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Posts Tagged ‘Villandry’

The Gardens of Villandry

Monday, July 28th, 2014

By Tim Sykes – 28/7/14

Whenever the name Villandry is mentioned it conjures up hazy memories of long boozy lunches during my advertising heydays! A restauranteur rather cleverly created an excellent restaurant, come wine shop, come bar, come specialist food store in Great Portland Street. I’m pleased to say it’s still thriving today, some 15 years after my last lunch! Do pop in if you are passing that way. The food I’m sure is still very tasty, and the wine list even better.

Somewhere equally appealing are the Gardens of Villandry, situated just 15 kilometres west of Tours, France.

I recently persuaded my wife and teenage son to call in on them enroute to the Dordogne. “Yes, OK”, was the response.”But, you are only allowed exactly one hour!” This may seem rather stingy on their part, but believe me these things take some negotiating!

My main interest were the potager, or kitchen gardens, as I’m currently involved in designing a scheme for one of my key clients. So this focus helped whittle down the tour.

We arrived at Villandry at 10am and it was already blisteringly hot. We paid for ‘Jardin’ at the entrance (€6 Adults, and €4.50 Youths). The Chateau looked equally enticing, but not this time!

Villandry is reputedly the last of the great Renaissance chateaux of the Loire to be built, in 1536. It was not a royal palace, but instead the seat of a royal minister, Jean Le Breton. Despite being a Finance Minister, Jean’s architectural expertise was incredible, and he was noted for his works, including the creation of Chambord, which he oversaw before he built Villandry.

As part of the scheme Jean conceived of a garden landscape that would blend the chateau into the surrounding Loire countryside.

The Chateau and grounds remained in the Le Breton family until 1754, when Villandry became the property of The Marquis de Castellane. He was the king’s ambassador, and he brought the castle up to date with modern 18th century standards of comfort and design.

In 1907 Villandry was purchased by a Spaniard, Joachim Carvallo. Carvallo and his American wife were scientists. The house and gardens had fallen into disrepair, so Carvallo set upon a complete programme of renovation. The Chateau was transformed, but it was the gardens that most of his energies and imagination went into.

These are vast, and truly magnificent.

Laid out over 5 hectares. Today they are looked after by a full-time team of nine gardeners.

Given the size and complexity of the gardens, careful planning and a rigorous timetable are required. This all sounds very familiar!

There are 7 distinct areas of the garden:

1. The Ornamental Garden

Stretches behind the Chateau, and features some incredible topairy depicting different takes on the theme of love. Unifying these gardens is the use of box hedging borders set to a Moorish theme, and sixty yew trees, all carefully shaped to a standard size and design ( I have the specification)!

Whilst we were visiting, we were treated to the gardening team out in force tweaking these designs.

Inside each shape are flowers. These are all planted in blocks of colour to enhance the dramatic pattern of this area. My guess is that this part of the garden was also used for cuttings, so at different times of the year plentiful supplies of fresh flowers were available to the household. Something to remember for a cuttings section to my own designs.

At the end of my ‘hour’ , I visited the garden shop and have purchased topairy ball guides, so will experiment as soon as we get home! I also managed to pick up a selection of seeds from the ornamental garden area, including Coquelicot ‘Rouge a Coeur Noir’.

2. The Woods

If you have the time, and the inclination to climb up into the adjoining woods you can gain some stunning views of the Chateau and Gardens. Also situated up there are the greenhouses.

3. The Water Garden

An ingenious watering system for the entire gardens eminates from a large ornamental pond on the upper terrace. This is shaped in the form of a Louis XV mirror. From this water cascades down a staircase of waterfalls into a moat which then distributes water into the planting areas below.

4. The Sun Garden

This is the most recent of the gardens, set on a plateau above the Water Garden. It features a series of herbaceous beds, set out in a formal pattern, but planted with varieties and allowed to grow in a more informal fashion.

Whilst we were visiting we bumped upon an artist recording the beauty of the gardens in oils. With his Van Gogh hat he seemed to be enjoying the mid morning sun.

Another artist who has recently had their sculptures added to this area of the garden is Marine d’Harcourt.

5. The Maze

Is planted with closely cropped hornbeam hedges. The correct pathway leads to a lookout post in the centre from where you can work out your safe retreat.
Probably easy to get out of in the winter!

6. The Herb Garden

Adjoining the Maze is the long, corridor like herb garden. This is the traditional garden of the Middle Ages full of aromatic, cooking and medicinal herbs.

7. The Kitchen, or Potager Garden

This is what we were here to see. And wow! What a display. I counted 9 areas, featuring different geometric patterns, set in a series of squares, all in one huge quadrant, with wide gravel avenues between them.

The designs depict Medieval crosses, all different. The structure of the potager gardens is created by using low closely cropped box hedging, that is in a constant process of clipping and replacement. Planted amongst these in symmetry are standard roses. These reputedly symbolise the monks who in Middle Ages would dig their squares.

Within the box borders a combination of flowers and vegetables are planted in concentrated bands of alternating colours, which together help create the magnificent vistas you can achieve by looking across the Potager Gardens.

To this day the Carvallo family are actively involved with the gardening team in the design and maintenance of this section. In the garden I could see bands of Chard, ornamental cabbages, beet root, tomatoes and pumpkins.

Time nearly up and a quick detour to the Garden Shop. This took 10 minutes, an all time record! Then out we rushed to the cafe to pick up a much needed diet cola.

One hour exactly. But what an hour!

You can see more about Villandry at

For further information please contact Tim Sykes on 07725 173820, or at

A New Vegetable Garden in Rotherfield, East Sussex

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

The Challenge

Client is a keen gardener and wanted to create a vegetable garden with raised beds.

The brief also included providing space for a small tool shed.

There was already a designated area c 11m sq. that had previously been used for growing vegetables, but this had become overgrown and needed a serious blitz before work could start.

The area was some distance from the house and there was no running water or electrics.

The vegetable garden needed to be made rabbit proof.

The Solution

First a thorough blitz was undertaken of the old vegetable patch and the soil was rotovated and weeds and brambles removed.

The perimeter fence was repaired and a new gravel board perimeter created inside.

Gardenproud then created a strong design in the style of some of the more formal Potager gardens of the French aristocracy.

Potager Style Garden

A Potager is a French term for an ornamental vegetable or kitchen garden.  The design idea emanates from the gardens of the French Renaissance period. In these gardens flowers were often planted alongside herbs and vegetables to enhance the aesthetics of the working garden. Apart from its beauty a Potager Garden is also very practical as it becomes the source of food, cut flowers and herbs for the house.

Perhaps the most well known example of a Potager Garden is to be found at Château de Villandry. A 16th Century Chateau situated at Villandry near Tours in the Loire Valley.  In the last century the gardens have undergone a transformation. So it’s well worth a visit.

Photo: Château de Villandry – Jean-Christophe Benoist

Our take on the Potager Garden features a cylindrical central water distribution point surrounded by 4 raised beds.

There is a main walkway with a sentry style shed at its head.

The raised beds have been carefully shaped to dramatise the watering point and give the vegetable garden a distinctive look.

An electrical supply has been connected to the vegetable garden area. This provides power to an ingenious water pump that has been fitted to the watering point. It pumps the water out at sufficient pressure to power a traditional hosepipe thus providing easy watering of each of the raised beds.

Topping up the water is easy, especially if the heavens open! Otherwise the large water tub can occasionally be topped up by hose.

The Gardener

The Client Sarah has great plans for her new vegetable garden, she comments….

“ Every year I have despaired as the plot, that in early Spring looked so neat and orderly, spiraled down into a weed infested jungle into which vegetables disappeared never to be seen again. Never again! I can hardly believe the transformation. The joy of my new veg patch is that not only does it look stunning but it is extremely practical. Apart from the raised beds there is plenty of room to expand the growing area by using containers. There is also room for a sitting area where I can relax and admire the fruit of my labours. I can’t wait to get cracking and look forward to sending pictures to Tim of a flourishing and productive plot – he’s done his bit and it’s up to me now! “

For further information about Potager Gardens, see Marylyn Abbot’s book “Gardens of Plenty – The Art of the Potager Garden”. You can buy it at