Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, October 2018

A few weeks ago, we took a trip to New York City for the weekend.  New York, while incredibly urban, does have some amazing gardens to visit.  One of those is the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. (This a link to a fellow bloggers page which shows the gardens in summer.)

The outside area is several acres in the corner of Prospect Park and contains many wonderful greenhouses and outdoor spaces.  There are several large interconnected greenhouses which are partially below ground- each is entered from a central gathering area.  The rooms are separated into different climate zones which contain plants from all over the world.

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the tropical room
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the sub-tropical room

There are various tropical, temperate and desert rooms, all with amazing plants.

Outside, there is a spectacular rose garden built in 1927.  There seemingly hundreds of varieties of roses from all over the world.  Many of the varieties are decades old.

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I have seen some wonderful roses in England, but this garden is truly an equal to anything I saw over there.  The range and variety was stunning.  (I will also point out that it was October, and several bushes had finished blooming for the year, but even so, it was totally stunning.)

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If you are in the area, this is a can’t miss experience.

Happy Travels!

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“Trained” fruit tree
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A sample of the Bonsai Collection

 

Chatsworth Gardens, July 2018

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On the day we went to Chatsworth, I spent some time exploring the gardens.  They are world famous- the fountain (above) is one of the most interesting features, but there are many….

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Surprisingly, unlike many other gardens we have visited in England, there were no flowers which were apparent.  (It seems that they were in another part of the garden which I missed) but I did get the chance to see the spectacular water features everywhere..

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As well as an odd collection of Yew bushes…IMG_9283 (1)

The Serpentine walk (one of symbols of the Devonshire family is the serpent.)

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And my favorite part- the Tree of Brass which spouts water from its branches!

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Finally, there was some lovely park land with gravel roads to walk along.  I even came across this beautiful Elephant sculpture.

I throughly enjoyed the Chatsworth Gardens.  *It is worth noting that when in England this summer, it was clear that they were experiencing a massive drought… everywhere which would normally be green was brown, and the fountains at Chatsworth were at perhaps 40% the normal capacity.

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The Orangery

And finally, an homage to the great Joseph Paxton Green house of the 19th century- which was sadly pulled down due to the exorbitant  expense of coal heating it required.  It still does, however, maintain the famous Lily pads!

If you have any more interest in Chatsworth, as I did, I highly recommend this documentary:

http://www.pbs.org/program/secrets-chatsworth/

Chartres Cathedral, France May 2018

During our recent visit to France, we spent an afternoon at Chartres Cathedral.  This sleepy little village was our first taste of the French countryside and it did not disappoint!

The village surrounds the cathedral and is very quaint and has a medieval feel to it.  The streets are narrow and crooked and are built onto the steep hillside, at the top of which is the cathedral.  It felt very quiet as we walked to the top of the hill. Once there, we had, in my mind, one of the best lunches of the entire trip.  I had a sandwich made entirely of Camembert and French bread.  I will remember it for the rest of my life.  It was surreal.  (Sadly, I did not take a picture of the sandwich or the restaurant.  Worth noting, is that the restaurant featured an interesting collection of teapots. It was full of them.)

The interior of the Cathedral was breathtaking. The soaring ceilings and stained glass windows were spectacular.  The exterior of the cathedral looked like it was due for a cleaning, as some of the more elaborate details were masked by a layer of black…IMG_8967

(Please excuse the dorky picture, it was the only one I had close enough to see the covered in black soot.)

The front of the cathedral was also surrounded by beautiful flowers and gardens…

Finally, the highlight (apart from the excellent sandwich) was the French cat we discovered enjoying the flower garden behind the cathedral.

IMG_8418 On a rainy weekday, remembering this visit has been fantastic.  I wish you all a happy day and safe travels (hopefully with frequent cat sightings!)

Luton Hoo, England 2016

Hello travelers! I hope you had a nice weekend.  I thought I would share with you my visit to Luton Hoo Hotel from June 2016.  It is a spectacular luxury hotel in what was a grand country estate.

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Above is my mom standing at the side entrance.  I learned about Luton Hoo after seeing the same stairwell in several films.  It was so spectacular that I kept noticing it- and I am sure it will look familiar to many of you as it has been in everything from Eyes Wide Shut to various James Bond films to War Horse.

 

While this was mildly interesting to me, the building itself and especially the gardens were what I found fascinating.  During our explorations of the grounds we came across a grass tennis court…

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We also found a Japanese inspired garden – which I wish I had more photos of because it was so lovely and picturesque.  It had many cute water features and stone walk ways. Below is unfortunately the best picture I took.IMG_3958

At the end of our ramble we encountered one of the great features of the English county estate: The haha! This clever design element allows for an uninterrupted view of the landscape and fields without running the risk of any cattle or sheep to come too close to the main building.  Thee can be seen all over England.  We also saw them at Rousham.

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I am not sure if the picture does it justice- it is quite formidable and if one should foolishly decide to jump into it, (as I may or may not have done) it is really hard to get back out again!

I would highly recommend Luton Hoo- if you like expensive hotels and feel like a splurge, this would be the place to do it! (I should also note that the hotel is now surrounded by a golf course which seems to draw many people here. Also weddings. Lots and lots of weddings!

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Lake Waban, Wellesley, Massachusetts

Lake Waban is not a long journey from my home, but it is a very special place.  I grew up nearby and learned to swim in this lake.  My mom sent me this spectacular picture of the sunset last night and it looked so tranquil I had to share.  If you are ever in the Boston area and looking for a beautiful place to take a walk, I highly recommend it.  There is also a beautiful topiary garden which I will write about more in another post. Happy Thursday!

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Knebworth, England June 2016

Last night, I was watching one of my (embarrassingly) favorite shows, Midsomer Murders.  The episode featured a house I visited in June 2016.  I thought this was serendipitous, as I have been thinking of writing a post about Knebworth already.

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I chose to visit Knebworth after I had seen many British TV shows and movies which had been filmed there. (Once again- extensive and scholarly research was done).  The house itself is strange: looking very much like a Victorian idea of what a castle should be. (It is described as, confusingly, “Tudor Gothic”).

The most famous resident of Knebworth is Edward Bulwer-Lytton.  He is was a Victorian novelist: he notably coined the term “the pen is mightier than the sword”, “the great unwashed” and “it was a dark and stormy night…” among other literary pearls.  The interior, which sadly I do not have pictures of, is a museum of sorts, paying homage to his life and literary accomplishments.

The gardens are spectacular.  Full of interesting pathways and breathtaking roses.  My favorite aspect of the garden was the pollarded lime tree walk.  I like (pollarded trees.)

There were some other interesting things to see in the grounds- a dead tree which had the former trunks carved into whimsical woodland women.

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We also stumbled across a very cute bamboo bower…

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and several artistic fountains and boxed hedges.  We also discovered that the garden contained a giant Sequoia tree, which was quite unexpected as this was England- not northern California.

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Overall, our visit to Knebworth was fantastic! I would encourage everyone to see it for themselves.  (But be sure to do plenty of British TV watching before hand so you can become an “expert” like me 😉 )

 

Villandry, France May 2018

While in the Loire Valley, we decided, rather late in the afternoon, to visit Villandry. It was such an unexpected joy to find this to be another gem in the Loire. Similar to Azay -le- Rideau , we had not planned on visiting here and therefore I had no historical context- which is challenging for me as I like to imagine the what has happened before my time at the places we visit. However, this experience was profound.  The Surreal gardens were so evocative of Alice in Wonderland – felt otherworldy.

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As we arrived late in the day, we only had a little time to rush through the Chateau itself which was spectacular.  It was again, a palace which one (or at least I) could envision living in. Large elegant rooms with painted wood paneling and high ceilings.   It was surrounded by channeled water which was home to many and overfed catfish who responded to shadows of tourists overhead by opening their mouths in anticipation of food.

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We did have a chance to climb up to the tower however, (the turret in the back of the chateau pictured above) which commanded an unbelievable view of the gardens.

IMG_8624 These boxed hedges contained lettuces which have been historically grown by monks. It is worth noting that from every window of the chateau the view is of these gardens, which actually has a great influence on the feel interior spaces as well.  It brings a great deal of elegance and distance.

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The gardens were broken up into rooms, similar to those in the English garden we visited, Rousham, but on a totally different scale and were created to have a very different feel.  The French Renaissance style seems to be all about conquering and dominating nature, while the English style was about working with the natural landscape.  (what Capability Brown was famous for.)

Even the trees had been tampered with- they were pollarded which is a process in which the new branches are continuously trimmed back and shaped every year.

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The lake was majestic- there was even a perfect pair of white swans floating in it.

This garden was truly a testament to human’s ability to shape and form the natural landscape to its will. While I loved it and was so glad to visit, I am not sure I would be so presumptuous to assume that nature could be so easily tamed as this garden appears to do.  There is always rain…

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Rousham, Oxfordshire, June 2016

My favorite Garden of all time

During our trip to England in June 2016 we spent one day visiting Rousham.  This is a lesser known estate just outside of Oxford.  I first learned about it via the famous Monty Don and a show about it on Youtube. (again, quite extensive research on my part.) I was struck with the elegant simplicity of William Kent’s garden design and wanted to see for myself.  I was not disappointed.  For the true lover of English gardens, this one is absolute perfection.  It mixes expansive green lawns, wooded pathways and various garden “rooms.”

 

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The day we visited was a bit muggy, so sadly my pictures are slightly hazy.  The lawns above overlook the river.  The design is simple and elegant and the differences in the shades of green is remarkable- I think Kent was interested in the contrasting greens as it is very noticeable.

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The wooded pathways lead to small follies, this one being a imitation ruined Roman temple.  (These small shelters can be found in most English gardens- smart given that there is a great deal of rain and it is easy to get caught out in a storm far from the house. Also, it seems they were perfect for assignations as well as picnics.)

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After an ill-fated attempt to reach the river below the folly in which I had my first encounter with Nettles (they are awful and sting like nothing else. Very glad I never had to contend with nasty little plants before) we decided to visit the walled garden adjacent to the house. It was spectacular.  Above is me standing in one of the immaculately maintained box hedges.

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One of the interesting features of this garden were the trained fruit trees- these are trees which are carefully pruned each year so that they grow in a particular shape.

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This garden is full of lovely little pathways with over hanging flowers and small fountains.  One of these even had a tiny walkway for newts to climb in and out. (Sadly I don’t have a picture of this.) The roses were unlike anything I have seen before. The air full of the fragrance.

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Finally, we visited the Dovecote.  This round building was designed to house doves and the interior was filled with small little nooks where doves made their nests.  (As you can see, it is mostly pigeons living there right now.) It added to the overall perfection of the garden.

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Roushham was spectacular.  We were free to wander around the garden uninterrupted for as long as we liked.  It was serene and natural.  The entire place felt calm and far away from everything. This is truly one of the most spectacular places I have ever visited.

Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, France May 2018

Truly a floating palace (almost)

We decided to visit Chateau d’ Azay -le- Rideau on our second day in the Loire Valley. During my extensive research (i.e. looking at wikipedia pages) I saw this chateau and while it looked interesting, I had planned on visiting a different chateau this day.   I have no historical knowledge of d’ Azay-le-Rideau, so I was going in without any frame of reference.  It turned out, that this is by far, one of the true jewels of the Loire Valley.  The weather was perfect, which helped, but I can safely say that even if it had been cold and rainy it would have been well worth it.  The chateau is surrounded by a lovely little village which is very quant and mid-evil feeling.   I was accustomed to English estates, where the stately home is usually some distance from the village (such as Blenheim). The approach to the chateau through the village made it seem so much more accessible and welcoming.

 

This Chateau is surrounded by the Indre River, although it has been channelled and controlled so that it appears to be more like a lake. I have since learned that it was originally constructed on a muddy island which caused no end of challenges for the builders.  It was designed so that the chateau appears to be floating and the reflection on the water magnifies its beauty.

The gardens were lovely and far more like the English style I love and am accustomed to.  There were no bordered flower beds and you do not get the sense that humans are trying to dominate nature you seem to find elsewhere (more on that in another post).

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The interior was equally beautiful and, odd as it is to say given the size and scale of the chateau, comfortable.  The rooms had a nice flow, and while this was never a royal house to my knowledge, it is both as elegant as a palace, yet also felt intimate and cosy.  One of my favorite rooms had rattan wall coverings and charming exposed beam ceilings. It felt very contemporary, which is a perhaps due to the to the popularity of the French chateau style currently.  IMG_8588

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It seems clear to me that this chateau has been an inspiration for architects all over the world seeking to design in the French Renaissance style. This staircase is magnificent.

The one most interesting aspects of d’Azay- le- Rideau is the attic.  It is 2 stories high, with windows on either side, held up by ancient Oak beams which date from the 16th century. (I believe that the original owner was given special permission to cut virgin Oaks for these beams).  Below is a picture of the chimney with a little ladder to climb up it.

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This visit was fantastic. As a fan of Louis XIV, I was pleased to learn that he stayed here once.  I loved this chateau, and have since returning home started to learn more about its history, which is littered with royal connections.  A governess to Louis XIV, Françoise de Souvre, lived here in the late 16th century.

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The drive away from the Chateau into the village.

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My dad, me and my boyfriend, Matt.

Chenonceau, France May 2018

Beautiful Chateau, shaped by powerful women

During my trip to the Loire Valley a few weeks ago, we had the great fortune to spend a day visiting Chenonceau, one of the loveliest architectural masterpieces I have ever seen.  The Chateau was home to some powerful women- Diane de Poitiers, and Catherine De Medici. While the chateau itself is stunning, and the situation is majestic (it spans the river Cher) what made this Chateau so special to me was the relationship between Diane and Catherine.  I had read a book by Leonie Frieda about Catherine DeMedici which gave me some insight into her life and what her marriage with Henri the Second was like.  Fundamental to this relationship was Diane de Poitiers relationship with the king.  Diane was his mistress.  I found it fascinating that this woman, 20 years his senior, could maintain such control over him and command such fascination and amorous desire.  Thinking that she must have been truly beautiful or full of charm, it was eye opening to discover that in reality, she was a cold fish who was generally disliked by everyone.  (The only nice thing that was said about her was that she was a thrifty house keeper.)

At Chenonceau there are two gardens, symbolizing the two women: The Catherine garden, and the Diane garden. They are on opposing sides of the chateau and create totally opposite feelings in the visitor.  the Diane garden, which is much larger, was  stark and austere.  The sun beat down and  there were no trees only copious gravel pathways.  All the plants and flowers were so constrained; it was difficult to get a sense of beauty when walking in it.  Only when seen from above, inside the chateau, does the visitor get a sense of what it actually looks like.  From the ground it felt large, flat and hot. (Below) Perhaps similar to the character of Diane, beautiful, remote, distant and austere.  Like I think Diane would have, this garden left me feeling cold and unwelcome.

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The Catherine garden, by contrast, had an entirely different effect.  It was surrounded by tall trees and woodlands.  the river felt closer, even though both gardens adjacent to it. I was full of wide expanses of grass and lovely little trees and plants.  The lawns were inviting, there were benches in the shade, encouraging people to sit and relax.  While smaller is scale and size, this garden felt like it was naturally part of the landscape.  The feeling is almost maternal, as if you are being taken care of and accepted.  Which, given that Catherine had 10 children, makes sense. IMG_8468

These two very different experiences in the gardens made me wonder if they were a reflection on the  characters of the two women? It seems like it might be so.

The crowning glory of Chenonceau was the grand hall.  This ground floor hall runs the expanse of the river.  It began as a bridge during Diane’s time, but Catherine when she took ownership of the chateau, had it enclosed and turned into this majestic space.  Catherine used this hall to hold a grand party for her son upon his succession to power.  Being there, you can picture the dancing revelry which took place.  (Also of note, the black ans white floors- Diane famously only ever wore black and white clothing for the majority of her life. Could this floor be an homage to her time at Chenonceau?)

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One of the unexpected joys we discovered was the village area next to the chateau which housed, presumably, the workers of the estate. This is a lovely enclosed little community, full of beautiful houses, a duck pond and carriage house.  The houses are surround lovely grassy common area.  It felt cosy and comfortable, as opposed to the grandeur of the chateau itself.  Being there, it was easy to picture what it might have been like when the estate was working- full of chickens, children and people bustling around.  Today the area is immaculately kept with matching buildings crawling with Wisteria bushes.

Finally, the drive up to and away from the Chateau is worth showing.  the elegant tree lined road really illustrates that this is a royal residence. There is no ambiguity of the power of the resident one is visiting. (There is even a guard cat today in residence!)

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“Un Chat de garde!” I believe his/ her name is Noisette. Well worth the visit.

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