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May 2011 – Cistuses in the wild and in gardens and a visit to the Abbaye de Fontfroide

A two-day excursion to look at cistuses and other garrigue plants in natural and garden settings and to visit the gardens of the Abbaye de Fontfroide, near Narbonne

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

Day 1
It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny. Olivier Filippi took a large group of us on a ramble through the garrigue, stopping frequently to point out certain plants and in particular the extraordinary nature, diversity and infrastructure of the garrigue itself.

Cistus growing wild in the garrigue have been studied for centuries. There are 9 taxa of cistus to be found in this area, including five species and four natural hybrids. Many of these hybrids have become classic garden plants.

In the afternoon, local pépinièriste, Gill Pound, guided us through the terraced gardens of the Abbaye de Fontfroide.

After the French Revolution, the abbey had fallen into ruins until bought from the state by a wealthy local family in 1901. The family still owns the abbey and restoration is ongoing. Extensive rose gardens were planted first, then work started on the terraces.

Here the aim has been to create a series of gardens filled with plants which the monks themselves might have grown. There are a number of separate areas – a shady ‘Under the Trees’ garden, a meditation garden, a medicinal garden, one to encourage bees, a garden to ‘charm the senses’, a utility garden for obtaining dyes, soaps etc, a witches’ garden for potions, powders and decoctions, a Renaissance terrace in 15th/16th century style and finally Neptune’s Terrace surrounded by cypresses dominated by a large statue of Neptune.

Rosa ‘Rose des Cisterciens’
Gill describing the plants in the ‘Hortus conclusus’ or enclosed garden
Olivier in his garden

Day 2
The next morning we met at the font of Mediterranean dry gardening, the home and nursery of Olivier and Clara Filippi. Olivier took us on a tour of the garden, stopping frequently to discuss the characteristics of various cistuses.

Read about how to provide the best growing conditions for cistuses and which species and hybrids Olivier recommends for the garden in this article: Cistuses in natural and garden settings.

Text: Nick Westcott
Photos; Catriona McLean and Christine Daniels