Our club’s 20th anniversary trip was a visit to some of the region’s finest gardens in Finistere and the Cotes d’Armor. Our group of 43 club members took an overnight ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff and based ourselves in two hotels – one in Landerneau near Brest and the other in Perros-Guirec on the north coast of Brittany which gave us easy access to the following gardens.
The National Botanical Conservatory of Brest was founded in 1975 and was the 1st institution in the world dedicated to saving endangered species. Its work continues today in the cultivation of plant species threatened with extinction. We had a very inspirational tour round the tropical greenhouses with our guide Loic before wandering through the 30 hectares of landscaped gardens.
L’Abbaye de Daoulas, a restored abbey dating from the 12th century, is a small intimate monastic garden built in the renaissance style and based on a design from the Middle Ages. It contains a collection of medicinal plants from five continents which is beautifully maintained. It was a lovely tranquil and restful place with cloisters, an oratory and benches we could sit and contemplate. The tea room was a bonus!
Le Jardin Exotique in Roscoff, with its amazing collection of 3000 plants from the southern hemisphere, including proteas, echiums, callistemons and agaves, made a memorable visit. The gentle microclimate which is influenced by the Gulf Stream and the excellent growing conditions, result in a superb variety of plants laid out on the rocky hillside overlooking the bay.
The Garden of Georges Delaselle on the Ile de Batz is just a short boat ride from Roscoff. It is a coastal garden laid out in the early 1900s by Georges Delaselle, a passionate plant-lover, to acclimatise plants from many parts of the world in a unique setting protected from the wind. One of the many highlights here is the stunning moor covered with pillows of pink sea thrift (Almeria maritima). This most restful garden is reached through a network of small lanes and pathways which skirt the southern part of the island.
Kerdalo garden was designed by the Russian aristocrat, Prince Peter Wolkonsky, and is now looked after by his daughter Isabelle and her husband, both Kew trained. This fairy tale garden, overlooking the river Jaudy, is famed for its interplay of light and shade, water and stone and for the extraordinary quality and variety of plants. The gardens, displaying thousands of superb specimens from all corners of the globe, is reputed to be one of the best gardens in France and is “a must-see garden” according to the late Christopher Lloyd. It was definitely worth a visit.
Le Jardin de Pellinec surrounds a private manor house on the banks of the Pellinec Estuary and was started in 1997 by its owner Monsieur Jean. He grows a huge diversity of rare and wonderful plants set in 6 themed gardens of which the magnificent iris bed at the edge of the estuary proved to be the “piece de resistance”. This superb garden was awarded 1st prize “Bonpland” in 2008.
Le Chateau La Roche Jagu is surrounded by a contemporary garden in a magnificent setting overlooking the River Trieux. Inspired by medieval gardens, it features a kitchen garden, a medicinal garden and a flower garden. There are wonderful walks in the woodlands where you can find areas of palms and camellias and water features. Many of us also found time to visit the chateau itself which dates from 1405.
Les Jardins des Melanges was definitely the most quirky garden we visited in Brittany! The owners of this small country cottage garden were so welcoming and made it an unforgettable visit. It was a garden in stark contrast to all the others we saw. Created in 1995 by the present owners, it is a natural garden which uses no herbicides or pesticides and where plants self seed. This charming garden has over 200 roses, an abundance of clematis and herbaceous perennials, a wild patch, a stream and a series of paths leading you through the garden to the Witch’s Cavern! Mme Stephane also makes unusual jams and chutneys from garden produce using her grandmother’s recipes.
Kestellic is an amazing garden set in a ravine on the granite banks of the River Jaudy. The paths snake down through beautifully planted, extensive gardens to the manor house which lies at the bottom of the ravine. We found it a magical garden with a tropical feel but needed a head for heights and good stout walking shoes for climbing steps, crossing streams and negotiating the woodland paths.
Jardins du Botrain Inspired by English garden design, this romantic garden in the centre of Brittany, is a place of relaxation and contemplation. Surrounding an 18th century manor house with its unique apiary, the gardens consist of many rooms including a Japanese garden, a rose garden, an iris garden, an area of hostas, acers, a pond and even a small lake. The owners are still in the process of developing it and have a small nursery with plants for sale of which we took full advantage!
Le Grand Launay This garden stunned us all. It was a wonderful tapestry of greens of all hues with a superb display of the most amazing topiary. The gardens are divided into a series of linked rooms around a 17th century country manor house with a washing pound, a source and a bog and are set in a woodland landscape on undulating land. The owner was so welcoming and guided around the garden pointing out his latest ventures such as the Japanese tea house and a small observatory. A garden definitely not to be missed!
Lepage Jardin Botanique This garden is in the middle of a superb nursery which produces more than 3,500 trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials but notably its exceptional collection of hydrangeas. It shows the plants growing in situ demonstrating colour, harmony and diversity.
In addition to our full programme of garden visits, we managed to fit in a wine and cheese tasting at our first hotel “Le Clos de Pontic”, a meal at a creperie with local cider, a memorable meal in a village restaurant with wine and accompanied by two harpists, a picnic and a visit to a market. We even found time to visit a wine warehouse and sample the wines before buying. The accommodation at both hotels was excellent as was the cuisine and all in all it was a wonderful experience with the most fabulous gardens!