Back in the early 1990’s someone gave me a book called ‘Splendeur de Jardins de Provence’, by Louise Jones. It was in french and my memory of schoolboy french was no longer that hot! I looked politely at the thing and registered the illustrations-all avenues and simple formal gardens and pictures of lazy living under shady pergolas. Life was busy, I was in a different career and I lived in England. I relegated it to the bookshelves.

Come the early 2000’s I found myself changing course and training to be a garden designer. One of our tasks was to assemble images of landscapes, both visited and from books and magazines which we found inspirational and say in an accompanying text why. I ransacked every bookshelf in the house, of which there are all too many, and assembled in one room all the books that could help me with this.  I found ‘Splendeur’ and found:

And:

 And:

I wrote some pretty typically ‘student-pretentious’  accompanying text about why I liked it – rhythm, sensual to touch etc.  But I did usefully note that this garden was created by Nicole de Vesian in Provence, that it echos the goat clipped landscape of the nearby Garrigue and the plants used. I also I find pointed out the luxuriance of the silvery cynara in the last photo and how that provides enhancing contrast. Job done!

Come the late 2000’s I found myself redesigning and planting up sections of a large, private garden. Budget is always an issue for clients and cutting costs very much the order of the day now. And in one area we found a large lonicera pileata with smaller plants growing round the edge where berries had fallen and set seed. It was all an overgrown tangle.

Suddenly, unconscious of any back reference,  I knew exactly what to do.  The large lonicera was viciously pruned and the small plants move around the face of a rocky slope to create a miniature landscape.  They would be viciously pruned and juxtaposed with luxuriant ferns.

This is a small part of the project, which looks like this now:

Ok so  the topiary does not have the silvery allure of Mme de Vesian’s clipped thymes and rosemarys. But it echoes the Loncera plants in nearby borders and unconsciously rephrases the idea in a greener way and under the duller skies of the uk. So I do acknowledge the debt of gratitude.

The ferns are in the making! All common stuff – Aspleniums, Polystichum and Dryopteris etc. We want to extend the topiary round the walls and have about one dozen more young plants ready to go out. We will also clip the outer laurels to continue the motif.

The project does illustrate the way the design process works. We do and should learn from other designers. But we have to speak for ourselves and not merely copy ideas. We have chosen for example to stick to one topiary species, which simplifies and unites.

It is a question of inspiration, influences, reinterpretation and opportunism, whilst entirely respecting the context. Exactly as Nicole de Vesian did at Bonnieux in Provence.

This is very much an ongoing project and I will keep you posted!

R

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