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