In the summer of 2016, Vannes had a wonderful garden series, called Jardins Éphémères (Ephemeral Gardens).
When we first walked into the old walled city from our hotel just outside the city walls, we noticed a pocket-sized patch of greenery alongside one of the walls and thought “Oh how pretty.”
Next we noticed the “lace” discs on poles in the median strip of the main road in front of the marina when we walked there for dinner. An information board told us it was called “Escape” “It is a reflection on perspective. The garden is caught in traffic, but it must not hide the view of the harbor. It is an open perspective between the town and the port of Vannes.” That was when we began to realize that this must be a series of special “gardens” and we decided to find out more in the next days.
Jardins Éphémères (Ephemeral Gardens) has the meaning of fleeting, impermanent gardens. Or maybe the idea of gauzy and misty also comes into it, depending on one’s interpretation, I guess.
We found out that this was was the second year the city held this special event. The first edition of Les Jardins Éphémères in 2015 was one of the most successful events of 2015 in Vannes. In the heart of the old city there were 16 contemporary, classical, modern or offbeat gardens that captivated the locals and the millions of tourists (some estimate 2 million a year).
The concept was the idea of Vannes’ mayor David Robo as a way for the city to keep its 4-flower reputation. France has a system of designating whether a city/town is pretty with many flowers: The city/town gets designated as a Ville Fleurie (a Flower Town) on a board as you enter the town—more flowers on the board mean a more flowery town. Vannes has been a Ville Fleurie with 4 flowers (like 4 stars for a hotel) and the city wanted to keep that honor.
There was no cost to the city for the first Jardins Éphémères except watering costs to maintain the gardens. This is because the garden creations were financed and donated by landscape professionals. These people in turn benefited from a showcase of millions of visitors, and communication media to publicize their work.
Because 2015 was such a success the city decided to do it again in 2016. For this new edition, about forty creations were received from a call for projects. The city retained twenty-one proposals, which became 21 gardens installed on 21 sites in the historic heart of Vannes. The teams were multidisciplinary, composed of landscapers, nurserymen, architects, writers, sculptors or landscape schools. As in 2015, all works were realized and financed by the landscapers.
There was a map with a garden walk to find all 21 gardens, but we only discovered that
after the fact, so we missed a few. But it was fun anyway, discovering these Jardins Éphémères dotted all over the Old City and tracking down as many as we could. Some were fairly large, some very tiny, some pretty, some whimsical, some funny, some overflowing with greenery, others with almost no greenery. But, each one had a theme and a story, which is a lovely concept. And, what they planted and and/or where they planted fit into that theme.
As we read, some of the gardens are emblematic, some colored, some innovative, or fragrant, or edible. One, in the Town Hall, was even made of paper, so really anything goes! The city and the creators obviously put a lot of creative time and energy into making these and it was a great addition to the city landscape.
As we wandered around we realized that each garden had an information board explaining its meaning. We read the boards and tried to understand what the creators meant and wanted to convey.
Some gardens: (pictures below each description)
Le Jardin des Ruches (beehives); the board invites “lover of bees you are welcome here.”
Next to the Cathedral St Pierre is Entre Ciel et Terre (Between Sky and Earth), also described as “between man and countryside.”
Le Jardin Gourmand; described as a garden to nourish, to honor the richness and diversity of cultivated plants, including a small street library, and various garden tools.
Le Serpent qui Danse (The Serpent that Dances); “Follow the serpent dancing and undulating with feminine curves along one side of the port. This fascinating reptile from the waters now has a body of straw to better blend it in with nature.”
La Colline aux Mille Jardins (The Hill of a Thousand Gardens); This garden is just outside the old city walls, next to the Prison Gate. Vannes school children colored the pots, presenting their imaginary gardens. Beautifully done, we thought.
Reconquête (Reconquest): This garden, also on one side of the port, evokes a winning back/retaking of earth by the fauna and flora in an urban environment.
La Guinguette des Belles Éphémères (The Outdoor Café of the Beautiful Fleeting Things): Who are the beautiful ephemeral beings, mysterious personages that adorn the Hotel de Ville Square, motionless around the pond?
Apparently a few of the 2016 garden installations around the marina/port were damaged (sadly), but the city has decided that they will go ahead with an edition in 2017.
These are the first Jardins Éphémères (Ephemeral Gardens) in France and no other city has copied, so far. Although, the city of Nancy does have a large garden called Jardin Éphémère in the main city square, Place Stanislas, which it has put on every year for 13 years now.