Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Navarro's Succulent Garden - La Garde

At the request of several members we returned to Monsieur and Madame Navarro's incredible garden at La Garde, near Toulon. When the sliding gates open off the busy road you enter a very different world of exotic cactis and succulents. 

This part of the garden is only 8 years old

These plants are intermingled around the well established garden which also contains the usual oleander, salvias, geraniums etc we see in most people's gardens in this part of the world. 



Convolvulus mauritanicus

Calliandra (Powder Puff Tree)

They have over 400 different varieties of  agaves 

Agave stricta

and over 2000 pots of the more tender plants dotted around the garden and several greenhouses filled with exotic succulents.

Hoodia bainii

Kalanchoe beharensis

 The plant in the pot with the red flower is a Senecio stapeliformis, quite different from the common silverleaved, yellow flowering Senecio's

The pots are all taken inside in the autumn to protect them from frost. Watering takes several hours every day. The southern extremity of the garden has a huge bamboo hedge which creates an impenetrable barrier and a cool feeling. They originally started with three plants so beware! 

Podophyllum kaleidoscope

This charming couple have devoted over 40 years creating a garden like no other in 6000 square meters. Originally a vineyard the land is bound on one side by a river and when that runs dry in May they turn to their well for watering and when that runs dry they have a green meter for watering the garden. Apparently everyone can apply to their Mairie for one of these meters and  the water is cheaper.  Three times a year they mulch the garden with several lorry loads of local chippings.

Trevisia palmata

We learned that succulents and cactis are part of the same family but not all cactis are succulents. The most tender plants are kept in a green house that is never allowed to fall below 14c.

Caudex collection, roots grow above the soil

Opuntia 'Santa Rita' cactus, the more sun it gets the redder the pads

After wandering round the garden we sat in the shade of a large mulberry tree and shared a delicious picnic lunch. 

Afterwards Madame Navarro gave us coffee and homemade fig and apricot tartlets.

They also asked us to help ourselves to pots of succulents in their nursery.

They are such a charming and unassuming couple and their garden is testament to their passion.

Text:  Michele Power
Photos:  Gerda Nagtegaal; Marie-France Parks; Michele Power

Sunday, 16 June 2013




This visit was initially scheduled for 3rd June but we were advised to come a week later as none of the roses were in flower.   A burst of summer sunshine during the week resulted in a wonderful display of roses in time for our visit.

The day began with an early start and it felt strange leaving the house with full make-up and dressed hair at 7am and without a sustaining cup of morning coffee.   No matter, a coffee stop was scheduled      café was not open!   So it was with relief that we found that the welcome point at the Abbaye des Valsaintes was equipped with a coffee dispensing machine, not so surprising when the nearest cup of coffee was 30 minutes drive away!

We were most impressed by the beauty of the site, the Rocher Dragon, set up high, at 800 m, guarding the promontory of Boulinette, named after the large egg shaped stones formed by the erosion of the native sandstone there.  The oppidum, an ancient Celtic fortified town, dating from Palaeolithic times, still retains evidence of gallo-roman buildings and a mediaeval custom, as well as an ancient Celtic sanctuary dedicated to the sun god Belenos.


The 17th century Abbey, Notre Same de Valsaintes, originally a Cistercian monastery in the 11th century,  survived until the French Revolution, since when it has been used as a farm, stable, and bergerie, falling into disrepair until it was bought in 1996.  The church is now fully restored and certainly worth a visit.

Gardener and guide Jean-Yves Meignen spoke excellent English having spent 18 months working in the USA and this experience showed in the portable PA system used (face microphone hooked over one ear with the business end in a money bag worn around the waist ensured that the whole group could hear every word clearly).   And again, with the plant identifying labels having the square “bar code” label for iPhones to scan.

The 8,000 sq.m. of gardens were initially abandoned scrubland and Mr. Meignen and his four full-time gardeners began their task of creating this garden in 1995.  This is a bio garden with no chemical weed or insect control processes used and special “accommodation” has been provided for various flying objects such as bees, insects, ladybirds in the form of “houses on posts” dotted around the garden – every garden should have one !

The garden has a watering system installed with individual nozzles for each rose:  from May to September the roses are watered once a week for five hours.   Each November the roses are lightly pruned and other plants tidied up before sheep fertiliser compost (not pellets) is applied around each plant.   The whole flower bed is then covered with a 5cm layer of lavender mulch which has been through a steam lavender still to extract the oil.   The sheep fertiliser compost and spent lavender is applied each November without removing or digging in the previous year’s mulch.   This annual mulch keeps the moisture in the soil, suppresses the weeds, enriches the earth and reduces the water consumption during summer.


Rose:  Tumbling Water

A quick visit to the tunnels to stock up on roses then off to Cereste for lunch at the Hotel Aiguebelle before leaving for the L’Occitane factory outside Manosque.  

What memories am I taking home from this garden?   Its elevated position with wonderful views,  a surrounding countryside looking remarkably like the Surrey hills so no vines or olive trees, the iPhone barcode plant labels, the vigorous roses and the insect houses.


Again, our guided tour was in English and we were surprised to learn that the Frenchman who started the business in 1976 was aged just 23 years;  his role today is Artistic Director where his attention to detail in the display of the products is very evident.   The factory is extremely modern and about to almost double in size when the new unit nearby comes on stream.   The face and body products are made from plants growing in Provence with the exception of the shea butter which is sourced in Burkina Faso, West Africa.   The factory shop offers a 10% discount which unfortunately is not an enormous help to make the product range more affordable.

Article:    Hazel Francis & Sue Spence
Photos:   Mavis McQuade;  Cindy Roine


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