Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A garden survives


From 1900 until 1940, Guillaume Mallet created his life's major work - a garden on the windswept Atlantic in Haute Normandie in France.  After buying an estate in 1897, he built a large manor house designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, noted architect from England.  In the areas immediately around the house, ideas were used from Lutyens' collaborator, famed garden designer Gertrude Jekyll.  

But the creation of a park on the extensive acreage was the work of Guillaume himself.  He studied French landscape paintings, using shrubs and trees to create the same effects in the rolling hills that led down to the sea.  

Guillaume used as his basic text, a small book called Art Out-of-Doors, by Mrs. Schulyler van Rensselaer, published in New York and London in 1893.  The author's premise was that there should be a strict plan in organizing the plants for a garden, which she viewed as an artistic work:  "Two trees and six shrubs, a scrap of lawn and a dozen flowering plants may form either a beautiful little picture or a huddled disarray of forms and colors.  If they form a picture, it will give us the same sort of satisfaction that we get from a good landscape on canvas;  indeed, it will do more than this, for the living picture will reveal new beauties day by day with the changing seasons, hour by hour with the shifting shadows."

Guillaume Mallet fiercely went about the work of creating 30 acres of beautiful park, even studying tapestries to understand the weaving together of colors.  The introduction of rhododendrons from Asia to Europe was to be a major contribution to the park's beauty.  The undulating forms and the evergreen leaves with bursts of flowers in spring to early summer were the perfect transition from low growing plants to taller trees.

During World War II, the estate was taken over by the Germans, who mined the surrounding land.  As happens when gardens or parks are not tended, the land became overgrown and the plantings either covered or lost.

Guillaume and his wife died in 1946.  There was a decision to be made about whether to keep the estate.  The Mallet children decided to go to work to restore the park.  The story of how this magical place was created, almost lost and then rescued is chronicled in a book - Renaissance d'un Parc - by Guillaume's son Robert Mallet (the book, with photographs, is in both English and French.)

I took the above photograph of Robert (he is in the center of the picture, down low) on a visit in 2006.  You can see the size of the rhododendrons and the role they play in this beautiful valley by the sea.  

More from this amazing garden in future posts.