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British Garden in the French Countryside

Two Brits transplant a Cotswolds cottage garden into the French countryside

Written by Lynn McBride
  • Gordon Beall

    "When I was four years old, growing up in the Cotswolds,” says Dee Jackson, “I asked my mum for a little piece of bare ground of my own. I can still see the wildflowers that I planted from seed on my tiny plot.” Gardening became a lifelong passion for Dee, and when she and husband Pete retired to southern Burgundy from England, they purchased a considerably larger bare plot of more than an acre. It surrounds a 19th-century stone farmhouse known as “The House With Four Chimneys” in a picturesque village called Culles-les-Roches.

    Photography: Gordon Beall

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    A Palette of Roses

    A ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ rose in deep pink is part of a palette that includes blue, yellow, and purple.

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    Picturesque Vistas

    The Jacksons fell in love with the house’s vista, a wide view of the Grosne Valley. “On a clear day, we can see the snowy peak of Mont Blanc, 150 miles away,” Pete says. With typical English understatement, Dee describes the original site: “There was nothing in the yard to draw your eye from the view.” The land fell away from the house in a steep slope, rocky and bare, past a series of tumble-down barns. But the Jacksons, who love to garden together, were looking for a challenge. They’ve visited many of the major public gardens in both England and France, mining them for ideas.

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    Perennial-lined Paths

    The sloping lot, with the house set off to the side and the village church towering above, did not lend itself to formal French design but seemed ideal for a casual English cottage garden. The exuberant French vegetable gardens and geraniums spilling from window boxes of the stone houses in the village made the perfect backdrop. The couple transformed the barns on the property into a guesthouse, a workshop, and Pete’s “man cave.”

    Below stone terraces in front of the house, perennials line the lawn. “I let things seed and grow where they do well,” Dee says. The village lies beyond the gates. 

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    Resilient Blooms

    First Pete terraced the upper area of the garden near the house himself, using local stone. He describes himself as a “macro gardener.” “I shift soil a lot. I do the big things, Dee does pretty things.” 

    Dee recalls, “I started with a planting plan, but the things I wanted to grow from England just wouldn’t. We went from acidic to alkaline soil and, in fact, very little soil, as we are basically on rock.” (The village name translates to “butt of the rocks.”)

    Fitting for their new home, the purple iris is an emblem of French royalty. 

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    Cascading Roses

    When Dee lived in England, she learned tips on growing roses from her neighbor, renowned rosarian David Austin. Here in their French garden, ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ roses cascade from Pete’s garçonnière, the French version of a man cave. 

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    A Growing Learning Curve

    A former biology teacher, Dee has “green fingers” (the English version of “green thumbs”). “I’ve always been fascinated by how plants work inside,” she says. Still, the learning curve was steep. “The growing season is longer and hotter here,” she says. “French friends started giving me plants that I parked quickly into temporary locations, which then seemed to become permanent.” 

    But spontaneity is the nature of an English garden, even with French influences. “English gardens,” Dee says, “are loose and blowzy, with things flopping over. There are herbaceous borders, roses, climbing vines, and ground covers filling in every patch of earth. There is a three-dimensional effect, with swaths of color and tall delphiniums peeking through lavender or roses or salvia.”

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    French Garden Structure

    Landscaped French gardens are more structured than their English cousins, their colors more controlled. In the Burgundy countryside, vegetables are the focus. Gardeners there love flowers but plant them in pots and window boxes or next to the tomatoes.  

    Here, perennials line the walkway to a lower door.

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    Lower Terrace Garden

    The Jacksons got into the French spirit by planting a large vegetable garden on a lower terrace, framed by a bank of tall lavender irises above it. Pete says with a chuckle, “We got cow manure from the local farmers and paid them with bottles of Champagne.” 

    Here, a double staircase winds from the house down to a lower dining area with views of the valley below.

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    Dining Area with Lovely Views

    The Jacksons love summer evenings sipping wine under the pergola and enjoying the views. Still, they’ve decided they have one more project in them. Somewhere close by, there is another bare plot awaiting their discovery.

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    Historic Setting

    The garden is built around barns even older than the house. The Jacksons converted them into a workshop, greenhouse, and garçonnière.

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    Floral Details

    The rose in pale pink is ‘Michèle Meilland.’

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    Casual Seating

    Another blooming outdoor dining area overlooks vineyards of the Côte Chalonnaise wine region. The Jacksons also grow fruit and vegetables, making jams and jellies and preserving overflowing harvests. 

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    Garden Details

    Small touches, like an authentically aged bust, reflect the refinement of the Jackson's property.

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    Garden Gate

    Metal gates painted blue lend charming, distinctively French touches throughout the property.

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