I've always been a bit of a garden fantasist: my grand schemes and ideas far outstrip my knowledge and experience. One day, though...one day I will create my small paradise. Or so I dream, as I sit reading and looking at photographs in glossy gardening books.
Many of the high-end gardens in these pictures were designed by Dominique Lafourcade, who brings a painter's touch to the landscape. All is balance and structure and intense planting that tames the wild ruggedness of nature in the South of France using all the plants and trees that grow so freely here. The effect is to intensify the sights and senses you would expect, much in the same way as a great chef will intensify the essence of his food.
Lafourcade is a name to conjure with in Provence. While Dominique made her mark amid the cypress and lavender avenues of the region's prestige properties, her husband Bruno was equally successful as a restorer of old houses, winning national prizes for his transformations of crumbling buildings into elegant homes with a real sense of the past. Not all the properties were grand to begin with; often they were dilapidated farm buildings that rose again with a touch of the eighteenth-century fairytale about them.
I didn't know any of this when he went round our property, invited at the estate agent's suggestion before we put in a firm offer, and I spoke to him on telephone when I was back in England. All I remember is that - in the absence of a surveyor, or any suggestion that we should have one - Bruno Lafourcade was satisfied that "our" buildings were solid. Some of them have been there since the seventeenth century, he said, if they were going to fall down, they would have done so by now.
And then I asked him to give me some idea of what the restoration cost would be. When he gave me a figure that was almost exactly what we were going to pay for the property, I reeled back in shock, and there, more or less, was where we left it. A five-year restoration later, I can tell you that the good Monsieur Lafourcade was pretty much spot-on with his estimate.
So now we are just reaching the stage where our thoughts are turning to the garden. If money were no object, I would have no hesitation in engaging Mme Lafourcade to work her magic here. It hardly needs to be said that there's nothing left in the pot so this summer I shall be back to studying the pages of the picture books with a sense of purpose.
|Picture credits: House and Garden magazine (UK)|
Some of my favourite French garden books have been written by Louisa Jones. Here's The French Country Garden: New Growth on Old Roots (lovely title), and I've just seen she has a new one out called Mediterranean Landscape Design: Vernacular Contemporary.