It’s been an extraordinary weekend. So apologies for a long blog, but you will understand why.
We had our friends Maggie and Stephen staying (or should I say, Maggie, and Stephen; the comma designating that they are not a couple?). Maggie is our neighbour next to the shop; when you next pop in to see us at Rugby Street, be sure to pop in too to see Maggie in her lovely jewellery shop next door. Steve, meanwhile, is my craziest friend of all time. We’ve known each other since we were seven years old, which is a long time these days. He’s about to embark on an incredibly exciting venture, opening a very smart, very beautiful hotel somewhere here in the south west. I can’t wait. It will be amazing.
The weekend began, though, with a quieter treat. My friend Gracie, who runs the superb Little Toller Press (that has been a regular fixture of the blog over the years) had arranged for us to visit and meet Julian Francis, author of the recent monograph on one of my favourite artists and discoveries… Rena Gardiner, who I blogged about a couple of years ago now, here. Do you remember?
Julian and his family live in a beautiful Manor House to the east of Dorchester. We had tea and scones in the garden served on Ravilious china, before starting an incredible inspection of Rena books, illustrations and linocuts. Within seconds we were sitting around Julian’s dining room table, absorbed in Rena and her books.
By far and away the greatest treat is a rare, rare copy of Portrait of Dorset, which in bookish circles has a mythic status.
You open it and see why – she printed only 30 copies.
Such a beautiful dedication on the title-page.
This image of Durdle Door forms the cover of Julian’s monograph:
I love this print of the Customs House at Poole:
And read, too, Rena’s incredible writing:
She cares as much for the industrial and unattractive as the more picture-postcard aspects of Dorset.
But reverts time and again to the early Georgian buildings that I feel were her greatest love:
Beautiful colours in the illustration of Waterston House: Portrait of Dorset is the most magical book I’ve looked at for a long time. It would be wonderful if we could persuade Gracie to do a facsimile reprint, although the book is so fragile I am not sure how that would even happen.
Here is a lovely early copy of the guide to Trerice, that I blogged about when I first wrote about Rena. The illustrations are near perfect.
This is the cover of Julian’s book, which he has written with Martin Andrews. I’m thrilled that we have copies of the book in the shop. Only 1000 have been printed and already fewer than 100 remain. If you are intrigued, you can buy a copy here. Hurry!
Julian gave us a brief tour of his beautiful library. I love books on shelves, but even more so when they are the shelves of a serious, knowledgeable, charming collector, generously sharing his treasures.
The view across the water meadows as we left Julian’s beautiful house was as serene as many of Rena’s illustrations that we had just been looking at. I reflected that the work of an artist that was so nearly lost has been re-found, a reputation strengthened and re-established by the efforts of this gentle man.
Today, by contrast, we found ourselves on an extraordinary trip through North Dorset… visiting (partly by design, partly by chance) the ancient walled garden of a splendid, now vanished, country house on the edge of Cranborne Chase… a garden that has been all but lost to time and decay. Little remains of what must have once been a place of staggering beauty and productivity.
But the memories of the place were powerful.
Ancient roses climbed through the branches of knarled fruit trees.
A Victorian glasshouse gently ebbed and flowed in a state of collapse.
Overtaken by time, just too late to save without a major reconstruction: We left in quiet speculation. There is something so beautiful about gardens in need of love and nurture. Did you ever read The Secret Garden as a child? One of my favourite books.
Charlie and I dropped Steve and Maggie at the station at the end of our adventures and returned home to a quiet, still Parsonage… bathed in late evening sunlight. Charlie’s garden is filled to bursting at the moment… a total contrast to the eerie emptiness we had been witness to hours earlier. Just at this time of year, can I admit… there is no where on earth that I would rather be.