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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
The charm of vintage gardening books
28 Feb 21
A trip back in time
21 Feb 21
Cane-stemmed Begonia cultivars are summer stars for foliage and flower power in Sydney gardens.
14 Feb 21
There are some unusual flowers on my grasses now.
07 Feb 21
These plants bloom for many months in my garden - and some are in flower all year!
31 Jan 21
Many scented flowers are in bloom now.