Urban and for the public….
In the 19th century, gardens took hold in the towns of the Loire Valley with the birth of the urban park. At the end of the 20th century, they became an important factor in urban space planning.
In the 19th century too, the vegetable garden was no longer the preserve of châteaux, abbeys, manor houses or rural dwellings alone. As towns expanded, market garden spaces grew up on their outskirts.
Urban parks of the 19th and 20th centuries
As a counterpoint to the adverse effects of the industrial revolution and in contrast to urban development, the garden became an integral part of the town. Confined until that point to the surroundings of châteaux and manor houses, garden art gradually spread to public spaces in the form of urban parks. Angers, Tours, Orléans, Blois…the towns of the Loire Valley all have their public parks, expansive neo-classical or English-style gardens that are embellished with ornamental plants, water features and works of architecture including bridges, gazebos and statues.
The “Jardin du Mail” in Angers, for example, which was traced out at the beginning of the 19th century and created according to that design in the second half of the century, stretches as far as the boulevard that encircles the town centre. Neoclassical in style, it was overseen by the famous Angers nurseryman André Leroy and opened to the public in 1859.
Another example is the “Jardin des Prébendes d'Oé” in Tours, created in 1872 by the famous landscape architects, the Bühler brothers. This park adopted the English style of garden art, which had been in vogue in France since the end of the 18th century.
Town allotments and market garden suburbs
The development of market gardening activity is a recent phenomenon in historical terms (19th century). It plays an important role in the Loire Valley and has had a diverse impact on the landscape — fairly large enclaves can be found within the urban fabric. However, what predominates and makes the spaces of the Loire Valley unique are the dense market garden plots, made up of long, thin parcels of land situated on the outskirts of the towns.
This continuing survival of market garden belts in the towns reflects the dynamism of this activity in the region, which is able to contend with urban development while maintaining agricultural activity with high added value.
A great many allotments, also present on the outskirts of several towns, strengthen this attachment to market gardening in a different form.
… and contemporary
Gardens in the Loire Valley benefit from practices and works that can be found in all forms of artistic expression: restoration, recreation and renewal through creation.
Reproduce and recreate
The gardens of Villandry are a fine reproduction of the Renaissance surroundings of a Loire Valley château. Built on the foundations of a fortified castle, of which only the keep remains, Villandry was first completed around 1536 and was later modified in the 18th century. After the original gardens were destroyed, Villandry boasted an English-style park that survived until the beginning of the 20th century. It regained its 16th century appearance at the initiative of Dr. Joachim Carvallo who bought the estate in 1906. As the original plans had been lost, the work is based on drawings of other gardens from that time, with beds akin to those in Jacques Androuet du Cerceau’s publication “The Finest Buildings of France”. Today, the result of this work to reproduce the Renaissance gardens is a site covering seven hectares, on three levels.
Chambord is another outstanding example, the gardens below the north and east facades of the castle having been returned to their 18th century state. Completed in 2017, this work is the result of scientific endeavours combining several disciplines: archaeology, documentary and historical research as well as architectural and contemporary landscape design. Efforts have been made to adapt, particularly in choosing species that are resistant to disease and compatible with environmentally friendly maintenance.
In the 20th century, contemporary artwork started to find its way into natural and landscaped spaces. Since 1992, the Domaine de Chaumont sur Loire, a regional nature and cultural centre, has welcomed and displayed contemporary garden art.
The Domaine de Chaumont sur Loire is known first and foremost for its château. From 1992 at the initiative of Jean-Paul Pigeat (1946 -2005), focus has been given to the gardens and landscape. The large park, mist valley, experimental garden and tropical greenhouse are all remarkable spaces.
A park designed by Jacques Wirtz was specially devised to host the International Garden Festival each year. Following an international competition, this big annual event selects and presents, from April to October, a panorama of the vitality of landscape design in Europe, each time based on a different theme.
Throughout the year, the Domaine Régional de Chaumont offers a cultural programme exploring the relationship between art and nature, drawing on landscape invention and contemporary design.
Many other gardens in the Loire Valley are open to contemporary art, serving both as its showcase and as a place of expression.