Welcome to Valmer Château Gardens!
I am fortunate that this little corner of paradise has become so familiar since moving to the Loire Valley over two years ago. The owners, Alix and Aymar de Saint Venant, are warmhearted, hospitable as well as being formidable experts in horticulture and wine-growing.
Today the gardens celebrated the last weekend of a long, fruitful season before closing to the public until the following April. The weather was glorious and we were blessed with the intensity of early autumn light.
The charm of the four acres of Italian Renaissance-styled pleasure gardens with their complex terraced system is undeniable. However it is to the sixteenth-century kitchen gardens that I am drawn every single time I return.
The ingenuity of proportion and design meant that by the seventeenth century the kitchen garden -extending to two and a half acres - were completely invisible from the château and other gardens, including the Léda terrace which rises above the potager by almost twenty feet. This was, of course, intentional. This garden is enclosed within high stone walls with two circular towers originally built to house gardeners and tools. The central steps which descend from the Léda terrace into the kitchen gardens did not exist in the seventeenth-century plans and so gardeners and cooks were obliged to use a small flight of steps built in the north-facing wall to lug salads and leeks to kitchens.
In France the eighteenth century turned things round for potagers. While Jean-Jacques Rousseau extolled the virtues of nature in Versailles the Fashion Queen Marie-Antoinette built a farm at the Petit Trianon and dressed up her sheep in pink bows. Kitchen gardens became à la mode and consequently at Valmer the wall was opened out and majestic stone steps, descending directly from the Léda terrace, were added. This meant that eighteenth-century onlookers could admire this garden of produce as they strolled around the terraced lawns in their fancy clothes.
There is no doubt that in the twenty-first century Valmer's potager is also in l'air du temps. The success of Madame de Saint Venant's sumptuous book, published in 2010, testifies to this opinion.
Before descending the stone flight of steps into the garden it is a good idea to pause and gaze over the potager as a whole. When I do this I am reminded of a poignant childhood memory of pressing my nose close to our local sweet-shop window and yes, drooling at the sheer variety of treats displayed. The delicious anticipation of choosing which sweets I would leave the shop with is also captured here at Valmer for these gardens, situated in the very heart of France, are so very atypical. Mme de Saint Venant wholeheartedly urges all visitors to smell, stroke, and taste all her produce; vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers alike. In short, they are invited to become active participants in the garden by carousing with all five senses.
My children relish this freedom each and every time.
This time they were not alone.
This young lady has been hard to pin down. Apparently,according to the nursery rhyme, Curly Locks was eligible for high-society marriage due to her curly hair which would afford her the luxury of sitting on a cushion whilst sewing a fine seam and gorging herself upon strawberries, sugar, and cream. Her locks would free her from the obligation of washing dishes (lucky girl) and feeding swine.
Our Curly Locks, however, is freespirited and refuses to be tied down to a cushion. She shows no interest in seams and could do with a few lessons from Cathleen at My Sewing Serenity
She prefers instead to run freely through the kitchen gardens at Valmer and pitch in and help the gardeners...
climb trees and pick apples.
And who can blame her at such a tender age?
She is in excellent hands with Alix de Saint Venant and her team of spirited gardeners passing on their horticultural skills.
I am sure she will also find the time to wander through the pleasure gardens...
smell the flowers and enjoy being young, footloose and fancy free.
Before we left today after a glass of grape juice and a lengthy chat with Mme de Saint Venant Curly Locks whispered in my ear that she would very much like to stay at Valmer and to be sure to let you dear readers know that this lady won the Nursery Rhyme Giveaway. Please could you send my your e-mail address so that I can send you the Never Not Knitting pattern of your choice?
A bientôt, says Curly Locks!