Back to visit a project designed some years ago (previous visit and related post is here). The estate sits on the edge of town, Monte San Savino, with the majority of the productive land – vines and olives – to the south west. The drive sweeps around climbing up through the land . . .

. . . to the main courtyard. These clients have rather exquisite taste and furnish and decorate their house unusually and perfectly.

The old orto/ potager/vegetable garden sat behind these imposing gates. It’s a walled plot . . .

. . . and 15 years ago became the pool garden.

Lines of Acer campestre (field maple) originally planted for the functional attribute of using the young twiggy branches to tie in the vines. It has decorative attributes too, of course.

I see I was very taken with the cork oaks previously. Obvious functional uses but what glorious trunks . . .

. . . and the cupressus make fine full stops. We planted these below to make a screen from the town but also to allow views through from the house. These have been shaped . . .

. . . the rounded canopy of mature pines contrast the vertical habit of the cypress. Irrigation canals run discreetly around the site which is terraced.

Long breaches make air spiral

as tangibly as the heartwood.

Its’ only human to think the olive

speaks, that there are mouths

singing, screaming, even, in the gashes

and you can’t help but see a figure

twined in the trunk or struggling out.

Layers of xylem and crushed phloem

are other ways we see ‘tree’:

there are always these speaking

gaps to put a fist or a heart. Jo Shapcott  Trasimeno Olive

 

We also went to assist in the olive harvest and gathered 500 kgs over the weekend which made 90L of oil. Hundreds and hundreds of litres will be made from the 10,000 trees.

The youngest member took some time out on the odd occasion . . .

. . . but was very interested in our visit to the press ,Frantoio Mazzarrini, working 24 hrs at this time of year. Lovely trip, friends.

 

Close to the gates a spacious garden lies,

From storms defended, and inclement skies:

Four acres was th’alloted space of ground.

Tall thriving trees confess’d the fruitful mould;

The reddening apples ripens here to gold,

Here the blue fig with luscious juice o’erflows,

With deeper red the full pomegranate glows,

The branch here bends beneath the weighty pear,

And verdant olives flourish round the year.

The balmy spirit of the western gale

Eternal breathes on fruits untaught to fail:

Each dropping pear a following pear supplies,

On apples apples, figs on figs arise:

The same mild season gives the blooms to blow,

The buds to harden, and the fruit to grow.

Here ordered vines in equal ranks appear

With all the united labours of the year,

Some to unload the fertile branches run,

Some dry the blackening cluster in the sun,

Others to tread the liquid harvest join,

The groaning presses foam with floods of wine.

Here the vines in early flower descried,

Here the grapes discolour’d on the sunny side,

And there in autumn’s richest purple dyed.

Beds of all various herbs, for ever green,

In beauteous order terminate the scene.

Two plenteous fountains the whole prospect crowned:

This through the gardens leads its streams around:

Visits each plant, and waters all the ground:

While that in pipes beneath the palace flows,

And thence its current on the town bestows;

To various use their various streams they bring,

The people one, and one, supplies the king. Alexander Pope (mod version G. Greer)     The Gardens of Alcinous

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

A chance to walk a part of the Sentier des Lauzes through the pine and sweet chestnut forests in the Ardèche. Lauze are slate slabs so the terrain is often schist and therefore loose. Thanks to Louisa Jones for the nod on exploring this environment  – well described in her book Mediterranean Landscape Design Vernacular to Contemporary and giving some background on how a non – profit organisation of locals and incomers grew the project. “one of those abandoned terraced landscapes in the Mediterranean with an uncertain future” Martin Chenot, founder.

Took this pic through my legs – just one of those things.

The walk is well balanced with enclosed wooded areas contrasting with  those of openness. Here beyond the lonely pine  views across to Dompnac. Christan Lapie’s figures contemplating the view too . . .

. . . ‘Le Belvédère des Lichens’ discreetly positioned by Gilles Clément also looks across the valley of the Drobie. Louisa describes the decks as; ‘unobtrusive:simple wooden platforms placed among lichen-covered rocks and out towards the medieval chapel of Saint-Régis . . outlines,textures and tones participate in the same sense of flow. But Clément is a naturalist, concerned not only to feel but to know. It matters very much to him that lichens are symbiotic union of algae and mushroom, and that these four species – pale Rhizocarpon, silvery Parmelia, stiff sombre Lasallia and grey Aspicilia – involve different scales not only in space but also in time. In addition, some species indicate clean air. Learning how they live gives wider resonances to the art without the abstraction of the symbol. this particular mix can only exist right here, at this moment, and will be different tomorrow’. (Louisa Jones)

To discover the art works here needs a sense of exploration and inquisitiveness unlike those at Chateau  de la Coste  – but that’s another issue and another post – where attention is to the artwork as against to the setting. My opinion of course.  Commercialism against  . . .  romantic veneration and a wish to understand how the landscape and the inhabitants worked in a sense of harmony – that was necessary as it was a working environment. Martin Chénot: ‘The important thing is to keep walking, to harvest the landscape with eyes, muscles, feet, mind and dreams”.

The walk takes about 5 hours – my group suffered road closures and mapping errors so we only managed about a half – but looking forward to returning and seeing especially le Jardin des Figuiers et l’atelier refuge. An exhilarating day.

 

Back at our base, recharging the batteries and admiring the other residents and noting the signs of the change of the season.

Blind I know with senses arising from fern and tree,

Blind lips and fingers trace a god no eyes can see,

Blind I touch love’s monster from that bounds

My world of field and forest, crowns my hills.

Blind I worship a blind god in his hour

Whose serpent – wand over my soul has power

To lead the crowding souls back from the borders of death,

Heaven’s swift – winged fiat, earth’s primeval monolith. Kathleen Raine The Herm

 

 

Below Mont Lozère, in the Cévennes where sweet chestnuts abound, sits Le Jardin du Tomple described as a ‘jardin anglais’. A term that is off-putting to me after all I have Great Dixter, Sissinghurst Castle and any number of English gardens on my doorstep for a good part of the year. Certainly the garden has an air of informality with curving grass paths flowing around large mixed borders packed with mature flowering shrubs – hydrangeas, roses, camellias, cornus – perennials et al and there is just a small amount of typical Mediterranean terracing.  So my understanding is that it is the planting design that has defined the description. The garden is also described as ‘secret’. Well, it’s hidden away amongst glorious trees – pines and cyprus, poplars and châtaignes –  the access is difficult but that, in effect, makes it an intriguing objective. And it is worthwhile.

The key to any succesful large garden is the water source whether river, springs or bore holes and here in this area it’s a necessity. The river has its arm around the garden and the water from the surrounding wooded hills is organised into canals, bassins and an informal rill. The huge lumps of schist rock from glacial fallout dominate the water course and the garden . . .

. . . there is a traditional water feature and nearby a marvellous clump of Iris x robusta ‘Gerard Darby’  – a truly brilliant plant – evergreen here and with just enough moisture in a shady area to show to full potential.

Cornus kousa surrounds this small pigeonnier and many more varieties are being planted throughout the site . . .

. . . more typically English is philadelphus perhaps and roses everywhere; more than 350 and many old varieties.

Areas of  mown grass offer easy circulation and a chance to enjoy the wilder, meadow type grassland.

On the wall of the mas is a collection of old implements hung in a decorative manner . . .

. . . equally decorative is the echeveria planting within the dray stone walling. I will be copying this, thank you, and maybe the setting to rest of old gardening tools too. So summing up and to answer my own question, a succesful juxtaposition of English and French garden styles – quirky with a personal touch created by the mother and daughter owners, Françoise and Véronique, much to see and admire  – and hurrah for their use of plant labels.

Visit it in the dark. Cicadas

Are inside your head as your hand

reaches towards the bark: you feel

The latent heat first then the surface,

Scrubbed with lichen you can’t see

But know from the fizz where touch

Meets memory. Before all this,

the scent, which is anti-language

(only, as it drifts into your body

the words slip in, as well),

and made of earth, air, sun

and human consciousness. Jo Shapcott     Of Mutability   Cypress

A busy month of eclectic experiences starting with the city – looking from the 6th floor of the Pompidou Centre  across the panorama . . .

. . . and looking down onto a canopy of plane trees. Here to see . .

Cy Twombly’s work from a career spanning 60 years. It was a marvellous exhibition; sadly over now. ‘Untitled’ painted in Rome during his minimal and conceptual phase in 1970’s to . . .

the ‘Rose Series’ Gaeta 2008 drawn from influence/ inspiration/ silent dialogue with Rilke’s poems. Stunning and thought provoking and an exhibition that has kicked me into reading Homer again – what a delight.

City to coast and plant buying. As equally pleasurable as being immersed in paintings. At Pépinière Filippi, plants suitable for dry gardening are displayed in a garden setting  – this below is perhaps yucca spp – possibly Yucca rostrata  – as well as . . .

. . . in the nursery. I can’t describe the excitement and anticipation of seeing  lines of pots and the plants that they hold  – mad I know.

And then it’s off to Bouzigues for some seafood to be enjoyed with a good view of Sète.

Coast to country and walking for a few days in the Cévennes. Through the chestnut woods and over streams passing dry stone walls coated in mosses and lichen. Moss is a plant but lichen a type of fungus needing algae so a symbiotic relationship . . .

. . . we encountered some history too – a group of huts set on a plateau -restored in hommage to the protestants who fought in the Camisards’ War in early 18th C. They fought a guerilla warfare ambushing the King’s men and them melting back into the wooded countryside. Locals also hid in the the buildings in the 1940’s  – the Nazis being too lazy to climb through the dense landscape.

In Saint Hilaire-de-Lavit, forgotten vehicles and a wondrous chêne vert in the graveyard . . .

. . . and iris and wisteria still in bloom.

May Day is celebrated in the village with a Marché des Fleurs under the  55 plane trees – my front garden – which shade the colourful displays. Some are very bright . . .

. . . some less so . . .

and some are quite discreet. The poem from Rilke should wrap this post up well. à bientôt.

Rose

so cherished by our

customs

dedicated to our memories

became almost imaginary

for being so linked

to

our

dreams  Rainer Maria Rilke

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