Great gardens of France – the final day

The kitchen garden at Cheverny

There are two ways to end a concert, a play, a novel or a garden tour: with a grand, spectacular display of colour, virtuosity or pyrotechnics, or gently, softly, pulling together all the elements and laying them out for quiet review. Dare I say it? I think we achieved a bit of both on our final day of touring the gardens of the Loire Valley.

Our first port of call was Cheverny and its famous château which, unusually for such a grand French palace, is available to visit inside and full of fine furniture and art. We did the tour after visiting the gardens, starting with the potager which, for some reason, I had never seen before. This section was a marvel, a beautiful example of kitchen garden mixing traditional and modern design, with rows of vegetables and flowers artfully arranged into the prettiest garden imaginable.

Photo opportunities at the Apprentices’ Garden, Cheverny

From here we moved on to the recently constructed Apprentices’ Garden which links the château to the orangery. Again, traditional and modern design mix to make a very satisfying whole. Around the château itself was a formal garden of the most strict design imaginable, but the final and largest area was the park in the English style, featuring many fine specimen trees, a place to explore and linger – but we had to push on, with lunch time beckoning.

Chambord

The journey was definitely part of the trip today. On the way to Cheverny we drove up the old driveway, miles of perfectly straight road aimed directly at the gates and doors of the château and lined with wonderful old trees. On the way to lunch we indulged in a detour to pass the Château de Chambord, a royal palace in the centre of a vast forest, the extravagant hunting lodge and pleasure park of the kings and queens of France. Lunch was in an old inn, now serving food of great quality, in the centre of the Sologne region of forests and lakes. Here we did linger, a little too long if truth be told, but the meal was rather good!

Iris germanica hybrids at La Source

Our last garden was quite different, the gardens of La Source, on the outskirts of Orleans amid the campus of the university. The river Loiret emerges in this park after a subterranean journey from, it is thought, the River Loire some way upstream, below a fine chateau and surrounded these days by a municipal park of the highest quality. Wonderful displays and trials of Iris, roses and bedding plants are a feature of the park, which is well used by locals in addition to garden visitors from all over France and around the world. Given our late arrival we rather galloped through the gardens, which deserved more time and consideration, but enjoyed the visit nevertheless. There is hardly a formal French garden feature to be found here; we found a very large, relaxed space dotted with horticultural interest and allowing us to reflect on the huge diversity of gardens we had experienced during the week.

The rose gardens and the chateau at Orleans La Source

Marie-Chantal had arranged an informal meal for our final evening, with local wines, cheeses and other products summing up the gastronomic life of the region in which we are pleased to live. Tomorrow our gusts would need ferrying to railway stations and the clean-up would begin. The tour had been a great success, we all agreed, and we counted our blessings in having had such a great group to spend our week with, exploring some of Europes great gardens.

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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…..

First post of a Gardener in France

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This Blog is written by Colin Elliott of the Garden Design Academy and rises, Phoenix-like, from the ashes of a number of similar blogs written over a period of nearly ten years.

After blogging my thoughts and posting hundreds of garden and plant photographs as a  garden designer, landscaper and horticulturist in the UK, the tone has now changed along with my new location in rural central France..

I trust  readers will enjoy what I have to offer, with it’s new French twist and more than a little support from le bon vin de la Touraine.

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