Mediterranean Gardening France

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A group of Australian gardeners visit MGF members’ gardens in the Vaucluse

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In May 2014, Julie Kinney, founder member of Mediterranean Gardening Margaret River, a partner garden group from Western Australia, organised a tour of gardens in Mediterranean France. The group spent a day with members in the Vaucluse. Here is Julie’s account of their day.

One Day in Provence

A year in the making and the day was finally here – almost to the day of my visit to the area last year, meeting garden society members and outlining my plans for 2014. None of you could believe it when I finally emailed to say it was happening. I really did have people who wanted to visit Provence with me.

Well, who wouldn’t want to visit Provence? We have all been besotted with the books about Provence so it feels like a rite of passage. Some of the people on the trip know I like to ferret out private places to visit. Others have read Louisa Jones avidly or perhaps Peter Mayle. Each one has their reasons for being here but none of them knew what to expect from today. I had huge expectations, having met a number of you already and assessing that you only knew how to do things well.
How right I was.

My day didn’t quite go according to plan as first I had to get someone to a doctor so Christine was thrown in at the deep end and given half the group to take to our first tiny garden while the remaining ten had time in Malaucène . Doctor found, patient sorted and there was even time for a wander around this ancient village and a coffee with the locals before it was time for my group to head out to Arjan’s walled garden at the foot of the imposing Mont Ventoux of Tour de France fame. We Aussies are real armchair travellers at Tour de France time.

How could you not love Arjan’s immaculate garden? Elizabeth, my good friend, turned to me and before she spoke I knew what was coming. Heaven!! Nothing more needed between us.

Box hedges in Arjan’s garden
The vine covered pergola

We lingered, we poked about and took photos and enjoyed Arjan’s quiet charm and his obvious passion for this place.

Reluctantly we slowly walked down the hill to the waiting coach and back to Malaucène pausing briefly to look out the window at Kevan and Jennifer’s cottage, garden and bassin by the roadside. Nowhere to park, so we had to content ourselves with a glimpse. We do love water in our gardens and how envious we were of this seemingly endless supply pouring into the bassin to supply their garden. Oh the joy.

Kevan and Jennifer’s garden
The bassin

On to collect the rest of the group and continue to Christine and Anthony’s Mas d’Arfuyen. Parking in the kind neighbours’ property enabled us to get a glimpse of another French family’s lifestyle too. Another bonus. As we arrived, so too did members of Mediterranean Gardening France, who had come to join us for a lunch catered by Kevan and Jennifer, they of the bassin cottage and members themselves of this lively group.

Meet and greet, drinks and food. More delicious food of the region. Radishes, strawberries, cherries, tapenade and the delicious pale rosé. So pale and so crisp. Sitting outside in the shade of the trees. A background of hazy hills and wild flowers. What more could one wish for? The day felt lazy as we got to know one another, probably not lazy for Kevan and Jennifer, but certainly for the rest of us.

Sated, we rose to see Christine and Anthony’s terraced garden and almost before we knew we would have to move on. What a joy the garden was with wildflowers everywhere. All blues and yellows for the moment. It became a point of honour to keep moving upwards, each time thinking it was the top terrace and each time here was another little table and chairs to rest and take in the view. Oh to have had the time. Hard to imagine it hot and dry like we get it at home but that’s what happens here too.

Cistus and thyme on the banks of a terrace
A carpet of Spartium junceum and Aphyllanthes monspeliensis

Sadly we had to say our goodbyes to some of the MGF crowd, feeling like they were our best friends and back on the bus to our next members’ garden, in Le Barroux. Tony’s wife came on the bus to show our driver the easiest way through the narrow lanes.

A walk up the dusty stony track and we had arrived. Cloud pruned trees and shrubs greeted us at the entrance and everyone immediately peeled off to look closely at whatever interested them most with Tony calling to us to come with him. He likes people to see his garden in a certain order. Quite rightly, because once you are at the beginning it makes sense and the vistas open up.

Cloud pruned trees and shrubs
Banks of lavender

Tony is a photographer who never intended to garden but merely record the surrounds. However it has turned out that he is surrounded by garden, all immaculate and stunningly in tune with the larger landscape. I could just sit and gape but no time. We need to keep moving as there is so much detail to see.

Meanwhile the famed mistral wind has awoken and is getting into our heads. Can we handle this? It makes our sea breezes at home seem just that. The mistral plays with us and wears us down. People rest in the numerous shelters which take the edge off the wind and from which you can take in the views. Some find steps in the raised garden with a cooling rill running through. We have scattered but contentedly so. Exploring, resting, having a cooling drink or a coffee. No one wants to spoil the moment and bring the day to an end although inevitably we do and it is such a wrench. These generous people who have given their day and their gardens to us, their friendship too. Does it need to end?

I hope we will meet again and at least some will keep in touch. I have hardly mentioned a plant despite having spent the whole day in gardens. The plants were there, and we very much enjoyed them, but today was so much more.
More than I could have imagined.

Text: Julie Kinney
Photographs: Julie Kinney & Christine Daniels