“Here, in these gardens, my grandfather had painted in his Panama hat, and sometimes his suit, under an umbrella to keep the glare of sun from burning out all color in his work, while Stellita Steapleton or Mahdah Reddin or his daughter (my mother), Frances, or my grandmother took the sun. Here had been formal gardens, trimmed hedges, and, the next terrace up, the cutting garden- all well fenced by hawthorn hedges to keep out animals. Here the gardeners had worked under my grandmother’s supervision. The yew tree, all asprawl now on the first terrace, had been trimmed in those days, and kept clipped in the shape of a basket. Out of these gardens had come primulas; roses for the house; nasturtiums, whose cool leaves lined baskets of peaches and whose peppery blossoms made their way into salads; lavender for the linen closet; colombine; margeurites…”
–A Place in Normandy, Nicholas Kilmer
Each day in Normandy, as we road tripped from one town to the next, whoever rode in the passenger’s seat that day (usually me) read aloud from this book. Written by the current owner’s father, the sharp novel tells the story of La Beauverie, twisting through time from pre-war roots to present-day glory. We’ve only made it halfway through so far (though we plan to finish!), but were pleasantly surprised to learn of its colorful history, including a longtime stint as the home and studio of impressionist painter Frederick Frieseke (the owner’s great great grandfather) and an incident with an interloping owl in its dreary ’80s phase.
Among my favorite things to read about were the flourishing gardens. One evening, after a French Little House On The Prairie moment* walking back with a basket full of laundry from the Atelier, I decided to explore the gardens on my own. The sentiment “Everything grows in Normandy!” we’d heard again and again since our arrival proved undeniably true in the pastures facing the house, but these gardens were quite contrarily an exercise in discipline. Each stepped layer and pruned hedge was a cultivation of constraint, a controlled crop.
I’d been planning all week to make 2 ingredient pancakes (just bananas, eggs, and spices- have you tried them?), and suddenly felt no other place would be appropriate for their consumption. That Saturday morning, we whipped up our ‘nana-egg-pancakes (M made apple compote for topping), grabbed some Nutella (my French travel essential), and nestled into les jardins. No other description is necessary, it was every bit as wonderful as it sounds.
*These happened often. I took a certain pleasure that week in strolling by the cows, calling them Lucy or Mindy or Grace, and pretending this was actually my life.
paintings of the garden by Frederick Frieseke.