ISSUE 50  |  Holidays Abroad

Shopper’s Diary: Ambre Garden Shop in Cognac, France

December 17, 2015 10:00 AM

BY Michelle Slatalla

One day while Paul Mottorshead and Olivier Guérin were visiting Guérin’s parents in Chérac, Bordeaux, they happened to drive past a small building on a narrow side street in the historic center of Cognac. There, on Rue du Palais, an idea was born. 

The couple decided to quit their jobs in London and move to France to open a garden shop in the 16th-century townhouse in Cognac, and to name it Ambre Concept Store. Next they decided to renovate the shop’s courtyard garden. Both turned out to be wise decisions:

Photography by Mimi Giboin for Gardenista.

Above: From the street, there’s no evidence of the shop’s hidden courtyard garden.

The couple’s plan to relocate and open a shop wasn’t quite as whimsical as it sounds. Mottorshead had plenty of experience with plants; at the time he managed Clifton Nurseries in London, overseeing the venerable nursery’s supplies and decor. Guérin was operating a language school for corporate executives.

Above: Inside the shop, home wares and house plants sit side by side. Before opening the shop, the couple traveled to Italy, Belgium, Spain, and South Africa to ferret out unusual items. 

Above: Cognac-based architect Eric Daigre renovated the shop.

Above: The inventory is eclectic, from flowers to furniture and includes both vintage and new items. Scents, soaps, and teas also are on offer in the shop.

Above: Behind the shop is the garden courtyard, where the couple sells garden products and plants.

Above: “The courtyard was originally more Mediterranean with palms and gravel, but the palms were to big and spiky and we replaced the gravel with a deck to make it look more contemporary,” says Mottorshead.

Above: At the back of the garden, a Mottorshead and Guérin built a fence from birch tree trunks cut in half and attached to a simple rectangular wooden frame. On the other side of the fence, a decorative metal sculpture reinforces a neighbor’s wall.

Above: A square zinc fountain is edged in box and adorned with evergreen ivy.

Above: In the terra cotta pot is an espaliered apple tree called Reine de Reinettes, an old French variety.

Above: Reine de Reinettes originates from France in the 18th century and has been popular in England since the Victorian age. For more information about the variety, see Orange Pippin.

Above: Pots (from L) of ivy, hydrangea, and rosemary create a romantic tableau.

Above: The fence’s wooden frame is covered with a black weather resistant fabric to hide an original breeze block wall at the back of the garden. 

Above: The peeling back adds texture and color.

Above: Ivy grows on the fence.

Above: From French furniture manufacturer Matiere Grise, a galvanized steel Up Chair and Zonda Standing Table are weather resistant and are available in more than two dozen colors.

Above: A potted fern is among the plants for sale in the courtyard.

 Above: Chinese star jasmine grows on a metal trellis against a stone wall.