One enters from the village street through a lovely old wooden gate with rusted iron hardware: the unveiling begins as an inner courtyard, paved in brick and stone, greets the visitor. Tall columns of Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) and antique Anduze pots holding topiary balls of boxwood (Buxus) serve as focal points. A small walkway edged in boxwood leads to a balcony over the village street, with seating ideal for sunset views. The main path leads to the front door or, continuing further, towards the cliff-side parterre garden with its marvellous views over the Cavalon Plain.

The parterre garden is perfection: its lines and scale define the space in such a way that it would be difficult to imagine a better layout. The white Iceberg roses and, in autumn, the white blooms of Japanese anemone (Anemone × hybrida) coolly and calmly soften the boxwood beds, adding floral interest without distracting from the main show: the incredible view across the Cavalon Plain all the way to Mount Ventoux.

It was initially quite difficult to reach the lower levels of the hillside complex. There were no connecting stairs; to reach the pool, it was necessary to exit the property on to the village street, circle below the church, exit the old medieval fortified section of the village, and re-enter the property through a small wooden doorway. By “listening to the stones,” a passageway to the lower level was eventually discovered by Cédric Lafaye, the gardener. Rappelling down the rampart wall to prune the ivy, he discovered an old archway in the stonework. The owners realised that the stones had indeed spoken and had revealed the ideal place to build a stairway. The arch was reopened and a stone tower with spiral stairs was built to connect the two levels of the garden, eliminating the inconvenient walk. The tower was carefully constructed to look as though it had always been part of the castle complex.

The pool with stair tower to upper level
Drawing – John Jefferis

The lower levels are less formal than the upper garden, but they have a loose rhythm to their layout. One walks easily through hillside rooms, connected by pathways and stone steps. The pool area, with its ancient grotto used as a secret gathering place for spiritual cults (circa 6th or 7th century), is laid out somewhat formally; beyond, one is free to meander and discover the hillside levels as they unfold. The large boulder, split in two by its fall from the ramparts, lies just beyond the swimming pool in sculptural repose. A small circular water feature nestles above the massive stones and empties into a runnel between them.

The lower garden is a fantasy land for adults and children alike. Newly planted olive trees grace the hillside, as does a two- hundred-year-old cherry orchard. There are numerous spots to have a picnic lunch, sit and read a book, or lie in a hammock suspended from a cherry tree. A large cobblestone oval of wild thyme kept low, with a fossilised ammonite at its centre, provides a meditative spot. A small gazebo with red and white striped curtains provides a place for intimate conversation or, when numerous family members are present, a focal spot for gatherings. There is a potager used by the owner and her staff for vegetables and cut- flowers. There is even an area for playing pétanque, a French lawn game that has evolved from ancient Roman traditions.

Aux pieds, le jardin de La Carmejane, au loin le Ventoux

From its setting in the relaxed sophistication of the village, to the warm formality of the upper level garden and castle, to the meandering paths and rooms of the lower hillside, La Carmejane has become a well-loved and beautifully restored home. In a mutual stroke of luck, the village gained a wonderful expatriate family, committed to learning the mysteries of the castle and bringing it back to life, while the owners were presented with an opportunity to create a deeply soulful residence in which to live out their “third act” happily.

This is the third and final extract from n article that appeared in The Mediterranean Garden, published in 2014.

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