Hélène and Patrice Fustier were slightly nervous at 10 am this Friday morning, when the Festival of Plants, which they created in their castle of Courson 32 years ago, was for the first time taking place at Chantilly.
At dinner the same evening, in the charming Maison de Silvie, everyone was completely relieved: 7 124 visitors had been faithful on the first day of this magical event, where Belgian, British and Dutch exhibitors had joined the French nurseries in a fantastic Ball of Plants.
The stage, the Parc Anglais designed by Victor Dubois in 1817, and the décor, Le Nôtre beautiful fountains and Grand Canal, were a great « faire valoir » for the over 200 International exhibitors. A light drizzle welcomed the anxious crowds and made the beautiful roses, dogwoods, clematises and multiple azaleas and rhododendrons, shine in the crisp light. Dutch, English and French could be heard around the alleys where everyone was exchanging tips. ” Did you see the new rosa rugosa « Souvenir de Trélaze » which opens like a peony at Loubert Roses, have you tried the very light handmade wheelbarrow by Tradewinds, a new exhibitor who comes from Gent? Did you see the exhibition of botanical books owned by Duc d’Aumale in the library?” Rhododendrons were of course the hit of the show and came from Kerfandol nurseries in Brittany or « Le Portail enchanté » in Zomergem, Belgium.
Austin Roses and Geroges Delbard competed with tiny independent growers. And one of the surprises was the beautiful large booth of Jardiland, a commercial plant store, which was supremely elegant.
Black and white sheep were gazing near the Temple of love, visitors were rushing in the castle to visit the gilt apartments of the Bourbon Condé or the newly renovated Galerie des Peintures. Artist Jean Claude Courtat was exhibiting his pastels of gardens and Louis Benech, the recent hero of Versailles’ new Bosquet, was a precious and energetic member of the jury. He talked to all the young gardeners including Matthieu Constans, who runs the “Jardin des 5 sens” in Yvoire, on Lake Geneva, to Franck Sadrin who created “Un Jardin au Mont Blanc” near Megève and launched a new “Prunus Chantilly” and to Abraham Rammeloo, who runs the beautiful Kalmthout arboretum in the North of Belgium.
Roy Lancaster who already talked at Courson in 1988, shared with Jane Kilpatrick a lecture on “the Discovery of Chinese plants by European Missionaries” (University of Chicago Press).
Wooden benches from Tectona rivaled with armed concrete ones sculpted by Jean Pierre Wyckuys an ” artisan rocailleur” who takes a week to sculpt a bench, like in the 19 th century.
I ran into Mathieu Vermes, who grows 110 varieties of rhubarb in Domaine de la Source nearby (I am having rhubarb crumble tonight as a result) and could not refrain from talking to two very elegant English judges, Rodney Petty and Stephen Bernhardt, master gardner of The Worshipful company of gardeners of London, a very old guild who honored Fabienne de Sèze, a long time organiser of Courson’s plant show.
Nathalie de Vilmorin was there with her husband Philippe André presenting a Prize in Memory of Roger de Vilmorin, the famous botanist from Verrières-le-Buisson. The Prix de Chantilly was won by « Vannerie d’hier » specializing in baskets and wicker fences. There were many children on Saturday who were running around and behaving very well for the magic of plants reigned supreme.
The three day event which totalised close to 25 000 visitors was a success partly thanks to the generosity of Prince Amin Aga Khan, who hosted all foreign judges at his Auberge du Jeu de Paume, handed some of the prizes and entertained during a brilliant dinner party at Maison de Silvie. All worries about Courson’ s succession are gone. The event is on its way to conquering more hearts… and to a new edition in mid October. don’t miss it!
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