Copyright © Sheryl Williams - Yardfanatic 2016. All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Froth of Roses at the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

This year I had the good fortune (or should I say I SPENT a fortune) to go on a extended trip to Europe.  It was my first time off of the North American continent, and I figured if I was going to go all that way, I was going to go big.
I've been planning this trip for over a year, ever since receiving an email from Earthbound Expeditions, a travel company I've toured with before.  This tour focused on gardens in Italy and France and was hosted by Garden America, a nationally syndicated radio show in San Diego, California.  Just like last time, the tour was with a small group of like-minded gardeners who were just as excited as I was to tromp around Europe and ogle plants.

There were several big highlights for me, some "aha's", and moments of extreme revelation to the point of transcendence.  I know that sounds really grandiose, but it's true.  This trip changed me in ways I could have never predicted.

My husband and I did a leg in Italy prior to the tour, and then stayed on in Paris afterward.  Recent events in the news have hit me harder than they would have prior to the trip.  I was standing in the exact same place in Nice where that truck plowed through the crowd weeks later.  My loss was not that it could have been me, but for the people of Nice that I met and the grief they are going through.  It is entirely possible that the lovely woman who was selling herbs at the market that I chatted with for over a half an hour could have been a victim.  We are all connected by these gossamer threads - there is no "us" or "them", just "we".

One of the things that I really appreciated about the organized tour is that it mixed formal estates and botanical gardens, plus a healthy dose of tourist activities in between.

I'm starting here, at the Villa Ephrussi De Rothschild, because it was so beautiful but also because we passed through Nice on the way there.

A little background from wikipedia: "The villa was designed by the French architect Aaron Messiah, and constructed between 1905 and 1912 by Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild (1864–1934) .

A member of the Rothschild banking family and the wife of the banker Baron Maurice de Ephrussi, Béatrice de Rothschild built her rose-colored villa on a promontory on the isthmus of Cap Ferrat overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The Baroness filled the mansion with antique furniture, Old Master paintings, sculptures, objets d'art, and assembled an extensive collection of rare porcelain. The gardens are classified by the French Ministry of Culture as one of the Notable Gardens of France.

On her death in 1934, the Baroness donated the property and its collections to the Académie des Beaux Arts division of the Institut de France and it is now open to the public."

Pink was the Baroness's favorite color and it is repeated everywhere on the estate.  Roses were her favorite flower and they were blooming profusely during our May visit.

What struck me about this place was that someone who really loved plants designed it.  The gardens were not just to show off, but to feature really interesting specimens - many from the New World and deemed quite exotic.  To this Texan transplant it was quite amusing, because many of our native southwest agaves and cacti were prominently showcased.
As you enter the nine gardens you are directed down the right, along the cliff and the vista of the Mediterranean Sea.  Hundred year old Olive trees guide you along the path. The older trees were transplanted, so they could very well be much older.

The hillsides at the foot of the Alps along the Cote d'Azur are terraced - and have been for over a thousand years.  This practice enabled the inhabitants to farm on flat surfaces and also served to capture the rainwater. This garden is gracefully tucked into these terraces, so you first descend into a tiled and walled Spanish themed garden.
The lushness of the plants muffles sound save for the musical tinkling of the fountain hidden in a grotto.

The Florentine garden is next. Once again you hug the edge of the property and pass by arbors until you arrive at another fountain.  The brugmansia caught my eye here.
So much to see that you dare not linger.

Up one terrace you come across the Stone Garden with it's pieces of leftover stone bits gathered from various sites.  Another lesson in European "Recycling" as our guide in Rome explained to us.

It is followed by the Japanese garden with stone lanterns and requisite bamboo thicket.

This banyon tree marked the end of that garden and offered a peek at the sea

Climb into the next terrace and I find myself at home.  "Jardin Exotique" the sign said.  My head interpreted this as "Welcome to Texas." Once again I see the Baroness' love of roses as this soft white froth is juxtaposed against the cacti. Eschewing the way we landscape with these plants - placing them as specimens surrounded by gravel or bare ground - and instead combining them as one would in an English style garden, was my "aha" moment here. Being a rose lover myself I related to this need to have those blossoms everywhere. In my garden I have them surrounded by perennials so that they peek above foliage. No more. This fall they are going to be moved and placed next to the agaves and yucca that are planted by themselves.

I have to tell you that at times I got a little disoriented.
How could it even be possible that I'm looking at Agaves next to the Mediterranean?
And here is something that I found hilarious. Due to the hot dry climate of the coastline, Agaves have escaped and become invasive species in France and Italy. HA! Payback for star thistle.
Now you climb back onto another terrace and walk all the way through the garden. The beds are quite deep but the slope allows you to view edge to edge. Reminded me of walking the canyons back in Oregon.

A fun thing that I found myself doing was taking a picture of me with a Prickly Pear at each of the gardens.

At last we come to the rose garden.  However, compared to the layout of the gardens below it, it was a bit boring.  Well, until you look at the roses.
This trellis was just one row of cattle panel staked to steel posts.  Think I'm going to do something similar - if I can find the bolt cutters.

From there you go through the Provencal Garden and then head back down the hill to the main "French" garden.  Here you see the classic symmetry and order that highlight the house.

The pools all had fountain jets that were timed to the classical music playing through discreetly placed speakers.  Eat your heart out Las Vegas.
The liveliness of the dancing fountains couldn't disturb the serenity of the lilies - who refused to be outshone by the frivolity around them.

The statuary throughout was really stunning - but hard for me to admire amongst the plethora of blossoms. Loved the Rothschild crest on this jar and the innocence of this statue on the terrace.

This place was so beautiful and we were there at peak bloom. So beautiful in fact I never once thought about how hard it would be to weed, never wondered about their pest control, and had zero interest in finding out their fertilizer schedule.  Plus I didn't go into the house - even though you are supposed to view the garden from the upstairs windows.  Very grateful that gardens like this are open to the public and that I got to visit and dream.  


  1. Looks wonderful! You should read "Founding Gardeners" - it also mentions the whole thing about the American plants being taken back to Europe as "new and interesting plants to incorporate into gardens"

    1. I have that book! I got it after my last tour with Earthbound - The Colonial Garden Tour - where we visited Mt Vernon and Monticello, among others. This place really was magical. And with all that pink I felt so girly!! Ha!

  2. "Payback for star thistle" -- ha! I'm enjoying your travel posts, Sheryl.