April 2011 - Visits to Gardens in Hérault
avril 2011 - Visites aux jardins en Hérault

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Le Jardin Méditerranéen de Roquebrun

Le Jardin Méditerranéen de Roquebrun is a garden run by an association, CADE (Collectif Agricole pour le Développement et l'Environnement) which has as a number of objectives including the preservation of endangered species and research into aromatic and medicinal plants. The association took on the site in1988 after it had been abandoned for over a hundred years. Dominated by a Carolingian tower, the garden is on a south-facing cliff overlooking the river Orb. It is protected from the Tramontane wind by dolomitic hills and benefits from a micro-climate which enables many exotic plants to grow.

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View of Roquebrun from the Orb bridge

Our guide, Christophe Pialot, gave us an introductory talk filled with the history of the garden and the village, snippets about culinary uses of the plants (his grandmother put the leaves of Aphyllanthes monspeliensis into salads), quirky pieces of information (orange tree leaves are lobed and lemon tree leaves are scalloped) and descriptions of some of the plants. Plants grow from every crevice and cranny and are encouraged to grow as naturally as possible. The walls and paths are the result of 1600 tons of material being carried up by man and donkey. No chemicals have been used in the garden for the last ten years.

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Christophe’s introductory talk
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Paths cut into the cliff side

The garden is on three levels, the lowest being the hottest and having the most exotic plants. Palms, cacti, succulents and lots of citrus trees flourish and the scent was a delight as we climbed up through the garden.

There is a collection of mimosa, with an unusual blue-grey leafed one, Acacia balynea 'Purpurea'. On the highest level there are plants of the region, juniper, rhamnus and lentisk. I liked the way the Pistacia lentiscus had been cut to form dense masses, in some places spilling over the rocks.

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Juniper with lifted canopy
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Rhamnus alaternus

Christophe said he thought the most interesting of the 4000 plants in the garden is the the Leuzea conifera (syn. Centaura conifera) a short, grey-leaved plant with a creamy yellow flower. Once common in the garrigue it has been over picked for its decorative cone-like seed head and is now rare. Many of the plants here came from cuttings donated by prestigious institutions, such as the botanical garden at Monaco.

Jenny’s garden

The following day we visited two members' gardens. Jenny's garden was a wonderful contrast to Roquebrun; flat, walled and curvaceous with a backdrop of cypress to the north-east, terraced limestone hills to the north-west and an open vista to the south-west. The house, with a terrace running its length, looks out over the garden.

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In this garden the Orb valley soil is heavy clay except for a newly created raised bed. It is immediately obvious that Jenny loves plants. The variety is stunning, with lots of roses in bloom including Rosa chinensis 'Sanguinea' and starting to climb vigorously up an ash tree, Rosa 'Mme Alfred Carrière'. There is a spiky bed with Agave americano, Kniphofia sarmentosa and K. 'Geant', Yucca alifolia and a number of salvias and euphorbias - in fact, on the list Jenny gave us, there are thirty nine plants in this bed.

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Rosa chinensis ‘Sanguinea’
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Euphorbia in the spiky bed

There are eleven beds in all, each with a different emphasis and each with a large variety of plants, all listed. Jenny’s list started with questions she hoped members would have answers for and ended with the plants that had failed, mostly, she thinks, because of wet clay in the cold of winter. Jenny reproduces many plants by taking cuttings and her fear is that there will come a day when there will be no room to plant any more.

Read more about Jenny’s garden in the Directory of Members’ Gardens.

Andrew and Margaret's garden

Andrew and Margaret's garden, also on a steep slope, was different again. From the balcony of the house there are breathtaking views of Lac du Salagou with two extinct volcanoes and marvelous red soil contrasting with delicate spring green foliage.

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The view from the house

Against the north wall of the house is a small rockery created on a natural rock outcrop. There are sedums which are said to need full sun but are doing better than the same ones planted on the sunny terraces below. Sedum palmeri was particularly attractive.

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Sedums in the rockery

The first terrace, swept by the 'Tramontane', gives a first glimpse of the garden below. The plants here have to survive the wind, the Cistus x pulverulentus and C. x corbariensis were looking particularly healthy. There is a Ficus pumila (the climbing fig) starting to climb either side of an arch. This terrace has a mown grass path, on the lower terraces geotextile and wood chips have been laid (see Journal No. 58).

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The south-facing terraces below are sheltered from the wind and a micro-climate enables the plants to thrive. In only five years Andrew and Margaret have created terraces from a 20° slope making walls and filling in with earth, an impressive project. The fact that they only live there for part of the year adds to my admiration (see the article in Journal No.62). The earth is sandy and unlike Jenny's heavy water-retaining clay, the water drains away instantly. Here are a multitude of drought-tolerant plants: Nepeta x fassenii 'Six Hills Giant', a number of hardy geraniums, wallflowers, madonna lilies, rosemary, cistus, lavender and phlomis. Below the planted terraces are wooded terraces with a path between holm oaks leading to a finalast open grassy terrace. Andrew said the plant he likes the best is his Salvia officinalis, though there was some discussion as to whether it really is officinalis as the leaves are pinnate. It was mingling attractively with a Hypericum balearicum that I particularly liked.

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Salvia officinalis?
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Hypericum balearicum

All three were gardens that left me in admiration of the vision that had gone into creating them, with ideas for new plantings and a great sense of joy.

Text by Katharine Fedden
Photos by Christine Savage and Andrew Polmear

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