French Gardens TV programme, Jean de Florette, Marcel Pagnol, Monty Don, Patrick Blanc, Robert Miles, Versailles
The recent French Gardens programme by Monty Don has been a real treat. Stunning gardens and scenery and an engaging presenter . . . oh, and lots of sunshine. For an hour I was transported to somewhere warmer and sunnier. In fact, the only downside to the programme was that when it finished, the reality of it actually being February returned. I can imagine bookings of French holidays have increased as a result of the programme.
I’ve been captivated by France for a long time now. I studied French at A’ level and was introduced to the delights of French literature and film. I was less enamoured by French TV which my teacher would record and make me watch in class. These programmes were generally hosted by Antoine de Caunes, (he of Eurotrash and Rapido fame), and were bizarre to say the least. It didn’t help that I only understood every few words and the content was generally so distracting I don’t think it did anything to boost my vocabulary.
Despite being fascinated by the country I’ve only ever been to France once. My one and only Gallic experience was whilst at university. I was nursing a broken heart and a couple of friends invited me along on a short break to Paris to cheer me up. Admittedly three days in the capital city of romance with three platonic friends, visiting the classic tourist sites and being surrounded by loved-up couples might not seem like the obvious way to get over heartbreak. It did the trick though.
Monty’s programme brought back happy memories. Back then, at the age of 20, gardening wasn’t the all-consuming passion it is now but two of the strongest memories I have of the trip are plant related. I was so surprised that Paris was such a green city, which wasn’t my experience of British urban areas. There were trees everywhere you went, lining the boulevards and giving Paris a light and airy feel even in the heat of summer. It seems, thanks to the imagination of botanist and garden designer Patrick Blanc, who creates incredible green walls, Paris is now even greener than when I visited in the late nineties.
My other memory is of Versailles. Our visit there hadn’t been planned. We were at a Metro station and discovered we could get to the palace from there and for a few francs. So off we went. It was a blisteringly hot day and for some reason we didn’t actually go inside the Palace, instead we wandered around the back and were greeted by the jaw-dropping sight that stretched out in front of us. It was the sheer scale of the enormousness of the clipped hedges, the boating lakes, the planting, everything. It was as if the garden had been created for giants. It took our breath away and it all went on for miles and miles. People were dwarfed by the vast proportions and looked like ants. Since then, I’ve seen gardens that are more beautiful than Versailles, but for sheer grandeur nothing has matched it.
It’s strange how some memories stand out. I dug out some old photos when I thought about writing this post and couldn’t remember other aspects of the trip but that afternoon at Versailles has stayed with me. The blue skies, the heat and lying on the grass of the vast avenue listening to a French radio station on my Walkman. I had one earphone, my friend Faiz had the other and Children by Robert Miles was playing as we stared out across the scene in front of us. When I hear that track now I’m immediately transported back to Versailles.
Monty’s series has awakened a desire to return to France and particularly to Provence. I read the books Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources by Marcel Pagnol for my A’ level. Set in Provence, Pagnol captures so evocatively the sights and sounds of the countryside. He was born in the area and his love of the landscape and flora and fauna is obvious from his descriptions. Jean de Florette, and it’s sequel Manon are tales of struggle and revenge and follow a man and his family when they move back to his home village to farm the land. They are wonderfully crafted stories which were turned into films in the 1980s.
Directed by Claude Berrie, the cinematography is sublime. You can almost smell the lavender and the sun-baked ground. Gerard Depardieu plays the title role, Jean and with the poignant music , they are perfection for me, in terms of film. I don’t want to give away the story for those who may want to watch the films or read the books but everyone who has grown their own will understand something of the struggle Jean faces. There is a scene in the film where Jean is tormented by the rain and the effect it is having on his crops. It’s a scene all growers will empathise with. Ever since I read these books it has been my dream to visit the area. Nearly 20 years later and I have yet to go, but maybe Monty’s programme has ignited the desire enough for me to actually start planning a trip. Wellyman quite likes the idea of hiring a 2CV but is less keen on copying the youthful Monty wearing a beret.
English translations are available of Marcel Pagnol’s books and the films are still available on DVD. They have subtitles and I can’t recommend them highly enough.
One final recommendation. For a witty and cheeky take on Monty’s recent series take a look at The Sea of Immeasurable Gravy blog, it will make you giggle.
Thanks for the recommendation; another friend alerted me to the programme, I hope it will be available on international iPlayer, I doubt it though as his other programmes aren’t available. Which channel was it on? Christina
It was BBC2. Hope you get a chance to catch it.
Thanks for sharing your memories – it’s funny what triggers thoughts of things things you haven’t considered for years. I only saw the last episode of Monty Don – meant to catch the others on iPlayer. Thanks also for the introduction to Sea of Immeasurable Gravy – I howled at this clip 🙂
I think the others may still be available on iplayer for a little bit longer. Arabella’s blog is very funny, isn’t it.?
Arabella Sock said:
What a lovely post! I too love France – I have spent a lot of time there partly because of our close proximity to channel crossings and partly because until I got over my fear of flying, Europe was a more appealing holiday prospect. If you loved the films Jean de Florette – try and see ‘La Gloire de Mon Pere’ and ‘Le Chateau de ma mere’ (if you haven’t already done so) also set in Provence they are absolutely fantastic. I have to say that the last two times we were in Provence I didn’t like it – spoilt by development on the coast and too many ‘Peter Mayles’ in the mountains.
Monty’s programme inspired me to revisit some old haunts and look at some new – it was outrageous that it was only three programmes and I felt those were rushed and bitty, could have devoted at least 30 minutes to each garden. Better than nothing though.
Thank you. I did start reading La Gloire de Mon Pere but never finished it but I did spot that there were films available so will try to get hold of them. I hate flying and have only flown twice in about 12 years. OH lived abroad when we met so I spent first 18 months flying a lot to see him. Exposure therapy is meant to work but it didn’t for me, it made it worse. Hypnotherapy has worked a little though. Completely agree that the series should have been longer. There must have been so much footage they didn’t use. I’m sure Provence has been spoilt by the Peter Mayle books and the resulting influx but at least I wouldn’t have had the experience of it pre-Mayle. I could go there blissfully unaware of how much it has changed 😉
The Sarah Raven Team said:
We loved the series! So excited to get the DVDs and watch them – seems like just the sort of thing I would love…
There should definitely be more gardening TV like that.
Yes I too loved the Monty programmes. I particularly liked the contrasts between the uptight formality of the grand gardens and the loose and chaotic but hugely productive kitchen gardens.
Flying phobia here too!!
I loved that too. Great to see have other countries view gardening. We see a lot of British gardens so good to see a glimpse abroad.
Helen Johnstone said:
I have a hankering to visit the gardens of France but no-one to go with – sad I know. I remember visiting Versaille when I was about 12 and insisting to my parents that we go to Marie Antoinette’s village/garden. I was quite fascinated by the revolution at the time. All I remember is that it took us ages to find it as Versailles is so vast and I think I was a little disappointed when we got there. I did read the other day though that there had been huge investment in Versailles.
However it is the other gardens that were featured that I would like to see.
By the way thank you for your comment on my 5 years post. I see that we shall both be at the San francisco blogger meet up so we will get to meet finally
Hi Helen, I agree the smaller gardens were fascinating. I’d probably go back to Versailles so OH could see it but it would be the others I’d really want to see.
I think there may have been a mix-up as I’m not going to San Francisco. I hadn’t even heard of the bloggers meet up until I googled it. Sounds like great fun though and I’ll look forward to hearing all about it. I can’t make Outofmyshed’s meet at Great Dixter either. But I’m sure we’ll meet up at some point. 🙂
Helen Johnstone said:
Oh I am sorry I have got my bloggers muddled – silly me
I cant make the Gt Dixter thing either as saving for San Francisco.
Hope to meet soon
That’s OK. San Francisco sounds amazing. Maybe we could organise a bloggers meet in France for 2014. Our own garden tour.
Anna B said:
I’ve got Monty Don ‘taped’ (why I still say I’ve taped it is beyond me when it’s all digital now?) I will hopefully find time to watch him soon!! I love France, I was lucky to go several times in my youth with my parents and over the past few years snowboarding. I often refer to it as ‘my spiritual home’ not sure why? The Cheese and Wine probably!! I’ve never been to Provence either but I bet it’s stunning, the books and films sound good. I’d actually really love to visit Monet’s garden, maybe even this year. It’s so nice of you to share your memories with us! I’m not quite sure what to say about the link to The Sea of Immeasurable Gravy though, other than ‘very unique’ !!! 🙂
Esther Montgomery said:
It’s interesting what you say about Paris being a green city. I have only been there once – for a few days when I was seventeen – and I can’t remember anything green beyond the formal bits. That, of course, doesn’t mean it wasn’t there – but I certainly wasn’t struck by it. Indeed, the other day, looking at various cities (including Paris) from above with the aid of Google Earth to see how they compared in vegetation I was reminded of being in London during the first hurricane – when the streets turned green, barricaded as they were by all the fallen trees in full leaf – which, until that morning, I hadn’t noticed were there.
I haven’t caught the Monty Don series, I always seem to be in the middle of something else when it’s on. I’ve only been to France once and that was with school. I was about twelve or thirteen. We stayed in the Loire Valley and visited many chateaux, as well as staying in Paris on the way home and visiting Versailles. I really didn’t appreciate what I was seeing at that age, such a shame. How I’d love the chance to return again now.
These gardens are not really to my taste but I can appreciate their appeal to those, like yourself, who do like them.
Hiring a 2CV sounds like great fun, and I’d even wear a beret!
A most enjoyable post, and thanks for the link mentioned in the last paragraph…said smiling! xx
I am watching the Monty Don series too and would love to visit Versailles. Hoping to return to Paris sometime soon and will put Versailles top of my list. Huge formal gardens have an air of unreality – like stepping into the past as a time traveller!
I love France and am married to one of them so it feels like I have been hundreds of times. But the Eurostar is so comfortable, you can go anywhere now without flying and just change in Paris, although it usually works out more expensive than the plane. I have been to Provence twice, yes it is a bit touristy in parts but still amazing. I was impressed how well Monty’s programme managed to capture the light and sound of area.
I loved the programme. I did think Monty was not entirely at ease in the stately gardens, particularly the one at Hermes. I imagine the Parisian receptionist perhaps gave his braces a look! Once Monty was out in the fields testing the soil in his hands, he seemed much more in his element.
Oh I was most sad that the series was only a three parter – could have done with a weekly fix. I wish that the set texts for my A level French had been as inspiring. Have been fortunate enough to visit France several times over the last few years and finally got to Provence briefly last year. Too late for seas of lavender so will just have to return 🙂 Hope that you and Wellyman get that holiday booked soon.
We had a gardening holiday in Aix en Provence many years ago, it was lovely seeing the area again through Monty’s eyes. I agree, the programme could have been a lot longer than 3 episodes, it brought back many happy memories!
Weeding the Web said:
I enjoyed the episode I saw, but wasn’t drawn to rushing back to see the others. It was rushed and left questions unanswered – I particularly wanted to know why the onion fields were unaffected by disease when they grow onions every year. Do they drench them with chemicals or add tons of compost or is there another reason?
Caro (urbanvegpatch) said:
I missed the programme but have enjoyed this post – it brought back memories of visiting Versailles as a child en route from a family holiday in the South. I got as far as the gates, felt unwell, the smell from a cigar being puffed in front of me finished me off and I threw up before fainting! I should probably go back and overwrite that memory. I have friends in South of France, near Carcassonne and can highly recommend going for the autumn harvest – sunflowers as far as the eye can see!! Narrow boats a la Rick Stein along the Canal du Midi also v good – a photographer’s dream.
Loved the Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources films – I also got to see the beach village used in the opening scene of Betty Blue; it’s at Gruissan plage and worth a visit!
PS Take me with you!!!
I loved those films, goodness, that brought back memories. I’ve only been to France once, to the south, to recover from finals. My memories are of perfect crepes, bleached mountainous landscapes, dramatic architecture and the amazing green of the Canal du Midi. Your trip down memory Lane provoked one of my own, so thank you. I’ll have to catch the re-runs of Monty’s programmes, I do like him as a guide around gardens, he always makes it personal, and therefore opinionated and more interesting.
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