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

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

A new museum ,Musée de la Romanité, in Nîmes, beside the Arènes and very close to the La Maison Carré and the Carré d’Art.

As in most French cities, urban design, positioning, ergonomics and ‘the journey’ are a pleasurable experience. Here this new installation is regarded as a dialogue between the ancient and the contemporary – and it is, and it works. The square glass panelling covering the facade appears to float – the curves echo, slightly, the circular form of the ancient arena. The architect’s concept refers the art of the mosaic and the folds of the Roman toga  . . .

. . . the archeological garden, accessed easily from surrounding streets, shows a vegetative overview of the periods of history shown inside the museum. Not quite sure about these oleanders although the slection is correct within the scope here – just they smack of poor civic planting. There are, however, olives, green oak, pines and almonds. Also lavenders, thymes and garlic, sweet chestnut, tarragon, chives and lemon balm that the Romans and Crusaders introduced to the southern France.

On the roof, a green sward peppered with drought tolerant perennials. Low, and so sheltered from the weather, but well irrigated at least in the first growing season. Also the planted carpet does not distract from the views. The interior is packed with treasures too – archaeological not botanic. And packed with multi-media support.

. . . achillea, dianthus, centaura, trifolium sps. provide an airy silky veil.

The light wraps you in its mortal flame.
Abstracted pale mourner, standing that way
against the old propellers of the twighlight
that revolves around you.

Speechless, my friend,
alone in the loneliness of this hour of the dead
and filled with the lives of fire,
pure heir of the ruined day.

A bough of fruit falls from the sun on your dark garment.
The great roots of night
grow suddenly from your soul,
and the things that hide in you come out again
so that a blue and palled people
your newly born, takes nourishment.

Oh magnificent and fecund and magnetic slave
of the circle that moves in turn through black and gold:
rise, lead and possess a creation
so rich in life that its flowers perish
and it is full of sadness. Pablo Neruda  The Light that Wraps You

 

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

 

 

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

dixter-1

This is another way of looking. A different way of looking, absorbing and learning. The last post was a flutter through the senses – specifically how lyrical planting can be interwoven with musical tone. Now I thought to use the same gardens (recently visited precedents and still fresh in the mind) to appreciate the variation in the planting style. Great Dixter offers up a masterclass in structural planting housing eclectic mixes of  seasonal supporting cast. Quite often sensational and always well judged in the proportion and scale of the planting groups as the photo above shows. It’s close by so I visit it frequently as a friend

I liked the theatricality and also responded to the dynamics of the Walled Kitchen Garden at West Dean and If I lived closer I would befriend it. Here functionality is foremost but very closely followed by the aesthetic – admire the husbandry and wallow in the beauty too . . .

leeks

veg-2

nerines

. . . admire nerines – not to everyone’s taste  – this pleasing arrangement  inspires me to search for the more unusual, rather than the everyday knicker pink forms. Wayward actaeas bending over the low hedge in a shady bed contrast bizarrely with the summer beddding chrysanths + dahlias on the sunny side.

actaea

dahlias-chrysanths

marmandes-1

Produce in the glass houses is grown to maximise the fruiting and to please the eye. The necessary order and control seems to work in tandem with the delight of growing decorative plants too.

marmandes

nicotiana

The Walled Garden at Marks Hall is purely decorative. A series of garden rooms flow through the middle level – designed for young and old with seating aligned to views out, the old fish ponds now a lake, and to the spaces incorporating play forms such as mounds and pits, balls and steps to balance and climb on plus an Alice in Wonderland planted tunnel. Horseshoes of hedging swirl across the obvious geometry – three dimensioned hard and planted surfaces but it is the asymmetry that makes this garden within a garden special and if I lived closer I’d become a friend just to enjoy . . .

mark-hall-gardens-1

marks-hall-gardens-2

marks-hall-curving-hedges

marks-hall-gardens-3

marks-hall-gardens-4

marks-hall-parottia-2

. . . Peter Thurman‘s tree planting. Extra special.

Hauser and Wirth offers up this inside . . .

bourgois-mother

and this in the surrounding courtyard. Molinia ‘Moorhexe’, Sesleria autumnalis, cimicifuga, gillenia and deschampsia under the Celtis. Piet Oudolf’s planting is just enough to let the exterior space breathe.

durslade-hauser-wirth-courtyard

And in his field  – a gently sloping site –  grassy raised mounds offer the visitor a path through the centre with massed planting of perennials and grasses moving in from the boundaries. A bold concept but poor functionally with signage preventing any access to the mounds. Interesting to see how these very large areas of planting read in the early months of the year. I would ‘friend’ the gallery if they need me.

oudolf-field-h-w-durslade

oudolf-field-2-h-w-durslade

Between going and staying

the day wavers,

in love with its own transparency.

The circular afternoon is now a bay

where the world in stillness rocks.

 

All is visible and all elusive,

all is near and can’t be touched.

Paper, book, pencil, glass,

rest in the shade of their names.

 

Time throbbing in my temples repeats

the same unchanging syllable of blood.

The light turns the indifferent wall

into a ghostly theater of reflections.

 

I find myself in the middle of an eye,

watching myself in its blank stare.

The moment scatters. Motionless,

I stay and go: I am a pause. Octavio Paz Between Going and Staying

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