Chateaux all have
impressive grounds, but one is a destination specifically for
its landscaping. For my favorite gardens
in the Loire, it’s gotta be Villandry. Finished in 1536, Villandry was the last great
Renaissance chateau built on the Loire. And all attention here is on
its grounds — arranged in elaborate
geometric patterns and immaculately maintained. It’s a hit with gardeners. Like so many
chateaux around here, this was the pet project of
a fabulously wealthy banker, Jean le Breton,
who worked for the French king, François I,
in the early 1500s. Well-traveled Jean was inspired
by Italian Renaissance gardens. So, when he built his chateau,
he created this. The 100,000 plants, half of which come from
the family greenhouse, are replanted twice a year
by 10 full-time gardeners. Posted charts and maps identify
everything in English. The place is
lovingly manicured. Stroll under
the grapevine trellis, through a good-looking
salad zone, and among Anjou pears. The earliest Loire gardens
were practical, grown in the Middle Ages by abbey monks who needed
vegetables and medicinal herbs. And those monks liked
geometrical patterns. Later, Italian influence
brought decorative ponds, arbors, and fountains. And harmonizing all the elements
was an innovation of 16th-century Loire chateaux. Today’s beautiful gardens
at Villandry, a careful reconstruction of what
the 1530s original might have been, are the result of generations
of passionate dedication.