Tuesday, 16 August 2011


Awaking to birdsong and sunshine streaking through the trees outside. ,I stand in the doorway to stretch and bend, then walk barefoot on the grass – np-one to see me. Domaine de Folicoeur really is a good place to stay. Breakfast appears, boiiled egg and toast with all sorts of home made compote and, of course, coffee.
Later I go and look for my hosts, wandering through their garden and into the most beautiful grassed courtyard. I pay my bill and reluctantly. leave.

Domaine de Folicoeur –Chambre D’Hote

To Giverny, not a potager but worth a visit anytime. Luckily just a short queue so I can get in within the hour. Most days the queue goes right along the street and almost out of the village . A brief rain shower and then the sun comes out and the temperature rises. What always surprises me in this garden, is the use of annuals – cleomes, dahlias, Nigella, Nicotiana, Cosmos. Used because they are the only plants which will stay in flower almost throughout the summer. In April and May they are joined by a myriad bulbs, in June by Iris’s and now the annuals almost take over. Here are colour beds - yellows oranges and browns with helianthus, rudbeckia, helenium, dahlias, solidago, coreopsis and cosmos. There are pink and purple beds with penstemon, hesperis, paeonia, nicotiana, and gladiolas. There are roses everywhere, strung over the metal arches, as standards grown as a ‘cloche’ or ‘champignon’ and as shrubs within the beds above a ground covering of nasturtiums and salvias. Monet used a lot of white in his colour beds Lavatera, Nicotiana sylvestris, Asters, Clematis, Cosmos.but never in large clumps where they might have a distracting effect .You can get a garden overview by looking out from the upper windows of Monet’s house but that is always crowded, so I have to be content with photographs from ground level.

A Giverny border
The classic Monet’s garden photograph – 
still beautiful in august – 
pity about the closed green doors though

A splendour of annuals keeping the garden 
alive during the hot summer months

Out into the hot sunshine and to Versailles to the garden of the king. –‘Le Jardin du Roi’.  I park almost opposite what looks like the main door.  It is firmly closed with a padlock but a little further on,  still obviously connected to the garden, is a vegetable shop, with a small desk by one of the doors into a large courtyard. There is no one behind the desk, and as two customers are taking the grocer’s attention by changing their minds about what they want to buy,  I seize the moment and wander out into the vast spankingly hot ya.rd.  At first I can’t make out an entrance to the potager, but in the furthest corner I see a gardener disappearing through a gap in the hedge, so I follow.  Suddenly I’m confronted by the biggest potager ever – it was not called Le Jardin du Roi’ for nothing.  The produce here could have fed 500 and probably did. It was set up between 1678 and 1683 by La Quintinie at the command of Louis X1V and t is arranged around a large circular pond with a tall jet of water making a pleasant splashing sound in the now overwhelming heat.  The growing areas of the Grand Square are divided into 16 squares  which are about 1.5m below the level of the surrounding walls to protect the crops.  All around the Grand Square behind high walls, there are 24 walled gardens containing fruit trees. and they look well cared for – grafted in all sorts of shapes and patterns. 

Just one of the pruning methods used
But apart from the fruit trees, the whole potager has a neglected feel,, like a series of unloved allotments.  There is obviously some growing and experimentation going on.  I was told that the garden is looked after by landscape architect students from a nearby college, but apart from the fruit trees there is little evidence of any serious horticulture. Perhaps august is not the best time to see this garden.  Seems a bit of a waste not to use it to grow vegetables and feed. people. La Quintinie was a great experimenter and worked hard at supplying food for the court all year round, finding new varieties of fruit and vegetables, building houses for tender fruits. It would be good to see how it looked in its prime.

This gives an idea of the size of the garden – 
just one of the sixteen squares

There were several more intimate areas like this to the 
side of the main garden. Wondered who was looking after these.

I stayed a hour and then took the road  to Boix Richeau which is an old monastery with a potager based on a medieval monk’s garden.  I was really looking forward to this one but when I arrived, there was a notice on the gate saying that the garden was closed until  September.  It opens from the 15th july till 11th August and from the 15th September till  the 15th of October.  Today was the 16th August so I stood behind the closed gate hoping someone might take pity on me and let me in.  But no one did.  A car pulled up and the driver told me it was no use waiting, the garden was closed till September.  I was a bit put out and  drove off to my Chambres dHote near Chartres in Saint Prest. Danielle Chagot met me. and when I told her about the garden, she immediately phoned the owners to see if it was possible for me to visit out of season.   I was elated when she said I could go the next day – they were expecting a group visit and I could join the group.  Danielles hgouse has a beautiful garden, almost a  pint- sized Giverny with  tumbling roses and annuals – very cleverly designed by Danielles husband to include three enclosed seating areas.  Having missed the potager I had come to see, I had arrived at the B+B too early,  so  I decided to go to Chartres for the afternoon. But It was too hot to sightsee, so I sat near a water pavement and watched  enviously as dozens of children jumped and rolled in the water.  Finally I wandered through the park and then back to the auberge having seen very little of Chartres.  Tomorrow I hope to go to Bois Richeus, Chaumont Sur Loire and Villandry if it is possible to do all that in one day. 

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