Floral arrangement in grand foyer at Chenonceau
If you ask me, a visit to France’s Chenonceau is never complete without a tour of its gardens, and as an extension, the many beautiful floral arrangements that brighten the rooms of this magnificent castle. The two go hand-in-hand, since the one produces the flowers for the other. It’s all part of a time-worn tradition that began centuries ago with the rivalry between two ladies.
THE CASTLE OF LADIES
There’s a reason Chenonceau is also known as the Château de Femmes or ‘Castle of Ladies.’ A total of six women owned and cherished it, all of whom added to the estate’s grand decor. The most famous of all of them were the two women who created the castle’s exceptional gardens, Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici. Today, their legacy lives on in the magnificent flowers, shrubs, trees and roses that adorn the property.
Floral arrangement in main foyer of Chenonceau
A FLORAL LEGACY
Although Chenonceau is one of the most visited properties in the Loire Valley, most people are unaware that each of the castle’s rooms boasts bouquets composed of flowers grown on the estate. Designed to complement the character of each chamber, the arrangements’ colorful blooms and exotic fragrances add a touch of modernity to the interior’s historic furnishings.
Changed twice weekly, the 20+ arrangements are created by a team of florists who draw mainly upon flowers grown specifically for that purpose. Located in the estate’s former vegetable garden, the cutting garden encompasses approximately 2 1/2 acres. (More on that later.)
A wide variety of flowers go into the arrangements, including traditional favorites like lupines, delphiniums, lilies, peonies, dahlias and irises. The florists also draw upon local plant materials such as twigs, branches, mosses and lichens to give the ‘look’ of a classic country estate.
TWO GARDENS, BOTH FAMOUS
Among the many beautiful gardens at Chenonceau, there are two that are most famous – the Diane de Poitiers Garden and the Catherine de Medici Garden. Together, these gardens contain thousands of shrubs, hundreds of roses and about 40,000 flowers. Replanted twice yearly in spring and in summer, they form the larger Chenonceau property known as the Domaine, which along with a wooded park, covers about 173 acres.
THE DIANE DE POITIERS GARDEN
When Diane de Poitiers received Chenonceau as a gift (from Henri II) in 1547, she set out to turn what was at the time a modest, rustic garden into a showpiece. To accomplish this, she spent the next five years creating a French formal garden. Based on symmetry and the principle of imposing order on nature, the space integrated geometric-shaped planting beds with sections of greenery. It eventually grew to encompass nearly 3 acres.
Today, the formal parterres remain a highlight of the property.
In the spring, the parterres contain yellow and blue pansies, white roses, English daisies, daffodils and forget-me-nots. In July, at the time of our visit, they featured petunias, impatiens, lemon verbena, begonias and the small-sized Lilliput dahlias. According to records, In Diane’s day the paths were strewn with strawberries and violets.
THE CATHERINE DE MEDICI GARDEN
When Henri II died in 1559, de Poitiers was forced to hand over the castle to the widowed Queen Catherine de Medici. Not surprisingly, the Queen immediately set out to outshine her rival.
Just below the forecourt of the castle, de Medici created a garden of ‘wonder’ featuring exotic shrubs, flowers, climbing roses and orange trees. She also installed an aviary and menagerie. Today the garden features an avenue of orange trees, climbing rose trees and flowerbeds that follow the borders of the moat, remnants of the original design.
THE VEGETABLE GARDEN
It was Diane de Poitiers, however, who was responsible for making the 16th century vegetable garden into a cutting garden. She designed it solely for the purpose of creating floral decorations for the castle.
Bordered by 240 apple trees and 220 Queen Elizabeth rose-trees, the garden contains 12 panels, each dedicated to different varieties of flowers. Grown specifically for the castle’s floral arrangements, the blooms change with the seasons.
In the winter, however, the designers rely on greenhouses to provide materials for their compositions.
All photos by Here By Design.