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Stop to smell the roses when touring a garden

The Union StaffLush green foliage dotted with brilliant flowers is found in Monet's garden in Giverny, France.
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What are the greatest gardens you’ve ever seen?” The question was asked by a woman who attended one of my garden slide shows, this particular one spotlighting Northern France.

And it’s a question I find impossible to answer because I’ve seen so many gardens – from the most grandiose, like Versailles – to backyard works of art that touch the soul.

In Northern France, for example, the three gardens that impressed me most were those at Villandry, near Tours, the Bagatelle in Paris, and Monet’s garden at Giverny.



Keep in mind the impression you have of a garden depends a lot upon the circumstances of your visit. At Villandry, for example, our tour bus was the first one at the gate in the morning, and while most of our group headed off for a tour of the chateau, I found myself almost alone in the garden, in full flower, with extraordinary morning light.

I’ve never shot five rolls of film that fast, before or since. Suppose it had been crowded with tourists or the light had been harsh?




What I saw was a reconstruction of formal gardens from the 16th Century, restored in 1906, which has three separate levels and artfully combines the beauty of vegetables such as cabbages with roses and annuals. To me, it’s the highest form of garden artistry, including the formal trimmed hedges in the Garden of Love, each section with its own color scheme, and the medicinal herb garden. A team of six gardeners maintains the site, which feeds them and their families.

While I’m only lukewarm in enthusiasm for rose gardens, I was absolutely stunned by the artistry of displaying the year’s newest and best roses at The Bagatelle, in the Bois de Boulogne. It reminded me somewhat of the sunken Butchart Gardens in British Columbia and is a horticultural jewel box.

Built in an amazingly short time of three months in 1777, the garden and its miniature chateau was a gift for Marie Antoinette from her brother-in-law. Along its meticulously maintained pathways are the roses being tested for the European Selections (the European equivalent of the All-America Rose Selections).

Adding to the mystique of the garden are seven waterfalls, an orangery (greenhouse) and a Chinese pagoda. I spent most of the visit with a camera pressed to my face, saying, “Wow!”

Monet’s garden at Giverny pays a lot of attention to roses, but also has a profusion of other colorful blooming plants that assault the senses. The source of much inspiration for the famed artist, the garden is perhaps the single most noted in all of France. Even in the preseason, when we visited, the line of visitors stretched for several blocks. (Hint: Go with an organized tour group and you’ll gain immediate entry.)

Frankly, when I’m told in advance, “This is the most beautiful garden you’ll ever see,” as I was prior to visiting, I go with a chip on my shoulder.

“Show me.”

And while I was duly impressed by the main garden and home, it’s true splendor wasn’t really appreciated until Felicia and I took a break in the water garden (connected by an underground tunnel because of a road which divides the site) and ate a sandwich while sitting on one of the benches near the edge of the pond.

Without that time to pause and appreciate the garden as Monet must have done, it might have been one of those “Been there, done that!” experiences.

Garden trimmings: In what has to be my first journalistic mistake ever, I gave the wrong price for Lon Rombough’s “The Grape Grower: A Guide to Organic Viticulture” last month. It’s $35 for the softcover version, $49 for hardcover. It’s worth it.

Speaking of grapes, you can still get copies of the winter edition of “The Curious Gardener” (quarterly newsletter published by the Placer-Nevada UC Master Gardeners) which contains an article, “Getting Started Growing Grapes in the Foothills.”

Whether you’re new to the area or an old-timer, this is the best gardening information you can get for our climate. And it’s free to residents of Placer and Nevada counties! Write UCCE Placer County, 11477 E Ave., Auburn CA 95603, call 889-7385, or view it at

And, speaking of UC master gardeners, those skillful and hard-working individuals are putting on two free workshops this month.

“Backyard Orchard Care” will be offered from 10 a.m. to noon next Saturday (Feb. 8), rain or shine, at the demonstration garden on the Nevada Irrigation District grounds, 1036 W. Main Street, Grass Valley.

Bring your pruning tools for hands-on learning, evaluation and sharpening, to learn how to control tree size, select the proper root stock and control pests, and to learn high-density pruning techniques.

I learned these things when I was active as a UC master gardener in Sacramento, but I’m marking my calendar for the class because I’m sure techniques have changed. And, my pruners need sharpening.

The next class, “Training Young Ornamental, Deciduous Trees for Structure and Form,” is slated from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Feb. 22, no matter what the weather, at the First Baptist Church, 1866 Ridge Road in Grass Valley.

Again, bring your own pruning tools for evaluation, sharpening and hands-on learning. You’ll learn the five steps for pruning young trees, how much and what to prune and remedies for common problems.

Dick Tracy is an award-winning garden writer and photographer, master gardener and former president of the Foothills Horticulture Society. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.


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