Friday 20 September 2013

"In a Tuscan garden" - who was the author of this book?

Attentive readers of my blog posts will long ago have realised that I'm a garden nut - not just an enthusiast for classic Tuscan gardens but also for gardening in and of itself. This week I was lucky enough to add to my Tuscan gardens library a wonderful volume with a beautiful art deco cover, published in 1902. The author was an anonymous English lady who, at the time of writing her book (1901), had spend 15 years cultivating the garden of her villa near Florence. The book, In a Tuscan Garden, is a quite charming description of her adventures in setting up and maintaining the garden that was obviously an important part of her life in Tuscany. She has much to say on the character not only of the Tuscan seasons, soil and garden plants, but also the character of Tuscan gardeners!

In a Tuscan garden by Georgina S. Grahame
The villa forming the frontispiece of In a Tuscan Garden by Georgina S. Grahame
In her unpublished recollections, Annie Grahame reveals the author to have been her mother, Mrs Georgina S. Grahame. The John Lane archive at the Harry Ransom Center in Texas also contains correspondence between John Lane, who published the book under the Bodley Head imprint, and Georgina Grahame.

Who was Georgina S. Grahame? She was born in 1838, the daughter of George Bell (1795-1864) and Ann Robertson (b. 1800) and was an aunt of Kenneth Grahame, the author of The Wind in the Willows. She married Robert Vetch Grahame in 1857 when she was 19 years old and he was 33. Robert Vetch Grahame, born in 1824, was the son of Thomas Grahame (1793 - 1881) and Agnes Vetch (1801 - 1878) who married in 1822. Robert Vetch Grahame (1824 - 1890) was a merchant who spent much of his working life abroad in Manila and later lived in London. Georgina mentions having been in the Philippines. The couple had two children, Annie Grahame, born in 1859 and died in 1937, and Thomas George Grahame, born in 1861 and died in 1922, both born in the Philippines. Annie was the same age as her cousin Kenneth Grahame and a sympathetic friend of his. Robert Vetch Grahame retired in 1879 while resident in Edinburgh.

The Grahame family was Scottish in origin but Robert Vetch Grahame and his family lived at Draycott Lodge in Fulham, West London, which he owned from 1870 until 1879. (In November 1881, the house passed to the pre-Raphaelite artist, William Holman Hunt.) Kenneth Grahame lived with them for some time between leaving school and taking up employment at the Bank of England in 1879. Annie recalled visits from Kenneth Grahame after they established themselves Italy and there was an interesting exchange of letters between them.

Georgina Grahame refers to the "breakup" of their household, presumably upon her husband's retirement, and the purchase of a smaller place, probably not in London, a few years before her husband took out the lease on Villino Landau, an old farmhouse located on Via Bolognese about 3 km from the historic centre of Florence, on the hills of Fiesole in Tuscany. This seems to have taken place in about 1885 and it is unclear how often her husband accompanied her there. In her book she refers to her son Thomas as "The Junior Partner" and her husband as "The Absentee".

The Villino was an annex to a famous Renaissance villa known under various names over the centuries and which currently belongs to the University of Paris, under the name Villa Finaly. It was Allied Headquarters during the liberation of Florence. The golden age of the villa, then known as Villa Montughi, was the period as 1427-1816, especially after 1586 when it was owned by the Corsi family. From 1854 until 1858, it was the country seat of the last English Minister to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, Constantine Phipps, 1st Marquess of Normanby, who sold it to James de Rothschild shortly before his death in 1863. Rothschild had little interest in the property and sold it two years later to Baron Horace de Landau who was the owner at the time of the lease of the farmhouse to Georgina Grahame's husband, Robert. On the death of the Baron in 1903, his niece, Jenny Ellenberger, inherited his fortune, including the villa, and it was this change in ownership that brought to an end the residence of the Grahames at the Villino. Annie Grahame recorded that Jenny Ellenberger and her cousin and husband, Hugo Finaly, were "too high and mighty to tolerate neighbours"!

In 1909, Georgina published, also anonymously, a second book, Under Petraia, With Some Saunterings which was reviewed as far away as in New Zealand (New Zealand Herald 1908) in large part because of the popularity of her first book among gardeners world-wide. In the second book, she describes their search for a new home in Tuscany after the change of ownership of Villino Landau forced them to give up their lease. This latter volume is scarcer than In a Tuscan Garden. I am still searching for a copy to learn more about this unjustly neglected Victorian authoress and member of the amazingly talented Anglo-American population of Tuscany in the late 19th century.

More about the gardens of the Tuscan villas.

Tuscan villas and their gardens.

Italian Renaissance villas and their gardens.

Cecil Pinsent and the villa gardens of Tuscany.

Vacation accommodation in Tuscany
Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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