Nature does it best


Domaine de George Sand, Nohant-Vic, France

My loyal readers will know that in an effort to put wine on the table I offer guided tours of the gardens of the Loire Valley and the centre of France to clients from around the world. Today we were out reconnoitring one such garden, which we thought would interest our next group of guests. The gardens of George Sand, literary giant and resident of the Indre, are officially designated a Jardin Remarquable, so after confirming our route via the rather lovely Chateau de Bouges, we pushed on toward Nohant-Vic, seeking out appropriate restaurants on the way.

French Bluebells

Our own lunch was a sandwich in the countryside; our venue, the side of the road by a pleasant looking wood, which turned out to be full to bursting with Bluebells, just starting to flower. I have never seen Bluebells ( (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) in France and had assumed this, like decent beer and Cornish Pasties, was something I had left behind in the UK. This wood will rival anything I have seen in England in a week or so, with millions of bulbs set to create a carpet of blue over a huge area. The ditches and verges nearby were dotted with Cowslips, thriving here where there are few to pick them and so prevent them seeding. In addition Euphorbias, Wood Anemones and other wild flowers were everywhere to be seen. We pushed on towards Nohant, through a clearly ancient forest of Oak, Chestnut and Hornbeam, screaming to a halt at the sight of hundreds of large, wild herbaceous plants at the point of blooming, at the side of the road and scattered amongst the trees. I struggled to pronounce the name but thought it was Asphodel and took this photograph so that I could check it on our return to the house. The plant is Asphodelus albus, more at home by the Mediterranean than in the centre of France, but doing extremely well in and around these woods.

Asphodelus albus

After this splendid show from the countryside, the gardens of the Domaine de George Sand came as a bit of a disappointment and we soon decided to leave it out of our schedule. Our next tour includes a group of five traveling from all the way from Australia and we felt they would not appreciate being dragged for nearly two hours into the Berry countryside to see something so remarkably lack-lustre. It’s not that it’s a bad garden; it has been maintained, I assume, as it was in the 1840’s, when the intellectual elite would come visiting: Balzac, Delacroix, Liszt, Chopin, Flaubert, Gautier, Tourgueniev…… It’s a peaceful place but I’d love to design a modern garden to replace it. On reflection, the chateau at Chenonceau, with its gardens built by rival queens on the banks of the Cher, seemed a much safer bet.

Purple Toothwort - Lathraea clandestine

Close by we stopped to walk the dog by river Cher and discovered a remarkable little plant growing under the Poplars. The purple Toothwort (Lathraea clandestine) has no chlorophyll to manufacture its own food and deals with this in two ways. Firstly, it is a parasite, living off the sugars in the roots of its host (in this case Poplar), but it is also carnivorous, devouring insects which are unlucky enough to venture into tiny cavities in the leaf. Interesting and pretty.

We had a lovely day out and avoided an embarrassing mistake in proposing a visit to Nohant. The countryside of central France really excelled itself today, certainly better than the man-made garden we visited.

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