Early in September I visited the Shamrock Hydrangea collection in Varengeville-sur-mer near Dieppe in Normandy. In this two hectare garden, husband and wife team, Corinne and Robert Mallet exhibit the French National Collection of Hydrangea (CCVS*), many of which Corinne collected herself on trips to Japan. The soil in this part of Normandy, the Pays de Caux, is a pocket of acid soil over clay, bringing out the blue colour in the hydrangea flowers.
Robert Mallet gave our group a guided tour of the gardens in faultless English. He is a natural and charming raconteur, full of amusing stories about Corinne’s plant hunting trips and how the plants got their cultivar names. A mine of information on growing hydrangeas, his passion and knowledge is evident.
The Mallet’s aims are to provide a centre for research, to identify and introduce new species and to disseminate best practice on growing hydrangeas world-wide. The garden is divided into two distinct parts. The first is made up of a maze of beds organised by species and then by country or region to help visitors understand the genus. The second is a woodland area known as ‘Le Bois du Dragon’ (Dragon Wood) which offers a home to asian woodland varieties. Above is the bed dedicated to Hydrangea paniculata. The paler pink H. paniculata ‘Vanille Fraise’ can be seen in front of the taller H. paniculata ‘Phantom’. (Robert has been rather disappointed with ‘Vanille Fraise’ and feels that ‘Pinky Winky’ (terrible name!) is a better performing plant.)
Species macrophyllas originate from a small area on the east coast of Japan. This H. macrophylla ‘Miyake Tokiwa’ has glossy green leaves with central violet-blue inflorescences and violet-white florets around the edge. Robert explained that hydrangeas with glossy leaves come from coastal environments as they are well adapted to resist salt-laden winds…..
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Izu-no-Odoriko’ – the Izu dancing girl – is named after a short story written by the Nobel prize-winning Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata, who tells the story of a sailor who falls in love with a dancing girl. I was lucky enough to be given a cutting of this plant by Robert, which has now rooted in a pot. I just need to find a garden large enough to take it!
After a visit to the collection I was really bitten by the hydrangea bug. The garden is full of superb and unusual plants, with such a wide variety of different colours, shapes and textures. Corinne Mallet has written an excellent portrait of the genus ‘Hydrangea, Portraits of Hydrangeas’ (published in English, French and German by the publisher Ulmer) full of colour photos and information about cultivation.
*C.C.V.S.: Le Conservatoire des Collections Végétales Spécialisées is the French organisation that supervises plant collections; the equivalent of the British NCCPG.
Route du manoir d’Ango
76119 Varengeville-sur Mer.
Telephone : +33 (0)2 35 85 14 64
The collection website is in French and English.
The Collection is open to the public every day except Tuesday mornings from the 15th of June to the 15th of September, from 10am to 12pm and from 2.30 to 6 pm. From the 16th to the 29th September it is open every afternoon except Tuesday.
Entrance charge : 6.50€, free for children under 15.
Varengeville-sur-mer has several beautiful gardens to visit including Bois des Moutiers, an Arts and Crafts house and garden designed by Edward Lutyens and Gertrude Jeykell and the woodland garden of Vasterival. Also not to be missed is the village church with its fantastic coastal views and stained glass windows by Georges Braque.
I’d like to add my little plug for Susan Worner tours who visit the Shamrock Collection as part of an excellent tour of Normandy gardens. For information go to Susan Worner Tours.
Lynda Harris is a landscape architect and garden designer based in Paris.