It stands to reason that gastronomes around the world make pilgrimages to Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons near Oxford, England, to dine at the hotel’s two-Michelin-starred French restaurant. But because all of the organically cultivated produce that’s grown on the premises is prepared in chef-patron Raymond Blanc’s kitchen and cooking school, foodies also queue up for guided tours of the seven-acre garden. Since 1984, when Blanc turned a 15th-century stone manor house into his luxury hotel and restaurant, the outdoor highlight has been the two-acre vegetable and herb patch. Ninety types of vegetables — many of them heirloom or unusual varieties — are raised for maximum flavor, and the herb garden is devoted to black peppermint, lemon verbena and other plants used for making tea. Five 68-foot-long cloche tunnels yield everything from zucchini, peppers and eggplant to celery, watercress and arugula. There are plans for a two-acre orchard that Blanc hopes will produce 12 kinds of apples. Most recently, a low-lying area shaded by willows has been set aside for mushrooms and, perhaps someday, truffles. As practical and hardworking as the potager is, however, other parts of the garden — such as the entry walk lined with beds of fragrant ‘Hidcote’ lavender — are mostly decorative. The English water garden consists of lily ponds originally dug by 16th-century monks who kept fish for eating in what were then known as the stewing ponds. The Japanese garden, added in 1995, offers a hushed retreat where evergreens surround a thatched-roof teahouse. And dotting the landscape are bronze sculptures by artists Lloyd Le Blanc and Judith Holmes Drewry. One of the more whimsical ornaments can be found near the herbaceous border: a gigantic snail whose hollow shell conceals a retractable hose. manoir.com
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