Serre de la Madone



Serre de la Madone

From 1924 onwards, Lawrence Johnston, an American born in Paris, began to create a winter garden in Menton, a place which would be both stylish and spectacular. There were to be double curving steps, fountains, pools, classical statuary, green garden rooms, a Moorish patio and an orangerie for tender exotic plants. In 1907 he had already begun an outstanding garden in Gloucestershire, England - Hidcote Manor. His French garden - Serre de la Madone - was designed to lay siege to the house, through doors, windows and arcades; the house being originally a sizeable farmhouse to which Johnston added to large wings. With this quiet house and luxuriant vegetation, we could be miles from anywhere, perhaps in India. Parrots screech in the aviaries - Australia maybe? Those palms swaying against the sky are certainly from the Canaries..... But no, we are in one of the valleys of Menton, one step from the Mediterranean, two steps from Italy.

Hidcote Manor Gardens in the Cotswolds was the first garden acquired by the National Trust in the UK. In 2000 a unique arrangement  saw Hidcote and Serre de la Madone, Lawrence Johnson's two outstanding gardens, 'twinned'. Under this arrangement, exchanges of both plants and gardeners are to take place for the mutual enrichment of the two gardens.

As far as I know, the gardens of Serre de la Madone have no connection at all with Lady Fortescue but they are only a stones throw away from where she lived and, as a passionate garden creator herself, she might well have been aware of Lawrence Johnson or even known him? The garden is spectacular, set on the side of a steep hill, the house being roughly in the centre. The work so far is extremely impressive but there is much more to do and funds are limited. If you can't visit in person, use the link below to visit the web site.

NOTE - If you are fan of ITV's Rosemary & Thyme series starring Pam Ferris and Felicity Kendall, the episode titled 'They understand me in Paris......' was filmed entirely in and around the gardens. Available on DVD from Amazon etc.

Click on this link to visit Serre de la Madone
Click on this link to visit Hidcote Manor Gardens

In Menton, a town known for its outstanding gardens, Serre de la Madone was bought in 1999 by the Conservatoire du Littoral, with contributions from the town of Menton, the Conseil Général des Alpes-Maritimes, the Conseil Régional (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) and the fondation Electricité de France. Serre de la Madone will now become, with its "palazzo" and its garden restored, an international center for enthusiasts for rare plants. They will be able to come and to familiarise themselves with trees, climbers, shrubs and flowers new to them, to make out their Latin names, to dream in the garden's green rooms and loggias, to study in the library, to linger on the Boulingrin, to hear evening concerts, to meet botanists, to take part in seminars and courses... and of course, to revive themselves in the "salon de thé".

The Association pour la Sauvegarde et la Mise en Valeur du Jardin Serre de la Madone, created to oversee the restoration and subsequent running of the house and garden, intends to become a model of self-sufficiency in its management, and an international centre for all plant enthusiasts.


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