France’s Best Garden Festival Friday, Sep 18 2015 

Following our last garden post on the marvelous Bagatelle in Paris, we just have to mention another not-to-miss garden experience in France – the stunning International Garden Festival of Chaumont-sur-Loire. Arguably the best ‘festival des jardins’ in the country (though of course there are many worthy contenders), Chaumont’s yearly garden extravaganza features remarkable landscape and garden designs created by specialists from around the world.

Located in the Loire Valley about 185 kilometers from Paris, the Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire comprises a magnificent 15th century château, 19th century stables, beautiful gardens and an extensive park. Designated a UNESCO world heritage site, the medieval fortress-turned-Renaissance pleasure castle overlooking the Loire river is worth a visit, but to my mind the real Chaumont star is its annual garden festival. Wild, elegant, interesting, thought-provoking, and just plain fun, the festival is a must for gardeners, nature lovers and France lovers alike.

IMG_1251comp

IMG_2728comp

This past May, I had the great opportunity to take a lovely group of Dallas Garden Club ladies to Chaumont as part of a special garden trip to France. We were personally welcomed by the Director of the Domaine de Chaumont and its International Garden Festival, Chantal Colleu-Dumond, who gave us an up-close introduction to the incredible garden creativity and innovation going on there. We were also accompanied by French Affaires’ good friend and colleague Eric Sander, the celebrated garden photographer, who collaborates regularly with Chaumont on many projects (click here for a previous French Affaires’ interview with Eric).

_MG_3541comp

_MG_3522comp

Madame Chantal Colleu-Dumond (right), Director of the Domaine de Chaumont

During our visit with the talented and enthusiastic Madame Colleu-Dumond, she described the background and impetus of the world-renowned garden festival. In existence since 1992, Chaumont’s festival is actually a competition, or ‘concours,’ where a few projects are chosen from hundreds of entries submitted by landscape and garden designers the world over. Innovation, invention, creativity, diversity, boldness and passion are just some of the driving forces behind the winning selections. This year’s theme of ‘Jardins extraordinaires, jardins de collection(“Extraordinary Gardens, Collectors’ Gardens”) showcases the love of collecting, saving and multiplying plant treasures. She noted that each garden project for 2015 is a fascinating interpretation of the collecting theme using innovative plant materials, designs and displays.

_MG_3569comp

Madame Colleu-Dumond led the way as we walked through several of this year’s 30 fabulous garden designs. Easy on the eyes was the ‘Bougainvillea Garden,’ a riot of pinks, reds and purples celebrating multiple varieties of this plant…

IMG_2628comp

IMG_6156comp

The color and lushness of the bougainvillea was in stark contrast to the ‘Garden of Orpheus,’ an impressive though somber collection of various cacti and succulents seen from above thanks to a long raised pathway…

IMG_6123comp

Wonderfully intriguing was the ‘Porte-Bonheur’ or “Lucky Charm” garden which displayed an extensive collection of four-leaf clovers mounted in glass plates…

_MG_3580comp

IMG_2603comp

Then we saw the clever ‘A Table’ – “Time to Eat!” - garden celebrating one of life’s greatest pleasures – sharing a meal. The long table was ‘laid’ with a collection of amazing heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables, many of which belong to very old species…

IMG_2572comp

Colorful and informative was the ‘Jardin du Teinturier’ or “Dyer’s Garden” which featured a collection of plants whose pigments form natural dyes. This garden reminded us of the usefulness and practicality of plants – and also human ingenuity in extracting the colors…

IMG_2588comp

IMG_2590comp

IMG_2591comp

Then there was the ‘Carnivore Parc,’ an unexpected display of carnivorous plants in a rich peat bog arranged like works of art. There was even a picture sign telling guests not to ‘Feed the plants,’ a clever twist on the usual ‘Don’t feed the animals’…

IMG_6047comp

IMG_6048comp

My favorite design of the festival was the contemplative and thought-provoking garden called ‘Nuances.‘ The simple white frame with a stunning arrangement of lovely blue and green hued plants was presented as if it were a painting in a museum. A living painting. I was tempted to sit on the bench and take in the beauty for a while. Intriguing too was the photo below - which turned out to be frame within a frame within a frame…

_MG_3529comp

_MG_3533comp

Finally, another very memorable garden was the visually arresting yet peaceful ‘Carré et rond,’ “Square and Round.” Appearing like a red ribbon in the landscape, the garden design highlights the juxtaposition of curves and straight lines to marvelous effect. And the pathway is walkable, inviting visitors to interact with the landscape itself…

IMG_2680comp

IMG_2682comp

Putting on this over six-month long garden festival is no mean feat. From the choice of the yearly theme to the organization of the contest and voting by the jury to the installation of designs (every winning design is given a budget to carry out their vision) to the maintenance of the gardens over the spring, summer and fall growing seasons (a team of gardeners helps maintain and replace plants as needed) – it’s an amazing accomplishment. Our hats were off to Madame Colleu-Dumond and her colleagues at Chaumont for creating this extraordinary annual garden experience in France. When we asked her about her favorite garden among this year’s 30 winners, she wisely replied that they were all her favorites. “They’re like my children!” she laughed.

After our garden tour, we enjoyed a seated lunch in Chaumont’s gourmet restaurant Le Grand Velum. Of course, in true French style, the restaurant’s menu is inspired by the garden festival. When our strawberry dessert appeared, it reminded me immediately of the curved ‘red ribbon’ garden walk we had just experienced. What a superb way to end our beautiful day at the Chaumont festival!

_MG_3719comp

IMG_2721comp

The Chaumont International Garden Festival runs from spring to fall each year. This year’s festival concludes on November 1 so there’s still time to catch this marvelous event. And if you don’t make it there this year, think about trying to see it next year. The festival’s 2016 theme has already been announced (designs are due October 16, 2015, for all the landscape designers out there!) and is ‘Jardins du siècle à venir’ - “Gardens for the Coming Century.” 2016 is also the 25th anniversary of the festival so it’s sure to be a great celebration.

Chaumont is open daily all year round except for Christmas and New Years’, with the Festival open daily during the festival dates. You can click here for information on how to get to the domaine. For a fantastic virtual visit of this year’s festival gardens (including designer names and plant varieties) in French, please click here – for English, please click here.

jardins-chaumont

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

A beautiful keepsake from Chaumont is the lovely book written by director Chantal Colleu-Dumond with luxurious photographs by Eric Sander. Written in both French and English, the inexpensive volume can be purchased on site at Chaumont or on Amazon’s French website by clicking here.

JC

Paris’s Best Kept Garden Secret Friday, Sep 4 2015 

It all started with a bet. French queen Marie-Antoinette wagered her brother-in-law that he couldn’t build a château on his large property west of Paris in less than three months. Famously, the Comte d’Artois won. Sparing no expense, he had his petit château built in a record 64 days in 1777.

IMG_1096comp

IMG_1114comp

To celebrate the completion of his folie known as the Bagatelle (or ‘little trifle’) the Comte d’Artois threw a housewarming party in honor of his brother king Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. Unfortunately, he was able to keep his pleasure abode and its beautiful gardens for only a few years as he was forced give up the property during the French Revolution. Miraculously the Bagatelle château and park survived the revolutionary mobs and several owners in the ensuing years.

IMG_1189comp

In 1905, the City of Paris purchased the Bois de Boulogne property to save and maintain this architectural and bucolic jewel. In addition to keeping harmony and beauty of the preceding garden designs, it also set out to turn the Bagatelle into a botanical paradise. Special gardens showcase peonies, irises, clematis, perennials – plantes vivaces, in French – and roses. Today, I think the Bagatelle is one of the best kept Paris garden – and château! – secrets as many visitors to the French capital don’t even know it’s there.

IMG_1256comp

IMG_1253comp

Come warmer weather, one of my favorite Bagatelle garden views is the fluffy clouds of white wisteria…

IMG_1274comp

The Bagatelle’s hundreds of blooming peonies are a also must-see in Paris in the spring…

IMG_1154comp

And the irises! Beautifully trimmed hedges surround the iris garden, giving it the feel of an outdoor ‘iris room’…

IMG_1314comp

IMG_1335comp

But the Bagatelle park’s pièce de résistance is the magnificent rose garden, renowned for its more than 10,000 rose bushes comprising 1200 different species. Every June the Bagatelle hosts one of the most famous international rose competitions in the world. Of course, to really understand what these roses are all about, I find it helps to organize a visit with a premier English-speaking French garden expert in Paris – who also happens to be a Bagatelle rose competition judge!

IMG_1349comp

IMG_1351comp

In addition to the floral and botanical riches of the Bagatelle, there are many other wonderful garden features including grottoes, rocks, bridges, waterfalls, ponds, peacocks, and a 19th century Chinese pagoda. A beautiful orangerie also graces the grounds.

IMG_1312comp

To keep the gardens looking their best, Bagatelle patrons are gently reminded de ne pas piétiner les plantes de bordure – not to walk on the border plants…

photo (7)

Or on the grassy areas where bulbs come up in spring!

IMG_1216comp

So how does one visit this fabulously romantic garden getaway practically a stone’s throw from the Champs-Elysées? Located in the Bois de Boulogne, the park is open to the public every day from 9:30am to 5, 6:30 or 8pm, according to the season. Entrance is free unless there is a special exhibition going on at that moment. The easiest transport to the Bagatelle is by taxi. Or for public transportation, you can take the 43 bus direction ‘Neuilly-Bagatelle’ to the stop ‘Place de Bagatelle.’ Alternatively, you can take the metro to the stop ‘Porte Maillot’ on line 1 and then catch the 244 bus direction ‘Rueil Malmaison RER,’ and get off at the stop ‘Bagatelle – Pré Catelan.’ From the bus stops, it’s a short walk to the park grounds.

IMG_1141comp

It is good to know that while the gardens are open every day, the exquisite château is not. Guided visits of the gardens and château take place every Sunday and major holiday at 3pm from April 1 to October 31 for 8 euros per person. Or if you want to treat yourself to an extra special Paris experience, French Affaires can help organize your own private guided visit of the gardens and château according to guide availability.

IMG_1086comp

Last but not least, as if the gardens and little castle weren’t enough, you can enjoy the Bagatelle with music. Every summer, the Chopin Festival takes place at the Orangerie of the Bagatelle. This year’s festival marked the 32nd anniversary of the piano concerts that take place over three weeks in June and July.

chopb

There is also a lovely chamber music series in late July and August. And right now, classical music lovers can head out to the Bagatelle for the charming ‘Solistes à Bagatelle 2015.’ This festival celebrates young up-and-coming piano talent from all over Europe. The current concerts go on through September 13th, 2015. Enjoy!

imagefest_fichier_fr_festival_affiche_flyer_bagatelle_2015_recto

Route de Sèvres à Neuilly
75016 Paris

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

For your own lovely copy of the Parc de Bagatelle brochure, please click here to download. (Note that it’s in French!) It includes a detailed map of the gardens and also a wonderful guide to when the various flowers are in bloom each year. The brochure is available at the Bagatelle as well for a nominal fee.

Picturebcomp

Parc de Bagatelle
Route de Sèvres à Neuilly
75016 Paris