Villandry - is this the world's most perfect potager? When vegetables are an art form and food provokes thought!
|The vegetables in the potager at Villandry are changed twice a year|
Once you've been to Villandry, you'll understand the meaning of potager and parterre extraordinaire and all others will pale into insignificance! This amazing chateau near Tours in France has set worldwide standards for others to follow and given a whole new meaning to the concept of potager, or ornamental kitchen garden. It's made up of nine squares of different geometric designs marked out by dwarf box hedges, filled with colour-coordinated vegetables. But these are no ordinary vegetables - they're a work of art - changed twice a year to make sure that the show never dwindles.
|The chateau at Villandry is surrounded by a series of canals and terraces|
Home of the Carvallo family since 1906, the man who purchased the chateau - Dr Joachim Carvallo - spent nearly 20 years creating his Renaissance-style garden in 12 acres of grounds, using existing canals and terraces around the ancient chateau. The result is nothing short of remarkable and Villandry draws hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. Yet Joachim had actually recreated the very style of garden that would have existed here in the 16th century when the potager, or kitchen garden was a an absolute necessity if the castle residents were to survive.
Villandry occupies a fine position overlooking the River Cher and despite being one of the most popular tourist attractions in this part of France, both the village and the chateau grounds have managed to retain much of their original character. On entry to the grounds, you find the potager, which looks spectacular throughout the year, because it contains not just vegetables - two crops, designed to impress in both spring and summer - but also perennials, to give an impressive colour palette in each of the nine squares. Some of the vegetables are chosen because of their ornamental properties - ruby chard, lettuces and multi-coloured cabbages - but the overall effect is quite awesome.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the potager here is not just its perfection, but the fact that there are no huge signs warning you to keep out or not touch, just ropes ensuring that you don't walk through the symmetrical squares. You can walk along the main axes and view the garden from above, but you don't get the feeling that you're being prevented from enjoying the spectacle. And this is part of the charm of Villandry - the whole atmosphere is serene and surreal, yet any gardener will realise that the logistics of managing and maintaining a flawless garden like this are not just complex, but awe inspiring!
|The potager looks spectacular throughout the year and is peppered with ornamental vegetables to give colour|
|The atmosphere at Villandry is serene, yet the logistics of managing this estate are awe inspiring!|
|The parterre at Villandry is magnificent - and is laid out as a Garden of Love and a Garden of Crosses|
Once you've managed to pluck yourself away from the potager, there's plenty more to enjoy including the higher terraces at the rear of the chateau, which contain the formal flower gardens that flow around two sides of the potager and include a magnificent and immaculately clipped parterre, filled with annuals to give colour. The parterre is divided into two areas - the Garden of Love, adjacent to the chateau, with all its heart shaped compartments and the Garden of Crosses (above). The best views are from within, but the heat of the day and huge numbers of visitors meant that I had to photograph from the garden, although the overall impression is no less spectacular.
|The Water Garden adds another dimension to the spectacle at Villandry|
And once you've enthused over the potager and the parterre, there's another level to the garden, where the tempo is different again. Known as the Water Garden, this area has a huge pool at its centre, surrounded by formal lawns and smaller, circular pools with fountains and clipped box in planters, all surrounded by a pleached lime walk, which gives shade during the heat of the day. The most recent addition to the garden at Villandry is the Garden of the Sun, created by the present owner, who is the great grandson of Joachim Carvallo, just four years ago. It comprises two rooms - one for the sun and the other for the clouds - each reflecting a different colour palette.
|Part of the charm of the chateau garden is that you can see the neighbouring village behind the hedges|
Of all the gardens, I've seen this year, Villandry is the one that took my breath away! It's not just that it's spectacular, but it's also immaculately maintained and offers an extraordinary insight into how a garden can be managed behind the scenes, so that the visitor can stroll at leisure and enjoy a natural spectacle, without the trappings of Disney. I cannot imagine how many gardeners are required to maintain this beautiful property, but priced at just 6.50 Euros for entrance to the gardens, this has to be one of the best-value tourist attractions in Europe. Like Eyrignac and Marqueyssac, it is open every day of the year. Certainly worth making a special trip to see!
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