Virginia Woolf’s short story Kew Gardens was first published in 1919 by the novelist and her husband, Leonard, at the Hogarth Press. Set over the course of a hot July afternoon in a flower bed, the story moves from descriptions of plant and insect life to snatches of overhead conversations.

‘Kew Gardens’ was republished in the collection Monday or Tuesday (1921) and issued as a single story, with new woodcut designs by Vanessa Bell, in 1927.

Printing and creating Kew Gardens by hand

Work began on the printing of Kew Gardens in 1918, just a year after the Woolfs’ impulsive purchase of a printing press.

Aspects of the first edition highlight that the Woolfs were in the early stages of learning their craft as printers and publishers. The small print run of 150 copies was circulated to private subscribers. Inside the slim pamphlet, we see how the Woolfs have made use of everyday materials – the hand-marbled cover has been printed on the back of peach-pink art-deco-esque wallpaper. Simple methods have been used: the pages, for instance, are hand-sewn together with white thread at four points. Originally the Woolfs printed their full names on the final page, but the finished book reveals how they changed their decision. Presumably hoping to appear more professional, the names are pasted over with the more formal ‘V and L S Woolf’, printed on a small slip of paper.

By virtue of being handmade, each copy of Kew Gardens is different from the other.

Vanessa Bell’s illustrations

Vanessa Bell’s two woodcut illustrations feature solid, heavy monochrome lines that offset the mild-sounding title. In the first, Bell flattens perspective to merge the two hatted women with a background of flowers. In the second, Bell again plays with focus and perspective, moving to a close-up of the flower bed. The caterpillar and butterfly look as if we are viewing them under a magnifying glass.