27: Spring 2011

Author: Val White

Gardens in Brittany

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Gardens in Brittany
Val White

The Jardins du Montmarin are situated on the Dinard side of the River Rance (Saint-Malo is across the river). The chateau, park and gardens are listed as a Monument Historique. The chateau is elegant and was constructed as a summer residence by a wealthy Saint-Malo shipowner and merchant in 1760, in the style of Louis XV. It is accessed across a manicured courtyard in the middle of which stands a beautiful Carrara marble fountain. The house overlooks the Rance, over a kilometre wide at this point. The gardens are extensive and are divided into two main parts: the French formal garden constructed in the 18th century and virtually unchanged since the day it was designed, and the Romantic garden, laid out in the English style in 1885, with sweeping lawns, thickets, mixed borders, shrubs, plants and a rock garden. It is noted for its unique botanical collection, especially agapanthus, hydrangeas, euphorbias, magnolias and eucryphias (otherwise known as leatherwoods) and each year staff seek new varieties of plants and trees to add to it. The gardens descend through four terraces right to the water’s edge and have a magnificent panoramic view across the estuary. Of interest to plant lovers is the well-stocked nursery with plants at reasonable prices, propagated mostly from the plants in the garden.

My next recommendation is Les Jardins de Broceliande -much more than a garden. Situated to the west of Rennes, this garden is one of the best I’ve ever visited -not only for the stunning plants but also for the ethos of the garden. Broceliande is a floral ‘parc’ covering 24 hectares, consisting of more than 20 special areas. From the moment you walk in you realise that this is somewhere special. You are individually welcomed by one of the 81 disabled people who run this amazing place. Set up more than twenty years ago by the French government as a centre to help disabled people to discover and develop their own potential and to help them find work in the wider community, members of the ‘team’, as they like to be called, love to share their extensive knowledge of propagation, passion for plants and planting schemes.

The garden holds the national collection of French Iris -over 1000 different varieties all meticulously cared for. Amongst many others, there’s a herb garden, a Priest’s garden, an English garden, a witches’ garden and a stunning Modern French theatre garden with topiary actors, elegant and sinuous. A sensory garden has recently been constructed, planted with perfumed flowers, trees with textured bark and plants with interesting leaves. Signs are in large print and Braille and people with limited sight are guided through the garden with rope trails at hand level.

They hold over 100 varieties of old roses and 400 varieties of lilac and from mid August to October, 800 different dahlias, all colours and all shapes and sizes from 2 metres tall to 40 cms small, exuberantly dazzle the eye. And that’s not all -there are fruit orchards, which include 60 varieties of local apples, 20 varieties of local plums, nuts, pears and cherries and fresh vegetables galore -all are on sale at the on-site shop. There’s a restaurant, and a mini children’s farm with Breton animals to pet. Above all it’s a gardener’s garden -a delightful place to be. At the end of the visit you can buy (or order to be propagated) any of the plants in the garden.

My third suggestion is Les Jardins de Kerdalo near Lannion. This is a garden with quite a different spirit. It was created in 1965 by Prince Peter Wolonsky, a great plantsman, and was added to the list of Monuments Historiques in 2005. Covering 18 hectares, it is said to be one of the best gardens created in Europe since the Second World War. Here are Italian, Chinese and French influences, and there is even an area that invokes the feeling of a tropical jungle. Isabelle Vaughan, Wolonsky’s daughter, a horticulturalist who trained at Wisley, has looked after the gardens since her father’s death. The planting and the plants are spectacular.

One of the stunning features in flower at my own visit was a wisteria-covered pergola. A grotto or cave structure surrounded by giant leaves of gunnera was also outstanding. If you visit in spring the acers, rhododendrons and azaleas are a sight to behold. This garden is peculiarly atmospheric -or perhaps I’m being fanciful. For me it seemed like a little world all huddled together and closed in, seeming both natural and yet at the same time fashioned, a crossroads between a botanical world and a fairy-tale romantic one.

First published in the North East Group Newsletter, October 2009
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 27.
© Copyright for this article: Val White

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2011. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.

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