I have to admit to a soft spot for Les Journées des Plantes, the plant fair at the Domaine de Courson, south of Paris. Now in its 26th year, it manages the tricky balance of being seriously good horticulturally, while maintaining the atmosphere of a village fete.
The organisers hold two shows each year; the spring event from 16th-18th May placed it just before Chelsea and may have limited the appeal to UK visitors, while the autumn show was over the weekend of 17th-19th October.
This is one show where we always buy plants, in spite of access to them at wholesale prices elsewhere. Temptations at every turn leave us almost bewildered, with some of Europe’s finest growers offering their choicest varieties to a discerning and appreciative public.
It is an event to make the English “nation of gardeners” sit up and take notice. The French spend far more on plants and flowers each year than the English and the evidence is all around with crowds of amateurs loading their cars with desirable items. Set in the grounds and out-buildings of the chateau, Les Journées des Plantes is supported by a notable jury who give awards across a range of demanding criteria. Members come from across Europe but include our own Roy Lancaster, Michael Hickson and Tom Stuart-Smith.
The fair is about the plants; a number of stands offer accessories and there is a small contingent of landscapers, but most exhibitors are nurserymen and most of these are from France. A few are large enterprises but many are small specialists, ideal for supplying something choice and unusual for your next planting project. There were four nurseries representing the UK this year and a number from Belgium and Holland.
Rarities abound and the show is used by many companies to launch new varieties. It was an education to talk with the array of plantsmen showing their wares and to buy a selection to try in our own or in clients’ gardens. Over the years we have bought Salvias and grasses ahead of their recent resurgence in popularity and our specimen of S. uliginosa was grown from an original bought at Courson several years ago. Some of the few plants we moved from the UK to France in the furniture van were also purchased at the show. This year I spotted the Snow Camellia (Camellia japonica rusticana Nishiki Kirin) and the variegated Camellia sasanqua Okina-Goromo (Old Man’s Coat) and selected a pair for a shady border at the front of our new home in central France.
We wanted a Mimosa and found a nursery from near St. Tropez offering Acacia dealbata Mireille, a large- flowered but dwarf form which will announce spring with its dazzling bunches of scented yellow blossom. This will need a sunny position, but I will ensure I plant a Mahonia media Winter Sun in the shade of a nearby wall, so that the cheering display begins in November and lasts, between the two shrubs, until March.
We bought Lagerstroemia Yang Tse from the specialist grower of this plant, Desmartis of Bergerac. We are assured that this showy pink variety will do well in our Loire Valley climate and, having seen several examples in local town squares, I have great hopes for the evergreen shrub in a warm spot in the back garden.
I loved the new variegated Skimmia Magic Marlot and Acer palmatum Marlo with pink and green leaves, both from C.E.C.E. of Belgium. James Harris of Mallet Court Nursery drew my attention to the white flowered, evergreen tree Poliothyrsis sinensis and within moments of leaving his stand I regretted not buying one. Ward Alpines had a huge quantity of Gentians in flower including Blue Silk and the double Eugens Allerbester. These and many others delights we managed somehow to resist for this year, but by next autumn perhaps the garden will be ready for them.
There is plenty of inspiration for the designer in the plants themselves but what accessories there are can also be exciting. Monumental stone benches by Urbanat and chic furniture in zinc, wood or steel set the mind racing with possibilities. Clothing, tools and many other items are offered for sale and the organisers have laid on a number of lectures spread across the three days, although I have yet to attend one.
One of Europe’s horticultural gems, Les Journées des Plantes, at the Domaine de Courson is a must for the plant lovers amongst us. If you have yet to discover it, your next opportunity is 15th – 17th May 2009, with the autumn show on 16th – 18th October. Entry is 15 Euros. More information from the web site: http://www.domaine-de-courson.fr Tell them Colin and Marie-Chantal sent you!