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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From the nursery of Le Jardin Champêtre, I suspect, is this very pretty pale yellowy-cream Salvia with dark stems.
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.
I have always associated Silene with damp, but I am pretty sure that this is the wild form, almost finished but not quite.
And the weekend was over, too quickly.