Thursday, 4 August 2016


A long held ambition of mine has been to visit the homes and gardens of The Bloomsbury Group. (Charleston Farmhouse the home of Vanessa Bell and Monk’s House home to Virginia Woolf). 

(as seen in the BBC drama "A Life in Squares")

So on a bright Thursday morning we drove through Lewes and headed to the picturesque village of Rodmell where Monks House is situated. 

Unfortunately the house and garden were not yet open and time was against us, so I had to content myself with gazing wistfully at the outside of the house, 

the lane

and neighbouring cottages.

(I confess that I did try to peer nosily over the garden wall, but it was just too high for my 5ft and a little bit inches!)
Leaving Rodmell we drove across the South Downs towards Charleston 

before turning off the main road, where a long dusty lane led to the farmyard, 

through which we walked before encountering our first proper view of Charleston Farmhouse. 

A coffee shop was located in the little out-buildings beside the house,

and we ate lunch in the delightful small sunny sheltered courtyard at the back of the outbuildings called the Folly Garden;

where Fig trees were planted along the stone walls; a lush grape vine clothed a wooden pergola attached to the side of the building

and a square pond with waterlilies

was centred in the middle of the gravelled area. 

A peaceful ambience prevailed – the only sound that of birdsong, and our conversation. A sparrow hopped amongst the fig trees and then across to where we sat in the hope of crumbs.

 Leaving the folly we entered the gate 

and stood in front of the house.

The front of the house looks out over

 a pond with waterlilies.

Famous sculptures

  – including “the levitating lady” 

peered out from the greenery and trees at the side of the pond.

Hollyhocks in gorgeous colours

 were all around the perimeter of the house.

A wall runs along the side of the house,

and the partly open gate in the wall

gave us a tantalising glimpse

through to a garden

that must surely have resembled the fabled “Garden of Eden”,

complete of course

    with apple trees.

Upon entering through the gate and into the garden it was truly like walking into paradise.

Roses and clematis scrambled up the walls,

spilling over in a profusion of flowers. 

Pink and white rambling roses 

 scrambled up through

 old apple trees 

that were surrounded 

by borders 

full of Delphiniums, Poppies, Daisies and Hollyhocks. 

Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant had incorporated Mediterranean style planting into a traditional cottage garden 

so the whole effect was one of an artist’s garden – much in the way that Monet had created his garden in Giverney. 

Narrow gravel paths - some edged with hollyhocks,

followed the line of the wall in front of the house

 and around the edge of the garden.

At the bottom of the walled garden a box hedge

screened the kitchen garden from sight; the only sign of what lay behind the hedge were the tall bamboo canes interwoven with beech branches to form supports. 

This part of the garden fitted exactly with my idea of how a kitchen garden should be; 

fruit bushes and flowers intermingling with the peas and beans that scrambled up canes and randomly amongst other vegetables. 

(I felt a surge of longing to tame my allotment once more and transpose some of this planting scheme from Charleston.)

The house tour was interesting, though no photography was allowed. 

The interior of the house was rather dark 
but the photographs I was really desirous of taking were the views from the windows out into the garden, 

although both Laura and I seriously coveted the light airy studio where they painted and created.

We exited the house through the double doors leading from the studio out into the garden,

 above which was a vine clad pergola.

As the day drew to a close,

I felt like I never wanted to leave this garden. 

It resonated with me even more than Sissinghurst and inspired me with creativity – filling me full of ideas for my little garden back home. (Already I am envisaging a fig tree, an apple tree, a vine clad pergola and another pond – square like the one in the Folly Garden!). 

Now that I have seen this garden, I desperately want to return again and next time I will most definitely make sure that I have enough time to see the garden at Monk’s House too.

Before we left the area, we took a detour to Berwick

 to see the church; 

the interior of which Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant had been commissioned to paint.

The narrow pathway leading up to the church was lined with Hollyhocks.

Inside this dimly lit tiny church the paintings were spectacular. We tried to identify which of the family and friends of the artists were used as models for the characters depicted in the paintings. 

Back outside the church, the graveyard in the late afternoon sun was tranquil 

and peering through gaps in the hedges afforded us beautiful views across the South Downs.

I decided then that when I return to Charleston, not only will I ensure a tour of Virginia Woolf’s garden, but a walk across the Downs will also be on the itinerary. I am checking my diary already….. (However I must plant the Fig Tree and dig the pond first…; so perhaps I will just have to satisfy my lust for Charleston in the interim by watching "A Life in Squares" once more.)

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