Le Jardin Champêtre…à visiter

Looking towards the pine trees, le Jardin Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois, May 2021

The very first time I came across Imogen Checketts and Kate Dumbleton, I was very nearly struck by lightening. Nothing to do with Imogen and Kate, but everything to do with a sudden mad storm which hit Caunes-Minervois in the summer of 2016. There was a huge crack and a blinding flash shot to the ground a metre in front of me. Thanking my lucky stars I carried on to Gill Pound’s open day in her garden, sheltering from rain in her barn. Next door, two women had a stall of plants which was the beginning, I guess, of le Jardin Champêtre, and the two women later turned out to be Imogen and Kate. The following Spring we visited, and the rest is history.

They have built and developed a remarkable garden space, design business and nursery since then, and the land is transformed- as well as the gardens of local clients who have warmed to their style of gardening. They work with the conditions, using poor soil, rocks, gradients, and existing ingredients to make purposeful gardens that grow into the landscape rather than exist on top.

Imogen Checketts and Kate Dumbleton, the first visit, February 2017

In lockdown, I caught a free video from Garden Masterclass, in which Imogen and Kate talk about their journey to Caunes-Minervois and what inspires their approach to gardening in a tough climate. The link takes you to the main Gardening Masterclass page featuring their video and there is a youtube link you can click on. I really recommend it. Imogen and Kate talk simply and effectively about what they do, and I really enjoy the clarity of their approach and words. My own 2017 blog article about them can be found here.

Early days, looking towards the pine trees, February 2017, le Jardin Champetre, Caunes-Minervois, France

This photograph isn’t exactly taken to show the differences between 2017 and 2021, but it does give you a very good feel for how the garden space has developed in the 4 years. The photographs speak for themselves, I hope, but for me the exciting features of how they work include positioning plants so that they mirror each other, pinpoints of colour and contrast, and clever choices of shrubs and trees, assisted by strategic pruning. Below, the multi-stemmed small tree has had the canopy lifted just enough to expose the mirroring stems of the big Kniphofia just behind it.

Beautiful large Miscanthus grass clumps, and smaller Stipa tenuissima dots are lit up by small but very effective Allium and native Gladiolus byzantinus plantings.

Below, more huge clumps of Kniphofia are given the space to take their place, uncrowded by other plants or features.

Big big shrubs like the giant Genista, I think, below are paired with a trio of pencil conifers, and other small ground-hugging shrubs and perennials fill in beautifully.

Now is the time for alliums, and nothing could be finer than the deep purple heads, spotted through the garden. The simple white Allium nigrum flowers were nearly over, but I was reminded that Allium nigrum was the only Allium I managed to grow in Tostat, and I must buy some for next year

Now here is another example of simple being gorgeous. Strapping aloe flowers, backed by probably Miscanthus ‘Adagio’, nothing more nothing less.

And a favourite of mine that afternoon as we strolled in the Languedoc drizzle, was this Lavandula viridis, with the tufty top of a French style lavender with a fresh greeny-yellow point. Very pretty.

Lavandula viridis, le Jardin Champetre, May 2021

And lastly, I was really taken by this delicate pink hooded white Phlomis, which I can’t identify, but will ask about. Visit the nursery and garden if you can- this year or next. It will only get better and better. Thanks for letting us wander there, Imogen and Kate.

Lovely pink hooded white Phlomis, le Jardin Champetre, May 2017

Le Jardin Champêtre…great nursery, great story…

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Tulipa ‘Little Beauty’ backstaged by Berkheya purpurea ‘Zulu Warrior’ and fronted by Dorycnium ‘Frejorgues’, Le Jardin Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois, late March 2017 Photo credit and thanks: Le Jardin Champêtre

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Iris unguicularis ‘Mary Barnard’ nestling in amongst the grasses, Le Jardin Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois, February 2017

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Tulipa clusiana ‘Cynthia’, Le Jardin Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois, late March 2017  Photo credit and thanks: Le Jardin Champêtre

If you are over in Minervois, this nursery should be on your list of places to visit.  I visited accidently last summer just as the nursery was opening for business, and since then, have been back again for a growingly-beautiful demonstration garden and evolving space with, this year, a new potager and more to come.  As well as that, Imogen Checketts and Kate Dumbleton, are developing a growing range of beautiful and tough perennials, grasses and shrubs for people and wildlife in a Mediterranean climate. All in all, good reasons for heading over to Caunes-Minervois and finding out more.

I was very intrigued by what I saw- not only from a plant selection point of view, but also, in the year of Brexit, I was curious as to why two young Englishwomen would choose to make a life in South West France right now, and to find out more about their experience of setting up a business here.

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The taller spires of Miscanthus ‘Adagio’ glow, even on a dull day in February. Le Jardin Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois, February 2017

Imogen and Kate are both professional horticulturalists with strong connections to France, but their journey to Caunes-Minervois has been one of happy accident and serendipity.  Kate says,

‘I studied French and used to work in Paris but hadn’t planned to live in France again. Imogen had always wanted to live in France, having visited Normandy at age 11 and loved everything French; no-one in the Midlands was wearing white trainers, skinny jeans and scarves, or having cous-cous parties! ‘

France drew them both to it.

‘We initially came to France on a sabbatical year. Imogen was Head Gardener at Pensthorpe in North Norfolk, quite a dry, bright climate, and wanted to learn more about Mediterranean plants. I had recently retrained in horticulture and wanted to expand my plant and gardening knowledge. Our first garden was just minutes from the Roscoff ferry, the Jardin exotique de Roscoff, but most of the year was spent going West to East along the South of France and just into Italy to work at the Hanbury Botanical Gardens.’

Travelling through France West to East led to them discovering Caunes-Minervois, and the garden and nursery, ‘La Petite Pepiniere’ which was established and run by Gill Pound.  Imogen and Kate had the chance to take over the specialist nursery business from Gill, who still lives next door, and they both decided not to return to the UK, but to commit to a life in Caunes-Minervois.  Planting up for the first time onsite in the Spring of 2016 was the beginning of ‘Le Jardin Champêtre’.

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Even in February, plants are shooting up, Le Jardin Champêtre, February 2017

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And greening up only 5 weeks later, Le Jardin Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois, late March 2017 Photo credit and thanks: Le Jardin Champêtre

As Kate says,

‘The style of our garden is sort of Dutch new wave mixed with Mediterranean garrigue. The movement of grasses is key to the feel of the garden, which consists of layers of planting: low ground-covers, bulbs, medium height shrubs, tall perennials and trees. The taller grasses and other plants provide shade during the heat of summer, and we’ve dug out basins to capture rain water and watering, which allows us to grow a wider variety of plants. ‘

The demonstration garden and potager will continue to evolve, and they have already scheduled a range of events throughout the year, to introduce people to their style of gardening and their approach to gardening naturally without chemicals.   More about their approach and their passion for gardens as spaces for beauty, relaxation and the environment in a second part to this post.

Here they are: get down there and meet them….

19 bis avenue de la Montagne noire, 11160, Caunes-Minervois, France.Tel. 0780433262 (France) or email: lejardinchampetre@gmail.com

By appointment *all year* & every Saturday 10-5 from March to October.

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Imogen in action and Kate lifting Melianthus, Le Jardin Champêtre, Caunes-Minervois, February 2017

 

 

Gardening delights in the Languedoc

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Chateau de Beaufort from the vineyards, Herault, June 2016

A great weekend with old friends in the Languedoc coincided with the annual French gardens open weekend, and so I had the chance to visit La Petite Pepiniere in Caunes Minervois, which has been run by the inspiring Gill Pound for the past 18 years.  Gill Pound is now retiring from running the nursery, whilst still maintaining her garden design work and running occasional gardening courses, but the nursery will be continued and expanded by Imogen Checketts and Kate Dumbleton from a new site right  next to the original La Petite Pepiniere.

There were some lovely things to see, and to buy.  I really loved the shingle beachside feel of this gravel planting of grasses.

New to me was this fabulous tree, Melia azderach.  Wide, sweeping, tiered foliage with swags of violet blossoms, and the stunning matte brown bare trunk makes this tree a superb specimen for a hot, dry position, which really catches the eye.  Throwing good shade I think during summer, it would make an ideal small garden or courtyard tree.  It’s an Australian native tree, tough, drought tolerant and even handling some frost apparently.  According to Top Tropicals, it is a fast grower, reaching 15-16m in a few years with a wide canopy as you can see.   The blossom is quite gorgeous, and apparently has a strong fragrance, but, as ever, the Piasecka nose was not in operation.

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Melia azderach, La Petite Pepiniere, Caunes Minervois, June 2016

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Melia azderach blossom, La Petite Pepiniere, Caunes Minervois, June 2016

The garden had some beautiful flower moments too.  I really loved this jumble of flowering plants together, all mature specimens, and so making a shower of bloom and colour.

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Cistus purpurea, Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’ and Phlomis fruticosa, La Petite Pepiniere, Caunes Minervois, June 2016

I think I have identified these correctly, but what works so well is the grey, pink colouring of the Origanum which just bridges the deeper pink of the Cistus and the banana yellow of the Phlomis.

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Halimium halimifolium, La Petite Pepiniere, Caunes Minervois, June 2016

This lemon  Halimium is so bright, it almost blinds in sunlight.  It is a stunning performer, and I would adopt Christopher Llloyd’s refusal to worry about colours together in this case.  Upright, yet also tumbling in habit, drought tolerant, it bounces back from wind, rain , hail, and pretty much everything, whilst also repeat flowering, and being frost hardy.  Not bad.

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Unknown Callistemon flower, La Petite Pepiniere, Caunes Minervois, June 2016

As we left, this unknown Callistemon was doing a great firework impression.  Of course, there were purchases made.  When you get the chance to visit a really thoughtful collection of plants, it’s impossible to leave empty-handed.  And one of my purchases flowered today, it’s first flower, I think.  Who wouldn’t want this orange-shred delight?

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Abutilon pictum, Tostat, June 2016