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September 2010 – A visit to Château le Plaisir

Click on an image to enlarge it / Cliquez sur une image pour l’agrandir

On a hot September afternoon 40 or so members had the pleasure of visiting the gardens of Château le Plaisir in Aramon, near Avignon.

Designed by lanscape designer, Pascal Cribier, in the 1990s for the Hollander family, the park is divided into differently themed gardens and has many modernist structured features. The first impression is of a traditional shaded courtyard with five rows of grand old Platanus trees and a drive leading to the house with a classical 18th-century façade. The walled promenoir also tells of times past – “an outdoor long gallery” comments one member. Then as we enter the landscaped park, a view of a tall chimney by the Rhone brings us back to the 20th century.

Sandra tells us about the history of the garden
The walled promenoir

We see high, straight Quercus ilex hedges with gaps to peep through, a beautiful pergola, lush springy Zoysia grass, a children’s play area winding through the santolina, the unfinished chess board with a lonely king and queen, and an outdoor theatre whose clipped Olea hedge has apparently caused controversy amongst local people. 

A beautiful pergola
The outdoor theatre

By the pool house, we stop to admire the four weeping Sophora japonica, specially grafted in Italy for this project, and continue through a beautiful wisteria-covered walkway into the water garden, whose cool shade is much appreciated. The idea of growing free-standing wisteria is noted by some.

Sophora japonica
A wisteria-covered walkway

The scent of Clerodendrum trichotomum gives way to that of ripe figs as we move on to discover copses of Ligustrum and various fruit trees. Eventually we emerge into the dry garden with plants from Olivier Filippi and a path made of interesting concrete ‘Roman’ slabs. 

Clerodendrum trichotmum
The dry garden, with jaborosas planted between concrete slabs

Melia trees give shade to the small courtyard behind the house and a display of Hibiscus coccineus is much admired, as we stop to discuss the gaura and buxus meadow – at this time of year predominantly gaura! 

Hibiscus coccineus
The gaura and buxus meadow

The visit ends with drinks offered by the caretakers and Chantal reminds us that it is time to collect and send her seeds for the Seed Exchange. Many thanks to Christine and Sandra for organising this visit.

Text: Mavis Mercoiret
Photos: Mavis Mercoiret, Hilary Ivey and Anthony Daniels


March 2012 – A botanical walk in the Calanques with Gérard Weiner

Click on the images to enlarge them / Cliquez sur les images pour les agrandir

On a bright and beautiful morning in March, twenty-five of us and a well-behaved dog gathered in the hills between Marseille and Cassis for a walk along rocky tracks, through scrubby pine woods, to the sea.

Walking towards Mount Puget

We were led by a passionate plant hunter, Gérard Weiner of the Pépinière Botanique de Vaugines. Gérard often comes here to this protected site with a very specific ecosystem to collect seeds for propagation. The soil covering on the limestone is almost non-existent and plant roots are anchored by the numerous faults and fissures in the rock. On this walk he was leading our group and also hoping to find a particular plant, Pistacia x saportae, a natural hybrid of P. lentiscus and P. terebinthus.

Gérard had prepared a list of about 40 plants that he thought we might find, and indeed, many of them were growing beside the path:

Rhamnus alaternus
Cistus albidus
Globularia alypum
Senecio cineraria
Ulex parviflorus (L’Ajonc de Provence)
Staehelina dubia
Erica multiflora
Euphorbia characias
Sedum sediforme

We ate our picnic lunch in the Calanque de Sugiton, overlooking a glittering but rough sea.

Suddenly Gerard’s eyes lit up, he had spotted a small plant. “Voilà! C’est l’hybride pistacia!” He was happy and so were we.

Text: Christine Daniels
Photos: Hubert Nivière


February 2011 / Février 2011
Plants for Difficult Situations – A Talk by Christian Mistre
Des plantes pour des situations difficiles – Un discours de Christian Mistre

A brilliantly sunny February day found a healthy crowd of members gathered at Le Jardin de la Gare, hungry for advice on dealing with the problem areas we all have in our gardens.

Une journée de février brillamment ensoleillé a trouvé une foule de membres réunis au Jardin de la Gare, avides de conseils sur la façon de traiter les problèmes que nous avons tous dans nos jardins.

Christian Mistre of Pépinière La Soldanelle was an ideal choice of speaker on this ticklish topic, since he specialises in plants which will tolerate the fairly extreme conditions in his nursery, with 40°C summer temperatures falling to -8 or even -12°C in winter, not to mention the Mistral.

Christian Mistre de la Pépinière La Soldanelle était un choix idéal d’intervenant sur ce sujet difficile, puisqu’il se spécialise dans les plantes qui toléreront les conditions assez extrêmes de sa pépinière, avec des températures estivales de 40°C tombant à -8 voire -12°C en l’hiver, sans oublier le mistral.

Christian’s approach was to examine different difficult situations experienced by members, on the basis that understanding them would enable us to deal better with them. He explained that a plant has no option if it finds itself in a challenging spot – it can’t move (except by sending out seeds), and so must either adapt or perish. A plant’s ability to adapt is affected by numerous criteria, extremes of climate, soil types and so on, and Christian used photographs which many of us had sent to him to illustrate his themes.

L’approche de Christian était d’examiner différentes situations difficiles vécues par les membres, en partant du principe que leur compréhension nous permettrait de mieux les gérer. Il a expliqué qu’une plante n’a pas d’option si elle se trouve dans un endroit difficile – elle ne peut pas bouger (sauf en envoyant des graines) et doit donc s’adapter ou périr. La capacité d’adaptation d’une plante est affectée par de nombreux critères, des climats extrêmes, des types de sols, etc., et Christian a utilisé des photographies que beaucoup d’entre nous lui avaient envoyées pour illustrer ses thèmes.

Sandra Cooper has written this account of the talk.

Sandra Cooper a écrit ce compte rendu de la conférence.


April 2012 – A visit to the garden of Jocelyn van Riemsdijk and a walk in the garrigue

Jocelyn welcomed a group of about 25 members to her garden and gave us a brief history of the two years that she has owned it. In early 2010 a group of MGS members surveyed the land and proposed possible designs.

The chosen plan included a continuous path around the garden and a paved terrace behind the house with a south-west facing, sloping bank with walls and steps down either side to the path.

The terrace and south-west facing, sloping bank

A builder was employed to create the path and terrace and Jocelyn talked about the importance of good preparation. The path’s foundation was made with crushed rock gravel, then a layer of geo-textile and finally a covering of well-compacted fine gravel. The natural soil in the garden is heavy red clay over rock, so for the sloping bank linking the terrace and the main garden new lighter soil was brought in and mixed with river sand.

In October 2010 a group of branch members visited to put the plants in and at the time there was concern that the soil might wash away in heavy rain. However, it held firm and was subsequently mulched with medium (15/25) gravel. The clay soil appears to have been a fortunate choice as the bank needed to be watered only three times in 2011.

The planted bank leading to the garrigue garden
Santolina chamaecyparissus, Iris pallida ‘Aurea Variegata’, Ballota acetabulosa, Lavendula dentata ‘Monet’

To the north-west of the path the land remains much as it was when Jocelyn arrived, with a mixture of local vegetation including Quercus ilexArbutus unedo and Viburnum tinus. The central area has had some trees planted in it, including a fig, an almond and an Acer monspessulanum. An Albizia julibrissin did not survive and was replaced by a quince.

The eastern edge of the garden has been developed with plants from the mountainous monsoon area of China: Rosa chinensis, buddleja and photinia. Although these plants can manage with very little water, they are watered twice a week in very dry weather in order to produce large flowers to delight the butterflies.

A walk in the garrigue

After lunch we walked through the garrigue to a magnificent viewpoint, en route passing several capitelles, drystone dwellings constructed in the 18th century.

There were fewer wild flowers than normal for this time of year, but we did see Cistus albidus, Iris lutescens subsp. lutescens (syn. Iris chamaeiris) and one member of the orchid family, the violet-coloured Limodorum abortivum.

A capitelle
Limodorum abortivum

Text and photographs: Ann Killingback and Michael Pritchard


October 2010 – A Garden Planting Day in Saint-Siffret

This practical ‘hands on’ event was the second stage of our project, following the hugely enjoyable Garden Design Workshop led by Hilary Ivey in February 2010 at Jocelyn van Riemsdijk’s new home.

This time, thirteen enthusiastic members descended on Jocelyn’s garden armed with spades and trowels ready to implement the final design drawn up by Hilary. The area to be planted comprised a large south-facing semi-circular bank which falls away from a paved terrace to the rear of the house. The ground had already been well prepared and planting conditions, after some earlier rain, were perfect. A large Quercus ilex provides shade to much of the area.

Members organised themselves into teams (some rather competitive!), were provided with copies of the planting plan and began the task of setting out, then digging in, a superb range of over thirty different plants including varieties of artemisia, ballota, cistus, geraniums, helichrysum, lavenders, rosemary, irises, salvias, sisyrinchium and santolina – all very suitable for a water-wise garden and taking into account Jocelyn’s preference for aromatic and grey-leaved plants.

A typically generous lunch followed the hard work with almost everyone having discovered a new variety or planting combination to try in their own gardens. Above all, our host was delighted with the finished result.

Our reward!

Text: Duncan Munford
Photographs: Christine Savage