|Mediterranean Garden Society|
The French Languedoc Branch of the MGS
Philippe likes to use endemic plants in an ornamental way, for example, he has created a long, mixed hedge using green and white oaks, Viburnum tinus, Pistacia lentiscus and Buxus sempervirens.
Rebecca Engels had very generously offered her lovely garden above Aix-en-Provence for us to enjoy our shared lunch. This was followed by a visit to the tranquil and brooding Bibémus quarries, last worked in the 18th century.
The quarries have been sympathetically landscaped by Philippe Deliau. He has created a circuit with paths, wooden walkways and platforms in order for visitors to be able to compare the landscape with reproductions of the paintings created there by Cézanne. Intervention has been minimal, allowing trees and shrubs to spring up at many levels and preserving the peaceful atmosphere of the site.
Text by Nicola D’Annunzio
Late September 2011
Early September 2011
We admired Idoux’s spiral of field stones and almond trees in the meadow and the clipped cistuses, santolinas and rosemaries planted under olive trees pruned by Marc.
The triangular field of lavender was breathtaking and the enchanting copse of Quercus ilex, delicately shaped by Marc, with its stone bench created a defined space of calm and reflection.
Working with Idoux, Marc learned to adapt and formulate his own style, encouraged also by local garden designers and friends, including Dominique Lafourcade and the legendary Nicole de Vésian.
And so to Mas de Michel, where we saw Marc’s guiding principles in action: adaption to environmental constraints, respect for the subject and harmony of the ensemble. Armed only with a chainsaw (a paradoxical tool for such a calm, natural and Zen man), Marc set out to sculpt the trees – both living and dead – to effect the minimum intervention consistent with bringing out the best in the innate structure of the tree in front of him.
He adopted some simple strategies to open up the land around the mas to create a natural flow of space. The entrance and driveway to the house were moved from the side of the house to the back and olive trees were re-sited into the middle distance to throw the eye towards the horizon, whilst at the same time becoming part of it.
A border of pebbles was added around a terrace so that it became proportionate to and balanced the façade of the house behind: a simple and elegant device. Gravel or stone platforms around the base of certain tree trunks subtly highlighted the carefully considered and tactical pruning. Other astonishing pruning of a hedge of box produced breathtaking results.
His work encourages the visitor to look at the garden in new ways, literally. We enjoyed descending into a viewing pit sunk into the wild flower meadow to sit on seats at the same height as the adjoining soil surface, the better to appreciate being amongst the grasses and flowers.Then we climbed up on to a simple viewing platform to look down on the old almond orchard, only to find our eyes being drawn towards the previously hidden view of the magnificent Mont Ventoux in the distance.
After a shared picnic lunch in Marc’s own experimental garden “Le Terrain” in nearby Noves, we marvelled at his sculptured hommages to Hans Arp, Constantin Brancusi and Louise Bourgeois and he explained to us what he was seeking to achieve with his work. He “intervenes” with his trees to enhance them and highlight their best features to enable them to be read more clearly within the landscape in which they are set.
Marc talked of his veneration and respect for all trees - not just living trees but those that are in the process of dying, or which are now dead. He has spent many years saving some of the centuries-old trees “les patriarches et les remarquables” of Provence. But when these ancient trees have finally died, he has kept their hearts, literally. Taking wood from their core, he sculpts huge cubes, often into benches and chairs so you can sit within the very soul of a tree that took hundreds of years to grow.
To transform a dead tree into a work of art is a way of continuing its cycle. In giving it a new form, there is rebirth. Examples of Marc’s extraordinary and thought-provoking work in his own garden and at Mas Benoît, Mas de Michel, La Verrière, La Louve and other gardens in our area can be admired in his book “A l’écoute des arbres” with a foreword by Louisa Jones (published by Actes Sud).
It is not often that a garden visit enables us to contemplate our own mortality so vividly: this was a special day when we did so and it will not be forgotten by those who were there.
To the side and below there is a pool edged with attractively weathered stone. From the jardin a shady walkway lined with pines and clipped tilleuls (linden trees), and at ground level more shaped box and teucrium, takes you to the parc. Flat this is not. The steeply sloping site faces south-west with views of the Montagne du Luberon. The soil is shallow, alkaline and stony. Many years previously terraces had been created for farming purposes but had long since fallen into disrepair. Nicole de Vésian specified the reworking of the terraces using reclaimed local stone. The gardener, Stéphan, has been there since the garden's inception and testifies to the extent of the work involved and the attention to detail.
Given the conditions, the plants have been chosen for their drought resistance and watering is done only as needed in high summer.
Tree-shading on some of the upper terraces has made possible a wonderfully verdant feel in contrast to those below. Stéphan who was kindly on hand to answer any questions, remarked that had we come two weeks previously it would not have looked so green, but a long period of dry heat had given way at the beginning of June to several days of much needed rain.
One of the most charming (though not helpful if one wanted to harvest the olives) features was an avenue of olive trees under-planted with lavender. Steps led down and back towards the house.
As the temperature climbed we were pleased to enjoy some refreshing soft drinks before the majority of the party adjourned to Amanda and Jason Spencer-Cooke's peaceful courtyard and garden where not only was shade somehow provided for all, but Amanda plied us with a series of goodies including savoury tarts, desserts and a magnificent cheese board.
Of vital importance is the air trapped within the growing medium – even within rocks which contain cracks full of air allowing plants to flourish. Cistuses were everywhere, and these incredibly beautiful and intriguing plants have developed over aeons to exist under harsh conditions. Some species are acid-loving, others lime-loving; hybrids have developed which share the genes of both parents, able to thrive in both acid and alkaline conditions. Of course there are no fertilisers or herbicides in the garrigue, which would be fatal to cistuses as they depend on beneficial mycorrhiza which could be killed. The message continuously drummed into us was that if we want a successful mediterranean garden, then we must duplicate these natural conditions of the garrigue - no watering, no chemicals.
The garrigue has developed with help from fire and sheep. Pine trees are an invitation to fire, M. Filippi told us, comparing pine cones to hand grenades just waiting to explode. Without fire or grazing, the pines would overcrowd the plants below, greatly reducing the natural diversity.
Typical garrigue plants have sticky leaves and are covered in essential oils which protect them both from heat and from insect predators. When the leaves fall after three years they form a natural weed-killing mulch with which few plants can compete. We were shown a small black ladybird-like insect, Scymnus, the larvae of which eat aphids.
Good drainage is vital for garrigue plants. M. Filippi mentioned the mediterranean gardens at Kew which were formed from huge banks of rocks filled with sand and soil in order to achieve such drainage. We were told about the disadvantages of organic mulch, including the fact that it helps the propagation of fungal diseases like Phytophthora. For the many garrigue plants sensitive to Phytophtora, it is better to use mineral mulches, e.g. gravel.
A small patch of Hieracium was spotted, described as an excellent ground-cover plant because of its ability to suppress any weeds trying to grow near it. About mid-morning we descended a steep rocky path back to the Abbey; M. Filippi offered a beer to the first person to fall, but there were no takers!
After a wonderfully informative and inspiring morning, we had lunch, some having brought picnics and the others taking advantage of the very well-appointed Abbey restaurant.
After lunch we were taken in hand by local pépinièriste Gill Pound, who guided us through the Abbey’s terraced gardens. Gill is English but speaks excellent French, to the satisfaction of the good mixture of French/English-speaking members.
Day 2 - Home and nursery of Olivier Filippi
An interesting part of his display is a series of ‘alternative lawns’ for dry gardens, for example Trifolium fragiferum or strawberry lawn which is pleasant to walk on. I always smile when I recall a line in his book which says “if you want a green grass lawn then perhaps you should move to Cornwall”. He stressed the importance of encouraging plants to develop a deep root system in their first year, showing us examples of his new planting where the plants are planted in a deep watering basin or cuvette into which 30 litres of water are poured once a month in summer.
The nursery is on the edge of the Bassin de Thau, a large seawater basin famous for the farming of oysters. His soil is very alkaline, pH 8.1. To create an experimental area for growing acid-loving plants, he has imported tons of acid soil to create a large, raised area, about a metre high.
He talked about the wonders of propagation, explaining how after collecting wild cistus seeds, we can increase their chances of growing by 95% by rubbing them between two sheets of sandpaper for 30 seconds.
Pine trees are dotted sparingly throughout the gardens and we were told that these are beneficial to the cistuses – keeping them dry and providing some shade. He demonstrated again the importance of mineral mulching, telling us that he uses a vast quantity of a particular gravel he described as cinque-douze to a depth of 6-8 cm. The gravel not only suppresses weeds, but helps self-seeding of the plants.
The day ended far too soon with a cool drink and a speciality of the area – small pies filled with octopus meat – delicious! I left for home feeling totally inspired, and wishing that I had learned these lessons years ago before I made so many mistakes in my own garden.
Text: Nick Westcott. Photos: Sandra Cooper and Catriona Mclean'
Christophe gave us a tour filled with the history of the garden and the village, snippets about culinary uses of the plants (his grandmother put the leaves of Aphyllanthes monspeliensis into salads), quirks of information (orange tree leaves are lobed and lemon tree leaves are scalloped), as well as descriptions of the plants. They are encouraged to grow as naturally as possible and there are plants growing from every crevice and cranny. These walls, crevices and crannies are the result of 1600 tons of material being carried up by man and donkey. No chemicals have been used in the garden for the last ten years.
The garden is on three levels, the lowest being the hottest, having the most exotic plants. There were palms, cacti, succulents and lots of citrus trees - these grow throughout the village, and the scent was a delight as we climbed up to the garden. There is a collection of mimosas, with an unusual blue-grey-leaved one, Acacia baileyana 'Purpurea'. On the highest level there are plants of the region; I liked the way the Pistacia lentiscus had been cut to form dense masses, in some places spilling over the rocks. Christophe said he thought the most interesting of the 4000 plants in the garden is the Leuzea conifera (syn. Centaura conifera)a short, grey-leaved plant with a creamy yellow flower. Once common in the garrigue, it has been over-picked for its decorative cone-like seed head and is now rare, and Christophe is pleased that it has taken at Roquebrun. Many of the plants came from cuttings donated by such prestigious institutions as the botanical garden at Monaco.
The Orb valley soil in the garden is heavy clay except for a newly created raised bed. It is immediately obvious that Jenny loves plants. The variety is stunning. Lots of roses were in bloom including Rosa chinensis 'Sanguinea' and starting to climb vigorously up an ash tree, Rosa 'Mme Alfred Carrière' (noisette).
There is a spiky bed with Agave americano, Kniphofia sarmentosa and K. 'Géant', Yucca aloifolia and a number of salvias, and euphorbias - in fact there are thirty-nine plants in this bed on the list Jenny gave us. There are eleven beds, each with a different emphasis and each with a large variety of plants, all listed. Jenny’s list started with questions she hoped members would have answers for and ended with the plants that had failed, mostly, she thinks, because of wet clay in the cold of winter. Many of the plants Jenny reproduces by cuttings and her fear is that there will come a day when there will be no room to plant any more.
Andrew and Margaret's garden, also on a steep slope, was different again. Breathtaking views of Lac Salagou with two extinct volcanoes and the marvellous red soil contrasting with the delicate spring green foliage are to be had from the balcony of the house. Against the north wall of the house is a small rockery created on a natural rock outcrop. There are sedums which are said to need full sun, but are doing better than the same ones planted on the sunny terraces below. Sedum palmeri was particularly attractive. The first terrace, swept by the Tramontane, gives a first glimpse of the garden below. The plants here have to survive the wind, the Cistus x pulverulentus and C. x corbariensis were looking particularly healthy. There is a Ficus pumila (the climbing fig) starting to climb either side of an arch. The south-facing terraces below are sheltered from the wind and a microclimate enables the plants to thrive. In only five years Andrew and Margaret have created terraces from a 20° slope making walls and filling in with earth, an impressive project. The fact that they only live there for part of the year adds to my admiration (see the article in TMG 62). The earth is sandy and, unlike Jenny's heavy water-retaining clay, here water drains away instantly. The first terrace has a mown grass path, while on the lower terraces geotextile and wood chips have been laid (TMG 58). Here are a multitude of drought-tolerant plants: Nepeta x faassenii 'Six Hills Giant', a number of hardy geraniums, wallflowers, Madonna lilies, rosemary, cistus, lavender and phlomis. Below the planted terraces are others that are wooded with a path between the holm oaks leading to the last open grassy terrace. Andrew said the plant he likes the best is his Salvia officinalis, though there was some discussion as to whether it really is S. officinalis as the leaves are pinnate - anyway it was mingling attractively with a Hypericum balearicum that I particularly liked.
Jenny's favourites were a modest but lovely little Veronica polyfolia and Aquilegia formosa var. truncata.
All three gardens left me in admiration of the vision that had gone into creating them, with ideas for new plantings and a great sense of joy.
Accompanied by Claire Martin de Foresta, Directrice Botanique et Scientifique, we were treated to an animated and informative tour of this magnificent and exotic park created in 1856 by the famous botanist Eugène Mazel. Few members had appreciated that bamboo is, in fact, a grass, grown from seed, and that 90% of varieties grown in temperate climates are very hardy, capable of withstanding temperatures down to -20ºC. The location of the park was actually chosen for its cold microclimate, providing an ideal environment for the 200 species of bamboos which now flourish there.
We heard that bamboo is an extremely versatile plant used for building homes, scaffolding and household objects, while horticulturally it is excellent for hedging and maintaining and stabilising embankments. Although in their native habitat some tropical species can grow to 40 metres, the bamboos in the park nevertheless attain a very impressive 23 metres. Invasiveness is an issue, but with the right know-how the plant is containable and capable of eradication if necessary.
The park is approached by a breathtaking drive of 40-metre Sequoia sempervirens interplanted with bamboos 14 metres high.
During our tour we saw equally impressive trees planted when the park was first created, including a mighty pedunculate Quercus robur oak, one of the largest specimens of Magnolia grandiflora in Europe (the taxon is dedicated to Pierre Magnol, Directeur du Jardin des Plantes de Montpellier in the late 17th century), a venerable Ginkgo biloba, and a stand of Lawson cypresses smelling of lemon grass. We wandered on through a delightful model Laotian village and then through the beautiful Valley of the Dragon created in 2000, the Year of the Dragon, and inspired by traditional Japanese art.
As we strolled past the camellias, some with blooms the size of saucers, we were unaware that on the other side of the planet so many thousands of Japanese, just a few hours before, had had their lives so brutally and irretrievably altered for ever…
Back in the main house, dating from at least the 15th century and which survived both the catastrophic river Gardon floods here of 1938 and 2002, Claire explained the indispensable contribution of a herbarium to those involved in the study of plants. Herbiers allow scientists to note the characteristics of a particular plant gathered on a particular day and time from a particular place. She is working on upgrading the Bambouseraie’s own collection of samples, particularly of bamboos in flower, and this work can be accessed by searching on the web using the herbarium’s code: “BAMBO Générargues”. She hopes ultimately to create a collection of 5,000 specimens from all over the world.
Claire reminded us of the two international plant databases that are available, the botanical database of the Bioinformatics Department at Missouri Botanical Garden which organises a vast number of plant specimens, images and bibliographic references, and IPNE, the International Plant Names Index.
After the visit we enjoyed a delicious bring-and-share-a-dish-lunch at member Aline Rideau’s charming house with its magnificent views of the Cévennes.
Specialist nursery owner Mylène Bertetto then gave us a really helpful talk about just a few of the plants from her collection of jasmines. We were surprised and delighted to hear of the versatility and hardiness of certain varieties including some which can survive to -25°C. Seemingly, there is a jasmine for almost any location however inhospitable and a visit to Mylène’s website,confirms this.
In all, another fascinating and fun day amongst like-minded fellow members.
Christian’s approach was to examine different difficult situations experienced by members, on the basis that understanding them would enable us to deal better with them. He explained that a plant has no option if it finds itself in a challenging spot – it can’t move (except by sending out seeds), and so must either adapt or perish. A plant’s ability to adapt is affected by numerous criteria, extremes of climate, soil types and so on, and Christian used photographs which many of us had sent to him to illustrate his themes.
He pointed out that we cannot see the conditions below the surface of the soil, but we can work them out using the evidence of what grows where. On rocky ground, even large trees can survive, with their roots seeking out fissures in rock to find whatever soil is available. Thus a line of trees growing in otherwise unpropitious circumstances would indicate sufficient soil which we might exploit for other plants.
Restanques (name for the traditional terraces in southern France), with retaining walls, present different problems. There might be sufficient soil, but too free draining, so that watering will be a constant problem. Turning to a photo of a natural rocaille, he noted that plants still found places to survive, thus we might learn from this by creating planting pockets, using plug plants and seeds which would find their own places. However, he warned that even so, we might encounter around a 50% failure rate but reassured us that each failure is important, as it helps us to understand our plants’ requirements.
Pine trees, evidently a bugbear for many, manage to kill off most plants in the surrounding earth with an effective (for the pine) combination of deep and shallow roots, and a constant drop of needles exuding acidic substances. Moreover, a 70-year-old pine will consume 300-400 litres of water per day. However, Christian made the point that the pine is the pioneer plant par excellence. Forestry authorities endeavouring to replant after large-scale fires have found that no other tree will grow on burned ground, so in go the pines to create a humus cover ready for subsequent more diverse planting. One solution (often favoured by professional garden designers) is to cut them all down, but then it is necessary to import tons of topsoil, and lay geo-textile to suppress the roots. An alternative is to underplant with tough plants such as Pistacia lentiscus or rosemary, or to keep the pines as a backdrop and put more colourful and varied planting elsewhere.
Christian then talked about the problem of enclosed village gardens, surrounded by walls, like that of member Eric Legrand. In such gardens air often does not circulate well - in winter the cold air cannot escape and in the summer they can over-heat. For a difficult shady area by a north-facing wall, Christian proposed green-leaved plants, either tough evergreens or deciduous subjects, avoiding our Provençal favourites with their persistent silver leaves, which detest cold, damp conditions.
Christian’s excellent analysis and advice were much appreciated by members, but more work was in store, as the meeting moved on to a lively discussion on the draft database of members’ recommended 'Plants for Difficult Situations'. This was led by Alec Cobb, who has put much effort into producing what promises to be an extremely useful and practical guide. He was joined by Gill Pound and Jean-Jacques Viguier, both experienced horticulturalists. Gill and Jean-Jacques gave a brief account of their joint informal experiments with plants to test and assess their resistance and adaptability in a variety of typical dry climate situations.
Finally, lunch provided an excellent opportunity to catch up with other members and talk with the speakers in a convivial atmosphere.
This was a most interesting and stimulating meeting on a subject of great importance to our local MGS branch, so we were all extremely grateful to Christian for coming to talk to us, to Alec for his work on the database and of course to Christine for organising it all.
The highlight of the day was a fascinating talk by Louisa on her experiences of researching and writing garden books. She currently has three on the go. Two are in French, Manifeste pour les Jardins Méditerranéens, and Nicole de Vésian: un Art des Jardins en Provence, both published by Actes Sud. The third, for next year is Mediterranean Landscape Art: the Vernacular Muse to be published by Thames and Hudson.
In 1975, when she first started to research Provençal gardening, she was told by local people that there were no interesting gardens in the south of France. However, after visiting over 200 in the lower Rhône Valley, the existence of a strong, regional style became apparent and she discovered themes to which she has returned ever since.
Thank you, Chantal, for your welcome and hospitality.
There was a choice of activities after lunch, either a tour of the gardens of the Château with Henri de Colbert or a propagation workshop by Yan Surguet, a specialist grower of botanical and traditional rose varieties based in the Ariège, south of Toulouse. Yan started with a demonstration of how to take a cutting. He made it all sound so easy. Yan favours sand and potting soil as a medium, from mid August to the end of October is the optimum time. The first two months are critical, when it is important not to let the growing medium dry out. He explained two methods, taking a heel, or a stem with four buds, two below ground and two above. Another rose grower in the audience said he does cuttings with one bud below and one above. Success rates vary with the variety of rose. Yan has a nursery where the roses are almost all from cuttings: this way, he explained, all the characteristics of the original rose are preserved. A summary of his advice is below. Both Yan and David were in agreement that chemicals should not be used on roses, but had different perspectives on some other aspects of rose growing.
Roses suitable for the Mediterranean Climate
Michael Marriott, a rose expert from the British supplier, David Austin Roses, took as his theme rose varieties suitable for the hot, dry climate of southern France and illustrated his talk with slides of many types of gardens and of roses.
The David Austin nursery in Shropshire, England, cultivates 800 varieties of rose. There are also ten trial sites in the USA, including several in the mediterranean climate of California. Michael has recently visited all of these sites to review trials.
The propagation technique used by David Austin is that of budding on to Rosa laxa rootstock which the company has found gives high quality and consistent results. R. laxa has the advantage over R multiflora rootstock in that it grows more successfully in alkaline soils and its roots tend to penetrate the soil more deeply. Michael recommended planting with the graft union 5 to 7 cm below soil level as suckers will be less likely to grow if the graft is not exposed to light and it will create a more solid plant that will not suffer from wind rock. It will also give the chance for the rose to grow on its own roots which may well be beneficial. It is important not to plant roses too close to trees as they can take a lot of the moisture and goodness out of the ground. Roses do not need a full day of sunshine and indeed in the Mediterranean some shade from the afternoon sun can be beneficial. In general as long as they get 4-5 hours of good sun a day most roses should still grow and flower well.
Michael is not a fan of the classic rose garden although if planted correctly with the roses planted closely enough together it can look superb. His favourite way of growing roses is in more informal borders either purely roses or mixed in with other plants. To achieve the best effect he advised planting them in tight groups with 50-75cm between plants of the same variety and 1-1.5m between plants of neighbouring varieties. This will create the impression of large bushes of one variety rather than a number of individuals and also allow access for pruning, deadheading, weeding etc. Slides were shown of a number of beautiful rose gardens in the UK where the grouped planting technique had been used. These included the David Austin nursery, RHS Harlow Carr, Trentham Gardens and Wollerton Old Hall. In contrast was the formal layout of Queen Mary's Rose Garden in Regent's Park, London.
He encourages planting other plants with roses both for aesthetic and for health reasons. Monocultures encourage the spread of pests and diseases and so breaking the monoculture up will help greatly with encouraging better health. Many perennials, biennials and annuals are very good at attracting beneficial insects which will help control pests. Perennials are generally the choice for mixing in with roses although care should be taken that they are not too vigorous so that they do not overwhelm the roses. Annuals and biennials can also be most effective and indeed are often less vigorous and easier to control. He is very much more in favour of interplanting rather than underplanting as the latter will tend to suck the goodness and moisture out of the ground. In his own garden he never sprays and encourages all comers into the garden and lets them fight it out for themselves – it works very well!
There was some discussion about powdery mildew and how to combat it. It is worse when the plant is under stress due to lack of water at the roots and so it is vital to prepare the ground well before planting. Encouraging a good deep root system by occasional deep watering and mulching thickly will also all help. Some varieties are naturally more resistant to powdery mildew and so it is important to select those. Excessive use of nitrogen will encourage soft growth which will be more susceptible to powdery mildew and indeed to other pests and diseases.
Gardeners are often nervous of pruning roses but Michael tried to persuade everyone that it is in fact very easy. As a general rule all repeat-flowering roses can be cut back to about half-way although if you want to encourage a shorter plant then cut them back to about a third or for a taller plant then to two-thirds. Once the rose has been in the ground for a few years some of the older stems should be cut right out to encourage fresh new growth from the base, this will make the plant flower more freely and be healthier. Summer pruning can also be very beneficial to roses, it will promote better and quicker repeat-flowering and encourage a more compact plant. It is simply cutting back the flowering stems back after each flush of flowers by between 30 and 50cm. Once-flowering roses will not flower freely if pruned too hard in winter: he recommended reducing the height by about a quarter and certainly by no more than a half. Climbers should have the flowering shoots cut back to about 5 or 10 cm and the long stems tied in. The best time for pruning is in the middle of winter in December, January or February.
Michael talked about the great range of fragrances to be found in the rose world and indeed there is no other plant that has such a wide range of completely different fragrance types. Smelling roses is very good for you, trials on stressed mice showed a very beneficial effect on them! There are five basic types of fragrance – tea, myrrh (cf. aniseed), fruit, musk (cf. cloves) and old roses e.g. damask, gallica. The fragrance in individual flowers can come and go or even change so it is always worth smelling several different flowers on one bush.
A list of David Austin roses recommended for the mediterranean climate had already been distributed, but photos were then shown of some particularly beautiful varieties including: 'Mary Rose', 'Crocus Rose', 'Crown Princess Margareta', 'Jude the Obscure', 'Benjamin Britten', 'Tuscany Superb' (gallica), 'Molineux', 'Sophy's Rose', 'The Alnwick Rose' (hedging) and 'Paul's Himalayan Musk' (rambler). Rosa spinosissima (species) was recommended for exposed coastal situations and 'Alba Maxima' for shade.
Résumé by Mavis Mercoiret
Les roses anciennes du Jardin de Talos
Yan Surguet, a qualified paysagiste, is one of the leading producers of traditional rose varieties. All his stock has an organic certification and is propagated from cuttings.
Why propagate from cuttings?
Propagation of organically cultivated roses
He recommended La Roseraie du Désert, a specialist in Tea, Noisette and Chinese roses, all propagated from cuttings. These varieties are well adapted to the mediterranean climate.
This practical 'hands on' event was the second stage of the hugely enjoyable 'Garden Design Workshop' led by Hilary Ivey in February 2010 at Jocelyn van Riemsdijk's new home.
This time, thirteen enthusiastic members descended on Jocelyn's garden armed with spades and trowels ready to implement the final design drawn up by Hilary. The area to be planted comprised a large south-facing semi-circular bank which falls away from a paved terrace to the rear of the house. The ground had already been well prepared and planting conditions, after some earlier rain, were perfect. A large Quercus ilex provides shade to much of the area.
Members organised themselves into teams (some rather competitive!), were provided with copies of the planting plan and began the task of setting out then digging in a superb range of over thirty different plants including varieties of Artemisia, Ballota, Cistus, Geranium, Helichrysum, Lavandula, Rosmarinus, Iris, Salvia, Sisyrinchium and Santolina – all very suitable for a water-wise garden and taking into account Jocelyn's preference for aromatic and grey-leaved plants.
A typically generous 'Languedoc Branch Lunch' followed the hard work with almost everyone having discovered a new variety or planting combination to try in their own gardens. Above all, our host was delighted with the finished result.
Text by Duncan Munford.
A hot September afternoon, and 40 or so members of the French Languedoc branch have the pleasure of visiting the gardens of Château le Plaisir near Avignon in Aramon, Gard. Designed by lanscape designer Pascal Cribier in the 1990s for the Hollander family, the park is divided into different theme gardens and has many modernist structured features. The first impression is of a traditional shaded courtyard with five rows of grand old Platanus trees and a drive leading to the house with a classical 18th-century façade. The walled promenoir also tells of times past - "an outside long gallery" comments a member. Then as we enter the landscaped park, a view of a tall chimney by the Rhone brings us back to the 20th century. We see high, straight Quercus ilex hedges with gaps to peep through, a beautiful pergola, lush springy Zoysia grass, a children's play area winding through the Santolina, the unfinished chess board with a lonely king and queen, and an outdoor theatre whose clipped Olea hedge has apparently caused controversy among local people. By the pool house, we stop to admire the four weeping Sophora japonica, specially grafted in Italy for this project, and continue through a beautiful wisteria-covered walkway into the water garden, whose cool shade is much appreciated, and the idea of growing free-standing wisteria is noted by some. The scent of Clerodendrum trichotomum gives way to that of ripe figs as we move on to discover copses of Ligustrum and various fruit trees and the dry garden with plants from Olivier Filippi and a path made of interesting concrete 'Roman' slabs. Melia trees give shade to the small courtyard behind the house and a display of Hibiscus coccineus is much admired, as we stop to discuss the Gaura and Buxus meadow - at this time of year predominantly Gaura! The visit ends with drinks offered by the caretakers and Chantal reminds us that it is time to collect and send her seeds for the official MGS Seed Exchange. Many thanks to Christine and Sandra for organising this visit.
Photos by Mavis Mercoiret, Hilary Ivey and Anthony Daniels.
Initially the garden was funded jointly by the French government, the Luberon National Park, the Vaucluse Conseil Géneral and the European Community. Now, very sadly, all grants have been withdrawn and the garden is being maintained by a group of volunteers. Regrettably, this lack of support shows and the beds are poorly maintained and overgrown. We were alarmed at the laissez-faire attitude to the Japanese knot weed (Fallopia japonica), which had been allowed to jump its bed and was now propagating willy-nilly. We wondered if the good burghers of Lauris knew that a plant which in the UK is required legally to be removed and disposed of by a licensed waste control operator, was only a hop, skip and a rhizome away from their own precious jardins...
photographs by Eric Legrand.
A brilliantly sunny day found some 40 members and guests from the Languedoc and Provence Branches unite for a visit to the Pépinière La Soldanelle and the nearby Jardin Elie Alexis in the Var.
Fortified after our drive by strong coffee and excellent home-made cantuccini served by Sylvie Mistre and Brigitte at La Soldanelle, Christian Mistre took us on a tour of the nursery, starting with a brief introduction and history of their enterprise. Since 1988 they have been growing perennial plants, and for the last 10 years they have concentrated on those suitable for their local conditions. The nursery is at an altitude of 350 metres, on the north side of the Montagne de Sainte Baume. Like many of us, they have prolonged periods of frost, down to -14°C this last winter, and hot summers, up to 40°C, and of course the drying Mistral wind. Christian insisted that the first consideration with all plants is the soil, and their hectare of production is divided into distinct areas which reflect the different types of growing conditions we are likely to encounter in our own gardens – e.g. open spaces, rockery, flower beds etc. A major area is devoted to experimental growth – plants which they are cultivating for the first time, where they water sparingly, and just leave the plants to survive (or not). Those that do survive may then be taken into cultivation in the nursery itself, where there are open beds devoted to fabulously blowsy peonies, roses and irises, a glorious rock wall for the rockery plants and polytunnels for the more delicate subjects.
Of course we came away with armfuls of wonderful healthy plants, well adapted to the conditions which most of us have in our own gardens, and with much to ponder in the way of giving prime consideration to our soil. But not a moment to spare, for we were due for our picnic lunch at the Jardin Elie Alexis, not far away, where we could mull over the morning’s visit while being guided round a true provençal garden. Elie Alexis was born in 1908 and his love affair with nature and his plot of land started with the gift of a bee-hive when he was 12. The family acquired a piece of uncultivated land, which was later developed by Elie as a traditional subsistence garden, where the emphasis was on growing food, and commercial plants, such as woad for dye. Here he also established a cactus garden (a type of plant he grew to love during his military service in North Africa), and cultivated plants he gathered on botanising expeditions into the surrounding countryside. All his cultivation was underpinned by the requirement to use as little water as possible, for the only source of water on the site was a series of tanks built to capture rainwater. Despite his lack of formal education, his ideas and philosophy made him well-known and respected in intellectual circles and he was visited by botanists, philosophers, geologists and artists. The garden is now run by an Association dedicated to reviving Elie’s unique landscape, full of interesting and unusual plants, and its efforts have been rewarded with a listing as one of the Jardins Remarquables de la France.
These were two inspirational visits, a day made all the more enjoyable by being shared with members of our neighbouring branch.
The MGS outing started with a wonderful picnic in Gill Pound's garden at La Petite Pépinière de Caunes in the Minervois.
Gill then gave us a very interesting lecture on propagation. She started by showing us how to prepare our own compost mix for sowing seeds and for planting cuttings. After a detailed description on how to sow various seeds we were then given a demonstration on all the techniques of taking cuttings: root cuttings, softwood, greenwood, semi-ripe wood, ripe wood and hard wood cuttings, heel cuttings and layering, with lots of fascinating details from Gill’s vast experience with drought-tolerant plants thrown in.
We were then given a guided tour of Gill’s garden and nursery, with lots of interesting plants originating from North America which Gill has found particularly suited to our climate and which she has grown from seed. Plants from the US that Gill is keen on and has grown here include Chilopsis, Sphaeralcea spp and hybrids, Eriogonum spp, Callirhoe involucrata, species penstemons, Monardella odoratissima, Aquilegia formosa, A. truncata and A. skinneri. This year she is most interested in seeing how Ipomoea leptophylla (the Bush Morning Glory) will perform. Other North American plants that are garden-worthy here are toyon from California (Heteromeles arbutifolia), an excellent evergreen shrub, and the Mexican Buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa), which is good for spring flowers. Both are cold-hardy to at least -10°C and drought-tolerant.
Next morning Gill took us on a botanical walk high in the Montagne Noire and we were privileged to be shown a magical wild flower meadow with an amazing range of wild bulbs: Morisia monanthos, Reseda sp, Narcissus requienii, Ranunculus gramineus, Orchis laxiflora, O. provincialis, Muscari commutatum, Tulipa sylvestris, Fritillaria messanensis, Hutchinsia sp, Amelanchier ovalis.
Then we had a buffet lunch at Liz Thompson's house 'Les Écuries' in Cesseras where we were able to sample a range of delicious salads in their superb courtyard before heading towards the coast near Narbonne for a visit to the Domaine de Langel. We were given an interesting lecture on its Roman, medieval and 18th century origins, then had a tour of the garden. Here we were able to see a range of interesting trees and observe an unusual plant which they called 'pastel' or 'woad' (Isatis tinctoria). The mosquito colony was very happy with the number of English people in the group so we soon retreated back indoors for a tapenade and olive oil tasting.
Aline Rideau and Caroline Nolder.
A group of members and guests gathered at a restaurant near the Pont du Gard to hear David Bracey give a talk on gardening problems. David had sent out a questionnaire to Languedoc members in advance and had received 27 responses, and from these he put together the material for his lecture.
We learned about how to focus on prevention and about effective biological methods of disease and pest control. Samples of weeds and damaged foliage were passed round for inspection and identification and a basket of cockchafer larvae was circulated. This led to a discussion on their beneficial presence in the compost heap but not in pots or in the cultivated garden. We concluded the session with an exchange of views on methods of weed control, then moved into the restaurant for a delicious lunch.
David is preparing an article for publication in the Journal which will provide a full analysis of the questionnaires and his suggestions for solutions to some of the problems raised.
A new experience gathered eighteen members for the first meeting of 2010. We met at Jocelyn van Riemsdijk's new home to learn how to measure and draw up the layout of a garden. There was a fairly clean slate to work on at the back, the land had been cleared of undergrowth and old tree roots removed. We looked out on to a muddy rectangle with some oak, arbutus and Viburnum tinus. Jocelyn started by telling us what she wanted. The house is built on what was an old forest and Jocelyn would like to retain the feel of the forest and garrigue with a natural garden, low in water usage and maintenance. As for plants, she favours aromatic and grey-leaved plants though she has a special interest in plants from the Far East. A Koelreuteria paniculata is in a pot waiting for a planting site. Hilary then went through a check list of things to consider: existing features and changes desired, how to draw up a plan and position objects on it (in this case mostly trees). This involved learning about triangulation, far simpler than I had supposed. Hilary had provided each of us with a large plan showing an outline of the house and perimeter fencing. As the sun appeared, out we went with tape measures and drawing pads, one team tackled the north-facing front of the house and the rest of us put on boots, as it was muddy from heavy rain the day before, and went into the future back garden. We 'triangulated' the trees, imagined steps and paths, seeing carpets of cyclamen and cascades of roses, someone was even spotted crouching down to estimate the exact view from the bed in the master bedroom. By the end of the afternoon we had come up with suggestions that were, we hoped, respectful of Jocelyn’s wishes and from which she will be able to select ideas for the layout of her garden and some of the plants that she might put in it.
Thank you, Hilary, for guiding us through a thoroughly interesting and enjoyable exercise, no mean feat in one short February day. We hope, in the autumn, to meet again for another 'hands on' day helping Jocelyn to plant.
A talk by François Travert, at a joint MGS/Hortus meeting, brought the garden of Sparoza and the surrounding countryside, including the Athens airport, very much alive. François spent two periods at Sparoza, the spring of 2003 and October/November 2008 (see his article in TMG 55, January 2009). François is a graduate of the École Nationale Supérieure de la Nature et du Paysage in Blois; since then, as well as his time at Sparoza, he has worked in the Netherlands, Canada, Syria and Colmar (France) and is currently teaching in Geneva. Next year he will start his own business as a landscape designer in the Lot.
François began with a quotation from Plato which described the countryside of Greece very much as it still was when Jaqueline Tyrwhitt started the garden in 1964. Now the countryside is under threat not only from building, which is going on all around the garden, but also because water is being used for the agriculture continuing on the hillside. The water levels are becoming alarmingly low and the annual rainfall is only about 400mm. The traditional farming was olives and vines, in strips which became narrower and narrower due to inheritance laws; each person had a strip of land wide enough for a row of olive trees and a row of vines. Jaqueline Tyrwhitt had to buy strips from fifteen different owners to acquire the land that is now the garden of Sparoza. The current building of villas on the hillside, with no reference to the existing landscape, is violent, old olive trees are uprooted and new ones planted, imported from Italy. In these surroundings Sparosa is an oasis of respectful gardening practice.
There seems to have been no tradition of gardening in Greece of the kind familiar from other countries: because of the shortage of water, the emphasis was given to fruit and vegetables and flowers were grown in pots near the house. The inspiration for Sparoza came from the coutryside surrounding the garden, the ordered agricultural landscape and the natural landscape consisting of ‘garrigue’ and ‘phrygana’. All sections of the garden have been managed in such a way as to build up the soil, while the garrigue is cut back so that the soil remains poor to encourage the plants that grow there naturally such as the wild orchids. As little material is brought in as possible, an exception being white crushed marble for the paths; walls are made from rocks from the hillside. No chemicals are used. All vegetable matter is composted or shredded. The only machines used are a strimmer and a shredder, otherwise all work is done by hand -- the hands being those of volunteer members of the MGS and students under the leadership of Sally Razelou; in addition there is usually a garden assistant resident for 10 months each year. Nothing goes to waste, young plants that are not needed in the garden are sold in the nursery.
François took us on a guided tour of the garden. The plants he specially mentioned as being, in his eyes, the ‘stars’ of the garden were: Chrysanthemum coronarium, Oxalis pes-caprae, Ebenus cretica, Sarcopoterium spinosum as well as asphodels, orchids, cyclamens, narcissi and sternbergias.
The talk illustrated by photographs, diagrams and some of François’ sketches left me with a desire to visit Sparoza. It is an example of what can be achieved in a particularly hostile environment with vision and perseverance.
Members of Languedoc branch had eagerly anticipated the beginning of the autumn programme and were not disappointed with a full day of activities at Villeneuve-lez-Avignon. Our first visit of the day was to Fort Saint-André, commissioned in 1292 by Philippe le Bel, King of France, to affirm royal power, as opposed to Papal power over the Rhône at Avignon. Inside the Fort, the focus of our visit was the Bénédictine Abbaye Saint-André and its very significant Provençal garden. Fort Saint-André is owned by Melle Roseline Bacou who personally welcomed our party and charmed us all with a fascinating tour of her home. The detailed and vivid description of her family’s acquisition of the property and her personal involvement with the renovation of both the Abbaye and garden were superb.
After our tour of the Abbaye building we wandered through the extensive and immaculately maintained gardens, the refurbishment of which began in the 1920s. Terraces, paths and passages link a number of formal gardens, shrubberies and an olive orchard. Much emphasis is placed on Mediterranean planting and, significantly for us, there is minimal irrigation. The garden includes many fine trees, the top of the property being dominated by wonderful old Aleppo pines (Pinus halepensis), sculpted, not surprisingly given the Fort’s location, by the onslaught of the Mistral. Tall cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens) and huge box trees (Buxus sempervirens) feature throughout the garden. For our group photograph we stood on the entrance steps of the Abbaye and admired two very old and significant trees, an Arbre de Judée (Cercis siliquastrum) and a very ancient Sophora japonica. The central garden features a formal arrangement of Chinese roses which, as they were in summer dormancy at the time of our visit, will provide many of us with a good reason to return!
The afternoon began with a tour of the Chartreuse du Val-de-Bénédiction constructed by Pope Innocent VI and one of the largest Carthusian monasteries in Europe. Carthusian monasteries typically represented a balance between the mineral and the vegetable world. Again, with the benefit of an excellent and enthusiastic guide, we admired frescoes by Matteo Giovanetti, explored the three cloisters and visited one of the 40 monastic cells, each of which had its own individual garden. ‘Le jardin des simples’ recreates a typical example in which each monk was able to select his own choice of medicinal plants, vegetables and even flowers for ornamental use. Medicinal plants commonly grown in these compact spaces included mallow (Malva sylvestris), which mixed with olive oil was a deterrent against bee stings, plantain for use against snakebites and mint for the common cold. Other gardens within the monastery included ‘Le cloître du cimetière’ with generous planting of cypress, the typical Provençal symbol of immortality and the ‘Jardin du procureur’. This was originally planted in the 18th century by keen plantsman Dom Alexandre Perraud, and included such exotics as oranges and pomegranates, the fruit of the latter symbolising the unity of the church. We concluded our day in the charming garden at the Hôtel Le Prieuré. After pausing to admire the 23 metre rose arch planted in the 1940s and the formal garden laid out by Francois Dedieu, interest centred on the refreshments and shade of the pergola.
The Branch made a special welcome to eight new members drawn from the Hérault, the Gard and the Vaucluse. Thanks to Christine Savage for organising our first event of the new season.
March and April 2009
The joint meeting organised by Hortus and the MGS with Olivier Filippi talking about "The Dry Garden in Summer: how to turn a constraint into an advantage" drew a large audience. Olivier was in fine form, drawing us all in with his enthusiasm and vast knowledge. A good slide show demonstrated his talk; the pictures of natural sites overwhelmed me with their beauty, we can only attempt pale imitations in our gardens.
We are all begining to be familiar with Olivier's theories for planting dry Mediterranean gardens. He exhorted us to lay out our gardens as though a well-disciplined sheep had grazed the bushes into graceful mounds. He urged us to concentrate on foliage for the summer rather than flowers and to love yellow, as opposed to green, where grass is concerned. It is structure that is important and a balance between vegetation and mineral elements that will delight us through the summer. The contrast between different kinds of foliage is also important, grey leaves being of great use for their drought resistance as well as their contrast to green leaves; flowers are almost gilding the lily. Nevertheless Olivier gave us many examples of plants that do flower through the hottest months: for instance the caper, judged difficult by some in the audience, or a series of lavenders that flower from February to September, or perovskia. This latter plant elicited questions from a garden designer in the audience, and led Olivier to reiterate two of the keys to successful planting, the necessity to plant small specimens and to disentangle the roots; he added something which is perhaps not said often, namely that sometimes plants simply do not like a place. Other plants that he mentioned I am listing as best I can remember them (it was pitch dark so I could not take notes): Teucrium marum, Gaura lindheimeri, Euphorbia rigida, Eryngium amethystinum, Epilobium canum, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, Phlomis bourgaei, which has glorious golden foliage in summer; grasses were not forgotten and there was a marvellous selection of sages. There was a forest of hands wanting to ask questions. Someone asked what to do if one has flat clay soil and wants to create a dry garden: the answer is bring in as much rubble as possible, soil is hardly necessary, and to create a mound not even a metre high and five or six metres in diameter in order to recreate the harsh conditions of the garrigue. Questions were set to continue for a long session but there were "Galettes des rois" to taste and Olivier's book in both English and French as well as the catalogue from the Filippi nursery in Mèze to buy and have signed. The afternoon was as enjoyable and instructive for those with much knowledge as for beginners.
Photographs by Clara and Olivier Filippi
The Languedoc branch of the MGS was invited to visit the garden of British photographer, T.S. The site offers panoramic views of the Provençal countryside and in particular, of Mont Ventoux and the garden has been designed to harmonise with its surroundings.
White limestone has been used for terraces and paths and for dry stone walls which curve and undulate around a series of garden ‘rooms’. Anthony Paul, the designer, has use plants adapted to the dry and windy conditions, lavenders, salvias, cistus, bupleurum, rosemary, teucrium, oregano, perovskia, stipa, but planted them in blocks, lines and curves to give a contemporary feel. The colours at the time of our visit were predominately the typical olive greens, greys and silver of Mediterranean flora but with the occasional pink of Salvia greggii, Oreganum dictamnus and Delosperma cooperi to attract the eye.
The owner is a keen collector of modern sculpture and each piece has been carefully placed to enhance the views and the planting. Our tour was led by the gardener, Bruno Collado, who has been involved since the garden’s inception, ten years ago. He explained that now that the plants are established watering is kept to a minimum.
We met at 10.30 at Les Ecuries conference centre in Cesseras, at the home of Liz and Jacques T. Twenty five members attended a seminar followed by a discussion about gardening in the Languedoc (led in French by Gill Pound, owner of La Petite Pepinière de Caunes) – focussing on how to recognise plants which are adapted to our climate, the implications of climate change and reducing watering and maintenance requirements in our gardens. We then also had a look at Liz and Jacques’s garden at les Ecuries, which operates on dry climate gardening principles.
After our picnic lunch we travelled on to Caunes-Minervois for a guided tour of the garden at La Petite Pépinière where Gill has an extensive collection of plants from dry climate regions of the world, and is continually experimenting with new and unusual varieties of plants to see how they fare in the Languedoc climate. This gave further opportunity for questions and an interesting discussion.