Born in Hampshire, England, James Clay is an artist and sculptor who has lived in St. Remy for almost 20 years. There he has created a gorgeous one-hectare garden, filled with fruit, palm, pine and olive trees (he has 60 olive trees, all of them transplanted), plus many varieties of bamboo, flowering plants and shrubs. James knows pretty much everything about gardening in Provence. Plus, he likes to drink. Plus, he likes to write. So each month here on ProvencePost.com, he serves up some essential gardening tips...with appropriate drink suggestions. This month, James revisits the beguiling Château de Roussan in St. Remy, recently breathed back into life by Philippe Roussel, whose family has owned the property for three generations. Now that the château has beeen lovingly "conserved," the Roussels are once again running it as a very special hotel--and the gardens are more magical than ever.
I found my ‘Secret Garden’ just down the road, in fact a short bicycle ride away.
Years ago, I was cycling home from the village and thought it would be an interesting idea to try to find other ways back so, with this in mind, I turned down the next lane and continued due west. Rounding a corner, not much further along, I had to stop so I could take in the beauty of all that was before me. As in some Arcadian landscape painting of the 17th century, there was a shepherd guarding his flock of sheep which were grazing in a large meadow; an avenue of ancient, stately plane trees were reflected in a bassin in which a pair of swans were gliding among the shadows; and there set back, almost unseen, stood a glorious chateau. This was one of those moments in life of sheer contentment.
No doubt about it, I had to investigate.
Abandoning my bike, I headed off on foot toward the bassin to get a closer view of the chateau and its surrounding park. I could make out some massive bamboos in the distance and a structure that the sunlight seemed to dance around and through. Following one of the streams that fed the bassin, I made my way eventually between the bamboos and entered into my very own 'secret garden' and there in front of me stood an old abandoned glasshouse with many of its panes smashed or missing, the sunlight darting and dazzling as it played on the fractured glass. Pushing open the rusty, hinged door, I stepped inside and instantly felt the heat roll over me. Some cacti had decided to make a break for it and were heading off out through the broken roof. I was reminded of a song written by Gilbert and Sullivan where the lines run: 'There's a fascination frantic in a ruin that's romantic."
In the song, the ruin is one of Gilbert’s elderly, ugly ladies but here it was the building that appeared to ask, “Do you think I am sufficiently decayed?”
Outside again, I could hear water gushing away and made toward it, passing through more giant bamboo. I came upon another bassin, this time stone-edged with crumbling statues placed around it. Carp were cutting through the water at speed in every direction as if wanting to say to me “Look at us! Aren't we the fastest, smartest fish ever?” Beyond the bassin, at the end of an overgrown path, lay the chateau, so complete in its surroundings that it appeared to have grown there rather than to have been built. Mellow stone, roman tiles, peeling ox blood red painted shutters, the main door of wood in golden rich yellows through ochre. One could only imagine all the people over the centuries who had passed through it. To the left of the door, up high on the wall, is a sundial, below which is carved the motto/phrase: "Horas Non Numero Nisi Serenas."
In English it may be translated as I count only the serene hours. Now there is food for thought!
But rather than food, how about a drink? Nectar was the drink of the Gods and, as I believed myself to be then in Arcadia, a cocktail along those lines seems like a good idea. So here's a recipe which includes tequila (the Gods knew all about tequila...I am convinced of that).
1.5oz Tequila gold
75oz Grand Marnier
Freshly squeezed lemons/limes to taste.
Throw in some ice if April heats up, as it should!
It's almost 20 years since I discovered my own 'secret garden' and the pure delight of finding it remains with me to this day--as it will until I shuffle off this mortal coil! (Hopefully to Acardia but somehow I doubt it).
As with everything, nothing stays the same. But in this case, I have only good news to report: the Château de Roussan was recently reclaimed by its original owners (of many years standing) who have lavished time, care and good taste in 'conserving' their beautiful home and gardens. It's doors are now open to us if we care to go and stay. Yes, it may be an hotel but, believe me, it is a very special one.
Château de Roussan
From the US: (011) 33 4 90 90 79 00
From France: 04 90 90 79 00
Painting: Chateau de Roussan by James Clay.