Gardening in our region is not easy. The soil is poor and stony and the climate can be freezing in winter and baking in summer. Plants either thrive or decline, but you have to wait three years to find out. I’m always full of admiration, therefore, for people who have the persistence and imagination to create wonderful gardens down here. One of these is les Jardins de Quercy, near Verfeil.
I wrote about these gardens when we first visited in 2010. But the owners are constantly reinventing bits of them, so they are worth a revisit, especially with visitors who are keen gardeners (one of ours was, anyway). To get there, you climb the hill above Verfeil to the hamlet of Cambou. There, you turn right along an increasingly narrow track with few passing places. I crept along, terrified that we would encounter a combine harvester and have to reverse a kilometre. Happily, we went last Sunday morning, when there was little traffic and few visitors to the garden.
A lone table stood at the edge of the car park, with a biscuit tin and a sign instructing you to put the money (€5 per person) in the tin and take a ticket and a leaflet. This, we felt, was remarkably trusting. A table with plants for sale in the garden functioned along the same lines.
If anything was unpromising terrain, then the site of these superb gardens certainly was in 1989, when the French owners starting creating them. The material they began with was a north-facing hectare of field and woodland on an exposed ridge with the typical soil of the region. This is how it looked then:
And here is roughly the same view now:
The gardens are largely inspired by English design and planting at the top of the hill. They stretch downhill, starting with lavender beds and a white garden – the site of the first flowerbed.
Paths meander about and you come across delightful hidden corners with strategically-placed chairs and benches.
At the bottom of the hill is a series of themed gardens. This is how they looked in 1993:
A lot of changes had taken place in this part of the garden since our last visit. New areas include an Australian-inspired garden, a black and white garden and – best of all – an Indian garden. This is particularly clever.
As you pass a hidden sensor, it sets off the fountains along the mini Taj Mahal-like watercourses. Frogs plop into the water as you walk by. The channels are flanked by squares filled with coloured materials that look like spices such as turmeric. Go closer, and you realise that some of the squares contain broken terracotta pots (an innovative use for them), old roof slates and pebbles with light-catching marbles scattered on them.
It’s a pity the owners weren’t around this time, since I had some questions for them. Nonetheless, we enjoyed visiting this tranquil haven again, which is a paradise for birds, insects – and humans.
The whole is a triumph not only of plantsmanship but also of vision and design. On returning home, I looked with a different, if somewhat downcast, eye at my own efforts and resolved to do better.
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