The very pretty 15th century Château de Chaumont, high on a cliff overlooking the Loire river, is the setting for the annual Festival des Jardins.
The Castle itself has an interesting history – inhabited by Catherine de Medici in the 16th century, she entertained astrologers here, including Nostradamus, and took a great interest in the Arts and Architecture. On the death of her husband, Henri II, she forced his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who had exerted great power at court, to relinquish her Château de Chenonceau in exchange for Chaumont.
The Castle has extensive parkland and here one can visit the 20 or so gardens which form part of the Festival. Each year a Theme is chosen – this year it was Jardins des péchés capitaux or “Gardens of the 7 Deadly Sins”. Unlike many other Garden Shows, such as Chelsea and Bloom, these are more permanent structures, lasting the whole summer, which the public can wander through. The drawback is that instead of the wow factor of Show planting, these schemes are based on reality and have to try to look good throughout the summer.
Landscapers, designers and artists create the gardens around the Theme – more Concept Garden than ideas to bring home to one’s own yard. I have to confess that I’m not a huge fan of Concept Gardens unless they have something original to say, but Chaumont has often been at the forefront of ideas … it was here, way back in 1994, that “green walls”, or plant walls, were first introduced by Patrick Blanc to introduce some biodiversity into the city … to some incredulity from the public. Now, no urban company trying to display its green credentials could be without its green roof or green walls, and more and more products are coming on to the market to enable city dwellers to develop their green walled courtyards.
These three Festival Gardens represents the sin of Gluttony or Greed. The first designer included plants which, in botany, are called “heavy feeders” due to their appetite for organic matter.
The second is a commentary on our society and its over-consumption and waste – the food cans are transformed into flowerpots, a symbol of Nature reasserting itself.
In this very red garden, observers are provided with a circular fence and stools to contemplate one’s sins.
These temporary gardens form part of the Festival, yet there is much more in the parkland to be discovered – a visit to the interior of the Château, installations in the park by international artists, or simply a good walk through the 32 hectares of grounds overlooking the Loire river below.
An absolute delight was the potager ; it may sound like a cliché, but it was full of the scent of herbs and the buzz of bees. I sat for ages, lost in this very unexpected pleasure.
The International Garden Festival runs from 25th April – 2 November 2014.
For other details : Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire.