In the early 1930's, Winifred Fortescue
and her husband, Sir John Fortescue, left England and settled in Provence, in a
small stone house amid olive groves, high in the hills above Nice. Their exodus
had been caused partly by ill health, but was mostly for financial reasons, as
it was in the period between the wars when it was cheaper to live in France than
Almost at once they were bewitched, by the scenery, by
their garden - an incredible terraced landscape of vines, wild flowers, roses
and lavender - and above all by the charming, infuriating, warm-hearted and wily
Provencals. The house - called the Domaine - was delightful but tiny, and at
once plans were put in hand to extend it over the mountain terraces. Winifred
Fortescue's witty and warm account of life with stonemasons, builders,
craftsmen, gardeners, and above all her total involvement with the everyday
events of a Provencal village, made 'PERFUME FROM
PROVENCE' an instant
bestseller that went into several editions and became a famous compulsive book
for everyone who has ever loved France, most especially Provence.
Part of the success of this first book
may be due to the publishers engaging the famous E. H. Shepard to produce a dust
jacket and some 30 plus drawings of this engaging story. Shepard and his
daughter Mary travelled by train to the south and stayed with Winifred at the
Domaine for some 10 days.
By 1947, 42,900 copies had been sold and to date it's now over 100,000.
'The Domaine' c1930's
when owned by
Sir John and Lady Winifred Fortescue
E. H. Shepard and
daughter Mary visit to
prepare drawings for Perfume from Provence
house Peggy, (Winifred), and John found at Magagnosc, in the countryside
near Grasse, has passed into the history of the popular literature of
the 1930s and 1940s. It, and the life around it, are described in
Peggy's humourously extravagant yet poignant style, in her autobiography
There's Rosemary, There's Rue and above all in Perfume from Provence,
books that made her famous throughout Britain and its colonies. The
Domaine Fortescue, as they would call it (rather grandly for its size),
was a simple house set on steep terraces of exceptionally fertile and
well-cultivated soil, gazing out across a valley onto two rounded hills.
Bathed in sunlight for the greater part of the day, peach and other
fruit trees grew abundantly, healthy vines filled the property and,
above all, there were fireflies - for Peggy a prerequisite of any home
in Provence. As a good omen, on
either side of the gate to the Domaine were two tall cypresses
signifying Peace and Prosperity. There were few Provencal
farms or estates without
these sentinels of hope at the entrance to their property, but it was
said that Peace was always smaller then Prosperity, for there is never
any peace in the world. Was it wise to take on a house that clearly
would need restoration and substantial extension? To suit their needs
it would require, in addition, 'a library-dining room and two large
bedrooms over it', involving much building work and expense - and John
was sixty-nine years old. But he was entranced by the idea and, with 124
francs to the pound, 'we should do it easily and we can write a few
articles to pay for extras'. So the house was bought from its owner, a
Belgian count, and contracts signed for the whole project.
of continual financial worries and the disastrous removal, from England
to Nice, of their delicate furniture, various pieces of which were
damaged, involving yet more unwanted expense, they were happy at the
Domaine. Lucky in their servants, they were well and amusingly cared
for. The rhythm of the sunlit spring days in their now completed home
filled them with delight. Peggy, blessed with green fingers, planted and
sowed vigorously, creating an 'English garden' in the long piece of land
leading to the house and a well-stocked rose garden at the back. Photos
taken a couple of years later show the sturdy terraced walls swathed in
great clumps of cascading aubretia, not a usual sight in Provence in
those days. When not writing, John tended his vines and fruit trees and
oversaw the progress of the vegetable garden for, under Felix's care,
they were self-sufficient in vegetables. In fact the crop was so
abundant they were more than happy to sell the surplus to a hotel in
Grasse. Hens and rabbits, installed in cages on a lower terrace, added
to the food supply. The nocturnal mating call of frogs echoing from the
water storage tanks all over the hills and valley, followed later by the
soaring beauty of the song of the nightingales from the branches of
fruit and olive trees, filled the nights with Provencal, if noisy,
From 'Escape to Provence' by Maureen
In the original book 'Perfume from Provence'
the illustrations by E. H. Shepard included one of Hilaire the gardener
tending the rabbits in their hutches. The same hutches are still in the
same place today!
From the rose garden
at the rear in 1935. The canal watering sytem is clearly visible.
Winifred on the garden steps around 1932
'A great fire of olive logs was
crackling in the open fireplace at the apsidal end, and our round table,
standing upon its circular green carpet, was laid with white napery,
glass and silver. I had arranged a bowl of floating red roses in the
centre, lit invisibly by the radiance of the hidden lights within the
three arched mirror-lined niches above it, in which my collection of
glass was displayed. Tall standard lamps with apricot silk shades cast a
glow upon old bindings of books at the other end of the room, and shone
upon the faces of his [John's] 'Gallant Company portrayed above them.
They looked very fine against their background of buffy-cream wall.'
From Perfume from Provence by Winifred Fortescue.
'La Cabade' c1931
Early aerial photo
Chateauneuf de Grasse
Hilaire - The Gardener c1931
Emilia - The Italian Bonne c1931
E. H. Shepard
The Domaine 1992
The Domaine 1992
The Domaine 1992
The Domaine 2003
The Domaine 2003
The Domaine 2003
Domaine as it today'
Click here to see a
SLIDE SHOW taken in May 2003
France Garden and
The lovely jacket artwork by Brian Sanders of the garden at
Fort France, 'The Domaine'
The house, near Grasse, still exists
and today is known as Villa Fort France. The gardens, immortalized in 'Perfume
from Provence', contain over 1000 species providing year round flowers and colour.
Valerie de Courcel, an artist and
the current owner of The Domaine, has created a superb new website which
features her painting and also includes excellent views of the gardens
plus much more. The garden has now been awarded the label 'Jardin
Remarquable'. Below is a message from the owners following receipt
of the award in 2008.
Remarkable Garden 2008
"After a very successful show
in Chateauneuf, the end of the year brought us the good news that the
Fort France garden has been labelled a ‘remarkable garden’ by the
Ministry of Culture.
This is a recognition of the
work carried out in the garden by successive gardeners over 70 years,
started by Lady Fortescue, and then Jeanne. Later Valerie and Pierre
remodeled the garden, preserving past traditions, whilst bringing a new
energy. The search for rare plants, and the harmony of the shapes
and colours brought about this official recognition. Also we mustn’t
forget Jean, who trims, digs, and plants with us in this exciting
adventure and always gives us his best.
2008 will be a full year for
us, with family, artistic and garden projects. We hope that all your
plans and wishes come true. A very happy 2008 to you all."
The Domaine has often
featured in books, magazines and press reports.
The gardens of the Villa
Fort France can usually be visited by groups of 10 or more
by appointment only from mid April to end of June.
firstname.lastname@example.org or tel. 0033 (0)4 93 36 04 94 for
Entry to the garden
is via 237 avenue Antoine de Saint Exupery, 06130, Grasse once
GPS E 06 56 54 60 - N: 43 40 32 60
The Tele Matin
programme on France 2 TV recently broadcast a short film about the
garden at Winifred's
original home near Grasse and its present owner, Valerie de Courcel.
here to visit their site and view the film.
Pictures - Hoghton Mifflin Co - P. Riley
- A niece of Lady Fortescue - Maureen Emerson - Ralph A Stewart