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The lost World of the Villa Lou Sueil

text by Kathryn Bradley-Hole
photographs from the archives of Country Life Picture Library

For the full article see The Mediterranean Garden No 42, October 2005.

The villa and gardens of Lou Sueil, in the hills of Èze, midway between Nice and Monte Carlo, were created by Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan (1877-1964), American heiress and a former Duchess of Marlborough.

The summit of the hill had been levelled out for the villa and its formal gardens (designed by Achille Duchêne, 1866-1947) but the steep slopes around it were managed with stone retaining walls. Flights of steps were expertly made with just the right amount of rough-hewn rusticity, and paths of finely crushed gravel or pressed earth snaked between the almond and olive trees, among massed plantings of spring bulbs.

The cloister garden was serenely formal, with herringbone-patterned brick paths criss-crossing a four-square design of tiny lawns edged by low box hedges, the composition focusing on a central font planted with seasonal flowers. Immediately west of the villa and its cloister, Duchêne made a formal parterre known as the Italian or Knot garden, fashioned in low box hedging and infilled with contrastingly coloured gravels of brick-red and cream. Where its central paths crossed over, the focus was on a magnificent, rose-red marble trough, out of which rose a basin carved from a single piece of marble.

Yet the sheer exuberance of the planting and its rich use of bulbs, blossoms and choice flowering shrubs was never allowed to compromise the overall natural beauty of an olive- and pine-wooded landscape.

At the end of the 1930s, with the advance of Nazi troops on Paris, the Balsans left France and did not take up residence again at Lou Sueil after the Second World War. Now, under a different name, the domaine of Lou Sueil continues to be one of the key properties of the Riviera, albeit in private and guarded seclusion. A terrible forest fire in 1985 swept up its hillside and the anciently sylvan col of Lou Sueil still bears the scars. Fortunately, it did not quite reach the remarkable villa, though the fabled Balsan gardens had already long been a vanished wonder of a distant and more leisured past.
 Summarised by the editor, Caroline Harbouri.

View of Eze from knot garden.

Cliffside steps, olive tree and pot.

Knot garden, garden house and cloister.

Knot garden and garden house.

Ranunculus, antirrhinums, etc with house beyond.

White, cream, blue and purple irises


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