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Gorgeous gardens to enjoy in May

As the Anglo-French association Open Gardens gets set for summer, The Connexion recommends three joyful jardins

There will be gardens open every weekend in May as part of the Open Gardens/Jardins Ouverts season, the scheme which encourages gardeners of all nationalities to open up their gardens big and small to the public, to raise funds for charity.

Visitors buy a €10 annual membership card which gives them access to any of the gardens for one year or pay €5 for a Day Pass which allows access to any of the gardens on the day of purchase.

The Partner Gardens card, which was set up to give Open Garden members free entry to private and prestigious French gardens with the €35 card has been withdrawn due to a poor take up for the scheme.

This is the association’s seventh year. It began when four British gardeners in the Creuse decided to open their gardens to see if they could raise money for charity.  In 2018, they were able to donate €25,000 to fifteen charities.

There are now 151 gardens signed up and the scheme is present in 35 departments. The aim this year is to have 200 gardens. 50% are now French owned, and the association is proud it has become a truly Franco-British concept.

This year sees a new President, Karen Roper who takes over from Mick Moat, who has moved to Scotland.

She says that as well as raising money for charity there are wider benefits to be gained from their activities: “We are creating new networks of people across the country interested in gardening and in sharing that passion and conviviality. We want to grow this structure in order to be able to make valuable donations to our chosen charities; but of similar value are the non-monetary social benefits brought about by the opportunities being created for personal participation.

“People are becoming more aware of gardening as an aid to the physical and mental health of people of all ages and we are delighted to be able to contribute to and encourage this aspect of social wellbeing as well as any environmental and economic improvements to society.”


Gardens to visit in May

11, Chemin de la Vierge Noire, Sainte-Maxime, Var; Owner: Gill Clarke; Open May 12 10.30-17.30, May 13 10.30-17.30

Sixteen years ago this small, 1,000m2 garden with a view over the Gulf of St-Tropez, was nothing but a steep, bare, inhospitable slope. Now it is a verdant space, terraced on four levels with a wide selection of Mediterranean plants and others from further afield.

Owner Gill Clarke says she would rather be in her garden than anywhere else. “When we arrived we had no idea how to terrace the garden, which was essential as the slope was so steep. However, we had a great deal of advice from the man who terraced it for us and he did an amazing job, moving great slabs of rocks 1m high and 1.5m long.”

She says growing Mediterranean plants was a new challenge: “We made lots of mistakes. One was going to local garden centres and assuming that if it was for sale in this region it would grow here. But we soon found out that was not the case and many plants do not like the salty sea air we have here.

“We do not have any frosts, so some of the plants I grow are what we would normally regard as houseplants, for example there are Spider Plants everywhere.”

She also has wisteria, bougainvillea, lavender, white broom, a magnificent white Jasmine against a wall, salvias, roses and myrtle, among many others.

In such a climate, she has to water in new plants but tries to ease off as they get established.

Now, all her efforts have paid off and Mrs Clarke has a garden which is full of variety and she hopes opening her garden will encourage others in the area to do the same in the future as there are very few Open Gardens near her at present.


Lauzadie, Pontcirq, Lot; Owners: Sue and John Sargeant; May 5 14.00-18.00

Sue and John Sargeant’s 5,700m2 garden is set in mature woodland with mixed shrub and perennial beds. They moved to the South West of France in 2005, when they both retired. Sue is a passionate gardener, and John has developed a productive vegetable garden and does most of the hard landscaping.

Over the last 13 years, they have had to move mountains of stone, soil, compost, gravel and cow manure to create raised beds for their plants.

Mrs Sargeant says they have learned to love their wheelbarrows and have lost count of how many they have bought over the years. They have bought a greenhouse so that she can raise plants from seed, propagate plants and have a good winter store for tender plants.

They feel their hard work is now coming to fruition and it is time to share their garden with others. Visitors will be given a plan of the garden to guide them round the raised beds with flowers and vegetables, cutting garden, dry gravel garden, mixed shrubs, tropical plants, a large collection of drought tolerant plants, ornamental grasses and she is hoping their 30 or so roses will be in flower as well as their irises and wisteria.

There will be refreshments and plant and seed sales with proceeds going to Open Gardens.


La Core, Saint-Pardoux-d’Arnet, Creuse; Owner: Alain Gribet; Open May 26 10.00-18.00

Alain Gribet bought his house with a three hectare meadow 35 years ago and since then he has transformed the land into a large garden with a perfectly formed geometric maze in yew, a collection of beech and a wilder area near to a small lake.

Throughout there are colourful sculptures of animals decorated in mosaic glass, which he creates and are inspired by his career up to retirement as a vet.

There are several varieties of tree to discover including a collection of maples and around 50 different beech: “These are best seen in spring and early summer when you can really appreciate the range of colours and forms when the leaves are new,” says Mr Gribet. “There is a beautiful three coloured one next to my tiger sculpture.” His five wisteria will be in bloom, with a large, ancient one growing against the house and the rhododendrons too will most likely still be flowering. He says there is a lot to see and a visit will last about an hour.

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