Loire 7 - The Backyard Villandry

Walking through the garden complex at Château de Villandry, Michele’s attention fell on the geometric patterns, the different colours, and the soft smell of the flowers.  

My eyes rested on the poor schmuck hunched over the shrubs grooming them with a handheld trimmer.

Shaped like a horseshoe, he looked like the bad example in an occupational safety poster.  I could not imagine how his future would not hold crippling pain and surgery.

Days before, we sat in a park outside another castle watching Millennial-age groundskeepers scurrying around with strapped-on, gas-powered trimmers, ear buds, and straight backs.  In contrast, the older staff at Villandry seemed more traditional, artisanal, and nuts.

Gardening has always struck me as hard work, and the intricate, structured form it takes in France seems especially so.  

I favour the English garden: wild, informal, and unkempt.

“It became popular in the 18th century, right around the time they started freeing the slaves,” I noted.

These thoughts occupied my mind when Michele suggested that we try to recreate a little bit of Villandry in our backyard in Ottawa.  She visited the garden shop at the Chateau, stole some ideas, and expanded on her plan the rest of our holiday.

My contribution to the conversation was a bias for those English gardens and, if necessary, planter boxes that were waist high.  I also argued for more, but smaller boxes that made it easy to reach the plants or to weed.  I did not want Villandry-style bending and straining in my backyard.

So, we approached the project from two interests. Her aesthetic one.  My anesthetic one.  

Within this frame, we crafted plans for building our mini-Villandry and kept talking about it after we came home from our holiday.  The first step meant weeding and prepping our existing garden.

“Doesn’t it make you feel younger – the fresh air, the exercise.”

“Yes,” I said, feeling a growing kinship with the younger French grounds crews, the ones who favoured  strap-on, gas-powered equipment. 

Then, we visited Ottawa garden shops and home renovation stores.  We measured our garden and measured things in the stores.  We bought seeds, and we nurtured them in pots. We were ready to implement our fully developed plan. Then, I added up the cost.

Ouch.  It turns out my mix of ideas were a lot more expensive than the straightforward, though labour intensive, Villandry-style garden.  Maybe back pain wouldn’t be all that bad. 

That Sunday as we worked in the yard, I considered withdrawing or adjusting my demand for waist-high planters and English garden elements. But, before I could raise the question, Michele decided to move a heavy wheel barrow around the corner of the house by hunching over in the shape of a horseshoe. 

She lies recuperating and looking at pictures of waist-high planters, electric hedge pruners, and English gardens.  

I’m looking again at images of Villandry.