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Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 23 July 2015 by Tim Ingram

Day 2 - Jardin de Berchigranges

(Extremely dry in the garden here at the moment - not so much time for diary entries... but to continue the Alsace Trip)

Day 2 - Le Jardin de Berchigranges



Made in what originally was a quarry up in the hills at Granges-sur-Vologne, some 15 km from Gerardmer, this garden is truly remarkable in concept(s), design and maintainance. In her introduction for us Monique Dronet referred to William Robinson, and in the sympathetic and skilled way plants are used in the garden it compares closely with the naturalistic style that Robinson espoused. The comparison I would make in present times is with Beth Chatto's garden in Essex for the real harmony of the planting, but in other ways it is full of unique ideas inspired by its setting. It also contains a fine natural rock garden and a good small nursery!

This is a garden of many parts: moist and cool enough in places to have stands of candelabra primulas and meconopsis; dry enough in others to grow drifts of thyme and pinks amongst rocks with Stipa barbata and alliums; and in general with that mix of formality and informality which gives plants a setting but allows them to meld beautifully and naturally. Along with this the garden is as finely maintained as any I have seen and contains many rarely seen species and parts with the native meadow flora of the Alsace hills.

The site slopes quite steeply down from west to east and in the lowest part becomes a meadow planting of perennials amongst grass - striking in late June with geraniums such as the fine pratense-type 'Orion', and a lot more to flower on into autumn. After viewing the more varied and detailed garden above this provides that ideal balance and contrast, similar but different to the way that the enclosed plantings at Sissinghurst open to the adjacent grassy orchard and woodland below. This part of the garden resonates with the 'new perennial' style of using herbaceous plants and it comes as no surprise that the plantsman and writer Noël Kingsbury has glowing things to say about the Jardin de Berchigranges. For me too I regard it as one of the finest gardens I have visited, full of imagination and care, and sensitivity to the landscape.

For anyone who has made a garden and opened it to the public for many years one can only have great admiration for Monique and Thierry Dronet and the garden they have made at Berchigranges. These last few pictures show some of the artistry and use of local materials (especially wood) and plants which makes this garden so unique and fascinating.

Day 2 - Le Jardin Botanique de Gondremer

On our way to visit this garden in the afternoon, fortune (actually a good bit of ringing around and advice from Monique Dronet), gave the opportunity for most of the party to enjoy the French pastime of eating well in the middle of the day in a wonderful quiet location away in the woods at Auberge de La Cholotte. A sunny day, with the roses flowering and a glass of wine with no sound of traffic has an entirely civilising effect (and this would be a good place from which to explore the local area on foot much more closely).

Outside this fine old farmhouse was this stone trough which would fit well full of alpine plants in our garden(!) but looked perfect in the setting it was in with just what it contained. One can always cast envious glances, and equally appreciative ones.

The garden we then moved on to visit is one of the most curious ones I have seen, because in many ways it is not a garden at all but simply a clearing in the woods. Gondremer is made in wet acid woodland, planted with a wide collection of ericaceous and calciphobe plants (some 4000 species and varieties). It is nature hardly tamed at all but capitalised on for these very specific conditions. Long established from the 1970's and showing something of its age, but fascinating when you turn a corner to find the American Franklinia  alatamaha and so many other rarely grown plants. In spring with the rhododendrons flowering this must be an amazingly colourful place and there are very many other related plants from Cassiope and Kalmiopsis to Kalmia and Oxydendron. In autumn the foliage colours are more stunning too - one of the great advantages of gardening on poor acid soils like this. Nearby (relatively) is the Pepinières de la Demoiselle, a commercial nursery specialising in similar plants mostly for landscaping but also with some more unusual species and a good collection of Kalmia. Here one plant which caught great attention was the groundcover honeysuckle, Lonicera crassifolia, an attractive but vigorous foliage plant with good flowers - but how well will it flower in the garden? We have yet to find out. It doesn't have the rare charm of the Pyrenean Lonicera pyrenaica which grows at Haut-Chitelet, but still quite a few returned with it for their gardens.

A day with two completely contrasting gardens in wonderfully secluded settings and much of interest for the plantsman - and good weather!

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