Saturday, June 19, 2021

Life Goes From 30 to 130 Kilometers per hour

Overnight, life has sped up from 30 kilometers an hour to 130 kilometers per hour. This acceleration wasn’t just in the car.  Our entering the fast lane is as much about lifestyle as it is about cruising.

After months and months of slowly moving through a nearly empty village we’ve lost the need for speed. We are tranquilized by the empty backroads. We seem to only see passing cows, ducks, and the changing textures of the farm fields.

But, in early May the government announced the schedule for ending restrictions. We could all start planning for June adventures. Right away I looked to see if the annual Rendezvous aux Jardins (open gardens the first weekend of June) was happening. Yes! We could celebrate our freedom with our favorite event of the year.

Every year we pick a nearby region that we have not investigated. During the confinement last year that expedition didn’t take us any further than the neglected back corners of our own garden. 

Tom thought the Bordeaux area might be fun to explore and I was curious what this seemingly urban suggestion would lead to. 

Bordeaux and its surrounding counties is called the Gironde- you know it for it’s amazing wines. There were twenty seven gardens to select from for our itinerary. From past experience I know that visiting three to four gardens in a day can be a scramble and this is not meant to be a scramble. The point is to soak up the personality and magic of each garden. This year’s route had extra complications because one of the gardens was hosting a large plant fair and the city of Bordeaux had, at the last minute, allowed the year’s biggest antiques fair to take place.

Like I said 30 kph - 130kph. Bourdeilles to Bordeaux. Get your motor runnin’

The first garden was Parc de Chateau de Tauzia. (33170 Gradignan) Located in an elegant suburb of Bordeaux this chateau hosts a plant fair every year. Our early morning drive had transported us from the land of country bumpkins to the glitzy suburbs. Elegant city folks were leisurely wandering around looking at gaudy annuals and items for terrace gardens. We made a quick pass around the vendors and headed for the next garden. 

After just a few turns off busy streets we were immersed in a landscape of sweeping vineyards. This green vista was a bit of a shock since the bustling city of Bordeaux was just over our shoulder.

Next stop Jardin Millésimé au Chateau Larrivet Haut-Brion. (33850 Léognan)  We were now in the heart of posh, top notch French wines. We parked and scanned the landscape to find the garden, but nothing really made sense. Way over there in a feathery field were a bunch of red sticks poking up. After a false start at finding the entrance we headed over a little creek towards the red sticks. We were seeing Le Jardin d’Ivresse (the garden of drunkenness)  “A garden to be tasted like one would taste a good wine.” The concept was a bit esoteric for our taste. It was a very French and interesting effort on the part of the owners.  I poked my nose in the wineshop, but didn’t buy anything because the white wine that I overheard described as going well with fruit de mer was 80 euros a bottle… Sorry Sunday oysters gang.

The roads to the next stop continued to be narrow and rolling, hemmed in by the valuable land of the vineyards. I cruised along at a Sunday driver’s slow 50kph and it felt just right. 

We entered into and passed out of a tiny village. Somewhere through there we had missed our next garden. We returned along a parallel road and still no luck - finally turning our heads at just the right moment we saw enormous gates leading to something.  Domaine Chavat (33720 Podensac) - yes the home to Lillet, but that’s another adventure. If only I was traveling with someone that likes to look at gardens and drink…) Here at the turn of the century a businessman decided he wanted to expose the locals to the world of classical sculpture. The few sculptures were sprinkled around a bit randomly, but boy those lions!

Next stop Jardins du Chateau de Mogenan (33410 Portets) This summer home, built in 1736, was built to escape the heat and frenzy of Bordeaux. The gardens evolved around the owner’s desire to live off the land and to experiment with the many exotic plants arriving at that time into the ports along the Gironde River. The most exciting thing here was a sassafras tree introduced back when Bordeaux was part of the slave triangle of Africa, the States and France. There is a good chance this is the only sassafras tree in all of France.

We had to skip the next garden on the list because time was slipping away and the muse of the antiques fair was calling us. 

—-oh I forgot we did make one more quirky stop on a tiny alley street of Bordeaux center, rue de Doumerc. The garden was described as an artist’s garden. We felt like we were intruding into an opium party and slunk out discretely through the shrouded black gate. 

After the shock of navigating busy city streets and finally getting to the underground parking lot we ditched the car to walk over to the Quinconces, a temporary market with over 300 vendors! Sticking to the garden theme we focused on garden stuff as we wandered the booths of the buzzing antiques fair. We spotted some mighty fine statuary appropriate for the chateau gardens on our tour. We sat on various benches, laughed at the foolishness we could get into if we decided to completely loose what little good sense we have, and in the end bought a reasonably large pot that would both fit in our car and would fit to the scale of our garden.

The next day was Sunday and a day to slow back down.

We arrived with early morning joggers at the Parc de Majolan (33290 Blanquefort) A garden created out of former swampland for this outlying neighborhood of Bordeaux.

At our next stop Jardin du Fond de l’Or (33240 Lugon-et-L’Isle du Carnay) we finally entered the domaine of a gardener who is crazy just like us. A gardener with too much energy, too many ideas, and a desire to fill every bit of space in the landscape. This garden had started modestly around the house, but over the years started cascading down the backyard slope. Then his neighbors started selling him adjoining properties.. He has had no trouble finding new roses, exotic shade plants, and color coordinated perennials to create more and more dramatic islands. Years ago he took the time to apply, and was accepted to Jardins Remarquable.  To qualify for this prestigious label a team visits and judges if the garden is remarkable enough - and then the garden has to be open to the public at least 40 days a year.  I’ll start ripping up plants in our garden if Tom gets any ideas.

Our itinerary had us back rolling through the vineyards.

Next, Parc du Chateau Siaurac (33500 Néac) was more of an English style park set in a sea of vineyards than a garden. Trees planted in the mid 1800’s when the house was built were enormous and “out back” there is a densely planted grid of trees where calvary used to practice out of the heat of the sun.

The last, but not least stop, was Jardin Les Étamines. (33420 Cabara) 4000 varieties of plants have been tucked and squished into this garden. Here was another garden that expanded every time an adjoining property came up for sale. I kept hearing the gardener say - “Enjoy your visit folks because this is the last year we will be open. We’re calling it quits at the end of July.” The other half of the “we” never came into the garden. I understood that reluctance.

By now we had closed up the loop and were a little more than an hour’s drive from home. There was a bit of 130kph on the autoroute, then 80kph over the back roads, then 30kph as we slipped back into Bourdeilles. 

But wait, next weekend private castles in the neighborhood are opening for the public to visit. The month of June is racing along.