Domaine

  


 

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 in England.

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 in the 1930's

'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

E. H. Shepard and daughter Mary visit to
prepare  drawings for Perfume from Provence

 

The 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.

In spite 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, charm.

From 'Escape to Provence' by Maureen Emerson.

 

How I planned my cottage garden by Lady Fortescue - supplied by Mariela Pez Miana of Spain - click to enlarge

 

Hilaire the gardener tends to the rabbits in their hutches

The same hutches are still there today!

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 of The Domaine in 1935

From the rose garden at the rear in 1935. The canal watering sytem is clearly visible.

 

Winifred on the garden steps around 1932

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.

 

The lovely jacket artwork by Brian Sanders of the garden at Fort France, 'The Domaine'

The Domaine

La Cabade at The Domaine

'La Cabade' c1931

Early aerial view over Chateauneuf de Grasse

Early aerial photo  Chateauneuf de Grasse 

Hilaire, gardener at The Domaine

Hilaire - The Gardener c1931

 Emilia, maid at The Domaine

Emilia - The Italian Bonne c1931

E. H. Shepard and daughter Mary visit to prepare drawings for Perfume from Provence

E. H. Shepard

The Domaine 1992

The Domaine 1992

The Domaine 1992

The Domaine 1992

The Domaine 1992

The Domaine 1992

The Domaine 2003

The Domaine 2003 

The Domaine 2003

The Domaine 2003

The Domaine 2003

The Domaine 2003

'The Domaine as it today'

 Slide show of The Domaine

Click here to see a SLIDE SHOW taken in May 2003

 

Visit Fort France Garden and web site!

Visit the The Domaine's own web site

Visit the Fort France web site

 

Fort France Garden Guide

Fort France Garden Guide

 

The lovely jacket artwork by Brian Sanders of the garden at Fort France, 'The Domaine'

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.

 

Lady Fortescue's original garden at the Villa Fort France has been awarded the label 'jardin remarquable'

A 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.

2017 Group Visits

Lady Fortescue's original garden at the Villa Fort France has been awarded the label 'jardin remarquable'

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.
Contact valerie@valeriedecourcel.fr or tel. 0033 (0)4 93 36 04 94 for 2017 arrangements.
 

Entry to the garden is via 237 avenue Antoine de Saint Exupery, 06130, Grasse once pre-booked.
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. Click here to visit their site and view the film.

Aberdeen Press Article Aerial Photo Chat'neuf La Cabade Hilaire & Emilia 1990 - 2003 Domaine 2003 Slides

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Pictures - Hoghton Mifflin Co - P. Riley - A niece of Lady Fortescue - Maureen Emerson - Ralph A Stewart