Bernard ChapmanA garden in Provence

My partner and I decided to celebrate 35 years together by holidaying in Europe, mainly France. We had always wanted to see and smell the lavender fields of Provence during the heat of summer, so we rented a house in a hamlet near the village of Roussillon. The hamlet was not especially charming, but the pretty house had a lovely balance of creature comfort, French quirkiness, and stylish decor. However, what made the experience truly special, especially for me as a horticulturist, was the garden behind the house.

The garden in front of the house

The garden in front of the house

Apart from the fact that the garden has a mulberry tree planted by Henri IV’s head gardener, Olivier de Serres in 1600, we found the garden extraordinary and surprisingly sculptural; a haze of flowering lavender, frothy ornamental grasses, startling yellow broom, juxtaposed with precisely clipped buxus balls. There are apparently around one hundred box balls throughout the garden, which helps to underline the sense of perspective and also the depth of the space.

A mulberry tree planted in the 17th century, Provence

A mulberry tree planted in the 17th century, Provence

The garden was planted around eight years ago, designed by the owner Didier Paupart. Horticulturist Pierre Ducruet managed the installation of the garden. One of the elements that makes the garden so successful is the contrast and balance of the formal and the wild.

Repeated geometric shapes, wild and tamed

Repeated geometric shapes, wild and tamed

Another factor that makes the garden such a strong statement is that not only is there a strong horizontal plane but also a vertical one. Tightly clipped phallic cupressus, three centrally placed, punch dramatically skyward. There are several more of these conifers, equally clipped and shaved, along the eastern boundary. They frame the garden, and enhance the feeling of closure and definition.

The garden has three main areas, with the ball and lavender section as the final statement. It is also the largest. Directly behind the house near the aged mulberry tree is a small terrace with minimal planting, basically a table and chairs towered over by a couple of small fruiting fig trees, and quite a climb to the terrace via rocky steps!

The tiered entertaining area

The tiered entertaining area

The next area, covered in crushed grey quartz, is designed as a living and entertaining zone. It has a wrought iron pergola-like corridor (complete with finials), which embraces this gently tiered area. On the metal structure there is the climbing rose, ‘Pierre de Ronsard’ (two plants), along with a grape vine. Behind the structure on the eastern side there is a stand of bamboo, which also gives the area a lovely soft sense of enclosure.

The view from the western side of the garden

The view from the western side of the garden

On the eastern side, the view is open, expansive, framed only by the grape vine, exposing the stunning outlook of the ochre and sienna covered hills that has made Roussillon famous, and was what attracted the Impressionist painters to come here to use the pigments for their paints.

Dining al fresco in the garden

Dining al fresco in the garden

The most dominant feature of the middle area, apart from the wrought iron corridor, is a wrought iron day bed, known as a ‘lit à la Polonaise’, with a high Empire style crown. Like the pergola, the bed was designed by the owner and it is made to his precise specifications. Provençal-style glazed pots contain further examples of clipped balls, which help to link this area to the back part of the garden.

Although the entertainment area is certainly attractive, and useful with its several seating areas, in both sun and shade, it is the theatrical experience of the final section that makes the garden special. At the beginning of the final statement that is the rear of the garden, the rhythm of the balls curls around a cushion of clipped heath. The balls continue to run along a gravel path like a serpent.

The theatrical back area

The theatrical back area

From here the rhythm carries the eye toward the mature flowering apple and pear trees that form the back boundary of the property and the backdrop to the drama.

The almost string-of-pearls design of the balls is punctuated and framed with the other shrubs and perennials that give the garden its colour and, dare I say it, movement! The most dominant is the lavender, naturally Lavandula dentata. Its mauve haze is ably complimented by the bright yellow of the broom (Cytisus spp.) and the white-hot glow of the grasses.

The lower garden beside the house

The lower garden beside the house

The garden is artistic and a little mysterious. It actually appears larger than it physically is in a tardis kind of way. The other design feature that is so successful in the garden is how the eye of the viewer is drawn into the distance. It encourages the visitor to want to go beyond and see what other delights might be discovered.

Probably the designer’s greatest success is that although it is a wonderful garden to look at, it is even more successful as one to sit in, wander in and work in. I suppose it is fair to say it is a living work of art!

If you would like to stay in this charming cottage in Provence, contact:

Cottage “Lou Amourie”
c/o Didier Paupart
Les Ferriers
F-85220 Roussillon
Tel. : + 33664961954

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20 thoughts on “A garden in Provence

    • Dear Linda, How kind of you to read the story. I don’t know if you know that part of Provence (near Roussillon), but it is sensational, colourful and memorable scenery!

      It was indeed wonderful to sit and dine in the garden on a warm sunny night.The photo of the meal at the table in the garden was of a delicious duck meal cooked after a day at the nearby Coustellet markets.

      A good bottle of French red also improved the quality of the experience! Cheers, Bernard

  1. Bernard you are a beautiful writer! Your entry took me on a journey, as if I was actually wandering around this stunning and unique garden…you certainly made me wish I was! Divine xx

    • Dear Jane, Thank you for your kind comments. It was certainly a delight to enjoy the garden, and it is a great pleasure to share its beauty with others who may one day get to see it for themselves! Hugs, Bernard

    • Dearest Gabi and John, You may not have been in our pockets, but always in our hearts! I hope when we live in France you will come and stay with us, and we can share the magic together. Hugs, Bernard

    • Dear Lyndal, How lovely to hear from you. It is not only the visual beauty that one remembers, but how all the senses were touched. The smell of lavender takes me back to the garden, and a good duck dinner reminds me of the beautiful meal Edward made after we had a day at the Coustellet market! I hope we can catch up soon. Hugs, Bernard

  2. Hi Bernard

    Wonderful article. Hilary and I know the area very well having stayed at various houses in That region of Provence. How lucky you were. There is just so much to see and do in this stunning part of France.

    • Dear Peter, How lovely to hear from you! I hope you are going well now. Our holiday was a great experience, and we have some great photos of many European gardens and parks. Unfortunately we didn’t get there this year, but maybe next, for my 60th! Hugs, Bernard

  3. Yum yum yum yum yum.

    Thanks Bernard for the joy of your lovely post and pics. In love with the stone steps, the set table, the views and I have a question: does the 17th century mulberry tree still fruit?

    • Dear Julie,

      Thanks for the kind words. We didn’t even realise the garden was there when we rented the house, so it was a great bonus!

      The tree doesn’t fruit, and I am unsure if it ever did. I know it was planted by de Serres so he could use the leaves for silk worms and ultimately silk production for Henry IV. Cheers, Bernard

    • Dear Jeff,

      Thanks for the comments. I hope your are well and that your life is full of lots of positive experiences! Cheers, Bernard

  4. Bernard, you done good. What an excellent place to stay and even better to write about it so glowingly. Thank you

    • Thank you, Paul, it means a lot someone with your abilities saying such kind words!

      I hope you get the house together quickly.Such things can be a nightmare! Hugs, Bernard

  5. Ciao Bernard & Edward,

    This beautifully written article gave me a little glimpse into your adventure. I could even smell the lavender!

    When are you moving to France? : )



    • Thank you, Helen, for your kind words. Edward and I hope that one day we will spend at least a year in France. It will probably be in The Langeudoc, not Provence, but first we need to apply for the extended visa and get accepted. At this stage, we cannot go any sooner than three years time, except maybe for a visit!

      Hugs, Bernard

    • Merci, Stuart. J’espère que tu vas bien.

      En fait, Edouard et moi serons de nouveau en France à Septembre. Principalement, à Nice. Pendant ce trajet, nous allons aussi visiter en Italie et à Berlin.

      Amicalement, Bernard

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