Avant gar­den­ing

The mag­nif­i­cent gar­dens of Château de Chenon­ceau are a joy to dis­cover, says Sue Bradley, who also har­vests cele­riac this month

Living France - - À LA MAISON -

The ‘Château des Dames’ is the nick­name for the Château de Chenon­ceau in In­dre-et-Loire, and the in­flu­ence of the women who helped shape this well-known land­mark, which ma­jes­ti­cally spans the River Cher, is es­pe­cially ap­par­ent in its gar­dens.

In­deed, the most fa­mous of them, Diane de Poitiers and Cather­ine de’ Medici, are still com­mem­o­rated in ar­eas of the cas­tle grounds that bear their names.

Diane, the wid­owed Duchess of Valenti­nois, was given the cas­tle by King Henri II in 1547 and went on to sig­nif­i­cantly en­rich the build­ing and its grounds.

The cen­tre­piece of her for­mal gar­den is a wa­ter jet that springs from a large rock into a pen­tag­o­nal pool made from white stone set into a cir­cu­lar bed. Sev­eral path­ways ra­di­ate from this fea­ture, each of which is lined with a va­ri­ety of sculpted shrubs such as box, yew, Por­tuguese lau­rel and Hi­bis­cus syr­i­a­cus.

Some 120 ‘Iceberg’ roses adorn the walls of the gar­den and in­tri­cate flowerbeds are set into the lawns. Th­ese are re­planted twice a year. In spring more than 30,000 sea­sonal flow­ers emerge, in­clud­ing vi­o­las, bel­lis daisies, daf­fodils and forget-me-nots, while sum­mer is marked by the emer­gence of petu­nias, tobacco plants, im­pa­tiens, ver­bena, be­go­nias and dwarf dahlias.

Diane’s ten­ure came to an end in 1559 when Henri II’s widow Cather­ine de’ Medici forced her to move to the cas­tle at Chau­mont-sur-Loire. Cather­ine sub­se­quently took up res­i­dence at Chenon­ceau where she cre­ated a ‘gar­den of won­ders’, with an aviary, man-made cave and rock fountain set within a large cir­cu­lar pond, along with geo­met­ric beds filled with flow­ers and shrubs.

Stan­dard roses and a ma­jes­tic al­ley of or­ange trees are among the stand-out fea­tures of the Cather­ine de’ Medici gar­den, the fragrances from which are en­riched with the per­fume from low hedges of laven­der dur­ing the sum­mer. No visit to Chenon­ceau is com­plete with­out spend­ing time in its cir­cu­lar maze, re­cently re­built with 2,000 yews ac­cord­ing to Cather­ine’s orig­i­nal plans. chenon­ceau.com Use wet days as an ex­cuse to sit back and plan the com­ing year’s crops and or­der seeds. Look out for gar­den birds by en­sur­ing feed­ers are well stocked and fresh wa­ter is avail­able.

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