Sometimes, a visit to a garden introduces you to an unforgettable plant, idea or atmosphere which stays with you. Back in 1990, as a new gardener with not much under my belt, I visited Le Bois des Moutiers, an unforgettable house and garden near Varengeville-sur-Mer, in Normandy. And the plant that I saw there which became one of the first things I bought when we moved to Tostat, was Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis’.
It is a wonderful shrub rose. It will grow almost anywhere, is pretty much evergreen all year, requires no pruning other than dead bits, grows away to itself until, in our case, it reaches 3m x 3m, and it flowers for 8-9 months of the year in bursts. It also needs no watering or special feeding of any kind. And when it flowers, it is as if a crowd of peach, pale cream, dark pink and buttery yellow butterflies have landed on the bush. The flowers are single, and crinkle up, so that they really do resemble butterflies en masse. And the colours change as the flower ages, from buttery yellow to deep deep pink. For me, it is one of the highlights of our ‘Shitty Bank’, see my earlier blog for more details.
And I first saw it at Le Bois Des Moutiers. The link takes you to the opening page of their website, and there is a video embedded which will give you a really good idea of how beautiful it is. Still owned and run by the Mallet family, who first commissioned Edwin Lutyens and his friend and associate, Gertrude Jekyll to design the house and the garden, it is a ‘must-see’ if you are in Haute-Normandie. The house is now open for visits guided by family members, and the gardens are open as well.
When we went in late summer 1990, Rosa chinenis ‘Mutabilis’ was flowering magnificently, and I was smitten for ever. Below, are 2 photographs from 1990, which show the Rose placed to front a woodland garden area, and it can be clearly seen mid-right in the second photograph showing the broad allee running down from the house. I remember seeing the then Mme Mallet in wellies in the front garden of the house, and I asked her for the name of the rose, and also for any plant nurseries she would personally recommend. She helped me with both with real interest.
Here are 2 other views of the house and garden from that visit. In the first, I can be seen bottom-left in a large flowery t-shirt walking towards the house. It is a fantastic example of an Arts and Crafts house with many original pieces of furniture still in place that were specially designed for the house and Guillaume Mallet. In the second photograph, a very young looking Andy can be seen in front of a view of the house and the enormous Lutyens pergola.
And whilst you are there, you can see the stunning Braque stained glass windows in the little church and chapel at Varengeville, and if you are in the mood for another garden, the late Princess Greta Sturdza‘s garden (which is on my list) can be seen at Le Vasterival. If you want to make a visit, the website includes all the information about the various ways of organising a visit but all are by appointment, so need to be arranged in advance. Princess Sturdza was a breeder of hydrangea, amongst other things, and I have just bought Hydrangea paniculata ‘Great Star’ which was discovered and bred by her. Got to make a trip to Normandy….