A gardeners’ garden in the Loire
Jane Hanks looks at the diverse array of green-fingered goodies available year-round on the fabled banks of the Loire
The gardens of the Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire are unique because every year there are 30 temporary gardens created by international designers on show from April to the beginning of November, as well as fifteen works of art on a nature theme.
The exhibitions are set in 32 hectares of 19th century parkland belonging to the Domaine’s beautiful chateau on the banks of the Loire River and the site has been owned and run by the regional authority, the Centre-Loire Valley, since 2008.
It is open every day other than Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, and there are year-round events including the Art and Nature Season and the International Garden Festival in the spring and summer, and the Chaumont-Photo-sur-Loire photography exhibitions in the autumn and winter.
The director of the Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire and of the Festival international des Jardins, is Chantal Colleu-Dumond: “Our gardens are original because I do not think there is anywhere else where you can come to see show gardens from all over the world which develop over their six-month installation.”
Every year three hundred candidates apply to take part, so Mrs Colleu-Dumond says the standard is always high: “The teams are multi-disciplinary, involving not only gardeners and horticulturalists but also architects and designers so there is always this combination of art, creation and planting which makes the gardens in the International Festival always so interesting to see.
“It is like having a laboratory showing what is possible and new in gardening with ideas from all over the world. In 2019, 75% of the exhibitors came from outside France, including Japan, the US, Korea, Germany and the Netherlands.”
The theme was Gardens of Paradise: “A magnificent example of what garden creators can achieve was the Magpie’s Paradise garden, created by the American Carrie Preston and Farhana Rasheed who are landscape architects working in the Netherlands. They created a giant magpie’s nest surrounded by a beautifully planted marshy area.
“You could go into the nest and discover a magpie’s stolen treasures which represent the fleeting magical moments of everyday life which contribute to our own paradise, such as the perfect cup of tea, a conversation you have with the one you love or the first bite of a crisp apple.”
For the Art and Nature season, Chantal Colleu-Dumond chooses 15 new works of art each year which can be discovered throughout the grounds: “You really need to spend at least a day here to enjoy all that is on offer. We even have a two-day ticket. It is not just an ordinary visit to a garden but an experience. You can enjoy both the natural surroundings of the parkland and see the ways in which humans can transform nature.”
There is plenty of interest for more traditional gardeners, away from the artistic creations. There is a collection of climbing roses and one of peonies. There is a shaded walk, the water garden, greenhouses with tropical plants and one with unusual plants. There are permanent gardens representing classic styles from other parts of the world, including a Chinese, Japanese, Korean and English garden. You can even sign up for gardening workshops, and many of the plants you will see as you stroll through are labelled.
“There is something different to see all through the year,” says Chantal Colleu-Dumond. “In winter you can visit the greenhouses and we have a winter garden with evergreens and trees with brightly coloured bark. In the Spring there are 160,000 white bulbs, either narcissus or tulips which come into flower.”
She also says that they hope to inspire gardeners: “We want it to be accessible for those who are experts in art and gardening, but also for those who are not and just want to explore a new world. One of our hopes is that visitors will take away ideas for their own gardens, and if they come back another time they will find new inspiration as we are always coming up with new ideas. I am very enthusiastic about the gardens and their possibilities.”
And another important point: “We always make sure the gardens are perfectly maintained. A team of twelve, exceptionally dedicated gardeners work extremely hard to make sure the gardens always look at their best.”
The Park and International Garden Festival of Chaumont-sur-Loire are listed as both a Remarkable Gardens and Remarkable Trees site and the 2018 Michelin Green Guide to the Châteaux of the Loire awarded the Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire (www.domaine-chaumont.fr) three stars.
This year they were proud to receive First Prize in the Special Award category in the 2019/2020 European Garden Award given by the European Garden Heritage Network which looks at gardens in 14 countries. “We were really happy to have European recognition for our garden,” said Mrs Colleu-Dumond.