My visit to Les Journée des Plantes at Courson in May was on a perfect early summer’s day. The trees were a fresh spring green and the stalls were a riot of colour and texture. This plant fair, based in the grounds of a château just 35k from Paris, is one of the best in France.
One of the first plants to greet me as I came into the château grounds was this beautiful Itoh hybrid peony, Peonia ‘Canary Brilliants’. The flower opens a pinky taupe colour before becoming canary yellow. Crossing herbaceous and tree peonies seemed impossible until Toichi Itoh of Japan, after 1,200 attempts, finally succeeded in 1948. Very sadly he didn’t live to see the peonies flower.
The next stand to catch my eye was this specialist in alpine plants, Les Rocailles du Val.
I love the way sempervivums are so graphic in their shapes and colours. They are such easy plants to grow, positively thriving on neglect and harsh environments.
Courson is held at almost the same time as the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and many of the same plants were in evidence. Here is a deep blue iris set off by the elegant umbellifer Orlaya grandiflora.
These beautiful contemporary terracotta pots are hand-made near Lyon by L’Orangerie.
These little fellas fell foul of the mole-catcher who was proposing to rid your garden of those pesky mole-hills. They look so wise, just as Kenneth Graeme portrayed in ‘Wind in the Willows’. It must be the whiskers and the myopic stare.
There was a huge stand of aeoniums from La Pepinière de l’Ile – This green to purple-black variety is Aeonium arboreum ‘Velour’. The nursery is based on the Ile de Bréhat on the north coast of Brittany and also specialises in echiums and agapanthus.
The Pepinière Jean-Pierre Hennebelle and associated nurseries had a great selection of unusual flowering shrubs on their stand. This Sinocalycanthus raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’ has beautiful pinky-maroon blooms. I’ve also seen this plant named as Calycanthus.
Pépinières Yves Dupont had an exuberant stand bursting with ferns of all varieties and sizes.
These handmade chairs in chestnut wood have a great rustic look and are really comfortable. They are made by Alain Dupasquier in the Perigord-Limosin area which is known for its sweet-chestnut woodlands. Each piece is totally unique. Alain also makes tables, benches and ornamental fencing.
My horticultural star-spotting moment – Roy Lancaster fixedly staring at his feet – I guess he didn’t want to be papped! Lancaster is on the Jury of the Courson festival, judging the entries of new or remarkable plants.
Roses shaded by the flowering horse-chestnut trees.
The Pepinières du Clos Normand specialise in fruit, shown above are their espaliered peach trees. I also spotted some very fine kiwi vines.
The artist Laurent Weiss created these monumental wicker nests which animate the lawn between the château and the lake. They shine in the sun, move in the wind and are crying out to be stroked. They also remind me of raindrops splashing up when they hit the ground.
At a plant stand I got chatting to Mick Moat who lives in the Creuse region of France. He runs an Open Gardens Weekend and this year has persuaded over 30 people with beautiful gardens to open them for charity. The gardens are mainly north of Limoges and will be open on the 28th and 29th June. Mick is also on the look-out for people who might like to organise a similar weekend in their area of France.
Transport: If traffic is light, Coursons is just over an hour’s drive from central Paris. However, the last time I went, the traffic was terrible and it took me 2.5 hours to get back.
This time I took the RER to Massy-Palaiseau (lines B and C) arriving there at around 10am and then I took the free navette coach from the station. This also worked well for the return journey with the only inconvenience being not being able to buy so many plants!
Facilities: There are two refreshments tents selling sandwiches, cakes and hot and cold drinks. Bring your own picnic if you’re broke or a gluten-freer. There is also a more upmarket restaurant in the Chateau stable courtyard for a proper French lunch. The toilets were music-festival chemical portaloos. There is not much shelter from rain so if rain is forecast I would advise waterproofs and wellies.
The next Journées des Plantes will be held on the 17th, 18th and 19th October 2014. For more information : www.domaine-de-courson.fr