April - May 2014

It's been really nice to be work in well established gardens again. Places with a wealth of plants and positioned by people who really know how to use them, where quality and standard is high. I have had the privilege to see & experience Isabelle & Tim Vaughn's private garden Crech ar Pape, as well as work & stay at Kerdalo. Places with strong design elements and a sense of a landscape created, like those of Capability Brown and Le Notre but more intimate and modest and unique in their own right.

There's something about Kerdalo that's been hard for me to put my finger on, it has a certain maturity, there is character, a sense of mystique, maybe even a touch of melancholy. It has been described as wild and romantic and is more close to an English style garden than to the rigid formal French gardens. But it also stands independently like the part of France it is situated in - Brittany. There is an atmosphere here that is really hard to capture & carry through in photos, something that can only be felt, seen and understood when you are here. As François Ducardonnet a garden student I met recently said 'C'est impalpable'.

The Mediterranean Terrace.

It makes sense that I am here, I am interested in coastal microclimates and being not too far from the sea, it has a similar temperament to Cornwall and is able to grow some of the exotic specimens that I saw at Tresco, like some of the more tender pittosporums, olearias (just coming into flower), Echium pinniana punctuating throughout the garden, Geranium maderense - finally seeing it in flower, Impatiens tinctoria that they don't need to lift out and put under glass over winter, Beschoneria yuccoides (Agave family) - still excruciatingly 'about to flower', Pondorea jasminoides, even Anigozanthos sp. and lots more. Many are situated on the Mediterranean Terraces.

Close up of Geranium maderense flowers, which is great as a foliage plant. It enviously self sowed freely at Tresco and appears to be successfully self sowing here but in the most 'inconvenient' of places, to the delight of gardener François Monnerie here, who has been carefully harbouring and siting this plant in different places until he found the optimum position for it - part shade and warm.

The almost alien looking Beschoneria yuccoides - one day I will see it flower!

They also have a lot of well selected rhododendrons that gave me a new appreciation to this genus that I often dismiss too easily. There are rare and interesting genus & species of plants throughout the whole garden, but all arranged in a well composed ornamental way. And sensual as well, every day as I walked in and out of the kitchen I would get the delicious scent from the very bushy overhanging Stauntonia hexaphylla and eventually the Rhododendron fragrantissimum 'Princess Alice Fitzwilliam' when it burst into impressive bloom, and the Wisteria sinensis tickling through the bathroom window.

The Stauntonia hexaphylla

This may be because Peter Wolkonsky, Isabelle's father was also a painter, had a creative vision in his head and actualised it. It is said that friend Lionel Fortescue helping him would wheelbarrow a plant for hours until he had found the right place for it based on its colour. So this might be why the garden has a sense of colour and form, the Mediterranean Terraces are a bit hotter whilst the rest of the garden has a calming serene palette.

Details of one of the grottos of Les Quatre Carrés

Or that P. Wolkonsky was a strong character and somehow that has flowed through - he started making the garden when he was 65 in 1965, on what was then an old farm. The place is dotted with his strange and wonderful grottos, fountains and sculptures which adds to the mystical feeling of the place. Even the fact that he was a Russian Prince gives it a mythical quality.

Panoramic view of Les Quatre Carrés

Maybe it's also the well designed and skilled plantsmanship of Tim and Isabelle who did a major haulage of the garden and restored it after her father died and added sections to it like Les Quatre Carrés (the four squares), demonstrating what they do so well - an area that knits together cleverly in summer to an effective crescendo.

A sense of the season - colours slowly light up.

It's a garden where you get a sense of the seasons moving on. I loved it that Isabelle talked about the cooler weather days being a good thing, as it slowed down growth and allowed the flowering and colours of the garden to gradually come on and not all at once, drawing out the season in this way too in a more slow meditative way. At Dixter they cheat the seasons and from late spring to late autumn would have an endless seam of colours & bloom, through clever growing & manipulating of plants, which I love, but it's great to have a different appreciation of a garden too. Also another major difference is that Dixter uses a lot of annuals and have a lot of bedding changeovers, but Kerdalo only uses perennials and this was good for me to see, as it shows me how different spectacular gardens can be created in different ways.

One of my favourite combos these Primula japonica seemed to vibrate from the shuttlecock ferns - Matteuccia struthiopteris. Water is piped from the natural springs around.

One of my favorite areas was the valley of Lysichiton americana, Matteuccia struthiopteris and tree ferns Dicksonia antarctica.

It also has a closer link to Dixter than I had realised, Christopher Lloyd has expressed how it is one of his favourite gardens, which is a compliment  not given too lightly. And Pip Morrison a landscape designer who had close relations with C. Lloyd worked on the restoration of Kerdalo with Isabelle & Tim.

The climatic and atmospheric grotto at the bottom of the garden surrounded by Gunnera manicata, one of the classic scenes from Kerdalo.

A garden has something when it has that little sense of magic which is not always easy to achieve or sometimes too contrived, but Kerdalo does it effortlessly. From being dwarfed by the Araucaria araucana in the Araucaria meadow towering over you, stumbling upon the grotto, to how the garden breaks out into the actual surrounding landscape at the bottom. From the past and in the present both at the same time.

Underneath the Araucaria araucana in the Araucaria meadow.

View at the end of the garden, which looks onto the River Jaudy and the town Treguier opposite.

The old dovecote from another time, I think is from the 17th century. It is said that every nesting hole inside represented each acreage of the landowner.

Looking up at the dove house from below.

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  1. That view in the first picture... one of supreme patience. The hardscape seems alive there - maybe because it is so in tune with the vegetation obscuring and altering it?