Open gardens: Calvados
Alison Sykes never fails to find inspiration in the ever-changing colours of her Normandy garden
Icame to France around 10 years ago with the express intention of starting a business here as nurseryman and designer. Over a period of 10 years, I had been an avid collector and grower of plants and I needed somewhere to house and display my collections of woodland, herbaceous and upland plants, many originating from the Himalayas.
Needless to say the collection has expanded. A friend once described my woodlanders as all tiny flowers and large leaves. I would reply saying, “Don’t bother about the flowers, look at the leaves.”
I chose Normandy because of its temperate climate; there is lots of rain and it’s similar to the West Country in many ways. However, a surprise to me and many others is that the Bocage Virois area in which I settled is very high – over 1,000ft above sea level. There is little between us and the Atlantic Ocean. You cannot be unaware of cloudscapes here and the rain rushing up the valleys as a mist. There are buzzards aplenty here, but no eagles, just an occasional egret passing through.
Despite years of difficult weather, starting with three years of drought, the garden has moved forward. Trees have begun to grow. As a colourist, my herbaceous borders are my paintings and I have made large borders here, which have matured well. Many people believe that the reason to use these plants is their enduring quality. For me, their allure is the possibility of adaptation and change. The palette changes and new associations are
My herbaceous borders are my paintings and I have made large borders here
created thereby. I scumble out plants and introduce new ones: they are evolving pictures which I hope will continue over many years to come. An important factor in all this was, of course, my ancient and fortified house. Constructed to protect a household, I guess, from the riff-raff sons of Sir John Falstaff left behind after the Hundred Years’ War. This is a dwelling in the tradition of ‘fetch the gun, pike and bow’ and not the turreted fantasy château of further south. I have tried hard to respect the rustic origin of the house and I have avoided introducing too much formality to the hectare which surrounds it. Long grass is encouraged here.
Inspiration does not come out of the ether. It is necessary to use our senses. We visit art galleries and gardens. There is now a growing tradition in Britain of small gardens opening to the public. Entire streets and villages open their garden gates, and it is an excellent way to meet the unfamiliar and discover the unknown. You do not have to be magnificent to be appreciated. If one can do good thereby, so much the better. This is why I was delighted to discover the Open Gardens scheme, supporting a charity which resonates very deeply with me.
I am the only garden, so far, which is open under the scheme in north-west France, but I am hoping that more Normans and Bretons, too, will step up to the plate soon. opengardens.eu