Open gar­dens: Cal­va­dos

Ali­son Sykes never fails to find in­spi­ra­tion in the ever-chang­ing colours of her Nor­mandy gar­den

Living France - - À LA MAISON -

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. open­gar­

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