For ten years Caroline Zoob and her husband lived as caretakers and tenants at the miniature (by modern standards) Monk’s House in Sussex, longtime home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf. Responsible for maintaining the garden and the house and keeping them open to the public on set days, their brief from The National Trust suggested they garden “in the spirit of Bloomsbury,” “using bright colors in a painterly style.”
And now Zoob has made a beautiful book in the spirit of Bloomsbury – “Virginia Woolf’s Garden: The Story of The Garden at Monk’s House.” Along with Zoob’s text, photographs from the Woolfs’ time, and lavish contemporary photos by Caroline Arber, the book contains Zoob’s truly delightful, embroidered garden maps – a unique touch in a garden book. Zoob’s narrative of Virginia’s life serves as a good refresher or introduction, and the book also stands as a gardening book with planting recommendations based on experiences in the Monk’s House garden and descriptions of its garden rooms.
Zoob often uses Virginia’s own words to describe the garden and her pleasure in the seasons there: “The snow came down on Saturday, thick white cake sugar all over the garden…,” “the nights are long and warm, the roses flowering; and the garden full of lust and bees, mingling in the asparagus beds” – a gardening book with Virginia Wolf’s observations!
In the mid-90s I visited Monk’s House (before Zoob’s time and most of the plants quiet for the season), and was among those Zoob would call “visitors on a pilgrimage.” Thrilled to walk where Virginia walked and see the views she saw, I watched a woman pick an apple from one of Leonard’s apple trees and bite into it. Startled, I felt both dismay – should she do that? – and complete understanding of why she would want to.
The house remains much as it was a hundred years ago, and only a limited part of it is open to the public. You envy Zoob living day in and day out as the Woolfs did, with her black-and-white cats, Handlebars and Boy, at home in their garden, and morning sunshine coming down the steps into the kitchen. You also shudder at the trials – water pouring down the same steps into the kitchen when it rained, a clawed bathtub on a tilt. Both couples endured bitterly cold winters – the Woolfs with no central heating, and the modern couple a long stretch with a broken boiler.
Gardens rarely outlast their creators, so I loved this book describing its ongoing life. I think Virginia would be pleased with things, including this treasure of a book.
She would also love your painting and your delight of her garden. Now I want to go there, not only to see the garden and buildings, but to bring warmth ! – electric blankets? new furnace? chocolate chip/oatmeal cookies right out of my Barbie oven? ~Jane
Thank you Jane, and all the above would be welcome, I am sure! VW was a great baker of bread, but may not have tasted your chocolate chip cookies, and Caroline Zoob deserves a batch. Xo
Thanks so much for telling us about this book. Can’t wait to read it. The pleasures of the house always seem to outweigh the difficulties, and the romance shines through all the written words and through visual images like your painting.
Thanks Carol – and you will love, love this book!
I will have to get that book. I have not managed to see VW’s garden despite being nearby twice. Once it was closed and once the others I was with weren’t keen…
Oh I am sorry you haven’t seen Vicki – but you will love this book, a great pleasure! Glad you are passworded back in!
I recently checked out that book from the Boston Public Library. I may check it out again after reading your post. Beautiful painting. 😉
Hi Cynthia – thank you – and what a coincidence – I love to think of books all over the place giving pleasure!
Thanks so much for sharing this treasure with us Katy! I love the idea of a garden living on beyond the life of it’s creator—giving us another view into their world. Lovely painting too!
Thank you Michelle – such a lovely book making the garden live on – you’d love it!
I too thank you, Katy. I am too a Virginia Woolf reader and am going to put this into our folder of possible itineraries in England. And, find the book as well.
You are so welcome Susan. And maybe put Charleston in Sussex on your list – Vanessa Bell’s house. You would love it!
Beautiful post and drawing !❤️
Hi Violet – thank you and thank you for stopping by! I hope you will come again.