Wednesday, October 1, 2014

October First

The morning comes slowly, with silver limning the hawthorn and lilac branches in the yard.  Night's shadows hang on, and the sun never quite shows itself before the rain begins.

I welcome this dark, wet start.  My thoughts, bright as the last of the marigolds, seem all the clearer for it.  The day is full of lists that must be finished.  I work, piece by piece, without pause.  No leaping ahead to the next task; no what if I can't, what if they don't, what if it never.

Here is the secret the scarlet leaves whisper as they drop from the trees: there is this one moment.  Only this.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

Verona's Giardino Giusti


A walk through the Giardino Giusti is a must for any garden lover staying in Verona.


First planted in 1580 based on designs by Count Agostino Giusti, then expanded and perfected a century later, it is the epitome of an Italian Renaissance garden with its symmetrical layout, cypress avenue, hedge maze, and layered terraces.  

As with most Italian gardens of the period, this isn't a place to visit in search of flower borders.  The Giusti is all about structure and calm; it is a green, ordered escape from the chaos of life.


I recommend climbing the pathways up the hillside.  You'll be rewarded with enchanting views of the garden itself, 


 as well as sweeping vistas over the rooftops of Verona.  Each level of the terraces will reveal a bit more to you until you eventually reach the belvedere (beautiful view).


While the climb to the top of the garden isn't difficult, it is a good idea to bring water with you, as there is no food or drink for sale at Giardino Giusti, which is located about a 10-minute walk across the river from the historic center of the city.  



Better yet, bring a picnic to enjoy at the top or after you return to the graceful box parterres below. Like so many tourist cities, Verona can be overwhelming, and this is a perfect place to enjoy some peace and solitude without leaving the city limits.  Under the deep shade of the Cypresses, perhaps you will become inspired, just as Goethe once was, to write about the garden.



The Giusti family has maintained this garden since the sixteenth century.  I was especially interested to see how over the centuries they have perfected a careful balance between the formal and the wild.  As you climb higher and higher up the steep pathway above the garden, the plants grow bushier, less clipped.  Lavender and rosemary tumble into the path, releasing their heady scents as you brush against them.  

The cypress avenue

I've read some criticisms from fellow travelers about the less kempt sections of the garden, but I find the wild pathways to be a wonderful juxtaposition to the perfect symmetry of the parterres and labyrinths.  We all need a little wildness to remind us that we are in nature after all, and that the artifice of the formal garden is just that: artifice.  The plants, if left to have their way, would find their own, far less tame version of balance and beauty.  I believe we need both in our gardens, and the Giardino Giusti is a particularly stunning example of this principle.  

A fresco at the entrance to the garden . . . one of my favorite sayings.
My final post about Italian gardens will be coming soon.  I'll show you a very special place in Rome that, if you haven't been there before, I know you will add to your list of places to see.

Once again, I want to thank you for your recent comments and emails.  I've been hearing from folks all over the world about their love for gardens, for literature, and for travel.  I love your stories, and I so appreciate the time you take to share them with me.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Autumn, Bloomsbury, and Other Inspirations



Since last week's post, I took a quick trip down to South Carolina to visit my big brother.  As we sat on the pier that extends from my brother's back yard into a glorious tidal marsh full of oysters and sea birds, the temperature rose above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  There's not enough sweet tea in the world to cool me off once it's above 95.  My body and brain were fooled for a few days into thinking that summer was far from over.

A glorious sunset at the end of a sweltering South Carolina September day.






Then I flew back north to Maine and stepped off the plane into--shiver--50 degrees and rain.


That's okay, though, because as I said last week, autumn here means dahlias and asters and still more tomatoes, at least until the frost.  It also means that it's almost time to begin planting bulbs for spring.  Last year I planted white 'Thalia' daffodils that grew beautifully in our little woodland border, along with fritillaria meleagris and alliums of various shapes and sizes.  This year I'm turning to my small library of gardening books for ideas about what bulbs to plant.  As much as I love blogs, websites, and Pinterest, when I need garden inspiration, there's no substitute for flipping through the pages of my favorite books.  In particular, I'm always interested in anything to do with English gardens, especially Bloomsbury gardens. Here's the book I've put on my wish list this fall: Virginia Woolf's Garden by Caroline Zoob with photography by  Caroline Arber and a Foreword by the wonderful Cecil Woolf.  

Available here.
Speaking of Bloomsbury and all things domestic and beautiful, Mr. Magpie and I had the great pleasure of reviewing two books for the Spring 2014 Issue of  The Virginia Woolf Miscellany a few months ago.  If you click on the link, you'll find our review on page 36 of the online pdf version of the journal.  It was a joy to discuss Virginia Wolf, a lush and heartfelt children's picture book by Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault, as well as The Charleston Bulletin Supplements, an edited collection of a series of "supplements" co-authored by Virginia Woolf and her nephew Quentin Bell in the early 1920's.  The collaboration between Woolf and the then 12-year-old Bell is a humorous and entertaining chronicle in pictures and words of the daily life at Charleston Farmhouse, the Sussex home of Virginia's sister, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Clive Bell, and as we state in our review, "a motley band of Bloomsbury bohemia engaged in disciplined creativity, strenuous play, and the daily practice of crafting life together" (36).  Some of you know that Mr. Magpie (aka Todd Avery) is a Bloomsbury scholar, and that Charleston Farmhouse is a touchstone for us--a place to connect with the things we value most about art, friendship, and living an ethical life.  If you'd like to learn a bit more about Charleston Farmhouse, visit the post I wrote after my first visit there a few years ago.

And for some quick visual inspiration, scroll down through this post for a few shots I took late last summer on a very cloudy day in the garden at Charleston:














I will soon have other publishing news, but in the meantime, click here at the Lilly Library's page to read Close and Affectionate Friends, a beautiful, small book that Todd wrote back when he was completing his PhD at Indiana University.  He curated an exhibition on Bloomsbury at the Lilly in 1999, and he wrote this book on Desmond and Molly MacCarthy to accompany the exhibition.  At the time it was only available as a printed book, but now you can read the e-version for free.


Todd has written and edited many articles and chapters, along with other books on Bloomsbury and Modernism since then, including Radio Modernism, which a review in the Woolf Studies Annual calls a "compact but meticulously sourced and argued volume," and Unpublished Works of Lytton Strachey, published by Pickering & Chatto. He has also penned two volumes--one published and one forthcoming--for Cecil Woolf Publishers' Bloomsbury Heritage Series, which you can read more about in the 'Books' section of Blogging Woolf.

It's not often that I allow myself to sing the praises of Mr. Magpie here on the blog, but I admire his work tremendously, and I love when we have the opportunity to collaborate on a project.  We are currently co-writing another book review, and yes, it is Bloomsbury-related, so I will keep you posted about it in the coming months.

I have so much to share with you--more Italian gardens, more Maine gardens, books I've been reading, and food I've been cooking.  As always, I'm grateful to you for visiting, and I love hearing about the daily ins and outs of your life, too.  Thank you for always inspiring me.  xo Gigi


Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Edge of Autumn


Good morning, chickadees.  I was out working in the garden earlier, deadheading the Abraham Darby roses, weeding the raised beds, gathering ground cherries to make salsa, and harvesting scarlet runner beans for next year's seeds--and I thought of you.  As I worked, the sun warmed my skin without burning.  I looked up to see the bees hopping from the fennel to the bee balm to the anise hyssop.

The last daisies are opening and the phlox is nearly all gone by.  Even so, the dahlias are just beginning to hit their stride, the asters are on the verge of blooming, and the chocolate eupatorium has yet to even start.  We've a ways to go, and even though I know the frosts will come in another month, I can't help but love this very moment in the garden best.  Here, teetering on the edge, I savor every bit of September's sweetness as the tomatoes blush and the whole garden gives one last glorious push before the fall.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Gardens of Florence


Earlier this summer I shared my visits to two gardens in Salerno, Italy.  I've been promising Florence, and at last I am delivering.  As we head into September and the first leaves have already begun to fall, I find myself longing for springtime in Italy.  For now, these photos will have to suffice.  

Have I told you yet that I fell head over heels in love with Florence?  I know this is nothing new.  Everyone loves Florence.  As Mr. Magpie and I window-shopped the jewel-box boutiques that line the crowded Ponte Vecchio, we had to pinch ourselves.  We were finally in Florence, the city I've wanted to visit since I was an 8-year-old girl poring through the pages of my parents' coffee table books of great museums of the world.  The Uffizi and Florence itself were at the top of my list in those days, and  they stayed at the top through all the years since then.  

I am happy to say that neither the museum nor the city disappointed.  We stayed just south of the Arno, one block from the Palazzo Pitti and the famed gardens of the Medici, the Giardini di Boboli.


The Boboli Gardens are the epitome of formal 16th-century Italian landscape design, yet they also incorporate several elements that were unique at the time, including sweeping views of the city and the countryside beyond in the neighboring hills. 


These views are largely the result of the steep topography of the site.  A broad gravel boulevard (Viottolone) lined by cypress trees climbs the hill.  




Smaller lanes along the Viottolone lead off to more private spots in the gardens, often decorated by remarkable sculptures, like this colossus bust of Zeus.  


With grottoes, sculptures, and fountains spanning the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as some from antiquity, the gardens are truly an open-air museum.

As you can see, it was a grey day when we were there, but warm, and the peonies were in full bloom.

In the view below, we are facing the Pitti Palace from the gardens.  


While they are open to the public today, when the Giardini di Boboli were originally laid out in the mid-16th century for Eleonora di Toledo, the wife of Cosimo I de Medici, they were intended as private family gardens.     


If you have time when visiting Florence, I recommend climbing a little higher up above the Boboli Gardens past the Forte Belvedere to the Giardino Bardini, with its beautiful rose gardens and yet even more sweeping vistas of Florence.




The roses at the Bardini are exquisite.  

It's difficult to limit this post to just one more garden, but I must or it will never be finished! Below I want to share with you a few shots I took on a different day when Mr. Magpie and I wandered over to the university district just north of the tourist center of Florence (it is a small city, so walking is very easy).

We went in search of the Orto Botanico, or as it is commonly called, the Giardino di Semplici (Garden of Simples), meaning medicines obtained from single plants.  Pharmacists traditionally make compounds, but a simple is one plant used to treat an ailment.

Founded in the mid-16th century, also by Cosimo I de'Medici, this is the third oldest botanical garden in Europe. 

Rosa 'Edgar Degas'



















There are more than 9,000 specimens in the Orto Botanico, but what I love most are the many, many roses.

Curry plant


I also loved touring the old glass houses, filled as they are with surprising specimens.  It's not a large botanical garden, and it won't take more than a couple of hours to view, but I found it to be a peaceful respite from the madness of the tourist crush near the Duomo.  Plus, some of the plantings are truly inspiring displays of contrasting textures and colors.

Rosa 'Sally Holmes'

Rosa 'Clair Matin'


At the edge of the gardens, near the public restrooms, we found the storage area for the hundreds of pots used to display specimens.  Wish I could have brought a few of these beauties home with me.  Each one is between two and three feet tall.  

Rosa 'Pink Grootendorst'

This sweet little rose with petal edges that look like someone cut them with a pair of pinking shears was tucked away in a corner.  Happily, I researched it when we returned home and discovered that it's hardy to zone 4, so I think I need one for my Maine garden! 

One little side note, while I haven't included photos of them, when you're at the Orto Botanico, you will likely meet the resident cats who are taken care of and well housed there--one more thing that makes this place near and dear to my heart. 

I hope you've enjoyed this very mini and very whirlwind tour of three Florentine gardens.  I have two more very special Italian gardens to share from Verona and Rome--be looking for them soon.  In the meantime, my own roses and dahlias are blooming up a storm, so I'll have pictures of my little plot to share, too.  If you want a sneak preview, you can always check out my Instagram feed here (or click on the little icon on my sidebar). 

I have lots of surprises in the works in the coming months.  In the meantime, thank you so much to old and new readers alike!  Your comments, emails, and Facebook notes are a joy to read.  I haven't been blogging as regularly this year because I've been working so much on deadline with clients as well as with my own writing and photography projects, so I thank you all for hanging in there with me while the cupboard was a bit bare.  You are the best

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Sun and the Moon and the Sea


There are days that stretch far beyond the limits of time.  

Clouds race endlessly across the blue, tides rise and fall,


and still the day continues, each moment of it holding fast to the part of one's mind where what matters most finds a home.

We share a day like this, my love and I.  The sun sets, the moon rises, and still we carry on. 

And what wonders we see.  Mythical birds one last night


before they leave their summer home

to fly back to the sea, where they have always flown.


Nothing about the day fades.  Each moment stays.

The sun has set again and again since then,










and yet this one persists.


We are rich with it.


Swept into silence by the wind, we watch the powder-white disc of the moon curve over the trees.


We could be infants or creatures from another world, how new this all suddenly seems,


and yet as ancient as the cry of a herring gull, the path of a snail through sodden sand.


And we wake early to find the sun again, impatient for the light,


even as the day before etches itself into our minds


lasting as long as we need it,


as long as we seek it,


as long as forever turns out to be.

Happy 20 years, Mr. Magpie.  


Note to you, my friends: I shot all of these photos over the weekend of the Super Moon this month.  The first ones are up off St. George Peninsula at Eastern Egg Rock, where Project Puffin has worked arduously for 40 years to restore the puffin population of coastal Maine.  If you ever have the chance to take a boat tour out to see the puffins, grab it!  They truly are wondrous little birds.  The sunrise pictures are on St. George Peninsula at Tenants Harbor.  The last couple of moonrise shots I took at the public landing in Falmouth Foreside.  

I am grateful every day that I live in such a beautiful part of the world.  

P.S. The other birds in the photos are an osprey, gulls (and other sea birds) flying over Eastern Egg Rock, and a great blue heron out fishing for his early morning breakfast.