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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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
Tel. : + 33664961954