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Provence / Côte d’Azur – Activities in 2011

Le Moulin de la Mourachonne, Mouans Sartoux
Thanks to introductions from Joanna Millar and Ilse Hoger, we visited this garden owned by James and Irma Buchanan-Jardine. This lovely water-filled garden was created around an old mill restored in 1936. The garden straddles both sides of the Mourachonne river with acid red soil on one side and limestone on the south side. Its famed magnolias were in glorious flower and the weather, which had threatened storms, behaved itself – enabling us to picnic in the very English surroundings and imbibe the good wine generously provided by James and Irma.

Visit to Ets. Kuentz in Fréjus
Founded in the 1890s, this is the oldest specialist cactus grower in France. Third generation owner Henri Kuentz gave us a tour, told us how he propagates cacti and how to care for them (most need water in the summer to grow well!). He sells a wide choice of cacti for different locations, including some that are frost-hardy to minus 12 degrees, so we all went home clutching (carefully) little pots.

Visit to the Horticultural School in Antibes
The year 2011 started for us with the next generation of gardeners and a visit to the Horticultural School in Antibes, founded in 1890. After a tour of the school and its extensive grounds, the older pupils introduced us to their special projects including a roof garden. Lunch at a local restaurant was followed by a visit to Pépinières de la Foux which specialises in Mediterranean plants and a talk by nursery owner Carole Bonaut.

Two gardens near Hyeres
Nurseryman and MGS member Jean-Marie Rey led the visits to two of his favourite gardens near his house in La Londe les Maures. The first was to a delightful small private garden close to the sea and set above the surrounding domaine. This gem of a garden complemented the unusual house which was built of corbelled dry stone and old timbers. After Jean-Marie had very generously given us an excellent lunch in his garden (again…), we were led to the far side of Hyères by Renaud Lugagne who owns Le Plantier de Costebelle estate. Visited by Queen Victoria in 1892, the estate boasts superb specimens of rare trees and palms and one very old tortoise who probably met the queen… 

Clos de Peyronnet in Menton
The owner of the Clos du Peyronnet, MGS member William Waterfield, showed us around the garden started in 1915 by his grandfather. It has many unusual plants, some beautifully juxtaposed, a grotto and a stairway of successive pools which draw the eye through the garden to the sea. William’s enthusiasm and knowledge of his plants and bulbs enhanced our visit, which culminated in a relaxing picnic in the justly famous garden.

Wild flower walk
This was the day for something different – a wild flower walk in the back country above Vence led by MGS member Kari Wang who is an alpine flower expert. It was her skill and knowledge which found and identified the plants as she led us up to a spectacular view at 1200 metres and back through fields of magnificent Paeonia officinalis.

Visit to La Casella in Opio
La Casella is an exquisite, elegant garden created by Tom Parr and his partner Claus Scheinert. The beautiful day allowed us to appreciate their lovely use of Ceanothus, Solanum and a standard Wisteria set against a carefully crafted green background. Tom Parr, who was in the garden during our visit, sadly died recently after a long and difficult illness. After the visit to La Casella, Maggie Lockett kindly hosted our picnic in her garden and olive domaine.

Garden visits with James Basson
Landscape architect and MGS member James Basson led us to see three very contrasting gardens near Villefranche which he designed. The first, a very new garden, involved the planting of some 4500 plants of 400 varieties which will form a dry garden around the award-winning, beautiful pool, also designed by James. Already it is looking super: an encouraging stimulus to those of us who try to garden without water. The second was a well-watered, established garden featuring lovely rows of agapanthus and some rather unhappy-looking oak-leaved hydrangeas.

The last, where we picnicked, surrounded a beautiful old farmhouse in a valley below Peille. It was full of graceful grasses, alliums, tall verbena and yellow verbascum plus the occasional sunflower. James introduced us to a non-electric way of fencing out wild boar, advised the use of Rosa sempervirens to keep out burglars and showed us the magnificent Charles Rennie Mackintosh-inspired gates which he had commissioned for the property.

Visit to Villa Fort France, near Grasse
Another of the famous gardens in the Var, that of Villa Fort France near Grasse, was visited in June 3. The original owners, Lady Winnifred Fortescue and her husband Sir John, an archivist and military historian, bought it in 1935. Lady Fortescue wrote a best-selling account of her struggles to create her home there entitled Perfume from Provence which was illustrated by A.A. Milne. She followed this success with two further books written when she moved to Opio: Sunset House and Trampled Lilies (which recounts her time during the war years). The rose garden she created was expanded to form the current garden by Jeanne Gruniaux who continued to advise the present owners Pierre and Valérie de Courcels until her death.

The de Courcels have added their own deft and artistic touches to create a lovely garden full of colour, much of which comes from a superb use of annuals (poppies, larkspur, love-in-the-mist and aquilegia plus a sweet pea hedge).

A Visit to Château Beaulieu and the Bibémus quarries near Aix-en-Provence
On Thursday 6 October 2011 the Provence branch of the MGS joined forces with the Languedoc branch to visit the Château de Beaulieu near Rognes. Read the full report here.