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Chateau de Villandry

Listed under Gardens in Loire Valley, France.

  • Photo of Chateau de Villandry
  • Photo of Chateau de Villandry
Photo of Chateau de Villandry
Photo by flickr user flo21
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Who would believe you could make a show of vegetables?

Moated renaissance house of 1536 by the banks of the River Cher, just before it flows into the Loire. The present owner's grandfather Dr Joachim Carvallo, a Spaniard, bought the château in 1906. He restored the buildings and made this famous potager garden as close as possible to its original Renaissance style. Immaculately planted and maintained, this is one of the most visited gardens in France.

Like a huge patchwork quilt, the garden is laid out on three levels to the south and west of the house. At the lowest level, divided into nine equal squares, is the ornamental kitchen garden, the potager. Each square is of a different design outlined by low box hedges. These beds are planted with a wonderful array of fruit and vegetables surrounded by ornamental annuals.

The plantings are changed twice a year and are never exactly the same from year to year. In the spring there may be radishes, peas, oak-leaf lettuce, strawberries, sorrel, artichokes, chives and savory. These may be framed by rows of pansies of different colours, double white daisies and forget-me-nots. In the summer there will be ornamental cabbages of many kinds, gourds, leeks, tomatoes and many other vegetables carefully chosen for the beauty of their leaf and fruit. These will be edged with annual flowers - blue sage, verbenas and rudbeckias. All this is done in a dashing manner - the liveliness of the plant shapes and colours contrasting with the rigour of the design.

The second level is reached by steps leading under a long arbour covered in grape vines. Here is the Garden of Music, a great parterre, in which clipped box hedges and shapes surround massed plantings of herbaceous perennials and low shrubs (irises, asters, lavender, santolina and rosemary). Tall shapes of clipped yew and elegant single jets of water provide contrasting vertical notes in a chiefly horizontal plan.

On the other side of a canal, at the same level, is the Garden of Love, another parterre with box hedges punctuated with clipped yew. Plantings in the beds are changed twice a year; in the spring pansies, stocks, tulips and forget-me-nots; in the summer dwarf dahlias in different colours.

On the third and final level there is a complete contrast - Described in their book The Gardens of Europe by Penelope Hobhouse and Patrick Taylor as ".. like a refreshing lemon sorbet after a delicious, but rich meal". Here, lawns surround a large calm pool and smaller pools with single jets of water. A walk of pleached limes enclose the whole, from which visitors look down on the wonderful garden tapestry that lies below. Set to one side to the west of the parterres are a handsome maze and a collection of medicinal herbs.

Although this garden is complex, it's never overwhelming. Despite the strict formality of its design, there is about it much liveliness and variety. It is maintained to a very high standard. It has become a tourist attraction of compelling allure. www.sisley.co.uk

Written by  Tony Sissons.

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