The Gardens of
Photographs and text by Cristina Archinto
The Gardens of Villandry are part of the last of the Great Castles erected during the Renaissance in that historical environmental context which is the Loire Valley. The French nobleman Jean Le Breton had it built on the remains of an ancient medieval fortress built in the 16th century. In the 19th century the garden underwent several transformations, until 1906 when Joachim Carvallo and his wife Ann Coleman bought the castle and started a major restoration, including the gardens.
At the time, the gardens were in a state of total abandonment and degradation and the photographs of the time make us understand how little was left of the glorious past, and only strong determination and in-depth studies have allowed the Carvallos to recreate the splendor of once. He, a Spanish doctor and botanist with a very strong passion for horticulture, she, scientist, American heiress of iron and steel magnates, together with their knowledge and their heritage have created a true garden of wonders, restoring the areas, such as the Italian garden and the herb garden, the water garden and the labyrinth, sometimes in the French style, sometimes in the Romantic or Renaissance style
Today the Ornamental Garden is the main attraction of the gardens of Villandry. In a purely Renaissance style, it is made up of nine parcels all of the same size, but each with a different geometric pattern created by vegetables and flowers. In the boxes are planted vegetables of amazing colors that bewitch; blue leeks, red cabbage and beets, jade green carrot tops, and so on, giving the impression of a multicolored checkerboard, all carefully selected to ensure the best aesthetic but also culinary performance. But there are also tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines, peppers, beans, carrots, onions, cauliflowers, broccoli, lettuces, spinaches and many others, all grown according to sustainable agricultural principles, using organic and integrated cultivation techniques, without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. In short, natural products grown with environmentally friendly techniques and used in the kitchen of the castle restaurant and sold to the public during the summer.
The Ornamental Garden, on the other hand, is conceived as an extension of the halls of the Castle of Villandry and develops on the second terrace, between the Vegetable Garden and the Water Garden. A canal divides the Ornamental Garden into two green halls, known as the First Hall and Second Hall. The Renaissance design of this part of the gardens of Villandry is the result of a collaboration between the Sevillian artist Lozano and the painter and landscape architect Javier de Winthuysen for the First Salon, while the Second Salon was designed by Joachim Carvallo. The parterre designs in these rooms clearly evoke the Andalusian style.
At the southern end of the estate, is the Water Garden. This French “boulingrin”, or grassy ground, bordered by grassy banks called glacis, consists of an ornamental pond in the center in the shape of a Louis XV mirror, embellished here and there by square lawn parterres and a network of perpendicular avenues and by four secondary ornamental ponds. The current water garden dates from the early 20th century and was built when the gardens of Villandry were transformed into a jardin à la française (formal garden) in the 18th century. The redevelopment of the park in the 19th century in an English romantic style led to the replacement of the classic ornamental lake with one with more natural lines. Based on the 18th century plans, Joachim Carvallo recreated the ornamental pond and gave this area the clear and regular look it has today.
After Dr Carvallo's death in 1936, his descendants work to preserve and develop the Villandry estate with the rigor and self-sacrifice that make gardens extraordinary. The Garden of simples is a creation of the 70s; as for the Garden of the Sun, inspired by a design by Joachim, it was inaugurated in 2008 and celebrates the centenary of the restoration of these exceptional gardens in grand style.
Today, the gardens of Villandry are one of France's most popular tourist attractions and are admired for their beauty and botanical mastery. Walking through this place is a source of continuous amazement, the natural geometries are the protagonists and they are everywhere like the chromatic combinations that fascinate and amaze. In these gardens you have the clear sensation that nothing is left to chance, therefore "natural", but at the same time you perceive "nature" in a profound way.