25 April 2024

Eclectic France

Observations on the sites, sounds and events around France


Boxed In By Formal Gardens at Villandry

Many of the chateaux on the Loire have amazing formal gardens but those at Villandry really stand out. The Chateau is famous for its gardens and they are probably worth a visit all on their own. In fact, you can visit them with a separate ticket without touring the chateau.

The garden covers several hectares. Much of the area close to the Chateau is laid out in formal squares separated by gravel paths. Each square has low box hedges around the edges and inside to create ornate enclosures for plants. Most sections contain plants with similar or complementary colours to create a simple but stunning formality.

To get a real idea of the layout you’ll ideally need to see them from above and a distance. Look out of a window when touring the Chateau or climb up to the top of the bank running down one side of the site to get this aerial view.

Gardens at Villandry
Gardens at Villandry

During our visit in April 2019, the plants weren’t fully in flower although those that were gave a good idea of how it would look later in the year. However, even without the flowers, the topiary squares were impressive because it was simply the patterns that created the overall effect.

Roses and Water Features

Another large area to the side of the Chateau also has a formal layout and mostly contains various types of rose. Some of these are simple bush or standard roses that line the gravel paths. Roses also climbing up trellises and along arbours to create tunnels of colour and fragrance. Very few were blossoming during our spring visit but it was clear they would be magnificent during the summer.

Ornamental canal at Villandry
Ornamental canal at Villandry

The garden also incorporates several water features, including an ornamental that separates the two main sections. It also connects to the moat that surrounds the Chateau.

This type of garden clearly requires a lot of maintenance and has a large team to carry out the work. At the very least there must be many kilometres of hedging to maintain and trim and that all takes time. The Chateau hosts a number of gardening related events during the year and the team is on hand to answer questions from visitors.

The gardeners work organically without pesticides, fungicides or weedkillers. The Chateau collaborates with local beekeepers and organisations including the French Society for the Protection of Birds to promote biodiversity and wildlife.

Chateau de Villandry
Chateau de Villandry

Colourful History

Villandry has an interesting history. It was originally a fortress that hosted a meeting between Philip II of France and Richard the Lionheart. The current Chateau was built during the renaissance. Its previous owners include Jean le Breton, one of Francois Premier’s ministers, and Jerome Bonaparte, one of Napoleon’s brothers. Despite its many auspicious owners, the Chateau had fallen into decline by the end of the 19th century.

Dr Jochim Carvallo, a medical researcher, and his wife Anne Coleman, who was the heir to a vast fortune through her American family’s iron and steel company, purchased the Chateau in 1906. Together they set about restoring the Chateau and reinvigorating the gardens. Their great-grandson owns the Chateau today.

The Chateau is well worth a visit – and prices are lower than many other chateaux in the area. It is open throughout the year although the house closes for a week or so a few times over winter. But it’s the gardens at Villandry that steal the show and they are open more of the time. This means that visitors can go along at different times of the year to see how the gardens are changing. Please check before visiting.