This is not a book about French Gardens. It is the story of a man travelling round France visiting a few selected French gardens on the way. Owners, intrigues, affairs, marriages, feuds, thwarted ambitions and desires, the largely unnamed ordinary gardeners, wars, plots and natural disasters run through every garden older than a generation or two and fill every corner of the grander historical ones. Families marry. Gardeners are poached. Political allegiances forged and shattered. The human trail crosses from garden to garden. They sit in their surrounding landscape, not as isolated islands but attached umbilically to it, sharing the geology, the weather, food, climate, local folklore, accent and cultural identity. Wines must be drunk and food tasted. Recipes found and compared. The perfect tarte-tartin pursued. None of these things can be ignored or separated from the shape and size of parterre, fountain, herbaceous border or pottager. So this is a book filled with stories and information, some of it about French gardens and gardening, but most of it about what makes France unlike anywhere else. From historical gardens like Versailles,Vaux le Vicomte and Courances to the kitchen gardens of the Michelin chef Alain Passard. There are grand potagers like Villandry and La Prieure D'Orsan and allotments and back gardens spotted on the way. Monty celebrates the obvious French associations of food and wine and finds gardens dedicated to vegetables, herbs and fruit. It is a book that any visitor to France, whether gardeners or not, will want to read both as a guide and an inspiration. It is a portal to get under the French cultural skin and to understand the country, in all its huge variety and disparity, a little better.
|27th March 2014
|Non-Fiction Books of the Month