These pages chart the progress of the project which is currently
In the beginning
Samuel Curtis first saw La Chaire in the summer of 1841. He instantly
knew this was the location he had been searching for to create his
subtropical plant paradise. His search had taken him all over the
British Isles, from Inverness in the north of Scotland to Dorset
on the south coast of England. Until he reached La Chaire, no one
location had the right combination of climate, geography, topography
and geology that Curtis had been looking for.
At La Chaire he found a narrow, verdant, steep-sided valley running
in an east-west direction. At the eastern end of the valley lay
Rozel Bay and the sea with stunning views across to St Malo and
mainland France. To the west the valley wound its way through, what
appeared to Curtis on first sighting, to be mountainous country
which sheltered La Chaire from the full force of south-westerly
winds sweeping in from the Atlantic.
A swift-running stream filled the valley bottom, emptying itself
onto the shingle beach of Rozel Bay. The south-facing side of the
valley was positively Mediterranean in aspect, a steep and rocky
cliff face with sun-baked soil and some natural terracing. The north-facing
valley side was not quite so steep and covered with lush vegetation
comprising evergreen oak, Quercus ilex and Jersey elm, Ulmus x sarniensis.
It had the warmth of the Mediterranean coupled with the humidity
of Chile or Tasmania.
Curtis judged correctly that frost would be virtually non-existent
and the bedrock, (unlike the rest of Jersey which was granite),
was a soft purple conglomerate, or pudding stone, which could be
penetrated and disintegrated by tree roots into soil eminently suited
to the growing of subtropical shrubs. Curtis had indeed found his
Curtis started work on La Chaire almost immediately, although he
did not move permanently to Jersey until 1852. On the south side
of the valley he built a small square house under the cliffs shelter
and began creating a series of paths and terraces leading to the
summit. At the summit was a rocky outcrop, where during the Napoleonic
wars a gun battery had been built.
This outcrop became known locally as the "Pulpit" rock,
and it is said that Curtis preached the gospel to his gardeners,
toiling away on the slopes below him, from this point. Whether this
increased their productivity no one knows, but the gardens of La
Chaire certainly begun to take shape relatively quickly. Letters
sent by Curtis to Hooker at Kew during 1841-42 talk about the planting
of deep shelterbelts of æIlexÆ, (evergreen oak, Quercus
ilex), at both the eastern and western extremities of the garden.
La Chaire (1852-1910)
By the time Samuel Curtis and his daughter Harriet took up residence
at La Chaire in 1852 the infrastructure and first plantings of the
twelve-acre garden were in place. Groups of Rhododendron arboreum,
R. falconeri, R. edgeworthii, R. campanulatum and a fine hybrid
raised at La Chaire between formosum and edgeworthii were flourishing.
As were dozens of acacias, Eriobotrya japonica, (which was already
flowering), Thea viridis, (a variety of the Camellia tea plant from
China) and members of the olive family, Olea sativa and fragrans.
Along paths winding up from the house were masses of South African,
Mesembryanthemum tricolor, very much at home amongst the steep,
sunny rocky crevices.
In November 1853 Samuel Curtis wrote,
We have thousands of chrysanthemums
still in blossom of which we prefer the small pompom varieties.
I have lately turned my attention to the half hardy shrubs and plants,
such as require protection in England. Kew and the botanic garden
in the Regents Park keep me well supplied with curious plants and
I am trying to make some new rock work and want all the best plants
for it, but at present, until it is planted, it looks like Sebastopol!
I have more than thirty tall stems of Yucca gloriosa in blossom
In June 1855 La Chaire is visited by members of the Royal Jersey
Agricultural and Horticultural Society, a report of which appeared
in the Jersey Times:
"The third and last visit was to
the extraordinary garden of Samuel Curtis of La Chaire. This may
be termed a wonderful proof of what taste and skill can effect.
The site was originally mere rock, scantily covered with furze.
The ground has been cleared and leveled and a neat residence erected
thereon. Behind and on every side it is surrounded with terraces
most romantically situated among the rocks bearing flowers, fruit
and vegetables of great variety and in the highest perfection. Numerous
rare exotics heretofore in England to be found only under glass
carefully tended are at La Chaire by skilful management and judgment
in choice of situation produced luxuriously in the open air. The
spot seems a species of fairy land."
In 1854 Curtis is experimenting with sugar cane and wrote in October
of that year, tell everyone that my sugar
cane, sown in April is eight feet tall, so dense a mass that a cat
could not get amongst it". He goes on to say, æmy Yams
or Chinese potatoes look well. I have about 120 pots planted and
to plant out, so next winter I hope, if I live so long, to prove
By 1858 Curtis's health is failing and he has difficulty with his
eyesight which restricts his ability to do much in the garden, but
he continues to take a keen interest in all that goes on. His journal
records, today we made 12 bottles of jam from our Madeira
whortleberries, I think it excellent. No one else has it..
Curtis died on January 6th 1860, but the gardens he created at La
Chaire lived on. The plants he selected and planted were chosen
with such skill and understanding that in 1910, the "Tropical
Garden of La Chaire" (as it was then known), had become one
of the principal attractions of Jersey, one that every tourist to
the island was expected to visit.
The Decline of La Chaire
Following the First World War, La Chaire had a succession of owners,
some showed more interest in the garden than others. The original
house that Curtis built was pulled down and a grand Chateau built
in its place. Manpower within the garden became limited and the
garden began an inevitable, gradual decline. By the 1930s much of
the original Curtis plant collection had been lost and there was
only one gardener employed to look after what was left. The ultimate
indignity came during the German Occupation when the Germans dug
up, for transportation to Germany, some of the prized specimens
still remaining. Many of them had their roots damaged during this
process and it is thought likely that the majority would have perished
before even reaching their new home.
After the Second World War the Chateau was turned into a hotel and
since then several owners have changed its use from hotel to private
residence and back to hotel. During this period the grounds immediately
surrounding the Chateau have been maintained to a basic level. Elsewhere
it is as if the gardeners of La Chaire left the garden in 1910 and
have never returned.
Today, there are only clues to the garden of great beauty and horticultural
importance that once existed on this site. Crumbling walls and steps,
old lead irrigation pipes, weed covered terracing and giant, ancient,
evergreen trees; their broken branches and dead limbs telling the
story of the last ninety years.
Plants identified (so far) at La Chaire
Euonymus myrianthus top terrace near field boundary
Acacia dealbata naturalized throughout garden
Trachycarpus fortunei lower terrace near pool
Phoenix caneriensis south terrace
Cedrus deodar south terrace
Acacia longifolia near gun emplacement
Acacia melanoxylon La Rive
Acacia pravissima Magnolia cottage
Olea europea near gun emplacement
Myrtus apiculata Magnolia cottage
Cordyline australis south terrace
Cupressus macrocarpa top terrace possible champion tree.
Nandina domestica near gun emplacement
Acacia rhetinoides near gun emplacement
Quercus ilex naturalized throughout garden
Grevillia rosmarinifolia south terrace
Muehlenbeckia complexa south terrace
Jasminum azoricum lower south terrace
Eucryphia cordifolia Magnolia Cottage
Styrax japonica woodland garden
Feijoa sellowiana lower terrace near big wisteria
Laurus nobilis near gun emplacement
Magnolia grandiflora west terrace
Eucalyptus spp. south terrace
Rhododendron spp. woodland garden
Camellia spp. lower terrace
Arundinaria spp. stream garden
Magnolia campbellii Magnolia cottage
Davidia involucrata La Rive