Please give a warm welcome to our second special guest writer, James Clay, in this "Encore Provence" series. Originally from Hampshire, England, James Clay is a world traveller and what I call a renaissance man. James fortuitously settled in Provence over twenty years ago. He calls home, a one hectare of garden Eden he has lovingly created over time, just outside the town of St. Remy de Provence.
James is an incredible artist, sculptor, writer, and accomplished gardener. His Provence garden is filled with fruit, palm, pine and olive trees, plus many varieties of rare bamboo, flowering plants and shrubs. James also writes the witty column "Cocktail Drinkers Guide to Gardening" each month on Julie Mautner's, The Provence Post.
Today, James Clay shares with us his discovery of, in his words "the most romantic garden in Provence." Chateau de Roussan, has been lovingly restored by its long time owners, and has been recently transformed into an extraordinary hotel...VintageGardenGal
I found my ‘secret garden’ just down the road, in fact a short bicycle ride away. Years ago, I was cycling home from the village and thought it would be an interesting idea to try to find other ways back so, with this in mind, I turned down the next lane and continued due west. Rounding a corner, not much further along, I had to stop so I could take in the beauty of all that was before me. As in some Arcadian landscape painting of the 17th century, there was a shepherd guarding his flock of sheep which were grazing in a large meadow; an avenue of ancient, stately plane trees were reflected in a bassin in which a pair of swans were gliding among the shadows; and there set back, almost unseen, stood a glorious Chateau. This was one of those moments in life of sheer contentment.
No doubt about it, I had to investigate. Abandoning my bike, I headed off on foot toward the bassin to get a closer view of the Chateau and its surrounding park. I could make out some massive bamboos in the distance and a structure that the sunlight seemed to dance around and through. Following one of the streams that fed the bassin, I made my way eventually between the bamboos and entered into my very own 'secret garden' and there in front of me stood an old abandoned glass house with many of its panes smashed or missing, the sunlight darting and dazzling as it played on the fractured glass. Pushing open the rusty, hinged door, I stepped inside and instantly felt the heat roll over me. Some cacti had decided to make a break for it and were heading off out through the broken roof. I was reminded of a song written by Gilbert and Sullivan where the lines run,
'There's a fascination frantic In a ruin that's romantic.'
In the song the ruin is one of Gilbert’s elderly, ugly ladies but here it was the building that appeared to ask, “Do you think I am sufficiently decayed?”
Outside again, I could hear water gushing away and made toward it, passing through more giant bamboo. I came upon another bassin, this time stone-edged with crumbling statues placed around it. Carp were cutting through the water at speed in every direction as if wanting to say to me “Look at us! Aren't we the fastest, smartest fish ever?” Beyond the bassin, at the end of an overgrown path, lay the Chateau, so complete in its surroundings that it appeared to have grown there rather than to have been built. Mellow stone, roman tiles, peeling ox blood red painted shutters, the main door of wood in golden rich yellows through ochre. One could only imagine all the people over the centuries that had passed through it. To the left of the door, up high on the wall, is a sundial, below which is carved the motto/phrase 'HORAS NON NUMERO NISI SERENAS'. In English it may be translated as 'I count only the serene hours.' Now there is food for thought!
It's almost twenty years since I discovered my own 'secret garden' and the pure delight of finding it remains with me to this day as it will until I shuffle off this mortal coil! (Hopefully to Acardia but somehow I doubt it).
As with everything, nothing stays the same. In this case, I have only good news to report--the Chateau de Roussan was recently reclaimed by its original owners (of many years standing) who have lavished time, care and good taste in 'conserving' their beautiful home and gardens. Its doors are now open to us if we care to go and stay. Yes, it may be a hotel but, believe me, it is a very special one.
For more info on the newly opened Chateau de Roussan, please visit www.chateauderoussan.com. Telephone from US: (011) 33 4 90 90 79 00. Telephone from France: 04 90 90 79 00.