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Le Jardin de l’Alchimiste

October 3, 2013
0 Eygalieres

Eygalières on an overcast day. Situated on the edge of the Alpilles in Provence.

One of the gardens we visited this summer was Le Jardin de l’Alchimiste in Provence, just outside the pretty village of Eygalières.

It was created in the late ‘90s by Alain and Marie de Larouzière (owners of the Mas de la Brune next door, a 16th century mansion built by an alchemist) with the help of French garden designers Arnaud Maurières and Eric Ossart. The garden was interesting and felt quite unlike any I’ve visited before. It was split into three main sections. First, to enter the garden, you weave your way through a maze that spells out the Hebrew word ‘Berechit’ (from the start of the bible and meaning ‘In the beginning’). You then emerge into the ‘Magical Garden’ filled with plants that have magical, medicinal or healing properties according to local tradition. The final section is the ‘Alchemist Garden’ in which the visitor journeys through the ‘black work’, the ‘white work’ and the ‘red work’ (more on this later).

Although each of the three parts of the garden are situated right alongside the other you can’t see through into each one. Each part is enclosed and you don’t see the layout or what lies ahead in each section until you have entered. It had the clever effect of adding to a sense of discovery and made the whole garden seem much larger than the actual area it covered.

1 Maze

The constricted entrance via the maze emphasised the transition from the real world outside to the other world of the garden. It also served to disorientate.

Once inside, the symmetrically laid Magical Garden was peaceful and tranquil. It was a grey, overcast day and it had just stopped raining. We were alone. The place was damp and empty. Serene bliss.

2 Rill

A rill running down the length of the Magical Garden

3 Willow enclosures

Much of this garden was divided into squares of planting each featuring a plant with ‘magical’ characteristics. Many of these squares were enclosed by criss-crossing willows.

4 Vine arch

The garden was bisected down the middle by a vine arch planted with 22 different varieties

The third part, the Alchemist Garden, was really interesting. From the entrance into the ‘black work’ through a dark tunnel the path twisted back on itself several times taking you further into the garden and into another corridor. The turning of each corner unveiled a new surprise. It felt like an adventure.

5 Alchemist entrance

Dark tunnel entrance into the ‘black work’

6 Black pots

Round the first corner – an odd corridor of pots planted up with black petunias

7 Aeoniums

Round the next corner – a lovely surprise as we came upon a row of tall, black, Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’

9 Me and Aeoniums

Much taller than me (admittedly not that difficult!)

8 Aeonium close up

Got to love a black Aeonium

10 Last black section

A dark pool, surrounded by black slate in the last part of the ‘black works’

According to the interpretation, the three colours or works in the Alchemist Garden represent the three steps of the alchemist’s quest for the philosopher stone to transform lead into gold. It also echoes the stages of life on the metaphysical and spiritual path to ultimate knowledge:

– The black work evokes the birth of the child and his physical development – the time of basic intelligence.

– The white work heralds the time of intellectual and emotional development. Some people are quite happy here and will spend their whole life here.

– The red work is the stage for those who are more demanding, who want to travel the whole road and who will discover the meaning of life while progressing in the plenitude of spirituality.

Eventually, from the darkness of the black we were spat out into the white – dazzled and enveloped by a sea of ‘Iceberg’ roses, heavy and dripping with the earlier rain.  Over the tops of the flowers it was a mass of white as far as we could see. It was thrilling. And fun.

13 Entrance to white

Compressed exit from the black work out into the white. Even the colour of the flooring transitions.

14 First sight white

Entering the ‘white work’

15 Field of roses

Masses of white Rosa ‘Iceberg’. I’ve never been in a garden like it. Being here at the beginning of June was fortuitous as the roses looked great.

16 Me and roses

Where’s Wally version. Holding up my umbrella to make it easy!

17 Rose & miscanthus

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’ lining the path

18 Gaura underplanting

Underplanting of Gaura

19 White water feature

Water feature in the middle of the ‘white work’

I found the last section, the ‘red’ or ‘great work’, less aesthetically pleasing than the black and white sections but still interesting nonetheless. It just didn’t sit as comfortably, but perhaps that is what comes from a garden full of red. It isn’t exactly the most calming of colours.

20 Entrance to red

A circular entrance into ‘red work’

21 Red garden 1

Red Rosa ‘Prestige de Bellegarde’ and pomegranate trees dominated this section

24 Red water feature

At the centre was a 6-pointed star water feature – the end of the quest – with the fountain symbolising the Philosopher’s Stone. 33 segments radiated out on the paving of the surrounding circle symbolising universality.

It was interesting to visit such a purposefully designed garden, full of symbolism and meaning. It had a story to tell and took the visitor on a journey. Well worth a visit if you ever happen to pass by on holiday. And we didn’t see another soul during our visit there. Just as I like it.

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