Botanical Roadtripping

Words by
Richard Unsworth
| October 26, 2013

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to escape on a trip to France and the UK.  I wanted to check out some of the antique markets and a design show in Paris.  I’d also fallen in love with a garden in Provence, whilst recently writing about it for Belle, and I decided it was time to visit it.

Sometimes I find it challenging when looking at photos of a garden I have never visited,  to come up with a story. However when I came across images of La Louve,  I very quickly fell in love with the garden, the story behind it and more so with the woman who created it before she died.

I was also due for a trip further north to see my mum, who lives in Yorkshire.  After three horrendous years of dialysis due to kidney failure, a miracle happened in January this year and a transplant occurred out of nowhere.  At 78 she was given the gift of life.

It’s amazing that the transplant happened at all, and for me it came with growing awareness of her mortality, and the brief and fragile nature of our lives – how long do we have together with our loved ones?

For 23 years, whilst living in Sydney I have visited pretty much every year and tried to be a relatively good son (as much as one can be living on the other side of the world! Looking at it from a numbers point of view, how many times will I see her again ?? Another five times, ten if I’m lucky?

So a proper holiday was in order for mum, and I saw an opportunity for some quality one-on-one time for the old girl and I. We spent a few days in Paris and then a week together ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ style around the almost-too-pretty gentle rolling hills of the Luberon, in southern France.

Nicole de Vesian was 70 when she started to create her extraordinary garden in Bonnieux, a village in the heart of the Luberon. After decades of designing for Hermès, she set about renovating the old house and putting her mark on the landscape. The garden is a magical tapestry of different forms and textures. Raw and simple beauty is everywhere. Stonework is natural and bold, plants are softly mounded and layered in an organic and relaxed manner.

I helped mum round the different spaces and up and down the steps. We sat in shady spots, we soaked up the magic environment, absorbing what this formidable woman had created before she died at aged 80 and knew that we were spending some very special time together.

Upon returning to Yorkshire, and inspired by our trip to Provence, mum wanted to go to the local nursery. We found a Gingko biloba that we planted together in her back garden. Priceless.

So, a couple of things I highly recommend– spend more time with your parents (if you’re lucky enough to still have them) and go and find a copy of Louisa Jones’s book Modern Design in Provence – The Gardens of Nicole de Vesian.  Better still- take your mum to see it, think of all the brownie points you will gain!