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Russell Page Archive: Château de L’Hermitage

At the Château de L'Hermitage, home of the celebrated sportsman and heir to the Rossi firm Count Teofilo Rossi di Montelera, Russell Page used water and the careful placement of trees to overcome the challenges of a rocky site.

  • Château de L'Hermitage, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/6/82/1 (1 of 12)

    May 1973

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A rough ink sketch with measurements, dated 5 May 1973, of a section of the garden at the Château de L'Hermitage.

  • Château de L'Hermitage, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/6/82/1 (4 of 12)

    1973

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A rough ink sketch of the garden at the Château de L'Hermitage, showing a suggested positioning of trees. Although undated, it is likely to have been drawn at the same time as the others from a sketchbook: 1973.

  • Château de L'Hermitage, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/6/82/1 (6 of 12)

    July 1973

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A rough ink sketch, dated 6 July 1973, of the garden at the Château de L'Hermitage, showing a suggested positioning of trees.

  • Château de L'Hermitage, Rough Sketch, Duck Pond

    RP/1/6/82/1 (5 of 12)

    July 1973

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A rough ink sketch of the ‘Jardin des Canards’ at the Château de L'Hermitage, dated 7 July 1973, showing a duck pond and suggestions for planting.

  • Château de L'Hermitage, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/6/82/1 (7 of 12)

    July 1973

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A rough ink sketch, dated 7 July 1973, of the garden at the Château de L'Hermitage, showing a suggested positioning of trees.

  • Château de L'Hermitage, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/6/82/1 (8 of 12)

    July 1973

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A copy of a rough ink sketch, dated 7 July 1973, of the garden at the Château de L'Hermitage, showing a suggested positioning of trees.

  • Château de L'Hermitage, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/6/82/1 (9 of 12)

    July 1973

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A copy of a rough ink sketch, dated 7 July 1973, of the garden at the Château de L'Hermitage, with some suggested planting.

  • Château de L'Hermitage, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/6/82/1 (10 of 12)

    July 1973

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A copy of a rough ink sketch, dated 7 July 1973, probably showing an area of paving stones next to the main lawn (‘pelouse principale’).

  • Château de L'Hermitage, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/6/82/1 (11 of 12)

    July 1973

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A copy of a rough ink sketch, dated 7 July 1973, of the garden at the Château de L'Hermitage, showing suggested planting and references to pots.

  • Château de L'Hermitage, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/6/82/1 (12 of 12)

    July 1973

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A copy of a rough ink sketch, dated 7 July 1973, of the garden at the Château de L'Hermitage, with some suggested planting.

  • Château de L'Hermitage, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/6/82/1 (2 of 12)

    [1973]

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A rough ink sketch of the garden at the Château de L'Hermitage. Although undated, it is likely to have been drawn at the same time as the others from a sketchbook: 1973.

  • Château de L'Hermitage, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/6/82/1 (3 of 12)

    1973

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A rough ink sketch of the garden at the Château de L'Hermitage. Although undated, it is likely to have been drawn at the same time as the others from a sketchbook: 1973.

  • Château de L'Hermitage, Topographical Plan

    RP/1/6/82/2

    June 1970

    48 x 97 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A dyeline topographical plan of the garden at Château de L'Hermitage, with a handwritten note in crayon: ‘Theo Rossi, Cap d’Ail, 1970, keep’.

  • Château de L'Hermitage, Photograph of the Garden

    RP/4/3/30/1

    [1970s]

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A colour photograph of the garden at Château de L'Hermitage.

  • Château de L'Hermitage, Photograph of the Garden

    RP/4/3/30/2

    [1970s]

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A colour photograph of the garden at Château de L'Hermitage.

  • Château de L'Hermitage, Photograph of the Garden

    RP/4/3/30/3

    [1970s]

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A colour photograph of the garden at Château de L'Hermitage.

  • Château de L'Hermitage, Photograph of the Garden

    RP/4/3/30/4

    [1970s]

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A colour photograph of the garden at Château de L'Hermitage.

  • Château de L'Hermitage, Photograph of the Garden

    RP/4/3/30/5

    [1970s]

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A colour photograph of the garden at Château de L'Hermitage.

Château de L’Hermitage, Avenue du 3 Septembre, Cap d’Ail, Alpes-Maritimes, France

1970 to 1973

Archive of Garden Design Ref: RP/1/6/82

The original Château de L’Hermitage (also known as L’Ermitage) on the French Riviera was built for the British ambassador Sir Edward Malet in the 1890s; it is believed that Queen Victoria was among the guests whom Malet and his wife Lady Ermyntrude Sackville Russell entertained there. The house suffered bomb damage during the Second World War and was largely destroyed. In the 1960s, its new owner, Count Teofilo ‘Theo’ Guiscardo Rossi di Montelera, enlisted architect Tomaso Buzzi to create a new, relatively modest, villa on the site. When it came to the design of the gardens, Count Rossi turned to Russell Page. Page had first worked with Rossi in the early 1950s in Piedmont. The count and his wife, Lady Moira Mary Forbes, owned the imposing 18th-century villa La Loggia (previously known as Il Carpento) close to Turin. Landscaping the grounds there had introduced Page to the climate and terrain of northern Italy (the project pre-dated Page’s better-known work at Villa Silvio Pellico).

The gardens at the Château de L’Hermitage presented very different – but no less challenging – conditions. By the 1960s Page had worked quite extensively along the Cote d’Azur. One of his most notable projects was there was at La Leopolda, one of the holiday retreats belonging to Gianni and Marella Agnelli. As he explained in The Education of a Gardener, the majority of the gardens in the south of France were required to be at their most impressive during the summer months as few owners spent time there at the rest of the year; it was, Page noted, ‘an exercise in prolongation’ (296).

Château de L’Hermitage sits on the Cap d’Ail, an area Page described as ‘a steep rocky hillside between the Lower Corniche and the sea’ (Education, 301). The Rossis’ new garden was focused largely, therefore, around a flat space of land close to the house. Here, a lawn was laid to face a large entrance courtyard. A collection of palm trees, found elsewhere on the property, were carefully positioned to create the most impact. Although there are no formal plans in the Russell Page archive for L’Hermitage, the sketches do give some sense of how the tree planting scheme evolved. They also feature the curved swimming pool which Page designed. It is a draft text by Page, however, written for his proposed sequel to The Education of a Gardener, that most details the creation of the garden:

In the sixties I was to make one more garden quite close to Monte Carlo, for a relatively small new house replacing a huge late Victoria villa of which only the front hall, some sixty foot long by thirty feet high, remained in the most elaborate bastard Rococo imaginable. The site was some 26 acres of precipitous and rocky hillside, thickly treed with Aleppo pines – only a small area near the house was approximately level, leaving room for a large entrance courtyard on one side, and on the other a relatively small lawn with steep scarfs of rock like a broken cliff running uphill to the Moyen Corniche to the north and down to the Lower Corniche and the sea to the south at the far end of the lawn and banked by superb groups of pine. I made a simple loosely curving swimming pool, fed by an artificial cataract of water tumbling over great rocks from thirty foot up the steep hillside. The planting is very simple. We found in a neglected garden one fine old sago-palm, Cycas revoluta, which set us searching for miles around to discover more specimens. Finally we accumulated seven superb specimens, mostly with two or more stems, we set them in the lawn, being very careful to study the various forms and the volumes and, even more important, the spaces between them. It was an operation like the placing of sculpture, and I have to admit that my admiration of the relation between the stones in the Ryoangi sand garden in Kyoto taught me how to handle the volumes and cast shadows of the sago-palms, interesting in themselves, giving a sense of added distance between the house and pool beyond which was a gentler slope under the picturesque forms made by the reddish trunks of pine trees. My first thought was to underplant these trees with colonies of blue agapanthus, but my client, whose taste I had admired for many years, decided he disliked agapanthus and suggested pink ivy-leaved Pelargoniums, which I had always disliked. However, it was his garden so we raised literally thousands of cuttings, and under the pines and wherever we could find pockets of soil in the cliffs – in went the pink Geraniums, which in the broken sunlight under the trees have lost their window box vulgarity and complete a garden scene like no other which takes on extra magic at night when, from a keyboard inside the house a sense of discreet and differing lighting schemes illuminate the waterfalls and trees and cliffs. (qtd. in van Zuylen 77)

A small number of informal colour photographs of the garden give visual expression to Page’s words: they provide glimpses of the pool and Count Rossi’s pink Pelargoniums, growing in masses beneath the pine trees.

The dates on the drawings suggest that Page only worked on the garden for a short period of time in the early 1970s. The property has remained in private hands, but the landscaping is unlikely to have remained as Page designed.

Literature

Page, Russell. The Education of a Gardener. Harvill, 1994.

van Zuylen, Gabrielle and Marina Schinz. The Gardens of Russell Page. Frances Lincoln Ltd, 2008.

Related material in the Archive of Garden Design

RP/1/10/7: Castello Carpeneto, Piedmont, 1951-1956

RP/4/3/30: Château de L’Hermitage, Photographs of the Garden

Related material elsewhere

There are also several mounted colour transparencies of Count Rossi’s garden in the south of France in the RHS Lindley Library reference collection (PAG/2/3/12 and PAG/2/3/13).