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Cornucopia - Garden visiting in Northern France

Garden visiting in Northern France
Mike Chapman

My wife and I have taken our holidays in France for the past twenty years or so. Initially we took our caravan and children, touring all over the place, but generally to new parts of the country each year. We, of course, visited the Loire valley and went in to some of the wonderful Châteaux that the region has to offer. Without doubt there are some beautiful château gardens to be seen, such as those at Villandry and Chenonceau. Once the children had flown the nest we had the opportunity to 'spread our wings'.

We have now visited quite a few gardens in Northern France, and it seemed appropriate to let others know of our experiences. With one exception, all of the gardens I shall write about are in the English, rather than the French style. I shall start my journey in the West and conclude in the East.

I have scored each of them in my own, 'smiley face' ratings of to .

  1. The most westerly of the gardens is at Roscoff. The Jardin Exotique is situated about 100 metres from the car ferry terminal. There is a favourable micro-climate allowing the cultivation of many palms and other exotic plants. It was here that I first saw the 'Bird of Paradise' plant in flower, in the open air. Although my wife and I differ in our favourites this wasn’t one of mine, but remains a very good garden to visit
  2. The gardens at Rospico, on the coast of the Department of Morbihan. We visited here in September 2006, and were both captivated by the wonderful displays of early autumn colour; the Acer 'Freemanii' especially was superb, showing everything that an acer can be in its autumn livery. There were also many other displays that we thought very good. We bought a hydrangea here to bring home to the UK. Well worth another visit, I think.
  3. Lac au Duc at Ploermel, due North of Nantes. This is a free walk alongside the lake and displays hydrangeas to their very best. There are good explanation boards, unfortunately in French, describing the various types of hydrangea and how to distinguish them. Most of the plants are labelled. We both found this garden to be excellent, and have enjoyed our visits immensely
  4. Brocéliande, just West of Rennes. What can I say about one of the best gardens I have ever visited. It is simply stunning. There are so many different schemes for displaying the plants it 'blows one's mind'. There were roses and fruit trees, beds of irises, (sadly over when we visited), and topiary of the highest order, little dancing figures in their clothing of leaves. We came away from here with a beautiful rose named after the garden and for the rest of our holiday we had the most fragrant car in France.
  5. Le Châtellier Parc Floral de Haute Bretagne, about 15 km North West of Fougères. This garden was a revelation. We had never heard of it prior to this year (2007), and were determined to make time to go and see it. There are wonderful areas of interest from the entrance through an avenue of white hydrangeas to, in my opinion, the best Japanese garden I have yet seen. There is something for everyone here, a beautiful lake and a children's area. I can recommend this one.
  6. Jardin de La Pellerine, situated a few kilometres to the South of Fougères, was another unknown garden to us. This is a privately owned garden and showed that the owners have put in a tremendous amount of effort to create a sophisticated garden with many different areas of interest. My wife liked this one more than I did, because she could identify more of the rarer specimens than I could. The owners have just begun an extension programme to develop some more of the lower area into another tranquil, contemplative area. Worth a visit.
  7. Les Jardins des Renaudies, Colombière du Plessis, about 25 km due east of Fougères. This is much more like an 'English park' style of garden with wide, sweeping walkways between flower-beds and shrubberies. There was not enough interest to make me want to 'pencil in' a return visit, although everything was well done and they did have many exceptional areas of planting.
  8. Lassay-les-Châteaux, 20 km East of Colombière du Plessis. This small commune has two of the best village gardens we have ever been fortunate enough to see. There is a beautiful rose garden in the shadow of the Château, where one can stroll amongst the fragrant roses and breath in the heady atmosphere. They also have a communal vegetable and fruit garden. In addition to their undoubted beauty, they are free for everyone to enjoy.
  9. Jardin d’atmosphère du Petit Bordeaux, approximately 20 km due South of Le Mans, at the village of St. Biez-en-Belin. Another privately owned, by Michel Berrou, and a garden that, frankly, gave us goose-bumps. It has everything, and all the brainchild of the owner. The garden is laid out in a structured way, but one can't fail to be impressed by the sheer diversity he has achieved in a relatively small space. There are wonderful trees and shrubs as well as lots of late season flowers. One good hint I picked up was that he had 'lifted the skirts' of all the large trees opening up much greater space for his beds. Although there are many tall trees it never felt enclosed. There is a wonderfully haphazard selling area in which there are, no doubt, some gems to be had. It’s the only place I’ve seen Acer 'Freemanii' for sale.
  10. Jardin les Chemins de la Rose, Doué-la-Fontaine, a few kilometres due South of Saumur, in the Loire Valley. As the name suggests, it’s a rose garden. I can honestly say, it does what is says on the tin. Although we visited in mid September, not a good time to see roses, there were still lots of them in bloom and some wonderful fragrances. There are also some very well done plaques explaining the types and classes of rose. I got so enthusiastic I felt the urge to go home and plant up a rose border for myself. I know that the day of the rose is well over, but the rose retains a place in my heart; one that, I feel, was well catered for here.
  11. La Chatonnière, near Azay-le-Rideau. Another garden in the Loire Valley. The gardens have been planned as a series of nine separate areas, much in an English fashion. They have a beautiful example of French parterre work as well as strolls through the fragrant roserie and the wooded area that had a widespread and reasonably dense carpet of autumn cyclamen, when we visited. I felt this was a garden very much 'in the making', so will be better in a few years time. One to revisit, I think.
  12. Château de la Bourdaisière, situated a few kilometres East of Tours. They hold the French National Collection of tomatoes here, and what a collection. Striped ones, heart shaped ones, black ones, (ugh), yellow ones, green ones as well as red ones. Undoubtedly the best collection of out-door tomatoes I have ever seen. Inspirational, once more. Their walled garden gives sufficient protection to allow tomato growth at its best.
  13. Jardin du Plessis, Sasnières, 30 km North East of Tours. This garden is affiliated to the RHS, so we expected something special. Did we get it? Frankly no. It had the 'bones' of a good garden, but seemed to be in decline. Little was labelled, and we did not feel this was somewhere we wanted to re-visit.
  14. The Priory Garden of Orchaise, 20 km South East of Sasnières. This is a large garden with a small section devoted to 'English Style' planting. The owner was in attendance and was delighted to talk about his garden. There were fun things too. A small round traffic sign with a silhouette of a blackbird with a red stripe diagonally across it in the potager, (meaning blackbirds keep off), and one that had a label ‘pôt-agé’ (a play on words, for potager). A very nice garden but not one I would like to spend more time in.
  15. Château de Beauregarde, 50 km due East of Tours. We came to this garden expecting the usual château parterre garden with, maybe, some good plants. What we got was something completely different. There is a sunken garden, 'le Jardin des Portraits' with the area planted up as six separate gardens, each with its own colour scheme. There was a sinuous pathway linking the gardens and it is simply a joy to behold.
  16. Jardin de la Source, Orléans. As you probably know, the majority of France’s landmass consists of limestone. Limestone is relatively easily dissolved in acid water, leading to many springs that well up all over the place. The 'Source' is one of these springs that feeds the Loire. This is one of those gardens that offers almost everything to everyone, and it delivers it, too. There is a wonderful collection of bearded iris, unfortunately we just missed them. They have some of the best willow weavings I have ever seen, running throughout the vegetable gardens. They are used as walls to separate different areas, and wander sinuously throughout the garden.
  17. Parc Floral Apremont-sur-Allier, about 10 km South West of Nevers, not too far from the Formula One motor racing circuit. This is a 'Ville Fleurie', one of the most beautiful in all of France, if you believe their own publicity, with a spectacular park/garden. The whole park was dedicated to Maurice Faisan, (who did the restoration) by Gilles de Brissac in 1985, and is a wonderful memorial, which I heartily endorse.
  18. The town of Épinal is situated about 70 km South of Nancy. The town boasts two very good gardens, one of which is really an arboretum, the other a rose garden. Both are well worth a visit. The arboretum is called Parc du Cours and is situated on the east bank of the Moselle river, just to the south of the town. What a wonderful place to wander amongst some of the best specimen trees one could wish to see. There were the usual suspects like acers and conifers, but some less usual such as liriodendron and some unusual ones such as weeping mulberry and beech. It wasn’t a garden, more a park, but stunning nevertheless and free to visit.
  19. The rose garden is in the grounds of the public library alongside the west bank of the Moselle river. It is named the Maison Romaine Jardin Publique, because the library is styled after a roman temple. Every rose is labelled and there are thousands in arrays as standards and in mixed beds. Another stunner and it is also free.
  20. Berchigranges, 25 km due East of épinal. We knew nothing of this garden until my wife picked up one of their leaflets at our B&B. Was it worth the journey to go and see it? You bet it was. It was the most exciting garden I have yet seen. There is a more formal garden near the entrance where flowerbeds and lawns are pristine. There are some beautiful Himalayan Poppies that were in full flower, and well worth the entrance fee alone. There are little pathways, linking the more distant parts of the garden, these are hedged with beech and often it is difficult to find the way to a part of the garden that you can see, but not find an easy way to. I thought this was a wonderful use of the beech hedging to tease the visitor and tantalise him/her to get them to wander about through the garden. There is a wonderful use of the natural watercourses throughout the garden feeding ponds and small streams. There are so many different areas I could go on for some time. The husband and wife team who own the garden have their work cut out, as the area is one of France’s winter sports areas so has lots of snow in winter. Highly recommended.
  21. Les Jardins des Callunes, Ban-de-Sapt. Situated about 60 km North East of Épinal. This garden is communal, being formed from the local council 'rubbish tip'. It took seven years to design, one can’t hurry a French designer! Calluna is the botanical name for heather, but this is not a heather garden as such. It is a brilliantly conceived garden of eight separate areas, only one of which is dedicated to heathers. I think it is essentially a Spring garden, so we weren’t able to see it at its best in June. At over 1000 ft above sea level it is a major achievement to realize a garden as good as this one.

First published in the Shropshire Group Newsletter, January 2008
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 23
© Copyright for this article: Mike Chapman

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2009. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.


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