A day at Chan­tilly

Do the French have bet­ter plants?

The Daily Telegraph - Gardening - - Front Page - By Joanna Fort­nam

We’ve all heard of Chan­tilly lace (and a pretty face), and some will know the spec­tac­u­lar Chan­tilly race­course dom­i­nated by the mam­moth Great Sta­bles, 186m long and built in 1719 by the Prince of Condé. How­ever, the Do­maine de Chan­tilly, one of the great his­toric gems of France, com­pris­ing the Re­nais­sance Re­vival Grand Chateau, Petit Chateau, land­scape by Le Notre and an art col­lec­tion to ri­val the Lou­vre, is amaz­ingly un­der-ap­pre­ci­ated.

The chateau loomed mist­ily over last week­end’s busy au­tumn plant fair like a richly en­crusted cruise liner docked in toy­town. All of the Do­maine is open to fair vis­i­tors.

The event, founded at Cour­son in 1982 but passed to Chan­tilly last year, brings to­gether 200 or so ex­hibitors in spring and au­tumn. Some might ques­tion the wis­dom of trav­el­ling 40km north of Paris to look for plants – don’t we have enough over here? But the cu­ri­ous gar­dener will al­ways find an ex­cuse to look at more plants and the French take on judg­ing, prizes and plants is a shot in the arm for any­one jaded by over­ex­po­sure to RHS shows.

The catch­ment is in­ter­na­tional, with nurs­eries from Hol­land, Bel­gium, all over France – and a few from Bri­tain. The stan­dard is high, there is lit­tle in the way of tat, and the re­sults are un­pre­dictable – in a good way. At the very least, the show of­fers Bri­tish gar­den­ers more of the things we like – just when we thought we had them all: masses of airy daisy flow­ers cour­tesy of rud­beck­ias, echi­naceas, asters, eu­pa­to­ri­ums and ager­a­tums. These con­trasted with the chunkier sil­hou­ettes of hy­drangeas, dahlias and chrysanths. But ev­ery ex­hibitor of­fered a les­son in how colour­ful an au­tumn gar­den can be. Old rose spe­cial­ist Roses Lou­bert (pepiniereros­es­lou­bert.com) showed plants weighed down with hips in shades from ter­ra­cotta to scar­let.

Prizes (Merit and Botanic) are awarded spar­ingly by an in­ter­na­tional jury. Bat­ting for Bri­tain were woody plant ex­perts Roy Lan­caster and Michael Hick­son (for­merly of Knight­shayes), plus Tim Miles of the Cotswold Wildlife Park, famed for his ex­per­tise with ex­otics.

Trea­sures that caught the judges’ eye in­cluded two bizarre-look­ing ed­i­bles: Solanum muri­ca­tum, a mem­ber of the potato fam­ily with cream fruits streaked with pur­ple. It is widely grown in South Amer­ica for its sweet juicy fruit: “a suc­cu­lent mix­ture of honey­dew melon and cu­cum­ber”. Plants are avail­able from Van Meuwen, seed from Plant World.

An­other ed­i­ble/medic­i­nal plant turned win­ning herba­ceous peren­nial was Fagopy­rum acu­ta­tum (tall buck­wheat). This won a Merit for its scram­bling habit that will no doubt find its way into cut­ting-edge bor­ders.

The stand­out star for au­tumn, how­ever, was Aster scaber ‘Kiyosumi’ shown by French nurs­ery Sous un

ar­bre per­ché (‘perched un­der a tree’), with beau­ti­ful wiry black stems and a hov­er­ing mass of del­i­cate iri­des­cent pale flow­ers. On the same stand was an­other zinger: Ja­panese na­tive

Rab­dosia ef­fusa, with del­i­cate blue flow­ers held like a cloud of midges. De­coy Plants, the only Bri­tish sup­plier, says: “Na­tive to the Ja­panese is­land of Hon­shu ... at­trac­tive vi­o­let­blue tubu­lar flow­ers in au­tumn. A rare plant in cul­ti­va­tion.”

Other un­ex­pected stars for au­tumn in­cluded Ager­atina al­tissima ‘Choco­late’ with el­e­gant pointed leaves with choco­late stems and white stip­pled flow­ers, and Con­o­clin­ium

coelestinum (blue mist­flower), an Amer­i­can na­tive. This has at­trac­tive fluffy mauve flow­ers on tall and airy stems. Both from Le Jardin du Mor­van and well worth the trip.

All of the Do­maine de Chan­tilly is open to plant fair vis­i­tors

Au­tumn gold: daisy flow­ers of Aster

scaber ‘Kiyosumi’; Chan­tilly’s Grand Chateau dom­i­nates the plant fair; au­tumn tints in abun­dance

Ed­i­ble: this mem­ber of the Solanum fam­ily won a Merit

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