After the first forays in the gardens of Amboise and Blois, the art of French-style gardening went on to conquer all of the Loire Valley châteaux. The garden became a fully-fledged open-air palace.
The open-air palace
The gardens of the Domaine de Chanteloup, which are no longer there today, are a fine example of this.
In 1761, the Duke of Choiseul acquired the Domaine de Chanteloup and decided to expand the gardens and small park obeying a very classical hierarchy. These first developments extended across the domain taking in Amboise forest. It was hence transformed into a veritable “great park” with its elaborate geometric lines. The Duke also undertook to “oversee the work” of significant plantations.
Following his fall from grace in 1770, the Duke of Choiseul came to live on his lands and was able to finish the project he had started. The regularity of this vast composition stands out. This “outdoors” project went alongside developments to the residence and was in keeping with the tradition of the French classical garden, seen here in its most extreme form. A large water tower can be found, giving the whole landscape a monumental aspect, together with an intricate set of flowerbeds, pools, quincunx and other forms. Some features, such as the use of curves in the fountains and lower terraces, the pools and other water features, are in the style of Rococo gardens.
Following on from these developments, from 1774 a scheme for an Anglo-Chinese garden evolved, in line with new tastes that were fashionable in France at the time. This arrangement was slotted in to rest within the site of the large regular garden. Hence there is a progression from the original geometric wooded areas and regular groves to intricate layouts, varied scenic plantations, criss-crossing pathways and clusters of trees. This new “mixed taste” combined large regular structures with other sections completed in the new style. The same design can be found in Menars at the residence of the Marquis de Marigny. In 1773 came the addition of a “folly" pagoda, designed as a temple dedicated to friendship. Today, only the pagoda and the large water feature remain, revealing the huge scale of this park which could be counted among the most monumental of the 18th century.
… and acclimatisation
At the same time, opening as it does onto the ocean and with its favourable climate, the Loire provides for floral migration and the acclimatisation of a plethora of exotic vegetation.
The Loire Valley – an exotic garden
The 18th century saw the arrival of trees and plants from America through the port of Nantes. The Valley proved to be a bona fide route of entry for all these plants. Collecting them became fashionable and the châteaux’ parks and gardens were decked out in rare botanical specimens.
A multicoloured patchwork of cedars, Northern red oaks, tulip trees, sequoias, black walnuts and green ash trees thus spread forth across the Loire Valley… with smaller ornamental or medicinal plants and grasses following in their wake.
A great many introductions were intentional, and were usually ornamental or edible plants in this case: the silver maple was planted in parks; evening primrose and balsam plants were sown for their strikingly attractive petals; and tomatoes thrived on the alluvial deposits after being imported.
Other introductions were accidental, however: inadvertently brought in travellers’ personal belongings or luggage. Migration then continued by road or canal and even – for some aquatic plants – by birds!