An interview with Camille Muller
We caught up with the French landscape designer to discuss gardens, Paris and rebellion.
Read the short profile below.
“I was not a good student so my parents eventually put me in an agricultural college. Really early, at 13, I wanted to become a landscape gardener. It’s incredible. And so, I learned to grow plants, to take cuttings, to sow seeds. I took over my parents’ garden, where I started doing all sorts of experiments. The house was full of cuttings. My parents were going crazy. Those were my first steps, and after that I did an apprenticeship in Alsace and, at first, I was very disappointed because what people were doing at the time was very banal. I thought I would never do this for a living. But then I went to agricultural college and I met Gilles Clément. That’s when I realized that I could do beautiful things. That really confirmed for me that beautiful gardens were possible.”
Camille grew up in Strasbourg in northeastern France. He moved to Paris in 1976 to pursue landscape gardening and found himself immersed in a heady world of artists, designers and sculptors – many of whom became his clients. It was a world away from his strict, Protestant upbringing. Camille’s father had wanted him to become a doctor, but Camille wanted to follow his own path. This independent, rebellious nature has served him well in his garden designs, which put rewilding and ecology center stage. Today, his gardens are internationally celebrated. Clients include, among others, the noted sculptor César Baldaccini and painter Peter Klasen, as well as the founders of clothing company Marithé+François Girbaud and the Rothschild family. Camille’s designs have been documented in two books he co-authored with his former partner, Armelle, with whom he has a daughter. However, Camille still considers his success to be thanks, in part, to his chance meeting with Gilles Clément, a renowned French garden designer and botanist.
“I was in a tiny village with an agricultural high school, and the landscaping teacher was Gilles Clément. He invented the ‘garden in movement’ and the ‘planetary garden,’ and he represents a great stream of thought in landscape gardening. He upended the codes and, more than anything, started inventing new garden concepts. I’m generally against concepts – I find that often people abide by concepts that don’t mean anything – but with Gilles, the concepts were really meaningful, due to them working with, rather than against, nature. Today, Gilles lives next door. I share an office with him and some other landscapers. It was a real stroke of luck. My gardens are also rebellious. I remember, when I arrived in Paris, there were journalists who said, ‘Oh, sorry, but we can’t photograph your gardens. There aren’t any flowers.’ Finally, there was a journalist who took some photographs, and suddenly people began to take note. As soon as a garden is a little boring, I have to put some rebellion in there, something savage. My rebellious side expresses itself in a peaceful way through my gardens. Gardening saved me.
“Gardening is like falling in love. You meet a client and you feel empathy for them. You try to understand them. I ask the client to not to talk to me for 15 minutes or a half hour. I look around and I feel the place. In general, the site already has a soul. So, the garden exists already. The client doesn’t see this, but it’s there. I have a feeling for it, a feeling for the place. After that, I look at what grows naturally as well as in other gardens. After that I draw up plans. I make drawings. It’s like a game. And when I plant, that’s really the reward. It’s a performance. I embrace risk and question everything I conceive. I change things around. The good thing about a garden is that, once it’s planted, it’s not done. Life is just beginning. It’s like a child coming into the world. And so, I can improve it. I listen to it, I guide it. I don’t like things to be conventional. If it’s too nice, I bring disorder into it. And that’s exactly what’s reassuring about my gardens. There is disorder, but there is also order. This aspect of disobedience, this rebellious aspect, is just like nature can be sometimes, which is my primary inspiration. I invent. I don’t copy, I invent.”