In 2016, 2017 and 2018 I was fortunate to visit Annecy in the Haute-Savoie, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in south eastern France.
This bustling historic city, which was twinned with Cheltenham in England over 60 years ago, was referred to as the 'Venice of the Alps' due to picturesque canals which run through its streets. It boasted immaculate large public gardens, an aviary and arboretum on the shores of Europe's cleanest and France's second largest natural lake, Lake Annecy.
Situated at 447 metres the lake hosts breathtaking views across the Bauges mountain range of Le Mont Veyrier, Parmelan, La Tournette at 2351metres and Le Semnoz which featured in the 2013 Tour de France.
Annecy will be in the limelight again this year as it is to host the 105 edition of the Tour de France on 16 & 17 July. So the city will be very busy this coming summer.
There were two main public gardens; Parc Charles Bosson situated by the Imperial Palace, a luxury hotel and casino and Les Jardin de L'Europe nearest the commercial area and medieval old town which was reached by crossing the Canal du Vasse over the Pont des Amours ('Bridge of Love') from the 17 acre Paquier which historically was used as pasture for livestock.
Since 2006 the summer gardens annually erupt with a plethora of themed floral displays.
In 2015 Annecy was awarded the highest floral accolade by the Conseil National des Villes et Villages Fleuris (National Council of Towns and Flowered Villages) of four flowers, 'Fleur d'Or' ('Golden Flower') similar to michelin stars for restaurants; signified on road signs as you enter the city as four red flowers on a yellow background. The much coveted awards were only presented to France's nine most-flowered cities.
Annecy's residents benefit from the municipal environmental policy which has helped retain just over 40% of the city's green spaces and in 2004 the City of Annecy signed a 'zero pesticides' charter so they are committed to working with nature and reducing the chemical impact on the environment which will in turn help maintain the natural beauty and health of the lake and all the wildlife it supports.
The Concours des villes et villages fleuris ('towns and villages in bloom competition') is a national annual competition which aims to improve inhabitants lives by working together as a community and proudly enjoying the finished garden displays. A theme wholeheartedly embraced in the UK as gardening has proved to be an incredible benefit to our mental wellbeing.
With an annually changing colour scheme, 2017 was the year of oranges and lemons. The flower borders were a delight and exploded with vibrant colour.
Blousey Dahlias, Zinnias, Nicotiana alata, Salvias, Kniphofia and Tagetes (marigolds) rubbed shoulders with the exotic Canna 'Tropicanna' and faded giant Helianthus (sunflowers) whose heavy noble seed heads held almost in shame of passing their best.
There was a very relaxed atmosphere at the gardens. People sauntered around the paths and flowers beds donned in summer attire, many in bikinis and speedos, walk punctuated with a dip in the lake followed by a picnic.
As per a great deal of French municipal planting edible crops were interplanted between the showy ornamental flowers. Beta vulgaris subsp. cicla var. flavescens (or swiss chard for short) was one of the stars of the show. The rich green foliage cut through by the vivid yellow stalk blended into the border perfectly.
My last two visits were in August and although some of the flora was past its prime their seed heads still gave structure and hinted at what had gone before.
June or July would bring a different experience; radiant roses at the Imperial Palace rose garden, moving onto sunflowers and then onward to dahlias and earlier in the year a kaleidoscope of bulbs from tulips to alliums.
As per any garden display, different months bear different gifts.
The municipal flower beds of 2016 can only be described as shocking pink!
A riot of joyous colour dedicated to biodiversity with eight sub themes on display at the Gardens of Europe including threatened biodiversity, plant biodiversity and across the continents, pollination, the seabed, rainforest, differentiated management and invasive species of which there was a fascinating exhibition I will feature in a future post.
The borders were an eclectic collection of Rincus communis (caster oil plant), Cleome hassleriana (spider flower), many cultivars of Zinnia, Verbena bonariensis, Canna, Pennisetum (fountain grass) and Brassica oleracea possibly 'Redbor' (purple curly kale) whose rich dark foliage sat perfectly amongst the petals.
Parc Charles Bosson and Les Jardin de L'Europe were also in their own right arboretums which hosted a phenomenal collection of 248 trees of 100 different varieties from Europe, America and Asia including Acer griseum (Paper Bark Maple), Sequoiadendron giganteum (Giant Sequoia), Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn Redwood), Picea abies (Norway Spruce); Liquidambar styraciflua (American Sweetgum), Liriodendron tulipifera (Tulip tree), Betula nigra (River Birch), Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca' (Blue Atlas Cedar), Magnolia grandfolia and Ginkgo biloba which all provided welcomed shade from the barmy summer sun - perfect for picnics.
When the garden was originally completed in January 1864, it hosted nearly 650 trees and 1,000 shrubs. The shrubs have virtually gone but this has made way for uninterrupted views across the lake.
This was a tranquil oasis a few steps away from the busy populated streets of Annecy; free for everyone to admire and enjoy.
Annecy really was my epitome of utopia!
Water, mountains, sun, breathtaking views and exceptional flora.
One thing was for sure, Annecy was paradise for gardeners; there was something for everyone, whatever your taste. I cannot wait to see what 2018 holds.
All photos taken by Debi Holland © 2021