1924 onwards, Lawrence Johnston, an American born in Paris, began
to create a winter garden in Menton,
a place which would be both stylish and spectacular. There were
to be double curving steps, fountains, pools, classical statuary,
green garden rooms, a Moorish patio, orangeries for tender exotic
In 1907 he had already begun an outstanding garden
in Gloucestershire, England - Hidcote Manor. His French garden -
Serre de la Madone - was designed to lay siege to the house, through
doors, windows and arcades; the house being originally a sizeable
farmhouse to which Johnston added to large wings.
With this quiet
house and luxuriant vegetation, we could be miles from anywhere,
perhaps in India. Parrots screech in the aviaries - Australia maybe?
Those palms swaying againt the sky are certainly from the Canaries...
But no, we are in one of the valleys of Menton,
one step from the Mediterranean, two steps from Italy.
the world over a thirty-year period always seeking plants that
he could acclimatise. Here at Serre de la Madone with its twelve
gardeners working its seven hectares of terraces, he planted his
prizes among the ancient olives. So in pursuit of an extravagant
dream he ended up cloaking this age-old land with a fantastical
structure and exotica from far-flung lands. He died in 1958 without
having commited to paper his grand design.
it up to the plants, the springs and to time to finish his garden.
We have become the inheritors of his dream, now a tropical forest,
a place of living architecture, of fresh green mirrored in reflecting
pools. We owe it to the world to continue his work and to give
it a contemporary significance.
Menton, a town
known for its outstanding gardens, Serre de la Madone was
bought in 1999 by the Conservatoire du Littoral, with contributions
from the town of Menton,
the Conseil Général des Alpes-Maritimes, the
Conseil Régional (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur)
and the fondation Electricité de France. Serre de la
Madone will now become, with its "palazzo" and its
garden restored, an international center for enthusiasts for
rare plants. They will be able to come and to familiarise
themselves with trees, climbers, shrubs and flowers new to
them, to make out their Latin names, to dream in the garden's
green rooms and loggias, to study in the library, to linger
on the Boulingrin, to hear evening concerts, to meet botanists,
to take part in seminars and courses... and of course, to
revive themselves in the "salon de thé".