French Garden Inspiration: Paris, Champagne and the Perigord

Photos from my fall in France, bursting with garden inspiration. 

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Above: Berg√®res, the country¬†home of the family de Pusy La Fayette, in Berg√®res-Sous-Montmirail, Champagne.¬†The¬†estate’s meadow of shaggy grass provides habitat for a small flock of sheep, and turns silvery gray-green under a heavy evening fog. A quince,¬†ripe for picking off an old rambling tree, will make an excellent addition to homemade apple sauce. Below: Wisteria conquers a balcony in the 6i√®me arrondissement of Paris, just off the Rue Madame.

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Above: Ikea¬†V√ÖG√Ė chairs and a gravel floor create a pleasant nook for moments spent outdoors at the home of¬†artist and art professor Archambault de Beaune, in Champagne. ¬†Berries in the hedgerow catch the evening light, providing visual interest even as the autumn sets in. A¬†thick canopy of fig leaves overhead in the Salon de Th√©¬†at La¬†Grande Mosqu√©e de Paris,¬†a great place to go for hot mint tea and Middle Eastern desserts after a stroll in the nearby Jardin des Plantes.¬†Below:¬†A long avenue leading to one of several tropical hothouses is obscured by plants spilling from their beds at the Jardin des Plantes, Paris.¬†Enormous yews in fruit mark¬†the four corners of a path intersection. A pretty mystery plant.

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Below: The long allée of trees tinged with yellow at the Chateau Bergères was a perfect place to practice walking mindful meditation. View from Sacré Coeur in Montmartre. I took this photo the Sunday after the November 13th attacks. The large hillside park was packed with friends who, like me and my friend, were sitting in the sun in the peaceful green space together. 

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Above: Views of the formal gardens at Bergères, and out across the grazing meadow towards the forest. You can see the lovely, low and cragged quince tree towards the end of the clearing. Below: The curious fruit of the medlar tree, which looks something like a giant rosehip, and is said to taste like spicy cinnamon applesauce when eaten very ripe. The tree has been cultivated in England and Europe since the middle ages, but is not very well known in the US. This one was growing on the terraced slopes of Saint-Avit-Sénieur in the Perigord, amongst Roman and medieval stone walls. The incredible texture of lichen on wild roadside shrubs; I found that roadsides were so much more beautiful in the Perigord than here in the US, because wildflowers and long grasses were left untouched. 

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Above: A star apple picked from a communal orchard at the town hall in Bergères-Sous-Montmirail. Below: More roadside lichen in the Perigord. 

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Above: The grazing meadow under fog at Bergères. A woodland trail in the Perigord is dotted with Roman walls and rumored to hold caches of truffles, but no local will ever tell you where. Oak leaves along the trail, indicating some possibility of truffles, which have to grow at the base of these trees in particular. House boats along the Seine screened with bamboo for a little hard-fought privacy. The reflecting pool at Bergères, which is well stocked with fish for eating (I had one, it was heavenly, but I have no idea what kind it was). My host parents and their gun dog, Joker, on a weekend walk in the Parc de Saint-Cloud outside of Paris. Below: Last breath of dusk at Bergères before heading back to Paris for the work week.

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If I had to summarize the French attitude to gardening, at least from what I saw this past fall, it would consist of these two basic points:

If you’re lucky enough to have land, plant something useful.

Don’t fuss. Nature isn’t meant to be tidy. Give a garden good bone structure, and then let it be. Have a few designated areas that are kept neatly, but contrast those with areas of controlled wild.

So, I‚Äôm putting in¬†an¬†order with¬†Fedco Trees¬†this week to that effect. I have about 1/8 of an acre of land in Newport, and I want to use every last inch of it. On my list: American filbert (hazelnut), heritage Fall Pippin apples (one of the oldest American varieties), elderberries, a medlar, and I‚Äôm also very excited to try beach plums and marshmallow in the areas of my property¬†at high risk of¬†coastal flooding. I’m also waiting with baited breath to see how my Chicago Hardy Fig and Smyrna Quince trees have overwintered. Is it spring yet?