In the heart of the Vosges mountains in eastern France, this tranquil garden mirrors the wild beauty of its natural surroundings
A tranquil countryside design with a stream-fed pond at its heart.
DESIGNER PROFILE Thierry and Monique Dronet have spent almost 25 years creating their garden and nursery, Le Jardin de Berchigranges. Thierry is a carpenter, making furniture from the local timber, while Monique’s nursery specialises in cottage garden plants.
WHAT DID THE GARDEN LOOK LIKE WHEN YOU BOUGHT THE LAND?
This area was a granite quarry for many years and it was planted with conifers after the Second World War so, when Thierry moved here in the 1980s, the property was covered with spruce trees. He cleared these to make a small garden around a wooden shack, which later became his home. When we moved in together in the 1990s, we gradually bought more parcels of land, removing more than 3,000 trees in all, and bringing in lorry-loads of topsoil.
WHAT INSPIRED YOUR DESIGN FOR THE GARDEN?
The Vosges mountains and the wild flowers of the region were huge influences. Thierry is the architect of the garden; he uses his artistic eye to create an atmosphere, and I add the plants, but we have never drawn a design or plan on paper. The landscape dictates what should go where. Some areas, including this pond and the perennial meadow, have a naturalistic look, which we have created using a mixture of wild plants found growing in the mountains and valleys and ornamental cottage garden plants that we have grown in the nursery. Other parts of the garden are more formal, with clipped beech hedges, topiary and mown lawns.
HOW DID YOU CREATE THE POND?
This is in fact a natural pond fed by mountain streams. It had lain hidden for years and we had to dig out the weeds, and remove the sand and gravel that had filled it, before it could be revealed in all its glory. Thierry built the timber deck that stands over the water, to create a place where visitors can sit and enjoy the views. We have used cottage garden plants and ferns to form colourful edging, with a succession of different species to create a magical theatre of flowers from early spring to late autumn.
CAN YOU RECOMMEND SOME COLOURFUL WATERSIDE PLANTS?
One of our favourite marginals is Myosotis scorpioides (water forget-me-not), which has pretty blue flowers that bloom from May to September. We have also used a variety of bog plants, including Ligularia dentata ‘Desdemona’ (leopard plant), the tall, dramatic
Eupatorium maculatum (Joe Pye weed), Filipendula ulmaria
(meadowsweet), and the twisted Chelone obliqua (shell flower).
WHAT MAINTENANCE DOES THIS AREA OF THE GARDEN NEED?
It is easy to care for this pond area because the water is constantly moving. However, three or four times a year, we have to remove gravel and debris from the streams that feed it, to prevent it from silting up; we also clean out the pond every three or four years. In autumn, we cut back the perennial plants and mulch the soil with a couple of inches of decayed leaves, which we collect from the surrounding woods; the leaves feed the plants and ensure healthy growth the following year.
DOES THE GARDEN LOOK DIFFERENT AT OTHER TIMES OF THE YEAR?
In spring, we have more than 850 varieties of narcissus, which create a spectacular display for visitors in April. The daffodils are followed by primulas, including the yellow Primula beesiana from Nepal, and the Himalayan cowslip, Primula florindae, together with blue camassias. In autumn, the Joe Pye weed is in full bloom, with each flowerhead measuring up to a foot in length. We also have some beautiful asters, and autumn colchicum (crocuses) to keep the show going into October and beyond.
The natural pond is fed by mountain streams. It had lain hidden for years and we were delighted to be able to reveal it in all its glory.”