I wasn’t sure about this next garden. I’m not a fan of mixing genres. In anything. ‘Historical Fiction’ drives me crazy. How can you tell the real parts from the made-up bits? From what I’d seen on the website for the Château du Rivau, notwithstanding the Jardin Remarkable designation, it looked more like an amusement park, admittedly a rather lovely one, than a garden.
And what about Chaumont-sur-Loire, you might well be asking? Well, remember the old adage about the exception proving the rule?…
It had started to rain, again, on the way over, so I had plenty of time to ponder my alternate plan – visiting a couple of vineyards – as I sat in Rivau’s parking lot. I gave it 15 minutes, and if the rain hadn’t stopped by then, I was going to hightail it to the nearest vignoble – avec dégustation, of course – and tant pis (too bad) for the garden. Fortunately le temps s’est remis (the weather reset itself) before the allotted time was up, because it turned out to be a truly wonderful garden.
After paying the entrance fee – which, to give some perspective to the issue of how much the owners of these private gardens charge, was 10 €; i.e. more than the fee some visitors objected to paying at La Chatonnière (see previous post) – you are given a Parcours de visite. In addition to a very useful map of the gardens – there is a lot going on here and I got disoriented a couple of times – it also has a ‘Charte du visiteur‘. A code of conduct for the visitor. I’d seen one before in a rather unusual garden in Tuscany (post coming soon). This one begins with “Lors de votre visite, nous vous confions notre jardin.” (During your visit we are entrusting our garden to you.) Visitors are asked to treat the garden with the greatest care and respect. And not to pick the flowers or fruit.
It was a pity the owners had found it necessary to include that last bit. But sadly, they aren’t the only garden that has to deal with filching by the public. Just a couple of weeks after I returned from France, I was going through the Toronto Botanical Gardens in preparation for leading a tour and watched in disbelief as adult – not a child, this character would have been in his forties – looked furtively around and then proceeded to snap off flowers – entire flowering branches – in one of the borders and then pick them up. I let him ‘have it’ and he skulked away. I took the flowers to the TBG gift shop and, still in a lather, told the volunteer at the cash register what had happened. She put them in a vase and told me that it was not the first time.
The first garden you come to at Rivau is the potager. There is none of the ornamental extravaganza we saw at Villandry. Instead, this appears to be a very impressive, but strictly utilitarian vegetable garden…
…except for the creature rising out of the vegetables.
It is a taupe (mole), just popped up for a breath of fresh air, after getting lost in the labyrinth of tunnels between the castles of Rivau and Chinon. It symbolizes the short-sightedness of our efforts to destroy a creature that helps not only to aerate the soil, but also to control the insect population in our gardens.
Another of the rules was directed to visitors with young children. The former were asked to faire attention that their young charges did not throw cailloux (stones) at the ducks or Oeuvres d’Art. Really?! What is with people these days?
Glorious roses hedges along the walls of the old moat made it hard to follow the parcours de visite.
But I didn’t want to miss out on any of the gardens, so I headed back to the giant marronnier (chestnut tree), which marked the entrance to the Fairy Tale gardens.
Raindrops that had already landed on the flowers were one thing. Not so delightful was the stress of trying to shield my camera from the ones that kept falling from the branches overhead.
Gigantic Eremurus aka Foxtail Lilies – the perfect plant for le Chemin du Petit Poucet (Tom Thumb’s Lane). This was going to be fun. Somebody obviously had a great sense of humour, as well as botanical expertise.
It was the photo of these boots on Rivau’s website that had made me hesitate. In case you’re wondering, the greyish splotches on some of these photos are from those leftover raindrops. I just hoped the real thing would hold off until I’d seen all of the gardens. Luckily, it did.
Once your thoughts started wandering, the list of mismatched pairs and solitary halves kept growing – one lonely mitten, socks that go into the laundry as pairs and come out orphans, single earrings kept in the hope the matching earring will show up …
Despite the menacing Queen of Hearts at the main entrance, the labyrinth has lots of entrances and exits and the design is simple enough that even very small children might feel brave enough to enter on their own.
At the edge of the Running Forest, a wide, grassy path – le chemin des fées (Fairies’ Path) leads back towards the castle. Here, perhaps more than in any other part of the garden, it is clear that while there may be lots of pixie dust floating around, there is nothing insubstantial about the plant material.
I love poppy flowers. How strange that Nature would create a group of plants with flowers that are so beautiful and yet the source of so much misery. I didn’t get far into this sombre line of thought because just then, out of the corner of my eye I caught a slight movement.
While I was pondering the Pot Rouge, the peacock, now joined by another, headed for the other end of the path – and one of their favourite things.
Hunters used to lure unsuspecting birds with miroirs aux alouettes. The mirrors of those unscrupulous hunters have long since disappeared, but the expression stuck. Nowadays it is used to describe some under-handed, devious strategy – smoke and mirrors. It appears regularly in articles dealing with politicians and government policies.
In the ‘Garden of Love Potions’ plants endowed with magical powers to promote or derail affairs of the heart fill two large beds in the shape of intertwined hearts. Curly Tansy to nurture love and protect against the devil’s interference. Dictamnus alba, the ‘Gas Plant’ we saw at la Chatonnière, to ease tormented minds. Verbena officinalis if your love life needs a bit of help from a spell. And my favourite, in the centre, rue, to calm the ardour in men and fan it into flames in women.
I’m afraid I may not have done justice to this garden. It was hard to focus on the plants, no matter how wondrous, once the peacock really started strutting its stuff.
Unlike the dead tree with the hanging pots, this was a fairy tale I had read many times as a child. What I didn’t know then was why such a beautiful damsel would have such an ugly-sounding name. I certainly would never have guessed that it had anything to do with cravings brought on by pregnancy.
I’m sure you all know the story of the poor couple, who after many long, sad years ‘get pregnant’, as people often – very weirdly in my opinion – say these days. One night the husband, driven to despair by his wife’s insatiable craving – not for ice cream or pickles, but for a plant – sneaks into the walled garden of their neighbour and steals some leaves of Campanula ranunculus, aka ‘Rapunzel Plant’.
Like most fairy tales, there is a nugget of reality in this story. During the Middle Ages the cravings of pregnant women were taken very seriously and family members would do whatever it took to relieve their half-crazed partners. A craving for the spinach-like leaves of a plant like Campanula ranunculus might have come from a deficiency in iron, common in pregancy. And all might have gone well and the poor man might have just asked his neighbour for a bit of the plant, but of course, this being a fairy tale, the neighbour is a witch. And we all know what happens when the baby is born…
By now I was famished. Time for le déjeuner. I headed back to the entrance where there was a small café which featured products from Rivau’s potager and vignobles. On the way I had a quick look at the castle interior.
After the gardens, it was a bit of a jolt to the senses.
Things just got more and more bizarre.
I went back outside to where things might be fantastical, but at least they weren’t bizarre.