Tag Archives: Le Jardin Plume

New Wave Hedging

Le Jardin Plume – a modern garden near Rouen in Normandy

Green walls. Or hedges as they are usually called. We were amazed at the tightly clipped, breaking wave hedges at Le Jardin Plume in France, having never seen anything quite like it. They contain the feather garden for which the entire property is named and as such, perform both a practical and aesthetic function. On that practical level, they shelter the very large perennials which could otherwise be beaten down by summer thunderstorms and, presumably, winds sweeping across the flat landscape. And the tight clipping and distinctive form are a complete contrast to the dynamic waves of grasses and tall, slender perennials.

In the same garden the green walls in le jardin d’ été (the summer garden) are less unusual but still performing the dual function of both restraining and protecting extravagantly loose plantings while providing a sharp contrast in style. The hedges are the structure and form within the garden.

Veddw – a garden in Monmouthshire in the Welsh borderlands

We visited another heavily hedged garden in this northern summer just passed. Veddw is in the Welsh borderlands and the owners have used hedging throughout to create the form and structure they were after. In one of the hedged enclosures, they have done a gentler take on rounded shapes,  evocative of their wider landscape of rolling hills. It is a sculptural approach where the interest lies in the shapes and reflections in the black pool, not in the plants themselves.

Veddw again. A garden defined by hedges

Most of these northern hedges are buxus, yew or beech. In New Zealand, we are generally less favourable towards beech because it is deciduous. Yew is deadly poisonous to stock and also does far better in drier climate than our high rainfall and humidity of Taranaki which tends to kill it off with root disease. Which leaves buxus, now much afflicted by the dreaded blight in many gardens.

Tikorangi – the view in September of a Fairy Blush hedge and the historic totara hedge

Our personal preference is for flowering hedges. Indeed, we pulled out a well-established and perfectly healthy buxus hedge to replace it with Camellia transnokoensis. It is all to do with winter blooming – the single camellia flowers provide pollen and nectar at a time when there are few other sources of this food. Our favourite camellia for clipped hedging is ‘Fairy Blush’, partly because it is our cultivar and the first camellia Mark ever named. It is also scented with the longest flowering time of any camellia we grow, coming out with the sasanquas in autumn and flowering right through to spring.

The aforementioned C. transnokoensis has a shorter flowering season but attractive dark foliage and small, pure white blooms. The third camellia we have made extensive use of for hedging is C. microphylla, even though it flowers earlier in autumn – pure white flowers again and small leaves that clip well. Both these two species set seed. If you can find them growing, you may well find seedlings germinated around their base. Or check for seed in autumn if you are a patient gardener who is willing to put a bit of effort into a free hedge.

All our hedges are flat topped affairs, lacking the panache of both Le Jardin Plume and Veddw but I am eyeing up a somewhat redundant length of buxus hedging and wondering about reshaping it to an undulating caterpillar.


I have been told that New Zealand features more hedges per average garden than most other countries. This may be to do with our being a windy country. Equally, it may be that plants are relatively cheap here and require less capital outlay than building a wall in more permanent materials. However, what may have started from pragmatic origins is a far more environmentally friendly option these days. My advice is to pick a hedging option that will only require clipping once or twice a year and if you are going to be adventurous with the plant selection, do some research first. Hedges need to be from plants that will grow back from bare wood and some less common selections like miro (instead of yew) and Magnolia laevifolia (formerly Michelia yunnanensis) can take a fair number of years before they achieve the dense appearance of a hedge.

We are pretty proud of our remaining length of totara hedge, planted around the turn of last century by Mark’s grandfather or great grandfather and kept clipped for nigh on 120 years.

First published in the September issue of NZ Gardener – my penultimate or maybe final column for this magazine. 


A modern French garden – Le Jardin Plume

The wave hedges at Le Jardin Plume

The surrounding countryside

Le Jardin Plume is a contemporary French garden located about 30 minutes drive from Rouen. To reach it requires driving through flat agricultural land of that area of Normandy, which fascinated us because such land use does not involve fencing. While this is industrial scale cropping, it has a summer charm that our grazing land lacks. I guess you don’t have to fence when the greatest threat is the naughty prime minister across the Channel.

The garden itself is also flat. Very flat, really. The areas closest to the house and allied buildings are intensively planted in a riot of bright summer blooms and foliage, mostly within the constraints of the tightly clipped hedges. Moving beyond that, on the site of an old apple orchard is the modern take on traditional French parterres. Blocks of grassy meadow are defined by tightly mown lawn walkways on an expansive scale across the seven acres. Le Jardin Plume means the feather garden, as evoked by the waving grasses, especially when they go to flower and seed.

Sharp clipping gives definition and contrast to the looser plantings

The garden relies on sharp, clipped green walls to give it structure and very effective that is, too. The wave hedge certainly seems appropriate to what is a new wave garden. It was as wonderful in life as it is in the photographs. There is very little hard landscaping in permanent materials. Arguably, this adds to the charm because there is a softness and energy to the garden that reflects the use of living materials.

Plumes of veronicastrum

Contained within the wave hedging are graceful, tall perennials like veronicastrum, thalictrum and sanguisorbia along with the invaluable grass, Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foester’. I particularly like the tracery of these tall plants against the sky and the feeling of walking midst soft, perennial plants that are taller than me. That is one of the advantages of a flat garden – easier framing of the view against the sky. In a world where we have seen the production of ever more compact and dwarf bedding plants best suited to floral clocks, these are like the anti-bedding plant brigade of the perennial world.

The parterres of meadow

Out in the meadow ‘parterres’, the plantings are lower and more naturalistic. Some folk don’t like this whole meadow genre but we do. In spring there are bulbs. In summer, the charms lie in the soft movement and the somewhat random detail of additional plants. Added to that, there is another layer of interest in the wildlife. These areas are teeming with butterflies, bees and a host of lesser admired insect life. They are sustainable eco-systems and this planet needs a whole lot of them. In autumn, the grasses turn golden and seed heads will become a feature before being cut down just the once each year, in October.

Our daughter in the transient white garden at Le Jardin Plume

The informal avenue of tall white perennials must be a transient delight but a delight it was. The perennial is Epilobium angustifolium ‘Album’ (also known as Chamaenerion angustifolium) but North Americans may know it better as the white form of fireweed while the British call it rosebay willowherb. Small gardens have to work harder throughout the year, but large gardens can accommodate such short term displays of frivolity, if the gardener so decides.

I don’t know if the owners ever ponder the longer term future of their garden (though I would be surprised if they do not). Le Jardin Plume is, I would suggest a garden of our modern times. But if you look at what makes a garden endure down the generations and into subsequent centuries, it is usually the immutable hard landscaping and the handsome long-term trees, along with a notable history and fine, historic buildings. Le Jardin Plume has none of these and is not a big budget garden. None of this is a criticism in any way. Rather, it is a celebration of what can be achieved with vision, enthusiasm, knowledge and hard work even though it is probably a one or two generation garden at most.

Hand weeding the American grass squares

Maybe it was that we identified with the owners, Patrick and Sylvie Quibel, that made us particularly receptive to this garden. We realised quite early on that we were looking at a private garden created by a couple, managed with minimal assistance (I think there is just the one extra pair of hands and we saw him hand weeding), supported by a small nursery adjacent to the garden. Mme Quibel did not speak English and my spoken French is not up to conversational standards, but I would bet money that their hearts are in the garden and the nursery is just a means to an end. It felt like meeting the French equivalent of ourselves and we identified with their endeavours.

Mme Sylvie Quibel – I wished my French was up to a proper conversation

We could not identify with the heat. It was very hot on the day we visited. From there, we drove to Vimoutiers and by the time we reached there, the thermometer outside the pharmacy read 40 degrees. I can assure you that it never gets anywhere near that hot at home. Even the camembert cheese on our evening platter melted before our very eyes.

How pretty is this? The French do that shabby chic look better than anywhere else I have seen.

I have read reviews of this garden which praise this ground level pool that leads the eye out to the expanse of meadow parterres. We all come with different preconceived ideas and I admit I looked at it, admired the form but was worried by the water quality.