A Visit to a French Garden

Last weekend in the small city of Coutances (Normandy, France), the yearly street fair – “braderie”- was in full swing. Stalls and tables were set up along the main city streets displaying clothing, books, antiques, art, and food. After weaving through crowds and enjoying the ambiance, we took a turn off the main square and found quiet in the Jardin des Plantes. In this blog post, I write about my visit to the gardens and the inspiration I found in the colourful and diverse plants and trees. I reflect on how a change of scenery can kick start future projects and be linked to past interests.

Entrance of the Jardin des Plantes, Coutances

Dating from the nineteenth century, this botanical garden boasts rare trees and numerous plant species. I was pleased to see some of my favourite plants and trees including marigolds, black-eyed susans, Queen Anne’s lace, thistles, roses, hortensia, magnolia, and ginkgo trees. Since I am working on a commissioned painting of blossoms, I took a close look at the petals of these bright pink roses. Looking at this snapshot now, I love the delicacy of the folding petals in contrast to their bright pink colour against the sky blue.

Rounding a corner I nearly bumped into this large hortensia plant growing along a stone wall. I love the fullness of the flowers and noticed many of these plants along the winding country roads outside of the city.

Parallel pathways wind throughout the gardens. As I walked down one path, I noticed that, to one side, a group of various plants were all cool hues of blues, whites, and purples. On the other side, warm hues of oranges, yellows, and reds reminded me of my grandmother, Oma, whose favourite colour was orange. There is both an element of organization in this strategy of colour-grouping and variety since each flowerbed is made up of many different sized, coloured, and shaped plants. The overall aesthetic is one of tidy wildflower bouquets.

I visited the garden in the late morning on a sunny day. With the summer sun high in the sky, stark shadows were cast down the trunk of this ginkgo tree and along the paths. Shimmering light danced in the leaves of the trees. Next to very old trees, I reflected on their lifetime and my own. Feeling small and relatively young next to this large Lebanese Cedar, I remembered reading the first chapters of The Overstory by Richard Powers, which tells the story of a family over generations against the backdrop of one particular tree.

Taking close-up photos of the flowerbeds, I thought of my “De Haan Dandelions” painting (2020), which shows a close-up view of the flower. I decided that after finishing my current painting project, I would start on another close-up painting; this one to incorporate the vibrant oranges and yellows of the flowers I saw in Coutances.

A step outside of our regular setting can spur reflection. Old ideas in combination with new inspiration can lead to the next project. It seemed fitting to be reflecting on the past and the future the morning before attending the wedding of a good friend of mine. Friendship and love are enduring–they might change, new experiences are layered upon old ones– but the threads of continuity that we can see over time are reasons to feel grateful and celebrate the day!

Thanks for reading!

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