CLOS DU PEYRONNET is renowned as the best English garden on the French Riviera. It surrounds a handsome Belle Epoque villa at the eastern end of the town of Menton, in the upmarket district of Garavan. The Italian frontier and the three-star Mirazur— named last year as Best Restaurant by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants website—are no more than 500 yards away. The property has been owned and developed by super-plantsman William Waterfield and his family for more than a century and, over the past 50 years, has acquired near-legendary fame among garden-lovers all over the world. The homage of a COUNTRY LIFE article is long overdue.
The property was bought by William’s grandparents Derick and Barbara Waterfield in 1912. Derick had abandoned a promising career in the Indian Civil Service on the insistence of his wealthy wife, but, as did many old India hands, the couple recoiled from the cold and gloom of the English winter. Menton had a large population of over-wintering Englishry at that time—their lives revolved around the tennis club, the lending library, the Anglican Church and endless At Homes. For nearly 30 years, the Waterfields wintered at Menton and spent summers in Staffordshire.
The garden for which Clos du Peyronnet is now so famous was substantially laid out in the 1950s by Humphrey Waterfield, Derick and Barbara’s eldest son. Humphrey was a gifted intellectual who was recommended for a Fellowship of All Souls, but opted for the arguably more fulfilling life of an artist. William inherited the house and garden from his uncle after Humphrey’s untimely death in a motor accident in 1971 and moved to Clos du Peyronnet in 1976, where he has lived ever since. It is the last of the famous English gardens of the Riviera that has remained in the ownership of the same family since before the First World War.
The house was built in 1897, in a style that is variously described as pseudo-Italianate, Beaux Arts or Arts-and-Crafts—within an olive grove, steeply terraced over six levels. The trees are no longer pruned to maximise the olive crop, but are allowed to grow as structural elements of great ornamental value.
The garden of Clos du Peyronnet is roughly square in shape and no more than 1¼ acres, yet the clever design and intensive plantings make it seem much larger. It is open towards the sea on its southern side, but otherwise surrounded by high walls. These are lined with cypresses that give further protection from wind, helping to create a microclimate that is exceptional even in Menton, France’s warmest town.
Little of the original garden survives, but two tall palm trees, Washingtonia filifera, and a handsome Nolina, in the turning circle, predate the Waterfields’ acquisition. So, too, does a gnarled wisteria that winds its way along much of the handsome colonnade at the front of the house.
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