Bonne année. Meilleurs vœux, surtout pour la santé. (Happy New Year. Best wishes, especially for good health). The French utter these talismanic greetings for the first couple of weeks of January, usually accompanied by a flurry of kisses and handshakes. This year, the health bit has a particular resonance. For obvious reasons, we haven’t seen many people at all, and kissing and handshaking are out when we do. We miss the contact.
To add to all the other toxic things going on, the weather this winter has been dreadful: either wet or freezing cold. We had the worst October and December in our 23 years here, relieved only by the best November. January is tuning up to receive the “worst of…” award, too.
The SF (Statistics Freak and resident weather expert) has a new toy: a digital thermometer that tells you the temperature and humidity levels both outside and in the house. You can also find out what the highest and lowest temperatures are over 24 hours or all-time. The coldest night we’ve had this year was last weekend at minus 8.9C.
However, we are going in the right direction. The evenings are perceptibly drawing out, even on the grimmer days. The cuckoo will arrive in a couple of months. The temperature dropped to minus 4.7 C last night, but the sun has made a rare appearance today, making the frosty grass sparkle.
I think we all need cheering up, so today I’m posting photos of favourite French gardens: a reminder that spring will arrive sooner or later. Some of them can be visited, others are private (see below). Being outside, they are (mostly) not subject to the more stringent Covid restrictions of museums and indoor attractions, which are currently closed. However, if planning a visit, it’s sensible to check first.
I could have included Monet’s garden in Giverny as well, which we visited several years ago, but I’ve stayed within our region for this post. You’ll find a link at the end to the Giverny post I wrote.
Enjoy and dream of warmer and better times.
Les Jardins de Quercy
This inspirational garden – or series of gardens, really – was created from very unpromising farmland on a hill between Verfeil and Varen. The owners keep adding “rooms” with a theme. It’s open to the public (check out the website).
Having visited several times, I have masses of photos of the garden, but these are among my favourites.
Cahors’ secret gardens
In 2002, the city of Cahors established 22 gardens linked by a marked trail of brass acanthus leaves set into the pavements. The idea was to improve and highlight unused municipal spaces and to feature medieval plants, herbs and vegetables as well as illustrating the medieval way of life.
You can download a guide from the tourist office site or obtain it from the tourist office itself. In normal times, guided tours can be arranged, but I think these gardens are best discovered while wandering around the town.
Here are a few of them.
Le Château de Bournazel
The present owners bought the Aveyron château more than a decade ago and have been restoring it ever since. One of the projects involved restoring the formal Renaissance garden below the château. This was a labour of meticulous research, since the gardens were destroyed during the Wars of Religion and abandoned after that.
We visited one very bright but blustery October day. We realised how much work it must involve to keep this pristine garden in impeccable condition. The château and garden are normally open to the public but are currently closed due to Covid.
I came across this delightful medieval garden by chance when taking a path back uphill to Peyrusse-le-Roc (Aveyron) from the medieval town and the River Audierne below. Had I chosen a different route, I wouldn’t have found it.
The raised beds incorporate medicinal plants and herbs that were known and used in medieval times. They include woad (Isatis tinctoria), which was so important to the regional economy during the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance as the basis of the blue dye, pastel.
It’s not clear if the garden is private or belongs to the commune. Whichever, it is laid out in a way to invite you in, and the plants are clearly labelled.
Catherine left France several years ago. She approached her garden in Lacapelle Livron, created over more than 20 years, with a painter and photographer’s eye. Vegetables and herbs rubbed shoulders with shrubs and flowers in the borders, and climbing roses foamed over the walls. This was a private garden, only occasionally open. As far as I know, the present owners do not open it.
Do you have a favourite French garden? Do tell us about it.
You might also like:
Virtual Visits: A French Country Garden
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Hi Vanessa. What lovely pictures, really lifted my spirits, and we shall try to make a visit to see some of those gardens later this year. We’re near the Pyrenees so not too far. For now you have inspired me to dig out a little herb circle, to be planted with a rose in the middle, and mint, thyme etc in the segments. A rather more humble effort than these impressive gardens but precious to me! MaryJane
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Hi Mary Jane, I’m pleased you liked the post. Our area, as you’ll know, is not the best for gardening, but I’m impressed by the lovely gardens people have created by sheer hard work and vision. Your herb circle sounds a great idea. Not humble at all. I might try that if I can find a patch of garden that can be dug without hitting boulders!