Only 5km away from Les Jardins Agapanthe lies yet another extraordinary Norman garden, Le Clos du Coudray. Although barely a few fields and a small village apart, the two gardens couldn’t be more different. If at Agapanthe the plants were the medium, at Clos du Coudray, they are the main message. In standard gardening lingo, Coudray would be described as a 'plantman's' garden, focused primarily on plants and plant combinations, and less on design. It is a classic example of a garden which has grown organically as passionate owners Marie-Christine and Jean Lebret added more areas and wanted to grow different types of plants. The result is a mixed bag of very different garden rooms with fantastic individual plantings and colours, if somewhat lacking in a coherent overall message.
The first of many garden rooms at Clos du Coudray is the rose garden, which sounds terribly conventional but luckily isn't. The mixed planting is sumptuous, and is well framed by a strong, geometric layout of long, parallel paths and trellises. Many of the colour combinations are masterful in this area, with both harmonizing and contrasting blends, and clever colour echoes.
Next is a typical English perennial garden, with large curved borders and big swathes of lawn, as well as a gravel garden in one corner and a small woodland at the end. A stream with several ponds runs through the middle of this long garden, providing a central link. The set-up reminded me a little bit of Beth Chatto's garden. It's a nice space with many beautiful details and great plant combinations, but I found it a bit of an awkward fit with the French countryside. The photos seem to have turned out OK though, again reminding me that pictures only tell part of the story.
A number of smaller gardens follow, which are set on more sloped, rolling land. The changing relief in these areas really added interest compared to the English garden above, and reminded me once again of the importance of this element – it is something that many great gardens do well. One of these smaller gardens which was particularly nice featured a naturalized pond in a depression surrounded by mature trees and lush plantings.
Deeper into the garden lie the newer areas, which showcase some novel plantings. One truly spectacular space which is not to be missed is the grasses garden at back end of the grounds. In the middle of July and with late afternoon sun, this garden looked spectacular. Unlike other 'new perennial' gardens, this garden is almost exclusively grasses with only very few, well-placed and perfectly coloured perennials. There was a very interesting feeling to this garden. My first impression was that of movement - the area is quite high and the slightest air movement is picked up by all the grasses and spreads in waves across the garden. My second feeling was that of being dwarfed – the mass of plants here is impressive, both in height and in breadth. The garden manages to be open and towering at the same time. Overall, a really interesting space and a creative take on the mixed grasses/perennial garden we see so much of right now.
As you move towards the exit, the last garden is a new tropical addition. This moist, shady corridor filled with lush plants is a world apart from the open grass plain just moments before. Just an example of the dramatic shifts at Le Clos du Coudray, which may leave the visitor a little bit dazed, but still appreciative of the great planting lessons throughout the garden.