Late Spring in the Languedoc…

Looking into the garden from the house in the evening sun, Beaufort, Languedoc, May 2021

Not that we have seen anyone much for the past year, but it is curious that two couples, who have been great mates for us for more than 40 years, live only a few hours drive away from us, in the same country. Our friends in the Languedoc beat us to it and have been living in a small village in the hills near Lezignan for more than 30 years. The hills rise up from the vine-filled hot plain and, from their house nestled into the rise of the hills, you can see the dark mass of the Montagnes Noire, and the Pyrennees in the far distance if it’s clear. It is a big view and weather commands the senses. The land is seriously tough terrain, peppered with paths worn by animals over the years, strewn with rocks and outcrops, and as dry as a bone. It lends a whole new strength to the word ‘dry’.

Spring poppies fill the island area, Beaufort, Languedoc, May 2021
Looking across the plain to the Montagnes Noires, Beaufort, Languedoc, May 2021

So the story of this garden, so close to wilderness, is one of gentle progress over the years, to find a way of creating a garden that lives with what it is, is therefore unconventional, and which makes a beautiful and sustainable space to enjoy. Making a garden here is about developing humility as well as knowledge, rolling with the punches when plants fail, and reviewing realistically what is possible. I realise that I may have majored on the pain in the previous sentences, so to counterbalance that, here is what makes this space so addictive. There is rise and fall with paths and rocks, for those who might remember Dan Pearson’s beautiful recreation of rocky Derbyshire at Chelsea in 2015, there is something of that big landscape feel in this garden. It has panoramic views, and although not huge in size, it is of a piece with the natural surroundings.

Dan Pearson for Laurent Perrier, Chelsea 2015
Dan Pearson for Laurent Perrier, Chelsea 2015

In the last few years, Derek and Cherrie have worked with Imogen Checketts and Kate Dumbleton from Le Jardin Champêtre in Caunes-Minervois. This collaboration has helped them to follow their instincts, using the clues of the landscape to creata paths and planting areas, and finding, with plenty of trial and error, the plants that will bring the best out of what they already have.

These didn’t need to be shipped in….
The garden cabin looks very happy there….

When green, silver and grey are the predominant foliage colours, form and punctuation points of concentrated colour bring the planting alive. A tiny, but indomitable delospermum (I think) begins to trail over a rocky outcrop, you may not be especially aware that it is there, but it will draw your eye.

Probably a delospermum growing to the light, Beaufort, Languedoc, May 2021

Two olive trees are picked out by two or three judiciously placed pencil conifers, and under the canopy of mature trees and shrubs, smaller perennials get that little bit of protection from the sun. To garden here means to accept that summer brings dieback and stasis, till the temperatures drop back and some rain comes- so spring is to be really celebrated for colour, and form and foliage need to hold the fort till the autumn.

Some individual plants caught my eye, some being the result of happy accidents, like the very pretty native pink Cistus self-seeding on the higher banks, and growing on the slopes themselves, this pale pink Allium looked far too delicate but clearly isn’t. I think it may be Allium lusitanicum.

Probably Allium lusitanicum, Beaufort, Languedoc, May 2021

Still with pink, I took a clump of this pretty small convolvulus home- it is everywhere on the hillsides of the Languedoc, but for all that, I am trying it on my hot, dry slope. It must be tough, so here’s hoping.

Probably Convolulus oleifolius, Beaufort, Languedoc, May 2021

From the nursery of Le Jardin Champêtre, I suspect, is this very pretty pale yellowy-cream Salvia with dark stems.

Probably Salvia x jamensis ‘La Luna’, Beaufort, Languedoc, May 2021

And trying hard to be a gentian, Salvia farinacea with astonishing blue stems, it almost looks painted on. This is quite tender I think, so although I love it, it’s not for me.

Salvia farinacea, Beaufort, Languedoc, May 2021

I have always associated Silene with damp, but I am pretty sure that this is the wild form, almost finished but not quite.

Probably Silene vulgaris, Beaufort, Languedoc, May 2021

And the weekend was over, too quickly.

In search of Dan and Christopher…

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Lime-green fresh new growth on Melianthus major, the Cloister Garden, Garden Museum, London, February 2018

I have followed Dan Pearson and his career from being a handsome, alternative television gardener way back, to now, at the age of fifty or so, having become the master of peaceful, thoughtful gardens, respectful of their place and situation with choice species planting as his speciality.  In his writing he has honed an almost zen-like long range perspective on how gardens live and evolve side by side with their human carers.

In a very cold and wintry London, I made two small sorties to see his work close up.  More than six years ago, I used to enjoy visiting the Garden Museum, and especially, the café, which, managed by several warm and serious women cooks, made great teas, coffees, baking and lunches to enjoy in the tiny graveyard that was tucked away at the back of the old converted church.  Since then, the Musuem has undergone a transformation.  With no public funding, it has still managed a skilful rehabilitation of the church while Dan Pearson and Christopher Bradley-Hole have brought alive the new Cloister Garden and the entrance/wrap-around garden respectively.

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The Cloister Garden, the Garden Museum, London, February 2018


Winter exposes all, and the Garden is not yet a mature planting.  But, the bananas and the astonishing new growth on the Melianthus major, the upright spikes of Equisetum, and the cheery red Nandina domestica berries provided much more focus than you would imagine.  The underplanting, a lovely mix of Ophiopogon, ferns and not-yet emerged perennials, was only just on the move, but will make a really lush carpet through which the ‘Garden of Treasures’ will appear.  I really enjoyed the use of ancient gravestones, set into the planting, often askew, which will allow you to get up quite close and intimate with the planting.  They also remind you, as does the presence of the decorated tombs of the two John Tradescants, father and son, probably England’s first botanical collectors, of the vivid past and people of this small parish in Lambeth.  Give it all a year or two more, and this little garden will beautifully evoke the Victorian Wardian case that inspired Dan Pearson.

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Nandina domestica, the Cloister Garden, Garden Museum, London, February 2018

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The use of stones to ‘bring you’ into the planting, Dan Pearson’s garden at Chelsea 2015

Christopher Bradley-Hole is another designer who seems almost modest in his search for a simple aesthetic which favours harmony and purpose, rather than decoration.  I thought his 2013 Chelsea garden was a stand-out, though it seemed unassuming in comparison with some of the richesse on display in other gardens.

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Christopher Bradley-Hole, Chelsea 2013

He has opened up the entrance of the Garden Museum with sweeping yew hedges which embrace and create a generous curved and gravelled courtyard space, simply opening up the ancient church buildings to their Museum function.  Using the existing flat and standing tombstones, he has planted amongst them, using a mix of ferns, perennials and grasses to populate these tiny spaces.  This makes little rivers of mixed planting around the stones, bringing them into focus and linking with the use of stones in the Cloister Garden.  There is no bling- and a real economy of focus.

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Christopher Bradley-Hole, entrance to the Garden Musuem, London, February 2018

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Standing clumps of white hellebores and the bright red stems of Cornus, Garden Museum, London, February 2018

The planting towards the boundaries of the Entrance Garden links to the small public space nearby of St Mary’s Gardens, a very tiny smile-shaped area between the Museum and the busy traffic of Lambeth Palace Road.  Bright red Cornus stems spear upwards, maybe ‘Midwinter Fire’ but could be the species Sanguinea, surrounded by clumps of tall Hellebores and bulbs, ferns with probably hardy geraniums to come.  Simple, semi-shade loving with the tall tree canopy to contend with, and very lovely.