During an Easter trip in the bay of Somme in France I drove in the Valley of Authie and visited the gardens of the Valloires Abbey.
In 1158 the monks settled in this valley of Authie. The actual Cistercian abbey was rebuild in the XVII and XVIII century. Today the monks have left the Abbey which is owned by an association and in 1987 Gilles Clément created the gardens.
Gilles Clément is known for work based on the observation of nature. He creates gardens according to the mouvement of plants. His vision is the contrary to a stationary planning, because for him plants as part of nature can’t remain in the same place, which is why they have to be free to move in a garden.
Five gardens compose the park from a classical design to a modern concept of planting. The design is based on the aesthetic aspect depending the thematic of the garden.
The visit of the garden starts at the opposite side of the Abbey, on the Podium. It is the highest point of the Regular garden. This high position gives an overview of the plant cloister in the first plan, then on to the large lawn, the rose garden and at the end the Abbey. The plant cloister is an identic copy of the Abbey cloister. The columns are represented by topiary yews and the squared flowerbeds by different species which seem free in shape and represent the species planted in the gardens. This podium and the plant cloister give the first step into the garden.
The sides of the large lawn are the parts of the colourful gardens inspired by the abbey history. Three colours are represented, the blue on the lower side close to the water, the white for the monks’ alb situated on the hill side and the yellow plants which are above the cherry tree path and representing the light essential to life.
Unfortunately the cherry trees were at the end of their flowering and I could just have a faint idea of how it would have looked just a week earlier.
At the upper part of the garden lies the Island garden where nine tree/bush beds have their own themes. The themes are colours or seasons. As it was a visit in the spring time some of them were less interesting.
Nevertheless the winter, spring, golden, silver, and purple islands were all really fresh and vibrant.
The winter garden is composed by tree with remarquable bark as birches, maples and some dogwoods. On the following pictures you can see the island with the birches and maples bark. The dogwoods (Cornus alba and siberica) have already been pruned and the colourful branches will be visible next winter. In the winter island the witch-hazels (Hammamelis ) have finished their flowering as have the christmas roses (Helleborus) and the snowdrops (Galanthus).
On the pictures above the collection of birches are visible by their barks. The green bark is the one of the snakebark maple (Acer davidii ) and on the right it is the paperbark maple (Acer griseum).
The Silver Island had a nice specimen of Cornus controversa variegated called Wedding cake tree. It also had boxes (Buxus) and boxes honeysuckles (Lonicera nitida) with silver leaves. The effect of the silver island is freshness and in this spring light it was amazing.
At this season the Golden Island is interesting in showing how a few bushes can give light and reflexion even in a shady zone.
The Purple Island could seem dark but contrary to the idea the young leaves of the berberis and other deciduous bushes starting to bloom give a nice contrast of light.
The other Islands were not really interesting at this time of the year. But they are the Sweet thorn, the Summer Island, the Autumn Chamber and the decorative fruiting bodies Island.
As some of the Islands, the meadow, the Evolution Garden, the Rose Garden, the Garden of the 5 Senses and the Marsh Garden were unfortunately not fully developed. Among all these gardens I liked some of the structures like the Chamber of Origines with the primitives plants such as mosses, ferns, horsetails and Ginkgo biloba.
In the garden of the five senses I like the fruits trees in espalier and the red fruits in line. Just above on the pictures the cut grey foliage is an artichoke.
The Rose Garden is organized in squares in a geometrical organisation and is the one closest to the Abbey.
The last space of the visit is the Marsh Garden. This land is where the old river was and all the plants are chosen for their love of damp soil.
At the exit of the garden a plant nursery sells plants which are in the gardens. For the francophone there is a large choice of books about botany, plants environments in the shop where you can buy local foods and delicacies.
For more information you can have a look to the web page of the garden http://www.baiedesomme.fr/lieu/2-15-0-jardins-de-valloires or the Abbey http://www.abbaye-valloires.com
Words and Photographs : Maxime Carton