Park of the Château of Mouans-Sartoux

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In 2004, landscape gardener Gilles Clément was commissioned by the Municipality of Mouans-Sartoux to propose a redevelopment project of the external spaces inherent to the early 16th century Castle. Rethinking the vast area, partly wooded, once more connected to a larger territory on which the hand of man had not yet imposed an incessant building, led the famous landscape architect to undertake a wide-ranging interpretative path, which could preserve the inherent history of the place, extending nature beyond the site’s boundaries, towards the city, at the same time connecting the spaces for contemporary art exhibitions and the newly conceived pedagogical ateliers with the historic building of the Castle.

The project, carried out in collaboration with landscape architect François Navarro, is based on respect for the original topography of the place, with the esplanade surrounding the Castle and the slight slope of the wooded area that reaches the bridge over the Rougon stream at its lowest altitude. In addition, the uses that could characterize these places were highlighted, from the fervent life around the historic building to walks in the forest for hunting or fun.

Two very different areas have been identified: the Glade of the Gardens and the Wood of Transparency. The first, which includes the areas directly around the castle and the Espace de l’Art Concret (eac.) art foundation, is the area dedicated to light, where this spreads serenely in all its parts. An open, generous and simple place, devoted to order and geometry, offers a circulation without any constraints.

Large lime trees dot the site, providing shaded areas where to stop. A large wooden platform facing the castle welcomes outdoor events, skirting a garden planted with fig and olive trees. Not far away, the pedagogical ateliers offer an area for gathering and relaxation with their roof terrace. Towards the entrance to the park, a small water garden of papyrus and water lilies leads to a terrace full of flowering plums and wisteria, the last stop towards the entrance to the Wood of Transparency.

This is the kingdom of trees, a dense forest of holm oaks rich in shade, refreshing. The visitor is led here through intricate paths to explore the whole space, entering the heart of nature and gradually discovering a series of small clearings, sometimes hidden by vegetation, sometimes showing themselves from afar, proposing themselves as destination after wandering in the thick of the trees. In each of these clearings there are stones, similar to vestiges of ancient times, 25 in all; each is engraved with a word, fairly common terms that apparently have no connection between them: agneau (lamb), gueule (mouth or muzzle), amour (love), étoile (star), griffe (claw), bâton (stick), beards (beard), nombril (navel), queue (tail), etc.

These words refer to common names of plants, obviously in French, to which it is possible to associate the corresponding botanical nomenclature, such as Agneau chaste – chaste lamb (Vitex agnus-castus), Gueule de loup – wolf mouth (Anthirrinum majus), Amour en cage – love in a cage (Physalis sp.), Etoile – star (Ornithogalum umbellatum), Griffes de sorcières – witch’s claw (Mesambryanthemum sp), Bâton de Jacob – Jacob’s staff (Asphodelina lutea), Barbe de Jupiter – Jupiter’s beard (Anthyllis barba-jovis).

Walking through these clearings to discover the names above the stones becomes a game of references to popular and scientific languages, from poetic lightness to the rigor of science. Wandering through the woods and looking for these words, the visitor is introduced to a near yet often unknown world, that of plants, from the smallest to the most majestic. A journey of discovery of such a rich biological diversity thus unfolds, in order to understand it and be able to preserve it.

In this journey among the plants we can follow a precise order or rely on chance, tell stories, become aware of the plants kingdom through forgotten uses, changes over the seasons. We can also sit on one of the stones, observe what stands out in front of us, and not think of any connection. In the Wood of Transparency we can simply dream, “no one will be able to steal this moment of freedom from us. It, too, is part of this small wood” (Gilles Clément).

Despite the slight neglect and the passage of time, the almost fairytale charm of this place has remained intact. In Gilles Clément’s vision, each tree had its own importance, and he therefore tried to preserve them, modifying only the slopes of the land in the most natural way possible. The transparency of this wood is denoted not only in a metaphorical context (a place where you can see through, peering between one name and another of plants), but also physically, letting the vegetation take over the boundaries between the Castle and the park, integrating artificial closures into the green.

In July 2022, in the spaces of the Castle, an exhibition was inaugurated that traces the life and career of Gilles Clément, through photos, videos, drawings of his projects and extracts from his writings. The different souls of this great master, his constant environmental commitment and his research are explained through a thematic path that traces his history. Obviously the concepts that characterize his theoretical and practical work are illustrated, the “moving garden”, the “planetary garden” and the “third landscape”.

This exhibition is also an opportunity to introduce the new project that Clément has devised for Mouans-Sartoux, namely the garden covering a car park that flanks the Castle park and connects to it.

Even without knowing its history and its projects, the exhibition gives the visitor a portrait of a sincere man, in love with his profession (gardener before landscape architect), constantly in search for a different look at nature and the world, ready to share this approach with everyone. And this is perhaps the great lesson that Gilles Clément wants to propose to us: observe with curious eyes what surrounds us; you never know that the wonder hides under a leaf or behind the trunk of a tree.

Project details

Design: Gilles Clément + François Navarro
Project Location: Mouans-Sartoux, France
Typology: Public park
Design year: 2004
Built: 2006
Area: 24.000 m2
Photo credits: © Gaël Glaudel

Gilles Clément

Gilles Clément

Gilles Clément is a French gardener, landscaper, botanist, entomologist, biologist and writer. After training as horticultural engineer and as landscape architect at the Institut national d’horticulture et du paysage in Angers, he has been teaching since 1979 at the École nationale supérieure du paysage in Versailles, in parallel with his activity as a designer. Instead of confining the plants to a specific place in order to organize a creation, the gardener can and must, according to Gilles Clément, have more confidence in nature and accept to give it complete freedom; the plants partly as a result of the chance of seed falls and partly according to soil and phytosociological preferences will thus be able to find the places that suit them best.

François Navarro

François Navarro

Their conceptual work is placed in a minimalist logic based on the creation of strong contrasts between vegetation and architecture, water and mineral, on different scales. This spatial construction is the only one effective, in their eyes, of creating places capable of questioning the fellow citizens about the world around, of making them freer in the face of the usual conceptual formatting.