Having London and the Chelsea Flower Show on one’s May calendar is exciting enough. When it also includes an itinerary specifically designed to touch the high points of storied decorator Nancy Lancaster’s life, works, interests, houses and gardens (think Colefax and Fowler and her home, Ditchley, in Oxfordshire) the week becomes a series of “pinch me” moments. “Gardens and Glorious England” was a collaboration of Charlotte Moss and Margot Shaw, both of whom share a passion for all things Nancy, which prompted this celebration of a legacy.
The perfect kick off to our week was a cocktail party at Colefax and Fowler in that famous yellow drawing room with its barrel ceiling, which so many of us have clipped from magazines and lusted over for years – the proportions, the details on those oh, so Colefax taffeta window treatments, the view down upon the exquisite green and white inner courtyard garden with pool – set the stage for a week that was to prove, yet again, that Nancy Lancaster embraced the art of living. To that point, it is she, a Virginian, who introduced the “English country house style” to this world.
Following a day spent at Chelsea ( more about that here ) we headed out to the countryside mid-week, pulling up to a breathtaking Cotswold-stone, 18th century Georgian manse that was Nancy’s home from 1933-1947 (and also provided a retreat for Winston Churchill during high bombing threats from the Germans.)
Such a British gesture…a young man in a kilt “piped us in” to Nancy’s Ditchley.
As we entered the house, I drew a long sigh of appreciation for an entry hall that while grand, was most impressive for the restraint that William Kent had exercised in the design of both the décor and furniture in the early 1700s — everything from the judicious use of gilded wood, the symmetry of the hall that so clearly honored the “golden mean” and the wall lanterns suspended from chains (rather than extravagant sconces) that stopped just short of being overdone.
But it was Nancy Lancaster who cozied up this grand hall. As Charlotte observes in her book, Garden Inspirations, “… part of Nancy’s genius was her ability to humanize rooms, so that they have a sense of welcoming grandeur.” On a chilly May day, a fire in the entry hall’s fireplace conveyed that message beautifully!
Charlotte’s fancy office away from home.
Charlotte’s welcoming touch for each of us was a small hardbound, full color limited- edition book she had created in homage to Nancy Lancaster. What a jewel, and special remembrance! With all the shopping in mind that we surely would be doing, Charlotte had also gifted us with the best designed and constructed LARGE canvas tote that I dare say any one has ever seen (or tried to get in their suitcase.)
The next two days were a glorious blur of quintessential English house party details (in a home that does not often accept “paying guests”) – a yummy breakfast that included sweet and velvety eggs (the secret? They’re cooked in a bain marie);
A visit to Nancy’s other home, Kelmarsh, with its varying shades of “Nancy pink” in the entry hall that was a romantic counterpoint to Ditchley; strolls through the gardens and walks around the lake to the folly;
an English staple, tea at 4:30;
cocktails at 7:00 in the White Drawing Room looking out on the Churchill Terrace, with delicate canapés (here, caviar and smoked salmon;)
and four-course dinners with paired wines, which on our last evening was served in the saloon, one of the prettiest rooms in which I’ve ever dined. The combination of candlelight and late setting sun added a magical glow to the scene as we entered while the advancing twilight signaled the finale to a most festive evening.
With Henry Lynn and Suzanne Tucker.
Thank you, Charlotte and Margot, for such incomparable memories…and to my fellow travelers who made each day such a delight.