The Domaine du Rayol, the extraordinary Mediterranean Garden

Published on : 22/11/2020 – 01:00

The vegetation of Cape Town in South Africa grows in the Var, in the South of France. And for good reason: it is the same Mediterranean climate, present on four continents. Guided tour of Domaine du Rayol, a world garden with abundant nature.

It is a small green paradise that descends to the Big Blue, on the Billionaire Coast, as it was called 100 years ago. Where a boy named Jacques Chirac learned to play pétanque during the Occupation. His father worked for the rich industrialist Henri Potez, owner of this 20 hectare estate which overlooks the sea, with his Art Deco villa with ocher walls. Much later, the place almost became a holiday village, before the Conservatoire du littoral, in charge of avoiding the concreting of the French coasts, bought it back and gave it “the keys” to the great landscaper 30 years ago. Gilles Clément, the author of the gardens of the Quai-Branly museum and the André-Citroën Park in Paris. Under his leadership, the Domaine du Rayol, halfway between Saint-Tropez and Bormes-les-Mimosas, was to become a garden of the Mediterranean.

An invitation to travel

The Mediterranean climate, hot and dry in summer, cool and humid in winter, is not only found around the Mediterranean. It is also found in California, southern Australia, a small strip of Chile, and the Cape region of South Africa. Planted with plants from four continents, the Domaine du Rayol is an invitation to travel, a tour of the world in 20 hectares. ” Gilles’s idea was to make people travel, explains Alain Menseau, the botanist who watches over the garden. Make them travel with their senses, touch the emotion. That people have the impression of being in the Canaries, of being in Australia, of having the smells of Australia … »

Domaine du Rayol brings together vegetation from six regions of the world in a Mediterranean climate.
Domaine du Rayol brings together vegetation from six regions of the world in a Mediterranean climate. © RFI / Florent Guignard

A sensual journey that appeals to the heart rather than the brain. Unlike a botanical garden, no label identifies the plants that grow at Domaine du Rayol. Eucalyptus, dragon tree, oleander, proteas or cactus … Nature, here, is abundant. ” It is a natural garden. What we want is that it looks like nature, and not like a garden in which man intervenes. Even if the man intervenes, smiles Alain Menseau, pointing to two of the six gardeners who make up his team. You saw, they work. But it shouldn’t be seen! When a new gardener comes here, I tell him to forget everything he has learned. And when a visitor tells me: “But it is a garden that is neglected!”, I answer that our job is precisely to make believe that it is neglected! »

No water, no fertilizers, no pesticides

Nature, here, has all the rights, according to the philosophy of Gilles Clément: “ If a tree grows to the point of overflowing the path, we move the path. »And the Mediterranean nature is not very demanding. A poor and dry soil is enough for him: no need for fertilizers or water. And even more need for pesticides. “ Three years after stopping all treatments, remembers Alain Manseau, we really saw a lot more insects. Butterflies, ladybugs … everything! And almost immediately, what goes with it: birds. When there is a lot to eat, there are a lot of birds. Nature balances and humans have almost nothing left to do, but to contemplate its beauty.

It is through its leaves (and roots) that the tree feeds. The leaves produce sugar, thanks to the sun – this is photosynthesis. But when the days get shorter, in temperate regions food is less plentiful; the leaves lose their usefulness. Chlorophyll, which gives leaves their green color, and which is essential in photosynthesis, disappears – leaves begin to turn yellow or brown. With the cold, they also risk freezing, and the tree, which has the memory of autumn, cuts the link with its leaves, which end up falling, deprived of sap thanks to small cork stoppers secreted by the tree. But unlike humans who lose their hair, the leaves grow back with the arrival of spring and the return of the sun.

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