Plume Puzzle by Adam Hodge

April 21, 2016

in Garden Reviews, Reviews

Jardin Plume is one of those gardens which not long ago got featured everywhere. So when Charles Hawes was in France for the Chaumont Garden Festival he made a long trek to go and see it. And I waited for his response with eager anticipation. He was disappointed. (Is this the inevitable consequence of too much talking up?)

But could I get him to write a review? (answers on a postcard, please..)

So I was very pleased to be offered one – and it comes with a question about the blocks of grasses. I’d say they are not ‘Prairie’ – but I’m interested in what others may have to say. Please chip in..

The first picture is one of Charles’s, the rest are Adam’s.

Anne Wareham, editor.
Anne Wareham Portrait, copyright John Kingdon

Anne Wareham

Le Jardin Plume, Normandy France, photograph copyright Charles Hawes

Le Jardin Plume, Normandy France, grasses.  Photograph copyright Charles Hawes

My Puzzle about a popular Plume by Adam Hodge

 One of the raves these days in the context of must see gardens is a place called Le Jardin Plume, a garden in Normandy and winner of ‘The Garden of the Year 2008’ awarded by the Garden Museum and Gardens Illustrated. It has a plethora of distinguished revues so was a destination I had to visit.Through a small gate in a country hedge in the middle of a vast flat plain you make your way to some lovely barns beside a small ‘pepiniere’ (nursery) full of perennials grown by the owners. Beyond that unfolds the garden, the preface a strikingly profiled hedge. It almost acts as a precursor to a study in different forms of low hedging with a nod of styling to Sissinghurst.

Moving to the front of the ‘maison’ a lovely tranquil view of the flat fields of Normandy is the focus of where to walk next. But not so hastily – fiery coloured beds awash with yellows reds and oranges compel you to linger. Here are hedges that remind me of the white garden at Sissinghurst.

Moving from the hot coloured beds to a field of square spaces, a grid of squares with wide mown paths leading to the far end of the garden is quite a change of styles. From now the planting is more a study in the use of blocks of grasses decorated with the mute toned perennials so popular in these oh so trendy ‘Prairie’ gardens.

Prior to searching out the depths of this grided layout and the distant landscape there is the frontispiece of a square pond, flush with the ground level and with grass to the water’s edge. Two easy chairs  are placed nearby, an integral part of the peace the water reflects.

Jardin Plume P7210246 Copyright Adam Hodge
Jardin Plume P7210254 Copyright Adam Hodge
Jardin Plume copyright Adam Hodge 1 P7210252 (2)

Jardin Plume copyright Adam Hodge

Jardin Plume resized fascinating hedgescape P7210317 Copyright Adam Hodge (2)


Jardin Plume copyright Adam Hodge

So why the ‘puzzle’ ?  My problem is that I don’t ‘get’ the big deal of huge splodges of grass. Blocks of grass akin to a  designer wheat field have as much appeal as magnolia paint. It  is, for my money, uncommonly dull and only has an appeal if one is utterly sick and tired of clipped evergreen hedges or shrubs. The Prairie look is…not for me.
Jardin Plume Copyright Adam Hodge Grasses P7210264 (2)
As I and my tour guest departed we asked each other what were the best bits. For me it was the tranquillity of the piece of water, which could almost have been longer and more dominant in the overall space, running the whole length of the garden.  For my guest I think it was the impressionistic mixed flowers in one of the side gardens, and yes, with its own quite ramshackle styling it was charming. This last picture gives an indication.
Jardin Plume, copyright Adam Hodge 4 P7210279 (2)
It is definitely worth visiting. The owners are very friendly; many people really respond to the style and it has some intriguing plant combinations.
Adam Hodge
 Adam Hodge, portrait Oct 2015 Worcester College lunch with M Millard (2)

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Ti April 26, 2016 at 12:48 pm

It really is amazing how great minds come up with stuff like this. I’d love to visit this garden. I wonder if I can get a bus load of folk to come along – can’t be that hard!

James Golden April 22, 2016 at 2:43 pm

I’ve wanted to visit this garden for years because of the photo presentations I’ve seen. Now, though I’m still curious, I expect to be disappointed. These comments make me question why people visit gardens. The writing is all about the physical garden, its form and execution, but not much about the interior experience of the garden, emotion, feelings. Is the garden all surface with no depth?

annewareham April 22, 2016 at 2:56 pm

I’d love an answer to that…..

Charles Hawes April 22, 2016 at 4:43 pm

Good question, James, and a fair observation, too. You know I am embarrassed to say that when I go to a garden what I am always looking for is the images I can create. It really does cut across the possibility of my finding what I feel about a place. Usually, but not always. I was moved to tears by the beauty of La Balze in Florence last October, have felt excited and even a little scared at Bomarzo, and felt real joy at Isola Bella (something incredibly romantic about approaching a garden in a boat – Villa Balbianello also moved me). But here, no, I don’t recall feeling much.

Adam Hodge April 22, 2016 at 4:15 pm

James Some remarks have been made about the interior experience, both by myself and Charles, but one might possibly need to read between the lines !

Parts made me feel contemplative and calm, like the square of water beyond the ‘Sissinghurst in red’ garden, and yet the square of water decked and enclosed in Miscanthus left me cold and lonely. The view from the house was terrific but the grid of grass squares, for me, totally nobbled the effect so one felt frustrated or bewildered. It was akin to a pile of a bricks in an art gallery-some folks find something in it ,for me not. ,As I’ve already said, extend the water right down to the far end . Then we’ve got something to say and it would be an appropriate reflection of french garden style.. a touch of Courance perhaps!

John April 22, 2016 at 5:37 pm

James’ comment strikes home with me, being someone who wants to immerse myself in a garden and write about how it speaks to me (for which I’ve been described as “idiosyncratic” before) and who avoids all chances to join coach parties as I find groups get in my way. Is it a case that people are afraid of letting out their emotions? Charles goes some way to saying what he liked/disliked though he acknowledges that he is influenced by his photographic instincts.

Or is it a case that we have, without realising it, been conditioned by the RHS? For so many, their prime experience of so-called garden visiting is RHS shows where the exorbitantly pricey show gardens are roped off, to be experienced from outside? At the end of the day, with the modern capabilities of computer graphics, might we not enjoy the same experience by replacing each show garden with a large billboard with a computer-generated image of a garden on it? Are we programmed to look rather than see? To enthuse over the visual impact of foliage shapes, flower colours, plant combinations, symmetry, ignoring the senses of touch, smell, sound? To coldly experience a garden rather than to enjoy it?

And if it’s not RHS show gardens it’s the NGS where we ooh an aah, afraid to be honest, looking forward to the tea and cake, ne’er having a chance to talk with (rather than speak to) the garden owner about why they’ve developed the garden as they have. There’s too much “theatre” and not enough “understanding”.

James has woken me up! As I look back over my own witterings about gardens, I realise I, too, am guilty of writing more from a perspective of critique. I must return to my idiosyncrasy. I must return to Veddw when it’s empty and it’s raining heavily. And let the garden sing to me again. And learn from that experience. I must re-learn why I always prefer to visit a garden in the rain!

annewareham April 22, 2016 at 5:46 pm

There’s an interesting and challenging perspective. Thanks

Carrie Preston April 23, 2016 at 5:05 am

James, I love this garden and it more than met its promise in my mind. A modern interpretation of French formalism with layers and whimsy. I went on a blustering day in late October and I would have happily explored longer. During my visit the grasses in the central orchard sqares were clipped and heaped in rhythmic hay stacks which added a beautiful structure, but I have promised myself I will go back some time when the Camassias are in bloom.

Charles Hawes April 22, 2016 at 1:23 pm

It was around 7 years ago that I visited this garden. I went with considerable excitement, fed by the amount of publicity it was getting (despite knowing that the Gardens Illustrated accolade was just a desktop exercise rather than being based on its worthies having visited the place).

It seems like you still enter through the little door in a hedge and then pass through the nursery to get in – not a good start to present visitors with the shop before the garden.
And when you do enter you are on one side about a third the way down from the house which rather takes away from the quite obviously carefully laid out design of the place. You really ought to come in from the house.

But close to the entrance was that wonderfully sculpted hedge. As a hedge sculptor myself I was full of admiration. And the planting in the beds between the hedge and the beautiful barn was great, too. Lots of tall grasses mingling with a subtle and restricted palette of tall perennials.

The pond in front of the house didn’t do much for me. It was overflowing so soggy at the edges and its grey/green water would have been so much better and more effective if they had taken our example and dyed it black. Those seats just too self consciously placed.

I liked the more orthodox- shaped clipped box hedges at the front and side of the house containing bright reds and yellows. Very cheerful. On the other side of the house I also admired, though was not sure about the “platform” cut box slab. Why do it? Beyond that on that side it was all rather messy.

But the garden is dominated by all these blocks of grass in the middle. Its a huge area and it makes all these other bits seemed shoved to the side. And so out of proportion. I’ll come back to that.

On the opposite side that you enter from is the potager with all those annuals, roses etc. OK on a good day if you like that look. I think it looks a mess despite the box balls. The lavender lined path leading to a seat and a window in the brick wall was just a classic view through and its my single largest selling picture on GAP, so it must float a lot of boats.

Below that behind another hedge – yes it is a swimming pool.

From Adams pictures it seems that little has changed in these acres (almost) of blocks of meadow in the middle of the garden. When I went there had been some introduction of perennials into what was otherwise fine, low meadow grasses. It doesn’t look like they are doing much. It being the centre of the garden it seems to me that this area ought to be earning its keep better. As it stands it feels to me that this flat centre unhelpfully exaggerates the importance of the bits around the sides. And so, overall, it feels bitty, lacking a sense of a whole.

Blimey, what have you done to my pictures? Some look just ghastly. If your readers fancy looking at less supercharged versions go to GAP Photography, search on my name and then Jardin Plume

annewareham April 22, 2016 at 1:29 pm

Sorry, they did come out a bit lurid. XX

Carrie Preston April 23, 2016 at 5:23 am

It is interresting how different experiences can be. I loved that you enter the garden unsuspectinly from a small opening in the hedge. It felt like discovering a secret, but maybe I had this feeling because I was there on a very rainy day in late October and we were the only visitors.

While the blocks grass on the sides in the “American garden” I found more interesting from a distance, much of the garden offered you such a different garden from within that it kept me intrigued. The summer garden near the house was for me the biggest surprise. I had seen so fe images of this. I thought it clever how the classic block hedges had been left open on to allow the flowers to spill over, while on the other side they were raise higher to contain and add volume. But maybe my being there so late in the year when they were exploding with color made my experience so different from yours.

I have about 6 small albums of the different sections of this garden but I will simply share the summer garden to show what this evoked for me.

J April 23, 2016 at 8:52 am

I like the slight higglety piggety feel – circulation and divisions and form – giving the character of a personal and intimate garden as against those ghastly designed things. I very much like the entrance from what would have been farm courtyard – now shop – as it makes sense after all. If we stick to rigid rules then life becomes dull. Who wants prescribed in gardens – I don’t. The blocks of grasses are nothing to do with prairies – they’re blocks of grasses that divide space and wet the appetite for what is round the corner and also form a direct contrast to the perennial tapestries. It remains a personal garden and thank the lord they are sensible enough not to muck it up.

Judy McLean April 22, 2016 at 1:09 pm

I loved it all!

flahertylandscape April 22, 2016 at 11:43 am

My pleasure to read the above reviews and comments. Thank you Anne for the forum.

Do we not have such riches of time, finance and land these days that so much is given by so many to gardens just for sensual and intellectual pleasure?

Is it a sign of human progress that so many do not have to worry 24/7/365 about subsistence?

In the context of positive answers to those two questions, I can say I enjoy the variety of design success shared in this forum. I enjoy it especially because the human effort and care necessary to achieve healthy plants, is an admirable achievement that flourishes with the time committed. It can be seen even in photos. It is a certain glow of health, a sparkle, no?

Hey, that garden, Jardin Plume, looks like it would be fun to walk around. 🙂

annewareham April 22, 2016 at 11:48 am

Well, we are probably the most privileged and rich society the world has known, but the sparse evidence remaining suggests that our very early ancestors made art. So gardens are possibly – just possibly – one of the oldest forms of human expression. Xxx

Katherine Crouch April 22, 2016 at 10:34 am

Trouble is, when you get to my age (same as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, which is worrying) I have seen many garden and plant fashions come and go – remember hybrid tea roses and living willow arbours? So I have seen many versions of happily jumbled perennials, much box topiary, acres of grass, and easily suffer from a sense of ennui, especially at Chelsea where there will probably be a lot of Geum Totally Tangerine and Allium Purple Sensation – again. Nothing wrong with the above ideas, it’s just that I have lost my sense of wonder.
With over 70,000 plants in the RHS Plant Finder, surely we should be able to come up with new plant combinations and new ways of torturing plants. Geo-trained serpentine Jersey cabbages, anyone?

Abbie Jury April 21, 2016 at 11:44 pm

Blocks of grass do not a prairie make. Prairie planting is surely all about matrix planting to create a sustainable ecosystem with certain aesthetic values. Blocks of grass, on the other hand, are a modern reinterpretation of achieving form through the use of living material – and cheap and quick. A lowish maintenance variation of clipping buxus and yew or similar, creating a breathing space of simplicity in a complex garden? Which is also what the stark pool does in the photos above. It is not a look that lifts my spirits or excites me in any way, but then I am not fan of the overuse of buxus either. On the other hand, I do like breathing spaces in gardens but that is another discussion.

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