Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Les Jardins Agapanthe, Normandy, France

After England in May, the next garden wandering trip on the calendar was France in July (was I ever spoiled this summer!). It was absolutely magnificent. I was amazed by what’s happening over there in the gardening arena, and came away incredibly inspired.

As many other people have noted before, the French just seem to have a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’, an artistic flair that makes everything French somehow more beautiful. Gardens are no different, though for a long time the French seemed stuck in a formal rut. Luckily for everyone, gardening is enjoying a bit of a renaissance in France, with newer, innovative gardens popping up all over the country. Normandy is a hot-bed for (relatively) new gardens, so that’s where we went.

The first garden we visited was Agapanthe, and what a start – it completely blew me away. If anyone has a chance to visit this, please, please do. Agapanthe is a work of art in the form of a garden. Its creator is Alexandre Thomas, and he has devoted his artistic energy to this garden for over 15 years. It is a residential creation, which seems to be the category in which the best gardens are found in France.

The amazing thing about Agapanthe is that everything from an insignificant hidden corner to an overall view is gorgeous. You could honestly take a picture anywhere, and each composition would be beautiful. I’ve read some reviews saying that it’s overly theatrical, but I didn’t find it to be. It’s dramatic and staged, that’s for sure, but I didn’t find it false.

Thomas employs a mixture of recurring elements to create his compositions: clipped evergreens pop up a lot and are contrasted with loose perennial plantings; paths and stonework are innovative and always add to the picture rather than just being functional; and structures and decorations are used where they best complement the garden. Best of all, the entire garden is fully planted - there isn’t a patch of lawn anywhere, which made me particularly happy as a committed anti-lawn gardener.

The plants are the first important element at Agapanthe. The palette is mainly green, and it’s all about texture and form. You get the sense that the plants are used as an artistic medium, but also allowed to shine in their own right. The pruned boxwood and other evergreens scattered throughout the garden add green structure and link the whole together. Other areas are less structured in the geometric sense, and instead use texture upon texture of plants. As might be expected, there are also many agapanthus plants, mainly in pots. Hydrangeas, particularly white, also feature prominently. Normandy is known for its hydrangeas, with the most incredible specimens growing casually next to abandoned farmhouses and old churches.

And oh, the paths. I could go and on about the paths, and how Agapanthe has really opened my eyes to the possibilities that they offer, how much they can add to a garden. They were always creative, even though the materials were simple, just gravel and stone or brick.

In the most brilliant path I have ever seen, stone was combined with flowing water. It was brilliant, a magical spot where you really felt drawn into the garden. Because of the design of the path, you interact almost directly with the water flowing underneath your feet and in and out of the surrounding plantings, and thus feel completely immersed in the surroundings.

The decorations were also prominent, in particular the massive ceramic vessels. Apparently Thomas is also an antique dealer/collector, so he has a lot of pieces perfectly suited to the garden, each creating its own little vignette.

I could go on and on about Agapanthe – I’ve been thinking about it a lot since our trip, and each time I do, I get as excited and inspired as when I was there. It is a strong, beautiful art composition. Even the small nursery area at the end was gorgeous – in fact I didn't even realize that it was a nursery until I noticed everything was in plastic pots.


  1. I was looking at these beautiful photos of the garden over and over again; trying to determine why I like them, but I still couldn't figure it out. Perhaps it is that illusive 'timelessness' attribute that I have been looking for.

  2. That's always the question, isn't it - what makes a particular thing beautiful? I think it's very difficult to determine... There are so many factors, it's hard to really break it down to one, or even a few, specific features.

  3. I visited this garden in August 2007 and all you say is true. It is almost impossible to discribe how wonderful this garden is, a true jewel box of a garden. The over all size of the garden is not large but in it Alexandre Thomas has staged a view of a new petite garden at every turn. Our group ooh'd and aah'd the whole time we were there. He has the garden set up to be viewed by following the paths in a certain order to make his art viewed from the most favored aspect. A garden not be missed if you are in that part of the world.

  4. Thank you for visiting the blog and your comment, Linda. I think you're exactly right as well - this garden is like walking through an art exhibition, with one inspiring composition after another.

  5. I'm so glad to have found your blog and these photos! I took many myself when my husband and I visited a year ago this June. This garden is my favorite in all the world... and I've seen quite a few. Thomas's eye is impeccable and his style is thrillingly unique. I made the trip from North Carolina to Normandy expressly to see les Jardins Agapanthe and I was not disappointed. My only disappointment was that we were two weeks too early to see the new garden he'd established across the street. Another pilgrimage is on the calendar for 2012!

  6. Thank you Laura! You'll definitely have to go back to Agapanthe to see the garden across the street - I would love to go there again myself in 2012 to see how it has evolved. And so exciting to see that you're an artist & urban sketcher! I'm a bit of a wannabe, novice urban sketcher myself (but still in the closet). I love your work, and all your garden and plant sketches.

  7. Where in Normandie is Agapanthe. Anywhere near Dieppe?


    1. Hi Kristina,

      My apologies for the late reply. Agapanthe is in Grigneuseville, not too far from Dieppe. According to google maps, it's only about 37km away. If you have the chance, it's definitely worth the visit! More info on address and phone number can be found on their website.