Victoria Alexander’s Garden House
“There’s nothing more hopeful than a seed packet,” writes Victoria Alexander in her book, Real. “People and plants aren’t so very different. Both of us need nurturing.” Yes, indeed. Victoria is a nurturer of plants, places and people, and an incredibly fascinating woman to boot. We met mid-way through last year and within a few minutes I had invited myself over to take a peek at her garden.
Upon arriving at Victoria’s property I soon realised that any story about her garden needed to be equally about her house. Of course, all gardens have a strong connection to the house or human structures they surround, but I’m struggling to recall a house and garden so intertwined as Victoria’s. The house is very literally engulfed by green. Each window, and there are many, leads to a new vista. Light bounces, changes, and shifts by the second. It’s a dreamy, ephemeral place and I want to move in.
But let’s start with Victoria, because there’s no such thing as a garden without a gardener or a home without a soul.
Victoria Alexander is an impressive woman. She started off in dress design, was fashion editor for Vogue and Cosmopolitan magazines, a freelance stylist and art director, and founded The Film Business production company, the Russell Hotel, and Balmoral’s Bathers Pavilion. She’s written four books (The Bathers Pavilion Cookbook, One, Colour, and Real), photographed three of them, and has the fifth in the pipeline. And, she’s raised three children, now adults. “My career feels like a natural progression,” Victoria says. “I’ve followed my instincts as new and interesting paths have opened up and allowed me to use what I’ve learnt along the way. With application and focus one opportunity leads into another; determination and persistence count for much too.”
I ask her if she has any advice about forging a successful creative career (selfishly – I think I need some). “Be honest and open with others and yourself,” Victoria tells me. “Follow your heart, be prepared to take risks and express yourself individually and genuinely. Constantly work on and check your self-esteem and confidence – if you don’t it will hold you back. A creative job can be both a blessing and a curse. Be generous with your time while remembering work can all too easily become a metaphor for who you are so it’s important to maintain other interests.”
Nobody else will look after you the way you can.”
Victoria’s books capture this sense of contemplation and thoughtfulness. They balance beauty with insight – the words and images speak to each other clearly and often surprisingly. They’re the complete package. But then, so is Victoria and her house, her garden, her kitchen, her books. There’s nothing out of whack – I guess what I’m trying to say is the books, the house, the garden, the work – none of it could be anyone else’s but Victoria’s.
Victoria has lived in her North Sydney nest for around 13 years. The building was originally a bakery, built in the 1880s. Various additions over the years have created a multi-level collection of spaces perfect for holding Victoria’s extensive collections of textiles, books, and beautiful things. “I have an ongoing love affair with my home. The moment I walked in I felt it would become my cocoon, and it has,” she says. “It tolerates me moving things about more often than seasonally and responds favourably to any nurturing it is given.”
In Victoria’s eyes, her home doesn’t end with the house walls. “I think of the building and garden as one – It’s all my home.” And she loves every inch of it, she tells me. “Waking up to the garden is my greatest delight – my bedroom sits as a single room surrounded and within it. Both the left and right side of my bed have walls of windows onto and almost into the greenery.”
The vine on the side wall has tried its hardest to come inside, several times. I let it the first time and had the very beautiful beginnings of a vine bedhead until I was advised it would not have a good long term effect on the building foundations.”
“Plants are miraculous,” Victoria continues. “I’m endlessly curious about them – from the gardens that are very composed in Italy to those in the tropics that grow wondrously wild. Without knowing anything about a plant you can instantly recognise its beauty. They offer lessons in both isolation and generosity.”
It was a real treat, spending the afternoon at Victoria Alexander’s home. We chased the light as it beamed its magic on the garden and into the house through windows, skylights and doors. Daniel bounced from room to room trying to keep up with it – snapping on the run – trying to capture that one elusive, ephemeral moment when the light touches a plant, a table, a leaf, and the whole world sings.
“A home is so much more than a shelter,” Victoria writes in Real. “Beyond its positive powers of solitude, a home tells its owner’s sacred story.” Victoria’s story is very much embodied in her home, her garden, her books. They’re expressions of a life fuelled by curiosity, creativity and passion, and are covered on every surface with Victoria’s fingerprints. “My creativity is innate. Visceral. Instinctive,” Victoria tells me. “I’ve never known any other way.”