Tag Archives: garden

London’s 9/11 Memorial Garden

In my post about the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I mentioned that in 2001 there was no clear focal point for peoples’ grief, no obvious place to congregate or to lay flowers in the days just after the attacks.  Some people did gather in Grosvenor Square in London, in front of the US Embassy, and in the following year the British Government announced plans for a memorial garden just on the other side of the square.

So now London does have a site dedicated to the memory of the victims of the 9/11 attacks.  I visited the memorial last week; some of my photographs appear below with captions to tell you more about it.

A semicircular pergola in the back and flower beds in the front make a circle around a carved stone commemorating all those who died in the attacks of 9/11. At the back of the circle (opposite the entrance to the garden) sits this pavilion of English oak.

Under this stone is buried a rusted steel girder from the World Trade Center, weighing half a ton and preserved in resin; it was decided the metal piece itself was too distressing to display openly. The poem around the edge is 'For Katrina's Sun-Dial' by American poet Henry Van Dyke, who wrote it to be used in the garden at Yaddo, the the house of the Trask family and now a famous artist's colony in Saratoga Springs, New York. You may find the words familiar; they are often used at funerals. It reads: "Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is not."

Three plaques inside the pavilion display the names of all of the British victims of 9/11.

Having had almost ten years to grow, vines cover the pergola. The plants include varieties native to the UK and the USA, chosen to give scent and blossom as much of the year as is possible in this climate, but concentrating on species that are at their best in mid-September. It was glorious when I was there last week, with such a mix of scents I couldn't identify which flowers were contributing to it.

Prince Charles placed this wreath, with the red poppies that are traditional for remembering the fallen, at the memorial service on 11 Sept this year. The white flowers are shaped into three plumes to approximate the three white feathers emblematic of the Prince of Wales (see featured link). Princess Anne was the royal on hand for the opening of the garden in 2003.

The vines overhead, seen from a seat under the pergola.

Looking out at the flower beds.

The pediment is carved with words from the Queen's remarks at a memorial service in 2001: "Grief is the price we pay for love."


Filed under Culture, Current events, History

Another country fete

My previous post (see Lady Ottoline and Garsington) mentioned visiting the village fête at Garsington in Oxfordshire. The article you’re reading now isn’t a fully fledged post, but just another chance for the culturally deprived, who’ve never been to an English country fête (i.e., most American readers), to get an idea of what they’re missing. As with most fêtes and fairs, the Garsington event is held to raise money for charity—in this case, for the upkeep of the local church, where there’s a memorial to Lady Ottoline herself.

Irish dancing at the fete. (Why do all little girls who do Irish dancing do their hair like Little Orphan Annie?)

Garsingtonians went all out, offering much more than the May fair my village puts on here in Surrey. Then again, our fair is on the village cricket pitch, not a centuries-old manor house with a pond big enough for boating.

Boats on the pond

They offered the usual games of chance and of skill, if throwing a Wellington boot, or picking clothes pins (UK: clothes pegs) off a clothesline with one hand, can be called skills. I paid for several chances to reach into a big red velvet bag of keys, pick one, and try it in the keyhole of a glass-fronted case, but didn’t manage to unlock the thing and get the bottle of whisky inside. The church can probably buy a new hymn book with the money I spent trying.

Contenders for the longest runner bean title

At the home-grown produce stall, the judge told me he’d be looking for the longest runner bean (points off for crookedness) and the longest carrot. Must’ve been a bad year for carrots, to go by what he had on display. The judge picked up one of the stubby, warty specimens to show me: “Look! If you hold it this way, it looks like a armadillo!”

Entries for the prize in the carrot competition. The armadillo-carrot is on the right.

Root vegetables in animal shapes are all to the good, but what I really wanted to talk to him about was vegetable marrows. This time last year in a post about marrows, I said I didn’t know how you’d judge the quality of what is, after all, a behemoth of a zucchini (UK: courgette); turns out it’s sheer weight. Two mammoth entries at the Garsington event so outclassed the competition that the judge had to divide the marrows into weight classes.

Gargantuan vegetable marrows with a cell phone/mobile for size

I still don’t see the point of growing zucchinis the size of logs for the fire; they can’t be any good to eat, though you could perhaps use one as a rounders bat, rounders being an English game much like softball. I’ve heard many an English person pooh-pooh baseball, even major league baseball, as nothing but rounders, a game for children, and I’ve often thought I’d like to put one of them at home plate with a pitch coming in at almost 100 miles per hour and see how childish the game is then.

A rat-basher at the Bash the Rat game

A rounders bat is shorter and lighter than a baseball bat, and held in only one hand. You can see one in the photos of the Bash a Rat game—the rat being a sand-filled sock with yarn eyes and ears, let go at the top of a slanted pipe so players can try to hit it with the bat when it comes out at the bottom.

Coconuts ready for you to shy a ball at them

When I wrote about country fêtes before, I couldn’t add a photo of the coconut shy, because I hadn’t thought to take one—which wouldn’t be remarkable except that it showed me how acclimated I’ve become. Coconut shy no longer seems a strange phrase; the coconut shy itself doesn’t seem remarkable any more. At Garsington, though, something was different because people kept winning. The idea is to throw balls at coconuts held up in the air on stakes; if you knock a coconut off its perch you get to keep it. I’d never seen anybody win at this before, but at Garsington, three people in a row walked off with coconuts.

Irish band provides live music, much better than the taped stuff the dancers used.

The man running the stall said he sets up the game to be easy “on purpose, for the kiddies”. He told me that for-profit carnivals set up coconuts nestled into cups of sand and leaning against specially strengthened backing to prevent them from being knocked loose.

Irish dancers parade to the upper lawn

Just then a five-year-old came up and feebly tossed some balls. One managed, entirely by happenstance, to tap one of the posts and the coconut obligingly tumbled down. The man said he gets through two gunnysacks in a day, each with 30 coconuts. Future historians looking at parish accounting records may wonder why Christian worship in the 20th and 21st centuries required 60 coconuts every autumn.

Lady Ottoline Morrell's memorial plaque in St Mary's Church, Garsington

We—I was there with other members of the Virginia Woolf Society—rounded off a full afternoon’s rowing, shying, bashing, and (inevitably) tea, by walking over to the church to see Ottoline’s memorial. The sculptor flattered her; even though she’s shown in profile, her nose doesn’t seem particularly “baronial”. But she’s in drab gray stone, so just as in black-and-white photos of her heyday, we not only have to imagine the 3-D person behind the 2-D image, but to imagine the colors of a most colorful lady. After her days as the hostess at Garsington Manor, she must find sitting in a back corner of the village church awfully dull.


Filed under Culture, Travel

Lady Ottoline and Garsington Manor

“Garsington,” an Oxford don (US: professor) said recently, “is the most important site in Anglophone literature”. 

That’s because celebrated hostess Lady Ottoline Morrell turned Garsington Manor, her Jacobean country house near Oxford, into a combined literary salon, pacifists’ refuge, and near-perpetual party for left-leaning members of the British intelligentsia. 

The front door of Garsington Manor.


From 1915 to 1927, Garsington Manor hosted the likes of W. B. Yeats, Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, E. M. Forster, H. G. Wells, Lytton Strachey, and various Huxleys—not to mention Henry Lamb (with whom Ottoline had an affair), Roger Fry (with whom she also had an affair), and the philosopher Bertrand Russell (with whom she had a very long affair).  

The view over the downs from Garsington Manor.


So some people might think it’s ironic that her surname was pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable; it’s not mor-EL, like the mushrooms, but MOR-al, as in, well, moral. When I first started to read about her I didn’t know that, nor did I know back then whether her first name rhymed with lean or with line. I made the mistake of mentioning this to my husband, who came up with alternate words for “The Happy Wanderer” (you know, the one that starts “I love to go a-wandering” and goes “valderi, valderah” in the middle, right?) for the dilemma: 

I love to go philandering, with Ottoline Morrell.
Philandering, at Garsington, she does it very well.
Ottoleeeeeen, Ottoliiiiiine,
Ottoleeeeeen, Ottoli-hi-hi-hi-hi-hine,
Ottoleeeeeen, Ottoliiiiiine,
She does it very well. 

(That may stick in your head for days. I apologize.) 

Garsington Manor.


Oh, and her husband, Phillip Morrell, lived at Garsington Manor, too, and entertained lovers of his own (he may have once propositioned Virginia Woolf, but it didn’t get him anywhere). Phillip is generally overlooked because Ottoline was so colorful, in many senses of the word. She wore unusual combinations of clothes in bright silks and satins, draped herself in shawls and scarves, and topped it all off with enormous, sometimes elaborate, hats. Her hair was red-gold to some; others called it orange. The “horn-like blasts” of her voice swooped up and down like “a cow mooing”. She stood six feet tall and liked red high heels. She had “strong features” according to some reports and was horse-faced according to others, while Augustus John, who painted her, said she had a “prognathous jaw and bold baronial nose.” 

A vine-covered barn on the grounds of Garsington Manor.


But Ottoline had a gift for bringing people together, for smoothing over disagreements, and for making all of her guests feel included. She could talk to anyone, and made the effort to make everyone feel at ease. She mixed comfortably with all classes at a time when it was usual for everyone concerned, from farm workers to aristocrats, to feel awkward and embarrassed by social contact across class barriers. The half-sister of a duke, Lady Ottoline was known to dance with her servants on occasion, and would invite her daughter’s governess and the French maid to swim (UK: bathe) in the ornamental pond with her world-famous guests. Ottoline enjoyed people all across the spectrum, just as she enjoyed the music hall as well as ballet (and hobnobbing with her friend Diaghilev). 

In photos, Ottoline doesn’t seem all that exotic; maybe black-and-white doesn’t do her justice and she was meant for an age of color film. As for her height and features, she seems to fit right in with the members of the Bloomsbury group, many of whom were tall and thin with long, narrow faces. But these same Bloomsbury figures and other frequent guests took advantage of Ottoline’s hospitality and then wrote cruel comments behind her back. 

Formal gardens at Garsington.


Stephen Spender said later “it was fashionable to ridicule her”. Another friend suggested that there were two Ottolines: the real one, whom people genuinely liked, and the constructed one, an idea people liked to kick around. Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey wrote catty remarks about Ottoline to each other for years, but at least they kept their comments (relatively) private. Hermione Roddice in Women in Love is D. H. Lawrence’s caricature of Ottoline, which she found tremendously hurtful. Aldous Huxley consoled her, then turned around and put his own uncomplimentary versions of her in Crome Yellow and Those Barren Leaves. W. J. Turner caricatured her in The Aesthetes; Yeats’s decision to continue promoting Turner’s work after that ended Ottoline’s friendship with Yeats. 

The ornamental pond in the Italian garden at Garsington Manor.


The party ended in 1927 when the Morrells moved to London and sold the Manor. The house is still in private hands, although the owner lets the village hold a fete in the grounds. (For 21 years a summer  opera company performed outdoors there, but it’s recently moved, too.) 

The back of Garsington Manor.


I was lucky enough to be there for the village fete and so get a chance to wander the grounds, but between the demonstrations of Irish dancing, the coconut shy, and the competition for the largest vegetable marrow, it was hard to imagine literary conversations on the terrace, assignations in the formal gardens, or hanky-panky on the lawn. The rowboat rental on the ornamental pond made it impossible to imagine Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf swimming there, but I think that would be difficult to picture in my mind’s eye even without the rowboats. 

What I did find easy to imagine, though, was Ottoline at the fete. All those different people and all that activity? I think she would have loved it. 


Filed under Arts, Culture, History, Travel

A Visit to Miss Austen’s House

Living in the south of England puts me in easy visiting distance of the homes of a whole collection of classic authors, though I’m not sure what you call a group like that. If geese come in gaggles and lions come in prides, what about writers?  A booklet?  A folio?  A rejection of writers?

Jane Austen’s Chawton cottage from the street, which would have been a busy thoroughfare in her day

I’ve been to several of them—places such as Shaw’s Corner in Hertfordshire (as in George Bernard) or Bateman’s in Kent, where Kipling lived.  Undershaw, built for Arthur Conan Doyle, stands empty at the moment while protestors try to stop its redevelopment into flats; we had a memorable dinner there a couple of years ago during its restaurant phase.  I have even, on a few occasions, volunteered at Virginia Woolf’s house in West Sussex, spending the afternoon sitting in either her bedroom or her sitting room, making sure that nobody walked off with any books or damaged any upholstery, answering questions when I could.

But Jane Austen’s house is closer to me than any of them, so I don’t know why, in over a decade of living half an hour’s drive from the place, I’d never been to see it. If I were saving it for a rainy day, then–this being England–I’d had ample opportunity. Recently, on a beautiful sunny May afternoon, I managed to go have a look.

Looking across the courtyard at the rear to the bake house and other outbuildings (UK: outhouses — no, really, that is the term they use here)

The tale of how Jane Austen came to live in Chawton in Hampshire sounds straight out of her novels: The death of the male head-of-household leaves the heroine, her sister, and their mother in a perilous financial state.  A distant cousin saves the day when, having no children of his own, he adopts the heroine’s brother as his heir.  In due course this brother inherits a small handful of large country estates and can offer his mother and unmarried sisters a cottage, rent-free, for the rest of their lives.  This frees them from worry about how they will live although the heroine, a fine judge of class distinctions, is always conscious of the social divide between their little cottage and her brother’s manor house as she walks through the fields and woods the short distance between the two.

The house from the side garden

Edward Knight (Jane Austen’s brother; he changed his surname to that of his benefactor), lived in Chawton House, currently a library promoting study of the work of women writers; the cottage he gave to his unattached female relatives is now a museum showcasing Jane Austen, her family, and her times.

Cottage, by the way, is a word the Americans and the British use differently.  Setting aside those Americans, mostly in New England I think, who use cottage to mean a huge posh vacation home, most Americans on hearing that someone lived in a cottage would expect the place to be small, cosy, rural, picturesque, and probably thatched. Not so in England.  There’s no hard and fast rule, but almost any house below the size of a stately home can be called a cottage.

A bit of the garden, though most of it is lawns surounded with hedges and trees. The Austens also grew their own plants for dyeing cloth.

The Austens’ cottage is a three-story brick house with six bedrooms plus staff quarters, as well as a separate kitchen, bake house, and coach house, and—by today’s standards, anyway—a huge garden.  Even with all of that space, Jane never had her own study or any kind of privacy while writing.  She always shared a bedroom with Cassandra, her only sister, and wrote at a tiny table by the dining room window.

The dining room, with Jane Austen’s small writing table near the window.

Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own used Jane Austen as an example of how society cramps a female writer’s style.  Austen wouldn’t allow anyone to fix the creaking door of the dining room, because the creak gave her enough notice that someone was coming that she had time to pull a sheet of blotting paper over her work, to keep it secret.  The family knew she wrote books—her father was involved in early attempts to publish her work, and her mother and sister took over all the running of the household to give her all the time she wanted for writing—but their wider sphere of acquaintance did not; it wasn’t ladylike to write for money.  Her first book, Sense and Sensibility, came out with nothing but “By a Lady” to indicate the author, and after that, the title pages said only “By the Author of” and listed her previous successes.

Jane Austen’s writing table

I’d always thought of Jane Austen at her inadequate little table, a martyr to interruptions, hiding her pages, as I imagine Woolf meant readers to think of her: an example of female genius unreasonably constrained by society’s rules.  But it’s easy to do the math and find that with six bedrooms (not counting the servants’ quarters on the top floor), four people to accommodate (the sisters, their mother, and Martha Lloyd, a family friend), two of whom (Jane and Cassandra) shared a bedroom, even if they saved two rooms for guests, an extra room remained free.  Surely she could have had a private study if she’d wanted one.

In any case, she managed to write out by hand on little sheets of writing-paper (I’ve recently learned that it is thought common here to call it notepaper, though I have no idea why), more lasting works of literature than any one person has a right to, and do it without losing her reputation as a gentlewoman, so she must not have felt too constricted.

Costume drama, anyone?

Most of the house is open to view, with mannequins showing off period dresses, wall displays showing her letters and giving details of her life and her family, cases and shelves of memorabilia and documents.  My favorite of these comes from correspondence between Austen and the Prince Regent’s librarian, who wanted her to write a romance involving royalty.  She replied:

I am fully sensible that an historical romance founded on the House of Saxe Cobourg might be much more to the purpose of profit or popularity than such pictures of domestic life in country villages as I deal in. But I could no more write a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or at other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter. No, I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.

Just the kind of thing you’d expect from the woman who dreamed up Elizabeth Bennett.

The dining room displays some of the wedding china that belonged to Edward Knight and his wife; I don’t know about you, but while I have known at least one family who could boast a Wedgwood dinner service, none of them went directly to Wedgwood to arrange a custom design including their crest.  Food came into the dining room from the separate kitchen, but tea was kept under lock and key—servants, it was thought, were inclined to pilfer it—so the family brewed it themselves on the stove at the end of the room, where a copper kettle of the sort they used now stands.

Another view of the house, from yet another part of the garden

But none of this paraphernalia made the kind of impression on me I expected, not even seeing Jane Austen’s bedroom, furnished with a replica—historically accurate in every particular—of the bed in which she slept, not even seeing almost unbelievably fine lace she made by hand and a quilt that she helped to sew.

The well in the courtyard

Had I not read enough of the Austen canon?  Was this just not a period of English history that came high on my list?  Was it the damping effect of the  signs for tourist set up almost as soon as you cross into Hampshire, telling tourists they’re “Welcome to Jane Austen Country”?  Was it that the museum-like fixtures made the place seem less of a house where real people lived?

I don’t mean to run it down.  It’s definitely worth a visit and I’m sure I’ll go back, but I didn’t get the little internal shivery feeling I usually get when I feel I’ve found some connection in the modern world with the life of someone from the past whom I really admire.

Sheep in a field skirted by the path to Chawton House.

It did hit me, eventually.  We went back through the car park and followed the path a little ways toward Chawton House, and that is when it hit.  We crossed a stream where a man watching his grandson pulling up water plants and getting thoroughly soaked remarked on what a fine day it was, then went through a stile into the sort of timeless picturesque landscape American Anglophiles dream of, that tamed rural paradise of fields and copses that seems to go on forever.  Four or five heavy horses with feathered feet cropped grass alongside a flock of storybook-quality woolly sheep.  The path led into a little wood complete with hollow trees and moss and ferns and even bluebells.

Another rural scene on the path to Chawton House

Not only was it quintessentially English and completely idyllic on a perfect day, but—and yes, I know I’m a philistine and my reactions stem not from Austen’s novels alone but from all those movie scenes with Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth walking in the woods between the Bennett ménage and Mr Bingley’s great house—this was the path that Jane Austen walked. I could look down at my trousers and running shoes (UK: trainers) and almost see the long skirt of an Empire dress and the toes of delicate slippers, at least for a fraction of a second, because the idea that anyone would have walked through fields and woods in satiny slippers is completely ridiculous.  Still, I was walking the path Jane Austen walked, and the shivers came along on cue.

Bluebells in the wood–along with some stinging nettles.

I see it mooted on some other blogs that “Brontë is the new Austen”—though they don’t mention which Brontë and apparently mean all of them put together.  Jane’s out and the Haworth three are in?  Not for me.  I’m no Janeite—if anything, I’m a Woolfian—but I prefer Austen’s novels to those of any Brontë I’ve read so far; Austen beats all three with one hand tied behind her back.  In a lady-like literary sense, you understand.  Besides, it’s a lot farther up to Brontë country; by the time I get organized to make the pilgrimage up there, the pendulum will surely have swung back.


Filed under Arts, Culture, History, Many Books Little Time