Come rain, come shine…

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End of the evening with Stipa tenuissima, Oenethora speciosa shutting up shop, and the last of Cerinthe major ‘Kiwi Blue’ in the distance, Tostat, May 2017

This May has been a bit of a rollercoaster, and in these moments, it is hard not to become totally obsessed with the weather forecast, and then what actually happens- usually not at all as predicted.  In summary, the dry soil sun-lovers have really enjoyed themselves and other things have not, some of which have hung on in there and one or two may have bitten the dust.  This is because I don’t water.  To be precise, I do spot-water things in extremis in their first year, but after that, I don’t.  Stubborn or what, you might well say.  But I am trying to finetune the selection and growing of plants that can live here unaided, and now that there is so much variability in the weather at any time of the year, it makes you feel a bit like William Tell trying to skewer that apple with both legs bound, and from a moving platform.

One of the plants that may have crashed and burnt is one of two Rhamnus frangula ‘Fine Line’.  Interestingly, the one that is in the ER wagon is the one in the slightly less hot spot. I so wanted to grow this plant, having chosen it years ago as part of a planting design for my diploma course- and it was the devil of a job to find it here in France.  So I was mightily pleased when I found not one but two plants last year, and planted them in the early Spring.  It is a delicate, airy columnar shrub, which is pretty undemanding and is reputed to cope with almost any conditions, especially frost.  So, I will have to see if it will perk up from the bottom or find a way of making a comeback.   Meantime, some gentle watering on occasion as it is in the ER wagon.

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Verbascum bombyciferum, where it put itself, Tostat May 2017

Some delights have also turned up. That is not to say that Verbascum bombyciferum is entirely a delight as it can plonk itself slapbang where you don’t want it, and then you have to keep beheading it as it is impossible to get out, with a giant root system that practically goes to Australia.  But it is a mighty and impressive beast when it lands where you might not know that you want it, but you discover that you always did!  With us, the first year is quite a small affair, and then, aged 1-2, the giant seems to leap fully formed out of the ground in front of your eyes.  Felted, hairy and covered in custard-yellow small flowers, it is a one-stop insect feeding station.  It keeps the form and stature right through winter until, totally dried out, it keels over and you are tempted to shout ‘Timber’.

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Assorted foxgloves in dampish soil and sun, Tostat, May 2017

Curiously, it has also been a great year for foxgloves- all self-sown and obviously selecting the parts of the garden where they stand a chance.  That is one of the lovely things about not being too rigid about what goes on where, I love being surprised by what pops up and, also, flip side of the coin, by what doesn’t pop up.  Some years, the foxgloves don’t make much of an appearance- but they always return in the end.

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Euphorbia sikkimensis, Tostat, May 2017

Now here is a survivor.  Grown from seed and fairly weedy for a couple of years, this is the year where it has broken through youth to become a real plant of substance.  I think it’s Euphorbia sikkimensis anyway.  It’s at least 5 years ago that I grew it from seed and it wasn’t a happy sowing, as not much came up, and I lost the tag.  This plant is the only survivor of three.  But it really is worth it.  It is going to make a handsome 1m tall and wide plant, with these electric yellow flower bracts that form on the top of each stem.  Unlike some, it is not a thug, in fact, I would put it in the ‘shy and retiring’ category.  It flowers much later than the rest- sometimes as late as the end of June, and it is willing to cope with the driest, sunniest spot in the garden without any visible complaint.

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Evening sun and handling no rain pretty well, Tostat, May 2017

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Clematis viticella, Aruncus dioicus and the foliage of Paeonia lutea var.ludlowii, Tostat, May 2017

le Jardin d’Entêoulet

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Cotinus coggygria ‘Kanari’ encircled by Stipa tenuissima, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

The first ever garden-visit expedition was made by Tostatenfleur last Saturday to the Jardin d’Entêoulet, just outside Lasseube-Propre in the Gers.  We deserve a blue plaque to mark the occasion!  Nearly 20 of us assembled there at 0930 to be given an excellent and very relaxed tour by the garden-maker, Mme Renée Boy-Faget.  She has made an exceptional garden, and having the energy of an army herself,  it has been a single-handed labour of love.  The word ‘passion’ applies to Mme Boy-Faget.  She is no shirker from hard work and physical labour, and is a walking advert for the benefits of spending her time creating the garden she wants.  In terms of space, it is much much more garden than most of us would contemplate, more than 2 hectares of what were simply fields and farmland up until 2001.  Her work achieved the accolade of being voted ‘Le Jardin Préféré des Français’ in 2014, fighting off 21 other gardens in France- and it was richly deserved.

She has and had a vision.  She clearly has the ability and the ‘eye’ to look at a space, small or big, and see how it could be.  So that is greatly to be admired.  But, perhaps, even more impressive is the simplicity of much of her planting.  She has blended easy-to-grow ordinary perennials which repeat through much of the garden with the occasional show-stopper, like the extraordinary Cotinus coggygria ‘Kanari’ that I have never seen before.

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Rosa Leontine Gervais, Barbier 1903, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

Her lovely collection of more than 280 rose varieties, many of them very unusual, are also accompanied by simple, repeat plantings of catmint, phlomis and sisyrinchium. Grasses are everywhere, much to my delight.  Above is Rosa ‘Leontine Gervais’, which is very similar in colouring and tone to ‘Ghislaine de Feligonde’ but with much larger trusses of flowers from cream to warm apricot.  Absolutely gorgeous.

Her planting style is relaxed, plants find their space- and she resists the urge to over-stuff or prune/trim,  the feeling she creates is that the plants get the chance to do their own thing.  Although she will cut back if she dislikes something or becomes too big for its boots- no messing there.

She clearly uses every single one of the many babies that your average Miscanthus produces in our climate here- and to great effect.  I will definitely be going back for an autumn visit when the grasses will be flowering magnificently.  I also really liked the sense of integration in the garden.  It is a glorious whole, with different scenes, areas and colours, but the whole remains connected.  To a great extent, the simplicity of the repeated plantings really helps with that, but also there is a flow through the garden that works even in the new plantings at the bottom of the slight hill.

No more words- here are some views and some plants that really caught my eye.  If in the Gers, ring up and go.  A really inspiring three hours.

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A romantic view of the entrance path, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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A view to the Lutyens bench, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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Looking through the relaxed planting, le Jardin d’Entêoulet. May 2017

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The dry garden, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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Complete with resident frogs sitting on the lilypads, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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The formal pool, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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Red painted vine stumps lead the way past Papaver, ‘Beauty of Livermere’, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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Rosa ‘Sir Cedric Morris’ performing brilliantly by the formal pool, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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Rosa ‘Sir Cedric Morris’, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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Rosa ‘Vilchenblau’ coming into the sun, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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Bees enjoying the peony poppy, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017

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The vine stumps appear again at the pool, a good bit of theatre, le Jardin d’Entêoulet, May 2017



Le Jardin Secret: simplicity and elegance matched with drama and boldness

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Kalanchoe beharensis, gold and velvet, feels like cloth, Le Jardin Secret, Exotic Garden, Marrakesh, March 2017


A lone Tulbaghia violacea floats in a sea of Stipa tenuissima, Le Jardin Secret, The Islamic Garden, Marrakesh, March 2017

Le Jardin Secret is a magnificent addition to all that Marrakesh offers, opened only a year ago.  Right in the heart of the Medina on an historic site, an Italian investor wisely chose not to build a hotel, but instead, to create a magical evocation of the Islamic Garden, and an accompanying Exotic Garden.  What a man. I take my hat off to him.  Using skilled local artisans and an international team of archaeological surveyors and historians, as well as the contemporary botanical, architectural and design skills of Tom Stuart-Smith,  Andy Hamilton, Sante Giovanni Albonetti and Karim el Achak– they have all created something quite stunning. Given the people-squash that was Jardin Majorelle, by contrast, Le Jardin Secret was calm and quiet- and therefore, a double delight.

These two plantings above capture the essence of the 2 gardens at Le Jardin Secret.  The first garden you come to is an explosion, an eruption of drama, shape and colour using exotic plants from all over the world.  It soars, surprises, creeps at your feet and draws gasps.  Beautifully brought together for maximum impact and contrast, the planting uses surprisingly few varieties, but creates a rollercoaster of a picture, from a four-trunked palm at least 200 years old to splashes of limonium at your feet.  This garden had no archaeological heritage to honour, there were no traces of what may have once been here at the height of the Riad’s fame in the nineteenth century- and this gave a design free hand.  Fully used, in planting terms.

The Islamic Garden, which sits at an angle to the Exotic Garden, with a dogleg through a new pavilion as the bridge between one and the other, had lots of archaeology which presented itself to the team.  More was discovered as the clearing and excavation went on preceding the build.  This gave the team a classic Islamic Chahar Bagh to work with.  The team took the decision to honour that tradition fully in the choice of plants and trees, with one concession to water preservation and contemporary dislike of bare soil.

Where the traditional Islamic Garden would have preserved bare earth between plants, Le Jardin Secret has chosen boldly to go with a flowing sea of Stipa tenuissima, into which lavenders and other aromatics are inserted.  This grass is a delight. The movement, the way light hits it, the tousled look of it, all create dynamism and flow, but yet no sense of effort or forced energy.

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In the brilliant sun, Stipa tenuissima and lavender, Le Jardin Secret, The Islamic Garden, Marrakesh, March 2017


Rosemary hedges hold the sea of Stipa, but the Stipa fringes the raised, classically tiled and paved paths that lead to elegant seating and small, bulbous, fountains.  Le Jardin Secret, The Islamic Garden, Marrakesh, March 2017

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View down onto The Islamic Garden.  The central rill divides the 4 squares feeding a fountain at the far end (out of view).  Le Jardin Secret, Marrakesh, March 2017


Looking down the central rill to the lotus fountain, The Islamic Garden, Le Jardin Secret, Marrakesh, March 2017

How do you feel in this garden?  It creates simplicity and unity from a limited, traditional palette of planting- but the star of the piece is the humble Stipa which, as water would do, subtly changes the look and the feel of the garden without disturbing.  It was a truly tranquil moment in the rush and bustle that is Marrakesh.  Stunning.


Looking through the dogleg, the traditional staggered entrance, from The Islamic Garden back into The Exotic Garden, Le Jardin Secret, Marrakesh, March 2017

They are a brilliant complement to one another.  The Islamic Garden is a class act, simple, elegant, restrained and cool, whilst the Exotic Garden bursts on the scene like a contemporary firework.  A tour de force.

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Intense light and shade on a hot day, with surprise and stature to match, The Exotic Garden, Le Jardin Secret, Marrakesh, March 2017

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Brick red Aloe ferox gives a shot in the arm, The Exotic Garden, Le Jardin Secret, Marrakesh, March 2017


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In the shade, Euphorbia dendroides, Aloe ferox (yellow) and Melianthus major, The Exotic Garden, Le Jardin Secret, Marrakesh, March 2017


Socking purple, the bee heaven that is Limonium perezii, The Exotic Garden, Le Jardin Secret, Marrakesh, March 2017

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Red-pink Aloe striata against the deep pink-red of the new pavilion creating the staggered entrance to the Islamic Garden, The Exotic Garden, Marrakesh, March 2017

Book your tickets to Marrakesh now!