Sunday, 9 June 2013

Les Jardins Agapanthe - the best of gourmet gardens in Normandy

Alexandre Thomas has created Les Jardins Agapanthe around his family home in Normandy
If you live in England, there's a whole new world of gardens on your doorstep, just across the English Channel. I travelled to France this week in search of pastures green, and was amazed by what I found, just a short hop across the water. There's a choice of ferries from the south coast and of course, there's also the Chunnel, which will transport garden gastronomes into a different world - the gardens and landscapes of Normandy - made famous by Impressionist painters like Claude Monet. But his garden at Giverny is just a starter - there are many other gourmet gardens waiting to be tasted - including  Les Jardins Agapanthe.
Thomas has created the garden at Agapanthe on many different levels, with enticing paths and steps linking the different areas
This wondrous garden has been created over the last 30 years by landscape architect, Alexandre Thomas around his family home in Normandy, just an hour's drive from Dieppe.  It's a truly magical garden, which has doubled in size in the last three years, following the acquisition of an adjacent property - and a visit here will transport you into a completely different world. It would be impossible to capture the true essence of this garden without seeing it through the seasons and exploring every inch of the property, but I've tried to give readers a taste of it here in late May and early June. 
Swathes of perky perennials are broken up by paved pathways
The palette is predominantly green - a veritable plantsman's paradise - broken up with a network of pathways and steps, that lead you through his garden labyrinth, begging you to reach out and engage with all the plants you see. There's hardly an inch of ground where you can see the soil, so dense is the planting. But with a true artist's eye, Thomas has added statues, urns, steps and arbors, that draw you through the garden, to the next area of interest, and you find yourself meandering through the perky perennials in wonder. But don't forget to look down at your feet because the pathways are an art form too.
Balls of box and many mature shrubs (bought in from local nurseries) add structure to the garden created by Alexandre Thomas at his home
The best way to appreciate this garden is to walk around slowly and savour what you see, before returning to look at it in detail. The original garden created by Alexandre is shown here in the first six photographs, but if you visit for yourself, you won't necessarily see the same scenes, because Agapanthe changes rapidly throughout the seasons, adopting a new look every week as different perennials bloom. But whenever you visit, I'm sure this garden will put a spring in your step, because it's lively, enchanting and quite unlike anywhere at home.
The lavender garden at Agapanthe - too early to see it in bloom, but still inviting
When the opportunity arose in 2006 for Alexandre to buy the property over the road - another austere, red brick Normandy house with adjoining land, he realised he could create a completely different style of garden in the grounds here. Work only began three years ago, but this garden already has its own unique personality and feels as though it has been here for much longer, thanks to the mature conifers that provide a backdrop to the new planting, which concentrates primarily on shrubs and smaller trees for year round interest. 
Pathway leading to the new garden created by Thomas at Agapanthe
The tempo here is very different - more Mediterranean in style, and the plants are more exposed to the sunlight because there are fewer trees. But you'd never know this was a new garden because the plants have been carefully chosen and Alexandre has made full use of his landscaping skills to ensure that the architectural features - great urns and huge terracotta pots - give a sense of timelessness to his new creation. He's also taken care not to repeat the planting found in the first garden and covered the ground with a layer of river sand so visitors can stroll between the plants.
Find the wrought iron gates at the lower end of the garden and cross the road to see the new garden created at Les Jardins Agapanthe
Make sure you don't miss the new garden (although the wonderful ladies at the entrance gate will make sure you know about it). You exit the first garden through wrought iron gates (above) and cross the road, wondering if you are entering some private garden, because there are no signs and on arrival, you encounter an established circle of pines, reminiscent of the Cote d'Azur, protecting juvenile plants in a dug out hollow. But the only indication that this garden is new, is the size of the plants, which are still establishing themselves in their new abode.
The Pine Circle at Agapanthe, planted just three years ago when Alexandre Thomas acquired the house over the road
It's hard to believe that there was nothing here five years ago because Alexandre scoured nurseries to find plants of interest for his new project. He says he was lucky to find specimens "that were as remarkable for their size as for their rarity and originality", thus enabling him to create an apparently mature garden in the space of just a few years. His decision to use a layer of river sand on top of the heavy clay soil that is typical of this part of Normandy, means that plants from different habitats are flourishing side by side.
The new garden has a very different ethos - it is less densely planted and shrubs have been chosen to give structure and colour
The second garden has a totally different feel to it - more space and essentially an antique feel, despite its youth. The shrubs have been carefully chosen to give structure, form and colour throughout the seasons, although Thomas has stuck to his tried and tested formula of introducing architectural interest in the form of giant urns and ceramic pots, together with carefully placed chairs and benches, for visitors to sit and admire his handiwork. 
There are many places to sit and reflect at Les Jardins Agapanthe
And all this behind a garden gate in Normandy, less than an hour's drive from the Channel port of Dieppe. Les Jardins Agapanthe open from May to September every day except Wednesday from 14.00-19.00. There are plenty of places to stay nearby and many other gardens to visit within 50 miles, including Le Bois des Moutiers and Giverny

4 comments:

  1. Really beautiful. I can tell from your pictures that this place has an atmosphere all its own. Looking forward to seeing it in another season!
    Julie

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  2. This looks great, another reason to get to France again! Jeannine

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  3. What a beautiful garden. I can see why Normandy is on everyone's list of places to visit...especially gardens.
    Susan

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