A Contemporary/Traditional Garden

What with the potager and the Festival International des Jardins at Chaumont-sur-Loire, I was getting close to my sensory overload threshold.  The point at which my brain turns to mush.   The point at which I normally would be heading off to the cute little bistro I had seen on my way to the castle.  Instead I was standing at the entrance to le Parc des Prés du Goualoup.   


Cedars of Lebanon. One of my favourite trees.

The area before me was flat and large – 10 hectares to be exact (that’s just over 20 acres for those of you who, like me hover on the metric/Imperial divide.  Actually, I still don’t have a very good sense of what an acre is, just that 20 of them is a very large area.)

Opened to the public in 2012, it is a work in progress.  The goal is to create a series of jardins pérennes liés aux grandes civilizations.  More of these perennial gardens in the style of traditional gardens of the world will be added over the next few years.  The guiding muse of the design is described as l’esprit (spirit) contemporain.  Traditional.  And contemporary.

A circular path takes you through the park/garden.  To the left is a small grove of Cedars of Lebanon that seemed to encircle (shelter?) a few large, round objects.   To the right gardeners were working on the iris bed, planted just last year.  I set off to the right.  It’s always fun to chat with the gardeners.


Apart from the gardeners, I was the only visitor.  Had all the others gone to lunch?

Since there are none of the high hedges that enclose the festival gardens nearby, you can see what’s coming up from quite a distance.  This gives you a while to try and figure the thing out before you reach the plaque.


Square and Round.  In addition to (much-needed) explanations, here there were also mini bios of the designers.


I struggled with this.  I wondered if the designer had similar difficulties with the English country garden style.


No such problems with this  garden, just a few metres further along.

Although descriptions of gardens as modern or traditional are meant to be helpful, I’m often left wondering about the time line.  When does ‘modern’ begin?  Like the controversy around native vs. introduced species.  Native as of when?  Before the arrival of Europeans? That position always strikes me as rather arbitrary, especially in light of  nature’s own role in the migration of flora.  What about plants like the coconut that for centuries, without any intervention on man’s part, have been floating across the oceans and setting down roots on new, previously coconut-free islands?

Besides, it seems to me that, more and more, gardens in which the plant material plays the leading role (and I’m not talking about Botanical Gardens where, by definition, the focus in on the plants) are lumped, often with a subtle, but unmistakable hint of disdain, into a group called ‘traditional’, while  those with ‘strong architectural elements’ (i.e.. man-made structures) are classified as ‘modern’ or ‘contemporary’.


Here was the embodiment of the collaboration between man and nature that resulted in the higher ‘Third Art’ that the garden designers of the Renaissance had aspired to.

I could see this from quite a distance.  Call me a philistine, but it reminded me of a (badly built) beaver lodge.

Moving on, I came to what looked a lot like a beaver lodge.  A badly built beaver lodge.

There is a lot of talk these days about ‘pushing one’s limits’ and ‘getting out of your comfort zone’.  I began to wonder if maybe that is what this whole area was really about.


I was also starting to get annoyed.  Why had I listened to that woman in the gift shop?  I could be sitting down with a nice glass of one of the local whites – or maybe a red – the sun was trying to coming out, but it was still on the cool side.

One thing I hate more than going on a wild goose chase is retracing my steps.  I’d already come a fair way along the path.  The thought of turning back at this point was even less appetizing – that again – than continuing.

I started to hear a strange, soft whooshing/thumping kind of sound.  It came at regular intervals.  Like a heart beat.




I just wished the sun would come out, even for a bit. So I could walk through a rainbow.

So what do you think it is?

So what’s your guess?

It was only because I had to pass by the plaque that I knew.

I didn’t get an opportunity to guess because of where the plaque is located.  I doubt it would have occurred to me that someone might think of putting a giant lemon squeezer in the middle of a field.


A haven of peace and contemplation.  Yes.



Sacred Fence.  Was this Branzi’s radical take on the  ‘Sacro Bosco’ (Sacred Wood) of the ancient pagans?  I’ll write about my visits – once in the fall and once in springtime – to a Sacro Bosco in northern Lazio – when I get back to Italy.   Tôt ou tard. (Sooner or later.  Probably later.)


The wide perennial border at the front was really quite lovely.  But the ‘Sacred Fence’ was way too radical for me.

I could see the Cedars of Lebanon not far ahead.  Almost back at the beginning.  Lunch was not far off.


It isn’t just the magnificent shape of the tree. It’s the fantastical, gravity defying pine cones.


Even as they ripen, they stay upright.


I wasn’t the only one.  The large round objects I’d seen earlier in the middle of the grove were a delightful take on the unusual pine cones.  At least that’s what I think they are…

Next stop:  A rose lover brings a touch of  ‘Chaumont’ to her patch of Eden.


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