Glorious French gardens

Water feature at les Jardins de Quercy

I’m not talking about the big formal gardens of Versailles or Villandry, but about gardens that their owners have created and carefully tended. Last weekend was Rendez-Vous Aux Jardins in France. Thousands of gardens, big and small, formal and informal, from parks to potagers, opened their gates to visitors.

We visited two gardens in our area. I’ve written recently in these pages about the difficulties of gardening in this terrain and with our climate. The people who created these gardens have surmounted these problems to create delightful and restful spaces, bursting with colour and imagination.

La Barrière, 82160 Lacapelle Livron

The former owner, Catherine, painted watercolours and made greetings cards from her own photos. She and her husband restored a barn next to their house and turned it into an art gallery. When this post was first written, they combined opening the gallery with allowing visitors into their wonderful walled garden. Catherine’s creativity spilled over into her gardening and her art reflected her love of plants.

My mother, who died a few years ago, would have loved this garden – as indeed I do. I would describe it as controlled disorder, but I mean this as a compliment. Vegetables rub shoulders with herbs, flowers and shrubs in the borders. Every inch of wall is covered with climbing plants, including roses that are a riot of colour. A large Pawllonia presides over the garden, but does not dominate.

Gravelled paths bisect the borders and there are secret corners where you can sit and enjoy the peace and the hum of thousands of bees profiting from the profusion of flowers. My photos fail to do it justice.

Shady corner at La Barrière

The owners sold up and moved back to the UK several years after this post was first written. I don’t believe the new owners open the garden to the public.

Les Jardins de Quercy, Cambou, 82330 Verfeil-sur-Seye

This is also a private garden, but it covers an entire hectare of land on a ridge overlooking the rolling countryside of the Seye Valley. The Ministère de la Culture has designated it a ‘Jardin Remarquable’. The owners, against all the odds, have created a succession of exterior ‘rooms’ with planting inspired by English gardens.

Flower border with lilies

To get there, you drive along a narrow, rutted track and, just as you think you must have gone wrong, a sign points you into the car park. You can follow the marked trail around the garden, or simply wander wherever you like.

As we strolled along one of the paths between borders dedicated to white plants and shrubs, the French owner came and introduced himself. He explained that he started work in 1989 with one border at the top of a field. Since then, he has created a border per year and extended the garden down the hill. The soil is rocky, poor and often clay, exactly like ours, but he has imported decent soil and enriched it with compost made on site. He installed an automatic watering system several years ago. You’d have to; I wouldn’t like to do that lot with a watering can.

White border at Les Jardins de Quercy

The garden is in two parts. The upper section is composed of narrow paths, hedges and borders. The lower section comprises a large lawn with borders in different colours and a series of small, themed gardens. Blue and white predominate. There are ponds, fountains and plenty of places to sit. The garden is all the more remarkable for the contrast it presents with the surrounding countryside.

We spent an hour wandering around it and could easily have spent more. We will certainly go back; there is a lot more to discover.

Open every weekend from mid-May to end September, 10h00 to 19h00, and on weekday afternoons in July and August.  Entry 5 Euros.

Directions: marked with red arrows from both Varen and Verfeil. Tel: 05 63 65 46 22.

Copyright © 2010 A writer’s lot in France, all rights reserved


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