THE ABSTRACT–Sophia’s Choices at International Garden Festival

May 18, 2018


Design is the partner to plants. I remember a few years ago when I competed in my local Dade City Garden Club’s flower show. With an entry in floral design that was meant  to convey an emotion about a specific time era in Florida history, I planned and prepped for days on how to express my interpretation in design. My husband, Ernie, built the container from rustic cypress. I located heirloom blue delphiniums and greenery which were indicative of the 19th century time frame. When I received a third place ribbon, I was ecstatic, and our garden club matriarch,  Pat Carver patted me on the hand and announced that the entry was respectable. Of course I had developed flower beds and little schemes for my yard of complementary plants, but this first endeavor into design made me cognizant of the depth of  planning which goes into design made of plants to denote a message or transmit an emotion. My respect for designers germinated and grew in that simple experience. No wonder when I encountered the International Garden Festival at Domain of Chaumont-Sur-Loire, I was awestruck.

The International Garden Festival began in 1992. Sophia La Bette was tapped by the NACAA representatives to orient the American extension agents and master gardeners to the festival’s philosophy and  the Domain of Chaumont-Sur-Loire, the facility which has hosted the International Garden Festival. She then chose gardens for our tour of the entries. Over 800 gardens were created for the festival over the years. The ephemeral gardens last for 6 months and are created  from all nature of professional orientations:  architects, designers, horticulturists, architects, anthropologists, set designers and more…

Deciding upon the annual theme is always a challenging and involved process, said Sophia. Excited about the 2018 theme, Sophia explained that the festival is chaired by writer, Jean Echenoz, and the theme is Gardens of Thought. Recent themes have included:  2017: Flower Power; 2016: Gardens from the Coming Century; and 2015: Collector’s Garden.

Festival theme for 2018 interprets the impact of gardens throughout history…such as Plato’s Orchard, Garden of Epicurus, and Philosophers’ Walks in Kyoto and Shakespeare’s use of plants in his writing. From Erasmus to Jean Jacques Rousseau, we  know gardens are inexhaustible sources of pleasure and intellectual inspiration, invitations of reflection, meditation and daydream, says the literature from Bernard Faire d’Arcier.

The chosen gardens hailed from the countries of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States.

Sophia La Bette takes NACAA group on tour of the International Garden Festival in 2018. Sophia is in center with rose-colored scarf!

Sophia explained that additional guest artists included landscape artist Bernard Lassus, glass sculpture artist, Dale Chihuly from the United States, and the creator of the vowel garden known as the OUUPO Team who used their garden to create a brain theme. OULIPO was a poetry and math study in which mathematician Francois de Lionnais and writer, Raymond Queneau  developed a way to put language in a structural manner in which poetry is written in a mathematical sequence. As for Bernard Lassus, he is the leading landscape artist in France and uses his art to design landscape with particular concern to the ambiance of the space. Dale Chihuly has led the Avante garde movement to include glass as a fine art, and has exhibits all over the world (New York Botanical Gardens, Kew Gardens in London, Victoria & Albert Museum in London; and his spectacular glass piece was at the festival.

Sophia imparts that there is tri-fold information to absorb/experience at the festival,  including the castle and grounds with history that dates from the 10th century,  the art season which stretches from the end of March to the beginning of November each year, and lastly, the garden designs which are depicted in regard to art, interpretation and horticulture.

The design of the twenty-six competing gardens was as viewed through a tunnel…everyone weaves their way through their soul and consciousness, through the plant library when the plants, like books are meticulously shelved in order. The borders guide us along the path from one garden to the next.

Sophia spoke of the director, Mrs. Chantala Colleu-Dumond, a dedicated leader who works very diligently on the festival, she is also author of Talk about Contemporary Gardens, and her particular love of color pallets in blue and green.

For our group and in the essence of time, Sophia selected a few of the competition gardens to showcase for our group.

CeciestpasunjardinThe first was named Ceci n’est pas un Jardin (This is not a garden!) designed by French landscaper Frederic Fouan and Arnuled Anger and Juliette Ols, it uses mirrors and works on the theme of objectivity and subjectivity. The French design provides visitors  with a picture of a formal entrance which is really a mirror, a kind of illusion. Beyond the mirror is a garden that they can touch and feel and interact with.

3LeLivreDeSableSophia selected another French garden based upon the book entitled, Book of Sand by Jorge Luis Borges. This interpretation revealed no beginning or ending, and utilized strong blue colors based upon the blue men of the desert (Chinguetti in Mauritania) who were keepers of mysterious libraries containing age-old information. The designers want to convey that building and construction often destroys an environment.


Next Sophia walked us to La Possibilite d’une ile (Is it possible?) There a tree was growing in the middle of a pond. A meditation garden, the focus was upon climate control and change. Sophia said, Think of climate change–floods, trees in water and reflect. With a definite view on climate change, guests contemplate the empty portions of the garden.
6LeJardinDuPresentIntensement The fourth garden Sophia showcased was Le Jardin du present intensement. Here she explained the garden was a metaphor…the place…the moment of awakening. Designed by a French and Japanese team, they used Japanese maple and cherry trees as well as blue water highlights. As a garden for spiritual awakening,  it includes a pathway of stepping stones to a wall that looks like  tea pavilion and on to a pool of blue water.

7DanlesboisIntotheWoodsNext was Dans les bois (Into the Woods) from the United State team of Phoebe Lickwar, Mathew Donham, Hannah Moll and Anderson Woof. This garden was a labyrinth of labyrinths that represented past and future based upon The Garden of Forking Paths by Jorge Luis Borges. Through a  tangle of snagging branches with numerous paths. They want to communicate that one sometimes finds himself by losing himself.

She also chose the Garden of French Vowels (yes, a, e, i, o, u) for deciphering which plant is which vowel to find the hidden message.


The Avante Garden, a Russian design based upon the poem entitled, A Cloud in Trousers

by Vladimir Mayakovsky, examines the fragileness of life. In a circle of black grass, a tree with no leaves stands in the center with red blood vessels running down its trunk symbolizing the cardiovascular system. The pathway depicts the Soviet revolution and shows the favorite colors of Russian avant-garde artists.

25SculptredeverreFinally the Libres garden of Bookshelves was shown in its collaboration of  both English and French designs.



chinese-permanent-garden-design_10462The Chinese Gardens known as Carre et Rond by Yu Knogijan is a permanent exhibit and shows a red ribbon style path that flows through the Chinese garden and is part of the permanent exhibit known as Parc du Goualoup. The chateau and its stables, and gardens use plants, much of which serves as galleries.


Sophia encouraged everyone to view the glass  sculpture by Dale Chihuly from the USA.

She walked the group through the innovative kitchen gardens on the grounds as well.

Kudos to Master Gardener, Corrine Kage who in discussion with Sophia shared an important piece of information for the Gardens of Thought exhibit. As Corrine was chatting with the group, Sophia brought attention to the cocoa bean hulls that were being used as mulch that looked quite nice. It was obvious the mulch was intended to create an image and drama in the garden exhibit. Corrine said, we have used that as well, but it is of concern because chocolate is poisonous to dogs. Oh, responded Sophia of the International Gardens Exhibit. I will immediately let the gardeners know. We have many visitors who come with their canine companions, and that is really alarming. Thank you so much.


Great job, Corrine! You represented our group so well!!!


More information at:



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: