Le Château du Clos Luce greatest claim to fame is as the final home of Leonardo da Vinci and the garden is set out as a celebration of his work. It does though have two redeeming features; one is the reconstruction of da Vinci bridges and the other is his vegetable garden. If you ever wanted inspiration for a garden bridge design a walk around the grounds would be a good place to start. The vegetable garden does allow you to get an idea of what a 16th century vegetable garden in the Loire valley might have looked like.
Le Château de Chambord looks like the archetypal grand French château, built in the 16th century and believed to have had some of its features designed by Leonardo da Vinci. If Disney was to build a château this is what it would build. The truth is though that it was in fact only ever used as a hunting lodge! An extremely large, grand and elaborate hunting lodge, but a hunting lodge all the same. The fact it was never really lived as a main residence means there has been little in the way of a 16th century French garden associated with it.
The château is very much the star of the show; immediately around it the surrounding woodland is cleared and left as grass to afford a better view of it. Several paths radiate out from this area to create vistas of it and the river Le Cosson has been reshaped to form a reflecting lake on two sides of the building.
Of more recent design is the English Garden which is said to be based on plans from 1889, but is only a small area of trees, shrubs and hardy perennials. Of more interest is the ornamental vegetable garden which is set out with an eclectic range of plants set between paths of gravel coloured glass.
Perched on a rock outcrop high above the fertile flood plain of the Dordogne river and surrounded by the rivers meander on three sides the garden enjoys dramatic views across the country side. There has been a château and garden on this site at least since the 17th century when the then owner, Bertrand Vernet, employed Poacher (a pupil of Le Nôtre) to lay out gardens there. Little appears to have been recorded about what this looked like but in 1860s Julien de Cerval became the owner and he developed the in Italianate style; creating a lot of what is seen today.
What is there now is a garden of two halves; one close around the château and a second stretching away from it to the north east following the natural ridge, but both making great use of the dramatic views across the Dordogne valley. Around the chateau is hot with little shade from sun and dominated by elaborate topiary using box. As is the norm in this area; all the hedging is cut by skilled gardeners by hand. Using hand shears and plumb lines the complex curves and shapes are created by eye and the gardeners have a lot of freedom to mould the shape as they seem fit. It is not possible to say what the original topiary looked like in the 19th century as the garden had been allowed to fall in to serious neglect. It was only in 1996 that its restoration was begun and it is a testament to the regenerative nature of box that the hedges now look so good.
The area to the north east of the chateau is far less formal and cool as the result of the topography and the canopy of trees which cover it. This woodland garden blends into the more formal area with a gradual move away from clipped plants but throughout the garden the range of plants is kept very limited and no part of it is what you would describe as a flower garden in the English sense.
Marqueyssac is a stunning example of what you would expect of a 19th century chateau garden in this part of the world and worth visiting if only for the elaborate topiary as a display of man’s control of nature.
In truth this is more a resource than a garden but a very attractive one all the same. It is though a celebration of water lilies and lotuses which cover about 3 hectares. Started in only 1999 and opened to the public in 2000 the gardens make use of a site which slopesdown to the river Dordogne with a series of ponds and lakes. The most interesting feature though is the labyrinth; a 2800 m2 lake filled with different (labelled) water lilies and lotuses which are accessed by a network of decking walkways which allow you to get close up to the individual flowers.
This was the home of the painter Claude Monet for the last 43 years of his 89 year live and features in many of the most important paintings of the impressionist movement. Though now preserved due to its importance it was very much the product of a passionate gardener. The garden and his work as a painter often overlapped, never more so than his water lily pond and the iconic paintings of it. The whole garden is a rich tapestry of plants suited to the climate of northern France with little room for paths and lawns. The garden doesn’t rely on vistas and dramatic views so much as draws you into the plants which the garden is all about.
The garden is naturally divided into two distinct areas, the one adjacent to the house is more open and formal in its layout with straight paths. The other is across the road, now reached by a short tunnel, and it is here the water lily pond is found in a more informal setting. In the end this was a garden created, like all be best gardens, for the pleasure of its creator and it shows in both the garden and the paintings it inspired.
The most remarkable thing about this garden is how young it is. I have often been faced with the modern demand for instant gardens resulting in the only hedges being of the much over used leyandii conifers and the problems they can cause. Yet in the early 1960s Gilles Sermadiras de Pouzols de Lille, with no formal horticultural training, decided to replace the English style garden around the family’s hereditary home with one in the French style. I’m sure if someone was to decide to replace an original English landscape garden today there would be an uproar, but then again that only replaced an early garden in the French style, but I am glad he did.
This is not an original garden 17th century garden reconstructed but a 20th century garden created in the style of a formal 17th century French garden. This is a modern garden, which the owners continue to develop, that just uses and re-interprets the underlying design principles of this style garden. To this end a very limited range of plants are used and they are controlled to create a very artificial environment.
The dominant feature of the garden is the topiary which uses the traditional plants hornbeam, box and yew and is all hand trimmed by a team of 6 gardeners repeatedly through the growing season. This may seem laborious and I do not believe a more plant oriented garden could justify this much labour being spent on hedge trimming. That said I have seen the same thing in other gardens in the same region and it is indicative of the essence of the garden and further more French believe in artisans working in traditional ways.
At close to 10 acres this is a large garden filled with clever and complex topiary and using many tricks of light and perspective. The colour palette is deliberately very restrictive, and there is a particularly nice white garden, though in a very different style to the famous one at Sissinghurst Castle. Eyrignac is not a plantsman’s garden but a celebration of the gardener’s art and what can be achieved with foresight and imagination.
The château and garden are situated on a rock outcrop which forms the west bank of the river Vézère and the château and stables are protected on the remaining three sides by a deep dry moat as fits its original purpose as a fortress. The hall of the château dates from 1576 and has remained unaltered since the 16th century.
The gardens are principally in three areas one to the north in what was the area for the stables, one to the south of the courtyard and one immediately south of the moat. The gardens rely on careful pruning to form a controlled ad inward looking style with little regards to the countryside or views of the river.
The stables garden is dominated by four symmetrical shapes each a reflection in the cardinal axes using clipped box with lavender and cotton lavender. This simple design is lifted by a simple rill running north/south from a wall fountain at the south end. What would be a rather flat design is then lifted with carefully placed fastigiated conifers and by clothing the soft gold stone wall with green foliage.
The area to the south of the moat is a simple design using hornbeam hedging with some areas of colourful planting in the enclosed space. By this area is an unusual pleached hedge with a conventional low hedge at the bottom and then three tires of pleaching above it.
Cheverny is a 17th century chateau approximately 16 km south east of Blois in the Loire Valley but any sign of the geometric gardens of that period have sadly gone. The chateau itself is approached across a large expanse of plain gravel which contrasts well with the ornate building. Behind is a small garden with an arbour and an attractive pond which leads to a café. These have been carefully aligned with the axis of the chateau to provide an attractive view of the north elevation of the chateau as it is view from the cafe Each side of this central axis is planting and shady walk.
Though modern in origin the gardens are nice if limited and to the south there is a very nice wall garden though the contents is a little eclectic.