About 2 years before we came to France, Andy’s Mum gave me an enchanting book, which really inspired me to want to find ways in which gardening and design can support the development of public spaces for enjoyment. This slim little book, ‘Diary of a French Herb Garden’ by the well known cookery writer, Geraldene Holt, told the story of her restoration of an ancient potager once used by the local priest of the little village of Saint Montan in the Ariege. The small plot was about to be taken as parking space when she asked the local Conseil if they would allow her to restore it into a public aromatic garden, staying true to the memory of priests supporting the community as the apothecary. They did, she did, and the garden remains to this day as a public space.
And as time turns around and comes around, I have been asked to think about how a village public space can be transformed into an engaging and easy to care for public space, offering time to stop and think. This tiny little plot, by an ancient ruisseau or agricultural canal, lies just beneath a very small bridge over the ruisseau, and is bounded by walls and hedges. But, when you step down into the plot, only 9m x 8m at its widest, it does feel as if you have stepped down into the past. The small road vanishes from view, and the rushing water, and the presence of an old upended washing stone, reminds you of how hard a woman’s life was before domestic machinery.
The telegraph pole is a bit in your face to start with, but, being wood, it begins to merge into the background. The shopping bag is mine, with my measuring tapes and whatnot in it.
You can also see that an old kneeling stone survives so that the women would have been able to stay clean-ish themselves when bending down to do the washing.
So, how to make this into an enchanting space? I thought I should begin with attracting attention from the road with flowering planting that will last all year, and then also keeping the palate simple with good perennial cover that will take care of itself, and colours staying within the cream-yellow-blue range, with a flash or two of pink. I have drawn a quick isonometric sketch just to give an idea…
Coming from the little road, you step onto big and small paving stones towards 2 angled slate benches underneath a pergola, shaped a bit like an open book. It will need to be a strong pergola that will support the full weight of the earliest rose, Rosa banksiae lutea, which will shower down onto the pergola in April-May. This rose will be followed by the white passionflower, Passiflora caerulea ‘Constance Elliott, which will flower till the frosts. Should be a showstopper.
Rosa banksiae is tough as old boots and thornless, all good things in a public space. Another rose, Rosa Jacqueline du Pre, will be nearby flowering white and cream later from summer into autumn, bright blue Louisiana irises will cluster at the water’s edge from June till August, and Saponaria officinalis Rosea Plena, the double form of the soapwort which was often planted near lavoirs in ancient times, will provide a good splash of pink. Earlier in the year, Helleborus orientalis will robustly flower, leaving great foliage all year and a Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata‘, which we will have to wait a bit for, will scent the scene from January till March. Acanthus mollis will also fill in gaps with good greenery all year and pinkish flowers in early summer.
Let’s hope that people like the sound of it, and we all start saving plants to make it happen. With one or two purchases along the way.