Getting Back to the Roots

-No, I don’t like always having the same plants as my neighbour. That’s not pleasing. You need to personalise! That’s why we come each year to buy more of them. And today is a beautiful day. It’s wonderful.

The spring sunshine has at last arrived in France and it is gardeners who take great pleasure in it. For those who have the good fortune to have one, the planning of a garden is the occasion to express one’s personality. Among the French gardeners who we met at the Rare Plants Exhibition at Saint Priest last week we can distinguish at least six different kinds.

First, there are the instinctive ones, those who know spontaneously what they like. Here is a woman coming now, her husband is carrying a large shrub with pretty orange coloured flowers:

-It’s a ‘técomatia’. It’s a Mediterranean plant that I saw in the south this summer. And so… and we have a house that is open to the sun. So as it requires full sunlight, there should be no problem. But you see, it is necessary to bring it in each winter since it isn’t warm enough in the winter where we live. Otherwise well, it’s a fair that we come to practically each year. We like flowers that are out of the ordinary. We had to build a greenhouse to put them in during the winter. The veranda is full also at wintertime. I very much like flowers. Well there you are, we are comfortable there you see.

Style conscious gardeners want the most beautiful garden on the block. Their ideas are based on magazines or come from neighbours. On the outskirts of Dewost à Saint Nexans in Dordogne you can notice lately that foreign neighbours have had an influence on French gardens:

-Myself, I find they have changed a lot really, since the arrival of the English. Especially for us, we are in Dordogne and there are many English people within our area who have created gardens that are totally different to those which we were used to seeing in gardens of the French heartland. And it’s true that today many people have taken that path. And among my customers we see many people who are influenced by English taste. That is very big. The small clematis or roses climbing walls are not planted today. Plants are used differently today. It’s true it’s more interesting for us. People are more and more moving toward clematis with small flowers that bloom longer rather than the large red flowers that we used to see or the traditional blue ones. And it’s a bit the same trend with rose bushes where we are returning to more natural things than the roses that are known as ‘fleuristerie’, which are very beautiful, very top like in shape, but in the garden are perhaps less interesting, or at least not as much in style.

Madam Dewost has what is needed to build a dream garden:

-What is noteworthy today? The clematis that are recent Japanese hybrids and lots of herbaceous clematis. That is, clematis that are used in centre pieces or in large groupings that we treat more like perennials than like climbing plants.

On the other hand collectors avoid the trends. They detest the confinement of cultural structures. What they look for above all is pure beauty. Roger Brun is a horticulturalist living near Saint Remy de Provence.

-You have over there ‘carissa brindiflora’. It’s a small shrub that originates in South Africa that has white flowers that are delightfully scented and that produces and edible fruit. It’s a very, very interesting plant.

Going against the grain doesn’t deliver the grand prize commercially but it’s a noble struggle:

-Ah well, it hasn’t entered into the main stream, that will happen on its own. That is done little by little… people are interested by… have other centers of interests, you see, and why? It’s hard to say and I’m not the one to tell you why. We don’t especially look for… we don’t target the latest trends. We offer the plants that interest us and try to make them known, and distribute them, which results in many people becoming interested.

The shrewd growers look for adaptability to the soil. François Grouin and his co-workers from Domme won the Gold Leaf Award of the fair for their presentation of plants for dry conditions:

-Well it’s a ‘Sempervivum’, of the variety Hayling, which is a plant that François has somewhat placed in a position of worth due to it’s hardiness in dry soil. There, you see! And with a colour after… well you see the colour it has now: it is slightly dark red on the inside of the leaves while the rest of the plant is still green. And then as the springtime passes, moves on, the more the red will move out along the plant until there will only remain a green boarder on the leaves, along the very edge of the leaves. That’s what really makes a plant. In fact, you see these plants are interesting because they have a winter dress which follows the days becoming shorter, after which their appearance changes, – a summer dress with the longer days.

-So these in fact are plants for a rock garden, many of which carpet an area, between the rocks often in places where nothing will grow. And eh, these plants are so resistant that… and they will grow from a small wall also. They are able to come down a wall.
-Yes of course it is a passion because these are lovely plants that have foliage that looks like flowers. They have the shape of a rose. It’s known as foliage arranged in a rosette pattern, and they are able to change colours. They can be placed in small Japanese gardens, in containers, with sickles, with polished stones, with different sediments, with attractive stone. This allows people who don’t have a large garden, the opportunity to have a miniature secret garden of their own. At expositions like this an informed public, yes of course will begin to open up to this type of organization regarding plants, of the diversity among plants. And the simple fact of having show gardens at my stand creates an interest. Many people say to themselves, “Yes, I am going to do that.” They take a cart and buy six small pots and go off to make their small garden.

But all this taste for the exotic can appear strange; you can still find beauty in tradition. The grandfather of François Combe-La Boissière started growing dahlias in 1922. Today François carries on the family business:

-I am a grower in Drôme. We have 300 varieties of dahlias, and we are creating new varieties so… and among those varieties there is one that that I presented last year at the parc de Vincennes and that won the first prize among the florists, it is called Stefarno which is a beautiful ruby red dahlia and that won the first prize at the parc de Vincennes. When you are involved with dahlias like that it is a passion really. There are many things to be done. There are many things to create. The dahlia, it is a dahlia variabilis. We have all the… we have not yet found all the possible forms that are to be found. We haven’t yet found all the colours but there are truly thousands and thousands of varieties that have been created and there are still things to be done.

When one is enamoured you only see the positive qualities:

-Well, the dahlia is a flower that has the advantage of flowering from the end of June and to continue that, up to All Saints day without stopping. All that is needed is to remove the faded blooms, to care for them a little and to water them, full sun, and the magnificence of the dahlia, it is there all through autumn, it’s… when all the other flowers begin to grow fainter the dahlia is the most beautiful. It is also called the Prince of the Garden.

Our final group of gardeners are the story tellers: for them there is almost as much pleasure in exploring the history of a plant as in looking at it. For Jean-Claude Nicolas the queen of flowers is the ancient rose:

Originally they were found in Holland. Therefore it was the Dutch who were the first to cultivate the French rose, who brought, sold their French roses to France, which we quickly renamed since the Dutch roses had names that did not mean much to French people. So you have names like: Bizarre, Triomphant, Belle Sans Flatterie, Assemblage de Beauté; these were the names that were given to these roses at that time. But, formerly they had Dutch names, moreover difficult to pronounce for a Frenchman.

To allow his passion to flourish he has enrolled in the Association for Ancient Roses of France.

-And there is youthfulness, there is vitality, there is a need to know what characterises our association and for me, it has given me wings if you will, it motivates me enormously while… for me here… Here we are a great fraternity, a large family and we share our joy and our emotions.

What ever the approach, the important thing is to find pleasure in doing it. These two young retirees resting on a bench in full sunlight show us well by example:

-It is my wife who has discovered many things. We are… our spouses, they are two sisters. They are walking now through there to choose some more plants. Yes we have more bags. She likes that very much and she tries to have her passion shared by many people, mainly the neighbours. So they come over when we have finished. They come to see what we have bought, and after, they will go shopping. Since we chose rare plants, and since they are found practically only here, they buy but they aren’t the same. You know in a garden, 25 years in a house, there is always a year when you remove something, because well… There is the frost, there are those that become old and then you always improve; we dig up, we give to someone else and then we replace with new plants. I like flowers the whole year through and those are very rare. Therefore we look for trees and shrubs that flower. Look at that one there! Next year it will certainly be beautiful. And also I have a live hedge. Always shrubs that flower. You know when you put in a privet hedge, a laurel hedge it is not pretty but when you plant different species of trees that is beautiful. There is always something. And myself, what I like are the birds that live near me because we have eleven or twelve feeders to give them food in the winter. So it is very nice in the morning when you have a chirping to wake you. Isn’t that nice? Hum?

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