Garden Designer of the Monks House
Today is the birthday of the man who designed Monks House garden Leonard Sidney Woolf who was born on this day in 1880.
Woolf was the husband of Virginia Woolf. Leonard was the primary gardener and garden designer of Monks House - although Virginia helped him. Virginia and Leonard lived at the house from the time they first purchased it in 1919 until their deaths.
The garden at Monks Hosue was a retreat and a place that they could both escape from the chaos of London.
Leonard loved to be in the garden gardening. He hated tea roses and floribunda roses. But, he loved fruit trees like apple and pears, and he sold the fruits to make money. Leonard's devotion to the garden was a source of consternation for Virginia. Leonard spent so most of his time and his money on the garden. Virginia famously complained, “We are watering the earth with our money!” Leonard recorded all of his Monks House garden income and expenditures in a gorgeous dark green and pink ledger book. The first line in the book is dated August 26th, 1919, and he recorded the first gardening work performed by gardener William Dedman.
Virginia described Monks House as "the pride of our hearts.’" In July of 1919, she wrote that gardening or weeding produced "a queer sort of enthusiasm which made me say this is happiness." When Virginia suffered bouts of depression, the garden at Monks House was the place she went to recover and heal.
Since both Virginia and Leonard kept diaries, the garden was a frequent topic.
On September 29, 1919, Virginia wrote:
"A week ago, Leonard's wrist & arm broke into a rash. The Dr called it eczema. Then Mrs. Dedman brushed this aside & diagnosed sunflower poisoning. [Leonard] had been uprooting them with bare hands. We have accepted her judgment."
One of Virginia's favorite places to write was in the garden at Monks House. She had a small converted shed that she called her writing lodge. Every morning on her way to the lodge, Virginia walked through the garden. The Monks House garden was THE place where she wrote some of her most famous works.
One story is often shared to illustrate Leonard's devotion to gardening. In 1939, as the second world war approached, Virginia called for him to come inside to listen to "the lunatic" Hitler on the radio. But Leonard was in the middle of tending to his Iris, and he shouted back:
”I shan’t come. I am planting iris, and they will be flowering long after he is dead.”
After Virginia's tragic suicide, Leonard wrote:
"I know that V. will not come across the garden from the Lodge, and yet I look in that direction for her. I know that she is drowned, and yet I listen for her to come in at the door."
At Monks House garden, there were two Elm trees that the Woolf's had sweetly named after themselves, “Virginia and Leonard.”
Leonard buried Virginia’s ashes under one of those Elms and installed a stone tablet with the last lines from her novel The Waves:
“Against you, I fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O Death! The waves crashed on the shore.”