Before we departed for our recent holiday it dawned on me that some creative map reading could lead us in the direction of the International Garden Festival at Chaumont -sur -Loire.
Having made such a visit in the summer of 2010, I positively purred at the thought and waited for an opportune moment to suggest the idea to himself. No objections were raised from that department so on a tremendously hot and sunny Bastille Day we found ourselves at the entrance of the festival. Perhaps our timing could have been better but although a public holiday there was never any sense of overcrowding. The festival in fact was open until 8.00pm and if we had realised that before we set off we would have visited later in the day. Not only would it have been marginally cooler it would have been a better time for taking photos.
The festival now in its 22nd year is notably different to the garden shows and festivals held in the U.K. Gardener designers from all over the world are invited to submit their designs from which a panel selects those which appear at the show. The gardens are not five day show garden wonders but remain in place from April - October each year. There is a distinct theme each year - the theme for 2013 being 'Gardens of Sensations'. The setting for the festival takes some beating. Perched up above the river Loire the château and its grounds are a part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The entrance we took takes you up a set of terraced steps probably about half a mile in length. When you get to the top the chateau faces you in front of which are well manicured flower beds of annuals. This year's displays included grasses, nictonias, petunias, salvias and gauras which were shimmering in the heat. I did take some photos but the sun was so strong at this point that the colours are all bleached. There are also many areas of attractive permanent planting as you walk round. There are no floral marquees, garden sundries etc., etc but simply one retail outlet on the perimeter of the festival area. All this for the excellent admission price of 11 euros!
I will not do a garden by garden tour but here are some of the images that struck me as we slowly meandered around ~
The gardens that made the biggest impression on us where those which made people of all ages smile and in some cases laugh aloud with joy. They were not all full of superb planting combinations but were interactive and great fun. These included what I can only describe as 'The Ringing Singing Tree' (above bottom left), which was a suspension of twiginess that chimed and sang as you made your way through it. Another was the 'Jardin d'amour' (below middle centre and bottom left) where recorded voices floated through the air as you walked round proclaiming " I love you" in 32 languages including 'bird' ~
The garden that I could not bring myself to say anything positive about was "The Outside In' Garden. I just saw dirty sheets with holes in them and was not tall enough to peer through many of the holes to see the woodland planting below ~
There were probably two gardens that were our favourites. Below was the only garden which bought the "Wow!" reaction from both of us. Difficult to photograph on such a bright day but there was so much sparkle and light that it took my breath away ~
Finishing with the very last garden which was the' Jardin de rizières' - a miniature paddy field complete with its very own frogs. Two small boys were full of themselves with excitement as they realised that there was one more than one frog in the water. I can still hear their voices in my head as they ran past me eager to convey this information to their mother. If this was their first introduction to a garden festival what a brilliant way to start a potentially lifelong experience ~
On exiting the festival there was still the ornamental kitchen garden to peruse before we headed for well earned refreshments. History was made when for the first time ever in almost 30 years I downed the cold beer whilst himself had the ice cream ~
Finally there was just enough energy left in our weary legs for the long walk back down the terraced steps to our campsite, which almost on the banks of the Loire, is perfectly positioned for anybody wanting to visit the festival.
If you would like more detailed information on any of the 26 gardens you can find descriptions, planting lists as well as the low down on all the designers here. It was only when I found this link that I realised that we had managed to miss out on three gardens! I'm blaming it on the heat.