These memorable words were uttered by me during the delicious dinner that our house guests had treated us to, on the last evening of their recent stay chez nous. Rosemary and James had taken us to the Hotel Fuchsias, an establishment we are fortunate to have just five minutes along our road. Screw-top wines are pretty much unheard of in France and the sound of a cork as it is drawn from a wine bottle is unmistakeable and presages the deeply satisfying experience of the first sip of good French wine. Unless, of course, the wine is ‘cocked’. Which it wasn’t 🙂
Our guests are on their way to Mayenne, an area we had not heard of, and after people make landfall at Cherbourg we at St Vaast La Hougue are ideally placed for friends and family who plan a stay further afield in France and would like to make a stopover to see us. Our dinner had followed a very agreeable afternoon spent at le Jardin botanique du Chateau de Vauville. The garden was begun in 1947 and wanders over four hectares on a windy site within 300 metres of the sea. Wikipedia tells me that it contains more than 900 semi-tropical species of plants from the southern hemisphere set within windbreaks of diverse Eucalyptus and bamboo. Collections include Aloe, Phlomis, Euphorbia, Hemerocallis, Agapanthus, Gunnera, Echium pininana, and palm trees.
The gardens are one of the first destinations we visited when we first moved to France. On one occasion we went there with Pam and Andrew Tompsett and the impression we gained from Andrew was that here was a garden in need of rather better management. This time it was rather sad to see that the owners appear to have decided, but perhaps by default, to run with all the plants that will grow like topsy, and diversity has dropped considerably. They are also allowing space to adventives such as Iris foetidissima. I still think that two of the most impressive ‘rooms’ are the Bamboo Theatre and the High Forest of Palms. Throughout there are still wonderful trees there, notably statuesque Eucalyptus and interesting conifers. Earlier in the year you can enjoy the Camellia, Rhododendron and Azalea and now it is the turn of the Hydrangea which are just beginning to flower.
There are many unusual shrubs too but the under-storey is now very depleted. There is just one tiny colourful corner where some unusual flowers abound. It was lovely to find Bletilla in flower. I should love to try this in my garden. I doubt the garden still boasts 900 plant species. Even the circular lawn which used to be ringed by Agapanthus and Hemerocallis has changed shape and character and there are rather too many spiky Cordyline. And then there are the water bodies which have been completely taken over by Gunnera. Happily one of the ponds at Le Jardin de la Sagesse had a population of cute little frogs whose colours were metallic in appearance. I don’t think they are native species. There are stone seats and some sculptures. My favourite stone feature is the Green Man who is carved into the wall by the Chemin des Fougeres and whose perimeter is clad by Trachelospermum jasminoides. To the best of my belief the chateau itself has not been opened to the public and remains a private residence. You get glimpses of it above the high walls and there is a corner where you can peer over a picket fence which runs along a wall by a back gate. We’ve been visiting Jardin du Chateau on and off since we came here in 2005 and it has been interesting to observe the ecological succession that has taken place. Aided and abetted I think by a lack of resources, human and financial, on the part of the owners to stay on the case…………… But it still makes a good afternoon outing.