On the occasion of the book's release "Louis Benech, 12 gardens in France", Eric Jansen at Gourcuff Gradenigo editions, Jardiner Malin went to meet theworld-renowned French landscape designer, Louis Benech. The one who has designed and carried out more than 300 projects, public and private, all over the world, from Korea to Canada, via France of course, the United States, Greece or even Morocco, replied with great frankness and humor to our questions.
Interview with Louis Benech
JM: Why did you present only 12 of your gardens in the book "Louis Benech, 12 jardins en France"? How were they chosen?
Louis Benech: "Louis Benech, 12 gardens in France" was written with the secret hope of quickly remaking a "Twelve gardens elsewhere than in France"! No, that's a joke. More seriously, Eric Sander had the opportunity to take pictures of two of my gardens for magazines. I found his photos to be very beautiful! I asked him to make more for me. The owner of one of my "babies" also ordered it. As a result, we have continued our collaboration on many projects. In the end, his photos shed light on my work and revealed such different atmospheres, with surfaces, situations, results so diverse that we wanted to show a handful that was indicative of this diversity. So I really got to realize that my work is far from the same from one place to another.
Among these gardens, is there one that was more complicated than the others to set up?
A garden is never really technically complicated. It's a game, a pleasure to have to limit yourself, to fit into a context. If that is difficult, it is a joy to find the answers. Without sounding unfortunate, the implementation is sometimes complex in human relations or in cases of (legitimate) administrative protection. It’s a bit like taking passing exams, but really rarely for geographic or physical terrain issues.
In the preface to the book, it says that you like the idea of a mess framed in something structured. Is this your view of the garden?
This is not wrong, but maybe a little simplistic. In the plant world, there are all the "speeds" of sustainability (and of growth as well). The structure, as I am not a mineral producer, is the trees, hedges, ... sometimes water. Then a garden is always an artifice, even when referring to images of spontaneity. What I am sure is that indeed no garden is exclusively black or white. Always according to the maintenance capacities, I modulate, temper, share the "modes" of expression, the softened disorder, the formality or the rigidity of a hedge or the rupture of the regularity of an orchard. Eric Jansen’s observation is quite true in the images in this book, but in certain parts of certain gardens I have mended landscapes while trying to tend to an illusion of spontaneity. I often say that I like the idea of the man's signature being light or at least appropriate for the context. At Versailles, for example, in what is perceptible in the embracing and global composition of Le Nôtre, once one frees oneself from the vocabulary of the strict and trimmed bower palisade, without will to want to exist, since he- even has practiced apparent disorders (the grove of springs), we can allow ourselves freedoms to let go of unconstrained plant developments.
Your grassy paths just like your vast meadows sown with grasses have made your notoriety. Is thisyour trademark ?
The grassy paths are by no means mine. In Courances, a long time ago, the current owner removed all the Duchêne sand paths. In England, this is a common place. Gilles Clément praised it. From year to year, the position of this type of interview may be reviewed. I use it as soon as I can, that is to say if the passage is not intended for two hundred people per day, if there is no coming and going of vehicles… If the 'we can, it is in any case better than sand alleys whose hoeing was abandoned after the last war in favor of soda chlorates and other infernal weedkiller glyphosates!
So, could you explain to us exactly how you go about designing a garden?
I imagine my answer will be the same as all my other little comrades: there are as many ways of approaching the thought of a place as there are places. Let's say in short that first of all, you have to compile the constraints, the visual and geographic data which are essential in my eyes in the current context, because they are not very conceptual. We must also take into account the different human, financial, usage and future maintenance elements, then we arrive at the meaning. We more or less manage to perceive how the formulation of the place will take shape while mixing objectivity and perhaps intuition.
Once these gardens are finished, do you ever go back to see how they have evolved?
There are no committed gardens that I do not revisit, even if they have already been sold or have changed owners. It is a necessity of tutor ... and a reciprocity of lessons: failures or good surprises will be used again when approaching other gardens.
You are currently working on the creation of a garden of new expression on the 15,000 m² of the Grove of the Water Theater of the Palace of Versailles. Could you tell us about this project? Where are you now?
I can talk about it at length because it is atypical in my own experience. It is made for Versailles and only for Versailles, and more specifically in the precise context of this grove. The land in which he will be born is an empty quadrilateral which, with a quick glance, is a seemingly blank leaf. Here, unlike work resulting from a site survey, the garden will remain introverted, partly cut off from the world for the eye but held by thought, memory, engines. It was written in a freedom constrained by what I believe to be important, rightly or wrongly, but that work, explanations or justifications that are sometimes simplistic, sometimes more complex can, without mimicry, ape or diversion, be references to the history of this “Water Theater”. It will therefore always be a Theater, and animated by water, in a clearing of light in the round shape of the two previous plantations with new water games but with references to the monarch initially commissioned and to the children present from the origin in this part of the park (Bassin des Enfants Dorés, etc.). All of this in a setting that tries to allude to the forward-looking ways that had guided Le Nôtre; the possibilities of rediscovering through Irish yews some landmarks of what the Theater had been when it was built, at least spatially in its directions, its surface - or revivals of recurring rhythms like those with which the initial grove had been composed. Today, we are in this phase of moving from ideas to form (not feasibility) but how the implementation of the grove will take place and therefore in the soon-to-be-produced phase of documents which will then make it possible to question companies to make a choice and then take action. In this phase, we are looking for the relevance of this moment, with all that our time can offer us as technical answers, what will be the economy, the fountain, or the "management" of this adventure grove.
Louis Benech, 12 gardens in France
Author: Eric Jansen
Photographer: Eric Sander
Editor: Gourcuff Gradenigo
Interview Laetitia Devillars
Photo credit of Une / Portrait Louis Benech by photographer Eric Sander.