Sunday, 2 October 2011

A freespirited Curly Locks in the gardens of Valmer Château

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.
Today we were joined by Curly Locks!
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!


  1. Blogger never told meyou had posted. BAD blogger.
    The dolly is BEAUTIFUL. What a sweet face and Ilove her hair. Her bonnet is gorgeous and reminds me of Holly Hobbie and I love her apron. What an amazing place she has had the pleasure to wander.
    I LOVE your pics. The way she is hidden is just pure magic. What a beautiful place too. It looks ravishing.
    P.S. I will message about the project soon. My brain has been mushy this week. xxx

  2. Fabulous photos, what a beautiful place to live and the weather for our visit seemed perfect. Curly locks is very sweet.

  3. That is a spectacular garden ... lucky you to live nearby. I'm a big kitchen garden fan too ... a recent treat was a kitchen garden tour at the Duke of Westminster's Eaton estate just down the road from us. Curly Locks would have been very at home there ;D

  4. I'm with curlylocks. I want to sit in front of that espalliered apple tree and feast on fraise du bois!
    Gorgeous place

  5. the garden is spectacular, thanks so much for sharing your beautiful pictures.

    miss curly locks is pretty sweet, too.


  6. I love kitchen gardens. That one is beautiful isn't it?

    Definitely pick an apron of coings and make some jelly!

  7. What a lovely doll! I love that she looks sweet and pert at the same time. All these details - wow!
    Thank you for sharing pictures of this beautiful garden with us.

  8. I so enjoyed the pictures of this beautiful chateau garden, Stephanie. The kitchen garden is wonderful, and a delightful location for photographs of Curly Locks! She reminds me of the rag dolls my daughters used to love, with her large eyes, so cute. The little clothes are beautifully made too.
    Have a happy week. Helen x

  9. Ooh yummy! Just my kind of place. I love potagers. I visited Rosemary Very's garden in Gloucestershire a few years ago and she had a gorgeous potager but on a much smaller scale of course. Your little curly locks dolly is beautiful. I love her apron. What a lovely golden place to spend an leisurely afternoon. Eli x

  10. Was an amazing place and the light in your pictures is beautiful. So golden. Curly Locks looks very at home! I am never able to do the hair so well when I make rag dolls.x

  11. How lucky you are to have such a wonderful garden to visit. I'm always interested in kitchen gardens, I love to see what's being grown. Curly Locks is so lovely too.

  12. I LOVE kitchen gardens and that one is beautiful......and what a treat to have that lovely little chateau right on your doorstep too.
    Great post and I see the sun is still shining there!

  13. What an amazing garden! We have been to the Loire valley several times, but never visited this castle and garden. I will definitely have to remember, because it is just the sort of place that I like. The potager is really impressive.

    Curly Locks looks beautiful between all the green!

    Have a lovely new week,


  14. thats it, i'm getting my hair permed if it will get me out of the dishes ;o)
    What a stunning stunning place, ooooh how i love a kitchen garden.
    Curly locks is so sweet, i love her new pinny
    have a lovely week
    love jooles x

  15. Enchanting garden and a very beautiful playful ragdoll to play in it too, love all her sweet clothes, I have just knitted a very sweet dollie cardigan, now I must find a dollie to wear it........I feel a new make coming on. x

  16. Curly Locks is awesome! I want her apron!

  17. What a beautiful garden, I love the idea of being encouraged to use all your senses, especially taste. :)
    Curly Locks is gorgeous, her little apron is so pretty.
    I have such straight hair, I'm afraid I would have had so many dishes to do. ;)
    Vivienne x

  18. This really made me smile. I love curlylocks and her wanderings. Thank you for your lovely comment. Enjoy the apple muffins! Laura c

  19. Beautiful pics!!
    I love Curly Locks- she's a mischievous little mite, isn't she?!
    So cute.
    Have a great week.

  20. Such wonderful gardens, i could wander there for many a happy hour. I adore your curly locks, i had forgotten that rhyme! thank you for the memory ;-)

  21. Oh ma chère amie!

    I am very late in visiting due to SCHOOL! Oh how I would love to frolic with CURLY LOCKS and her friends in such magnificent gardens, INDEED! Everything about a French potager is enchanting to me. The old stone, the peaceful green, the minimal use or lack of artificial elements like plastic ornaments makes a French garden a place of total refuge..for child, adult...and DOLL!!!! LOVELY MY FRIEND! Bisous, Anita

  22. what a wonderful tour of the kitchen garden with Curly Locks!! :-)

  23. Curly Locks does look at home doesn't she! What a beautiful garden, the perfect garden for Curly Locks in her strawberry dress and lovely embroidered apron. It's fascinating how the fashions changed regarding the opening up of Vegetable gardens, I imagine that most people don't know this is Marie Antoinette's legacy, and what a good one, to my modern consciousness at any rate. Vanessa xxx

  24. Curly Locks looks fabulous and obviously she enjoyed her day out in such beautiful surroundings.

  25. What a wonderful garden.
    Oh I do love Curly Locks.xxx

  26. Cupid looks as though he can't quite decide what mischief to perpetrate next...

    "A garden enclosed." It's lovely. I'll take one exactly like it, please. And if a chateau is included, so much the better. (I am reminded of my favourite book of high school days, the excellent "Nine Coaches Waiting" by Mary Stewart, which was set in France at a place called Chateau Valmy - a very similar name - although I believe the location was the Haute Savoie.)

    It looks like your weather was indeed glorious, and I see Curly Locks has some lovely embroidery on her apron. How does she stay so neat and tidy while doing so much gardening?

    P.S. NOW I know why I'm always doing dishes.

  27. Wow, what an amazing garden! I love the look of age and history of it, how lovely the play of green is against that old stone. Looks like Curly Locks had quite a nice little afternoon there! What a pretty girl :)

  28. What a cute doll, I really love the cross-stitched apron. Such a beautiful setting too. Thank you for visiting my blog.
    Hen x

  29. unbelievably beautiful photos! Curly locks is absolutley gorgeous!
    you are so right about Autumn light, there really is no other time of year when it is quite so beautiful.
    BH x

  30. What a wonderful outing for you all, including Curly Locks of course who looks quite at home there. Those grounds are stunning, I'm not surprised you go there so frequently. I dream of having a kitchen garden like that, but am not sure I could do with the upkeep!

  31. That doll is just gorgeous. I love the pictures you took too. Really lovely blog post. M x

  32. I forgot to tell you I have a giveaway for a lovely book on my blog you might like it ? http://michellemadethis.blogspot.com/2009/02/i-heart-receiving-parcels-in-post-o.html

  33. Now as a "garden fairy" I rather fancy living in a round tower even if it is with the gardening tools..lovely old polished & useful ones would be nice. There's just so much to know about gardening though isn't there! What a privilege to get a glimpse of such a grand place..& what a lovely picture of your children. I wonder what the plant is with the purple flowers that is behind the box hedge & in front of the apples? It looks a little like a lantana. I just picked a huge lot of purple sage today..I do love it fried in a little butter until really crisp. Have a lovely week, Much love Catherine xox

  34. I love your blog too, looking at your photos and hearing about life in France is a real treat for me. I studied French to A' Level here in the UK and used to dream in French when I was studying it( A long time ago!). Sadly, I've forgotten most of it and am really rusty, but love to read about life where you are. Curly Locks is just beautiful, and I like the fact she's an independent girl! Em xx

  35. What beautiful gardens! Love Curly Locks, what a beautiful doll :-)

  36. Sheep in pink bows?! I'd love to see that :) Looks like a beautiful garden on a lovely day!

    Wonderful to 'meet' you here - I'm a fan! XOLaura

  37. Lovely Stephanie...I almost missed this wonderful post....in a little corner of paradise indeed!....My project for next year is to have a small kitchen garden...it will be so good for the soul I am sure..
    Pretty Curly Locks...long may she keep her free spirited nature....I love her...
    Susan x

  38. I am so delighted to come across your blog. I love gardens and it must be wonderful being able to visit these gardens so much. Your curlylocks doll is the cutest! I look forward to visiting again, Catherine x

  39. I think I would like to live the life of curly locks. The little fairy children are enchanting and the hills. I bet they go off and fly around when no one is looking.

    Lorraine :-}

  40. i just returned from France, it’s lovely to be back, but...
    Your beautiful pictures make me so happy; how beautiful to live in such a wonderful part of teh world. ANd oh dear, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a kitchen garden??
    Miss curly is so cute, could write a beautiful story about her... :)
    by the way i do sleep better these days :)

    X sandra

  41. Those kitchen gardens look wonderful! Really nice photos. Curly Locks looks so pretty!
    Isabelle x

  42. Dear Stephanie,
    What a gorgeous garden, I envy you so much for living near such a beautiful place. It´s very interesting what you write about France in the 18th century and I had to laugh about the sheep dressed up in pink bows.;-) When I was about 18 I visited the Loire Valley with my class, unfortunately at that time I wasn´t very interested in castles and gardens...how stupid I was!

    Liebe Grüße, Bärbel

    PS: Vielen Dank für Deine lieben Worte zu meinem Post. Mein geschriebenes Englisch ist auch nicht perfekt, also nur Mut! :-)

  43. Hi,
    I've just discovered your beautiful blog! I LOVE your whimsical photos and teeny-tiny clothes!!! Your Curly Locks is a cutie - just like Holly Hobbie or Sarah Kay (who I wanted to BE when I was a little girl)! :-)
    It's also great to find a fellow loving-abroader!!!
    I'll definitely be visiting again soon.....

  44. This comment has been removed by the author.

  45. What a beautiful garden. Absolutely lovely. - Annie

  46. Ma chère Stephanie,

    Oh I am finally here, after a busy afternoon. I always set high goals for myself that the weekend EST CONSACRÉ for my writing, reading and art. However, I found myself making COOKIES, WASHING A TON OF DISHES and getting maybe 5 new drawings done. Oh dearest, your comment is so special to me. I SO AGREE with what you said about that CREATIVE TIME. With schedules being so tight with little time for down time, NO WONDER there have been times when I do sit down and say, "OK, CREATIVE TIME NOW", and nothing happens. You are so right. That is why my summer was so exquisite because I was home all day every day and I had time to muse and read. It was then that I produced my favorite blog posts and even wrote some poetry on the side. BUT we do what we can, don't we dearest? And thank you for your kind comments about my post. I SO LOVE that quote about FRIENDS catching the tears. Ahhhhh to come up with thoughts like that in writing!

    I send you my greetings and wishes for a lovely and CREATIVE WEEK MA BELLE!!! Anita

  47. Good morning dearest,

    I just came again after reading your comment again. I just wanted to wish you a calm and beautiful day, and that I hope you find a moment to burst out with CREATIVE expression! I so love your beautiful knitted children's clothing; I would put them on a doll since I have not kids!!!! And it is only Sunday, so I have another day to muse and create. Breathe in, take in all the beauty and let it all out in creative love.

    BISOUS! Anita

  48. Those sheep in pink bows would have been such a hit on the lifestyle blogs - Marie Antoinette would have gained herself thousands of followers overnight and would probably have been emboldened to set up her own online shop.

    It's good to meet a fellow translator. You are fortunate to live near such beautiful gardens, and, indeed, in such a wonderful part of Europe.

  49. Oh ma belle,

    Je comprends complètement. Moi aussi, je ne peux pas supporter la souffrance de la nature, les autres gens et surtout la souffrance des petits. Comme toi, je dois fermer les yeux et avoir la foi et l'espoir de croire qu'il y a l'amour pour nous TOUS, toute la création qui est si belle. Même le mal sera gueri. Mais pour l'instant, c'est à nous de créer un monde rempli de beauté. Voilà la vie d'un artiste: de continuer a peindre et coudre, dessiner et écrire, chanter, faire du théatre...n'importe quoi, pour donner aux autres une vue à l'éternelle.

    Grosses bises ma belle, et je t'envoie des voeux pour une journée ensoleillée de l'amour. ET que ta chatte soit CONTENTE!!!

    BISES, Anita

  50. Curly Locks is very beautiful. I had no idea that curly-haired ladies were so well-treated. I have curly hair myself but sadly do not sit all day long and eat strawberries. I still have to do chores! I have not forgotten about the snowdrop. I promise!

  51. The potager at Valmer Chateau is my absolute heaven. I have been inspired by French gardens for some time now and always come home from a holiday in France just bursting with ideas. Your photos convey a lovely rich autumnal light. Just gorgeous.

    Curly Locks is charming and very adventurous I have to say:-)


  52. What a gorgeous garden and lovely words you use to describe it! xo K


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