I have had the pleasure of visiting the impressive French International Garden Festival of garden design for the last couple of years and can thoroughly recommend it to garden tourists from around the world. Those seeking ideas on garden design, new plant cultivars or simply a day in the French countryside with a garden flavour will all find plenty of value there.
One thing I liked in particular is that the festival runs for many months such that the show gardens need to be sustainable over a much longer period than the usual show garden that is ‘here today and gone tomorrow’. Too often the short term show garden is all done with smoke and mirrors with ideas that are impractical for most gardeners.
The International Garden Festival at Chaumont-sur-Loire has been held annually since 1992 and each year a theme is explored in the festival’s display gardens. For instance, this year’s theme was the Seven Deadly Sins such as greed, gluttony and envy – a fantastic challenge for the 26 plots available to garden designers from around the world.
Each plot is surrounded by hedges of beech and hornbeam, and is approximately 240m ² in area, so the semi-permanent gardens that are built there can accommodate substantial visitor traffic walking through them. The castle of Chaumont-sur-Loire provides a spectacular backdrop for the festival and its various outbuildings can also be accessed but one day is hardly enough to take in all the experiences on offer.
To quote the organisers in their colourful description of the event
“Since 1992, the International Garden Festival has been a wonderful panorama of the state of landscape design in the world. In 21 seasons, more than 500 gardens have been created as prototypes of the gardens of tomorrow. The festival welcomes contemporary garden creations: thematic gardens, paths for children, theatre, both playful and wonderful … an invitation to dream.”
As with all such events not every show garden will appeal but I found the breadth of designs and ideas to be captivating and I could have happily spent a couple of days exploring them all. But I have at times been called a “plant nerd” and those with an eye to garden design may find the themed gardens to be more of a novelty than a template for the “gardens of tomorrow”. But from a plant point of view I found the array of interesting perennials and shrubs to be well worthwhile and the various designs often gave some fascinating displays of colour and texture that would translate to home gardens or more extensive landscapes.
The festival runs until November 2nd 2014 so there is still plenty of time to experience it this year. If you are touring the Loire Valley then you would do well to see if you can fit this one into your travels!