All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Cream teas in the garden

English GardenImage by stevesheriw via Flickr

This weekend France holds the 'Journees du Patrimoine'...when historic monuments, public and private, are thrown open.,..the public ones free, the private ones,usually, not. It is a great chance to see buildings and gardens that are usually not accessible and most years we have friends staying and plan a tour. It has to be said that the planning can be a problem. This year the co ordination seems to be better, but other years I have had to ring up friends in other departments to see what is on offer in their neck of the woods, as information doesn't tend to cross departmental boundaries. We're staying put this year...just not up to a long day...but I've seen several places opening for the first time this year that sound tempting, and new ideas like a walking tour of Resistance sites in town that ends, thankfully, in a cafe!

President Sarkozy has been welcoming people to the Elysee, his official residence, and the culture minister, Mitterand...nephew of the better known Mitterand...has been doing likewise, explaining that he doesn't use his office as all the gilt ornament is too much for him. It is not clear whether he showed visitors his dining room where he has installed a bell to summon the staff at mealtimes, much to their disgust.
'Back to the Middle Ages,' said one, but it could just be the minister's way of celebrating the glorious past for the 'Journees du Patrimoine'.

It can be a good publicity opportunity too....several artists are having open days, as is one enterprising landscape gardener, but I don't see the Belgian lady's rose garden at Chinon on the list, though she seems to have her publicity well enough sewn up as it is with endless streams of Belgians beating a way to her door, thanks to the efforts of her family on the home front. Everything possible to do with roses is sold there...rose soap, rose petal jam...and no one escapes without their souvenir. I would not have even known it existed had not the Belgian part of the family made the obligatory visit when staying with us, explaining that their neighbour would be most upset if they had not visited his relative's garden while they were in France. It conjures up weary Belgians driving up from the south of France and making the long detour to Chinon just to avoid the wrath of the family publicity machine. You can imagine the scene, greeted by the neighbour as they climb from the car on a bleak Brussels winter day.....
'So, did you enjoy your trip to Nice? But you didn't visit the rose garden at Chinon.....?!'
They are wasted on a mere garden...think what they could do for politics with the pressure they exert!

Two 'English gardens' are open to visitors every owned by a French lady and the other by an Englishwoman. Yes, I did choose my words carefully. I like both gardens and it is fascinating to see how each views the concept of an 'English garden'.....they are quite different in layout and in planting, but is has to be said that they are certainly not French gardens! The first uses the 'room' idea, where you walk from one effect to another while the other uses big sweeps of colour and shape and has, though I usually loathe them, some wonderful effects with grasses. I, rather sourly, tended to think that grasses were only worthwhile on a frosty morning in winter at the one moment that the pale sun touched the frozen heads, but this garden changed my mind. It will only take me about ten years to get round to doing something about it....

I think we make the mistake of trying to cram too much into one day...we frequently return with our high hopes somewhat disappointed...though as one visitor says
'Seen one chateau, seen them all...' so he at least doesn't expect too much. He also came up with the comment that there never seems to be much furniture in French chateaux...his theory is that the owners sold it all to the Americans years ago, and now pretend that French style has always been minimalist!
It is true that we always see something worthwhile, like the decoration of a Second Empire chateau which gave us ideas for paint colours for our house, but, with the Green Tax upon us we will have to balance interest with economy in the future...we tend to cover a lot of ground on these open days.

There is one event, though, at which I would like to be a fly on the wall. Friends in the next department tell me that one of their more grasping exploitative expats is on the list this year...her garden is open to the public. However, entry is certainly not free and apparently you won't be able to see much as she has been borrowing garden furniture on the grand scale and the place will be wall to wall tables and chairs ready for serving cream teas!
At a price!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


  1. I like the idea of visiting the gardens, but I seldom like old houses much - full of brown paintings I always think.

    We went to Stourhead recently and all was hushed whispering as soon as you entered the hall. Much talk of the seventh earl or whatever he was; touching forelock and fawning reverence. Dylan was a star: 'That was boring,' he said at the top of his four year old voice as we left.

  2. Mark, when you think that the only reason you got in was because the seventh earl or his descendants couldn't hang on to their money, the fawning is really misplaced!
    Good for Dylan!

  3. I haven't seen a chateau yet but I think one will do. Some other visit to France.
    I do love the Alps though. I could visit them over and over. And I don't think I would ever get tired of the small villages in Provence. Even if they are very touristy still, I'm just another tourist and they are beautiful.

  4. Zuleme, re chateaux, they're all different. Medieval fortresses, renaissance palaces, nineteenth century name it, France has it. Go to Blois and see where the Duc de Guise was stabbed to death, part of the dreadful history of the Wars of Religion...the room still has atmosphere, despite the lapse of years.

  5. Not something that would catch on in Turkey..more's the pity. It's very rare to see a "proper" garden here. Every outside space is used in a practical way...growing vegetables, storage. etc.

    Although most town councils take very good care of the public areas..the only places one sees flowers.

  6. Ayak, most ordinary gardens here are about the same, so it's s treat to see a private garden which has been thought out.

  7. An English tea garden doesn't have an awful lot to do with the French heritage either.


  8. GG, I know the house...she inherited a super garden with it some years ago when she bought, but I've no idea how it is now.
    I can just bet she didn't declare her intention of flogging cream teas when she applied!