France 2016

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A Long Weekend in Rouen

Thursday 2nd June 2016 – Rouen, here we come!

Twenty one members and friends joined the coach at Keysoe and were joined at Upper Caldecote by another 16 at 6.45a.m., making the total for our trip of 37.   Again we were given a virtually new 53 seater coach which proved to be very comfortable and the driver Kieran also proved to be a very competent.

Having used the A1/M25 roads on many occasions I was astounded at the lack of traffic and we sped along making our first stop at Maidstone Services at 9.00a.m.  After a 45 minute break we had an uneventful journey and crossing with a further stop at Aire de la Baie de Somme before arriving at the Mercure Hotel, Rouen, at 4.15pm. (local time).  This allowed some time to wander into Rouen before our evening meal. – Peter B.

Friday morning 3rd June – Jardin du Pres

Stepping off our coach at Henouville, all of us were clearly set to enjoy visiting the first garden of our Rouen-based weekend. M and Mme Pessy were there, at their gate, warmly welcoming us to Jardin du Pres, the garden they had lovingly created and nurtured over many years. Today a garden of visual beauty, previously a busy farmyard with duck pond, chicken run, wash house and apple orchard.

Almost immediately my eye fell upon a softly coloured apricot/salmon climbing rose, “Rosier Opaline”, gently entwined round its neighbouring shrub. No need to fret regarding plant names for most were clearly identified, many with enchanting bird-shaped labels. And amongst the green canopy above, warblers and other garden birds flitted about, singing their own chansons. While some of us set off to explore the garden alone or in pairs, others kept close to Mme Pessy who shared many aspects of her garden knowledge and the immense love and care she bestowed on each of her plants. Roses abounded, and it seems all were selected for their perfume.

Further along my initial pathway, a maroon Sinocalycanthus raulstonii “Hartlage Wine” (originally from Northern Carolina) seemed to capture the interest of many,, as did nearby Cornus “Norman Haddon” lovingly embraced by the long-flowering, dusky-pink Clematis “Giselle”. Indeed, a nice variety of dogwoods were “in bloom”, some with neatly pointed bracts and others softly coloured, while Cornus “Venus” was resplendent in pure white. Visiting gardens such as this one is like absorbing visual poetry: beauty and subtlety in one spot, with strident drama in another. Indeed, towards the back of the garden near a rain-filled water-butt, a well-established Lobelia Tupa (of Chilean origin) had pride of place. Bold stems, still growing, would later be covered in dark red blossom. In winter it would be levelled to the ground and protectively covered with a layer of fern leaves.

Several benches and a high backed seat, created from a medley of old time farm and garden implements artistically welded together, provided a chance to rest awhile. Offering a sense of historic reality as well as a nice touch of humour, they were surprisingly comfortable. Since 2003, Jardin du Pres has been the home to the national collection of hardy geraniums, adding yet another dimension to the garden as a whole. The collection is still owned and tended by Dominic Evifard.

Recent heavy rains and a cool spring had resulted in various plants being late to bloom. But “Janny’s Special” and “Molly Schroeder”, both Viburna plicata, were ia their full glory, as was “Midnight Mystique”, a raspberry and white coloured rhododendron, each managing to weave its own individual magic upon us. Surprises greeted us at every turn, this beautifully layered garden providing visual delight whichever way one looked. Later, wondering what view greeted someone looking out from the back windows of the house, I noticed an Acer conspicuum “Phoenix” not far away, with its orange-coloured bark and vertical silvery striata. Beautiful in early summer, it was said to be as equally impressive in winter when its leaves glowed red. Elsewhere a Prunus with burgundy coloured bark glistened in the dappled shade, while a small stand of silver birches offered their own share of colour. – Sue Dobson

Friday afternoon – Jardin Gill followed by Abbey de Boscherville

After a delicious lunch (and a glass of wine) we were ready to visit Jardin Gill, our second garden of the day. We walked along the country road passing by the 12th century tower, to be greeted by Monsieur and Madame Levasseur, who were on hand to show us round their beautiful garden and answer any questions we had. The great 250 year old copper beech spread its large branches above us. Near the house the planting is formal, whilst further away it’s informal. There is the most enormous rambling rose and perennials used everywhere for ground cover, the yellow iris which surround a large pond, positively glow in the low light. The strange Gingko Bilbao tree with its unusual leaves is a fine specimen of this prehistoric tree. Madame is an artist which shows again and again in her imaginative use of plants and in the placing of her many, often humorous, sculptures, which she makes using old tools. The one that particularly caught my eye was a tower of watering cans that is dedicated to the ‘unknown gardener’. The symmetry of a series of box beds is maintained by ‘planting’ small terracotta pots where nothing else will grow. The visit drew to a close with a glass of Cider Fermier before we walked back into the village to The Saint-Georges de Boscherville Abbey which is truly an alliance of art, history and nature. The large beds of white roses were just coming into bloom and will be spectacular in a few more days. The main part of the garden has been recreated to represent a self-supporting monastic garden of the 17th century using information from archives. The kitchen garden is planted with a variety of vegetables and flowers and the orchard has many old varieties of fruit trees. We walked up through an array of perennials, towards the terrace which has a commanding view of the Seine valley. A barge making its way along the river looked as though it was sailing along the tops of the trees! Back down towards the abbey we walked amongst vines trained in traditional fashion. The abbey itself was constructed in the 12th century. Inside, the simple Norman Romonesque pillars soar up to the arched stone ceiling. The classic but simple proportions of the interior are impressive. Either side of the alter are large pots of blue and white hydrangeas. We also had time to have a stroll around the village of St. Martin de Boscherville, and admire the traditional houses before boarding the coach for our return trip to Rouen. – Dorothy & Mike Cowley

Saturday 4th June – Jardin de la Mere aux Trembles followed by Jardin de Jean

Saturday morning was overcast and misty as our party of enthusiastic garden visitors arrived at Jardin de la Mare aux Trembles owned by M. & Mme Gilbert-Piere.

We entered the garden along a drive edged with evergreen clipped into comfortable round cushiony shapes.  As we passed a very old cowshed and hay loft the garden opened up before us, to reveal a scene of great beauty and calm.  Wonderful clipped roundels, hummocks and short columns of Cotoneaster, Lonicer nitida (both plain and variegated), Ligustrum and yew were arranged with an artist’s eye to create a gently rolling sea that was under planted with close clipped ivy and a dwarf Cotoneaster (?adpresus) that was covered in its tiny white flowers.  The colour was picked up by the siver birches and many varieties of Cornus florida and house which were in full flower for our visit.  A few other flowers grew through the predominate green – doronicum and a buttercup to name two – but I suspect these were ruthlessly edited by the hand of the artist!  Interestingly I only saw one fern, Dryopteris affinis, just ahead of me our Chairman queried this and the answer was the summers were too hot to grow ferns!

A tall hedge of beech (or hornbeam) enclosed a room about 5 metres square containing a well kept lawn with a grove of silver birch and a rectangular lily pond with a bench on which to sit and contemplate – perfection.  I doubt I would have the discipline to leave well alone – just a hosta here – a fern there – once again the artist at work!  A group of pottery chickens by a French window and a quirky chair made of sickles, horseshoes and bits of pluming added to the charm.  We left after our Chairman gave our thanks, in French, tour hosts who were touched and pleased.

On to Louviers and lunch except that the fair was on the car park – horror!  As the driver sought a parking space I began to think I would sit in the coach and starve but no, our driver found a spot where the local busses stopped and the local police gave the OK.  Three of us set off across the market square and saw a bar.  Do they do food?  A look through the windows showed tables and chairs so in we went.  When asked M’sier & Madam looked at each other and M’sier said Steak & Chips? We said yes.  After a rummage in the kitchen M’sier offered Cheese Omelette (which was very good).  Madame served tea and coffee (before the meal? these British!) and all was well.

The next stop was at Jardin de Jean owned by M. Dupuis – a complete change to the previous garden.  Beds cut into the lawn with well grown plants spaced out, a bit like a catalogue which I suppose it was – M. Dupuis sold plants.  The anticipation was electric! After a brief tour we were let loose in the stock beds.  The prices were reasonable (he wasn’t selling the canna I fancied) and he did a brisk trade, then came the packing up into boxes to get everything on to the coach.  Peter B. did a marvellous job.  No more room for plants were told!  Did we listen? Of course not, we’re Hardy Planters!

Back to the hotel where some of us rested and others explored Rouen.  – Hazel Finney

Sunday 5th June morning- Les Jardins d’Angelique

I was extremely anxious as we arrived at Angelique having told everyone how lovely it was when we visited last – but that was more than 5 years ago and in good weather!  There had been so much rain before we arrived that the river Seine in Paris was flooding.  I needn’t have worried – the garden was as gorgeous as ever despite some of the roses (hundreds of varieties) having suffered a little.  The garden was created as a memorial following the death of their teenage daughter and is a real labour of love filled with birdsong, beautiful planting and plenty of places to just sit and contemplate.  For those of you who would like a look at the garden (filmed later in the summer than our visit) look at to get an idea of the atmosphere of this special garden.

In front of the manor house is a sweeping lawn with herbaceous border which overspills in to a garden of narrow paths between beds stuffed with interesting plants in great colour combinations.  Many types of Iris, hostas, including one I’d never seen before – host ‘Praying Hands’ with pairs of leaves held upright, ferns all lushly planted.  I particularly liked some dull pinky grey metal mushrooms teamed with Japanese painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum) and the pink stitchwort that peeped out from many of the plants.  Every time I see a Calycanthus growing in a garden I resolve to get one but still haven’t.  Seeing one in full flower here has strengthened my resolve to get such a glorious large shrub.

The short walk between the front and the rear garden is interesting with a painted gate, galvanised watering cans and mix of gravel and hostas.  Next comes a clipped box and yew arch with seats and a scrambling Clematis montana ‘Marjorie’ swarming with bees.  The more formal garden of beds surrounded by clipped box hedges is set out around a classical round fountain.  Flowers are predominantly white – roses, delphiniums, geraniums and peonies – but with pale pinks and mauves adding some contrast.

Before leaving we adjourned to the lovely barn for a sumptuous buffet lunch accompanied by local cider, followed by coffee and cake.  Heaven on earth! – Rowena Wolfe

Sunday 5th June afternoon – Jardin de Valerianes

After seeing Les Jardins D’Angelique for the second time I thought Roger & Penny would find it difficult to come up with a garden that would compare. I shouldn’t have worried – Jardin de Valerianes is a gem of a garden, and with the added bonus of the sun’s appearance  on our arrival, it was perfect.

Monsieur & Madame Tissait Michel are the talented owners of this three acre award winning garden. The garden, which is named after their two daughters, Valerie & Ann, is a subtle blend of perennials & roses with a fine collection of trees. The garden is split into two by a narrow country lane. The older garden near the house has been cultivated for 25 years and is mainly herbaceous perennials with just a few trees such as the white-barked Betula. An amazing white Wisteria rambles to a great height up an ivy-clad tree, its heady perfume appeared to be making the bees drunk. A hedge of numerous Box half spheres added a touch of humour and led to a large cloud topiary.

The second garden is 15 years old and is mainly trees and shrubs. There are some beautiful specimens. The Cercis Canadenensis with its orangey brown leaves & Cornus Kousa ‘Satomi’ with a subtle coral edge to its flowers were particular favourites. There is a contemplative Japanese garden with a stunning Cardiocrinum  gigantium nearby. We were regailed with the sound of the bullfrogs mating calls from the pond and could see some lovely yellow water lilies just emerging. – Trish Brickell

Monday 6th June 2016 – Jardin de Mesnil then home.

After leaving our hotel at 9.00a.m. we travelled to Jardin de Mesnil, owned by Philippe and Catherine Quesnel.   Fortunately our host Catherine spoke good English as she had been an English teacher.  After coffee the owner explained that the garden had been created over 33 years and covered an area of 32.5 acres.  She explained that the house and ground had ‘come with her husband’ and when she first moved in it was ‘horrible’.  The house was in need of restoration and the grounds were just flat and featureless.  They started with a small garden around the house and as the children grew up the gardens were expanded.  On a trip to England they were inspired by the gardens they visited and began to make larger plans.

The range of trees, shrubs, and plants was very expansive with numerous varieties of Acer.  The colours of the Acers and Cornus  were beautiful. To list all of the trees/shrubs in the garden would fill a far larger space than we are allowed for this report. But I name just a few:  Acer palmatum Katsura, Acer pseudoplatanus Prince Hanjeri, Taxodium ascendens nutans, Ginko biloba,Quekcus pectinata.  Neither our words or the pictures we took can truly describe this magical garden.

We were then shown around the garden and also shown the ‘new garden’ which has been recently started and should take about 10 years to mature.  To finish this magnificent garden visit we had a six course lunch with aperitifs and wine sitting in the sun outside of the newly established Tea Room (which our host Catherine had always dreamed of having within the garden).

This last garden was stunning and a fitting end to a brilliant holiday.   We begrudgingly finally left at 1.20p.m. and had another smooth and uneventful journey home. – Peter and Susan B.