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’

 

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

 

ville et campagne

May 28, 2018

Ville – Arles; appreciating a sculpture by Marc Nucera – elegant but purposeful and somehow wistful –  in front of the Chapelle de Méjan. Then on to the Foundation Vincent Van Gogh  . . .

. . . where the courtyard displays a feature bursting with colour and water.

Inside, one of the exhibitions is Soleil Chaud, Soleil Tardif. Les Modernes Indomptés. Vincent’s railway carriages with other works showing the influence of Millet and Monticelli; some Calder patterns; Polke’s work well lit.

Metaphors of the sun, Mediterranean region and experimentation from Modernists and Post Modernists. Joan Mitchell’s Sunflowers . .

. . . and No Birds. Also de Chirico and videos of performances by Sun Ra alongside vibrant LP covers – those were the days.

Later works from Picasso: Man playing the Guitar and Old Man Sitting.

Upstairs in the original rooms . . .

. . . an exhibition of an English Modernist, Paul Nash, curated as Eléments Lumineux –  “works imbued with a surreal atmosphere and a sense of the finite, against a background of death and war”(catalogue).

From the roof terrace, a well manged parthenocissus clings to the walls of a secret courtyard. And out into Place du Forum to gaze upwards.

Ville – Nimes; banks of Cistus monspeliensis flowering with panache alongside Esplanade Charles-de-Gaulle.

Campagne – Anduze. La Bambouseraie en Cévennes a couple of weeks ago with wisteria in full bloom – heavenly scent – Davidia in discreet bloom and the final flowers on Akebia quinata and  so final whiff of chocolate.

from a previous visit

The Mind is a wonderful Thing  Marianne Moore

is an enchanted thing
like the glaze on a
katydid-wing
subdivided by sun
till the nettings are legion.
Like Giesking playing Scarltti;

like the apteryx-awl
as a beak, or the
kiwi’s rain-shawl
of haired feathers, the mind
feeling its way as though blind,
walks along with its eyes on the ground.

It has memory’s ear
that can hear without
having to hear.
Like the gyroscope’s fall,
truly equivocal
because trued by regnant certainty,

it is a power of strong enchantment. It
is like the dove-
neck animated by
sun; it is memory’s eye;
it’s conscientious inconsistency.

It tears off the veil; tears
the temptation, the
mist the heart wears,
from its eyes – if the heart
has a face; it takes apart
dejection. It’s fire in the dove-neck’s

iridescence; in the inconsistencies
of Scarlatti.
Unconfusion submits
its confusion to proof; it’s
not a Herod’s oath that cannot change.

 

 

An invitation by Mediterranean Gardening France to see the garden of 2 artists in St Remy de Provence. The view from M. Joseph Bayol’s studio on the first floor of his house across the wisteria to the bassin  . . .

. . .  just a small area of his studio packed with canvases, collections, materials and a few palettes with one below  . . .

. . . the bassin formally positioned with three cupressus at the far end and two very large and well proportioned metal structures on either side to support climbing roses. Scale and proportion are exquisitely handled in this garden superbly maintained by Mme Bayol. I use these superlatives in acknowledgement of both horticultural and aesthetic prowess. A garden to delight – purely personal and imaginatively handled. It shows love.

An informal pond inhabited by noisy frogs is well hidden but a charming discovery and typical of the elements and spaces to find unexpectedly on the journey around the garden . . .

. . . roses in full glory here in Provence at the start of May. Either clambering up an immense cupresses or a single bloom in a shady passageway.

The wisteria – gentle, elegant, discreet + certainly not the blowsy form – has a sculptural woven + twisted trunk. The finials on the rose pergola  – are equally underplayed . . .

. . . roses framing the entrance to the green house and quite wonderful cross views across the garden sheltered and hidden within a Provence town. One of the best gardens I’ve seen for a long while. Personal and poetic – a dream.

a few other days out to gardens with the MGF (I’m a tad smitten with this group):

https://juliafoggterrain.wordpress.com/2018/02/05/art-on-show-large-space-small-space-chateau-la-coste-max-sauze-garden/

https://juliafoggterrain.wordpress.com/2017/09/23/at-the-ecological-garden-au-jardin-ecologique/

https://juliafoggterrain.wordpress.com/2017/06/20/un-jardin-anglais-but-is-it/

 

Summer: for a few days

you lay around with us

breathed in pollen,

counted aphids,

watched us drop

one by one on to the path

where the scent

was especially heavy. Rose multiflora Jo Shapcott

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

olives-pont-du-gard

a post with few humans – a couple of tourists and some carved in stone – it’s easier for me to engage with this landscape as such. At Pont du Gard, in the terrain around the landmark, those maintaining the landscape show good skills – using just enough management. The olives in this grove have a balletic quality  – a certain strength underlying a lightness of form . . .

wall-pont-du-gard

. . . equally, the dry stone walling is rhythmic in contrast to the static character of the remnants of this ancient aqueduct that carried water from Uzés to Nimes. Some is very fragile awaiting restoration, perhaps . . .

arch-pont-du-gard

path-pont-du-gard

. . . a sprinkling of chêne vert left to edge the informal track leading down to the first dramatic glimpse. Nothing could be more powerful and appropriate.

pont-du-gard-1

pont-du-gard-detail

Masterful engineering – perfection in the detail of the construction – a simple and beautiful junction of stonework.

pont-du-gard-2

solan-1

At the Monastère, ‘the antechamber to heaven’ but also close to home, the small church is receiving attention – completion of the interior next year perhaps  – with the facade finished and decorated with a frieze of ‘Eric Gill’ style carving.

solan-2

solan-3

Eclectic architectural details which somehow work spread around the entrance, the spacious courtyard which I was to shy to photograph, the chapel and the nuns gathering room – they’ve employed a sensitive architect. Also, stupidly, I didn’t pluck up the courage to ask to see the productive gardens – all that convent schooling still affects me badly . . .

solan-4

quarry-1

. . . but here at the quarry at Vallabrix, no hestation on pushing through fencing and security bondaries to get as close as possible. This sand is used to manufacture Perrier bottles – so much better to drink water from glass than plastic . . . and it’s a stunning landscape to behold and walk around although the locals are not so keen on the noise and night time working. Two poems for this post, Attwood and Paz, what can I say . . .

quarry-landscape

quarry-portarit

quarry-vines

The moment when, after many years

of hard work and a long voyage

you stand in the centre of your room,

house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,

knowing at last how you got there,

and say, I own this,

 

is the same moment when the trees unloose

their soft arms from around you,

the birds take back their language,

the cliffs fissure and collapse,

the air moves back from you like a wave

and you can’t breathe.

 

No, they whisper. You own nothing.

You were a visitor, time after time

climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.

We never belonged to you.

You never found us.

It was always the other way round. Margaret Atwood

 

 

Between now and now,

between I am and you are,

the word bridge.

Entering it

you enter yourself:

the world connects

and closes like a ring.

From one bank to another,

there is always

a body stretched:

a rainbow.

I’ll sleep beneath its arches. Octavio Paz

 

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