Gardening In France
When Charles Hawes
visited the 9th International Garden Festival at Chaumont-sur-Loire
he found an amazing assortment of contemporary garden
designs to stimulate the mind and the senses
The International Garden Festival at Chaumont-sur-Loire
has a reputation as being a platform for contemporary
garden design. In an attractive site in the grounds
of the Château, more than 30 new gardens are created
each year by designers from all over the world. There
is usually a theme, but this year the organizers have
left it open: 'Libre'. The Chaumont Festival opens daily
until 22nd October, so, unlike British shows, crowds
are rare and the gardens themselves have to stand the
test of time.
In most of the Chaumont gardens, plants are not centre
stage, and there are some gardens with practically no
plants at all. 'La Scene du poisson' with its stainless
steel fish standing in a pool is strongly reminiscent
of the film Mon Oncle by Jacques Tati. The pool stands
in an abstract parterre of different coloured gravels
dotted with box balls and other incongruities.
'Bones and Pumpkins' is a formally laid out space comprising
a rectangle filled with large animal bones divided from
a bed of pumpkins and nasturtiums by white paving. Created
by West 8, who were involved in the landscaping of Schipol
airport, the garden both shocks and pleases simultaneously.
Over half the gardens
use water in some form. 'Ivre de la Jungle' is a water
garden designed with children in mind, with a snake
and an elephant that sprays the visitors and a bench
that will drench the unsuspecting. 'Automates' is a
delightful collection of water driven scenes of French
provincial life. In "The Observatory' by British designers
Philip Brown and Martin Lonsdale, the entrance floor
is suspended over a pool from which rise clouds of steam.
Chaumont is unashamedly a garden festival for the mind
as well as the senses. Most of the gardens are visually
striking but they are all intended to have meaning and
to stimulate thought. 'Le potager imperial chinois'
is built around the symbolism in the Book of Mutations.
'L'archipel' is intended to portray the state of crisis
in contemporary Japan and hope for the future. In 'Mente
la Menta', a circular pool at its centre represents
the void of the unknown future and the surrounding structures
of steel suggest the complexities of the contemporary
This may be slightly
indigestible to those who might see such heavy-handed
metaphor as pretentious. On the other hand, perhaps
we could do with some new ideas in our gardening world.
The 9th Festival International des Jardins, 'Libre'
is open daily, 10th June to 22nd October, 9.30am to
dusk. At Conservatoire international des parcs et jardins,
Ferme du château, 41150 Chaumont-sur-Loire. Telephone:
(33 2) 54 20 99 22. Entrance fee: FF48 - adult, FF20
- children aged 8-12, (free entry for children under
NB Charles Hawes's garden, Veddw
House in Monmouthshire, is open to the public every
Sunday afternoon until 2nd October.
with premission from Greenfingers.com