Friday, 7 October 2016

Garden group visit to the Luberon - private garden + Château Ansouis - 27/9/2016

The morning's visit was to a garden in the Luberon. The protect the identity of the owners and the position of the garden we are not able to name it nor where it was situated.

The actual house dates back to the 18th century. The garden was redesigned by Nicole de Vésian, the same person who designed the garden at 'La Louve' in Bonnieux, in 1990. It is larger than 'La Louve', roughly 1ha, which stretches beyond the back garden and spreads out over several terraces.

As you enter through the gate, the first impression you get is of lushness, everything is so green, this effect is created by the vines that cover every inch of the house. Yews clipped in an oblong shape in front of the wall, mark the edge to the street below.

Through an archway,  connecting the 2 parts of the house, you arrive in the back garden. This is the part of the garden that has some resemblance to 'La Louve'.

A pergola covered with a white flowering Wisteria and Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper) give shade to the patio near the house.

A large central bed with clipped evergreens in different heights and shapes draws the attention:

To create this image they've used the following shrubs:

Buxus sempervirens
Laurus nobilis
Ligustrum ionandrum
Lonicera nitida (poor man's buxus)
Pittosporum tibia
Viburnum tinus

The grey colour of clipped Teucrium fruticans is used to separate some of the terraces or to create special features:

After this very hot summer the deciduous trees were loosing their leaves. Beyond the clipped bed of evergreens a whole row of trees let the way towards the end of the garden, starting with two Acer negundo, originally from North America, with attractive variegated foliage. The leaves are quite different from other Acers.

After the Acer negundo a row of Tillia cordifolia 'Lime Trees' followed. Every year they are pruned into a square.
Tilia pruned into squares towards the far end of the path

The terraces are giving over to olive trees, espalier apple trees of various varieties, some Prunus dulcis (almonds), figs, Eriobotrya japonica (Japanese Loquat) and at the very end a small vineyard.

The vineyard on top of the wall

Lavender beds with olive trees in the background

The owners visit a few times a year, they have a full-time gardener to maintain the garden. Most of the shrubs are clipped 3-4 times a year, but the Buxus shrubs are clipped just once a year as they are slow growers.

The gardener who showed us around talking to Rini

Some other evergreen shrubs used in the garden suitable for clipping apart from the once mentioned above are:

Choisya ternata
Eleagnus ebbingei
Phillyrea angustifolia (narrow leaves)
Phillyrea latifolia (larger leaves)
Pittosporum tobira

A very green garden, no flowers when we were there, except for the Sternbergia bulbs. The clipped bushes give the garden its shape and formality, although a looser effect is created by the trees and fruit terraces.

Sternbergia lutea bulbs growing under the fig tree

After lunch in Lourmarin, we drove on to Ansouis to visit the Château Ansouis. Ansouis is a lovely village in the Luberon, dominated by the castle to be seen from far and wide.

Château Ansouis

Village of Ansouis with June in the background

The château was built in the 10th century as a military fortress to control the Aigues valley.  Just a few buildings, quite stark with military quarters for the soldiers and a prison.

Entrance gate to the château

Entrance to the château

From the 12th century onwards it belonged to different branches of the 'Sabran' family. The château was changed into elegant living quarters in the 17th and 18th century with additional buildings added to the old fortress.  You could say there two château in one. Within the castle there are several small gardens, one amazing parterre and in the largest garden there is a small hidden house built in the 18th century for private purposes, very unusual for this part of France.

Ansouis was ruled by the counts of Forcalquier and came into the possesion of the Sabran family in 1178 after the marriage of Raimon I to Garsende, sovereign countess of Forcalquier. From the 13th to the beginning of the 17th century the Sabran family were more or less in charge. It was then passed on to Sextius d'Escallis. In 1836 the Marquis Saqui de Sannes, descendant of Sextius d'Escallis sold back Château Ansouis to Elzéar Louis Zozine, Count of Sabran.  His descendants were in possession till 2008 and after some squabbling among the siblings it was sold in 2008 for 5.6 million euros to Gérard and Frédérique Rousset-Rouvière from Aix, who have totally restored the château to its former glory, taking into account the original features.

It was quite an undertaking and from what we saw it was a labour of love. They contracted artisans who were dedicated to their individual skills. Meticulous detail was given to fabrics, wallpaper, ornamental plasterwork (gypseries) and furniture.

Bassin at the bottom of the chateau

The owner showed us around the château.  We were not allowed to take any photos and it is hard to create a picture of the interior for the reader who was not there. The gypseries on a background of bluish/turquoise walls were exquisite.  There were scenes out of mythologie and history or just floral wreaths. The plaster to create the gypseries was deposited onto the walls and the artisan created the scenes by slowly chipping away at the plaster and in doing so creating the picture. The 'gypseries' are a special feature of the walls in the sitting areas. In the private bedrooms the walls were covered in either a wallpaper copied from the old remnants they found and especially recreated for the château or in fabric, printed with the same detail.  The curtains were beautiful, beige, with all sort of fruits and flowers.

The garden belonging to the château at the bottom of the hill overlooking the valley

For our members who did not have the opportunity to visit, we can highly recommend it, it is worth a visit.
All of us in front of château entrance except Gabrielle who took the photo.  Owner with light blue blouse.

Photo including Gabrielle

Photos: Gabrielle Wellesley and Isabel Pardoe

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Jardin Conservatoire des Plantes Tinctoriales in Lauris and Jardin La Louve in Bonnieux - 24/5/2016

It is not by chance that the 'Jardin Conservatoire des Plantes Tinctoriales' based itself in Lauris.  Since the 16th century Lauris has been a centre for the production of natural dyes. It was the colour 'crimson' produced in the area that became so important. The Kermes insect that feeds on the sap of the Quercus coccifera (Kermes Oak) produces a red dye. After laying her eggs the female insect dies and dries out on the tree.  The women in the area collected these dried up insects, they were then ground to a powder. It was a very lucrative industry at the time.

Kermes insect

In addition, from the 18th century onwards up to the 19th century Rubia tinctoria (Madder) was cultivated on the plains of the Durance, from Pertuis to Althen-les-Palluds, to produce a different colour red.

Rubia tinctoria

Apart from the red dye, a yellow/greenish dye was produced from the berries of the Rhamnus spp (Buckthorn), a native to the region and

Rhamnus alaternus

a different yellow dye from the wood of the Cotinus coggygria (Smoketree), another native.

There was silk production going on at the same time. One of the local landowners owned 2001 Mulberry trees, the leaves of the Mulberry tree is food for the silkworm.

When the synthetic dyes started to appear as by-products of the petro-chemical industry the natural dye industry died.  In the last few decades the interest in natural dyes has been revived, more and more people seem to be allergic to synthetic dyes.

We know so much more about plants nowadays, not just the botanical characteristics, with chemotaxonomy, we can classify plants according to their chemical composition.

The plants that produce the different coloured dyes are not just there for the colour, they have many additional benefits.

Thalictrum flavum produces a black dye

The yellow dye plants are the most wide-spread in the world.  Yellow colourants contain flavonoids.  Flavonoids have anti-inflammatory properties, they are captors of ultra violet rays and other radiation.  For medicinal and dietary purposes, flavonoids are strong protectors against cellular aging.

A lot of trees ( in the bark) and plants contain tannin. Tannin has astringent properties, is used in the dyeing process as well as in the treatment of leather.  The leather becomes soft and supple and does not spoil.  Clothing that has been subjected to tannins in the dyeing process, protects our skin from infection in case of injury.

Before the introduction of Indigo (Indigofera tinctoria) from Asia, we used Isatis tinctoria as a blue dye.

Isatis tinctoria

Indigo produced a stronger blue and overtook Isatis tinctoria. Indigo was later replaced by synthetic dyes.
Indigofera tinctoria

By adding plants that have anti-oxidant properties to the Indigo, the blue dye contained in the roots of the plant become more soluble, no need to use sodium hydro-sulphite which leaves a toxic residue.

Indigo posseses a substance called 'indigotin'. Indigotin repels infra-red rays, insects and is anti-carcinogenic. Jeans are made of a material called Denim.  The word 'jeans' comes from 'Gêne' (Genoa)  and 'denim' is derived from 'de Nîmes'. Denim material was dyed blue with dye of the Indigo plant and was produced in Gêne and Nîmes. At the time little did the blue colour workers know, by wearing the jeans, it was protecting them from excessive temperatures and unwanted insects.

Most dyes need to be stabilised.  Different methods are used eg. lime, urine, ash and mineral salts like iron and aluminium salts.

Bibliography: Literature supplied by the Conservation of Natural Dye Plants.

Jardin La Louve

After lunch at the Chȃteau de Lauris, we made our way to Jardin 'La Louve'. Our previous visit to Jardin 'La Louve' was in June 2011.  Judith Pillsbury owned the garden at the time. The present owner is Mme Sylvie Verger.

Sue with Mme Sylvie Verger

The garden was designed by Nicole de Vésian, a fabric designer and stylist at Hermès. When she bought the house there was no garden to speak off, just a green hillside.  She decided to create a garden of mostly evergreen shrubs, many native to the region and sculpture them into shapes,  although the overal design is formal, she was very clever in making her garden flow into the landscape beyond.

Very few flowers are used, the overal impression is of a green foliage garden.  In total there are 5 terraces, the whole plot is 1600 m2.

The lavender field with clipped and normal lavenders

The lavender field as part of the surrounding countryside

Photographs:  Tineke Stoffels


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