Gardens are an ongoing story, forever evolving and growing. They hold a beauty and a sadness — seasonally, of course, from those early sprouts pushing in spring, to autumn, when the leaves fade and fall and winter sets in. Gardens continually remind us of our mortality, the beginning and the end.
Louis Benech, France’s greatest living landscape designer, knows all about it. He humbly calls himself a gardener, a respectful bow to the power that is Mother Nature. In his 30 years in horticulture, he has designed, planted and maintained gardens at of the most glorious properties in Europe, including Loel Guinness’s Norman stud farm in Piencourt, the Tuileries Garden in Paris and the Bosquet du Théâtre d’Eau at Versailles.
He chats with IRMA about keeping a garden in wintertime when it is still cold but we cannot wait for spring to start.
IRMA: How do you start planting a winter garden?
LOUIS BENECH: A winter garden in my understanding is a happy outdoor planting, alive during winter months with barbs, twigs, bays and berries and plenty of scented blooms even under very cold conditions. If I do understand your question it is also an indoor place where you can decide to bring in outdoor tender plants or regular tropical common indoor plans, including Ficus, Dracaena, Kentia or Orchids.
IRMA: Can you transform any room with a large window into a winter garden?
LOUIS BENECH: Of course, if you wish so and if there is a minimum of light you can give a garden aspect to any room.
IRMA: What benefits do I get from my plants inside during the wintertime?
LOUIS BENECH: You will benefit from the scent, virtual pleasure, depolluting “agents” of the best quality and friendship!
IRMA: If you are not someone with a green thumb, which plants do you suggest?
LOUIS BENECH: What could I suggest… You can bring in all the divine uncorny scented (and forgotten) Pelargonium, being keen perfume and not the kind of the severe sanseveria 60’s look of some other plants (you are highly forgiven if you are like me a David Lynch admirer). Then I would go for any scented plants; gardenia, any jasmine and related (Stephanotis, Bouvardia or Murraya “exotica”). But less known honor tropical rhododendron of the maddenii section like the more than delightful hybrid called “Fragrantissimum.”
IRMA: I always wonder what to do with my roses planted in terra-cotta pots during winter time other than putting them in the basement. Is it possible to let them stay in the living room or other rooms of the house and is there a trick to decorate terra cotta pots so they can fit into any interior/ like cover ups or something?
LOUIS BENECH: A basement floor without light and heat is definitely the best place for roses that will go growing in any heated room with light, they become long, thin, weak, susceptible to fungi of any kind. The only thing in my way of gardening is choosing hardly roses (like all the rugosa species, for example) that will stay outside in really cold weather if the pot is wood or metal without rules of braking. If you buy in terra cotta potted puts like Brighamia I think that they should be good enough not to be covered or decorated.
IRMA: What was your last thought before going to bed last night?
LOUIS BENECH: A poppy field.
Louis Benech lives and works in a 19th-century mews tucked away in a courtyard in Paris.