Friday, July 30, 2010

Update: La Casella

This is one of dozens of quite corners in the garden of La Casella, a house near Grasse in the South of France. Perhaps the garden's owners have whiled away many a summer afternoon here over a backgammon board. Or maybe no one has ever sat here at all, maybe it's just a vision, a work of art that serves no terrestrial purpose. What difference does it make? This is a moment in a garden—one of the most elegant and spirit-laden gardens of the French Riviera.

Just a few years ago there were only a handful of Echium pininana on these densely-planted terraces, but now they've been allowed to self-seed. Suddenly they're a recurring theme, as in a piece of music. These rosette-forming biennials from the Canary Islands are poking up their 12-foot-tall, lance-shaped, silver-hairy leaves everywhere you turn.

Here you see them along the edges of this rose walk, striking their temperate oceanic pose—you know you're on the shores of a warm sea here and not in Oxfordshire.

The designer Claus Scheinert's taste in the garden reflects his Bavarian exuberance—not everyone could get away with the myriad layers upon layers of ideas and features he employs in making the magic of this place. Several years ago this bit of the garden was a simple lawn with a geometric planting of small trees underplanted with lavender, and now it's a rich tapestry of soft color and even softer shape. Standing in this spot you can't help but savor the joy of Claus's creative process and this extraordinary end result.

I love datura (Brugmansia arborea) in the garden. They come from the Andes and the trumpet-shaped flowers seem to evoke the music of old Ecuador. Here Claus has let them get the upper hand; they're self-seeded underfoot and allowed to flourish wherever they please. It's like a walk in the jungle, a visit to this spot—only the formed hedge brings you back to La Casella, one of the most delightful gardens in all of France. Note: La Casella is not open to the public.

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