The garden in motion

June 02, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

This is the term used by designer Gilles Clément to explain part of his approach. It involves putting in place natural processes that are allowed to develop and determine the evolution of the landscape. Gardening in this context is a question of interpreting this evolutionary process and requires the gardener to “observe more and garden less”. It contrasts with the French tradition of imposing man’s will on nature in the rigorous and geometric fashion of Versailles or Vaux-le- Vicomte.

It is the philosophy applied to the botanical gardens of the Domaine du Rayol, which represent the Mediterranean climates of the world. And there is something wild and pleasantly unpolished about the place as one wanders through the vegetation of South Africa, New Zealand, California and subtropical Asia. This impression is heightened by the proximity of the sea, the Mediterranean itself playing an important part in the experience of the gardens, a borrowed landscape whose changing nature influences the character of the place.

The notion of change and evolution is reflected in the history of the site itself, chosen at the beginning of the twentieth century as the retirement destination for wealthy Parisian businessman, Alfred Théodore Courmes, at a time when France’s wealthiest families were establishing their holiday homes along the coast. By the 1960’s the domain had been abandoned, later to be bought by the Conservatoire du Littoral and transformed into the present-day botanical gardens. The presence of the original villas lends the domain a certain turn of the century charm and, like the garden, seems to recall all that is ephemeral and fugitive.


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