Agapanthe—un jardin spectacle!

Family home of Alexandre Thomas, Landscape Architect.

Family home of Alexandre Thomas, Landscape Architect.

A favorite of many on the June tour to Northern France, Agapanthe is a remarkable garden with much to stir the senses. Or, as its brochure enthuses, “Agapanthe is a garden show!”

I read something more, however, that I belive comes closer to revealing the garden’s essence. In marketing his services, Alexandre Thomas, Agapanthe’s owner, notes that he can design a garden A to Z, revitalize a garden’s weak spot, or strengthen a garden’s personality. Check on numbers one and two, but his genius is in building and layering a garden’s character.

Simply put, there is nothing mundane at Agapanthe. Alexandre relies on mature plants, genuine relics, and time-worn hardscape materials for immediate effect. He selects unique or dramatic plants and employs them in innovative ways. He references the past but focuses on today’s awe-inspiring moment. He gets the big picture and he’s also the master of detail.

Wisteria arbor made from the frames of old church windows.

Wisteria arbor made from the frames of old church windows.

Located only a short distance from Rouen, the garden comprises two properties: the family home and surrounding garden that have been in Alexandre’s care from more than 20 years, and a second red brick Normandy house and garden just across a street, acquired in 2006. There, the landscape is more open and, perhaps because of evolution of Alexandre’s sensibilities, the design is more avant-garde.

Both are stunning.

Though I don’t notice at first, Agapanthe is also a nursery. Plants for sale, in pots or burlap, are grouped into clever vignettes or tucked among the garden’s treasures. Most of these are arranged near a side entrance, with each display enticing visitors further into the garden.

The spaces around the family home flow seamlessly from one area into the next and it was always a surprise to find myself, after only a few steps, someplace new. My husband, Tim, favored this garden over others we toured because of its variety and playfulness. He wasn’t alone in his admiration. Everyone was bewitched by Agapanthe.

The images that linger from the family garden include a wisteria draped arbor built from the metal frames of old church windows, a bed of baseball-sized allium floating above bowling balls of boxwood, a path of cut flagstones swimming in a cascade of water, Choisya ternate ‘Sundance’ blooming among yellow-stemmed bamboo, a palm and boxwood allee flanking a shallow stairway, and a formal sunken garden of lavender enclosed by popsicle-like spires of evergreens.

Balls of allium and box.

Balls of allium and box.

Cascade of stone and water.

Cascade of stone and water.

Choisya and bamboo.

Choisya and bamboo.

Palm and box allee.

Palm and box allee.

Sunken garden enclosed by a troupe of evergreens.

Sunken garden enclosed by a troupe of evergreens.

Then, when every nook and cranny of the family garden was fully explored, we slipped through a fanciful gate ornamented with pendulous racemes of pearl-white wisteria for Agapanthe, Act II. The new garden didn’t disappoint. In fact, if anything, it upped the ante.

Through the magical gates, the curtain rises on Agapanthe, Act II.

Through the magical gates, the curtain rises on Agapanthe, Act II.

A winding entrance delivers visitors to a space to one side of the house, arranged as an amphitheater with multi-trunked pine trees circling the rim of a sunken garden filled with lacy ferns, spears of variegated iris, green-leaved choisya with fine-cut foliage, and tall spires of eremurus (commonly called foxtail lily) not yet in bloom. Like many other parts of the new garden, texture plays the starring role.

Multi-trunk pine trees link branches in a "ring around the rosie" dance.

Multi-trunk pine trees link branches in a “ring around the rosie” dance.

Texture plays a starring role in many areas of the new garden.

Texture plays a starring role in many areas of the new garden.

The back garden continues this theme and begins to add pops of color with the brilliant foliage of Japanese maples making a sharp contrast against green leaves of every variation. The conifer garden just around the corner adds a grace note of chartreuse, with three golden yews clipped into giant pincushions and set against a backdrop of dark green pines and other needle-leafed trees. I was also struck with the juxtaposition of hosta, euphorbia, bronze fennel, and other herbaceous plants against the stiff forms of yew, pine, juniper, and cypress.

What's to wish for when perfection is at hand?

What’s to wish for when perfection is at hand?

Are giant pincushions of golden yew a tongue-in-cheek play on needle-bearing plants?

Are giant pincushions of golden yew a tongue-in-cheek play on needle-bearing plants?

Tucked to the far side of the landscape, a Mediterranean-style patio, accented with a rustic dining set and antique jars, creates another idyllic scene. Slightly raised, so it overlooks a large sweep of garden, the patio is the perfect stage for a small gathering for friends.

The perfect spot to stage a gathering.

The perfect spot to stage a gathering.

The front garden, by contrast, provides a jolt of color. Crimson Japanese maples, scarlet peonies, purple alliums, and an array of other perennials are a lively compliment to the red and yellow brick house.

Where there is color, it is rich and dreamy.

Where there is color, it is rich and dreamy.

DSC_7822

Agapanthe is, indeed, a spectacle. But it is more too. Like a gourmet meal, it is a masterful blend of flavors that lingers long in the memory of those who are lucky enough to have a small taste of its pleasures.DSC_7842

Parting shot...a memory to savor.

Parting shot…a memory to savor.

18 thoughts on “Agapanthe—un jardin spectacle!

  1. Carla Martinez

    Although all of the gardens we saw in France were fabulous, this one was my favorite. Thank you the great photos!

    Reply
  2. Debra Strange

    I have enjoyed your travel photos so much, Marian. This garden would be my dream and favorite. Thank you!

    Reply
  3. ginnytalbert

    My gosh, what an incredible place and glorious gardens! The wisterias – ahhhhh.
    Marian, when you say it makes your gardens looks shabby – well, you probably don’t have a crew of gardeners to do the work, and your garden is also not your FT job, right? if only…
    I was in Japan last year, about a month or so before all the wisterias bloomed & they grow it everywhere. So sorry I missed that. The fragrance alone would be divine.

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Ginny–what really impressed me was the innovation. Like the lollypop evergreens around the formal lavender garden and the squat yews in the conifer garden…he has a talent for taking something tried and true and making it new.

      Was your visit to Japan a garden trip? Would love to hear about it!

      Reply
  4. gardeninacity

    Wow, wonderful. I wish we had a few days to go to Normandy when we are in France in September. We’ll just have to take another trip. I love the way he uses Alliums.

    Reply
  5. Pat Webster

    So glad you enjoyed this garden. I visited it last October and was greatly disappointed. A difference in taste could account for our different responses, or it could have been the time of year. But when I visited, the garden was overstuffed with objects for sale, and while many of the objects were lovely, for me they overwhelmed the space. There were some gorgeous trees with beautifully coloured bark, but I thought the garden as a whole looked sad and commercial.

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Pat–I have to admit as much as I truly liked the garden, it lacked the authenticity I find appealing. I’m sorry I will miss seeing your garden in
      August at Garden Writers, but I have a scheduling conflict this year. Maybe another time?

      Reply
      1. Patterson Webster

        I’d be delighted for you to visit Glen Villa — if not this year, then next. I look forward to meeting you in Quebec City. Are you attending the pre-symposium event with C.L. Fornari?

  6. Marian St.Clair Post author

    Pat–I’ll be at a meeting in Washington, DC, so I won’t be in Quebec City. Perhaps I should bring my own group? Looks like there is plenty to see and do!

    Reply
  7. An Eye For Detail

    For some reason I was no longer subscribed, or receiving, your posts! I thought it had been a long time..So now I’m here and can “binge” read all the posts about the trip! Just beautiful. Looking forward to seeing you in November. And yes, I just subscribed again!

    Reply

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