Book Quote Friday: Kew Gardens

     Today's post comes from a short story that entered my life long ago, but recently re-entered it thanks to the swag obtained from the Vintage Open Day: ‘Kew Gardens’ by Virginia Woolf. It is an ecstatic account of a sunny afternoon spent amongst the flowers, which sings with lyricism, colour and life. It is stunning, as hopefully the quote below, the first paragraph of the story, will demonstrate:

Kew Gardens and Other Works by Virginia Woolf (Unexpurgated Edition) (Halcyon Classics)     ‘From the oval-shaped flower-bed there rose perhaps a hundred stalks spreading into heart-shaped or tongue-shaped leaves half way up and unfurling at the tip red or blue or yellow petals marked with spots of colour raised upon the surface; and from the red, blue or yellow gloom of the throat emerged a straight bar, rough with gold dust and slightly clubbed at the end. The petals were voluminous enough to be stirred by the summer breeze, and when they moved, the red, blue and yellow lights passed one over the other, staining an inch of the brown earth beneath with a spot of the most intricate colour. The light fell either upon the smooth, grey back of a pebble, or, the shell of a snail with its brown, circular veins, or falling into a raindrop, it expanded with such intensity of red, blue and yellow the thin walls of water that one expected them to burst and disappear. Instead, the drop was left in a second silver grey once more, and the light now settled upon the flesh of a leaf, revealing the branching thread of fibre beneath the surface, and again it moved and spread its illumination in the vast green spaces beneath the dome of the heart-shaped and tongue-shaped leaves. Then the breeze stirred rather more briskly overhead and the colour was flashed into the air above, into the eyes of the men and women who walk in Kew Gardens in July.’

     There are some interesting things to note about this piece. Some sufferers of mental instability suffer from a condition called 'sensory sensitivity', which means that the sufferer has a wildly increased sensitivity to sensory information, colour, noise and light. Woolf's depression and numerous breakdowns are well-documented, so could Woolf write like this because of the issues she had? Did she literally see/hear/perceive more than the rest of us? It's also been suggested that she was on the spectrum for Asperger's Syndrome, with which sensory sentivity can also be an issue. In addition to this, I can recall, in the very back part of my memory, a film scene where the protagonist knows that they are about to have a manic phase or a mental breakdown because colours become wildly vivid and slightly 'off', but for the life of me can't think which film it is. I even roped in my friends to help*, but to no avail. Maybe I dreamt it. But, if this film scene does exist, it perhaps suggests that this is something else to consider.

      The beady-eyed amongst you might have also noticed that there are either red, blue or yellow flowers in each of the rooms in 'The Hours', an homage to this piece. Being aware of flowers in such detail probably did mean that Woolf would usually 'buy the flowers herself' *sorry*

     Also, it just goes to show that you don’t need a life full of excitement, debauchery and intrigue to have content for stories; all you need to do is to describe the beautiful and interesting things around you like you love them or with the joy of interest or rampant curiosity. This is just a garden, after all; albeit a very beautiful and famous one. Most of us have access to a garden or a roadside patch of grass, and we are ourselves rapidly approaching July. Some of us have had some stunning weather already; some have it always. Don’t wait for heartbreak/great loss/great personal change. Maybe that a description of that cloudbank or that seawater could be the thing to make your writing sing. Maybe we all need to be a little more like Virginia Woolf in our attentions to the detail around us.

* Thus far I can confirm it's not from 'Women on the Verge of a Mental Breakdown', 'The Jacket' or 'Mr Jones'...


  1. Lovely. Food for thought!

  2. I wish I had seen this quote or this story before I wandered round Kew myself, a couple of years ago.

  3. Thanks! It is a beautiful quote, isn't it?


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