Art and landscape come together in an unicum of rare beauty in the Étretat Gardens, in Normandy. A topiary masterpiece overlooking the white cliffs immortalised by Monet
By Gaetano Zoccali - Photos Matteo Carassale
The superb scenery of the Alabaster Coast, with its white cliffs, is truly majestic. And the Étretat Gardens, in Upper
Normandy, were created to magnify this natural setting, celebrating it with a topiary masterpiece studded with contemporary works. A project heroically “hanging” on a slope between sky and sea, to frame the Amont Cliff. Giving voice to the genius loci is Russian landscape designer Alexander Grivko, founder, together with Mark Dumas, of London studio Il Nature (ilnature.co.uk), with offices in Paris and Moscow and a super-exclusive clientele. Here, however, the landscape designer − whose creative approach is inspired by the Belgian school of Jacques Wirtz and Daniël Ost − expressed himself freely, conceiving his first Eden open to the public: a green manifesto created with the contribution of a well-known art collector, inaugurated in 2017 after two years of work. The lightning bolt came during a holiday to the stylish seaside resort, when Grivko bought the house that belonged to the actress Madame Thébault. Located at the most scenic point of the overhang, it bears the name of the legendary wife of Suleiman the Magnificent, Roxelana. As a tribute to the many brides of the Turkish Sultan, during the Belle Époque the diva collected orchids. But the magic lies in the property’s grounds, a stony area transformed into an oasis rich in shade; the favourite spot of friend Claude Monet, who in front of these landscapes would recreate the cliffs in around fifty paintings. Alexander Grivko perpetuates its charm; the fil rouge is a sequence of themed layouts, which descend the slope, incorporating site-specific installations. From the Jardin Avatar, whose topiaries are a nod to the cliffs − home to the Greyworld collective’s
Clockwork Forest − we reach the Jardin Émotions, with its box trees pruned in the shape of half-shells, inspired by the ancient oyster farm downstream of the estate, owned in the eighteenth century by Queen Marie Antoinette. Here, seven sculptural faces in resin and aluminium stand out: Samuel Salcedo’s Drops of Rain. From the Jardin Impressions, where spirals of phillyrea reproduce the swirling motions of the waters of the English Channel, we reach the Jardin d’Aval, a triumph of yew tree arches and spires, a hymn to the jagged architecture of the coast. Amidst the greens are measured notes of colour, used to emphasise the flow of the seasons: rhododendrons, a rich collection of lady’s slippers, agapanthus and hydrangeas, resembling precious stones set among hedges chiselled like jewels.