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The stunning consequences of a devastating storm...

In 2013, I flew out to the house to open it up for summer and Roddy was to follow a few days later in the car, by ferry with our three lurchers. As I sat on the plane mentally preparing myself for landing, I wondered what sort of creature ‘delights’ I would find. We were still in the process of renovating the house and so as it wasn’t completely sealed yet, I wondered if I’d find another snake skin, or a mouse. I knew the grass would be around 5ft high but that’s normally expected.

What I didn’t expect was to find we had lost 6 trees in our garden after the consequences of a devastating storm.

Our beautiful Oak tree had been sliced in half almost to the ground...

We’d lost smaller cherry and plum trees but the lovely apple tree that gave shade to our terrace had also been torn from its roots and lay dead on our well crushing the terracotta tiles as it lay amongst a grave of broken branches.

It was a sorry sight. But the devastation I saw the following day taking my hired car back to Ruffec was shocking. The storm had passed almost two weeks ago and still telephone lines were down, trees lay in rivers and one bit of scenery caught my attention in particular as it looked seemingly apocalyptic! A little woodland, broken, torn and scattered like a tornado had ripped through it.

I later learned from a neighbour, a burly guy, who had never witnessed a storm like this one before confessed to being so frightened- he’d taken cover under his bed! But according to local records the storm of 1999, was far, far worse...

l'Abrégement is a 15min cycle ride from us where a grand house sitting in 8 hectares of land wrapping around it, has its own story to tell. It is owned by Philippe and Elizabeth d’Hémery and their private, unique garden is only open to the public a few times a year. Roddy and I have been itching to get in there to have a wander round after stealing a glimpse of some very unusual sculptures over their garden wall as we pass in the car, but we always timed it wrong. This year with being out here for a longer stretch we were finally able to purchase a garden ticket (a snip at 4€ each) allowing us to at last, set foot within the grounds.

After being greeted by 2 friendly Labrador’s we enter the garden to the left of the château’s edge where it connects to its own little chapel.

The vast tree before me is a must for a hug, so I run over gazing up at the beauty above where the sunlight catches the branches...

...and the child in Roddy can’t resist a quick swing on the rope.

Along a path to the left lay a wide spread of ancient stone steps leading us down into a vast potager filled with an abundance of garden vegetables and herbs. This kitchen garden, enclosed by walls, houses an arbor of Calabashes (american evergreen tropical trees), a profusion of flowers and a delicate structured lengthy stream.

Within this plot you’ll also find a life size bronze of what resembles a ballerina in a tutu... though sadly, there is no information about her in the smart leaflet given to us at the iron gates.

However, what I really wanted to get a closer look at within this interesting arboretum were the group of black ghostly stick-like figures towering above - the ones I’d often seen from passing on the road...

They are the work of french sculptor Christian Lapie and you can see the perspective in size from the photo above as Roddy walks by. These 58 figurines were made from 29 fallen oak trees - the d’Hémery’s lost a total of 15,000 trees that night - and cast shadows that are said to watch over the 60,000 fragile oaklings in the new plantation since the storm. They are simply magnificent!

Further down from where they stand American sculptor Joel Shapiro has created a piece of work (below) offering ‘geometric expression to a fall forever suspended and eternally deferred.’

The bronze retains the wood grain of its mold and the crutches of oak will be subject to the hazards of nature through time...

In spring of 2001, British land artist and sculptor Andy Goldsworthy OBE installed this structure of oak (below). 20 tonnes of wood are held together merely by weight and of being cleverly interwoven... no pins, no screws!

A similar structure hides quietly nestled inside an old wood drying shed beyond the back of the house.

Another striking piece of art which caught my interest stood solitarily in the middle of an expanse of meadow, towering with head bowed ‘he bears witness and has survived’ the storm and appears to be looking over the once decimated forest. Titled ‘One and other’ it’s the works of well known British sculptor Antony Gormley OBE - (I love his work) The figure is an iron cast of himself and stands 16 metres high at the top of a sequoia that fell in the storm.

The ‘Pool of Light’ (below) is another piece by Andy Goldsworthy and gives dimension to time, which changes this work of wood arranged on a platform using split chestnut logs, measuring 11m x 22m. Nature plays part in illuminating this piece, bearing silver slithers within its severed grain but unfortunately I couldn’t quite capture the beauty and play of light with my iPhone...

So that’s it. I would loved to have known more about the ages of the trees and had a bit more information about the bronze in the potager. But baring in mind what the owners of this private garden have achieved since 1999 in very rural france, it’s pretty damn impressive.

So back to 2013... no snake skins were found entwined and clinging to the bedroom radiator that year - but the house welcomed Molly and I that evening with a mouse and her baby pinkies, which took me an absolute age to catch - but that’s another story...