THE GARDENS OF COLETTE
by Ann Evans
Additional photos by Michelle Garrett.
Many writers take inspiration from nature – the plants, the seasons, the scents and the wildlife. But in Les Jardin de Colette in the Dordogne Valley, it’s impossible to separate where nature inspired France’s most prolific and controversial writer and where Sidonie Gabrielle Colette herself has inspired her garden.
This delightful fusion of nature and literature go hand in hand. The complexity of the author of some sixty novels including Gigi and Cheri, is represented by a collection of six interlinking gardens covering five hectares, each representing a period of Colette’s life and her writing during those times.
While the writer herself died in 1954 aged 81 years, the gardens were only conceived in 2007 by the local community to honour their greatest woman writer. Incredibly the six very different gardens were created in just one year and despite the planting and style of each originating from locations as far reaching as Burgundy and Brittany through Paris and Correze right down to the Provence in the south of France, the gardens achieve the look, the feel, the style and the scents of each region.
It’s as if you are strolling through France while learning about the nation’s sweetheart, our Colette
as she is often referred to by the French people. And as you leisurely explore the gardens, you can read extracts of her work on the display boards and ornamental structures. While large photographs show Colette and her family at certain times of her life.
The creators of the garden have incorporated many of Colette’s specific loves, for example the colour blue is prominent in the blue mosaics – she was famous for writing on blue notepaper. She loved butterflies and so a maze for visitors and especially children to explore and learn from, is made from willow in the shape of a butterfly. She and her mother loved roses, and so the rose garden is a particularly beautiful spot to relax and admire the many blooms, including her own Rosa Colette – a fragrant antique pink climbing rose.
Colette married three times. Her first husband, Henry Gauthier-Villars “Willy” was unfaithful which made the young Colette quite ill. Whilst laid up in bed Willy encouraged her to write down her childhood memories. This became her first book Claudine at School however it appears that Willy took the credit for the work and bought a house with the proceeds.
The first of the six garden in Les Jardins de Colette represents her happy childhood where she first developed a love of nature and animals. Amongst the many plants you’ll find an outdoor schoolroom with desks brimming with flowers. While the second garden is abundant in ornamental brambles, deciduous and coniferous forests that show the abundant and free nature of Colette.
Colette and Willy separated in 1907 and needing to make a living for herself she became an actress and a dancer, notoriously appearing semi-naked around the music halls of France. After meeting the Marquise Mathilde de Morny, known as Missy, they bought the Manor Rozven in Brittany. And this third garden, the blue gravel, thistles, heathers, pines and shimmering angel grass along with massive pink granite rocks represent the rugged granite coast of Brittany and its beaches. Of this area Celeste once said, “I have a perch of rocks between the sky and the sea.”
Colette became a journalist for Le Matin and fell in love with Henry de Jouvenel one of the editors. They married and lived in Le Castel de Novel in Correze. The fourth garden represents this part of her life with its willows and oaks. And because she loved to take care of the chickens at Castel de Novel, there is even a delightful little chicken coup with black hens located in the garden.
The couple eventually separated and Colette married Maurice Goudeket and moved with him to the Provence. Their home near St Tropez is depicted in the fifth garden with typical native trees to the Provence – olive, Cypress and pines. Here you’ll find ‘Colette’s outdoor bedroom’, a blue stone structure with blue deck chairs where you can imagine Colette gazing out over the ocean. In this case however, you have to imaging the sea!
When that area became a tourist hot-spot, Colette and Maurice moved to Paris and bought a flat overlooking the Royal Palace gardens. This period of her life is woven into the sixth garden – Les Jardins du Palais Royal where the structure and style is represented by its aisles of lime trees. This would have been the view Colette observed from her bed in her final years.
Many of Colette’s novels reflect her love of nature and animals, some of her books have been translated into English and other languages. She was given the honour of becoming President of the prestigious French literary society, the Goncourt Academy and was the first woman to be given a state funeral in France. She was laid to rest in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and the garden created in her memory is open and welcomes visitors from April to November. If you have a love of literature and gardens, you will love Les Jardins de Colette in the Dordogne.
Further details: www.lesjardinsdecolette.com
07535 665 892
o24 76 374243