On every tour there is a shining moment; one so sweet you can hardly believe your good fortune. A matter of chance rather than plan, it sticks with you, not just for days but for years. On the recent trip to France, that magical moment came on a visit to Les Jardin du Plessis Sasnieres.
We had left the charming gift shop, filled with tea towels and china frogs, to climb the Magnolia Walk on a hillside above the heart of the garden. Rosamee Henrion, the garden’s owner and designer, as well as our guide, provided a historical narrative as she led us up the path that would lay the garden at our feet.
Comprising roughly 7 acres, the garden has been Rosamee’s life work. It evolved without a set plan. “If something is missing, I ask myself, ‘what do I think would look good,’” she told the group. She has learned by trial and error, noting “that’s the best way, I think.”
The two homes near the small lake were built in the 14th and 15th centuries. The ornamental garden is maintained by one full time gardener and one apprentice, a sixteen year old, newly arrived to learn the trade. Rosamee’s third son and his wife cultivate the kitchen garden.
The soil is chalky. Winter was long, wet, and cold. Spring was late. “Two weeks ago, there were no blooms, not a single rose.”
At the crest of the hill, we pause to admire, and then begin the descent that will provide a closer look. We stroll past the ruins of the well house, the homes, and the Mediterranean-like gravel patio, stopping to meet the dogs and to learn about a special hydrangea. Then we move on along the perimeter of the lake, pause to take in another magnificent view, and continue our stroll towards the walled garden.
One last tuck through a yew hedge topped with topiary, past beds of peonies and then roses, fragrance and flowers at every turn, then we approach the threshold of the gate.
It’s an Alice moment; real and surreal…breathtakingly beautiful.
Pleased but too experienced, too modest, perhaps even too wary of nature to take full credit, Rosamee smiles and nods appreciation at our enchantment.
“I only have plants that are happy with me,” Rosamee explains. “I don’t have time to put a scarf on them in winter or a sunhat on them in summer.”
And there it is. A blue-sky day. A circle of friends. An extraordinary garden. A telling, down-to-earth philosophy. An unforgettable moment.