A fine farm for florists and regal roses

Today I'm taking you to another part of the Chateau de Chenonceau estate, and a part you might not have heard of before, the farm. Yes I wasn't expecting to find one here either, and it was a lovely discovery. Especially as it was so pretty. And so French. We approached past the duck pond who, as you'd expect living so close to such a grand chateau also had some rather plush duck accommodation.

The 16th century farm buildings at chateau de chenonceau
Could this farm at Chateau de Chenonceau look any more French

The farm is a group of 16th century buildings and includes Catherine de' Medici's stables. One of the buildings houses a floral workshop where two florists work all year round creating the stunning flower arrangements which I've already shared. And it provides easy access to the vegetable and flower gardens nearby. But before we go there, just look at this honeysuckle I spotted. It's huge, and was lovely and fragrant when we visited, but growing in a way - like a cordon - that I'd not seen before.

honeysuckle at chateau de chenonceau grown as a cordon and in a way i've not seen before

Moving through one of the farm's arches, I got my first glimpse of the productive part of the garden. And I wasn't surprised at how orderly it was. I loved the grass between the crops - which is a similar approach I have in my allotment, it's just that in my allotment the grass is almost knee high!

My first glimpse of the orderly flower and vegetable garden at chateau de chenonceau

The cordoned fruit trees were in fruit too. And I promise when I took the picture below I was still on the right side of the path.

looking down on the miniature fruit trees bordering the vegetable and flower beds at chateau de chenonceau

There's twelve square plots each of them edged with apple trees and Queen Elizabeth rosebushes, hence the regal roses reference in the title. And lots of alliteration throughout this post. The whole space covers more than a hectare and like many of the potagers we visited is pretty as well as functional. 

Throughout the garden there was added interest, with wicker ornaments and metal wells. The sunflowers were growing tall and strong. And straight. Take a look at how thick their stems are. 

An archway with flowers growing over it at chateau de chenonceau
strong sunflowers growing straight, tall and in a line in the flower garden at chateau de chenonceau
the garden at chateau de chenonceau was interspersed with some intriguing items like this well head

And we were there when the peonies were out. They are still a June favourite of mine and were part of my wedding bouquet too. I always wonder at how they stay upright with their heavy blooms, and it seems they don't always. I think if I were a peony I'd be like this too.

the peonies in the flower garden at chateau de chenonceau struggled to stay upright

Actually if I was a peony I'd be more like these fuschia ones!

it seems the cerise peonies at chateau de chenonceau were heavier than the lighter coloured counterparts

What struck me about the roses - apart from the sheer volume of bushes in flower - was the supports they were growing up and against. Most were growing against quite humble wire fencing. But how it transformed it.

the regal roses growing in the flower garden at chateau de chenonceau
And white lilies also grown in abundance in the flower garden at chateau de chenonceau

In other parts of the garden there were bushes of lilies growing like I've never seen before. But if you've a house the size of Chenonceau to keep in fresh flower arrangements then it makes sense. These also look like they've got their own irrigation system too.

The heritage greenhouses are also hosts to roses, these ones were the palest of peach which complemented the stonework so well.

climbing roses on a wall at chateau de chenonceau making a pretty entrance to the working greenhouses


Close to the greenhouses I spotted an extra pot similar to those around the wall in Diane de Poitiers gardenalthough here it was planted with some spare santolini, rather than geraniums. Well, I assume it was spare. I guess using as much as they do in the formal gardens, it's always worth having some spare. 

some spare santolini at chateau de chenonceau no doubt for emergency use in the formal gardens

And it's a plant that is going on my plant list. I've been stalking it for a while so next year, is the year. Remind me if I forget!

Before I go, a puzzle. In the squash bed there were several of these wicker baskets on a stick (that's my name for them) and I've no idea what they're for. We've considered all sorts, but each of our suggestions seem just a little too odd, but maybe our ideas aren't quite as far fetched as we think. 

and a puzzle too, what are these wicker baskets amongst the squash plants in the vegetable garden at chateau de chenonceau for

If you know why the ten gardeners, who keep the gardens at Chenonceau so well kept, have "planted" these wicker baskets, please leave me a comment and let me know. And if you don't know for sure what they're for, I'd love to hear some of your wacky suggestions too.

Soon we'll be back on the bikes and back on the Loire a Velo cycle path heading towards Tours, which was the last stop - and biggest town - on our trip. I've mixed feelings about Tours. I love a big town, but had been enjoying the smaller countryfied towns and villages. I was pleased to get to Tours as I was keen to visit Villandry, but equally being in Tours and visiting Villandry meant our trip would soon be over, and that was less pleasing. But all that's for another day, until then let me know about those wicker baskets on sticks!

A pretty chateaux with stunning flower arrangements

We've already walked around both of the formal gardens at Chenonceau with their similarities and differences and today finally, we're popping into the chateau. But not without a look at the outside and how it bridges the River Cher. 

Chateau de chenonceau from Diane de Poitiers garden

Isn't it stunning?  And like our homes today the bridge across the river was built in stages. It was first built by Diane de Poitiers who was gifted the chateau by King Henri II in 1547. When Catherine de Medici, Henri II's widow, removed Diane she added the two storey gallery, to hold glamorous parties - and I bet they were just that.

On the way in I spotted another gargoyle, this one looking a lot more menacing than the ones in Blois.

I spotted another gargoyle on the way in

And what a front door. It dates back to François I and is made of sculpted wood and painted. It bears the arms of the builders of Chenonceau along with the salamander of François I and a Latin inscription. A grand chateau needs a grand front door, and this is certainly that.

That's quite a front door isn't it?

As well as the grandeur which you'd expect from a chateau, what struck me about Chenonceau was their stunning flower arrangements. Throughout the chateau their modern take on the arrangements left me in awe. I'm annoyed with myself though as my photos aren't as sharp as they could be. As usual I used my iPhone but I suspect I had a smear on the lens. 

A pot covered in moss and full of blooms
Flowers in front of the tapestry
pinks and purples in a modern arrangement

I couldn't wait to get into the Gallery, and when we did I was pleased that we'd managed to get there before the large group we seemed to be following about, so it meant it was almost empty. And in real life it's even more stunning than in the photo.

The gallery at Chenonceau
A close up of the chequered floor in the gallery at Chenonceau

It's sixty metres long and six metres wide. Daylight floods in through the eighteen windows and you can just imagine the grand balls that would have taken place here. During the First World War it had a change of use when Dr Gaston Menier (of chocolate fame) paid to set up a hospital in the chateau. And as a crossing over the river it played its part with the Resistance too. I'm always totally amazed at the heroics of people at that time in readiness to save people.

There were as many flowers, plainer of course, below stairs. The greenery and hydrangeas below were in the kitchen areas. And while they are less fancy, I don't think you can say the same for that handrail, can you?

Greenery below stairs
An iron hand rail in the kitchens at chenonceau
hydrangeas, onions and garlic

Back upstairs the flower arrangements continued to amaze. I loved this one, comprised of many square and oblong glass vases and full of flowers, which were also repeated across the mantelpiece in the library, where Catherine de Medici had her desk.

A desk full of flowers in the green study
And covering the mantelpiece

The last arrangement I'm sharing today is in one of the darkest rooms of the chateau, so along with a smudge on my lens I'm grateful I could rescue even a part of this photo. The shading helps though I think.  It's from Louise of Lorraine's bedroom, which is dark and moody and you'll not be surprised to learn that she retired to Chenonceau to meditate and pray after the assassination of her husband King Henri III.

I found this one of the most moving rooms in the chateau, and while the room was dark decorated in blacks, greys and silvers she always dressed in white, following the protocol for royal mourning and was given the name the White Queen.  The room is decorated with motifs of feathers, which represent sorrow and silver tears. This simple, but stunning flower arrangement was totally appropriate.

Lilies in a stunning arrangement in Louise of Lorraine's bedroom

Quite a different take on flower arrangements aren't they?  

The formal gardens at Château de Chenonceau

Yes, as well as being a pretty special chateau, Chenonceau has two formal gardens. And a remarkable history. It reflects the combined influence of five women who influenced this stunning chateau which stretches over the river Cher, not the Loire as you might imagine.

First it was Catherine Briçonnet, wife of the royal chamberlain who supervised the construction of the chateau. Later, Diane de Poitiers, Henri II's mistress, created the largest of the formal gardens and built a bridge over the Cher. After his death though his widow, Catherine de Médicis reclaimed the chateau and topped the bridge with a gallery - I'll share more of the inside of the chateau in a later post. She also added a formal garden to rival Diane's, it seems there was great rivalry between these women, even in gardens.

The final two women were Louise Dupin, who because of the respect people had for her was able to survive the 1789 Revolution, to be restored by Madame Pelouze in the 19th century. I'm very grateful that each of these women played their part in history, because the result is probably my favourite chateau so far. And that's quite a claim.

So onto the gardens. First up is the large formal garden created by Diane de Poitiers.

Looking towards the chateau de chenonceau over diane de poitiers garden from the raised walkway

It's a sunken garden and there's a walkway around the garden which we headed around first. You can just about see espaliered roses spreading out across those walls. I don't have any photos of these close up so clearly at the time I saw those as just another rose, especially as roses were the flower of this holiday. I think I was much more interested in the squiggles in the grass. Yes, that's a technical term.

Fascinating aren't they. Not only there swirly pattern, but also what the plant was. I couldn't tell from the walkway so after admiring one of the many white pots dotted at equal distances on the edge of the higher level I was determined to head down there and find out more.

A close up of one of the white pots on the surrounding wall

From the lower level it was much easier to see the individual plants, and while they had the grey of lavender it wasn't lavender. The yellow flowers, which you can just see on the right of the picture gave me a clue, but I still wasn't sure. So as I spied some gardeners happily gardening away, I went to find out. At my decision point language skills weren't considered, but as soon as I got their attention I realised that I might not understand their answer, so might be none the wiser.

Thankfully though they understood my pigeon French, or enough of it anyway. And their answer confirmed my suspicions. It is Santolina - or Santalene. Yay. In fact double yay. Yay for identifying the plant, and a bigger yay for asking, being understood and understanding the response. 

the shapes in the lawn are individual plants of santolini

Santolina is a plant I wish I grew already, and now I definitely want some. I'm not sure I'll manage the swirly shapes, but it'd be great to have some.  Satisfied with knowing the plant I could go back to admiring the stonework. And this is quite something.

stonework at chateau de chenonceau

I think Diane de Poitiers did well with with her garden. I certainly enjoyed it. As we headed back towards the chateau this normal sized house caught my eye. It looked tiny though after all these chateaux. The greenery surrounding and almost covering it, looks like wisteria and I bet it's stunning when it's in flower.

a mini chateau covered with greenery
a reflection in water

And well there's always time to peer over a wall and snap some reflective shots isn't there?  Next up we went into the chateau, but I couldn't help taking a peek over to Catherine de Medicis' garden. It's smaller than Diane's garden, squarer and of a simpler design. No swirly bits here, but looked equally charming.

catherine de medicis garden viewed from the chateau

On reflection I think we should have gone into this garden before visiting the chateau, as somehow the simplicity of the garden was lost on me after the wow of the chateau's interiors. I remember thinking it wasn't as special, but now I'm not sure if that's because I was in sensory overload mode. 

a wide path encases the garden

The planting is felt different, with more symmetry and probably more like gardens we're used to.  And this time there was lavender.

A different style of planting

There was also a large central pond, with some equally large fish in. It's a much smaller garden and I wondered why that was. If, as she was she was rivals with Diane, surely she'd want to outdo her in everything? Maybe she did, or maybe she thought less was more, who knows, but it's an interesting conundrum isn't it?

A central pond looking over towards the chateau

So there you go, the two formal, but two quite different gardens of Chenonceau. There is a third garden, and that's a much more practical one and we'll come back to that at a later date too. 

I left thinking that these five women all must have been pretty special, and all very determined. And isn't that great?