Out On The Streets: en Champagne

On our recent roadtrip to the Austrian Alps, we broke up both legs of the journey with a stopover in France. Conveniently, three hours drive from the port of Calais landed us slap in the centre of Champagne country. It seemed rude not to take advantage, and thoroughly sample this region.

Leaving the highway, it was a relief for the eyes to fix on something besides the highly smooth and efficient yet monotonous flatlands of the motorway. And I was particularly struck by the public plantings snugly fitted into pockets all across the townscapes.

From roundabouts, in otherwise fairly unprepossessing areas:

to little pouches of colour nestled regularly along the edges of the road. I admired their inventive combinations of perennials and bedding plants: no two entirely alike.

There was something particularly entertaining about the first/final planting at the limits of each town.

An abrupt transition from town to prairie.

How lovely that the authorities lavish such care on their streets.

We spent a couple of days in Epernay, including a tour of the Moet et Chandon cellars which was fascinating, as well as slightly intoxicating. Here the selection of plants was different again, with various grasses amid the glorious plantings around a tribute to the martyrs on the roundabout at the foot of the Avenue de Champagne.

The proprietors of the champagne houses that line their eponymous avenue paid particular attention to the front of house.

There were tantalising glimpses into privately owned orangeries, and through stone arches into lush gardens. Out on the street, I was also momentarily transfixed by the fruits on these wonderful trees set into the pavement.

 I wonder whether this is Gleditsia triacanthos, the honey locust? A beautiful tree, lemon and liquorice snakes curling down overhead.

All in all, public planting seems to be something that the French do very well.

Not the only thing.

These attractive municipal displays inspired me to write this: my first post for Michelle at VegPlotting’s regular series on public planting. Head on over to her blog to read more.


11 thoughts on “Out On The Streets: en Champagne

  1. Hi Sara – the French are often cited as the country we could all learn from re public planting and how well you’ve shown us just that in your post.

    Thanks for taking part in OOTS – it’s great to have new people join in with a new perspective on what’s around us 🙂

    • Hello, I think the majority of authorities in Britain vastly underestimate the effect of public planting/green spaces. I love that the French seem to squeeze a burst of colour into the most unlikely spaces.

    • Hmm, perhaps. Indeed, many of the plantings I captured were a little too blowsy for my tastes, with the bedding plants and the mix of colours a bit “shouty”. But still, something about seeing the wonderful glossy foliage of the castor oil plant, or the nodding heads of verbena bonariensis above the spires of salvias on the edge of the highway was so unexpected and rather wonderful.

      My favourite was probably the roundabout in Epernay, where the planting was dominated by airy perennials and grasses, but not everybody has the same taste, so I do commend their variety.

      Style aside, it is the effort that I applaud more than anything. Somebody somewhere, in every town, thought about how they could introduce a little colour to the streets and did it. I wish we did more of that in Britain.

  2. I can’t say that the plantings were exactly to my taste, but I would rather see colour than nothing, I have to say. I agree, we could learn a lot about how to brighten our towns and cities from this, though in these days of permanent cuts the idea that instilling a sense of civic pride and spreading a little cheer would probably not cut it, so to speak. I have noticed that our local town has started using more perennials in the roundabout schemes, which makes sense from a cost point of view, but I do wonder what it means for the horticultural skill base in the UK. So many gardeners seem to start in Parks departments, learning about propagation through the yearly cycle of bedding plant displays. Like the last pic…

    • No nor to my taste mostly, but commendable nonetheless. I think any planting in public is a vast improvement on none. Indeed ours is not an economic climate in which to boost our public plantings, but it’s nice to dream. I have a particular aversion to bedding plant schemes myself, though I admire the thought and effort behind them, so found the juxtaposition of some favourite perennials rather refreshing. Although, I do wonder whether seeing more of my favourites in public places would slowly diminish them to me, in the way that business park plantings seem to do.

      I would hope that no authorities will entirely replace bedding plants with perennials, as you say the loss of horticultural skills could be catastrophic; though perhaps broadening the range of plants would add new skills, division and propagation of perennials complementing the yearly cycle of bedding plants.

      The last pic was my husband’s, he took some great shots within the cellars … amazing that Epernay is underpinned by some 100km of champagne cellars.

  3. Looks like you had a good holiday. Doesn’t municipal planting vary from place to place? It’s bait gaudy for my taste but it couldn’t be ignored it’s so colourful. Perhaps I’m part of the “less is more” school of gardening!

    • Thanks, Janet, it was a lovely trip; the mountains and lakes of Austria particularly. Indeed, gaudy is probably not far from the truth: yet under the French skies in the heat, the bright colours were far from eyesores. Not a look that I would transport home, but it certainly drew the gaze, and I admired the effort.

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