Three gardens well worth visiting
The Gardens of the Grand Convent
In Gramat, the motherhouse of the Sisters of Our Lady of Calvary has cast aside monastic rigour and clothed itself in flowers, without losing a shred of its noble propriety. The Grand Convent of Gramat bathes visitors in the perfume of roses, lavender, aromatic herbs and medicinal plants, which combine and recombine their scents in endless different ways. Protected by high walls and centenarian trees, the gardens are extensive enough to provide a walk of more than a kilometre. You can follow the Bible path punctuated by verses inviting the walker to meditation.
A little indulgence is not forbidden, however, and you can finish your tour with a pleasant stop in the tearoom. The convent also has on show its old bread oven, laundry and laundry-trough, and its collection of old flat irons. In the meadow, there are donkeys and horses of French breeds of draught horse, which they are doing their best to preserve. The Convent, as a keeper of tradition, also organises temporary exhibitions about local history. The Gardens of the Grand Convent are open from 1st May to All Saints.
The Garden of the Senses in Castelfranc
20 km west of Cahors, on the banks of the Vert, Castelfranc is a little 13th century bastide. Its unspoilt charm is augmented by a garden conceived as a little corner of Paradise beside the river, near the village market-hall. In harmony with its surroundings, with no pretensions but with true sincerity, the Garden of the Senses takes you on a journey through the spirituality, atmosphere and customs of the mediaeval period. Born of detailed research into the history and iconography of the Middle Ages, this garden is the work of Lily, Lulu, Françoise, Solange and other enthusiastic volunteers from the association Art and Traditions.
Enclosed by walls, just as it should be, and entered through a gate which you open with a little shiver of pleasurable anticipation, the Garden of the Senses is an intimate garden, a garden of love which takes you back to the time when fine ladies went to listen to the troubadours’ songs beside fountains beneath shady walks. Shaded by some fruit trees, the garden is divided with neat simplicity into plots used for specific purposes: here, beds of flowers for decorating the church, there, plots reserved for the “simples” or medicinal plants used as remedies; further on, there are dye plants such as saffron or anthemis, and, of course, the aromatic herbs (mint, oregano, tarragon, etc.). There are also many much less common plants, such as lovage, the violet carrot, mandrake, nigella, pimpernel, old varieties of marrow and other unusual items which bring a whole chapter of our gardening history back to life. The Garden of the Senses is open all year round.
Colombier Castle – Medieval park and Eden garden of fragrant flowers
The park and gardens at Colombier Castle bring to life the habits and customs of a 1000 years ago, even to the extent of planting medieval vines and a treillis of hops. The castle’s medieval herborist demonstrates the mastery of the science of plants of the age. The Eden Garden encompasses horticultural history from Charlemagne to the 15th century.
As an added attraction there is also a Live Medieval Bestiary, with bears, wolves, lions, birds of prey, and mischievous monkeys. Animal feeding and keeper chats take place daily in the Bestiary.
The Eden Garden is an enchanting flower-filled collection of ornamental, aromatic, dye and condimentary plants known before 1450. Madonna lilies, turkscap lilies, climbing vines, the old rose garden, courtly love maze, intoxicating roses. Many of the plants are of exotic origin, grown from seeds brought back from faraway crusades.
Although actually situated in the Aveyron, Colombier Castle is only just over the Lot border and well worth a visit. Location map
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