us chuckle or laugh, or cry, and wipe our eyes, and cry again. I've even heard stories that were so astonishing, so far outside the boundaries of my beliefs, that I could only shake my head in disbelief. But those are the best stories, I think; the unbelievable ones. Because those are the ones that challenge us, and make us think. Those are the stories that force us to contemplate them, long after the last unbelievable word has been said.

I have been working on one such story for the past five years. It's the story behind the story of Picnic at Hanging Rock, that beautiful, quietly haunting novel, which Peter Weir turned into an equally beautiful, equally haunting film. And after five years of research and long nights of writing, it is finally being published by Bonnier Publishers this weekend, on April 2, beginning with a two-chapter extract in the Good Weekend magazine in The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.

It's such an extraordinary story that I think it might even surpass the JFK story in the Intrigue Stakes.

We are taught that things only exist if they are measurable. If they are not measurable, or quantifiable, we're not sure how to categorize them. But in researching this book, I learned that there is far more to life than what we blithely assume. The story of Picnic at Hanging Rock lies somewhere between the rational and the inexplicable, between reason and wonder, and the story behind it lies somewhere in that strange realm too.

But it doesn't matter what I believe, or disbelieve -- or indeed what others believe, or disbelieve. Picnic at Hanging Rock remains a great story, 50 years after it was first published. And I hope the story that I've written, the biography of its enigmatic, beautiful, complex, clever author Joan Lindsay, is just as enthralling.

I also hope that others will write or record similar stories they hear. Because we need these stories, more than ever before. They are part of our history, and our identity, but more than that, they are places of grace; small sanctuaries amid the shoutiness and sound bites and Snapchat grabs of modern society.

So I hope you'll all record your own life stories one day. And your family's stories. And those stories you hear in a library, in a landscape far away.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Books, Beauty, Venice, Manolo Blahnik, and Grand Adventures...


I know it's only March, but there's a definite theme emerging for many people this year, and it's one of adventure. Have you noticed how everyone's planning an adventure in 2017? Not just a trip, but a grand journey, usually to some remote or poetic place? Is it to get away from everything that's happening in the world? Or just a reaction to all the cheap airfares and / or extraordinary exhibitions opening this spring? (Dior, Balenciaga, more Dior...)

Unfortunately, our travel budget is tight this year, and I'm tethered to work projects, so I had to find an adventure that was a) affordable and b) easy to get to -- preferably in a weekend. The answer was at the end of a 2-hour train ride from Milan, on a misty, wintry, Friday afternoon in February....


During Carnevale. 

And I can't recommend this adventure enough.


If you've never been to Venice, go in February. The costumes, wigs, hats, whimsy, watery backdrop, lagoon sunrises, and languid boat trips up the Grand Canal at the end of each foggy afternoon will lift your spirits faster than a fine prosecco. It is a city like no other. And during Carnevale, it becomes a magnificent mise-en-scène that is unparalleled anywhere in the world. 

Lots of pix and tips are on my Instagram here 

But if you're considering going to Venice, the best thing to do is not to plan too much. Just book a pretty boutique hotel, and there are plenty available to choose from. (I stayed at AD Place near Piazza San Marco, which has a wonderful Fortuny-like entrance of fabrics, exquisitely pretty striped rooms, and fantastic free breakfasts.) Then grab a map, tuck it in your pocket, and prepare to get lost amongst the grey-blue canals, because that's the best way to experience Venice. 

See the Fortuny Museum (beautiful, but read AS Byatt's book on Fortuny before you do), have dinner at the Aman Hotel (extraordinary interiors), or just buy a mask and join the crowds with their feathers and fun.

On the Saturday afternoon, having watched the judging of the elaborate costumes in the piazza, I grabbed a Bellini (Venice's famous drink) and sat in the sun in front of the Giardini Reali garden, watching the gondoliers and boats come and go. Dozens of others were doing the same. I'm certain we will all remember that moment, sitting on the steps in the winter sun as the Venetian watercraft went by.

Venice offered the kind of simple bliss that many of us long for in our lives. All is took was a Bellini and a view to make the heart sing. That's what the best adventures are made of, I think. Simple things.

If you're heading to Venice this year, there are some good books out about the city. Skye McAlpine's beautiful book on her life in Venice is particularly lovely -- and she offers some tips to finding the best of 'Secret Venice' here -- LINK. Her Venetian blog is also worth a look -- HERE (Her photographs are stunning.)

There are also new books about Venice from Assouline, including one shot by the talented Australian-New York photographer Robyn Lea. (See post below.)


In Milan that same week, I finished a meeting early so I decided to slip in another adventure -- this time of the embroidered variety: the magnificent Manolo Blahnik Exhibition, 'The Art of Shoes', at the quietly grand Palazzo Morando.

One of the best fashion retrospectives I've ever seen, this free exhibition (until April 9) spans almost 50 years of Mr Blahnik's collections and inspirations -- including his own grand adventures.

Geographical influences are evident in many of his shoes (his love of Greece, antiquities and architecture certainly shows), but the 'Nature' room is perhaps the most beautiful part of the exhibition. Shoes designed with floral flowers, ivy, leaves, and other embroidered botanical motifs form a kind of romantic greenhouse. Even Manolo Blahnik confesses that he has a soft spot for his garden-inspired designs, particularly 'Ivy', the shoe that he created in 1972 for English fashion designer Ossie Clark.

If you can't make it to Milan, there's a beautiful book to accompany the exhibition, The Art of Shoes, published by Rizzoli.



In London, I was lucky enough to catch another stunning exhibition, Vanessa Bell: 1879-1941, which chronicles the remarkable life and career of Vanessa Bell, who is finally achieving her own fame away from her sister Virginia Woolf and the rest of the outrageously talented Bloomsbury Set.

The exhibition, at the Dulwich Gallery, isn't large, but is imbued with glorious, Bloomsbury-esque beauty, most notably in the paintings, portraits, letters, still lives, landscapes, notes, drawings, and photos of Charleston and the characters who lived, loved, gardened, painted, fought and loved again in the bucolic charm of the now-famous farmhouse.

There's a great Guardian article called Design and Desires: How Vanessa Bell Put The Bloom in Bloomsbury here -- LINK. And there are several good biographies about Bell, the best of which is Frances Spalding's fantastic book. 

Or look for a copy of the March issue of UK Harper's Bazaar, which has several articles about the exhibition and also Charleston. (They might now be online). The most touching tribute in Harper's was an article by Bell's granddaughter, Virginia Nicholson, who praises her grandmother's "adventurousness". 

Vanessa Bell, you certainly were a quiet achiever.



One of the things I've learned after being in publishing and books for so long is how far a gracious attitude will take you. Gratitude and thank-you emails are also important, of course -- in any career -- but being kind is imperative.I always try and practice kindness, even when situations are difficult, or relationships become strained, or illness / fatigue or other wearying factors test the patience. But I'm far from perfect. And I often fall down under the pressure of stress. But I always get up from the floor, apologise, and keep trying. Because graciousness and kindness are more important than ever. They're the only things that will get us through this turbulent year, I think.

Bestselling author and photographer Robyn Lea is an example of real kindness -- and how it can take you far in life. Formerly based in Milan and New York, Robyn now travels between Australia and the rest of the world for her work, and her photography schedule makes me dizzy!  She is working on 10 (I think? It could be more?) books at the moment, including several Assouline titles. She is the epitome of an adventurous spirit. 

This is her library and work space. Gorgeous, non? 

But when I popped in to see her recently, what impressed me even more than her adventurous spirit was her generosity. She put me onto a contact of hers who is scouting for new stories for SBS, which then springboarded into a meeting next week. Even if it doesn't amount to anything, I was deeply touched by the gesture. 

This is her beautiful new book, Dinner With Georgia O'Keefe. It's out now (Assouline), and is a follow-up to the New York Times bestseller Dinner with Jackson Pollack

Both titles are filled with beautiful photos and delicious recipes, and would make gorgeous gifts!

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