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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