This is the third and last of a series of informal reports by myself on the recent visit by the Society to Switzerland. For the first report, please click here. For the second report, please click here.
The Private Garden of Madame Zanon
Today was described in our programme as a day "around Lake Geneva" and it started with a visit to Le Prieuré, owned and gardened by Madame Zanon.
We walked up the drive and approached the very attractive ivy clad house where Madame Zanon welcomed us to her garden. She described it as a modest property but it was obvious that there was a lot more to Le Prieuré than was immediately visible. Madame Zanon suggested a short walk around the main areas of the garden before leaving us to discover the rest for ourselves. I think she could see we were keen to investigate.
We walked down a path beside the house to the rear lawn and the secret of the location was revealed. The rear of the house itself is beautifully proportioned, but what took our breath away was the view from the rear lawn.
The lawn ran down to the waters of Lake Geneva with a view across the lake to the mountains in the distance. Even on a cloudy day such as we had for our visit, it was stunning.
But we still had a lot of garden to see, so after a short stop to take in the view, we continued to the other side of the house, through a small wooded area to the area behind the summerhouse. This comprising mixed flower and vegetable beds, each beautifully edged with low clipped box, and was quite a revelation. The combination planting was visually quite spectacular.
I particularly liked the corner beds, a square of box hedge planted with a cherry tree in the centre of a "sea" of variegated hostas. Totally unique and very eye catching.
There were a number of variation on this theme of box hedging enclosing a fruit tree with a contrasting underplanting, such as these day lilies around what I believe was an apple tree.
And the garden was not without clematis, such as this C. 'Jackmanii. There were also quite a few examples of C. 'Alba Luxurians' around the garden. Perhaps a somewhat underrated cultivar, here it demonstrated what a very useful cultivar it can be. The small white flowers with their characteristic green streaks seems happy in sun or shade and added little highlights to otherwise dark corners.
All too soon it was time for us to go, so we thanked Madame Zanon for sharing her wonderful garden with us. For anyone, the idea of 50 enthusiastic gardeners from all over the world looking into every corner of your garden can be quite daunting but Madame Zanon had made us truly welcome.
Jardin des Cinq Sens
Our next destination involved a boat trip across Lake Geneva to the French side and the picturesque medieval town of Yvoire, the home of the Jardin des Cinq Sens - which means the Garden of the Five Senses. The early morning clouds had lifted by this time and the weather was sunny and getting quite hot.
Located in the restored former chateau kitchen garden, it has been planted up as it would have been in medieval times within an overall theme of the five senses - sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.
The garden comprises nine different areas and we started off with a short talk about the garden, the design and the thoughts behind the planting. It was soon clear why it is called "le Labyrinthe" - many of the nine areas had a maze-style structure to them.
As midday approached the weather was becoming quite warm, but that didn't stop our investigation of the planting combinations. Many of the plants had edible or medicinal uses.
As I've already mentioned, the Jardin des Cinq Sens is located on the site of the old chateau kitchen garden and the chateau was visible from many points in the garden. Although a modest building, it nevertheless had a very prominent location on a hill overlooking the garden and added to the medieval atmosphere.
The town of Yvoire, whilst very popular with tourists and other holidaymakers, is very pretty. Most of the buildings, whether shops, restaurants or just ordinary dwellings, had a multitude of flowers adorning their stone walls. Being traffic free, one could wander the streets freely.
We lunched in a nice restaurant overlooking Lake Geneva before walking up through the town to find our coach (which had driven around the lake to meet us) for our next visit.
The Private Garden of Madame Moser
Our second private garden of the day was that of Madame Moser. The coach couldn't get up the lane so Madame Moser met up at the entrance to show us the way, accompanied by her faithful companion.
The entrance was set between a number of large trees, and led into a wide path with herbaceous borders on both sides and covered with rose arches. So it was only after a number of metres that the vista to the right opened up and one became aware of the extent of the garden. But I get ahead of myself. We wandered down the path, looking right and left at the many different plants.
Having reach the end, or nearly, we turned right and curved up towards the house. A magnificent building, very much in the style of a French chateau, but our path skirted behind it, past the chicken houses to the vegetable plot. The flower borders continued on either side of the path, but a change in planting gave them a cooler feel, with more greens and pastel shades.
In the vegetable plot, although much produce had already been harvested, there was still quite a lot left to enjoy. The beds had obviously been tended with love and care, in spite of the bare soil there was not a weed in sight. A wide variety of vegetables were planted, no doubt providing the family with delicious home grown meals.
Our path continued around the edge of the garden, giving a wonderful view of the house with the backdrop of yet more trees. Madame Moser told us that the majority of the trees outdated the house and garden by a great many years. Her intention had always been to create a garden in sympathy with these trees.
As we enjoyed refreshments in front of the house, looking out across the lawn, we all agreed Madame Moser had achieved her goal.
A Swiss Wine Tasting
Dinner tonight was served at Domaine Bovy, Chexbres. This Swiss winery is run by brothers Eric and Vincent Bovy. They welcomed us and whilst half the group were given a tour of the cave (cellars) and short history of the winery, the rest of us enjoyed the early evening sunshine with a glass of wine.
One very attractive feature of the cave were the barrels, each one uniquely decorated by a painting by Monsieur Bovy senior (the grandfather).
I cannot speak for other countries, but Swiss wine is certainly little known in Great Britain, so it was with much interest that we sampled five different wines during our dinner, served in the conservatory adjoining the main house and cave. It was a lovely informal evening - the food was all homemade and delicious and the wine were, for me at least, quite a revelation. There had a depth and complexity of flavour I had not been expecting, but very much enjoyed.
We stayed for a second night in Montreux. The day had been great, good weather, great gardens and an interesting and very tasty dinner. Just time for a quick photo of the sun setting over Lake Geneva before bed.
Baumschule Alfred Forster
Marianne Fistarol had mentioned to me during the initial planning of Switzerland 2009 that there weren't many clematis in Switzerland and only a handful of good nurseries and garden centres, so I was totally unprepared for the sight that greeted us when we arrived at the nursery of Alfred Forster. Set in the countryside, with the family house on one side of the road and the main (so I understand) site of the nursery on the other, we were greeted by Mr Forster. He gave a short speech about the history of his business and then we were set to wander through the nursery, in whatever direction we wished. Mr Forster indicated the general direction of his clematis collection with a vague "that way" point of his hand, somewhere in the heart of the nursery. We set off, splitting into small groups and taking various different paths into the depths of the nursery. It was only then that we started to realize just how big the nursery was, also the vast range of plants it contained, and the size of some of the specimen plants. Pots, two metres diameter or more, contained shrubs and trees that towered above us, perhaps five metres high. And the nursery went on and on. We probably walked for 5 or 10 minutes in one direction and still hadn't reach the far boundary. All the plants were well organized and well tended, grouped systematically so that someone in the know would be able to go immediately to where stock was held.
We did at last find the rows of clematis, and once again were taken aback by the number of different cultivars to be seen. As well as the more popular clematis, and their garden-worthiness should not be underestimated, their were many much rarer and more unusual cultivars. Over half the collection were in flower, which gives an idea of the range of early to late flowering varieties. I lost count of the number of cultivars, but the Clematis List for 2009 contains over 560 different cultivars and I have no doubt all were in stock.
Everywhere you looked, Society members were peering over labels, looking into pots and standing back and admiring blooms. From the air we must have looked like ants, scurrying around from one plant to another. We were joined again today by Hans Reudi Horn-Gfeller, who like the rest of us, was enjoying the range of clematis.
As we enjoyed refreshments before we left, we discovered the latest enterprise of Mr Forster - his own vertical gardening system. Simple, sturdy and modular, the system panels can be connected together, I believe either vertically or horizontally, to fit the location. They can even be connected back-to-back to form a double-sided vertically planted wall. Given our earlier visits to the MFO Park Vertical Garden and Contec AG Roof Garden, it appears that Switzerland has some very modern ideas on the future of gardening.
Garden Centre Ernst Meier AG
The following day we visited a Swiss Garden Centre. In spite of being so impressed by Baumschule Alfred Forster, we were a little curious as to what it would be like. Once again we were totally taken aback by the scale of the enterprise and the huge range of all things gardening that it stocked.
A good omen was the notice board outside Garden Centre Ernest Meier AG, set out to greet us and personalized just for our visit.
We were ushered in and welcomed by Herr Meier who, with his daughter to translate to English for us, told us a little about the history of the garden centre. It is very much a family business. Interestingly, and in contrast to most garden centres in Great Britain, they grow all (or was it nearly all - I forget) their own plants, and the quality of all the stock was very evident.
With helpful staff and their clematis expert on hand should we have questions, we headed off in all directions to discover just what a Swiss Garden Centre was like.
And I think it is fair to say that we were all very impressed at what we saw. The centre itself was huge, with a number of buildings surrounding the open-air central space where the majority of outdoor plants were held. Both the range of plants and number of different varieties of each was impressive.
Time and effort had been taken to display lots of the plants in very attractive poses - over interesting supports, in different planting combinations, even just by placing some up a flight of stairs.
The clematis section was obviously of particular interest to most of us and that was one of the best displays I think I have seen in a garden centre. Full of novel ideas for supporting structures, some available in store, others just simple objects to be found in many gardens. It was all very attractive.
Unfortunately, with many people travelling by plane, transporting plants back home can be a little difficult, but quite a few people boarded the coach clutching bags of plants - and not all were clematis by any means.
I should finally mention the accessories and gardening extras sections in this centre, very impressively stocked with everything you could want for the garden and more besides.
Garden of Marianne and Fiche Fistarol
Being the last day of the programme, we had our farewell dinner to look forward to in the evening. But first we were invited to the home of our organizers, Marianne and Fisch Fistarol, to see their garden and enjoy aperitifs. They had gone to a lot of trouble to decorate for our arrival.
We were greeted by this sculpture and displays of cut clematis flowers laid along the tables on the patio. The house was architect-designed and has some very interesting angles, not seen in more conventional properties. It is built on a sloping plot, which gives wonderful views to the distant mountains but also challenging slopes around the edges.
Immediately outside the rear of the house is the pond. It is surrounded by mature planting and has a most attractive wooden platform jutting out halfway across the water. Walking around the pond it takes on different characters from different directions. Needless to say there are many clematis in the garden, but there are plenty of other plants as well.
We all enjoyed wandering around, looking at the plants and chatting about the events of the past week - the places we'd visited and experiences we'd had.
We also enjoyed a very tasty range of aperitifs as well as a glass or two of wine. Someone had been very busy earlier that day, preparing everything.
When we visited Baumschule Alfred Forster, a number of people had ordered clematis. Rather than delay the itinerary that morning, he offered to deliver the plants to the Fistarol's house for us and, sure enough, they were waiting for us when we arrived, all very clearly labelled. Knowing the difficulties of transporting plants on a plane, Marianne had also provided all the necessary equipment to allow those who wanted to bare-root their clematis, making them much easier to take home.
What we hadn't expected, though, was a free gift of a Clematis alpina, one for every person, from Mr Forster. It was a very generous offer and we thank him for this.
Being the last visit of the programme, it seemed a suitable time to thank Marianne and her team of helpers who had worked so hard, with the planning and organizing of the event and during the last week, ensuring that, whatever the weather had in store for us, the programme ran as smoothly and accurately as a swiss watch.
From left to right:- Bix Schmied, Marianne Conrad, Klaus Gmür, Marianne Fistarol, Gabi Allet and Fisch Fistarol.
Belvoir Park Final Dinner
Our farewell dinner was held at the Belvoir Park Restaurant, a few minutes from the centre of Zürich. We walked through the park to the restaurant and were ushered into a large and rather grand room with a number of tables laid out for our meal.
We took our seats and studied our special menu with great interest. However we would have to wait a little while for our first course as before starting the meal, there was to be some entertainment.
The doors from our salon opened and in strode a pianist, André Desponds. He walked over the to grand piano, ready to play for us.
But before he could start, a dancer, Andrea Herdeg, dressed for the tango, also entered the room. The couple then proceeded to give one of the most amusing, clever and entertaining tango demonstrations I think I have ever seen.
They are obviously both superb artists, but their routine combines the skills of music and dance with considerable humour and aspects of cabaret, verging on the burlesque, perhaps. It was brilliant and everyone was totally focussed on their performance.
After a break for our first course, "herdeg&desponds" (the name of their company) came out again for a second performance, possibly better and certainly even more gymnastic than the first. They are, as far as I'm aware, totally unique and their performance brought a smile to all our faces. I also felt there was something rather fun in having a somewhat irreverent performance in such a grand setting.
The meal was superb and fitting end to a wonderful meeting in Switzerland. And so all that was left was for Marianne Fistarol to thank everyone involved and wish us all a safe journey home in the morning.
It is customary that at some point during each meeting, a photo is taken of all attendees. Normally the location is a bit of a gamble, it should be reasonably photogenic, it must be big enough for the group and ideally slightly contoured or sloping such that all attendees can be seen, one must not leave it too late in the programme in case the weather suddenly turns inclement.
For Switzerland 2009, however, it was no contest. The afternoon of our visit to the garden of Madame Moser was perfect weather. The chateau-style house made a perfect backdrop, the sloping lawn allowed for tiered placement of people. I thank Madame Moser for allowing us to use her garden for this purpose and present my group photo below. For a high resolution version, please click on the picture but be warned, it is 8.3 Mbytes.
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