The Transplanted Gardener overseas: Quelle surprise

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    Bold in Bordeaux: A fiery combination of reds at Chateau Kirwan.
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I have been transplanting myself the better part of this summer – northern California, the Ozarks, the land of Lincoln – and wherever I go, I find little landscape lessons to cherry-pick.

Last week I was in France, touring the Bordeaux region, and in between the incredible meals (some of  the entrees didn't even look like food – they looked more like Transformer toys) and the rich history (why don’t we have any medieval buildings in this country?), there were the gardens. And the surprises.

Such as: Why was there this one lone 200-year-old sequoia tree on a former monastery (now retirement center for aging horses) in Entre-Deux-Mers? Picture it: vineyard, pasture, ancient stables … and this all-by-itself, very-out-of-place, musta-come-by-wooden-ship-way-back-when evergreen towering over the land.

Recommended: A foodie gift guide

Maybe it figures: vertical food, vertical landscaping.

And that verticality was not limited to the countryside. In downtown Bordeaux (what a gorgeous city, by the way), a small flower bed in a public park featured a new twist on growing up. (See photo at right).

The chartreuse Marguerite potato vine is trained up the sphagnum-filled arch, which is also planted with flowering annuals and a touch of Blackie sweet potato for contrast. And at the arch’s feet: gold helichrysum is forced to stand erect with the aid of a chicken-wire fence. Ten-hut!

At Chateau Kirwan (amazing the number of Irish names you come across thereabouts) in Margaux, I ambled into a strikingly large planting of orange-red Lucifer crocosmia. (See first photo above.) I guess I’m more used to seeing them in threesies and fivesies, so this seemed pretty dramatic to me. Coupled with flaming scarlet roses? Hotter than, as Nancy Sinatra once sang, a pepper sprout.

You’ll notice the lamb’s ears and sedum up front, daisies and goldenrod in the back – and fine use of ancient architecture in the background. Now there’s a worthwhile gardening tip: When at all possible, for greatest garden presentation,do put 300-year-old stone buildings behind your beds and borders.

And while staying in the ancient town of St.-Emilion, I wandered out back of the Logis des Remparts hotel to find (1) a pool! And (2) a forceful argument for compare-and-contrast in formally clipped trees, shrubs, and herbs. (See second photo at top.)

Yes, herbs. That’s a ball of rosemary you see looking like a looming moon of fromage vert. Perhaps an allusion to Bordeaux, the Port of the Moon.

What else I’m into this week: Pop Culture Press magazine is a voluminous music fanzine with all the attendant youthful gush of awkward prose. But the comes-with-it CD is the best pure pop for now people you will find. Ever. Clocking in at usually more than an hour, these plasticene compendiums of semi-unknowns will rivet any adventurous music fan, be they 22 or 52.

Editor's note: Click here to read a recent garden article by Craig. Find more of his blog posts at our blog archive.

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You may also want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. If you join the group (it's free), you can upload your garden photos and possibly win a prize. This month's photo contest is veggies. Deadline is Aug. 11. Feel free to join the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions.

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