13 July, 2009

Feeling green.

While the Bambouseraie was begun in 1856, this 15-hectare (37-acre) horticultural sanctuary, an official, state-nominated Jardin Remarquable and Monument Historique, only opened its doors to the public at large some sixty years ago. Lucky us, that Monsieur Mazel, a successful 19th century importer of oriental spices, would have such an abiding passion for all things botanical--especially bamboo. Today, the garden he began now houses the largest collection of bamboo in Europe. Some three hundred varieties are represented. Black, striped, curved like a braid, from "turbo" giants (1 m + growth per 24 hour period!) to dwarf to bamboo "turf", you name it, it is probably there. To make all this possible, Monsieur Mazel diverted water from the nearby river to create some 5 kilometers of canals (as in the photo below), still in use today--and to what effect.I love the multitudes of gardens contained within it, and above all, I love the bamboo, shown off to fine advantage. Please forgive me for all the photos that follow. I can't help myself; trust me when I assure you I am displaying only a fraction of what I snapped.
You begin by walking down a long avenue shaded by sequoia and enormous (25 meters high), swaying bamboo. These trees and rustling grasses--for bamboo, like corn, is nothing less than an overgrown variety of grass--have survived long and strenuous travel over land and sea, from as far away as China, the Himalayas and the US west coast. Once in France, they survived the floods and drought that occur in 150-some years and in their majesty here, next to Anduze and close to Nimes, you can sense a near-tangible serenity. While bamboo is often viewed to be basically tropic in nature, it is actually quite rustic--some 90% of the varieties represented at the Bambouseraie tolerate -20 C and lower. There is, after all, snow in China and Japan.
In the Laotian model village made up of photogenic houses on stilts, one immediately gets a vivid sense of how other cultures might make use of the highly multi-functional bamboo--beyond today's viscose textiles. (Yes, viscose fabric is made of bamboo).
In recent years, individual works of art have been beautifully incorporated into the Bambouseraie. I particularly liked this woven installation by Paca Sanchez.

If you enjoy things Japanese--especially Japanese maples--you will be in tengoku, or at least a heightened zen state, in the masterfully feng shui-designed garden. Oh, do please go early in the morning, the better to wander and enjoy this particular space in quiet and relative coolness.
The gardens go on and on; if you are a lover of things green, you can easily while away three hours, as there are water gardens (that showcase unusual miniature water lilies and lotus, among others) to explore. To delight your child or the child in you, lose yourself in the living labyrinth of bamboo, after staring at ancient-looking "stands" of of expertly crafted bonsai...Make a point of visiting while you are in the area; just don't blame me if you linger and find yourself missing lunch.

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