NORMANDY, FRANCE, December 16, 2017: When Claude Monet moved to the tiny village of Giverny in 1883, he methodically established one of the most famous gardens in France. Thanks to the warming effects of the Gulf Stream and ever changing weather patterns alternating between rich sunshine and soaking rain, the Normandy region of France is an agricultural wonderland. It’s not surprising, then, that Normandy’s gardens are widely admired. Monet’s fabulous garden in Giverny is just the beginning.
Lower Normandy features dozens of gardens filled with all manner of colors and forms ranging from knot gardens to sweeping parklands to arboretums and rare tropical collections. Mix in hundreds of manor houses and chateaux from Caen to Cherbourg and you have a recipe for viewing Normandy’s gardens: landscaping treasures at their finest.
The Gardens of Château de Canon: Château de Canon’s expansive 37 acre gardens express their originality in the period statues and follies that adorn the lawns, trails, ponds and waterfalls. Among the garden’s attractions you will discover the neoclassical Temple de la Pleureuse, the Mirror of Glass pond, a Chinese Pagoda and the magnificent “Chartreuse” with a dozen separate walled sections or “chambres” that once harbored Canon’s espaliered fruit trees.
April, May, June and September: Every day except Tuesday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
July and August: Every day from 10:30 am to 1 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Château de Canon, 14270 MEZIDON-CANON
The Gardens of Château de Vendeuvre: Château de Vendeuvre has the benefit of allowing you to sample four of Normandy’s gardens in one visit visit: a perfect jardin à la française, the Utility Garden with its pyramidal ice-house, the water gardens (prepare to get wet) and the recently created Exotic Garden. Boasting rare trees, countless topiaries, a host of ornamental constructions, fountains and ponds, tropical and aquatic plants, this is actually one of Normandy’s gardens where there is actually almost too much to see in a single visit.
The formal gardens of the 18th century château on the edge of the Pays d’Auge weere the inspiration of the present day Count of Vendeuvre. That classic lay-out is strictly symmetrical with scrolling designs that are accented by gravel reserves and box hedges set in the lawns.
Don’t miss the maze or the shell grotto covered in 200,000 seashells. The Exotic Garden contains palms, citrus bushes, banana trees, Australian tree ferns, cacti and all manner of tropical climbers. Come in April for the tulip festival and again in May for an exhibition of rare Irises.
April: Every day from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
May to September: Every day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
October: Sunday, school breaks and public holidays : from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Château de Vendeuvre, 14170 VENDEUVRE
The Gardens of Château de Brécy: Brécy’s park is one of the best conserved 17th-century parcs à la française in France. Designed by architect François Mansart in the late 1600s, the house, terraces, gateways and ornamental statuary form a harmonious ensemble. You’ll discover topiaries, two-headed stone dogs and artichoke-shaped fountains.
Novelist Jacques de Lacretelle restored the boxwood knot garden in 1958. Another French author, Jean de la Varende, was struck by the garden’s “inexplicable magnificence.” If France’s famous literary sons struggled to put Brécy’s splendor into words then perhaps we shouldn’t try. Simply enjoying the experience is enough.
From Easter to All Saints: Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday and public holidays from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. (plus Saturday in June)
Château de Brécy, 14480 SAINT-GABRIEL-BRÉCY
Les Sources d’Elle Gardens: The name of this series of ponds is derived from the River Elle which begins its meandering journey here among 90 acres of woods and flower-filled meadows. Long a favorite place for fishermen, this vast arboretum is well worth a visit. That’s especially true in May and June for the flowering rhododendrons and from June to October for the wildflower meadows.
March to October: Every day from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Parc des Sources d’Elle, Rouxeville 50810 SAINT-GERMAIN-D’ELLE
The Botanical Gardens of Château de Vauville: Situated just a stone’s throw from the west coast of the Cherbourg peninsula, an exotic botanical garden surrounds a château with 12th-century origins. Ten acres of gardens, created in 1947 by the Pellerin family, are home to more than 1,200 species of southern hemisphere plants.
Many tropical species thrive here due to the Gulf Stream’s warming effects. Visitors encounter eucalyptus, gunneras, echiums, bamboos, azaleas, amaryllis, rhododendron as well as France’s most northerly palm trees.
The nearby 150 acre Vauville Nature Reserve is also well worth a visit. This natural heartland is a haven for wild birds including woodcock, mallard ducks and warblers. These and other species are regular visitors to Normandy’s gardens.
April to June and September to October: Every day from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
July and August: Every day from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Château de Vauville, 50440 VAUVILLE
The Park of the Château des Ravalet: Vicomte René de Tocqueville, the nephew of noted French aristocrat, diplomat and political scientist, Alexis de Tocqueville, restored this park in 1872, creating or re-creating 35 acres of French/English-style landscapes.
The well-preserved Renaissance château now belongs to the town of Cherbourg. Visitors flock to appreciate the water features, exotic species, meadows and beach woods that surround it. A superb 19th-century rotunda glasshouse is one of the many treasures. The Mandala Garden and the Island Meadow are recent additions by French botanist, Gilles Clément.
January, November and December : Weekends and public holidays
February : 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
March and October: 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
April and September: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
May, June, July and August: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Château des Ravalet, 50110 CHERBOURG-EN-COTENTIN
The Park of the Château de Nacqueville: Château de Nacqueville bears yet another link to Alexis de Tocqueville who described it as “one of the prettiest places on Earth.” Never mind that the landscaping was competed by de Tocqueville’s brother Hippolyte. The 16th-century manor house with its charming gothic gatehouse is surrounded by a manicured landscape of lawns and beechwoods complete with a meandering stream that spills into a shimmering lake. Rhododendrons, azaleas and hydrangeas grow in abundance in a microclimate once again warmed by the Gulf Stream. Come in May and June to catch the best of the blossoms.
From May to September: Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays and public holidays from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Château de Nacqueville, 50460 URVILLE-NACQUEVILLE
The Gardens of Château de Canisy: Created in the English style in the 19th-century, the park of Château de Canisy covers 90 acres. A long avenue of chestnut trees brings the visitor to the vast but secluded landscape, past the animal park, botanical garden and finally arriving at the chateau itself: a late-16th-century historic monument. Behind the main house is a lake bisected by a causeway. Via a rushing waterfall, the lake feeds a lower pond created in the 1990s. Wild ducks, geese and swans are permanent residents. Visitors can follow a network of trails through the park into hundreds of acres of surrounding farmland.
Open every day throughout the year.
Château de Canisy, 50750 CANISY
The website WeLoveNormandy offers even more information on Normandy’s gardens, detailing everything you need to know about this postcard-perfect area of France. Even Mr. Monet would be proud of Normandy today.
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com). His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime. Read more of Travels with Peabod and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News.