My visit with Elsie had got me in the mood for roses. Before leaving home, I had spent a fair bit of time meandering around the internet, looking for interesting, but less famous gardens. One day I stumbled across an intriguing entry. No grand castle, no extensive grounds, no private ‘folie’. It was a Village Jardin (Garden Village) called Chédigny, which in 2013 was the first village in France to be awarded the coveted designation, Jardin Remarkable. And it is full of roses.
In the late 1990’s, the mayor of Chédigny, who has a self-confessed grande passion pour les roses, decided that to further beautify the village – they had just finished ‘under-grounding’ all the networks – they could plant roses and train them up the façades of the houses.
The villagers loved it and two years later decided to aller plus loin (go further). In the words of the mayor, the goal was to “redonner la rue aux habitants” (give the road back to the villagers).
Whenever there is talk of giving back the streets to the people in big cities like Toronto, increasing sidewalk space always comes up. But in Chédigny, instead of expanding the sidewalks, they tore them all up, leaving just the curbs. Then they started planting. Ancient roses. Modern roses. Climbing roses. Repeat roses – roses remontantes. In French they don’t just repeat, they ‘rise again’. There were soon more roses than villagers. (latest count – 700 to 150)
The population soared 20% in just eight years. (Do the math – there may now be a couple dozen more Chédignois.) Word spread, and with the inauguration of the annual Festival des Roses in 2006, more and more visitors came to have a look at what was going on in the tiny village.
Of course, “Où il y a des roses, il y a des épines,” admitted the mayor. (Where there are roses, there are thorns.) The new interest in the village has led to a doubling of real estate prices, making life in Chédigny beyond the reach of many young people.
And with the rise in tourism comes the risk that Chédigny will become ‘un jardin musée’ (a garden museum) like those of the castles, in the words of a man who obviously does not mince his words. Instead the goal is to create ‘un lieu de vie, de parfum’; un jardin vivant’ (a place of life, of fragrance; a living garden). From what I saw early that morning in May, there was no need to worry.
Another épine has to do with the ‘slight’, additional cost to maintain all the plants, the responsibility for which rests on the shoulders of one Head Gardener, and a couple of assistants.
When asked what it’s like to take care of a whole village, the young woman put it this way: “Il faut avoir une petite connaissance botanique et une grande passion.” (You need a bit of botanical knowledge and a lot of passion.) As far as passion goes, it was clear that there was plenty of that.
I think she was being far too modest as to her expertise on the botanical front. Sometimes it was hard to see them for all the roses, but there were lots of other plants too.
Apart from the gardeners, the only other sign of life during my early morning visit was this villager chatting with the postman.
Strolling along the quiet lanes, it was difficult to imagine the pandemonium tomorrow – opening day of the 9th annual edition of the Festival des Roses. I wondered, if I had known about it, would I have changed my itinerary? The line-up for the two-day event looked wonderful. Although visiting the booths of the rose growers and nursery owners would probably have been just an exercise in frustration (too many tempting things I of course could not take with me), there were all sorts of events and activities that would have been worth all the jostling with the crowds – street musicians, photography and painting exhibits, an olfactory workshop seductively called ‘Parfum de roses, plaisir du nez’ (perfume of roses, pleasure of the nose).
During a segment for France 3 television (you can see it on Youtube – “Chédigny, village de roses”), one of the villagers explains that her involvement in gardening developed progressivement. From a bit of puttering around, it has now reached the point where “ça me demande beaucoup d’ attention et presque… “(it requires a great deal of my attention and almost…). She hesitated, struggling to find the right word – “Ce n’est pas de l’inquiétude…” (It’s not worry…) Finally she hit upon an image that satisfied her: Je suis aussi attentive à mes rosiers que je suis à mon petit chat.” (I pay as much attention to my roses as I do to my little cat.) And you can bet that’s a lot of attention.