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Cécile Daladier

Paris-born ceramicist Cécile Daladier makes strange, sculptural vessels designed to hold delicate wildflowers. In work and in life, she’s inspired by the bounty of the countryside that surrounds her remote farmhouse in Drôme. Words by Gabriele Dellisanti. Photography by Staffan Sundström.

A native Parisian, artist Cécile Daladier grew up in a town house overlooking Notre-Dame cathedral and the Seine. There, her father grew a leafy courtyard garden and cageless birds roamed around her bedroom. She spent weekends and holidays at her grandparents’ country house, enjoying long walks in the surrounding forest and helping her grandmother tend to her flower-filled garden. Being close to nature is a cherished memory from her upbringing. “Nothing specific sparked my love for gardening, it was always there,” she says.

Today, Cécile lives with her husband Nicolas Soulier (an architect), a dog and two cats in a stone farmhouse perched at an altitude of a half mile (800 m) above sea level in the south-ern French region of Rhône, where grassy pastures meet rocky mountaintops. The couple first acquired the property in 1985, and spent years refurbishing it; the transition between city living and isolated idyll was gradual.

Cécile explains how, at first, making use of the property’s seventy-four acres (30 ha) of land required a certain level of creativity. Formed by steep slopes rich with wild vegetation and limestone soil, land suitable for gardening was limited and only specific species were fit for planting. “It’s not a garden in the traditional sense,” she says. “It’s more of a wide-open space.” Although she takes care of the trees and the weeds that grow on the steep hills, Cécile has created a strip of cultivable land along the walls of her house where she can let her passion for gardening loose.

Here, she mixes species from the surrounding fields with those she finds at local nurseries. “I like to go from wild to cultivated,” she explains. She recalls once planting a blue columbine—a plant with small, colorful flowers that grows in the surrounding woodlands—next to a black one, and how, a few days later, a pink one somehow grew among them: “All naturally, like magic.”

Cécile has understood over time how the key to good gardening lies in acknowledging and appreciating your surroundings and in letting nature do its work. “My philosophy is to start with what you have and what’s already there before you, and build on it,” she says. “Before creating a garden, you have to live in it for a few months—maybe even a year—to observe what happens, what grows and what disappears.”

She admits how, at first, she would tear out wild plants and flowers that, despite being unique and native to the region, she perceived as invasive and unsuited to a well-kept garden. “We made many mistakes in thinking that we knew better,” she laments. “You simply have to wait. Nature is a present. It’s beautiful left alone.”

Today, life in the couple’s farmhouse follows no regular routine. Cécile works in her spacious atelier, or else passes the time by arranging flowers (she recently put together a few branches of the purple-flowering wisteria that grows outside her front door), playing the piano or reading (mostly Marcel Proust). One thread that binds her days together, however, is her relationship with nature. “I work with plants every day. I do gardening, help the flowers that are blooming, and water them if necessary,” she says. “But sometimes, I simply stop and observe the beautiful nature that sur- rounds me. It gives me ideas for my work and space for my creativity to breathe.”

This story is from The Kinfolk Garden

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This story is from The Kinfolk Garden

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