When I opened the email last year asking me to be part of the Chaumont-sur-Loire International Garden Festival (IGF), I just about fell off my chair. To be part of this show has been on the top of my bucket list for as long as I have been gardening. It’s a show that cannot be compared to any other by any stretch of the imagination and the best of all …it’s in the middle of France hidden away in a tiny town called Chaumont nestled on the banks of the huge La Loire river.
Behind this old town is a towering castle parked on top of a dandelion-covered hill, looking down upon the tiny sleepy village below. It’s an image just like you would find in any worthwhile fairytale story, but I wasn’t heading to the castle to sweep any Princess of her feet, nope I had far better things to do….I was gonna build myself a garden!!!
The theme for this year’s show is ‘Collections’ and it could be any plant collection you deem worthy to display. I just had to bring a bit of an African vibe to the European landscape.
My collection was based upon the area in Africa where I am from, the eastern African Bush-veld. It’s there where you go for the best safaris in the world, and it’s a hot, rough and thorny place, with lions, massive insects and loads of snakes. As the saying goes, Africa is not for sissies!!! With that said, the bush-veld has a tranquility to it that my writing ability just cannot put to paper.
There are some challenges to consider for participating in this show. The budget is less than nothing, and that means you have to be creative in presenting a world class show garden that has to last for 6 months. Yip, the show is open for 6 months of the year attracting a staggering 450,000 visitors to the show alone.
The show has 3 sections. The first is the land-art part which is situated on the massive open lawns of the castle. It’s installations that were made world-famous by the Chaumont show. The second area is prodominantly contemporary art and this is housed inside the castle rooms itself. Installations ranging from constantly changing crystals to wooden roots growing out of the castle walls. It’s astounding the talent that they have managed to bring together at the show.
Then the 3rd part of the show is the show garden section. Château Chaumont’s IGF panel receives a staggering 800 designs a year but can only choose 20 to participate.
All the 2015 designers are from Europe such as Belguim, The Netherlands, France, Germany etc, with only me coming from, shall we say, further afield.
I took a couple of things with me to Europe: colourful traditional Passport masks, some wooden pots, a spider, and dried Protea seed heads. (For all the greenies freaking out now, it’s not a real spider its just a big wooden one). Plants we used in the garden were a range of Aloe, Euphorbia, Leonotus, Strelitzia, Carissa, Tulbaghia, Kniphofia, and Elegia species, mixed with a selection of brownish grasses.
The focal points of the garden were massive Adenuim multiflorum sculptures, or locally called Impala Lilies, and one big Baobab sculpture, all made out of willow and Protea seed heads. We also mixed different soil types and clay so we could get the perfect African soil texture and colouring, building termite mounds and mixing in some dry wood and stone to make it look exactly like the real McCoy. It even felt warmer in our garden.
The African masks appearing over the mounds were to provide the colour in the garden, and they represent all the different vibrant people from the array of traditional villages in the bush-veld. In the garden, all the masks come together for a great big feast under the large old Baobab tree, as a Baobab represents wisdom and longevity.
The life of the traditional bush-veld folk was solely dependant on nature, from the animals they hunt, to the berries they pick, and using a variety off plant material to build their shelters, and roots for medicine. Amazingly, most of them are still being used to this day, as our ‘African Kitchen’ (‘Cuisine Africaine’) garden showcases to the world.
See more gardens at the International Garden Festival at Chateau Chaumont sur Loire. Open April 23 to November 1, 2015.