This time last year, I was planting my rooftop terrace garden in Berlin. In my new home in Venice I don’t have a terrace or balcony: but I do have large sunny windows that open on one side to the canal where I hear the musicians at the Conservatory rehearse Verdi, Puccini and Rossini and the gondoliers passing below humming Buonosera Signorina, Buonosera. Each Saturday morning I visit the Mercato di Rialto to buy fresh flowers along with my produce and vegetables. Nearby I’m lucky to have several florists with cut flowers and plants. My Venetian home may not have an outdoor space, but my home always has flowers. To me, flowers are a hallmark of gracious living. Mimi’s history of antique Provençal pots takes me back the beautiful gardens and countryside of my days living in France. I’ll be back soon…
Spring is truly here! It’s Antiques Week in Round Top, Texas, and Lolo and I (along with Cole and Louis) set up shop once again in Tent D at the Arbors. There are wonderful treasures to be found, great people to meet and see, and inspiration all around us. This is Texas Hill Country after all – and the roadsides are awash in color. All along the highways, cars can be seen pulling off the road – doors flying open and people spilling out with their phones held high like concert groupies. What in the world has everyone stopping in their tracks? It’s not antiques. It’s Flowers. Miles and miles of wildflowers. Beguiled by the bold and brilliant blooms, I can’t help but smile, and join in the laughter at the joy everyone is experiencing from the sight of people, young and old, posing and picture taking in fields and pastures of blue and red (reminiscent of the French flag!)
While these Texas bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush are beautiful signs that spring has sprung, it isn’t officially spring for me until I’m back at home and the empty planters around my pool are all planted. Nothing quite says spring like a weathered Biot jarre or an aged Anduze pot spilling over with a profusion of colorful blooms. Filled with geraniums set amongst rambling roses or climbing vines, topiary boxwoods or fragrant lavender, potted citrus or olive trees, jarres de Biot and vases d’Anduze always make an impressive display – whether in groupings or standing alone, inside or out.
These Provençal pots, considered iconic symbols of French garden decor, are an elegant yet charming addition to any garden or home. They both conjure up images of grand chateaux, manicured gardens, and the South of France.
Named for the picturesque Medieval village of Anduze in the Cévennes mountains in the South of France, the vase d’Anduze was created in 1610 by a local potter named Boisset. Drawing inspiration from Italian Medici vases he saw at a fair in Beaucaire, he created his version of the famous inverted bell-shaped pot in a flamed color with a glaze applied in green, brown, and straw hat yellow streaks. Floral garlands, a stamped medallion with the potter’s signature, and other refined decorations embellished each pot. Pots are still being made in the Languedoc-Roussillon by artisans in the same way as the old Anduze family craftsmen.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Anduze pots were only found on the estates of the wealthiest of the wealthy. And at Versailles. The vases d’Anduze became en vogue when Marie-Antoinette lined the formal gardens and terraces of Versailles (perhaps the first container garden of note) with them and decorated the Orangeries with hundreds and hundreds of the shapely glazed planters.
Designed to showcase the potted orange and lemon trees found in the gardens and orangeries of aristocrats and nobles, production of the beautiful terracotta planters dropped dramatically during the French Revolution (1789-1799) when most of the factories in Anduze closed. With only a few artisans and factories remaining, the vase d’anduze became a rare commodity – one of the reasons the crusty old 18th and 19th century pots are so coveted and expensive today! There are a limited number of original, authentic Anduze pots made, with few vestiges of the dark green glaze remaining, along with a barely legible signature.
After the Revolution, the nouveau riche silk merchants in the Anduze region (those who sold to the Lyon textile industry) began designing and creating their own private gardens and parks. They demonstrated their newly acquired wealth by purchasing the most exotic plants and trees possible, such as sequoias, shipped in from California, and bamboo from China. The really successful were able to grow the orange tree, which had at one time only been grown at Versailles. The orange trees were planted in these beautiful large (and heavy) glazed pots, as they had to winter indoors. The Anduze pots grew in popularity as more French artisans began creating the style, adding their own flourishes.
Unlike the strictly decorative Anduze pots that served no real purpose, except to bring joy and beauty to the homes and gardens of those lucky enough to afford them, the famous earthenware jarres de Biot were used to store flour, and preserve and transport olives and olive oil before they became popular as “jarres pour le jardin.”
Named after the coastal village of Biot, near Cannes in the South of France, Biot jarres are handmade, without a mold or wheel, using the ancient technique of rope thrown pottery.
Made from a mixture of red and grey clays to achieve the desired color, the jarres are distinctive for both their classic shape and for the colorful drips of glaze, known as “mother-in-laws’ tears,” that occur when the glaze of one jar drips onto another jar during the firing process.
The most unique feature of the Biot jarre, however, is the honey colored glaze at the neck of the jar that prevented insects and varmints from climbing inside the jar and into the olives or olive oil. (YUCK!)
It’s this handmade process – the rim glaze color, the “mother-in-law-tears,” and the classic shape – that make the jarres de Biot, in production since the 16th century, so special and desirable.
Thank goodness you don’t have to be Marie Antoinette or Louis Seize to enjoy the amazing variety of fruits, flowers, and veggies or shapes, colors, and fragrances that can be grown in these fabulous pots. And don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and mix it up. Just like the French mix different styles of antiques in their homes, they often blend formal with informal and mix beauty and utility in their gardens.
I’ll be in Sweet Home Alabama soon! Sitting on the deck sipping iced tea or relaxing by the pool with a glass of chilled rosé. It won’t be long until I can enjoy the fruits of my labor. I can’t wait to start planting!