June 05, 2021

Agnès et Nicholas Brückin, Structures en pierre du jardin des Sambucs / Stone structures of the Sambucs garden

all pictures (May 2021) courtesy of
Claire Schneider

Located on a slope in a valley in the Cévennes National Park in the south of France, surrounded by tree-filled hills and enriched with creative stone structures, the Jardin des Sambucs is not only an attractive garden with flowers, ponds and nice trails, but it's also an art environment worth visiting. 

The name of the site is Occitan for the plant scientifically named Sambucus, in English commonly referred to as elderberry.

In the context of the development of the garden in general, this post will focus in particular on the stone structures and other creations that give the site such a special character.

Creating the garden started in 1994

A young couple, Agnès and Nicholas Brückin, started in 1994 with the creation of the 5000 hectare garden. After eight years, in 2002, the site was opened for the public. Currently the garden, which has many attractive aspects, has become a beloved spot to visit.

Agnès comes from the Cévennes. She is a farmer's daughter and is self-taught when it comes to gardening. In her design of the garden she follows the concept of the moving garden, an approach by the gardener Gilles Clément to grow plants in a natural way from fallow land, an approach that includes that the gardener knows the properties of different plants and better understand species and their behaviors, this in order to better exploit their natural capacities.

Nicholas grew up in England, Germany and Switzerland. He worked as a machinist on a road roller in the construction and maintenance of roads made of pebbles. 

From his grandfather he inherited a special sensitivity to stones and fossils and he is particularly interested in the structure of the garden, which he wants to accentuate with stone structures, often in the form of towering structures, but also in other forms, such as half or double spheres, walls and sets of steps. With regard to producing artworks he is also self-taught.

A variety of towering stone structures

In particular when seen from a little further away from the garden, a number of  high rising towering creations, as depicted in the images above, form a distinctly defining element of the site.

These creations are made of white and sand colored pebbles, joined with cement in horizontal circles, stacked in such a way as to form tapering towers. 

These high-rising structures may be capped at the top with a small number of gray tinted stacked stones. But here are also smaller tower-like structures, as in the two images above left and right, which are capped with brown vase-shaped structures. 

Or, as in the images above and below, these smaller towery structures have blue or brown saucer-shaped structures in which stone birds can nest and amusing characters make a dance or otherwise demand attention.

It appears that these tower-like creations, also the high-rising ones, have exclusively been made with pebbles and no supporting internal infrastructure has been used. 

This also applies to a number of creations, not depicted here,  that are formed exclusively by stacking mostly gray-colored stones.

The sturdiness of the structures, especially the towering ones, testifies to the craftsmanship with which Nicholas made the creations.

Other stone-built structures

The garden also has a variety of other stone-built structures.

For example, the image above shows a spherical structure made of stacked stones, a kind of cave that can be entered by visitors and in which they eventually can retreat for a while to absorb in all tranquility the impressions of the garden.

There is also a spot in the garden that refers to Venus. It's a spot with two man-sized vertically standing shells facing each other. Venus, a goddess of classical antiquity, was born from sea foam and reached shore sailing on a large shell, later named after her as the Venus shell.

And then there are benches available for visitors to rest or muse for a while. These benches, often quite large in size, are made of stones and pebbles and equipped with colorful and comfortable cushions.

Also within the site's grounds is a structure that includes a number of shelves filled with books for visitors to consult. The walls of this library have been decorated with mosaics.

Other walls in the garden also feature mosaic decorations, often in bold colours.

The garden has a small café. There also is a restaurant where (by appointment) meals are served, made from products from the garden.

Those visitors who want to stay longer in the area can stay overnight in a guest house or in a gite, 

The owners of the garden have signed the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism and they are members of the Ecotourism Association of the Cévennes. The garden is recommended by the National Park of the Cévennes and in 2013 it received an award as "favorite of the year" from the French association of  garden journalists.

In 2020, like most musea and other public facilities in France, the garden was closed to the public. During the closure, various new elements were added to the garden. The site reopened to the public in May 2021. 

An exhibition of works by visual artist Alain Kieffer was also opened at that time

* Website of the Jardin des Sambucs (also available in English)
* Facebook page of the garden
* On Google Maps a large series of pictures of the creations, including an number of small-scale items
* Website French Gardens (in English). Most websites that review the site have a touristic approach.  

* Video by Christian Segonne (2010, 4'52"); embedding the video here has been disabled by the owner, so take a look at YouTube)

Agnès et Nicholas Brückin
Jardin des Sambucs
Hameau Le Villaret
30570 Saint André de Majencoules, dept Gard, region Occitanie, France
can be visited, see the website of the garden for info about opening hours etc

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