Various Stages Of Life


The experts on the antiques programme Bargain Hunt, which we generally watch at lunchtime, tell us that silver items should not be polished, for that activity eventually obliterates the hallmarks. Many antique book dealers also believe that uncut book pages should be left in their pristine condition because taking a knife to them reduces their value.

This poses the question whether treasures are to be preserved in figurative amber and never used, or to be enjoyed for what they are

Count Morin, Deputy 1

I had no qualms about taking a sharp kitchen knife to the pages of

Count Morin, Deputy cover

a delightfully told political fable.

It is always interesting to speculate on who has read an old book, or indeed whether it has been read at all. In the old days when books were still well made to last, the pages were often joined at the edges and required cutting, as indicated above, in order to read them. So, if, as in this 1921 publication, you found uncut pages, you knew no-one else’s fingers had left their marks on the virginal leaves. It is such a pleasure to know that you were the first, and gives you a responsibility to take great care of your chosen treasure.

Although this slender little volume from The Bodley Head is illustrated throughout, I have chosen to restrain any impulse to scan the internal pages; because straining the spine to flatten the book in the scanner seems too high a price to pay; and because the woodcuts don’t appeal to me, as they display the heaviness I associate with Black Forest carving, thus denying the elegance of the text in translation by J. Lewis May.

Wood Pigeon and Owl

Without our double glazing I may have been able to eavesdrop on this avian conversation through the sitting room window.

My contribution to the general garden maintenance of the day was to hold the steps and otherwise assist The Head Gardener in retraining clematises at the front.

Jackie reflected training clematis

This photograph was executed with one hand on the steps, and the other on the camera.


Clematises such as this one don’t yet need such mountaineering feats to support them;

Violas in hanging basket

and the hanging baskets are within easy reach.

Bird's nest

While tidying her containers behind the shed, Jackie has found a nest from which the chicks have hedged and flown without our knowing it was there.


She has also found the thalictrum’s true element in the Cryptomeria Bed.

Shady Path

Visible in the Dragon Bed in the centre of this Shady Path view,


we have a new peony bloom.

Phantom Path

This view along The Phantom Path leads us to the Rose Garden,

Rose Garden entrance

up the entrance of which Madame Alfred Carière and Summer Wine are speedily making their way;

Rose Jacqueline du Pré

and within, Jacqueline du Pré displays various stages of life.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s delicious chicken jalfrezi with egg fried rice. She drank Hoegaarden, and I drank more of the Fleurie.


  1. A beautiful book, bound in the old quarto style, is indeed a treasure. But I would agree with your option of cutting open the folds and enjoying it, as the real raison d’être of a book is that it should be read.

  2. The Phantom Path looks so very beautiful. I agree with you about the “devaluing” books. My mother recently gave me the 6-volume set of Emerson’s works that belonged to her mother’s family. I’ve been delighted to find pieces of lace and other markers of use, even if they make for a lower price at an estate sale.

    Not that I expect they’re worth much. They are 1911 reprints, following several editions of the original. Plus Emerson isn’t fashionable. Fashion is important. 🙂

    As you may recall, I went hunting for an elusive book of poetry last year and finally found a copy. I spent less than 40 USD, which was wonderful considering the book was over 350 USD in the States and Canada. When I flipped open the cover, I saw that £10 had been written in the front page – and crossed out, with “half price” written below, and finally £2. So Dunstan Thompson is not fashionable in England, luckily for me!

  3. I like how you have caught the reflection of Jackie in the window – and made me smile at how helpful you are! Two readily accessible owls today – and a bonus pigeon! Also another owl – terracotta – tucked away behind the greenery of the phantom path. The garden is just wonderful Derrick. I am sure one could spend hours pottering along the various paths always finding something new to delight the senses. When I was teaching I once found an old book called ‘Stories of Rome’ in a second hand store. I picked it up for 50c and was delighted when I got it home to discover uncut pages [which I enjoyed opening with a sharp knife!] and the most delightful woodcut illustrations to accompany legends and stories that have all but disappeared from modern day collections.

  4. I had a dilemma of similar proportions once – should I let go of the ladder and maybe let her fall or take the photo of the bird that was on the other tree. I held on to the ladder – I am not such a fool at to jeapardise my dinner.
    PS I hope the the baby birds had fledged before they were hedged.

  5. As I was forming myself into a pretzel to get a good shot of a red hot poker, I thought to myself, I hope my blogging friends appreciate the lengths I go to for a good shot. (Achooooo!) 🙂

  6. I love the way the old books are illustrated, and adorned with vignettes.
    Your clematises are stunning! It is so fun you have found that old nest – what else you don’t know about your garden? 🙂
    Great photographs, as usual.

    1. Many thanks, Inese. There’s probably a lot I don’t know, but The Head Gardener knows every inch and can spot ailing plants a mile off. The wonder is that she didn’t know about the nest

  7. I agree with you that things should be used. That is their purpose. And I saw a blue clematis in the garden today just like yours. It was trained along the fence.

  8. Beautiful photos as always, and the real treasure is with your writing and story-telling. How I’d love to see and read such a book where the pages are joined at the edges requiring cutting in order to read them…it would make for a bit of excitement versus my current e-reader 🙂

      1. I do very much, much with my travel there is nothing quite like the e-reader…still, I look on in envy at those holding real books 🙂

  9. Sometimes, when I feel myself trapped in my thoughts I would love to roam on your garden’s alleys, Derrick 🙂

  10. I love old books – they don’t make ’em like they used to! The smell, the textures, the binding quailty usually too! Your avian residents seem to be enjoying the garden just as much as the rest of us – I wonder what the wood pigeon did say to the owl 🙂

  11. I love vintage and antique items… they each have a story to tell. Yes, do enjoy your lovely books — the pages come to life in your hands. I enjoyed the photo of the pigeon and the owl statue — they must be talking about your glorious garden!

  12. I wish I had felt more guilty a few weeks ago when I finally threw away my copy of “Notes from a House of the Dead” by Dostoevsky. I was supposed to have read that as background reading for my first term at university, but, alas, two pages cut, and three hundred left uncut told their own story!

  13. Lovely post. It would seem a shame for a book never to be read.
    I thought of your beautiful garden yesterday because we saw the musical, The Secret Garden, and wandered first for a bit in the Christ Church garden in Philadelphia. I was thinking you’d know the names of all the flowers. 🙂

  14. What I love and strive to accomplish, in the gardens I take care of, is the way that Jackie places plants in arrangements that look natural and informal. So that hiding around another plant or bend in the path is another surprise. I’ve enjoyed this type of garden planning (which I call English, but I maybe entirely incorrect…) more than plants standing as if they were soldiers at formal attention. Informal planting may take more thought than regimented themes, but the joyful energy can be clearly felt.

    1. Very many thanks, Ginene. I don’t like formal gardens, either. Jackie has the vision to know what is to come from the planning. I’m happy to think of it as English 🙂

  15. What a beautiful post! The garden looks lovely as usual and I was nodding in assent regarding the old books. Just thought that you could actually take a picture instead of scanning. That way you don’t need to strain any book. The photograph of Jackie with her reflection in the window is very interesting. I thought you had actually planned to take it that way 🙂

  16. Such a breath taking walk where I need to just sit and take it in, possibly with a beverage in hand, one kind or another and excellent company of such a great host and hostess. Delicious meal which makes my mouth water!

  17. One of the saddest things I used to handle in my days of owning a junk shop was 1960s toys that were still “mint and boxed”. Rather like books with uncut pages or silver with no wear from polishing, these are items that had no life, and served no purpose. “Read your books, polish your silver and play with your toys” should be a motto somewhere.

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