Friday 30 September 2011

Château du Rivau

The Château du Rivau is between Chinon and Richelieu, and of all the gardens we visited in our whirlwind week of garden touring in mid-July, I think this one was my favourite.

It was originally recommended to us by our friend 'Henri Proust', who writes the blog for l'Eminence Rouge. The website, slightly irritating Disneyesque fairies bouncing across the page notwithstanding, is informative and well laid out, and HP assured us some time ago that the garden had some interesting design elements.

Last year the château suffered a devastating fire in the roof of the private apartments. None of the rooms on show were damaged, but the family lost quite a lot of personal possessions I think. I read an interview in the paper with Patricia Laigneau the owner and thought she was remarkable. The award winning château restoration had been finished only weeks before. It had been years of hard work, creative thinking and pouring money at the place. It must have been heartbreaking to see it go up in flames, but Patricia put the most incredibly brave face on it. She encouraged visitors to continue to come and just stoïcly prepared to repair the roof.

The memorial to the fire.
When she and her husband purchased the château, Patricia decided that she needed to train as a garden designer, because not only did the buildings need to be rescued, but if they were to be shown off to best advantage they needed a garden to enhance them. The garden she has created uses many of the tricks of formal French grand gardens, but she has had enormous fun too. The garden is relaxed and in some places a bit cheesey even.

Gigantic rubber boots frame the château in this view.
The Laigneaus and their team have done a vast amount of archaeological research to aid their restoration. The story is presented in the stable block and is well worth spending the time to read. The château is believed to be constructed from stone extracted from the area by the entrance, now planted with a clever knot garden, made entirely from different types of lavender. The grand stables were built in the Renaissance to replace a much simpler vernacular building which housed the great war stallions bred on the estate and said to be crucial to the success of the French army lead by Joan of Arc.

Who would have thought lavender varieties were so different in colour?
The main château building is a beautiful fairytale creation with turrets and pointy bits. Patricia has been unable to resist hanging a long hank of 'hair' out the window of one of the towers. The complex is a rare example of a blend of decorative and defensive architecture from late medieval times, the precursor to the almost purely decorative Renaissance examples such as Chenonceau.

This beautiful roof detail is just to the left of the gatehouse.


Thursday 29 September 2011

One Room Down

..a few to go.

We have almost finished (as in nothing more to do) the guest bathroom. This past week I have repainted the floor and then varnished it, painted skirting boards, done the window dressing and generally scrubbed it up.

We're quite chuffed.

Quite a change from a month ago. All we need do now is paint the door and that is one room, absolutely finished: painted, insulated, electrified, plumbed, usable and cleanable. The last of the qualities is maybe the most important one, because most of the other rooms are building sites still.


Wednesday 28 September 2011

Leccinum aurantiacum - an edible cep

On Sunday I did my final butterfly survey for the year, competing at times along transects with blokes in camouflage gear carrying shotguns and accompanied by lolloping retrievers. Yes, hunting season has begun, so I decided wearing a hi-viz vest was prudent.

Halfway along transect 8, a ride in the Parc de Boussay, I came across some Bolete mushrooms (also known as ceps, cèpes or porcini) growing in the grass near aspen, birch and pine trees. I could see they were not the highly prized Boletus edulis, but I had a strong hunch they were an edible species, so I picked 7 or 8 and took them home.

Leccinum aurantiacum of various ages and sizes.
Once home I looked them up with the limited fungi resources I have in the library of field guides, and on the internet. I concluded that they were Leccinum aurantiacum, called Boletus aurantiacus in any guide older than a couple of years. Bolete taxonomy is a nightmare, but those great guys and gals at Kew are working on it. L. aurantiacum is called the Red-capped Scaber Stalk in North America, but its French name is le Bolet orangé. I telephoned my friend Louisa, who has lots of fungi books and has often been foraging for fungi. She wasn't home so I left a message.

Fortunately my specimens seemed to be very typical examples of the species, which is quite common and relatively easy to identify, at least sensu lato (all the good fungi sites discuss closely related and similar species). The key features are a chestnut cap, beige pores (boletes have a spongy underside, not gills like regular supermarket mushrooms) which are pale in young mushrooms and darken with age, an overhanging cuticle, brown scabers on the stipe (stalk) which go black with age and cream flesh which stains blue-black when cut. They are considered good eating.

Just to make sure I put them in the fridge overnight and took them to the pharmacy on Monday. One of the pharmacists was clearly used to being asked to identify mushrooms and her reference book was just under the counter. She checked all the diagnostic features, as did our doctor's practice nurse, who happened along during this process. We all agreed that it was B. aurantiacus.

A young one, freshly sliced.
Just to make extra sure I paid a visit to my friends the Chedouzeau family, who run a local restaurant. Christophe informed me that he had found some himself the day before and they were edible. Martine and a male customer in the bar agreed that they weren't les Bordeaux (as B. edulis is known in French) but then proceeded to give me several recipes for preparing ceps and Christophe warned me to cut most of the stems off, as they would likely be full of maggots.

Everyone was very relaxed about the idea that I was planning to eat them. Just to make extra double sure though I sliced them and put them in the oven on a low heat with the fan to dry them. Many mushrooms are safer to eat if they have been dried and/or cooked than they are to eat raw. It also meant that I didn't have to commit to eating all of them immediately or wasting them.

By now the mushrooms are starting to stain black.
I'd no sooner popped them in the oven than Louisa arrived, with a couple of Canadian visitors in tow. She had brought her books and we went through them, again arriving at the conclusion that this was B. aurantiacus. We both tasted a tiny piece, just to check there was no bitter taste - a characteristic of a couple of inedible boletes. She said that some years B. aurantiacus was very common here. Her opinion was that they are very good eating, although because they go an unappetising looking black colour, they are not considered as good as B. edulis.

After 2½ hours drying in the oven, the kitchen smelled very satifactorily mushroomy and the ceps were leathery. I've put them in a jar in the pantry until I decide on how I want to cook and serve them. I'll probably start with some in a simple milky soup as a good way of testing them.


Tuesday 27 September 2011

Mistress or Madonna?

As the French monarchy became more stable in late medieval times, the king, Charles VII created the position of 'official mistress'. Agnès Sorel was the first successful applicant for the role, and one of the most romantic. As the official mistress she was more or less another queen, living like a member of the royal family and involving herself in politics.

In the 15th century marriage was an economic and political union of families. Love had nothing to do with it, and there was an extremely high tolerance of extra-marital relationships. Prostitution was not condemned and indeed, the King owned at least one brothel.

An early 15th century carved and
painted wooden statuette of Saint Agnes.
Even so, in contemporary depictions, Agnès is represented in disguise as the Virgin Mary. The most famous portrait of her is The Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels, from the right hand panel of the Melun Diptych, commissioned in 1452 by Etienne Chevalier from Jean Fouquet. Etienne Chevalier was the King's secretary, and in the year he commissioned the Diptych, became Treasurer of France and Secretary of State. He and Agnès were close friends and he discussed matters of state with her in the King's absence. Curiously, the Diptych was hung over the grave of Chevalier's wife, in his home town of Melun.

Despite the name of the painting, a note on the back states that this is 'the Holy Virgin, with traits of Agnès Sorel, mistress of Charles VII, king of France, died in 1450', and most scholars agree that this is a likeness of Agnès. She is portrayed as the Queen of Heaven, richly apparelled and wearing a crown set with pearls. There is very little depth of field in Heaven apparently, so the baby is rather alarmingly perched. The startlingly blue and red seraphim and cherubim crowd in on her. She gazes solemnly and modestly towards the floor.

A copy of Jean Fouquet's Virgin and Child.
(The original painting is in Antwerp).
The artist's intention is to compliment Agnès by taking her as the model for the Virgin. He is also honoring the Virgin by associating Agnès' grace, beauty and high social standing with the Madonna. She is depicted exposing a breast, a motif known as Madonna Lactans (the Suckling Virgin). It was a symbol indicating that the Madonna is someone that mothers can identify with (in fact, in the case of the Virgin Mary, breastfeeding was the only part of the biological act of motherhood that she was required to participate in). By extension she is offering comfort and sustenance to all Christians with this commonplace and loving act. She is an intermediary between God and man. Also, as character traits were believed to be acquired through the breast milk, breastfeeding was a sign of a good mother.

Nudity at this time was a symbol indicating humility, and it had been a tradition for several centuries to depict the Virgin bare breasted. Of course, this had some pitfalls as far as the Church was concerned. A bare breast could incite somewhat less holy thoughts if not carefully 'de-sexualised'. Fouquet does this by painting an unnatural nippleless sphere, slightly too high and too far to the left.

An anonymous 17th century 'portrait' of Agnès.
Later portraits of Agnès continued the tradition of the exposed breast and it became associated not with the Virgin, but as a sign that the woman depicted was a royal mistress. As French kings became more powerful the position of their mistresses was more and more assured, allowing women like Diane de Poitiers to be depicted outside the Christian tradition, as a Greek goddess, and by the time Gabrielle d'Estrées was the incumbent, the King and by association, his mistress, was powerful enough that she could be depicted as herself.


All these works of art are to be found in the room dedicated to Agnès Sorel in the Logis Royal, Loches.

Monday 26 September 2011

Avertissement, voleur!

The Basilica of St Denis is where many of the Kings of France were buried, and the place where many of the funeral monuments of Kings that weren't buried just north of Paris were moved to in the late 19th Century.

We visited there last week, and were standing in the large square at the front of the Cathedral taking photos (difficult, with the sun behind the building) when a lady walking into the Mairie warned us to be very careful of thieves, who would snatch our cameras and run away. We have read warnings that this is a problem in the area, but were surprised to have someone French (and presumably local) say it to us.

The front of the church
Of course, the warning made us look around for a potential thief, but the square appeared to be almost deserted except for other tourists taking photos, and it wasn't that busy when we left after visiting the tombs, either.

One of the portals
Still - you have been warned. The Basilica is worth visiting, but keep your street smarts happening at all times.


Sunday 25 September 2011

A Place in Paris

When we were in Paris last week we were really lucky to be able to stay in an apartment just off rue du Faubourg Montmartre. This was entirely thanks to our friend Di from Australia.

We have never used an apartment in Paris before, mainly because we go to Paris to relax and let someone else do all the running around - no cooking, washing up, bedmaking or cleaning involved when you stay in a hotel. We have to admit, however, that we really enjoyed being able to just buy a whole heap of food at the local Greek deli and slowly munch through the whole evening while watching TV, and all for less than the cost of one meal at a restaurant. It also meant that coffee wasn't a shock to the wallet that had to be endured every couple of hours!

The apartment is beautifully furnished: very stylish and full of real designer stuff, but comfortable as well (too many designers are guilty of making beautiful stuff that just doesn't work for people shaped bodies) and the sofa bed is one of the most comfortable beds I have slept in. There is wi-fi (and a resident mini-laptop) and about 70billion channels of TV. It's on the 5th floor, but there is a lift: especially welcome after a big dinner or when carrying shopping bags and suitcases.

We really enjoyed being close to the centre of town: we walked to les Halles one evening, and Printemps and Galleries Lafayette the next day. There are a number of Metro stations serving various lines within a 5-10 minute walk, and a velib (hire bicycle) station right outside the front door, which means that if you're feeling lazy or slightly foolhardy there is a range of transport options.

The English speaking owner, Pascal, and his partner have clearly thought hard about what works for a short break in Paris, and he was keen to get our feedback (all positive!) when we left.

The apartment's website is here.


Friday 23 September 2011

Elsie's Garden

Elsie in full flow.
Elsie de Raedt is a Belgian from Antwerp who now lives in Chinon. She has created the most wonderful garden, full of roses, which you can visit by appointment. She also runs a B&B, and all guests are given a personal guided tour by Elsie.

Rosa Antoon van Dijck, created by the Flemish Ministry of
Agriculture, with help from Elsie.
The old dovecote has been converted into the toilet for garden visitors.
I first heard of Elsie because she runs rose husbandry workshops and there was an article in the paper about her. She knows vast amounts about roses - I know a little bit, but she is completely immersed in their cultivation, history and romance, and marvellously generous with advice. If you are planting a garden in the Loire, she can help you choose roses and even supply the plants. She speaks French, German, Dutch, English and probably a couple of other languages, and networks with anybody who matters in the rose world I think.

Burnet Rose Rosa pimpinellafolia, with its striking black hips.
Very impressively, her garden at Chinon is never watered. When we visited, in early July, there had still been very little rain for the year. The garden looked a bit faded, most of the roses had finished their first flush and not yet started their second, but you would never have guessed that it never received supplimentary water. Even though we didn't visit at the ideal time, we still had a great time with Elsie, sitting down to her own special rose flavoured apéro afterwards and chatting until it was time to go to lunch. Chinon is somewhat touristy, so although I had researched where to go for un bon rapport qualité/prix, we asked her where she would suggest. She confirmed my research that the Café de la Paix on the main drag is a good choice, but she also mentioned that the Café des Arts, which I had discounted because it has some terrible online reviews, has changed hands and is now quite good (and the waiters are exceptionally good looking!).

The resident whippet, the more than incongrously named Orca.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Starting to finish a job

or finishing the start, I am not sure...

Back in June last year we published a photo of the slates on what was once the outside of the staircase tower. We had to work quite hard to convince the labour force that we wanted the slates left in place as a historical document and evidence of the building's history, but we managed it. All we did at that time was apply 2 layers of glass wool insulation to the slates, tied and taped.

This left the other side of the wall as a bit of a problem: the tiles are hung on laths nailed between upright posts. Although this is terribly authentic, it isn't very aesthetic, or indeed easy to keep clean. There is a lot of couple of hundred years of dust up there, which will be almost impossible to keep from entering the rest of the house.

Looking up toward the top of the staircase tower.
We have therefore decided to infill the sections between the uprights with chaux-chanvre, a mixture of lime mortar and hemp straw. This will give us a very traditional looking finish that also has insulating properties. The effect will be colombage (what is know in England as "half timbered") where the uprights are still visible, but the spaces between infilled with a mortar mix.

In order to get the mixture to stay on the wall you need to provide support, which we have done with a new framework within the uprights. This will eventually be hidden by the mortar, which will be applied in a couple of 2" (5cm) layers.

The new inner framework
Added to the wooden framework there are rows of nails, which will help hold the mortar in place while it dries. Eventually the mortar will eat its way through the nails, but by then the mortar layers will have bound together and be completely stable.

Nails to hold the mortar bound together.
We are not sure how long this procedure will take: not that it is in itself a long task, but there are plenty of other jobs having to be done at the same time before winter arrives.


Wednesday 21 September 2011

A Secret Garden

We've been in Paris!

Back in June, Susan mentioned the waiting room at Montparnasse station. On very hot (and very cold) days it is the best place to wait for your train - but not a lot of people know it's there. On days which are neither too hot nor too cold there is an even better place to wait - the station-top garden.

It is accessed by a set of stairs in front of the waiting room that are signposted to a carpark, car hire, and the "Jardin Atlantique".

I quote from Wikipedia: "
The plan of the garden is inspired the historical role of the Gare Montparnasse as the train station that connected Paris to Brittany and the Atlantic Ocean. One theme is that of a ship; the lamposts resemble the masts of sailing ships, and there are two elevated walkways on either side of the garden which resemble the bridges of ships. The visitor to the garden is supposed to feel like a passenger on a cruise ship surrounded by a circle of office buildings."

The rest of the article is here.

I don't know what part of the ship this is
meant to be - preferably the outside, I hope
Waving grasses to remind you of the beach.
An open place to play
Even the kids get a ship of their own.
(with the Montparnasse tower as backdrop)
Although there were a couple of classes of school children doing P.E. (poor blighters) and a number of office workers having lunch (likewise), the garden doesn't seem to be utilised much by people waiting for trains, which is a real pity. It's a really nice relaxed spot, so completely different from the very un-human scale hustle and bustle of the station underneath.

Next time you have to catch a train to the Loire Valley, get to the station early and have an explore upstairs.


Tuesday 20 September 2011

I want one!

I dont know what I would actually do with a motorised, caterpillar tracked wheelbarrow, but who wouldn't want one?

This was spotted at the chateau at Loches. The gardener was slightly worried by the attention being paid to him, but that became just bemused when we explained how much we admired his wheelbarrow.

I suspect he still thinks these Anglos are crazy...


Monday 19 September 2011

Serious Gardening

And gardening for the serious. That's how the Prieuré d'Orsan struck us.

We went there because it was the 'No 2 must see' on a client's list. It's quite a long way out of our normal territory, but we were happy to go because our neighbours Sylvie and Pierre-Yves created a wonderful garden on the edge of the Forêt de Preuilly which was heavily influenced by what they saw at the Prieuré d'Orsan. So we had high expectations, as did the client.

The liveliest place in the garden.
What we found was a garden that we were all, at best, ambivalent about. It is unrelentingly green. If you let them, the hornbeam hedges became oppressive and claustrophobic. Their intended purpose is to create a peaceful setting for meditation, and I guess they achieve that in the sense that there isn't anything else to distract you!

The zucchini compound.
Our impression was that this was seriously uptight gardening, by people who relished the rigid control of nature. Everything was pinned down or precisely shaved into geometric forms. In July there was little evidence of flowering plants (although to be fair, I think if we had been there a few weeks earlier there would have been some lovely roses and clematis).

Sue and I got the giggles.
At the entrance there is a blackboard with a long and poncy message about how this is a place for contemplation and could visitors please speak in hushed tones. This reduced our client, Sue, and myself to the state of naughty schoolgirls. Things were not improved when the receptionist handed us our tickets and told us that today, exceptionally, we could walk on the grass.

The stylish chestnut stave seats are all fiendishly uncomfortable.
We are all glad we went, and it is an interesting garden, but I think if you don't come from a French intellectual and aesthetic background, you will be repelled as much as you are attracted.


Sunday 18 September 2011

Fish Paste

Worried about how to get your quota of oily fish in? Lots of people don't really like oily fish. They have a very assertive flavour and smell. Fish in general is often seen as troublesome to prepare and people are unsure of how to cook it well. Fortunately, we like most fish, and I am happy to prep it, but sometimes you just want something quick and tasty.

For many years now I have been making smoked fish and cream cheese spread. It couldn't be simpler. Buy a packet of smoked mackerel (or herring) and a tub of cream cheese (fromage à tartiner). Cut the fish into chunks and put it and the cheese in a jug. Whizz together with the stick blender. Serve spread on crackers or baguette.

Mélange de hareng fumé doux et fromage frais.
In my experience the ratio of fish to cheese can be fairly flexible. You can use the mackerel that is sold with a peppercorn coating if you wish. It freezes well. If you are concerned about fat content, buy low fat (léger) cheese. Cow's milk or goat's milk cheese both work well with smoked fish.


Saturday 17 September 2011

News from the Paulownia Tree

All you can see from the ground.
The other day when Alex came to mow the orchard I suddenly noticed a tiny nest on the end of a branch of the Paulownia tree we were standing under. My friend Tim advises that it is most likely a Goldfinch nest.

I had been picking apples from a ladder,
so took the opportunity to take a closer look.
The Goldfinches certainly spend a lot of time in the Paulownia. They like the seeds and can regularly be heard scraping away at the pods. French Goldfinches are obviously a more roughty-toughty bunch than those in the UK. In the UK garden bird lovers are advised to grow Teasels and buy a special seed dispenser for a type of thistle seed called niger. This is because thin little Goldfinch beaks supposedly can't cope with sunflowers (unless you buy the shelled ones). Here in the Touraine, where all the farmers grow sunflowers, no one bothers with that palaver. The goldfinches get unshelled sunflowers on bird tables and love them.

Les boutons duveteux.
Paulownias are native to the Orient, and like many Chinese plants, have become very hardy and popular European garden additions. Our Paulownia is a large shade tree in the corner of the orchard. This year it didn't flower. The flower buds normally start forming in the autumn of the previous year and I see it is now covered in tan felt bobbles, gearing up for next spring. I guess now it has rained, and in fact, the late summer has been rather wet, so the tree is responding to the stimulus of warm weather and adequate moisture. I don't know if its failure to flower in May this year was due to the dry spring, the extremely cold December or perhaps the squirrel ate the buds. I'll have to pay more attention!


For other blog owners who don't like the lightbox thing on their photos, there is a script
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function killLightbox() {
var images = document.getElementsByTagName('img');
for (var i = 0 ; i < images.length ; ++i) {
images[i].onmouseover=function() {
var html = this.parentNode.innerHTML;
this.parentNode.innerHTML = html;
this.onmouseover = null;
if (window.addEventListener) {
} else {

To use it, go to blog design, edit HTML, and insert immediately after the [head} tag in the "edit template" box. It may be wise to use the "download full template funtion first, just in case.

I can't take any credit for the code, but it does work.


Friday 16 September 2011

Atlantic: Ghost Sign 4

This is an advert for Atlantic washing machines. I know absolutely nothing about Atlantic washing machines, except that they were available in the 60's and they were top-loading.

This sign is in Chisseaux, on the wall of the garage in the middle of the streetview on this map. There is another ad for Atlantic washing machine in Sublaines, south of Bléré, which I haven't yet photographed.

Thursday 15 September 2011

Costume at Ussé

Mid-19th century crinolines in the ground floor salon (the old chapel).
The Château d'Ussé is one of those places that a lot of reviewers like to be sniffy about. This seems to be largely because of its connection to the Sleeping Beauty story. It's seen as rather 'Disney', rather cheesey, a tourist trap for those with small girls, but of no real historic or artistic merit if you are a serious château goer.

Early 20th century street wear. The original 18th century
silk damask wall hangings were woven in Tours.
Personally I think this is unfair. It's hardly their fault if Disney modelled Cinderella's castle on the place! There are some stonkingly good pieces of furniture, ceramics and a few paintings in the main public rooms, and the 'new' chapel has some glorious carvings. Added to that there is an excellent costume collection. The costumes are displayed on mannequins in tableaux, populating the rooms. Every year a different set of costumes is brought out, and the tableaux change. They've been doing this for several decades, with each year having a different theme. This year's theme is hats.

War may be looming, but so are the hats.
Early 20th century evening wear.
That epitome of frothy femininity, the early 20th century tea dress.


You may have noticed (or it may not even be happening to you, in which case I wouldn't expect you to notice...) but clicking on the photos now brings up a copycat lightbox type viewer. It isn't our fault, and I cant work out how to stop it happening. I hate it.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

L'hiver s'approche

Already it's early autumn and we need to be thinking about our winter heating. We have a wood burning stove which heats the whole house (more or less). To prevent freezing in some of the outlying rooms like the pantry we can install an electric radiator, set to come on if necessary.

We had some wood left over from winter. The end of winter was fairly mild, so we stopped burning wood much earlier than the year before. Still, it's good to be prepared, and while Célestine was out of the garage we decided it would be a good moment to get a firewood delivery.

Me demonstrating the height and extent of our firewood pile.
I nipped down to our woodman's one lunchtime when I saw him returning home. He knew immediately what I had come about and pointed to a pile of wood which he said he had put aside for us. He just had to cut it to size. He wasn't sure he could deliver the next day, but he would try.

Our firewood is a by-product of the lumber industry in the Fôret de Preuilly. The mature trees are felled, but the timber mills only want the trunks. The crowns are sold on to firewood merchants and private citizens who cut it up and cart it off. The wood is mostly oak (chêne), but there is a high percentage of hornbeam (charme) as well as some beech (hêtre), wild cherry (merisier) and even a bit of Cornelian Cherry (cornouiller) and Wild Service Tree (alisier).


Tuesday 13 September 2011

Grapes, strawberries and tomatoes

Now that autumn has proved to be wet and warm we are enjoying some good quality crops from the orchard and vegetable garden.

The strawberries have gone all remontante and are giving a second crop. This time round the fruit is big, glossy and juicy but maybe not quite as tasty as the spring crop.

The beans are letting the side down rather...
The tomatoes are at last producing enough for me to make big batches of pasta sauce and ratatouille. The zucchini, on the other hand, are coming in fits and starts. As soon as there are a few days without rain they stop growing.

These are destined to be roasted then passed through
the food mill to make purée.
The grapes have been the biggest surprise of all. I take back most of my dismissive remarks about them. If the weather conditions are right our grape vines do produce worthwhile grapes of good size and flavour. (I admit, I did intervene by thinning the bunches as well.) Curiously, these plumper grapes have fewer seeds too.

Jim Budd eat your heart out!
I'm slowly picking the apple crop. The Ballerina was the first to ripen this year and produced big dark red apples, after not giving anything last year. This year it was Melrose which took the year off, after a good crop last year. Now the Reine des Reinettes are in and the Granny Smith and Jonagold. Only the Golden Delicious (four trees worth - oh well...) and the Canada Gris to go - the commercial ones are already in the shops, but mine will just have to stay on the trees until I have time to pick them. I've borrowed one of T&P's strainer bag and stand sets from Lakeland, but still not had time to make apple jelly. Ca va venir !


Monday 12 September 2011

Prieuré d'Orsan

Some sort of vine neatly corralled near the entrance.
The Prieuré Notre Dame d'Orsan was founded in the early 12th century in the old province of Berry (today département 36 Indre) a couple of hours to the east of us. The buildings still exist, and have recently been restored by architect Patrice Taravella and stage set designer Sonia Lesot. In the 15 years since purchasing the priory, together with their head gardener Gilles Guillot, they have created a remarkable green cloister garden which coccoons the main dwelling and sits within the larger confines of the priory outbuildings on a 2 ha (5 acre) site.

The beautiful sandstone buildings as seen from the road.
The gardens are intended to give the visitor a strong sense of spiritualism and meditative calm, without being a slavish historical copy of a medieval garden. The paths are mostly grass and the tall hornbeam hedges enclose a medicinal herb garden, orchards, an olive grove and vegetables.

Very tall hornbeam hedge, creating the modern cloister.
Its most striking features are the chestnut stakes used to train fruit trees or create seats and raised beds. They are woven or used as supports in geometric patterns, directing the eye upwards, diagonally or in curves with trained or clipped plants, arbours, arches, fences and screens.

The hedge is allowed to have a rare Dr Seuss moment.
The main building is now run as hotel. You can come and stay just to enjoy the peaceful surroundings, or you can take a gardening or cooking workshop. There is a bookshop, restaurant and exhibition centre.