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The French Languedoc Branch of the MGS

Past Events

October 2011
A Visit to Château Beaulieu and the Bibémus quarries near Aix-en-Provence
On Thursday 6 October 2011 the Provence branch of the MGS joined forces with the Languedoc branch to visit the Château de Beaulieu near Rognes. This privately owned wine domaine of 300 hectares, of which 140 are planted as with vines, has been undergoing major refurbishment of both house and garden. The estate, which is situated on an extinct volcano, has gardens which were originally laid out in the 18th century. Many changes have been made over the years, but during the last five, Atelier Alep, under the guidance of Philippe Deliau, has restored the area closest to the house into classic simple garden rooms and created new axes which give long sweeping views from the house.

Axis looking south towards the Orangerie

On the west side of the house is an 18-century geometric labyrinth in box

And beside it a magnificent newly-constructed basin-type swimming pool

Philippe likes to use endemic plants in an ornamental way, for example, he has created a long, mixed hedge using green and white oaks, Viburnum tinus, Pistacia lentiscus and Buxus sempervirens.

Mixed hedge

Rebecca Engels had very generously offered her lovely garden above Aix-en-Provence for us to enjoy our shared lunch. This was followed by a visit to the tranquil and brooding Bibémus quarries, last worked in the 18th century.
It was here that Paul Cézanne painted 14 masterpieces using the oddly sculpted rocks, the amber sandstone, green pines and Provençal blue sky as his inspiration.

The quarries have been sympathetically landscaped by Philippe Deliau. He has created a circuit with paths, wooden walkways and platforms in order for visitors to be able to compare the landscape with reproductions of the paintings created there by Cézanne. Intervention has been minimal, allowing trees and shrubs to spring up at many levels and preserving the peaceful atmosphere of the site.

Text by Nicola D’Annunzio
Photographs by Nicola D’Annunzio and Christine Savage

Late September 2011
La Soldanelle -  Portes Ouvertes
Around a hundred garden enthusiasts gathered for this annual event, timed perfectly for buying mediterranean plants. In addition to our hosts, MGS members Sylvie and Christian Mistre, a number of other specialists in dry garden plants were there to give talks, proffer advice and show off their range of rare and interesting varieties. Our MGS stand was perfectly placed by the coffee and cantuccini stall and volunteer members from the Provence and Languedoc branches talked to visitors about the society, distributed leaflets and showed off our albums of photographs of members’ gardens. At lunchtime there was a break to enjoy a picnic and to chat with old and new gardening friends.

Early September 2011
Visit to gardens in Eygalières and Noves with Marc Nucera - Listening to the Trees
Earlier this month, still in high summer heat, the members of the Languedoc branch were privileged to spend the day in the company of Marc Nucera, renowned tree sculptor and 'shaper'.

With Marc as our guide, forty-five of us visited the private gardens of Mas Benoît and Mas de Michel, both close to Eygalières, in the foothills of the Alpilles. Marc started his career as the student and disciple of the professor, sculptor and then garden designer and Land Art practitioner Alain-David Idoux.  Although Idoux died tragically young, he left behind a legacy of ground-breaking design, including that of the beautiful Mas Benoît. The garden surrounding this traditional Provençal farmhouse or mas lies on a low hill with the magnificent backdrop of the Alpilles in the distance. Lines of sight to the horizon are emphasised by the approach path of grasses and clipped cypress trees in the foreground.

We admired Idoux’s spiral of field stones and almond trees in the meadow and the clipped cistuses, santolinas and rosemaries planted under olive trees pruned by Marc.

The triangular field of lavender was breathtaking and the enchanting copse of Quercus ilex, delicately shaped by Marc, with its stone bench created a defined space of calm and reflection.

Working with Idoux, Marc learned to adapt and formulate his own style, encouraged also by local garden designers and friends, including Dominique Lafourcade and the legendary Nicole de Vésian.

And so to Mas de Michel, where we saw Marc’s guiding principles in action: adaption to environmental constraints, respect for the subject and harmony of the ensemble. Armed only with a chainsaw (a paradoxical tool for such a calm, natural and Zen man), Marc set out to sculpt the trees – both living and dead – to effect the minimum intervention consistent with bringing out the best in the innate structure of the tree in front of him.

He adopted some simple strategies to open up the land around the mas to create a natural flow of space. The entrance and driveway to the house were moved from the side of the house to the back and olive trees were re-sited into the middle distance to throw the eye towards the horizon, whilst at the same time becoming part of it.

A border of pebbles was added around a terrace so that it became proportionate to and balanced the façade of the house behind: a simple and elegant device. Gravel or stone platforms around the base of certain tree trunks subtly highlighted the carefully considered and tactical pruning. Other astonishing pruning of a hedge of box produced breathtaking results.

His work encourages the visitor to look at the garden in new ways, literally. We enjoyed descending into a viewing pit sunk into the wild flower meadow to sit on seats at the same height as the adjoining soil surface, the better to appreciate being amongst the grasses and flowers.Then we climbed up on to a simple viewing platform to look down on the old almond orchard, only to find our eyes being drawn towards the previously hidden view of the magnificent Mont Ventoux in the distance.

After a shared picnic lunch in Marc’s own experimental garden “Le Terrain” in nearby Noves, we marvelled at his sculptured hommages to Hans Arp, Constantin Brancusi and Louise Bourgeois and he explained to us what he was seeking to achieve with his work. He “intervenes” with his trees to enhance them and highlight their best features to enable them to be read more clearly within the landscape in which they are set.

Marc talked of his veneration and respect for all trees - not just living trees but those that are in the process of dying, or which are now dead. He has spent many years saving some of the centuries-old trees “les patriarches et les remarquables” of Provence. But when these ancient trees have finally died, he has kept their hearts, literally. Taking wood from their core, he sculpts huge cubes, often into benches and chairs so you can sit within the very soul of a tree that took hundreds of years to grow.

To transform a dead tree into a work of art is a way of continuing its cycle. In giving it a new form, there is rebirth. Examples of Marc’s extraordinary and thought-provoking work in his own garden and at Mas Benoît, Mas de Michel, La Verrière, La Louve and other gardens in our area can be admired in his book “A l’écoute des arbres” with a foreword by Louisa Jones (published by Actes Sud).

It is not often that a garden visit enables us to contemplate our own mortality so vividly: this was a special day when we did so and it will not be forgotten by those who were there.

Text and photographs by Sara Robinson.

June 2011
A visit to Le Clos Pascal in the village of Ménerbes in the Luberon
On a perfect summer's day some 40 members assembled from as far as Grasse in the east and Montpellier in the west to visit Le Clos Pascal which may well be described as a 'hidden gem' not only for its quality, but because those who failed to follow the given directions correctly would find it, although it was unknown to shopkeepers a few hundred metres distant. It is situated not far from the centre of the classic hilltop town of Ménerbes in the beautiful Luberon valley, which has national park status.

The garden was created some twenty years ago by the owner and designer of the better known La Louve garden, Nicole de Vésian. Every garden is different, but in its combination of style and terrain Le Clos Pascal has a particular quality which stays in the memory. It divides itself into two very distinct parts although throughout there is the unifying style of topiary at which the French excel.

The first is the jardin, a large rectangular lawn edged with clipped box shapes and dotted with mature trees, one a plane tree, surrounded by boules of Teucrium fruticans. In a corner is seating with a box surround.

The jardin

Nicole de Vésian’s signature curved seating

To the side and below there is a pool edged with attractively weathered stone. From the jardin a shady walkway lined with pines and clipped tilleuls (linden trees), and at ground level more shaped box and teucrium, takes you to the parc. Flat this is not. The steeply sloping site faces south-west with views of the Montagne du Luberon. The soil is shallow, alkaline and stony. Many years previously terraces had been created for farming purposes but had long since fallen into disrepair. Nicole de Vésian specified the reworking of the terraces using reclaimed local stone. The gardener, Stéphan, has been there since the garden's inception and testifies to the extent of the work involved and the attention to detail.

The parc

Given the conditions, the plants have been chosen for their drought resistance and watering is done only as needed in high summer. Tree-shading on some of the upper terraces has made possible a wonderfully verdant feel in contrast to those below. Stéphan who was kindly on hand to answer any questions, remarked that had we come two weeks previously it would not have looked so green, but a long period of dry heat had given way at the beginning of June to several days of much needed rain.

To show that you can do anything with box, there was a wooden bench next to a small flight of box steps set above some stone ones – "a bit theatrical" said one member "but I do like it!".

Box steps echo stone ones

One of the most charming (though not helpful if one wanted to harvest the olives) features was an avenue of olive trees under-planted with lavender. Steps led down and back towards the house.

Avenue of olive trees

Steps perfumed by the flowers of Trachelospermum jasminoides

As the temperature climbed we were pleased to enjoy some refreshing soft drinks before the majority of the party adjourned to Amanda and Jason Spencer-Cooke's peaceful courtyard and garden where not only was shade somehow provided for all, but Amanda plied us with a series of goodies including savoury tarts, desserts and a magnificent cheese board.
Text and Photographs Guy Cheeseman.

May 2011
A two-day excursion to look at cistuses and other garrigue plants in natural and garden settings

Day 1 - Fontfroide Abbey, near Narbonne.

A beautiful day, warm and sunny. M. Filippi took a large group of us on a ramble through the garrigue, stopping frequently to point out certain plants and particularly the extraordinary nature, diversity and infrastructure of the garrigue itself.

Olivier Filippi addresses the faithful

Of vital importance is the air trapped within the growing medium – even within rocks which contain cracks full of air allowing plants to flourish. Cistuses were everywhere, and these incredibly beautiful and intriguing plants have developed over aeons to exist under harsh conditions. Some species are acid-loving, others lime-loving; hybrids have developed which share the genes of both parents, able to thrive in both acid and alkaline conditions. Of course there are no fertilisers or herbicides in the garrigue, which would be fatal to cistuses as they depend on beneficial mycorrhiza which could be killed.  The message continuously drummed into us was that if we want a successful mediterranean garden, then we must duplicate these natural conditions of the garrigue -  no watering, no chemicals.

The garrigue has developed with help from fire and sheep. Pine trees are an invitation to fire, M. Filippi told us, comparing pine cones to hand grenades just waiting to explode. Without fire or grazing, the pines would overcrowd the plants below, greatly reducing the natural diversity.

Typical garrigue plants have sticky leaves and are covered in essential oils which protect them both from heat and from insect predators. When the leaves fall after three years they form a natural weed-killing mulch with which few plants can compete. We were shown a small black ladybird-like insect, Scymnus, the larvae of which eat aphids.

Good drainage is vital for garrigue plants. M. Filippi mentioned the mediterranean gardens at Kew which were formed from huge banks of rocks filled with sand and soil in order to achieve such drainage. We were told about the disadvantages of organic mulch, including the fact that it helps the propagation of fungal diseases like Phytophthora. For the many garrigue plants sensitive to Phytophtora, it is better to use mineral mulches, e.g. gravel.


Studying garrigue plants

A small patch of Hieracium was spotted, described as an excellent ground-cover plant because of its ability to suppress any weeds trying to grow near it. About mid-morning we descended a steep rocky path back to the Abbey; M. Filippi offered a beer to the first person to fall, but there were no takers!

A steep rocky path

After a wonderfully informative and inspiring morning, we had lunch, some having brought picnics and the others taking advantage of the very well-appointed Abbey restaurant.

After lunch we were taken in hand by local pépinièriste Gill Pound, who guided us through the Abbey’s terraced gardens. Gill is English but speaks excellent French, to the satisfaction of the good mixture of French/English-speaking members.

After the French Revolution, the Abbey had fallen into ruins until bought from the state by a wealthy local family in 1901. The family still owns the Abbey and restoration is ongoing. Extensive rose gardens were planted first, then work started on the terraces. Here the aim has been to create a series of gardens filled with plants which the monks themselves might have grown. There are a number of separate areas - a shady ‘Under the Trees’ garden, a meditation garden, a medicinal garden, one to encourage bees, a garden to ‘charm the senses’, a utility garden for obtaining dyes, soaps etc, a witches’ garden for potions, powders and decoctions, a Renaissance terrace in 15th/16th century style and finally Neptune’s Terrace surrounded by cypresses dominated by a large statue of Neptune.

The terraces are laid out in a very imaginative manner, encouraging one to wander and investigate the many little turnings and cul-de-sacs.

A terrace in the Abbey garden

Day 2 - Home and nursery of Olivier Filippi
Day two saw us meeting at the font of mediterranean dry gardening, the home and nursery of Olivier Filippi. We felt privileged to be led by the owner himself, whose in-depth knowledge and enthusiasm are an inspiration. He cultivates over 2,000 different plants and seemed to have memorised all their botanical names which he could draw upon instantly.

Olivier Filippi’s garden

An interesting part of his display is a series of ‘alternative lawns’ for dry gardens, for example Trifolium fragiferum or strawberry lawn which is pleasant to walk on. I always smile when I recall a line in his book which says “if you want a green grass lawn then perhaps you should move to Cornwall”.  He stressed the importance of encouraging plants to develop a deep root system in their first year, showing us examples of his new planting where the plants are planted in a deep watering basin or cuvette into which 30 litres of water are poured once a month in summer.

New plants in their cuvette

The nursery is on the edge of the Bassin de Thau, a large seawater basin famous for the farming of oysters. His soil is very alkaline, pH 8.1. To create an experimental area for growing acid-loving plants, he has imported tons of acid soil to create a large, raised area, about a metre high.

M. Filippi is one of the few people in the world engaged in the hand pollination of Cistus to produce hybrids which can withstand both acid and lime soils.

Cistus x ledon

He talked about the wonders of propagation, explaining how after collecting wild cistus seeds, we can increase their chances of growing by 95% by rubbing them between two sheets of sandpaper for 30 seconds.

 Pine trees are dotted sparingly throughout the gardens and we were told that these are beneficial to the cistuses – keeping them dry and providing some shade. He demonstrated again the importance of mineral mulching, telling us that he uses a vast quantity of a particular gravel he described as cinque-douze to a depth of 6-8 cm. The gravel not only suppresses weeds, but helps self-seeding of the plants.

The day ended far too soon with a cool drink and a speciality of the area – small pies filled with octopus meat – delicious! I left for home feeling totally inspired, and wishing that I had learned these lessons years ago before I made so many mistakes in my own garden.

Text: Nick Westcott. Photos: Sandra Cooper and Catriona Mclean'

April 2011
A two-day event that featured three very different gardens: the Jardin Méditerranéen at Roquebrun and two members' gardens
Roquebrun is a garden run by an association, the C.A.D.E. (Collectif Agricole pour le Développement et l'Environnement). As well as running the garden, the association has as its objective the preservation of endangered species and research into aromatic and medicinal plants. In 1988 the association recuperated a site that had been abandoned for a hundred years. Dominated by a Carolingian tower, the garden is on a south-facing cliff overlooking the Orb river; protected by dolomitic hills from the Tramontane wind, it benefits from a microclimate which enables many exotic plants to grow.

Christophe gave us a tour filled with the history of the garden and the village, snippets about culinary uses of the plants (his grandmother put the leaves of Aphyllanthes monspeliensis into salads), quirks of information (orange tree leaves are lobed and lemon tree leaves are scalloped), as well as descriptions of the plants. They are encouraged to grow as naturally as possible and there are plants growing from every crevice and cranny. These walls, crevices and crannies are the result of 1600 tons of material being carried up by man and donkey. No chemicals have been used in the garden for the last ten years.

Christophe’s introductory talk

The garden is on three levels, the lowest being the hottest, having the most exotic plants. There were palms, cacti, succulents and lots of citrus trees - these grow throughout the village, and the scent was a delight as we climbed up to the garden. There is a collection of mimosas, with an unusual blue-grey-leaved one, Acacia baileyana 'Purpurea'. On the highest level there are plants of the region; I liked the way the Pistacia lentiscus had been cut to form dense masses, in some places spilling over the rocks. Christophe said he thought the most interesting of the 4000 plants in the garden is the Leuzea conifera (syn. Centaura conifera)a short, grey-leaved plant with a creamy yellow flower. Once common in the garrigue, it has been over-picked for its decorative cone-like seed head and is now rare, and Christophe is pleased that it has taken at Roquebrun. Many of the plants came from cuttings donated by such prestigious institutions as the botanical garden at Monaco.

The following day we visited two members' gardens. Jenny's garden was a wonderful contrast to Roquebrun; flat, walled and curvaceous with a backdrop of cypresses in the cemetery to the north-east, terraced limestone hills to the north-west, an open vista with a line of trees to the south-west. The house, with a terrace running the length of it, looks out over the garden.

Jenny's garden

The Orb valley soil in the garden is heavy clay except for a newly created raised bed. It is immediately obvious that Jenny loves plants. The variety is stunning. Lots of roses were in bloom including Rosa chinensis 'Sanguinea' and starting to climb vigorously up an ash tree, Rosa 'Mme Alfred Carrière' (noisette).

Rosa chinensis 'Sanguinea'

There is a spiky bed with Agave americano, Kniphofia sarmentosa and K. 'Géant', Yucca aloifolia and a number of salvias, and euphorbias - in fact there are thirty-nine plants in this bed on the list Jenny gave us. There are eleven beds, each with a different emphasis and each with a large variety of plants, all listed. Jenny’s list started with questions she hoped members would have answers for and ended with the plants that had failed, mostly, she thinks, because of wet clay in the cold of winter. Many of the plants Jenny reproduces by cuttings and her fear is that there will come a day when there will be no room to plant any more.

Andrew and Margaret's garden, also on a steep slope, was different again. Breathtaking views of Lac Salagou with two extinct volcanoes and the marvellous red soil contrasting with the delicate spring green foliage are to be had from the balcony of the house. Against the north wall of the house is a small rockery created on a natural rock outcrop. There are sedums which are said to need full sun, but are doing better than the same ones planted on the sunny terraces below. Sedum palmeri was particularly attractive. The first terrace, swept by the Tramontane, gives a first glimpse of the garden below. The plants here have to survive the wind, the Cistus x pulverulentus and C. x corbariensis were looking particularly healthy. There is a Ficus pumila (the climbing fig) starting to climb either side of an arch. The south-facing terraces below are sheltered from the wind and a microclimate enables the plants to thrive. In only five years Andrew and Margaret have created terraces from a 20° slope making walls and filling in with earth, an impressive project. The fact that they only live there for part of the year adds to my admiration (see the article in TMG 62). The earth is sandy and, unlike Jenny's heavy water-retaining clay, here water drains away instantly. The first terrace has a mown grass path, while on the lower terraces geotextile and wood chips have been laid (TMG 58). Here are a multitude of drought-tolerant plants: Nepeta x faassenii 'Six Hills Giant', a number of hardy geraniums, wallflowers, Madonna lilies, rosemary, cistus, lavender and phlomis. Below the planted terraces are others that are wooded with a path between the holm oaks leading to the last open grassy terrace. Andrew said the plant he likes the best is his Salvia officinalis, though there was some discussion as to whether it really is S. officinalis as the leaves are pinnate - anyway it was mingling attractively with a Hypericum balearicum that I particularly liked.

Salvia officinalis?

Hypericum balearicum

Jenny's favourites were a modest but lovely little Veronica polyfolia and Aquilegia formosa var. truncata.

All three gardens left me in admiration of the vision that had gone into creating them, with ideas for new plantings and a great sense of joy.

Text: Katharine Fedden
Photographs: Christine Savage

March 2011
Visit to the Bambouseraie de Prafrance and a talk on Jasmines
Spring sunshine and a beautiful blue sky encouraged 37 members and guests of the Languedoc branch out for their first garden visit of the season to the internationally renowned Bambouseraie de Prafrance near Anduze.

Accompanied by Claire Martin de Foresta, Directrice Botanique et Scientifique, we were treated to an animated and informative tour of this magnificent and exotic park created in 1856 by the famous botanist Eugène Mazel. Few members had appreciated that bamboo is, in fact, a grass, grown from seed, and that 90% of varieties grown in temperate climates are very hardy, capable of withstanding temperatures down to -20ºC. The location of the park was actually chosen for its cold microclimate, providing an ideal environment for the 200 species of bamboos which now flourish there.

We heard that bamboo is an extremely versatile plant used for building homes, scaffolding and household objects, while horticulturally it is excellent for hedging and maintaining and stabilising embankments. Although in their native habitat some tropical species can grow to 40 metres, the bamboos in the park nevertheless attain a very impressive 23 metres.  Invasiveness is an issue, but with the right know-how the plant is containable and capable of eradication if necessary.

The park is approached by a breathtaking drive of 40-metre Sequoia sempervirens interplanted with bamboos 14 metres high.

Sequoia and bamboo
(Photo - Hubert Nivière)

During our tour we saw equally impressive trees planted when the park was first created, including a mighty pedunculate Quercus robur oak, one of the largest specimens of Magnolia grandiflora in Europe (the taxon is dedicated to Pierre Magnol, Directeur du Jardin des Plantes de Montpellier in the late 17th century), a venerable Ginkgo biloba, and a stand of Lawson cypresses smelling of lemon grass.  We wandered on through a delightful model Laotian village and then through the beautiful Valley of the Dragon created in 2000, the Year of the Dragon, and inspired by traditional Japanese art.

Valley of the Dragon
(Photo - Chantal Maurice)

As we strolled past the camellias, some with blooms the size of saucers, we were unaware that on the other side of the planet so many thousands of Japanese, just a few hours before, had had their lives so brutally and irretrievably altered for ever…

Back in the main house, dating from at least the 15th century and which survived both the catastrophic river Gardon floods here of 1938 and 2002, Claire explained the indispensable contribution of a herbarium to those involved in the study of plants.  Herbiers allow scientists to note the characteristics of a particular plant gathered on a particular day and time from a particular place. She is working on upgrading the Bambouseraie’s own collection of samples, particularly of bamboos in flower, and this work can be accessed by searching on the web using the herbarium’s code: “BAMBO Générargues”. She hopes ultimately to create a collection of 5,000 specimens from all over the world.

Claire reminded us of the two international plant databases that are available, the botanical database of the Bioinformatics Department at Missouri Botanical Garden which organises a vast number of plant specimens, images and bibliographic references, and IPNE, the International Plant Names Index.

After the visit we enjoyed a delicious bring-and-share-a-dish-lunch at member Aline Rideau’s charming house with its magnificent views of the Cévennes.

Lunch chèz Aline
(Photo - Hubert Nivière)

Specialist nursery owner Mylène Bertetto then gave us a really helpful talk about just a few of the plants from her collection of jasmines.  We were surprised and delighted to hear of the versatility and hardiness of certain varieties including some which can survive to -25°C. Seemingly, there is a jasmine for almost any location however inhospitable and a visit to Mylène’s website,confirms this.

Talk on Jasmine by Mylène Bertetto
(Photo - Hubert Nivière)

In all, another fascinating and fun day amongst like-minded fellow members.
Sara Robinson.

February 2011
Plants for Difficult Situations - A Talk by Christian Mistre and Discussion led by Alec Cobb
A brilliantly sunny February day found a healthy crowd of MGS members and special guests gathered at Le Jardin de la Gare, hungry for advice on dealing with the problem areas we all have in our gardens. Christian Mistre of Pépinière La Soldanelle was an ideal choice of speaker on this ticklish topic, since he specialises in plants which will tolerate the fairly extreme conditions in his nursery, with 40°C summer temperatures falling to -8 or even -12°C in winter, not to mention the Mistral.

Christian’s approach was to examine different difficult situations experienced by members, on the basis that understanding them would enable us to deal better with them. He explained that a plant has no option if it finds itself in a challenging spot – it can’t move (except by sending out seeds), and so must either adapt or perish. A plant’s ability to adapt is affected by numerous criteria, extremes of climate, soil types and so on, and Christian used photographs which many of us had sent to him to illustrate his themes.

He pointed out that we cannot see the conditions below the surface of the soil, but we can work them out using the evidence of what grows where. On rocky ground, even large trees can survive, with their roots seeking out fissures in rock to find whatever soil is available. Thus a line of trees growing in otherwise unpropitious circumstances would indicate sufficient soil which we might exploit for other plants.

Restanques (name for the traditional terraces in southern France), with retaining walls, present different problems. There might be sufficient soil, but too free draining, so that watering will be a constant problem. Turning to a photo of a natural rocaille, he noted that plants still found places to survive, thus we might learn from this by creating planting pockets, using plug plants and seeds which would find their own places. However, he warned that even so, we might encounter around a 50% failure rate but reassured us that each failure is important, as it helps us to understand our plants’ requirements.

Pine trees, evidently a bugbear for many, manage to kill off most plants in the surrounding earth with an effective (for the pine) combination of deep and shallow roots, and a constant drop of needles exuding acidic substances. Moreover, a 70-year-old pine will consume 300-400 litres of water per day. However, Christian made the point that the pine is the pioneer plant par excellence. Forestry authorities endeavouring to replant after large-scale fires have found that no other tree will grow on burned ground, so in go the pines to create a humus cover ready for subsequent more diverse planting. One solution (often favoured by professional garden designers) is to cut them all down, but then it is necessary to import tons of topsoil, and lay geo-textile to suppress the roots. An alternative is to underplant with tough plants such as Pistacia lentiscus or rosemary, or to keep the pines as a backdrop and put more colourful and varied planting elsewhere.

A widespread difficult situation is the steep bank, usually in full sun, providing both hot and dry conditions. He suggested deep planting pockets, protected all round by stones to aid watering. Steep banks often have heavy, compressed lime soils (marne) which suffocate plant roots. Here the only real solution is to identify clay-tolerant plants such as Catananche, which will adapt to these conditions.

Christian then talked about the problem of enclosed village gardens, surrounded by walls, like that of member Eric Legrand. In such gardens air often does not circulate well - in winter the cold air cannot escape and in the summer they can over-heat. For a difficult shady area by a north-facing wall, Christian proposed green-leaved plants, either tough evergreens or deciduous subjects, avoiding our Provençal favourites with their persistent silver leaves, which detest cold, damp conditions.

Christian’s excellent analysis and advice were much appreciated by members, but more work was in store, as the meeting moved on to a lively discussion on the draft database of members’ recommended 'Plants for Difficult Situations'. This was led by Alec Cobb, who has put much effort into producing what promises to be an extremely useful and practical guide. He was joined by Gill Pound and Jean-Jacques Viguier, both experienced horticulturalists. Gill and Jean-Jacques gave a brief account of their joint informal experiments with plants to test and assess their resistance and adaptability in a variety of typical dry climate situations.

Finally, lunch provided an excellent opportunity to catch up with other members and talk with the speakers in a convivial atmosphere.

This was a most interesting and stimulating meeting on a subject of great importance to our local MGS branch, so we were all extremely grateful to Christian for coming to talk to us, to Alec for  his work on the database and of course to Christine for organising it all.
Sandra Cooper

January 2011
Inauguration of the Languedoc Library
On a chilly but sunny January morning, 28 of us gathered at the home of Chantal Guiraud for the inauguration of our Languedoc Library. The library has its origins in a gift of around 140 books from the French gardening magazine Lien Horticole who, when they decided to move to new premises, no longer had space for their collection. The MGS was the grateful recipient and Chantal offered us a spacious room in her home and catalogued all the books by theme. Another Languedoc member, Louisa Jones, the well-known author of more than twenty books on garden-related subjects, then offered a similar number of volumes and we now have an interesting collection in both English and French which members may borrow.

The highlight of the day was a fascinating talk by Louisa on her experiences of researching and writing garden books. She currently has three on the go. Two are in French, Manifeste pour les Jardins Méditerranéens, and Nicole de Vésian: un Art des Jardins en Provence, both published by Actes Sud. The third, for next year is Mediterranean Landscape Art: the Vernacular Muse to be published by Thames and Hudson.

In 1975, when she first started to research Provençal gardening, she was told by local people that there were no interesting gardens in the south of France. However, after visiting over 200 in the lower Rhône Valley, the existence of a strong, regional style became apparent and she discovered themes to which she has returned ever since.
Louisa gave us an insight into the world of publishing and involved us in a discussion about how books are marketed. She showed examples of alternative titles, cover styles and colours for her three forthcoming books and invited us to choose. The debate continued throughout lunch and the consumption of the traditional January Galette des Rois, then members scattered to stroll in the garden and to select books from the library.

Thank you, Chantal, for your welcome and hospitality.
Christine Savage.

October 2010
Fête des Roses at the Château de Flaugergues

On the sunny first of October we gathered, at the Château Flaugergues, to celebrate and learn about roses. Catriona had organised a full day’s programme: two lectures, a workshop and a tour of the Château gardens with owner Henri de Colbert. Lunch was either in the newly opened restaurant or a picnic in the garden.
Along with the MGS, members of Hortus, Praedum Rusticum and the general public were invited to attend the day which resulted in quite a crowd, 94 participants including 62 MGS members and guests from three branches. As well as celebrating roses, this was an opportunity to share the message about dry gardens and copies of all our leaflets, including the latest, The Waterwise Garden - Conserving Water, were available in both English and French at the MGS stand. Catriona had a display of her beautiful high quality garden tools, Yan Surguet brought an excellent selection of roses and David Austin catalogues were available in French.
After a cup of coffee, we listened to a talk, illustrated with beautiful photographs, by Michael Marriott of David Austin Roses. Aline translated into French with humour and skill and a summary of his main points can be studied in the article below.

There was a choice of activities after lunch, either a tour of the gardens of the Château with Henri de Colbert or a propagation workshop by Yan Surguet, a specialist grower of botanical and traditional rose varieties based in the Ariège, south of Toulouse. Yan started with a demonstration of how to take a cutting. He made it all sound so easy. Yan favours sand and potting soil as a medium, from mid August to the end of October is the optimum time. The first two months are critical, when it is important not to let the growing medium dry out. He explained two methods, taking a heel, or a stem with four buds, two below ground and two above. Another rose grower in the audience said he does cuttings with one bud below and one above. Success rates vary with the variety of rose.  Yan has a nursery where the roses are almost all from cuttings: this way, he explained, all the characteristics of the original rose are preserved. A summary of his advice is below. Both Yan and David were in agreement that chemicals should not be used on roses, but had different perspectives on some other aspects of rose growing.

Both talks were given by specialists, passionate about their craft and good at transmitting their enthusiasm. I certainly came home enthused and now have a line of pots with a selection of cuttings from my neighbours’ roses sticking hopefully out of their sand and soil mixture. Many participants left the Château with their cars stacked with roses so the Languedoc will be much more filled with blooms thanks to the Fête des Roses. Thank you, Catriona, for organising such an interesting event.
Katharine Fedden

Roses suitable for the Mediterranean Climate
A lecture by Michael Marriott of David Austin Roses on 1st October 2010

Michael Marriott, a rose expert from the British supplier, David Austin Roses, took as his theme rose varieties suitable for the hot, dry climate of southern France and illustrated his talk with slides of many types of gardens and of roses.

The David Austin nursery in Shropshire, England, cultivates 800 varieties of rose. There are also ten trial sites in the USA, including several in the mediterranean climate of California. Michael has recently visited all of these sites to review trials.
To grow roses successfully in a mediterranean climate it is essential not only to choose a suitable variety but also to improve the soil by good initial preparation using well rotted organic matter in the form of manure or garden compost. The same can be used annually as a mulch to help conserve moisture in the soil and generally enrich it to encourage the plethora of fungi, bacteria and insects that are so vital to the successful growth of plants. Occasional, deep watering in the first year is highly beneficial although, once the roses are established, watering can be applied much less frequently. Regular watering will encourage faster repeat flowering and several flushes in a year. With minimal watering you will still produce two good flushes in the year – in spring and in autumn.

The propagation technique used by David Austin is that of budding on to Rosa laxa rootstock which the company has found gives high quality and consistent results. R. laxa has the advantage over R multiflora rootstock in that it grows more successfully in alkaline soils and its roots tend to penetrate the soil more deeply. Michael recommended planting with the graft union 5 to 7 cm below soil level as suckers will be less likely to grow if the graft is not exposed to light and it will create a more solid plant that will not suffer from wind rock. It will also give the chance for the rose to grow on its own roots which may well be beneficial. It is important not to plant roses too close to trees as they can take a lot of the moisture and goodness out of the ground. Roses do not need a full day of sunshine and indeed in the Mediterranean some shade from the afternoon sun can be beneficial. In general as long as they get 4-5 hours of good sun a day most roses should still grow and flower well.

Michael is not a fan of the classic rose garden although if planted correctly with the roses planted closely enough together it can look superb. His favourite way of growing roses is in more informal borders either purely roses or mixed in with other plants. To achieve the best effect he advised planting them in tight groups with 50-75cm between plants of the same variety and 1-1.5m between plants of neighbouring varieties. This will create the impression of large bushes of one variety rather than a number of individuals and also allow access for pruning, deadheading, weeding etc. Slides were shown of a number of beautiful rose gardens in the UK where the grouped planting technique had been used. These included the David Austin nursery, RHS Harlow Carr, Trentham Gardens and Wollerton Old Hall. In contrast was the formal layout of Queen Mary's Rose Garden in Regent's Park, London.

He encourages planting other plants with roses both for aesthetic and for health reasons. Monocultures encourage the spread of pests and diseases and so breaking the monoculture up will help greatly with encouraging better health. Many perennials, biennials and annuals are very good at attracting beneficial insects which will help control pests. Perennials are generally the choice for mixing in with roses although care should be taken that they are not too vigorous so that they do not overwhelm the roses. Annuals and biennials can also be most effective and indeed are often less vigorous and easier to control.  He is very much more in favour of interplanting rather than underplanting as the latter will tend to suck the goodness and moisture out of the ground. In his own garden he never sprays and encourages all comers into the garden and lets them fight it out for themselves – it works very well!

There was some discussion about powdery mildew and how to combat it. It is worse when the plant is under stress due to lack of water at the roots and so it is vital to prepare the ground well before planting. Encouraging a good deep root system by occasional deep watering and mulching thickly will also all help. Some varieties are naturally more resistant to powdery mildew and so it is important to select those. Excessive use of nitrogen will encourage soft growth which will be more susceptible to powdery mildew and indeed to other pests and diseases.

Gardeners are often nervous of pruning roses but Michael tried to persuade everyone that it is in fact very easy. As a general rule all repeat-flowering roses can be cut back to about half-way although if you want to encourage a shorter plant then cut them back to about a third or for a taller plant then to two-thirds. Once the rose has been in the ground for a few years some of the older stems should be cut right out to encourage fresh new growth from the base, this will make the plant flower more freely and be healthier. Summer pruning can also be very beneficial to roses, it will promote better and quicker repeat-flowering and encourage a more compact plant. It is simply cutting back the flowering stems back after each flush of flowers by between 30 and 50cm. Once-flowering roses will not flower freely if pruned too hard in winter: he recommended reducing the height by about a quarter and certainly by no more than a half. Climbers should have the flowering shoots cut back to about 5 or 10 cm and the long stems tied in. The best time for pruning is in the middle of winter in December, January or February.   

Michael talked about the great range of fragrances to be found in the rose world and indeed there is no other plant that has such a wide range of completely different fragrance types. Smelling roses is very good for you, trials on stressed mice showed a very beneficial effect on them! There are five basic types of fragrance – tea, myrrh (cf. aniseed), fruit, musk (cf. cloves) and old roses e.g. damask, gallica. The fragrance in individual flowers can come and go or even change so it is always worth smelling several different flowers on one bush.

A list of David Austin roses recommended for the mediterranean climate had already been distributed, but photos were then shown of some particularly beautiful varieties including: 'Mary Rose', 'Crocus Rose', 'Crown Princess Margareta', 'Jude the Obscure', 'Benjamin Britten', 'Tuscany Superb' (gallica), 'Molineux', 'Sophy's Rose', 'The Alnwick Rose' (hedging) and 'Paul's Himalayan Musk' (rambler). Rosa spinosissima (species) was recommended for exposed coastal situations and 'Alba Maxima' for shade.

Résumé by Mavis Mercoiret

Les roses anciennes du Jardin de Talos
Lecture by Yan Surguet

Yan Surguet, a qualified paysagiste, is one of the leading producers of traditional rose varieties. All his stock has an organic certification and is propagated from cuttings.
His nursery is located in the Ariège, at Taurignan-Vieux, south of Toulouse, but he also attends some plant fairs, and will be at Saint-Jean-du-Gard on the 27 and 28 November 2010.

Why propagate from cuttings?
This is the only way to ensure that the new plant keeps its genetic origin.
Unlike grafted roses, suckers are never produced. The shoots that are sometimes thrown out from roses produced by cuttings are in fact identical to the original variety and do not weaken the plant,
Grafted roses, such as Gallica, Alba, Moss, Damask or Cabbage roses can be beautiful for a few years, but generally deteriorate after ten years if they have had their suckers removed (suckering is a natural habit which helps the plant survive).
Gallica, Alba, Moss and Cabbage roses send out a lot of suckers whereas Musk, Bourbons and Multiflora do not sucker whether they come from cuttings or grafted stock.
Rose suppliers often graft on to rootstock as this is more cost-effective for them, success being more reliable than with cuttings. Most cuttings take eventually but may take more time.
Roses grafted on to Rosa multiflora rootstock almost never sucker, unlike those grafted on to Rosa canina.

Propagation of organically cultivated roses
Cuttings are taken in the autumn from stock plants which have been cultivated in the ground for over 30 years without the use of fertilizers or pesticides. The cutting, about the size of a pencil, is potted in a mixture of loam and horticultural compost without using rooting hormones. 

Potting mixture:
7% fine Pouzzolane
23% Topsoil
37% Compost with added sheep manure
18% Compost with organic horn powder
15% mixed hemp
3-4 cm hemp mulch on the surface
This is quite a heavy mixture, but will produce strong plants which should recover well when planted out. The pots are placed against a north-facing wall and the young plants allowed to develop in the open air, without the addition of heat, light, fertilizer or pesticides.  This ensures a more resistant plant, whose growth and flowering have not been forced and which should survive the transfer to garden conditions without problems.

The pots are watered sparingly and after 4 to 6 months the first leaves appear. The young plant can then be transplanted into a bigger pot and planted in the ground in the autumn.

Bare root roses should be planted in autumn or winter, Roses in containers can be planted at any time of year. When planting, mix garden soil taken from the hole with 2 or 3 handfuls of compost.
Climbing roses are best not grown in pots, but if there is no alternative, change the pot for a bigger one every 4-5 years and replace the soil regularly.
Standard roses are unnatural and are likely to collapse after a few years.

Ramblers and climbers should have dead wood removed every 3-4 years. Gallica and Rugosa roses do not need pruning but can be trimmed to maintain an attractive shape.

Other points:
Yan asked us not to neglect rose varieties which are not repeat-flowering.
He advised that if roses are left to fend for themselves rather than being constantly watered, fed and sprayed, they will generally do much better!
If roses display signs of powdery mildew, they can be treated with sulphur powder or lava powder. He did not see a mild attack of blackspot as a problem.

He recommended La Roseraie du Désert, a specialist in Tea, Noisette and Chinese roses, all propagated from cuttings. These varieties are well adapted to the mediterranean climate.

Text by Chantal Guiraud

October 2010
Garden Planting Day

This practical 'hands on' event was the second stage of the hugely enjoyable 'Garden Design Workshop' led by Hilary Ivey in February 2010 at Jocelyn van Riemsdijk's new home.

This time, thirteen enthusiastic members descended on Jocelyn's garden armed with spades and trowels ready to implement the final design drawn up by Hilary. The area to be planted comprised a large south-facing semi-circular bank which falls away from a paved terrace to the rear of the house. The ground had already been well prepared and planting conditions, after some earlier rain, were perfect. A large Quercus ilex provides shade to much of the area.

Members organised themselves into teams (some rather competitive!), were provided with copies of the planting plan and began the task of setting out then digging in a superb range of over thirty different plants including varieties of Artemisia, Ballota, Cistus, Geranium, Helichrysum, Lavandula, Rosmarinus, Iris, Salvia, Sisyrinchium and Santolina – all very suitable for a water-wise garden and taking into account Jocelyn's preference for aromatic and grey-leaved plants.

Setting out the plants

Debate over positioning

A typically generous 'Languedoc Branch Lunch' followed the hard work with almost everyone having discovered a new variety or planting combination to try in their own gardens. Above all, our host was delighted with the finished result.

The finished result

Our reward!

Text by Duncan Munford.
Photographs by Christine Savage.

September 2010
Château le Plaisir

A hot September afternoon, and 40 or so members of the French Languedoc branch have the pleasure of visiting the gardens of Château le Plaisir near Avignon in Aramon, Gard. Designed by lanscape designer Pascal Cribier in the 1990s for the Hollander family, the park is divided into different theme gardens and has many modernist structured features. The first impression is of a traditional shaded courtyard with five rows of grand old Platanus trees and a drive leading to the house with a classical 18th-century façade. The walled promenoir also tells of times past - "an outside long gallery" comments a member. Then as we enter the landscaped park, a view of a tall chimney by the Rhone brings us back to the 20th century. We see high, straight Quercus ilex hedges with gaps to peep through, a beautiful pergola, lush springy Zoysia grass, a children's play area winding through the Santolina, the unfinished chess board with a lonely king and queen, and an outdoor theatre whose clipped Olea hedge has apparently caused controversy among local people.  By the pool house, we stop to admire the four weeping Sophora japonica, specially grafted in Italy for this project, and continue through a beautiful wisteria-covered walkway into the water garden, whose cool shade is much appreciated, and the idea of growing free-standing wisteria is noted by some. The scent of Clerodendrum trichotomum gives way to that of ripe figs as we move on to discover copses of Ligustrum and various fruit trees and the dry garden with plants from Olivier Filippi and a path made of interesting concrete 'Roman' slabs. Melia trees give shade to the small courtyard behind the house and a display of Hibiscus coccineus is much admired, as we stop to discuss the Gaura and Buxus meadow - at this time of year predominantly Gaura!  The visit ends with drinks offered by the caretakers and Chantal reminds us that it is time to collect and send her seeds for the official MGS Seed Exchange. Many thanks to Christine and Sandra for organising this visit.
Mavis Mercoiret.

Field of gaura and box

Dry garden and hunting lodge

Dasylirion past its bloom

Clerodendrum trichotomum in bloom

Photos by Mavis Mercoiret, Hilary Ivey and Anthony Daniels.

June 2010
A visit to two productive gardens in the Luberon

On Tuesday 29 June in high temperatures, sixteen members of the Languedoc Branch and a visiting member from the Provence Branch joined our delightful guide, Magali Parmentier, for a tour of the Conservatoiredes Plantes Tinctoriales at Lauris. The garden was built into the side of the terraced hillside of the château at Lauris and opened in 2002.

This is the only botanical garden in Europe dedicated exclusively to the cultivation and conservation of over 300 plants for making dyes, for fabrics, paints, inks, food colouring and cosmetics. Lauris’s historical connection with the dyeing industry stems from its production in the 16th century of vermilion: the bright red pigment made from the vermillons or 'little worms' which formerly proliferated in the local kermes oak woods nearby. Up until 1900, another red dye, garance, was cultivated on the Durance river plain below and was used for printing cotton and the red of the French military uniforms. Similarly, nerprun (Rhamnus alaternus) and fustet (Cotinus coggygria) were produced and transported to Avignon for the dyers in the Rue des Teinturiers.

The garden is laid out in two parts:

  • the fountain garden, which focuses on the science of colourants. We learnt that, from a scientific perspective, many of the chemicals produced by the plants in these beds act as a form of self-protection or propagation. We were told about the difference between coloré and colorant and how, for the biochemist, the dye molecules remain active even after they have been extracted from the plant. Pharmacists and doctors down the ages have put this characteristic to good use in the fields of nutrition and cosmetics. Many such plants contain vitamins and anti-oxidants which help bolster our defence systems or facilitate cellular regeneration. These are employed in natural skin care products, some of which provide sun screens.
  • the bassin garden, which focuses on dye plants from around the world. This is a garden where many of the plants need to be watered. We heard about the diverse techniques and procedures used throughout the millennia to create vegetable dyes, inks and pigments. There are beds devoted to many different parts of the world, including China, India, the Americas, the Maghreb and the Mediterranean.

Initially the garden was funded jointly by the French government, the Luberon National Park, the Vaucluse Conseil Géneral and the European Community. Now, very sadly, all grants have been withdrawn and the garden is being maintained by a group of volunteers. Regrettably, this lack of support shows and the beds are poorly maintained and overgrown. We were alarmed at the laissez-faire attitude to the Japanese knot weed (Fallopia japonica), which had been allowed to jump its bed and was now propagating willy-nilly. We wondered if the good burghers of Lauris knew that a plant which in the UK is required legally to be removed and disposed of by a licensed waste control operator, was only a hop, skip and a rhizome away from their own precious jardins...

It is a shame that a garden with such a historical connection and which provides a valuable scientific and educational resource for the public is apparently in danger of collapse through lack of funding. Try and go to see it for yourself before this happens. It will be a sad day if it is forced to close.

Following a delicious picnic in the best MGS style next to the beautiful renaissance château at Lourmarin, we headed up a stony track into the Grand Luberon to meet Paula Marty at the Ferme de Gerbaud. The farm has been in Paula's family for three generations and she now cultivates, without any watering, several hectares of thyme, rosemary, sage, savory, oregano and lavender.

The plants are distilled locally for their essential oils, which we were later able to buy in her shop following a refreshing glass of home-made sirop. We had a delightful and informative walk amongst the fields and picked up all sorts of culinary and medicinal tips. We learnt of the antiseptic and digestive properties of rosemary, the anti-spasmodic and diuretic properties of sage (and the wonders of aigo-boulido) and the value of thyme for clearing the airways when you have a cough and as an antibacterial agent. Lavender makes a wonderful antiseptic and a drop of oil in the bath, your shoes, the Hoover or the fabric conditioner compartment in the washing machine will enable you to appreciate better one of the wonderful scents of Provence throughout your home.

Despite sizzling summer temperatures, this was a lovely day out under radiant Provençal skies: a "good to be alive" day, spent in the company of like-minded MGS friends. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Sara Robinson

Conservatoire des plantes tinctoriales


Erythrina crista-galli in bloom

Lavender fields in June

Paula Marty talking about the uses of rosemary

photographs by Eric Legrand.

May 2010
A visit to a heritage garden and specialist nursery in the Var

A brilliantly sunny day found some 40 members and guests from the Languedoc and Provence Branches unite for a visit to the Pépinière La Soldanelle and the nearby Jardin Elie Alexis in the Var.

Clematis integrifolia

The rockery wall at La Soldanelle

Iris beds and the montagne de Ste Baume

Fortified after our drive by strong coffee and excellent home-made cantuccini served by Sylvie Mistre and Brigitte at La Soldanelle, Christian Mistre took us on a tour of the nursery, starting with a brief introduction and history of their enterprise. Since 1988 they have been growing perennial plants, and for the last 10 years they have concentrated on those suitable for their local conditions. The nursery is at an altitude of 350 metres, on the north side of the Montagne de Sainte Baume. Like many of us, they have prolonged periods of frost, down to -14°C this last winter, and hot summers, up to 40°C, and of course the drying Mistral wind. Christian insisted that the first consideration with all plants is the soil, and their hectare of production is divided into distinct areas which reflect the different types of growing conditions we are likely to encounter in our own gardens – e.g. open spaces, rockery, flower beds etc. A major area is devoted to experimental growth – plants which they are cultivating for the first time, where they water sparingly, and just leave the plants to survive (or not). Those that do survive may then be taken into cultivation in the nursery itself, where there are open beds devoted to fabulously blowsy peonies, roses and irises, a glorious rock wall for the rockery plants and polytunnels for the more delicate subjects.

Of course we came away with armfuls of wonderful healthy plants, well adapted to the conditions which most of us have in our own gardens, and with much to ponder in the way of giving prime consideration to our soil. But not a moment to spare, for we were due for our picnic lunch at the Jardin Elie Alexis, not far away, where we could mull over the morning’s visit while being guided round a true provençal garden. Elie Alexis was born in 1908 and his love affair with nature and his plot of land started with the gift of a bee-hive when he was 12. The family acquired a piece of uncultivated land, which was later developed by Elie as a traditional subsistence garden, where the emphasis was on growing food, and commercial plants, such as woad for dye. Here he also established a cactus garden (a type of plant he grew to love during his military service in North Africa), and cultivated plants he gathered on botanising expeditions into the surrounding countryside. All his cultivation was underpinned by the requirement to use as little water as possible, for the only source of water on the site was a series of tanks built to capture rainwater. Despite his lack of formal education, his ideas and philosophy made him well-known and respected in intellectual circles and he was visited by botanists, philosophers, geologists and artists. The garden is now run by an Association dedicated to reviving Elie’s unique landscape, full of interesting and unusual plants, and its efforts have been rewarded with a listing as one of the Jardins Remarquables de la France.

Jardin d’Élie

Ferula communis

These were two inspirational visits, a day made all the more enjoyable by being shared with members of our neighbouring branch.
Sandra Cooper.

April 2010
Trip to the Minervois

The MGS outing started with a wonderful picnic in Gill Pound's garden at La Petite Pépinière de Caunes in the Minervois.

Gill then gave us a very interesting lecture on propagation. She started by showing us how to prepare our own compost mix for sowing seeds and for planting cuttings. After a detailed description on how to sow various seeds we were then given a demonstration on all the techniques of taking cuttings: root cuttings, softwood, greenwood, semi-ripe wood, ripe wood and hard wood cuttings, heel cuttings and layering, with lots of fascinating details from Gill’s vast experience with drought-tolerant plants thrown in.

We were then given a guided tour of Gill’s garden and nursery, with lots of interesting plants originating from North America which Gill has found particularly suited to our climate and which she has grown from seed. Plants from the US that Gill is keen on and has grown here include Chilopsis, Sphaeralcea spp and hybrids, Eriogonum spp, Callirhoe involucrata, species penstemons, Monardella odoratissima, Aquilegia formosa, A. truncata and A. skinneri. This year she is most interested in seeing how Ipomoea leptophylla (the Bush Morning Glory) will perform. Other North American plants that are garden-worthy here are toyon from California (Heteromeles arbutifolia), an excellent evergreen shrub, and the Mexican Buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa), which is good for spring flowers. Both are cold-hardy to at least -10°C and drought-tolerant.

Next morning Gill took us on a botanical walk high in the Montagne Noire and we were privileged to be shown a magical wild flower meadow with an amazing range of wild bulbs: Morisia monanthos, Reseda sp, Narcissus requienii, Ranunculus gramineus, Orchis laxiflora, O. provincialis, Muscari commutatum, Tulipa sylvestris, Fritillaria messanensis, Hutchinsia sp, Amelanchier ovalis.

Then we had a buffet lunch at Liz Thompson's house 'Les Écuries' in Cesseras where we were able to sample a range of delicious salads in their superb courtyard before heading towards the coast near Narbonne for a visit to the Domaine de Langel. We were given an interesting lecture on its Roman, medieval and 18th century origins, then had a tour of the garden. Here we were able to see a range of interesting trees and observe an unusual plant which they called 'pastel' or 'woad' (Isatis tinctoria). The mosquito colony was very happy with the number of English people in the group so we soon retreated back indoors for a tapenade and olive oil tasting.

Aline Rideau and Caroline Nolder.

A picnic lunch at La petite pépinière

MGS member botanising in the Montagne Noire

Photographing orchis

Tulipa sylvestris

February 2010
A lecture on Pests, Diseases and Weeds

A group of members and guests gathered at a restaurant near the Pont du Gard to hear David Bracey give a talk on gardening problems. David had sent out a questionnaire to Languedoc members in advance and had received 27 responses, and from these he put together the material for his lecture.

We learned about how to focus on prevention and about effective biological methods of disease and pest control. Samples of weeds and damaged foliage were passed round for inspection and identification and a basket of cockchafer larvae was circulated. This led to a discussion on their beneficial presence in the compost heap but not in pots or in the cultivated garden. We concluded the session with an exchange of views on methods of weed control, then moved into the restaurant for a delicious lunch.

David is preparing an article for publication in the Journal which will provide a full analysis of the questionnaires and his suggestions for solutions to some of the problems raised.
Christine Savage

February 2010
A Garden Design Workshop led by Hilary Ivey

A new experience gathered eighteen members for the first meeting of 2010. We met at Jocelyn van Riemsdijk's new home to learn how to measure and draw up the layout of a garden. There was a fairly clean slate to work on at the back, the land had been cleared of undergrowth and old tree roots removed. We looked out on to a muddy rectangle with some oak, arbutus and Viburnum tinus. Jocelyn started by telling us what she wanted. The house is built on what was an old forest and Jocelyn would like to retain the feel of the forest and garrigue with a natural garden, low in water usage and maintenance. As for plants, she favours aromatic and grey-leaved plants though she has a special interest in plants from the Far East. A Koelreuteria paniculata is in a pot waiting for a planting site. Hilary then went through a check list of things to consider: existing features and changes desired, how to draw up a plan  and position objects on it (in this case mostly trees). This involved learning about triangulation, far simpler than I had supposed. Hilary had provided each of us with a large plan showing an outline of the house and perimeter fencing. As the sun appeared, out we went with tape measures and drawing pads, one team tackled the north-facing front of the house and the rest of us put on boots, as it was muddy from heavy rain the day before, and went into the future back garden. We 'triangulated' the trees, imagined steps and paths, seeing carpets of cyclamen and cascades of roses, someone was even spotted crouching down to estimate the exact view from the bed in the master bedroom. By the end of the afternoon we had come up with suggestions that were, we hoped, respectful of Jocelyn’s wishes and from which she will be able to select ideas for the layout of her garden and some of the plants that she might put in it.

Thank you, Hilary, for guiding us through a thoroughly interesting and enjoyable exercise, no mean feat in one short February day. We hope, in the autumn, to meet again for another 'hands on' day helping Jocelyn to plant.
Katharine Fedden

November 2009
The MGS Garden at Sparoza, a talk by François Travert, Landscape Architect

A talk by François Travert, at a joint MGS/Hortus meeting, brought the garden of Sparoza and the surrounding countryside, including the Athens airport, very much alive. François spent two periods at Sparoza, the spring of 2003 and  October/November  2008  (see his article in TMG  55, January 2009). François is a graduate of the École Nationale Supérieure de la Nature et du Paysage in Blois; since then, as well as his time at Sparoza, he has worked in the Netherlands, Canada, Syria and Colmar (France) and is currently teaching in Geneva. Next year he will start his own business as a landscape designer in the Lot.

François began with a quotation from Plato which described the countryside of Greece very much as it still was when Jaqueline Tyrwhitt started the garden in 1964. Now the countryside is under threat not only from building, which is going on all around the garden, but also because water is being used for the agriculture continuing on the hillside. The water levels are becoming alarmingly low and the annual rainfall is only about 400mm. The traditional farming was olives and vines, in strips which became narrower and narrower due to inheritance laws; each person had a strip of land wide enough for a row of olive trees and a row of vines. Jaqueline Tyrwhitt had to buy strips from fifteen different owners to acquire the land that is now the garden of Sparoza. The current building of villas on the hillside, with no reference to the existing landscape, is violent, old olive trees are uprooted and new ones planted, imported from Italy. In these surroundings Sparosa is an oasis of respectful gardening practice.

There seems to have been no tradition of gardening in Greece of the kind familiar from other countries: because of the shortage of water, the emphasis was given to fruit and vegetables and flowers were grown in pots near the house. The inspiration for Sparoza came from the coutryside surrounding the garden, the ordered agricultural landscape and the natural landscape consisting of ‘garrigue’ and ‘phrygana’. All sections of the garden have been managed in such a way as to build up the soil, while the garrigue is cut back so that the soil remains poor to encourage the plants that grow there naturally such as the wild orchids. As little material is brought in as possible, an exception being white crushed marble for the paths; walls are made from rocks from the hillside. No chemicals are used. All vegetable matter is composted or shredded. The only machines used are a strimmer and a shredder, otherwise all work is done by hand -- the hands being those of volunteer members of the MGS and students under the leadership of Sally Razelou; in addition there is usually a garden assistant resident for 10 months each year. Nothing goes to waste, young plants that are not needed in the garden are sold in the nursery.

François took us on a guided tour of the garden. The plants he specially mentioned as being, in his eyes, the ‘stars’ of the garden were: Chrysanthemum coronarium, Oxalis pes-caprae, Ebenus cretica, Sarcopoterium spinosum as well as asphodels, orchids, cyclamens, narcissi and sternbergias.

The talk illustrated by photographs, diagrams and some of François’ sketches left me with a  desire to visit Sparoza. It is an example of what can be achieved in a particularly hostile environment with vision and perseverance.
Katharine Fedden.

September 2009
Visit to gardens in Villeneuve-lez-Avignon

Members of Languedoc branch had eagerly anticipated the beginning of the autumn programme and were not disappointed with a full day of activities at Villeneuve-lez-Avignon. Our first visit of the day was to Fort Saint-André, commissioned in 1292 by Philippe le Bel, King of France, to affirm royal power, as opposed to Papal power over the Rhône at Avignon. Inside the Fort, the focus of our visit was the Bénédictine Abbaye Saint-André and its very significant Provençal garden. Fort Saint-André is owned by Melle Roseline Bacou who personally welcomed our party and charmed us all with a fascinating tour of her home. The detailed and vivid description of her family’s acquisition of the property and her personal involvement with the renovation of both the Abbaye and garden were superb.

After our tour of the Abbaye building we wandered through the extensive and immaculately maintained gardens, the refurbishment of which began in the 1920s. Terraces, paths and passages link a number of formal gardens, shrubberies and an olive orchard. Much emphasis is placed on Mediterranean planting and, significantly for us, there is minimal irrigation. The garden includes many fine trees, the top of the property being dominated by wonderful old Aleppo pines (Pinus halepensis), sculpted, not surprisingly given the Fort’s location, by the onslaught of the Mistral. Tall cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens) and huge box trees (Buxus sempervirens) feature throughout the garden. For our group photograph we stood on the entrance steps of the Abbaye and admired two very old and significant trees, an Arbre de Judée (Cercis siliquastrum) and a very ancient Sophora japonica. The central garden features a formal arrangement of Chinese roses which, as they were in summer dormancy at the time of our visit, will provide many of us with a good reason to return! 

The afternoon began with a tour of the Chartreuse du Val-de-Bénédiction constructed by Pope Innocent VI and one of the largest Carthusian monasteries in Europe. Carthusian monasteries typically represented a balance between the mineral and the vegetable world. Again, with the benefit of an excellent and enthusiastic guide, we admired frescoes by Matteo Giovanetti, explored the three cloisters and visited one of the 40 monastic cells, each of which had its own individual garden. ‘Le jardin des simples’ recreates a typical example in which each monk was able to select his own choice of medicinal plants, vegetables and even flowers for ornamental use.  Medicinal plants commonly grown in these compact spaces included mallow (Malva sylvestris), which mixed with olive oil was a deterrent against bee stings, plantain for use against snakebites and mint for the common cold. Other gardens within the monastery included ‘Le cloître du cimetière’ with generous planting of cypress, the typical Provençal symbol of immortality and the ‘Jardin du procureur’. This was originally  planted in the 18th century by keen plantsman Dom Alexandre Perraud, and included such exotics as oranges and pomegranates, the fruit of the latter symbolising the unity of the church. We concluded our day in the charming garden at the Hôtel Le Prieuré. After pausing to admire the 23 metre rose arch planted in the 1940s and the formal garden laid out by Francois Dedieu, interest centred on the refreshments and shade of the pergola.

The Branch made a special welcome to eight new members drawn from the Hérault, the Gard and the Vaucluse. Thanks to Christine Savage for organising our first event of the new season.
Duncan Munford

Photos Duncan Mumford and Chantal Maurice

April 2009
Garden visits in the Lubéron

At the end of the month we visited two very different gardens in the Lubéron, each one the creation of an owner with a strong personal vision.

La Louve, in Bonnieux, was the home of Nicole de Vésian, a former fabric designer for Hermès who transformed her hillside site into a living work of art. She mixed stone and clipped evergreen shrubs to create a tapestry of greens and greys that echoed the natural flora of the surrounding landscape. The result has been much photographed and analysed for books on Provençal gardens, so we were keen to see it for ourselves and to observe the changes that the current owner, Judith Pillsbury, has made.

On the day of our visit the garden was looking beautiful and unfolds as a series of ‘rooms’. The signature flat-topped cypresses and clipped evergreens remain, but each terrace has been given an individual character and is designed so that a picture is created using foreground planting and distant views. Additional plants have been introduced and a pool created, but flower colour is limited to the purple blues of irises and lavender and white cistus and roses. Worth the journey, we all agreed, and still very much the work of art that Nicole had envisioned.

The creator of the second garden, Cécile Chancel, met us at the garden gate of Val Joanis and was keen to talk to us about her ideas. Her original concept had been of an 18th-century-style French kitchen garden, laid out on a classic grid pattern. The landscaping for three wide terraces was put in place 30 years ago and a formal structure of yew, box and hornbeam hedges established to contain the fruit, vegetable and flower gardens. Today this structure remains, including a long tunnel covered in climbing roses and some magnificent espaliered fruit trees. However, Cécile explained that she has adapted her choice of plants to include those which will flourish in tough weather conditions and withstand winter temperatures of -12˚C.She now includes garrigue plants, Rhamnus alaternus, Phillyrea angustifolia, Quercus coccifera and Pistacia lentiscus and has replaced the shrub roses with caryopteris, perovskia, achillea and a variety of grasses. We were delighted to see that this garden, which is open to the public, has been adapted to incorporate many of the ‘dry gardening’ principles of the MGS and we toasted its future with a glass of the domaine’s rosé.

A final word about our lunch stop. We had been invited to eat our picnic at the Pépinière de Vaugines, where we found a warm welcome from a passionate plantsman, Gérard Weiner. His nursery is the antithesis of the typical garden centre with its rows of brightly coloured bedding plants. Instead, it consisted of an amazing and seemingly haphazard collection of Gérard’s favourites, propagated by him from plant material collected on trips around the Mediterranean. He showed us around the garden he created, but has now sold, full of rare specimen shrubs, and explained that he was now about to start all over again on the patch of land next to the nursery where we had eaten our picnic. Definitely a place to return to.
Christine Savage.

March and April 2009
Plant Fairs in Languedoc

The Languedoc branch has made two appearances at plant fairs this spring. The first, in Montpellier at PRIMAVERA on Sunday 22 March, was organised by Chantal Guiraud; then  on Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 April Christine Savage organised a stand at the important ‘Journées plantes rares et jardin naturel’ at Sérignan-du-Comtat in the Vaucluse.

A ‘Mediterranean Garden Society’ banner has been produced with a logo and white lettering on a green background. We also have a map showing the areas of the world where there is a mediterranean-type climate, three well-mounted photographs of the garden at Sparoza, a garden in California and a garden in the Vaucluse, as well as a list of the branch activities for the current year. On the table were displayed the MGS leaflets, in French and English, on how to plant a dry garden as well as relevant books and some local nursery catalogues. The photograph album which Christine has started with photographs of gardens at Sparoza, in California and of local members’ gardens, some with ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures, and with plant names listed, incited a lot of interest and questions. At Primavera, there was a marvellous slideshow put together by Chantal with three hundred photographs.

At Serignan, Christine and Dominique Vaché gave two talks on the Saturday. This was opened by an explanation in French of the aims of the Society; Dominique then described her garden and how she and Jean transformed it into a dry garden, and Christine finished by explaining that the meetings of the Languedoc branch are conducted in English and French and then giving a short talk in English. Their talks were well received and elicited lots of questions; one gentleman returned the following day to to tell us that he was so impressed that he had signed up for a two-year MGS membership on-line during the night.

A dozen members manned the stand, each doing two-hour stints. There was a lot of interest in the concept of planting a dry garden and many questions. The fair was full of tempting plants, many of the nurseries on our list had stands, and one nurseryman expressed interest in becoming a member. There were lots of conferences and talks at the stands. I was lucky to hear Michel Valantin talk about the cultural history of the cypress, the rose and the citrus, and Louisa Jones explain how to visit a garden, while Gilles Clément, with great energy, covered the world. The predicted storms held off on Saturday until five o’clock and we were able to whisk the table and panel into the gymnasium.

The general feeling was that it was a worthwhile enterprise; whether it should become an annual event will have to be discussed.
Katharine Fedden.

Promoting dry gardens at Sérignan
Photo by John Banks

March 2009
Olive Pruning Workshop

For the Languedoc Branch’s second olive pruning workshop, given by Annette and Fritz Bauer-Hahn at Buffy and Richard Moyse’s Mas du Rayoulet near St Quentin la Poterie, the weather was perfect: we worked in our shirtsleeves without mopping our brows. Fritz began with a short talk setting out the basic rules for pruning an olive tree.

They are as follows:
Create a bowl in the centre of the tree to let in air and light.
Remove all the suckers at the base and on the trunk. Remove all crossing branches.
Leave some ‘leaders’, which will produce fruit next year and which, with the weight of the olives, will start to bend out.
Olives grow on new growth so remove older growth to create light, stepping back often to look at the tree in order to create a harmonious shape.

We were then let loose on the trees but not before David Bracey had offered to sharpen our tools. I hope his little grinder will appear at other meetings. So, with sharp tools, we began to work on the trees, which had been pruned two years ago. It was very satisfying to be able to discuss with fellow participants which branches to cut and to call on Fritz and Annette for expert advice so as to understand the reasons for each major cut. By lunchtime the trees were deemed well pruned and we gathered for an ‘apero’ before enjoying the delicious dishes which the participants had brought. When we were feeling replete and satisfied sitting in the sun, Fritz called us to attention to give us a quick run-down on how to take care of olive trees.

When to prune: never in December or January as it will create a growth spurt over the winter and enfeeble the tree. When harvesting the olives in November, you may saw down large branches that you want to remove and pick the olives from the branch on the ground. March is the ideal month to prune but you can take out suckers at any time of year except December or January.

Feeding: manure or compost from December to February. If you are lucky enough to own a shredder, shred directly around the trees after pruning every second year.

Watering: three times a year. Give 150 to 200 litres at each watering at monthly intervals from July.

Both water and manure need to be applied away from the trunk at the perimeter of the branches, where, below ground, the roots can absorb them.

Olive fly (Dacus oleae): there are two methods of combatting the fly that are acceptable organically.
1. Ammonium phosphate is diluted in water at a ratio of 4 to 5%, not more. Pour the solution into plastic bottles with holes burnt into the upper part of the bottle and hang bottles on the south-east side of the tree from mid-June to the end of October. The solution attracts and kills a good percentage of the flies. If the solution dries out, simply add water.
2. Syneis is a spray and you must spray no more than 1 dl per tree, an area the size of a window, over the south-facing side of the tree never more than four times from mid-June to the end of October, as there will be four generations of the fly over the summer. One litre of Syneis in twenty litres of water is enough for about 200 trees. This method sounds more complicated, especially as exactly 1 dl. needs to be sprayed, so practise first with water, but Fritz says it gives the best results.

 Olive moth (Prays oleae) has to be treated when the insect is a larva at the beginning of the flowering season. Bacillus thuringiensis is acceptable in organic gardening and should be sprayed on to the tree in mid-April and May and even a third spray is possible; repeat if it rains after spraying. Use at a dilution of 50g in 100 litres of water. This product can be used on citrus trees as well.

The day was a great success for those of us who learned from Fritz and Annette’s clear and precise explanations and also, we hope, for the health and future production of the olive trees. Thank you, Buffy and Richard, for the opportunity to spend a particularly enjoyable day on your lovely property.
Katharine Fedden

February 2009
‘Understanding Soil’ at David Bracey’s house.

About 20 members gathered at David Bracey’s house for the first meeting of 2009. This had been organised by David on the topic of ‘Understanding Soil’. David began by explaining about the structure and content of soil, referring members to ‘The Nature and Properties of Soil’ by Lyon, Beckman and Brady and a diagram from the US Dept of Agriculture. Soil contains a number of different elements, namely organic matter, quartz (sand), clay, silt (which is a form of clay) and various salts and minerals. Soil builds up over time and therefore has different proportions of the various elements depending on the locality. It is very difficult to change soil in large quantities for a whole garden although the soil in individual planting holes can be changed.  To grow plants successfully, it is important to know the soil type in one’s garden and to work with it.

Soil should first be analysed mechanically and then by using a pH meter. Using the diagram as a guide, David took members through the mechanical analysis of soil. This begins by taking a small portion of soil in one’s hand, dampening it (traditionally by spitting on it) then rubbing it between one’s fingers. Different types of soil behave differently. For example clay is smooth and rolls up into small balls, while sand feels gritty. To look more closely at the structure, a handful of soil is put into a jar of water which is then shaken to dissolve it. The mixture is allowed to settle and the soil profile then examined. To help us note the differences David had provided samples from several different areas that reflected a wide geographical distribution. The pH value was then tested using an appropriate dipstick (litmus paper).

Most members had brought samples of soil from their own gardens and we then proceeded to carry out a similar analysis on our own soil. It was really interesting to see how the various samples had different proportions of the constituents although not surprisingly, given that we all live fairly locally within an area of underlying limestone, the pH readings were all reasonably alkaline to neutral. For those who want to test soil content even further, David explained that there are testing kits for identifying the levels of trace elements such as potassium, nitrogen, and phosphates in order to identify deficiencies, thus enabling these to be corrected.

Both during and after the analysis process, questions were raised and issues discussed. One major discussion focused on the issue of organic or non-organic soil improvement products. David pointed out that plants themselves do not differentiate between the two but many members still felt that organic products were better for the environment and their plants. This was a very useful and interesting meeting which gave us all something to think about and helped us improve our understanding of how best to ensure that our gardens are as productive as possible while minimising harm to the environment.
J M Bovaird.

January 2009
A talk by Olivier Filippi

The joint meeting organised by Hortus and the MGS with Olivier Filippi talking about "The Dry Garden in Summer: how to turn a constraint into an advantage" drew a large audience. Olivier was in fine form, drawing us all in with his enthusiasm and vast knowledge. A good slide show demonstrated his talk; the pictures of natural sites overwhelmed me with their beauty, we can only attempt pale imitations in our gardens.

We are all begining to be familiar with Olivier's theories for planting dry Mediterranean gardens. He exhorted us to lay out our gardens as though a well-disciplined sheep had grazed the bushes into graceful mounds. He urged us to concentrate on foliage for the summer rather than flowers and to love yellow, as opposed to green, where grass is concerned. It is structure that is important and a balance between vegetation and mineral elements that will delight us through the summer. The contrast between different kinds of foliage is also important, grey leaves being of great use for their drought resistance as well as their contrast to green leaves; flowers are almost gilding the lily. Nevertheless Olivier gave us many examples of plants that do flower through the hottest months: for instance the caper, judged difficult by some in the audience, or a series of lavenders that flower from February to September, or perovskia. This latter plant elicited questions from a garden designer in the audience, and led Olivier to reiterate two of the keys to successful planting, the necessity to plant small specimens and to disentangle the roots; he added something which is perhaps not said often, namely that sometimes plants simply do not like a place. Other plants that he mentioned I am listing as best I can remember them (it was pitch dark so I could not take notes): Teucrium marum, Gaura lindheimeri, Euphorbia rigida, Eryngium amethystinum, Epilobium canum, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, Phlomis bourgaei, which has glorious golden foliage in summer; grasses were not forgotten and there was a marvellous selection of sages. There was a forest of hands wanting to ask questions. Someone asked what to do if one has flat clay soil and wants to create a dry garden: the answer is bring in as much rubble as possible, soil is hardly necessary, and to create a mound not even a metre high and five or six metres in diameter in order to recreate the harsh conditions of the garrigue. Questions were set to continue for a long session but there were "Galettes des rois" to taste and Olivier's book in both English and French as well as the catalogue from the Filippi nursery in Mèze to buy and have signed. The afternoon was as enjoyable and instructive for those with much knowledge as for beginners.
Katherine Fedden.

Bupleurum and lavenders

Ballota and Senecio

Summer  structure

Epilobium and Gaura

A very attentive audience

Photographs by Clara and Olivier Filippi

September 2008
A British photographer’s house in the Vaucluse

The Languedoc branch of the MGS was invited to visit the garden of British photographer, T.S. The site offers panoramic views of the Provençal countryside and in particular, of Mont Ventoux and the garden has been designed to harmonise with its surroundings.

White limestone has been used for terraces and paths and for dry stone walls which curve and undulate around a series of garden ‘rooms’. Anthony Paul, the designer, has use plants adapted to the dry and windy conditions, lavenders, salvias, cistus, bupleurum, rosemary, teucrium, oregano, perovskia, stipa, but planted them in blocks, lines and curves to give a contemporary feel. The colours at the time of our visit were predominately the typical olive greens, greys and silver of Mediterranean flora but with the occasional pink of Salvia greggii, Oreganum dictamnus and Delosperma cooperi to attract the eye.

The owner is a keen collector of modern sculpture and each piece has been carefully placed to enhance the views and the planting. Our tour was led by the gardener, Bruno Collado, who has been involved since the garden’s inception, ten years ago. He explained that now that the plants are established watering is kept to a minimum.

The Provençal "mas"

Hannah Bennett's sculptures

A few members of the Languedoc group

Photos by Christine Savage

June 2008
Seminar and garden visits

We met at 10.30 at Les Ecuries conference centre in Cesseras, at the home of Liz and Jacques T. Twenty five members attended a seminar followed by a discussion about gardening in the Languedoc (led in French by Gill Pound, owner of La Petite Pepinière de Caunes) – focussing on how to recognise plants which are adapted to our climate, the implications of climate change and reducing watering and maintenance requirements in our gardens. We then also had a look at Liz and Jacques’s garden at les Ecuries, which operates on dry climate gardening principles.

After our picnic lunch we travelled on to Caunes-Minervois for a guided tour of the garden at La Petite Pépinière where Gill has an extensive collection of plants from dry climate regions of the world, and is continually experimenting with new and unusual varieties of plants to see how they fare in the Languedoc climate. This gave further opportunity for questions and an interesting discussion.

May 2008
Garden visit

On May 14th 2008, the Languedoc members visited M. and Mrs Serge M-P’s garden at the Caves des Hospitaliers

Vertical Garden
We first visited first the cellars of huge yellow limestone blocks. In the courtyard, the two vertical gardens face north and south. The walls are a recent addition inspired by the creations of Patrick Blanc; this is only their second spring. The north-facing vertical garden houses 15 varieties of hosta, 5 species of fern, 5 species of x Heucherella, lamiums, hellebores, Acorus gramineus and much more. The south-facing garden has 10 species of sage, veronica, geraniums, Matricaria, Centaurea, Spiraea, carnations, Armeria maritima etc.

The Garden
This garden was started eight years ago under Aleppo pines, white and green oaks and umbrella pines. It is situated on a mound created from alluvial deposits of gravel and pebbles. Drainage is good, and the soil is poor and slightly alkaline. The pines shelter species from the garrigue; pistachios, laurel, Rhamnus alaternus, juniper. The owners have also planted rarer species, which are added to each year. In principle, the idea is to allow the species to adapt under the tree cover. No pruning is done. They like Gilles Clément’s philosophy of the "free-moving garden" and allow the vegetation to develop without significant human intervention. Occasionally horse manure and grape seed residues are added, but weeds are allowed to grow in the cherry and apricot orchards as well as in the vineyards. In 2005, they were accredited with the label "agriculture raisonnée". Other plants to be seen are a camphor tree, some thirteen varieties of palm, including Trachycarpus wagnerianus, Brahea armata and B. edulis, 17 species of bamboo, two erythrinas (tree and herbaceous), an Araucaria cunninghamii, Dodonaea viscosa 'Purpurea', a Cassia, and a collection of hedychiums, grasses, sages and  waterlilies from a nursery that supplied Claude Monet.

Later in the afternoon, we drove to the nearby village of St. Christol where Mrs. Liliane M-P welcomed us to her garden.

This walled garden is located on the outskirts of the village, in a large park surrounded by a cypress hedge; the ancient park is a converted vineyard that also contains an 18th century property, itself reconstructed from the ruins of a convent. Mrs Liliane M-P has, however, significantly modified the garden to create a pathway which  leads you on to discover several types of plant environments.

Entry is through an archway into a courtyard housing several shrubs. This then leads to a walled patio with climbing roses, followed by a large terrace that dominates the garden. Descending, one admires a cluster of Gleditsia triacanthos whose trunks are covered with 10 cm spikes.  Close by, there is an attractive thicket of  Nandina domestica and a collection of hellebores, followed by a wide avenue edged by tall cypress trees, in classical Mediterranean style.

The visit continues through a  small rose garden. A pergola is covered with wisterias, climbing white roses and Virginia creeper.  Next comes an area of flowering plants located beneath large trees with carpets of thyme and veronica. At the far end of the garden can be found tobacco plants, herbaceous peony, a young Osage orange (Maclura pomifera), a large clump of Cestrum parquii, an extraordinary Corylus colurna (Byzantine nut tree), several types of Viburnum and much more.  Also to be noted is the well used to water the garden in this, the sunniest, spot. The pathway leads back through the pines, past fig trees, pomegranates, pear trees, Cornus and the winter-flowering Chimonanthus praecox. Liliane tends the garden on her own and it truly demonstrates its beauty throughout the year. Worthy of note is the elegant  Parrotia persica which Liliane trims when the trees are young; many trees are pruned in the shape of vases. At the bottom of the park, an especially attractive bed combines the 'painters’s rose', 'Camille Pissaro', with variegated white and red petals, and a small red-flowered rose, 'Candia Meillandécor', among a sea of orange-coloured bulbinellas.

March 2008
Languedoc Branch excursion in the Garrigue

Two dozen members of the Languedoc Branch met at an ancient, abandoned chapel in the countryside close to Uzès for a guided walk in the garrigue. We started with a picnic in the shelter of the chapel (the lovely blue sky and sunshine belying a rather chilly wind), a nice touch as it gave everyone a chance to renew acquaintance after the winter break, and new members to make themselves known. Next to where we sitting, we noticed the white flowers of Diplotaxis erucoides, a pungent salad rocket, and the pinkish flowers of a mallow, Malva sylvestris.

Our guide was David Bracey, who had already been out scouting the route and was thus able to lead us to some fascinating specimens. We saw a wide variety of garrigue plants, many already in bloom. These ranged from the lowly Muscari neglectum, the common Vinca major, the fragrant Thymus vulgaris, the rare Aphyllanthes monspeliensis and the magnificent yellow and deep blue dwarf Iris lutescens to the shrubby Ruta chalepensis, the giant Euphorbia characias, and the red-berried Ruscus aculeatus. We also came across the tree-like Rhamnus alaternus, Juniperus oxycedrus and Phillyrea species. Particularly endearing was the tiny Narcissus dubius.

New to many of us was the thorny wild pear, Pyrus amygdaliformis, with its white flowers resembling almond blossom. Unfortunately, we were too early in the season to see the Cistus in flower, although we did notice one pink bud just emerging. Also spotted were the yellow, sweet-smelling Coronilla glauca, Genista scorpius, the giant orchid Barlia robertiana, (previously known as Himantoglossum robertianum), Ophrys scolopax, and an ophrys later identified as Ophrys fusca by Jocelyn van Riemsdijk. On the culinary side, in addition to thyme, wild asparagus, leek and rocket were widely apparent.

As an interesting addition to our walk, David also led us to the excavation site of a Roman farm dwelling, as well as taking us along the course of a Roman road, reminding us of the enormous changes the countryside has undergone since Roman times.

Iris lutescens

Aphyllanthes monspeliensis

Narcissus dubius

Juniperus oxycedrus

Euphorbia characias

Coronilla valentina
subsp. glauca growing wild in the garrigue

Genista scorpius
growing wild in the garrigue

September 2007
Branch visit to the garden of Pierre Bergé in St.Rémy de Provence

On 21st September 2007 the branch repeated a visit made at last year’s AGM to the garden of Pierre Bergé in St.Rémy de Provence. As most members of the branch were unable to take part last year, Louisa Jones agreed to arrange a visit for us this autumn. The garden, designed by one of Provence’s best known garden designers, Michel Semini, was much enjoyed by us all. Louisa Jones has recently written a book on the designer, published by Kubik and available in both French and English (the latter only on internet).

On the morning of 4th October we held our annual branch meeting at the home of Chantal and André Guiraud, in the centre of Montpellier. In the afternoon we visited Chantal’s new garden – the previous time we visited it was not much more than a building site - and exchanged plants and seeds.

Branch Report
From The Mediterranean Garden No. 42, October 2005

Roses for the Midi
This spring saw an exuberant display of roses in southern France, after an indifferent performance by many varieties in 2004 - a result of the extremely hot, dry summer of 2003. Banksian roses (Rosa banksiae) everywhere started the display in April; my white Banksian rose, in a deep sulk for some years, flowered as never before. The display here continued with Hybrid Musks - R. 'Cornelia' and R. 'Felicia' flowered exceptionally well - and was followed by Hybrid Chinas such as R. 'Perle d'Or', R. 'Little White Pet' and R. 'The Fairy'. An unknown white rambler by our river, which has survived flood, tempest, drought and over-enthusiastic pruning, flung its arms over a rather battered pyrancantha hedge to transform it, for a brief fortnight, into a superb spectacle. How our roses will survive an exceptionally dry and windy summer after a winter of rainfall often 75% lower than average, with water restrictions amounting to a complete ban in many areas, remains to be seen. Their toughness and resilience will surprise us, no doubt.

To celebrate this festival of roses, in early June our branch visited one of the most celebrated rose gardens in southern France. The Roseraie de Berty, no ordinary French rose garden, with highly pruned specimens in serried ranks, is hidden in a deep Cévenol valley in the Ardèche department. At the end of a long, rough, winding and rather intimidating mountain lane, the road unexpectedly drops down into a paradise of roses - climbing trees, draping the walls of the old farmhouse, the Mas de Berty, forming huge bushes of arching stems covered with glorious blooms. Eléonore Cruse arrived at Berty in the early 1970s, one of the generation of soixante-huitards who sought the 'good life' in the remoter parts of southern France after the turmoil of Parisian student life in the late sixties. At first she raised sheep and goats, weaving their wool in peasant style, then she grew buckwheat and vegetables. The world of roses was revealed to her, so she told us, when she read a seminal book published in the 1980s, Les Roses Anciennes by Charlotte Testut. Her collection of old roses (and some modern ones) has grown until there are several hundred varieties. They grow naturally, pruned only to keep a good shape and to control the more exuberant performers. The soil is acid, unlike most soils in our region, but her roses adapt well. They only receive fertilizer when planted but companion plants, like the aromatic sages, thymes and rosemaries from the garrigue, keep the roses pest-free. Bordeaux mixture and sulphur are used for fungal diseases. The sulphur she spreads by hand in spring and recommends a little rubbed in the hair for a glossy effect! We were impressed to see how many roses grew well in shade - I particularly remember the R. multiflora hybrid 'Violette', radiant on its pergola, its deep violet petals enhanced by golden stamens. Another great beauty, R. brunonii 'La Mortola', too delicate for most of our gardens, flowered to perfection on a sheltered terrace. There is a nursery which sells many of the garden's roses and a well-illustrated catalogue, as well as Eléonore Cruse's own books.

By serendipity, this year our branch chose as the subject for its annual survey 'Roses for the Midi'. Members were asked to make a list of the roses in their gardens which performed most satisfactorily, taking into account various factors such as length of flowering, freedom from disease, watering requirements and hardiness. Eleven members replied and the list of recommended roses, painstakingly compiled by David Bracey, appears on page 45 of The Mediterranean Garden No. 42. Many thanks to all members who contributed, especially to David for all his hard work. We hope you will find the list a useful guide to roses in mediterranean regions.
Jocelyn van Riemsdijk

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