Sunday, 11 May 2014

Le Jardin de l'Alchimiste - Jardins des Confines

In the morning we visited Le Jardin de l'Alchimiste, 3 km from Eygalières and in the afternoon, Jardins des Confines close to Noves.

Marie de Larouzière, the owner of 'Le Jardin de l'Alchimiste

Le Jardin de l'Alchimiste is split into two parts.  The first part of the garden deals with magic, the superstitions that existed in the Provence.  The second part is the Alchemist garden.  Most people think that Alchemists dealt in magic.  In fact Alchemy has nothing to do with magic.  Alchemy is recognised as an unscientific field of study which later became science. Alchemy contributed to the development of modern chemistry and medicine.  They developed a structure of basic laboratory techniques, theory, terminology and experimental methods, some still in use today.

The legendary story of transferring base metals into noble metals (silver and gold) and the development of an elixer of life (youth - longevity) are an analogy for personal transmutation, purification and perfection.

The Magical Plant Garden

All through the ages people believed that certain plants had magical powers as well as being used medicinally.

To reach the 'Magical Garden' you first pass through a sort of maze, planted entirely with Eleagnus x ebbingei, with at certain points in the mace, square cubes, again made of Eleagnus x ebbingei.

You then pass into the 'Magical Plant Garden' divided up into many squares with inside each square a plant or plants.  Each plant specie carries a story.  Some quite amusing.  For those interested, below is a list of the magical plants with their powers:

Vinca major - Periwinkle was considered to be an aphrodisiac if it was mixed with earth worms.

Cedrus atlantica - Cedar,  symbol of immortality and incorruptibility.  Planted next to dwellings it got rid of the bad omens.

Spartium junceum - Spanish broom, to get rid off warts, rub them with a branch of Spartium junceum and then throw it over your shoulder.

Corylus avellana - Hazel, the witches divining sticks were made of hazel wood. It had to be cut and made into sticks at dawn.

Salvia officinalis - Sage, this plant helped to hide the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ on their flight to Egypt to escape Herod's soldiers.

Juglans regia - Walnut, the witches enclosed the devil inside the walnut. This nut has evil powers.  As it has three shells it shields from witches, lightning, thunder, misery and haemorrhoids.

Olea europea - Olive, symbol of peace, fertility and victory.  Lightning never touches an olive tree.

Lavandula - Lavender, in ancient Rome women were not allowed to drink wine, but liked it nonetheless.  As soon as their husbands turned their backs, they found the keys to the cellar.  In the evening the husband found his wife in good spirits, she had hidden the alcohol smell by chewing lavender flowers.

Ilex aquifolium - Holly is a plant to ward off witches and their evil spells.  When it is offered at Christmas in a box and not opened before 1 January, it gives a special power to the person who receives it.

Alchemilla vulgaris - Lady's Mantle was nicknamed by the alchemists 'celestial water', they harvested  the dew in the heart of the leaves and used it in certain secret formulas.

Ortica doica - Nettle, linked with the planet 'Venus', is the symbol of lust and immortality.  A bunch of nettles at the end of the bed repels the evil eye and gets rid of the fantoms of the night.

Sambucus nigra - Elderberry.  To get rid of fevers carry a branch of Elderberry.  The pith inside the branch needs to be removed and replaced with a piece of paper mentioning the name and birth date of the person carrying it.

Crataegus laevigata - Some Hawthorn branches were placed in front of the stable to ward of evil spells.

Rosmarinus officinalis - The symbol for pilgrims.  It protects lovers and is one of the herbs used in potions for love and longevity.

Lilium candidum - Madonna Lily is a solar plant, it brings purity and protection from bad forces.

Hypericum perforatum - St John's Wort, a very useful plant in magic potions.  It is collected the evening before St. John's Day, 24 June, for maximum effect.  Bouquets of St. John's Wort together with mint protect against witches, the evil eye and several illnesses.

Ocimum basilicum - Basil, belonging to planet 'Mars',  bought on St. John's Day causes violent passions.

Fenuculum vulgare - Fennel symbolises power and spiritual reunification.  It has the power to chase away the witches and other undesirables, hence the reason for it being pushed into key holes for St. Johns'.

Rosea - Rose.  Almost over the whole of the Provence, the first time small children's nails are cut, it is done under a rose bush, so that they'll be honest for the rest of their lives and in addition have a nice voice.

Fragraria vesca - The strawberry seduces young persecuted heroes.  It represents nature's renewal.

Laurus nobilis - Bayleaf is used by young girls to find out who will be their future spouse by scratching the names of their suitors on the leaves.  They carry the leaves with them, tucked into their blouses.  The next they the name that has turned out darkest is the name of their future spouse.

Vitis vinefera - Grape Vine.  One should eat raisins on 1 January to be sure that money will continue to flow for the rest of the year.  In ancient Rome, a grape vine was painted on the most exposed wall of the house as a symbol for having a fertile garden.

Ribes rubrum - Young girls who eat red currants will become jealous wives.

Helleborus nigrum - Hellebores is considered to be harmful, it provokes slander and a bad reputation.

Teucrium chamaedrys - Wall Germander bouquets in the kitchen and in the bedroom protects the house against thunder and lightning.

Thymus vulgaris - Thyme, borne from the tears of the 'Belle Helene' (Helen of Troy), a bouquet of thyme has to be fixed to the doors at St Johns' to ward off witches.

Satureja montana - Savory is an aphrodisiac, used in magic and domestic potions.  In certain monasteries it is forbidden to be used.

Mandragora officinalis - As the roots of Mandrake resemble the human corps, to preserve its magic powers it was harvested in a complex ritual.  A rope was attached at the base of the plant and a dog pulling at the rope was used to harvest the plant.

Juniperis communis - Juniper.  It is said that to stay mentally healthy in old age, put some juniper berries under your pillow.

Buxus sempervirens - Box is a symbol of immortality, perseverance and eternity.  Small wooden crosses made with box gets rid of ants.

Salix - Willow is linked to Saturn, it brings dignity, moral sense and greatness.

Ficus carica - The fig is considered to be a cursed tree as Judas hanged himself using a Fig tree after renouncing Jesus.  It is also a symbol of fertility.

Myrtis communis - Myrtle is used in numerous love potions, it prevents tiredness during walking if one holds a twig.  It is a sign of hope and revival and at Christmas time if one wants to have a long life, branches must be collected each time one passes the shrub.

Iris Germanica - Iris is a message from the gods, it carries peace, sleep and death.  It is considered to be a powerful cure against rabies.

Pinus halepensis - Aleppo Pine.  To escape from a whooping cough epidemic, a river needs to be crossed without getting wet, followed by entering a pine forest.

Cupressis sempervirens - A Cypress is a phallic symbol, the wood protects the fields, vines and gardens.  Dedicated to the god 'Pluto', it's slender form helps the dead to ascent faster into heaven.

Quercus ilex - The Oak is linked with the sun.  It symbolises strength, glory and protects against evil.  Before their marriage, the fiancées must go to the St. Baume, embrace a trunk of an old oak to make sure they'll have plenty of children.

Quercus subur - For a good milk flow for bitches and cats, place a necklace of cork around their neck.

Hedera helix - Ivy is a symbol of love and attachment.  If a young girl would like to see her husband in a dream, she must collect an ivy leaf without looking at it,  slide it into her blouse and put it under her pillow before going to sleep.

The second part is the 'Alchimist garden' set into three stages:

The Work in Black
The Work in White
The Work in Red

The 'Black Garden' represents the birth of a child and his physical development, it's the time of basic intelligence.

Entrance into the 'Black Garden'

Black Petunias

Aeonium arboreum 'Zwartkop'

The 'White Garden' represents the time of intellectual and emotional development.

Entrance from the 'Black Garden' into the 'White Garden'

450 roses in the 'White Garden', a mixture of 'Fées des neiges' and 'Iceberg'

The roses are under-planted with 'Miscanthus sinensis'

For those who seek further there is the next stage:

The 'Red Garden' represents finding the deeper meaning of life, symbolised by the philosopher's stone, the stark shaped pond.

Entrance into the 'Red Garden'

The red rose 'Prestige de Bellegarde' together with Salvia microphylla 'Royal Bumble'

Pots with Hibiscus rosa-sinensis

After lunch in the lovely village of Eygalières, we drove to Jardins des Confines.  A truly, spectacular garden.  Formal but flowing, very cleverly done.

The garden was created by the garden designer, Dominique Lafourcade together with her husband, Bruno Lafourcade.  In her words:  "A garden is first and foremost a work of art, with the gardener playing the roles of architect, sculptor, musician and painter in turn.  A garden should move visitors, setting all their senses aquiver".

Well her garden certainly did that!

The following is a quote from the booklet we were given by the owner's sister.


"21 years ago, these lands were just fallow fields around an old abandoned farmhouse.  An ugly metal shed stood in the place of the large pool in front of the house.

The large formal garden bordered by trellises covered with Vines and Wisteria.  It is watered entirely by an ingenious system of water circuits and paths fed by a wind powered pump.

The dominant colour in the garden is blue with Iris, Wisteria, Perovskia, Lavandula, Nigella and Aster.

To the West, the circular garden of an Italian spirit employs a sophisticated technique, with native plants found growing naturally in the Alpilles:  Buxus, Viburnum tinus, Cypressus sempervirens (Cypress) and Olea europea (Olive).

To the East, a succession of walled gardens hides several smaller gardens, the vegetable garden, a greenhouse, orchard, Portuguese garden, the garden of Flowers, the hen house, the country cottage and a pasture for bulls.

The latest creation being completed is the African garden, designed around a large swimming pool where everything is different:  color, plants, materials and a passage through a hedge creates surprise. The discovery of a distant world, you are magically transported to somewhere in Africa!


The front of the Mas, the pink flowers are Azaleas planted in Anduze pots

View from the tree house

The formal garden viewed from the Mas

Close-up of the formal garden, the pots with olive trees

The round garden

The swimming pool next to the African garden

The African Garden

Photos:  Elisabeth Boutevin; Hazel Crawford; Jacqueline Hodkinson; Gail Reid; Gabrielle Wellesley


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