Friday, 7 October 2016

Garden group visit to the Luberon - private garden + Château Ansouis - 27/9/2016

The morning's visit was to a garden in the Luberon. The protect the identity of the owners and the position of the garden we are not able to name it nor where it was situated.

The actual house dates back to the 18th century. The garden was redesigned by Nicole de Vésian, the same person who designed the garden at 'La Louve' in Bonnieux, in 1990. It is larger than 'La Louve', roughly 1ha, which stretches beyond the back garden and spreads out over several terraces.

As you enter through the gate, the first impression you get is of lushness, everything is so green, this effect is created by the vines that cover every inch of the house. Yews clipped in an oblong shape in front of the wall, mark the edge to the street below.

Through an archway,  connecting the 2 parts of the house, you arrive in the back garden. This is the part of the garden that has some resemblance to 'La Louve'.

A pergola covered with a white flowering Wisteria and Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper) give shade to the patio near the house.

A large central bed with clipped evergreens in different heights and shapes draws the attention:

To create this image they've used the following shrubs:

Buxus sempervirens
Laurus nobilis
Ligustrum ionandrum
Lonicera nitida (poor man's buxus)
Pittosporum tibia
Viburnum tinus

The grey colour of clipped Teucrium fruticans is used to separate some of the terraces or to create special features:

After this very hot summer the deciduous trees were loosing their leaves. Beyond the clipped bed of evergreens a whole row of trees let the way towards the end of the garden, starting with two Acer negundo, originally from North America, with attractive variegated foliage. The leaves are quite different from other Acers.

After the Acer negundo a row of Tillia cordifolia 'Lime Trees' followed. Every year they are pruned into a square.
Tilia pruned into squares towards the far end of the path

The terraces are giving over to olive trees, espalier apple trees of various varieties, some Prunus dulcis (almonds), figs, Eriobotrya japonica (Japanese Loquat) and at the very end a small vineyard.

The vineyard on top of the wall

Lavender beds with olive trees in the background

The owners visit a few times a year, they have a full-time gardener to maintain the garden. Most of the shrubs are clipped 3-4 times a year, but the Buxus shrubs are clipped just once a year as they are slow growers.

The gardener who showed us around talking to Rini

Some other evergreen shrubs used in the garden suitable for clipping apart from the once mentioned above are:

Choisya ternata
Eleagnus ebbingei
Phillyrea angustifolia (narrow leaves)
Phillyrea latifolia (larger leaves)
Pittosporum tobira

A very green garden, no flowers when we were there, except for the Sternbergia bulbs. The clipped bushes give the garden its shape and formality, although a looser effect is created by the trees and fruit terraces.

Sternbergia lutea bulbs growing under the fig tree

After lunch in Lourmarin, we drove on to Ansouis to visit the Château Ansouis. Ansouis is a lovely village in the Luberon, dominated by the castle to be seen from far and wide.

Château Ansouis

Village of Ansouis with June in the background

The château was built in the 10th century as a military fortress to control the Aigues valley.  Just a few buildings, quite stark with military quarters for the soldiers and a prison.

Entrance gate to the château

Entrance to the château

From the 12th century onwards it belonged to different branches of the 'Sabran' family. The château was changed into elegant living quarters in the 17th and 18th century with additional buildings added to the old fortress.  You could say there two château in one. Within the castle there are several small gardens, one amazing parterre and in the largest garden there is a small hidden house built in the 18th century for private purposes, very unusual for this part of France.

Ansouis was ruled by the counts of Forcalquier and came into the possesion of the Sabran family in 1178 after the marriage of Raimon I to Garsende, sovereign countess of Forcalquier. From the 13th to the beginning of the 17th century the Sabran family were more or less in charge. It was then passed on to Sextius d'Escallis. In 1836 the Marquis Saqui de Sannes, descendant of Sextius d'Escallis sold back Château Ansouis to Elzéar Louis Zozine, Count of Sabran.  His descendants were in possession till 2008 and after some squabbling among the siblings it was sold in 2008 for 5.6 million euros to Gérard and Frédérique Rousset-Rouvière from Aix, who have totally restored the château to its former glory, taking into account the original features.

It was quite an undertaking and from what we saw it was a labour of love. They contracted artisans who were dedicated to their individual skills. Meticulous detail was given to fabrics, wallpaper, ornamental plasterwork (gypseries) and furniture.

Bassin at the bottom of the chateau

The owner showed us around the château.  We were not allowed to take any photos and it is hard to create a picture of the interior for the reader who was not there. The gypseries on a background of bluish/turquoise walls were exquisite.  There were scenes out of mythologie and history or just floral wreaths. The plaster to create the gypseries was deposited onto the walls and the artisan created the scenes by slowly chipping away at the plaster and in doing so creating the picture. The 'gypseries' are a special feature of the walls in the sitting areas. In the private bedrooms the walls were covered in either a wallpaper copied from the old remnants they found and especially recreated for the château or in fabric, printed with the same detail.  The curtains were beautiful, beige, with all sort of fruits and flowers.

The garden belonging to the château at the bottom of the hill overlooking the valley

For our members who did not have the opportunity to visit, we can highly recommend it, it is worth a visit.
All of us in front of château entrance except Gabrielle who took the photo.  Owner with light blue blouse.

Photo including Gabrielle

Photos: Gabrielle Wellesley and Isabel Pardoe

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