Colette: The Literary Fleuriste

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Les Jardins de Colette, a contemporary flower garden, was created in memory of Colette. It is located in the town of Varetz near Chateau de Castel Novel where Colette often spent holidays. The garden covers over 12 acres and represents the phases of Colette’s life.

A literary life force best known for writing about the coming of age of adolescent girls in books such as Gigi, Claudine, and Chéri, Colette was not a gardener per se. However, the imagery evoked by her descriptions of gardens and flowers defies any lack of familiarity. Always lingering in her dreams was the memory of the roses and the grapevines in the bucolic Burgundy where she was raised. Later, when Colette referred to the house she purchased in Saint Tropez, known as La Treille Muscat, she proclaimed, “There is … a house, but that counts less.” For her, the focus was the garden she planned there that was to include roses, tomatoes, and herbs such as mint and tarragon. And while that idea of a garden never became a reality, in Colette’s world of fiction, it was real, tangible, and fragrant. Matthew Ward, translator of Colette’s book titled Flowers and Fruit, described her writing as “an attempt to turn botany text into poetry.”

While most of Colette’s works had abundant references to flowers, one book in particular, For a Flower Album, broached the subject on a deeper level. A volume translated by Roger Senhouse and illustrated with watercolors by Manet, it was the smallest collection of her writing but included her love letters to and about flowers. Ironically, the book was not published until 1959, five years after Colette’s death. It was just one of over 80 works of fiction and dramas that made up her prodigious career, while her correspondence reportedly fills even more volumes. As Australian writer and intellectual Germaine Greer once said, “The precious moments for Colette were not those of full flush, but the budding and fading, full of promise or regret.”

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