To me Normandy is one big garden. Most of it is a big veggie/cow/corn/wheat growing garden… but in among all the practical growing are some garden gems grown purely for pleasure. Old, new, English, modern, prairie, rose and parterre – they’re all here. I’m going to give you a few of my favourite gardens organised into a day trip easily doable from La Pommetier, but first a few practical notes.
- In 2004 the French government introduced their classification “Jardin Remarquables” to distinguish significant gardens. Most are privately owned and charge a small entrance fee (under 10 euro).
- The gardens are generally open from May, at their best in June/July, and close in September. The exceptions are those with specialties such as bulbs which are at their best in April. Please check the websites for opening dates/times (links in the garden headings below).
- Many are only open in the afternoons (from 2pm) to allow maintenance in the morning.
- You’ll need sat nav and make sure that you have the addresses plugged in before you head off. Some are in small villages and tricky to find.
- If you have time, I’d recommend visiting both upper Normandy and lower Normandy and having a base at each. Alternatively if you’re up for some driving, you find a nice cottage to rent for a week somewhere around Rouen/Honfleur/Deauville and day trip to the gardens north and south of there. I’ll write a separate post on that soon.
Ok – that’s enough practical talk.
One day of wonders: Balleroy – Dior – Castillon – Brecy
This is a cracker day of gardens for those short of time and can all be done in a day from La Pommetier. You’ll need to keep moving though and if you’re short on time or want to take it easy, I’d skip out the Dior Garden due to the travelling time (1 hour each way). The other three gardens are all within about 30 mins of La Pommetier. I’ve put them in this order to make the most of your day as Balleroy and Dior can be seen in the morning and Castillon and Brecy are afternoons only gardens.
Have a leisurely breakfast at La Pommetier and aim to head off to Chateau de Balleroy by 10.15am. The Chateau is open from 10.45am and while you can join a small group tour to see inside (and its really interesting and beautifully decorated in the Forbes family’s private rooms), its the parterre garden at the front of the chateau that is the show stopper. To get all your gardens in today, Balleroy is a photo stop for the chateau and parterre and a browse in the gift shop. Its at its best with the climbing roses on the old stable blocks in bloom and the parterre has been hit with box blight recently, but it will wow your Instagram feed!
Next head off on the hour (plus) drive to Granville to Mr Dior’s house (you’ll need your sat nav on for this) and have a wander around his lovely clifftop rose garden in time for the the salon du tea to open at midday. While its not a “gardener’s garden” and it’s the only garden in this itinerary not a Jardin Remarquable, the setting is spectacular and fashion and gardens and houses are so intrinsically linked and this is such a good example of that. Be sure to look out for the post box looking things around the garden – they are perfume posts of the Dior scents.
The afternoon is for the real gardeners gardens and both are listed “Jardins Remarquables”. Both also have books written about them and the book about Castillon is in both French and English (there’s a copy in our living room to have a browse through).
Castillon is only a few kilometres from your first stop Balleroy – so if you’ve decided to skip the Dior garden, its a cinch to get to. The garden is signposted from the main road but the entrance gate is small and expect to sail right past it. You’ll find the creator and owner Madame Beauve at the ticket desk. She speaks only French, but I am sure she has a good grasp of understanding English. She is a dynamo. The word “spritely” was invented for her. Madame and her late husband ran a nursery for many years and shared a passion for English style gardens. Castillon is their masterpiece. Madame will provide you with a map to guide you through what is essentially two gardens next to each other. Both are filled with whimsy, structure and softness.
The first of the two gardens at Castillon is a triumph of design, landscaping and plantsmanship (did I just invent that word?). Topiary and hedging are used to divide the garden into a series of rooms stepping down a slope. They are connected by windows in hedges, ponds and a seamless vista down the centre.
The second garden begins with two garden rooms centred on ponds brimming with critters – the first with koi and the second with some really noisy frogs hanging out on the lily pads. You’ll hear the frogs before you get to them, then they’ll stop and it’s worth taking a seat until they can’t take it any longer and start croaking away again. Such chatterboxes. Then it’s onto the long stretch of English style wide borders and then japanese pergola garden.
Then its my favourite bit – the old “exit through the giftshop” where I go nuts in Madame’s nursery. There’s no fancy display and you’re lucky to even get a label on anything. But I take photos as I go around the garden (and the plants in the garden are well labelled so snap both the plant/flower and label) and anything I can’t find I show the photo to Madame and in a jiffy she’s found it. The prices are not mass produced garden centre cheap, but she has such a good range and I can never resist a few new ones for our garden.
Next its a 25 minute (23km) zip around Bayeux to Chateau de Brecey. This is the trickiest garden to find and the signposts are more of a confirmation rather than a direction as you’re generally past them before you see them. You’ll be going down a narrow country lane between lush green paddocks before you come across the biggest gates you’ve ever seen. I guarantee you’ll take 10 photos before you even enter the garden. The ticket office is just inside the gates to the left garden is through the courtyard and a small passage through the house and then voila!
Laid out in terraces going up a slope, this 17th century garden is believed to have been designed by Mansart while working on Balleroy. Much of the garden though is less than 20 years old having been revived by the current owners, the Wirths. You would never know this though – it looks like its been well tended for hundreds of years. I love this garden, its not huge, but it has such style and character you want to wander down every path and pleached lime tree tunnel. I’ve taken photos of everything from the Versailles planters to the paint colours on the doors and shutters – its all so French. Be sure not to miss the rose garden that runs around the small chapel as there are some real beauties in there.
So that’s four very different gardens in one day. All of them perfect for their setting. All of them reflective of French style and love of gardening. Only one of them is not (noticeably) connected to a grand house and that is Castillon (although there is a very lovely chateau just down the hill from the garden and able to be glimpsed from the road through the trees if you’re prepared to risk being rear-ended while you stop to stare). After all this you’ve earned a champers and a lovely seafood dinner overlooking the harbour at La Marine here in Arromanches.
For those of you wanting to explore a bit further in Normandy, I’ll put a few more itineraries on the blog soon. In the meantime, here’s a few to consider…
- Chateau Vendeuvre – and 18th century water garden around a chateau open to the public.
- Chateau de Canon – the gardens are a little run down now, but still hold their Jardin Remarquables title.
- Monet’s Garden at Giverny – No more needs to be said other than just be prepared for the crowds and go with it.
- Jardin d’Agapanthe – I love this garden. Its modern yet classic and full of French charm and style. A must.
- Jardin d’Angelique – a pretty English style garden around a small chateau. Its actually two gardens and a labour of true love from parents to their daughter.
- Chateau Miromensil – stay here to visit the gardens of upper normandy. The potager is amazing and you’ll experience life in a beautiful historic chateau.
- Jardin de Plume – can you believe I haven’t made it here yet? But its one of the greats of the world so I will get my skates on.
- Le Bois des Moutiers – a Jeckyll/Lutyens collaboration here in Normandy. I was rained out the day we were going to go while at Miromensil so its still on the list and I’ll combine it with Jardin de Plume next spring.
And then there’s the plant fairs…. don’t get me started (too late – get to Chantilly and Saint Jean de Beauregard!) Yet another post to write.