It was only a week in the Luberon, but it was a week of such contrasts. The beginnings of the season could be found at Jardin de la Citadelle, as planting was underway and a new Head Gardener about to start work, whilst at Colorado Provençal, all that was required was for humans to stand back and admire the extraordinary remnants of an rural industrial past. Art, sculpture, architecture and Bob Dylan combined at Chateau La Coste in a wild and managed setting, and at Chateau Val Joannis, a mature garden designed in the 1970s evoked the discipline and severity of the eighteenth century, but yet remained warm and homely in scale.
I always think of Sarracenias standing tall as organpipes, yet this variety ‘Red Velvet’ had all the crumpled, lax beauty of a Crown Imperial. It was a real and stunning surprise, but I have not been able to find a supplier to link to, so maybe it’s a newish variety? Jardin de la Citadelle rises up in stages from the vineyards of the Chateau below, with wonderful views across the Luberon, and is a passion project for the owner, Yves Rousset-Rouard, along with his wine. He was driving a little buggy around, delivering new plants to planting sites for the new season, stopped and talked to us about his plans for the future of the garden. He’s in for the long haul.
All his plants are grown in big, deep, beautifully made planting boxes, raising the plants off the ground, which, for many of the aromatics, gives them a chance to shine as they are not often tall plants. All of his signage in the garden is beautifully written by hand on big slates, one for each box, and each stage of the garden is marked with big carved stones, denoting the purpose of each level. Wide paths lead you up the hill opening the views up with each rise. It was a beautiful morning in a thoughtful place.
In Chateau La Coste, the investment of the owner, Paddy McKillen, is similarly generous, though on a far grander scale, reflected in the most modern ambitions of quality wine production, and both landscape management and support for art, design and architecture. Each artist or designer chooses the site for their work in the Chateau landscape, and the only stipulation is that no trees can be felled to site the work. The work must nestle into the landscape and not disturb it. Bob Dylan’s Rail Car, recently installed, is given a site opening out into the landscape, but protected by woodland.
It is a massive and bold work, mounted as if just uncoupled on a siding, on a stretch of rail track and looks across to the orange cube of Richard Rogers, where there is a partnering exhibit of some of Dylan’s paintings.
Flanking the planted vineyard between the orange cube and the Rail Car, was a stretch of gloriously red Trifolium rubens. Fabulous.
There were so many intriguing and distinctive artworks placed within the huge landscape, but maybe none more ethereal than the Silver House, which trapped the woodland light, amplifying it and making mysterious shadows with it. And none more simply poetic than the Donegal bridge, evoked and exquisitely made with only the ancient techniques of stone balancing stone.
Le Colorado Provençal is another extraordinary landscape, forged between 1871 and 1993 by the extraction of ochre deposits laid down millions of years ago. What is left behind is a startling and beautiful range of colours in the mined valleys and dips.
This is a very fragile landscape, and with the heat and drought of the last few weeks, extreme care has to be taken to protect it from fire and tourism damage. But, it is a beguiling experience to walk in such colour, and well worth it- with care.
Chateau Val Joannis presents itself with all of the precision and diligence of the eighteenth century classic French garden, but beautifully belies this severity with soft, everyday planting and some touches of lightness and confidence in simple choices. Take the stone snail working across the courtyard for example, positioned against the immaculate hedging and stepover apples, with the potted cycad and palm being delicately silverised by the light of the sun. There is nothing more, nothing less.
The Kniphofia uvaria, a popular plant in gardens for more than a century, stands tall with another popular garden plant, Red Valerian, in the background. Other well known herbaceous plants wait their turn.
A shaded long pergola runs the length of the garden, with more Red Valerian, roses such as ‘New Dawn’ and clematis. The cream paving slabs are broken by alternate rougher slabs, as a repeating pattern down the length. Simple but effective.
Serried mature olive trees are ranged in a grassy park at the back of the garden as the land gives way to the vineyard. With the bright sunlight and the dark shade, their silvery leaves gleam.
Pinpoint topiary pyramids and graduated levels of contrasting hedging frame the emerging foliage on a fruit tree, with only a tall clump of Red Valerian paired with White.
And hidden amongst the artworks, the sculptures and the architecture at Chateau La Coste, a lone orchid flowers. A wonderful week.