Le Jardin Plume: Squaring the Circle

Is there such a thing as a French national garden style? There are certainly some recognisably French garden types; such as the clipped formality of Le Notre, the exuberantly decorative potager, and the regional specificity of the gardens of Normandy or Provence. But can a garden be the epitome of a national psyche? For example, I think the French are deeply conflicted between cool, Cartesian rationality, and a passionate desire to just be wild, à la Rousseau. So, if a garden here was able to square that circle, and bring a satisfying resolution to the tension between formality and informality, the natural and the man-made, the cerebral and the emotional – would that represent the perfect French style? If that were possible, then Le Jardin Plume, in Normandy, created by Sylvie and Patrick Quibel, would, in my view, be a serious contender.ais region.

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Pierre’s Market Garden: New Wave – Old Ways

Pierre Mortreux is young, hopeful and very busy. He is part of a new wave of thirty-somethings who are convinced by the view that work is not just a necessary adjunct to the fun stuff but a natural and essential part of a life well lived – and are determined to follow that path. For Pierre, this means working outside; getting his hands dirty in the soil and having a daily connection with nature and the land. I went to meet him in his two-and-a-half acre market garden at the foot of the magnificent, medieval walled town of Montreuil-sur-Mer, in the French Pas-de-Calais region.

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The Kolkata Flower Market

Whether you know it as Calcutta, or Kolkata, this city seduces with sheer force of personality. It’s not somewhere many people choose to holiday but if you get a chance, take it and go –  immerse yourself in one of the most culturally rich and diverse cities in India. I love it and revel in the marvels around every corner –  a tiny street circus; the poignant South Street Cemetery, full of youthful colonists packed into monumental tombs; a street of clay- figure artists, each with his own special skill. Holding its own in this city of secret wonders is the fabulous Mullick Ghat Flower Market – a Festival of blooming beauties where the head-line act is undeniably – The Marigolds.

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The Secret Garden – Marrakesh

There’s a new garden to visit in Marrakesh and the best way to see it is to shop ‘til you drop. Now, I’m pretty keen on gardens but frankly a bit lily-livered when it comes to shopping. Lucky for me my two knowledgeable but naughty friends, Katie and Sarah, helped me to tackle the souks with the vigour of a pro. It is exhausting but exhilarating – all these shops, heady with head-turningly amazing goods from hot-pink macramé loo seats to exquisite hand embroidered kaftans. There’s literally an adventure around every corner in the winding jigsaw of lanes and specialist areas that make up the Marrakesh souks. People get hot and heated, motorbikes steam through past babies and the elderly with no concern for life or limb, and the temper of donkey cart drivers is tested to the limit. And then you step into the luxe, calme et volupté of a garden – and that’s what we got.

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Il Giardino di Sergio

Early in May I finally made it to Sicily after decades of thinking about it. I booked us into Wisteria Cottage set in what was described as ‘one of the last authentic Sicilian gardens,’ in the tiny hamlet of Scopello, west of Palermo. You may have heard of lovely little Scopello because it has recently been ‘discovered’. It’s just a cluster of houses around an old baglio, literally a courtyard and by extension a fortified country estate, with a picture-perfect restored tuna-fishing port, in an idyllic cove a little way down the hillside. Obviously I wasn’t influenced by the fact that it had featured in Ocean’s Twelve and that I may bump into the likes of George Clooney and Brad Pitt. No, it was the allure of this intriguing garden and the spectacular show of spring wild flowers along the stunningly beautiful coastline in the Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro.

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Séricourt: Reflections on War & Peace

A garden on the theme of war – what would that look like and how would it feel to be in it? It’s not often that a garden poses questions before you’ve even seen it and I have been keen to visit Séricourt, in the Pas de Calais region of France, for some time now. Like many gardens Séricourt has its set pieces, photogenic compositions which always deliver the goods to the professional photographer and these have become its trademark. The sombre themes of ranked soldiers, bomb craters and gueule cassée (soldiers whose faces were terribly disfigured), make striking images and good copy, but there’s more to this garden than death.

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