A pro­fu­sion of peren­ni­als bursts like fire­works, bring­ing spec­tac­u­lar colour and breath­tak­ing form to this au­tumn land­scape in south-west France


Peren­ni­als burst like fire­works in this spec­tac­u­lar scheme in France.

The last thing pot­ters Re­nate-elisa and Lutz Hillen in­tended to do when they went on hol­i­day to France in 1991 was to buy an 18th-cen­tury farm­house in Ther­mes-mag­noac in Gas­cony, then leave their na­tive home in Ger­many to live there with their young fam­ily. The house and the pic­turesque coun­try­side had cap­tured the cou­ple’s hearts, how­ever, and al­though the task of ren­o­vat­ing the prop­erty was daunt­ing, the ad­ven­ture was one they could not re­sist.

The house sits on a 12-acre plot which, when the Hil­lens bought it, was al­most all hard-worked farm­land. To­day it is an or­ganic and bio­di­verse gar­den of abun­dantly healthy, spec­tac­u­lar plant­ing in­ter­spersed with sculp­tures and strik­ing ar­chi­tec­tural fea­tures.

The trans­for­ma­tion from agri­cul­tural land to gar­den par­adise was not with­out chal­lenges; as Re­nate-elisa re­calls, “The ground was hard as rock.” An at­tempt to grow veg­eta­bles failed al­most im­me­di­ately, and trees and hedges were few and far be­tween. “There were just six trees, but they were very old,” says Re­nate-elisa. “There were two two-hun­dred-year-old oaks, a ch­est­nut, a lime tree and an ash, which was the same age as the oaks.”

Hav­ing plied the ex­hausted clay soil with tonnes of com­post and ma­nure, the Hil­lens be­gan their plant­ing plan, putting in na­tive trees to­gether with fast­grow­ing bam­boos, such as Phyl­lostachys bis­setii, as wind-break­ers to pre­vent the ground from dry­ing o≠ in the sum­mer months. Bam­boos are a par­tic­u­lar pas­sion of Re­nate-elisa, who de­clares them to be “the most eco-friendly plant on Earth; they can re­tain up to half of their weight in car­bon emis­sions”.

Against this back­drop, she and Lutz have cre­ated a se­ries of rooms that al­lows them to fo­cus on de­fined plant fam­i­lies and gar­den styles as well as to pro­vide a stage for their sculp­tures. Tucked away be­hind a clipped privet hedge is the Con­tem­po­rary gar­den with its large pool, which Re­nate-elisa and Lutz built them­selves. Three strik­ing stoneware balls, repli­cat­ing the shape of the sur­round­ing box, sit along­side it. The for­mal­ity of the box and the tall Mediter­ranean cy­presses is soft­ened by clumps of Pen­nise­tum alopecuroides

‘Japon­icum’ and Mis­cant­hus sinen­sis ‘Sil­berfeder’, which echo the sil­hou­ette of the sur­round­ing hills. The ar­ray of green fo­liage, ex­tended with the use of ar­chi­tec­tural spurges, Euphor­bia chara­cias and E. cy­paris­sias ‘Clarice Howard’, cre­ates a har­mo­nious scene, pep­pered with small touches of colour from peren­ni­als such as Se­dum ‘Herb­st­freude’ (Au­tumn Joy), with their deep pink flow­ers, Rud­beckia and Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis, which o≠er in­ter­est later in the year thanks to their sculp­tural seed heads.

Fur­ther along, a curved grass path leads to a more re­cent ad­di­tion, the Ital­ian gar­den, cen­tred around a Floren­tine foun­tain that pro­vides a prom­i­nent fo­cal point. Clus­ters of Pen­nise­tum alopecuroides ‘Cas­sian’, in­ter­twined with Ver­bena

bonar­ien­sis, sur­round the foun­tain, grace­fully float­ing in the air and echo­ing the del­i­cate colour of the slate. The ad­ja­cent bor­ders are planted with salvias, in­clud­ing the anise-scented sage ‘Black and Blue’, which flow­ers un­til the end of the au­tumn, and roses such as ‘Laven­der Dream’, a shrub rose with clus­ters of small pink semi-dou­ble flow­ers.

While this gar­den par­adise seems per­fect as it stands, there is no such thing as a sta­tus quo here and it is in a per­pet­ual state of change. Most re­cently, the vegetable gar­den was re­lo­cated to lie closer to the river that flows at the bot­tom of the gar­den, a move that caused it to thrive. While Re­nate-elisa and Lutz can consider their eye-catch­ing sculp­tures fin­ished once the fi­nal glaze has been ap­plied and the piece fired, their gar­den, aptly named a jardin re­mar­quable by the French Min­istry of Cul­ture, is an ever-chang­ing feast. GAR­DEN GUIDE

Ori­en­ta­tion South-east­erly gar­den of 12 acres in the Gas­cony coun­try­side.

Soil Clay; much im­proved with com­post and ma­nure.

Spe­cial fea­tures An or­ganic gar­den di­vided into rooms with at­trac­tive ar­chi­tec­tural fea­tures, in­clud­ing a pool, Floren­tine foun­tain and sculp­tures.

To visit Open daily ex­cept Mon­days from May to the end of Septem­ber (call­ing be­fore vis­it­ing is ad­vised). Les Jardins de la Po­terie Hillen, au bord de la Gi­mone, 65230 Ther­mes­mag­noac, France, 0033 5 62 39 83 48, les-jardins-de-la-po­

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