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a tale among tales

In a short novella entitled "Fantasma", Cees Nooteboom recounts the ways of a man who, like Ulysses, awakes on a shore with the impression of living the dream of a stranger. For a few days, a few months or a few years he will discover in that space, on foot, an ensemble of landscapes. Crossing the smallest desert in the world while sinking in it to his ankles, he then comes across vegetable cultures, climbs the sides of a mountain covered "with agave and aloe, all these odd and silent plants, cactus, larches, designed at one time when god could not yet laugh", then the malevolent landscape of the tops, before he again reaches the smiling edge of the sea.

"I liked my fate more and more. Of my past, myself, the way in which it all occurred and why, I did not think, I did not ask any question, I walked and slept like a happy machine that rewinds its own mechanism and submits itself with equal placidity to the whims of the territory and to the irrational changes of decor offered by the sky, with every turn, empty and wintery, or obscure and heavy with autumnal threat, or overheated and tropical as it undoubtedly is in Asia. In all this strange world, I seemed to be the only thing that remained similar to itself." He finally awakes one morning, as in the first day, with the impression that he already knows the secrets of the overlooking landscapes and, slowly, without a stick to support himself, he restarts...

Ariadne's thread. Gardens of Terrasson. Photo MTP

gardens of the imaginery

The gardens created in Terrasson by Kathryn Gustafson, Philippe Marchand and Ian Ritchie in the middle of the eighties inspired us to make a parallel with this tale that resonates with other stories of dream journeys from the beginning of literature.

The guided tour of the "Gardens of the imaginary" follows a rigorous architectural programme founded on "fragments of the history of gardens". The invariables, such as water works, the rosary, the greenhouse, the topiaries, the fountains and the amphitheatre mark the sides of a hill structured in addition by a channel, a wind rose, the undulations of floral masses, terraces, dry stone walls, trimmed boxwood and water staircases.

Rosary. Gardens of Terrasson. Photo MTP

In their proposal, the architects constantly insist on the idea of passage as the many stages of an initiation course: passage from the profane to the sacred, from the savage to the civilised, from nature to agriculture, from garden to architecture and the built heritage of the city. This garden accurately brings to the scene the water element, endowing it with the most various streams. Spouting out, bubbling, rainbow or mirror arch, water inhabits all the points of the garden. The glance accustomed to seeing in it the reflection of the sky is left with the illusion of a suspended lake where the glass roof of the greenhouse mirrors a space of sky and light.

The stages successively reached during the visit, starting from Ariadne's thread, remind one that the space of the garden always goes further than its physical reality. The visitor, in quest of Eden, on the limits of the sacred and the insuperable, invests the space reserved for him through an exercise of imagination and invention. He is invited to adapt, within an enclosure, a composition of objects from here and elsewhere that also function as reference marks in the symbolic history of the world. While evoking today and in this place the histories of all gardens, the "Gardens of the imaginary" elicit thoughts about mythological representation, with which they themselves are charged. The garden is composed of and inhabited by vegetal and animal beings that exceed it, but it is it that gives them shape.

discursive places

Gardens of Terrasson. Photo MTP

From one civilisation to another, the same places indeed suggested different myths. These references intermingled in a ludic way across space and time. The Sacred Wood shows the continuity of the presence of divinities and gods in the shade of the trees, from the Greek and Gallo-Roman civilisations to the medicinal gardens of the Middle Ages. Leuké, moulded in white poplar, Philyra, taking refuge in a lime, Carya, becrying the death of Dionysius within a walnut tree, join Philemon and Beaucis, who have become oak and lime. A vegetal tunnel marks the passage to the oneiric universe of imps and fairies. The entry to the garden is guarded by two poplars evoking the nymphs in front of the garden of the Hesperides, where Hercules had to conceal three golden apples.

The greenhouse itself will undoubtedly recall, in spite of its dry stone wall, the glass house, an orchard with invisible walls or the fairy Viviane locked up with Merlin before the god brother and the goddess sister amalgamate to find the prelapsarian paradise.

Greenhouses. Gardens of Terrasson. Photo MTP


Since their opening, "The gardens of the imaginary" saw the number of their visitors increase every year. They knew how to create an ensemble of European meetings combining literature with garden books, the meeting of professionals with the work of pupils. They became a point of rallying for a route of the gardens of Aquitaine, in a course that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the neighbouring Limousin. Today they want to be a centre for the interpretation of the landscape that will propose, by involving neighbouring farmers, the courses of Utopia.

It is also a rather unique place in France that inaugurated, through a specific proposal, true reflection on the consumption of landscape by townspeople. These gardens show, by their insertion in the rural medium, like the Italian silk villas from the region of Lucques, become by reconversion necessary to landowners, but in the context of today's countryside, that agricultural space can become a geographical place intended for leisure, without forgetting the prevalent practical value. They propose the discarding of the mental cleavage agriculture - urbanity and their re-inscription within the discourse - essential for developers - of the garden landscape.

These six hectares of "cultivated" nature will certainly soon see the addition in the greenhouse of a discourse about the evolution of the vegetal world and man's relationship to plants, thanks to the suspended vegetal wall prepared by the botanist Patrick Blanc. In the valley of Vézère, which is also the "Valley of Man" in which prehistoric caves propose the rediscovery of old artistic roots, there was indeed a missing stake in the biological evolution of past eras.

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 more infos ...
  Map and access.
 Associate of EICR - C.C. Terrasson
 media library
 The garden's secrets
  The discovery book published by the Institute
 Gardens of the whole world
  Gabrielle Van Zuylen's book


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