The Lady and the Moon

I found this sweet tidbit on gardening by the moon the other day and learned a bit about the fascinating Lady Fortescue–actress, fashion designer, interior decorator, gardener, and author.

“. . . Everything, it seems, depends upon the moon. Beans and peas are amorous things, and must therefore be sown in the first quarter of the moon, for if they are sown while the lovely new moon is smiling down upon them, they spring towards her swiftly. During the last quarter, when her beauty is fading, they are less enthusiastic. Potatoes, carrots, and turnips, on the other hand, being, as I have always imagined, more phlegmatic in temperament, must be sown in the last quarter of the moon, who will drag their roots down for them as she sinks.”

 — Winifred Fortescue, from Perfume in Provence


Winifred Beech was born in Suffolk, England in 1888. At the age of 17 she became a stage actress to help with family finances and would gain some fame through her art. In 1914 she married John Fortescue, the King’s Librarian and Archivist, and famous historian of the British Army. Although he was 28 years her senior they were said to have had a happy marriage. After the marriage she left acting and founded CINTRA, a successful interior decorating and court dress designing business. Her next career would be writing–for the London papers, including The Times, Punch, the Daily Chronicle, and the Evening News.


In the early 1930’s the couple, now Sir John and Lady Fortescue, moved to Provence, France. There Lady Fortescue began writing books. Her first, Perfume from Provence, was published in 1935 when she was 47 and became a bestseller. (It would be a bestseller again in 1992 when it was republished by Black Swan). Her later books were: Sunset House (a sequel to Perfume from Provence),  the autobiographical There’s Rosemary, There’s Rue, Trampled Lilies, Mountain Madness, Beauty for Ashes, and Laughter in Provence (1950).

Her husband died after two years in Provence and Lady Fortescue bought a “tumbled down stone house” that she struggled financially to renovate. She wrote about this experience in Sunset House (published in 1937 and also a bestseller). 

At the beginning of WWII, Lady Fortescue opened her home as a shelter to soldiers and soon organized shelters all over the Alpes-Maritimes. When Italy entered the war, she was forced to flee to Brittany. All through the war she raised funds for ‘Amis des Volontaires Francais’ (Friends of French Volunteers) and in 1945 she returned to Sunset House. There she would devote herself to distributing the medicines, provisions, and clothing that were given as gifts from the people of Britain to the people of France who had been devastated by the war. She would write about this in her books and became known as ‘Maman Noel’  (Mother Christmas).

Lady Fortescue lived in Provence until her death in April 1951.

–Sandra Knauf



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