Chaumont Festival preview & Courson dreaming.

Prés du Goualoup, Courson.

Prés du Goualoup, Chaumont.

Last week we were invited to the preview of the Festival of Gardens at Chaumont-sur-Loire. This is surely one of Europe’s must-see events both for landscape / garden design professionals and the amateur enthusiast and runs from 6th April to 11th November this year. Unique design ideas tried out here will often appear at Chelsea or one of the other great garden shows two or three years later, so it’s a great source of inspiration for those in the garden business. When we were based in the UK we would always make the effort to visit; now it is a short drive from our home and I take groups to see it several times each year. Before the end of the month I will have been three or four times but I never fail to spot something new from each visit and to see it develop over the seasons is a real joy.

Domaine de Courson - Prés du Goualoup

Domaine de Chaumont – Prés du Goualoup

Each year there is a design theme and this time it is ‘Gardens of Sensations’, which leaves the designers plenty of scope (or perhaps rope!) to decide what this means for themselves. But before we looked around the 25 show gardens of this year’s festival we were determined to see the permanent gardens and installations in the Goualoup Meadow (Prés du Goualoup) the new 10 Ha extension to the site. First up was a garden by Yu Kongjian, a landscaper specialising in Feng Shui, with a winding path across dark water punctuated by clusters of bright red bamboo canes and which leads on to a reinterpretation of a traditional Chinese scholars garden by the architect and garden specialist, Che Bing Chiu – Ermitage sur la Loire. One of the courses at the Garden Design Academy involves considering garden design from a Feng Shui perspective, so we found this a fascinating garden to wander through.

Chaumont Garden Festival

Chaumont Garden Festival

On the day we visited the weather was quite perfect for the evocative installation entitled Permanent Clouds by Fujiko Nakaya while other artworks could easily have delayed us further from “doing” the festival; we had to be strong. My last visit to the site was in the company of the Director of the Royal Gardens of Oman, over for a two week stay with us. He was hard to please (in the best possible way) and we spent many happy hours debating the design and execution of some of the gardens we saw.

May 2013 Chaumont Garden Festival

May 2013 Chaumont Garden Festival

For professionals the festival is like that. The designer / artist sets out his stall with an explanation of the garden he has attempted to create. It is up to the visitor to judge if what he has delivered lives up to the description; you are allowed to be critical but it is also important to be fair. Budgets are compulsorily low so that creativity rather than cash comes to the fore and these are gardens which will mature as the year progresses. Some gardens are incredibly competent, others have great individual features while, to be frank, others just don’t work as intended. But as a learning experience Chaumont is unequalled and is now in its twenty-second year of providing opportunities for designers from around the world to install thought-provoking and challenging gardens.

……………………

Our enlarged white border is doing very well this year - White Lilac is in flower at the moment

Our enlarged white border is doing very well this year – White Lilac is in flower at the moment

Here in our garden in central France the spring is moving delightfully slowly, allowing fuller appreciation of each drift of flowering as the season progresses. Apricots are followed by peaches, plums to cherries, pears and finally to apples, as the orchards trees flower and set fruit. One moment Magnolias are the highlight, while now the Lilacs and Wisteria are just starting for fade and the Philadelphus (Mock Orange) is apart to bloom. Everywhere is flower, scent and the drone of excited insects. What a time and what a place to be alive!

Euphorbia in the island border at the Garden Design Academy

Euphorbia in the island border at the Garden Design Academy

Of course there are gaps in the garden and there are times when only a plant fair will do. One of Europe’s greatest is at Courson, south of Paris, and we are invited to the press / professional preview on Friday. We have a half-formed idea of some of the plants we cannot possibly be without but in any event will let the spirit take us around the show to pick out some of the brightest and newest plants on offer. We always spend too much, and often buy hopelessly inappropriate plants and never fail to come back exhausted but happy. I have seen a lot of plant fairs but nothing quite like this: I’ll let you know how I get on.

Something for nothing – residential courses – and plant cuttings.

Something for nothing always goes down well with clients, I find, and the Garden Design Academy has been attempting to provide just that this week.

Residential courses were the surprise success of 2011 and as a result we have been able both to reduce the price of the courses for 2012 and host them more often. There are five residential courses currently offered, compared to eighty home study courses, so there is great potential to create more if a demand becomes apparent.

The longest running is Design your own Garden, intended for amateur gardeners and originally held as evening classes in the UK, where I taught to up to forty students at a time at technical colleges north of London. This has transferred very nicely to our home in France, where it is held for much smaller groups of up to eight, as a “hands on” alternative to traditional garden design services. It is popular as a short activity holiday, combining the satisfaction of creating your own garden and considerable design cost savings, with a holiday in the Loire Valley. A variant offered for the first time this year introduced students to Fung Shui as an additional design tool, taught by our friend and Feng Shui expert Elizabeth Wells. Originally held in a renovated annex of the main house, it now has its own home in our superb log cabin classroom constructed last year, nestling under the 150 year old Sequoias at the end of the garden.

Inside the log cabin

Inside the log cabin classroom at the Garden Design Academy

The other course we brought with us from the UK supports professional garden designers and landscapers investigating CAD as a tool in their work. We have been using CAD since the 90’s and one of our employees was the first to gain acceptance to the Society of Garden Designers using 100% CAD drawings (although I don’t think the organisation realised what was happening at the time). While many of the older generation of garden designers feel threatened by the technology, most new designers were weaned on computers and taught CAD as part of their professional training. For those facing the decision and unsure of which way to turn, we offer CAD for Garden Designers which looks at all aspects of the subject rather than a single piece of software, allowing each designer to choose which system is right for them. Better informed, these potentially costly decisions are more easily made. Internet forums are full of discussions about software, hardware and presentation methods, and this course attempts to answer many of these questions. We also offer an overview lesson as a free module in our distance learning Certificate in Garden Design, our most popular home study course by far.

It was comments on the professional internet forums and requests from students which lead us to offer Site Survey for Garden Designers. Many designers feel they have been inadequately trained and prepared for this aspect of their work, so this two day course allows them to hone their skills and learn new ones. We get out in the garden, measuring and drawing challenging sites and noting the levels, heights and orientation using a range of equipment. We also consider hidden obstacles and existing plants, an aspect notoriously poorly undertaken by many professional survey companies. Last year a group of students stayed on to visit some of the châteaux gardens and the garden festival at Chaumont sur Loire. In conjunction with our B&B accommodation guided tours of the gardens of the Loire Valley have proved popular with guests from the United States, alongside English garden designers and day trippers down from Paris. These gardens are part of the reason we moved to the region and provide us with considerable stimulation and inspiration in our work as garden creators.

I have spent the last two days updating the Garden Design Academy web site with the details of these courses and have reduced the prices ready for the new season. Perhaps now I can get out and do some gardening!

Indian Bean Tree

Now is the time for taking hardwood cuttings but the suggestions by most gardening advisers do little to excite this gardener. Species recommended are normally the cheap and easy plants- Laurel, Forsythia, Philadelphus, Ribes and the like. But then I saw a line in an article suggesting we take hardwood cuttings of golden Catalpa and I started thinking: what else could I try? I have a chest-high Catalpa bignonioides – ‘Aurea‘ (Indian Bean Tree) in the garden but a superb specimen also grows in the local park on the banks of the river Cher. In flower this American native is a magnificent sight. References I have suggest taking cuttings in the spring but I shall make a point of trying hardwood cuttings this week and let you know how it goes. If anyone has any experience of this I would be pleased to hear about it.

Flowers

Ribes and Forsythia

Of course, although I have been quick to dismiss Forsythia, Philadelphus and Ribes, many beautiful varieties of these plants are available and well worth propagating, if only I can find the plants to take cuttings from. While there is a limit to the number of each plant we can grow in our own garden, I do like to give them as gifts and home raised plants are so much more personal than buying a present from a nursery. In the mean time I do have a small list of plants I would like to try, but resolve to be more open minded to other possibilities when I am out with my secateurs.

Too busy to garden?

This is a busy and exciting week, with a group of students staying here on a residential ” Design your own Garden” course, this time with a Feng Shui twist, featuring an expert in the subject, Elizabeth Wells, over from the UK.

Still I find time to do a little weeding and admire this week’s new flowers, a welcome break after several hours of lecturing in the classroom. A small tree of Clerodendrum trichotomum is one of the current highlights, covered in sweetly smelling flowers and sheltering a pink Dahlia at its base. Close by is a large clump of Aster novi-belgii ‘Schone Von Dietlikon’, compact, Mildew clear and attracting Butterflies and other insects.

By email another batch of new students have just signed up: Cottage Gardens, several for RHS Certificate Level 2 and for the first time, RHS Certificate Level 3, second part (Certificate in the Principles of Garden Planning, Construction and Planting). Courses are checked, burned to CD and posted with a covering letter, nipping out to do this and buy the bread for breakfast. We get through huge quantities of bread: I blame the baker, the fresh air and Chantal’s home made jam!

In the post a couple of new textbooks have arrived and need reviewing; these will have to wait until next week, when I plan to sit by the Mediterranean and read, but they look as if students might find them useful useful: Residential Landscape Architecture for the designers and Turfgrass Management for the parks people.

At lunch times, indoors mostly because of the uncertain weather, friends keep dropping in to meet the students and give us little gifts: golden Girolle mushrooms from the Sologne, where a friend has a farm rented out for hunting; perfect-looking Quinces from a local garden, the first walnuts of the season and an impromptu jam swap.

But there is work to be done and transport to confirm to take us all to the Chaumont Festival of Gardens (see earlier posts). Normally we drop in on a vineyard on the way back and I have just the one primed and ready to offer samples. There’ll still be time to garden, I am sure, although the circus has just arrived in the village square!

Last call: Feng Shui garden design – residential course in central France

We are all getting very excited as we prepare for the start of our Feng Shui garden design workshop; there has been interest from the USA, the UK, France and other countries, so we are looking forward to an interesting event. I’m worried about our own garden – will people like it, will they understand what I have tried to do, is it good Feng Shui? I shall just have to tidy up a bit more, hope the weather is good and trust they are kind.

There have been requests for more information on course content from some quarters, so I have prepared the following schedule to explain what students can expect over the week.

Some have talked about coming as a group so we are pleased to offer:

BRING A FRIEND – ASK FOR 10% DISCOUNT!


Design your own Garden

– with Feng Shui

Course schedule    – Sept 2011

Tuesday 13th     6pm:         Welcome drink and introductions.


7:00         Dinner

Wednesday.     8:30         Breakfast

9:30 – 12:30     Introduction to garden styles and design types. This session is intended to explore a range of concepts as a background to the subject and inspiration for thinking about your own gardens.

12:45         Lunch

2:00 -4.30    Afternoon off. We have many gardening and design books for students to look at but some will prefer a walk by the River Cher or a trip out to see the nearby sights.

5-6pm    Introduction to Feng Shui with Elizabeth Wells FFSA

7:00         Dinner

8:30    Chaumont Festival of Gardening slide show. 18 years of avant-garde garden design has produced nearly 400 “ground breaking”gardens.

Thursday     8:30         Breakfast

9:30      Leave to visit Chaumont Festival of Gardening for more inspiration from this annual event. The theme this year: “Gardens of the future or the art of happy biodiversity”. 26 gardens have been newly constructed based around this idea and these should provide food for thought when designing your own. Don’t forget to look at the park and the sculpture installations while you are here.

You make your own arrangements for lunch on site.

4:30        Return to Chabris (arrive approx. 5:30)

7:00         Dinner

8:30        Chaumont 2011 photos.

Friday         8:30         Breakfast

9:30 – 12:30    Requirements and solutions for each of the student’s gardens. The garden design checklist. Looking at a range of gardening problems is very instructive and often students change their minds about what they want after undertaking this exercise with the plots of the others. We also look at plans of gardens I have designed for some of my clients in the past – steal ideas or gain more inspiration.

12:45         Lunch

2:00 – 5.00    Feng Shui design workshop with Elizabeth.

7:00         Dinner

Saturday     8:30         Breakfast

9:30 – 12:30    We get down to drawing your new garden after talks on drawing techniques.

12:45         Lunch

2:00 – 5:00    Garden design work continues as you develop your own ideas for your garden.

7:00         Dinner

Sunday     8:30         Breakfast

9:30 – 12:30    Morning off

12:45         Lunch

2:00 – 5:00    Out together to visit another public garden after lunch. We like to go to somewhere different each time depending on the interests of the students and the time of year. We are considering the gardens of Chateau de Bouges, south of Valençay this time.


7:00         Dinner

Monday     8:30         Breakfast

9:30 – 12:30    We need to finish your garden design and the amount of time and guidance needed depends on each student. Includes a visit from Elizabeth to assist in Feng Shui “tweeking”.

12:45         Lunch

2:00 – 5:00    Planting plans.

7:00     Dinner.    The final meal with a chance to discuss the gardens that have been created and the last opportunity to ask questions before taking the plans home.


Tuesday 20th    8:30         Breakfast

9:30    Time to go home, taking with you the plan of your new garden and memories of a pleasant week spent in the Loire Valley.

Feng Shui Garden Design

Chelsea Medalist Colin Elliott of the Garden Design Academy has joined forces with Elizabeth Wells FSSA to launch a unique hands-on Feng Shui garden design course.  Designed to bring the benefits of this ancient art to the garden, the first six-day residential course at the Garden Design Academy in the Loire Valley, France, will take place from 13 September 2011.

Garden designers, landscape architects and other “place makers” have searched for inspiration from wherever it is available. Some look to nature, inspired by the local landscape or that of the Great Outdoors elsewhere, while others immerse themselves in the fine arts of painting and sculpture in all its forms. Garden history may also point the way by providing examples from the great gardening traditions of Islam, classical Italy, Japan or China.

Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese system of aesthetics widely used to orient buildings in an auspicious manner. Depending on the particular style of Feng Shui being used, an auspicious site can be determined by reference to local features such as bodies of water, stars or compass. Feng shui was suppressed in China during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, but has since seen an increase in popularity with clients from home owners to major corporations all seeking the benefits this traditional geomancy can provide.

The practice of Feng Shui ensures that our surroundings are arranged and organised in the best possible way in order to achieve success, health, wealth and happiness.   As our homes and gardens are so interlinked it makes sense that as well as creating a beautiful home space that delights our senses, good Feng Shui outside will help attract high quality energy inside. Our homes and gardens are co-dependent, whatever the size of our garden space.

Feng Shui principles have been the same for centuries: everything should be in proportion and there should be no straight lines – curves all the way.  For instance, flow can be created by paths, edging, pots, shrubs; hard concrete can be covered with a more fluid material such as gravel and corners can be filled and softened with pots, climbing plants and statues.

Hostas and lantern

Hostas and granite lantern in a shady spot in the gardens of the Garden Design Academy

Every view of the garden should be agreeable, therefore if the garden is overlooked or has unpleasant views e.g. bins, fuel storage, factories, then these should be hidden from view by using trellis and climbing plants.

Protection to the rear is also important so that the property lines are clearly defined and the home feels secure.

Water features, trees, statues etc are all meaningful and have their appropriate places in the garden – in the wrong position they can be detrimental.

From the point of view of Feng Shui, these points are simply the tip of the iceberg.  There is so much more to discover, think about and use with this practical and exciting approach in the outdoor spaces.  Because FS techniques are common-sense and straightforward, our gardens can only benefit from using them.

 

The course is aimed at the amateur gardener and is priced at £950. Numbers are strictly limited to ensure attendees maximise the benefit from the hands-on support provided.  No previous knowledge of horticulture or design is required, only an interest in gardening and a desire to give the garden (however large or small) a new lease of life and an independent energy. 

For further details of this exciting new course visit the website:   http://www.gardendesignacademy.com/residential_Feng_Shui.html

First post of a Gardener in France

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This Blog is written by Colin Elliott of the Garden Design Academy and rises, Phoenix-like, from the ashes of a number of similar blogs written over a period of nearly ten years.

After blogging my thoughts and posting hundreds of garden and plant photographs as a  garden designer, landscaper and horticulturist in the UK, the tone has now changed along with my new location in rural central France..

I trust  readers will enjoy what I have to offer, with it’s new French twist and more than a little support from le bon vin de la Touraine.

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