James Basson and the L’Occitane Garden

The L'Occitane Garden celebrates the 40th anniversary of beauty brand L’Occitane. Garden designer James Basson, has looked back at the history of L’Occitane, focussing on its formation in 1976, in Haute Provence, creating a Show Garden that is evocative of the landscape of this area of France.
The L’Occitane Garden celebrates the 40th anniversary of beauty brand L’Occitane. Garden designer James Basson, has looked back at the history of L’Occitane, focussing on its formation in 1976, in Haute Provence, creating a Show Garden that is evocative of the landscape of this area of France.

The L’Occitane Garden was designed by James Basson, and built by Peter Dowle.  The RHS judges awarded the L’Occitane Garden a Gold Medal, at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016.

In the L'Occitane Garden, James Basson has recreated the harsh beauty of Haute Provence, using 200 different plants which are native to Haute Provence, to recreate a small part of the landscape and atmosphere of this area of France.
In the L’Occitane Garden, James Basson has recreated the harsh beauty of Haute Provence, using 200 different plants which are native to Haute Provence, to recreate a small part of the landscape and atmosphere of this area of France.

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of beauty brand L’Occitane, garden designer James Basson, has looked back at the roots of L’Occitane, focussing on how and where the company was created.  L’Occitane was started in 1976, in Haute Provence, when Oliver Baussan found an old steam distiller that had been discarded.   Purchasing locally grown lavender and rosemary, Oliver Baussan used his newly acquired distiller to produce essential oils, which he then sold at the local markets.  

Making the final touches and adding the snail shells to The L'Occitane Garden, at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016. This area of the L'Occitane Garden was designed to look as if it was part of a lavender field, to reflect the lavender fields of this area of France and of Oliver Baussan's connection with these plants, and his beginnings distilling lavender and locally grown herbs.
Making the final touches and adding the snail shells to The L’Occitane Garden, at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016. This area of the L’Occitane Garden was designed to look as if it was part of a lavender field, to reflect the lavender fields of this area of France and of Oliver Baussan’s connection with these plants, and his beginnings distilling lavender and locally grown herbs.

Garden designer James Basson, lives in the south of France, he’s passionate about the local landscape and its history.  In the L’Occitane Garden, James recreates the harsh beauty of Haute Provence, bringing 200 plants native to Haute Provence, to recreate a small part of the landscape and atmosphere of Haute Provence for visitors to The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016 to enjoy, transporting them to this area of France.  

I caught up with garden designer James Basson at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016, to find out more about this year’s Show Garden for L’Occitane.

Bruno Torini, Helen Basson and James Basson, pictured in The L'Occitane Garden, at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016. Bruno Torini has worked with James and Helen Basson since he left school when he was 16 years old. James Basson's team always seem to have a great connection, it's lovely to see how well they work together.
Bruno Torini, Helen Basson and James Basson, pictured in The L’Occitane Garden, at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016. Bruno Torini has worked with James and Helen Basson since he left school when he was 16 years old. James Basson’s team always seem to have a great connection, it’s lovely to see how well they work together.

B:  I wondered if you have a favourite area of the garden?

JB: My favourite area is probably that dead bit under the pine, because it’s the bravest bit of planting really, so that what’s I’m pleased about.  And there’s probably about five different personalities that have planted it.

B: Really, you had five different planters for that area?

JB: Yes, so that makes it very restrained, but also extremely intensely calculated and worked out.

The L'Occitane Garden was designed by James Basson and built by Peter Dowle for The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016. The RHS judges awarded this Show Garden with a Gold Medal.
The L’Occitane Garden was designed by James Basson and built by Peter Dowle for The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016. The RHS judges awarded this Show Garden with a Gold Medal.
Isatis tinctoria, also known as woad, pictured in the L'Occitane Garden, at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016. Can you spot the snail?
Isatis tinctoria, also known as woad, pictured in the L’Occitane Garden, at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016. Can you spot the snail?

B: Last year you brought some plants, including some dried and dead plants, from your garden at home, have any of your plants this year come from your home garden?

JB: Yeah, the kids collected all the dried grass, and the leaves, and the snails.  And there’s loads!  The snails are called cacalaus – I don’t know how to spell that – it’s a Provençal word.  These little white snails on the ground – see them?

B: Oh yes!  I’ve not heard of these snails, so I don’t know how to spell cacalaus either!

JB: Here you go, take a picture – in my grubby mitt.

B: I love working hands, there’s nothing better!  Do you have any plans for what’s happening to the garden afterwards?

One of the snail shells from Haute Provence, that featured in the L'Occitane Garden, at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016.
One of the snail shells from Haute Provence, that featured in the L’Occitane Garden, at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016.
A closer look at the snail shell. These white snails are very common indeed in Haute Provence, they were added to give an authentic touch to the Show Garden.
A closer look at the snail shell. These white snails are very common indeed in Haute Provence, they were added to give an authentic touch to the Show Garden.

JB: The stone is being reclaimed for re-use, as it’s reusable.  The trees were being replanted in a garden, but we’re not sure it’s a good thing to do, we think they’ve just suffered too much to do what they’ve done, it’s a tough time of year to transplant them.

James Basson used 200 different plants all of which are native to Haute Provence, to ensure that the L'Occitance garden, was as authentic as possible.
James Basson used 200 different plants all of which are native to Haute Provence, to ensure that the L’Occitance garden, was as authentic as possible.

B: Do you have any planting combinations that you particularly enjoy.

JB: Well, I think that the plant combination is not visually interesting, it’s more the atmosphere of that area which I like.  The plant combination is the Marrubium, which is this little pompom flower in the middle of the grass there.  It was something that came a little bit green for me – normally it’d be a bit tougher – but in the dried grasses I thought it looked really spectacular and delicate and elegant, so I was really pleased with that.

Thymus vulgaris, with Marrubium incanum, in the L'Occitane Garden, at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016.
Thymus vulgaris, with Marrubium incanum, in the L’Occitane Garden, at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016.

B: The colours look perfect for the atmosphere you’ve created.  I love the stonework and the curves of this enclosure, can you tell me about who built this area of your garden? 

JB: The man who built that borrie has been a friend of mine for about 20 years, he’s a real artist.  He is probably the youngest master I’ve ever met – he was born with the skill in his hands.  He knows all the plants, he knows everything!  He’s very modest, very humble, quite a brilliant man: Stefan Goron.  He’s a real master, and being a Frenchman, potentially he might not have known about Chelsea, but he completely got the intense importance of every stone, so that was probably the best bit.

Stefan Goron built this beautifully crafted borrie for the L'Occitane Garden, at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016.
Stefan Goron built this beautifully crafted borrie for the L’Occitane Garden, at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016.
The L’Occitane Garden was designed by James Basson, and built by Peter Dowle. The RHS judges awarded the L'Occitane Garden a Gold Medal, at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016.
The L’Occitane Garden was designed by James Basson, and built by Peter Dowle. The RHS judges awarded the L’Occitane Garden a Gold Medal, at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016.

B: Do you have a favourite garden at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016 apart from yours?

JB: Yes, Cleve West’s.  The first day they put the fence in I thought “Wow!  That’s lovely.  Trees – wow!  That’s lovely!  Rocks – wow!  That’s lovely!”  The whole thing was just extraordinary, beautiful, very elegant and lovely.

Other articles that may interest you………………..

To read about The Perfumer’s Garden in Grasse, that James Basson designed for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015, please click here.

To find out about beautiful, important and historic gardens to visit in Surrey, Hampshire and West Sussex, please click here.

For gardening advice for mid-June to mid-July, please click here.

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