RE-OPENS TODAY: Explore the gardens of Les Jardins Secrets

From tumbleweed farm to Jardin Remarquable – Connexion marvels at the extraordinary Jardins Secrets.

6 July 2020
Connexion explores Les Jardins Secrets and talks to the owners. Pictured: Jardin de curie (c) Jardins-secrets.Connexion explores Les Jardins Secrets and talks to the owners. Pictured: Jardin de curie (c) Jardins-secrets.
By Jane Hanks

Welcome to Les Jardins Secrets

Les Jardins Secrets at Vaulx, Haute-Savoie, situated between Annecy and Aix-les-Bains really earns its classification as a Jardin Remarquable. It has been created by an artistic family who have dedicated the past forty years to its conception, and who continue to spend all their energy and time in caring for and continuing to innovate and design new areas.

Out of their collective imagination they have created a mosaic of twenty-five themed gardens where planting and architecture come together to give a sense of fantasy at every turn. There are both exterior and interior spaces which have Andalusian, Austrian, Indian, Swiss, Tunisian, Savoyard and many other influences. Everything has been created by the family themselves. 37,000 visitors come every year from all over France and abroad to visit this unique garden.

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The history of the gardens

Jarre jardin andalou (c) Jardins Secrets.jpg
Jarre jardin andalou (c) Jardins Secrets.jpg

The story began in 1980 when Alain and Nicole Moumen bought a tumbledown 18th century farm with four hectares of wood and meadowland as a base for themselves and their three daughters, Leïla, Myriam and Sonia, aged 13, 12 and 10. They wanted to create a family home and a place for them to work from. They built furniture which Alain made and Nicole painted.

At the same time, they started to make a garden, to give themselves more pleasant surroundings. Daughter Myriam Moumen, who is now the gardens’ director, says they didn’t think for one moment, that one day it would be open to the public: “There was a lot of land that came with the house and my parents wanted a garden. Over the next twelve years we all worked on it together and as we are all creative and artistic we all contributed."

"Everything was made by ourselves and very few items were bought ready-made. We worked with wood, metal, stone, brick and other materials. Wood is very important in the garden as is the use of copper, pebbles, glass and lime mortar. I remember we worked harder than our other teenage friends because there was always something to do in the garden. When I was fifteen I was passionate about wood sculpture and made hundreds which are still in the garden. There were different influences; from Morocco, Tunisia, Eastern Europe and several more. People say you feel you are travelling through the world when you come here.”

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Inside each garden

Ile Joyeuse (c) Jardins Secrets
Ile Joyeuse (c) Jardins Secrets

Each garden has its own water feature which might be a pool or a fountain. Eight of the gardens are called after Alain and Nicole’s eight grandchildren. Other names are the Allée des Roses, the Jardin du Curé with box and lavender, and the Jardin Andalou with its Spanish-Moorish influence.

The Cour du Grand Marronnier has a courtyard with potted flowers set around a one hundred year old Chestnut Tree and the Jardin de l’Apothicaire has herbs and medicinal plants. The Cour des Calades was created by the three sisters when they were teenagers and the ground is paved with pebbles placed to create floral and geometric designs. Jardins Secrets was awarded the label Jardin Remarquable in 2018.

A strong gardener-plant relationship

Fontaine aux bignonnes @ Gilles_Lansard
Fontaine aux bignonnes @ Gilles_Lansard

Nicole Moumen is the self-taught gardener who still spends ten hours a day with her plants: “Both my parents continue to work,” says Myriam Moumen. “My father is 84 and concentrates on the creative side and making structures and my mother at 75 is in the garden all day long. She has learnt from years of experience."

“Her favourite plants are those which grow naturally and easily here, though we do have some Mediterranean plants like citrus fruits and palm trees which have to be taken inside during the winter as we have very severe frosts. “Her motto is “gardening is adapting to nature.” We have many climbers to take advantage of the architectural structures so there is wisteria, several varieties of clematis, and lots of rambling roses. There are flowers throughout the year so we start with the bulbs like daffodils and tulips. We have bleeding hearts, lilies, peonies, bignonia, cosmos. There are annuals, perennials, climbers, herbs. We have a very long list of plants.”

Nicole Moumen’s favourite plant in the garden is the Mexican Orange Blossom or Choisya ternata. It is an evergreen shrub covered in white aromatic flowers in April and May and she says it is an easy plant to grow as long as it has sun and protection from the wind.

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The design and curation process

Jardin des lyres (c) Jardins secrets
Jardin des lyres (c) Jardins secrets

As Mrs Moumen is an artist she chooses plants according to colour and appearance to fit in with the background of each different garden: “Usually my mother works with just two or three different tones in each garden and uses those which are in harmony with each other and the surroundings. She does not want anything garish. So there may be mauves and blues in one section and red and white in another. It is very poetic. Her garden bouquets are legendary.”

There has been a great deal of experimentation over the years to get the required effects and it has always been a natural garden without use of chemicals: “This means we have lots of wildlife with grass snakes, hedgehogs, bats, swallows, woodpeckers, owls and insects. This year, there seem to have been more than ever.”

Opening to the public

The family created the garden for themselves, but their creation began to get a reputation and twenty-six years ago they were persuaded to open to the public. It is still very much a family affair and they continue to create new spaces, one which was designed for 2020. It has been very frustrating not to share their garden with visitors for much of this year: “You cannot neglect a garden for one minute so we are working on it as much as ever and it is so disappointing not to be able to share it with others. We always have a very close relationship with our visitors, and they often become friends and we are on first name terms. Often they come back several times."

We usually open in April, and this year it was so sad that we couldn’t open because it had never looked better. The weather had been kind to us and a lot of the flowers, like the wisteria were out earlier than usual. We really hope that gardens will be able to open soon, even if it is with fewer people at a time. Our gardens are big, so there is plenty of room for people to walk around and not get too close.”

Les Jardins Secrets are open from July 6 to August 30, daily from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm. Visit their website for opening times from August onwards, and to make a reservation, which is recommended.

jardins-secrets.com

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