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Villa Victoria, Grasse, France

Alice de Rothschild (1847-1922) began to spend winters on the Riviera in 1887.  Finding the coast vulgar, in 1888 she became the owner of 135 hectares of land among the perfume fields of Grasse near Cannes in the Alpes-Maritimes, and began to build a house and possibly one of the most ostentatious and extravagant gardens ever seen.

In November of that year work commenced on the construction of a large house. The villa became most famous for its garden, however, which Alice laid out entirely unaided by landscape architects. The terraced hillside was landscaped into rolling parkland, where Alice planted citrus trees by the hundred, arranged in groups to make them appear more natural and integrate with the existing landscape.  Here she planted citrus trees in vast numbers, and exotic plants such as palm trees, yuccas, aloes and bamboo.

There was a rock garden, a winter-flowering grotto and a spectacular three kilometre drive designed with hairpin bends; around every corner lay a surprise for the visitor as the planting became progressively wilder and the panorama extended itself further the higher one climbed. Following the path upwards, the visitor encountered palms and aloes, a retaining rookery wall of 30m which was planted with perennials, then woods under-planted with lavender, rosemary and citronella, higher still, a cascade and miniature lake, then finally at the very top, a Tea Pavilion.

A visitor to Alice de Rothschild’s garden once quipped that every twenty metres a gardener stood waiting for a leaf to fall so that he might pick it up – this might not be so far from the truth as Alice employed over 100 gardeners, dressed in the Rothschild colours of blue and yellow, to maintain her garden.  Each year they planted 55,000 daisies, 25,000 pansies, 10,000 wallflowers, 5,000 forget-me-nots and 23,000 bulbs of tulips and narcissi.

The lawns of the villa Victoria, named in honour of the British Queen, were planted with thousands of violets.  A variety of single violet was named after Alice de Rothschild by one of her gardeners.

When Alice died in 1922 the villa passed to Edmond who sold it to the town.  It then became a hotel, but all that now remains is the tea house.

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