Garden visiting abroad, two Loire valley gardens
A few weeks ago I had the chance to visit a selection of gardens in the Loire Valley in France. It is always fascinating to see how gardeners in a different country use plants that are familiar to us is such different ways.
Even so, there is a great deal that gardeners abroad have in common with us. The refrain – you should be here next week, or last week was perfect… comments that gardeners frequently make, were just as prevalent across the Channel.
During the trip I visited seven gardens, two of which had overnight accommodation, and I also visited the international garden festival at Chaumont.
The first port of call was the garden of a fairy-tale turreted chateau called Ainay le Vieil, Cher (www.chateau.ainaylevieil.free.fr). Here Marie-Sol de La Tour d’Auvergne has restored the gardens of her childhood home. During the storms of the early 1980 many of the majestic trees in the park were lost, but the devastation gave her the opportunity to make a new garden. Roses and clipped yews and hornbeam shaped to form architectural features, are the principal plants in the rose garden in front of two pavilions that mark the entrance to the chateau’s gardens.
Photo: Hornbeam is used extensively in French gardens, clipped into arches and buttresses, as well as tunnels.
Photo: Roses and topiary yews are the main feature of the relatively new rose garden at the chateau.
Roses that are planted here include several that have close associations to the chateau, including Rosa ‘Colbert’ (named to honour Louis XIV’s finance minister) created in 1988 by French nurseryman Georges Delbard and in 2008, R. ‘Marie-Sol del la Tour d’Auvergne’ created by Jean-Pierre Guillot. Many of the roses in the formal beds are chosen for their historical names, reflecting the history of the chateau itself. These include R. ‘Chapeau de Napoleon, R. ‘Comte de Chambord’ and R. ‘Cardinal de Richelieu. Also associated with this garden is the green rose, R. viridiflora.
Another lovely feature of this soft and romantic setting are the gardens on the island. They are set apart from the rose garden and are encircled by water. On the island are a series of walled gardens known as chartreuses in France. Each has its own character and plantings. The last of these walled areas evokes a French garden of the 17th century with its embroidery-like swirls of box parterres and blue-trellis work. You feel as if you have stepped into another world… one of the joys of garden visiting.
Our visit ended with a walk along the battlements, a little challenging for anyone with vertigo, and a look at some of the rooms within the chateau itself.
The day’s touring came to an end at one of the most beautiful gardens of the trip, The Prieure d’Orsan (www.prieuredorsan.com), is the restored monastery or abbey founded in 1107. There are seven rooms here with wonderful views of the gardens, so that was where we spent the first night. Before supper and breakfast the following day I managed to make two forays into this structured garden, where the use and ornament of fruit, vegetables, herbs and roses, is practised to an art form. The owner, architect Patrice Taravella, has used hornbeam as the main structural element of the garden. He has teased and trained fruit trees, such as quinces into umbrella-like arbours and made hedges and screens from apples and pears. I particularly liked the way he grew rhubarb in tall wicker baskets. The rhubarb stems were not forced, but they were persuaded to grow straight and upright and long.
Another interesting technique was one he used for getting a special effect from roses, of which there were many. Where a rose was growing strongly on a structure, he led several stems out onto metal arches for a stand-out floral bonanza.
Photos and text copyright Barbara Segall 2012
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