Avant gar­den­ing

It’s Fe­bru­ary and Sue Bradley is en­joy­ing the ro­mance of the se­cret gar­dens of Ca­hors and har­vest­ing leeks

Living France - - À LA MAISON -

Ca­hors sits within a U-shaped bend of the River Lot and is renowned for its me­dieval build­ings, pic­turesque Va­len­tré bridge and fa­mous ‘black’ wine. More re­cently, the cap­i­tal of the Lot depart­ment in the Midi-Pyrénées re­gion has es­tab­lished it­self as a hor­ti­cul­tural hotspot with its col­lec­tion of more than 20 lov­ingly main­tained se­cret gar­dens that com­ple­ment his­toric ar­eas within the old­est part of the city.

From the bib­li­cally themed plot out­side the Église Saint-Ur­cisse, with its roses, cy­press, fig, pome­gran­ate, and olive trees, to the gar­den of the witch and the dragon with plants linked to sor­cery, there are evoca­tive ref­er­ences to many aspects of a rich and var­ied his­tory.

Ca­hors’ po­si­tion on the spice route is re­called at the Place Saint-James and its rep­u­ta­tion for wine is noted in the vines at The Drunken Gar­den and Al­leys of Sighs. There are raised beds made from chest­nut hur­dles where nu­mer­ous veg­eta­bles are grown in the en­clo­sure of the Corde­liers monks, who be­long to the Or­der of St Fran­cis of As­sisi, and at the res­i­dence of the Cour­til brothers, who grow va­ri­eties that were eaten in me­dieval times.

The in­flu­ence of the Moors is re­flected in the Jardin Mau­resque, with its three small, flow­ered pa­tios rich in lush veg­e­ta­tion and heady fra­grances, while Italy is brought to mind with Mediter­ranean plants at La Cour des Caorsins. Clément Marot, the man con­sid­ered the in­ven­tor of the son­net in French po­etry, is re­mem­bered at the foun­tain that bears his name; smug­glers are re­mem­bered in the four ter­races at the foot of an an­cient square, and the Bene­dic­tine sis­ters who once lived in Ca­hors are re­called in a fra­grant gar­den in Place Olivier-de-Magny.

In many of the gar­dens, there are places where vis­i­tors can stop, sit down and re­flect, and there is a haven of peace to be en­joyed in the gar­dens of the pil­grims at St Bartholomew’s Church.

Over the years, the se­cret gar­dens have won a num­ber of awards, in­clud­ing the jardin re­mar­quable ac­co­lade in 2006. mairie-ca­hors.fr/de­cou­vrir/par­cJardin/ jad­inSe­crets.html When dry, dig over veg­etable beds ready for sow­ing seeds once spring ar­rives and the weather warms up. Sow some veg­etable seeds in trays of compost un­der cover. Get ready to reap the re­wards later!

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