I feel like I've barely sat still the past couple of months. We've had three weeks of school holidays (always a winner during Winter- it has rained to the point of needing to build an ark), and a couple of extra side trips have seen the AV house empty more often than full.

But I thought I'd not bore everyone with blow by blow descriptions of our family ski holiday (surely this is the modern day equivalent of the slide show?) and some of the other trips here and there we've done, but instead highlight a couple.

 Ginger Jars at Decor + Design

Last week was the Decor and Design trade show in Melbourne. Romy and I had decided earlier this year we were going to attend - I haven't been to a trade show since leaving Melbourne in 2010... so I felt it was overdue. We flew in from our respective cities and met at the airport, where we laughed at the drivers holding up iPads that said "Uber available" (why yes, random man, I will get into your car because you say you're an Uber driver...) and joined the taxi queue whereupon after a bizarre ride into the city with a - literally- deranged driver with appalling body odour (it'll be Uber only after this - suddenly those guys at the airport didn't look so creepy), we did a quick whip around the D+D show at the Convention centre with Romy's friend Jane who was already in attendance. Frankly, the best part of the show was the champagne bar and people watching (it's always fun watching the other designers all dressed up and guessing where they're from - there are strong regional 'looks' in design). While I got to visit a few of my suppliers stands, and also found a couple of new sources... overall it was pretty dreadful.

Nothing better than a convention centre full of Chinese made pleather recliner lounge suites with built in cup holders and pouches for your remote. Apparently you can replace entire sections of the lounge when the pleather is scratched up. 

But all was not lost! Thursday night we met up at the new Garden State Hotel in Flinders Lane in the city. Single ladies of Melbourne - If you're looking for a place where the ratio of men aged over 30 in dark suits is about 10 to every 1 female, this is the place for you at 7pm on a Thursday. It was absolutely pumping (seats 850, but doesn't feel overly cavernous due to the design) and was wall to wall city males. We left to eat at Supernormal, a little further down Flinders Lane (the Lobster rolls are excellent) and then to bed.

Friday morning before departing, thanks to Jane who is a nippy driver and had hired a car while in Melbourne, we whipped around the trade showrooms in High Street, Prahran East looking at all the fabrics we don't have easy access to here and stopped off at the Mossgreen tearooms in High Street Armadale for sustenance.

Their high tea looks very nice indeed (I just had scones), and the proper Wedgwood china the tea was served in was lovely. Highly recommended if you're looking for a nice place for tea or lunch that is not in the city.

sausages in bread... watching their brother.

Then it was home to man the BBQ and dole out sausages on bread at the Under 11s Football match in the freezing cold, mud and pouring rain on Friday night. A life of contrasts...

Earlier in the school holidays Mr AV and I had a child free weekend escape to the Barossa Valley. This is probably Australia's most famous food and wine region - it was settled by German Lutherans, escaping religious persecution in the 1840's, and they brought many of their food traditions with them with many of the same families still in operation today. It's only 45 minutes from Adelaide, which made it the perfect easy driving destination that feels a world away from the city.

We stayed at Kingsford Homestead in the tiny little stonemasons cottage, rather than the main house. It was perfect - incredibly quiet, very private, and had a little sitting room with open fire place that I spent a lot of time reading books in front of. Breakfast in the main house was delicious - it's a really great spot to stay and explore the Barossa from. We ate our meals out - Fino at Seppeltsfield for lunch on Friday, Ferment Asian in Tanunda on the Friday night (the wine list has to be seen to be believed - it's like the Bible!), Hentley Farm on the Saturday night for the 8 course degustation and then, as a complete contrast, we ate at The Clubhouse back in Tanunda on Sunday night, which does a pretty good pub style meal (we were all gourmet'ed out by then).

Hentley Farm - oysters with passionfruit vinaigrette and rosemary scented smoke. It covered the table at one point.

Seppeltsfield, which looks strangely South of France with the palms and French cafe furniture even when freezing cold

We visited Maggie Beer's farmhouse shop, which was jam packed with tourists (and as we can pretty much buy her entire range at the supermarket in Adelaide it wasn't really a huge draw for us), and dropped in and out of the many, many wineries in the region. My advice if you're going for the first time is to skip the really big names (the Jacob's Creeks etc) as they have very large visitor centres, many of which are a little dated and cater for the large bus tourist segment of the market. The smaller, more authentic experiences are in the little places where the staff are passionate about wine, and will happily chat with you about technique, blends and other little gems of information. We did enjoy visiting Seppeltsfield though - it is one of the bigger wineries, but has an outpost of the Jam Factory (the famous Adelaide craft collective), and an excellent restaurant in Fino. Mr AV made the observation that the large Alcohol conglomerates that went on purchasing sprees a decade or so ago buying up the 'big name' wineries didn't take into account that as soon as they bought them they devalued the brands as they lost the x-factor of the family heritage that gave them worth. It's all about heritage and authenticity in the Barossa, and the family run wineries are the ones still making waves.

We loved visiting the Barossa - very beautiful scenery and enjoyable driving through the hills and valleys along little winding roads. The tiny old stone settlers cottages, rustic split gum fencing and paddocks full of vines. It was a great escape and we drove home to collect the children on the Monday with a car boot full of wine to add to our cellar.

Inside Rockford's
Outside Rockford's

Back home, we're in the depths of Winter - pouring rain, cold and a fairly bare looking garden. Hope you're warm whatever part of the world you're reading from.

Of all the design disciplines, Landscape design is perhaps the one most easily able to be swept into the mists of time.  Aside from the planting of large, long lived trees, a garden can, in just a matter of a few years, be overtaken by neglect with the death of plants and overgrowth of others rendering a design invisible and not as the Landscape designer originally intended.

This year is a celebration of the 300 years since English landscaper Capability Brown's birth. He is often decried as a wrecker of gardens by some purists, as he was known for obliterating the elaborate knot gardens and parterres favoured in the period immediately before him and replacing them with cleverly constructed naturalistic landscapes of parkland, trees, lakes and vistas. He was also quite prolific, designing over 250 gardens in his lifetime. The fact that many of his designs survive completely intact is perhaps due to two things: large areas are left to do their own thing in the parkland style (no tedious pruning and fussy flower planting to maintain), and that his planting schemes relied on long lived trees for their Architectural structure - there is no loss of small plants gradually over a few decades to obliterate the entirety of the design.

But perhaps the best way of to take a snapshot of a moment in time in a garden is by recording it with a garden map. Anyone having a plan done for their garden today is familiar with receiving a full planting scheme on plan laid out appropriately scaled from their landscape designer. While these are purely utilitarian, they are a beginning record of a gardens planting, and the subsequent evolution thereafter. However, not all gardens were started this way, and many have no plan to refer back to.

Mid last year, I was reading Australian "Country Style" magazine, and came across an article about a Garden Map maker, Catherine O'Neill. Catherine now lives in rural Victoria, but is originally from England and studied Landscape Design at The Inchbald School of Design in London (my Alma Mater for my Interiors education).  She has now stopped the landscape side of her work and instead developed a business recording other people's gardens - completely accurately, but coloured with watercolours giving a decorative style more reminiscent of the Garden maps produced in the 18th Century than those produced by designers nowadays.

Map by Catherine O'Neill

I contacted Catherine to see if she might be available to make a map of my Father's Garden for his 70th Birthday gift. Little did I realise the Pandora's Box I was opening! I have published photographs of my Dad's garden in the past on the blog, and they make up the bulk of this post, but for those unfamiliar, it is an approximately 20 acre garden created around 1890, largely still completely intact. Most of the garden is treed (there is a large Pinetum, which has specimen trees in it, and is not a heavily cultivated style of garden), and there is a large collection of unusual Cypress, Pine, Rhododendron and Camellias.

The original Garden owners travelled extensively around the world hunting down exotic plants, bringing seeds and cuttings back from Asia, Europe, and America, as well as swapping plant seed and cuttings with other keen Garden owners at that time across Australia. Of course, if you're DIYing your garden, you don't necessarily make a map of where you're planting things - rather you most likely walk around and just set things out where you'd like them to be. For this reason there has never been a completely accurate map of the garden, and certainly no proper inventory of the trees (there are in excess of 1000 of them). The question of where to stop in terms of detail was something we had lengthy discussions about as Catherine commenced the project.

The starting point was, fortunately, an accurately surveyed map (above) with the Victorian- era circuitous paths and drives laid out on it that my Father already had. From there, satellite maps that provided further detail of canopy spread were helpful, but much of the work Catherine has done has involved mapping each garden bed, laboriously numbering each tree and larger scale understory plant, and setting them all out on her larger garden plan. My Father has spent a lot of time over the past 10 years identifying each un-labelled tree (with some help from the Adelaide and Mt Lofty Botanic Gardens, visiting Botanists and Garden History experts, and Catherine herself), and has in the process discovered plants that originate in Nepal, Mongolia, China, and very unusual Cypress not thought to be grown elsewhere in Australia. It's been quite a fascinating process.

Unfortunately, the map is not yet finished (likely early next year), so you can see it's really been quite a process.  I'm not able to post the end result in this blog post... however I thought I'd post the video Catherine has on her website showing the process of the making of one of her beautiful watercolour maps.

Late last year, Country Style magazine wrote an article about this particular garden, Glenmore (image below), so you can see how she not only accurately captures the plant locations and types, but also the overall feel of the garden, something that is not so easily conveyed in a modern, purely functional style of plan.

 Glenmore, via Country Style magazine

The feel of a garden is something we have discussed quite a bit about my Dad's and how to capture it on the map. The week that she spent here earlier this year mapping the garden not only gave her accurate plant locations, but also an understanding of the atmosphere of the garden, and it was interesting hearing her describe it in much the same way that everyone else does. It really gets under your skin and is a very special place, with an undertone of history, tranquility and a sort of quiet grandeur created by the towering trees. The tonal colours to be used for the map were also evident to her from her week spent in the garden - deep, lush green in all its verdant shades.

Three Copper Beech, planted to celebrate the birth of the three grand-children of the original garden owner

A garden can disappear in just a few years - something I was reflecting on when reading a book about The Lost Gardens of Helligan earlier this year. It's a special thing when a garden can last beyond the vision of the first creator. Perhaps trees are largely the key to this. They certainly outlive us, and the ones in my Father's garden provide a memorial of sorts to the people who laid out, tended and loved the garden 120 years before us. Recording a snapshot of the garden at this point for posterity seems like the perfect way to honour the special place they created and the legacy they left behind.

Martindale Hall, pictured above, is considered one of the Architectural jewels of South Australia, located near the town of Mintaro in the Clare Valley, approximately 2 hours from Adelaide. Built for the pastoralist Edmund Bowman in 1879 at great cost, it was the central property of a wool empire that stretched across South Australia. Apparently built to entice a girl he wanted to marry to leave her English family house (supposedly it was a replica), she refused to leave England for the colonies and he eventually married another, settling into his 32 room estate with attendant polo ground, cricket field and extensive stables. Just 20 years later however, a long drought and a drop in wool prices saw his empire fall, and the property was sold at a knock down price to the Mortlock family. They lived in it until the 1950's when it was bequeathed to the University of Adelaide, who in turn handed it over to the State Government of South Australia in 1986. For some years it has been open as a house museum, and up until recently was run as a historic style bed and breakfast with all the attendant comforts you'd expect from a Victorian era house with a lack of modern facilities.... Many readers both here in Australia and overseas will be familiar with the house, as it starred as the school Appleyard College in the hauntingly classic Australian movie "Picnic at Hanging Rock" released in 1976.

Picnic at Hanging Rock

All this preamble is to set the scene of the next act: A proposal has been put forward by two groups regarding the future of Martindale Hall- one a private consortium who approached the government last year to buy the property in order that they could turn it into a luxury resort/ hotel. The counter proposal has come from the National Trust, who are pressuring the Government to gift the property to them, and have put together a 'dynamic plan' to run it as a museum space with festivals in the grounds, a newly created Victorian style garden, gift shop and cafe etc - standard National Trust style stuff.

The current operators of the Hall have enlisted the support of the Actress that played Miranda in the movie to entreat the government not to turn it over to developers and "take it away from the general public" pushing for it to be handed to the Trust. This has, of course, made headlines around the country. Naturally no one wants the greedy luxury hotel developers to take away public access! We are nothing if not egalitarian in Australia. But I have to admit to having mixed feelings about having the house handed over to the Trust. Perhaps, as abhorrent as it might first sound, a luxury hotel is actually a much better idea, on a number of levels.

Still from the movie Picnic at Hanging Rock

Firstly, luxury tourism is big, big business around the world. Australia has a decided lack of it when compared to countries like neighbouring New Zealand and their Luxury Lodge tourism that draws visitors from around the world, and this prevents a coveted segment of the tourism market from coming here with all the flow on benefits that would bring to the area. Developing historic properties into Country House hotels, which have been done so successfully in the UK revitalising and giving them relevancy, would be a major tourist draw here. This property sits right in the middle of one of the best wine regions in the country with a distinct lack of luxury accommodation to draw in a big spending sector of the tourism market. We have beautiful Heritage buildings in South Australia, ironically because we have had such a protectionist view point over them - but finding one to stay in is difficult unless you look at the holiday cottage segment of the tourism market. Everything else is brand new, which is a shame when you consider that South Australia's heritage properties are one of the more recognisable and celebrated features of our State.

Miranda from Picnic at Hanging Rock

Secondly, we have a number of properties already being run by the National Trust around Adelaide and they highlight some of the problems associated with the House- as- Museum concept. If you visit a stately home in the UK, the ones that give the best experiences to the visitor are the ones that still have the family living in them. The ones that are empty, and run purely as a House Museum by the UK branch of the National Trust can feel staid and lifeless, and sometimes be presented in a manner that is a little twee ("Ye Olde Worlde"). Families and people give a house life. It is the layering of changes of fashion, of the quirks of lives lived within it that make it interesting and that tell the narrative of why the house was created and how that relates to us and to the wider world.

Here in Australia our National Trust properties are all long vacant of the families that once lived in these grand houses. I have visited Beaumont House, Ayres House, Carrick Hill and Urrbrae House here in Adelaide, and various properties in Melbourne such as Como House and Ripponlea, and they are slightly dispiriting with an overlay of the Institutional feel to them. Guides are occasionally dressed in fake period costume, partially furnished rooms are set in aspic from a time period determined as 'correct' (but not necessarily the furniture or furnishings that were in that room at that time - they are recreations) can leave me a little cold. The richness that you get from visiting a living, breathing house is not there.

This is an issue that is currently being debated at great length in the UK (see the past few issues of Country Life magazine if you are interested, and I noticed that Ben Pentreath, whose blog is on my side bar also waded into the fray on this topic on his blog a few weeks back). We haven't had a discussion in Australia as to whether these types of experiences are the best use of these properties, because generally we look at our history with a blindly protectionist viewpoint - we have so little of this kind of built Architecture, and what we have is so recent when compared to other countries, that there is a universal favouritism of keeping the old and preserving it at all costs... even when that doesn't make it dynamic or as the best use of that facility.

So, back to Martindale Hall. Some of the things that have been overlooked in the debate are that this house has not had a family living in it for 70 years, which is half the age of the property, rendering it something of a white elephant. Most of the original contents from when it was first built were sold after the Bowmans left the property in a Mortgagee sale, with only a few pieces the Mortlocks purchased still remaining. The remaining furniture in the public viewing rooms are from that Mortlock period of the house's history. Other rooms are re-creations in a Victorian style. There is no reason why a hotel with a publicly accessible aspect to it couldn't co-mingle with the historic element. There is also no reason why this property has to be sold to be developed, rather than being kept by the government. It could be on long term lease, with stringent controls over maintenance, upkeep, approvals and public access. If this were the case, then I would hope a publicly called tender would go forward, and that the selected operator and developer would be the one that would provide the best long term solution for the property, not necessarily just the person that had an idea and approached the State Government first.

Historic properties are a difficult quandary. We can all watch episodes of Downton Abbey to get a meticulously and historically accurate recreation of a period of history and the people that would have lived within that time, with actors dressed, speaking and behaving as they did then. Walking through staid room sets in an empty house being led around by someone in a costume is not necessarily going to give a better or more enriching experience. When you balance that against the drawcard of the tourism component and the revitalisation that could bring, then perhaps a hotel is not such a bad idea. The house has been run as a museum for a long time now and it is not the main reason why people visit the Clare Valley, rather a side trip for those interested in old buildings. Making a destination out of it, with the Clare as the added bonus is an idea worth pursuing. Running the property as a National Trust museum with an adventure playground will likely not see tourism numbers soar in the region.

It's an unfashionable view to put forward. Long term blog readers will know I have a love of History and Architectural History in particular, and I do support the important work of the National Trust. But we do need to question whether these Historic House Museums are a success. Ayers House, a large mansion that is in the centre of the Adelaide CBD is essentially a Wedding venue and House Museum... how many of these types of venues do we need - all stuck circa 1880, all 'teaching' us the same things. Our built history is worth preserving, but we need to do so in a way that will breath life and relevancy to these properties. Sometimes development is not necessarily such a bad thing when it is done with sensitivity, and most importantly, done well.

bedroom by Nicky Haslam

"Chuck out the Chintz" the British were told in the 1990's by an award winning IKEA advertisement. Chintz has been unequivocally associated with traditional English Country House style decorating for over 150 years. The attempt by IKEA to move the British out of the traditional country house zone and into modern Scandinavian design was by denigrating a very old, and very traditional fabric choice. Chintz itself originally came from India, and was exported around the world from the 1650's. Eventually it was banned in France, aside from being able to be worn inside the French court, which of course only increased its fashionability. When the ban was lifted Chintz was used not only for clothing but eventually for curtains and soft furnishings, which is where you find it still used today.

Via Jean Monro

Chintz itself is any floral pattern on a white background, and by the 1800's these were glazed (initially with sugar, then with a chemical process which was used up until the 1980's when it was banned as being highly carcinogenic) to give a glossy sheen across the fabric. Many of the chintz patterns in production today stem from French documents, despite this being a quintessentially English style of decorating, but the past 15 years in decorating have not been kind - Fabric companies tend to discontinue unpopular fabrics, and as the fickle wheel of fashion turned venerable companies like Colefax and Fowler shed Chintz fabrics from their ranges, replacing them with more commercially popular alternatives. The printing of Chintz patterns onto cotton fabrics was also reduced, a softer finish on linen was preferred.

Quintessential English Country House decorating - Bowood by Colefax and Fowle

There are only so many variations on a theme however, the past 10 years of neutral colour palettes - raw linen and subtle textural contrast have left many designers yawning, and there is a renewed interest in ornamentation in fabrics. This started with the advent of digital printing (which has been the biggest change in fabrics in recent years) an conversely the swing back toward the artistry behind traditional fabric, with renewed interest in hand embroidery and Hand Blocking, and thus the resurrection of Chintz and a more traditional style of decoration.

via Jean Monro

Jean Monro is a small niche fabric company still exclusively producing Chintz in the UK, and is somewhat known amongst decorators seeking a traditional style that has been discontinued elsewhere. I still think of this company as "Mrs Monro" and this is because it used to be called that back when I worked in London 17 years ago. Mrs Monro has the distinction of being the oldest Interior Design company still in operation in England - it was started in 1926. The fabric side of the business was developed in the 1980's by the original founder's daughter. This was eventually spun off  and acquired by Turnell & Gigon in 1998 and given the slight name change to distinguish it from the Interiors business. They produce stunning designs full of blowsy flowers and foliage, mostly printed in England, and almost all hand blocked onto cotton chintz or linen. Everything old is new again, and there is a definite renewed interest in chintz, and the floral prints last seen so full blown in the 1980's.

Ham Yard Hotel - the Library featuring Jean Monro Chintz

Kit Kemp used some of Jean Monro's fabrics in her latest Ham Yard hotel, and it is the subtle hand made quality of the hand blocking that really is quite beautiful. Coupled with some of the more modern colour renditions that they've produced the designs from the 1860s look thoroughly modern.

I thought I'd leave this short video from their website for your enjoyment - it's the process that a length of fabric will go through... all 18 metres of it with the hand blocking being done. One design, Lucy's Roses, has 180 blocks applied to produce the design per pattern repeat, all done by hand by a master craftsman/woman who has completed a trade apprenticeship that lasts 7 years. As it is done by hand, there is a subtle difference to the designs produced by different hand blockers. The process has never been adequately replicated by machine. Whether or not you're ready to embrace traditional Chintz in your interior, you can admire the craft and perhaps gain more of an appreciation for the work that goes into these beautiful, textured, painterly fabrics.

MASTER SHORT from Doublard Design on Vimeo.
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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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