After earning the coveted Master Gardener title, Antoine De Lavalette takes us behind the scenes of the Carré des Jardiniers competition. What is the experience like, from the design phase to the moment when 38,000 visitors tread the soil of a garden created in just 4 days? What advice would you give to landscape designers who want to try their luck? This invaluable feedback will help many candidates form an idea about entering the next competition which will be held in 2025.
How did you set up your “L'IM.PAS.SI.SAGE” urban garden?
Antoine De Lavalette: We made a schedule knowing that something might go wrong along the way, and of course it did. It took us 4 days to set up everything, but we ended up finishing way ahead of schedule on the last day, so it went pretty well!
70% of our garden was based on a range of plants, and I made several trips to our nursery suppliers in the Lyon region to see the condition of the plants, their colors, and textures, and to say hello to the suppliers too. But we had to improvise a lot because the planting plan was rather abstract.
We seized the opportunity provided by the location of our garden at Paysalia 2023, just below the mezzanine where the jury was seated. We spent a lot of time up there looking at and adjusting the garden elements.
What was your reaction when you found out you had won the Master Gardener 2023 trophy?
Antoine De Lavalette: The entire Nature et Création team believed in it. Let's just say that’s the crux of it! But I have to admit that we were impressed by the other teams' display of resources when we arrived: semi-trailers, flat bed trailers, all the gear, etc. With our half-loaded semi-trailer, we looked a bit like tourists at first. It just goes to show! When the winner was announced, I was very focused on going over the whole year in my mind and trying not to anticipate the results.
When I heard my name, it was a bit like a rude awakening from a dream. I was a little stunned. I walked towards Jean Mus, then turned to my team. Then there were hugs, handshakes, and a lot of emotion.
What was your experience of the Carré des Jardiniers 2023 competition?
Antoine De Lavalette: It was very intense! Although the days were long when we were assembling everything, we were relatively calm and in control. But when the show opened, there was a continuous flow of visitors, and you meet a lot of people. I don't know how I could have imagined for a second that my presence at the show would amount to sitting in a corner, reading a book, and waiting for the day to end...
At first, we made sure that not too many visitors climbed onto the hanging net, but we eventually gave up. It was the same for the chalk, we had to transform some of the drawings that were a bit too suggestive into pretty, innocent flowers, then we stopped, and finally this fresco spread all over the garden, and it was superb. I remember the moment when the jury came into the garden and climbed up on the net. Access was limited to 8-9 people during the show, and then all the jury members decided to go and sit on it at the same time. I crossed my fingers, then Gary started jumping in the middle with everyone on it... At that point, I must have started praying!
We were approached by the press during Paysalia show, and we're already getting some coverage here and there. Right now, people are still talking about the competition, so we'll see where that goes. We'll make sure we use this visibility wisely and stay true to ourselves!
How did the visitors react to your garden? Was it the way you imagined it would be?
Antoine De Lavalette: Paysalia has come a long way. I would say that in 4 years, in addition to the number of visitors which has increased considerably, the show is attracting more and more future and young independent landscape architects as well as well-established contractors in the field. This just goes to show that Paysalia has become THE reference for the entire landscaping profession.
We didn't think our garden would be so appealing to the public! I thought that a wilderness scene and using materials rarely used in a garden wouldn’t really appeal to people. What we hoped for most was to convince the jury. In the end, we got nothing but good feedback, and because our garden was intended for play, it stayed animated for 3 days!
This garden mirrored who we are and really portrayed our vision of things. There was a story, a concept, a progression and a contrast between the entrance and the arrival in front of the square that created a pleasant surprise. At first, I pushed visitors a bit to climb the stairs to the net and then I stopped all together. They were experiencing what we wanted them to experience!
What did the students who came to see you want to know?
Antoine De Lavalette: Their questions were fairly pragmatic: “How did you choose the plant range?”, “Is it adapted to climate change?”, “Do your materials reflect current trends?” Obviously, these are important questions, but they didn't question our commitment to the ecological restoration of towns which we had in mind at the outset.
Our garden concept had a much more sensitive and emotional basis rather than a rational and visible one. Nevertheless, the students heard our answers and listened with interest, and we explained how to interpret the garden. I can say without hesitation that they really liked the little square and the net! Some of them spent the whole day there!
What advice would you like to give future Carré des Jardiniers competition candidates?
Antoine De Lavalette: Finding funding, partners and sponsors is very important, and it is the most difficult part to manage because it's a real responsibility. You have to be attentive because it can backfire. With a sketchy budget plan and less controlled spending when you approach the finish line, you could win the Master Gardener trophy but then spend two years bailing yourself out of debt.
You must be prepared to mentally devote time to the competition. It's a psychological marathon that is exhausting in a different way. From September onwards, there is the added work of assembling and everything becomes very concrete. You know what needs to be done and you readjust if you need to. Everything becomes real, and the pressure mounts little by little while the weeks go by. There are so many parameters to consider, like logistics for example, that you CANNOT improvise at the last minute.
What's more, although it feels like you're a bit on your own, you must talk to everyone about the competition! All the company employees, and especially those who didn't attend, were involved in the pre-assembly! It's an adventure you must absolutely share! Team spirit can't be improvised either. It builds over time, based on trust, sharing and conscientiousness. In the end, "we" are all Master Gardeners.
That's the feeling of a finalist who then became the winner of the competition... but if I were to simply say something to those who want to try their luck, I'd say: go for it, don’t hesitate, it's an experience worth 1,000 projects, and you will be exhausted at the end, but you will have grown!
Discover the other finalist gardens
Did Antoine De Lavalette's testimonial convinced you to try your luck? Watch for the next Carré des Jardiniers competition!
© Photos credits : Alexandre Moulard