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Provence / Côte d’Azur – Activities 2009

Journées des Plantes at Sophia Antipolis
The Provence Branch started the year with an informal visit to the Journées des Plantes at Sophia Antipolis, although only a few braved the incessant rain to be tempted by the excellent quality and variety of plants for sale. The rain continued all day, impeding the planned afternoon visit to Vivienne and Martin Stead’s garden. The few hardy souls who braved the weather were treated to the Steads’ warm hospitality and enjoyed tea and biscuits and garden chat instead.

Rain continued to dog our plans and we had to postpone the next planned visit to Joanna Millar’s garden.

On May 4th we visited Denis Weis’s “Chemin de Ronde” garden in Figanière. Denis’s garden, named after a tour of the ramparts, was designed, as the name suggests, to lead one round the garden and to confuse one about its size – which it did, being crammed with a multitude of lovely and unusual plants. The visitor is greeted at the front gate by a Vitex agnus-castus (unfortunately too early for its lovely blue flowers) and then welcomed into the garden by perfumed roses (Rosa ‘Papa Delbard’, R. ‘Jacques Cartier’, R. ‘Celestial’ and R. canina). Entering the shady side of the house, where ferns flourished with shrubs, roses and trees including a white Cercis (from Pierre Cuche) overhanging the path, we were led through to a small lawn with hebe and pittosporum and hence to a Japanese area with bonsais. From here a bamboo tunnel led to a pond and thence to the potager and fruit garden back at the front of the house. 

Mercifully the rain held off until after lunch and a plant exchange at Carol Connolly’s garden in Bargemon but it scuppered the planned post-prandial visit to June Grindley’s garden.

Denis Weis’s garden pond

On May 7th the sun finally shone for the visit to Joanna Millar’s splendid garden in Tourrettes-sur-Loup, where a superb lunch was followed by an excellent, informative talk on Roses and Clematis given by Yve Dyson. In Joanna’s garden one’s eye was constantly caught by something magnificent: from the bright yellow ‘Zantha’ iris to the deep blue ‘Jane Phillips’; from the Rosa mutabilis to the R. banksiae x gigantea climbing the pine beside the swimming pool; from the stunning huge deep blue Ceanothus to the quiet beauty of a little corner by the gate where a golden-leaved Philadelphus perfumed the air above a blue iris and a delicate white Tulbaghia in its pot.

Yve Dyson, speaking from her experience as a rose grower near Menton, gave us many helpful hints which will stop us struggling to try to grow clematis and roses unsuitable for the Riveria and will help us nurture and care for those that, like us, love the climate in Provence.

Joanna Miller’s garden

May 9th saw us in the south-east corner of the Var with a fascinating lesson in olive grafting from Fritz and Annette Hahn and a tour of their olive grove with its wide variety of olives and their many fruit trees in Ollioules.

Annette Hahn demonstrates olive grafting

Next, invited by their neighbours Philippe and Michelle Chrétien to see their garden and have a pre-lunch drink, we were delighted to see this beautifully designed, intensely planted space.

A profusely flowering Rosa filipes ‘Kiftsgate’ had welcomed us, grown unusually along the fence to the front gate. We then moved through a shady arbour, where the dark foliage was relieved by a flash of white from a variegated Pittosporum, to a lovely pond, followed by an immaculate potager and thence through to a shaded terrace loaded with drinks and nibbles.

Philippe and Michelle Chrétien’s garden

Returning to the Hahns’ olive grove and fruit orchard, we ate our picnics and indulged in the delicious quiches, tarts and clatoufi cooked by the Hahns.

In the afternoon we travelled to the Domaine d’Orvès, Françoise Darlington’s beautifully mature garden. Surrounding a 16th-century bastide house, the garden has a stately air. From the entrance gate, emphasised by areas covered by Ceratostigma bisected diagonally by two small long waters, we took a path edged by irises and overhung by arches formed from fig trees which led up to a shaded terrace with more formal ponds edging it. Behind the house, the garden with lovely white Romneya, growing taller than I have seen in the UK, leads to an old chapel and a wooded area with many unusual plants and shrubs.

Francoise Darlington’s Domaine d’Orvès

Wednesday 3rd June found us at Hameau L’Autourière, La Garde Freinet – Philippa Woodall’s garden. Philippa told us that L’Autourière is an ancient hameau and was a falconry (‘autour’ means goshawk), then a silk farm growing fruit and vines. Nestled in a valley in the curve of a cooling stream, it has rare deep fertile soil and a permanent and plentiful water source from the stream, thus permitting us to feast our eyes on a spread of green lawn and lush meadow. The garden takes its charm from the setting. The old stones of the Hameau buildings enclose between them two shaded and Trachelospermum–perfumed courtyards in which we ate a delicious lunch of seared tuna. We then roamed the gardens, admiring Philippa’s potager, her Zimbabwean sculptures and the magnificent creamy-white flowers of the Magnoliagrandiflora.

We moved on to Susanna Linhart’s garden for dessert (or should I say desserts…). Surrounded by chestnut forests, wild flowers including helleborine orchids growing profusely, and beautiful views towards Mont Sainte-Victoire, we were enchanted by both the location and Susanna’s paintings and collages.

On Tuesday 16th June we visited the Mas des Mauriers, Michelle and Guy Beddington’s garden which is situated at one end of the interlocking group of valleys dominated by the village of Bargemon. The welcoming stone house was originally created from a barn and various outhouses by the previous owners but was enlarged and enhanced by Guy and Michelle. They have added a beautiful pool of dark green stone and planted the courtyard garden around it. Outside this partly enclosed space, Guy and Michelle are gradually clearing the undergrowth of an overgrown olive grove to create an open-air gallery for a number of intriguing installations by the Surinamese artist Marcel Pinas and beautiful, very large glazed pots by the German artist Peter Thumm.

Peter Thumm’s pots at Michelle and Guy Beddington’s

Following another wonderful lunch provided by Michelle and Guy, some had the energy to visit Guy Beddington’s Fine Art gallery which is in a lovely old house situated on the ramparts of the mediaeval village of Bargemon. The gallery has beautiful views towards the village of Clavier, over the olive groves belonging to Bargemon’s Château and the green hilly country beyond. 

Later in the still very hot afternoon, we convened at La Campagne Sainte Marie, the garden of Nicole Rengade in Tourettes near Fayence. The 5000-square metre garden which the Rengades acquired in 1995 surrounds a 200-year-old farmhouse whose façade is covered by vines and wisteria. Nicole has single-handedly created a wonderful garden. Decorating it with spare roof tiles inscribed with poems, she uses old casseroles as pots for geraniums and sedums. This very individual garden has a stream leading to an old lavoir, 800 varieties of plants and three Provençal donkeys. There’s also a good nursery attached to the domaine run by her son-in-law. After we had wandered round the garden, Nicole generously treated us to some cold drinks including delicious home-made orange or lemon wine which revived us enough to drive home.

Text and photos: Carol Connolly & June Grindley