Monday, 16 October 2017

Bibemus Quarry and the Alfred Sisley Exhibition in Aix-en-Provence, 26th October 2017

The Garden Group usually holds a pot luck lunch instead of a meeting or visit to mark the start of another club year and the close of a busy summer of visitors and is a great opportunity to catch up with news and views.   However, since the quarry closes on 30th September and the Sisley exhibition closes on 15th October lunch has been moved in October and we cross with fingers crossed for clement weather.

The September 2017 visit was not entirely horticultural in subject, leaning heavily towards the artistic and we set off for Aix-en-Provence at the crack of dawn to catch the bus up to the Carriere de Bibemus, the tranquil quarry where Cezanne painted 11 oils and 16 watercolours.  

The weather predicted for 26th September varied from wall-to-wall sunshine to ceiling-to-floor rain and settled on warm sunshine, some cloud and a light breeze – perfect for walking round the peaceful and beautiful quarry which is now a protected area since 2006.

Our guide was Dutch and, although the tour was booked as French speaking, we were indulged and the tour was in English by dint of the fact that there was an overwhelming majority of Brits, four Dutch, three Germans and just one French (“. . . .  and a partridge in a pear tree”] !

The seven hectare\17 acre sandstone quarry was, in another age, covered by the sea and for this reason the short-lived sand quarry closed after seven years (containing too much salt for the construction industry).  In Cezanne's day the quarry would have had less vegetation and some of the views painted by Cezanne were slightly obscured by the taller trees.   Decked viewing platforms had been built where Cezanne had painted a particular picture, with a coloured print of the picture set into the decking.

We passed the cabanon Cezanne rented from 1895 to 1904, ten years after the quarry ceased to be worked (unfortunately we were not shown inside as this is a separate tour].   He kept his painting materials here and frequently stayed there to avoid travelling to the quarry from Aix.

A larger stone house nearby has been rented for over 3O years by James Campbell, a Canadian sculptor, but where earlier he lived there all year (it has no electricity or water] he now winters elsewhere as it is too cold.   He was working on his sculptures (very modern] outside in the sun, a tall slim man in his 8Os in his jeans, check shirt and battered hat – applying his art form as Cezanne would have done in the peaceful sunshine

Much of the rock has been worked and tall retangular or square shapes which are narrower at the base which gives a precarious look but the reason for this was because the fee for extracting stone was calculated on the square meterage of the base of the rock.

Two trees whose root formation was clearly visible as though it had been sliced in half vertically and growing in rock.   Oh that my plants would adopt this modus operandi so that I don’t have to pickaxe out rocks (why is there always a rock where I want to plant a shrub?)

  • The quarry is closed in winter.
  • Visitors must book online well in advance as tickets cannot be purchased on the day from the bus driver as the tour numbers are limited to 2O.
  • Visitors can either park in the dedicated carpark and take a mini bus to the quarry or drive direct to the quarry (limited parking)
  • The public toilet at the dedicated car park is primitive (a Turkish squat), dirty, malodorous and may not have toilet paper.

We all decided to lunch in Cafe Caumont at the Hotel du Caumont art centre, 3 rue Joseph Cabassol, in the Mazarin Quarter of Aix-en-Provence (plan to be in the queue well before noon as it is not possible to book a table in advance) before viewing the wonderful exhibition of Alfred Sisley’s paintings.   

And a big thank you to Mavis McQuade for her inspired suggestion for these two visits.   The art centre hosts two exhibitions a year, allotting five months for each exhibition and a ticket to whatever exhibition gives access to the restaurant, gift shop and the beautifully renovated building and garden (see the link to the restoration here):

and a quick video tour of the historic interior of the house, and garden which were the subject of an extensive refurbishment in 2013:

With the incredible restoration of the plasterwork and its re-guilding, the exquisite furniture and objets it was surprising to find yet again (as in the restored Chateau d’Ansuis) that the curtains were not interlined and the outside edge machined instead of hand-sewn!

I am not equipped to comment knowledgeably on Sisley’s paintings and give a link to a video (in French):

Garden Hotel Caumont

  • Book a ticket on line for a timed entrance if you will be visiting at the weekend or the exhibition closes shortly
  • Queue early for lunch as tables cannot be booked in advance or arrive after the first sitting
  • Be sure to allow 30 minutes to see the documentary film on Cezanne
Written by Sue Spence with photos by Mavis McQuade and the Web.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Musee Internationale de la Parfumerie in Mouans Artoux and La Mas des Pivoines in Grasse - 27 June 2017


Sue wrote:
A thank you to Mavis McQuade for suggesting we should visit this garden.   With five cancellations the day before the visit we were just nine members in three cars and equipped with trusty GPS we all arrived at the venue in good time and were delighted to have Gabrielle Wellesley with us again (on a mission to return her 2CV car to the UK).

Acacia karoo

We had a charming  bi-lingual guide, Diana, to show us the two hectare garden and were regularly tested on our knowledge of scents when she handed out plastic sticks dipped into perfumed oils – a challenging exercise for the over  70s whose sense of smell is waning!

The gardens are entirely bio which, since they are located in a largely built-up area with no agricultural activity, are not affected by any stray pesticides borne by the wind.  
The gardens are all about the perfume industry and act as a reference library and experimental laboratory. 

Accommodation for bees and insects

It is astonishing how many petals are required for such a small quantity of the many ingredients which go to make up one bottle of perfume and we now understand and accept why perfume is so expensive.   


However, another aspect of perfume making was the ultra modern method of analysing the scent from, say, honeysuckle by placing a glass dome over the flower and “reading” the scent.   This is then replicated chemically and one wonders whether in the distant future this is how all natural flower scents will be presented to make up your favourite perfume?   Being far less intensive perhaps its high cost will head in a downwards direction?

Jasminum grandiflorum

Information on the plants came in 3 languages, French, English and Italian. For those who like to know more about the individual parfume plants, the text is a bit hard to read in English, need a magnifying glass, but very interesting.

We lunched in Grasse and with great good fortune happened on the closest underground parking to the Place aux Aires where we ate outside in the place under the parasols.


Our second visit was to the Bastide des Pivoines a couple of kilometres from the centre of Grasse.   Of course the peonies were over thanks to an early spring and the fact that the first two gardens chosen for this visit had fallen to the wayside (a municipal garden whose website declared it to be open in June but on booking it was closed and an email enquiry as to the precise annual opening dates did not elicit a reply;  and the owner of second garden was too busy preparing to let the house to receive us).   So these two gardens are on the list for 2018.

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'

Albizia julibrissin

M. and Mme. Barrault already lived in Grasse when they bought the dilapidated house and gardens and set about transforming both with their bare hands.   Both the wide metal pergola walks billowing with climbing roses were made by father and son (now where can I put a pergola walk in my garden?)

A triangular lavender field is bordered by the peonies after which the house is names and many plants in the garden were brought from their old garden.   

When I asked about  the automatic watering system I was astonished to learn that the 15,000 sq.m. is watered by hand/hosepipe on the grounds that this is the best way to key an eye on all the plants.

Two wonderful tall, wide cedars provide a hidden shaded, sheltered area for tables and chairs (so no having to remember to close the parasol when going out in case a mistral winds materialises). 

The other half of the garden slopes abruptly down to the river down a stone set path which is so much easier on the knees than steps but must be tricky for wheelbarrowing uphill.   This area has recently been cleared and now contains a carefully chosen selection of specimen trees.   

Erythrina x bidwillii

Medinilla magnifica

A circular gloriette with seating is hung about with laminated pictures of all the birds to be found in the garden, a really useful idea for those with short-term memory loss who will have forgotten the markings by the time they have fired up the computer to identify the bird.

A final intriguing note – the outside privvy is bio so a modern loo seat and lid but over a galvanised container with no water.   A container with lid and shovel contains wood shavings for adding a fresh layer and a galvanised guttering hopper serves as a basin – wonderful attention to rural detail (see photos).

Photo's:  Marie-France Parkes and Gabrielle Wellesley


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