The gardening world, particularly in France and Britain, had a moment of profound sadness when it learnt of the death this month of Patrice Fustier, the founder, with his wife Hélène, of the Journées des Plantes de Courson. Courson is the chateau, in its bosky park just south west of Paris, where in the 1980s they started a modest fair for gardeners that can truly be said to have re-established gardening as an art in the eyes of France. There had been a long period when few things were less fashionable to the Parisian monde. A scattering of chatelains cared about their gardens. They were, it seemed, ones with wider interests than most and connections in Britain or the Low Countries. To risk a wild generalisation, to the rest the most important part of the garden was the potager – and very right, too, I hear you say.
The Fustiers changed all that. Suddenly, it seemed within a couple of years, they were drawing fashionable crowds. They invited France’s then-few specialist plant nurseries to set up stands and British experts to give talks. Roy Lancaster was one of the first and most regular. Suddenly green wellies and Land Rovers became chic. France was conquered, or reconquered, by the goddess Flora, or perhaps Saint Dorothy and Saint Fiacre, gardening’s two patron saints. The message spread that orderly allées and well-raked gravel were not enough – nor even productive rows of artichokes and beans. Unusual plants began to take the place of rose bushes and geraniums. Garden guides listed notable places to visit. What had been a peculiarly British culture, epitomised by the National Gardens Scheme, crossed the Channel.
Patrice was a man of enormous charm, kindness and resolution. He overcame the terrible results of a serious accident in his relative youth to achieve a magnificently ambitious goal. Three years ago the Fustiers masterminded the transfer of the Journées des Plantes from the relatively limited arena of Courson to the majestic surroundings of Chantilly, where they are now installed each May and October, France’s equivalent of Chelsea but with a touch of the amateur that seems almost more English. Patrice deserves a lasting memorial. He certainly has one in the Journées des Plantes.