The Loire Valley in France is a superb delight for garden enthusiasts. Not only can you admire the spectacular chateaux and sample fine French cuisine and great Loire valley wine, tourists can also marvel at some amazing gardens. The whole valley is now a world heritage site listed by UNESCO.
Chateau Villandry is a gem and a must see for any one with a vegetable patch in need of some inspiration. Chateau Chaumont on the banks of the Loire River holds a spectacular international garden festival every summer. Peony and rose lovers should visit the botanical gardens at Orchaise west of Blois.
Chateau Villandry owes its fame to the exceptional terraced gardens which sit on three levels and include a water garden, an ornamental garden and an ornamental kitchen garden. Eight gardeners work at Chateau Villandry full time, and plant about 60,000 vegetables and 45,000 plants in its gardens each year. Villandry is a dynamic place, the site of many activities such as the “Vegetable Garden Days” in September, the summer festival, special exhibits and workshops with the gardeners from the chateau.
The gardens at Chateau Villandry are an imaginative twentieth century re-creation of a 16th century renaissance castle garden. The moated Chateau dates from 1536 and had a formal garden in the eighteenth century. The existing garden dates from the years after 1906 when it was purchased by a Spaniard, Dr Joachim Carvallo.
He purchased the property and poured an enormous amount of time, money and devotion into repairing the castle. Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, he wished the garden to have a sixteenth century character. He created what many people believe to be the most beautiful gardens anywhere in the world.
The gardens are split into several parts: a maze made from 1,200 beech trees, a kitchen garden with aromatic herbs and vegetables, an ornamental flower garden near the castle, a children’s garden with a play area, a water garden with a pond and a greenhouse garden.
An arbour of grape vines leads to a great parterre, designed as a Garden of Music. The Garden of Love is o nthe other side of the canal. Symbolising the moods of love, it looks rectangular from the chateau but is actually trapezoid. The love garden has its colourful flowers and heart-shaped box hedges laid out with square beds illustrating “Tragic Love”, “Fickle love”, “Tender Love” and “Insane Love”. There is also the beautiful water garden with its lawns and pool of water.
But the real treasure at Chateau Villandry is the ultimate vegetable garden. It is It is bordered by espaliered apple trees, drooping pear bushes and standard roses which symbolise the monks who once tended the first medieval vegetable gardens and laid out in nine squares. Villandry is a vegetal feast, with zigzags of crazy-growing leeks, blocks of autumn pumpkins, beds of yellow and green peppers, big purple cabbages and mounds of celery all replanted twice a year with a brilliant eye for the colours of the changing seasons.
In 1934, Chateau de Villandry was designated a monument historique. It is still owned by the Carvallo family, and open to the public. It is one of the most visited castles in France. In July afer dark the gardens are lit by over 2000 candles and this beautiful vision of the gardens is accompanied by baroque music played by musicians wandering throughout the gardens.
An international garden festival takes places every day during the entire summer, on the grounds of the Chateau de Chaumont. Gardeners from all over the world produce outstanding gardens around a central theme, using nature and art together to create the contemporary effects.
Lasting six months from late April to mid-October, some 25 gardens at Chateau de Chaumont take a different theme each year – from water, vegetables and weeds to more conceptual poetry. The Garden Festival at Chaumont drawing international teams of architects, artists and stage directors as well as gardeners and landscape designers.
The theme for the festival for 2007 is mobility. Last year it was play and most of the exhibits were highly interactive and a delight to the young and to the young at heart.
The botanic park at Orchaise boasts over 2,000 plant varieties from around the world ranging from water lilies to blooming cherries. It is especially well known for its beautiful array of peonies and roses.
The Loire Valley can not help to inspire gardeners. Even Mick Jagger gyrating lead singer of the Rolling Stones, is now garden enthusiast at his preferred second residence near Amboise. He got Alvilde Lees-Milne to lay out a marvellous formal walled garden at his 15th century chateau and he has now become completely part of the garden, knowing every single thing about all the plants, the flowers, and the way the fruit trees are espaliered.