Les Jardins de la Poterie Hillen
A garden to capture you imagination
I always coveted the dream of someday having a big garden. A large, uninterrupted space to fill with magnificent planting 'in the English style. A floral Shangri-La bursting with thirsty fuchsias, busy lizzies and begonias. A cornucopia of vegetables would grow at the kitchen door, that could be picked fresh and served for dinner all year round. Yes, how I loved that idea and, secretly, I still do.
Unfortunately, reality soon to set in when I found that the soil here in the Gers is predominantly clay. Why else are so many houses built of terre cuite or the less common adobe-style brique de terre? In the summer it's impossible to dig with any tool other than a pick-axe and then, as summer rolls on, it turns to a sandy dust that washes away when I try to water my sagging bedding plants. At first I tried to ignore this rude reality and planned adventurous planting designs in my head still clinging to the memory of those years of living in and around English gardens in an English climate. I know now that I was practising a form of self-deception and was doomed to fail.
Last year, however, I visited a garden here in the Gers that gave me hope and filled me with enthusiasm. Les Jardins de la Poterie Hillen are located on the banks of the river Gimone in Themes-Magnoac (65230). I had no idea what to expect when I went there with a friend for the first time,. It was pouring with rain but I put my wellies in the car and insisted we went anyway. By the time we arrived at the car park the rain had eased somewhat. We paid our 6.50 euros, received our plan of the garden
and set off.
We soon discovered that we were indeed visiting gardens plural rather than singular. Wandering around you are led down paths visiting individual spaces and never quite seeing the whole. In this way you are constantly surprised and can turn through a gap in a hedge to see a well ordered Italian Garden or duck under an arch, heavy with roses to find the Salon de The d'Elisa. Yes, you can also have tea and cakes too!
The charming Lutz and Renate-Elisa Hillen, the inspiration behind these gardens are also potters. You can find many examples of their work nestling in the gardens adding a touch of humour and giving enjoyment to visitors of all ages. A shop is open to visitors and well worth a visit as well.
La Famille Hillen started life in their old Gascony Farm (dating from 1741) in 1990. The five and a half hectares that surrounds this ancient farm were dotted sparsely with only six trees. Two 200 year old oaks, a 200 year old ash, a sweet chestnut and a fir tree. The years of agricultural use had deprived the land of many of its hedges and in 1991 they set about re-establishing the land with trees and native bushes. Uppermost in their minds was to
encourage biodiversity and ensure that flora, fauna and man lived in perfect harmony. The character of the land had been lost during the period of time that it had intensely produced food and they wished to restore its natural beauty as much as possible. As each year passed, trees, vegetables and flowers, both cultivated and wild began to fill up the space. They estimate that they have introduced 12000 plants and trees. Further confirmation that I still have a long way to go!
The gardens are open from May until the beginning of October, Tuesday to Sunday from 14h to 19h. There are also special days; Les Journees Nature, Les Journees Europeennes du Patrimoine, when the gardens are open for longer and local plant specialists sell garden plants to visitors. The World Bamboo Day is also supported as there are numerous examples of bamboo on display. Groups of 15
people or more should book their visit in advance.
I have visited Les Jardins in the rain and the sunshine and enjoyed myself both times. These gardens are truly magical and I hope you will be inspired to go along too. Sounds like a good reason to pull on your wellies, checking them first for spiders!
Visit the website for all information relating to location, entry times and dates.
You will also find details of the history in both English and French, many more photographs and details of future events. Some information has been included in the article with the kind permission of Mme Hillen.
Telephone number: 05 62 39 83 48