A great gardening weekend in France

Last Chance - a bearded Iris spotted at Bourdillon last year.

Last Chance – a bearded Iris spotted at Bourdillon last year.

As if our life was not exhilarating enough already, this weekend is one of the most important in the French gardening calendar.

I am still reeling from the joys of the Courson Plant Fair and a tour I organised for Australian guests to visit eleven notable Loire Valley gardens.

Oriental Poppy Lambada at Bourdillon.

Oriental Poppy Lambada at Bourdillon.

No matter – Bourdillon, a local Iris, Hemerocallis and Peony nursery with a well-deserved national reputation, is holding its open days from 31st May to 2nd June and in spite of all the rain, this should not be missed. I am off to my French language classes on Friday morning, government sponsored, in an attempt to improve my employability, so I may well drop in on my way home. On second thoughts, Chantal would like it and she holds the cheque book: we can go together in the afternoon. They sell Oriental Poppies too, and I have a marvellous gap awaiting a group or two of these lovely plants.

The gardens at chateau de Rivau - a first time visit this year

The gardens at chateau de Rivau – a first time visit this year

Rendez-vous aux Jardins, now in its 11th year, brings together nearly 2,300 public and private parks and gardens for an exciting open weekend. While many of the better known gardens have a range of events for the weekend, over 430 are opening to the public especially for the weekend, with 260 open for the first time this year.

We live in the Region Centre which includes the Loire Valley and other areas of great natural beauty, and are given a choice of 126 gardens to visit in just two days. Tough decisions will have to be made!

I was not aware they had a chateau in Poulain, a village a few miles away from us, more famous for its annual donkey fair than any horticultural prowess. For the first time this year the grounds of the Chateau de Poulain are open for viewing so I have emailed them advanced warning I am on my way. It seems we have B & B guests on Saturday so one garden will have to do, but I hope we can go out and find at least two more on Sunday, with a decent meal thrown in for good luck.

It’s a tough life, but it has to be done!

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Rendez-vous aux jardins 2011 (French national open gardens event)

Rendez-vous aux jardins 2011

Les jardins des Metamorphozes

This weekend was too good to be missed: a three day festival of gardening with, in our region of Centre, 97 gardens open. These ranged from the vast gardens of local chateaux to those of a much more domestic scale. Having spent ages putting together a web site on Loire Valley gardensI was keen to try some of those smaller, less polished gardens, the passion and pride of their private owners.

Rendez-vous aux jardins 2011

Les jardins des Metamorphozes

Rendez-vous aux jardins 2011

Domiane de Prieure at Valaire

The list of great gardens was tempting but we did resist, choosing as our first port of call the Domiane de Prieure at Valaire, where an art gallery and garden have been established in the grounds of an 11thC priory. It is a pretty place, with interesting planting and sculptures dotted about, created as a private garden but open now to the wider public. Les jardins des Metamorphozes offers a series of garden styles in a small space: formal and informal, with French, English and oriental influences inspired by notable gardens visited by the owners.

Chatting with the owner we were recommended to another garden on our way home, the Jardin du Pouzet at Couddes. An enthusiastic ex-nurseryman has retired and failed to sell his business (we can sympathise, having had the same problem in the UK). After a period watching his enterprise deteriorate he decided to create a garden from the old nursery, finding a new use for the site and recycling to remaining plants.

Passionate and knowledgeable, the owner will guide you around and show you his horticultural treasures if he likes you, and I am delighted to say we got on very well indeed. It has to be said that this is not a garden as many visitors understand it and some will go away disappointed, but it features 200 varieties of Rose and depending on the season, thousands of bulbs, bedding plants and herbaceous plants in new beds amongst the established trees and shrubs, many rare or not often seen. He also has France’s biggest collection of Gingko and we spent a contented couple of hours exchanging plant stories as we toured his collection.

A tree new to me seen in this garden: Euodia / Evodia, now called Tetradium daniellii, a meliferous plant from S.W. China and Korea. It is named for William Daniell, an army surgeon who, in the 1860s, collected a specimen in Tientsin province , China.

Rendez-vous aux jardins 2011

Gingko variety at Pouzet

I hope we have made a few friends today and it was suggested we join an association of parks and gardens of the Central region so that we can meet more gardens owners. I am very keen to get involved with local horticulture and have sent them an email to see if they will have us. I gather our garden will have to be inspected by experts….is it good enough?

After some recent rain, the first in several months, the garden at home is looking much happier, although the gravel patio has almost as much growth on it as the lawn, which is now in need of a cut. We have a number of projects on the go…..but more on these later.