The magnificent Jardins de la Fontaine, Nîmes, The Gard
In the heart of the Roman town of Nîmes in The Gard, accessed by the Quai de la Fontaine, lies the beautiful Jardins de la Fontaine – the perfect place to relax and enjoy the sunshine or perhaps try a little pétanque with the locals. They are designated a Remarkable Garden by France’s Ministry of Culture.
Built around an ancient sacred spring, tone of the many highlights are the remains of the Roman Temple of Diana which was also used as a church for a Benedictine convent for several centuries.
The gardens today date from 1745 when King Louis XV asked his engineer, Jacques Philippe Mareschal to design a symmetric garden which incorporated the source and the ancient remains. So there are lines of trees, balustrades, vases and benches with fountains representing the town. The full project was never completed and at the beginning of the 19th century, Augustin Cavalier, Mayor of Nîmes, implemented the development of the hill and gave it its name. There’s Aleppo pines, green oak cypresses alongside recent additions of Mediterranean planting, lining a path up the hill which is dominated by the Tour Magne, built by the Romans. A tall, prestigious building which formed part of the city walls, it was built in the 1st century BC and still offers incredible views over this historic city.
Jardin Médiéval d’Uzès, The Gard
The Jardin Médiéval d’Uzès is situated in the heart of the pretty town of Uzès in a former part of the castle and includes The King’s Tower (dating from the 15th century and originally used by King Charles VIII) and the Bishop’s Tower. Both were used as prisons up until 1926 and it’s still possible to climb the 100 steps up the King’s Tower for a rooftop view over the town.
The Medieval Garden was created in 1995 and is inspired by the gardens and plants used in the Middle Ages. It is a living Herbarium and features 450 plants which would have been used at that time. It’s open from 1st April – 1st November with entry costing €4.50 for the gardens and exhibits only or €6 to include access to the King’s Tower.
Roseraie de Berty – Largentière, Ardèche
In a wild and unspoiled valley not far from Aubenas, near the small medieval town Largentière in the Ardèche, the Roseraie de Berty, a fragrant rose garden contains more than 700 different old varieties of roses. It has been classified as a remarquable garden. It also serves as a nursery rose garden where you can purchase your favorite variety. Eleonore Cruse, the horticulturist, discovered a passion for roses and opens the door to visitors once every year to see her rose beds, pergolas, bushes: the flowers bloom in a multi coloured array and offer a cornucopia of sweet scents and fragrances.
A few years back, Eleonore began a new garden featuring all different types of fruit trees from the olive tree to the walnut. Visitors may enjoy a cup of tea or local juices in her teahouse.
Close by, the five star camping site of Les Ranchisses Largentière is the ideal spot to stay, offering a haven of peace and tranquility with its gites, NaturSpa, reception rooms and restaurant. Each summer, the owners, Véronique and Philippe Chevalier, add to their collection of garden sculptures to enhance the natural beauty of the landscape – a way of combining travel with art.
Musée de la Lavande, Ardèche
A visit to Southern France would not be complete without a trip to see the lilac blue fields of lavender and the Musée de la Lavande in Saint-Remèze. Lavender has always been grown on the Plateau des Gras near the Gorges of the Ardèche but the first crops were created in the early 20th century. There are approximately twenty varieties, three of which are predominant in Southern Ardèche: lavandin, broad-leaved lavender and fine lavender.
The sweet smell of lavender evokes a whole host of childhood memories and in the distillery, one can learn about the extraction of the essential oils and how it becomes perfume. They will also explain the various uses of this versatile plant which can help with headaches, with abrasions, with hygiene – a wide range of uses. lavender plants of course are on sale along with a whole host of other goodies.
Erik Borja created his stunning Le Jardin Zen in 1973, inspired in part by the gardens of Japan whilst at the same time, reflecting the Mediterranean characteristics of the area in which he lives – the Drôme area.
He first visited Japan in 1977 where he visited the gardens of Nara and Kyoto, undertaking a study of the gardens of Zen Buddhist monasteries. His fascination with Japan is clearly shown in the design of the gardens where he used his artistic eye to place plants, trees, viewing points to best effect, enhanced with the background sound of birdsong and trickling streams of water. Nature is his palate and his principle source of inspiration.
The resulting gardens offer a haven for meditation and are designed as a refuge of those who want to commune with nature. It’s very much a garden of discovery and is comprised of five sections – Le Jardin Accueil, Le Jardin de Méditation, Le Jardin de Thé, Le Jardin de Promenade and Le Jardin du Dragon.
Roseline Giorgis, the daughter of a perfumer who worked for Guerlain, grew up in Grasse and has produced the first fragrance rose to be created since 1880. Her father studied ancient texts describing the composition of perfume made in the 18th century but he died before completing his dream – to create a rose reminiscent of the ancient fragrances. Roseline picked up his baton and continued his work from the cuttings he left and trying for years to recapture this lost scent. Finally, in 2013, 3,500 bushes of Centifolia Baptistine rose bushes blossomed in her rose garden in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in May and June, enabling her to produce 600 grammes of absolute, a concentrated formula, cherished by perfume-makers.Roseline also transforms her roses into edible delights such as rose coulis for champagne kir, rose confit for foie gras, rose flavoured chocolates, rose syrup, and so forth. Her Maison de la Rose is in Fontaine de Vaucluse and the rose garden in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue – both can be visited by appointment.
Les Jardins Val Joanis, Vaucluse Provence
Les Jardins Val Joanis were recently awarded the label of Jardin Remarquable. A stunning site which is constantly re-arranged in a harmony of colours, shapes and textures, planting blends both flowers and vegetables together. Cécile Chancel created the garden in 1978 in the style of an 18th century garden providing both food in terms of fruit and vegetables whilst remaining an ornamental space at the same time.
Three gentle sloping terraces were built using ancient Roman stones. The first is lined with boxwood, oak trees and lavender around a collection of vegetables. The second is punctuated with yew trees where irises, roses and asters prevail according to the season. The third plays with the shapes and tones of shrubs, forming a graceful transition with the surrounding hills and vineyards. The three terraces are connected by a tunnel of climbing roses made from a 19th century “ostrich corridor” found in the region.