Les Jardins d’Étretat overhang the famous Cliff D’Amont, offering an iconic view over La Manche, which still attracts painters from all over the world. The sculpture on this terrace is a tribute to Claude Monet, who repeatedly painted the Cliffs of Étretat in his series.
The British usually have fixed ideas about gardens. Maybe it is the unpredictable weather, or the irredeemably grey winters, but a garden has to have colour other than green, and this comes in the form of flowers. Some would even say a garden without these is not really a garden. At Les Jardins d’Etretat on the Normandy coast, this notion is turned on its head. The garden seems to elude any strict definition of a traditional French, Italian or English garden.
Designed by the Russian landscape architect Alexandre Grivko, the five-acre garden is a brilliant amalgamation of design, art and sheer joie de vivre. It is the very epitome of ‘a green thought in a green shade’. Clipped spirals of box loop in a vortex around serene, Buddhist-like heads looking skyward called Des Goutte de Pluie or Drops of Rain by the Spanish artist Samuel Salcedo.
Columns of yew stretch up into the sky, imitating the natural coastal rock arches and Needle Rock (L’Aiguille) visible from the garden, a magnet for French artists, such as Claude Monet and Eugène Boudin in the nineteenth century. A bank of cloud-pruned silver leaved elaeagnus – a shrub so indestructible, that even in the salt-laden winds that strafe this garden, it looks radiantly healthy – rolls down the steep sides of the garden like a series of breaking waves. In search of a new gardening style and inspired by neo-futuristic ideas, Alexandre’s exacting experiments with the shapes of the plants mirror and mimic the native landscape and connect nature with art.