Virginia Woolf's Garden: The Story of the Garden at Monk's House by Caroline Zoob

Monk’s House in Sussex is the former home of Leonard and Virginia Woolf. It was bought by them in 1919 as a country retreat, somewhere they came to read, write and work in the garden. From the overgrown land behind the house they created a brilliant patchwork of garden rooms, linked by brick paths, secluded behind flint walls and yew hedges. The story of this magical garden is the subject of this book and the author has selected quotations from the writings of the Woolfs which reveal how important a role the garden played in their lives, as a source of both pleasure and inspiration. Virginia wrote most of her major novels at Monk’s House, at first in a converted tool shed, and later in her purpose-built wooden writing lodge tucked into a corner of the orchard. 

Caroline Zoob lived with her husband, Jonathan, at Monk’s House for over a decade as tenants of the National Trust, and has an intimate knowledge of the garden they tended and planted. The photographer, Caroline Arber, was a frequent visitor to the house during their tenancy and her spectacular photographs, published here for the first time, often reveal the garden as it is never seen by the public: at dawn, in the depths of winter, at dusk. The photographs and text, enriched with rare archive images and embroidered garden plans, take the reader on a journey through the various garden ‘rooms’, (including the Italian Garden, the Fishpond Garden, the Millstone Terrace and the Walled Garden). Each garden room is presented in the context of the lives of the Woolfs, with fascinating glimpses into their daily routines at Rodmell. Included is a very moving forward by Cecil Woolf, nephew of Leonard and Virginia Woolf.
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Jacqui Small LLP (17 Oct 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1909342130
  • ISBN-13: 978-1909342132

never has the garden been so lovely dazzling one's eyes with reds & pinks & purples and mauves~Virginia Woolf

Within these pages you will find beautiful family photographs of Leonard and Virginia Woolf during their years together since the beginning when they bought Monk's House at auction in 1919, through Virginia's death, over the years into Leonard's life after Virginia until his death in 1969.  Author, Caroline Zoob writes with clarity and passion about The Woolfs life in their home and gardens. Every section of the garden and grounds is written about from the perspective of The Woolfs, as well as, today's visitors and fans of Virginia Woolf. It is a fascinating account of the beauty a garden can bring. Readers will feel closer to The Woolfs as people who loved their home and lived life together as more of a regular married couple than you would think. I loved reading excerpts from Virginia Woolfs diary as well as Leonard's writings which helped bring a better understanding of who they were together and separately beyond their fame and notoriety.

Virginia and Leonard Woolf in their orchard

Leonard is making a new flower bed, pulling down an out house, and building an earth closet. He particularly wants to know where he can buy old paving stones to make a path. Could you tell us? A place near here, if possible; because this garden too is being renovated. There's no end to his activities ~ Virginia Woolf talking to Ralph Partridge in November 1921

Caroline Zoob covers the years at Monk House and the garden seasonally, embracing its changes through Virginia's love of cooking meals for her husband and friends as well as entertaining and writing in the writing lodge at the back of one of the sections in their garden still preserved and kept in tact as it was when they both lived there. Monk House has become a haven for fans of Virginia Woolf but Caroline Zoob's book, brings to life how the gardens helped bring The Woolfs closer together.  As a reader, you learn more about Leonard Woolf as a man who loved to be in his garden planting not only food but adding a pond to the garden which Virginia was not too keen on to begin with. She loved and sometimes hated the garden because although it made her husband happy, it also took up much of his time away from her. Their marriage may be 'odd' nowadays but it worked for them. She focused on her writing, publishing and dealing with earning more money than he did as her success grew. They faced so many challenges together i.e. her admitted affair with friend Vita Sackville-West. Monk House and the gardens out back kept them together and happy I believe for most of their marriage. I never would have come to that conclusion had I not read, Virginia Woolf's Garden.  

Our garden is a perfect variegated chintz asters, plumasters, zinnias, geums, nasturtiums all bright, stiff, upstanding, cut from brightly coloured paper as flowers should be ~ Virginia Woolf

Then came the postman on this very English summer day, just the right kind of soft delicious heat and the thrushes and the blackbirds eating my apples lazily on the path - for I gathered three bushels of July pippins yesterday from an ancient apple tree~ Leonard Woolf


Laura Morrigan said…
It looks and sounds like sound a wonderful place! I wish I had more money for buying books right now! Apparently there is a book about Beatrix Potter's farm, that would also be amazing to read! I hope I can visit both places one day!
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Laura,
It does, doesn't it! Hopefully, I can visit Monk House one day. I think I know the Beatrix Potter book you mean and it would be wonderful to read. I have been to Cumbria to Beatrix Potter's house and it is very charming. I hope you can see it one day. Thanks so much for commenting.