A Hard Lesson in Garden Design from Chateau Villandry

If you want to visit a French Chateau then you can’t go wrong with a visit to The Loire Valley, where there are plenty.

A Hard Lesson in Garden Design at Chateau Villandry on Falcondale Life Blog. This Loire Valley Chateau is famous for its formal French Renaissance gardens and is popular place for tourists to visit. I was struck by the contrast between French and English landscaping in the 18th century.

Villandry is one famous Loire valley chateau. It is known for its extraordinary gardens which are laid out in the French Renaissance style. The gardens were recreated and restored by the current owners, mainly based on historical records. They are truly stunning, and extensive. It took us a long time to get around the grounds and view it from many interesting angles.

Visiting Villandry

Most visitors start with the chateau itself and its grand interiors and furniture. There are quite a lot of stairs but the views from the open rooftop are rewarding. The views of the gardens from the windows are as interesting as the interiors. It’s best to view some areas of the garden from high up. We enjoyed descriptions of the symbolic hedge shapes below us representing love and so on.

A Hard Lesson in Garden Design at Chateau Villandry on Falcondale Life Blog. This Loire Valley Chateau is famous for its formal French Renaissance gardens and is popular place for tourists to visit. I was struck by the contrast between French and English landscaping in the 18th century.

Moving outside, on a hot day we were glad of the terraces shaded by lime trees and from this raised position we had more views of the formal gardens. The water garden was open to the sun and the lake had steep sides, so visitors with young children need to take care. However further on there is a hornbeam maze for a bit of fun, and the kitchen garden and herb garden provide more opportunities to explore. As the gardens are ornamental, there are many different paths to run up and down. The moated stream has some fish which sharp-eyed children can spot, too.

A Hard Lesson in Garden Design at Chateau Villandry on Falcondale Life Blog. This Loire Valley Chateau is famous for its formal French Renaissance gardens and is popular place for tourists to visit. I was struck by the contrast between French and English landscaping in the 18th century.

Chateau de Villandry for Gardeners

The Villandry website is an excellent source of gardening advice. Try putting a plant name followed by “Villandry garden” into a search engine and you may find some fascinating advice. Visitors are encouraged to talk to the gardeners (in French, I am sure!).

A Hard Lesson in Garden Design at Chateau Villandry on Falcondale Life Blog. This Loire Valley Chateau is famous for its formal French Renaissance gardens and is popular place for tourists to visit. I was struck by the contrast between French and English landscaping in the 18th century.

Capability Brown

While these French formal gardens were first completed in the 18th century, in contrast in England gardens like this were being torn up by Capability Brown. He was a tremendously successful landscaper and is responsible for naturalistic parklands at hundreds of English stately homes. To this day his skill is revered and I have been a fan since childhood.

Capability Brown’s vision of parkland was like poetry. He said “Now there, I make a comma, and there, where a more decided turn is proper, I make a colon; at another part, where an interruption is desirable to break the view, a parenthesis; now a full stop.” The landscape may have looked like a totally natural creation but each tree, slope and pool were part of a precise man-made plan.

Temple Newsam in Leeds, now a Capability Brown landscape. Read A Hard Lesson in Garden Design at Chateau Villandry on Falcondale Life Blog. This Loire Valley Chateau is famous for its formal French Renaissance gardens and is popular place for tourists to visit. I was struck by the contrast between French and English landscaping in the 18th century.

Temple Newsam – the view of the Capability Brown landscape from the house.

Temple Newsam gardens as they used to be before Capability Brown came along. Read A Hard Lesson in Garden Design at Chateau Villandry on Falcondale Life Blog. Chateau Villandry is famous for its formal French Renaissance gardens and is popular place for tourists to visit. I was struck by the contrast between French and English landscaping in the 18th century.

Temple Newsam gardens in the French style before Capability Brown.

Garden Destruction and Rebirth

Villandry therefore gave me a huge shock. When I saw the exceptional beauty of these formal gardens and imagined them being ripped up and replaced by English parkland, I found it upsetting. Yet this did happen all over England – for example there are drawings at Temple Newsam House in Leeds showing the old French style gardens. They were nearly all ripped up. Imagine how many gardeners were put out of work and skills lost.

In fact, this happened at Villandry itself, but without the finesse of Capability Brown’s vision. In 1906 Villandry’s gardens were described thus: “The grounds [are] landscaped in the English style, all undulations and hillocks (…). The chateau itself [is lost] in a forest of trees and greenery”. It may have been the “English style” but Capability Brown would never have allowed the fine views of the chateau to be lost.

A Hard Lesson in Garden Design at Chateau Villandry on Falcondale Life Blog. This Loire Valley Chateau is famous for its formal French Renaissance gardens and is popular place for tourists to visit. I was struck by the contrast between French and English landscaping in the 18th century.

The restoration of these French Renaissance gardens is heart-warming and – in my view – completely correct for the age of the house and its location.

Now I wonder, was Capability Brown a visionary or a vandal?

A Hard Lesson in Garden Design at Chateau Villandry on Falcondale Life Blog. This Loire Valley Chateau is famous for its formal French Renaissance gardens and is popular place for tourists to visit. I was struck by the contrast between French and English landscaping in the 18th century.

A Hard Lesson in Garden Design at Chateau Villandry on Falcondale Life Blog. This Loire Valley Chateau is famous for its formal French Renaissance gardens and is popular place for tourists to visit. I was struck by the contrast between French and English landscaping in the 18th century.

A Hard Lesson in Garden Design at Chateau Villandry on Falcondale Life Blog. This Loire Valley Chateau is famous for its formal French Renaissance gardens and is popular place for tourists to visit. I was struck by the contrast between French and English landscaping in the 18th century.

Kitchen Garden

A Hard Lesson in Garden Design at Chateau Villandry on Falcondale Life Blog. This Loire Valley Chateau is famous for its formal French Renaissance gardens and is popular place for tourists to visit. I was struck by the contrast between French and English landscaping in the 18th century.

A Hard Lesson in Garden Design at Chateau Villandry on Falcondale Life Blog. This Loire Valley Chateau is famous for its formal French Renaissance gardens and is popular place for tourists to visit. I was struck by the contrast between French and English landscaping in the 18th century.

Water Garden

A Hard Lesson in Garden Design at Chateau Villandry on Falcondale Life Blog. This Loire Valley Chateau is famous for its formal French Renaissance gardens and is popular place for tourists to visit. I was struck by the contrast between French and English landscaping in the 18th century.

A Hard Lesson in Garden Design at Chateau Villandry on Falcondale Life Blog. This Loire Valley Chateau is famous for its formal French Renaissance gardens and is popular place for tourists to visit. I was struck by the contrast between French and English landscaping in the 18th century. Interior of Chateau Villandry.

A Hard Lesson in Garden Design at Chateau Villandry on Falcondale Life Blog. This Loire Valley Chateau is famous for its formal French Renaissance gardens and is popular place for tourists to visit. I was struck by the contrast between French and English landscaping in the 18th century. Chateau interior at Villandry.

Further reading

Do you love France for your holidays? Read my previous blog about French travel by clicking here.
Gardeners, read about managing bees and wasps in your garden or home by clicking here.

Lou Messugo

23 Comments

  1. 21st May 2017 / 11:46 am

    Your photos of the garden and terrace are so enticing. I can almost feel the cool peaceful air whilst promenading under those gorgeous lime trees.

    • 21st May 2017 / 1:14 pm

      Thank you! It was quite warm and the shade is lovely.

  2. 10th May 2017 / 3:32 pm

    These gardens are amazing so it’s fascinating to read that Capability Brown tore up similar gardens to create his natural parks. I wonder if he did that often or if Temple Newsham was more of an aberation? I think both styles have their place and the gardens at Villandry defintely suit their surroudings. Thanks for linking ot #AllAboutFrance

    • 11th May 2017 / 1:08 pm

      From what I read, this style of French garden was relatively common in England before Capability Brown, but I don’t think they were normally as vast as present day Chateau Villandry. Also, the upkeep was costly so only the very rich indulged. There is actually a tiny patch of French hedging remaining at Temple Newsam and they are distinctly unimpressive!

  3. 6th May 2017 / 9:14 pm

    It is truly gorgeous! I went ages ago and it is still so beautiful. Of course, it’s Frenchie LOL

    • 6th May 2017 / 10:44 pm

      Bien sûr! Amazing to think these sorts of gardens used to be more commonplace.

  4. 6th May 2017 / 4:16 am

    Yes, I am a big fan of France for the hols! I usually go to Provence, I feel like it’s my second home! These gardens are truly breathtaking. The amount of detail and work is incredible. Really interesting to read about Temple Newsham, which is not far from where we lived in N. Leeds. Thanks for sharing!

    Kat x

    • 6th May 2017 / 11:51 am

      I do love a French holiday. Amazing to think Temple Newsam could have looked like this.

  5. 5th May 2017 / 9:18 pm

    What stunning grounds. I have never been to France but I am desperate to go.

  6. 5th May 2017 / 2:08 pm

    Wow stunning photos! Looks like an amazing place to visit. We are hoping to visit France in the next few years so I’ll try to remember this place 🙂

    • 5th May 2017 / 3:28 pm

      France is a great destination for families, I’m sure you’ll have a great time.

  7. 5th May 2017 / 11:18 am

    I have never really explored France, I have only been to Paris as an adult. This looks a beautiful place to explore x

  8. 4th May 2017 / 9:11 pm

    It’s stunning but I wouldn’t like to be in charge of the upkeep!

  9. 4th May 2017 / 7:23 pm

    What extraordinarily beautiful gardens! I love parterre arrangements I can imagine myself strolling amongst the box hedges with a handsome Frenchman on my arm! The gardens look vast as well, what a project! A beautiful place to visit. #AllAboutFrance

    • 5th May 2017 / 3:33 pm

      I think I would do normally too, but this place is an admirable achievement.

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