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May/mai 2010 – A visit to Pépinière La Soldanelle

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A brilliantly sunny day found some 40 members and guests from the Languedoc and Provence branches unite for a visit to the garden of la Soldanelle, near Rougiers in the arrière pays varois.

Fortified after our drive by strong coffee and excellent home-made cantuccini served by Sylvie Mistre at La Soldanelle, her husband Christian took us on a tour of the nursery and garden, starting with a brief introduction and a history of their enterprise. Since 1988 the couple have been growing perennial plants, and for the past ten years they have concentrated on those suitable for the local conditions.

The nursery is at an altitude of 350 metres, on the north side of the Montagne de Sainte Baume. Like many of us, they have prolonged periods of frost, down to -14°C in 2009/10, hot summers, up to 40°C and of course the drying Mistral wind.

Christian insisted that the first consideration for all plants is the soil, and their hectare of productive garden and greenhouses is divided into distinct areas, each reflecting a type of growing conditions we might encounter in our own gardens, for example, a meadow, a rockery wall, flower beds etc.

The rockery wall
Clematis integrifolia – a low growing form in the experimental area

A large area is devoted to experimentation – here are plants which they are cultivating for the first time, which they water sparingly and leave to survive (or not).

Those that do survive may then be taken into cultivation in the nursery itself, where there are open beds devoted to fabulously blowsy peonies, roses and iris and polytunnels for the more delicate subjects.

A glorious selection of peonies
Iris beds with the Montagne de Ste Baume in the background

Of course we came away with armfuls of wonderful healthy plants, well adapted to the conditions which most of us have in our own gardens and with much to ponder in the way of giving prime consideration to our soil type.

Text: Sandra Cooper
Photos: Christine Daniels