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Required Reading: Virginia Woolf’s Garden


Required Reading: Virginia Woolf’s Garden

December 6, 2013

Virginia Woolf was too busy being a genius writer to devote much time to gardening. She had garden-y friends, being a frequent guest at Charleston Farmhouse, Garsington Manor, and Sissinghurst Castle. She wrote unforgettably about gardens and houses (see the middle passage “Time Passes” in To the Lighthouse) but practical gardening–no, not really.

The meadows and flower gardens around Monk’s House in Sussex are brought to life by Caroline Zoob in Virginia Woolf’s Garden. Having lived at Monk’s House for a decade as a tenant of the National Trust, Zoob discovered much about Mr. and Mrs. Woolf. The picture we have is of their happy, peaceful retreat, a place that was conducive to Virginia’s writing. Its loveliness was due to Leonard, a keen gardener bordering on the fanatical.

Photographs by Caroline Arber.

Above: The famous writing hut, tucked beneath an enormous horse chestnut tree on the edge of the orchard. In Virginia’s lifetime only the part of the building between the two tree trunks existed. The other half is an addition, housing a small exhibition space.

Above: Part of the attraction of Monk’s House was the orchard, the pruning of which became an obsession for Leonard. Virginia was not above showing off about it: to Vita Sackville-West she wrote that there was “the orchard to sit in–which you have not got–not with pears and apples everywhere.”

Above: Monk’s House is a few miles from Charleston in Sussex, the more well-known gathering place for Bloomsberries, hosted by Virginia’s sister Vanessa. True to the local vernacular, part of the house is white weatherboard. This rendered (and shady) side is clad with Rosa ‘Felicité et Perpetué.’

Above: Sunrise from Leonard’s study, which was carved out of the attic space. The Clematis montana covers a tree where once stood a laundry and outdoor WC. Leonard removed these and created the planted area in the foreground. The Norman church is about a thousand years old.

Above: The vegetable garden as it is today, with allotments in the background still used by the village horticultural association, co-founded by Leonard. Though the rest of the garden was romantic and “blowing,” the vegetables were grown and dispatched in a very orderly fashion, the excess being sold to the Women’s Institute market.

Above: The Woolfs moved into Monk’s House a year afer the end of the First World War. When war came again, an unexploded bomb landed in the garden of the Woolfs’ house in Mecklenburgh Square, Bloomsbury. The house was declared uninhabitable and they were forced to live full-time in Sussex, partaking in village life rather more than they were used to. Virginia joined the WI and urged Vanessa Bell and Vita Sackville-West to follow suit.

“L. is doing the rhododendrons.” This was Virginia Woolf’s last entry in her diary before jumping to her death in the River Ouse.

Virginia Woolf’s Garden by Caroline Zoob with photographs by Caroline Arber, is £30 from Jacqui Small. For US readers, Virginia Woolf’s Garden is $34.12 on Amazon.

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