We normally visit the festival every other year as not only are the show gardens a talking point but we also enjoy the land art and sculptures exhibited within the grounds as well as the art within parts of the chateau. The theme for the 28th, Paradise Gardens, interested us particularly. I had assisted students from the University of Greenwich on a garden 4 years ago so not only did I realise how tight the 11,000 euro budget was but also the potential and constrictions of the build over 2 months from February to April. The planting has to look ‘verdant’ from day one and continue through with seasonal change until November. The in – house maintenance team gave good advise on the conditions in this part of the Loire.

This was our concept: The Singing Garden seeks to enchant and create a sense of wonder in the viewer. The work is an invitation to dream, perhaps to transport you to the Persian Pairidaeza of the Koran, where the fruiting aromatic plants captivate our senses and the melodious song of birds tempt us to reflect on a time when humans and the natural world lived in harmony.

The dawn chorus lures the viewer through the portal, past a planted screen into the enclosed beauty of the woodland of fruiting trees which  provide a cool resting place, an opportunity to lie back on the cushions, relax, gaze upward to the filtered tracery of the sky and the ornamental nests of exotic birds.

The magic is there for children and adults alike. The Singing Garden questions our perception of nature and the enclosed space. The use of sound will evoke the fragile but resilient  character inherent in the natural world. The sound will rise and fall silent, reminding us that human impact on the world we share can be destructive to other life forms. At heart the message is one of hope without complacency.

 The planting emphasises the practical aims, the plants that provide fruits, oils, seeds, whilst enchanting with colour and form. Recycled hard materials are used with subtlety and to acknowledge the ecological dilemmas that we are faced with today.

 We hope that The Singing Garden will create tranquility whilst raising important questions about our outside spaces, both cultivated and wild.

Following our application (Anny’s visual formed the centre piece) . . . ,

. . . we heard nothing for a long time. However, when we got the nod, work began in earnest including a more detailed set of drawings; sourcing a sound consultant who assisted with technicalities advising on amplifiers and loudspeakers to be housed in the surrounding hedging (we wanted to use bird song and other wildlife sounds from the natural environment ; sourcing a willow worker (Blaise Cayol who works from Tavel in the Gard https://www.celuiquitresse.com) for the screen and the nests that were to be hung in the 14 Malus ‘Evereste’. Plants were to be sourced via the Domaine. Mostly of good quality but a few less so. First site visit to our alloted ‘parcelle’ on a cold January day . . .

. . . the plot was smaller than the surveyors diagram so we had to adjust and rejig but we liked this plot immensely especially the overhanging branches from, and the presence of the large oak just beyond.

The main contractor was local and efficient – thank you Julien Bourdin https://www.bourdin-terrassement-paysage.fr

We made 3 visits of about 4 days each during the build with final planting in the second week of April – a frost followed us across the Loire. . .

Once the garden was complete and open on April 25th, the maintenance team took control. It was good to see and hear the public response especially to the sound element within the garden especially from the school groups during our visits in May and July.  I would have liked to ‘finesse’ the planting early on – all the digitalis disappeared and the substitute roses were very disappointing – but that’s a no-no’.

IMG_1496 copy

click on this link for some sound

The Festival closes on November 3rd and most of the gardens will be taken apart.

I see that I used this poem in August 2010 blogging about nurturing and producing crops on the allotment in Hastings. I feel it’s apt as an adjunct here primarily for the classical references – the Loire valley being packed with mythological, classical and traditional allusions in architecture, landscape and literature.

 

Lady of kitchen-gardens, learned

In the ways of the early thin-skinned rhubarb,

Whose fingers fondle each gooseberry bristle,

Stout currants sagging on their flimsy stalks,

And sprinting strawberries, that colonise

As quick as Rome.

Goddess of verges,  whose methodical

Tenderness fosters the vagrant croppers,

Gawky raspberries refugees from gardens,

Hip, sloe, juniper, blackberry, crab,

Humble abundance of health, hedge, copse,

The layabouts’ harvest.

Patron of orchards, pedantic observer

Of rites, of prune, graft, spray and pick,

In whose honour the Bramley’s branches

Bow with their burly cargo, from grass-deep

To beyond ladders, you who teach pears their proper shape,

And brush the ripe plum’s tip with a touch of crystal.

I know your lovers, earth’s grubby godlings;

Silvanus, whose province is muck-heaps

And electric fences; yaffle-headed Picus;

Faunus the goatman. All of them friends

Of the mud-caked cattle, courting you gruffly

With awkward, touching gifts.

But I am irrepressible, irresponsible

Spirit of Now; no constant past,

No predictable future. All my genius

Goes into moments. I have nothing to give

But concentration and alteration.  Pomona and Vertumnus

U A Fanthorpe

 

 

 

 

Monclus sits above a snaking curve on the river Cèze. It boasts of being ‘one of the most beautiful villages in France’ along with many others. It is beautiful and picturesque and maybe, but I am not sure, a village of ‘second homes’ as Dutch, Belgian and Swiss surnames on the postboxes are noticeable. There is a shop and there is a reasonable bus service and a school . . . the river here has a melancholic charm maybe due to the meandering course and the relaxed, nicely unkempt bordering vegetation . . .

. . . in the village, some of the walls are clothed vegetation that appears to flow upwards and downwards. Medieval whispers emit from the walls bordering narrow ‘ruelles’ that take the visitor on a subtle, gently curving route to the château . . .

. . .with majestic donjohn towering above the château fortifications used by the Benedictines as a monastery for many years.

Place des Aires marks the summit of the village – it has immense charm and is well named. Now I start to look at details having absorbed the overall character  . . .

. . . I find I’m a tad smitten and look forward to swimming in the river here looking up to the village of whispering voices.

Imagines voices, and beloved, too,

of those who died, or of those who are
lost to us like the dead.

Sometimes in our dream they they speak to us;
sometimes in its thought the mind will hear them.

And with their sound for a moment there return
sounds from the first poetry of our life –
like music,in the night, far off,that fades away. Constantine Cavafy   Voices     trans Daniel Mendelsohn

Always a must visit and never disappoints – how could it. Such skill here and wonderful planting. The gunnera explode by the Lower Moat . . .

. . . strong colour contrasts in the Long Border.

Homes for wildlife are evident – this in the Orchard. Plant habits are also evident – from afar – with arching stems of grasses fill the background behind thrusting torchlike growths of Verbascum . . .

. . . simple stuff but also respect and love for the plants grown. That’s the clue . . . and another post on this garden in winter here.

Luxurious man, to bring his vice in use,

Did after him the world seduce,

And from the fields the flowers and plants allure,

Where nature was most plain and pure.

He first enclosed within the gardens square

A dead and standing pool of air,

And a more luscious earth for them did knead,

Which stupified them while it fed.

The pink grew then as double as his mind;

The nutriment did change the kind.

With strange perfumes he did the roses taint,

And flowers themselves were taught to paint.

The tulip, white, did for complexion seek,

And learned to interline its cheek:

Its onion root they then so high did hold,

That one was for a meadow sold.

Another world was searched, through oceans new,

To find the Marvel of Peru. 

And yet these rarities might be allowed

To man, that sovereign thing and proud,

Had he not dealt between the bark and tree,

Forbidden mixtures there to see.

No plant now knew the stock from which it came;

He grafts upon the wild the tame:

That th’ uncertain and adulterate fruit

Might put the palate in dispute.

His green seraglio has its eunuchs too,

Lest any tyrant him outdo.

And in the cherry he does nature vex,

To procreate without a sex.

’Tis all enforced, the fountain and the grot,

While the sweet fields do lie forgot:

Where willing nature does to all dispense

A wild and fragrant innocence:

And fauns and fairies do the meadows till,

More by their presence than their skill.

Their statues, polished by some ancient hand,

May to adorn the gardens stand:

But howsoe’er the figures do excel,

The gods themselves with us do dwell.  Andrew Marvell 

July again, but only the first day of the month, and I see that visits here are frequent in July. This year, however, a swathe of echium vulgare (Viper’s Bugloss) has covered the landscape in the East Sussex border with Kent giving an intense blue shawl across the verges and pebbled landscape. At Dungeness today the magenta flowers of everlasting beach pea, Lathyrus japonica, claim attention.

The land and planting around Prospect Cottage looked well tended – almost immaculate – with yellow horned poppy and echium harmonising in informal and natural groupings. The yellow painted timber work on the cottage is freshly painted . . .

“O Paradise dressed in light, you dissolve into the night” Jarman

but there is still, quite rightfully, a feeling of ‘you can look but please do not disturb’  . . .

the beach opposite has been managed and cleaned – not too much. Timber and metal detritus are visible but just enough . . . someone’s been doing immense house work here.

The Lathyrus combines to produce a delicate soft pink strain. This is a quite lovely and special landscape – a tad gentrified, as is the cse nowadays – and/but  long may it develop.

The Sun Rising

Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.John Donne 

The sky forms an important part of the composition when designing and developing gardens – a fact that is often ignored. Here at La Louve, the garden maker Nicole de Vésian, understood this fact. Her ethos for this garden was to structure and transform the steeply sloping site and echo the forms of the landscape in the Luberon. Read more about the garden here:

The natural growth of the Garrigue landscape – mostly evergreen plants – is mirrored in the planting within the terraced garden. Large scale – the beyond –  is transformed into small scale by clipping and controlling. Stone is also revealed and positioned as a sculptural element . . .

. . . so the inert, rigid property of stone sits alongside the living organisms of the plants. The forms can be similar but the textures contrast.

Moving down from the higher terraces – Terrasse de réception and Terrasse de Belvédere (shown in the photos above) – to the Terrasse du bassin where the quince (Cydonia oblonga) provides some shade and the layout changes to embrace longer internal views. I remain a tad ambivalent to this garden room – the bassin I found clumsy and the circulation here seemed confused. However our group of 20+ managed quite well with not much ‘after you’ as this garden is small scale  – designed to please one person  – so the issue of how a private garden can transform into public space is interesting. I felt we destroyed the atmosphere . . .

. . . I did enjoy the personal touches that have been retained.

And I also enjoyed the windows of short and also long views that the garden offers.

Louisa Jones has written about this garden primarily in ‘Nicole de  Vésian: Gardens, Modern Design in Provence’ and also in her great books ‘Gardens in Provence’; ‘Mediterranean Landscape Design Vernacular Contemporary’ and ‘Mediterranean Gardens A Model for Good Living’. She theorises and justifies and explains so well.

Good to see the iris and would have been good to see many more architectural invadors thrusting through such as Cynara. Apparently Christopher Lloyd enjoyed these dramatic and seemingly random intrusions during his visit years ago. But of course they were planned as de Vésian was a master.

The recently planted lavender field and how it looked when mature (a scan from double page spread in Mediterranean Gardens – A Model for Good Living  Louisa Jones. Keeping with the original Vésian idea of dome clipping the alternates is planned.

Do I feel the garden has become a mausoleum? Yes. The owners have kept true to the original ideas and should be applauded but what must it be like tending, controlling, clipping away without inserting personal creativity. To discuss.

Zephyr returns and brings fair weather,

and the flowers and herbs, his sweet family,

and Procne singing and Philomela weeping,

and the white springtime, and the vermilion.

The meadows smile, and the skies grow clear:

Jupiter is joyful gazing at his daughter:

the air and earth and water are filled with love:

every animal is reconciled to loving.

But to me, alas, there return the heaviest

sighs, that she draws from the deepest heart,

who took the keys of it away to heaven:

and the song of little birds, and the flowering fields,

and the sweet, virtuous actions of women

are a wasteland to me, of bitter and savage creatures.

Petrach sonnet 310 Zephiro torna, e’l bel tempo rimena’

 

Sometimes the continuous present of life becomes relentless making it difficult to step off. On looking back at posts done – and so few – over the last 24 months, that has happened here . . . but enough soul searching and time to reconsolidate. Strangely the desire and principal reason to visit the gardens of Fort St André in Villeneuve-lez-Avignon was to experience the flowering of the roses. Hélas I discovered on this crucial and much delayed visit that the roses had disappointed so much over the years that they had been pulled out  . . .  so no roses to admire but much else to discover and appreciate.

Such as a small town park – natural and informal in feel – with 360 degree views spanning the Fort to the north, as above, and the Rhone below Mont Ventoux to the east; Avignon to the south and the Alpilles to the west.

Wandering through the town, there is much to enjoy  . . . including the planting of Acanthus. Thoughts of the forum in Rome where Acanthus grew in lavish abandon flooded back from memories of more than thirty years ago.

The gardens are terraced so panoramic views can’t be ignored. Close up compositions also invite some study. Not herms as such but rather classical forms with a whimsical character.

Magnificant vaults support the exterior terraces  . . .

. . . views through the access frame the compositions of evergreen planting. Apparently the roses struggled within the setting here of extreme exposure to the winds hurtling down the Rhone with the elevated cold position and also the poor soil structure on the rock form base. Some trees show their struggle with the climate but others have seeded, settled and occupied where they can.

There were always olive groves here. and other edible plants. The Abbaye was founded in 10C on the site where Sainte Cesaire lived before that time. She left her husband to live here in a grotto as a hermit – perhaps that rings true.

From the Chapelle  . . .

. . . and into the poem. Over the years of a human life and over the centuries of periods of history.

 

 

Change
Said the sun to the moon,
You cannot stay.

Change
Says the moon to the waters,
All is flowing.

Change
Says the fields to the grass,
Seed-time and harvest,
Chaff and grain.

You must change said,
Said the worm to the bud,
Though not to a rose,

Petals fade
That wings may rise
Borne on the wind.

You are changing
said death to the maiden, your wan face
To memory, to beauty.

Are you ready to change?
Says the thought to the heart, to let her pass
All your life long

For the unknown, the unborn
In the alchemy
Of the world’s dream?

You will change,
says the stars to the sun,
Says the night to the stars.  Kathleen Raine Change

 

 

 

 

18 degrees forecast so a quick trip to Grau du Roi – takes about 1 1/2 hours from Uzès but with the tensions – blockages and difficulties finding petrol at the moment – all in the lap of the gods. Turned out very well with lunch by the canal.

The village, based around fishing cottages, gained administrative buildings and was recognised as a section of Aigues-Mortes in 1867, becoming a separate commune in 1879. The village of fishers and farmers turned to tourism at the end of the 19th century, with the extension of the Nîmes Aigues-Mortes railway line in 1909:[5] bathers arrived en masse, and on the 26 April 1924 the French President of the Republic decreed that Le Grau-du-Roi was a “station climatique et balnéaire” (beach resort town). The rail line enabled local producers to market their white grapes and fish nationally.

World War II affected the village profoundly. Axis troops were stationed in the village, and the local council dissolved. By 1942, many of the inhabitants had fled: the coast was on the front line and bristled with tank traps and minefields. The village was controlled by blockhouses, and the canal was shut off. Wood from houses was used to build defences. Le Grau-du-Roi was liberated in August 1944, and the coast started to rebuild, with a focus on tourism. The effort was coordinated by the plan Racine. Architect Jean Balladur was put in charge, and he designed structures capable of supporting a large number of tourists, while also supporting the local way of life and environment. Part of the plan included the new marina at Port Camargue.[2] This was launched in 1968 and finished in 1985 – info from Wikipedia.

The sandy L’Espiguette beach sits south-west of Aigues- Mortes ( dead – water) and the étangs, shallow and saline, and surrounding marshes of the Camargue inhabited by flamingoes, white horses and bulls.

Patterns of the effect of wind and water but no plastic to be seen. As a regional parkland it is very well maintained. one of those extra special days. The poem is about a different coast but I like it.

To step over the low wall that divides
Road from concrete walk above the shore
Brings sharply back something known long before—
The miniature gaiety of seasides.
Everything crowds under the low horizon:
Steep beach, blue water, towels, red bathing caps,
The small hushed waves’ repeated fresh collapse
Up the warm yellow sand, and further off
A white steamer stuck in the afternoon—
Still going on, all of it, still going on!
To lie, eat, sleep in hearing of the surf
(Ears to transistors, that sound tame enough
Under the sky), or gently up and down
Lead the uncertain children, frilled in white
And grasping at enormous air, or wheel
The rigid old along for them to feel
A final summer, plainly still occurs
As half an annual pleasure, half a rite,
As when, happy at being on my own,
I searched the sand for Famous Cricketers,
Or, farther back, my parents, listeners
To the same seaside quack, first became known.
Strange to it now, I watch the cloudless scene:
The same clear water over smoothed pebbles,
The distant bathers’ weak protesting trebles
Down at its edge, and then the cheap cigars,
The chocolate-papers, tea-leaves, and, between
The rocks, the rusting soup-tins, till the first
Few families start the trek back to the cars.
The white steamer has gone. Like breathed-on glass
The sunlight has turned milky. If the worst
Of flawless weather is our falling short,
It may be that through habit these do best,
Coming to the water clumsily undressed
Yearly; teaching their children by a sort
Of clowning; helping the old, too, as they ought.
Philip Larkin To the Sea
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