From industrial site to contemporary garden

If you live in the UK, and/or like garden and plants in general, you can not have missed this week’s big event: the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show. Temple of gardening overindulgence, shrine to bizarre landscaping trends, and showcase of nurserymen’s skills, it’s also an inspiration for designers all over the planet, and this time I want to show you a real garden, near my hometown in France, ambiguously named the “Jardin des Traces“.

The Lorraine, region of North-Eastern France where I was born has a long tradition of steel industry, and landscape has always been dotted with tall blast furnaces. Many have closed and been demolished over the last decade, but one, the “U4” has been preserved and become a listed building. To give you an idea, this is a view of the site in the 1970s, with the Moselle river on the right:


The red lines show the site that has now become a 10-acre garden, divided into three themes. The first one is called “the alchemy garden“, and portrays the four elements needed to produce cast iron: earth (iron and coal), fire, water and air.

In the “earth” garden, rocks are represented by concrete walls encrusted with fossils, while soil fertility is suggested by the use of green walls and raised beds filled (not yet as it was a bit too early in the year!) with medicinal, edible or fiber plants:


The “fire” is embodied by tall, flame-shaped metal sheets. There are burnt tree trunks painted in red, and acid-loving plants like maples (Acer palmatum) or Pieris; plus seasonal plants like red and yellow tulips.


Sculptures have also been added to the garden, and I particularly love this one called the “Fire Doors”. Thanks to a switch in the doors, visitors can trigger a mister, forming a smoke-like cloud.


The “water” garden is all transparency, with blue glass being used as mulching; and water is shown in all its states. Plantings are in shades of white and blue, with irises, geraniums or aquilegias, and grasses to display movement.


Finally, the “air” garden uses bamboo hedges, with large wind chimes at the entrance, tall flowers swaying with the wind like Delphinium, and wicker globes hanging over the visitor’s head.


The second part of the garden is dedicated to immigrant workers who came from all over Europe, from Poland to Italy or Algeria to help develop the industry in the region. Plants native to these countries have been used, such as the bladder senna (Colutea arborescens) which comes from the Mediterranean region:


Parts and memories of the steel mill have been incorporated into the design, such as these giant valves:


A few other examples include a little wagon used to carry ore or coal, and a warning sign that was found on pipelines transporting gas produced by the blast furnaces:


The last part of the garden focuses on “energy“:  wind (with windmills), sun (with solar panels) and water (with japanese shishi-odoshi fountains).


I hope you enjoyed the visit…I personally think that while it is a bit young (the garden only opened in 2009), it has been transformed into a peaceful yet thought-provoking place.


I’ll let you have a look at the mind-boggling “pond with a hole”….


1 Comment

  1. That’s a very cool place – I like the way the garden ‘phoenix’ has risen from the ashes of industrial desolation. It would be nice to think that is a metaphor for the future… but we may have to wait for the distant future!

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