Thursday, 7 June 2018

Return visit to Les Confines, Noves, 25 May 2018

Four years later and we were making a return visit to the gardens of Les Confines, south of Noves in the Bouches des Rhones, since 2015 in the ownership of Andrew Trotter (British).   In 1990, this bare 20-acre field with four trees, a large farmhouse and a barn was bought by architect Bruno Lafourcarde and his wife Dominique, an artist.   He renovated the house, she designed the gardens.

Set in the flat plain of the Durance valley, the house had no view so Mme. Lafourcade created a view from the deep gravelled terrace the length of the house with its lily pond created from the foundations of the original barn.

Two different views of the lily pond with the garden stretching out beyond

A central rill flanked by a line of huge terracotta pots planted with olive trees each side of the rill. Next to the terracotta pots, a parallel line of topiary in the shape of semi circles on a square base. Viburnum tinus was used for these large shapes, native and very suitable for our climate.  This again was bordered by high yew hedges.  A sense of perspective is created by newly planted, clipped  Quercus ilex ( Evergreen/Holm Oak) at the end of the central part.

Terracotta pots planted with olive trees in the background 

To counteract the fierce mistral wind, individual “rooms” are surrounded with high hedges.   Andrew Trotter told us that when Dominique Lafourcade owned the house the gardeners were not allowed motorised tools to cut the hedges and it would have been wonderful to have seen the face of Serge, the gardener, when he was presented with a can of petrol and a selection of motorised garden equipment!

A good view of the yew hedge and recovering buxus, previously attacked by the box tree caterpillar.  This Asian caterpillar made its appearance for the first time in 2005, when it arrived in Germany with imported Buxus (Box) from China.

A trellis on either side of the central part is made up of Wisteria and Vines, underplanted by Iris, Nigella, Aster, Hemerocallis, Petasites hybridus (overgrowing areas in the shade) and Perovskia and many more in the different seasons.

From the trellis walk, one of the areas you come to is the pool area which used to have an African theme.  On the wall near the pool house are some African heads sprouting green leaves.  This is very cleverly done.  The shrubs, Viburnum tinus are planted on the other side of the wall and then led through a hole above the heads to form the hair (foliage):

A tree house at one end of the gravel terrace leading to the Buxus garden

It is always fascinating to hear the history of a garden and house, and the story of the 2015 purchase of the property will surely be entrenched in the annals of the history of Les Confines.   Andrew Trotter was one of two final offers under consideration for the purchase of Les Confines and he was summoned to a meeting with Mme. Lafourcade who asked what his plans were for the gardens.   “To replace trees where necessary, add a tennis court and an arboretum.  The other hopeful purchaser, a German whose offer was higher than Andrew’s, was asked the same question and he immediately said “remove all the hedges and create a huge lawn”.   Predictably, his offer was not accepted!

There are several play areas for the children to enjoy.  Last Easter each of Mr. Trotter's 4 children was allowed to choose 2 chickens, an interesting variety of what they chose is now present in the chicken coop.

At the far end of the garden

The pond with Ligustrum lucidum in the background

One of the areas to be replanted was the rose garden (enclosed, of course, by a wall and high hedge), where all the roses except the two climbers were removed and replanted with bare-root repeat flowering David Austin roses.   The roses were so well established it was difficult to believe that this had only been done 18 months ago.

 A wrought iron pod planted with Erigeron karvinskianus

Little of the garden has changed from the original design but at the entrance to the house and tucked close to the boundary hedge in what had been rough grass parking area, a tennis court has been built with classic square black-painted metal posts topped with round balls (the attention to detail extends to the black fruit cage netting used instead of the usual chainlink fencing).   Time will tell whether it will survive the rigors of children using it as a climbing wall !   The old parking area is now mown and a grassy mound sits in the middle – the result of Andrew’s reluctance to part with €2,000 to remove the earth excavated during the creating of the tennis court - a miniature piece of Dorset in Provence.

The garden is full of topiary and evergreen hedges.  For low hedges Lonicera nitida as well as Rhamnus alaternus has been used 

For larger topiary shapes, Viburnus tinus.

For evergreen hedges Taxus baccata (Yew), for deciduous hedges,  Corylus avellana (Hazel) and Carpinus betulus (Hornbeam).

Text:  Sue Spense
Photos: Mavis McQuade

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