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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.