Thursday, 23 August 2012

Great topiary gardens of the Dordogne - Eyrignac and Marqueyssac

Pavilion of Tranquility at the Manoir d'Eyrignac near Perigord in France
If you're travelling to the Dordogne in France this summer, there are two very special gardens you shouldn't miss, within a stone's throw of each other - the beautifully manicured garden at the Manoir d'Eyrignac, which has been there for 500 years, and the recently restored gardens at Chateau Marqueyssac, which have been there for more than three centuries, but were nearly lost at the end of the 20th century. With views over some of the most impressive scenery of the Perigord Noir, work is still ongoing there, but when you realise what's already been achieved, you'll be amazed.
Le Manoir d'Eryignac and view over the French Garden and lawn
Eyrignac has been in the same family for 22 generations. The present manor house was rebuilt in the 17th century after its destruction in the Princes' Revolt and although it has always been surrounded by formal gardens, what you see there today is the work of the current owner's father, Gilles Sermadiras, who completely redesigned them in the 1960s. He had no experience in garden design when he embarked on the project, but has created an extraordinary topiary palette using just ten basic species of plants including hornbeam, yew, Mediterranean cypress and apple trees. Today his son, Patrick carries on the tradition at his home, with the help of six gardeners and Eyrignac is recognised as one of the great French gardens.
The hornbeam walk at Eyrignac - each of the buttresses is made of 12 plants
Topiary dates from Roman times and is well documented in history, although it did not become popular in Europe until the 16th century when it was re-introduced for the parterres and terraces of the elite. There is a European Boxwood and Topiary Society and for those of you who are interested in the subject, their website has plenty of information. Meanwhile, I shall return to Eyrignac, where I spent a lovely morning last week. The 10 acres of gardens are immaculately maintained and the focus here is on the discipline of the design. But unlike most great French topiary gardens, there are wide turfed avenues between the carefully crafted shapes, instead of gravel. This gives a real feeling of opulence to the property.
Eyrignac's ornamental pond and reflecting pool is constantly refreshed by a spring in the garden
Le Manoir d'Eyrignac prides itself on being open every single day of the year, although winter opening hours are considerably shorter than summer ones. From May to the end of September, the garden is open daily from 09.30-19.00. You need to go early in the day or later in the afternoon to avoid the intense summer heat (the day I visited it was 38C!), although there is a breeze when you reach the edge of the garden and enjoy the views of the valley below. Entrance fee is 12 Euros for an adult, but it's well worth it and there's an excellent restaurant on site. 
The extraordinary topiary shapes at Chateau Marqueyssac
Within an hour's drive, there's another extraordinary garden at Chateau Marqueyssac. This property owes its existence to Bertrand Vernet, an advisor to the French king during the siege of Sarlat in 1692. The gardens came later, when Julian de Cerval arrived here in the second half of the 19th century - he was a military man who came hotfoot from Italy, where he had developed a passion for gardening and planted thousands of box bushes at his newly-acquired estate. But by the 20th century it had fallen into terrible disrepair and it wasn't until the late 1990s that a consortium got together to save the gardens, which are now listed as a National Historical Monument and well on the road to repair.
Restoration work is well under way at the stunning hillside location of Chateau Marqueyssac
Marqueyssac's hilltop position is enviable, and once you've stopped admiring the topiary you can stroll for hours in the grounds enjoying the views of the surrounding countryside, the river below and the impressive array of hilltop castles that this region is famous for. Just 15 years after the gardens were saved from complete ruin, a committed team of gardeners look after more than 150,000 box plants (all clipped by hand), which are ideally suited to the limestone soil here, and  are restoring the remainder of the 55-acre grounds to their original glory. 
Stroll in the 55 acres of grounds at Marqueyssac and you'll enjoy wonderful views over the Valley of Chateaux
This area of the Dordogne is known as the Valley of the Chateaux and the views from the grounds of Marqueyssac are certainly astounding. Like Eyringnac, these gardens are open every day of the year and although it is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the area (and deservedly so), there's enough space to enjoy the grounds without feeling jostled by the crowds. Throughout July and August, you can visit on Thursday evenings and enjoy the gardens by candlelight. Entrance here is just 7.50 Euros.


  1. Oh wow, these gardens look absolutely sublime! Stunning photos Charlotte.

  2. I've noticed this garden featured in many posts from different people. It looks amazing and your shots capture the magic. They've outdone themselves this year to get all this attention internationally. I'd personally love to visit myself:)

  3. Amazing views, I picture myself there on a windy thursday afternoon in the fall, being ahead all of the great structures.. So beautiful..

    -Carlos Hernandez

  4. So beautiful. Amazingly a clipped by hand.

  5. Beautiful photos of these legendary gardens. Seeing those box makes me want to give it a try in smaller scale someday!