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Experimental Garden, Devantville (83)

Written by Marc Pagnier Published Aug 31, 2012 Marc Pagnier

Rédacteur en Chef des titres en anglais, français et chinois.

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Growing up in the countryside, and wont to explore unlikely-looking paths and tracks, we have always needed space. In late 1988, we moved into the heart of the hilly Var, 400 metres up, between sea and mountain.


Impregnation

But first we spent the nine previous years getting to know the area intimately. Its horizons, the cold nights between November to March, the annual rainfall and the lack of it in summer. We kept the conversion of cracked and not-yet-habitable property on track. It had no running water and the electricity blacked out whenever there was a storm.

We also began to clear and plant. Brambles and clematis festooned the olive trees amid a sea of broom, as invasive as its golden yellow perfume. The dry stone walls were besieged by two metre high fennel plants, while other walls had been demolished by herds of wild boar.

We planted after the autumn rains had softened the soil and watered what we had planted in winter, drawing water from the wells.

The south-east exposure was perfect, the west being harsh and the north tricky, though in reality full of resources because it attenuates the contrasts of temperature. Getting to know the prevailing wind, the drafty areas, the corridors of white frost, and carefully seeking out the milder, sheltered areas and corners took up our first years.

Taking stock

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This allowed us to establish the limits of growing options. Only plants that belong in a Mediterranean climate have a chance of thriving : ones that come from the Mediterranean basin, California, South Africa, northern and southern Australia or New Zealand’s south island. A little more difficult, there are plants from Mexico, the Canaries, Chili… and, at a stretch, the northerly centre of China, at altitude. It comes down, in fact, to zones 7 to 9 on the U.S.D.A scale, which is adopted more or less universally and ranges from 1, polar, to 10 or 11, tropical.

Suitable small trees and shrubs have included Chitalpa, Parrotia persica, Liquidambar orientalis, Chinese Acer (maple variety), Crataegus, various Strawberry trees, Pistachio trees, evergreen Viburnum, Malus and Prunus.

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Layout

For me, it was essential to have the fragrance of flowers and foliage from trees as well as shrubs; it was part of the pleasure of walking in the garden.

The garden incorporates a pergola and a bower, covered with climbers such as Bank’s and Senateur la Follette, along with Wisteria multijuga rosea, with its long purple ‘grapes’.

The extent of the property allows you to see far, affording perspectives, view points and circuits. This layout invites you to discover the garden gradually, create a path that comes out unexpectedly, or change the level to provide a view from under – or over – climbing plants and their cascades.

We have planted more 4 000 taxa (or taxons) of which 9/10 have been grown from seed or cuttings. Every year brings us unexpected successes – like the Madeiran Euphorbia, resplendent after a winter which killed off plants that had been planted ten or fifteen years ago.

After thirty years, you come to consider garden grown-up, on a par with yourselves, and you can begin improving it with more “amorous” touches, special decors.… And so we continue to work, as the fancy takes us, in this delightful space of friendship and nature.

Garden visits : 1st April to 15 June and 1st October to 15 December, by appointment. 

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