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Le Jardin Plume: A Modern Impressionist Masterpiece in Normandy

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Le Jardin Plume: A Modern Impressionist Masterpiece in Normandy

July 9, 2018

For anyone hankering after European formality—only a touch, we’re not talking Versailles—Le Jardin Plume in Upper Normandy is just the ticket. Influenced by more recent movements involving perennials and grasses, the former orchard is nevertheless firmly rooted in French garden tradition, including plenty of neat clipping and evergreen hedges.

When Patrick and Sylvie Quibel first arrived here in 1996, they found an orchard and much flat space, formerly occupied by sheep. Let’s take a grand tour around their garden:

Photography by Claire Takacs.

Le Jardin Plume in Auzouville-sur-Ry, near Rouen, France.
Above: Le Jardin Plume in Auzouville-sur-Ry, near Rouen, France.

Sky-reflecting geometric pools may be part of the language of Baroque, but a pair of Adirondack chairs dispenses with lofty notions, as does the timber and brick house.

A network of hedges near the house has an early-20th-century English look: Different styles are accommodated because they are all connected. Le Jardin Plume is a synthesis of European gardens, now.

Visible beyond the pool are the silhouettes of apple trees young and old, in the orchard.
Above: Visible beyond the pool are the silhouettes of apple trees young and old, in the orchard.

Orchard Garden

An old sheep pasture around the trees is reconfigured as a giant parterre, with an orchard in it.
Above: An old sheep pasture around the trees is reconfigured as a giant parterre, with an orchard in it.

The base note in this garden is still a series of fruit trees, but they have been incorporated into a vast parterre, with long grass marking the divisions, with miscanthus in the foreground.

By midsummer, the flowery meadow has been scythed and collected into haystacks, while longer miscanthus grass is allowed to stay.
Above: By midsummer, the flowery meadow has been scythed and collected into haystacks, while longer miscanthus grass is allowed to stay.

In spring, traditional orchard bulbs flower under the apple trees, including pheasant’s eye daffodil, Byzantine gladiolus, and snake’s head fritillary. They are succeeded by native wildflowers such as meadow cranesbill and cowslip.

Feather Garden

Inside precision-cut enclosures of boxwood, tall perennials are allowed to express themselves.
Above: Inside precision-cut enclosures of boxwood, tall perennials are allowed to express themselves.

Hedges, everywhere, establish an ancient atmosphere while doubling up as a network of useful windbreaks. To the right, vibrant pink Persicaria orientalis, or prince’s feather.

The Plume, or Feather Garden. Herbaceous perennials and grasses are backed up by a wavy hedge.
Above: The Plume, or Feather Garden. Herbaceous perennials and grasses are backed up by a wavy hedge.

Le Jardin Plume was named after the effect of vertical grasses around the garden. Here they are joined by asters and drying-out Actaea in a selection of plants that celebrates the vertical and wavy, with no large flower heads.

Informal planting around the old barns, including euphorbia and Melianthus major.
Above: Informal planting around the old barns, including euphorbia and Melianthus major.
Further informality in a seating area by the nursery shop.
Above: Further informality in a seating area by the nursery shop.

Fountains of feathery grass dominate here in the Plume Garden, underpinned by Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ and interspersed with Verbena bonariensis.

The Summer Garden

Sunset-colored plants clamber over the neat edges and corners of the formal parterre.
Above: Sunset-colored plants clamber over the neat edges and corners of the formal parterre.

The design of the Summer Garden is a nod to the Baroque style; decorative formality at its most grand. Within the parterre of boxwood, however, the plants run riot, in a limited but not quiet palette of red, yellow, orange, and gold.

Nasturtiums undermine the formality of the Summer Garden.
Above: Nasturtiums undermine the formality of the Summer Garden.

Boxwood Balls

The formality of very straight walls of boxwood in the garden beyond gives way to rounder shapes, in a castle meets cottage atmosphere that is reminiscent of Sissinghurst, just across the English channel. The view through a series of hedge styles ends at a barn that is partially obscured by Stipa gigantea.
Above: The formality of very straight walls of boxwood in the garden beyond gives way to rounder shapes, in a castle meets cottage atmosphere that is reminiscent of Sissinghurst, just across the English channel. The view through a series of hedge styles ends at a barn that is partially obscured by Stipa gigantea.
Boxwood topiary is given height by a few taller specimens as well as walls of hornbeam.
Above: Boxwood topiary is given height by a few taller specimens as well as walls of hornbeam.
Tight clipping toward the end of summer gives months-long neatness while everything around changes color and shape.
Above: Tight clipping toward the end of summer gives months-long neatness while everything around changes color and shape.

The Flower Garden

Empty arches and shaggy topiary give this garden an informal structure even when the jewel-like dahlias and helianthemums have faded and the trailing Erigeron annus has withdrawn. Successional perennial and bulb planting, flowering from spring to autumn, is held together by a river of bright, tall annuals, such as nigella, poppy, dill, and red orach spinach.
Above: Empty arches and shaggy topiary give this garden an informal structure even when the jewel-like dahlias and helianthemums have faded and the trailing Erigeron annus has withdrawn. Successional perennial and bulb planting, flowering from spring to autumn, is held together by a river of bright, tall annuals, such as nigella, poppy, dill, and red orach spinach.
Ideas for dividing a lawn. A classic French allée,  marked out in the simplest way, with earth gutters on either side.
Above: Ideas for dividing a lawn. A classic French allée,  marked out in the simplest way, with earth gutters on either side.

Le Jardin Plume and its plants nursery (specializing in perennials and grasses) is open to the public. For visiting hours and information, see Le Jardin Plume.

Are you inspired to add a touch of French formality to your garden? See Boxwoods: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design in our curated guides to Garden Design 101. Read more:

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