Salagon Musée et Jardins
This summer I actually went on holiday from the farm in the middle of summer. It is twenty years since I last went away during the growing season, and actually it was really nice to do a bit of nothing! For all of ten lazy days I enjoyed Provence, France, and long evenings with good wine, food and lovely friends. However, not all the time was idel as of course while there I spent some time visiting gardens in the region. One of the nicest gardens by far was Jardin de Salagon in the town of Mane in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence Department of France, and it is in fact listed amongst the Remarkable Gardens of France, a list maintained by the French Ministry of Culture and the Comité des Parcs et Jardins de France.
Jardins de Salagon is an ethnobotanical garden with a museum and park surrounded by a 12th century priory. Ethnobotany is the study of how a regions plants are used through the local knowledge of a people in their culture, and consequently the botanical garden is divided into regions. The Modern garden below the priory is a journey through agricultural history divided into four regions: Europe and the Mediterranean basin (with wheat, vegetables and olive trees etc), the Americas (with beans, maize, a small pond and curcubita etc), Asia (spices and rice etc) and Sub-Saharan Africa (with millet, papyrus and sorghum etc). This part of the garden is beautifully laid out in four equal beds that are well composed and informative, with plant labels and short explanations of how society moved from hunter gathering to modern agriculture and industry. Today we take so many of our daily food ingredients for granted that it is really interesting to contemplate how limited the basic a list of ingredients our ancestors hade to contend with just a few hundred years ago, before import and export of goods over seas became the norm.
Another delightful aspect of the garden is the emphasis on ecological and organic gardening practises employed, and it is teeming with wildlife. Frogs happily spawn and an abundance of insects and butterflies decorate the flowers. In addition to a very well curated museum there are several more gardens laid out around the old Priory, including a vine plantation, a garden devoted to various varieties of white Oak local to the area, a section devoted to Popular and Village plants that emphasises plants from the Haute-Provence region and a fairly new area called the Fragrance Garden.
I really enjoyed the Fragrant plants garden and must admit that I am a teeny bit envious of how beautifully it is laid out in sturdy metal edged raised beds in flowing forms. Wouldn't you just love to have metal edged raised beds like that? This part of the garden was originally intended to showcase many of the plants that are used in making perfume in the Haute-Provence region, but it has expanded since to contain many other fragrant plants from around the world. These are laid out into five sensory trails with pictograms describing which part of the plant it is that produces the fragrance: root, wood, leaf, flower, fruit, sap or rasin.
The Medieval garden is just next to the old Abbey and takes us back to monastery gardens in the time before the discovery of the New World. It is divided into three, with a kitchen garden for food, a medicine garden relate to the five medieval pharmacopoeia and pathology groups from the old classifications, and a secret garden with a fountain that also contains poisonous plants. To me this little garden truly showed the narrow scope of plants native to Western Europe compared to the wide range we use today, especially as regards food and wellness. In the museum bookshop there were a large selection of books covering these areas, and although I am very interested in agricultural and natural medicine history, my French is sadly lacking to such an extent that I left it empty handed. However, this is one garden I can truly recommend visiting as it is so versatile and well thought trough that it will keep your interest going for many hours.