If you manage to persuade the French ministry of culture to let you have one of these, you’ve definitely arrived. What’s nice about this scheme is that it does not appear to be confined to the large, well-known gardens, but takes in small urban plots and good commercial nurseries as well. There’s a downloadable list of the favoured few, by region, on the ministry’s parks and gardens website – which could form a useful basis for planning a tour.
This particular label is attached to the garden in the bishop’s palace in the old southern town of Albi, which itself, as you can see from Google’s collection of images, has a lot going for it. The garden was laid out in the very early eighteenth century when the old fortifications were demolishedI’m not sure whether this is the original design – if not, it is no doubt from a contemporary pattern. As with all rigidly formal gardens, you need height to appreciate the full glory, and luckily the ramparts of the old palace allow you to take in the whole thing at a glance.
The mellow terracotta colour of the medieval brick contrasts well with the bright, even lurid, colours composed of pelargonium and coleus inside the box boundaries. It’s like looking down on a patterned rug.Toulouse and Albi were once the centre for the songs of the medieval troubadours, and it is good to see that the courtly love tradition lingers on, scratched into the brickwork….
Elsewhere in Albi, you can find less formal layouts. In the remains of the cloisters of St Salvy, there’s a peaceful little vegetable and herb garden, brightened by scattered annuals: The bright red stems of the Swiss chard stand out against the feathery backdrop of fennel and artichoke.
In an even less formal setting, a farmer on the road to Toulouse has ploughed a roadside strip and sown it with highly coloured annuals – making quite a show:He may have done it just for fun, but even if he wanted to draw visitors to buy his peaches, I reckon he has gone about it in a pretty creative way.