Canadian by birth, I first fell in love with France as a student in the 1960's. Later I was a professor of French and Comparative Literature, with incursions into art history, at the University of Washington in Seattle. There I met my French husband, Bernard Dupont. Together we taught American students in Avignon for nearly twenty years. In 1975 we bought the farmhouse where we still live and garden. As a beginner, exploring local history and customs with my students, I began myself to visit gardens in the area. I knew the Romans had left their mark on almost everything in Provence, and that they had been great gardeners. But thirty years ago, people kept telling me that there were NO gardens in Provence, apart from certain famous historic properties near Aix and on the Riviera. They were thinking of English flower gardens designed for summer display, a model foreign to local climate and customs. The northern approach is also purely ornamental and hides from view everything utilitarian. The Roman heritage, still predominant in the south, never made this separation between productive and pleasure gardening. And when fruit counts as much as flower, every season has its attractions. Today the Mediterranean way of life has become fashionable worldwide. The symbol of its success is the olive tree, worshipped—perhaps even too much at times—for both its oil and its year-round beauty.
For my first books, Gardens in Provence and Gardens of the French Riviera, I visited some 300 gardens between Nîmes and Menton, of all kinds and from all periods. In those days, Provence was still a sleepy backwater of the garden world, and the success of my first book helped some southerners take pride in their own traditions. Now, decades later, Provence’s best gardens—like its cuisine—rank with the finest international examples. Both blend global trends with a regional character now widely recognized and appreciated. More recently still, the garden maker (amateur as much as professional) has become an artist, and old Mediterranean traditions like hillside terracing merge into new Land Art. It is a very exciting time to discover gardens and landscapes in Mediterranean France.