Protected to the north by the mountains, and facing the Mediterranean sea, the mild micro-climate of Menton has encouraged plant collectors to create beautiful gardens amongst the steep terraces of olive groves and citrus trees. Strong elements of Italian design have influenced Menton’s villas and gardens as it remained part of Italy until 1861.
The gardens we visited included the Jardin Val Rameh, William Waterfield’s garden ‘Le Clos du Peyronnet ‘ and Laurence Johnson’s garden ‘La Serre de la Madone’. The villa created by Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild at St. Jean de Cap Ferrat and the Hanbury Gardens just over the Italian border were also highlights.
In late February, colour in the gardens came from the vibrant orange spires of the aloe flowers, the bright yellow fragrant mimosas, Rosa ‘Senateur Lafollette’ climbing through the cypress trees and over pergolas, heliotrope and hardenbergias, Pyrostegia venusta romping over walls as well as clivias and iris. The citrus harvest was in full swing with all the gardens featuring citrus trees bearing oranges and lemons, grapefruits and kumquats. Magnificent agaves, succulents, cacti and palms mingled with the cypress and olive trees in all the gardens we visited.
Blessed by warm weather we were able to bask in the sun whilst visiting the lemon festival and watching the carnival parade in Menton. A walk around Cap Martin brought us close to the turquoise sea and wildflowers such as freesia and Narcissus tazetta. The restaurants were excellent, basing their menus at this time of year on locally produced citrus fruits, fish, seafood and olive oil.