Monday, August 20, 2012

Five Gorgeous Provence Gardens to Visit

 

Canadian-born Louisa Jones was teaching French literature at the University of Washington in Seattle when she met her French husband in 1968. Together they began to fix up an old farmhouse in southeastern France in 1975. Already a published academic author, Louisa began scouting out gardens in the region and then wrote her first best-selling book, Gardens in Provence. Roughly 30 titles have followed, in English and French, on contemporary French garden design, particularly in Provence. (Several are cookbooks written with chefs.) Her newest book, published this year, is Mediterranean Landscape Design: Vernacular Contemporary and a list of all her titles appears here. Every spring,  Louisa leads a tour of cutting-edge designer gardens in Provence, where she and her guests enjoy exclusive entry; you can learn more about these ''Garden Weeks in Provence'' by clicking here. Because so many of my readers are passionate about gardens, I asked Louisa to share some of her favorites with us...and she generously sent this report.

Until very recently, the best gardens in Provence were very private and impossible to visit. This is still true for many.  But more and more first rate gardens are opening up, many created with public visits in mind. Most of these have the French government label “Jardin remarquable.'' What time to visit? April gives you the real Provence spring, with wisteria, iris, banksia roses, the first artichokes and strawberries. May has the most flowers, especially roses, but the least local character. June and July bring lavender but everything else is beginning to suffer. In August, plants are struggling and the light is terrible. All the ethnobotanical gardens (such as the Jardin Medieval d’Uzès and the Prieuré de Salagon, both mentioned below) and food producing gardens (like the Jardin des Sambucs), are good in summer. Late September through November can be glorious in Mediterranean gardens, where vines, fruit trees and creepers provide wonderful colour.

Like many garden writers, I find that when I’m not near the garden I love (my own), I love the garden I’m near! It’s hard to have favorites when each garden must be taken on its own terms—no point visiting a cottage garden if you like minimalism. But some gardens in Provence, among the hundreds I have seen over the years, are still outstanding. And here are a few of my favorites. Happy traveling!  

La Louve (at Bonnieux in the Luberon) is a small terraced garden created by fashion stylist Nicole de Vésian between 1986 and 1996, when she was between the ages of 70 and 80. Beautiful in all seasons, it's now included in all anthologies of iconic gardens and has inspired designers and home gardeners worldwide. Its subtle, asymmetrical groupings of softly clipped shapes in greys, greens and beige lead the eye from house to garden to the wild landscape beyond. I was lucky to know Nicole de Vésian and to write a book about La Louve and her other, little known gardens called Modern Design in Provence: The Gardens of Nicole de Vesian. (The book is readily available in French but hard to find in English although they have it on Amazon.fr here. The English edition is just being reprinted and should be available soon on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, as well as in bookstores.) La Louve was bought in 1996 by art collector Judy Pillsbury who took good care of it but is now obliged to sell it again. Therefore, visiting conditions vary. For info, email judithpillsbury@gmail.com or contact the local Tourist Office.

Another great garden between Avignon and St. Rémy is Les Confines, the home of designer Dominique Lafourcade, which is now open for group visits. Dominique’s olive trees planted in huge Medici terracotta pots have been imitated from California to Australia.  Her “green garden” style with colorful seasonal accents is very different from Vésian’s, inspired by old country estates, not the wild scrubland of Provence.  The Lafourcade family (Dominique's husband Bruno and son Alexandre are highly regarded architects based in St. Remy) have created beautiful private domains all over Provence for many famous people. Visits to Les Confines are for groups only; to make an appointment contact laure.jakobiak@abc-lafourcade.fr.

In a completely different mode is the Jardin des Sambucs, in the Gard department west of the Rhône.  The owners, Agnès and Nicolas Brückin, began with land previously farmed by her family. It took them years to create with their own hands this amazing mix of plantsmanship and artistic imagination. Nicolas works with stone and Agnès with plants while their daughter Marie serves good light fresh food.  This is a pleasure garden for all the senses, rich with scents, hues and flavors, where visitors have a choice of shaded nooks for siestas,.  It is also a garden with a sense of humor, one of the most original I have seen.  You'll find opening hours, upcoming events and more on the website here

And finally for a completely different approach again, Provence has two first rate ethnobotanical gardens showing, in beautiful array, the many uses to which plants have been put through the ages. The first, west of the Rhone and tucked in the heart of a medieval town,  is the Jardin Medieval d’Uzès, the result of very hard work by three dedicated women who also make their own ceramic labels and mosaics, and who regularly hold art exhibits as well. 

In northeastern Provence, in the pre-Alps, is the Prieuré de Salagon, where a much larger series of four gardens surround the beautiful historic domain which is also a serious research center. 

For more info about Louisa Jones, visit her website here. You can also email her:ljones@orange.fr

Photos from top: 1-3: Les Confines. 4 & 5: La Louve. 6: Jardin Medieval d'Uzes.  7 & 8: Jardin des Sambucs.

15 comments:

  1. Dear Julie,

    Once again, you have taken us on a vicarious "thrill ride" through Provence!

    Absolutely fantastic, amazing, thank you for sharing this, terrific!

    Wish we were there now!

    Thank you for all you do to make Provence "come alive" for us, all highly appreciated.

    All the best,
    Bill Gottfried
    Houston

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  2. Wow need to add those to my list!

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  3. Heavenly. Some favor the stores, or museums, or restaurants....I always remember French gardens. Can't wait to see these in person having experienced them vicariously! Merci!

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  4. Julie,

    This was heavenly. Merci beaucoup!
    I looove the photos! These will be wonderful places to visit someday.

    On a bike trip crossing from Tuscany to the Alpes-Maritimes once, I toured the Jardin Exotique in Monaco. There were many succulents. In France, I loved cycling past the lavender fields and farms. Thank you for bringing back such a great memory.

    Of course, best of all was motor-scooting with you to the wine cave!

    Lots of love, a bientot,
    Susan

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  5. I love French gardens - these are beautiful!

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  6. Well, thank you, Jilie, for this remarkably informative posting. I'll probably be following the links all morning).

    I pulled down Jone's Gardens in Provence" and spent an afternoon going over it again (I've had it for several years) just a couple of days ago. Having bought a 220 year old house (along with an equally old, very large boxwood garden and any number of enoromous trees), I'm sitting back this Summer...slowly getting my tiny mind wrapped around whatever-it-is that I intend to "do" with/to the neglected gardens. Fortunately for me and my musings, "Gardens in Provence" is, in terms of explaining/illustrating principles of garden design, one of the two or three most useful books I have. There aren't, finally, that many books which I appreciate and enjoy equally as both a lovely, "Dream-away" picture book AND a practical guide to the subject.

    That said, my favorite book by Jones is one that, in America at least, doesn't seem to have ever quite garnered the attention it deserves (i.e., I never see it on "best of ___" lists, etcetera). The title is "Provence: A Country Almanac". Like "The Gardens of Provence" it's one of the most truly USEFUL books-on-Provence (and, as you'll know, there are THOUSANDS) I know of. Over the years, it's been the one book I give to anyone who's planning a trip to Provence.

    Its only problem (not that Jones would have had much, if any, say in this) is the cover design....which leads folks (including me, initially) to assume that it's one of those books filled with detachble postcards.

    In any case and as usual, you're right....Jones is just a marvellously well-informed, clear, and genuinely helpful writer.

    thanks again for the posting and all the links,
    David Terry
    www.davidterryart.com

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  7. HI Julie! Thanks for this gorgeous post! I will make it a point to visit next trip.

    Hope your summer is wonderful!

    bisou

    Kit

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  8. Julie, thank you! While in Cannes, we did a day trip to Haute Provence area and visited the Salagon gardens. Magnificient.
    Thank you so much for creating awareness of these local treasures.

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  9. Amazing! Programm to next sunday! Thanks and came to visit me when you wish: www.naprovence.com
    Bye!

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  10. The gardens look amazing!!! I love the color! These are real herb gardens I take it? It must be nice to going out on a yard and simply pick the choicest ingredients and cook to your hearts content knowing the pieces you are adding are direct from your yard. Lots of kudos to the ones who keep them growing.

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  11. I just love it when you do my research for me! Thanks for the great ideas. I don't see my little terrace garden on this list, however!

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  12. Great post! Thank you for the info and inspiration that comes with it.
    Bisous - Noelle

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  13. Dear Julie,

    What a wonderful tour this was ! Hard to tell which garden is the most beautiful.... All of them are exquisite and each one has its own personality.
    Thanks for this beautiful trip.

    All the best from windy Florida !!!
    Anne

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  14. Many thanks for this inspiring article. Indeed, it is always a privilege to access some of the exquisite private gardens in the region. The nice surprise is that you don't always get what you expected, but keep discovering a rich variation of what we call the art of garden design.

    Whenever you're in Provence, I suggest you all to drive more to the east and visit some of the exceptional public gardens from the Alpes Maritimes - Ephrussi de Rotschild Gardens (www.villa-ephrussi.com/en), Jardin du Val Rameh (www.jardins-menton.fr/Jardin-botanique-exotique-du-Val), Serre de la Madonne (www.serredelamadone.com) or Hanbury Gardens in Italy, near the French border (www.giardinihanbury.com).

    Stefana Savin - Landscape Designer
    www.riviera-gardens.com

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