The grand tour…

Looking east towards the Mix and the green seat, Tostat, April 2020

I started this post last week. But life and death intervened. A friend died of Motor Neurone Disease in Paris, fortunately at home with her partner, and so she was with loved ones at the end. That stopped me in my tracks really. A very sad moment, especially as I watched her funeral ceremony by the internet from her flat led by her loving partner and son. So, this post is dedicated to Martine and Proinsias, in memory of some very happy times in the garden.

Young men with money used to do The Grand Tour in the 18th and 19th centuries- jollying round Europe’s ancient antiquities and cities, it was supposed to mature a young man, give him the perspective of what his wealth could bring him in the acquisition of artworks and cultural broadening. I set myself the lockdown task of trying to do my own mini Grand Tour of the garden, trying to find new ways of looking at it, looking though it and maybe discovering new ideas about how it can be and how it is. It was a dullish day, sometimes the best way to see the garden without the sparkle that sunshine brings.

So, the first picture shows the Mix, the back of the house and the small area inspired by Nicole de Vesian with the green bench and the wind-knocked pencil conifers. The Mix is still evolving and without the stately presence of the tall Miscanthus later in the year. The mauve lilac is just breaking into blossom- a good shrub that I always forget about.

Looking west towards the ruisseau and Populus deltoides ‘Purple Tower’, Tostat, April 2020

This is a view that is completely new to me! The purple poplar is one of my all-time favourites for the elegance of the shape and the dark, striking foliage in early Spring. In the foreground, Hakonechloa macra aureola is just getting going, one of the few plants we brought with us from Scotland which, playing against type, adores this hot, dry position for some reason.

Looking towards the banana plantation, Gunnera manicata and Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’, Tostat, April 2020

Looking through the lovely old broken walls, is the banana, Andy’s beloved plant which is well on the way to becoming a small plantation, and his other great love, the Gunnera. Below, just over a broken wall, you can just see the village church tower in the distance.

The foreshortening, through the walls to the church tower, Tostat, April 2020
The New Garden, the Stumpery on the right, Tostat, April 2020

The New Garden, formed from a fallen-down barn area, has been transformed by the building of the Pond, which opens up and focuses the view behind the eucalyptus. I would love to claim credit for this wizard bit of design- but, truthfully, it would never have happened if we hadn’t gone over to a biomass boiler and had the old gas tank removed.

Looking towards the new pond, Tostat, April 2020

And here is the new pond, and you can see how it has changed and developed the view to make the garden truly wrap around the house. The shrub planted in the foreground ring of stones is an unsung hero, Euonymus alata compactus, which grows here in slightly added-to shit and stony soil in full sun, with only occasional water if it is really desperate. More on the pond building later on.

The fastigiate beech baby, the transplanted palm tree, the wildflower areas, Tostat, April 2020

The little beech is just becoming fabulous. Carpinus betulus ‘Frans Fontaine’ is fastigiate and should stay almost pin thin whilst getting taller. And the transplanted palm, a bad planting mistake of mine in the first year when we brought it in a pot from Scotland, Trachycarpus fortunei is one tough customer. Funnily enough, I bought it from Ardkinglass Tree Nursery, on the shores of Loch Fyne, so it is a well-travelled palm tree.

From the pond to the house with Rosa ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ just starting, and Molly the dog rootling, Tostat, April 2020

And back we are to the front of the house, with Molly the dog and the newly planted Agave americana big baby that blocks the pond off from foot traffic. We have several agave babies all queuing up for relocation at some point. They are gorgeous but vicious.

And on a brighter evening, the path by the back door, Tostat, early April 2020

And the full circuit ends at the back door on a sunnier evening.

From high fashion to the ultimate simplicity…

Nicole de Vesian was a fashion designer and stylist for Hermes in Paris until she retired in the 1970s. Moving to the Luberon, she created, at La Louve, one of the most beautiful and simple gardens I have ever seen, though not yet visited. Photographs of this garden moved me immensely. The simplicity of the planting, the prevailing use of green, form and shape becoming more important than colour in the hot sun of Provence, and the economy of her approach really appealed. She used what she could find around her, buying very little, but bringing a rhythmic flow to the use of clipped shrubs and finding ways to bring the rocky, dry, hilly landscape of her garden to life.

This link to a blog by Bellis Vintage contains a link to a short clip from Monty Don’s series a couple of years ago on extraordinary gardens. Take 5 with a cup of tea and savour it.

Meanwhile, back in Tostat, I have been preparing a little homage to Nicole de Vesian. Trying to stay a little faithful to her principles of economy, I have re-used plants that fell out of favour with me elsewhere in the garden, and only bought 4 small conifers. Four more than Nicole de Vesian would have bought, but there we are. So, as you can see, in the photograph below, it is all at a very baby stage.

For height, I am using Cupressus sempervirens ‘Totem Pole’ which grows to about 5m but is quite slim, and also my re-used Buxus sempervirens ‘Graham Blandy’, which is an ultra-slim pencil of box growing to about 3m, I think, but only 15cms or so wide. I had two box balls grown from tinies that we started off in Scotland, which make a big presence at the front of the seat, and I am also re-using Buxus sempervirens ‘Green Gem’ which naturally makes a ball of about 0.75m over time. Two fatter, but dwarf, conifers complete the arrangement, Chamaecyparis ‘Ellwoodii’– which might be a labelling mistake in my view, but I will take my chances. It should be about 3m high by 1m wide at full tilt. And the last is Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Blue Gem’ which will be about 2 m high and wide with a soft blue tint to the greenery.

Side shot, showing Cupressus sempervirens 'Totem Pole' far left,  then Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Blue Gem',Buxus sempervirens 'Graham Blandy', Buxus sempervirens 'Green Gem' and my Scottish Buxus sempervirens suffruticosa boxballs in front of the seat.
Side shot, showing Cupressus sempervirens ‘Totem Pole’ far left, then  Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Blue Gem’, Buxus sempervirens ‘Graham Blandy’, Buxus sempervirens ‘Green Gem’ and my Scottish Buxus sempervirens suffruticosa boxballs in front of the seat.

View from the other side.  I have also re-used a Euonymus alata Compactus behind the seat, which will make a good companion all-season shrub with gorgeous autumn tints.
View from the other side. I have also re-used a Euonymus alata Compactus behind the seat, which will make a good companion all-season shrub with gorgeous autumn tints.

It will look very good in time. At the moment, viewing it alongside pictures of La Louve, it is almost embarassing. But here is a quick section sketch that I did which shows where I am going. Hang onto that.

Simple section sketch showing where I am headed....
Simple section sketch showing where I am headed….

Meantime, a really lovely blog by Kirsten Honeyman, has some beautiful photographs capturing her inspiring visit to La Louve. And Louisa Jones, the garden writer, has also written a definitive record of de Vesian and her garden called ‘Nicole de Vesian: Gardens, Modern Design in Provence’. Louisa Jones also provided some of her own photographs and comments to the Mediterranean Garden Society, follow the link for those.

I know that Judith Pilsbury, who bought La Louve from de Vesian, has sold La Louve in the last couple of years, but Parcs et Jardins still feature her as the owner on their visiting page. So, I hope this means that the current owner is continuing to make the garden available to visitors occasionally. I will have to round up a group!

And I will also square off the tops of the Chamaecyparis to develop the homage further.

PS. A great Louis the Geek blogpost on Buxus sempervirens ‘Graham Blandy’ just arrived. I was hoping for something smaller! We’ll see.