Chaumont International Garden Festival 2011

We are taking it easy today after a busy week hosting a group of garden design students, over here for a 6-day residential course. Happily the weather has returned to normal for this time of the year after a below-par July. Now it is warm, sunny and calm and we have passed the day gently, collecting mushrooms in the woods, gardening and swimming down at the old mill on the river Cher.

The Dining Room

One of the highlights of any of our residential courses is a visit to the International Festival of Gardening at the Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire. We also offer Loire Valley garden tours which drop in on the show. The chateau and park are lovely in themselves but the festival, which has been running annually since 1992, now attracts large numbers (around 400,000 p.a.) of visitors from around the world, many of them knowledgeable or professionally involved in art or horticulture.

For those who have not come across Chaumont, the format is somewhat different to garden shows like Chelsea. There are no trade stands, just around gardens, around 25 of them designed and built by invitation and to a very limited budget. The gardens are constructed and planted ready for the opening in April and are maintained until it closes in October. It is a wonderful event where new ideas are trialed by designers and artists of all descriptions, some coming from as far away as China and South America to participate.

Each year a theme is set and the designers must consider and use this to inspire their gardens. This year it is “Gardens of the future or the art of happy biodiversity”. What the designer makes of such a title is half the fun of it and often these themes are deliberately obscure or play on words (in French) to make the challenge and the range of responses as interesting as possible. Each year some gardens are more successful than others, but in a year or two you can expect to see ideas gleaned from the festival recycled at Chelsea in a garden costing 100-times more.

I like to visit the gardens starting near the restaurants, work my way down the slope to the far end, break for lunch and complete the tour in the afternoon. It generally takes us around four hours to “do” the show. If I want (as I do) to get something out there this evening I will have to look at the gardens in several attempts. This is part one.

The first garden was entitled The Dining Room and was designed by students and staff of the Okinawa University of Arts in Japan. On the sign placed at the front of their garden they say: “This garden evokes a j

The take-away garden

oyful table, glorifying the benefits of the orchard and the vegetable patch in the heart of the garden.
The cycle, which comprises “eating and being eaten”, is the basis of the food chain. This basic cyclical profile is absolutely essential to life continuing. Happiness is its end product. To sum up, eating const

itutes the basis of nature’s benefits. This makes the food chain a happiness system. This food biodiversity must therefore be preserved and taken care of.”

The second on our tour was called Garden of Tides, a Dutch / British collaboration intended to evoke the hidden and neglected beauty of undersea gardens, gardens of the future to be preserved.

The Take-away Garden was British, well thought out and nicely executed. The sign explained:  “Imagine a world where every citizen has the opportunity to look after his or her own personal micro-habitat.  From roof terraces to car parks, from suburban gardens to industrial waste ground – no space is too small for a portable bag (le sac), with a single tree and associated eco-system.  Instead of feeling helpless in the face of the loss of biodiversity, caring for just one bag is a small step on the path towards gaining back respect and responsibility for the environment.”
Ton bags normally used for delivering gravel and sand were here used to grow little habitat gardens: orchard (le verger), forest (la foret), maritime heath (la lande maritime), woodland edge (le petit bois), hedgerow (l’haie) and marsh.

Blue Biodiversity looks at the numerous chromatic options offered by plants. It plays both on the diversity of plants and on the infinite diversities of the shades of blue. It is described by the designer as :A subtle dialogue between the plants and coloured stones which is delicately presented, just like steps in colour.

La biodiversité bleue

I hope you’ll drop back in to the blog to see the next exciting installment of my review of this years Chaumont Festival.