As a source of happiness amid hectic, everyday life, gardens continue to play a very important role in our lives. Jean Mus, the most famous active gardener of the Côte d’Azur, gets his hands dirty whenever a new public building or a luxury hotel summons him to supplement the urban with the green. For many years now, Mus has also worked with countless British and other northern European clients who call on him to create the gardens of their dreams in the south of France.
The Côte d’Azur, as we know it today, simply couldn’t have existed without its gardens. In the 19th century, it was the lush and exotic vegetation that attracted the wealthy, foreign tourists to this strip of land bet-ween coast and mountains. Even in winter, it bloomed with rich green tones and colourful floral blossoms. Before long, English gardeners were settling here, set-ting up great parks and estates that played to the ad-vantage of the region’s natural conditions. Shrubs and trees from across the world were introduced and found a generous, nourishing home in the Riviera’s cli-mate. The plant life here has lost none of its appeal; nearly one million visitors tour the public and private gardens of the Alpes-Maritimes each year.
In 2017, the tourism potential of these gardens is to be exercised more than ever before with the very first edition of the Festival des Jardins. Throughout the month of April, just as the spring season is getting into full swing, events will be taking place throughout the region. The highlight of the festival: the creation of ten show gardens in the five cities on the Côte d’Azur. This is where Mus comes back into the picture. As the president of the newly created festival, Jean and his jury of internationally acclaimed garden architects and landscape professionals will select ten young gardeners. These winners will be demonstrating their flair and creativity from 25th March in the gardens of the Villa Fragonard (Grasse), Villa Rothschild (Cannes), Jar-din Biovès (Menton), Pinède Gould (Antibes Juan-les-Pins) and Jardin Albert Ier (Nice).
“What constitutes the perfect garden?” Riviera Insider asks the man who has designed 1,500 gardens around the world.
“One that inspires emotion,” says the energetic gentleman, “one that arouses all five senses.” He speaks of the sounds of a breeze rustling through bamboo or a water feature drowning out the noise of a street. “All of this has an effect on the psyche.”
Everything must come together: the location, the soil, the preferences of the clients, the ideas of the land-scape architect… “It’s almost a kind of love story.” Together with his clients, Mus selects the greenery that will feature in the garden, but he is merely the director following the rules of the plants. “Mother Nature is the boss, she always has the last word. There is no cheating her.”
From Karl Lagerfeld’s private villa and the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel in Monaco to the elegant Domaine de Terre Blanche in the Var, Mus’ expertise is indispensable to the glamourous addresses of the south of France. In Cabris in the hills above Grasse, he employs 12 full-time landscape gardeners. Six languages are spoken among them; French Mus is a master of English and, if need be, German.
His two icons are Englishman Russell Page and German-born Ferdinand Bach, who have both left their mark on the Côte d’Azur in the last century. Inspiration yes, copying no. Mus is original: “I never do the same thing twice.” For him, it is today that counts, yesterday is passé.
He observes that cities are attaching more importance to gardens in the modern day, even shopping centres note their value.
This trend has now been followed by the Department of the Alpes-Maritimes, which wants to direct the at-tention of its visitors to the parks and green spaces throughout April. From classified gardens - jardins remarquables - to parks, monasteries, courtyards and gardens of museums, oasis in hotels and private spaces, all are a wonder and can be appreciated by all, not just botanical experts.
For this edition of Riviera Insider, we have toured some of the most prestigious gardens in the south of France and in Liguria. You’ll discover stately homes here in France, while over the border, we will transport you to the famous Giardini Hanbury and the many estates inspired by the masterful English gardener Thomas Hanbury.
Countless other gardens and parks await you this spring, head outdoors and wonder (and wander!) in their splendour…
Elsa Carpenter & Aila Stoeckmann