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Archive for the ‘Gardens and Gardening’ Category

It’s a lazy, rainy Sunday here – so welcome in the middle of hot summer – and it seems like the perfect time to sit down and share some photos of the lazy, rainy time I spent visiting Giverny back in May.

Monet’s gardens at Giverny are world-famous and well-loved, welcoming more than 500,000 visitors each year.  Within day-trip distance of Paris, the tiny village of Giverny explodes during the day as tourist arrive, filling the gardens and the village with garden-lovers from all over the world, only to contract again in the evening to a sleepy place where only two restaurants are open.

I started my trip this year in Giverny, going there directly after landing in Paris (where I connected with my mother who had started her trip a week earlier in the Czech Republic).  Staying at a cosy B&B within the village, I got to relax in its quiet bird-filled garden and stretch my legs after a long travel day by walking the path between Giverny and the nearby town of Vernon.  After airports and airplanes, it was such a relief to walk through fields and be surrounded by flowers, fresh air, and, delightfully, cows.  Then it was back to the B&B to laze in the garden until dinner and read Mad Enchantment, Ross King’s excellent history of Monet’s paintings of the water lilies.  I love being able to match my reading to my holiday destination and this was the perfect choice.  Reading about Giverny and Monet’s life there added so much to my experience of the village and the house and gardens.  Stopping to see the family grave in the small cemetery, all the names of his family members meant so much more to me because of what I learned about them in the book.

The next morning, with our pre-purchased tickets in hard, we showed up at the gardens right at opening time.  We strolled around the water garden (devoid of water lilies in mid-May), posed on the wisteria-laden Japanese bridge for the ubiquitous photos, and enjoyed the general calm of the gardens before too many others arrived.

We then made our way to the gardens surrounding the house, where row upon row of irises were in full bloom.  There was a light mist of rain that morning, which made the vivid blues and purples of the irises stand out more than they would have in full sun.  Iris are one of my favourite flowers so, for me, this was absolutely the perfect time to have visited the gardens.

After spending the bulk of the morning in the gardens, we visited Giverny’s small but well-curated Impressionist Museum, strolled about the village, and spent another lazy afternoon back in the B&B’s garden.  I absolutely loved staying in Giverny for two nights and not having to rush about like the many day trippers we saw visiting, who seemed too worried about catching their buses and making it to their next destination to enjoy the many small charms of the village.  It was such a pleasure to be able to see everything in a relaxed manner, especially after so many years of looking forward to visiting. And it set the laid-back tone for the rest of our time in France, when we left the following morning for the stunning Brittany coast.

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The Virago Book of Women GardenersIt is a long weekend here and I’ve spent the past two days trying to convince myself to sit down and write this post.  That proved an impossible task on Saturday and Sunday, both beautiful days, but today it is raining, offering me the perfect opportunity to come inside and write.  And The Virago Book of Women Gardeners edited by Deborah Kellaway is the perfect book to write about this weekend, since everywhere I’ve looked the past few days I’ve seen people energetically doing battle in their gardens, getting them ready for summer.

The Virago Book of Women Gardeners is a compendium of garden writing by women from the 17th Century to the end of the 20th.  Some of the women were gardeners first and foremost (Rosemary Verey, Gertrude Jekyll, Margery Fish), others were writers who dabbled in their gardens (Sylvia Plath, Edith Wharton, Colette), and a number were people who I had never heard of before.  Together, their writings form a delightful, fun, and inspiring book.  It made me dream desperately of gardens I will never have and encouraged me to do the best for the meager garden I do enjoy.

Kellaway divides the book into thematic sections, a technique that works very well given how broad the book’s focus is.  I enjoyed all the sections (except, perhaps, for the section on “Flower Arrangers”, who do not belong among gardeners, in my opinion) but I had my favourites.  These were: “Visitors and Travellers”, “Advisers and Designers”, “Colourists”, and “Townswomen”.   And I had my favourite writers, too.  While some of the authors only had one excerpt in the book, others appeared time and again.  These were generally exactly who you would expect them to be: Ursula Buchan, Anna Pavord, Vita Sackville-West, Rosemary Verey, Elizabeth von Arnim and, of course, Gertrude Jekyll.  Jekyll’s writing feels so fresh and engaging, so modern and relaxed, that it is almost jarring to realise how long ago she was writing.  One of the other delights of this book was being introduces to one of Jekyll’s neighbours and contemporaries, Mrs. C.W. Earle.  Mrs. Earle wrote a number of bestselling books, starting in 1897 with Pot Pourri from a Surrey Garden, that were largely about gardening but appear to have wandered on to whatever topic struck their author’s fancy.  I came away from this book with a long list of other books to read – Mrs Earle’s books are at the very top.

Utrecht, 2012

Utrecht, 2012

On first going into a garden one knows by instinct, as a hound scents the fox, if it is going to be interesting or not. 

– Mrs. C.W. Earle, 1897

Freiburg im Breisgau, 2012

Freiburg im Breisgau, 2012

Weeds have a particular fascination for us.  They are endlessly interesting, like an enemy who occupies our thoughts and schemes so much more than any friend and who (though we would never admit it) we should miss if he suddenly moved away.  I know the weeds in my garden better than most of my flowers and, without them, my victories would be insipid affairs.  Weeds provide the challenge that most gardeners require.  They may sometimes appear to us as ineradicable as Original Sin, but we would be sorry to have to admit that, like sin, we were not conscious of a strong urge to overcome them.

-Ursula Buchan, 1987

Victoria, 2011

Victoria, 2011

…the Dahlia’s first duty in life is to flaunt and to swagger and to carry gorgeous blooms well above its leaves, and on no account to hang its head. 
– Gertrude Jekyll, 1899

Vancouver, 2012

Vancouver, 2012

Why should fast growth automatically be an advantage, I wonder?  Instant gardening is no more satisfying to the soul than thirty-second snatches of Mozart, condensed novels, or fast food. 
– Anna Pavord, 1992

Vancouver, 2013

Vancouver, 2013

Half the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination.  You are always living three, or indeed six, months hence.  I believe that people entirely devoid of imagination never can be really good gardeners.  To be content with the present, and not striving about the future, is fatal. 
– Mrs. C.W. Earle, 1897

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I woke up this morning thinking “yes, today I will finally blog about one of the many, many books I’ve read recently.” I really did have the best of intentions, planning to talk about The Bannister Girls by Jean Saunders, a light romance from Bloomsbury Reader which I sped through Thursday morning about the lives of three sisters during the First World War, but then I got a better offer: to take advantage of the rain-free morning (a rarity this week) and go tour the local botanical gardens.  So, instead of a review, here are a few photos:

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I may (still) not be reviewing but I am reading.  Right now, I’m in the midst of Inside the Kingdom by Robert Lacey, a profile of Saudi Arabia from the 1970s to the present, and Betsy and the Great World by Maud Hart Lovelace, in which twenty-one year old Betsy leaves Minnesota in early 1914 to tour Europe.  I am loving the Lacey so far and, when I need a break, Betsy is a most entertaining distraction, although the frequent descriptions of her outfits are driving me slightly mad.  (These sartorial details were also a distraction for me in the only other Maud Hart Lovelace book I’ve read, Emily of Deep Valley.)  Betsy, bless her, has some truly horrific sounding outfits in the most garish colours.

Tonight I’m off to the theatre but I really (honestly!) will spend some of this weekend working on reviews.

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Yesterday morning, it was pouring rain.  By the afternoon, with the help of a swift breeze, all that was coming down from the clear blue skies were cherry tree blossoms.  I love April.

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After an exhausting weekend, I wish I could just collapse into one of those garden chairs in the park for the next week or so and just sit still.  Why are weekends, particularly in summer, always too short?

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June here has been full of grey skies and lots of rain.  To be fair, it has been relatively warm but that’s about it.  When I was volunteering at the botanical gardens this week, there was a brief period where the sun (almost) burst out and I dashed about taking photos.  The weather might be depressing but the flowers are certainly bright and cheerful this time of year!

 

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The weather here continues to be bizarrely wonderful and incredibly distracting for those of us who feel like they should be writing book reviews.  Vancouver is not a city renowned for sunshine.  It’s wonderful when it comes but always a surprise, making everyone a little giddy and irresponsible.  The default weather is rain so when it is sunny, you make the most of it.  You go outside, you garden, you break out the barbeque, you hang out in the park, you relax on the beach, you spend afternoons drinking on restaurant patios – all the usual sunshine-inspired activities.  And then when the rain comes back, you feel like you made the most of the sun and look forward to its next appearance.  Well, I have definitely been making most of the sun (including hanging my sheets out on the line this morning – is there anything that smells better than sun-dried sheets?) and in lieu of a proper bookish post (hopefully I’ll manage one soon) I thought I’d share some photos from this weekend.

On Friday, I was out at the University of British Columbia picking up books from a couple of its libraries.  I like UBC best during the summer, when the bulk of the students are gone and, despite the construction projects everywhere, it is relatively quiet.  It is fun being on a university campus again and it is hard to think of another school that can offer such stunning views of the ocean and snow-capped mountains:

On Saturday, my mom and I visited the local botanical garden.  I’ve recently started volunteering there, working in the visitor’s centre, and I’m having a lot of fun.  The other volunteers are very knowledgeable and spend a lot of time talking about their own gardens so I’m learning a great deal from them.  And it is just fun to deal with people again in a customer-facing role, especially since I only have to do it twice a month.  Dealing with customers all day long, week after week is exhausting but a couple of times a month is just perfect.  And it is a wonderful change from the solitude of working at home.  Most of all, I love going out to walk around the garden after my shift and see what’s in bloom.  Expect to see a lot of garden photos this summer as I always go with my camera.

Well, that’s about it.  I’m hoping to get a bit of reading in this afternoon – it has been a remarkably book-free weekend so far – and then maybe even work on a couple of book reviews so I have something to post this week.  Maybe.  Hope you are having or, depending on your time zone, had a lovely weekend!

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