Coutances Dahlia Exhibition

[oqeygallery id=35]On this winter day when once again my eye sees nothing but white covering the neutrals of bark and evergreens, I decided to share pictures of a dahlia garden in France.  I was told it was one of the oldest Dahlia expositions in France; located just outside the town of Coutances, near the west coast of France.  The town itself is has a historic cathedral and town hall, and living up to the town’s three flower Ville Fleuri status, it was well decorated with plantings when I visited.

But I chose to stay in Granville, on the ocean.  My room had a view of a bump in the ocean that I undertstood to be Mount Saint Michel.  It was off season and inexpensive except my weekend corresponded with a fleet of sailboats from England, an annual sporting event, and the restaurants were full of English speaking people with wind burns.

The location of the dahlia exhibition is a gardening school, Lycée Agricole de Coutances.  In addition to the dahlia display, which is only worth visiting in late summer or fall, the students have well-landscaped exhibition gardens, and the commercial greenhouses were impressive.

The gallery starts with two pictures in the town of Coutances, the cathedral and the town hall.  Then shots of the dahlias.  As I looked at my pictures, I realized that the majority of my favorites were in the warm colors so I pruned down that collection.  It was hard.  Lilac Times is one of my favorites in cool colors, enhanced by the dark stems on the plants.  The last two shots are of Granville.  My hotel is the closest one high on the right and my room was one of those with the ocean colored balconies.  I’d thought I might visit Mount Saint Michel on my unplanned day during my stay but with such a nice situation, it seemed silly to go get in my car and drive to another place to see the ocean.  I wandered around the town; walked a cliff walk to Jardin Christian Dior; took pictures; walked back along the ocean; watched people sail the sky.  Lovely day; lovely memory for a snowy New England weekend.


Paris Agricultural Salon and a Political Encounter

[wpvideo uZF6aBqp]The thing is, I don’t like crowds. And the Paris Agricultural Salon ‘s web site says that I was one of 681,213 visitors; it felt like most of them were there on the same day I visited. One of the many reasons for the timing of my late winter French trip was the Salon. Imagine the biggest state fair that you can and then make it bigger. No, bigger; and more crowded, too. I’d been there some years ago and enjoyed the wide variety of exhibitors and exhibition subjects from animals to growing stuff to regional food product.

I arrived in the morning and tried to head to the back of the show area, thinking maybe fewer crowds, but got distracted by cows. I’m tall, and cows are big enough to see over the heads of others. The French maintain many regional varieties with distinctive coloring for each; brown spots, black spots; the Normandy cows have a distinctive black ring around the eye.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such variety. I even sat in the judging area while judges slowly reviewed cows for features beyond my comprehension and watched a few (cows, not judges) make victory laps around the ring.

I finally tore myself away and decided to get back to my plan. Heading to the back exhibition halls would also put me near to the food area and it was getting to be lunch time. No rush; which was a good thing as the crowds were getting so thick that you could only move at the speed of the people around you.

The back of the hall was also the location for the small booths where vendors were direct-selling food products. It was an incredible assortment of cheeses, cured meats, wines and herbal remedies. But I had to keep moving; I wasn’t staying in Paris and didn’t want to try to carry the stuff around. Most of it wouldn’t have been allowed back into the US, even if I’d tried. I did think that the number of wholesalers that I remembered (who offered free or cheap tastes of their products) had been replaced by retailers who wanted to sell you something. Meeting the eye of someone behind the counter risked a high pressure sales encounter.

Lunch was yummy if simple; salmon in a white sauce, roasted potatoes and salad at a Scandinavian restaurant; simple trestle seating, delineated by timber and bright banners from the rest of the similar restaurants. After lunch, I intended to wander gradually back through the displays and to the front halls, this time through the dogs and cats.

The most remarkable, if somewhat scary events happened as I was wandering back through a section that narrowed between two of the exhibition halls. Between me and my destination were cameras and bright lights everywhere and a crush of people. Since I couldn’t tell exactly where the crowd was going or why, I decided to find a spot and hold my ground until I could see an escape. It became obvious that there was a person at the center of that mass who was the focus. At some point, I asked a person near me who it was and I heard “Mitterrand”. Being a badly raised Tasuni, with a poor knowledge of French history, I didn’t realize that this notable was deceased and thought he was the reason for the crowds. Holding my ground became harder as the notable at the focus of attention moved toward me. The mass shifted in my direction then flowed around me as he moved toward the man next to me and shook his hand. (It feels like moving water under your feet, btw, and you have to keep them under you in a similar way.) My irrational thoughts at close encounter, (flight/fight must have been kicking in) were first that I was much bigger than this notable and could easily take him in a fight and then that his bodyguard, placed firmly (and somewhat intimately) between me and the notable was a small man, too. Hand shaken, the moving mass pulled away from me as I congratulated myself on my crowd surfing survival skills.

There is a certain excitement in these things and even disliking crowds, I’m not immune. I found what I thought was a safer place, near a wall, and took commemorative photos of the crowd, the high hanging microphones and bright lights. Speeches were made and shouts sounded in acclamation. Once again the mass started to move. It started to move through the area by my wall, and then shifted direction again, toward me! No place to go; I once again held my ground as the notable moved toward me. This time, the women next to me got firmly kissed on both cheeks. I probably could have shaken his hand that time but for the camera in hand, doggedly videotaping.

When I could, I decided to leave by a side door rather than try to make it through the crush in the hall. There I found his cavalcade of cars, more security and police. And cameras; real French paparazzi! Someone asked me who and explained that it couldn’t be Mitterrand, maybe Mélenchon, who was slightly left of Sarkozy and doing well that week in the poles? It made much more sense that a candidate would put himself through that craziness. I cattily wondered about the big American (probably armored) SUV parked with the outside security guards and whether a French politician could actually afford to be seen getting into one.

Circling back to follow the plan, the dogs couldn’t be seen behind the crowds. Children were out of luck unless placed on the shoulders of parents. And the crowds had raised the temperature in the pavilion, along with hundreds of other animals, to the point where everyone was uncomfortable. I let the crush move me to the door, found the Metro and called it a day.

Back at my hotel, watching the evening news, along with the headline that the show was setting records for attendance, I saw a familiar face being featured. My close encounters were with François Hollande, the Socialist Candidate for President. And he had worked closely with Mitterrande in his day so I may have heard the name and misunderstood the reference.

And isn’t that just like travel! You start off with a destination and a plan for what you want to see, plants and animals, and all of a sudden, the topic changes to culture and politics!  And your trip is richer for it, enhanced with small dangers and the chance to learn new things through intimate exposure. Suddenly, an ignorant Tasuni has a motivation to watch French elections more closely, to see how the petite, hardworking, courageous and affable Socialist candidate influences his country.  Whether he wins or not, his leadership of the Socialist party will drive policy for the near future.

I would hope that my candid musings are not offensive, because if I had the chance to talk to him I would tell him how much I respect and admire the people of a country where gardens and gardening are so valued. I come back time and time to France to visit because I know that I’ll find inspiration; beauty and history, expressed through plants. I know that people need jobs and justice, but I selfishly hope that those problems can be solved while preserving the cultural values that I love.


Villa Ephrusi de Rothschild

French Garden
French Garden

Be sure to see both the video and photo gallery below.  This garden has been on my list for many years.  I’d traveled to Nice on both business and pleasure and it was after one of these trips that I’d read about the gardens at the nearby Villa.  This garden is also tied to the history of a woman, Béatrice de Rothschild.  She was not officially royalty; the day when kings and queens ruled Europe was over; but all of the elements were there.  Disparities of income; excesses of the rich.  A single woman after her separation from her bankrupt banker husband, she raced horses and flew airplanes.  She must have had a considerable amount of spunk.

The garden was built in the first decade of the 1900s on a rocky, windswept promotory.  According to the Villa’s web site.  In a manner much like the garden designers for kings, they dynamited the rocks that were in the way and brought in enormous quantities of earth to create flat spaces for gardening.  If you visit, be sure to use the free audio tours to learn more about this woman and her times.  The pink, birthday-cake of a villa holds world-class museum collections of porcelin and art, among other things.

This garden also has themed spaces; the French garden forms a classic vista on the top of the hill, from the vila to a belvedere in the distance.  The reflecting pools between the rough formed water feature at the end of the garden play fountains, coreographed to music in the best Las Vegas fashion.  The other gardens play down the hill, below the French garden and as I wandered through them, I would hear a new piece of music play for the fountains and wonder, what are the fountains doing with that?  This short video shows the transition from the water feature where it drops from the level of the belvedere.[wpvideo YttGZv9u]

The desk person at my hotel in Bealieu sur Mer told me that I could walk to the gardens.  The benefit of adding a few miles of walking to my day in the garden was a wonderful pedestrian-only cliff walk, along the edge of the ocean, most of the way to the gardens.The phot gallery starts there. [oqeygallery id=27]

Domaine du Rayol

The Mediterranean
The Mediterranean

(Photo Gallery below)  Compared to many of the historic, public gardens in France, the Domaine du Rayol is a latecomer.  This beautiful, unspoiled promontory, a short distance from Toulon, was discovered by a few families at the turn of the century.  The buildings and gardens went through two periods of consolidation and development. First, 1910-1940, when they were owned by a Parisian businessman, who eventually sold the main residence for use as a hotel and built a smaller structure near the ocean for himself and his wife; and later, in 1940 when war forced an aircraft manufacturer to buy the property as a refuge. The domain’s web site says that with his staff and dozens of gardeners, this was a time of glory for the garden.  After the hostilities, it was used only as a summer home and then deserted.  Protected by environmentalists from development, the Coastal Conservancy bought the property in 1989. Influential French Garden Designer, Giles Clement, has further developed garden interest by integrating plants from other Mediterranean climates in a patchwork of international gardens.  Although, to be honest, as I wandered around, I threw out the map and just enjoyed the juxtaposition of cactus against succulent against rock against tree against ocean.  Blossoms everywhere.

This was another great location for breathing; often and deeply.  Eucalyptus added spice to the quiet sweet smell of the mimosas, all mixed together on the sea breezes. Paths wound their way up and down and crossed the bluff from the entrance hall to the ocean; enticing the visitor to go here; no there; well, maybe there; just as a well-designed garden should.  The ocean views could be enjoyed from many locations, including a terrace that lead to a small beach, although the beach was closed to the public.  It was all right; I found another spot that day to put my feet into the Mediterranean.

The ground between plantings was almost always covered with clover, probably planted to keep things lush and fertile.

Some distance away from the ocean and following the sound of water, I found a small stream spilling down through the deeply shaded rocks.  Crisscrossing the quickly falling stream eventually led me to a picturesque, vine covered structure, tucked into the low spot in the porous rock; a 20th century folly or a true well house?  I could imagine milk jugs from the farm, cooling in the dark, damp hut but then garden follies often imitate functional structures.  A mystery; for sure.[oqeygallery id=26]

Dear Departed Saul, Paris

Saul 2004

Saul was a TV star. I saw him in Living Language videos long before I knew I would make his acquaintance. Hanging about with the likes of the Notre Dame Cathedral and the famous bridges of Paris, (Pont St. Louis between Ile St. Louis and Ile de la Cite) he was bound to attract attention. Shots of the Cathedral from the river always caught him, draped insouciantly over the concrete retainer wall, lounging in the sun. Just another good looking, well-placed tree.


Saul behind bars
Saul behind bars

But when I saw him in person, it was different. The way his branches whispered to me in the breezes; his cool, green demeanor in contrast to the hot summer pavement and his rugged maturity made me mad to know him better. I visited him every time I could. Most trips to Paris, the fence gates were closed and we had to commune from a distance. But one day I slipped through an open gate and placed my hand on his rugged bark. What strength and beauty; what a moment.

Sadly, one trip, they were trimming him drastically; cutting off branch after branch; leaving raw, blunt wounds where ever they’d snatched him bald. I fretted for his health but last time I saw him, he’d been recovering.

Saul Jr, 2012
Saul Jr, 2012

Many years and other loves have intervened; it’s been so long. I was eager to see him again but when I finally found our spot, he was gone. Not even a stump of Saul remains for me to mourn. I miss him and have commemorated him here. The good people of Paris have planted another, younger weeping willow in his place. Saul Jr. will have to do a lot of growing to fill his shoes. I’ll have to come back often to check on him.

(“Saule pleureur” is the French name for weeping willow. They are known as fast growing, but short-lived trees. Saul had probably outgrown the small space between the sidewalk and the concrete abutment near the bridge between Ile St. Louis and Ile de la Cite years ago and the size of his trunk would indicate he’d probably lived several times the life of most of his variety. I do wonder what finally ended his days. And I will miss him.)

Bormes les Mimosas, France

Bormes les Mimosas
Bormes les Mimosas

While preparing for my trip to the South of France, I’d read about a pretty little villiage where mimosas were featured, Bormes les Mimosas.  I stayed there the first night after the TVG (fast train) to Toulon.  This actually IS the way to the villiage.

The way to Bormes les Mimosas
The way to Bormes les Mimosas





In spite of a small psych-out with the manual transmission of the rental car, reverse next to first; really Opel?!?  I made it.

The villiage
The villiage

Blossoms everywhere and the warm afternoon sun was releasing a heavenly scent. I wandered around; climed to a high point above the villiage where I could see even more.  Yes, that blue in the distance is the ocean.

Across the Villiage to the Ocean
Across the Villiage to the Ocean

Breathed a lot.  Had Un Kir on the terrasse of the restaraunt, overlooking the valley and the sea in the distance.  However, at that time of day, the favored item seemed to be huge and beatiful ice cream concoctions.   My hotel room is one of the windows in the center of this shot.

Up to the Villiage
Up to the Villiage

I loved the way that the succulents on this corner made it look like someone had wrapped  up the corner for Christmas.

corner shot
corner shot

The next day, I visited the nursury and on to Domain du Rayol, more later.


Mimosas in France

I just returned from a quick trip to France, spending most of my garden time in the south of France.  I’d read that it is Mimosa time in that region and set out to learn what I could, camera at the ready.  Michel Racine’s book on gardens in southern France recommended a nursery where they are propagated, Pepinieres Gerard Cavatore, in Bormes les Mimosas.  I spent the night in the Village and found the nursery before I left the area.  Not only did they let me wander around and take pictures, but Julien Cavatore answered my questions and gave me some basic information about the plants.  Like Julian, their web site is full of information.  This summer, they plan to move their operation to a bigger location and start adding additional plants that are suitable for the dry Mediterranean climate.

The plants that are called mimosa in France are Acacias.  The exact numbers depend on the sources but there are well over 1200 varieties of Acacias, most of them originating in Australia.  The Cavatores graft and sell over a hundred varieties.  (I tried to count them on the website and gave up.)  I read that they were imported to England by explorers in the late 1700s and brought to the south of France by the wealthy English who had winter villas there.  They have thrived.

They color the air with a sweet scent when the sun warms the Cote d’Azure hills in early spring.  The bees like them and they last well as cut flowers.  They are a warm climate plant that does well in dry conditions.  I don’t know why I don’t see them more in the southwest but Julian told me that Huntington Gardens in California does have a collection.

The Australian National Botanic Gardens  Website has a good section on Acacias.  Fun to learn they are called “wattle” in Australia.

What struck me most is the wide range of sizes, shapes and colors for these plants, although the blossom is primarily found in shades of yellow.  I’ve pulled together a gallery of shots that starts with variations in blossoms and leaves, some of the leaves are blue/grey into purple shades, and ends with shots of their use in the landscape.  I’ll be posting more about the gardens and locations where these shots were taken, soon.

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Chenonceau – It has Heart

This was one of the first gardens that I visited in France.  My first trips took me to the Loire Valley, along with many other visitors to the chateaux that dot the country and line its rivers.  Although I’ve visited many other gardens in France with more horticultural interest, this is still a place where I return when I can.  It has heart.

For one thing, it has a lovely vegetable garden, which is not well visited, btw. If you look carefully, you may find artifacts of intensive gardening, for which the French deserve so much credit.  Many of my pictures were taken there, including the rampant flowers.  Probably for cutting.  Crafty products and flower arrangements are sold on the property. The Orangerie Restaurant is conveniently located near to the food gardens and I’ve enjoyed several really great meals on the patio, looking out over the lawns.

Another reason I may be soft on this place is the influence of women.  There are many other sources for its history but all of them agree about the powerful and influential women who held and nurtured the buildings and gardens.

 Note the pictures of the knot garden.  The knots appeared to be lavender, cut close.  That part of the garden was dressed in white that visit, with climbing white roses around the walls.

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Rose, the Woman and her Garden

I just read the book “Madame Toussaud”, by Michelle Moran; bear with me here for a short deviation from gardens.  Madame was an incredible woman, although she must have been all business first.  If the characterization is true, I’m sure that she would have been called “hard” and unfeminine by many, especially in her day.  I admire her for doing what was necessary.  Moving back and forth between the worlds of both royalty and revolutionaries, she survived her central role in the French revolution by making wax death masks of the executed.    When she could do so no longer, she was imprisoned.  I highly recommend this book as a very readable but historically accurate depiction of life and death during the French Revolution.  Winding back to the topic for this post, the book has her in prison, awaiting execution with as woman named Rose, who would later be known as Empress Josephine, or Josephine Bonnaparte.

Rose is another self-made woman from that era who was often described as being pragmatic, at best.  Rose’s first husband from an arranged and failed marriage was executed, but after Robespierre’s execution, the prisons were opened and she survived to live on her wits and highly placed friends, until she married Napoleon.  My mind is still open but it’s impossible for me to tell, from hundreds of years away, whether her contributions to the science of botany and her ambitious plant collections were a sign of a serious and capable woman, or symptomatic of leftover imperialistic ideals.

Whatever values they reflect in the woman, history does tell us of her successes.  In a day when people were scouring the globe to bring home the new and novel, for study or the amusement of their friends, she amassed a small menagerie and a garden full of exotic plants at Malmaison, where she continued to live after her divorce from Napoleon. Roses were a favorite and she’s reported to have collected hundreds of varieties, helping to establish a source of breeding stock for early hybridizing efforts. She employed the premier garden designers and botanists of her time.  Her gardens were immortalized in books and in paintings.  The painter Redoubt captured hundreds of her roses alone, and was influential in having them converted to printed media.

After her death in 1814, through neglect and the influence of war, the gardens were destroyed.  The Chateau has been restored as a museum to Bonaparte and the gardens, a restored wisp, a memory, a small fragment of their former glory can be seen today at Chateau Malmaison in a Rueil, a close-in suburb of Paris. It’s a chance to touch her spirit, even if time has diminished the impact. The pictures were taken in 2003.

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[oqeygallery id=22]Since I mentioned it in a recent post, I thought it might be time to share my pictures and thoughts about the garden. It was one of the first gardens that I visited outside of Paris and I’ve returned over and over again.  Although my earlier trips weren’t captured on camera, I have been there every month of the year while it’s open, except for July.  I intend to fix that someday. 

The garden is always beatiful.  One October vist after a heavy frost, the naturtiums were grey mush but the colors reflected in the pond were incredible.  The garden is well funded.  The staff start hundreds of thousands of annuals every year so that there is never an empty space. They strive to be true to Monet’s artistic vision for the garden, although plant materials may be somewhat different than he might have used. I recommend that you find time to visit Museum Marmottan and the Musee d’Orsay  to see his work on the same trip when you visit this garden. The spirit of the place is somehow shared in all of Monet’s work.

Many people choose to take a train or a tour bus from Paris to see this garden and that works, but then you are on the same schedule as hundreds of other tourists.  The train stops in Vernon, over three miles away from the garden.  There is a bus that finishes the trip but the one time that I took the train, there were too many people for the bus and many people were left to find taxis and other conveyance on their own.  Rick Steve suggests that the last hours in the day have the least tourist traffic and I’ve found that to be generally good advice.  After the bus leaves to take the tourists back to the Paris-bound train.  Although packed with beauty and history, it’s a small garden; an hour or two will do it justice. Leave extra time if you want to tour inside the house (it costs more) as there are often lines.

The small town around Giverny is worth some time, too.  The Museum of American Art has pretty plantings, keeping with the theme.  And the hotel and restaraunt Baudy has a rose garden worth visiting, especially in early summer.  (Do watch out for the nettles.)  The visit was free if I ate there, if they still have it, try the omlette with rabbit and potatoes.  It’s a classic so I expect they still do.

Garden Gem in Normandy – Clos du Coudray

[oqeygallery id=21]If you want to visit Monet’s Garden when you are in France, and what garden tourist doesn’t, don’t plan to day trip out from Paris.  It’s worth the trouble to rent a car and drive to Normandy for a couple of days.  You may save enough in hotel rates to pay for the car.  But more importantly, you can also visit some of the other excellent public gardens that Normandy offers. Although it doesn’t have the same sense of art history, which is arguing apples and oranges to some extent, Clos du Coudray , in my opinion, surpasses Monet’s Garden in its horticultural importance and at least equals it in design impact.  The owners take pride in being completely organic.  It’s also a working nursery, so new discoveries are showcased next to old favorites.

Plantings are laid out in different “garden rooms”.  One of the things that I like about this garden is that the design goes far beyond the simple three parts that can be found so often in France (formal, informal and near-wild).  The rose garden is one of the best I’ve seen at integrating roses with other plantings for a long season of beauty, even in shaded spots.  It’s much more than a rose garden really.  It is the most formal of the gardens with straight paths and squared off design elements.  All of my favorites are used in one garden or another:  iris, peonies and dahlias.  And I fell in love with a birch tree, betula costata, that I’ve named Betts.  Located near a huge stand of gunnera in a shaded area, her tender, light bronze branches arching gracefully over a bed of hosta create a sunny spot. 

In the pictures, notice the loving attention to the details of color and shape, how they complement each other in the plantings.  It always amazes me that people can imagine these things and then use plants to create the vision.

Follow this link to look at the history of the garden.  There are three pictures in the middle of the page, clicking on them will take you to pictures and descriptions of the owners reconstruction of the building, the development of the garden and the extension of the garden.  It is in French but most browsers will translate for you. It’s worth looking at the pictures, in any case.

Jardin des Plantes, Paris

Buffon in Jardin des Plantes

Traditions are important in France and change is slow in coming. I was made sad this year to find out that the very hotel that I was recommending when I surprised myself by saying the words, “whenever I’m in Paris”, has changed.  It still lives on a tiny street near the Latin quarter and the Seine, but when I returned to it, trip after trip, it was a modestly priced hotel with tiny, indifferently decorated (but clean) rooms; plumbing that grumbled loudly to get me out of bed in the mornings; weak English-syle coffee with a roll, a croissant, butter and jam, for breakfast; and a friendly manager who spoke English and remembered her customers; even when it was years between visits.  I usually booked with an e-mail saying, “can I still get the same rate?” and the answer was almost always yes.  Sadly, a friend came back to me for another recommendation this year because the rates have more than doubled.  It appears to have changed ownership and become part of a small luxury chain. 

The Left Bank, while a good place for inexpensive hotels and restaurants by Paris standards, has never been the place where people would look first for true luxury accommodations.  The historic old streets are small and noisy, full of the smells of diesel fuel and garlic.  At night, the hawkers in the small streets will stand in the doors of the various ethnic restaurants, music blaring, to try to pull you in for dinner.  The crowds are full of students, emigrants and budget tourists.  But the location has its charms, especially for me.  A short walk to the East, just past the Arab World Institute, and the small Park zoo, is the entrance to one of the most wonderful places in the world, Jardin des Plantes, Paris

The people of Paris use this place (no entrance fee, except for the zoo and museums) as their front porch, their work-out studio, their alternate living room.  Summer, winter, rain or shine, there are always people in this park.  Jogging, walking, sitting, snacking in the cafes.  Rows of benches under the Plane trees create a cool haven in the summer and a comfortable place to sit year-round, to soak in the beauty and the history.  Kings and queens have walked here; in fact it was established as a medicinal garden for a king, hundreds of years ago.  Sitting as close as it does to the historical center of Paris, it’s challenges, reversals and perseverance to become a world-class botanical and scientific resource could fill a book.  But you can see it; soak up its essence, for free.

I highly recommend it as a cure for jet lag.  The overnight flights often drop you off in Paris in the morning, with little or no sleep and an afternoon to fill.  Take a book to the park, wander around and when you get tired, find a comfortable bench.  The light of day will start to reset your clock and the beauties will sooth the soul.

There are a number of gardens, including one that organizes plants by their botanical characteristics; so read up on your interests before you visit or ask for a map at the small gate house.  The rose garden is best in late May or very early June as it contains a number of once blooming varieties, but the main parterres have many roses that last most of the summer.  Most of the pictures in the gallery were taken in the main parterres.

Notice the smoke over Buffon’s right shoulder in the long shot toward the front gate (fourth in the gallery).  There were some particularly vehement protests that day; I saw worried police everywhere on my way to the gardens but I was oblivious to the cause until I heard the noise, and saw that night’s news.  Explosions, smoke, screaming loudspeakers and sirens as the protests passed the park, but inside it was an island of tranquility.[oqeygallery id=20]


Amaranthus, decorative types

Amaranthus Ponytails
Amaranthus Ponytails

I am playing with decorative amaranths this year.  I would really like to find a US source for “Ponytails”, see left, but none of the major seed companies seem to carry it in the US.  T&M does but not in the US, evidently.  Last year I ordered online and they said they had problems with the seed and I didn’t get them.  They are similar to what I’ve seen with “Love lies Bleeding”, but while that variety is chenille rope-like, the Ponytails in this picture, from Jardin des Plants in Paris many years ago, was more like chenille balls on a rope.  And I have seen some web locations that seem to believe that LLB and Ponytails are the same so I’m reluctant to try an unknown source.  Oh well, enough about the “one that got away”.  So far.  And if LLB and Ponytails are really the same thing, I’m starting some LLB and may find out.

My trial with Love lies Bleeding and Joseph’s Coat last year was without success, almost nothing germinated and what did, didn’t live to be planted outdoors .  This year I did more reading and saw a reference that they liked bottom heat.  I was using a combination of last year’s seed and some new varieties that I purchased fresh so I used several seeds in every cell and started them over a heat mat.  I think I got 100% germination from both sets of seeds!  Here are the varieties:

  • Cinco de Mayo
  • Love lies Bleeding
  • Tricolor Early Splendor
  • Joesph’s Coat

Here’s a picture of my seedling forest.  Since then, I’ve pulled out everything but two or three in each cube. 

Amaranth seedling forest
Amaranth seedling forest

Parc Floral, Orleans France

[wpvideo tO4B4taw]I found this park on one of my first visits to France. My early research had advised me that the Loire Valley was the place to visit for garden interest.  Although it doesn’t have the history of Monet’s Garden or Villandry, what it does have is this well-loved feeling and such a variety of beautiful plants and special-purpose gardens that it’s always worth a visit.  Ironically, the rose garden, a semi-ampitheatre around a large reflecting pond, was one of the best I’d ever seen on my first trip — no camera.  By the time I started recording my journeys they decided that drainage was an issue there and were reworking that area to improve it. 

Orleans is a short distance from Paris and it makes a great starting or return point for a car-based visit to greater France.  The Mecure near the center of Orleans is a favorite of mine, especially when I’m ready for the air conditioned, large room hotel experience.  I’d spent a week in Saumur at what was supposed to be an exclusive and historic B & B.  The new owner stuck me in a badly furnished attick room up three flights of stairs (because a bus was coming (no bus came)), wouldn’t let me use the pool (problems with the permit and could use it but it could destroy his business), and wouldn’t let me into my room between 11:00 am and 4:00 pm (everybody knows that’s how it’s done).  It was near 100 deg F most days and the attic didn’t cool down well at night.  I gave up, and to my host’s great displeasure moved to the Mecure for the last few days and sunk into the luxury of air conditioning and dinner by the pool.

Peace Garden, Caen France

[oqeygallery id=1]These are pictures from the Peace Garden, it’s associated with the War Memorial in Caen.  There were not good directions to the gardens itself, but if you drive around the block where the Memorial is located, you will find it.  There is parking specifically for the garden.

I love the architecture of the rose garden and remember when I first visited.  I came over a hill and saw this fantastic theatre in the round open out before me, full of roses.  Breathtaking.  These pictures are from two visits, one in the spring, where the rose pictures were taken and one in the fall.  There is a really nice area that features dahlias and the blooms go well into October  Notice the picture of the rose hips in the fall set.  That rose is “Wedding Day”, and I would like to find a source for it in the US.

Rosarie du Val-de-Marne, l’Hay les Roses

[oqeygallery id=5]The archetypical rose garden, designed in the late 1800s by a Parisian businessman, Jules Gravereaux, who loved roses and Edouard Andre, a garden architect; this garden is a return to the structured, symetrical forms of the classical french garden, but on a smaller and more intimate scale.  Although it’s large for its purpose.  It was designed to display a single type of plant, the rose.  The genius of both the rosier and the garden architect are exhibited in the breathtaking use of roses to provde structure to the garden.  Roses form pillars of color fifteen feet in diameter and as tall as a house.  Roses cling to trellises and fences and swags of chan between the taller features.  Roses provide the colors of the rainbow on walls and are shaped over domes and arbors to provide delightfully scented shady places on hot June days.  Both the history and the beauty of the rose are celebrated here.

I discovered two of my favorite climbers there.  Veichenblau is an unusually shaped, small, purple/blue once-bloomer that shows off its colors in large clusters.  City of York is a simple, classic white rose but I can find it in any rose garden by its wonderful scent.

Although it’s in a nearby suburb, not Paris itself, you can take public transportation from central Paris.  You can use the RATP trip planner to plan your trip to the nearby suburb of l’Hay les Roses, Bus Stop: Sous-Prefecture-Eglise.  The bus stops right across from the entrance to the park. 

A word about venturing out of central Paris; there will be fewer people who speak any English.  Go armed with maps and visuals if you don’t speak any French.  You can print out the informaton for the buses at the RATP site, for example.  And I found it took me longer than the trip information said. On transfers, just about the time that I figured out which bus I should take it was pulling out and I had to wait for the next one.  But it’s really fun to watch the bus drivers navigate those huge city buses through the tiny streets.

Bagatelle (and Bolivian bimbos in the Bois de Boulogne)

[wpvideo mUbud6D0]More Paris gardens for my one follower <smile>  It was very hard to choose from all of my Bagatelle photos on a trip in June of ’03 but not hard to pick what to pull from my trip journal.  It still makes me laugh.

Also found the way not to go to Bagatelle.  I can read a map and I picked out the way to Bagatelle from La Muette, walking over the peripheric and through the Bois de Boulonge, a larger green space in which Bagatelle is located.  I had read that in the evenings the Bois can turn into a red light zone but it was 2:30 in the afternoon when I started out, map and notes in hand. 

First I was not sure if the road I was on would actually take me over the peripheric, but after having made my way over both entrance and exits, I felt more confident that I could find my way.  I walked, and I walked.  The usual French consistency about road signs was consistently non-existent.  I saw sign after sign for the most expensive restaurant in Paris, located in the Bois de Boulougne but none for Bagatelle. 

When I turned onto the wide but heavily wooded Allée de la Reine Marguerite, I began to wonder just what a bad girl she had been.   There were women, or reasonable facsimiles thereof, and many, many men.  Cars were cruising and, unbelievably, slowing down to check me out. 

 I am not young; I am no longer what one would call pretty.  On a good day I may aspire to distinguished or attractive.  But frankly, when I am traveling I often do not give a damn (I am in the purple dress with a red hat time of life) and this day was one of those. There I was in my baggy black knit pants (really baggy as I’d worn them on the airplane and then for two days of sightseeing); a beat up straw hat; and a man’s big blue work shirt that I got from my computer job and love for the pockets.  And they were slowing down to check me out!  There were too many sleazy men and it did make me uncomfortable but at some point I was beyond that and started to have the impulse to laugh hysterically.  Trying to keep from giggling or laughing in someone’s face, I continued on.  No eye contact.  Absolutely no eye contact and no smiling!

And since I am really more worried about my backpack with camera and money inside than someone seriously testing my virtue, I also tried to be sure that anyone who passed me kept going and anyone who was faster than me was able to pass me easily.  But no eye contact.  Try that!

I failed with one poor man as I avoided his eyes when he approached and then made eye contact as I looked back to make sure that he wasn’t turning around.  Quick about face, pick up pace, try not to giggle.  So, finally, after 50 minutes of walking I found a sign, that directed me back the way I’d come but deeper into the woods.  In spite of my uncertainty, I saw families and couples, so I took the path.  And crossed a side path just as the same poor man was coming out of the woods on the path he had taken minutes ago.  He mumbled an uncertain bon jour and I once again moved my eyes quickly away.  What’s an honest woman to do?

One of my research sources said that Bois de Boulogne was a favorite place for working Bolivian transvestites.  I can attest to seeing and hearing things that made me think that source might be right but why Bolivians in the Bois de Boulogne, (other than it makes for lovely alliteration, especially if you throw in a bimbo.  Bolivian bimbos in the Bois de Boulogne)?  I think that it’s probably something that the tourist office would rather not discuss.  The source also implied that it was authentically French because the original owners of Bagatelle threw their lust around in the French Royal court.  That’s what he said, really.

 So I walked some more and finally found a gate for Bagatelle.  An hour of walking, history and current events thrown in for free.  And Bagatelle was everything the tourist books said it would be.  I took some pictures of roses but there are still other things that I want to see.  I will go again tomorrow but I think I will take a bus.

Be sure to allow plenty of time to visit the rest of the garden, beyond the roses that make it famous.  The “folies” and perspectives still show the influence of Thomas Blaikie, called the Capability Brown of France.  His fascinating life as a gardener to kings and princes spanned the period before and through the French Revolution.  You will see much more if you research the many stories about the garden before your visit.

More on Blaikie another time…

Whenever I’m in Paris

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I heard myself saying that one day and it stopped me cold.  Born and raised to a barely middle class family in rural Michigan, I grew up thinking that one trip to Europe in my lifetime would be a lucky event, involving huge expense and sacrifices beyond my grasp.  In this lifetime, anyway.  The complete story of how I got to the day where I could offer travel advice with authority is too long for this post.  But it was culture, not gardens that I wanted to understand in my first visits to France.  Visits to public gardens were the means, not the end.  That didn’t last long.  There are people in the world who value the contributions of long dead gardeners so much that they preserve their work through history.  Lots and lots of them at great expense and, no doubt, the occasional sacrifice, maybe even sacrifice beyond my grasp.  Who knew?

So, of course, I did learn about the culture, and history became more than dates and times that I had to memorize to pass a test in school, and then those became the means to help me more deeply appreciate the hundreds of public gardens that preserve culture and history in color and transformed light. 

When I started this blog in winter, I promised myself that I’d spend the dark days of January and February  sharing some of these treasures, both in Europe and in the US, with you. 

More soon…