(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]
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.
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.
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.)
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.
In spite of a small psych-out with the manual transmission of the rental car, reverse next to first; really Opel?!? I made it.
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.
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.
I loved the way that the succulents on this corner made it look like someone had wrapped up the corner for Christmas.
The next day, I visited the nursury and on to Domain du Rayol, more later.
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.
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.