Garden Party: Fairs & Horticultural Fantasies

Connecticut. For the past two days I have been researching this tiny-but-perfectly-designed US state. A garden-loving friend told me we should visit the Trade Secrets Garden Fair held there in May (considered the Chelsea Flower Show of the USA), and so I've been trying to work out how. A 14-hour international flight, a 5-hour domestic one, a 4-hour 'rest' stop in NY, a 5am start and finally a 2-hour drive... I'm thinking we could quite possibly make it?

The reason for this crazy excursion? Trade Secrets and the state of Connecticut, particularly the Litchfield Hills, are considered a gardening 'Mecca' for horticultural lovers. My friend told me Ms Martha Stewart (pictured below at the fair) loves it so much she and her assistants go there at 8am on a Saturday with two empty SUVs to fill up. We hadn't planned on seeing Connecticut on our forthcoming US trip (we hadn't even planned to be in the US at this time), but now it seems to be first priority on the list! {Image of garden path above via Design New England. Image of gardening girls below via www.stephaniestanton Image at very top via christinedarnelldesignstudio.}

The fair was co-founded by the inimitable interior designer Bunny Williams (above, with Ms Martha), who bought a farmhouse in the area and then wrote a bestselling book (also above) about its renovation and decoration. She now opens her extraordinary home to visitors on the same weekend. Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter has a weekender in the neighbourhood too. So does Annie Leibovitz, Michael J Fox, Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Christine Baranski, writer Annie Kelly and photographer hubby Tim Street-Porter, and a thousand other low-key celebs. Bill Blass also owned a house in the region and retired there to design out his days.

What do they all do up there? Dig, apparently. "''Gardening is our sport,'' one local explained, dishing the dirt on the social activity. ''People garden here like other people play tennis.''

Indeed, Connecticut's VIP residents love gardening so much, many of them mob the stands at Trade Secrets for the antique cloches, artful topiaries, vintage wares and rare specimens. The people watching is meant to be more amazing than the plants. (And the fashion more amazing than the people!) Regulars include Oscar de la Renta and Carolyne Roehm.

I promise to take some photos, if I can sneak the Leica between the hydrangea leaves. But in the meantime, I was so inspired by this fair I thought I'd post a small selection of some of my favourite images of garden loveliness. Have you noticed how more and more designers are introducing botanical prints and horticultural images into their collections? I predict we'll be seeing a lot of flowers and leaves on frocks and sofas later this year. It's not surprising. Gardens are so wonderful, it's difficult not to resist.

A prediction of things to come? A page from British Homes & Gardens magazine's Feb 2012 issue.

Vintage botanical prints from the fantastic website Vintage Printables (, which lets you download vintage prints (including these lovely leaf ones) for free.

An old but much-treasured postcard from the Chelsea Flower Show one year.

French poet and art critic Dominigue Fourcade's Provence garden. One of the loveliest outdoor entertaining areas I've seen this year. Trust a poet to create an inspiring garden.

A house on Shelter Island that I had the good fortune to photograph last year. Designed by that talented duo Schappacher White, this was the guest cottage. It was as sweet as a pea.

My favourite gardening poster, a vintage Brussels print from the fabulous Izzi & Popo store in Melbourne, in our downstairs 'Gumboot Hall'. 
I can't understand a thing in it, but it always makes me smile.

A collection of treasured gardening books in our Gumboot Hall. These always make me realise I need to strive to be a better gardener! The two little peached lime trees and the miniature Metro entrance and lamp post were bought in a little store off the Palais Royal in Paris. 

If you haven't read any of Adam Nicolson's books, then do – he's one of the best garden writers around. Then again, it's not surprising. His grandmother was Vita Sackville-West.

Gumboots as art. 
I love everything about this. The simplicity of the scene, the double shelves with mismatching prints, the old wellies lined up like a leathery still life on the floor... even the leaf-green runner. So creative. {Via Homes & Garden Feb 2012}

The great Arts and Crafts garden at Hidcote Manor, which, along with Sissinghurst, has inspired Andy Sturgeon's design for the eagerly anticipated M&G Garden at Chelsea Flower Show this year. All three gardens encapsulate the ‘New English’ style of informal cottage-style planting schemes set within a strong, formal framework (often box hedges), although Sturgeon's will feature a modern mix of plants ranging from Aquilegia 'Chocolate Soldier' and Black Form iris chrysographes to clipped holly and domed umbels of hog’s fennel.

(On a little aside, we sold our house this week, just 3 weeks after we listed it. Apparently it was the Arts & Crafts-style garden that endeared it to the two sisters who bought it. I was so thrilled, as I spent most of my renovation budget on the garden rather than the kitchen, which is apparently where the money should have gone.)

Bunny Williams' glorious conservatory-inspired dining room, impressive alfresco pool house, and whimsical, folly-inspired bathroom at her Connecticut weekender, all of them inspired by her gorgeous garden. Bunny calls her bathroom 'Bath in a Garden Folly'. She says she was inspired by the grand garden rooms of 18th century Europe. Imagine washing the exhaustion off here at the end of a gardening day? {Images via Design New England}

Bunny's out buildings, which are just as elegant as her 'in' ones. {Mislaid credit: please notify me if you know}

A garden-inspired dining room at a Virginia home, also designed by Bunny Williams. The hand-painted trellis wallpaper is by Gracie.The topiary at left is planted in an antique urn from Treillage, Williams' New York garden store. {Via Architectural Digest}

An incredible trompe l'oeil in a grand American conservatory. Look at the roof. Just beautiful.  {Via Vanity Fair}

Windsor Smith's deliciously verdant hall, which has been featured repeatedly in the blogosphere but is still worth a little gaze. {Via House Beautiful}

An enchanting green house set up for afternoon tea. So simple and yet so sweet. {Via Millie's Laurel Hedge and Tove Anderson}

And lastly, it's a terrible photo, but this was my Valentine's Day gift to The Man this year. It's supposed to be a 'wisteria heart', created from entwined wisteria vines. 
Yes, I know. Rather wonky up top. It was difficult to train. (Or maybe it's the gardener whose skills are dubious?)
I had to point it out to him on Valentine's Day. (I didn't need to cover it up because he would have never guessed what it was before then.)

It was my little horticultural gesture of love.

With that, the blog is now taking a break for a little while. It's been a delight to see you here, and even more lovely to read your kind and thoughtful notes. I apologise for the brief halt in posts, but hope to see you back here again very soon!

No comments:

Post a Comment