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Monty Don wows the crowd at Hadlow College

Posted on 10th July 2013 in Horticulture

The Hadlow College Broadview Tearooms became a busy hive of activity last week when Monty Don visited for a book signing and talk.

Copies of Monty’s latest book The Road to Le Tholonet: A French Garden Journey were available to purchase and Monty held a book signing for anyone who wanted their copy signed.  Refreshments, tea and coffee and canapés were also available.

Monty’s talk was held in a large marquee , Monty started by explaining that France is a country he has a great connection with, his Father had almost died at Dunkirk and his great Uncle was (as he put it) blown up at the battle of the Somme.  Monty said that he had an intense love/hate intimate relationship with France.

His first visit to France was in April 1970.  He was 14 and had never been on an aeroplane, or even outside Britain.  Paris, then, had the perfect balance of modernity and a frisson of Edwardian naughtiness.  It was a deeply sexy city and no trip he has subsequently made (and he’s travelled a great deal) has ever matched it for excitement.  He found that he was allowed to drink and smoke!  In his words “for the first time in his life he felt old enough to know better and young enough to try!”

Monty talked about travelling round Provence on a moped at the age of 19 and that in fact, it was this trip that the title for his book The Road to Le Tholonet had come from.

Monty went on to talk about his Gardens of France series on BBC2, during which he visited some of the most famous and interesting gardens in France.  He said that his aim was to take the audience on a trip up through France and as he talked, wonderful photos of the gardens he visited were shown on screens around the marquee.

His talk focused on the French love of food, he explained the ‘Potager’ the French style of kitchen gardening where looks matter as much as the quantity or quality of food that is grown.  He had travelled to some of the most well-known ‘Potager’. One beautiful example was in the Luberon at the Vinyard of Val Joanis, where flowers elegantly combine with fruit and vegetables to create elaborate and displays.

He also visited the parental home of Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), French post-Impressionist painter in oils and watercolour of landscapes.  Paul was brought up and lived most of his life at Jas de Bouffan, he painted the garden in all seasons and Monty used copies of his postcards and explored the gardens to identify all of the features that are so recognisable from his paintings.

Another garden he talked about was La Vallee, owned by Gilles Clement, a professor of landscape design, this was a garden made up entirely of plants collected from all over the world, even including weeds such as Ground Elder and Japanese Knotweed.  Every April this garden is maintained by mowing the paths around plants and any obstacles, so that if there is a fallen tree the path will be mowed around it, this way, the garden is allowed to ‘move’.   Monty found the garden fascinating, but explained that it couldn’t appear on the TV series, as if would have been too messy for an English audience!

Monty ended by saying that everywhere is different and that’s the journey, rhythm matters hugely and balance, he feels clumsy when visiting a French garden, it’s never too late to learn a bit of poise and simplicity.

The evening ended with a question and answer session and a raffle where all proceeds went towards the CHYPS charity, who provide hospice care for children and young people.

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