French Terra Cotta


I had notice from my customs broker today that the first of our two containers from France is in customs.  This is such great news.  This July 2010 photograph by Bertrand Kulik of the Eiffel Tower during a storm perfectly describes my anticipatory excitement.  French garden design, French garden pots-what is not to like?  Rob’s trip to France was in mid September of last year-some 4 months ago.  Why so long a wait for a pair of containers?  The bulk of our purchases were terra cotta pots, made to order. We bought many pots from the Poterie de la Madeleine over the past 15 years.  Rob had a long standing relationship with the owner Roland Zobel, and his assistant, Madame Pellier.  After his untimely death in 2004, the poterie de la Madeleine changed hands.   

 Rob shopped this past September in new places.  New to him, that is.  When he buys glazed French terra cotta pots, he does not buy from existing stock.  He special orders every pot to be custom made for us.  He specifies styles, sizes, and glazes that appeal to him, and contribute to a coherent collection.  It takes a lot of time for these small French poteries to fill a special order.       

Glazed French garden pots are indescribably beautiful.  There are those classic designs and classic colors dating back centuries.  There are new glazes and shapes that are enchanting. The small artisanal poteries produce very fine quality pots. They are very well schooled in the history, and small enough to take chances.  Of course we are interested in all of the above.    

These pictures from his trip to France are astonishing.  I have never seen terra cotta for the garden produced and displayed on this scale in the US.  I suspect the mild Mediterranean climates have much to do with the large space that is devoted to garden pots.  Gardening is a way of life in Europe.  This casual display is telling.  The pot yard has a dirt floor.  A garden pot has a job-it holds the soil, that enables the plants to grow-all in a beautiful way.       

Of course I want my garden pots to be beautiful-who doesn’t?  If they are steeped in history, I love that simmering stew.  Should they have beautiful proportions, sound and sturdy construction, and heft, I am interested.   Should their beauty enchant my eye and heart, the planting of that pot is as close to a perfect moment as I can imagine.     Rob dealt with every French poterie in that self effacing and attentive way that marks his relationships with all of our overseas suppliers.  This means we have a container in customs that is all about his respect for their craftsmanship, and his passion for the garden.  That intersection of fired earth, and his vision-inside that container.

He called me multiple times last September about a matte green glaze that caught his eye.  I completely trust his judgment. If he loves a matte green glaze, then I do too.  16 years of buying garden pots in France means he knows how to feel the clay.  What do I mean by this?     

I cannot explain this so well in words.  He introduces himself to the pot makers.  He looks at the thickness of the clay.  He tries on every glaze, every patine ancienne.  He considers the history.  He considers every new interpretation.  He takes the time to make thoughtful decisions.  He imagines a relationship between a pot and an agave, or a tomato, or a topiary.  He edits.  Making his thoughts come to life depends on the relationships he has nurtured for many years.  He asks if special glazes are available.  He devotes whatever it takes that might result in a garden pot of distinction. 

Garden pots made in France-why would you want one?  Why wouldn’t you? A beautiful pot makes the gardening all the more pleasurable.  The shapes and glazes please the eye.  

These are our pots, ready to load in the container.      

We try to completely fill the container top to bottom.  There is no sense in shipping air across the ocean.  It is extremely difficult to estimate what will fill a container.  That is why we have a second container due in Detroit over the weekend.

All of the poteries cooperated in delivering their pots to the poterie where we had our largest order.  This picture was taken on January 5.  Should the trip through customs go smoothly, we should have our pots in no time.