Chaumont Festival preview & Courson dreaming.

Prés du Goualoup, Courson.

Prés du Goualoup, Chaumont.

Last week we were invited to the preview of the Festival of Gardens at Chaumont-sur-Loire. This is surely one of Europe’s must-see events both for landscape / garden design professionals and the amateur enthusiast and runs from 6th April to 11th November this year. Unique design ideas tried out here will often appear at Chelsea or one of the other great garden shows two or three years later, so it’s a great source of inspiration for those in the garden business. When we were based in the UK we would always make the effort to visit; now it is a short drive from our home and I take groups to see it several times each year. Before the end of the month I will have been three or four times but I never fail to spot something new from each visit and to see it develop over the seasons is a real joy.

Domaine de Courson - Prés du Goualoup

Domaine de Chaumont – Prés du Goualoup

Each year there is a design theme and this time it is ‘Gardens of Sensations’, which leaves the designers plenty of scope (or perhaps rope!) to decide what this means for themselves. But before we looked around the 25 show gardens of this year’s festival we were determined to see the permanent gardens and installations in the Goualoup Meadow (Prés du Goualoup) the new 10 Ha extension to the site. First up was a garden by Yu Kongjian, a landscaper specialising in Feng Shui, with a winding path across dark water punctuated by clusters of bright red bamboo canes and which leads on to a reinterpretation of a traditional Chinese scholars garden by the architect and garden specialist, Che Bing Chiu – Ermitage sur la Loire. One of the courses at the Garden Design Academy involves considering garden design from a Feng Shui perspective, so we found this a fascinating garden to wander through.

Chaumont Garden Festival

Chaumont Garden Festival

On the day we visited the weather was quite perfect for the evocative installation entitled Permanent Clouds by Fujiko Nakaya while other artworks could easily have delayed us further from “doing” the festival; we had to be strong. My last visit to the site was in the company of the Director of the Royal Gardens of Oman, over for a two week stay with us. He was hard to please (in the best possible way) and we spent many happy hours debating the design and execution of some of the gardens we saw.

May 2013 Chaumont Garden Festival

May 2013 Chaumont Garden Festival

For professionals the festival is like that. The designer / artist sets out his stall with an explanation of the garden he has attempted to create. It is up to the visitor to judge if what he has delivered lives up to the description; you are allowed to be critical but it is also important to be fair. Budgets are compulsorily low so that creativity rather than cash comes to the fore and these are gardens which will mature as the year progresses. Some gardens are incredibly competent, others have great individual features while, to be frank, others just don’t work as intended. But as a learning experience Chaumont is unequalled and is now in its twenty-second year of providing opportunities for designers from around the world to install thought-provoking and challenging gardens.

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Our enlarged white border is doing very well this year - White Lilac is in flower at the moment

Our enlarged white border is doing very well this year – White Lilac is in flower at the moment

Here in our garden in central France the spring is moving delightfully slowly, allowing fuller appreciation of each drift of flowering as the season progresses. Apricots are followed by peaches, plums to cherries, pears and finally to apples, as the orchards trees flower and set fruit. One moment Magnolias are the highlight, while now the Lilacs and Wisteria are just starting for fade and the Philadelphus (Mock Orange) is apart to bloom. Everywhere is flower, scent and the drone of excited insects. What a time and what a place to be alive!

Euphorbia in the island border at the Garden Design Academy

Euphorbia in the island border at the Garden Design Academy

Of course there are gaps in the garden and there are times when only a plant fair will do. One of Europe’s greatest is at Courson, south of Paris, and we are invited to the press / professional preview on Friday. We have a half-formed idea of some of the plants we cannot possibly be without but in any event will let the spirit take us around the show to pick out some of the brightest and newest plants on offer. We always spend too much, and often buy hopelessly inappropriate plants and never fail to come back exhausted but happy. I have seen a lot of plant fairs but nothing quite like this: I’ll let you know how I get on.

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Chaumont International Garden Festival 2012, and more……

Hot off the press comes news of the 21st edition of the Chaumont Festival of Gardens, held annually in the grounds of the Domaine de Chaumont, a chateau perched high above the River Loire, in central France. The Festival, which attracted 210,000 visitors last year, opens its doors to an eager audience of professional and amateur gardeners on 26thApril 2012.

Chaumont Festival of Gardens 2012

The “must see” contemporary garden venue, Chaumont has excelled itself this time, with twenty-six new show gardens to be installed and nurtured for the six months of the event, which runs until 21stOctober. Each year gardens are built to a theme, sometimes obscure, often a play on French words and phrases – they do not always translate well. For the 2012 season, top international designers and artists were invited to submit projects on the theme: “Jardins des délices, jardins des délires” or Gardens of delight, gardens of delirium. Expect the unexpected, as extraordinary sights are guaranteed! The gardens selected for the Festival this year are the creations of designers and landscapers from twelve countries, including one from the UK highlighting the political rights of garden gnomes.

Pre de Goualoup - the new park at Chaumont

2012 is also the inaugural year of a number of exciting new projects including an extra 500 sq.m. of exhibition space and a 10 hectare addition to the permanent gardens of the Domaine. Close to the Festival site, this new park has been designed by the celebrated French landscaper Louis Benech in neglected parkland above the chateau. It incorporates a number of spaces in which, over time, will be built a series of 1000 sq.m. permanent gardens. The first was created last year by scholar and architect Che Bing Chiu in a contemporary style which recognises centuries of classical Chinese garden-making tradition. This is destined to be an important European garden as it grows and matures and will be joined by another garden to be built this year by Chinese landscaper Shu Wang.

From modest beginnings under the control of the local authority, the Domaine de Chaumont has rediscovered its place in history as one of the most important centres for contemporary garden art. A castle has existed on this remarkable site since the 10th century. It was once owned by Queen Catherine de Medici and by Diane de Poitiers, and in the 19th century by the Prince and Princess de Broglie who constructed the model farm buildings and the park. More details on the Domaine and its Garden Festival, including detailed descriptions of the show gardens since 1992, can be found on the site: Loire Valley Gardens

The Garden Design Academy will be including a visit to the unmissable Chaumont Festival of Gardens in each of its study tours of Loire Valley Gardens this year. More details here: Garden Design Academy

Watch this space for more details of each of this year’s show gardens…..