The Garden of St Adrien

Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Garden of St Adrien, Servian, France

During my recent holiday in France, I visited a garden in the Languedoc region (close to the Spanish border), which challenged all my stereotypic preconceptions of French gardens. The site of the Garden of St Adrien, near Servian, is a medieval basalt quarry, where stone in the Middle Ages was dug out by hand using a type of pick-axe. In 1988, the overgrown 4-hectare site was purchased by Daniel and Francoise Malgouyres and transformed into a modern-style garden that in 2013 was voted France's favourite garden.

Head of the giant sculpture

Much of the huge quarry has been turned into a series of lakes, complete with water plants (including water lilies, purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), bulrushes and many different types of reeds providing a linear texture) , waterfalls, fish and a pair of swans! Part of the stone at one edge of the quarry was carved into a giant sculpture of a sleeping woman, whose head is garlanded with flowers growing in the rocks - forming an impressive focal point for the lake.

Ancient olive trees in the garden

Around the lakes, sweeping lush green lawns and majestic trees provided a feeling of being in an oasis on what was an extremely hot day when we visited. The Languedoc region can be very dry in summer, so local wild, non-hybridised grasses were used for the lawns, which apparently don't require a lot of watering.

Lythrum salicaria growing near the water

There were none of the formal parterres we often associate with French gardens; instead there were more informal plantings around the structure of the lake and alongside paths and steps. Plants used were those that thrive in the Mediterranean climate: olive trees, oleanders (of which I saw hundreds during my stay in France), rosemary, lavender, many of the small Salvia greggii cultivars, rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), Gaura, Bouganvillea, hybrid Lantana cultivars and zonal Pelagonium. Roses do brilliantly in the dry heat of this climate - no black spot to be seen! - and a lovely remontant apricot rose called 'Saint Adrien' has been named after this garden.

Backdrop of trees behind one of the lakes

Dramatic sculptural plants are used as accent plants at points around the garden, their silhouettes providing strong shapes against the stone and the water: Agave, palm trees and cypresses - and even prickly pear, which we saw used in gardens throughout France!

Climbers cover arbours in the garden

Recycled iron rods from reinforced concrete have been used to make a series of arbours and trellises in the garden, giving height, framing views and allowing various warm-climate climbing plants to be grown, such as white and pink forms of Dipladenia, Mandevilla species and cultivars, and a strange orange-coloured passionfruit. We did chuckle to see 'morning glory' (Ipomoea indica) and the orange trumpet creeper Campsis radicans growing on these structures (and in many other villages in France), but the cold winters no doubt prevent them from becoming the rampant pests that they are here in Sydney. And the colour of the morning glory certainly is wonderful to behold!

The garden plays host to charity events throughout summer: there is a large theatre carved out of stone with a shallow water stage at one end of the garden where performances of different kinds are held. The garden is open to visitors in July and August (most days) from 5 pm to 7 pm, with guided tours at 5 pm on Wednesdays and Fridays - which, alas, we missed. It is also open at various other times of the year. Visit the website here.

Reader Comments

  • By Elyson 4069 Monday, 28 July 2014

    Hi Deirdre, we are traveling from Lacabarede to Arles tomorrow and the garden is on our way. I have looked It up on the Internet but other than, near Servian, can"t find an address to put into my GPS. This seems like serendipity to me :-) and if you can help with finding the garden I would really appreciate it. Your blog is always interesting and for us this time it is perfect timing. By the way, I just love the overgrown French gardens I"ve seen here with a mix of vegetables and flowers, I suggest you phone them on 0467392492 to get the exact address, which I agree is hard to find and just to make sure it is open when you are going that way as some of the information I had is contradictory about the opening hours and which days it is open (may be a translation problem). There is a map on their website which is what we followed. Good luck. Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 Monday, 28 July 2014

    Thank you, Deirdre, for transporting us to the St. Adrien garden, it was a wonderful journey. As usual, your description makes us feel as though we were with you. Look forward to hearing about the other places you visited. Thanks, Margaret. I did see a few other gardens whilst away, which I will write about soon. Deirdre

  • By Chris 4034 Monday, 28 July 2014

    Le jardin est magnifique. Thanks for sharing Deirdre, the photos were very inviting. Thanks, Chris. I enjoyed visiting this very different garden. Deirdre

  • By Peta 2758 Monday, 28 July 2014

    It"s a wonder we didn"t run into each other Deirdre as I"ve just come back from the southwest of France as well. Gorgeous place. I love the way little villages have so much pride in their gardens, even the roundabouts were beautiful.The bridges had hanging baskets! All inspired by the rustic willow weaving and structures in vegetable gardens, I"ve made a hazel wigwam for my snow peas. It was harder to put together than I anticipated but looks not too bad.Guess who"s saving up for a return ASAP. I agree, the hanging baskets were fantastic in every village. I was amazed by some of the plants they used in the baskets. And I loved the vegie gardens - all the villagers" ones we saw were all inspiring and so decorative! And all the vegies so healthy - no sign of fruit fly etc on the tomatoes. Deirdre

  • By Sue 2074 Monday, 28 July 2014

    Sounds like a lovely trip. Love that carved head amazing. Quite different to say gardens in the Loire, much less formal. Interesting plantings, some of which we wouldn"t use here as you say. Nice water features. Seems a lot of European people love the temperate/subtrop.garden plants. We did the Abbotsbury Subtropical garden voted as people"s choice in the UK2012. It was lovely, with a lot of plants we see here but definitely not sub-tropical as we know it.Nice to see how the top half garden:-) Thanks, Sue. I haven"t seen many French gardens before this trip and this one just happened to be near where we were staying. I have seen a lot of very formal Italian gardens so it was nice to see something so different. Deirdre

  • By Patricia 2100 Tuesday, 29 July 2014

    Merci beaucoup.

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