Fool for France

It’s minus 2 in my home town and my home has no heat. I should worry a little about the state of the plumbing, don’t you think? But no, instead I’m here in Kew for a class, looking forward to spring.

Blame it on Zita Elze. She has her flower shop right on the path between my class and the little cottage I’m renting. It’s a pricey little place: Elze’s, not the cottage. My “bargain” bunch of flowers was specially built for me because I just couldn’t bring myself to drop £50 or more on something that I couldn’t bring back to France with me. One day, I hope before I leave, those parrot tulips will bloom and be stunning. For now I simply enjoy the way that I can’t really tell where the flowers end and my landlord’s garden begins.

When I bought the house I was going to emphasize its geometry. The house is clearly laid out and beautifully and classically proportioned. If you wanted to go all clean and spare with it, you could and it would look great. But then I found the Fortuny lamps that I have always loved and they seemed so much better than, say, the latest thing from Philippe Starck. So okay, a little Venice crept into the mix. Then my friend Jennifer sold me some harem-worthy hand-painted Turkish tile panels. So all right, a little Ottoman here and there. Then Minna called to offer a great deal on her Astier de Villatte dishes, which no longer worked for her. I was not not not going to do the Astier de Villatte thing. It was just too obvious. But what a deal and well, maybe in the little kitchenette… Then my framer showed me this exquisite Breton-made, gold-flecked mouth-blown newel post finial. I have just the place for it. None of these things are in place yet but I can tell what’s coming. Mies van der Rohe is about to run smack into Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Mies would love the clean, spare, Dan Kiley-type garden I had in mind for the house. I’d show you a picture but everything is copyrighted. Think of a stand of trees planted on 10-foot centers, maybe six in each direction. It’s a clean, powerful look, easily able to complement the clean, powerful lines of my house. I thought it would be nice to have a garden different from my California garden, all wild rosemary and sage, held together only by the skills of Andrea Hurd and her team of gardeners.

So maybe the spirit of Zsa Zsa steered me into Elza’s. I was drawn in, couldn’t resist, and immediately thought yes, this is what my garden should be. Actually it will be a lot like my California garden only better, because it still rains in France. She sells Astier de Villatte candles, wouldn’t you know, and they look great mixed in with her flower arrangements. She also mixes in bird feathers, straw, little terracotta urns, you name it. Many people do that now but I have never seen it done this well. 

Right there in her shop, negotiating for a cheaper bunch of flowers, I remembered that Mies did stark modern apartments for other people; he lived in a converted barn. And his garden? I don’t know — never saw it, never saw a photo. What I do know is that I am suddenly okay with my house and grounds being a little on the chaotic side, perpetually in the process of becoming. But let’s get the heat on, please.

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