The Transplanted Gardener overseas: Quelle surprise

Photos courtesy of Craig Summers Black.
Bold in Bordeaux: A fiery combination of reds at Chateau Kirwan.
Photos courtesy of Craig Summers Black.
Vertical gardening in a Bordeaux, France, city park: Gold helichrysum gets formal training and gold sweet potato vine relaxes on an arbor.

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.

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.

More Monitor gardening: The main Monitor gardening page. Our RSS feed.

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.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.