As I plan my vegetable garden I always think about the gardens at chateaux Villandry in the Loire Valley in France. It was there that I saw for the first time how beautiful a vegetable garden could be and every year I pledge that I will try to make my vegetable garden more attractive. The kitchen garden at Villandry is so spectacular it is intimidating but still the memory lingers and never fails to inspire.
The kitchen garden is located on the lowest of three levels of gardens. It is made up of 9 identical squares coving 15,000 square yards, and laid out in different designs made up b the colors of the vegetables. Each of the 9 squares is edged with box and has its own unique design. Paths going through each square facilitate the collection of vegetables. Two designs for each square are planned each year; one for spring, the other for summer. The spring design uses such vegetables as sweet peas, broad, beans, radishes, lentils, cabbages, and lettuces with perennials such as strawberries, artichokes, sorrel, chives, and savory. Flowers such as pansies, daisies, forget-me-nots are used to brighten things up. The summer design includes both decorative and edible cabbages, zucchinis, purple and green beets, gourds, celery, Brussels sprouts, carrots, leeks, eggplants, peppers (for pimentos), tomatoes, chives, parsley, basil and chicory. Flowers such as petunias, vervain, blue sage and orange rudbeckia form the borders. Great care is taken to contrast the foliage of the plants as well as their growth habit so that lacey jade green carrot foliage is next to golden celery and spreading sorrel and lettuce are next to upright eggplant and artichokes. Fountains, bowers, flowering arbors and standards enhance the garden . The over all effect is stunning as can be seen in pictures, but the reality is even more impressive.
The kitchen garden is not the only attraction at this Renaissance chateaux. On a second terrace on the same level as the castle drawing-room, dining room, and hall, are the decorative gardens. They are edged with boxwood accented with yew trees and planted with flowers. The Garden of Love features 4 parterres each planted in a different design and dedicated to a different kind of love: tragic love, fickle love, tender love, and passionate love. The Garden of Music lies at right angles to the garden of Love and is separated from it by a canal. It is similar in appearance to the Garden of Love but its hedges are cut in the shapes of musical instruments and the symbols of musical notation. A simple labyrinth and an herb garden with 32 species of aromatic, medicinal and cooking plants are nearby on this same terrace.
On the third terrace there is a lake shaped like a classical mirror that serves as a reservoir for the water needed to operate the fountains and irrigate the gardens below. The lake is flanked by lawns and fountain panels on either side and is home to swans and snow geese.
This was the most impressive garden I saw on my trip to France. The gardens of Versailles are certainly magnificent too but the gardens of Villandry left a more vivid picture in my mind.