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