Journées des Plantes de Chantilly: La Crème de la Crème – Episode 2
A few days ago, after telling you everything about the surprising delicacies we discovered on our first day at Chantilly’s Journées des Plantes, we left you with a terrible cliffhanger: promising to tell you more about the incredible flowers, trees, and breeders we discovered on our second day. Now grab a cup of tea and be sure to have a few quiet minutes to spare, to discover the layers of colorful wonders we were so privileged to see that day.
Japanese Maples have been hot and trendy for quite a long time now, so it’s no surprise we kept running into them during the show– but one of the exhibitors, Les Pépinières du Val de Jargeau, who is based near Orléans, made our hearts pound with the sheer beauty of their trees. From the soft and deep greens to the vibrant reds and golden brown varieties, the pointy leaves created the most refined color palette. Growing and selling 200 varieties of Japanese Maples, Gérard Hillion is without a doubt an expert. For almost 20 years, Hillion was one of the most exclusive, most renowned florists in Paris’ Left Bank. But in 2012, he left the city to take over this nursery and start afresh. Today, there is nothing more captivating than listening to him talking about his tree’s leaves and how their color changes with the seasons.
The bright Acer Palmatum Atropurpurem, cardinal red during spring, takes on bronze reflections throughout the summer. While Acer Palmatum Tricolor is coral pink in the spring, tender green with bold pink touches in the summer, and finishes autumn going from pink to yellow. (Our preference definitively went to the Acer Palmatum Ukigumo, with its green and cream variegated leaves.)
A few meters further, we were simply astonished by the colorful beauties at Vacherot & Lecoufle Orchidées. Since orchids have historically invaded hotel lobbies and restaurants to a varying degree, it has been quite fashionable in Paris, for a few years now, to call them mundane. But there is certainly nothing boring or mundane about this breeder, who is celebrating its 130th birthday this year. Color-wise, the pink orchids were more on trend than ever. Between the classic Phalaenopsis Atlantis in shades of bright pink, the bewitching deep purple Elegant Kaoda Twinkle, the spotted Rotterdam, and the spectacular purple and green Paphiopedilum Pinocchio, the show’s color palette was in full repose.
“Between the classic Phalaenopsis Atlantis in shades of bright pink to the bewitching deep purple Elegant Kaoda Twinkle, the show’s color palette was in full repose…”
(We give special mention to Cattleya Orlata Rio for its two-tone flower and its vibrant pink curled corolla, which makes it look almost like a daffodil.) One other particularly nice aspect of the fair was also to be seen at Vacherot & Lecoufle: didactics. Not only were exhibitors answering visitor’s practical questions all day long, but here one could also self-educate with clear, detailed signposts. How to chose an orchid, what light is ideal for it, how to water properly, and how to repot them were all topics addressed in writing on site.
On to our other all-time favorite: the rose. Pinks, from shocking bright to the softest tender will also be the go-to nuances people will be buying for the coming seasons. The most generous flowers, size-wise as well as color-wise, could be found at Pépinière Leroi, based in the west of France. For the Leroi family, roses have been a passion for many generations. On his 10 hectares, Stephane Leroi cultivates 250,000 rosebushes from about 600 different varieties. Some of his more celebrated species, like the varicolored Star de Doué, here in neon pink and white, or the delicate Sagittarius, one of his novelties for this year, were presented at the fair. Of course, Stephane controls this gargantuan production from roots to blossom, but only a small selection were present to be admired. Particularly emphasized this season were his exceptional ancient roses, also called English roses, which gave a special emphasis on double flowers. Although breeds and names were well-kept secrets at the fair, one could recognize marvelous varieties of Centifolia Major in several shades of pinks (the size and numerous layers of petals are a dead giveaway). Since 2012, researchers and breeders in Doué-la-Fontaine (one of France’s historical rose-growing regions, where the Leroi nursery is located) have been collaborating to create new breeds and to modernize the production chain.
Just a few steps further, other wonders from Japan were about to sweep us off our feet. At Les Jardins du Joncquoy, up in the North of France, Thierry Lesaffre grows a very rare variety of peonies, with only 30 of them produced to this day in the whole world. We are talking here about the wonderfully delicate intersectional peonies– an interbreeding of shrub and herbaceous plants.
“The pale yellow Itoh Bartezella, with its large, very perfumed flowers, was hybridized in Wisconsin and is now known to be the most beautiful peony of its kind. On this day in Chantilly, it was in full bloom…”
Created in 1948 by the Japanese breeder Toichi Itoh, they combine the vigor of herbaceous species to the splendor of shrubby ones. The pale yellow Itoh Bartezella, with its large, very perfumed flowers, was hybridized in Wisconsin and is now known to be the most beautiful peony of its kind. On this day in Chantilly, it was in full bloom.
Other stars of the show were the great Shimafuji, its petals as thin and light as organza, displaying its extraordinary gradient of purple to pale pink color, while those from Siberia and China exhibited their characteristically deep ruby red hues and thickly-layered flowers.
On a more historical note, Pivoines Rivière– a breeder from Vercors (in the East of France, between Provence and Dauphiné) is a breeder that has specialized in peonies since the trade emerged in 1849. On site, they displayed a small sample of their 750 breeds. In the alleyways, their presence marked by a gigantic bountiful basket of red, magnificent neon pink, and pure white flowers, was not to be missed. The brightest red was the simple flower Scarlet O’Hara; the warm Hélios exhibited the most beautiful yellow; and the generous double Dolorodell, with its rounded petals, made an impressive shows amongst the pinks. Nothing, however, could hold a candle to the almost white 1867 Noémie Demay.
The next booth, Pépinières de Kerfandol, transported us further west in Brittany. This family business, started in 1962, specializes in heather earth plants, breeding over three hundred varieties of rhododendrons, hundred of azaleas, and about sixty of camellias. (If all azaleas should always be classified as rhododendrons, the reciprocal is not true. Azaleas’ flowers and leaves are much smaller than the rhododendrons, but they carry only five stamens, one per lobe, while rhodies have ten.) Rhododendron fans could admire the utterly refined Sappho, evolving from a lilac bud to a majestic white flower mottled with deep purple. Meanwhile, the astonishing Ponticum Graziella was stealing the show, thanks in part to its vibrant neon pink hues. The soft mauve Mrs. Charles Pearson and the deep purple Marcel Ménard also left a lingering impression.
In the same color palette, the incredibly beautiful clematises from Travers (yet another historic French breeder working passionately with the lovely climbing plant since 1895) displayed a collection that has been recognized as a “National Collection”. Their great novelty this year was a perfumed star jasmine with a pink flower in referred to as Pink Shower. And as far as clematises are concerned, the pale Bernadine, the intense H F Young and the deep Honora gave a good overview of the large range of purples while the glorious Docteur Ruppel, with its gradient petals, did the color pink proud.
As the day progressed, we stayed with historical breeders but switched to the fascinating world of aquatic plants with Latour-Marliac. Founded in 1875 by Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac, the nursery’s initial purpose was to cultivate and propagate rural water lilies.
“In 1889, Latour-Marliac felt confident enough about his collection to show it in Paris at the universal exhibition. Not only did the hybrids win first place in their category, but they also caught the eye of one of the era’s most important painters: Claude Monet.”
At the time, the only resistant variety of water lilies in Europe were the white ones, and Latour-Marliac had found a way of crossbreeding them with foreign species, which in turn allowed him to achieve a wide variety of colors, from pale yellow to deep red. In 1889, Latour-Marliac felt confident enough about his collection to show it in Paris at the universal exhibition. (Not only did the hybrids win first place in their category, but they also caught the eye of one of the era’s most important painters: Claude Monet. The impressionist placed an order for the garden he was creating to surround his house in Giverny– a garden that would inspire one of his greatest works, the Nympheas.) Although just a tiny sample of the nursery’s work was shown, the incredible quality of the plants was immediately perceptible. Over 250 varieties can be seen at the nursery in Le-Temple-sur-Lot. Down in this beautiful region of South-East France, the space has been bequeathed the rather illustrious title of “Remarkable Garden” by the Ministry of Culture.
As we meandered into the underwood, we discovered all sorts of lovely primroses, but also some incredibly complex auriculas and gorgeous candelabras of which Barnhaven’s nursery is one of the world’s most renowned specialists. Created in the 1930s by Florence Bellis, it was first established in Oregon. Thirty years later, they’ve now crossed the ocean, venturing first into England and than swiftly towards a small village in French Brittany, where the nursery still operates today. From a few seeds bought to cheer her up during the depression era, Florence Bellis quickly made a business, pollinating her flowers by hand– a method she still uses today– and as she mailed out hand-painted catalogs from the very early days.
After a life spent creating new breeds, Bellis decided it was time to pass the torch, appointing the Sainclairs, a couple of English breeders, to do so in the late 1960s. For another 30 years, they worked on building a reputation for the nursery. And today, in Brittany, Lynn and David Lawson still perpetuate the tradition while creating new breeds. (David is very much into auriculas, creating a fantastic collection of Show Auriculas, while Lynne has produced hundreds of new double primroses, below.)
Right on the other side of the same aisle, were some astonishingly beautiful hydrangeas from the Pépinière Côte Sud des Landes, in the South West of France. The entirely independent nursery, established in 1984, breeds and grows all of its 1,500 plants, trees, and shrubs. They made the decision not to have any resellers whatsoever, selling their plants only at garden shows and directly through their website. Each year, they enhance the 200 plants they produce in small quantities, and as their plants root in the summer, they are available for sale in September, at which point they sell out very quickly. Amongst the most beloved mop head hydrangeas, also called Macrophylla, we particularly liked the ones with, let’s say, a twist: the double-colored green and red Schloss Wackerbarth. We also liked the lilac-like pink Ayesha (also called Hop Corn Mophead), the very delicate Koria (a Japanese hybrid with white flat serrated edge flowers), the tie-dye like spectacular Pfau (in deep blue and white), the refreshingly-modern Camilla (in bright pink and creamy white), and the surprisingly rosette-shaped pink Love. In the Japanese Serrata range, we had a crush on the Omacha, with its butterfly-like flowers evolving within light blues and pinks, or the nonetheless beautiful but more classical Blue Deckle. With so much variety on display, we fell head over heels with the Mikata-Vae and its star-like flower, as it manifested in shades of both pink and blue, as well as the Viburnum Plicatum Pink Sensation, which enchanted us with its high branches filled with generous fluffy balls of flowers, each the size of a fist. Who knew there was such diversity within hydrangeas? (We left the stand loving the plant more than ever.)
We ended our day with a short visit of the castle, which was the private residence of the Duc d’Aumale in the XIXth century. Son of Louis-Philippe, he gathered the second most important collection of ancient paintings in France, including three Raphael wonders. Heirless, the duke bequeathed the domain to the young French Republic in 1897, under the sole conditions that the house should be opened to the public and his collections remained exactly the way he chose to display them himself. In the Cabinet des Livres (books cabinet), the Societé Nationale d’Horticulture de France (French National Horticultural Society) was displaying some of its historical treasures, in an effort to link the historic artifacts to the ongoing show. A perfect way to end a perfect visit!